You know, when I think of comics, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t web-slinging heroes or clown-faced maniacs. It’s horror. More specifically, horror anthologies from the good ole days of EC comics like Vault of Horror or Tales from the Crypt. To me, these anthologies were just as responsible, if not more so, for the survival and growth of the comic age. And then they were gone. But never fear, as it turns out House of Waxwork has brought back those types of horror anthologies back from the dead, and what would they be without a significant twist?...
…Hailing from Waxwork Comics, House of Waxwork #1 is the beginning of what I hope will be a whole new generation of fantastic horror anthologies for readers, young and old, to pour over with devilish delight. So, what’s so unique about House of Waxwork and why should you be excited? What if I told you that each issue of House of Waxwork can also be purchased with its very own vinyl record to accompany it? That’s right, each issue comes with its very own soundtrack, so you can light some candles, get in the tub if that’s your thing, and throw on the soundtrack to set the eerie mood for your reading pleasure!
Upon opening House of Waxwork #1, we’re greeted by the Die-rector (heh), our ghoulish, undead host. For those who have always been fans of Tales from the Crypt’s Cryptkeeper, I believe you’ll all be pleasantly surprised, as the Die-rector gives off a delicious Cryptkeeper vibe, with such terrible play on words as “How did you get in here? Don’t you know this is a closed casket set?” He rattles off bad jokes, insults us as the audience, and takes great pleasure in doing it. Some may view him as a lesser version of the Cryptkeeper, but I love this chain-smoking asshole.
Each issue (I’m assuming) contains two stories. First up in House of Waxwork #1 is Occult Slumber Party, written by Gabe Soria (Batman ’66). The first thing you’ll notice is that the intro page for each story is designed to look like a movie poster that is reminiscent of 80’s horror, with wonderful art by Marc Schoenbach. House of Waxwork really knows how to tug at my nostalgic black-heart strings. Occult Slumber Party tells the story of a bored family on a road trip who decide to stop at an antiques shop and buy a game called…Occult Slumber Party (why didn’t they make family games like this when I was a kid)? Upon beginning the game, the family finds themselves sucked in Jumanji style and must battle their way through a horde of monsters to get to the exit.
What I love most about Occult Slumber Party is that Soria is having FUN. The story is full of awesome creatures, gore, and even an over the top explosion or two. The concept is also more of what I wanted from the popular indie horror film Beyond the Gates, which has more in common with the original Jumanji in that elements of the game make their way into the real world, rather than characters being sucked into the game the way they are in Occult Slumber Party. While Beyond the Gates is a fun film, I found it lacking in a lot of ways, most likely due to budget, whereas Occult Slumber Party nails the premise. I feel as if most of the stories in House of Waxwork will feature larger than life concepts shrieking to be made into feature films, and Occult Slumber Party is a perfect tone setter for that.
It isn’t a perfect story, though. Being a horror anthology comic containing two different stories, there isn’t a whole lot of time to develop much character. This is a family literally being torn apart one by one by blood-thirsty creatures from board game hell, yet I found myself pretty detached from those moments and more focused on the gruesome imagery. Which is forgivable in an anthology horror comic, which is often more about premise than character anyway, but still. The one big issue that I do have with Occult Slumber Party is that when it comes to anthology horror stories, the final twist HAS to be good, and the ending here is no winning roll of the dice, that’s for sure. In fact, if you’ve ever seen a horror film, you can probably see it coming from the very beginning. The old EC comics, though dated and predictable these days, were unexpected and shocking in their day, so it’s a disappointment that Occult Slumber Party doesn’t quite live up to the level set by those comics decades ago.
Next up is Lighthouse Keeper, written by Kevin Bergeron (CEO of Waxwork Records). The poster will seem fairly familiar to fans of John Carpenter’s The Fog, and it sets the stage for a much more eerie, quiet ghost story about a man named Stanley who takes a lonely job watching over a lighthouse just off the coast for 3 months, a la Jack Nicholson at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. He’s warned that the isolation can drive even the toughest men mad, and that it in fact did just that way back in 1974, driving one man to suicide. Of course, Stanley ignores these warnings and agrees to watch over the lighthouse anyway. Might as well dig your own grave, Stanley.
With the accompanying music, the tone is just right for you to cuddle up by an old man’s fire on the beach and dive into this story (okay, I admit it, I’m a huge fan of The Fog, so pardon my references). While the plot here is much more standard (isolated place where someone died, madness, watery ghosts), the twist is MUCH more in line with what you’d expect from these sorts of comics. Bergeron has already done something magical by bringing House of Waxwork to life, but he deserves a pat on the back from beyond the grave for an introduction to new fans with a story that would make EC comics proud. I only wish I could’ve gotten to know Stanley a little better before the horror begins, but again, there isn’t much time for development in these stories, so I’m going to give that a bit of a pass.
All in all, House of Waxwork #1 is a macabre treat for anyone looking to sit down with a fun comic on a Friday night, the way the cool kids do, and enjoy a pairing of fun, demented tales of terror. With over the top concepts, sinister villains and outrageous gore, it doesn’t detract too much from the overall enjoyment that the characters are paper thin; As long as buckets of blood are being splashed on said paper, I’m good, and House of Waxwork #1 has plenty of buckets to go around. I would say this comic was a pleasant surprise, but its everything I hoped it would be. Now I’ll keep my skeletal fingers crossed that we see more blood-spattered horror from the Die-rector for years to come, kiddies!
By Matt Konopka