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Review: The Nice House on the Lake #6

Nice House

Big reveals in puzzle box-like stories often rob narratives of their mystique, ending the guessing game that hooked audiences in to begin with. It’s a bit like what The Joker says about dogs chasing cars in Christopher Nolan (2008). The chase is all. Once you catch up to the car, what’re you supposed to do with it?

I admit that I’ve been dreading the moment James Tynion IV and Álvaro Martínez Bueno’s The Nice House on the Lake started pulling the veil back on its secrets. The series’ strong character development and bizarre end-of-world scenario is just too rich. At points, it made me wish that things would never even get explained, that we could live in a constant state of ambiguity where speculation and conspiracy reign. Those who followed Lost during its first three seasons as it aired have a good idea of the kind of thrill this type of storytelling produces.

Fortunately for us, Nice House #6 takes a very careful approach to reveals, offering big chunks of the puzzle without letting too much light fall on its final shape. A new member is introduced to the group and with him comes information about the very purpose of the Nice House. There’s talk of who or what Walter (the person responsible for bringing everyone to the house) truly is, what the group’s composition is supposed to represent, and why the end of the world was forced upon humanity.

Nice House

What makes this unraveling of secrets so successful is Tynion’s ability to add new questions with each new tidbit of information. Reveals don’t offer absolute answers or definitive endpoints to key plot elements. Instead, they open new paths the overarching narrative can merge to, some of which can fundamentally alter character relationships and even deepen the mystery at the heart of the story. Those expecting a buffet of answers in this issue will only be half satisfied as new questions come with each turn of the screw, but it’s all in the service of allowing for a more urgent and interesting read.

Martínez Bueno’s art pulls in closer to the characters in this issue, highlighting the shock felt by each one after each new development. It’s wonderfully expressive, giving readers an intimate look at the fear and confusion coursing through the group. Worldviews get shattered in this issue and Martínez Bueno’s body language work is on full display, and to great effect.

The Nice House on the Lake just keeps getting better and better. It’s hard to imagine what comes after this issue, the series’ halfway point. So much has already been explored and set up that it’s easy to get swept up with the situation at the Nice House. Now it’s a matter of sticking the landing, whatever that may be. Thankfully, every issue thus far has been further confirmation we’re in the good hands of a creative team that has no intention of dropping the ball this late in the game.

Story: James TynionIV Art: Álvaro Martínez Bueno
Color: Jordie Bellaire Letterer: Andworld Design
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10
Overall: A definite buy that should be accompanied by a full reread of the series.

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE review copy for review


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The Stylist gives the slasher genre an overdue makeover

The Stylist
The Stylist, poster

To no one’s surprise, the slasher genre has largely been dominated by male killers, most of them with deeply seated mommy issues. Norman Bates, Jason, Leatherface (as revealed in the 2006 prequel), all take their childhood traumas and dump them on unsuspecting women that must die because they remind them of their own mothers. One woman’s failure becomes a blight on the entirety of womanhood.

Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist isn’t unaware of this trend among slashers. It actually acknowledges it for its story’s benefit, finding in it an opportunity for subversion, for turning the table on the formula without completely disposing of it.

The Stylist presents audiences with a female killer called Claire (played by Najarra Townsend), a hair stylist that kills unsuspecting customers and removes their scalps to preserve their hair. The reasons why she does this is where the formula gets refreshingly tampered with. Claire isn’t obsessed with hair. She’s obsessed with the image people want to project with their new hair styles.

The movie takes advantage of Claire’s macabre methods to offer commentary on acute social anxiety and how the weight we put on physical appearances forces certain inflexible expectations upon people. One of Claire’s victims, for instance, makes a comment on how we always want what we can’t have as we settle into our lives, mostly by making decisions that box us into society’s idea of what we should be. This is basically the movie’s motto. We always want what we can’t have.

The Stylist

The movie develops this idea by focusing on a particular character that reaches out to Claire for her wedding hair, a thing that stresses the bride to be to the point of considering it the thing that’ll brings the whole experience together, as if the event’s success hinges on curls and extensions.

The concept of marriage, being one of the experiences people struggle with the most in terms of when to do it or even if it should be done in the first place, acts as the catalyst that puts Claire on crisis mode. It puts her face to face with a human tradition that requires having certain things she unfortunately doesn’t have: meaningful friendships.

The situation lends itself well to the metaphors at play. It helps them surface more noticeably as given how it’s commonly assumed that the person that has to shoulder the burden of making sure the wedding ends up being a resounding success is the bride, who also has the responsibility to dazzle in her dress and keep up appearances.

Claire takes all this in and struggles with her place in it, fortifying her frustrations with fitting in as a woman within that environment. In this regard, parts of the original slasher formula start seeping in. Women are still the killer’s main source of anguish, but the killings aren’t borne out of misogyny. They come from a profound frustration, and perhaps incompatibility, with the roles they’re expected to fulfill. That’s what makes the story feel so subversive as a slasher.

The Stylist

Najarra Townsend’s performance as the serial killer stylist is a definite highlight and one of the best in a year filled with strong horror performances (Robert Patric’s in What Josiah Saw comes to mind as one of the others). Claire is a very awkward character that always looks as if she’s uncomfortable in her own skin—hence her desire to become other women while wearing their scalps—and Townsend captures that in every single scene.

The film’s lighting is another high point. It has an eye-popping color palette that could’ve fooled anyone into thinking the story was going to borrow heavily from Giallo slasher movies. While there’s certainly a wink or two here and there that’ll surely leave fans of the genre satisfied, the overall tone of the story and its focus on deep character development owes more to films like Maniac (1980) and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), in which the intention is to paint a picture of the killer in as many shades as possible.

The Stylist is an unsettling film that relishes in its ability to make audiences uncomfortable. It’s confrontational even, shoving viewers into a place where they’re forced to ask themselves if Claire’s experiences wouldn’t be enough to drive anyone to do the things she does to try and fit in. It’s stylish, smart, and quite simply unforgettable, the same things one would expect from a killer haircut.

Around the Tubes

It was new comic book day yesterday! What’d you all get? What’d you like? What’d you dislike? Sound off in the comments below! While you think about that, here’s some comic news and a review from around the web.

Book Riot – Horror Webcomics To Read This Halloween – What would you add to the list?

The Mary Sue – Bill Murray Basically Confirms He’s in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania – Well, ok then.

Review

The Beat – Nuclear Power

Nuclear Power

Review: Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog #1

Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog
Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog #1

Rodney Barnes, Patric Reynolds and Jason Shawn Alexander are making sure they leave a mark in the world of horror comics with the quickly expanding universe of Killadelphia. It started with the backup story Elysium Gardens, focused on a pack of black werewolves that are trying to track down a coven of witches during the LA riots of 1965. It now continues with Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog, the story of a woman that runs an urban legends blog that is finally getting confirmation on the truth behind the horrors she writes about.

The new series takes a stab at another city with a long history of racial tension and racial violence not unlike that found in Philadelphia: Baltimore. The comic refers to the city as “Bodymore, Murderland,” a name suggested by Killadlephia’s own Jimmy Sangster, who is revealed as Nita Hawes’ ex-boyfriend. Nita is the surviving member of a family that’s been cut down by police shootings and police brutality during peaceful protests and fateful encounters with law enforcement.

Nita is visited by the ghost of her murdered younger brother as a music studio massacre, perpetuated by a hellish entity that loves to carry a tune as he goes about his killing, just starts to come within eyesight in her investigations. The son of one of Baltimore’s wealthiest men lies among the victims of the massacre, a key detail that also opens the door for a female detective character that will surely cross paths with Hawes.

Where Killadelphia feels like a sprawling historical vampire epic that rises from the most neglected parts of Philadelphia and into the national stage, Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog feels more like the back-alley investigations wing of the expanded universe. It aims to populate Killadelphia’s world with new horrors the main book might not be able to fit into its pages. Killadelphia has its hands full with Founding Father vampires and the fast spread of blood-sucking mania.

Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog

Fans of Kolchak: The Night Stalker will find Nita Hawes oozes with that same 1970’s vibe that made the classic TV series such a chilling and endlessly watchable piece of horror fiction. Like Kolchak, who was a reporter that investigated the news stories he stumbled upon with the journalistic integrity they deserved no matter how supernatural things got, Nita seems to possess the same deep thirst for truth that puts fact before conspiracy in the face of the unexplainable.

Also like the Kolchak movies and TV series, Nita Hawes looks ready to offer up monstrous metaphors for the problems facing inner city race relations, both past and present. Kolchak battled vampires and undying spree killers in the age of serial killers, especially out West (in and around the California area). Nita’s nightmares can very easily follow suit, only the focus is clearly set on the black experience in Baltimore.

Patric Reynold’s art is as effective as Jason Shawn Alexander‘s has been throughout Killadelphia. There’s a grittiness to the horror he captures on the comics page that makes each panel feel dangerous, unsafe for its characters. The work on display takes readers outside their comfort zones and places them in a world where security is but a fantasy we let ourselves believe can be achieved. It allows for pure terror to take over the story at every corner.

Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog #1 is the type of comic that supports and builds upon the foundations of the main title it sprouts from while also telling a story that it can legitimately call its own. It owns its part in the grand scheme, but it also makes sure it’s essential for the enjoyment of the entire experience. Nita Hawes is ready to make the world of Killadelphia meaner and scarier.

Story: Rodney Barnes, Art: Patric Reynolds
Layouts: Jason Shawn Alexander
Publisher: Image Comics
Story: 10
Art: 10
Overall: 10
Recommendation: Buy and then binge Kolchak: The Night Stalker for added flavor.

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Movie Review: Halloween Kills betrays its characters in the franchise’s dumbest entry

David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween was a masterful take on the small but heavily storied world of Michael Meyers and Laurie Strode. It succeeded in not being another babysitter murder flick where horny teenagers get the knife as the sadistic masked killer goes from house to house. Instead, it turned the main survivor of the 1978 John Carpenter original movie, played by Jaime Lee Curtis, into a hardened and battle-ready warrior that weaponized her trauma while also training her daughter to also be able to defend herself.

Halloween Kills
Halloween Kills

Halloween Kills takes all of that and throws it out the window without much to offer in return, other than a dumb violent movie burdened with messy metaphors and unnecessary lore alterations. Sure, Michael Meyers kills, and some of the kills are satisfying to watch, but what ultimately gets butchered in the process is the core Strode family struggle the first movie worked so hard to establish.

In what’s the second movie in a trilogy that was originally meant to be a two-parter, Halloween Kills picks up moments after the ending of the previous movie to see Michael Meyers surviving the fire at the Strode house. Laurie, daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) drive off thinking Meyers is a pile of ash underneath the rubble they left behind, but little do they know that The Shape is alive and well, and royally pissed off to boot. Chaos ensues.

In an interesting turn on expectations, Halloween Kills takes Easter eggs to a new level by making characters from the original film take on larger roles in this one, shifting the focus from Laurie’s fight against the Boogieman and onto how Haddonfield itself figures into Michael Meyers’ plans (which the movie very lazily tries to reveal through exposition dumps, in addition to trying to convince audiences on the silly idea that the killer has a masterplan of sorts). In fact, it’s what lies at the heart of the movie. The Boogieman isn’t just someone’s problem. It’s everyone’s.

Halloween Kills
Halloween Kills

Things start to get very shaky here as the expansion of the mythos seems inconsequential and sidelines Laurie and her family’s story in favor of half-baked messages and forced alterations to formula. For instance, it turns out that Michael (intentionally?) exposes Haddonfield as the real monster as its people take arms to dole out justice by themselves in a spectacularly dumb show of mob rule that tries very hard to evoke images of the January 6th Capitol Riots, resulting in the tragic death of an innocent man in the film.

One character actually blurts out the movie’s message at one point, observing that the unruly mob has basically become Haddonfield’s real killer (an issue that is “fixed” by creating a smaller, more focused mob, it seems). What’s worse is that all the time spent setting the angry mob up is time taken away from doing anything meaningful with what the previous movie brought to the table.

On the killing side of things, the movie fulfills the promise of its title, but it does so at the cost of turning Meyers into another kind of slasher that shares more with Friday the 13th’s Jason rather than the one we all know and love by now. Not that there’s anything wrong with experimentation, but implementation is key for these variations on character to succeed. Halloween Kills does not approach this aspect convincingly.

Michael is at his most sadistic in this installment, but his signature ‘slow and intimate’ killing style feels too out of character. There is only one kill scene in which we get a glimpse of that behind-the-scenes sadism Meyers usually indulges in out of camera in previous entries, in which the victim gets several knives stuck to his back for no other reason other than to show how much violence truly drives the character’s identity.

Halloween Kills
Halloween Kills

Remember, this is the same killer that beheaded a cop in the previous film and turned the head into a grizzly Jack-o-Lantern, lighted candle included. We never see him carve the cop’s face in the style of a Jack-o-Lantern, but we know he likes to get creative with his kills. Halloween Kills’ focus on fast, action-heavy kill sequences rob him of that creativity.

David Gordon Green’s Halloween sequel sacrifices too much of everything for an uninspired and clunky sequel. Its most tragic casualty is Laurie’s story, which never reaches anything worth writing about other than clichés and stunted character development. It’s a shame. I had hopes for this new trilogy. All I was left thinking of was that everything should’ve been left wrapped up in 2018. Unfortunately, we still have one more movie to go.

Review: The Conjuring: The Lover #5

The Conjuring: The Lover #5

At their core, the movies from The Conjuring universe carry a palpable sense of tragedy through characters being targeted by the demonic. The Conjuring: The Lover is not the exception and its fifth and final issue cements what might be the horror license at its bleakest. It commits to that sense of inevitability that comes with being cursed and it makes this last entry the series’ strongest.

The shunned and involuntarily isolated Jessica has blood on her hands and the Occultist knows it, seizing the opportunity to stick the final daggers in place for her final trick: assisted self-destruction. What makes the setup so engrossing though is how well the pieces that David Johnson-McGoldrick, Rex Ogle, and Garry Brown put together fall into place to amplify the true target of Jessica’s haunting.

Readers know by now that Jessica is a queer character that feels as if she needs to hide her own self to the world. As the horror mounts, she comes to be confronted on this front by the demonic powers of the Occultist, against her will and against her desire to fully express her reality. The Occultist preys on Jessica knowing her secret puts her in a spot that allows for easy social banishment once certain truths are pushed out into the open.

The Conjuring: The Lover #5

In a sense, The Lover’s haunting is made more powerful by the prejudice of others, a thing that nurtures the kind of dark energy that makes the Occultist stronger. In other words, it takes a village to haunt a person and the story makes sure readers are very aware of this as it comes to an end. The Lover is a meditation on that idea, plain and simple. Jessica’s fate hits harder because of this and the team behind the story knew how to tap into that particular kind of horror to produce a memorable finale.

The last backup story we get from The Warren’s haunted artifact room comes courtesy of Domo Stanton, who writes and illustrate it, and focuses on the Occultist’s Chalice. It’s a straightforward story about how an object imbued with dark intentions can influence those who grant it the power to indulge in it. It’s quick, to the point, and fun. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Conjuring: The Lover triumphs in demonstrating just how a movie’s universe can grow through comics if given the chance. I hope this isn’t a one-off and that we get more Conjuring series sooner rather than later. The source material is too good, and it’s undeniably eager to continue prodding into the things that stoke our fears.

Story: David Johnson-McGoldrick and Rex Ogle, Art: Garry Brown
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Buy and keep your peeled for those annoying devil worshippers.

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review


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Review: The Nice House on the Lake #5

The Nice House on the Lake #5
The Nice House on the Lake #5

James Tynion IV and Álvaro Martínez Bueno have reached a kind of season finale endpoint with the fifth issue of The Nice House on the Lake, an entry that closes few doors and leaves new ones wide open. The people stuck at the house have finally taken it upon themselves to try and decipher what’s really going on with the end of the world and their strange flesh-shifting friend.

Nice House #5 uses an interesting framing device to basically offer a quick but comprehensive summary of the events that have transpired up to this point. Whiteboards and markers are summoned and everyone’s gathered to try and make a list of discoveries and observations that could offer clues as to what the mysterious Walter is really up to. There’s time afforded to the previous issue’s big reveals and how it affects the entire social dynamic inside the house as well.

Tynion is more precise with the bits of character development he gives to key players so as to make the group as a whole the star of this part of the story. It felt inevitable. There was a kind of invisible thread pulling everyone together just for this moment and Tynion’s execution is, once again, flawless.

Martínez Bueno is also keeping with the storytelling standards set early on, focusing this time on that uneasy feeling big meetings often carry when the topic of discussion is never good. Everyone exudes anxious energy and infectious unsteadiness, enough to build up the tension that will surely bleed over into the next story arc.

As is customary by now, issue #5 ends with another big reveal, but this one really changes up the game. It’s powerful enough to even change the identity of the comic going forward. The endgame might’ve shifted with this new development and it’ll be fun to see how everyone adjusts to the new information.

The Nice House on the Lake #5
The Nice House on the Lake #5

The Nice House and its surrounding get its own sort of ‘character development’ as well, with mysteries giving way just a bit to make sure there’s more stuff to explore in the coming issues. It reminded me of the narrative shift between season 1 and season 2 of Lost, where the island doesn’t necessarily become massively bigger but instead new corners of it are made available for the survivors. It all amounts to an exciting look at the storytelling possibilities that remain to be explored.

The Nice House on the Lake #5 is a fitting end to the first arc of the series. It sets up just enough to keep readers desperate for more. Looks like the best new horror comic of 2021 fully intends to just get better and better.

Story: James Tynion IV Art: Álvaro Martínez Bueno Color: Jordie Bellaire
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10
Recommendation: Buy, read, camp out in front of a comic store for the next issue.

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a free copy for review


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Interview: The creators behind SOUL PLUMBER are on a mission to make us all aware of Archons and exorcism machines

Soul Plumber #1
Soul Plumber #1

Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski have never been hesitated to go down the belly of the beast and see true horror for the sake of their horror/true crime podcast The Last Podcast on the Left. From serial killers to 9/11 conspiracies to the search for the Archons, the semi-hostile world-creating rulers and lowest derivations of the Godhead.

For reasons that will make sense in the reading of this wildly and unapologetically bizarre book, being aware that these two podcasters possess a wealth of knowledge which knows no bounds is reason enough to get excited for their new DC Horror comic Soul Plumber.

Soul Plumber defies classification as it’s about religious scams, digitized exorcisms, and blind devotion to the point of gratuitous sinning. It follows a man called Edgar Wiggins, a devout Christian desperate to find his divine purpose. He finds it in the form of a machine that exorcises demons by creating a small portal that reaches into a person’s soul to cleanse it. Wiggins sees this and all becomes clear.

Park, Zebrowski, and Ben Kissel, along with John McCrea and PJ Holden on art, have crafted a deliciously sinister and darkly comedic story that finds its strengths in pushing buttons that only bring discomfort. Their will is strong and the comic’s first issue is indicative of the lengths they’ll go to poke fun at the things we shy away from.

Zebrowski and Parks corresponded via email with Graphic Policy to talk all things Soul Plumber, especially on the things that lurk behind reality that we should be aware of to better understand the Easter eggs strewn around the series. It follows below.

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Soul Plumber #1

RICARDO SERRANO: Often when I get my hands on a new horror comic, the influences are very obvious. In your face, even. It’s something along the lines of EC Comics Horror or Tales from the Crypt. Soul Plumber is something different and I think it will haunt me for the rest of my days. How did you land on the concept behind the book? 

Henry Zebrowski and Marcus Parks: We were approached by the Vatican with some very private information. Actually that is not the truth. We were all inspired/traumatized by our various religious upbringings. We wrote a story that weaved our backgrounds into our present love for sci-fi horror. 

SERRANO: Anyone who’s ever heard your horror podcast The Last Podcast on the Left knows that all the madness you guys bring to the show is backed up by an encyclopedic knowledge of all things horror, but also that you each have unique takes on it. Taking all this into consideration, how was the writing process?

Zebrowski/Parks: Our experience writing our book (Last Book On The Left) gave us an inkling of what kind of discipline it takes to sit down and put letters on paper. Then the wonderful guiding hands at DC gave us examples of comic book scripts so we could have an idea on how this type of script structure works. Marcus and Henry break down the outline of each issue together, then write scenes individually and swap back and forth to make sure we have bits of our DNA all over the comic, yum. Long story short, we had fun with it.

SERRANO: You have some heavy hitters on art for this book in John McCrea and PJ Holden. Did you script the story with their art styles in mind or did you go take a different approach?

Soul Plumber #1

Zebrowski/Parks: We knew that the comic was going to be gross and dark, and McCrea was floated as a possible artist. We were like “would he even lower himself to work on our paltry words?” And he did lower himself. He barely lets us know though! Honestly, we couldn’t be luckier to have McCrea and Holden working on our script and bringing it to life. It’s a miracle to write on a page “a war between millions of nude women alien races is happening in the background” and then POOF there it is!

SERRANO: Upon reading Soul Plumber, it’s evident your comedic tastes run dark. It’s reminded me of your book The Last Book on the Left: Stories of Murder and Mayhem from History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers, which fans of the comic will surely appreciate. Did you bring anything from The Last Book on the Left to Soul Plumber?

Zebrowski/Parks: More so than any information it really was the experience of writing a full book that showed us we could even accomplish this. There are a lot of easter eggs of information from Last Podcast all over the series. You’ll see some true crime familiar faces, perhaps, you’ll definitely see some of our deep dives into cults inspired us greatly.

SERRANO: For fans, both new and old, that want to get hyped for the comic, do you have any particular Last Podcast on the Left episodes you’d suggest they listen to so they can get into Soul Plumber mode?

Zebrowski/Parks: Brush up on your knowledge of Archons and the Intergalactic Committee, I would also revisit the story of Michael Taylor and Anneliese Michel. That’s if you wanna be a nerd about it! I’d say most people could use a brush up on the nature of Archons and their abilities to manipulate humankind. You can’t see them until it’s too late.

Soul Plumber is available wherever comics are sold.

Start your Halloween reading list with Hellraiser/Nightbreed Jihad

Hellraiser/Nightbreed Jihad

If you’re like me, then you treat Halloween as a year-long affair, a way of life, that requires a special read or movie to open the best month of the year: October. Some people have a kind of ritual, something they repeat year in and year out to mark the occasion. For some it’s watching John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), others might prefer a candlelit reading session composed of classic horror short stories from authors that are synonymous with the season (be it Poe, Stephen King, or Lovecraft).

I start October by reading something I’ve never read before, be it a comic or a short story. Last year it was a short story written by Scott Derickson and C. Robert Cargill called “A Clean White Room,” about an Iraq war veteran that becomes a sin-eater in a building that lays atop a crack in the world that has a straight line to Hell. It’s included in The Blumhouse Book of Nightmares: The Haunted City (2015) anthology, a great option for those who prefer their horror to have been published more recently.

This year, Halloween begins with a crossover horror comic that features two uniquely terrifying worlds created by legendary author Clive Barker and it’s called Hellraiser/Nightbreed Jihad. It was published in 1991 by Epic Comics but those interested in it can find it in the Clive Barker’s Nightbreed Archive published by BOOM! Studios, along with a comics adaptation of the movie by Alan Grant, John Wagner, and Jim Baikie.

Hellraiser

Hellraiser/Nightbreed Jihad is written by D.G. Chichester and illustrated by Paul Johnson and it centers on a war Hellraiser’s cenobites want to wage on the Nightbreed given the latter’s existence threatens Hell’s eternal mission of bringing agony and suffering to the souls of the damned.

The Nightbreed, a race of magical creatures that live in an underground city called Midian away from humans, are apparently disrupting the balance of chaos in the world by merely existing. A purging seems the only sensible way forward for the tortured lords of Hell, although there are different schools of thought as to how to deal with the problem.

At a glance, the story carries the look and feel of a Clive Barker tale. It’s ambitious in its worldbuilding and it fuses dark fantasy elements with dangerous magic to dive into taboo topics and subvert them. As is characteristic of Barker’s work, sex factors into the story and is presented as a kind of transcendental experience that courts pain to repurpose pleasure as a ritual that both punishes and rewards.

Paul Johnson’s art is exquisite, leaning heavy on the fantasy elements of its already dream-like worlds to establish a sense of danger and wonder that’s unique to these licenses. This carries over in the new creatures and monsters accompany the already well-established characters seen in the film adaptations of Barker’s books. They expand upon the possibilities of the horrors they embody in each world and give Johnson ample space to experiment with design.

Hellraiser

Chichister’s writing is finely tuned to the sights, sounds, and voices of both sides of the war, relying on the complex vernacular of each world’s reality to provide a very lived-in sense of story early on. It captures the constant state of violence that governs the two groups quite well and it sets up some wonderfully macabre moments that show no intention of holding back on the bloodletting.

Based on what I’ve already read and seen throughout the pages (I couldn’t help myself), Hellraiser/Nightbreed Jihad looks like it will set quite the tone for this year’s Halloween season. The challenge, then, will lie in trying to find something that compares or surpasses this horror comic. It’s a hard one, but there are 31 days-worth of opportunities to indulge in the search.

Review: MIDNIGHT MASS masterfully turns religion into a matter of blood and devious faith

Midnight Mass

Religion and horror have never been known to be strange bedfellows. In fact, it can be argued they’re both cut from the same cloth, or at the very least that one can’t exist without the other. Mike Flanagan seems to find refuge in this idea as his latest Netflix series, Midnight Mass, turns to some of the Bible’s most terrifying passages to craft a 7-part story about how faith can turn the religiously devoted into desperate monsters trying to find meaning and purpose.

Midnight Mass is set in Crockett Island, a small piece of land separated from the mainland with a very reserved and quietly weary populace that has embraced their isolated experience. It’s the kind of place where despair and small-town politics breed a kind of people that can be easily manipulated by a charismatic enough figure. The island’s only saving grace is the common ground most of the inhabitants share on Sunday mornings: St. Patrick’s, a small catholic church.

Enter Father Paul (played by Hamish Linklater), a young and impassioned priest that’s ready to do whatever’s needed of him to bring more people into church, capital sins included. Problem is, Father Paul has brought something with him to the island, something monstruous, and it hungers.

While the series’ true north lies in the dangers of religious manipulation dressed as honest devotion, it isn’t content with just settling on the spiritual ailments plaguing the island’s residents. The story also explores grief, loss, the trials of being an outsider in a closed-off community, and alcoholism as problems religion can either alleviate or unintentionally replace with other addictions.

Midnight Mass
Hamish Linklater as Father Paul

Who says people can’t get intoxicated by the promise of receiving God’s most coveted blessings? The metaphor’s there and it’s expertly woven into the fabric of the horror at the series’ core.

Flanagan, who directs each episode and either fully scripts or co-writes them, is largely successful at turning religion into Midnight Mass’ primary source of terror by resorting to fiery Bible verses to create powerful connections between the horrible things that happen on the island and the contents of the holy book.

Father Paul’s sermons invite literal interpretations of some of Catholicism’s most potentially gruesome practices, if taken word for word. Deciphering this allows viewers to slowly piece together some of the story’s secrets and makes for some truly satisfying sequences where horror unfolds in new and inventive ways, especially when it comes to communion.

The setup and the character driven tempo of the story is where Midnight Mass excels. The island’s inhabitants only have themselves to contend with and it’s their willingness to either give in to the church or to question it that establishes the fear and tension surrounding Father Paul’s interest in turning Crockett Island’s inhabitants into fervent servers of God.

Midnight Mass
Samantha Sloyan as Bev Keane

One thing sometimes gets in the way of Midnight Mass’ already dialogue-heavy plot: individual character monologues. People familiar with Flanagan’s work, especially those that saw The Haunting of Hill House (2018), know that the director likes his horror to be sentimental, heavy-handedly so. To achieve that, Flanagan resorts far too often to long-winded monologues about faith, life after death, and the many philosophical meanings of life and they can grind the story to a halt.

In Midnight Mass, monologues surrounding Father Paul’s sermons or those of a particularly sinister character called Bev Keane (played by Samantha Sloyan), a zealous Catholic that can give the Old Testament a run for its money, are particularly interesting and intense. They’re some of the best parts of the story. Monologues relegated to what happens after death or about making amends are the opposite. They make their points early on and then they just keep going.

They open different avenues of conversation and feature some genuinely interesting ideas, but they’re too involved for their own good and they definitely overstay their welcome. Thankfully, the performances behind the characters delivering these monologues are excellent and they help sustain interest as the dialogue stretches on.

Rahul Kohli, who plays Sherrif Hassan, a practicing Muslim that has to navigate the town’s racism while also being the only resident that’s not Catholic in Crockett, does an admirable job of delivering each line with a force that commands attention. The rest of the cast follows suit, but they only alleviate some of the problems inherent in these monologues.

Midnight Mass
(From left to right) Annabeth Gish, Igby Rigney, Annarah Cymone, Kate Siegel, and Rahul Kohli

The story’s reveals, on the other hand, make each development feel monumental and prop up some of its most interesting characters for a series of profoundly heart-wrenching moments that are sure to stick around well after the credits have rolled on the final episode.

Taken in as a whole, Midnight Mass can more accurately be described as a work of horror drama. Flanagan isn’t afraid to spend time with his characters exploring themes that aren’t rooted in terror every step of the way. He prefers his horror slow-cooked, but once certain pieces have been set and the time comes to let the darkness take over, very few filmmakers can conjure up horror as unsettling or as disturbing as the kind in Midnight Mass.

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