Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy. Bunny. Blood.

I must have been in 1st or 2nd grade when I first saw Watership Down (1978, Nepenthe Productions) when it aired on television. It would be many, many years later before I finally got around to reading the novel by Richard Adams, but it was the lingering memories of those powerful, frightening images from that single television viewing that prompted me to do it.

Images such as these. Here, the mystic rabbit Fiver has an apocalyptic vision. "The's covered with blood!"

Later, one of the larger rabbits, Big Wig, is caught in a snare. The others must act quickly if they are to save him, but they aren't sure what to do.

These disturbing images leave no doubt as to the seriousness of Big Wig's predicament.

In a horrific flashback, Holly, a rabbit that had stayed behind in the doomed warren but managed to escape, describes how their holes were filled in and the tunnels choked with the bodies of desperate rabbits.

This gives way to a subjective, dream-like vision of the construction vehicles violating the land.

We meet the monstrous chief rabbit General Wound-Wort, the cruel and ruthless leader of a neighboring warren, who gets into a vicious fight with Big Wig.

Wound-Wort meets an appropriately bloody end in the jaws of this dog...

And finally, I'll never forget this chilling scene set years later, where our protagonist, Hazel, now old and near the end of his life, is approached by the Black Rabbit, death, who convinces him to lay down and finally die.

Every so often, I'll browse the customer reviews at just to see what people have to say about this movie or that. Apparently there are some...uh, passionate folks out there who think a children's movie shouldn't contain anything scary, sad, violent or thought-provoking, and actually get quite mad about it if their expectations are defied. You'll find folks like these leaving angry 1-star reviews for classics like Old Yeller, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and yes, even Watership Down. One reviewer posted a tirade so hysterical it actually cracked me up.

From reviewer John K. Fisher, posted October 24, 2001:
Let me explain something. This movie is the scariest damn movie ever. Bunnies trying to claw each other's eyes out is not cool. happy bunny blood, people. Am I the only one horrified by this? HAPPY. BUNNY. BLOOD. To whoever was behind this: What the hell is wrong with you? Music by Art Garfunkel.
I don't know if this guy is just a troll looking for a reaction or a sincere nutball, but either way its a funny read.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Horror Tales: Spirits, Spells & the Unknown (1974)

Horror Tales: Spirits, Spells & The Unknown (1974, edited by Roger Elwood, illustrated by Robert Baumgartner, with an introduction by George Zebrowski) is the fourth and final entry in the unofficial series of children's horror anthologies published by Rand McNally in the 70s (the others being Monster Tales, Tales of Terror and Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures. If there are any other books that belong with these four, I'm unaware of them.)
UPDATE: I'm going to add Science Fiction Tales and More Science Fiction Tales to this unofficial series of books (both are edited by Roger Elwood and illustrated by Rod Ruth!)

The complete contents:

Introduction (George Zebrowski)
The Shadow (Howard Goldsmith)
The Boy Who Could Make Things Move (Brian T. LoMedico)
A Seance In Summer (Mario Martin, Jr.)
The Voices of El Dorado (Ward Smith)
A Spell For Jonathan (Thomas F. Monteleone)
The Red Stone Key (Arthur Tofte)
Through The Crystal Ball...And Beyond (Nic Andersson)

The illustrations are suitably creepy and once again it's the first story that is my favorite.

In "The Shadow", a boy Jeff and his parents inherit their recently deceased Aunt Abigail's old house which sits on some wooded property just outside of Salem, Massachusetts.

When they first arrive to the house, which turns out to be a bit dilapidated, they are taken aback by a prominent tree in the yard.

A solitary elm tree loomed before us about ten yards away. The dark silhouette, tall and gaunt, stood out starkly against the brightness of daylight. Pieces of warped bark jutted out in thick, brittle strips. Cobwebs were strung across the leaves, and insects flitted in nervous, meandering motions. Branches crossed and recrossed in gnarled and knotted patterns. And two long, angular limbs reached toward the sky like the arms of someone in agony.
The tree is surrounded by the withered, twisted remains of other trees that were planted nearby but died. The family soon learns that the tree is the resting place of a Colonial-era witch, "Elvira", who, with her dying breath, cursed anyone who ever harmed the tree.

Young Jeff, being a modern and sensible boy, decides to challenge superstition by stabbing the tree with his pocket knife. That night, he notices the shadow of the tree cast by the moonlight is pointing right across the yard towards his bedroom, looking like two gnarled hands inching closer, closer, until they eventually reach his window and right into his room...

In an exciting finale Jeff desperately tries to chop the tree down in the midst of a thunderstorm before the ghost of Elvira can get hold of him. Great stuff.

Here's how all four of the books look side-by-side on the shelf. Tell me they don't look like they belong together as a series!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

All About Monsters (Miller, 1977)

"All About Monsters" (written by Carey Miller, published by the EMC Corp., 1977) is one of three books in a series called "The World of the Unknown" which got regular circulation at my school library (and it looks like the ex-library copy I've scanned here saw plenty of action as well).

It really does try to live up to its title by covering all categories of "monsters", from Greek and Roman mythology (Cyclops, Sirens), to Old English literature (dragons and Beowulf's Grendel), cryptozoological legends (Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster), and real-world prehistoric dinosaurs. There's even a section on famous monsters of film and creature make-up effects, and finally a monster dictionary.

Above, a depiction of Grendel, the man-eating monster from Beowulf.

This is a pretty thin book (only 32 pages!) to endeavor to cover so much information, so no subject is covered in depth. Instead we get well illustrated spreads that briefly introduce each topic, but leave you to pursue deeper studies elsewhere.

The "Man-Made Monsters" (aka movie monsters) section features an eclectic assortment: King Kong, Mecha-Kong, Frankenstein, Jaws, HAL 9000(!), Godzilla, the squid from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", and the Mummy.

This modest (only 2 pages) monster dictionary was my favorite section.

These cover images from the other two books in the series are found on the rear cover of "All About Monsters".

UPDATE: Subsequent post on "All About Ghosts" can be found here.