Slashers, by and large, are creatures of the cinema. And cinema breeds many things…trends, fads, new genres and subgenres…but beyond all else, cinema breeds fans. Fanboys….nerds. Cinema breeds nerds, lets not mince words. Hey, I’m a nerd, and I’m damned proud of it. And as many of you already know, nerds do more than just watch movies; where there are nerds, there are comics.
And so it goes, the slasher has spread far beyond the confines of it’s cinematic birthing place, and into the realm of four color slaughter. All the heavy hitters have comics of their own these days…Freddy, Jason, Michael (appearing in easily the best of the lot, I might add), Leatherface, even Chucky….but some real treats, as it so often happens with this genre, can be found in the off-brand entries in the slasher sweepstakes. To that end, we kick off what I hope to be a semi-regular collumn here at Retro Slashers with an examination of some killer, off-brand forees into the world of comic slashing!
Gutwrencher, a three issue mini-series written by Steve Niles, Kieth Giffen & Shannon Eric Denton, and illustrated by Anthony Hightower, quietly debuted in 2008 by Image/Shadowline to little fanfare or acclaim. Announced some years before it was ever completed or released, it seems to’ve been forgotten by the time a single issue had ever even come out. Which is a shame, because it’s a great little subversion/love letter to the classics of the slasher genre.
Coming off as a modern reinvention of Slaughter High, our story focuses on a bitter young man (who goes nameless), who grows more bitter still over having not been invited to the high school reunion.
Typically, this right here is enough to launch a vengeance-fueled murder spree, culminating in our pariah baring supernatural invulnerability and mowing down just about everyone who ever looked at him wrong.
However, things are a little different here.
Turns out, back in Ireland in 798 A.D., a murderous leper-priest, worshiper of foul earth gods, is captured and taken to the village “truth tree”…endure the tree, you earn your trip to Valhalla. Unfortunately, enduring the tree involves being disemboweled and having your organs nailed to said tree to receive judgment.
Well, out rotting priest does survive, calling down the wrath of his gods in front of the horrified Celtic warriors who mistakenly thought they’d just taken out the garbage. The priest grabs the sword (with which he was supposed to kill himself with, thereby earning his status as an innocent–remind me never to commit a crime in Ireland) and a pitched massacre ensues, ultimately ending with the bandage-wrapped fiend slaughtering the entire village, and hurling himself and his entrail-enwrapped chunk o’ truth tree into the ocean.
Funnily enough, our pissed off anti-hero, strolling in the woods to cool off after being snubbed for the high school reunion, finds the accursed log in a logger jam. In modern times. In America. Huh? Anyway, running his fingers along it’s nail-and-rune studded contours, he cuts his finger…proving to be very unfortunate indeed. Surging with rage and a hundreds-of-years-in-the-making curse, he abruptly slaughters his girlfriend, and just about any other living thing in his path, raids a fish & game shop for weapons, and sets off for the reunion to settle some old scores.
With that for a set-up, you can hardly go wrong.
Our protagonists are a typical lot, to be sure; a cast of Big Chill hangers-ons who reunite to relive past glories and rekindle past romances, they’re nowhere near as interesting as our crazed ”hero”, rapidly turning into modern mirror of his bandaged Celtic prototype, tossing out acidic wisecracks and shedding more plasma than your local bloodbank, and turning the secluded (really damned secluded…as in, surrounded by miles of forest and dwelling in the shadow of a cliffside lighthouse secluded) reunion grounds into his personal killing fields.
In yet another interesting twist, it’s ultimately revealed that the maniacal slasher was hated for a reason, having virtually assaulted a girl who shot him down for a date, and getting expelled in the process. Conversely, the brutal beating doled out by the “good guys” over the incident was needlessly savage in it’s own right, eliminating any clear-cut heroes or victims.
Full of surprises, unexpected character twists, a killer set-up and enough gore to satisfy it’s target audience and then some, Gutwrencher, in the right hands, would make a damned fine movie in it’s own right. As it stands, it’s a damned fine, already unjustly obscure (though that’s strangely kind of appropriate) bit of illustrated slasher horror that’s currently rotting in the back issue bin of your local comic shop. Track it down. Give it a chance. You might just be happy you did.