Posts Tagged ‘Joe Hill’

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Has it really been three years already?

Yup,  guess it has been that long since Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez locked (sorry) the doors of Keyhouse and concluded their modern long-form horror masterpiece, Locke & Key, and while the time has certainly flown by in many respects, now that we’ve been granted entry into the most mysterious home in Lovecraft, Massachusetts one more time, the truth is that it also feels like it’s been a lot longer than that.  Maybe that’s why it’s good to know, especially right before Christmas, that you (or, in this case, we) actually can go home again.

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Okay, sure, Locke & Key : Small World #1 may be a good, old-fashioned “one-shot” — and it may be set in the past (specifically the early part of the 20th century) and feature a different cast of characters than the one we came to know in the series proper — but that doesn’t mean it’s not a seamless addition to Hill and Rodriguez’ mythos or that it’s anything less than an absolute delight. In fact, for long-time fans of this world, reading this book is almost certain to make you feel like — dare I say it — a kid at Christmas.

The perpetually cynical (a group to which many insist I belong myself) have always said that “familiarity breeds contempt,” of course, but based on the evidence offered here, I humbly beg to differ. Small World serves up nothing you can’t and/or won’t see coming from a mile away — the “surprise” ending, for instance, is nothing of the sort — but for all its predictability and simplicity, it’s much more undeniably charming than it is the product of rote and clinical calculation. An old favorite pair of slippers doesn’t represent anything unexpected or challenging or different, either, but is there anything better to slide your feet into after being out on a cold winter’s day? Tried and true things in life are great comforts, my friends, and in this suddenly-much-more-uncertain world we find ourselves in these days, we need ’em more than ever.

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If you’re getting the distinct impression that there’s nothing precisely essential about Locke & Key : Small World, well, shit — I can’t deny that’s absolutely true. Nothing in these pages will enrich your appreciation of the original series or shift your understanding of it in any way. There are no new perspectives to be had or secrets to ponder. But between Hill’s meticulously-crafted script, Rodriguez’ absolutely breathtaking richly-detailed art, and Jay Fotos’ amazingly well-chosen colors, what we have here is a near-perfect representation in microcosm of what made this series such a runaway sensation in the first place. It’s almost impossible to imagine somebody not being utterly transfixed by this gem of a comic, to the point where I can easily imagine one who may be new to this world feeling downright compelled to track down everything that’s come before once they’re read it. “Newbies” are hardly the so-called “target audience” for this book, it’s true — and I can’t see anyone unfamiliar with the franchise being willing to plunk down the $4.99 cover price that IDW is asking for a standard-length, single-issue publication (okay, that’s a bit of a lump of coal in our collective stocking, I suppose) — but there are bound to be some out there, and my money is on them becoming instantly hooked. Every aspect of this comic is expertly executed. Every single one. And whether you’re falling in love with Keyhouse and its denizens for the first time or all over again, it doesn’t matter — “love is love,” after all, as the title of another IDW special that hit LCS shelves this week reminds us.

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As I mentioned already — probably more than once — the comforts of beautifully-established “known quantities” are at a premium these days. I love comics that push my thinking in new directions and upset the apple cart of my preconceptions, but there’s always a place on my pull list for books that counteract life’s uncertainties and give me exactly what I’m hoping for. Locke & Key : Small World is the best example of this type of storytelling that it’s been my pleasure to encounter in an awfully long time, and for half an hour it let me pretend that all was right with the world, so ya know what? For all my bitching about the fact that this thing cost five bucks, who are we kidding? That feeling is absolutely priceless.

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Horror fans everywhere were reasonably enthusiastic at the prospect, first announced a few years ago now, of a newly-“reimagined” version of the classic TV series Tales From The Darkside being developed for the CW network under the creative guidance of up-and-coming author Joe Hill,  and why not? Hill comes from about as distinguished a genre pedigree as one can imagine, after all (in case you didn’t know his full name is Joseph Hillman King), and has some best-selling and critically-acclaimed novels of his own under his belt (one of which, Horns, was adapted by Alexandre Aja into a darn fine feature film), as well as a little comic-book series you just may have heard of called Locke & Key. Surely this would be a pretty good little show whenever it finally hit our screens, right?

Except, of course, it never did. Somewhere along the twisting, winding, perilous length that is Hollywood’s pre-production pipeline, things god scuttled, and CW “suits” pulled the plug on the project for reasons known only to them before any of us ever got to see what was being cooked up. But in today’s multi-media marketplace, nothing is ever truly dead, and the wise folks at IDW Publishing decided to get in touch with Hill, see if they might be able to make something of his unused scripts, and maybe even get his Locke & Key co-creator, Garbriel Rodriguez, involved on the artistic side. The end result? It’s at your LCS now in the form of the new Tales From The Darkside four-issue mini-series.

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The original syndicated TFTDS TV show was a late-night series comprised of 30-minute “one and done” episodes that told fairly basic horror stories with no real connecting theme or thread to unite to unite them, but Hill’s revamp apparently revolved around the semi-random appearance of something called “darkside events” — metaphysical incursions from the great void beyond designed to dish out either cosmic reward or retribution to folks who have recently done something really good or really bad. It’s a simple but effective conceit that’s employed to good effect in this debut issue, titled “Sleepwalker,” about a spoiled rich kid who takes a summer lifeguarding job and has a woman die on his watch because he was hung over and fell asleep behind his sunglasses, and I have no doubt that in the three installments remaining these “events” will function basically as portals into — well, The Darkside Zone, for lack of a better way of putting it. Our protagonist this time out could certainly be forgiven for thinking he had stumbled through Rod Serling’s dimensional doorway as every single person he encounters ends up giving him a taste of his own medicine after his mother’s high-priced lawyers manage to procure his very own “Get Out Of Jail, Free” card for him — which is probably all you really need to know in order to get a general gist of what’s on offer in the pages of this comic.

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Hill’s TV scripts are being adapted for the printed page by Michael Benedetto, but I think it’s fair to assume that the essence of them is surviving intact, and while the breadth and scope of Locke & Key can’t in any way be expected to be duplicated in a four-issue anthology series, it’s refreshing to see the talents of these individuals at work in a more “self-contained” and “scaled-back” format. We knew that Hill and Rodriguez could tackle sprawling epics, sure, but one installment in with Tales From The Darkside and it’s already crystal clear that simple-but-effective macabre morality plays are well within their wheelhouse, as well, and while it would or could be tempting to assume that our creators might try to get away with “mailing it in” on a project like this, at least if you’re a hardened cynic like I am, the simple truth is that, as Rodriguez’s superbly fluid double-splash image reproduced below shows, no one’s doing anything of the sort here. There’s going to be a lot of attention being paid to this new take on Tales From The Darkside, and who knows? Maybe the studio execs will take notice and decide that this idea has some life in it yet.

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One brief final note : the one member of the Locke & Key team conspicuous by his absence here is colorist extraordinaire Jay Fotos, and while there’s nothing wrong with Ryan Hill’s hues in the least, fans will no doubt be very  pleased to see that the entire gang is getting back together later this year for a very special project teased in a “house ad” at the back of this comic. Even if the rest of the book sucked — which it absolutely doesn’t — I would feel that my $3.99 was well-spent just for this fucking promo page.

Yeah — that’s how big it the news is. And even if Tales From The Darkside doesn’t prove to be your cup of tea, you’ll still be over the moon about what these creators have coming up next. Trust me.

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Okay, let me state for the record right out of the gate here that Alexandre Aja’s 2013 cinematic adaptation of Joe Hill’s well-regarded horror/fantasy novel Horns (which never made it to theaters in my area but is now available via Netflix instant streaming as well as on Blu-ray and DVD) is a flick that I was rooting for before I’d ever even seen it. I’m a fan of most of Aja’s previous efforts (yes, even Piranha 3D) and, while I haven’t read the book, I definitely  consider Hill’s Locke And Key to be one of the best comics of the past couple of decades, so — yeah, this one had all the makings of a “dream team” pairing for genre aficionados such as myself. What could possibly go wrong, right?

Now, if  I’m being perfectly frank, I have to admit that not much does — the film is well-cast, lavishly shot, has a reasonably involving story, and snappy, intelligent dialogue. Hill didn’t write the screenplay, that task having been passed to Keith Bunin, but it’s easy to see from this movie alone why his work has such a large and loyal legion of fans — he utilizes the trappings of “dark fantasy” in order to tell stories that are relevant to the human condition and creates interesting and relatable characters along the way resulting in a “finished product” that isn’t entirely dissimilar in flavor and tone to the work of, say, a Neil Gaiman, but has enough of a unique twist to brand it as something entirely its own. All in all, then, you’ve gotta say “so far, so good.”

But maybe that’s the “problem,” unfair as it is, right there. Horns is just kinda — well, good. Which is fine. It beats being bad (unless you’re in the mood for a bad flick). Still, I have to be honest — it comes within such close “sniffing distance” of being great that to see it fall short, as it ultimately does, is more than a tad bit disappointing.

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Here’s the thing, though — trying to pinpoint exactly where it goes “wrong” is almost an exercise in futility and ends up making me sound like I’m bitching about a movie that gets it right at almost every turn. My mom taught me never to sound ungrateful, and it’s generally pretty good advice, but a closer examination of Horns does, in fact, bring its flaws to the surface at least somewhat readily, and so, in that spirit, and despite the fact that I almost feel like I should be apologizing for doing so, let me now reluctantly lay out my case for why this movie just ain’t “all that.”

Ig Perrish (Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe) isn’t the most popular guy in his Pacific northwestern town (yes, this was shot in Vancouver) since they found his girlfriend, Merrin Williams (Juno Temple) dead out in the woods. Ig’s always been something of an outsider, and everybody’s surer than sure that he’s responsible for her murder. Plus, as events play out, it turns out that most every other guy he knows —including his brother, Terry (played by Joe Anderson), and best friend/attorney, Lee (Max Minghella) — had the hots for his old lady, too. Shit, even his dad (James Remar) was’t entirely immune to her charms. Killing your girlfriend is bad enough, but when she’s the most popular lady in town, that can only add to your troubles.

Of course, Ig didn’t do it — no “spoiler” there. But that set of horns that suddenly starts growing out of his head? Well, shit like that tends to make a guy look guilty. And he seems to developing a strange sort of control over snakes. And everyone in town seems to be telling him their most intimate secrets for no reason at all. How do horns, snake control, and mind control all go together? That,  friends, is a darn good question.

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It’s also one that Aja, Hill, and Bunin never answer. Simply put, for the most par they’re plot contrivances explicitly designed to move the story forward and have no real purpose beyond that. Maybe the origins of each of these individual pieces of “high weirdness” is fleshed out a bit more on the printed page, but here they all just kinda happen, and while the horns are an obvious and pretty blunt metaphor for anything that makes a person different , the whole snakes thing and the “I’m gonna bare my soul to you outta the blue” thing don’t even fit into the story’s admittedly obvious “let’s not judge others based on appearances” theme.

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Which, again, isn’t to say that they don’t “work” in terms of what they’re supposed to do — only that what they’re supposed to do apart from give the writer an easy way to nudge the proceedings along is never made clear in the least. And that’s probably why Horns is, ultimately, something of a let-down as far as viewing experiences go. It’s a great-looking film, with fine performances all around (especially on Radcliffe’s part) that  immerses its audience in an intriguing, well-structured fantasy world that’s close enough to our own to be believable, but different enough to be interesting. The supporting players all acquit themselves well and it’s  nice to see talented, but under-utilized, performers like Heather Graham, Kathleen Quinlan, and David Morse get material worthy of their skills and abilities. There’s a semi-generous helping of nudity, sex, and gore for us sleaze-hounds. There’s a strong element of the supernatural for those who dig that sort of thing. The characters are well-developed, fleshed-out people that you actually care about. And yet — it’s all just a bit too obvious. The horns on Ig’s head twist and turn but they’re not that sharp. The film ticks every box on the “must-haves in every horror story” checklist right in front of your face, and either comes up with a “the moral to this story is —” reason for their inclusion, or just blows off providing a reason entirely, content in its own ability to win you over through sheer technical competence, which it has in spades. But it’s all brain with very little heart . It could be damn near perfect— if it wasn’t trying so hard to be precisely that.