Horrorscope #3 | The Curse of Leo

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Horrorscope #3 | The Curse of Leo
Robert Lory | Pinnacle Books | 1974 | 176 pages

“If you can have a werewolf, why not a werelion?”

Calder Heath, heir to a large mining company, returns to South Africa from years of living abroad in England following the suicide of his father. However, all is not well at the mines. Two violent mauling deaths among the black laborers have renewed gossip about a curse on the Heath family, and Calder awakens following the full moon covered in blood, with no memory of his recent actions.

Granley, a long-time clerk at Heath Mines, recounts the story of the curse to Calder. After an illicit affair with his housekeeper, the elder Heath abandoned the young girl from the black township when he discovered she was about to give birth to his illegitimate child. When the child died from a tragic, but preventable, illness, the grieving mother channeled her anger at Heath through a curse, twisting his naturally leonine features against him. The light of the full moon would transform him–and all his male descendants–into a bloodthirsty man-lion!

If you can have a werelion, why not a wereaardvark or even a weresloth?

Calder desperately tries to shield his delicate wife, Eunice, from his bloody escapades at night, while deflecting suspicion from his gruff American mine manager, Sam York, and the slovenly, but deceptively astute detective assigned to investigate the deaths. Struggling against the growing realization that he is responsible for the grisly killings plaguing the mines, Calder calls upon the old witch in the township for aid.

A straightforward revenge curse and monster-run-amok tale, with the resulting character anguish, for most of its page count, The Curse of Leo eventually throws a twist worthy of the Scooby Doo playbook—before turning back again at the conclusion. Although multigenerational curses always seem inherently misguided (afflicting innocent descendants), Calder does prove himself to be violent and despicable enough to (arguably) warrant his curse. The very real horrors of the South African mining industry, with its history of forced labor and oppression, remain completely unaddressed, providing only convenient decoration for the werelion to roam.

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The Naked Witch

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The Naked Witch
Starring Jo Maryman | Robert Short | Libby Hall | Directed by Larry Buchanan | 1961 | 59 minutes

After a patience-testing voiceover on the history of witchcraft, with accompanying images of Hieronymus Bosch paintings, the story finally begins with an unnamed college student (Robert Short) arriving in a small Texas town. Immediately launching into another pseudo-historical voiceover narration, the student details the history of the isolated German immigrant community he has come to study. Interested in the folklore of witchcraft and the occult in the town, the student discovers that local residents are unwilling to talk about their superstitious beliefs.

Breaking the communal silence, Kirska (Joy Maryman), the coquettish innkeeper’s daughter, gives the student a one-hundred-year-old book about the Luckenbach Witch, a local widow who was accused of witchcraft by an adulterous husband. Before being staked to death for her alleged crimes, the widow places a curse on all the descendants of her accusers. Drawn to the (remarkably shallow) grave of the witch in the story, the student removes the fatal stake and inadvertently resurrects the slumbering witch (Libby Hall).

Taking time out for the occasional skinny dip in the vegetation-laden local pond, the witch pursues her century-old revenge against the townspeople. Splashing about in the water, hair and make-up continuity errors arguably outnumber the awkward teases of nude flesh. Guilty about his role in the witch’s return, the student pursues her (with the help of the local librarian), to a nearby series of caves. Falling under the witch’s seductive spell, the student must struggle to save her final victim—Kirska!

A low-budget titillation for its time, The Naked Witch possesses a certain charm with its artless framing, sporadic organ score, and poorly synced dialogue. However, today’s viewers may want to save the full 59-minute running time (which seems much longer), and derive a greater and more immediate reward by simply Googling “naked+witch”.

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Dark Shadows | Issue #15

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Dark Shadows | Issue #15
The Night Children
Gold Key Comics | August 1972

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Creepy kids drive Barnabas Collins to Hell in this issue, along with the requisite curses, strange monsters, and otherworldly transformations characterized by the series.

Angelique, the witch, conjures two Night Children, demonic creatures in the form of innocent youths, to seek out and destroy Barnabas Collins. Any potential victim with goodness in their heart will be trapped in their gaze, locked under their malevolent control. They show up at Collinwood under the pretense of looking for their lost dog, only to lure Barnabas out into a clearing in the woods.

Of all the children’s dark powers, the ability to lie seems strangely lacking. When Barnabas calls them out as Night Children (due to their lack of shadows), they immediately cry out in unison, “Yessssssss!” However, Barnabas is soon debilitated and laid out in repose for the morning sunrise, the rays of light fatal to his vampiric form.

The evil cherubs return to Collinwood, breaking up a dinner party where Professor Stokes, ever the pedant, bores everyone with his incessant small talk of the Black Arts. Placing the guests under their control, the Night Children attempt to create a ritual that will destroy the great estate. Suffering the effects of the full moon while locked safely away in the cellar, only Quentin escapes falling into the hands of the children. His cursed heart the only one at Collinwood that holds enough darkness to keep their powers at bay.

To its detriment, this issue seems to improvise (or, more critically, just plain make up) a significant number of consequential rules over the course of its brief page count: five victims are needed to complete a double pentagram ritual, since the supernatural fire the Night Children seek to create cannot be generated from a figure of four (four being a symbol of good); only those who “linger in both worlds” are able to see the entrance to the Black Pit, which is fortunate for Barnabas after the Night Children escape into it; unless saved by an (undisclosed) act of kindness, Barnabas will be trapped forever in the Black Pit if Angelique catches him in his human form, or if he is killed there; and, finally, there are creatures who carry fallen spirits down into the Black Pit called Zozos, that are essentially flying monkeys.

On the plus side, Barnabas fights flying monkeys.

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Night Gallery | Season 1, Episode 5

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Night Gallery | Season One | Episode 5 | January 13, 1971

Segment One | Pamela’s Voice

Jonathan (John Astin) discovers that hell is certain other people, when the spirit of his murdered wife, Pamela (Phyllis Diller), returns from the dead to torment him. Continuing to suffer from the specter’s ceaseless nagging at the funeral home, his only hope of relief seems to be in finally burying her corpse. Although playing into the stereotype of the carping wife, Diller’s shrewish cackle—and arched, painted eyebrows–almost conjures a sense of sympathy for Astin’s homicidal husband, who discovers an unexpected difficulty in finding a moment of peace and quiet.

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Segment Two | Lone Survivor

Picking up what they believe to be a single woman alone in a lifeboat, a ship’s crew discovers a man in women’s clothing, and a boat mysteriously emblazoned with the logo of the RMS Titanic. An effective early twist regarding the perceived time of the rescue is ultimately squandered in service to a familiar story of cyclical retribution. John Colicos plays the role of the survivor with sweaty desperation–and a powdered-blue nightdress.

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Segment Three | The Doll

A British Colonel (John Williams) returning from service in India is confronted with a creepily malevolent (or maybe just grubby) doll, received via post by his young niece. Recognizing the doll as an agent of evil directed at him, the Colonel tries to convince the young girl to relinquish it–arguably, she should also have been persuaded to relinquish that satin blue ribbon in her hair. Pandit Chola (Henry Silva), the Indian mystic who devised the curse in retaliation for his brother’s execution as a resistance fighter, ultimately learns a lesson about karma from the doddering old imperialist.

Aside from a few more-silly-than-scary grimaces, the doll’s supernatural movements are left mostly to the imagination, helping to maintain the episode’s overall mood, and also proving the age-old axiom, “Never go full Chucky.”

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Dark Shadows (Issue #12)

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Dark Shadows, Issue #12
The Glove
Gold Key Comics | February 1972

This issue initially flirts with the “killer disembodied hand” genre, as it opens with a ghostly appendage attacking Elizabeth Collins in the library at Collinwood. Barnabas responds to her screams, and his quick intervention (with rapid blows from his cane) saves her life. To calm Elizabeth’s shattered nerves, Barnabas dismisses the attack as an inexplicable freak occurrence, but recognizes the murderous glove and the volume whence it emerged.

Barnabas remembers the glove belonging to Cheshire Collins, yet another cursed ancestor of the Collins family. Dead for over 200 years, Cheshire was executed for murdering a romantic rival in the town square in the city of Leeds. In his original mortal form, Barnabas recalls visiting the city on his cousin Cheshire’s behalf (in a canon-be-damned flashback), but was unable to prevent the execution. Realizing that soothing Cheshire’s troubled spirit is the only recourse in preventing further attacks, Barnabas travels back in time to uncover the truth surrounding the murder.

Barnabas battling a killer glove is easily the early highlight, with the story quickly shifting to the drama of an earlier time. This series no longer even makes the slightest attempt at explaining the time travel mechanism, with Barnabas simply entering his coffin and somehow willing himself into the correct time.

Rules are also fast and loose regarding what form Barnabas takes in his travels, and what changes he can and cannot affect. Here he inhabits the body of a bystander and witness to the murderous events, when at other times he incarnates as himself. Although Barnabas is prevented in saving Cheshire’s life due to the laws governing time travel his actions seem able to easily cause the death of another character.

Visiting Cheshire in his cell, Barnabas ultimately discovers that his cousin fails one inexorable, governing law.

If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

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Dark Shadows (Issue #10)

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Dark Shadows, Issue #10
Souls in Bondage
Gold Key Comics | August 1971

Exposed to sunlight before returning to the protective confines of his coffin, on-again off-again vampire Barnabas Collins collapses into a withered heap on the lawn of the great estate of Collinwood. Discovering his crumpled form, Quentin Collins and Dr. Julia Hoffman notice a strange series of symbols that seem to have been scratched into the earth by Barnabas himself before succumbing to the sun’s rays. Depositing Barnabas’ remains safely in the family crypt, Quentin and Julia enlist the aid of Professor Timothy Stokes to unravel the meaning of the scribbled encryptions, and possibly save Barnabas from his fate.

Introducing a new twist on the established vampire lore—that direct sunlight does not lead to ultimate destruction—Stokes’ information leads Quentin and Julia on a trail to the West Indies, where they confront a waiting Termina, the self-professed Queen of Darkness. Termina, wearing garb and a headdress completely irrelevant to any local cultural tradition, makes the classic mistake of many super villains, explicitly stating the conditions of her own destruction to her enemies:

Only evil such as he possesses can destroy me! My magic protects me from mortals…but the undead can destroy me!”

Quentin’s affliction, the curse of the werewolf, conveniently provides such an opportunity for her destruction.

The West Indian setting offers a rare location away from the gloomy backdrop of Collinsport, with the cutout trappings of indigenous voodoo culture setting the stage for an all-too-brief monster rumble, as a wolfen Quentin faces off against a small army of Termina’s spell-controlled zombies. Although Angelique, the witch who placed the vampire curse on Barnabas, is revealed as Termina’s master, she does not appear in the story. Her absence, along with that of Barnabas (who only appears briefly), leaves Quentin to carry the story—and a few panels of zombie fighting are not enough.

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