Kids need a little nightmare to balance out their dreams. They can take it. We spend so much energy coddling to their welfare, worrying about their futures, that we bar them from the harsh reality of mortality. You’ve only got one life. Use it, and use it well.
My childhood was solidified with dark bouts of horror, ranging from holiday excursions with Gremlins to suburban sieges with The Monster Squad. Not only did they offer a taste of a feast that would eventually spread into Alien, The Shining, and Hellraiser, but they taught me the value of the life I had. Whether its the Creature from the Black Lagoon snagging me while I exit a Burger King or the heart attack time bomb hidden within the Whoppers themselves, Death is coming. Be prepared.
The husband and wife creative team of Liz and Jimmy Reed, better known as Cuddles and Rage, get it. They’ve built a mini-industry around mixing the adorable with the horrible, fashioning disturbingly cute stories that eek smiles from flesh riddled with goosebumps. We’re incredibly excited to offer the first glimpse of their new graphic novel horror anthology Bites of Terror: 10 Frightfully Delicious Tales to be published by Quirk Books in March of next year.
You are invited, by the spongey and delicious Cake Creeper, to partake in a lavish banquet of food-related fables with origins sopped from the plates of David Lynch, Dario Argento, and William Gaines. The 10 tales are painstakingly crafted via sculpture and photograph and explore topics as wide-ranging as the marital plight between an ice cream scoop and their cone when a devilish cupcake crosses their path to a widowed watermelon’s regret after regrowing her spoiled husband from his leftover seed. The stories are sharp, wicked, and hilarious.
Bites of Terror may not sound like a snack you’d give your kid, but like the best films from Pixar and Laika Studios, Cuddles and Rage excel in evenly distributing flavors to please seemingly conflicting palates. Little junior may miss the nods to William Friedkin in “Deviled Egg,” but they’ll be dying over the fork puns, and so will you.
“We have a good gut instinct,” says Liz. “We want there to be a reason behind everything that happens.” The jelly donut doesn’t have his insides expelled simply for the snark. There’s a saga being told. A gag being twisted into purpose.
“Everything should be fair game for a kid because that allows the opportunity for somebody to come in and explain why this happened,” she adds. Every tale is a conversation to be had and a lesson to consume. “We don’t need to sugar down this stuff or water it down. When I was a kid reading horror — R.L. Stein, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Goosebumps — it gave me a moment to self-reflect. What would I do in that situation? I think that a lot of these characters are in horrible situations. So for kids to put themselves in that position, or an adult even, anybody of any age, it really makes you think about the characters differently.” The wants and terrors of cookies and bagels are your wants and terrors.
Liz and Jimmy are ravenous cinema hounds. They eat everything up, especially when enraptured with a project. “We had a lot of fun talking about Brian DePalma when we were working on this,” says Jimmy. “We definitely did some faux split-diopter shots throughout the book.”
Constantly on the hunt for online and store sales, whenever the opportunity strikes, Liz and Jimmy stuff shopping carts with Vinegar Syndrome, Arrow, and Criterion Blu-rays. Among the wide range of auteurs who fall under those labels are the creators that spark their grandest imagination.
“We love Giallo!” exclaims Liz. “We love how it is bright, beautiful horror, and not enough people know about that genre or completely understand it.” Bites of Terror explodes with passionate vibrancy, highlighting scenes of culinary violence with a searing halo of color. “That’s Giallo. It was the perfect inspiration for us to play with our color palettes in the horror genre. So you’ll see a lot of dark, dark scenes with bright pink lights or bright, beautiful purples. All that came from the influences of those films.”
But blood saturated landscapes were not the only realms to hold sway over their artistry. “We want the pops of color that Technicolor film provides,” says Jimmy. “We’ll watch All That Heaven Allows and then Suspiria because of how their color influences the story mood and changes your feelings of the whole experience.”
At one point in their process, Cuddles and Rage considered actually shooting their graphic novel in Technicolor. “Then with a little research into the work behind Technicolor,” says Liz, “you understand why it went away. You’re like, ‘This is so hard.'” Still, the dream remains.
“You don’t want to create something where it’s this predictable pattern,” says Liz. “That would get boring fast.” To aid in that, they dug into every horror anthology at their disposable: The Vault of Horror, Tales from the Hood, Black Sabbath, Tales from the Crypt, etc. For Bites of Terror, they knew they needed a powerful wraparound story to tie everything together, and with that wraparound, they demanded the tastiest of ghoulish hosts: The Cake Creeper.
“We wanted to make sure that he had his own story,” says Jimmy. “As we were drafting these ideas, we were trying to keep that in mind. That’s where our device of having these artifacts end up in the hands of a collector came from. We then had to make sure that was kept solid as we worked through the other stories. We didn’t want anything straying too far from being able to tie it all together.”
Every little piece of the Cake Creeper’s design speaks to his backstory. “I really wanted him to look like a groom’s cake,” explains Liz. “Which took us down this background wedding story, and we were like ‘Let’s not go there.’ That eventually led to him owning an inn.” With that in place, they got to work making him as gross as they could. “We had a lot of mold on him in one design,” she adds, “but then you think about the logistics of managing every element that you put onto him.”
As the star of the show, the Cake Creeper was going to be placed in front of the camera multiple times. Gotta keep him fairly simple. “It was really important for us that he had a little bit of chocolate in there,” says Liz. “A little bit of a yellow cake. Not quite white icing, but gross sickly grayed-out icing. The idea of him only having one eye, being half-eaten, was locked in pretty early on. It didn’t feel like it would work right to have this creepy, perfectly designed cake telling you these horrific stories.”
Bites of Terror is a genre blend carefully considered, and seemingly designed for the movie weirdos that skulk the darkest corners of eBay on the hunt for out-of-print DVDs and even the more sordid VHS. It deals in the grim of humanity but never loses itself to its misery. “The way that we describe it is quirky stories with heart,” says Liz. “So, you might be chopping somebody up in a blender, but you’re doing it with love. You’re doing it for a reason. That’s really important to us because that’s what makes it fun.” If that doesn’t scream Brian DePalma, then nothing does. “We need to do a Cuddles and Rage take on Body Double, just saying.”
Bites of Terror will be published by Quirk Books on March 24, 2020.