TWISTED TALES

A long wait fuelled by fanboy hype is a dangerous thing, and after seeing the long-shelved ‘Trick ‘r Treat’, a movie originally set for a Halloween 2007 release, funded by Warner and with a Bryan Singer co-sign, plus books and merchandise tie-ins, on the runup to its October 2009 DVD release, it was decent. I wanted groundbreaking. If I’d caught it late at night or been swayed by bombastic press quotes into a rental…sorry, download, blind to the film’s content, I would’ve been satisfied. But such is the power of protracted delays and word-of-mouth that in its 82 minutes, it left me wanting.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t check it out if you’re even mildly led towards genre films – the performances are good, there’s a fair few shocks and black comedy moments, and the art direction is phenomenal. I just like my horror anthologies a little too much, and the sting in the tail of the four or five overlapping stories ‘Trick ‘r Treat’ contains seemed to have been, perhaps with the exception of Brian Cox’s eventful evening, clipped. I blame the animated comic book opening for drawing comparisons with the legendary ‘Creepshow’ – that’s a tough one to top.

I wouldn’t consider myself to be a tough audience member. My fondness for horror anthologies on both screen and paper runs deep, and is fairly undiscerning. If it’s a portmanteau fright flick, I’m down for a viewing. ‘Dead Of Night’, ‘Asylum’. ‘Tales That Witness Madness’, the peculiar Brit acquisition of E.C. comics franchises ‘The Vault Of Horror’ and ‘Tales From The Crypt’, offbeat variations like ‘Grim Prairie Tales’ (thank you Alex Cox), ‘Tales From The Hood’, ‘Body Parts’, ‘Encounter With the Unknown’ (the hole in the ground segment terrorised me as a kid), ‘Trilogy of Terror’, the ‘Night Gallery’ pilot, ‘Necromoncion’, ‘Two Evil Eyes’, ‘Tales From The Darkside – The Movie’, ‘Twilight Zone- The Movie’, ‘Nightmares’…Jesus, I even sat through the terrible ‘Quicksilver Highway’. The root cause of this fixation? Sitting with my dad watching Joan Collins be terrorised by a tree and E.G. Marshall having cockroach troubles.

Around the same time this preoccupation began, I was a fiend for horror anthology comics too. I picked up a stack of ‘Creepy’ and ‘Eerie’ on the basis of those fantastic, lurid covers and became obsessed with the work of José Ortiz on ‘Night Of The Jackass’ (word to Obama) and the genius of Bernie Wrightson on ‘Jenifer’ and the truly nightmarish ‘Nightfall’ – ‘Jenifer’ also introduced a writer called Bruce Jones to me, who’s arguably as great a scribe as Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling or William Gaines, with a knack for the macabre. It was filmed as the highlight of the otherwise patchy ‘Masters Of Horror’ series too, directed by Dario Argento. These stories were bloody, uncompromising and frequently bloody with gory come-uppances, but a certain psychological complexity too.

Later in the UK, a 2000AD horror-themed comic book spinoff, ‘Scream’ fired my imagination during its brief weekly run in 1984. Alan Moore wrote for issue one, and while the free vampire teeth and toy spiders were targeted at kids, the content was often surprisingly aduly. Little wonder it proved controversial. Reprints of E.C. horror and crime titles for $2.95 an issue at the local import spot had me hooked again, as dastardly plots led to that final frame of gory retribution.

The documentary ‘Comic Book Confidential’ showed me ust how revolutionary these books had been, and how the ensuing brouhaha had sanitised the industry until the underground boom. I even picked up copies of Steven Bissette’s ‘Taboo’ compilations (with my folks oblivious to what their year old son was reading – after all, a comic is for kids isn’t it?) before I discovered a rich seam of other indie anthology unpleasantries that I’d missed out on.

During my work experience bid at the aforementioned comic store in late ’93, I had the full run of the back issues in between mylar backing and stocktaking. It was here I was introduced to the short run of the Pacific anthology title, ‘Twisted Tales’ – with the spirit of E.C. in effect once more, but with fouler language, more gristle and the addition of nudity, the comic, which ran from 1982-84 before cancellation, reunited me with Bruce Jones, who took over the lion’s share of scripting.

Richard Corben was back again too (go check out ‘In Deep’ from ‘Creepy’ with Jones and Corben on top form), and John Bolton and occasionally Mr. Wrightson too, this time with added paints) were involved on art, as were the likes of Rick Geary, Rand Holmes, Mike Ploog, Tim Conrad  and Jackson Guice. It’s the nature of the (man) beast that some stories were hit or miss, but it felt like the place things would have gone, had the Comic Code not cockblocked the bloodshed. ‘Twisted Tales’ also indicated that a number of underground legends were paying their debt to the brutal tales that influenced them. A follow-up of sorts, ‘Tales Of Terror’ with ‘Taboo’s Steve Bissette on board occasionally, and less of Jones’s writing ran from 1985-87. Bruce’s lack of contribution meant the title suffered.

Sewer/well/lake monsters make frequent appearances, the E.C. ‘Shock Supense Stories’ feel is present in tales of duped lovers paying the price, and psychological trickery is another of Jones’ resurring themes – much is revealed to be a fatal figment of the imagination. Other tales, like ‘Roomers’ are incredibly subtle.  No one, from the elderly to the very young is spared, and I was addicted. Todd McFarlane claimed to be making a TV show based on the book in 2005 – quickly kiboshed by Jones (still very much working), who still held the rights. It’s a shame. The scope for a movie adaptation is vast. Sadly, the studio purgatory ‘Trick ‘r Treat’ languished in indicates that few would be willing to take the budgetory risk.

Here’s just a few of my favourite  ‘Twisted Tales’ shock moments from a number of artists…