No. 214 – Psychos A-Go-Go!

The Burning, Maniac Cop and Killer Klowns From Outer Space posters ©Filmways, Inc., Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment and Trans World Entertainment Corporation, respectively

Progs 20962099‘s (2018) Survival Geeks‘ story Slack N’ Hash, written by Emma Beeby and Gordon Rennie, and drawn by Neil Googe with colours by Gary Caldwell v a variety of cult slasher films such as The Burning (1981), [we’re going to assume that hedge trimmers are a logical progression from garden shears, and we’re also going to assume that “Maniac Fireman” is a logical progression from] Maniac Cop (1988) and, well, anything with a scary clown* in it – among others – and tropes and paraphernalia pertaining thereto

The most references to horror films are to be found in the archetypal cabin in the woods serving as headquarters to the twisted Final Girls**, and features:

  1. Jason Voorhees machete from the Friday the 13th (Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros., 1980) franchise
  2. Madman Marz’s (Paul Ehlers) axe from Madman (Jensen Farley Pictures, 1981), or indeed a generic axe used in any number of slasher flicks
  3. Leatherface’s (Gunnar Hansen, 1947–2015) chainsaw from Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Bryanston Distributing Company, 1974)
  4. The baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire could be a reference to Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) “Lucille” as seen in AMC’s The Walking Dead
  5. Sharpened sticks, perhaps part of a boobytrap (undetermined)
  6. Large hooks on chains, probably from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  7. Possibly the metal spike that impaled Father Brennan (Patrick Troughton, 1920–1987)) in The Omen (20th Century Fox, 1976)
  8. Mounted wolf’s head, possibly from The Cabin in the Woods (Lionsgate Films, 2012) – but for entertainingly exploiting horror films tropes, well worth a mention anyway
  9. Hunting knife from The Prowler (Sandhurst, 1981)
  10. Sickle from Children of the Corn (New World Pictures, 1984)
  11. Fred Krueger’s (Robert Englund) arm with bladed glove from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (New Line Cinema, 1984)
  12. Severed arm with hook, possibly from Candyman (TriStar Pictures, 1992), although this is a common weapon employed in slasher films
  13. Fishhooks on chains form Hellraiser (Entertainment Film Distributors/New World Pictures, 1987)
  14. Possessed mounted deer’s head from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (Rosebud Releasing/Embassy Communications/De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/Palace Pictures, 1987)
  15. Hair curlers from a rather innovative murder in Sleepaway Camp (United Film Distribution Company, 1983)
  16. Billy Murphy’s (Daniel Norris) machete from The Final Girls (Stage 6 Films/Vertical Entertainment, 2015)
  17. Cargo hook either from John Carpenter’s The Fog (AVCO Embassy Pictures, 1980), or possibly from I Know What You Did Last Summer (Columbia Pictures,1997), but again, a common enough weapon in slasher films
  18. Cropsy’s (Lou David) garden shears from The Burning
  19. Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask from the Friday the 13th (Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros., 1980) franchise
  20. Billy Murphy’s mask from The Final Girls
  21. Trapdoor from Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (New Line Cinema, 1981)

The irrational fear of clowns is known as coulrophobia‡, and although its origins are unclear, some maintain that it dates back to 19th centrury works such as Edgar Allan Poe’s (1809–1849) Hop-Frog (The Flag of Our Union, 1849), Catulle Mendès’ (1841–1909) La Femme de Tabarin (Parade, 1876), and Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s (1857–1919) opera Pagliacci (1892), all of which featured murderous clowns. In the modern era, however, Stephen King’s novel IT (Viking Press, 1986) is largely accredited with popularising the idea.The slasher horror film genre has seldom had good press in its time, but has recently undergone a more serious re-evaluation among film theorists and cultural historians, prompting discussion in both conservative (the inefficacy of sexual freedom) and liberal (adjustment of gender representations; legitimising female rage at male aggression) camps.

Having its roots in films like Alfred Hitchcock’s (1899–1980) Psycho (Paramount Pictures, 1960) and Michael Powell’s (1905–1990) Peeping Tom (Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors, 1960), the slasher film evolved quickly into the easily recognised formula of the isolated, masked male pitted against young, sexually active women, whose promiscuity – or even tantalising prudishness – triggers the killer’s murderous fury, usually based on the recollection of some past trauma.

The Video Recordings Bill passed by the British Parliament in 1984 – with legislation following soon after in the U.S. – led to the labelling of many slasher films as “video nasties”, and however arbitrary and self-defeating that may have seemed to many, it did lead in the mid-80s to a decline in slasher film production and distribution of material deemed to contain “excessive violence”.

Subsequent films, however, which were to become known as “yuppie slashers”, like Fatal Attraction (Paramount Pictures, 1987), Pacific Heights (20th Century Fox, 1991), and the Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs (Orion Pictures, 1996), brought an air of respectability to the genre, and with the appearance of convention-bending slashers such as Scream (Dimension Films, 1996), Scream 2 (Dimsension Films, 1997), and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (Dimsension Films, 1998), the genre was back on track and open to a new range of possibilities.

*There are, at time of publication, more than 50 horror films featuring clowns
**”Final Girl” referring to the ultimate – usually female – survivor of a slasher film, eg. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in John Carpenter’s Halloween
†As it happens, there was indeed a very real (but non-homicidal) Bobo the Clown, performed by Chester Eugene Barnett (1903–1985), whose successful circus career in the U.S. lasted from the late 1920s to the early 1970s
‡”Coulro” from ancient Greek word for “one who goes on stilts”

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No. 213 – Doomsday Machines

Prog 80’s (1978) Dan Dare story The Doomsday Machine (progs 7985), written by Roy Preston (under the pseudonym Henry Miller) and drawn by Trevor Goring and Gary Leach v various classic spacecraft and paraphernalia from cinema, television and comics; specifically (clockwise from top):

  1. Wings Over the World* aircraft from [H.G. Wells’ (1866–1946)] Things to Come (United Artists, 1936)
  2. Thunderbird-3 from Gerry (MBE, 1929–2012) and Sylvia Anderson’s (1927–2016) Thunderbirds (ITC Entertainment, 1965–1966)
  3. The Machine Man/Maria (played by Brigitte Helm (1906–1996)) from Fritz Lang’s (1890–1976) Metropolis (Ufa/Parufamet, 1927)
  4. Eagle Transporter from Space: 1999** (ITC Entertainment, 1975–1977)
  5. X-wing starfighter from George Lucas’ Star Wars (20th Century Fox, 1977)
  6. Anastasia, Dare’s own spacecraft, first appearing in the story Red Moon Mystery in Eagle comic (Hulton Press, 1951)
  7. Biog alien spacecraft from Dan Dare
  8. USS Enterprise† from Gene Roddenberry’s (1921–1991) Star Trek (1966–1969)
  9. Possibly Fireball XL5 from the television series of the same name (ITC Entertainment, 1962–1963), and perhaps drawn from a reference image in which the tailfin configuration was unclear – but it’s been so long that, when consulted, even Mr. Goring himself couldn’t remember. If you’ve got a better guess, drop us a line

*”Wings Over the World” is the rather awkward title of the post-apocalyptic civilisation appearing in the film
**Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, creators of Thunderbirds, were also intrinsically involved in the production of Space: 1999
†NCC [Naval Construction Contract] -1701 is the Enterprise’s registration number

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No. 212 – S.A.M.S.O.N.

Prog 165’s (1980) M.A.C.H. 0 Book 2 cover, drawn by Mike Dorey and written by Steve McManus (2000 AD editor 1979–1987) v Samson [Hebrew: שִׁמְשׁוֹן, pronounced “shimshon”, meaning “man of the sun”] destroying the temple, pictured here in Cecil B. DeMille’s (1881–1959) Samson and Delilah* (1949), played by Victor Mature (1913–1999)

Samson, the mighty Nazirite hero of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible (chapters 13–16), possessed of divine superhuman strength, having divulged the source of his strength – his hair, but you know, actually God – to his betraying lover Delilah, is subsequently tortured, blinded and forced into hard labour by the Philistines. During a moment of respite, Samson leans against the pillars of the Temple of Dagon** (Hebrew: דָּגוֹן‎, a Mesopotamian and ancient Canaanite deity), where he is to attend a ceremony celebrating his capture, and prays for one last spurt of strength which he memorably uses to demolish the structure, killing himself, his captors and some 3,000 worshippers†.

*We’re fairly sure we’ve seen the exact pose used by Dorey for M.A.C.H.0 on the prog cover elsewhere, but couldn’t find it for love nor money (mainly love)
**The inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft’s (1890–1937) short story Dagon (The Vagrant, 1919), due to its association with the “merman” motif in Assyrian and Phoenician art
†Judges 16:25-34

No. 211 – Den (& Conan)

Den 2: Muvovum image ©Richard Corben

Sláine: The Horned God Vol. II Part 9 written by Pat Mills and illustrated by Simon Bisley from prog 663 (1990) v Den [represented left panel, centre] by Richard Corben, and Conan the Barbarian [represented left panel, right], created in 1931 by Robert E. Howard (1906–1936), most famously illustrated by Frank Frazetta (1928–2010)*

Den (an acronym of the character’s Earth alter-ego David Ellis Norman) began life as an award-winning animated short in 1969, but made his comics debut in Grim Wit No. 2 (1973), then appearing in first Métal Hurlant (Les Humanoïdes Associés, 1975–1976), Heavy Metal (HM Communications, Inc., 1977–1978, 1981–1983) and thereafter published by Corben’s own Fantagor Press. The Den series is composed of Neverwhere (1978), Muvovum (1984), Children of Fire [a prequel to the events of Neverwhere] (Fantagor, 1992), Dreams (Fantagor, 1992) and Elements (Fantagor, 1992).

Generally wandering around completely in the buff and – despite having built himself an inter-dimensional portal – considerably dimmer (but better endowed) than pretty much any other life-form he encounters in the fantasy universe of Neverwhere, Den is nonetheless sincere to the point of outright innocence, even if the stories are a little chauvinistic by today’s standards. Den reappeared in animation in 1981 in a much-abridged version of the events of Neverwhere [the comic] in the segment Den in Heavy Metal (Columbia Pictures)**. The beautifully illustrated Den series is also one of the earliest fully painted, long-running strips on the comics scene, and thus richly deserving of Bisley’s homage.

Richard Corben is the winner of the 2009 Spectrum Grand Master Award and the 2018 Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. He was elected to the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2012.

*Howard’s (and Frazetta’s) Conan the Barbarian appears HoH No. 79 – Sláine the Barbarian
**The idea of the malevolent Loc-Nar used to link the segments in Heavy Metal originated in the Den stories

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No. 210 – Spirit of St. Louis

Interstellar Queen image ©The Quarto Group

Van Hertz Line freighter Spirit of St. Louis from Moon Runners [or Moonrunners] (progs 591607 (1988)), written by Steve Parkhouse and Alan McKenzie and drawn by Massimo Belardinelli (1938–2007) v Interstellar Queen (1978) by Angus McKie from Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD (Chartwell Books, 1978) by Stewart Cowley from his Terran Trade Authority illustrated science fiction book series*

Heavy Metal (1981)

If you’ve ever picked up a sci-fi novel from the ’70s or ’80s, chances are its cover was painted by influential science fiction illustrator Angus McKie, known for his highly detailed spacecraft, futuristic constructions and vivid colours. McKie was also writer, designer and background artist on the Heavy Metal (Columbia Pictures, 1981) segment So Beautiful and So Dangerous, adapted from his story of the same name (1979) in US sci-fi/fantasy comics magazine Heavy Metal – not to mention being a long-time colourist attached to 2000 AD**, thereby delivering this particular homage comfortably within the “borrowed with permission” bracket.

The Moon Runners‘ spacecraft, Spirit of St. Louis, is named after Charles Lindbergh’s (1902–1974) custom built, single engine monoplane† in which he flew on the world’s first non-stop, solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927.

Angus McKie also features in HoH No. 191 – The Valley of Gwangi

*Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD of the Terran Trade Authority series was followed by Great Space Battles [with Charles Herridge] (Chartwell Books, 1979), Spacewreck: Ghostships [sic] and Derelicts of Space (The Hamlyn Group, 1979), and Starliners: Commercial Spacetravel [sic] in 2200 AD (The Hamlyn Group, 1980)
**Along with – at least for a brief stint – contempory sci-fi illustrator Chris Foss (covers: progs 953955, and prog 953’s Judge Dredd story Jigsaw)
†Not the Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train, which was named after the plane in the same year

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No. 209 – The Hanging Prisons of Sin-Sin

Right panel, top: artist’s impression of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (photo: Alamy); right panel, bottom: Sing Sing Correctional Facility, New York (photo: Brett Weinstein)

Prog 165’s (1980) one-off futuregraph The 7 Wonders of the Galaxy* No. 4: The Hanging Prisons of Sin-Sin by Kevin O’Neill v the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and Sing Sing Correctional Facility, New York

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are traditionally thought to have been created in the city of Babylon in Mesopotamia (near Hillah in present-day Iraq) by Neo-Babylonian** King Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 605 BC–c. 562 BC), and have been described as a spectacular, ascending series of lush, tiered gardens constructed for his wife, Amuhia (or Amytis of Media, c. 630–565 BC), to assuage her homesickness for native Medea (present-day Iran). Some scholars place the actual site of the Hanging Gardens at Ninevah in northern Iraq, which would have, at the time, made them the property of the Babylonians’ neighbours and foes the Assyrians, and as such the brainchild of King Sennacherib (reigning 704–681 BC); the two sites having perhaps been confused in the mists of legend.

Sing Sing in 1857

Sing Sing maximum security prison, however, is very much under the purview of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and very certainly located in village of Ossining†, about 48 km (30 miles) north of New York City on the east bank of the Hudson River. The prison has been in operation under one name or another since 1828, houses 2,000 inmates, and despite a brutal history is considered to be a model prison, due in part to its progressive educational and sports programs, and by whose standard other US correctional facilities are measured.

*Referring to the Seven Wonders of the Classical World: the Great Pyramid at Giza (Egypt), the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Mesopotamia, modern Iraq), the Statue of Zeus at Olympia (Greece), the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Ancient Greek, located in modern Turkey), the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (Ancient Greek, located in modern Turkey), the Colossus of Rhodes (Rhodes, Greece) and the Lighthouse of Alexandria (Egypt)
**”Neo-” referring to the Second Babylonian Empire (626 BC–539 BC), as distinct from the First Babylonian Empire (or “Dynasty”, 1895 BC–539 BC) founded by King Hammurabi (c. 1810 BC–c. 1750 BC)
†Both the village and the name of the prison are derived from the name of the Native American “Sinck Sinck” or “Sint Sinck” (Eastern Algonquian, lit. “stone upon stone”), a Wappinger tribe from New York and Connecticut, from whom the land was purchased in 1685

No. 208 – Rats

Prog 524’s (1987) Brendan McCarthy cover* for the Judge Dredd story Pit Rat** (progs 523–524), written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and drawn by Brett Ewins (1955–2015) v The Rats† (New English Library, 1974) by James Herbert OBE (1943–2013)

The first of a tetralogy of horror stories charting the spread of carnivorous, mutant rats that attack and devour humans in groups, The Rats was followed by Lair (New English Library) in 1979, Domain (Hodder & Stoughton) in 1984, and the graphic novel The City (Macmillan), illustrated by Ian Miller, in 1994.

Giant rampaging mutant rats is a modern twist on an age-old musophobic theme dating at least as far back as The Black Death (1347–1353), when the spread of the bacterium Yersinia pestis in an Oriental rat flea infestation of black rats originating in Central Asia resulted in the most devastating pandemic in human history, killing an estimated 200 million people.

Employed in part by Herbert as a metaphor for the degeneration of London’s suburbs‡, mutant rats have long been a staple of Judge Dredd stories and are employed in a similar vein, as harbingers of destruction and embodiments of pestilence, intelligent and malign; whether adapting to soar on Cursed Earth thermals and swoop en masse upon quarry, or cast as the venomous accomplice of the skeletal Fink Angel, for whom crippling poison was the prefered means to homicide.

Rats are indeed fairly intelligent animals – although not quite as intelligent as many believe – posessing basic problem solving abilities, and displaying a high degree of social intelligence such as food sharing and even freeing other rats from traps. They do make good pets, and have done so since at least the 19th century, presenting no more of a health risk than cats or dogs, and capable of learning tricks.

*The tagline “Like a Rat out of Hell!” may be a nod to Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell (Cleveland International/Epic, 1977), or then again, it’s also just an expression and maybe we’ve been at this too long
**Rentakill, the prizefighting rat in Pit Rat, is named after British pest control company Rentokil (now Rentokil Initial)
†Giant mutant rats in horror fiction are certainly not to be attributed to Herbert alone: Stephen King also deserves a mention for having a memorable go at the subject in his popular short story Graveyard Shift (Cavalier, 1970), collected in Night Shift (Doubleday, 1978) and released as Graveyard Shift (Paramount Pictures) in 1990
‡Much sophistication has been generously attributed to Herbert’s work in kindly hindsight, but basically a James Herbert novel was about as low as a schoolboy could go in the ’80s without having it confiscated, being deemed as it was, perilously close to pornography