Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

This has been a rough week indeed for comics fans. Already reeling from the too-soon departures of underground legends Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, just hours ago news broke of the death of Bernie Wrightson, whose lavishly creepy illustrations haunted the imaginations — and found their way into the nightmares — of generations of readers. Arguably (hell, maybe even inarguably) the premier horror artist of our times, the esteemed Mr. Wrightson was a pre-eminent innovator and consummate craftsman whose painstaking attention to even the smallest of details made all the difference in the world and elevated his work from being “merely” great to being both great and memorable. But don’t just take my word for it, feast your eyes on some of his grimly lush renderings and decide for yourself :

As you can clearly see, Wrightson (who for many years omitted the “e” at the end of his first name and signed his work “Berni”) was a master of all mediums, from the brush to gray markers to pen-and-ink to washes to duotone paper to painting — you name it, he tried it, and always with resounding success. He really was just that good.

Wrightson began his professional career in 1966 working as an illustrator for his hometown Baltimore Sun newspaper, but after meeting legendary comics and fantasy artist Frank Frazetta at a convention he felt sufficiently inspired to give comics a try, and in 1968 was hired on by DC, where his work began appearing regularly in the House Of Mystery and House Of Secrets horror anthology series. Similar work for Marvel followed on “of-a-piece” titles such as Chamber Of Darkness and Tower Of Shadows, but his “big break” came in 1971 when he and writer Len Wein created the most famous “muck monster” character of them all, Swamp Thing, for a one-off Victorian-era story in House Of Secrets #92.  The strip proved to be so popular that Swampy was given his own series, complete with a revamped, then-modern origin, and Wrightson illustrated the first ten issues of Swamp Thing before signing on with Warren Publishing in 1974, where he put his then-positively-exploding talents to use on both original stories and adapted works (most notably of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft) for legendary black-and-white mags such as Creepy and Eerie.

The mid-’70s ushered in a new chapter, with Wrightson and studio-mates Jeff Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Michael W. Kaluta expanding their reach beyond comics and into commercial art, but he never left the funnybooks behind completely, and his 1983 graphic novel adaptation of George A. Romero and Stephen King’s Creepshow led to a sustained and productive working relationship with King that saw him produce original illustrations for the books Cycle Of The WerewolfWolves Of Calla, and the restored edition of the classic The Stand. 1983 also saw the publication, via Dodd, Mead, and Company, of a deluxe edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein complete with nearly 50 pen-and-ink illustrations that Wrightson had spent seven years producing and that many consider to be the pinnacle of his masterful use of line and shadow. Here’s just a sample :

In 1985, Wrightson and writer Jim Starlin oversaw Marvel’s Heroes For Hope, an all-star “jam” benefit comic for African famine relief, and in 1986 they did the same for DC with Heroes Against Hunger, beginning a long and fruitful collaborative partnership that saw them team up on the highly-regarded mini-series The Weird and Batman : The Cult for DC and The Punisher : P.O.V. for Marvel in ensuing years. A wide range of card game, film design, and commercial work followed on from there, as well and continued comics work for publishers such as Heavy Metal (the character of Captain Sternn in the Heavy Metal film was a Wrightson creation), Dark Horse, IDW, and Bongo until his retirement this past January due to health issues following brain surgery.

Bernie Wrightson — incomparable talent, winner of too many industry awards to mention, and delineator of gorgeous grotesqueries for  a half-century — lost his long battle with brain cancer on March 18, 2017, aged 68. He is preceded in death by his first wife, undergound comix cartoonist and “Big Two” colorist Michele Wrightson, and is survived by wife Liz, sons John and Jeffrey, and stepson Thomas. He cast a long and darkly beautiful shadow over the lives of comics and horror fans around the globe, and his untimely passing casts the longest one of all. Thank you, good sir — may you rest in peace as surely as your work will continue to cause sleepless nights for years to come.

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It has to be said — Netflix instant streaming has been keeping me busy this Halloween season (yes, we now have a “Halloween season” just like we’ve got a “Christmas season” — the key difference being that this is a season I actually like), and late last night I indulged in another round of horror nostalgia by watching Children Of The Corn, a movie that positively terrified the living shit out of me when I was a kid, for the first time in — Christ, I don’t know how long.

I figured it probably had to be worth another go, right? After all, it wouldn’t have spawned a veritable army of tenth-rate direct-to video sequels and prequels — the most recent being 2011’s truly atrocious Children Of The Corn : Genesis — if there wasn’t at least some kernel of coolness or creepiness buried in there somewhere, right?

And maybe there is. In Stephen King’s original short story. But not in this limp flick.

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To be sure, adapting this for the big screen probably seemed like a no-brainer back in 1984 : the name “Stephen King” was box office gold at the time, and the glut of poorly-done movies based on his work really hadn’t hit yet. When we thought “Stephen King film” back then, we thought of CarrieThe Dead ZoneChristine, or, best of all, The Shining. The key difference being that each of those was helmed by a genuinely great director, a title which sadly can’t be applied to Children Of The Corn‘s Fritz KIersch (even if Tuff Turf is, admittedly, pretty fun stuff). Given a crackerjack idea to work with — boy preacher convinces all the kids in a small Nebraska corn-farming community to rise up and kill all the grown-ups — Kiersch somehow manages to make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse and delivers a lifeless, tepid celluloid translation of what’s probably the best of all the tales of terror in King’s seminal best-seller Night Shift.

Poor casting doesn’t help matters much, either — okay, sure, John Franklin is solid enough as chief “bad seed” Isaac, but beyond that the pickings are pretty slim : Courtney Gains, who plays his right hand-man (excuse me, boy) Malachi, can stand there and scowl pretty well but never should have been allowed to open his mouth, and as for the young couple who wanders into the midst of this murderous heartland revival, well — let’s just say that Linda Hamilton (well before hitting the jackpot in the biggest divorce settlement in California state history) is a long way from her career-defining turn as Sarah Connor here and Peter Horton comes off as the kind of smug yuppie asshole you’d like to kill personally (and slowly and painfully, I might add) — you know, just like he did on thirtysomething.  Fair enough, “smug yuppie asshole you’d like to kill personally” describes every character on that show, not just his, but still —

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Isaac is compelling enough to keep you at least mildly interested in the proceedings throughout, along with the hope slowly burning in your heart that, even though it seems unlikely, Horton might die a gruesome death, but by the time “He Who Walks Behind The Rows” awakens and the corn comes to life, the whole thing starts to seem too — well, corny to take very seriously. Which would all be fine and good if Kiersch were playing things tongue-in-cheek throughout, but given that he opts for the straight-forward approach, the film’s “climactic” final act just comes off as being uninspired at best, embarrassing at worst. I might even call it cringe-worthy, to be honest, but cringing would require a level of active viewer involvement that this movie just can’t bring itself to have the power to muster up. It’s all too rote, clinical, and lazy to manage to elicit any sort of a reaction whatsoever.

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Maybe I’m being a bit harsh on a film that, for some reason, a good number of horror fans consider to be something of a minor “classic,” but when I wrote about movies that don’t stand the test of time particularly well in my review of Jack’s Back the other day, this is exactly what I was talking about.  I probably should have left well enough alone with this one and just allowed by childhood memories of it to continue to shape my adult perceptions.

Oh well. Too late now.