Time for more insanely twisted fun as I take a look at the second half of Alex De Campi’s horror anthology miniseries Grindhouse: Doors Open At Midnight. You can read my review of the first four issues here. The two tales comprising Grindhouse #s 5-8 are “Bride of Blood,” illustrated by Federica Manfredi, and “Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll,” drawn by Gary Erskine.
When Alex De Campi was at Midtown Comics last October signing copies of Grindhouse #1, she commented that the third story arc, “Bride of Blood” would be “a medieval rape-revenge story.” The movie that immediately leaped into my head is Meir Zarchi’s 1978 film I Spit On Your Grave, also known as Day of the Woman. I’ve heard I Spit On Your Grave described as misogynistic, but I really do not think that is the case. Yes, the movie’s heroine Jennifer, played by Camille Keaton, is brutally gang-raped by a group of men, but Zarchi films it in such a genuinely revolting manner that there is no way in hell that he intended for it to be sexy or erotic. In the final third of the story, once Jennifer recuperates and begins wrecking bloody retribution on the men who brutalized her, one of them does claim she was “asking for it” by dressing provocatively. But this is obviously supposed to be the self-serving justification of a sexist pig, and soon after Jennifer enacts a particularly well-deserved & horrific revenge upon him.
“Bride of Blood” is the story of Branwyn, a young woman from the House of Creagh Mawr who is to wed the Lord of Callyreath in an arranged marriage of political & financial convenience. Branwyn is understandably nervous about marrying an older man who she barely knows, but her mother assures her that everything will be okay. However, soon after the ceremony begins a horde of Reavers descends, slaughtering the wedding guests. Branwyn’s mother is stabbed, and Branwyn herself sexually assaulted, mutilated and left for death.
Sometime later, Branwyn awakens at a nearby convent and learns that she is believed to be the last surviving member of the House of Creagh Mawr. After the funeral of her beloved brother Corrin, the traumatized Branwyn steals his armor and sets out to avenge herself on the Reavers and their allies utilizing guerilla warfare. The second chapter of “Bride of Blood” has De Campi offering up two shock plot twists in rapid succession, closing out the story in a dramatic finale of poetic justice.
The artwork by Federica Manfredi is exquisitely detailed. De Campi explained that one of the reasons why she wanted to work with Manfredi, a female artist, is that given the story’s content she did not want the sexual violence to come across as glamorized, even if unintentionally. Indeed Manfredi truly brings home the sick brutality of the villains’ actions. I was actually cringing when I read the first chapter. It really is stomach-churning stuff. And it is so amazing that Manfredi starts out drawing “Bride of Blood” with this beautiful, dream-like fairy tale atmosphere, and then she rapidly shifts to depicting gruesome violence. Likewise, in the second chapter Manfredi illustrates a lovely, idyllic winter landscape as the setting for Branwyn’s violent, blood-spattered vengeance. The coloring by Dorotea Gizzi, Andrea Priorini, Diego Farina and Manfredi herself certainly drives home the shocking dramatic contrasts.
De Campi’s final two part tale, “Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll,” is set in Oneida (that’s in Upstate New York, for all you provincial types). In a prologue set in 1725, we see a sect of devil-worshipping European colonists in an underground chamber attempting to summon the demonic Azaroth via a willing virgin disciple. Fortunately they are interrupted by the local Native American tribe who chuck a couple of barrels of gunpowder at the ceremony, blowing up the Satanists and sealing the cavern.
Flash forward to the present day, and the dark forces invoked centuries before have finally broken out due to a mining company engaging in fracking (see, the environmentalists were right, fracking is bad for the planet). The long-ago virgin sacrifice emerges, her body now inhabited by a monstrous being. She has a really nifty but gross trick, where she can twist her neck around 180 degrees and whip back her hair to reveal a gaping mouth full of spiraling razor-sharp teeth. This “Devil Doll” begins stalking the countryside, looking for a new virgin sacrifice, in the process slaughtering numerous innocents, turning them into her undead servants.
Close by, the teenage girls of Oneida Field Hockey Camp are welcoming a new recruit. Renae is a shy girl who really has no interest in sports, and is only there at her parents’ behest. When the other gals engage in a bit of minor hazing, Renae runs to the bathroom to hide. Tina, who projects an image of toughness & confidence, but underneath is a pretty decent person, goes to Renae and offers her some advice: “If you run away and cry every time you’re bullied, you will never ever stop being bullied…. Even if you feel like crying inside, pretend to be strong. Because here’s the thing: we’re all pretending. All the time.”
That night the girls, including Renae, head out via moped, looking for a place to hang out (De Campi stated in an interview that one of the reasons she asked Gary Erskine to illustrate “Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll” is because he knows how to draw mopeds). Unfortunately it’s a very rural area, and the only place open late is Wal-Mart. Some teenage boys also swing by the shopping center parking lot on their bicycles. The two groups start some cheesy flirting, but before anything can really happen, they are quite rudely interrupted by the Devil Doll and her enthralled disciples, still searching for a virginal victim. De Campi and Erskine give us some bloody devils & zombies vs. hockey sticks & guns action, as the teenagers fight off the hordes of Hell. We even get the best laugh-out-loud use of a Phil Collins song since “In the Air Tonight” in the 2002 comedy The New Guy.
De Campi continues the theme that she worked through in her first four issues, of outsiders and marginalized individuals stepping up to the plate to become the true heroes. During the time period that “Bride of Blood” is set, women are in a socially subservient role, with men assuming positions of power & influence. But it falls to Branwyn to take the initiative and avenge the atrocities inflicted upon her family. “Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll” shows the girls rescuing the guy, with quiet & introverted Renae finding the strength within her to help her new friends.
As with the first four issues of Grindhouse: Doors Open At Midnight, Francesco Francavilla and Dan Panosian provide alternating cover artwork. The one that really stood out for me this time was Panosian’s stunning, atmospheric illustration for the cover to Grindhouse #6. It is definitely tied with Francavilla’s cover from #3 for my favorite cover artwork from this miniseries.
Inside front cover artwork for all eight issues is courtesy of Marc Laming. Assembled together, they form a very twisted but cool exploitation image. I was searching about the Internet for a picture of the entire piece, but unfortunately I couldn’t find one. But definitely check out Laming’s website for plenty of other cool art.
Apparently Grindhouse sold pretty well, and so De Campi is pitching a “season two.” Hopefully Dark Horse will give her the green light. The book is such a fun and twisted homage to exploitation B-movies. At the same time, De Campi does superb work at genuine character development within her tales, along with genuinely witty, intelligent dialogue. The result is a very nice blending of subtle character moments, irreverent humor, and over-the-top sex & violence.