Over the holidays, I had the pleasure of seeing the revival of Follies on Broadway, starring Bernadette Peters and Elaine Paige. It was brilliant and devastating and made me bitterly question all the choices I’ve made in my life thus far, which is exactly the sort of entertainment I crave on Christmas Eve. But what does that have to do with Screamland, an irreverent look at the lives of some famous movie monsters? More than you may realize.
Screamland is the brainchild of writer Harold Sipe and artist Hector Casanova and makes this simple, but effectIve proposition: what if movie monsters were real? Sipe casts the most famous movie monsters of all time (Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, Wolfman and the Mummy) as social outcasts who suddenly find wordwide popularity thanks to the early days of Hollywood. But, just like everything else in Hollywood, their fame has an expiration date, and the most famous monsters in the world soon find themselves relegated from celebrity status to camp, obscurity and worse (yes, monster-themed adult movies are a thing).
Now, in the computer-generated world of modern entertainment, the big guys are poised for a big comeback, the chance to make a cameo in a manga-inspired blockbuster. Can they keep their personal problems, addictions and secrets in check long enough to make the return? Or will they be chased out of town by a torch-wielding angry mob…again?
Frankenstein’s Monster is an alcoholic, haunted by the memories of the men whose pieces make up the whole of his parts. Wolfman has his own inner demons, as he struggles with anger management and being relegated to con appearances to make a living. The Mummy lives in exile, in Egypt, having been named a person of interest by Homeland Security in the US after 9/11. Dracula has fared only slightly better, thanks to his hypnotic charms and ageless appeal. Still, the rumors that there’s more in his closet than his cape threaten his lifelong career as a famous “lady killer.”
The Screamland Volume One trade paperback collects issues #1-5 of the series, which effectively sets up and completes the main introductory story arc. Towards the end of the first act of Follies, the showgirl turned TV actress Carlotta performs the show-stopping number, “I’m Still Here,” an anthem about the ups and downs of show business. Throughout Screamland, each of the veteran monsters gets his own “I’m Still Here” moment, and we get a funny, yet poignant look at the blood-soaked inner workings of the Hollywood machine, which is unpleasant enough if you’re a leading man, let alone a monster.
While Sipe’s dialogue is crisp and clever, he injects just enough melancholia and sadness to keep the conceit from turning into a one-joke parody. Casanova fuses pop, gothic and noir together to create a world that’s rich, textured and haunting, yet still fun. It’s a good pairing between artist and writer and establishes a surprisingly realistic world that feels tailor-made for an eventual movie adaptation.
Though fans, technology and show business have moved on without them, the monsters of Screamland are determined not to be forgotten. And if they have to kill, maim or make deals with the devil, they’re not going anywhere. “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen ‘em all, and my dear…I’m still here.”
My copy of Screamland was a gift from Sexy Comics Monger. However, if you’re not lucky enough to have a Sexy Comics Monger of your own, you can find it online or at your local comics shop. The second Screamland trade paperback will be available on January 17.
P.S. It might interest you to know that in the original run of Follies, Carlotta was played by none other than Yvonne De Carlo, aka Lily Munster from The Munsters. How’s that for a little musical/monster synergy?