April 16th, 2012
Being: the second in a series of posts about John Smith and Edmund Bagwell’s top British horror comic Cradlegrave.
If you’re going to talk about Cradlegrave, you’ve pretty much got to face up to this image at some point:
Stripped of context it’s just a doll, just a tired horror-movie prop, a signifier of terror rather than something actually terrifying. In context however, this dull prop seems far more potent:
The sense of surprise, that feeling of “what the fuck is that face doing in the middle of this conversation?”, is enough to give the image some fresh charge here. The last panel of the sequence hints at the answer, but for the duration of the two panels before it you could be forgiven for thinking you were in another, more Lynchian kind of horror story.
Still, even the most bewildering emanations in Cradlegrave trace back to fleshy, non-Lynchian sources, so it’s just as well that there’s more to the this sequence than lifeless eyes and startling incongruity.
March 21st, 2012
Being: the first in a series of posts about John Smith and Edmund Bagwell’s top British horror comic Cradlegrave.
ONE – If you didn’t look past this cover-cum-announcement for Cradlegrave, you might think that it was telling a very specific sort of story, the sort of story you might describe as being either “tabloid shit” or “a bit Jamie Delano” depending on where you felt like throwing your cruelty.
When I first discussed Cradlegrave back in December, regular commenter Thrills noted that he was “looking forward to reading Cradlegrave” now that he’d got past his concerns that it would “be like that Denise Mina Hellblazer where ‘hoodies’ are ‘demons’.”
Ah, so it’s the worst of both worlds – tabloid shit that smells like Jamie Delano. Fuck.
TWO – Despite the fact that the “Fear they Neighbour” text is missing, the cover of the collected edition still works hard to make the same impression:
There’s something less real about these four hooded figures in this second, reformatted cover – the overly harsh, pixelated light that gleams on of their shoulders is even more unnatural when set against an all-black background, a background that now extends into the empty spaces where four young faces should be.
These are absent phantoms, not flesh and blood monsters, and while I wouldn’t want to pretend that they’re being deliberately undermined here, I still find it hard to imagine anyone taking them seriously.
The only fear in this image is the fear you bring with you, be it fear of “savage” yoofs or of right wing rhetoric…
November 25th, 2011
First of all, a confession: I’m not very good at computer games, in the same way that I’m not very good at telly, or at keeping up with my friend Jessica (whose collected editions of Uzumaki I eventually had to get The Boy Fae the Heed to return, due to my shameless ineptitude).
I don’t know why, but in my flailing attempts at adulthood, some things have ended up getting pushed to the side and properly playing computer games has been one of those things. For perspective: I don’t think I’ve properly lost myself to a full-length computer game since the original Half-Life, or maybe Deus Ex. I still play the damned things, of course, but it’s more of a social occasion or a light distraction – a little bit of Death Tank on the weekends with my pals, a wee bit of Arkham Asylum when I need to feel like Batman and eating Mulligatawny soup just won’t cut it.
So sure, I can admire the way Jason Rohrer tries to make the simplest game mechanics into little tests of your capacity for guilt and sentimentality, just as I can giggle when people take pot-shots at his work, but put something like Bioshock down in front of me and I’ll have to admit that I just don’t have the time for it.
I am a grown man, after all, and like all grown men, I’ve got comics to read!
So why is it that when I started to think about horror, about what I could possibly contribute to Notes From the Borderland, that I couldn’t escape from a pair of zombie computer games that I play for laughs with my friends?
Ah, well, maybe it’s the friends that are problem here.
What’s worse, after all – to stumble out into the borderlands on your own, or to do so with your friends, knowing that you’re going to betray them, or be betrayed by them, or that you’re at least going to let each other down when the real nastiness shit starts?
Click here 4 a little taste of that Borderland madness!
October 23rd, 2011
Watch this clip. Do so unaware and unshielded, and come back and read the rest of the post after the clip has made you a different person. For the full authentic experience, or as close as you’ll get without being me twenty odd years ago, watch the final execution only, from about 4.12.
It’s doubtful any reading this is too young to remember VHS video. You would record a show onto a thick black fat analogue tape, and watch it later, again and again. When you had seen a show enough times you would tape over it with another show. The contents of each cassette gradually became a patchwork palimpsest of overlapping programmes, the end of each show running into the start of the next, or cutting into a film half-way, a rolling scrapbook of missing beginnings and abrupt endings.
Between the joins of one show and the next was the all pervasive void of snow, empty space on the tape, blank matter, the nonsense noise of the TV and VCR saying nothing to each other. The snowstorms were phase-shifts in your viewing experience, synaptic pauses triggering unstable responses to unpredictable stimuli. Evil faces looming evanescent from the abyssal squalls.
I don’t remember what I was watching beforehand, but I remember the snow, and I remember the last final minutes of Elephant. I haven’t watched it again since, so if the details her are wrong in fact, that’s unavoidable but hardly important. The endlessly brief expanse of ghost-space coalesced int two men, a brutalist building of British municipal anonymity, a landscape instantly familiar and obscure. They walk in eerie silence, with ominous purpose. They come to a third man who awaits them in an enormous, evacuated warehouse space. Walking in wordless footsteps, the pair reach the third man, who raises a pistol and shoots one of them at point blank range in the head. The target falls away, cold and gone, while the camera peers, not flinching, or explaining or remarking, just showing, the oddly perfect star of blood and body on the curdled shining wall.
I sat agape, helpless, pulse and mind racing to come up with the appropriate physiological response, establish the right questions to make the right frame to understand this incredible eruption of quiet chaos into my pleasant little life. It was impossible to explain. I never mentioned this to a soul – what one thing was clear was that this was something I should not have seen, and could not be spoken of, even if I had wanted to brave the threat of explaining it to someone else, of fitting it into words. I rewound it of course, not too shocked for that, to convince myself it was real.
I was not the same person after that point that I had been before. I was the lone custodian of a precious terror that over the years I largely suppressed. It wasn’t until last year, and youtube of course, that the memory itself was unburied, that I learnt about Alan Clarke, and discovered what the elephant in the room really was.
Today, as then, the tellybox is a maligned feature of the household. It blasts idiocy daily into our domestic lives, provides an environmental niche where appalling things like X-Factor, adverts, and the 24hr news cycle may thrive. To admit to watching it is a shame, an admission of defeat. It breeds all kind of awful things.
But that glimpse of Elephant, that giant secret mystery of mine, those silent screaming strange minutes that still frighten me and are so precious and treasured, that was a product of the telly too. For me that moment has become an emblem of the cathode ray’s possibilities, its capacity to disturb instead of pacify, to entrance and enhance the viewer’s perception of the world, and to provoke instead of mollycoddle. The telly isn’t, or needn’t be, a mere transmission conduit for the flat consumerist imperatives of our teetering society. It can be something weird, and frightening, and magical, and uncanny – a really existing portal into impossible new territories. It can open up realms of fascinating and essential new potentialities.
As part of our Notes from the Borderland series (love that logo), we will be posting clips of telly that disturbed and detourned our minds. That shit us right up. The scariest, most toxic and wonderful moments of fear and strangeness we could find. You will not enjoy them, but they will make this most deliciously creepy time of the year yet more terrible and brilliant, sharp like a dead shark’s tooth. And teach you new respect for the baleful gaze of that odinic eye, that sits there, among you every day, flashing moments of bleakest wisdom from the corner to the heart of your living room.
Other posts in the Notes From the Borderland series:
If I have to make up a bloggy reason why this post was written, it’s recent noise from the Factual Opinion that Andy Diggle’s current run on Hellblazer is the best it’s been in years. I picked one up, saw with relish that the colour palette they’re using still contains every conceivable shade of mud, put it down. To say it’s currently firing on all cylinders isn’t saying much, as Vertigo’s old horror warhorse is a perpetual disappointment, which it shouldn’t, because the basic ingredients are so solid. It’s about the street-sorcerer John Constantine, magic, and a bit of London grime, all mixed together with a quip and a crafty fag. Despite these perfect alchemical elements something inevitably goes wrong with the final potion, which rarely drips the creep and splatter I hunger for from anything so keen to proclaim itself a horror comic.