Countdown to Halloween, Day 8: Strange

Taking a short break from the Halloween mixtape tonight to return to the thing we’re kind of known for here on the nerd farm: funnybook reviews. Or A funnybook review, anyway; I’m still spending sufficient time on the mixtape that I can’t launch into one of my usual long-winded treatises on Stuff I Like. It’ll be a Halloween-themed funnybook, as well, because the Countdown is a harsh mistress, and demands all manner of creepy stuff…

Bachalo Dr Strange 1

Dr. Strange 1
by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo

So I almost didn’t buy this comic. They wanted five bucks for it, and as regular readers know, it takes an awful lot to get me to pay five bucks for a funnybook. Especially for what looks and feels like a regular-sized funnybook. But a quick page-count revealed that, no, it in fact features 32 pages of story, which made me feel a little bit better about it.

But it’s also a new book featuring one of my all-time favorite funnybook characters, written by one of the few writers I like in work-for-hire comics, and drawn by an artist whose work is so stylish and pretty that I like him in spite of his shortcomings as a storyteller. So I broke down and bought it. Paid my money and took my chances. And initially…

Bachalo Strange Parasite Girl

click to embiggen

…I didn’t care for it. That’s a beautiful, creepy, weird page to be sure. But Dr. Strange is not a character, I felt, who should ever use phrases like “she’s into me.” Nor should he refer to hordes of extra-dimensional parasites as “guys.” And he most definitely shouldn’t be written, overall, like some horny hipster-bro, a reprobate who can barely remember his spells under pressure. As modern reinterpretations of classic characters go, this was not the sort of thing I wanted to see.

And yet…

Bachalo Strange Bar

click to embiggen

…through cool concepts and arresting visuals…

Bachalo Strange Magic Vision

click to embiggen

…Aaron and Bachalo slowly won me over. In part, they did it with their fresh and very engaging reinvention of the magical world. It surrounds us, invisible, all the time, its practitioners able to see things the rest of us can’t. I like that idea in particular. It makes magic part of the mundane world, something always sitting just outside the range of our senses. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s all pixie dust and unicorn farts. ‘Cause there’s some malignant shit out there we don’t know anything about.

Bachalo Strange Thing

click to… ah, you know the drill.

Dr. Strange does, though, and that’s his job: protecting us from nasty things that will eat us from the inside out. This establishes another aspect of the new take that I’m glad to see return: Dr. Strange as consulting detective, the doctor of the supernatural. This was a big part of the original character concept, but it was quickly swept aside in favor of grand mystical battles and sweeping epics of other-dimensional warfare. Which is not to knock that stuff; those stories are where the original Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange really takes off.

But later creative teams, who perhaps lacked that Lee/Ditko flair, didn’t deliver on the drama and spectacle of those sorts of conflicts as well, and that’s when the human element of Strange helping ordinary people was especially missed. So it’s nice to see this new take launching with Strange evicting some parasites out of the head of a little possessed boy, and then moving on to help a young woman whose scalp rash has grown eyes and teeth.

Bachalo Strange Rash

one last time with the embiggening

It’s especially nice to see that sort of thing during the Halloween season. Because, creepy. And, yay. I mean, admittedly, it’s a fun, day-glo, Tim Burtonish sort of creepy, rather than anything actively scary. But that stuff has its place. Plus, if that giant leech-slug thing up there didn’t at least make you pause a second and feel a bit queasy about what it was doing to that old man just a tiny bit… I think maybe you’re missing the point.

Grade: B

Countdown to Halloween, Day 7: UNDEAD UNDEAD UNDEAD!

So far, our Halloween mix tape has been focusing mostly on the obvious, the outrageous, and the humorous. But tonight I thought I’d take a slightly darker turn, and… Actually, you know what? I was about to say that I was going to head off into music that sounds dark and scary without actually being about murder and monsters. But considering what I’m planning on sharing tonight…

Bela Lugosis Dead

…that might actually be rather disingenuous of me. I mean, sure. It’s Bauhaus. The band that invented goth rock. Guys who sound like a bunch of sepulchral bastards even when they’re singing about parties and girls. But their epic, their first single, the song that launched a thousand pale youth into a decade of death-obsessed dancing frenzy… is ultimately just a tune about the dude that played Dracula.

Good evening.

Good evening.

And you just don’t get much more outrageously Halloweenie than that.

So! Without further ado! From 1979, the very first goth record: Bauhaus, with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”

Countdown to Halloween, Days 5 & 6: Get Cramped!

Missed a day on the Countdown yesterday, so today you get a two-fer from the Cramps.

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

The last time I did one of these virtual mix-tapes, I called the Cramps Halloween’s own punk band, and that’s as good a description for them as any. While not every Cramps song is Halloween-ready (some of them are just about weird sex, after all), oh-so-many of them are creepy classics.

First up, we have “Human Fly,” an early Cramps tune that I’ve always thought of as a sort of twisted homage to 1950s horror:

And second, from later in their career, it’s “Eyeball in my Martini,” a colorful outburst of sheer weird insanity:

Countdown to Halloween, Day Four: Jack the Ripper

Almost forgot my countdown today, so this one’ll have to be quick. And, since I’m sitting here reading an article about the director of Withnail and I trying to solve the Jack the Ripper case, let’s go back to the Monster Kid era with the signature song of this guy:

Screaming Lord Sutch

That’s British horror-rock icon Screaming Lord Sutch, and here’s him singing “Jack the Ripper.”


Countdown to Halloween, Day Three: Murder in the Red Barn

Continuing our Halloween mixtape, we come to my favorite Halloweenie musician (hell, my favorite musician period): Mr. Tom Waits, and his album Bone Machine.

Bone Machine

Waits has said that he thinks of Bone Machine as a Halloween sort of album. And considering how very many Halloween-worthy tunes he’s turned out over the years, that’s really saying something. It’s true, though. Even more than most Waits albums, Bone Machine is packed to the gills with apocalyptic songs of death, demons… and murder.

One interesting side-note about this song: the title’s evidently taken from an old horror flick from the 1930s. I don’t know much about it, but this clip I found makes it look like a great old bit of lurid melodrama:

This isn’t exactly a rarity for Waits. Bone Machine also features a song named after the British nuclear apocalypse flick Earth Died Screaming. And as a funnybook fan, I was thrilled when he borrowed the name of Eddie Campbell’s Eyeball Kid for a tune about a most singular sort of freak show attraction.

But that’s music for another day. Because, yes, we’ll be returning to Tom Waits again before the month’s over. But until next time… Good night, whatever you are.

Countdown to Halloween, Day Two: Werewolf Gimmick

Since I started my virtual mixtape last night with the first Halloween song I ever heard, I thought it might be nice to follow that up tonight with the my newest favorite. Granted, the package here might not look like much of a great Halloween experience…

Beat the Champ

…but I assure you, The Mountain Goats’ Beat the Champ album still offers up one pretty great Halloweenie tune. As the cover might imply, this is an album about professional wrestling. Or at least, about the wrestling Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle grew up watching in the Southwest Territory back in the 70s. If you are, or ever were, a wrestling fan, it’s great stuff. A love letter to the business from one of the best songwriters of the era. There are songs here written from the fan’s perspective, but also quite a few from the perspective of the wrestlers themselves.

That’s the case with the song I’m sharing tonight: “Werewolf Gimmick.” In backstage pro wrestling terminology, a gimmick is the character a wrestler portrays in the ring. The best gimmicks, they say, are the workers’ real personalities turned up to 11. Not everyone’s that lucky, however. Some people wind up saddled with terrible characters that they have to go out and sell to the audience. Sometimes, they pull it off. And sometimes, they start “living the gimmick,” getting so caught up in the ring persona that they start believing it. They become it, turning into… well… a kind of monster. That’s what’s going on here.

Not quite the ooky-spooky extravaganza some of the songs I’ll be sharing this month are. But Halloweenie nonetheless. There’s the werewolf thing, of course, but also that sense of uncontrollable insanity, the terrifying and just slightly ridiculous tragedy of a man giving in to the beast. All set to a driving beat that makes me feel a little wild myself. Ferocious.

Countdown to Halloween, Day One: Dinner With Drac

I haven’t joined in the interweb ritual of counting down the days to Halloween in a couple-three years now, and it occurred to me earlier this week (okay, it was last night) that maybe it was time to do it again. Halloween’s my favorite holiday, after all, filled as it is with creepy weirdness and the like. But I don’t have quite the time I once did to post full entries every day, so I decided to do music this year. A month-long mixtape of all my favorite Halloween tunes.

Though my tastes in such things range pretty wide, I thought the best place to start might be with the very first Halloween song I remember hearing: “Dinner With Drac,” by the great John Zacherle, aka Zacherley the Cool Ghoul.

Spook Along With Zacherley

Let’s give it a spin…

You might notice that one’s titled “Dinner With Drac, Part One.” Well, that’s because there are two different versions of this song. Part One is the original, recorded by Zacherley in the jokingly macabre spirit of his horror hosting segments. And it’s pretty killer, featuring one of the hottest opening guitar licks ever. But there was a problem with with this version: Dick Clark (a friend of Zach’s) heard it, liked it, and wanted to play it on his show. But he thought the lyrics were a bit too gross for a mainstream American audience. So he suggested that Zacherley re-do the song in a less grotesque manner.

The result was… not as good. Not nearly as good. But, because it’s the version that Clark popularized, it was the version that most people knew for decades. I, however, was lucky enough as a wee tyke to be the proud owner of a novelty song album whose producers had the good taste to include the original version instead. Or maybe they were just too cheap to pay for the more famous recording. Either way, “Dinner With Drac” was music to my little ears, and played a big part in birthing my life-long love for horror.

But, in the interest of posterity (and because provided me with an easy link to it), I suppose I should include the second, vastly inferior, version as well:

Heh. Actually, I knock Part Two more than I should. A couple of the gags are pretty good, and that pool full of acid might actually be more gruesome than the original’s pool filled with blood. Still. If you can only listen to one… Part One is the way to go.

A Postscript: If you don’t know who the hell Zacherley is…


But secondly… HOLY CRAP YOU HAVE TO LEARN ABOUT ZACHERLEY! Though not the first local TV horror movie host (that honor goes, I believe, to Vampira), Zach wasn’t far behind, and was by far the best-known of the era. He recorded albums, hosted a teen dance show (!) in addition to the horror flicks, and… Oh, hell. Here. Just watch this: