Friday, March 30, 2012

Dennis Etchison Born Today, 1943, and More!

Birthday greetings to horror editor and author extraordinaire Dennis Etchison. Above is the 1984 Scream/Press hardcover of Red Dreams; the paperback edition has been on my want-list for awhile now. Below are Shadowman (Dell/Abyss Feb '93) and California Gothic (Dell '95), which I have not read. But his The Dark Country made my best-of-2011 list, and Cutting Edge is a very good, very eclectic '80s horror anthology.

On to other stuff: how about some horror fiction help? Couple emails I've received in the past month or two here:

Nick writes of a book, about a family moving into this house and they had a son who seemed to be the protagonist that had to deal with the monster or ghost. Cover was a picture of a house and I believe the house was twisted and looked like some kind of demonic face...

John writes, A family moves to New England. Wouldn't you know it, the oldest son soon grows distant and more reclusive, eventually moving into the basement. The family is content to leave him down there, listening to his music and being a teenager. Eventually he paints the basement all black, blacks out the windows, etc. At the climax of the novel, a parent (the mother?) goes down there to find that he is just about to open a portal to hell, assisted by a few red-robed supernatural beings doing some kind of supernatural incantation over a supernatural altar. The parent is able to disrupt the ceremony, portal to hell closed, fin.

The book would have been published in paperback sometime between 1994-1996. As I recall, the cover was purple with the outline of a house in the foreground.

Also: yesterday I spent three hours at the Wake County Public Libraries Booksale - and oh my god, what vintage horror paperback treasures I found! I wasn't in the horror section but oh, five seconds before I'd found several of my most sought-after titles. Many were in mint condition, as if they been vacuum-sealed for decades. You fellow obsessive book-buyers will know the feeling of disbelief and excitement that accompanied my visit. Tables and tables of paperback horror amidst tables and tables and tables of books in an enormous warehouse. Gobsmacking. You'll have to wait, though, to find out what I bought - all for $2 each! Right now I'm in the middle of a Dell Abyss paperback as well as reading stories in another great anthology. Hope to have some reviews up by next week!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Two from Fred Saberhagen's Dracula Sequence

Recently I acquired two titles in Fred Saberhagen's Dracula Sequence series: the first one, The Dracula Tapes (Tor reprint May 1989, originally from 1975) and the third, An Old Friend of the Family (Tor reprint March 1987, originally 1979). Has anyone read 'em? I know Saberhagen is more of a science fiction writer than horror, but after I loved Anno Dracula I have to say, I'm not sure if I want another "re-imagining" of Bram Stoker's great villain - could it possibly be as good as Kim Newman's? Really, can anybody recommend these one way or the other? The cover art, by Glenn Hastings and Joe DeVito respectively, isn't quite doing it for me: it's too obvious, too determined, too specific, and man what is up with this vampire chick's Vulcan ears?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Headhunter by Michael Slade (1984): I Guarantee You That It Ain't Your Day - Chop Chop!

I got more than I bargained for with Headhunter, the debut novel from Michael Slade (a pseudonym for several Canadian criminal lawyers, mainly one Jay Clarke). It's much more complex and wide-ranging than I'd anticipated, less cheesy, smarter and more ferocious too. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are after a brutal killer in Vancouver who decapitates women, sometimes sexually assaulting them, then places their heads on spikes... and then takes a picture of that to taunt the law with. The RCMP team is led by the haunted Robert DeClercq, a great and respected detective who retired after a tragedy involving his wife and daughter; he is now back doing what he does best. But at what price?

UK paperback reprint, 1993

What feels like dozens of characters and impressive set pieces of murder and fright are crammed into the 420 pages, as well as lots of detailed forensic and surveillance science. Decades-old events feature into the narrative, some more obviously than others. Great details of Vancouver city life, of New Orleans decadence, of frigid 19th century Canadian wastes are presented in which the reader can get lost. There's a voodoo ceremony and LSD trips and whole lot of graphic S&M and mutilation. The author(s) even throw in '70s British punk rock, using the Clash's tipply classic "Jimmy Jazz" as a clue (the lines "Cut off his ears and chop off his head/Police come looking for Jimmy Jazz...").

Overly-literal 1985 cover, Star Books UK

Slade's novel is a melange of behind-the-scenes police procedural, horror fiction tropes like decapitation and voodoo ceremonies, and true-crime serial killer exposé. But Slade definitely goes for a supernatural mood in several scenes despite writing a an otherwise completely realistic, if overheated, thriller. You won't find that in James Ellroy's works, when he upped the crime-horror ante with novels like The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential; I suppose that's why Slade's books were generally found on the horror shelves. The cover of this Onyx paperback from '86 is creepy but not all that eye-catching, although I'd say the quote from the author of Psycho is apt.


Anyway, there was lots to like about Headhunter, it definitely brings the '80s horror goodies, but by about page 300 I was a bit exhausted. I didn't mind the textbook-like pages on voodooism, serial killer psychology, the cannibalism of Native American tribes, even the international drug trade (this is one of those novels that includes a bibliography). But the scale, the twists, the complexity started to wear on me. Characterization is rich in some places and quite thin in others, and that narrative that skips about had me flipping back through pages, trying to remember someone's name or some plot point I might've only skimmed. Slade has continued in cult popularity, still writing, still publishing gruesome crime thrillers, and I remember seeing lots of his books around back in the day (Ghoul from 1987 seems to be a particular favorite of horror fans). Headhunter is pretty cool indeed but be prepared for some iffy acrobatics as Slade tries to keep you guessing to the very... last... page.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hearts Full of Hell: Horror Anthologies of the 1980s, Part 2

More modern horror mayhem in the form of short stories by all our favorites! Bookstore racks in the '80s were crammed full of anthologies published by Tor, Pocket, Berkley, and Avon Books; more, too, as everyone wanted in on the horror craze. Short fiction in particular highlights the genre, of course, and rather than simply anthologizing old classics by Lovecraft and the like, which seemed to be the standard for books in previous decades, all the newest - and biggest - names were featured. Some names have lasted while others, alas, have not. You'll see that the covers vary widely in quality and "quality."

Editor extraordinaire Etchison went far and wide for his three-volume Masters of Darkness (Tor 1986 - 91), culling good old stories from Nigel Kneale, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson, as well as newer works from Clive Barker, Lisa Tuttle, and Joyce Carol Oates. The covers aren't exactly eye-catchers, and I haven't included Volume II because frankly that cover sucks.

Now these New Terrors (Pocket 1982 - 84) from Ramsey Campbell, that's more like it! I particularly like the woman's blonde hair fanned out on the pillow as her bed comes alive... As for that poor guy who's become a monkey necklace - oof. Gotta find out which story that appears in!

Really boring covers for the unimaginatively-titled Modern Masters of Horror (Ace 1982/Berkley 1988). I had no idea Romero wrote any stories... who's read it? Also contains stories by Masterton, Laymon, Hallahan, and Davis Grubb, who wrote the original novel Night of the Hunter (1953), as well as one of my most desired books (most desired because I came across a paperback copy about five or six years ago and didn't buy it), Twelve Tales of the Supernatural (1964).

Oh man, hilarious. Skulls and eyeballs once again!

I rather dig these covers, both by Tor regular Jill Bauman, for Grant's Midnight titles (Tor 1985/1986), although that first one is kinda tasteless in a somewhat sexist way, what can I say? The creeepy clown is a great touch though!

J.N. Williamson published the best of the best in his Masques series that ran throughout the 1980s, but only this last Best of was published in paperback in the States, in '88. Looking at the contents, I know all the names but not all the stories. Has anyone read King's "Popsy" from '87? I've been hearing about it for, oh, 20+ years...

Tropical Chills (Avon 1988) features lots of science fictioners like Brian Aldiss, Pat Cadigan, George Alec Effinger, and Gene Wolfe (been meaning to read all those writers!). I've seen it on various bookstore hunts but never pick it up; Koontz's name on the cover turns me right off. Thanks but no thanks!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Orphans by Ed Naha (1989): Me, Mom, and Daddy!

This cover for Orphans, a novel I've never heard of by an author I don't know (Naha worked in the record industry in the '70s) is a new favorite. Those half-skull faces are damn creepy (no luck finding the artist)! Anyway, I had to share this cover art as I put together another post on '80s horror anthologies and then finish a pretty intense serial killer/police procedural novel for future review. But what's Orphans about, you ask? Well, evil kids of course:

It was a beautiful autumn night in a tiny upstate New York town. Everything was picture-perfect. Except for the children.

The first graders at the exclusive Roth School had apple cheeks, innocent smiles, and hearts of pure evil. And day by day, as the children acquired superhuman strength, as they developed strange, unnatural desires, that evil grew.

Pretty young Kate Winston couldn’t stop the children - or the terrible things they were destined to do . . .

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hellbound Hearts: Horror Anthologies of the 1980s

Ah, '80s horror anthologies! These were really my favorites back in the day when I was working in a used bookstore and reading horror fiction with an all-consuming appetite. I ordered these titles like crazy, waiting impatiently for the UPS guy to arrive with boxes of new books ordered from Ingram and Baker & Taylor, ready with the boxcutter to slice 'em open and get at the goodies inside. First up? Why, it's Hot Blood (1990) from Pocket Books! Stories of horror and sex and their twining, by Harlan Ellison, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, Graham Masterton, Ray Garton, David J. Schow, Skipp & Spector - oh my cup it do runneth over! I didn't know who Jeff Gelb was, but my days as a teenage Jersey metalhead had made me familiar with Lonn Friend, who edited the essential metal mag RIP.

Of course the Hot Blood series turned into quite a long-running one as the 1990s wore on; there were myriad ways to make sex and horror mix and mingle...

The Night Visions series, originally published in hardcover by specialty horror press Dark Harvest, were reprinted in paperback by Berkley. Lots of great names here, although I really only read a very few.

This series also continued into the '90s. Night Visions 3 from '86 was the first appearance of a little novella by Clive Barker called The Hellbound Heart; I think it was the basis for some movie or other.

Now we reach the Borderlands, and here there be dragons. I will always remember this great series for introducing me to Poppy Z. Brite, Karl Edward Wagner, and Joe R. Lansdale, so as you might imagine, it holds a special place in my own hellbound heart! (Oh look, it was originally published in October 1990 - no matter, it was the '80s up till at least Nevermind, if not Pulp Fiction, hope you don't mind me mixing my pop cultural metaphors.) The Borderlands went on for another four or five books, and were even reprinted by specialty gaming publishers White Wolf, and editor Thomas Monteleone started his own Borderlands Press. I simply must replace my long-gone copies for a reread.

As a young burgeoning liberal dude with female friends who all wanted to be writers (Anais Nin, to a one!) I consciously branched out with Women of Darkness (1988), and recall the bizarre delights of tales by Nancy Holder, Kit Reed, and Elizabeth Massie. Indeed there was a sequel to this as well, but I don't think I ever read it.

Whispers began as Stuart David Schiff's labor of love magazine, then in the late '70s became paperback anthologies, which were reprinted in the '80s by Jove Books, as you see here. Love the tormented silvery faces (predicting the covers of the Dell/Abyss series to come; the artist is Marshall Arisman). The stories herein seem to be much more quiet horror, and names like Charles L. Grant, Robert Aickman, Fritz Leiber, William F. Nolan, Alan Ryan, Manly Wade Wellman, Dennis Etchison, Campbell, Wagner, and the like predominate. Pretty sure I read some of this stuff well before I read even any King, but damn that was a long time ago.

Of course Texas born-and-bred Joe Lansdale his ownself edited an anthology of western-themed horror stories! Nicely titled too: Razored Saddles (1989). This one was labeled as "cowpunk" on its spine, a jokey nod to splatterpunk. Now honestly I've never really cared about westerns at all - something about all that brown dust, brown sand, brown storefronts, and brown horses bores me to impatience (the brown liquor's okay though) - so I've never read this one at all. Surely one of you folks out there has.

Other '80s horror anthologies that I've already reviewed: Cutting Edge (1986), Prime Evil (1988), and Silver Scream (1988). Which ones did I miss?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Keeper of the Children by William H. Hallahan (1978): On the Highest Trails Above

At first glance - and at second and third - this George Ziel cover for Keeper of the Children, the fifth thriller from William H. Hallahan, seems silly and absurd and inconceivable. Surely it represents nothing that could possibly appear in a novel for adults, could it? Well... it certainly does. It is an exact representation of a scene from late in the book. And Hallahan improbably makes it work. He's got folks astral-projecting - not too '70s now! - into all manner of objects animate and not, like children's toys and feral cats and in one terrifying scene, a scarecrow. You can read it all on the back cover here, if you want:

Fourteen-year-old Renni Benson and her bestie Pammy Garman have "willingly" joined a panhandling Philadelphia cult led by a Vietnamese refugee named Kheim, a Buddhist monk. Lots of other young teens have done the same, and their heartbroken parents see them on the well-evoked dirty Philly streets begging for coins in worn-out clothes. Several of these parents form a committee to get their kids back after learning what a danger Kheim is, but apparently back in the day cops weren't too weirded out by such occurrences. Indeed, Pammy's mother and father don't seem too concerned, even relieved, since now they can indulge in more gin on the rocks and spousal abuse, respectively. Even Eddie Benson, the hero and Renni's father, doesn't seem nearly as worried at first as you can imagine a parent would be today. It's a little jarring to a modern reader, even one without children.

1978 Gollancz UK hardcover

I think this was common coin in the early to mid 1970s: after the murderous Manson girls and groupies you had the Moonies and the Hare Krishnas, and at least in big cities, runaway kids joining these cults, too young and naive and perhaps even strung-out to realize they were being used and exploited by con men operating under the guise of New Age-y enlightenment. That must explain the parents' early reactions to their missing kids. Anyway, when Benson learns that Kheim is a master of astral projection, he visits a yogi named Nullatumbi, who puts Benson to some serious training of his sloppy Western mind, introducing him to psychokinesis and out-of-body experiences and all that kinda stuff so Benson can do astral battle with Kheim. Not too '70s now indeed.

1978 William Morrow hardcover

Hallahan, who wrote one helluva good chilly occult suspense novel called The Search for Joseph Tully, is a careful and serious writer, making the absurd plausible and wringing satisfying suspense out of it. When Benson finally masters astral projection, we feel the spooky endless emptiness of outer space itself:

...he saw the multitude of stars that surrounded him. He seemed to be crossing an entire galaxy. Now the pain came. It focused at one point - a paralyzing, unforgiving point of pain. He'd stopped in the midst of the stars, a throbbing point of pain in the universe attached to a thin silver cord that meandered away in the dark... If the cord had broken, he was dead, never to reenter his body. And his presence would wander in space forever.Link1980 Sphere UK paperback

That is what Benson is risking when he goes to rescue his daughter. Heavy. There's also an excellent bit of literal cat-and-mouse (well, rat) violence, a sequence that I suppose made sense in those Watership Down days. But I feel like Keeper could have been a longer novel, as it's not even 200 pages in this Avon paperback. I could've used more background on the cult, on Kheim, on what the children truly experienced as they were "kept." It feels a bit thin and a tad underdone in spots; even Benson seems somewhat of a cipher. I think Keeper of the Children will provide enjoyment for folks who like this kind '70s occult fiction, but for me, I much preferred The Search for Joseph Tully.

William H. Hallan