Tag Archives: Manic Exorcism

The Powerful Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe!

It is without a doubt He-Man dominated the toy market of yesteryear. Making his way to our local toy shelves he took his rightful place as the reigning king of figurines and promptly slaughtered the competition. Not even the galactic juggernaut toy line of Star Wars could withstand the power of Grayskull and Eternia’s mighty champions.

He-Man and Masters of the Universe did not have a movie’s storyline to follow and upon initial creation-stages, the classic cartoon wasn’t even a thought at the time. What He-Man did have was his immense look and all the charm each figure brought with them.

That and the breathtaking artwork eruptoing across each package!

These were toys, true, but these were also thrilling works of art. A thing unseen back in the day and it set MOTU apart from its competitors. There was time and passion put into these. Muscles, savagery, feminine beauty (in Teela’s case), and undeniable evil as seen in Skeletor’s demonic visage. The divide between good and evil was clearly revealed in each figure and it didn’t take rocket science to figure out who was who.

Likewise, each figure was a puzzle piece and when all brought together uncovered a fantastical picture of a far-off universe where the never-ending conflict between good and evil raged imperially on the distant planet of Eternia.

The artwork on the display packaging helped fill in the world where swords and sorcery akin to the barbarian world of Conan met technical superiority – such as monstrous tanks and hovering battle crafts – of sci-fi grandeur! It was a brilliant fusion of genres. And power, pure and unstoppable power.

I daresay anyone of us gazing upon Castle Gray Skull was immediately pulled into the vortex of its wondrous world of secrets and sorcery. What exactly was Gray Skull? None of us had a clue. Truth was we weren’t sure if it was meant for good or evil. There’s always been a grim neutrality about the castle and that makes it more wondrous. Plus it looked METAL as all Hell and that made us want it so much more!

First, you’d see the toy but then there’s that Frazetta-inspired artwork on each packaging and it just demanded your attention. It filled the imagination. They didn’t have to put that much detail into packaging, you know, the thing we were going to tear into and throw in the trash. Looking back I now wish I had all the cards and boxes to proudly display and gloat over. Back then we didn’t know better.

Attitude Perspective

Of course, I have to mention the cartoon for a moment.

Originally it wasn’t even in the mind of the creative team behind the toy line. But it was believed that something had to help kids piece together Eternia and the battles for Castle Grayskull. So a daily cartoon was made up out of thin air and pitched. Again, MOTU was an instant hit among kids!

The show was appropriately campy. I guess the laughs and silliness was needed for us stupid kids. For example, Skeletor is a treacherous villain but he’s not too scary, or else kids would’ve had nightmares. And no parent wants to put up with that shit. So he was a bad guy but also kinda a dope. But hey, he’s a lovable dope.

That sort of attitude wasn’t expressed on the package art – or the original comics for that matter. Originally the Masters of the Universe was much more mature in tone and a lot darker. Eternia was expressed as someplace bordering on Hell. A place of dark wonder and sensational battles.

However, rather than being in conflict with each other that darker tone happily balances out the show’s campiness. The two work in harmony. A yin-yang coequality that resonates in fans to this very day. Some look back at the camp and are filled with nostalgic glee. Others look at the inspired art and feel a thrill for dark sorcery and battles in Eternia. The toys fit perfectly into both interpretations thus creating a nice harmony for fans. And both are masterpieces when it comes to art.

Masterful!

He-Man and Masters of the Universe could adorn the walls of any prestigious gallery around the world or be slapped on the cover of heavy metal albums! I mean this was stuff you expected to see on DIO tapes. This was great stuff. It didn’t look sloppy or rushed. There was power displayed in each and every one.

We were too young and innocent to fully grasp what a phenomenon this all was. I know I took it for granted and just came to expect to always have He-Man in my future. And, crazy enough, here I am in my 40’s and I just bought a Viking He-Man and Skeletor, so I guess, in a way, he has been.

Did any of us know we were living through pop-culture history? Of course not. I don’t know if that term even existed back then. We were too busy playing in our living rooms or outside in sandboxes, living and reliving new and bigger adventures (thanks to our toys). We couldn’t have realized people would later covetously look back on our childhoods longing for the magic we all shared in.

For many of us He-Man was all we had and that, at least, gave us something to look forward to. This was something wonderful and we were lucky enough to experience it all firsthand. We all reached up and touched a little bit of magic and it lit our imaginations and really never left us.

Before kids started playing with wands and imagining the wizarding world of Harry Potter we were holding plastic swords aloft in the air and commanding the powers of the universe!

I recently walked through Target and I saw He-Man and the Masters of the Universe on the shelves. I also saw retro Transformers toys and some great Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stuff from NECA. There were G.I. Joes and I even saw Ghostbusters! “What year is this?” I had a moment, a good moment, where I realized I’m honestly not alone.

This stuff not only inspired me but it had to have stayed with all of us. The good old days can’t be relived I guess but they never left us. Not really. A lot of us have kids (well not me personally) and get to now introduce them to the toylines we ourselves grew up with. With the holidays upon us, it might be a good time to go look around the toy aisles. Give Santa a helping hand.

So who knew the Power of Grayskull would follow us this far?

The Power of Grayskull

Art never dies. Not when there’s passion behind it. Today MOTU has been explored across several animated shows, a live-action movie (hey, rise above the hate), and, oh yes, the toy lines. Four Horsemen rolled out their brilliant Classics line that charged new energy (dare I say Power) and searing details into each figure that echoed the original look of the toys we all grew up loving.

Not to mention the Origins line that’s a glorified return of the MOTU toys we all played with. But there’s also the Revelations and New Eternia stuff. I think it’s clear that He-Man isn’t going anywhere. Fans find ways to breathe fresh life into the property.

There are the comic book runs that extend the legacy of Eternia. There’s even a great crossover with Thundercats (I know right???), a thing I always thought should happen. Glad I wasn’t alone because that’s one Healluva cool story! Maybe I’ll do a review on that one. You guys let me know.

And other artists have come out to lend their talents to strengthen the legacy further. One artist of note is none other than Boris Vallejo, legendary fantasy artist. And it’s little wonder considering how Frank Frazetta’s original Conan work initially inspired the look and feel for He-Man. It began in fantasy and continues by it today.

Afterthoughts

I was just speaking with someone this week about MOTU and he said that it’s possible all his collecting could have begun way back then when, as a kid, he had to get everything He-Man related. And that’s it. That could be the gateway for all of us collectors. For some, it was an introduction to high adventures, magic, heroism, morals, and the responsibility of power. MOTU led way to many things we would adapt as adults later in life. A toy line!

In closing, it would be sinful if I didn’t share a small memory.

I fondly remember one figure in particular just because it was given to me by my Great-Grandma Phillips. She (no doubt) had no clue what these things were but she knew her little Manic loved He-Man so she got me an amazing BATTLE DAMAGE Skeletor. Whoa! I never saw a figure that took battle damage before! I loved it. Now looking back I love it so much more because of my great-grandmother’s associated memory attached to it. I think that’s the only thing I got from her, at least it’s the one thing that stands out to me. She wasn’t long for this world and any time I saw that little toy she came to mind.

Manic out!

Bela Lugosi And The Insidious Charm of Ygor! ‘Son of Frankenstein’

Bela Lugosi needs no introduction among horror enthusiasts. Forever more will he be associated with the nocturnal Prince of Darkness, Count Dracula, for his phenomenal portrayal of Bram Stoker’s titular character. Laying the foundations for the future of talking horror flicks to follow in his haunted footsteps Lugosi also ensured the future of Universal as the House of Horrors. 

Doubtlessly whenever his name is mentioned people primarily associate the late actor with his immortal vampire role. Moldy castles, gargantuan spider webs, capes, shadows, and those piercing eyes are forever etched in the edifice of horror history. Had the man played only one role – that of Dracula – it is for certain he would have secured a timeless legacy. 

What many people sadly miss out on though are the other horror roles Lugosi likewise immortalized by that devilish charm and uncanny of his. Briefly, I am obligated to mention his monstrous role played in Island of Lost Souls, a retelling of the Island of Dr. Moreau, where Lugosi chews up his scenes with feral passionate intensity. 

And then there’s today’s topic at hand – the one and only Ygor, the lumbering grave robber who sensationally steals the show in the third installment of Universal’s Frankenstein legacy, Son of Frankenstein. Critics and horror enthusiasts alike praise James Whales’ horror legends Frankenstein and its celebrated sequel Bride of Frankenstein. Sadly though that’s usually where people stop watching the legacy. Probably assuming nothing that followed could match up to the two remarkable films Whales accomplished to make. Daring, frightening, and downright shocking were the first two movies. So much so that when Boris Karloff’s face was first revealed as the monster people hid under their seats in the theater. 

The third installment not only holds up but is just as magnificent as its prior movies. Mainly due to the combined charisma of Karloff and Lugosi working together. Both playing monsters, both shining with macabre excellence, but, if we’re being fully honest here, it is dear ol’ Bela Lugosi who steals the movie and brilliantly outshines Karloff’s uncanny monster. 

Karloff fought to get Lugosi in the role and insisted the man share in the top billing. Thankfully he won because otherwise the world would have been robbed of one helluva monstrous character! So iconic is Lugosi’s Ygor that to this very day people assume all hunchback lab assistants in gothic horror tales are Ygor.

The truth is the hunchback assistant in the first movie is called Fritz and there was no hunchback in the original novel at all. However, Lugosi immortalized the monster and cemented his hideous grin all across horror history.  Making him a gothic staple just as much as windmills, cemeteries, and crumbling castles.

Whereas Dracula was played seriously, grim, and downright dapper Ygor is polar opposite the image. Ygor is grungy, smells like deep earth from the graves he robs, dirty, and hairy. He was hanged from the gallows but didn’t stay dead, a fact to which Ygor gleefully gloats about in the film. “They die, dead! I die, live!” he says with a devilish smile. 

Synopsis

In the film, Basil Rathbone plays the son of Frankenstein returning back to his family castle where the village people are not too happy to have another Frankenstein in their midst. There Wolf Frankenstein (can we please take a moment to marvel at how METAL that name is) is met by a snooping Ygor who enlists the young doctor into reviving the old monster of his father’s making. Reluctant at first, Wolf finally agrees unable to pass up the chance to improve upon his father’s work. Meanwhile, Ygor has befriended the monster and uses him to kill the men who found him guilty and sentenced him to death. So on the one hand Ygor is using Frankenstein to revive his buddy the monster. And on the other, he’s using the monster to avenge his enemies. Ygor is the devil sitting on everyone’s shoulder instigating and manipulating as he wishes. And he’s laughing his ass off as he does it.

Someone said that Ygor is the instigator among all the Universal Monsters and I like that image. I like to think he lumbers around and stirs up mischief among the Mummy and the Gillman. He would steal the Wolfman’s bone and hide it in Dracula’s coffin as a way to make the two fight. Crazy shit like that and if confronted about it he’d just put his hands in the air, shrug his shoulders, smile, and say “Ygor not do wrong. Ygor was gone fishing.” Or something like that. 

Neca’s been releasing the Universal line right now and I’m hoping someone there has the foresight to make us a proper Ygor figure. I’d throw money at that quick as a lightning bolt.

So here’s to Bela Lugosi and the marvelous monsters and giddy ghouls he gave us. If you’ve not seen Son of Frankenstein this Halloween would be a good time to correct that. It’s also the final time Boris Karloff would play the iconic role of the monster and does so beautifully.

Manic out! 

Ed Gein Part II: The Man Who Inspired Monsters

The devil is out there. Always stalking, ever-lurking, somewhere between the gossamer glow of the waking world inside our minds and just behind the walls of sleep. A genius wolf watching dreary sheep. I’m not asking if you’re religious or not, and, if we’re being perfectly honest, he doesn’t much care. He shows up and there’s Hell to pay. 

artist Gustave Dore, ‘Paradise Lost – Satan in Council’

Back in the 1950s, every god-fearing American had their butts warming a church pew come Sunday morning. The reverend would stand up and preach from the Good Book and, every so often, if he felt a particular agitation, the grand horrors of Hell would be the topic of the day. Turns out that Satan and his infernal realm of pain and suffering made for crowd-gathering material … just like it did in the Dark Ages.

Ma and Pa saintly do-wells, salt of the earth types who would never be caught dead at a motion picture show, especially one showing a scary movie, sure did eat up that Sunday-Funday grizzly stuff though. Why as a matter of fact, the nastier the Hell the sweeter the Heaven I guess you could say.

Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages

Reverend Wonderful had free reign to be as graphic as his imagination allowed when describing the stygian agony awaiting sinners gripped by the Devil’s talons. Horns and pitchforks, rusty chains, and Hell’s unquenching flames, it got the folks all riled up.

People liked the gory bits. They’d shout their support, yell an ‘Amen’ or two sometimes, and if the spirit took ’em, you’d see ol’ Miss Maryweather go a’running up and down the aisles. It was worshipful. It was saintly. It was a fucking circus ruled over by the good Reverend while rivets of sweat streamed like salty beads down his reddened face. The hotter the Hell the better the reaction.

“Preach it, brother!”

artist Gustave Dore, ‘Paradise Lost – Rebel Angels’

It was pure exploitation and fuck if church-goers didn’t take to it like flies to a turd. For many people, it felt right to think Satan was out there punishing unrepented sinners stewing in their own iniquities.

Did the Devil exist? Hell to the fuckin’ A you bet your ass the Devil existed. And people loved it about as much as they liked sipping their sweet lemon ice tea. He was the atavistic threat reigning over the writing agonies of Outer Darkness. His was the Inferno and all of its black miracles. The burning pits of Hell are where you’d find him and– pardon the pun – it was a burning hot topic. It was also a safe place, somewhere far away from the daily affairs of salt-of-the-earth types. 

They could take comfort knowing they would never have to deal with him. They were also goddamn wrong because one day the Devil showed up and turned out to be everyone’s meek and quiet neighbor.

He was someone they drank with, someone who babysat their kids. People were stunned stupid by the grizzly revelation as to what kind of Evil was living among them. Guess you don’t ever really know a person. Or at least what’s going on inside their heads.

And sure, it’s way easier to present Ed Gein as some evil demon or devil. Something elemental and almost fictional. He wasn’t though. He was one of us. Flesh, blood, and bone. Put his pants on just like we all do. But to his neighbors, he was pure evil. A Devil who built his house out of sin and sat on furnishings stitched together by human body parts.

You can’t make this shit up.

He surrounded himself with death and dwelt in gloom like a troll from some warped fairytale. He adorned himself in human flesh and stitches. And, if rumors are to be believed, he ate who he killed. 

Ed Gein was the stuff nightmares are made of.

inside Ed Gein’s house

But their Devil had been arrested and locked away like a community’s dirty little secret. His reign of terror was over. The ghoul who kept shrunken heads under his bed was now gone and the dead could finally rest in peace.

cop standing outside the Gein estate

Now that old charnel house of his was left to its grey solitude, a molding threshold into the domain of demons. A genuine house of horrors if ever there was one. It stood out like a festering tumor on the pristine façade of the kindly community, reminding everyone of the evils the human mind is capable of. 

A planned auction of the estate was scheduled and you could say a fungal interest blossomed about that macabre place and it was bound to draw in a crowd locals weren’t too keen on. The weird types, outsiders, people with ill intentions for sure. Freaks with a flair for the grotesque oddities of life.

the old Gein house

So when the good citizens of Plainfield woke up one morning to find Gein’s house of death and corpses had mysteriously burned down in the night – just mere days before the auction funny enough – there was a collective sigh of relief. That pretty orange glow radiating brightly in the early dawn hours meant the whole affair had to be over and done with. Call it an act of God (thank ye, Jesus) or comeuppance there weren’t any tears shed over the smoking ashes of the estate once the blazing inferno quieted down. The fire claimed everything. The grounds were burnt black as if nature rejected the earth the foundations were laid on. All that remained were the seared underpinning jutting out like decayed ribs. 

20 Mar 1958, Plainfield, Wisconsin, USA — Smoldering ruins is all that remains of the House of Horrors after a fire of undetermined cause destroyed the two story frame building on March 20, 1958. Once the home of confessed killer ghoul Ed Gein, who shocked the nation when human remains were found in it, the house was to be auctioned. Police suspected arson. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

That’s the end of that, or so it was assumed. Let lying corpses lie (ha, ha), just go on like nothing happened and this whole messy thing’ll just blow over. Thing is though, devils like Gein don’t just go away. They haunt the mind and tickle deeply repressed fantasies in us all. 

Gein had not only just reshaped American culture (not to mention kick-started an international interest in serial killers) but he became the blueprint of horrors to come. In fact, Gein was now the foundation of who the American Boogeyman was to become. Both in real life and on the silver screen.

In the years to follow the genius of horror could not ignore Gein’s playful side and as result, much of culture’s most beloved guilty pleasures sprung up out of the mire of the madman’s crimes against life and death. Had it not been for Gein picking up a shovel and heading out to a cemetery one night would we now have some of horror’s most respected and praised titles? Not likely. That’ll boil your noodles if you let it. 

Boogeyman of Boogeymen

Robert Bloch would make a name for himself – and write one of the most influential horror stories of the century – all due to his little book Psycho. Bloch was living in WI at the time and was shocked by every heinous detail pouring in from the papers about Ed Gein. The concepts of grave robbing and an overbearing mother lording her toxic influence over one lonely young man just couldn’t get out of Bloch’s head. They became the foundations upon which a budding sub-genre of horror would be fortified upon – that being the slasher genre. 

Norman Bates, the titular madman himself, is the focus of the book, something I’ve mentioned before. The book is also even more disturbing than the classic film. The book was enough to scare the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchock who earnestly recognized the indisputable talent of this story. And knowing the book was based on the Ed Gein crimes made the project all the more appealing. 

Norman Bates, kind-natured, quiet, and a bit simple, the humble face of the Bates Motel where, if you catch Norman’s eye and he gets that (uh-oh) funny feeling down his pants, chances are when you check in you won’t be checking out. Berated by his mother (who can be seen sitting menacingly in the upper window of the house atop the hill) Bates lives a lonely life. One you can easily pity. But he lives a double life too. 

As we all now know Norman keeps his dead mother at home where her dried corpse can still torment his broken mind. I think Ed was proud of that little touch. Taking it one step further Norman lets mother have her fun by dressing up and channeling the harsh woman. Hitchcock’s Psycho shocked people and with a little of Gein’s ghoulish fun reshaped the nature of horror movies. Norman Bates was the archetype for future slasher icons such as Michael Myers, Jason, and Leatherface to come.

A decade later the quiet outback of Texas became a slaughter field when young innocents were met with a chainsaw-wielding madman. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is renowned as one of the top five best horror films ever made and its most macabre moments can all be linked back to the grotesque habits of Eddie boy.

It’s interesting that each member of the deranged family of cannibals embodies an attribute of Gein. It’s as if the ghoul’s essence stains each scene from opening to final credits. 

Most people identify the skin-wearing traits of Leatherface back to Eddie, but there’s the Hitchhiker who digs up the dead and brings home the really good stuff to furnish the living room. There’s also the cook whose quiet nature lures in unsuspecting victims. He’s such a nice guy until he can catch you off your guard. Then it’s straight to the icebox with you.

You know, the more I think of it the more I’m convinced the original film is an absolute masterpiece. Every time I watch it I’m that much more impressed. It’s a simple formula but – as is proven most often in horror – it’s the simple stuff that works the best. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre became a grindhouse staple and was ultimately banned in certain countries. The UK saw fit to slap the movie on the infamous Video Nasties list. And to this day there are some countries where horror fans cannot watch the full movie. It fucked with people’s heads that much. TCM is simply metal to the bone. 

Another writer (Thomas Harris) would make a career for himself when his novel of grizzly crime and mystery took the world by storm and made Anthony Hopkins a name to be feared and celebrated once the story was adapted to film. 

The Silence of the Lambs is punch-to-the-throat thrill ride to stop a serial killer who is mutilating women. Our killer here, nicknamed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), not only channels Ed Gein but goes the extra mile by utilizing a few of Ted Bundy’s nefarious tricks to great effect. Bill goes about his transition by capturing women and turning their skins into his new and improved body. 

Though considered more of a psychological thriller than a scary movie I see it as an early example of elevated horror and the movie scared the pink fucking shit out of audiences upon its release. I was a kid when it came out and I remember being reprimanded for just talking about it. I wasn’t allowed to say the name for fucks fucking sake! As if it would conjure up something malignant and stygian. But that’s how badly this movie scared people. It snuck its way into people’s psyche and festered there.

Adding to the grizzly tension is Anthony Hopkin’s searing portrayal of cannibal psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. Though incarcerated Lecter’s unique qualities make him a key element to discovering the shrouded identity of Buffalo Bill and putting an end to his reign of terror.

It’s interesting that each of these movies greatly differ from one another in tone and presentation. They each reflect on the social angst and attitude of their times and went on to further influence and redefine horror in the years to come. Hell, most people attribute Psycho as the start of the slasher genre, my favorite! And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired Rob Zombie’s entire film career. Then there’s Silence of the Lambs which led to a massive boom of interest in grizzly crime films that led to future films like Se7enThe Bone CollectorDexter, and every single fucking NCIS you can imagine. Not to mention the phenomenal Hannibal show which is one of my favorite shows of all time.

It’s clear Ed Gein’s legacy could not be burned away. The Ghoul could not be spunged out of our minds. Horror endures. It always does.

As honorable mentions and in case you’ve watched these all a hundred times and need a little more Gein fix I’d recommend the following. 

Ed Gein, a movie that loosely follows the life and crimes of Ed Gein and starring none other than Kane Hodder (Jason and Hatchet) himself in the titular role. It’s not going for accuracy here and is more for shock value so you gotta take it with a grain of salt.

But if you’re in need for a serial killer kind of movie this one has you covered. It also features Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame in it. 

Deranged, is a movie that doesn’t get a lot of attention but one I absolutely love. It’s a purer depiction of the Ed Gein story and is filmed like a semi-documentary or news special.

Yeah I know, it’s weird. But I love the tone and atmosphere of the movie. It has a retro atmosphere to it that sorta resembles A Christmas Story just slightly less satanic. 

Hitchcock, a biopic about the making of the movie Psycho. Anthony Hopkins plays the titular character and is guided by Ed Gein himself through means of inner dialogue. This move is just a little delight and fits in well if you’re in the mood for a Psycho marathon.  

Manic out!