MUSIC :: THE ROOTS OF HORROR ROCK PART I… SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS

Horror rock: Talk about a sub genre. I thought I would expand on my recent Bauhaus tribute and do a short series featuring the artists at the very roots of horror rock.

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Really, there’s no better place to start than the inimitable Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Hawkins, neé Jalacy Hawkins, was born in Cleveland in 1929. Though many may credit other sources as the wellspring of horror rock, Screamin’ Jay is it. This is the bedrock.

Hawkins is the bedrock and his song “I Put a Spell on You” is the starting point for the genre. Originally recorded in 1956, it was the first foray into the psychotic world of dark rock and roll in the theatrical sense that we think of horror rock today.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame picked it for its listing of “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

Here is a haunting version from 1972 from Hawkins that was used to great effect in “American Horror Story.”

In the legendary recording session for this song, the band was roaring drunk and Hawkins was literally blacked out when he laid down the track. The result was a guttural, grunting masterpiece that, while banned on many radio outlets of the day, surpassed a million copies in sales.

Soon after, proto-rock-DJ Alan Freed paid Hawkins $300.00 to emerge from a coffin to kick off a live performance and the great tradition of dark horror rock props was born. Hawkins soon added foppish costumes and several other horror-driven elements to his shows including “Henry,” a smoking skull character that accompanied him wherever he appeared. in many ways, he embodied the idea of a cartoonish, black Vincent Price.

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It all starts here, folks. Represent for Screamin’ Jay. Turn it up!

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LITERATURE :: REVIEW… “THE KILLER INSIDE ME” BY JIM THOMPSON

From Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside” ::

“It was like being asleep when you were awake and awake when you were asleep. I’d pinch myself, figuratively speaking – I had to keep pinching myself. Then I’d wake up kind of in reverse; I’d go back to the nightmare I had to live in. And everything would be clear and reasonable.”

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“The Killer Inside” is rightfully considered an underground classic. It can be categorized in several genres from noir to true crime but I feel strongly that its cold, unflinching peek inside the mind of a killer is nothing short of horrifying, making it a perfect contender for a review here.

The publisher’s book description is a nice tease into the story ::

Lou Ford is the deputy sheriff of a small town in Texas. The worst thing most people can say against him is that he’s a little slow and a little boring. But, then, most people don’t know about the sickness–the sickness that almost got Lou put away when he was younger. The sickness that is about to surface again.

As an outgrowth of my love of horror, I have long harbored a fascination with what makes killers tick. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees were, after all, serial killers in their own right. For all of the psychoanalysis that we have seen in the horror genre, offering a glimpse of the broken minds behind the carnage, we rarely see an exploration of true psychopathy in the way that Thompson presents.

His main character, Lou Ford is disconnected in the way that real killers are, unmoved and unaffected by their acts, but manipulating others into a state of comfort. Ford plies those around him with worn out cliches and good ol’ boy charm in an attempt to lull them into complacency, never forgetting “the sickness” that rules him and drives his actions. The above quote from the novel hints at this. Stanley Kubrick said of the novel: “Probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.” I think this is true on many levels.

This is a wonderfully tactile book. You can smell the sweat and cigarette smoke. You can feel the Texas heat, the steam of the sex and the give of bone under Ford’s hands. You can taste the blood and meat. Thompson gives us something that engages the reader on a sensual level, that is to say, through the senses. Simply put, the book is a chillingly violent, sexual creep-fest with a truly dark soul with true physicality.

Annnd, Thompson did all of this in the 50’s. This book was written in 1952. 1952! The EARLY 50’s. Staggering. It would be considered a challenging novel if it was published this year, but to think that it was published the same year that Gene Kelly danced through the puddles of “Singin’ in the Rain” is genuinely stunning.

Stephen King had this to say of Thompson writing in his time: “He was crazy. He went running into the American subconscious with a blowtorch in one hand and a pistol in the other, screaming his goddamn head off. No one else came close.”

This is a wild, hair-raising psychosexual romp soaked in blood that plumbs the depths of the darkest places within the human soul. It is something that only the best books are, an experience.

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RATING ………………. 5 STARS

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FILM :: REVIEWS… THE DEAD ZONE (1983)… CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH (1986)… ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (1958)

I wanted to start reviewing all of the horror films I am seeing sequentially on this blog, but thought a great place to start is to catch up with reviews of what I have watched so far in 2013 from the genre. Many are older, some new. Really… I just love exploring new-to-me films of any time period or re-experiencing films from my past that I may have seen and wanted to watch with a fresh (more mature) pair of eyes. I’ll capture all of that here through these reviews.

In a bit of convergence with another personal project I am working on, I will also share movie posters I have created for each film after watching it. For that project, I create a poster for every film I watch (every film… regardless of genre) of no more than three colors (black, red and white) and as few design elements as possible that captures the essence of the movie. You can see all of the posters at the project’s site here ::

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http://myfilmchronicle.tumblr.com/

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The posters themselves have no critical aspect to them, but this blog will allow me to explore the films from the horror genre critically.

Again, for the next posts along these lines, I’ll be playing catch-up for 2013 so far. Without further ado, here are a few…

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FILM :: THE DEAD ZONE
YEAR :: 1983
DIRECTOR :: David Croneneberg

deadzone_horror

Arguably the best of the Stephen King adaptations to film, this supernatural thriller does what so many don’t: it makes us care.

A high school teacher, Johnny Smith, in love and living a rewarding life is caught in a terrible accident, placing him in a coma for 5 years. When he awakens, he finds that he can see the future by touching the hands of others. The drama of the piece comes in Walken choosing to change that future and it’s implications for humanity or in ignoring it.

David Cronenberg, the man who has given us so many indelible horror images throughout his career shows great restraint with the material here, eschewing any gore for real storytelling.

The casting is top-flight, featuring the great Christopher Walken in the lead role with Brooke Adams, Martin Sheen, Herbert Lom and Tom Skerritt supporting. All provide honest, engaging performances that genuinely create real feelings for their individual characters.

Truly thrilling, this is definitely a gem from the early 80’s. Definitely worth a watch.

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RATING ………………. 4 STARS

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FILM :: CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH
YEAR :: 1986
DIRECTOR :: Richard Haines & Lloyd Kaufmann

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Pure trash. Pure fun. Thought I had seen this before, how cool was it to see this MANY years later as an “adult?”

Made by Troma, the studio that brought you “The Toxic Avenger,” the filmmakers had this to say about the film: “It’s like The Breakfast Club, only not as stupid, and really, really drunk.” I definitely agree that stupid and drunk should be in any description of this film. But uproarious, splattered and kitschy should be in there somewhere as well.

Welcome to Tromaville,  where square teachers, righteous dudes and violent surf punks fight for the school and life is one big nihilistic party. The local nuclear power plant is leeching green goo into just about everything. What happens when that goo gets in the water, or even more dire, the marijuana supply? Well, you might guess. The answer involves toilet monsters, zombie-like pregnancies, 4 foot long erections, man-eating slime-things and a whole host of low-budget 80’s incredible-ness.

The casting is fun all around. Gil Brenton anchors the male lead role well. Robert Pritchard plays a memorable arch-punk as the main villain with the support of a motley bunch of bizarre flunkys in his anarchic gang. Perhaps the most interesting is the fresh and radiantly sexy Janelle Brady as the ever-prissy Chrissy. As a 16-year-old male when this film came out, I can say that Chrissy made my horror-loving heart beat QUITE quickly. She’s truly gorgeous. It’s a shame that Brady’s career only lasted for three films.

This movie is the definition of trash. However, the film’s hilarious “badness” has an undeniable charm. Is this a good film? Not on any planet. Is it a cult-classic? Yes and awesomely so. See it, but ONLY if you’re up for what it has to offer.

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RATING ………………. 3 STARS

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FILM :: ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE
YEAR :: 1958
DIRECTOR :: Bert I. Gordon

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A deranged dollmaker with a consuming fear of being alone devises a way to shrink humans to keep them in his doll collection. Light and a bit goofy, this classic title from the late 50s relies on set pieces and trompe l’oeil effects to generate interest. Though the effects are fun and quite successful at times (for the era) and I do consider early technique-driven films like this classic matinee fare, the film remains tepid.

Worth watching for completists and early effects fans.

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RATING ………………. 2 STARS

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I will continue to post catch-up reviews as I go. Stay tuned!

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MUSIC :: A HORROR FAN’S RUNNING PLAYLIST — PART II — THE ZOMBIE EDITION

This is the second installment in a running series calling out songs that should be in every horror fan’s running (or exercise) playlist. For this edition, we’re turning to the undead. Really, there’s nothing like a zombie to get your pace up.

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On with the dark tuneage. All “Zombie” songs this time ’round  ::

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04

“Zombie” — The Cranberries

Ultimately, a song about Ireland’s politically charged violent history, but few songs have charted like this one with such an “undead” moniker. Though it was different in relation to the band’s other output, IMHO, it represented a high point for them. Really, how could I have a “Zombie” installment of this playlist and not include this? In another really cool tie to things dark, the video for the song was directed by the great Samuel Bayer. He directed countless music videos including Nirvana’s dark piece for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and helmed the 2010 remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” acting as both director and producer for the film.

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05

“All You Zombies” — The Hooters

This has a nice tempo to it. Perfect for settling into a distance pace on. This 1985 hit from “Nervous Night” charted at #58 on the Billboard Hot 100 annnnnd it’s zombified. Sweetness.

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06

“Road Zombie” — Social Distortion

Let’s pick up the pace again with this one — a guitar driver from 2011’s “”Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” — one of the best albums of that year. I love these cats. Rock on with your brain-loving selves.

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Get out there and do it (he says more for his own benefit than anything)!

Here’s PART I.

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ART :: CALLING ALL LOVERS OF HORROR!

Recently, I was asked to share my favorite television show in a client meeting. Though people were relatively nice when I replied “The Walking Dead,” you could tell that the response was met with furtive glances and ever-so-slightly furrowed brows. Definitely an element of… “Really… Isn’t that weird?” I get that reaction a lot.

Yes, I’m obviously a fan of HORROR. A denizen of “The Dark.” I wear my fandom on my sleeve. It doesn’t make me weird (I’m just weird on my own), or maladjusted, or a sadist, or anything else but someone who loves a good chill down his spine.

I know I’m not alone.

That’s why I created this series of graphics celebrating that love. Welcome to the “PROUD LOVER OF HORROR” series. Each graphic couples a central horror-driven illustration with a strong central “PROUD LOVER OF HORROR” message. To top it off, a message of solidarity, taken from Tod Browning’s 1932 TOTALLY heart wrenching and absolutely chilling masterpiece “Freaks.” The chant of “One of us! One of Us!” is an embrace within the film and that’s how I mean it here… A clarion call to all of us.

Such a classic.

Please select the graphic that suits your style best ::

~ “80’s Classic” :: A nod to the great slasher period in horror film.
~ “The Golden Age” :: A tribute to the pioneering gothic masterworks of yesteryear.
~ “Contemporary” :: Zombies. Because it’s 2013.

Please print and display the image of your choosing at your workplace, on your fridge, on your bedroom mirror. Wherever you can share it with pride. Better yet, display them all. These graphics would also work great as an addition to your horror blog or other horror site. I have provided links to higher res versions of the images for better printing as well.

All I ask is that you DO NOT steal and claim you invented the images (please note the copyright on these images as part of this site) and please display with with TRUE HORROR PRIDE.

reprazent_horror

AND… The higher res images for download. Again, these images may not be altered or stolen, just take ’em and display ’em with pride ::

~ 80s CLASSIC
~ GOLDEN AGE
~ CONTEMPORARY

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ART :: JOSHUA HOFFINE, HORROR PHOTOGRAPHY

Today, I wanted to share some contemporary horror work that I personally find very inspiring. Joshua Hoffine is a photographer based in Kansas City, MO (Represent, MISSOURI!). His dark, carefully constructed photos explore, in his words, “the psychology of fear.” I love the concept of reawakening and recreating the fears of childhood in many of these tableaus. Brilliantly conceived and created work. Take a peek below and please visit Joshua’s site.

All Images in This Post ©2013 Joshua Hoffine

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Annnnnd, BIG UPS to @jseitz for bringing Joshua’s work back into my brain this weekend!

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TRIBUTE :: BERNIE WRIGHTSON, MASTER OF THE MACABRE

As a young lad, I spent many hours in the dark and arcane environs of the Titus Avenue location of Rochester, New York’s Empire Comics. When I wasn’t in the arcade, I was drawn to the horror comics in the stacks, trying to pull together what money I had to take what I could home with me.

Among the most prized issues I did manage to bring home were the early issues of DC’s “Swamp Thing” and a new comic I had purchased; the first issue of “Berni Wrightson, Master of the Macabre.”  I was absolutely taken with the style of the art. Incredible brush work and absolutely STUNNING pen and ink pieces soared on the pages within. The perspective was always fascinating and the tension within the illustrations was unmatched. It kept me poring over those pages again and again. I must have read those hundreds of times.

The self-titled comic gathered stories from Wrightson’s past — work for “Eerie Magazine,” the legendary horror comic anthology. Look at these panels from “The Pepper Lake Monster.” The detail in the ink work and the perspective are simply amazing. As a fan of cryptozoology as well, I was in hog heaven when I saw this piece.

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For Christmas that year, my parents got me “Creepshow,” the graphic novel. Wrightson at the helm again and for a young lad with dreams of being an artist and more than his fair share of a love of horror, I was completely in love. I remain in love to this day, only moreso as I understand more the true genius of his unique talent. I credit this early exposure as a direct inspiration for my career in the arts as a graphic designer.  On my best day, I don’t even have a thimbleful of Mr. Wrightson’s talent, but he drove me to dream.

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Wrightson spent 10 years illustrating scenes from Mary Shelley’s classic “Frankenstein.” To say that the resulting collection of illustrations is gorgeous barely hints at the quality of this work. It is JAW-DROPPING. I remember a writer once saying “I’m pretty sure these illustrations have supernatural powers.” I agree. Look and wonder at a few samples from the collection ::

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Wow. Just wow.

From early work for DC’s horror comic “House of Secrets,” through the game changing “Swamp Thing,” to “Eerie,” “Frankenstein” and the myriad other projects throughout a long and storied career, I personally want to nominate Bernie Wrightson (changed to “Berni” for some work to eliminate confusion with a US diver of the same name) to the great (yet to be built) Horror Hall of Fame. Thank you, Bernie, for the years of art, inspiration and chills. Those who say that comics aren’t “real art” clearly haven’t seen your work.

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MUSIC :: BAUHAUS

Though many bands may have darker, more overt horror-driven themes, I don’t think ANY have captured the essence of a gothic sense of horror better than Bauhaus.  From the angular, vampire’s strut and croon of Peter Murphy to the dark and often sparse artistic vistas of their instrumentation to the gothic thematics of their lyrics, it’s all here and it’s all awesome.

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Sticking with yesterday’s Bela Lugosi theme…

Who can forget the band’s inclusion in Tony Scott’s lush vampire masterpiece “The Hunger?” An incredible example of the band’s power and one of my fave credit sequences of the era.

( PS — All of you haters of that film can go home, because I think very few films captured the vampire story in as interesting a way as “The Hunger.” RICH and stylish as hell. Tony Scott definitely had a look here and Stephen Goldblatt was DP on this as well. Awesome look.  )

Honestly, that legendary song, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” would be enough to earn them a permanent place in the annals of horrordom, but it was the total package here that carried so much appeal. All of it.

This is “Kingdom’s Coming,” another tour de force from the band that was included on the soundtrack album for “The Blair Witch Project.”

So gorgeous, so gothic with that dark sense of foreboding communicated in only the best works of horror of any kind.

I know the band might sigh at a tribute on a dark blog like this as so much of their output was about love and more hopeful themes (and I loved that work as well), but they have given lovers of the gothic a body of work that stands alone in so many ways. My only hope is that the youth of today will look back occasionally to see a band like Bauhaus for what it has given to shape the music of today’s dark edge.

(I found the above band pic on this blog about the goth scene of the golden age. Check it out. Really amazing site.)

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MUSIC :: FEAR-INDUCING, PULSE-POUNDING SONGS FOR YOUR RUNNING PLAYLIST — PART I

Fear is a motivator. No question. I love to run and I love music that moves me, even through that sense of fear or the devilish grin at a dark tune in my ears.

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I’ll be periodically sharing songs for horror lovers to add to their running (or exercise playlist) to get the blood pumping. This is the first installment ::

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01

“Don Abandons Alice” — John Murphy

HORROR TIE :: From the “28 Weeks Later” soundtrack.

I HAD to start with this one. HAD to. IMHO, this is the granddaddy. For starters, I loved these films and the soundtracks were a huge reason why. When I run to this, I can not help but imagine the truly desperate thrill of survival coursing through me as I sprint, barely ahead of the slavering undead fast on my heels. Awesome.

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02

“M1 A1” — Gorillaz

HORROR TIE :: Built on direct samples and base music from the zombie classic “Day of the Dead.”

This is awesome all the way ’round. The VERY direct ties to Romero’s masterpiece alone makes this sweet, but the band amped it up  a ton and gave it a flavor both urban and punk. Love it.

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03

“Every Day is Halloween” — Ministry

HORROR TIE :: Um… Yeah. Should be pretty obvious.

An electronic / goth shoegazer from my late high school / early college period. This one is perfect for maintaining pace. Even, awesome rhythms and goth thematics. Fun.

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Get out there and do it (he says more for his own benefit than anything)!

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LITERATURE :: EMILY DICKINSON, THE EMBRACE OF DEATH

Emily Dickinson is a master of the dark. Yeah, you heard me… Emily Dickinson. Simply put, her fascination with and expression of death’s gothic embrace places her soundly in the great cannon of horror. I know some may recoil at this characterization, but I absolutely LOVE her work and think it very fitting to pay homage to her here.

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Only a select few have given us the sinew and bone of language that Dickinson shows in her poetry and I feel strongly that we see that muscularity at its finest when it explores death and its release thematically in her work. The poems move, challenge and inspire even after repeated readings. The images, so often dark and ringed with the steely edge of fatality and finality, dance and play with unmatched touch.

Look at this incredible example ::

That after Horror—that ’twas us—

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That after Horror—that ’twas us—
That passed the mouldering Pier—
Just as the Granite Crumb let go—
Our Savior, by a Hair—

A second more, had dropped too deep
For Fisherman to plumb—
The very profile of the Thought
Puts Recollection numb—

The possibility—to pass
Without a Moment’s Bell—
Into Conjecture’s presence—
Is like a Face of Steel—
That suddenly looks into ours
With a metallic grin—
The Cordiality of Death—
Who drills his Welcome in—

Good GOD, the language. The dark beauty. The “metallic grin” of Death, drilling his welcome in from the last stanza is nothing short of stunning. In many ways, she manages to presage in just a few words the biomechanical horrors of HR Giger’s brilliant oeuvre in image, but imbues it with a devilishly welcoming presence. AND, she did it in the mid-nineteenth-century.

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Another famous example ::

Because I could not stop for Death–

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Because I could not stop for Death–
He kindly stopped for me–
The Carriage held but just Ourselves–
And Immortality.

We slowly drove–He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility–

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess–in the Ring–
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain–
We passed the Setting Sun–

Or rather–He passed us–
The Dews drew quivering and chill–
For only Gossamer, my Gown–
My Tippet–only Tulle–

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground–
The Roof was scarcely visible–
The Cornice–in the Ground–

Since then–’tis Centuries–and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity–

Again, amazing. I almost feel that to say too much is to take away from the work itself.

And from the “Totally Epic Things That Will Never Happen” file, I fantasize about an album where total metal masters Baroness take Dickinson’s work and interpret it through song. Holy crap, talk about too much awesome. Hey, a boy can have his fantasies, right? Listen to these and imagine her work interpreted in this way ::

Boys, if you’re listening out there, help a brother out and consider at least one track like this. (PS — I saw your show at The Firebird here in St. Louis and I’m still riding on a musical high from it. Keep it up!)

I think the obituary that Susan Dickinson wrote about her friend summed Emily’s talent best :: “A Damascus blade gleaming and glancing in the sun was her wit. Her swift poetic rapture was like the long glistening note of a bird one hears in the June woods at high noon, but can never see..”

Emily, thank you for the rich, dark heritage you have left us.

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ART :: A CENTURY OF HORROR CLASSICS

The 19th century gave us some of the most indelible images and stories of the horror genre. The monsters and men set forth in the books of that era continue to haunt us today and form the basis for our modern scene.

As I have mentioned, I am a designer by trade and I love to play with personal projects. I thought I would share a concept that I have been working on to pay homage to the great horror masterworks of the 19th century. I’m calling the project “A Century of Horror Classics.” I have designed and illustrated shirts representing 7 incredibly seminal works from that era. Here a list of the works in chrono order ::

~ “Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus” :: Mary Shelley (1818)
~ “Melmoth the Wanderer” :: Charles Maturin (1820)
~ “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” :: Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
~ “The Picture of Dorian Gray” :: Oscar Wilde (1890)
~ “The Great God Pan” :: Arthur Machen (1894)
~ “Dracula” :: Bram Stoker (1897)
~ “The Turn of the Screw” :: Henry James (1898)

Annnd… Here are the designs in an order I thought presented well for the blog ::

DEJ_horror_shirts

Drop a line and let me know what you think of these. I know I will wear them in honor of the horror greats they represent.

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