Monday, April 9, 2018

The Secret of Life and Death

Mad science doesn't get much more maddening than this creepy classic from the October 1953 issue of Chilling Tales #17, featuring stiff, but still strangely effective art by Steve Kirkel. And FYI fiends: there's a Kirkel story in the new issue of HAUNTED HORROR #33 in stores this week as well-- get all the gory details in our very next post! Stay tombed!













6 comments:

Mr. Cavin said...

Great story, excellent horror! I didn't recognize Steve Kirkel's name, so I used the handy keyword tag at the bottom (thanks Nequam!) and checked out the only other one at THOIA, a perfect storm of precode details about a severed hand (fights dog!). I dug that story, too. But I always get a little suspicious with art like this. Kirkel never seems to employ the same shading technique twice, for example (check out the second panel of page three), making the different elements look like they were pasted together from somewhere else. Too many different line widths varying from object to object have the same effect. He also seems to have a completely different comfort level rendering realistic stuff--furniture, people, cars--than more fanciful bits--fire, lab weirdness, environmental elements. It leads me to believe that, you know, like a lot of artists (like me, even), he's got a drawer full of fashion mag cutouts and Sears catalog furniture pages to use as art models. So when he draws form those sources it looks one way, and when he draws from his imagination it looks another.

Then I get to page five and it's amazing! Just totally graphic and harrowing and made even worse somehow because I already know it smells bad. (I also like the groovy doorknob panel on the page before--a rare emotionally subjective image in a pretty rigid visual scheme.) But then there it is at the bottom of the page: The professor's head is the same one from page three, panel three. Only the eyes have been whited-away so they can be redrawn to look in the other direction. Ha!

Mestiere said...

"My house smells like Auschwitz. I think I'll hire a secretary".

This is one of those cases were the protagonist is rather incidental to the outcome since it looks like the corpses would have turned against the doctor as soon as they were reanimated. It's like what they said about Indiana Jones not making a difference in Raiders of the Lost Ark, he couldn't keep the ark away from the Nazis and they would have died anyway as soon as they opened it (I disagree, Indi saved Marion in Nepal and took possession of the ark for the US).

Seeing those reanimated arms reminded me of the Clive Barker story The Body Politic were everybody's hands rebel against the tyranny of the brain. Look it up, it's a lot of fun.

Morbid said...

A good story. Impressive atmosphere of dread. Mr. Cavin gives a good discourse on the art, so I won't go on about the unusual mix too much except to say that his stiff figures and meticulous awkwardness really makes the attack of the reanimated body parts creepy and effective!

Brian Barnes said...

Mr. Cavin pretty much covered the art, but I'll add a couple other notes: Some interesting camera angles, and the artist would make some pretty impossible architecture to get some good shots (especially where staircases were involved.) That's a good thing, I don't mind some twisted rooms.

I do like the smoke covering up the naughty bits, and one zombie having a towel :)

This is a really creepy and effective story. It seems pretty run of the mill but once you get in the lab, it's great!

glowworm2 said...

Reasons why our hero should have immediately left instead of taking the job: 1. the house looks like something out of a horror movie.
2. Creepy mad scientist.
3. Immediately entering the house, a scream rings out--and the employer denies hearing one.
4. Suspicious vault-like door that smells like rotting corpses.
5. Creepy scientist insists that he's on the verge of successfully creating life.
6. The Bluebeard-like rule of the forbidden room.
As if those weren't enough reasons not to stay--then the one night the hero can't sleep, the scientist bring some body home--and no--that's not a typo either!

Grant said...

With or without them being the inspirations, I can think of a few stories this one really resembles, like "Return of the Sorcerer" by Clark Ashton Smith and "Herbert West, Re-Animator" by Lovecraft himself.
It even looks ahead to "The Frozen Dead," especially the ending.