Journey Into Mystery 5, 1973 “The Shadow from the Steeple!”

It’s been a little while since I had a blog post showing how much fun the resurgence of horror material was in the Bronze Age for Marvel Comics. Anthology titles were all over the place, but were where a lot of good material can be found for either reprint material or all new stories. Some of the books had incredible stories with big time writers getting credit. Case in point, some of the issues have names such as Robert Bloch (Psycho, The Skull, Asylum), H.P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu, At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth), and Robert E. Howard (Conan, Red Sonja, Kull). The men scripting these stories/adaptations were no slouches either, but we’ll get to them in a minute.

The first tale in this issue is called “The Shadow from the Steeple!,” and this story has elements from stories by Bloch, and Lovecraft (there were three stories that were parts made by Bloch and Lovecraft). A grimoire, a cult, a mysterious, ancient jewel, and even more ancient evil, named Nyarlathotep! Ron Goulart (script), Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia (art), George Roussos (colors) and Denise Wohl (letters).

The next story is one that’s been done before, as a young man marries a wealthy nut older woman in hopes of inheriting a large sum of money. There is one room in the home that the help won’t allow the husband access. The husband thinks that the money/jewels etc., is in this room. One day he decides to suffocate his wife, and use a mallet to gain entry to the locked room. What he finds inside isn’t wealth, but his doom. Apparently, there is a curse on the family that the woman will grow old unless she procures a sacrifice for the evil within! Written by Kevin Frost, art by Win Mortimer and Ernie Chan, and letters by Denise Wohl.

The last story is quite a treat, as a mad scientist that has been experimenting with transplants wants to be left alone. We see that he has a pack of mad dogs patrolling his estate, to keep out unwanted visitors. The first thing our eyes see is the pack of dogs kill an insurance salesman that was just trying to do his job. The scientist’s wife is shocked at far gone his sense of right and wrong has gone, so she picks up the phone to dial the police. He hits her over the head with a shovel, knocking her out. After some thought, he removes her brain, and replaces it with a dogs brain! Let’s just say in the end, the mad scientist ends up dog-meat! Story/script by John Albano and Marv Wolfman, art by Paul Reinman (pencils) with Mike Esposito and George Roussos (inks), and Artie Simek (on letters).

Overall a very good book with a great cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia!

 

 

Masters of Terror 1, 1975

The black and white magazines from the Bronze Age have so much great material in them! Even if you don’t like horror comics, you can get Conan, The Hulk, etc., but trust me, the horror books are outstanding. Most have excellent artwork, and solid stories as well. Speaking of storytelling, What if I told you (yes, that was in my Laurence Fishburne voice) that Marvel one produced a magazine with names like Robert Bloch (Psycho), Robert E. Howard (Conan), H.P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu), and Theodore Sturgeon (More than Human). Would you believe me? Well luckily you don’t have to take my word for it. In this issue of Masters of Terror, that incredible list of writers are coupled with top artist of that era, and the results is mind-numbing.

The artistic talent is a murderers row if there ever was one. Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia show us a monster (It! adapted by Roy Thomas) that definitely inspired The Heap, Man-Thing, and Swamp Thing! The second tale is brought to us by Frank Brunner (story adapted by Gardner Fox), and anyone that’s read this blog (or anything else I’ve written about him)knows how much praise I’ll heap on the artwork of Frank Brunner (his collaboration with Steve Englehart on Dr. Strange/Marvel Premiere is a masterpiece). The Lovecraft adaptation has Roy Thomas scripting, and a powerhouse team on art that includes Barry Smith, Dan Adkins, and John Verpoorten! The next adaptation is scripted by Ron Goulart, and the art team is the incredibly talented duo of Jim Starlin and Tom Palmer! Finally, Ron Goulart, Gil Kane, and Ralph Reese bring a story about Jack the Ripper!

All of these stories are reprints that appeared in other titles before. Even the cover is a reproduction by Gray Morrow (from a cover by Jim Steranko – Supernatural Thrillers 1, 1972).  Another lesser known story in this issue that was adapted (originally by August Derleth) is called The Drifting Snow. Tony Isabella and Esteban Maroto deliver an absolute gem with this story. You will love this story because it’s very suspenseful and creepy!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Skull (1965)

Skull

 

Title: The Skull

Distributor: Amicus Productions (Paramount Pictures – U.S.)

Writer: Milton Subotsky (screenplay), Robert Bloch (short story)

Director: Freddie Francis

Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Peter Woodthorpe

Released: August 1965

MPAA: NR

 

 

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The Amicus Films Production company gets very little press outside of the horror community, and that should not be! The company was only around (making films) for about fifteen years, but it made an impact nonetheless. With perennial stars of the horror genre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in a few of the films, they knew that had bankable “stars” to get some people into the theaters. Throw in  stalwarts like Michael Gough, and Peter Woodthorpe, and you have a solid cast that delivers.

This film was one that dove into the “cult” fascination of the time, but not too heavily. Certain things were shown/talked about, and others mildly insinuated. Either way, you’ll be excited to see the cast, and the crazy scenes with Cushing. He really is over-the-top in this one, and any fan of the genre or the cast must watch it! let’s get on with the show!

 

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The film begins with a couple of guys robbing a grave. A young man then returns to his apartment with something wrapped in a cloth. He enters his bathroom only to find a beautiful woman bathing. She’s apparently a love interest, but he tells her to get out. She can’t understand why, but he doesn’t care, and tells her to hit the road. She gets out of the tub, and asks why, but he tells her that he must be alone tonight. We then see him boil something, and when he pulls it out of the pot, we see a skull. Suddenly, a fog envelops the room, and when the woman returns to see if he’s changed his mind, she screams in horror. We then cut to the credits.

The next thing we see, is an auctioneer (Michael Gough – image above), pounding his gavel. Two men then get into a bidding war over four stone statues of evil. The first, Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing), and the other, Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee), go back and forth until Phillips doubles Maitland’s bid, and it ends. Afterward, they discuss the bidding war, and Matthews cannot recall why he bid so high. He seems to have been hypnotized by the statues, and couldn’t control himself.

 

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The next evening, another man, Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark), heads over to the home of Maitland, to sell him something. He has a book from the infamous Marquis de Sade, and it’s actually bound in human skin! Mr. Maitland is so intrigued, that he buys the book for £200. Marco tells him that he’ll be back tomorrow with something even more wild. Upon his return the following evening, he brings a skull, and tells him that it is the skull of the Marquis De Sade himself! Maitland doesn’t believe him at first, but then he tells him a story (one that connects to the pre-credits scene, and shows the murder of the girl), and then after dropping the price a bit, Maitland agrees to think about purchasing it. Marco gives him his address, and tells him to come over the following evening.

 

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Maitland then goes to his friend’s house, and Matthews Phillips and he have a pool game, while discussing the skull. Matthews tells Maitland that the skull is genuine, and that it was stolen from him, days earlier. Maitland encourages Matthews to come with him later when he goes to see Marco, but Matthews refuses, and tells him that he’s glad it’s gone. He states that the skull is evil, and that occultists use its powers to some sadistic means. He begs Maitland to not buy it, but you can see he’s still very interested in it.

 

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Over at Marco’s place, he rushes in to get ready for Maitland’s visit, but finds that the skull isn’t where he left it. He searches the closet vigorously, but to no avail. Suddenly, he turns around, and comes face to face with the skull! Holding it, is the building manager, Bert Travers (Peter Woodthorpe – image above), and he questions Marco about his “artifacts” that are strewn about the room. Marco tells him that nothing is of any value, and Travers leaves the room. Meanwhile, Maitland is reading his skin-bound book, that he purchased only days ago. He then gets a knock at the door, and when he answers it, two men, dressed as police officers tell him he’s under arrest, and must come down to the station.

 

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On the way to the police station, Maitland notices that they aren’t stopping there, but some other undisclosed location. He’s lead into a room, with a judge sitting at a bench, with a gavel and everything else. The two men that brought him in have a revolver, and load a bullet into it. They also load their own pistols, and point them at his head. The judge motions for him to play some Russian roulette (image above). three successful attempts, Maitland is allowed to leave the room under escort. He’s placed in a hallway that closes on both sides, and a gas begins to fill the room. Maitland passes out after seeing the skull moving towards him through the gas, and ends up in the apartment building of Marco, the shady antiquities dealer (not knowing where he is though). He goes home, and finds the address of Marco, and sees that it was where he was after the crazy roulette/gas chamber scenario. He tells his wife (Jill Bennett) what happened, and he thinks it was a nightmare.

 

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Later that night, Maitland sneaks out, and heads over to Marco’s place. The door is open, so he proceeds inside, looking for the skull. He finds it in the closet, but as he attempts to leave, he’s knocked over by the dead body of Marco. He hides the skull in the hallway closet, then calls the police.  Bert is then brought in by the police, but doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on. They ask if there are any pets in the building, such as a large dog, but Travers tells them that they aren’t allowed. The next night, Maitland is over at Matthews house again, playing pool. He once again begs Maitland to disavow anything to do with the skull, and then gives him a crucifix to protect him against evils. Maitland then returns to get the skull from the closet, but is confronted by Travers. Maitland tries to push by him, but he wont let him pass, and threatens to call the police. Maitland then shoves Travers, and the railing breaks, and Travers plummets to his death.

 

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I’ll stop here, but rest assured, this doesn’t end happily for Maitland, and those that surround him!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Of all the Amicus films I’ve seen, this one holds the most water. The story is good, you have four really strong players in this film (six if you count the few moments Michael Gough is on-screen in the beginning), and some good special effects. The sets are very good too, well, except for the Russian roulette scene where everything looks vanilla. Now, that may have been the choice to not give Cushing’s character anything to go off of if he went to the police, but that’s kind of doubtful. Although Lee isn’t in more than a few scenes, he does add his normal macabre atmosphere even though he’s the voice of reason in this film. You get what you expect from a pro like Cushing. His character delivers a believable performance, and mixes well with Lee, Woodthorpe, Wymark, and his on-screen wife, Bennett (who died tragically from suicide in 1990).

The musical score is good, but not anything super exciting. It does add some intensity to the last chapter, and for that, we have Elisabeth Lutyens to thank. The film does give you that Hammer film feel, but it is set in modern times, not the previous century (or earlier) that Hammer typically used. The film holds up well for one that was released fifty years ago (wow, 50 years!), and I can’t see it losing any of its charm in another fifty years. Get out and see this one, you wont be disappointed!

Click here for the trailer!

 

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