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GRINDHOUSE: DOORS OPEN AT MIDNIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE VOLUME 2 Review

Grindhouse: Double Feature Doors Open at Midnight Volume 2 from Dark Horse Comics is the second collection in a series of horror stories drawing inspiration from a sub-genre of horror movies. Years ago, audiences filled drive-in movie theaters and stayed up late for films featuring graphic violence, overt sexuality, absurd stories, and decidedly low production values. Writer Alex de Campi teams up here with artists Federica Manifredi and Gary Erskine to create new comic book tales in the same vein of the ‘Grindhouse’ movies.

Stories

The first feature is “Bride of Blood.” True to so many low-budget films, the exact time and place the story is set in is unclear, though placing it in roughly “Medieval” times seems adequate. A noble wedding is interrupted by an attack from a savage people called “Reavers.” The bride’s family is wiped out, while the bride is viciously assaulted and left for dead. She survives, though, scarred and driven. What follows is a fairly predictable revenge story that can tax even the strongest suspension of disbelief.

The scenario of a woman surviving rape and becoming a strong fighter is not only something of a cliché, it is a lazy way of creating a strong female character. The use of this unimaginative tactic is hard enough to forgive, but it is used in a way that is obviously meant to titillate the reader with little thought to how horrible the assault is. Getting past this, the rest of the story is almost as hard to take. The bride who, at the start, embodied the idea of a “fair maiden” dons armor and shows enough skill with weapons and setting traps to take on an entire hunting party. Just when did she undergo this training?

The only thing worse than a bad story is a bad story with a good idea at its heart. A strong skilled woman in Medieval times wearing armor and combating the rampant sexism and injustice of that era could make for a great story. Sadly, though, the concept was used in this one.

The second feature is “Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll.” Occult activity (of a sexual nature, naturally) in the distant past has dire consequences in the present. A monster, who sometimes looks like a beautiful naked woman, is lurking around rural upstate New York turning people into zombies and seeking virgins to sacrifice. A nearby field hockey summer camp is full of potential sacrifices.

The teenage girls at this camp behave more like B-movie reform school girls than anything else, literally scaring the shy new girl into hiding under the bed. Of course, there is a scene with the girls in their underwear, or lack thereof, and plenty of talk of their sex lives. To sum it up, we have here a hackneyed story premise wherein underage girls are portrayed as sex objects.

There are a couple of moments where the self-assumed leader of the hockey players says something “profound” to the shy new girl. The sentimental dialogue here seems forced and the attempts to make the story about the shy girl coming out of her shell and becoming strong, rather than a sex monster trying to open a gate to Hell, feel tacked on to say the least. Equally forced are the writers attempts at teenage slang and one teenage girl somehow knowing how to operate a backhoe.

The second feature is arguably better than the first. This is only because, unlike the first feature, there was no good idea at the heart of it wasted. It was simply all bad.

Art

Federica Manifredi provides the art for “Bride of Blood” and, despite everything wrong with that story, it is gorgeous. The moments leading up to the wedding scene have a quaint and almost Disney fairytale look to them. The panels where we are looking through the bride’s eyes and through her veil are particularly striking. We are still looking through the veil when tragedy strikes. From then on the art takes on a much grimmer, though still fairytale, look. Blood, body parts, and rain effectively mar what was an idyllic forest scene. Her depiction of the story’s heroine in full armor can stand shoulder to shoulder with any heroic character. Dan Panosian’s pin-up rendition of said heroine would be great enough to hang on the wall if the story were worth it.

Gary Erskine handles the art chores for “Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll.” His approach with people and scenery is, for the most part, photo-realistic if a little bland. Proportions of anatomy get away from him at times. In crowd scenes, some people’s heads become improbably large or small. In one panel a young woman gestures obscenely to another, and her hand is large enough to envelop her face.

Francesco Francavilla’s covers for both stories are nicely rendered and eye-catching, if not terribly memorable. Throughout the book, we have poster pages of “coming attractions” to fit the nostalgic movie theme of the collection by such artists as Ashraf Ghori, Robin Morley, and others. With titles like “The Cursed Planet” and “Deadly on Delivery,” they would clearly make for stories to fit right in with the two features of the book. The “Behind the Scenes” pencil sketch sections of Manifredi and Erskine may be of interest to some, but are easy to skip over.

Overall

Grindhouse: Double Feature Doors Open at Midnight Volume 2 from Dark Horse is Alex de Campi’s tribute to raunchy thriller movies of a bygone era. Her tribute to sleaze, however, is nothing more than sleaze itself. Something that, at one time, could be enjoyed for the cost of a drive-in ticket or a video rental is not worth the cost of a comic book trade paperback. Furthermore, the terrible treatment of women and the novelty use of traumatic human experiences that a modern audience might excuse as lamentable in older stories are simply unforgivable today. The stories in Grindhouse are more horrible than the writer intended, but not at all thrilling.

1 out of 5 stars

1 out of 5 stars

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Jean-Pierre Vidrine hails from the small town of Ville Platte, Louisiana. He started collecting and learning about comic books at the age of 9. He got his Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Louisiana State University. He now lives in Chicago with his wife and cat.

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Categories: Comic Reviews

Author:Jean-Pierre Vidrine

Jean-Pierre Vidrine is a Chicago transplant whose interests include comic books, nostalgia, tattoos, drag, just plain being allowed to be himself. He does his best to be a thoughtful writer.

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