Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Oh It Feels Like Dying

Can't find any information about Oh, It Feels Like Dying, a novel by someone called J.J. Madison. It was reprinted several times through the 1970s under the wildly imaginative title The Thing, with requisite references to The Exorcist and The Other on the covers. In 1978, the publisher simply copped an image of actress Anouska Hempel from Hammer's Scars of Dracula (1970), subbing a lurid tagline for the "glittering world" one of the first two paperbacks. According to Vault of Evil, whatever the title it is essentially only a (terrible, at that) porno novel dressed up as horror. Alas, what could have been!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Someone Else Was Living in Her Body

Don't know anything at all about Anima, a 1971 novel by one Marie Buchanan and originally titled Greenshards. There's a whole Wikipedia article on it but it looks all spoiler-y. I dig the blue/brown/green eyes and yet find it odd that the paperback celebrates the fact that it's from the same publisher as The Other!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

More of the Evil Eighties Series

Be sure to check out my latest review in Tor's Evil Eighties series; it's of a novel by a writer new to me, England's Stephen Laws. His 1986 work Spectre was pure '80s horror joy!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Scars and Other Distinguishing Marks by Richard Christian Matheson (1987): Do the Ultra Twist

Long before Joe Hill made horror a family tradition, Richard Christian Matheson was born of legendary Richard Matheson and began cranking out short-short genre fiction that appeared in The Twilight Zone and Night Cry magazines and 1980s anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant, Dennis Etchison, and Stuart David Schiff. While his name alone could have gotten him published, Matheson garnered much attention in the field on his own skill for stripping his stories to the absolute bone, with some consisting solely of one-word sentences or very nearly that. During an era in which horror showed a tendency to bloat and stuffing, some editors and readers found Matheson's pared-down work refreshing, while still maintaining edge and bite. For a short while he was aligned with the splatterpunks, mostly because he was young and had a background in television (you know--so modern) and palled around with Skipp, Spector, Schow, et. al. My first experience with him was in 1986's Cutting Edge, which included "Vampire." It's just two pages of:

In the '80s I found it quite striking, and the title is more metaphor than literal. Today, I dunno, it seems more gimmicky than powerful. Which is the problem with Matheson's whole style of clipped brevity: does it engender more chills for the reader, is it essential to the story to be told so? What's frustrating about this wildly uneven collection (first published by Scream/Press in 1987, Tor Books paperback July 1988) is that the style is in service to stories that are threadbare and obvious, rife with twists and fillips that depend only on leaving out crucial details. Oh, the servant is a human and the served is a robot! Oh, they're not people, they're endangered whales! Oh, the little girl is death itself! If he'd just told us that stuff at the beginning then maybe there'd be an interesting story. Stories often end just when they should be beginning. They seem like tales told inside-out, writerly warm-up exercises to get to the good stuff. Except that never really happens, not like I remembered from first reading Scars in the early '90s.

Too many scenarios are redolent of moldy "Twilight Zone" and "Night Gallery" tropes: beware "Sentences," "Obsolete," "Intruder," "Beholder," "Incorporation." Did Rod Serling come over and babysit a young Matheson?! Treacly beyond endurance, "Holiday" rolls out a real Santa Claus, while the 60-page teleplay for an episode of the Steven Spielberg-produced '80s TV anthology "Amazing Stories" is well-nigh unreadable. Ballplaying kids and their grampas and dopey dogs in a Norman Rockell town... oh god, spare me. Please. Try to read "Cancelled" without cringing at the ridiculous slangy stream-of-consciousness and labored satire of crass network television shows. "Conversation Piece" was done with more subtle chills, sincerity, and thoughtfulness by Michael Blumlein with his "Bestseller." Graphic unsettling violence rears an ugly head--or ugly bump--in "Goosebumps," a bit of meta-horror that would be silly were it not for the image of a guy stabbing a butcher knife into his own mouth. It's still silly but now it makes you wince, so...

Is it ironic that "Graduation," which I'd read in Whispers, is probably Matheson's best work, and it was his first published? Written with strength and style and its only gimmick is the letter-writer's references to "you-know-who" and even on this second read I have no idea who that's supposed to be. Unreliable narrators can be great devices for horror but not when the reader has no way to grasp the truth. Still, I found it vivid and unsettling; "Graduation" has a precision that briefer works lack. Other standout works--the aforementioned "Vampire," "Mr. Right," "Red," "Dead End"--can be found in various anthologies. Editors chose wisely (Paul Sammon included the broiling, LA's burning, high-pressure radio-DJ nightmare "Hell" in Splatterpunks). I believe it was "Red" that got Matheson attention in the first place, and how could it not? It's about SPOILER a guy picking up parts of his daughter's mangled corpse off the road after he accidentally dragged her behind his car. Of course Matheson doesn't spell that out like I just did and while it's pretty shocking it kind of stretches the boundaries of belief. Would the police and EMTs even allow that?!

When you look at Matheson's TV-ography as a writer, it's prolific but the quality is actually rather dismal. Highlights include such well-loved but not terribly brilliant shows like "Three's Company," "Knight Rider," "The A-Team," and "The Incredible Hulk," as well as not so-well-loved and not terribly brilliant shows like "B.J. and the Bear" and "The Powers of Matthew Star." With that in mind, the horror stories make more sense: they're not changing the world, they're just entertaining you for 22 or 45 minutes or so. But they're entertaining you not because they've got a new vision; they're entertaining you because it's the familiar dressed up in unfamiliar garb. The only raison d'être is that twist, that surprise, so anything that would get in the way of that--character, dialogue, realism--is jettisoned. As I said, perhaps in the 1980s a writer could have gotten away with this--and obviously, he did!--but today, as a much more experienced reader and fan, I find Matheson's approach to horror fiction incredibly jejune.

I began to think of this collection as high-concept horror: ideas that seem intriguing at first but are little more than tiny gimmicks, not actual stories about real people and situations. His penchant for writing stories made up of one-word sentences is interesting at first, but when it's over you think, That's all? Despite the introductory encomiums from Stephen King and Dennis Etchison, I was very little impressed with Scars, and despite the Matheson family name, found it not very distinguishing at all.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cat Sound!

Another cover lovely from the untouchable George Ziel (born on this date in 1914). Cat sound indeed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Jack Cady Born Today, 1932

Read a nice little bio of the late Mr. Cady from Valancourt Books, who recently republished his well-regarded 1981 horror novel The Well. Cady was a beloved creative writing teacher in the Pacific Northwest and published works in the horror, science fiction, and historical fiction genres, as well as dark fantasy under the pseudonym Pat Franklin (with decidedly '90s cover art!).


Friday, March 13, 2015

More Evil Eighties

It's Friday the 13th! And there's another installment of Evil Eighties, my and Grady Hendrix's series over at Today my post is on the Hollywood horror of David J. Schow. Hope you've been keeping up with us--last week Grady reviewed the work of Elizabeth Engstrom, a writer I haven't featured on TMHF but hope to soon!