Interview: Suicide Squad Creator John Ostander and Tom Mandrake on Kros: Hallowed Ground - Dread Central
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Interview: Suicide Squad Creator John Ostander and Tom Mandrake on Kros: Hallowed Ground

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Writer John Ostrander and illustrator Tom Mandrake are an established duo in the comic industry, and having worked together on multiple series including The Spectre, Batman and Martian Manhunter, they are now using KickStarter to bring their latest project, Kros: Hallowed Ground, to life.

Ostrander is also the creator of Suicide Squad, which unless you’ve been living in a cave on Mars, you will know is being turned into a film out next year. How satisfying it is to see such a great creator having his work receive such widespread recognition.

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Dread Central: Firstly, what is Kros: Hallowed Ground?

John Ostrander: Kros: Hallowed Ground is a 128-page graphic novel by me and Tom Mandrake. We are legendary. Folks may know us from our work on GrimJack, Firestorm, The Spectre, The Kents, and Martian Manhunter, as well as a Batman or two. The story is set during the American Civil War at the Battle of Gettysburg. Two sets of battles are being fought: the battle between the armies of the North and South during the day and another at night, when vampires come to prey on the wounded. Blood calls to blood, and the vampires come like carrion predators to prey on the weak and dying. Opposing them is the vampire hunter, a damphyr, known as Kros. He has many of the vampires’ abilities and few of their weaknesses, but if he should ever taste human blood — the blood of the innocent — he himself could become what he hates. As it is, he is a man with an obsessive mission – killing vampires.

Tom Mandrake: Kros: Hallowed Ground is a horror story set during the Battle of Gettysburg, but our focus is on Major Kros and the vampires he has been drawn to this place to destroy. His past is complex—born nearly 200 years before the events of this story, Kros has been pursuing vampires for most of his life. He has seen many of the other damphyr he has known fall to the temptation of human blood. Intent on the mission that seems to forever be before him and drawn to this place by the same scent of blood as the vampires, Kros is on the verge of losing his own humanity. It is a struggle he might not win.

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DC: Is crowdfunding the best way to get original independent comics off the ground?

JO: We think so. We hope so. We have a fan base, and we’re going directly to them to try to make this happen. I’ve worked for a lot of companies and I’ve enjoyed it, but for Kros we want to control the whole thing. With everything else we’ve done, it’s time Tom and I did a creator-owned story, and I’m very excited to be doing Kros!

TM: I’ve done all sorts of comics for established companies, horror, superhero, movie adaptations—everything—and I’ve had a blast drawing all of these books!  But Kros is the kind of story that you don’t see very often in mainstream comics. It’s an unusual meld of history and the supernatural. Mostly, we didn’t think that the story of Kros would fit well within any established universe, so we decided to strike out on our own. Given that both John and I have worked in mainstream comics for over 30 years, it’s probably the one big thing left on both of our creative bucket lists!

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DC: Can you talk about the vampires of the world that you are creating?

JO: We’re old school. Our vampires are monsters; they’re predators. They suck the life out of you. Monsters are important; monsters show us the dark side of our own natures. Trying to soften that, to make them sexier or tragic romantic heroes, for me misses the point. The better the monster, the better we see ourselves in that dark mirror. Vampires are devoid of love; they know only feeding, what they want. We live with many vampires today; they just don’t all have fangs.

TM: The vampires in Kros are very traditional in the sense that their roots go back to when vampires, ghouls, werewolves and their kind were considered to be one and the same. All of them wanted to kill mortals and steal what makes you human. They’re the alpha predator – fierce, amoral killing machines. They take you away from yourself and leave a shell that seeks sustenance for it’s own survival.

DC: Is Major Kros more of an anti-hero?

JO: Kros himself, having vampire blood in him, is also a monster. He is hyper-focused on his self-appointed mission – all vampires must die. He is isolated from others and he’s done that to himself. He is in danger of losing the human side of his nature.

TM: I’d say that Kros is an anti-hero. He’s a monster fighting monsters. The war means nothing to him. Human beings mean little to him, and yet, he finds himself fighting to save humanity from more terrible monsters than himself. I’d say, in that respect, he has some of the true hero in his nature as well.

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DC: How will the Civil War setting be utilized?

JO: As I’ve said elsewhere, all wars are horror stories. Brother was killing brother in the Civil War, and that’s nightmarish to start with. The battle at Gettysburg took place in several locations around Gettysburg and lasted three days. At different times Tom and I have both visited the battleground, and you get a sense of the size and the scope of the fighting. The place is haunting and haunted, and we intend to work that eerieness into the story.

TM: There are aspects to the Battle of Gettysbrug that really hit you at your core—like the choking amount of smoke from the gunpowder, the sheer number of dead, the streams that ran red with blood. That’s real horror. We Americans learn all about the events that took place at Gettysburg in history class—the names, the locations, the troop movements, but can we ever really understand the magnitude of what happened there? I don’t think most of us do.  In Kros we add a layer of supernatural horror which, for me, is a way of comprehending it all.

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DC: Can you talk about the style of artwork?

JO: Tom’s artwork is creepy and spooky and eerie, but also downright beautiful. No one’s art in the comics field today looks like his. No one. It is elegant even when he’s freaking you out. It’s classic; you can go back to the masters of EC and Warren and see their artistic DNA in Tom’s work. The storytelling is concise, the characterization is profound, and the effect is incredible. Actually, just look at it, look at the sample pages, look at what he’s done in the past; and you won’t need me to tell you how wonderful it is. It’s right there on the page.

TM:  I traveled to Gettysburg for inspiration late this past spring. I want to be able to capture the misty quality of the light, the rolling fields, the harsh rock formations at Devil’s Den, the eerie quality the light has at sunset. My job is to translate all this into art. I am really excited about this challenge! My daughter, Sian, is doing the colors on Kros. We talked a lot about capturing the feel of the era by toning the color toward grayed out sepia tones with hints of color like old-time hand-colored photographs.

DC: The two of you are known for creating new series and characters that go onto become iconic, such as Grimjack. How do you approach an original idea and turn it into something that is bound to be memorable?

JO: The way Tom and I approach an original idea is to explore it. You kick it around and discuss the ramifications of what you’re establishing. Tom and I take our different strengths and talents and then pool them. You ask questions – how is this different. What tropes do we use, which ones do we downplay? Ultimately, why should it matter? Why should the reader care? Each answer begets more questions and you follow those answers as well. It can be a lot of fun and that’s important; if we aren’t having fun, it’s guaranteed that the reader won’t have fun. With Kros, Tom and I are having a lot of fun.

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DC: Also, you’ve collaborated on many occasions so was it a natural decision for you to work together on Kros?

JO: I really enjoy working with Tom and jump at any opportunity to do so. We were actually looking for something to do together and wanted to combine two areas in which we are fascinated – the Civil War and horror stories. As these things sometimes do, we were talking together, and Kros eventually emerged as the result.

TM: Working on Kros was definitely a natural extension of our other collaborations—which were always exciting and a lot of fun!  Kros started out as a Western, but the more John and I explored the character, we determined that we wanted to place this story during an event that had historical importance. The Battle of Gettysburg came up, and we realized that what happened there would work incredibly well for the story.

DC: Can we expect to see more of Major Kros?

JO: There are other stories we can tell – assuming he survives this one.

TM: While Kros’ future isn’t guaranteed, we do have about 170 years of his past to explore. I would love to be able to tell those stories!

DC: As Suicide Squad, which you created, is headed to the big screen, is there any chance of Kros being turned into a movie?

JO: Oh man, I’d love that. Nothing planned at the moment, but we can hope. We always hope.

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Fearsome Facts – Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

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Sir Christopher Lee returned to portray the charismatic count of Transylvania in Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) for the first time since taking on the iconic role in 1958’s Horror of Dracula – an eight year absence. 

And while Lee endured a love/hate relationship playing the Carpathian Count over the years, the actor reluctantly tackled the role a total of 10 times for the Silver Screen. Three of those performances came outside of the purview of Hammer Horror, but this list is dedicated to the first Hammer Dracula sequel to feature the return of Christopher Lee in the lead role.

Now, here are 5 Things You May Not Know About Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

5. Dracula: Speechless

Dialogue never played a crucial part in Christopher Lee’s portrayals as Count Dracula, but this film is the epitome of that contentious notion. Lee doesn’t utter a single word during Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ 90 minutes of run time. In interviews over the years, Lee said that he was so unhappy with his lines that he protested and refused to say them during the filming process. “Because I had read the script and refused to say any of the lines,” Lee said in an interview at the University College of Dublin.

However, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster insisted that the original script was written without any dialogue for Dracula. There was even a theory that circulated for a time which postulated that Hammer could not afford Lee’s growing salary, so the studio decided to limit the Count’s screen time. Did this lead to the demise of Dracula’s dialogue? Regardless of whom you want to believe, Dracula is the strong, silent type in Prince of Darkness. 

4. Double Duty for Drac

Hammer Film Productions doubled down, so to speak, on the production and post-production aspects of Dracula: Prince of Darkness. First, the studio filmed the vampire flick back-to-back with another project titled Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966). In doing so, Hammer used many of the same sets, actors – including Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer – and crew members to shoot both motion pictures.

Second, Dracula: Prince of Darkness was featured in a double billing alongside the film The Plague of the Zombies (1966) when it screened in London. Insert cheesy cliche: “Double your pleasure, double your fun with Doublemint Gum.” 

3. Stunt Double Nearly Drowned

Dracula: Prince of Darkness introduced a new weakness in the wicked baddie, but it nearly cost a stuntman his life. During the film, it was revealed that running water could destroy Dracula. Wait, what? Apparently, leaving the faucets on at night not only prevents frozen pipes, but blood-sucking vampires, too.

All kidding aside, it was during the climactic battle scene in which Christopher Lee’s stunt double almost succumb to the icy waters on set. Stuntman Eddie Powell stepped in as the Count during that pivotal moment, as Dracula slipped into the watery grave, but Powell was trapped under the water himself and almost died.

2. Lee Loathed What Hammer Did to Stoker’s Character

Christopher Lee’s return to Hammer’s Dracula franchise was a stroke of genius on the part of producers, but Lee was more than a little reticent when it came to initially voicing his dislike for playing the iconic role. As mentioned above, a lot of speculation swirled around the lack of dialogue given to Lee in the Prince of Darkness script. And if you don’t count the opening flashback sequence, which revisits the ending of Horror of Dracula (1958), Count Dracula doesn’t appear on screen until the 45-minute mark of the film.

Dracula’s lack of character, and presence, began to affect Lee particularly when it came to signing on to play the character in the three films following Prince of Darkness. Indeed, the lack of meaningful character development led to Lee initially turning down Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Scars of Dracula (1970). Lee said in countless interviews that he never got to play the real version of Count Dracula created by Bram Stoker, at least via Hammer Studios. This was a true disappointment to the late actor.

But Hammer guilt Lee into taking on the role over and over again, because the studio claimed to have already sold the aforementioned films to the United States with Lee’s name attached to the projects. Hammer informed Lee that if he didn’t return the company would have to lay off many of their workers. The tactic worked, since Lee was friends with many of the Dracula crew members. Fortunately for fans, Lee kept coming back for blood.

1. Faux Pas

Outside of the character of Dracula only appearing on screen for the last half of the movie, Dracula: Prince of Darkness had even more pressing issues that unfortunately survived all the way to the final cut of the film. One of the most appalling of these occurrences happens during the picture’s climatic confrontation. Watch the skies above Dracula and you will see the trail of a jet-engine plane staining the sky.

Another faux pas occurs in this same sequence when Dracula succumbs to the icy waters. Watch closely as the camera’s long shot clearly reveals the pivots holding the ice up underneath Chris Lee. Finally, watch the dead girl who is being carried during the opening funeral sequence. She is clearly breathing and quite heavily at that.

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Which Dracula: Prince of Darkness moments did you find the most interesting? Were there any obscure facts you would have enjoyed seeing make our list? Sound off on social media!

 

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Carnivore: Werewolf of London Howls on VOD

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Joining the ranks of The Curse of the Werewolf, An American Werewolf in London, The Company of Wolves, and Dog Soldiers, Carnivore: Werewolf of London is the latest in a long series of fantastic British werewolf movies. Directed by Knights of the Damned’s Simon Wells, the film focuses on a couple trying to save their relationship by taking a vacation in a remote cottage, but rekindling their old flame soon proves to be the least of their worries as they learn that something with lots of fur and lots of teeth is waiting for them in the surrounding woods.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London stars Ben Loyd-Holmes, Atlanta Johnson, Gregory Cox, Molly Ruskin, and Ethan Ruskin, and is available to purchase now on Google Play, Amazon Video, iTunes, and Vudu, although it doesn’t appear to have received a physical release as of yet.

More information about Carnivore: Werewolf of London is available on the film’s official Facebook account, along with a ton of production photos.

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John Carpenter … NOT DEAD!

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We currently live in a world of false alarms. Within the last several days we’ve suffered everything from warnings of doomsday to Rotten Tomatoes accidentally celebrating the passing(!) and career of the very much still alive John Carpenter.

That’s right, kids; earlier today RT tweeted, “John Carpenter would have been 70 years old today! We celebrate his birthday by looking back at his five favorite films.” The tweet… has since been deleted.

We are here to tell you… John is very much alive! Alive and well, even. Carpenter himself responded on Twitter by alerting the site that “despite how it appears, I’m actually not dead.

This is great news indeed. One of horror’s best and brightest is still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Now then, let’s take this time to celebrate the man’s birthday PROPERLY by talking about our favorite films of his. Speaking personally for myself…

Prince of Darkness is a movie that both unnerves and scares the hell out of me. One of Carpenter’s most thought-provoking works is just as frightening now as it was when we first received that grainy transmission as a dream from the year…

Tell us your favorite Carpenter movie in our comments section below.

…and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOHN!

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