Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dracula Returns! Again!

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
The skullerific cover art for "Dracula Returns!"
(Click on images to enlarge)

"Hey, I'm over here, behind this big ol' skull!"

My grandma's house was a few miles from a small bookstore called Bill's on Ingleside Ave in Macon, GA. As a young teen, when visiting her house on the weekend, I would sometimes walk the distance to look for the latest issue of The Monster Times or other cool magazines. After all, they had a better selection than the closer-to-home drugstore where I usually went. One summer, in 1973, I came upon the first in the Dracula Horror Series titled "Dracula Returns," and had read it nearly halfway through on the walk back to her house. It's a wonder I made it without getting run over, but I was pretty good at walking and reading. I still recall exactly where I was in the book at particular points as I walked home, passing under the oaks draped with spanish moss, blowing in the faint breeze.

Most horrifying of all, the flower in his buttonhole seemed fresh! Aaaiiiieeee! I never knew the Count liked wearing a daisy on his suit.

The series was begun as we learn how the telekenetic wheelchair-bound Professor X... uh, I mean, Professor Harmon, is drawn by Dracula's consort/slave (and sometimes black cat) Isis... I mean, Katara, into bringing the Count back to life. The Professor thinks he can control the Prince of Darkness by implanting a sliver of wood next to his heart, and triggering the mechanism with his mind to temporarily kill him should the need arise. He intends to use the vampire as a weapon in the war against crime. Needless to say, you can't keep such a creature on a short leash without getting bitten.

I might point out that close to the same time, Marvel was publishing the first issue of "Tomb Of Dracula," which I bought and still have. The wheelchair-bound protagonist Quincy Harker (depicted to the right) resembled the character of Professor Harmon, at least superficially, but with the publishing dates so close it might have only been a coincidence. However, Harmon wanted to use Dracula, and Harker only wanted to kill him.

"Put your head on my shoulder..." The awkward positioning of Katara makes it look as if her head has been grafted onto Drac's right shoulderblade.

Assisted by Cameron Sanchez, a strong and devoted friend, Harmon unleashes this supernatural force on those seemingly above the laws of man. The shape-shifter Katara helps out, but always with her Master's best interest in mind. Although Harmon considers himself morally above the criminal element he is seeking to expunge, Dracula knows that he in his own way is as blood-thirsty as the vampire he is using, and points that out, to the Professor's unease. Is he any better than the criminals and Dracula, by using such harsh and brutal methods? He is certainly no hero, but the thought doesn't hinder him from continuing to risk using his unwilling ally. And the blood flows copiously as Dracula, unleashed upon various criminal elements, metes out gory justice with slashing fingernails and fangs. They'd have been better off in jail.

The part of Professor Harmon will be played this episode by Boris Karloff.

As a youth I enjoyed the book, detailing Drac's return to "life" in modern times, and the various missions he sends the Count on fulfill his thirst for blood and the Professor's for justice. But Vlad's own agenda and desire for freedom mean that he is always looking for ways to escape the restrictions and feast on the Professor's own blood. Travelling from country to country during their adventures, the unlikely quartet meet with what seems to be a supernatural threat, but only turns out to be someone faking it. Though not always the case, this happens to such an extent that you begin to think that at the end, the bad guys are going to say "and I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for that meddling wheelchair guy and his vampire!" Then Dracula slaughters them.

"One... two... three! Three million beautiful gold coins! Ah-ah-ah-ah-aaaaah!"

The series was successful enough to generate eight followups, which came out in extremely rapid succession, three of which I was able to find. After that I lost track of them. From what I've seen, after about #5 the artwork started to slide and Drac became more of a cartoon figure. But if I were to run across any at a used bookstore, I would pick them up and read them just for old time's sake. If the series were honest, it would end with Dracula finally turning on Harmon, proving the truth of the saying "he who lives by the sword dies by the sword." The revenge on evil, using evil to inflict it, that the Professor engineered would certainly turn on him at last. I doubt that ever happens, though. A continuing series such as this rarely ever concludes and wraps things up, as there might always be another book if the last sold well. The author is not willing to burn his coffins behind him.

Ad from Famous Monsters about the book series...

Kids! Ask your parents for the money to order!

Side note: In the same "vein," we have a novel that was published in 1973 that purports to be "non-fiction," in which a series of letters, journal entries and newspaper clippings tell the story of Dracula's resurrection and subsequent neck-bitings. Although a fun read at the time, the cover art depicts a very anemic-looking, not to mention fey, Count which reinforces the common Lugosi stereotype.

"I vant to suck... your blood! Vhat did you think I vas going to say, you naughty, naughty boy?"

Just to be a completist, below you will find the remaining covers to the rest of the books in the series. These I scavenged from around the web, but the ones above this I scanned in from my own copies.

The complete list:

#1: Dracula Returns (Pinnacle 1973)

#2: The Hand of Dracula (Pinnacle 1973)

#3: Dracula's Brothers (Pinnacle 1973)

#4: Dracula's Gold (Pinnacle 1973)

#5: Drums of Dracula (Pinnacle, 1974)

#6: The Witching of Dracula (Pinnacle, 1974)

#7: Dracula's Lost World (Pinnacle, 1974)

#8: Dracula's Disciple (Pinnacle, 1975)

#9: Challenge to Dracula (Pinnacle, 1975)

Update: Hey, you want to really know more about the Dracula Series, from someone much more erudite than I am? Read the excellent and comprehensive post on it over at the Groovy Age of Horror blogspot! Makes me want to take mine down out of shame.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Space Skeleton!

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
A "Space:1999" newspaper ad

In space, no-one can smell you rot. (Till they open the door, then pheeeeew!)

Well, since I spent so long yesterday posting the video for my "movie," I thought I'd take it easy today and lay a newspaper clipping from my old scrapbook on ya. The circa-1976 ad copy "Planet of the Living Dead" plays up the aspect of the moist skeletal corpse in the photo to good effect, and although I was a bit luke-warm about "Space:1999," (being a true Trekker) I liked the ad enough to clip it and save it. Wow, it's a good thing I did, or some 32-odd years later I might have actually had to work on this post today.

Whew! Is that foresight or what?

I might add that even lukewarm about it, I watched it when I could as a teen, sci-fi being scarce as it was then. I cut out any newspaper articles about it, bought the first issue of the comic magazine, the View-Master reel set, the soundtrack cassette, and some of the bubble-gum cards, all of which I still have. But that was about the extent of my collecting... I always liked UFO better. Those purple-wigged gals really launched my rocket!

"So how 'bout it?"

Monday, July 28, 2008

Prey For The Dead

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
My home-made movie "Prey For The Dead"

Back in the summer of 1991, a friend and I took my single VHS camcorder out on location in several cool places and made our "big 15-minute epic" horror movie. We filmed in two historic cemeteries; the credits were filmed in Rose Hill in Macon, GA and the first stalking scene in Bonaventure in Savannah, GA. That was the same cemetery where later they filmed scenes in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." We only had one battery, so we had to film quickly and with as few takes as possible.

The entrance to Boanventure, seen in the movie.

The above area can be seen in the background as the truck is driving down the cemetery road.

The monument where our hero visits before the stalker appears.

Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, GA where the credits were filmed. Awesome location!

It was all for fun, and there was no special lighting, costumes or effects. We just made it up as we went along, except for the general idea: a man has been having nightmares of being stalked by a stranger in a skull mask, and he's now in therapy. As he relates the dreams, we see them as he did. Keep in mind that all of the sound was dubbed in later, we didn't use any of the sound from the camera. Since it was made on VHS and dubbed to a tape editor then back to video, the picture is not great, and the Youtube compression makes it ever fuzzier. There are some tape wrinkle artifacts as well. It's very amatuerish, so don't expect too much... but I enjoy watching it, so you might.

The statue that the main title is over in the movie.

Another Rose Hill tombstone you will see used in the credits. Can't get a bad angle here!

The cloth pullover skull mask was a neat item that fit over your head like a stocking, and was a tight fit, giving the impression of makeup more than a rubber mask might. Since there were only two of us, when one was in the shot, the other had to film. I play the stalker and my friend plays the hapless victim, but the names on the credits are nonsense monikers made up to protect the guilty. Hope you enjoy it; we had fun making it!

Here's part one; I had to cut it into two sections for YouTube upload.

Well, of course you noticed the Evil Dead-influenced camera shots... I love doing that "camera on the ground" kind of movement. There's even a quick shot of a building I videotaped while in Miami thrown in there for the location of the psychiatrist's office exterior.

The second half, available below, was filmed in the mountainous terrain and caves at Grandview State Park in West Virginia.

Part two, the shocking conclusion of "Prey For The Dead."

And there you have it, the results of a vacation 17 years ago spent running around filming like mad. I know I could do better today with the digital cameras, PC editing, etc., but I'm not as inclined to don a skull mask in public as I once was. Maybe I'm maturing... maybe even growing up, perhaps?

Nah. Just getting older and more tired, is all. The cemeteries are too hot and the hills are too steep.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Return of the Living Dead 1985 article

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
The Return of the Living Dead

Click to get a nice big image of this poster art.

The French poster for ROTLD, arguably better than the American.

Back from the dead and ready to party with a few friends.

The first issue of Forry Ackerman's new publication "Monster Land" which came out in February of 1985, contained an article on the then-upcoming movie "Return of the Living Dead." Poor old Forry, you remember, had been ousted from his position as editor of FM by the Warren company and this led to their parting. Forry was able to start up another virtual FM called Monster Land, with the "Monster" in the same familiar type and size as Famous Monsters, and this along with a painting of the Ackermonster, let fans know he was back in business... at least for a little while.

Below is the inside cover text which trumpeted the story of his return to publishing. Although not the focus of today's entry, I thought it still might be interesting to some that never saw it. Interesting phrasing of the copy, both for what it said in between the lines about the restrictions placed on him by Warren, as well as the "classic monsters" magazines versus the modern Fangoria-type mags. It was a sad reality that as his FM audience grew up, the younger readers coming to the magazine stands were looking for exactly what Fangoria was offering. And the older classic-monster fans who were still buying such publications were growing fewer. Even I fell into that category. What amused and amazed me as a kid no longer held the attraction, when Freddy Kruger and others were dripping blood and grue from the covers of Fango.

Another hi-rez artwork image for ya.
And now, for our feature presention... the ROTLD article. I remember that Zombie Summer... when so many classic Zombie and horror flicks came out. Aging fans still talk about it in hushed tones... it was like dying and going to zombie heaven... which I guess for a zombie is finding a schoolbus full of teens. And like they would have chowed down on such a gut-filled feast, we chowed down on the moist and meaty movies of 1985.

Tarman was happy to see the fresh-faced, "with-it" teens arrive to bring some life to the party.

Seeing ROTLD for the first time was an electrifying experience. Totally different than what was expected, it crackled with energy, humor and atmosphere. All we could do was sit back and be smacked in the face with one surprise after another, with the gore effects bringing screams to the audience in between the laughs. If zombie films are exciting today you can thank this movie for setting the tone for hyper-active undead action mixed with dark humor.

Enjoy the article below from 23 years ago, and relive the excitement of reading this before you saw the movie in the theater... or, for you young whippersnappers, try to imagine it. The article got me excited for it, but no-one was prepared for it when they saw it. I first watched it with a group of friends at a midnight showing, and I took my fabric pullover skull mask in my pocket. During the scene of the zombies coming out of the graves, I put it on and sat there watching the movie. In front of us were three already-scared teenage African-American girls, and when one looked back and saw me, she screamed, then the other two screamed, and they freaked. By the time the summoned usher came around with his flashlight, I had pocketed the mask and was wearing my best innocent face. Mean? Possibly. Fun? Oh, yeah...

Frank indulges in a bit of humorous foreshadowing.

It's interesting how designer Bill Stout refers to a "spore" being responsible for the return of the rotten ones, when the script revolves around the 2-4-5-Trioxin. So this interview must have been conducted early in the short production process. Also some of the designs and efforts he made to show various time periods were never seen in the film. Although a few make-ups of decaying zombies made it onto film, the majority of corpses in the crowd scenes just are regular people, albeit muddy, with very few make-up effects or even masks in view. The sudden change in make-up artists before the job was finished probably accounts for some of that, as time was running out to finish what was a big job. But the individuals we saw, such as Tarman, the woman half-corpse, and a few others, carried the film in terms of startling creations, the likes of which we had never seen before.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

1974 Skull Cup Ad

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
Famous Monsters Skull Cup Ad
(Click for high rez!)

"Drinking from this cup with impress your friends and get you girlfriends!"

"A big four and half inches tall!" Hey, I wouldn't brag about that if I were you.

The ads in the pages of Famous Monsters were part of the fun of the magazine for us Monster Kids. Although in my case I never could order anything, just reading them was enough. And oddly, they're even more fun to read now, for the nostalgia they evoke.

By now we've generally seen and probably own on DVD most of the films in the articles. The pictures and articles no longer represent a glimpse of unknown adventures we long to see. But the ads still have the bit of mystery about them because most are for items we never acquired.

The enjoyment of the ads now also stem from the text copy. Tell me you didn't grin just a little as you read the ad above! "Horribly frightening!" "You'll scare the death out of friends and family!" Good stuff... and back then, we believed it.

I'm sure that someone has already posted this ad somewhere on a blog... these old FM ads are popular. But I went through my FM issue #107, May of 1974, and I enjoyed re-reading not only the mag but remembering the time I bought it. I enjoyed scanning it in, formatting it, and posting it. If for nothing but all that, it was worth it! Others will be forthcoming, as well as some from other publications of the same general time period. Hope you enjoy them too. In fact, here's one now... for a 12-inch replica of the horror within. Perfect to look at as you raise your skull cup to it in a toast.

What really attracted the kids to this was the "Free Anatomy Chart" included. Hopes of finally seeing a naked female were dashed when they realised it was a skeleton anatomy.

Below is a photo I found online of the actual cup from a Flickr page of a fan who has a lot of the Don Post masks. Check out his page for a lot of cool pics of the actual products the ads were hawking.

Image source

An earlier version of the ad when it was cheaper. Use your imagination for the ominous-sounding "anything else" it makes taste better!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Reaper Man artwork

The Skeletal Spotlight shines this time on:
Josh Kirby's Reaper Man artwork

What happens when Death loses his job? He goes with what he knows.

The cover artwork by Josh Kirby for this book in the Discworld saga beautifully illustrates the story inside. It shows us that a man is essentially the same no matter what he does. Being faithful to your calling, even when demoted or replaced, means that someday you will be recognized, and very likely end up in a better position than you held before. The Biblical stories of Daniel and Joseph both demonstrate that integrity pays off in the long run.

To learn more about the book and the Discworld series, read the Wikipedia entry.

Each species in the novel has it's own Death. Notice the Death of Rats on his knee. But, are those hands instead of feet on this guy?

Learn more on Josh Kirby's Reaper Man artwork, and more on the artist himself here.

A neat "Rolling Tombstones" book cover artwork by Josh.

Did you know that Josh was responsible for some awesome movie poster artwork you've seen? Here's one you might recognise...

Sadly, Josh met the Reaper personally at the young age of 72, moving on to parts unknown in October of 2001. His artwork will remain as a testament to his life and talent.

Although the artwork on the Reaper Man book cover made our friendly reaper more of a farmer than cowboyish, it still reminded me of one. So I've rounded up some more western skull images. Considering that in many depictions Death rides a horse, the cowboy motif is appropriate.

The Marlboro Man finally gave up smoking... but sadly, too late.

Riding off into too many sunsets finally killed this cowboy from skin cancer.

"The South will rise again.... and eat you!"

"Well, pardner, the Great Roundup is a' comin'. Whose brand you wearing?"

And looking at skeletal cowpokes we mustn't forget the Caretaker from "Ghost Rider," who in his time as the Rider got around the old-fashioned way.

"Let's ride, son! 'Course, soon as we get there, you're on your own, I'm splittin'."

There are images to be found floating around that show the deleted character from "The Crow" that was originally intended to be the title character's guide. He was cut and replaced by the bird, but here we see he looked a lot like the original Ghost Rider.

"Whaddaya mean, you're replacing me with a blackbird? Sure, he works for birdfeed, but I'm so much cooler!"

"Cut my part, will ya? You are sooo dead!"

Don't forget the zombie gunslinger below from "House II: The Second Story."

"General Custer is roundin' up a gang to gitsome payback. Wanna join?"

And then there's the irascible old mummy-lovin' Judge from "The Frighteners," a movie I'll be featuring on a future blog entry.

"There's some life left in these old bones yet! Jes' ask Anak-Soon-Amun."