Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Payment in Full" (St. John;1953)

This aptly named five-page tale from "Strange Terrors #6 (Jan.1953), originally published by St. John and featuring story & art by Ben Brown and David Gantz closes out my "Strange Terrors" month. This massive issue had some hits & some misses, but it was a pleasure to present it to all of you throughout the month. I actually ended up having far more overall material to post than I needed, so please suffer along with me this week as I squeeze in a few leftovers, even as the Catacombs settles back into some semblance of normalcy.

"Payment in Full" details the lengths that some poor sap goes to please his gold-digging lady love - who really doesn't give a rats backside for him - and the ultimate cost that will be exacted.

Happy Halloween and don't miss the exciting cable premiere tonight at 10pm of "The Walking Dead" on American Movie Classics.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

1980's "Movie" Flashback: Heavy Metal

A Step Beyond Science Fiction ....

Heavy Metal was a 1981 animated film from executive producer Leonard Mogel (who was also the publisher of Heavy Metal magazine), with Ivan Reitman producing and Gerald Potterton directing. Work on the film was expedited by having several animation houses working simultaneously on different segments.

The film is an anthology of various science fiction & fantasy stories adapted from Heavy Metal magazine (& its French precursor, M├ętal Hurlant) and/or some original stories inspired by same. Like the magazine, the film has prodigious graphic violence, nudity, and sexuality on featured segments Den (adapted from creator Richard Corben's character), Harry Canyon, So Beautiful & So Dangerous (adapted rom the work of Angus McKie), Captain Sternn (by Bernie Wrightson) and the phenomenal adventure sequence that comprised the final third of the film, Taarna (inspired by Moebius' Arzach stories).

The film often uses the rotoscoping technique of animation which consists of shooting models and actors, then tracing the images onto film for animation purposes. A B-17 bomber was shot using a 10-foot replica, which was then animated. Additionally "Taarna the Taarakian" was rotoscoped, using Toronto-based model Carole Desbiens as a model for the animated character. The closing shot of the exploding house at the end of the "Grimaldi" sequence was originally meant to be rotoscoped, but the film's original release date was moved up from October/November to August 1981, leaving insufficient time to accomplish that segment. This is the only non-animated sequence in the film.

Heavy Metal received mixed reviews and enjoyed only limited appeal during its initial theatrical run, but became a popular cult attraction for midnight showings (similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Legal problems with the film's music rights kept it off the commercial home video market for fifteen years, although it did receive rotation on various pay cable movie channels, allowing fans to record it. The album (released on LP in 1981) peaked at #12 on the Billboard charts. The Canadian film production company's use of the featured rock songs was limited to its theatrical release and soundtracks alone, and thus didn't extend to the video release of the film. Rights negotiations took over fifteen years to resolve, and the official home video release did not debut until 1996. Unusual for the time, an LP recording of Elmer Bernstein's score was released alongside the soundtrack in 1981, and it featured the composer's first use of the ondes martenot, an instrument which became a trademark of Bernstein's later career.

Heavy Metal has many veteran creators involved in the production including screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, comic book artists Mike Ploog, Chris Achilleos, Howard Chaykin and recognizable voice work by actors John Vernon, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty and John Candy. Many top recording artists and groups contributed to the classic soundtrack including Cheap Trick, Riggs, Nazareth, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Devo, Grand Funk Railroad, Stevie Nicks, Don Felder, Donald Fagan, Journey and Sammy Hagar.

If you've somehow managed to miss out on seeing this great movie, give it a try. There are far better animated films in the world, but Heavy Metal has tremendous synchronicity going for it - all set to a rocking beat - in a fantasy wonderland. Recommended!

This post concludes my 2010 Halloween film festival posts. Thanks for stopping by and although I watched many, many genre flicks throughout October from schlock like The Astro Zombies and Plaguers to recognized gems like the Hammer Films running on Turner Classic Movies on Fridays. I had to make a last minute "Strange Terrors" adjustment when Netflix bollixed my final pick (Night of the Creeps; which was delayed), so Heavy Metal was quickly inserted as an alternate which fit within my selected festival criteria: 1980s, sci-fi/horror and nudity.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Gal" Friday & Classic Cutie: Janet Leigh

The well-known theatrical term for wishing a performer good luck is "go break a leg" and when she showed up with a broken arm, Janet Leigh may have had to pull out every trick in the book to do it, but she was still able to play her role opposite Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil (1958). Janet's arm was in a cast when she showed up for production on that crime noir thriller by Orson Welles, so they were forced to take her arm out of the cast for filming purposes. That's the mark of a true professional.

Despite efforts like that, a famous shower scene is what she will always be remembered for, and although Janet was unfortunately killed off early in the picture, she was nominated for an Academy Award and earned a Golden Globe for her iconic performance in director Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 horror classic, PSYCHO.

Leigh enjoyed a long dramatic career in films like Little Women (1949), Angels in the Outfield (1951), Scaramouche (1952), Houdini (opposite then husband, Tony Curtis;1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Night of the Lepus (1972), plus she filmed two late career genre appearances with her daughter Jaime Lee Curtis - The Fog (1980) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) - and finally, Bad Girls From Valley High (2005).

Leigh was also the author of four books and served on the board of directors of the Motion Picture and Television Foundation, a medical-services provider for actors. She passed away in 2004 at the age of 77. The Catacombs is proud to induct her as this weeks "Gal" Friday selection in honor of our "Strange Terrors" celebration. [Pictured above with "Psycho" co-stars Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin and lower right, director Alfred Hitchcock.]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Memorium: James MacArthur

James MacArthur, who played Det. Danny “Danno” Williams over eleven seasons of the original Hawaii Five-0, has passed away at the age of 72 in Florida. MacArthur was the last original cast member of the long-running CBS crime drama to pass away, after Jack Lord (Det. Steve McGarrett), Kam Fong (Chin Ho Kelly) and Gilbert Lani "Zulu" Kauhi (Kono Kalakaua).

A rising stage and screen star prior to his Five-0 casting, James MacArthur found his greatest fame playing the boyish, ever-dutiful crime-battling partner to Lord’s ever-stoic McGarrett between 1968 and 1979. He was thirty-one when he took on the role of "Danno" in Hawaii Five-0’s second episode, after the first actor cast for the pilot episode was let go. He remained with the series throughout all but its final season.

His other film roles include Kidnapped, Swiss Family Robinson, Spencer's Mountain, Battle of the Bulge, Hang 'Em High and he made many guest appearances on various television series. The Catacombs extends its deepest condolences to his family, friends and fans.

"Life Without End" / "Convicted by a Ghost" (St. John;1953)

Come on now; say it with me.

Strange Terrors #6 (Jan.1953). Published by St. John. Artists unknown. Yadda, yadda, yadda!

Doesn't that feel better?

After today's double feature of "Life Without End" and "Convicted by a Ghost", there will only be one more story to go and that's all the "Strange Terrors" that she wrote. I will squeeze that one in sometime this weekend.

Tomorrow brings my final "Scream Queen" of the month, and all that I will say about her in advance is that while she has the fewest horror credits of any other "Gal" Friday featured this month, a single memorable role earned her both a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination. Come find out who she is on the Friday before the big AMC weekend premiere of "The Walking Dead". Oh boy! Plus, I should be able to bring you a photo report from my Halloween shenanigans visit to Carowinds Amusement Park outside of Charlotte, NC for their Halloween-themed "SCarowinds" on Saturday night. Thrills, chills, haunted houses, scare zones and roller coasters until 1:00 am.

It'll be a "real" scream!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Peril Haunts the Depths" (St. John;1953)

This is the second story from St. John Publishing's Strange Terrors #6 (Jan.1953) that seems to be re-purposed from an earlier adventure tale. The lead characters in "Peril Haunts the Depths" wear what could easily pass for "cheapo" superhero union suits, so perhaps someone will be able to identify these guys if that's actually the case. The writer/artists on this feature are unknown.

That leaves two more eerie stories and one single page strip to go and you will have read the entirety of this golden age rarity. See you back tomorrow for more!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Memorium: Mike Esposito

Legendary comic book artist & inker, Mike Esposito passed away on October 24, 2010 at the age of 83. His career spanned more than fifty years on titles such as Men’s Adventures, Mister Mystery, The Unseen and Joe Yank during the 1950s. During the Silver Age, when working for a competitor could have cost him regular assignments for one publisher, Esposito sometimes used pseudonyms such as "Mickey Demeo", "Mickey Dee", "Michael Dee", and "Joe Guadioso."

As an inker he regularly teamed with his childhood friend Ross Andru. Andru and Esposito drew hundreds of tales of combat under editor and frequent writer Robert Kanigher on such major DC Comics titles as All-American Men of War, Our Army at War, Star Spangled War Stories, G.I. Combat and Our Fighting Forces. With Kanigher, they co-created the non-superpowered adventurers the Suicide Squad in The Brave and the Bold #25 (Sept. 1959). They also drew early issues of Rip Hunter, Time Master in 1961. The pair were highly regarded for their collaboration on Wonder Woman (cover of WW #111,above; top) and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Mike Esposito formed two publishing companies (with Andru), Mikeross Publications in 1953 & Klevart Enterprises in 1970; both were fairly short-lived efforts. Another venture into self-publishing, in 1990, failed before start-up funding could be found.

Esposito was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2007. The Catacombs extends its heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and worldwide fans. I was a major admirer. [Marvel Team-Up page above pencilled by Kerry Gammill & inked by Esposito.]

Icons of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe

As part of the Catacombs "Strange Terrors" celebration, here is the last of four weekly posts in my 2010 "Icons of Horror" series, with this years set focusing on popular or significant genre authors.

Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, writer, poet, editor and literary critic Edgar Allan Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective-fiction genre and he is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. Poe was the first well-known American writer to attempt to earn a living through his writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

Following a stint in the Army, Poe intentionally orchestrated his own court-martial from West Point. On February 8, 1831, he was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church. Poe tactically plead not guilty to induce dismissal and subsequently released his third volume of poems, simply titled Poems. The book was financed with help from his fellow cadets at West Point, many of whom donated 75 cents to the cause, raising a total of $170. The book reprinted previously issued long poems "Tamerlane" and "Al Aaraaf", but also featured unpublished poems including early versions of "To Helen", "Israfel", and "The City in the Sea”.

Poe chose a difficult time in American publishing to start his career. He was hampered by the lack of an international copyright law. Publishers often pirated copies of British works rather than pay for new work by Americans.The industry was also hurt by the “Panic of 1837” (a financial crisis in the United States built on a speculative fever). Despite a booming growth in American periodicals around this time period, fueled in part by new technology, many did not last beyond a few issues and publishers often refused to pay their writers or paid them much later than they promised. Poe, throughout his attempts to live as a writer, had to repeatedly resort to humiliating pleas for money and other assistance.

The Baltimore Saturday Visiter awarded Poe a prize in October 1833 for his short story "MS. Found in a Bottle" and this led to the publication of several poems, book reviews, critiques, and stories. Although Poe released his only long form novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, in 1838 and his frequent reviews enhanced his reputation as a literary critic, his work forced him to move between several cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.
The death of his wife, Virginia, on January 30, 1847, left Poe increasingly unstable. Biographers and critics often suggest Poe's frequent theme of the "death of a beautiful woman" stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his wife, mother and stepmother.

On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore in a state of delirium. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in such distress and he is said to have repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. All medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. The actual cause of death remains a mystery, something that is strangely appropriate for the designated “Master of the Macabre”.

His most famous works include The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death, The Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher. Most of his eerie tales & poems have been adapted for radio, theater, film, television and comic books, of course. [Portrait illustration (above; left) by Francesco Francavilla].

Monday, October 25, 2010

Auro, Lord of Jupiter in "The Life Drinkers" (Fiction House;1943)

Hello, my friends!

I've spent a portion of the latter part of this fine day trumpeting the following information, so if I'm a being bit redundant to those already in the know, please forgive me. After twenty-three years, I left divorce court this afternoon officially a free man. I then quickly hastened to one of my favorite eateries and busted a gut on seared Ahi tuna, a classic blue cheese wedge salad, a baked sweet potato & a 10 oz rib-eye; plus a sinful sundae and two glasses of Capt. Morgan.

I damn near skipped doing this post, but I was so giddy I thought, "Why the hell not?" ; and fear not good people, the final stories from Strange Terrors #6 will flesh out the remainder of the week once we get past tomorrows final "Icons of Horror" post.

Auro Lord of Jupiter battles the pesky Yasgadorians in "The Life Drinkers" from Planet Comics #25 (July 1943), originally published by Fiction House and written & illustrated by Dick Charles & Rafael Astarita. Oh, and the front cover is drawn once again by the great Dan Zolnerowich.

The Catacombs is grateful to Don "Zu-Gogo" Falkos for providing the scans for this story. Note: The copyright for this issue, its contents and artwork belong to the original publisher and/or the creators and is reproduced here solely for entertainment purposes.

Now, if only a ready, willing and able female was within reaching distance, to really kick the celebratory atmosphere into high gear.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Auro, Lord of Jupiter in "The Secret of the Flaming Mountains" (Fiction House;1943)

Today we enter the home stretch run to the October 31 premiere of AMC's highly anticipated cable television series, The Walking Dead (based on Robert Kirkman's long-running Image Comics series), just one week from now. I am so looking forward to six weeks of pure zombie action!

For now, here is a classic golden age tale starring Auro, Lord of Jupiter in "The Secret of the Flaming Mountains" from Planet Comics #22 (Jan. 1943); originally published by Fiction House and written & illustrated by Dick Charles & Rafael Astarita. The cool front cover is drawn by Dan Zolnerowich. Watch as fantastic wizardry takes place within the bowels of the planet Jupiter, forcing our hero Auro into battle with the Frog People and their nefarious leader.

The Catacombs is grateful to Don "Zu-Gogo" Falkos for providing the scans for this story. Note: The copyright for this issue, its contents and artwork belong to the original publisher and/or the creators and is reproduced here solely for entertainment purposes.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

1980's "Movie" Flashback: Re-Animator

Death Is Just The Beginning ...

Directed by Stuart Gordon, Re-Animator was a 1985 sci-fi/horror film based on the H. P. Lovecraft story "Herbert West–Reanimator." The movie has become a cult-favorite, due to its extreme gore, nudity and a successful blending of horror and comedy. This film launched the genre career of character actor Jeffrey Combs, who starred as Herbert West. Perhaps no other genre flick from the 1980s is better described by the term "bat-shit crazy" than Reanimator.

Herbert West arrives at Miskatonic University in New England to further his studies, having previously succeeded in resurrecting his dead professor, Dr. Hans Gruber, in Zurich, Switzerland (with horrific side-effects) and meets medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). Cain has just tried in vain to revive a patient, after other medical personnel have already given her up for dead.

Dan has been secretly dating Megan (Barbara Crampton), the daughter of school administrator, Dean Halsey. West soon converts the building's basement into his own personal laboratory; recruiting Dan as his partner in research to defeat death (after Dan discovers that Herbert has re-animated Dan's dead cat, Rufus, with a glowing reagent). Simultaneously an instant animosity develops between West and faculty member Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale). West accuses Hill of stealing the theory of brain death from West's late mentor, Dr. Gruber. Megan dislikes West, especially after discovering Rufus re-animated in a state of dismemberment.

Hill succeeds in turning Halsey against both West and Dan and they are barred from the school. The pair later sneak into the morgue to test the reagent on a human subject in an attempt to salvage their medical careers. Unfortunately the corpse goes on a rampage upon revival, attacking the duo. Dean Halsey stumbles upon the scene and despite attempts by West and Dan to save him, is brutally killed by the re-animated corpse. West finally manages to kill the creature with a bone saw and without batting an eye, excited at the prospect of working with a freshly dead specimen, injects Halsey with his reagent. Halsey returns to life in a zombie-like state.

Dr. Hill discovers West's work and gains custody of Halsey (whom he puts in a padded cell adjacent to his office). Dan and Megan break into Hill's office uncovering evidence that Hill has an "unhealthy" obsession with Megan and that he has lobotomized her father. Hill goes to confront West and to blackmail him to continue his research so that Hill can take credit for West's reagent. While Hill is distracted, West decapitates him with a shovel. Overcome with curiosity, West re-animates both Hill's head and body. While West is questioning Hill's head and taking notes, Hill's headless body knocks out West. The body (now carrying the head) steals West's reagent and returns to Hill's office. Exercising mind control over Halsey, Hill sends him out to abduct Megan.

West and Dan track Halsey to the morgue where they find Hill's body holding his head in a compromising position over a restrained Megan (this erotically-charged scene is what I meant by "bat-shit crazy" - see photo above). West distracts Hill while Dan frees Megan, as Hill reveals that he has re-animated and lobotomized several other corpses from the morgue to do his bidding. Megan somehow manages to get through to her father, who fights off the other corpses long enough for Dan and Megan to escape. In the ensuing chaos, Halsey is torn to pieces by the corpses, after he destroys Hill's head, and West injects Hill's body with what he believes is a lethal overdose of the reagent which began to destroy Hill's body. Hill's body mutates horribly and attacks West, who screams out to Dan to preserve his work as he continues fighting.

Dan retrieves the satchel containing West's reagent, but as Dan and Megan run from the morgue, one of the re-animated corpses attacks and kills Megan. Dan takes her to the hospital emergency room and tries in vain to revive her. Finally in despair he injects her with reagent. Just after the final scene fades to black, Megan screams (implying that her re-animation backfires) just like the previous re-animated.

Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #32 on their list of The Top 50 Cult Films. The film spawned two sequels, Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator. If you've never seen this film, quickly go out and rent it, because you will be in for a treat. Recommended! [Background art (above'top) by Cowboy-Lucas.]