"Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight: Volume 1" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Originally published as Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight #1 - #4
Written by Alex de Campi
Illustrated by Chris Peterson and Simon Fraser
2013, 130 Pages
Trade paperback released on July 16th, 2014
There is something so beautifully filthy about classic exploitation movies. Whether it's the shaky camera work, the poor film quality, or the over-the-top sex and violence, it all adds up to a fun experience. Writer Alex de Campi has translated that into comics with Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight. The series ran for eight issues, comprised of four two-issue stories. The first two (Bee Vixens from Mars and Prison Ship Antares) have been collected in a special double feature from Dark Horse Comics.
Before even getting into the stories, I want to note how much care and detail went into this book. There are posters for fake movies that serve as coming attractions. I hope that some of these will eventually be turned into future Grindhouse stories because Swamp Tramp and Jackie Lantern sound awesome. These are shown on pages that look like they've been folded or stained, adding to the exploitation feel. Don't worry, the actual comic pages look fine.
Now, on to the show. First up is Bee Vixens from Mars, illustrated by Chris Peterson. This is definitely my favorite of the two stories and it is a great opener for Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight. It's set in a small town in the Southern US where a bunch of alien bees begin laying eggs in the male population and taking control of the women. One-eyed, Latina Deputy Garcia is not going to let this stand. She takes the fight to the bees with guns, flamethrowers, and a bitchin' motorcycle.
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Bee Vixens from Mars encapsulates everything I love about this genre. It's sexy and violent and over-the-top, but most of all, it's fun. You can't help but read this comic with a smile on your face. I found myself repeatedly saying how cool it looked while reading it, which was awkward as I was at the gym. (Yes, I read this in public.)
Peterson adds a constant level of terror throughout the comic. You know from the first page that something is wrong in this small town. There's something off. As the bees gain control of more of the population, the scares are amplified. Bee women fly out to tear people to pieces. New bees are born after hatching inside a man's body, flying out of every orifice. There are some great subtle shots too. When Garcia burns a nearby bee's nest, it goes up in flames with a monstrous face screaming "RAAA!" This just adds to the demonic tone of these creatures.
Although Bee Vixens from Mars is dripping with sex, Peterson didn't give away the cow. Instead, the artwork teases, showing just enough to keep you glued to the page. Naughty bits are cleverly hidden in shadow or with long hair. Don't get me wrong though. This book is filthy.
The other half of the double feature is Prison Ship Antares, and it is a completely different tale. This follows a group of prisoners aboard a space ship headed out to colonize a far off planet. When the ship drifts beyond radio contact with Earth, the warden decides to "purify" the inmates in some pretty heinous ways. The convicts lead a revolution against the guards to take charge of the ship or die trying.
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Prison Ship Antares wastes no time getting to the action. You're given just enough information on each of the inmates to get an idea of what to expect before they start kicking ass all around. These women have been treated horribly by a crazy warden and they're ready to get payback. There's torture. There are naked women fighting guards. There are all kinds of bloodshed. And it's all in space.
Little is shown about the mission itself or how the ship was built, but it doesn't matter. The people are the story. Almost the entire tale could be taken and set in a prison anywhere on the world and it would be as effective.
Simon Fraser's artwork pulls you in to the human angle with the prisoners and then occasionally reminds you that these inmates are flying through space. There are panels that put all this in perspective, showing how small the ship looks when compared to the vastness of space.
Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight is a damn fun read. This is the kind of comic that I wish went on forever. The stories are often ridiculous and over-the-top, but that's what makes them so enjoyable. It doesn't take itself too seriously and instead just revels in the beauty of the genre.