2023 / John Lees, Kambadais, Campbell / Vault Comics
I've been following John Lees' comic book career for a while now and he's come into his own style of horror/thriller. John has a knack for telling stories of the dark and wicked through the eyes of ever-lovable characters. From Sink to Mountainhead and even Hotell, I've enjoyed each gut-twisting ride. On this go-around, John intends to express some of his love and endearment for the horror movie medium itself, by placing his characters in the midst of the 'Video Nasties' era.
The art here fits the bill perfectly. It carries a childlike quality, which reinforces the coming-of-age tale we see laid out before us. The first issue introduces us to 'Thumper' and we follow him as he discovers a love for horror and falls into a group of like-minded individuals. Did I mention his imaginary friend is a slasher villain with an aesthetic akin to Jason Voorhees?
Red Ennis comes across as an endearing passenger in Graeme's / Thumper's story. A stake-wielding madman has never seemed so comical. The book opens with Thumper watching his favorite horror film, and then being ushered outside by his exhausted mother. Thumper discovers Red hiding in the bushes behind his home. By the end of issue one of THE NASTY I wanted more Red Ennis, hell, I wanted my own Red Ennis, as messed up as that may be. He plays a silent role, but his presence is just what Thumper needs to keep his confidence, like having an older brother.
"I have worked out the entire history of the LABOR DAY franchise in my head. The original LABOR DAY was the smash hit that made Red Ennis a household name. (...) As for the worst of the bunch? Depending on who you ask, that would be either LABOR DAY 4: GUTS PARADE, with its ill-advised musical number going down in schlock horror infamy--"
If you're an American who doesn't commit to understanding every facet of horror, then you may not be familiar with the term 'Video Nasties'. It is a British term that refers to low-budget horror and exploitation films that were passed around by fright hounds of the 1980s in the UK. We're talking about films such as The Evil Dead, Cannibal Holocaust, and the Giallo classic A Bay of Blood. These were all films deemed too violent or disturbing by the National Viewers and Listeners Association of the UK.
"And though the worst of the hysteria was passed by the time the ‘90s rolled around, its residual effects lingered. I still have memories, from the tail-end of the decade, of watching THE EXORCIST the first time it was allowed to air on British TV..."
There was a time when if something was labeled offensive or inappropriate there were many who vowed to expose its harmlessness. We see this crowd diminishing today. I haven't yet decided if this is due to PC culture, or the over-saturation of real-life horrors being exposed to the youth via the internet.
"Heck, a lot of those once-banned video nasties are now available to watch for free on YouTube! The genie is now thoroughly out of the bottle, with too many of us having access to the internet and all that brings with it to ever put it back in."
John Lees' storytelling leaves me happily reminiscent of my youth when my friends and I would sleep over at each other's homes and sneak in a horror film after the adults crashed. Those were the experiences that made me appreciate a true jump scare and enjoy a film that could be so terrible that you can't help but laugh and throw popcorn. THE NASTY wouldn't feel so wholesome without the fun and energetic artwork/colors of George Kambadais. THE NASTY will grab hold of every horror fan and insist they reflect on the early days of their movie-viewing experiences.
George's art has been featured in many comics from DC, Boom, and IDW. I'll definitely be checking out Batman: White Knight Presents - Redhood #2. Before THE NASTY, I wasn't familiar with his work, but I'll be keeping an eye out for his name from now on. John has just wrapped up his wrestling epic called The Crimson Cage which I've heard great things about. All of this is to say that John is a talented and busy man, and I was fortunate enough to get a couple of questions answered from him which you can find below.
Tomorrow, March 6th, is the final order cutoff of THE NASTY so I'm telling you now, don't miss this one. This comic is made by horror nerds for horror nerds and you need it on your pull list come April 5th. I had a great time reading the first issue and doing this write-up. What will Thumper, and Red Ennis get up to in the future? Only the creative team truly knows. But I'm sure it'll pay homage to horror classics, and I am here for it.
A Short Questionnaire With John:
Q: The term Video Nasty is of an era in British culture that still permeates today. What kind of censorship still exists in the UK and do you think it impacts the youth as it once did?
A: Thankfully, I don’t think that film censorship is quite as bad as it was when I was a kid. The moral panic surrounding the “video nasties” didn’t just extend to the banned films that retailers could be prosecuted for selling. Across the board, the bar for what was deemed suitable for home viewing became higher than what was suitable for cinemas. And though the worst of the hysteria was passed by the time the ‘90s rolled around, its residual effects lingered. I still have memories, from the tail-end of the decade, of watching THE EXORCIST the first time it was allowed to air on British TV, or of watching THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE on the first time it was allowed to air on British TV.
But back when I was a kid, the only ways of accessing films after they left the cinema were, 1) buying the home video from a local shop, 2) renting them from the video shop, 3) waiting for one of the four or five TV channels (more if you had satellite, which I never did as a kid) to screen them. Nowadays, there’s hundreds of TV channels, there’s numerous streaming platforms, there’s iTunes, I can go on Amazon and have access to thousands of films on DVD or Blu-Ray. Heck, a lot of those once-banned video nasties are now available to watch for free on YouTube! The genie is now thoroughly out of the bottle, with too many of us having access to the internet and all that brings with it to ever put it back in.
That said, censorship - and the regressive politics that goes along with it - are always looking for a foothold, and we always have to be vigilant. Here, in the UK, laws are being passed or debated to make it harder to protest, harder to strike. That’s censorship. And I know over in America, you’re dealing with book bans, and now drag show bans. That’s censorship, too. It’s all the same evil, often driven by the same motivations, just constantly looking for new targets to monster.
Q: Is there a film that you watched while you were young that you hadn't known the difference between a cut version and the ‘original’? How did that change your viewing of the film?
A: It’s not a horror movie, but one of my first experiences of watching a film and knowing it had been “cut” was ROBOCOP. I would have been about 4 years old when I first rented ROBOCOP from the video shop, and I thought it was the greatest film of all time. I watched that video over and over on loop. I’d rent it out, return it to the video shop, and rent it out again. I knew it inside out, every line. And then, when ROBOCOP aired on British TV, there’s a moment where Clarence Boddicker, after being arrested, spits blood onto the police desk and says, “Give me my freaking phone call!” And I immediately bristled. Because I knew every line inside out. I knew that he said, “Give me my FUCKING phone call!” And then, later in the film, the scene where Emil gets melted by toxic waste was missing, too! And even as a little kid, my instinctive reaction was anger at being talked down to, at someone (other than my Mum) deciding what was and was not suitable for me to watch.
Q: The ‘Labor Day' franchise (the franchise in which Red Ennis comes from in THE NASTY) can feel quite familiar to many of us horror junkies. In your cannon what installment of ‘Labor Day’ is the weakest, and why? For instance, ‘Jason Goes to Hell’ is notorious for being one of the weaker films in the Friday The 13th franchise.
A: I have worked out the entire history of the LABOR DAY franchise in my head. The original LABOR DAY was the smash hit that made Red Ennis a household name. LABOR DAY 3: BLADE OF THE PROLETARIAT wasn’t received too well at the time of its release, with Reagan-era audiences arguing that it got too overtly political in its depiction of Red Ennis as the vengeful totem of the worker, but it’s since come to be reappraised as the best in the series. As for the worst of the bunch? Depending on who you ask, that would be either LABOR DAY 4: GUTS PARADE, with its ill-advised musical number going down in schlock horror infamy, or LABOR DAY 6: THE RESURRECTION OF RED ENNIS, which clumsily retconned Red Ennis’s definitive death in LABOR DAY 5: THE FINAL CHAPTER through a combination of “it was all a dream” and a bizarre subplot involving aliens.
Q: In my teen years, my friends and I would gather around and watch the dumbest horror films, and we always had a blast. One of my favs is ‘Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings’. Do you have a favorite film that is so bad it’s good?
A: Oh man! There are so many glorious “so bad they’re good” horror films that I adore! I host a big Halloween party for my friends each year, and as part of it we have a horror movie marathon, ending with a Midnight Mystery Movie which tends to be something totally dumb or bananas. So, I have a whole library to draw from. But to name just one - and on a different day I could name something else - I’m going to highlight SLUGS, the 1988 creature feature directed by Juan Piquer Simón. That strikes a masterful balance between being genuinely stupid, and also genuinely an uproariously entertaining film. “Let’s get naked and crazy” is my “Here’s looking at you, kid!”
Q: I couldn’t help but notice that the film the teens are watching in the comic has nearly the same title as the 1973 film ‘The Creeping Flesh’ starring Christopher Lee. Can you speak on if that is simply a coincidence or if there’s more?
A: A nice pick-up! But no, if anything, the title HOUSE OF CREEPING FLESH came from ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH, a 1980 Bruno Mattei DAWN OF THE DEAD rip-off that featured on the video nasties list.
Thanks for reading, and have yourself a killer day!