Misty and the Many Faces of 1970s Horror

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A woman leans against a tree as bats swirl in front of a full moon. Her long hair is loose, her nails perfect and she surely is wearing a robe from her coven (indicated by the star pendant hanging from her neck) or the trance nightgown she had worn that night when she started awake after a terrible dream–or was it a vision or a memory of disaster? She is Misty, the hostess of Misty magazine, drawn by Shirley Bellwood. And she is well within the tradition of mysterious women on Gothic covers throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but she forgoes the foreboding old house with the single light amid its darkened windows. It’s a tradition with cars, often huge cars, and bouncing and behaving bangs and transistor radios, but still the beating heart of Gothic horror is there. Is the woman evil? Is she mad? Do those around her mean her harm? What do her strange visions and dreams mean? Who is that woman in the portrait?

Misty (Rebellion, 2016), reprints two stories from the eponymous British horror anthology. Pat Mills conceived of  Misty as a companion to Rebellion’s science fiction anthology 2000AD. 2000AD is still running strong, and just celebrated its 2000th issue. Misty ran for just shy of two years between 1978 and 1980. It was an anthology of horror and supernatural stories designed to appeal to girls and young women. The book contained serials, one-shot comics, text stories, activities and, in this particular collection, the Devil’s cake recipe. Along a brief history of the book, some of the activities and recipe, Misty reprints two serialized stories: “Moonchild” written by Pat Mills with art by John Armstrong; and, “The Four Faces of Eve” written by Malcolm Shaw with art by Brian Delaney.

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Misty is a part of a long tradition of horror anthologies, dating back to Die Orchidengarten, EC comics, Warren’s Vampirella, and continuing today with Dark Horse’s latest iterations of Eerie and Creepy and IDW’s reprints of horror and weird romance comics of the 1950s and 1960s under the Yoe Comics imprint. (You might remember the ventriloquist romance comic from, “The Gaping Maw of Horror Wants to Kiss You”).

Misty is also a product of the horror of the time—the nervous, miasmic Gothic horror of the 1970s with its paranormal and psychic phenomena, its nervous breakdowns and cults. And all in a context made ever more realistic by something as simple as more mobile cameras and naturalistic cinematography replacing the lovely and lurid set pieces of 1960s technicolor Gothic wonders like Corman’s series of films inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.* The late 1960s through the 1970s had a lot of American and British horror dedicated to the fears of women, both women’s fears in a time when they couldn’t have credit cards, bank accounts or apartments in their own names, when they had little control of their own bodies and marriage itself was deemed consent for all sexual activity and rape was a corrective for frigidity or queerness; when troublesome women could be committed to asylums or consigned to experimental surgeries by their fathers or husbands. And the horror reflected a lot of fear of women just when women were becoming liberated.

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There are some of the old Gothic tropes, the old woman, creepy mostly because she is old, the childless woman, the mannish woman who harbors antisocial desires towards someone else’s wife, fiancée or girlfriend, the woman who has sexual desires, the foreign woman, the woman who is not white or middle class or straight or young or cisgendered. The rapacious woman who might steal some man’s job or wife or home. And Misty feels very much like late 1960s and 1970s cinematic horror–films like: Carrie (1976); Rosemary’s Baby (1968); Audrey Rose (1977); The Exorcist (1973); The Fury (1978); Don’t Look Now (1973); Burnt Offerings (1976); and, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971).

Really fine panel work.

Really fine panel work.

“Moonchild” and “The Four Faces of Eve” were modeled on horror movies. In fact, Pat Mills explicitly constructed “Moonchild” around Carrie.

It was the last few weeks before I left 2000AD and I was looking forward to starting work on my next creation: Misty. I took the title from the film, Play Misty For Me and my plan was to use my 2000AD approach on a girls’ comic: big visuals and longer, more sophisticated stories with the emphasis on the supernatural and horror. My role models were Carrie and Audrey Rose, suitably modified for a younger audience.  John Sanders and I had several meetings to discuss its content and we could both see how it could be a hit; potentially bigger than 2000AD as girls comics sales were always higher than boys.

While the name of “Moonchild”’s heroine, Rosemary Black, evokes both Rosemary’s Baby and  actress Karen Black, Mills asked Armstrong to model Rosemary on Mia Farrow, but on Farrow as Rosemary before she has her hair cut in a stylish Vidal Sassoon pixie cut. Rosemary Black also has her hair cut, revealing a crescent moon-shaped mark on her forehead that she had apparently never noticed, but her mother long dreaded. Rosemary is ostracized by her schoolmates and targeted by the sadistic Norma, who reminds us repeatedly that Rosemary needs to be beaten for being weird. Despite–or perhaps because of–her mother’s beatings and denial of all technology in the home, Rosemary develops telekinetic powers that seem to become stronger as the moon waxes.

In “The Four Faces of Eve,” Eve Marshall recovers in a hospital after an accident that has required extensive surgery and leaves her with amnesia. Her dreams of a plane crash begin to bleed into her waking life. Despite her loneliness and fear, her father, a brilliant surgeon, and mother are strangely aloof. She has the fingerprints of another girl and an old woman faints on seeing Eve, claiming that she’s the very image of her grand-daughter. Eve’s only pleasure comes from her recently discovered love of cats and her desire to see the circus. As she becomes more afraid of her parents, Eve eventually asks a young woman who had befriended her in the hospital for help. But this young woman is a clown.

“Moonchild” is the structurally stronger story. It is stronger, in part, because it has fewer influences and is clearer on what it borrows from, say, Carrie set in an English school among working class kids. “The Four Faces of Eve” has an appealing madness about it, though. I never really knew where the story was going and was always curious. It has more parts from more diverse elements sutured together: amnesia, disaster stories, mysterious dreams and seeing terrible visions, references Universal horror movies from the 1930s and to multiple personality stories like The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and Sybill (1976), and, not to put too fine a point on it, clowns. With this many diverse parts, it’s harder to make a completely smooth story. But “The Four Faces Of Eve” is an interesting one. I admire it for its daring alone. It’s wonkier but there’s just always something appealing about a Franken-mix.

*Here I’m going to suggest you read Horror Editor Angela Englert’s lovely piece on adaptations of Poe.

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Carol Borden started awake to discover herself in a diaphanous chiffon nightgown, having written this whole article as if in a dream!

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