Friday, June 1, 2012

Michael McDowell Born Today 1950

One of my favorite paperback horror authors that I discovered after starting Too Much Horror Fiction, Michael McDowell was born sixty-two years ago today. He died of AIDS in '99 but left macabre-pop culture an indelible imprint with having written the screenplays for Beetlejuice and Nightmare Before Christmas. Must-reads are his Blackwater series (I still have three volumes to go) and The Amulet, and I'm still waiting to get copies of his Avon novels Katie, Cold Moon over Babylon, and Gilded Needles. How much I look forward to reading them! Today however I've satisfied a McDowell reading jones with "Miss Mack," his first short story (he has not even a dozen), published in Alan Ryan's 1986 anthology Halloween Horrors (October 1987 Charter paperback below).

Is "Miss Mack" any good, worth tracking down Halloween Horrors itself (it appeared absolutely nowhere else), since there was no collection published of McDowell's short fiction? I'd have to say yeah, having just had my spine snapped and my blood chilled to zero by this charming, disarming tale. More Southern folk in some dire straits, meddling matriarchs, and other welcome and effectively unsettling trademarks of his novels. Complete with a merciless, literally unforgiving climax.

McDowell also wrote for the better-remembered-than-watched late-'80s TV creepfest, "Tales from the Darkside." A handful of his screenplay-to-story adaptations are included, although I'm not sure how essential this 1988 Berkley paperback is. I never knew about till earlier today! So... you're welcome?

12 comments:

Sidney said...

I always enjoyed his work. I read his Blackwater saga in one long dose one winter, and it remains one of my favorites - great Southern Gothic reading.

Doug said...

I read the blackwater series back in 83 when I was stationed at Ft. Huachuca Ariz. and was working in the Hospital there. I had my tonsils removed and since they needed to keep beds filled for budgeting reasons and because I was already working there) I ended up being kept for 3 weeks and got to read the entire series during my stay. Even though it was a wee bit too soap opera(y) for my tastes, I still enjoyed it immensely. I find it so sad that the single way for new generations of readers to enjoy so many good storytellers is only by digging up old out of print books that will most likely never ever be reprinted.

Doug

Jose said...

I've recently been watching a lot of Tales from the Darkside, and McDowell wrote one of my favorites from season two, "Halloween Candy." What's cool is that it recycles the All-Hallow's-Eve-purgatory theme from "Miss Mack." Watching it again, at night, made for some genuine chills. There's just something about living out that one moment on a constant loop, and how brilliantly McDowell achieves it, that is so wonderfully unsettling. Happy Birthday, Michael!

HemlockMan said...

First stumbled upon McDowell's work with the Blackwater series. Great pulp writing at its best.

The short story stuff, though...I haven't read those, didn't even know about them!

Another of my favorites from him was TOPLIN.

Will Errickson said...

Hey Hemlock, I read and reviewed TOPLIN awhile back... you can find it on this blog. I'm still reading BLACKWATER!

Doug Brunell said...

This is quickly becoming my favorite site!

43410c0e-6bb3-11e1-b8d0-000bcdcb8a73 said...

I've actually been on a real McDowell kick lately, reading The Elementals (which is like too much to give a believable review), Gilded Needles (which was well-written, but emotionally ugly), and Cold Moon Over Babylon (which was also, emotionally ugly & mean, but whose second half had some of the first-rate supernatural vignettes that i liked in The Elementals). As it happens, two weeks ago, I picked up Halloween Horrors, Tales from the Darkside, and Demons & Dreams, which together collect all of McDowell's short fiction. I look forward to them, but probably won't get around to them for a while. After I finish The Amulet (which I'm profoundly enjoying, and about a third of the way through), I feel like I should take a break from McDowell—too much of a good thing, you know.
Anyway, thank you for the fine blog.

Will Errickson said...

I liked THE ELEMENTALS a lot, but not as much as THE AMULET. COLD MOON is one of the books I'm most excited about reading and reviewing for the site. Sounds amazing. Thanks for stopping by!

The Groundskeeper said...

I read Katie on a whim a while back, having read none of McDowell's other work and being familiar with him only through his contributions to cinema. It is a strange book--somewhat Dickensian, with its epic period story of an orphan trying to survive on her own, but infused with elements of the Gothic and the grotesque with the inclusion of a strange hillbilly family (including the titular Katie, who likes to kill things with a hammer) dogging her at her every step. It's an odd mix of sensibilities, but it works pretty well.

jeannet still said...
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Rob said...

I still need to read Katie and The Amulet, otherwise I've read all of his horror/suspense stuff and enjoyed each one (with the exception of Gilded Needles - agree w/ the reader above that it's just unpleasant). Everyone should read The Elementals and Will, I can't believe you haven't read the rest of the Blackwater books yet! I plowed through them in a week a couple years ago. Very enjoyable stuff, esp. volume 3.

Will Errickson said...

Rob, I'm trying to make 'em last! Been reviewing the series one at a time...