Friday, May 23, 2014

Your Future's in an Oblong Box

Simply j'adore! The malevolent glee on dude's face - as well as his early '80s blowdried locks - and the distressing POV sell Unholy Mourning (Dell, 1982) completely (thanks to Evans Light for another great scan). Author David Lippincott wrote a handful of other genre novels but would you believe his primary career was as a composer?! Go figure, right?

Sounds like pretty generic supermarket checkout horror fic, but... Jorbie? I'd still read it though.

OK, this is the 1983 UK edition from Corgi, and you just know that's stepback cover art under the cover, you can see there the terror-struck eye, but I can't find the image anywhere... Argh!

Update 5/25: Thanks to a FB pal, here's the stepback for the Corgi edition!


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Is This for Real or Just Some Kind of Hell

You tell me!

Seriously though how can  you resist this stepback art (artist unknown)? Read a review however in which the reader lamented that this scene never appears in the book! Ha. And thanks to Evans Light for the incredible scan.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Alan Ryan born today, 1943

Eighties horror scribe Alan Ryan was born May 17, 1943, in the Bronx, and died in 2011. He left behind an under-appreciated legacy of horror fiction, both short stories and novels, and was an editor of some great skill, most notably putting together the Penguin Books of Vampire Stories in 1987. Below you'll see his hardcover-only short-story collections Quadriphobia (Doubleday 1986) and The Bones Wizard (1988), which I haven't read.

I've reviewed two of his Tor horror novels, Dead White (1983) and Cast a Cold Eye (1987), and recommend both to readers looking for quiet, unassuming and atmospheric scares. Panther (Signet 1979) and The Kill (Tor 1982) remain on my find-and-read list; then you'll see a sampling of covers for his holiday-themed Halloween Horrors from '86, and you can read a good review of that one here. You find any Ryan's titles on your used bookstores searches, grab 'em!

 
 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

John Saul: The Paperback Covers

Disclaimer: I have never read a word of John Saul's paperback originals. He's not an author I think of as horror, but you wouldn't know it by the stacks of his titles in used bookstores everywhere. He's one of those boring brand-name writers whose derivative potboilers instantly hit the top of the bestseller lists (or at least was), but he's never been part of the horror community, nor has he ever even been nominated for a Bram Stoker award and he certainly doesn't show up at horror conventions. Saul's work isn't collectible because there are millions of copies of his books everywhere, no specialty publisher is putting out $100 hardcover reprints of his early novels, and no major movies have been made from anything he wrote. In a 1990 interview with Stanley Wiater for Dark Dreamers, he reveals he's only seen two horror films and never reads horror fiction. Errr....

To me Saul is simply a hack whose publishers slotted him into the formulaic baby-in-peril/possession crap subgenres, with no relation to our actual beloved horror fiction tradition (market-based tradition, sure!). The Gothic romance novel, which had been so popular in the late '60s and early '70s, was on the wane as more modern and/or more graphic books and movies like Rosemary's Baby, Audrey Rose, and The Exorcist - and, yes, a little thing called Carrie - became enormously successful; looks like Saul's paperback originals sprang from these wells, amping up Gothic-y terrors while still appealing to a readership made up mostly of housewives and teenage babysitters. None of Saul's titles never even came close to appealing to me!

Saul always seemed to me more akin to a Mary Higgins Clark or V.C. Andrews than a Stephen King, and I always hated selling his shit to self-professed "horror" fans when I was working in bookstores while better books went unbought. And the nursery rhyme-style titles alone!

I've resisted featuring him on TMHF for all these reasons. Sure, it's prejudiced to bitch about Saul without having read him, but I'm speaking of my impressions based on years of working in bookstores and reading horror and understanding something about how publishers market their books, particularly during the paperback horror boom. Saul's books come across as mere product, not as authentic horror fiction.

But my archival impulse is strong, and the paperback cover art is so perfectly vintage, that in the interest of completion, I give you this John Saul paperback covers post, with his titles from 1977 to 1988 (his covers got a lot more boring after that). These are all first editions, first from Dell and then after he became successful, Bantam even published a couple in hardcover first. Nathaniel (1984) has my, uh, favorite cover art here.






Unloved cover by Lisa Falkenstern

Friday, May 9, 2014

Hot Blood, ed. by Jeff Gelb & Lonn Friend (1989): Heaven's on Fire

It's a no-brainer that horror and sex  are a popular pairing. A thrill is a thrill as far as our central nervous systems are concerned, and we can look to Freud and other psychologists and philosophers to intellectualize the seeming contradiction. As for as our beloved horror fiction goes, vampirism is the most obvious, and dare I say popular, manifestation of this theme. Fangs penetrating flesh and the sucking out of lifeblood barely counts as symbolism! But for 1989's Hot Blood anthology  from Pocket Books (alternately subtitled Tales of Provocative Horror or Tales of Erotic Horror), editors Jeff Gelb and Lonn Friend have chosen no real vampire stories... which I think was smart. Other horny creatures are slinking through the night, sure, but no Draculas or Lestats here. There've always been anthologies of great tales of vampire action, but the "erotic horror" market was, as a separate publishing entity back in the '80s, barely existent. Way to find a hole and fill it guys.

The authors included are a veritable who's-who of '80s horror fiction, which meant I was on top of this release immediately back in the day, although I don't recall reading it all. However I certainly never associated McCammon, Etchison, or Wilson with erotic horror, but I was willing to give 'em a shot. I liked seeing Harlan Ellison in a horror anthology, as his stories of adult relationships seemed always tinged with a loneliness and a darkness that, if presented just so, could be horrific. Ramsey Campbell had already produced his collection Scared Stiff, while Gary Brandner, Ray Garton, and Graham Masterton had all written overtly sexual horror fiction (hell Masterton was once an editor at Penthouse and had written a handful of popular sex manuals!). So, on we go...

 
First up is "Changeling" from old pal Mr. Masterton.  Set-up you've heard: Englishman away from home on business, meets too-hot-to-believe woman who - shock of shocks! - wants to fuck him. He can't stop himself. What horror ensues may be too literal but Masterton's  approach to sexual politics and gender identity - "Because it doesn't matter how beautiful a woman you are, or how rich a woman you are... Not even the poorest, most downtrodden guy in the whole world has to endure what women have to endure" - seems almost prescient today. A solid start to the anthology.

Signet '75... but of course

"The Thang" from all-American boy Robert McCammon kinda comes off like EC Comics porn: it's juvenile and silly, there's no reason for the extreme punishment for a guy who's just lookin' to... well. I think other readers will like it more than I did, though, because it does exhibit a ridiculous kind of charm. At the other end of the spectrum is  Richard Christian Matheson's "Mr. Right," which exists in that uncomfortable world of non-PC desires and behavior. Like most of his fiction, it's barely three pages long, but packs an illicit wallop. Indeed, one woman's horrifying Mr. Wrong...

Not all the stories are original to Hot Blood; Gelb and Friend looked backward as well. From 1962, "The Likeness of Jenny" by the estimable Richard Matheson is a cool, calm and plainly written story of (prefiguring King tales like "Nona" and "Strawberry Spring") an undeniable criminal urge. The comeuppance is implied, and the more chilling for that.

Major SF/F author Theodore Sturgeon appears with "Vengeance Is." (period included), a 1980 story that might be the best in the anthology. Told with muscle and imagination mostly through dialogue, it's a harrowing story of sexual assault, with a perfect reveal in the final line, like so much of vintage genre fiction. Modern readers might think it a bit gimmicky, but I felt Sturgeon's style mitigated that. Another 1980 tale from a major SF/F/and whatever else author is Harlan Ellison's "Footsteps," written in the front window of a bookstore (a stunt he performed many times). Claire is a woman of the world, and now is in the City of Light, preparing for a meal...

Her orgasm was accompanied by a howl that rose up over the Seine and was lost in the night sky above Paris where the golden sovereign of the full moon swallowed it, glowing just a bit brighter with passion.

 
 1989 chapterbook

Unmistakably Ellison, it is beautifully written, darkly witty, expertly conveying Claire's loneliness and fear and hunger. A winner for sure, even with an ending that might leave some scratching their heads.

Masques editor and prolific author J.N. Williamson gives us "The Unkindest Cut," which concerns a vasectomy *shiver*. Not bad, but it simply reminded me of  an anecdote Stephen King tells in Danse Macabre about an old Arch Oboler radio program and an unfortunate day at the dentist... Editor Gelb himself contributes "Suzie Sucks," in which we get a pure example of a primal male fear (an image that appears in a couple stories here, bet you can guess what).

"Aunt Edith" by the recently-late Gary Brandner, whose first novel The Howling was powered by a very strong and effective erotic charge, sets up a scary/sexy scenario. A young man meets his girlfriend's voodoo-practicing aunt, who turns out to be well-nigh irresistible. It all ends as a dirty tasteless joke but it actually works. F. Paul Wilson, who I'm not a fan of, presents "Ménages à Trois," about a crippled old woman and the young man and young woman who tend to her, and her shocking manipulation of their teenage desires. Not bad, standard '80s fare with that little zing at the very end.

Several entries I was familiar with: Dennis Etchison's story from '73 before as it was included in his collection The Dark Country. May I quote myself? "I adored 'Daughter of the Golden West,' which begins as a Bradbury-esque fantasy of three college-age men (the collection is dedicated to Bradbury) and ends with a revelation of one of California's greatest tragedies." Exactly the same goes for Les Daniels's "They're Coming for You" (in Cutting Edge), Lisa Tuttle's "Bug House" (in Nest of Nightmares), and David J. Schow's "Red Light" (in Lost Angels). All fine, good stuff!

"Punishments" is the most depressing story, another of Ray Garton's broadsides against the oppressive Seventh-Day Adventist faith he was raised in (and later rejected). No stranger to the mingling of sex and horror - not erotic horror - Garton presents a sad, fatalistic short that reveals how abuse is handed down, how it exploits ignorance, how its effects pervert a healthy curiosity, how the innocent are made to be guilty through not fault of their own. It pulls no punches. Ouch.

Other stories by the usual horror suspects - Campbell, Bloch, Skipp and Spector, Rex Miller - who twine sex and death in their own recognizable styles, the effects of which range from quite good to simply okay. Then there was the sensitive if perplexing "Carnal House" from the generally reliable Steve Rasnic Tem... necrophilia right? Oh well.

2004 Pinnacle Books reprint

Successful enough that it became the first of a long-running series, Hot Blood provides decent horror entertainment, with a smattering of true gems. These gems understand the id of our sexual selves from experience, not just fruitless imaginings. Several of the stories, while not outright duds, combine sex and horror in a clumsy, even trite, manner and aren't erotic at all (provocative, I suppose, yes). Some use an easy narrative trick, to greater and lesser effect, to get men understand what it's like to be a woman, that of physical or emotional transference. And I certainly would have appreciated a Thomas Tessier or Poppy Z. Brite entry (Tessier appears in a later volume, and female writers appear as well), two writers whose tales of eroticized horror are smart, sly, and modern, and lack that regrettable obsessive adolescent tone that mars the underwhelming stories here. But rereading it 20-odd years later, I still think Hot Blood is a worthwhile addition to the groaning shelves of '80s horror anthologies.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I Love That Stuff: Thomas F. Monteleone Paperbacks

I can never get enough!

Author and editor Thomas F. Monteleone wrote many science fiction novels through the 1970s, switching over to horror in the 1980s. He's probably best known as the editor of the spectacular Borderlands anthology series, which stands as one of the finest, strangest, and most accomplished of the 1990s (and available in ebook format for you nontraditionalists). Night Train (Pocket 1984) has a perfectly '80s lady oblivious to horror (thanks to artist Lisa Falkenstern); Lyrica (Berkley 1987) sounds and looks kinda terrific; Fantasma (1989)and The Magnificent Gallery (1987) get the full classic Tor cover art treatment, and I'm honestly not sure what's on the cover of Night Things (Popular Library 1980). A bird mask?! I haven't read any of these - although I've enjoyed his short fiction - so I wonder if any TMHF readers have...


Friday, May 2, 2014

Hey Little Girl Is Your Daddy Home?

Don't know a thing about this author, Laird Koenig, but I'm sure everyone is familiar with The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (Bantam 1975), which of course was the basis for the Jodie Foster/Martin Sheen flick. Using my Google-fu I track down the cover art for his other paperbacks, which feature imagery that invoke mystery, romance, thriller, and that kids-in-danger scenario (accompanied, of course, by a nursery-rhyme title) so beloved of mainstream readers. Islands (Dell 1980) is pretty cool, a nicely rendered bit of moodiness with an unexpected reference to Dickey's Deliverance. Rockabye (Bantam 1983) exploits a common fear, but the blue glow seems to add an otherworldly twist.

The Children Are Watching (Ballantine 1970) looks like young adult novels of the day, and of course any fat kid with glasses is gonna make a potential reader think of poor Piggy from Lord of the Flies (provided said potential reader made it through 10th grade English). Actually according to the scant online reviews, it sounds quite a bit like Let's Go Play At the Adams'. The predatory imagery of The Disciple (Bantam 1983) implies more than discipleship. Man what were they thinking in those days?

And finally, a very detailed cover for The Neighbor (Avon 1978). That tagline, "They shouldn't have killed his dog," sounds off to me, I dunno exactly why. Of course they shouldn't have killed his dog! Yeeesh.