Saturday, May 31, 2008

Superman Returns...?

The skeletal spotlight shines this time on:
"Cracked" magazine's SHOCKING cover!

Click on the image for a higher rez.

I am shocked and offended by this cover. The memory of Christopher Reeve's tragic and untimely accident and subsequent death is too recent and painful to allow something this callous, this tasteless, this inconsiderate to go uncommented on.

I plan on protesting to the Cracked office and owners in the strongest language possible. I propose a boycott of the magazine until an apology is issued. I will... what's that you say?

The issue was published in the summer of 1993? And it's about Superman's return in the comics from his death at the hands of Doomsday the year before? Umm... this is embarrassing. (How to recover...? I got it.) "Don't point a finger at me, cause that's probably how you felt when you first saw it."

Well, I was going through my magazine collection yesterday when I came across this issue, and although I knew it for what it was, I had not seen it in years since buying it. Viewed now in retrospect of what happened to our beloved Chris, it struck me in a powerful way, and just seemed weird and ironic. I'm sure if it was republished in some form, the public outcry would be about the same as my opening comments.

Due to the circumstances, this is one you will probably never see anywhere other than here, folks. Which raises the question, am I crude and inconsiderate for reposting it here? I don't think so. I'm just reposting what was done in the past. And it has a skull, or at least a zombie face on it, so that justifies it for the blog. Right? Right?

Leave a comment and tell me how it made you feel when you saw it. Am I the only one that got the chills?

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Tomb Of Silence

The skeletal spotlight shines this time on:
"A Tomb Of Silence," a 1972 Jess Franco film.
Click on image for higher res.

The bandolier-wearing lady and her large ghostly skull companion fearfully explore a silent tomb.

OK, folks, this is one rare instance where I feature a blog on a poster for a film that I know nothing of, have never seen, have never heard of before, and will probably never see.

Here's what I do know, from researching it on the web: the 83 minute film, made in 1972, in Spain, is a mystery by Jess Franco. That's probably all one needs to know; enough to avoid it. I apologise to any fans of this film or Mr. Franco who might like it. Feel free to review it in the comments section.

Why feature it, then? It's got a really cool skull on the poster. And that's what this blog is about. I like the poster, and thought you might also.

Since I know so little about the film itself, I won't waste time and page space going on and on about it. Don't you hate it when someone writes about something they know nothing about, and they try to add stuff that really doesn't relate, just to be writing? They talk about their childhood, and how wonderfully precious it was, and they never know when to stop glorifying memories that mean nothing to anyone else other than them. And they ramble on endlessly, blathering about this or that, and they wear you out with all the pontificating. And then they...

Oh, wait. Oops.

See you next time, with something I can actually write about.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mystery Comics Digest #10

The skeletal spotlight today shines on:
The 1972 Gold Key Mystery Comics Digest #10 cover.
Click on the pictures for higher rez.

Let this be a lesson, kids; always wear a seat belt.

Weird! Eerie! Authentic! Authentic? Well, two out of three ain't too shabby. These Mystery Comics Digests, collecting previous (and some new) Gold Key material, hold a special place in my monster kid memories. Summer days spent absorbing them, drawing recreations of scenes inside, drinking a Nehi Peach soda, with no worries. As a 13 year old kid, there was nothing better.

Such a dense collection of stories was good for a few hours, and each one was a gem. Isn't it interesting how memories can make things like this, which are not really outstanding when looked at today, seem like a treasure? When I re-read them now, it's not with an eye toward how they hold up story-wise, but how it feels to see them again, like a childhood friend, and how it returns me to those carefree golden times.

Slightly smaller, but original artwork without the cover wear of the larger image. The kid is just as dead, though.

But with a cover like the one above, even someone that had never seen it can appreciate it. That's great artwork no matter when it came out. However, if I had been the driver of the yellow convertable, a big red truck with a scary skull floating over it would have been a warning sign.

One thing that the picture doesn't reveal is that the truck was carrying a load of peanut butter, and the guy in the car was eating chocolate. Unfortunately, there were no survivors to enjoy the discovery, so Reese's Cups had to wait til another, less fatal collision to be invented.

"Peek-a-boo!" Another cover that shows skulls are always lurking just below the surface, even in paintings. They are tricky devils, indeed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dance, Skeleton, Dance!

(Note: I had previously published this in another blog called "Monster Memories," but since creating "Sweet Skulls," it fits even better, so here it is for those that missed it on the other site.)

Disney's "Skeleton Dance" cartoon is a favorite of mine. Released in 1929 as the first of the "Silly Symphonies" series, this short set the stage for the concept, which featured animation set to musical pieces. In this regard, the series was the precursor to "Fantasia" which would come later.

Directed by Walt Disney and animated by the legendary Ub Iwerks, with a memorable score by Carl Stalling, the film portrays a group of lively skeletons who boogie the night away in an atmospheric graveyard. In 1994, members of the animation field voted it to be #18 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time, so it ain't just me that's crazy about it.

What is it about dancing skeletons that makes them so much darn fun, anyway?

The notion of the decomposed deceased having a good-natured and high-stepping shindig is nothing new. During the Dark Ages the theme was commonly portrayed in artwork. The medieval woodcutting below portrays cavorting cadavers (with one losing his innards) in a scene that could easily inspire a modern comedy-horror movie. Indeed, the idea resurfaced as recently as Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride," in which there was a scene directly inspired by the "Skeleton Dance" cartoon.

The internet abounds with examples:
A hilarious Skeleton marrionette
CGI Example #1 and Example #2

Danse Macabre: The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut. The oft-portrayed Dance of Death is a late-medieval allegory on the universality of death: no matter one's station in life, the dance of death unites all.In the drawing above, we learn that even south of the border, the simple bony folk love to cut the rug and party hearty. Although one wonders exactly where the food and drink end up after they down it.
Yep, it's an old tradition to show the unliving shake a leg. Perhaps it helps take the edge off of the horror of death, or maybe it's just a way of saying that the fun doesn't have to end just because you no longer wear the flesh. Whatever the attraction, the scene was conjured up on the screen for the first time in the Silly Symphonies film. And what a scene it was!

'Twas the night before Walpurgis, and all through the crypts...
Opening in a spooky moonlit churchyard at the stroke of midnight, the flamboyantly ringing church tower bell bothers the bats in the belfry, which swarm out and fly toward the viewer. Don't you hate it when that happens? Bat guano is so hard to get out of clothes.

A sight a mouse prays never to see.
After a big hairy spider descends on a web, the fun gets underway as an owl hoots menacingly and avoids the finger-like branches of a tree blown by the wind. Every movement in the animation is synchronized to the music, so it is truly a dance macabre, and not merely a cartoon with some silly music under it. The background artwork of the decrepit burial ground is beautifully painted, forming a wonderfully creepy backdrop for the action.

These unlucky black cats are scared spitless.
A couple of black cats yowl and hiss at one another on a tombstone, each striving to out-do the other with the amount of spit they can produce. (They are obviously in a Southern cemetery; one might expect to see a rusted coffin up on cement blocks behind the skinny howling hound-dog.) Suddenly their conflict is interrupted by the appearance of a living skeleton, which scares their fur clean off for a moment before they flee, being 'fraidy cats after all.

The skulking skeleton silently slips, sans skin, from the secluded sarcophagus.
Said skeleton then leaps toward the camera, which goes through his jaws, his ribcage and out his bony behind! One can only imagine the nightmares this caused for the tender tots in the audience. Going through the alimentary tract of a reanimated dead person? I can see little George Romero crying his eyes out in the theater. Gathering himself up, our hero proceeds to sneak around the deserted cemetery, until startled by the screeching owl. For a permanent citizen of this creepy country bone yard, he is one jumpy dude.

The dead have no regard for an endangered species.
Angrily, he removes his own head, tossing it at the owl and defeathering it! Personally, I feel his violent reaction was to cover up his embarrassment at being found to be such a wuss. If it ever got out he was chicken, the other dead people would make his existence an unliving hell. With the hapless owl now denuded, and ashamed to show his face, ol' Bone Daddy's secret is safe and his over-compensatory bad attitude intact.
Didja hear about Scared Skully? Pass it on!
Once head and body are reunited, he is joined by three others of his kind and they proceed to kick up their bony heels in an extended and comical dance number. This calcified chorus line puts on a good show, proving that being dead is no handicap to real talent. Though they dance as a team, even at one time holding hands and cavorting in a circle, a couple of the more versatile members take the solo spotlight several times. One loose-limbed cadaver demonstrates his ability to rapidly break apart his bones and put them back, in time with the music. It may be assumed that this was an early example of break dancing.

This is not what it looks like.... we swear!
During the course of the frolics, it seems that someone spiked the punch with formaldehyde, because things start to get freaky. One skeleton yanks off the femurs of another and plays the spine of the now-shortened friend like a xylophone. The de-legged one seems not to mind, as if this is par for the course, which may certainly be the case. The tune-player goes to town on his backbone, finally during the crescendo smashing him down to a broken pile of bones, which he then discards! What looks like an abusive relationship may not be, though... it's possible they switch roles on other nights.

Lay down your arms and prepare to be boarded!
What we are seeing in an unlawful act: the mutilation of a corpse. But when both parties are willing, who's gonna report it? The mutual abuse of bodies continues, as one flips another over with a fist to the head, and, jumping his bones, rides the upside down victim like a pogo stick. (This brought back unpleasant memories of a similar incident involving a 5th grade bully.) Then they reverse positions and the other hops on, bouncing the ridden fellow's cranium repeatedly into the ground. As any drunk will tell you: what fun you can have when you can't feel pain!
Playing with a cat can be fun!
Sadly, the same can't be said for the unlucky cat that gets grabbed and used for a bass fiddle, as a musically-inclined skeleton pins the feline's neck down with a foot and plays his stretched tail with a bow. This would never fly in today's PC world, as the PETA would object to this mistreatment of an animal, even an animated one. Imitable action, you know. Some kid might decide to do this to his cat. What could be wrong with that, I ask?

Said the night wind to the living dead, "Do you hear what I hear?"
The morbid merry-making comes to an end all too soon, though, as a rooster heralds the coming of the dawn. Frantically scrambling for their own tombs, the action resembles a teenage keg party when the parents suddenly pull up. Confused, the gaunt group collides and collapses into a disjointed pile of loose remains.

John Carpenter has a nightmare.
This quickly reassembles itself into a mutated mega-skeleton, which gallops over to dive heads-first into an open sepulchre. One little pair of skeletal feet, left behind in all the excitement, runs up and kicks desperately at the stone, until a hand reaches out and yanks them in at the last second. (Still missing is the other pair of arms not included in the composite creature. Perhaps they got left behind in the arms race.)

What we don't see is the real reason for the hasty retreat; the patrol car that comes cruising through, in response to a complaint by the crotchety old lady living next to the church. The dead may not rest in peace, but they can at least keep down the noise so others can!
Heralded on the original poster as "A Laugh Riot From Start To Finish" the cartoon went on to haunt the collective memories of several generations since. Referenced in numerous movies and TV shows, such as the afore-mentioned "Corpse Bride," The Skeleton Dance was also paid homage to in the episode "Hill Billy" of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, where Grim, having been turned into a 1930's era cartoon character, leads several other skeletons in dance, and even mimics the actions seen in the original classic. A clip shows up on a TV in the recent movie "Ghost Rider."

"We're back! And this time IN COLOR!"
What many fans don't know, is that artist/animator Ub Iwerks went on to remake it in color for another company a few years later! Although more of a remake than a sequel, it is different enough to warrant it's own place in silly spook history. A future blog entry will take a look at this little-known gem, titled "Skeleton Frolic."
Bits of the animation from "Skeleton Dance" were re-used in the Mickey Mouse short "Haunted House," also released in 1929. Mickey, having taken shelter from a storm in a Haunted House, is pressed into service by the Grim Reaper to play music for a wild party of spooks. This cartoon is great in it's own right, holding a place in my heart as one of the great vintage spooky cartoons, with many great gags and comic bits involving Mickey's frightful foray into the house. After I gets some screen grabs I'll devote a blog post to it in the near future.

Till next time, when your bones feel like dancin' the night away, it might be best to go ahead and let them have their way. Otherwise, they might do it after you are finished with them.

Monstrous dreams! "Hey! You want a piece a me? DO YA?"
YouTube posts of this (or any Disney) cartoon are usually short-lived due to Disney's diligence in having them removed. But here's one I found on there, so till it's gone, enjoy. Be warned, the quality is low, it looks as if it came from an old vhs tape.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sounds To Make You Shiver LP

The skeletal spotlight this time shines on:
The back cover artwork for the 1974 spooky effects LP "Sounds To Make You Shiver!"

Click on the images for higher-rez versions

"And--you shall NEVER return!!" From where, it was not made clear.

When I was a kid, a monster kid that is, there wasn't much you could have access to when it came to enjoying a scary atmosphere whenever you wanted. Before videotape, one was limited to when the movies were playing on TV, and they weren't repeatable, until they re-ran it that is. But, there was one awesome item that every monster kid remembers and cherishes... the spooky sound effects LPs.

With the lights out, with maybe a candle flickering (or a flashlight low on battery power), these long-playing records terrified us and brought the horror home. Our overactive imaginations were ignited by the situations heard on them, and often the scares remained to haunt us even after the record was turned off. And the covers to the LP were often what we set up and stared at the whole time the record played, burning their images into our impressionable minds forever.

Now, this takes me back.

This particular record's cover artwork was not that memorable, when compared to some of the others out around the same time. Nothing compared to the Disney's "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House" artwork (seen further below). But this LP art had one thing going for it... the life-size skull on the back. That thing was bigger than my head at the time, and twice as ugly.

In the flicker of the candle or flashlight, this yellow skull, surrounded by flames, grinned at me as the sounds filled the air of my room. Those hollow eyes seemed to bore into mine hypnotically, drawing me into the reality of the horrific situation unfolding. It was my own personal "crypt-keeper," hosting the journey through the Haunted House at midnight. And it didn't go away when I closed my eyes... but remained as a glowing after-image floating inside my eyelids. Good times, and good memories.

Just because we're on the subject, and because I'm very fond of these records, here are a few other favorites I owned (and still do, framed on my wall) that you will enjoy seeing.

I can relate to the kid in the picture... he just finished listening to the record inside. This gem was issued in 1973. Made up of individual stories, mostly traditional, told with music and effects.

The classic story of the Haunted Mansion. It's a kick listening to a pre-"Happy Days" Ron Howard acting on it. The artwork inside on the book pages is freakin' awesome. Released on 1969.

Even a Jehovah's Witness would hesitate to knock on this door.

This LP came out in 1977 and had great artwork. On Side A was a story that, for a change, wasn't narrated, but heard "as it happens." We hear a young man's visit to an old mansion he has inherited. On the drive there he talks to himself, recalling the history of the old house and the ghost stories passed down through the generations. Once there, all manner of frightening things happen, and he flees in terror. The legendary Peter Cullen supplies the voice of a character on this one to great effect.

Awesome artwork! Those are some wicked looking witches.

The back of the above LP. Side B was composed of all the effects used on Side A, isolated for your own listening enjoyment and use. I used them to record my own Halloween adventure with some friends, onto cassette. This foreshadowed my involvement in radio, as today I'm doing the same things with fancier toys.

Here's the classic all-time great by Disney. This pre-dated the Haunted Mansion itself, and some of the effects on the record were used it in when it opened. For an in-depth look at this most wonderful of spooky LPs, go to this great blog devoted to it. They love it as much as I do!

This one was distiguished by the excellent audio situations. Very well done.

Here's how I have some of my favorite LPs displayed in record frames, around a Haunted Mansion poster. The plaque at the the top was bought at the HM souvenir stand at Disney World in 1993.

A closer view of the HM plaque.

Not really HM-specific, but anything I could take home as a souvenir was good.

1971 Psycho Cover

The skeletal spotlight shines this time on:
The January 1971 cover of "Psycho" by Brendan Lynch.

Click for a higher-res version.

Sometimes, you just don't have to say a lot about an image... it speaks volumes for itself. This one screams horror like few magazine covers ever did. Artist Brendan Lynch delivers an unforgettable image of a man whose flesh is being stripped away in what is obviously a painful experience. Never mind that he already has a large hole in his skull, exposing his brain. This is beyond an Exedrin headache.

One has to question the logic, though, of a beam or whatever-the-heck kind of syndrome that removes all flesh and tissue from the skeleton, and yet leaves the soft gray brain matter. Or in this case, purple brain matter. But, perhaps I'm expecting too much. It's still one of the coolest covers I ever laid my bloodshot young eyes upon.

This is one issue that I hope to someday own so I can read the story behind it, "The Skin And Bones Syndrome," written by Roger Elwood and drawn by Gray Morrow. But for now, I'm satisfied to view this awesome cover and share it with you. Yeah, we're bonding.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Orgy of the Living Dead

Today's skeletal spotlight shines on..."Orgy of the Living Dead."
Click the images to see a hi-rez versions.

Folks, you are looking at one of the single most horrific, (and to my teen self, thrilling) pieces of artwork for a movie ad ever made, that ever fell under the category of "never appears in the movie." When this showed up in the newspaper on the movie ad page back in spring of 1972, my dark little heart skipped several beats as I feverishly cut it out to put in my scrapbook.

You see, I could never go see the movies they advertised, both because I was underage (13 years old), but also because my parents would never let me. The newspaper ads were often the only thing I could collect in association with the films I could never go see. So, I could only longingly feast my eyes on the promotional artwork, and imagine how awesome the movie must be. Little did I know then, that what I imagined was so much better than the actual movie. As I know now, the artwork was much better than the film, and misleading as to what you would see.

Right up front you should be warned that there is no orgy; not even a petting party... and precious few living dead, and those are of the vampiric variety and not zombies. The titular "orgy" was actually the name of the triple-feature under which all three of the films would show: "Revenge of the Living Dead," "Curse of the Living Dead," and "Fangs of the Living Dead." What I little dreamed was that the three films were not even related! One would think that they were all in a series of films that connected, like the Apes movies making the rounds in the butt-numbing "Ape-o-thons," but no... they were three movies completely unrelated to each other, simply renamed to make it seem that way.

But you have to hand it to the promoters here: they did a great job of packaging and promoting the films to maximum effect. The titles, picked to capitalise on Romero's zombie movie, though there were no zombies; the artwork, depicting an imaginary character that never made an appearance; and the idea of "three-movies-for-the-price-of-one" which made it a real bargain. Similar to a cheap smorgasboard of crummy food, you might complain that it didn't taste that good, but you had to admit you sure got a lot for your money.

The zombie/vampire artwork, indeed, the entire campaign, was created by Alan Ormsby, who was a multi-talented man indeed. Besides being an artist, he was a director and actor. You may have seen one of his more famous movies: "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things," another of those movies talked about in awed whispers on the playground. But I'm most in awe of his artwork for the promotion, which remains famous to this day. Look at the detail on that gruesome death's-head: rotted skin peeling back to show an exposed skull: with a hole in said skull revealing the brain beneath! An empty eye socket! A hole for a nose!

My 13-year-old mind could scarcely conceive of such horror. It was the most gory image I had ever seen, even considering the monster magazines I was beginning to get interested in, as I could find them. This was before I had found the comic magazines such as "Tales From the Tomb" and such, which took gore to a new level. Those I would find later, and we'll take a look at some of the outrageous images available to any kid, in a future posting.

Having such an impact on my impressionable mind, the image stood as the pinnacle in scary movie artwork, and was never surpassed. (Inspired, I drew my own copy of it, being somewhat talented in drawing things I could look at. Using felt-tip markers, I colored in my version, supplying the blood and gore that the paper ad didn't have.) So when, about ten years later as a young man I happened upon the entire press kit for the movies in a south Florida collector's shop, I snatched it up like a starving zombie gnoshing upon a handfull of fresh entrails. This was a true find! And seeing the entire ad campaign made me appreciate even more what went into promoting this event.

Here is the front of the actual press kit:

Inside page of the poster-sized pressbook:

Page three of the kit:

The ad I had seen and saved from the local paper (and still have, taped in my scrapbook) was only a small part of the overall kit.

Included with the kit was a sample "Madman 1 Sheet," that the theater owner could order to hand out to patrons (see below). On the front here was a photograph of a raving lunatic in a straitjacket, presumably a viewer who was driven insane by seeing the movies. The copy on the other side read, in part: "This is John Austin Frazier. It has been reported that he now resides at a Mental Hospital, the result of attending a showing of "Orgy of the Living Dead!" Because of this tragic event, we, the producers, have secured an insurance policy, insuring the sanity of each and every patron. If you lose your mind as a result of viewing this explosion of terror, you will receive free psychiatric care, or be placed, at our expense, in an asylum for the rest of your life! We urge you to take advantage of this protection! The insurance is free - anyone entering the theater without it does so at his own risk. Remember: WE WARNED YOU!!!"

The copy about the handout reads "This hair-raising 'Madman' special one sheet, taken directly from ORGY's key art, is a guaranteed attention-getter! The Madman's distorted face screams out in anguished horror while the text of the poster contains a WARNING note for those about to enter the theater! A guaranteed crowd-raiser that will draw a quick line at the boix office!" I'm sure it did.

Front of the handout:

Back of the handout:

Screengrab from the trailer for the film featuring the raving madman...
There is also copy in the kit about the trailers, TV spots and radio ads that the owner could order to help promote the event. Of particular interest is the language used to describe certain ones of the radio ads: "Two of the spots have been specially prepared for Black audiences, and all convey the spirit of the show-biz excitement that will draw the crowds to your box-office!" One supposes they sprinkled in some jive-talk in those.

Well, if you ever ran across this image of a skull with skin rotting from it in your youth, and it haunted your memory, now you can revel in it till your eyes ache. Thanks, Alan, for contributing not only to success of three movies that were ill-deserving of it, but mainly for enriching our childhoods with such a lasting image.

Here's the infamous TV advertisement itself!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Screaming Skull

The spotlight today is on: "The Screaming Skull." Prepare to be boned.

Movie blurb: "The Screaming Skull is a motion picture that reaches its climax in shocking horror. Its impact is so terrifying that it may have an unforeseen effect. It may kill you! Therefore the producers feel it necessary to provide free burial services to anyone who dies of fright, while seeing The Screaming Skull!"

In 1958, American International released The Screaming Skull. This was the same year something else boney and screaming was released, namely me, from my mother's scary place. The movie's mystery is similar to "House on Haunted Hill" (which also had a cool movie poster), in that one wonders if the appearances are supernatural or part of a plan to scare the main female character. To it's credit, this movie keeps you guessing and then plays it both ways.
I scream, you scream, we all scream...

Peggy Webber portrays Jenni, the new bride of a man who had lost his first wife to a tragic, and suspicious, drowning accident. This film marks Alex Nicol's debut as a director, and he also portrays Mickey the caretaker. He should have stuck to the caretaker role and let someone else direct.

The best thing about this movie, as can be said about many, is the poster. Who wouldn't want to see a huge, floating, screaming skull (who happens to have bony hands also, so he's probably technically a skeleton) molesting a bra-clad woman in her bed? That would be scary. Or at least, entertaining.
Jenni was shocked to see that the skull had eaten all of her stashed "Screaming Yellow Zonkers."

Unfortunately, in the movie all we see is an ordinary skull that keeps popping up here and there to un-nerve the mentally tormented heroine. Of course, that alone would reduce most people to a quivering mess, but eventually you'd get used to it and move it aside to get the peanut butter.

And although it does eventually scream, the audience is already screaming, for their money back. The MST3K version is the best one to watch in order to really enjoy this movie. You might make it through the original once, but the "misty" version is the one you can come back to and watch again and again. It's a perfect Halloween party movie.
Jenni in a calmer, reflective moment between skulls.

To be fair, Peggy Webber fit the mold of the 50's horror-movie female... with the bullet bra and tight sweaters and dresses, she added some erotic visual interest that kept the adolescents riveted. Even today, the scene of her undressing down to her bra is more of a turn-on than the artificially-inflated plastic barbies of today's films.

It's the premise, the poster, and really the title alone, that sold this movie. The very idea of a disembodied skull, appearing in the night over your bed, was enough to return you to your younger days of bedwetting. Too bad the movie didn't live up to it.

But another one was coming, that would. We'll talk about that one soon.

The image and title probably sold this book too.

Here's the story that the above book headlines.
It's has little in common with the movie, which is a good thing: it could actually give you goosebumps if you read it late at night with most of the lights off. The only thing it has in common is the title, which someone in Hollywood obviously thought would make a good poster.