#MonsterMovieMonday: Mr. Sardonicus (AKA Happy Birthday, William Castle!)

How do you do, my revolting readers? It’s William Castle’s Birthday, so it’s time once again to ho-nor this master of movie mayhem.
Mr. Castle has no equal when it comes to ghoulish amusements. He was the man who turned theater seats into joy buzzers, unleashed plastic skeletons upon audiences, and gave us the ability to see ghosts through cardboard. Alfred Hitchcock (Castle’s friendly rival) may have made more “prestigious” pictures, but Castle gave us a circus. Castle was the merriest master of the macabre ever to live and he will forever be my “Hitch-cock.” 😉
Of his many triumphs, I think I am most fond of Mr. Sardonicus. Master Castle’s films usually dealt with contemporary terrors, but Mr. Sardonicus was, in the legend’s own words, “an old-fashioned story.” In its essence, this is a Universal Gothic done in Castle’s inimitable idiom. Mr. Sardonicus is a tale of castles and fog, of masks and madmen, and of graves and… ghouls. “Ghoul” is very popular word, but it’s seldom used in its literal sense. Take, for example, William Castle. He’s a “ghoul” in the sense that he revels in the macabre and gruesome, but he certainly didn’t dig up graves and feast on corpses. (It’s not in his autobiography. ;))

Mr. Sardonicus does play with the idea of a figurative ghoul vs. a true ghoul. The truth falls more towards the former, but the latter is alluded to heavily. The fact that the idea of a real ghoul is hinted at all is unusual for a horror picture, and it is fascinating to deal with even the potential of one. The “ghoul” in the film is the tit-ular Sardonicus, though he is less a “Mr.” and more a “Baron.” While digging up his father’s grave to retrieve a winning lottery ticket (if I had a nickle…;)), Baron Sardonicus is so frightened by the sight of his father’s grinning skull that it actual causes his face to freeze in a permanent grin! Because of the grave-robbing and the unnatural deformation that occurs, he refers to himself as a ghoul.

In truth, he owes a little more to The Man Who Laughs and The Phantom of the Opera than a traditional ghoul. Like the unusual gentlemen in those stories, Sardonicus is a mortal man with ghastly visage and a mask. The audience could feel a certain sympathy for The Baron, although he does test one’s capacity for mercy with his habit of torturing girls with leaches, not to mention his cruelty towards his servant. Really, it’s up to the individual to decide if Sardonicus is worthy of redemption or condemnation. Of this, Castle was painfully aware. Not missing the chance for a bit of fun, Castle came up with another ingenious gimmick: The Punishment Poll.
The Punishment Poll was classic Castle. Ostensibly, the audience could decide on whether or not they wanted to show the ghoul mercy by voting on one of two endings. Each theater-goer was given a glow-in-the-dark card featuring a hand with the thumb out. When instructed by Mr. Castle in the film, they voted by holding up the card with either the thumb up or down as to whether Sardonicus would live or die. The gag? There was only one ending filmed! In the film, Castle “tallies” the votes and announces the result immediately, with no break in the continuity of the scene. Like a great magic trick, the act was fake, but the fun was very real. Besides, the ending we got is deliciously nasty! It’s the perfect twisted punchline and I can’t imagine a more fitting way to end the story of Sardonicus. My lips are sealed when it comes to specifics, but it’s a fantastic note to end on.

In ho-nor of Mr. Castle’s birthday, we have provided Mr. Sardonicus in all its ghoulish glory, I cannot recommend this film enough. It represents everything that was fantastic about William Castle and is just about the most fun one could have being repulsed and lied to! 😉 For a bit of Castle’s carny brilliance, check out the film below:

Happy Birthday, Mr. Castle!
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Happy Birthday, Joseph Merrick!!

(Submitted by Dr. Phibes, and seconded 5,000 times over by me! 🙂 xoxo)

Today is the birthday of Mr. Joseph Merrick, a man who has greatly inspired me and countless others in more ways than one. The famous “Elephant Man” is an extraordinary figure, one who’s curious condition has never been fully understood, even with the advancements of modern science. Mr. Merrick looked a beast, but was a mental and spiritual beauty. His story has been the subject of adaptation many times, but none as famous as David Lynch’s 1980 drama, The Elephant Man.

1980’s Elephant Man is one of my favorite films of all time, so I have very little to say against the film. However, it’s worth noting that the film has been criticized for playing fast and loose with the facts in service to its central drama. It would be a lie to say this isn’t an accurate assessment. Heck, the flick can’t even get his name right, calling him John instead of Joseph! With that said, though, I say this film as a love letter to Mr. Merrick more than an exact document of his life. The filmmakers seem to be more focused on capturing his spirit and essence, rather than depicting reality as it happened. What we have is a melodrama in celebration of a real figure. As such, I think it’s perfect.

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David Lynch, a man for his surrealist excess and artistically-rendered bleakness, has crafted a nightmarish version of Victorian England rich with the shadows and darkness of a German Expressionist film. Atmosphere here is reminiscent of a monster movie, with all the eerie faculties that entails. Through all this grimness, there is warmth. Lynch’s film presents Merrick’s story as humanly as possible within the dehumanizing setting of the Industrial Revolution.

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John Hurt plays the part of Merrick and shines brightly through the make-up and the horror of his setting. One almost forgets there is an actor under pounds of foam rubber on screen and not the genuine article. Hurt’s Merrick is a noble and unusual gentleman with the soul of a poet. I don’t think there has ever been a finer or more sensitive performance of a disfigured individual.

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The rest of the cast (including Magic‘s Anthony Hopkins) is all in fine form, with nearly everyone delivering a near-perfect performance. Merrick’s make-up is among some the best in film history. The score by John Morris is pure beauty. I find myself to its haunted circus melodies on a regular basis. In short, this film is nearly flawless from all angles.

With sensitivity and Gothic beauty, The Elephant Man honors its honorable subject. While it may not be completely factual, it does convey the loveliness of spirit that Mr. Merrick possessed. I know this film inspired me to learn more about the man and I’m sure it has done the same for others. (“Same here.” 🙂 -D.P.) Happy Birthday, Mr. Merrick.

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Happy Birthday, Ray Harryhausen

(Submitted by Anton Phibes...Thanks, my Harryhausen Ho-mie!! 😉 xoxo)

Happy Birthday to Ray Harryhausen (June 29, 1920 – May 7, 2013), an artist whose work and influence are as tremendous and awe-inspiring as any monstrous titan.

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Harryhausen was a magician as much as a filmmaker, for his Illusions relied on simple material, yet their ability to inspire wonder is as magical as any Illusionist’s act. Like Prometheus, he breathed life into clay and created beings as alive as the actors they played against. Stop-motion is an expensive and time-consuming process, so to realize that one man was responsible for the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, the Cyclops in 7th Voyage of Sinbad, the saucers in Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, as well as many, many more wonderful creatures is just astounding.

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Harryhausen himself was one of us: a fan of monsters who dreamed of adventures incredible and daring. As a boy, he saw 1933’s King Kong and was astonished by Willis O’Brien’s tremendous work. He went on to work with O’Brien in Mighty Joe Young, a beautiful adventure movie that never fails to put me in a good mood. From that point, Harryhausen become the O’Brien to generations of future artists. Knowing Harryhausen’s love for genre fiction and idolization of Willis O’Brien makes his already amazing work seem endearing and that much more genuine. Tim Burton, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Phil Tippet, James Cameron, and countless others have listed Harryhausen as an influence. Like O’Brien before him, Harryhausen has stirred the imagination of the world’s dreamers. To all of us, Harryhausen was a gift and a pleasure. He sent us on fantastical journeys, introduced us to beautiful beasts, and made the world feel truly magical.

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Happy Birthday, Master Harryhausen.

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Comic Book Review: Swamp Thing Vol. 1 – Raise Them Bones

(Hehe… 😉 Review submitted by Prince Adam…Thanks, Kinky Ho-miebot!! 🙂 xoxo)

“In the 40-years since its debut, Swamp Thing has been graced with some of the best writers in comics from Len Wein to Alan Moore and now, as part of the DC Comics—The New 52, ‘American Vampire’ scribe Scott Snyder brings his talents to an all new Swamp Thing series set in the DC Universe. Following the events of ‘Brightest Day,’ Alec Holland has his life back…but the “Green” has plans for it. A monstrous evil is rising in the desert, and it’ll take a monster of another kind to defend life as we know it!” (DC Comics)

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For me, more often than not, the characters I read about are far more important than the writers or artists who write and draw them. However, when it’s a character I’m not well versed in, the writer can very much entice me to read a character that wasn’t on my radar. This is exactly what Scott Snyder did for me with Swamp Thing. As the synopsis says, there is 40 years of Swamp Thing history and even with the New 52 giving us a new take on the material; none of the classic stories are discarded. Scott Snyder cleverly creates a narrative of Dr. Alec Holland, a Botanist, who was in a lab accident while working on his Bio Restorative Formula. He apparently dies, and has since been “resurrected” for three weeks. The past iterations of Swamp Thing in comic books is said to be Alec Holland’s memories of his previous life. I love this decision. It allows long time fans to still hang on to the stories they love, while new readers can get swept up with the new material unfolding in front of their eyes. Speaking of new material, Swamp Thing re-enters Alec Holland’s life courtesy of The Parliament of Trees. With this story element, Snyder asserts that there have been a generation of Swamp Thing’s fighting the battle with The Rot. It is further explained that when Alec Holland died, the green tried to bond with his body, thus restoring him, and having him assume the mantle of Swamp Thing. The process doesn’t work however, so the Parliament used their powers to create a replica of Alec to become Swamp Thing. So the memories Alec Holland is having are technically of his avatar, not necessarily his own. Truthfully, that wrinkle to the story was a bit unnecessary, and a bit convoluted, but ultimately doesn’t prove a hindrance to the overall story. Regardless, the avatar’s success as Swamp Thing reaffirms to the Parliament of Trees that Alec Holland is their “Chosen One” in the Battle against The Rot.

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Speaking of The Rot, if Swamp Thing represents the Earth, nature and plant life, The Rot is an unstoppable force of death and disease. The Rot Vs the Green is a classic battle of good and evil, yin vs. yang. In this book though, it has both a superhero angle, and horror angle attached to it. There’s also a bit of a personal element to the proceedings. The conduit of the rot is William Arcane, who is the half brother of Abigail Arcane. Long time fans will know, and newer fans will find out, that Abigail was the love interest of Alec Holland’s avatar/Swamp Thing. When Alec Holland mentions he’s had dreams of her, and a relationship is seemingly about to blossom, the Parliament of Trees warns him to steer clear of her, even recommending he kill her. Scott Snyder throws a twist at the reader by revealing that Abigail Arcane is the true emissary of The Rot. This sets up Alec and Abby as a modern day Romeo and Juliet, star crossed lovers whose love will have to defy death to survive. The combination of wanting to save Abigail, and after the Rot begins to destroy the Parliament of Trees, urges Alec Holland to become Swamp Thing. My one quibble with the book stems from the fact that with all the world building, and mythological ground work Snyder puts forth, there’s no real Swamp Thing vs. The Rot face off. Sure, the rot gets the upper hand when possessed archaeologists and Native Indians start torching the forest, but there’s no direct battle, The Rot did get more “screen time” as it were, as you saw them possessing town folk, and killing others by manipulating morbid matter, and growing it outward from a person’s body. All we see Alec Holland do is telepathically control some vines to subdue an attacker at one point. With seven issues in an arc, I expected to see more of Swamp Thing in action.

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Speaking of things I saw, I absolutely loved the artwork. Yanick Paquette was the lead artist on this book. Certain artists filled in on pages of certain issues, but his aesthetic set the tone. The characters in this book look very realistic, well at least the human characters. Save for Alex Ross, these are some of the most realistic, detailed looking characters I’ve seen in recent years, while staying firmly entrenched in the comic book art aesthetic. Whenever the rot was present, the art is what I would call grotesquely gorgeous. Highlights include issue #1 when dead flies fly through the ears of archaeologists, possessing them to twist their neck, essentially killing them, in turn making them zombified slaves to the Rot. These pages are a Walking Dead and Exorcist fan’s dream. Equally disgustingly delicious was the page where William Arcane starts manipulating morbid matter, and growing it outward from the diner owners body. The detail in his innards laid out all over the floor was quite impressive. Speaking of William, the Scuba mask and hospital garb attire was more effective and creepy than any other intentionally designed super villain costumes. Although, when he was in that containment chamber for his allergy chlorophyll, did anyone else picture an emotionally tormented version of The Bubble Boy from Seinfeld? For Swamp Thing, the interactions between Alec Holland and the Parliament of Trees occurred mostly on a two page spread, and looked rather trippy, even though I was completely sober and lucid while reading this book. I was impressed by the the scope and amount of detail fit onto those pages. With the look of Swamp Thing himself, I love how large he is. The art walks the fine line of him being heroic and frightful. Swamp Thing also looks like a being that is ancient in nature, which is appropriate with the new back story and Parliament of Trees. I loved the layout of the pages, and the fact that the action and art took place in panels that were designed in the shape of leaves and branches. That was very unique and inventive.

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Swamp Thing is off to a good start with these modern day adventures. As an origin story this books is an absolute success. The story uses every one of its seven issues to flesh out the central characters and their mythologies. As a reader, you definitely get your money’s worth when it comes to the build up of the Green vs. the Rot confrontation. The third act however, plays out more like a teaser trailer for what’s to come, instead of an actual finale to the story arc. However, this tactic worked, as I will definitely be reading more. Not only will I read more of this run, I will go back and revisit some classic Swamp Thing, as well as the movie! All of which, I will of course review here at Kinky Horror. (“Woot!” -Yo Boss, Bitch ;)) Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette have definitely turned me on to Swamp Thing. Well done gentlemen!

Ho-stess’s PS– Mr. Prince Adam, you look soooo freaking dashing in your Party Monsters shirt!! Thanks so much for backing our lil’ project, and thanks, too, for sending these seXXXified pics…You are too awesome for words, my friend!! Love you tons!! 🙂 xoxo

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Thank You, Gunnar Hansen. :(

My silly little personal/site announcement can wait ’til tomorrow, as today is yet another grieving day all across the Ho-rror Community. 🙁

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R.I.P. Gunnar Hansen, who played one of the truly iconic movie monsters in existence, Leatherface. Despite his gruesome persona, he was always a gentle presence at conventions. Hansen was a kind soul in person, yet a truly terrifying ghoul on screen. It’s funny how often that seems to be the case…

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Well said, Mr. King, and thank you for all your awesomeness, Mr. Hansen. Your sweet, beautiful presence is already missed. 🙁 xoxo

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