The rest of the TERROR of popular corporate monster franchises. TERROR!

*I made a pair of shirtless longhaired fellows upset with me today when I pulled out of the gas station in front of them (well, they were sitting there for minutes on end; I thought they were having an important conversation or possibly casing the prison across the street). They followed me for the rest of my journey, and then pulled up along side me when I stopped.

Hey, where’s the fire, bud?!” the driver said, clearly trying to intimidate me with his command of cliché.

Huh?” I crisply retorted.

You cut us off back there! We almost hit ya!”

Oh. I’m sorry, man.”

He stared at me.

Well… ok.”

And he drove off.

This is exactly how I got out of trouble the last time somebody I accidentally messed with on the road wanted to kick my ass: I just apologized. I think the level of violence and anger on the road has gotten to the point where a simple ‘sorry’ creates a lot of confusion. I mean, who the fuck apologizes?

Me! And it works.

(Of course later tonight I’ll walk out of my building only to find my tires slashed and ‘SPEED DEMON’ spray-painted across my windshield…)

A Nightmare on Elm Street Special #1

Unlike the other two books released under the 'New Line Cinema’s House of Horrors' banner in Avatar’s series of movie license one-shots, I’ve actually managed to see every goddamned one of those Freddy flicks, with the exception of the most recent “Freddy Vs. Jason”, which supposedly dumps old man Krueger back into comedy, after the relatively morose “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare”. Craven himself soon leapt into light pomo comedy (Kevin Williamson now at his side) with the “Scream” trilogy, but I still think “New Nightmare”, for all its faults, was the superior work. It understood the silliness of the series, and hugged it close to its chest as it took it all seriously again, the sleeping pills taken before the final act reaching a type of beautiful genre sweep, even as the film itself admitted that the only way to take this stuff seriously again was to at least appear to be something apart (and Freddy looked a lot better in the long jacket without the hat).

Otherwise, half the fun of sitting through the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series is seeing which bits and pieces of the ad hoc mythology will be discarded through the need to bring Freddy back and kill him again. None of this stuff makes any sense when taken from film to film, though at least episodes 1, 3, 4, and 5 form something of an ongoing plot (long ago I think I devised a way to link parts 2 and 6 together into an alternate universe, but I suspect I may have been stretching). I actually rather enjoyed the much-loathed Part 2, grafting some clumsy but surprisingly potent sexual politics onto the skeleton of the original. I also liked Renny Harlin’s Part 4 (with its heroine absorbing her dead friends’ power Mega Man-style) over the Craven-written, painfully dated Part 3, which simply doesn’t mix the horror and adventure-fantasy elements nearly as well. Part 5, the one with the comic book superhero kill sequence I‘m sorry to report, is a total wash (though amusingly, the director, Stephen Hopkins, has gone on to direct numerous episodes of “24” and the well-received “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” - the director of Part 2 went on to do the Mighty Marvel TV Movie “Generation X”) and Part 6 was just a mess.

This book, written by Brian Pulido of “Lady Death” (as it is with all of these one-shots) with art by Juan Jose Ryp, crafts its own little mythology, which is basically in keeping with the series in general. Actually, given the attention paid to background, this one-shot feels mostly like a lead-in to a series, certainly more so than the other two releases in this line. And Freddy is ‘funny’, since that’s the way most people recognize him. Get ready for “Extreme Makeover” gags as those bladed fingers come slicing down.

Taking a major cue from the first film in the series, the book tackles head-on one of the more glaring problems with the original mythology: if Freddy is obviously killing people all over the place, how exactly do you defeat him by not believing in him? The comic suggests that you really can’t, which is why the bastard keeps coming back. As the issue opens, we find a cabal of hilariously over-developed high school chums (well, I’m being nice and assuming that Ryp was shooting for humor) trying out the old sleep deprivation routine one more time, to no avail - Freddy is ready with the usual mid-series style ironic kill scenes (the pretty girl who’s had a boob job finds Freddy at her O.R. bedside, the video game freak gets stuck in a Pac-Man maze with Freddy ghosts - shades of Part 6). But there’s another party at play; men in dark suits and glasses are whisking the town’s kids away before Freddy can finish his awful work! Scantly-clad goth reporter Emily leads a youth investigation into the mystery, but maybe ignorance is truly bliss in these circumstances.

The point, as the fans know, is seeing a bunch of sorry kids get cut to bits. By the time this series reached its later installments, the murders had become so bombastic that they were impossible to be moved by in any way; the killings here, wet as they may be, are roughly as garish but they aren’t quite as creative. Half the time (I counted) Freddy just plays dress-up, cracks some jokes, then slices his prey apart. That’s not a very good utilization of the unlimited potential of the comics form, coupled with the world of dreams in crafting creative kills. Plus, Ryp certainly doesn’t skimp on his usual insane detail (sometimes to his detriment - even Andrew Dalhouse’s color can’t save those mutant little girls on page 2 from melting into one another), he seems to be thinking that the project is slightly more serious than writer Pulido is taking it: there’s an awful lot of tears in this book, kids wailing and sobbing as Freddy puts them under the knife, which kind of clashes with scenes of the group's stocky girl stuffing candy canes into her mouth and moaning “Oh god mmmmmmmm”. Naturally, Freddy expands her into a balloon and pops her.

It’s not scary (just kind of skeevy), but unlike the “Friday the 13th” book it at least follows along in the pattern set for much of the motion picture series. I only wish that Pulido and Ryp had put a bit more creativity into it; obviously, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” isn’t going to operate without surreal/ironic dreaming deaths, so why not use the unlimited effects budget of comics to go hog wild? Maybe in that prospective continuing series, which this book so very much wants to lead into.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Special #1


And here’s the one where Pulido tries to get serious. There’s even (*choke*) a germ of satire lurking around. Scares are still at a minimum, sorry to report.

The book whisks us back to 1972, introducing us to Leatherface and members of his terrible family, as well as a young victim who, unlike in Ryp’s book, actually looks like a teenager - artist Jacen Burrow’s character designs are generally good throughout. But right away folks more informed than I will know we’re not in for something in the spirit of the beloved original film; while Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic maintained a decidedly low level of explicit gore, here we have intestines and grue splashing everywhere. Burrows specializes in lots of white space, especially in his backgrounds, so a really good colorist could probably at least approximate some gritty low-budget atmosphere, but the returning Dalhouse simply makes everything dim (and look out, texture-mavens: it’s the colorist here that puts the rust on buildings and even the speckling of blood on skin). Not much scary stuff. Just gory stuff.

And a measure of clever plotting. I’ve not seen anything in this series save for parts of the Renee Zellweger/Matthew McConaughey epic from 1994, so I have no idea how any of these characters are expected to interact, but it seems to me that Pulido is casting Leatherface and his family as a bunch of all-powerful social conservatives. They stand for family values, law and order, and the strength of the Good Lord; they seem to be the exclusive controllers of authority in their town. The sheriff even makes an angry speech about hippies bringing crime. Into the town comes a pack of lowlifes: a trio of murderous escaped convicts, consisting of a drug dealer, his Black Panther pal, and his rapist cellmate. The three of them also pick up a pair of young girls: mean and excitable Darlene, who’s thrilled to ride with killers, and meek Charity, who just wants to get to Mexico, presumably for an abortion (still illegal in the US at the time). All of them run afoul of Leatherface and his clan, although Charity is spared, even shown nominal kindness, entirely because she’s with child. Of course, if she wasn’t, there’d be no use for her at all, or so suggests the joke about Christian care ending at birth. It’s not brilliant material, but at least it’s sort of thought-through, tying the horror to contemporary concerns, here a liberal’s fever dream of Jesus society gone very nutty.

But the execution of the book is flawed, mainly because there’s (here I go again) very little in the way of scares. You can smirk at the political comment, or wince at the blood (and the blood suffers from the same problem plaguing Burrows’ color work in “Garth Ennis’ 303”, where his detailed wounds and mutilations are simply washed over in a sea of unblinking primary red) but that’s really as much as the book will move you. A common problem with all of these new Avatar books: they’re all admirably dedicated to going over-the-top with sheer plasma volume, which is maybe more than a different company would bother with, but the blood can’t entirely cover how dull the terror is. Laughs and satire are plugged in, but Brian Pulido isn’t exactly Joe R. Lansdale in either regard. Actually, Lansdale would have come up with some better gore too.

Sure, you might ask how often these movie franchises ever hit the target, even on the silver screen, and you'd have a point there. But if Avatar is ready to go as far as possible (in some cases farther than the movies themselves) with the gunk, then why not cross that shocking outer boundary - the gates of fear? That's the question that rises when reading these bloody little comics, and though blood is thicker than water, the question refuses to sink.