"If This Was Dinner...I Can't Wait For The Cabaret!" MOVIES! Sometimes...The Year Must Die!

So, I didn't get near any comics this Holiday but I am always writing nevertheless. In my head mostly. So, although I haven't got anything about comics I have got a head full of dumb words about some Peter Cushing films I watched this year. Usually I just dump this head written stuff into the ether but I felt like posting something and this was all I had. So I dumped it on you. Attractive, non? Anway; an old man, some old movies and a spatter of tired old jokes. What better way to see the New Year in. Have a drink, it'll read better that way. Everything's better when you're insensate with drink. That's what it's for. Oh yeah, Happy New Year everybody!

Oh yeah, none of these are Oscar(C) winners in waiting but they are all fun so they are all GOOD!

All images taken from Wikipedia.

TWINS OF EVIL Directed by John Hough Screenplay by Tudor Gates (Based on characters created by Sheridan Le Fanu(?!?)) Music by Harry Robertson (Hammer, 1971)

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Yes, there is a joke there isn’t there? One about breasts; but I won’t be making it. Knock yourselves out though by all means. Then try and look your mother in the eyes, pal. In this movie, the quality of which is indicated early by the choice of Hot Electric Pink for the titles, Peter Cushing plays Gustav Veil whose surname is not only an anagram of “evil” but is pronounced “vile” and that’s about as restrained as this one gets. Seriously, there’s a bit where a lady is enjoying the physical attentions of a gentleman and the camera zooms in to show her hand lightly gliding up and down the shaft of a candle. Y’know, like a penis. Keep up. Anyway, Peter Cushing, equipped with a buckled hat, blithely classes this silly exercise up in his role as a Puritan who roams about at night with his Puritan pals burning single young women as witches. Cush & Co. average one a night which suggests that there is a preternaturally large population of single young women in and around his village or someone is bussing them in so Cush’n’chums can have their fiery fun. It’s testament to Cushing’s performance that when someone says Vile “means well” despite there being nothing in the script which indicates he is anything other than a murderous misogynist you do actually think, oh, maybe he’s just a tad, a smidgen perhaps, overzealous. So anyway, his twin nieces, or what have you, come to stay and one’s a bit of a scamp and is lured into depravity by the sleazy Lord of the manor who has been en-vamped. Unfortunately he’s played in a way that’s about as threatening as a doily. After a few creepy scenes of young women leading old men on (“What would your Uncle say?” Urrrggghhhh. No thanks, 1970s.) and flashes of flesh it’s all boiled down to The Cush vs the fanged doily man for the souls of his flock! There’s some mileage in that; the bloke who was seeing Evil everywhere where there was none now has to deal with real Evil right in his own home. But, basically, this movie prefers to find excuses to chuck some knockers up on the screen.

THE BEAST MUST DIE Directed by Paul Annett Screenplay by Michael Winder (From the short story by James Blish) Music by Douglas Gamley (Amicus,1974)

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This mangy but loveable cur of a movie has a spectacularly inappropriate theme tune. Oh, It’s really good, don’t get me wrong but it’s the kind of swinging up-tempo floor shaker more suited to a title sequence in which Oliver Reed checks out ‘birds’ from his Union Jack mini as he tootles down Carnaby Street. Here it sits oddly atop a movie about a bunch of weird people lured to an island retreat by a big game hunter who believes one of them to be a werewolf. The most dangerous game of all just got dangerouserererer! I can’t lie; it’s a bit dull beyond the campiness but it does perk up whenever Peter Cushing uses his fantastic accent, someone dies or when everyone has to fondle a silver bullet in a game of Pass The Death Sentence. Oh, and there’s an exciting bit where our superfly hero hounds the werewolf in his helicopter and tries to machine gun it. Mind you, that last bit now looks like nothing more than a man shooting at a very large German Shepherd and inadvertently ruining someone’s potting shed in the process; I can assure you that was very thrilling when you were 10. But then so is hopscotch. Near the end a ticking clock fills the screen and you have to guess who the werewolf is. I don’t know how the movie knows what you’ve guessed but every time I watch it it’s (SPOILER!). I’m not saying the movie struggles to fill its screen time but it will find a favourable reaction amongst people fond of watching Michael Gambon driving about in a jeep.

AND FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN Directed by Terence Fisher Screenplay by John Elder (Anthony Hinds) Music by James Bernard (Hammer, 1967)

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In which Frankenstein doesn’t but what he does do is trap the soul of a wrongly executed man in the body of the guy’s disfigured girlfriend; she having drowned herself on seeing his execution. Together with Thorley Walters (played by Eddie Izzard) Peter “The Cush” Cushing as Baron Frankenstein fixes her face (and her hair; Blonde Contretemps by Boots) and everything turns out just dandy, thanks. No, no it doesn’t, you fool! See, the soul of her boyfriend makes her hunt down the three fops who not only teased her about her face but , worse even, murdered her father and left her beau to take the rap. Some people probably say that the scenes where a man in a woman’s body seduces then murders his/her victims are ripe with trans gender subtext. Well, they might if they weren’t distracted by the fact that the victims are all dressed like Willly fucking Wonka. Anyway, if The Baron had fixed her face in the first place all that unpleasantness could have been avoided. So, basically, it’s a movie about getting your priorities right.

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL Directed by Terence Fisher Screenplay by John Elder Music by James Bernard (Hammer, 1974)

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This is the one in which Peter Cushing plays Baron Frankenstein one final time. It isn’t the best send-off but Peter Cushing doesn’t flag and nor does he falter. So, The Baron is now covertly running an asylum he’s supposed to be banged up in because he’s got the goods on the pervy dude in charge. He’s landed on his feet but his hands are giving him grief. His burned mitts are hampering his quest to stitch together the mentally unhygienic into a perfect man. Good thing then that Shane Briant (played by Twiggy) gets locked up in his gaff. And it is lucky because not only is Shane a surgeon in training he is also The Baron’s biggest fan. What are the odds? They are good, my friend. Anyway these two knock up a makeshift man who looks like a shaved ape and has a penchant for sticking broken glass in people’s faces. Shane Briant is also feeling moral pangs about The Baron passive aggressively badgering the inmates into committing suicide so he can play pick’n’mix with their parts. Oh, Madeline Smith wafts about the place as well giving the place a woman’s touch and some pathos; a bit anyway. Anyway, everything goes tits up pretty quickly. It’s possible to read the film as an indictment of the parlous state of the care of the vulnerable and how, without regulation, the gaolers become worse than the gaoled; but, basically, it’s a movie about how if you’ve got Peter Cushing in a top hat you’re sorted for 80 minutes and change. Cush Fact: the feathery wig sported by the great man himself is the exact same toupee which adorned his magnificent bonce in And Now The Screaming Starts… which, ah, here it is now…

AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS..! Directed by Roy Ward Baker Screenplay by Roger Marshall (David Case) Music by Douglas Gamley (Amicus,1973)

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For about 40 minutes this enjoyable but not exactly good period set horror film consists of scenes of Ian "The Saint" Ogilvy and Stephanie “Powders” Beacham reacting badly to odd events in a stately home. A severed hand, a slashed portrait, something going bump in Stephanie Beacham’s night, a Richard Harris impersonator and hushed references to something terrible bad in the past combined to leave me clawing for clarity and wondering if I was suffering another dry drunk or what. Thankfully at that point Peter Cushing sauntered into the movie and delivered a performance which managed to make the whole thing watchable at least, and this is despite his sporting the aforementioned alarmingly feathery wig. Actually I spent a lot of time looking at this unsettling hairpiece so I could have missed some nuance or subtlety in what followed. It’s doubtful though as what followed not only had Patrick Magee pretending to be strangled by an invisible severed hand but also featured Herbert Lom as a not entirely convincing example of the landed English gentry who lets things get out of hand; sparking all the unpleasantness off with a poorly considered decision to reinstall the droit de seigneur tradition. From then on Cushing attempts to combat superstition and supernatural vengeance with the new-fangled Science Of The Mind! It ends badly for everyone involved. Where is your science now, Peter Cushing!?!

THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR Directed by Vernon Sewell Screenplay by Peter Bryan (Trigon, 1968)

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This is the one with the lady who seduces men, turns into a big moth and kills ‘em. I see no subtext. Probably because there isn’t one; the script has it all on trying to make sense. Which it doesn’t but when did that ever matter; just entertain me, you mad fools! Peter Cushing is on record as claiming this is the worst film he ever made. Steady on, old boy; that’s a bit harsh. I mean even I haven’t seen every film Peter Cushing ever made but I think maybe the proximity of filming to his wife’s death coloured his judgement. Don’t get me wrong it’s quite, quite terrible but it is not without its charms. There’s Roy Hudd popping up to give the 1970s version of an amusing cameo(i.e. it isn’t; amusing that is); Cushing’s fellow plod is played by Dave the barman from Minder; some good performances convincingly delivered in spite of everything; an electrifyingly perfunctory climax in which Peter Cushing and Dave from Minder set fire to some piled up leaves, which the moth cannot resist and so meets its fiery end. And then the credits whizz up the screen. One of the things I never noticed about these movies until this re-watch is how tight they all are with film. No sooner has the final line slipped into silence than BANG! THE END! CREDITS ROLL! They might as well have someone shout "That’s yer lot! Ain’t ya got homes to go to! Fawk off home! G’wan! Whaddya want, Jam on it? Home! Now! Go!"

Speaking of which…THE END.

Happy New Year!

“Seems I've spent the better part of my life amongst the dead.” PEOPLE! Sometimes They Are Uxorious! (Peter Cushing!)

Sunday 26th May 2013 marks a very special occasion. Yes, 100 years ago on that day Peter Wilton Cushing OBE (26 May 1913 - 11 August 1994) was born.Look, he’s even on a bloody stamp! Happy Centenary, Peter Cushing!

 photo beast_B_zpsf01d570f.jpg The Beast Must Die (Amicus,1974)

Anyway, this… Peter Cushing is/was/will always be  EXCELLENT! And here's how we get to there from here...

Peter Cushing made 90 or so movies (and The Bitch ain't one). That's a lot of movies and sometimes the only reason to watch them is Peter Cushing. Even in the worst of his movies Cushing remains the steely calm at the eye of a storm of camp; the one man taking it all seriously enough to pin your attention to the screen; enhancing rather than undermining what is, in all probability, a load of seedily eerie nonsense. That doesn't mean he couldn't erupt into a frenetic flurry of startling physicality when required, because he could. Even better, not only was he a fine screen actor but he was agreed by all to be a genuinely decent and gentle man. So profound is the consensus on this that you could be forgiven for being permanently tensed to receive some terrible reputation soiling revelation.  As of this writing no news has reached me that Cushing’s home was built from the bones of missing hitchhikers or that he liked to set fire to tramps and laugh, so we’ll adhere to the accepted text of his life.

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Peter Cushing was raised in a comfortably middle class Surrey home where he appears to have wanted for little. His childish exuberance in play seems to have held fast throughout his life and found the perfect home in the adult equivalent of make believe; acting. He did, however, want for support in his desire to act. His father wasn't keen and, sadly, Cushing remained estranged from his elder brother, David, due to Cushing’s career choice until David’s death. When Cushing was 40 his father declared him a failure which was both appalling parenting and a trifle premature as at the age of 44 this failure would headline two of the most successful films in British cinema history;The Curse of Frankenstein (1958) and The Horror of Dracula(1959). (Anyone rolling their cynical eyes at my assertion earlier that Cushing could act, and act well, could do worse than to watch these performances back to back. Sure it's the same man but they are very, very clearly different characters.) 44 is hardly the bloom of youth and so it looks like success came late to Peter Cushing, but he had been quite successful for a while. In 1940 he had even been in the Americas and also in Laurel & Hardy's A Chump at Oxford (1940) amongst other well received movies. Following his return to Blighty (due to a small thing called WW2; he did not serve, he was not fit) he trod the boards and the sound-stages with Laurence Olivier (Hamlet, 1948), starred opposite a bewigged Richard Burton in Alexander The Great (1958)  and appeared in the 1954 BBC adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 ; now widely regarded as Television's first masterpiece. Indeed, the small screen was where Cushing found his biggest success as his cinematic career stubbornly failed to gain traction. Such a common and popular sight was Cushing in the  domestically screened plays of the day that to deny he was successful prior to Hammer would be to have a very narrow definition of success. But there's a kind of success that doesn't put money in the meter and that was the kind Cushing had. Well, until Hammer hit the anvil of success big style with The Curse of Frankenstein.

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After that it was all gravy (vein gravy!!! Sorry.) but it had been a tough road. Luckily Cushing hadn't had to walk it alone. In 1942 Cushing had found emotional support in the form of Helen Beck whom he married on April 10th 1943.  The tenacity and sincerity of Cushing’s love for Helen was such that swans look like slackers in comparison. Together they helped each other through periods of depression and physical illness, eventually enjoying the silliness of cinematic success as they deserved. In 1971 Helen Cushing died. After her death Peter Cushing was different. Oh, he was still Peter Cushing. He was still lovely. Still polite and gracious to all on set. Still able to keep visitors in stitches all afternoon. But he couldn't stand to have anyone interrupt his sight-line when filming now. And now he would be sighted less when not required on set. And, at least once, he would request his wife’s portrait be used when such props were required for his character to react to. And for a while the tears he wept on screen were real. He never got over it but he didn't forget he still had a life to live. So he got on with it. Peter Cushing was a charming English eccentric who always treated every film as though it mattered; he embodied strange notions such as courtesy and civility but was nobody's fool. He died in 1994.

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I like to think I first encountered Peter Cushing’s filmed presence when lax parenting ensured I was, while still a child, allowed to stay up and watch horror movies on Friday nights. But then I like to think all sorts of things. No, it’s far more likely that Cushing’s relaxed command of the screen imprinted on me earlier via his several forays into child oriented fantasy movies. I would certainly have thrilled to his performance as The Doctor in Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965) and Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) Why, I can only imagine the good natured esteem they are held in by today’s easy going Who fans (AKA “Whosers”). You may be a bit thrown by the dates on those movies after all according to my passport I’m not quite that old. But back then, when we killed our own food, the only other outlet for visual entertainments was the time limited and channel light medium of Television. So, to maximise receipts movies remained in circulation a lot longer; even boomeranging back to more bums on seats some years after their initial release, as in the case of these entertainments. Sometimes, though, I’d catch a movie fresh as tomorrow.

 photo ATEC_B_zps5fc79f48.jpg Peter “This Nation’s Saving Grace” Cushing, Caroline Munro (who could make masonry blush) and Doug “You May Know Me From…” McClure in the Amicus motion picture presentation At The Earth’s Core (1976)

In fact one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my young life was going to “The Picture House” to see At The Earth’s Core (1976). Yes, it was a sheltered life, cheers. In this one Cushing played a primly bumbling professor who reached the earth’s core in a Very Big Drill accompanied by Doug McClure, a man who resembled an affably sybaritic cousin of George Peppard. There they found not only a subterranean race ruled by men in wholly unconvincing monster suits but also a sweaty Caroline Munro; yes, I have heard the sound of a hundred Dads crossing their legs simultaneously.

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I would also have seen Cushing sporting a tinselly wig on TV in Gerry Anderson’s weekly live action exercise in failing to predict the future Space: 1999 circa 1976. From 1969 onwards Cushing had been making sporadic appearances on The Morecambe & Wise show, all of which were part of a long running joke about his seeking payment for his first appearance. This joke ended in 1980, I told you it was long running. And believe you me back then everybody watched Morecambe and Wise, or they got shipped off to Australia. Yes, there is a point beyond the ubiquity of Peter Cushing in The Dream Life of Albion, although I am moving steadily away from it. See,  1976 ,the year of At The Earth's Core's release, would also see the release of another fantastical entertainment for children featuring Peter Cushing. Yes, Peter Cushing witnessed the passing of the baton of escapist children's entertainment from Edgar Rice Burroughs to George Lucas.

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"Far too many men are hobby-less...Without the escapism which comes only from dabbling with adult toys, their minds are prey to all the frustrations and fears of the working day. So many, it seems to me, lose happiness as they grow up. Their entire absorption in their careers and adult responsibilities bring lines of worry and premature old age. It is not silly or childish to have an interest in hobbies..." Peter Cushing in TV Mirror, July 1956 (taken from Peter Cushing; A Life in Film by David Miller, p.74)

He’s talking up the case for hobbies there; toy soldiers in particular. But he could have been talking about comics. He was known to have liked those too. Other than that bit where his mother dressed him like a girl, Peter Cushing was a healthy young British lad, and like all such stout hearted chaps had a healthy interest in comics. Little Peter Cushing is documented as favouring the periodicals Gem and Magnet. I looked them up and they seem a bit fusty and musty in comparison to the comics of even my far gone youth never mind today’s stuff. Cushing’s favourite was the Greyfriars feature written by Charles Hamilton (AKA Frank Richards). Greyfriars was, as you all know, the school in which the famous character Billy Bunter was boarded up. These strips no doubt involved high spirited tuck shop centred larks enabling readers to delight in the gentle rebellion of the characters and their thrillingly close shaves with having their backsides beaten with a stick.  Yes, comics were somewhat more sedate and establishment friendly back then. Basically, these are the kinds of comics Pat Mills has spent his life ensuring never happen again. Given the demands on his finite time by his other hobbies of painting, model soldiers, model building together with his full time jobs of actor, loving husband and being the most decent man in the world, Cushing seem to have let the comics slip away. He did, however, have sufficiently fond memories to later reminisce in print and on Television about these early paper pals. Bless his cotton socks. Had he kept up the habit he would have no doubt have been thrilled to bits to find himself on the comics pages himself. Although it was hardly the Magnet his image graced.

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Today Dez Skinn is chiefly renowned for his role in the whole Miracleman fiasco currently keeping Padraig O’Mealoid out of mischief, but before inadvertently embroiling some of comics finest talents (and Todd McFarlane) in Comics own Bleak House saga Mr. Skinn livened up 1976-84 by publishing House of Hammer/Halls of Horror. This was a B&W magazine focusing primarily on Hammer but also, and increasingly as Hammer slipped from relevance, on the wider area of the Horror genre. Now, given its title and somewhat lurid cover imagery even my comics illiterate parents could tell it wasn’t exactly Buster or Whizzer and Chips so I had to bide my tiny time. Luckily, and this really was terribly fortunate, there was a newsagents in the market who had a near full run HoH that, judging by the static size of the pile until I got stuck in, no one was interested in except little old Cresta drinker me. When I finally read HoH I liked it just fine, but what I liked most were the comic strips. A lot of these (naturally) were Hammer films which was nice; what was nicer was the level of talent was pretty impressive. Brian Lewis always stood out with his highly European layouts although I don’t know what happened to him, but I know what happened to Brian Bolland (Vampire Circus (1972)) and John Bolton (the further adventures of Father Shandor from Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)).

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Neither of those movies have Peter Cushing in by the way, but HoH did adapt The Gorgon (1964), Horror of Dracula and Twins of Evil (1971) etc etc so obviously there are plenty of pages of comics in these magazines graced by the cadaverous visage of Peter Cushing.  I can’t provide any scans or, indeed, any particularly original information as, sadly ,I have no physical evidence of my having purchased this magazine due to a hilarious misunderstanding where my parents thought that because I had grown older I had grown up; burning all my comics in my absence. Memories! It doesn't matter though because Dez Skinn his very self  has a whole load of images and words about this very magazine at HERE.  If that doesn't keep you busy I don’t know what will. Oh yeah, and that 1977 children's entertainment? That film. ..sigh, okay Star Wars, STAR WARS okay? Star Wars was adapted into the comics form for Marvel Comics and was drawn, at George Lucas' suggestion, by one Howard Victor Chaykin. I am still cruising on the fumes of the happiness my seven year old mind distilled on opening a Star Wars comic and finding Peter Cushing drawn by Howard Victor Chaykin. And in a risky narrative manouver there's where I'll choose to leave it - with a small child experiencing a magical confluence of all he thought was wonderful in the world; a lot of which he still finds wonder in. I've never really been one for goodbyes; best to go out on a high note. How smashing! How Cushing!

Thanks, Peter Cushing!

Happy Centenary!


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No man, no matter how awesome he be, is born replete with Peter Cushing lore. Consequently, I am indebted to the books below for allowing me to beef up the preceding with something other than whimsical nostalgia. There's some of that, yes, but that's not the fault of these books. And nor are any (inevitable) errors; they’re all mine.

Peter Cushing: A Life In Film By David Miller, Titan Books, h/b £18.99 (2013) This is the one-stop 24 hour all night garage for all your Peter Cushing information needs. Need to know how many guineas Cushing was paid for a role? What kind of fry ups the builders who worked on his house made? ("Wonderful!", seriously). A mammoth effort of research rendered down into a breezyily paced and detail studded chronological chronicle of the man known as Peter Cushing. EXCELLENT! Unless you have no interest in Peter Cushing in which case I’m not really sure why you have read this far. Or if your taste can be trusted.

A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of Hammer By Denis Meikle Scarecrow Press, h/b £44.95 (2009) This one is thoroughgoing history of Hammer Studios and so covers all their films with Peter Cushing in as well as the many which lacked his presence. I found this particularly informative about the less familiar, to me, pre-success Hammer period and the studio’s final flailing at various, perhaps thankfully, unrealised projects (Nessie! Vampirella!). Although the price and paper suggest it is some tedious reference affair Meikle makes his subject interesting and even slips in some very good jokes now and again.   Comes with an introduction by Peter Cushing in which he says nice things about, well, everybody, dear hearts. Simply everybody! Simply VERY GOOD!

A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: the History of Hammer Films By Sinclar McKay Aurum Press Ltd, h/b £16.99 (2007) This is another history of Hammer but written with the emphasis firmly on the entertaining. McKay’s frothy approach does mean that it is still enjoyable even if you have already read a history of Hammer, but slack editing lets through a few errors even I could spot. (Yes, Hilary Mantel, I know I have no room to talk.) To McKay’s credit unlike other, cleverer, books he doesn't shy away from the nightmarish horror of the execrable On the Buses movie series. As a casual and light hearted introduction to Hammer it’s GOOD!

Peter Cushing: The Complete Memoirs by Peter Cushing Signum Books, h/b £19.99 (2013) A centennially stimulated repackaging of the  two previous Cushing autobios (An Autobiography, Past Forgetting) with the 1955 memoir The Peter Cushing Story as a single volume. This didn't arrive in time for me to read it but I'm sticking it on the list because it is a primary source for all the other books. I have read the two autobios though, back when I had more hair on my head than up my nose, and recall them being charmingly wobbily canters through the life of the great man himself related in his own endearingly effusive style(!). His memoirs may be surprisingly light on Hammer but are startlingly frank regarding some of the more distressing events in his life. This new edition also has some quite lovely informal photos of Cushing rocking his perennial cravat and slacks look down the ages. It’s the man himself in his own words so it could never be less than EXCELLENT! However, the reader does have to supply their own slippers, biscuits and hot tea.

A Selective Peter Cushing Filmography

 photo CushCarlson_B_zps914395b2.jpg Peter Cushing Suffering For His Art with Veronica Carlson. On the set of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

The Baron Frankenstein Series The Curse of Frankenstein (1956) The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) The Evil of Frankenstein (1963) Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969) Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1972)

The Van Helsing Series Horror of Dracula (1957) The Brides of Dracula (1960) Dracula A.D. 1972 (1971) The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1972) Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1973)

Portmanteau/Anthology (Basically, Like EC Horror Comics) Films Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1964) Torture Garden (1967) The House that Dripped Blood (1970) Tales from the Crypt (1971) Asylum (1972) From Beyond the Grave (1973) The Uncanny (1976)

Miscellaneous The Hound of the Baskervilles (1958) The Mummy (Hammer, 1959) The Gorgon (1964) The Skull (1965) Blood Beast Terror (1967) The Vampire Lovers (1970) Twins of Evil (1971) Horror Express (1971) The Creeping Flesh (1972) Madhouse (1973) The Beast Must Die (1973) The Ghoul (1974) Legend of the Werewolf (1974) House of the Long Shadows (1982)

Children’s Entertainments Night Creatures (1962) She (1964) Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966) At the Earth’s Core (1976) Star Wars (1976) Arabian Adventure (1978)

"Where's My CAKE?!" COMICS! Sometimes They Are A Bit Like Films (CREEPSHOW)!

There came a day pretty much like any other day, except sales of Godawful Tony Parsons books went up. The Day of The Father! Photobucket

I hope you got yours a cake, kiddies! We Dads can hold a grudge for a long, long time! Heh. Heh. Heh. CREEPSHOW Art by Bernie Wrightson with Michele Wrightson Based on the motion Picture presentation CREEPSHOW directed by George Romero and written by Stephen King Plume/New American Library, $6.95 (1982)


A big old "COVER BY JACK KAMEN" - now that's treating creator's right!

Were I to open the nicotine stained and age crisped pages of my 1985 copy of Danse Macabre by Stephen King to page 36 I would find this:

"As a kid, I cut my teeth on William B. Gaines’s horror comics – Weird Science, Tales From The Crypt, Tales From The Vault – plus all the Gaines imitators…These horror comics of the fifties still sum up for me the epitome of horror…"

If I had time to continue reading I would find that King then goes on to describe, detail and analyse these fetid throwbacks up to page 39 of his illuminating non-fiction survey of horror. He may even go on about them later on in the book, but I wouldn't have time to check that. Hypothetically speaking, of course. Fact is, Stephen King loves him some old-timey EC horror schlockers. Hardly a bone jolter then to find that CREEPSHOW is a celluloid homage par excellence to such tales. Particularly as George A. Romero is behind the camera and, although I’m not as familiar with the man behind the ever enlarging glasses I’m pretty sure his genre work points to a familiarity with the same foul floppies.

CREEPSHOW, then, is an EC comic made film. This hardly makes it notable as in 1972 there was Tales From The Crypt and, in 1973, The Vault of Horror. These were Amicus productions, although they are often mistaken for Hammer films as, to be honest, for a viewer there isn't much between the two studios. Amicus were a bit tattier, perhaps. Amicus produced a few such anthology films although the trend for horror anthologies was popularised in 1945 by Dead of Night.


Tales From The Crypt poster Image taken from britposters.com.

These films are often referred to as portmanteau films. “Portmanteau” is French and thus makes everyone feel that bit classier about watching a film where, say, Roy Castle and Kenny Lynch face off against a Voodoo demon in a chilly British back lot passing for the West Indies, or a film where a scientist removes his pipe and gravely intones, “Why, a plant like that could take over the world!” Basically such films consist of a framing sequence, although that bit can be optional, with some connection to the handful of short, sharp shocks which then follow. They were pretty camp stuff, I’ll be bound. Sadly, at this remove it’s hard to tell if the campness is intentional. The sight of Tom Baker screaming in beige flares might once have been chilling for reasons far removed from his fashion choices or the damage he’s inflicting upon the concept of “acting”. The final stake through the heart of this enjoyably daft stuff came in 1980 with The Monster Club, a film that fails so badly as horror that the scariest part is a musical performance by B.A. Robertson. By 1980 then all that remained was the camp and that wasn't enough.


Art by Berni(e) Wrightson and words by Stephen King

In 1982 Romero and King inflicted CREEPSHOW upon the world. CREEPSHOW, while being a bit camp, is so technically adept and innovative as a film that the fact it came only 2 years after The Monster Club is pretty startling. I’d love to talk about all that but, since I haven’t seen it for about 20 years I can’t. That’s right, the clock has just struck amateur hour! Still, as unprofessional as I am I’m willing to bet a toffee wrapper and some lint that technically it’s still impressive. Impressive as a homage to the comics themselves and the films inspired by those comics, but this is a comics blog so how does the adaptation fare?

It does a pretty great job, thanks for asking. In terms of form it’s a step back for Berni Wrightson. Wrightson (who at this point isn't putting an “e” on the end of his name so I've had to do two tags, thanks Berni(e)!) had of course been a keen and active participant in the Warren magazines Creepy and Eerie. Those brought the EC formula bang up to date for the stinking Seventies and the emaciated (early) Eighties. Which mostly meant being (slightly) more horrible and having less narrative text, because the EC stuff was already pretty awesome, thanks very much. The worst elements of the originals were their overwritten nature, where a text box would describe what the artist was illustrating. Since the artist was probably someone awesome like Jack Davis or Graham Ingels, the largely redundant words would be putting a serious crimp in how much they could fit in one of the cramped panels. This was less than ideal for fans of fantastic art. CREEPSHOW the comic dials back a bit on this narration but the amount of speech still overwhelms the images at times. So, it’s a kind of compromise, I guess, and it does work for the most part. It certainly reads like an EC Comic; slightly better in fact due to the narrative nips and tucks.

Photobucket From "'Taint The Meat...It's The Humanity!" in Tales From The Crypt #32 (EC Comics, 1952). Art by Jack Davis and written by Al Feldstein. My All Time Favourite Bad Pun Title!

Where it doesn't quite catch the EC essence is in the horror. It just isn't horrible enough. I haven’t read a lot of EC Comics but what I have read has quite often been really quite foul. That’s okay, it’s a horror comic so that kind of comes with the territory. The five stories by King presented here have horrific elements but the campness is turned up just that bit too loud and dulls the impact of the atrocities on display. Strangely, it comes across as a nostalgic view of the material. One that surprises by flinching away from the tasteless stuff that defined it in the minds of its readers, such as Stephen King, in the first place.

Photobucket Art by Berni(e) Wrightson and words by Stephen King

Oddly the adaptation drops the movie’s framing device, I guess page limits acted as a kind of budgetary constraint here. It does mean Joe Hill doesn't get to see himself in a comic by Berni(e) Wrightson, but he is on the Jack Kamen cover. And how loudly does the fact that Jack Kamen’s credit is so large speak to the love of the creators for the source material? Loudly indeed. Speaking of the thespian Kings, possibly the best thing about the comic is you don’t actually have to experience Stephen King’s performance as Jordy Verrill, which is a bit like having to watch Kenneth from 30Rock do a 20 minute experimental play. Sometimes I wonder why CREEPSHOW is never on TV, and part of me can’t help but wonder if Stephen King’s family haven’t got something to do with that. The likeness of Jordy suggests Berni(e) Wrightson had never seen Stephen King as do many of the other depictions of folk such as Ed Harris, Ted Danson and E.G. Marshall. He does a cracking Hal Holbrook though. Maybe Berni(e) Wrightson just really dug drawing Hal Holbrook? Each to their own. Although the adaptation benefits from the lack of Stephen King, er, acting it does suffer from the lack of, say, E.G. Marshall’s horribly convincing performance as a massive sh*t bag. But then adaptations always suffer from the lack of the human element that brings so much life to the material on the big screen. For me, that’s where the artist comes in. His, or her, performance is going to make or break an adaptation. And when it comes to Berni(e) Wrightson, for me, the guy’s a maker not a breaker. Nice work, Berni(e) Wrightson!

Photobucket Art by Berni(e) Wrightson and words by Stephen King

So, while it isn't the first EC type comic to stain the cinema screen CREEPSHOW is the first(?) to actually attempt to create the experience of reading a comic through the medium of film. And the comic CREEPSHOW is an attempt to replicate the experience of watching the film based on those comics but mostly the comics themselves. It’s all a bit confusing really, but it remains GOOD!

So, yeah, I spent Father’s Day with some COMICS!!!

How about you?