Fright Card: 6 Killer Movie-Monster Matchups

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf ManFreddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator: horror film history repeatedly features face-offs between iconic monsters. If I were booking the fright card, though, here’s the cinematic talent I’d try to line up in the proverbial squared circle and set to mashing:

1.King Kong vs. Cthulhu

The regal gorilla is scheduled to renew his rivalry with Godzilla this spring, but in the meantime could clash with another colossus from down under the sea. Imagine the entourages this pair of native-favored figures would bring to their showdown!

 

2.Hannibal Lecter vs. Leatherface

A Texas Death Match of two competitors hungry for a vicious victory. Biting needs to be legalized here, otherwise this one would end in a quick disqualification.

 

3.The Cat from Hell vs. Ben

Stephen King’s infernal feline makes for a natural antagonist with the big black rat. Let’s hold this one in a steel cage, lest Ben’s colony of followers create outside interference.

 

4.The Creeper vs. The Faceless Trucker

A head-on collision of these scourges of the open road promises to spark some spectacular violence. Stipulation: the winner takes the title to his opponent’s wicked set of wheels.

 

5.Pinhead vs. Candyman

A sacerdotal demon devoted to inflicting legendary pain gets called out by an urban legend with a devastating right hook. The only thing that could make this bout between Clive Barker bogies any better would be to turn it into a Triple Threat Match with the undead Decker from Nightbreed.

 

6.Michael Myers vs. Sam

 

A battle of lunatic luchadores, as Haddonfield’s notorious Halloween-ruiner draws the wrath of the holiday’s most determined rule-keeper. Michael has a decided size advantage, but could end up a sucker for a jagged-edged foreign object that Sam is apt to carry into this street fight.

 

Freddy vs. Pennywise

In a two-hour-plus episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror: Uncut that was released back in February, Quentin Tarantino displays an amazing breadth of cinematic erudition. But just before the closing of the interview (available as a podcast on iTunes), he opens up a can of verbal worms. While admitting to never having actually read IT, Tarantino asserts that “Stephen King saw A Nightmare on Elm Street and did his rip-off of it. […] He just replaces Freddy Krueger with Pennywise.” A bold claim, to say the least, and one that prompts a comparative look back at the Wes Craven film and the King novel.

No doubt there are some tempting parallels between the hit 1984 film and IT (published in 1986). Both works feature a quintessential American small town (Springwood and Derry, respectively) haunted by a shapeshifting, child-killing menace that adults don’t seem to notice. Freddy Krueger’s infernal boiler room hangout pairs with the subterranean industrial space that Pennywise calls home: the sewer system forming an abject labyrinth beneath Derry. The persistent lasciviousness of Freddy (whom critic Mark Edmundson describes in Nightmare on Main Street as “a dingy bum dressed in a broken fedora and a football hooligan’s cast-off sweater”) also anticipates the fellatio-proposing hobo/leper that stalks Eddie in King’s book. Just as bad boy Rod is collared for the bizarre slaughter of Tina in the film, mad bully Henry Bowers takes the rap for Pennywise’s widespread crimes in IT. The plots of both the movie and the novel unfold in a strikingly similar fashion: a group of youngsters realize they have been sharing the same nightmarish experiences, and band together to battle their monstrous adversary. Balinese dream skills aid the teens on Elm Street, while King’s kids range beyond their own culture when drawing on the Himalayan Ritual of Chüd. Less sophisticatedly, the array of booby traps that Nancy sets for Freddy in Nightmare links with Richie’s fending off of Pennywise-as-Teenage-Werewolf with sneezing powder (“Jesus,” Richie sardonically ponders, “if I had some itching powder and maybe a joy buzzer I might be able to kill it.“).

All that having been said, there are some salient differences between Craven’s and King’s works. The film presents high-school-age heroes, while the members of the Losers Club in the novel are all pre-teens. The conservative morality evinced by 80’s slasher films consistently punishes teenagers like Tina and Rod who engage in sex, whereas a group sex act in IT actually helps save the Losers when they foray into the sewers. Also, the Freddy-Pennywise equation grows more complicated when one attends carefully to chronology. In the first Nightmare film, Freddy is not the pun-slinger and groan-inducing jokester he would devolve into in later entries in the series, so he can hardly be cited here as a model for Pennywise’s macabre clowning. Likewise, Freddy really is not much of a shapeshifter in the 1984 film (impersonating a hall monitor and later poking his tongue from a telephone mouthpiece form about the extent of it); his wilder transformations would come in films released after the publication of King’s novel. Furthermore, the notion of a terribly metamorphic monster did not originate with Craven and is not unique to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Such creatures are featured in two other works that clearly influence IT: John Carpenter’s The Thing (in which a deadly alien trickster crash-lands on Earth) and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story (in which a manitou-like femme fatale torments a group of friends over several generations).

Throughout his career, King has not been averse to engaging in pop cultural appropriation (e.g. the basic scenario of his novel Cell–a father traverses a post-apocalyptic, zombie-stocked wasteland in a quest to reach and rescue his son–sounds suspiciously similar to Brian Keene’s The Rising). I have little doubt that King was familiar with the original Nightmare on Elm Street and folded elements of the film into his monster opus, albeit in a less overt fashion than his references to various other horror genre properties throughout IT.  When King writes that Richie (who is accosted by the animate statue of Paul Bunyan) “understood that this wasn’t a dream at all…and if it was, it was a dream that could kill,” he suggests a firm grasp of Craven’s basic conceit. Still, to posit Pennywise as a darkly carnivalesque stand-in for Freddy Krueger, and to call IT a blatant rip-off A Nightmare on Elm Street, is a gross oversimplification and misrepresentation by Tarantino.

 

 

Monday Night Feline

Suddenly, it all makes diabolical sense.

The two franchises that play football at MetLife Stadium, the Giants and the Jets, have been godawful this fall. But maybe incompetent ownership/management, dubious coaching strategies, or underwhelming performances by the players isn’t the explanation for why these teams have become cellar dwellers. Instead, it seems that they have been cursed.

During last night’s Giants-Cowboys game in the Meadowlands, a jet-black cat took to the field and brought the action to a halt. The Giants’ fortunes (they had been playing well up to that point) reversed shortly after the appearance of this Halloween holdover.

A few weeks back on a Monday night in the woeful October, a beleaguered (and regrettably miked-up) Sam Darnold claimed he was seeing ghosts out on the field, and became widely mocked in the media for his comment. But after the witchy interruption in last night’s game, I am starting to wonder if the Jets quarterback was speaking metaphorically…

 

Dark Carnival Brilliance: 10 Wickedly Good Descriptions in Bradbury’s Classic Novel

Fifty-seven years after its first publication, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes remains a perennial October re-read. One key to the book’s lasting popularity is the poetry infusing Bradbury’s prose. The author uses his unparalleled gift for description to immerse his audience in the autumnal scene. Virtually every page of the novel features instances of haunting imagery and captivating language, but here below are my choices for the ten most memorable passages.

(All quotes are taken from the October 2017 Simon & Schuster trade paperback, a definitive edition recommended not just for the text of Bradbury’s novel itself, but also for the extensive “History, Context and Criticism” section appended to it.)

 

1.A Frost Maiden on Display:

And in the window, like a great coffin boat of star-colored glass, beached on two sawhorses lay a chunk of Alaska Snow Company ice chopped to a size great enough to flash in a giant’s ring. (p. 40)

 

2.Overnight Incoming:

There, on the precipice of earth, a small steam feather uprose like the first of a storm cloud yet to come.

The train itself appeared, link by link, engine, coal-car, and numerous and numbered all-asleep-and-slumbering-dreamfilled cars that followed the firefly-sparked churn, chant, drowsy autumn hearthfire roar. Hellfires flushed the stunned hills. Even at this remote view, one imagined men with buffalo-haunched arms shoveling black meteor falls of coal into the open boilers of the engine. (p. 44)

 

3.The Very Antithesis of Merry:

They peered in at the merry-go-round which lay under a dry rattle and roar of wind-tumbled oak trees. Its horses, goats, antelopes, zebras, speared through their spines with brass javelins, hung contorted as in a death rictus, asking mercy with their fright-colored eyes, seeking revenge with their  panic-colored teeth. (p. 69)

 

4.Suitably Sinister:

His vest was the color of flesh blood. His eyebrows, his hair, his suit were licorice black, and the sun-yellow gem which stared from the tie pin thrust in his cravat was the same unblinking shade and bright crystal as his eyes. But in this instant, swiftly, and with utter clearness, it was the suit which fascinated Will. for it seemed woven of boar-bramble, clock-spring hair, bristle, and a sort of ever-trembling, ever-glistening dark hemp. The suit caught light and stirred like a bed of black tweed-thorns, interminably itching, covering the man’s long body with motion so it seemed he should excruciate, cry out, and tear the clothes free. (p. 70)

 

5.A Fiery Rehearsal:

And there the Lava Sipper, Vesuvio of the chafed tongue, of the scalded teeth, who spun scores of fireballs up, hissing in a ferris of flame which streaked shadows along the tent roof.

Nearby, in booths, another thirty freaks watched the fires fly until the Lava Sipper glanced, saw intruders, and let his universe fall. The suns drowned in a a water tub. (p. 101)

 

6.Hearkening in the Dark:

What sort of noise does a balloon make, adrift?

None.

No, not quite. It noises itself, it soughs, like the wind billowing your curtains all white as breaths of foam. Or it makes a sound like the stars turning over in your sleep. Or it announces itself like moonrise and moonset. That last is best: like the moon sailing the universal deeps, so rides a balloon. (p.130-131)

 

7.Mr. Halloway Monologue:

“The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain. They set their clocks by death-watch beetles, and thrive the centuries. They were the men with the leather-ribbon whips who sweated up the pyramids seasoning it with other people’s salt and other people’s cracked hearts. They coursed Europe on the White Horses of the Plague. They whispered to Caesar that he was mortal, then sold daggers at half-price in the grand March sale. Some must have been lazing clowns, foot props for emperors, princes, and epileptic popes. Then out on the road, Gypsies in time, their populations grew as the world grew, spread, and there was more delicious variety of pain to thrive on. The train put wheels under them and here they run down the long road out of the Gothic and baroque; look at their wagons and coaches, the carving like medieval shrines, all of it stuff once drawn  by horses, mules, or, maybe, men.” (p. 182-183)

 

8.Horripilating Skin Show:

Mr. Dark came carrying his panoply of friends, his jewel-case assortment of calligraphical reptiles which lay sunning themselves at midnight on his flesh. With him strode the stitch-inked Tyrannosaurus rex, which lent to his haunches a machined and ancient wellspring mineral-oil glide. As the thunder lizard strode, all glass-bead pomp, so strode Mr. Dark, armored with vile lightning scribbles of carnivores and sheep blasted by that thunder and arun before storms of juggernaut flesh.  It was the pterodactyl kite and scythe which raised his arms almost to fly the marbled vaults. And with the inked and stencilled flashburnt shapes of pistoned or bladed doom came his usual crowd of hangers-on, spectators gripped to each limb, seated on shoulder blades, peering from his jungled chest, hung upside down in microscopic millions in his armpit vaults screaming bat-screams for encounters, ready for the hunt and if need be the kill. Like a black tidal wave upon a bleak shore, a dark tumult infilled with phosphorescent beauties and badly spoiled dreams, Mr. Dark sounded and hissed his feet, his legs, his body, his sharp face forward. (p. 196-197)

 

9.Plying Her Craft:

The Witch toppled forward with her seamed black wax sewn-shut iguana eyelids and her great proboscis with the nostrils caked like tobacco-blackened pipe bowls, her fingers tracing, weaving a silent plinth of symbols on the mind.

The boys stared.

Her fingernails fluttered, darted, feathered cold winter-water air. Her pickled green frog’s breath crawled their flesh in pimples as she sang softly, mewing, humming, glistering her babes, her boys, her friends of the slick snail-tracked roof, the straight-flung arrow, the stricken and sky-drowned balloon. (p. 204)

 

10.The Show Can’t Go On:

Then at last, the Freak Tent, the great melancholy mothering reptile bird, after a moment of indecision, sucked in a Niagara of blizzard air, broke loose three hundred hempen snakes, crack-rattled its black side-poles so they fell like teeth from a cyclopean jaw, slammed the air with acres of moldered wing as if trying to kite away but, earth-tettered, must succumb to plain and most simple gravity, must be crushed by its own locked bulk.

Now this greatest tent staled out hot raw breaths of earth, confetti that was ancient when the canals of Venice were not yet staked, and wafts of pink cotton candy like tired feather boas. In rushing downfalls, the tent shed skin; grieved, soughed as flesh fell away until at last the tall museum timbers at the spine of the discarded monster dropped with three cannon roars. (p. 252-253)

 

 

Occult Beverages

An original poem toasting all those with a thirst for mischief here on the eve of Halloween…

 

Occult Beverages

By Joe Nazare

 

Six tips for homely brewers in the late October:

Go for potency always
Attempting to level most is level best

Disregard freshness
Moldering ingredients will only improve this batch

Stir religiously
Being careful not to burn over an open flame

Pour straight from pot to goblet
Chilling before serving gets the order wrong

Garnish garishly
Skewered eye of newt is quite catching

Lastly, savor their every moue of distaste
After all your toil and trouble, you can sit back for a spell

 

Ichabod Inane

I try not to post strictly negative reviews here on the Dispatches from the Macabre Republic blog, because there’s not a lot of joy in writing them. Sometimes, though, it is a necessity. Consider this my public service announcement.

Ichabod! The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is an hour-long film (dated as 2019, but according to IMDB, first released in 2004) available on Amazon Prime Video. It bills itself as a musical, which I must admit caught my interest. But after a song at the outset, the film runs for another thirty minutes before offering another tune (I think I counted four total). We might have been better off not getting any songs at all, because the lyrics approach the height of ridiculousness (they lost me at “What an Ichabod-a-bing!”).

This film has all the production value of a high school musical. I swear I saw the “stone” well shake as characters ran by it. The limited set design also seems to lend a nonsensical quality to the proceedings: a masked ball is actually held outdoors in the village courtyard.

The putative plot centers on the Ichabod-Katrina-Brom love triangle, but grossly distorts the Washington Irving source text. Here Katrina’s parents are hellbent on marrying their daughter off to the dubiously debonair Crane, and Katrina is torn between her sense of familial duty and her true love for Brom. Nothing terribly compelling about any of this romantic drama. I also find it laughable that the actor portraying Ichabod (Peter O’Meara) is a bit portly, and bigger in stature than the actor playing the supposedly-physically-superior Brom (Nathan Anderson).

Perhaps worst of all, the Headless Horseman hardly figures into the film. Quick glimpses of the legendary specter early on don’t make a lot of narrative sense. And while there is a climactic confrontation with Ichabod, there is neither a thrilling chase on horseback nor an iconic pumpkin-chucking scene. Instead the film settles for moribund ambiguity and a lame, heavily-moralizing conclusion.

When first selecting the film on Amazon, I debated between renting and purchasing. Thankfully I chose the former, because one viewing is one too many. Decapitation would be a preferable option to having to sit through this bastardizing dreck ever again.

 

Heavenly Halloween

For those who hadn’t already divined the truth from the sight of a harvest moon, here’s further proof that the Halloween season is cosmically ordained. NASA has set the internet ablaze with its recent posting of a 2014 image of the sun that suggests a fiery jack-o’-lantern face. This “Pumpkin Sun” (as NASA has dubbed it), is one whose glow I’d happily bask in on a crisp, late-October night.

 

Shock Treatment

The Universal monsters are not only ingrained in pop culture; they have become an indisputable staple of the Halloween season. A large part of their legacy was assured a little over half a century ago, with the advent of Shock Theater (a package of classic horror films brought to television syndication by Screen Gems). The following poem (from my collection Autumn Lauds) was written to commemorate this wondrous moment in the history of monster-movie viewing.

 

Shock Treatment

Home invasions welcomed each weekend

Screen Gems gleaming in black and white

Legendary wretches on late-night display

Heralded scenes seen for yourself at last

Frankenstein’s Monster getting a stormy inception

Old Imhotep set lumbering by the Scroll of Thoth

Lawrence Talbot turning darksome when the autumn moon is bright

Bandaged Jack Griffin proving indiscernible in dishabille

Dracula descending the massive castle staircase, candle in hand

All framed by the ghoul humor of Roland

Seminal influence of the syndicated

A Universal renaissance in October ’57

An entire generation of monsterkids born

 

The Kings of Comedy

In case you missed it:

Stephen King and Joe Hill recently did an event in Massachusetts together to promote their new releases (The Institute and Full Throttle, respectively). To see father and son on stage together is a terrific treat, and what makes the occasion even more special is just how downright entertaining the two writers prove. They elicit continuous laughter, via both prepared anecdotes and nimble ad-libbing, and as they tease each other mercilessly. The love and respect that King and Hill have for each other, though, is readily apparent, and heartwarming to witness.

Not that this hasn’t been mentioned before elsewhere, but, man, is Hill (especially when sporting a beard) the spitting image of his father at that same age (check out King’s original-hardcover book jacket photos for novels like The Dead Zone or Firestarter).

The interaction between the two here is so precious, and this video is such a fun watch, that I wish it was something King and Hill did together on a regular basis.

Kudos to Porter Square Books, not just for arranging “An Evening with Joe Hill and Stephen King,” but also for posting the video for the sold-out event to YouTube.