During Suspiria, Dario Argento’s Italian masterpiece from 1977 about a witches coven masquerading as a dance school, there is a brilliant, audacious moment concerning the fate of a blind piano player. It sticks in my mind even now as a perfect example of how a horror film should manipulate the viewer, undermine expectations and use it against them. Take away the safety net. There should always be a splash of madness in the best horrors too. Something that crawls inside your mind and takes up residence.
Scott Snyder and Jock’s comic Wytches opens with a similarly brutal scene that promises the rest of the story isn’t taking any prisoners, including you, the poor reader. Snyder’s fast-paced, twisted narrative borders on obvious, but is grounded by strong characters, the classic Gothic fantasy horror mirrored by real-world demons. It even captures a sense of childish fables, of being captured and eaten (hopefully quickly!). But these are not the cackling pointy-hatted cliches living in ginger-bread houses, but horrific elemental… things. They live in the woods, the very trees themselves and they can give you anything you want. For an awful price, that is. Perhaps the ending seems rushed and has to give in to more routine chills, but chills they are nonetheless and the great thing is that the groundwork has been set-up for wider universe. It’s clear Snyder has only scratched the surface of his own idea and these nasty creatures are dug in very deep.
Jock brings the story to twisted life; the Wytches themselves literally so. His art distorted and frequently, purposefully messy, almost a visual equivalent of some bastard running their nails down a blackboard, and as uncomfortable as it is engrossing. The collected edition doesn’t take too long to read, but promises to linger for a lot longer. Probably while you’re trying to sleep and ignoring that “chit chit chit” noise scratching at your door… Well, pledged is pledged, eh?
Why am I reviewing a comic when normally I’m waffling on about movies? It’s because there is nothing like Wytches in Hollywood and probably never will be. I strongly believe the glory days of real horror are behind us. Foreign work like Let The Right One In or little-known fare like McKee’s The Woman shows the talent is there, but mainstream has given in to sentimentality, remakes and diminishing sequels. I seem to have misunderstood the universally acclaimed Babadook, a film I found dull and lifeless. Clever it may be, but it lacks the substantial sense of dread that Snyder’s wonderful book generates.
I highly recommend picking this up. It’s not at all expensive, even the versions with the bookplates.