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It Came From the Comic Book Shop

I am a self-proclaimed horror nerd but it’s not the only kind of nerd I claim to be. I’m pretty multifaceted in my nerdhood, but one particular thing that rivals my love of horror films is my love of comics. I’ve been reading them since childhood and the love has only grown deeper while working in a comic book shop. Thankfully I don’t have to choose between horror or comics because there are many, many cool horror stories in comic book form. Some big screen baddies like Freddy, Jason, and Pinhead, have all had their appearances in the funny books (including the fantastic Freddy vs Jason vs Ash), and great comics have become movies like 30 Days of Night. But this article isn’t about those. My goal for this article is to pair horror films (and TV) to horror comics, like a fine wine and cheese, to help bridge the gap for film fans to jump to the page or vice-versa, and find some horror stories they might not have heard of before.

 

Night of the Living Dead / Afterlife with Archie

Where better place to start than with the King of Zombies, George A. Romero (RIP), the birth of the modern zombie film, and Archie comics. While most people either know Archie from the squeaky clean comics or the Riverdale TV show, Afterlife with Archie is a criminally underrated comic. Not too long ago Archie Comics rebooted their brand, bringing Archie and friends to more modern settings with great creators behind them such as Mark Waid (Daredevil), Fiona Staples (Saga), and Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals). None of that would have happened without this book, which takes the idyllic town of Riverdale and turns it into a bleak, zombie apocalypse that rivals The Walking Dead. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa knocked it out of the park with this one, so much so that he became Chief Creative Officer of Archie comics. His writing along with the phenominal art of Francesco Francavilla make this a must read zombie comic. If there’s any horror comic that can hold a place next to the original zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, it’s this.

Hannibal / Nailbiter

I love Hannibal. I grew up watching the films (probably way too young), and the television show remains one of my favourites long after cancellation. I do admit that I did find the second half of the third season a little weak (the Red Dragon storyline is great but Hannibal is much less entertaining when he’s stuck in a prison cell). The first season particularly was fantastic, starting each episode with another messed up crime scene with human mushroom gardens, corpse totem poles, and man-made angels with flesh wings. If you like those episodes with their cast of creative killers, you’ll love Nailbiter. I can’t shut up about this comic and have shouted at people to read it. Nailbiter (Written by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson) takes place in Buckaroo, Oregon. Buckaroo has a unique problem, it keeps creating serial killers. Sixteen of the worst serial killers in the US. The FBI has been sent in to figure out the mystery, sometimes seeking the help of the Nailbiter, Edward Charles Warren. Warren is the Hannibal of this series and he’s just as charming. Nailbiter recently finished, so it won’t take long to consume all six graphic novels.

Teeth / Insexts

Out of all the horror films I could pair with a comic, I doubt you would have guessed I’d pair something with Teeth. The 2007 horror comedy about the girl with Vagina Dentata seems like a pretty unique premise that would not be replicated, and that’s true. Insexts from indie publisher Aftershock is also a comic with a unique premise. A lesbian romance in Victorian England, the couple have become more than human. Insectoid, fairy creatures that take on a vigilante role against both those that seek to destroy them, and a Jack The Ripper style villain stalking the streets. I’d pair these two together for their shared themes of women reborn as powerful killers, as well as weird body horror.

The Witch / Harrow County

It’s interesting to see witches coming back in vogue as horror villains, both in films and in comics. What was once just green skinned women with big noses and boils, has now become something much darker and more interesting. The Witch, the 2015 film by Robert Eggers, is definitely one that has brought the sub-genre back into the light (although some would say films like The Lords of Salem, and Blair Witch also helped), and specifically the period-set horror witch. The Witch is a moody, isolated film that for the most part focuses on the paranoia of an exiled-family, afraid they have been cursed by the witch in the woods. The film is mostly ambiguous about the reality of the witch, and for the most part it could be thought that there is no witch and this family are creating a supernatural scapegoat (sorry Black Philip) for their suffering. Harrow County is another period-set witch story, although in this case there definitely is a witch, there definitely are monsters and demons, and it all comes together for a fantastic story. Emmy is a young girl, born of the witch who once terrorised Harrow County. Her powers manifest on her 18th birthday and Emmy just wants to make things right between the town folk and the creatures that lurk in the woods. The writing by Cullen Bunn is great but it also includes the artwork of Tyler Crook, artwork that manages to be skin-crawlingly creepy and also charming. Alternatively, check out The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the horror reinvention of Sabrina the Teenage Witch from Archie comics, which also includes mind-blowing art from Robert Hack.

These are just a few comic/film combos that I recommend, although while writing this I realised there’s much more. Well I guess you’ll just have to wait for the sequel “Return of the thing from the Comic Book Shop”.

Sex and Death

If you’ve seen your fair share of Slasher movies, you must be aware that one of the first people to die will be someone who has snuck off to have sex. Sex gets you killed in horror movies. It’s the kind of fact that channels the genre’s origins in old cautionary tales. The kind of Little Red Riding Hood story except exchange “Don’t stray from the path” to “Don’t have sex in old crime scenes”. While it all seems common sense to the viewing audience, do these old cautionary tales in our modern horror movies promote bad sexual attitudes?

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The idea that you will die if you have sex in a horror movie is the kind of abstinence-only sex education that has become out-dated in modern society, which would be relevant if the creators of horror films had any intention of teaching their audience about sex. It’s supposed to be a reflection of the twisted authoritarian ideas of slasher film killers (often pushed onto them by an abusive parent). Also it’s an easy way for horror film makers to get in a little bit of nudity to attract an audience. Follow up that nudity with some gratuitous violence and you’ve got yourself a hit with the young, heterosexual male audience that at one point made up the majority of the horror audience.

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One of the major archetypal characters in slasher films that we can all recognise is the “Slut” character. Often she is one of the first characters to get killed off, if not the very first. She will have little to no character traits other that being horny, probably a bit dim and physically attractive. While those character traits are not in themselves problematic, it is a problem that they are the only character traits. Writing female characters this way reinforces the idea that women are nothing more than disposable sex objects. I said before how the Slut character is “one of the first characters to get killed off”, in older horror films there was another archetypal character who was often killed off before the slut which was the Token Black Character, often thrown in to appear inclusive but these days is rarely used because it appears insensitive to make someone’s race (based on ridiculous stereotypes) their sole character trait. The Slut is getting to that point, that it is insensitive and dated and should be put to bed. The fact that the archetype name is entirely derogatory is evidence enough.

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To move away from the slasher sub-genre, there are many more sub-genres of horror that are more geared to entire plots focused around sex. There are plenty horror films, such as A Serbian Film, Feed, and The Bunny Game, that centre their plot around more disturbing circles of fetish culture and pornography. The British Board of Film Certification often gives these films a hard time, demanding cuts to be made as was the case for A Serbian Film, or banned outright like The Bunny Game. You would think, maybe if it got banned it’s a film so shocking and exciting that it’s probably fantastic. The Bunny Game is terrible, little plot and heavily promotes sexualised violence. The BBFC are strongly against sexualised violence and it was due to the fact The Bunny Game has little else to offer that got it banned. These films are often extreme and disturbing but the behaviour is almost always betrayed as deplorable. By demonising sexual violence, do these horror films guide people away from acting in a similar fashion?

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The Rape Revenge sub-genre was a product of the 70s exploitation cinema era, with notable films including Last House on the Left, I Spit on your Grave, and Straw Dogs. All these films shared a common plot line, that during the course of the film a young woman would be raped (and sometimes murdered) and either the young woman or one of her loved ones would get their bloody revenge. It is often said that the rape scene is acceptable because 1) it is showing a real world horror and it’s terrible nature, and 2) that the rapists are shown getting punished for their horrendous actions. However by making a whole sub-genre of this it seems to trivialise the act of rape, reducing it to nothing more than a standard plot-point that has to be visited before we can move on to the gory retribution.

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The last sub-genre I want to mention is the female predator sub-genre. Films like Species, Jennifer’s Body, Under the Skin, and to some level, Teeth, all fall into this sub-genre. While the female characters in these kind of films are generally more fleshed out and interesting characters, they are normally shown as evil. I would say that Teeth is the biggest exception to this because the female lead, while she does use this power to inflict cruel justice, it is still justice. Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body does kill boys out of her demon blood lust, but there is a sympathetic angle because men made her that way. The sub-genre shows that these women (or creatures in the form of women) are evil creatures that exploit the weakness of a male libido to gain power over men and that these women (or women-shaped creatures) should be destroyed.

While horror is a massive genre full of compelling, subversive, and thoughtful films, there are still many that are being made that will often use old tropes and clichés that can be concerning. We don’t need to keep making films where women are nothing but powerless sex objects, and that rape is nothing but a plot-point. There’s nothing wrong with using our insecurities about sex to create new cinematic nightmares, just hopefully more progressive nightmares.