Saturday, April 2, 2022

Where Nightmares Are: Peter Haining Born This Date, 1940

Anthologist and horror historian Peter Haining was born on April 2, 1940, in Middlesex, England. His books number into the hundreds, and his anthologies boast some of the most bizarre art of the late Sixties and Seventies, often by recognizable genre artists such as Bruce Pennington and John Holmes. Favoring "the subtle and the classic over the shocking and the graphic," he collected tales not often found in other horror anthologies and sought to broaden the scope and appeal supernatural fiction. Other books were about fictional British icons like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Dr. Who, and James Bond. Prolific almost beyond measure, he produced works into the 21st century, and died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2007. See more covers here.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Harry Adam Knight's Carnosaur Coming from Valancourt Books!

Hey gang, look what's coming soon from Valancourt Books! It's the 1984 prehistoric animal-attack classick Carnosaur, by prolific pulp purveyor Harry Adam Knight (John Brosnan when he's at home). Highly sought-after in its original Star UK and Bart Books US paperback incarnations, you now will not have to pay an astronomical sum to own a copy. I've contributed a new introduction for this edition, which features a brand-new cover by artist extraordinaire Lynne Hansen. Finally, Carnosaur gets a cover worthy of its contents. I mean, look at that baby! Fearsome indeed. 

This book will not be part of the Paperbacks from Hell series, however; rights issues prevented Valancourt from reprinting it as a mass-market, so this guy will be a trade paperback. However I can recommend it to all and sundry who enjoy the finest of dino destruction tales. You won't be disappointed! Looks to be let loose September 2022, so go here for all pre-order and other info. 

P.S: I've just now noticed the date and say to you this is no April Fool's Day japery! Good God, would I joke about something like this?!

Friday, March 25, 2022

Some Say Love It is a Razor

In the early and mid Eighties Zebra cranked out a handful of paperbacks that featured photos of knives slicing through various fruit, and in one case, a rose—not too obvious now! You'll recognize a few names: Joe Lansdale's first novel, Act of Love; two from hack supreme William W. Johnstone; and two from "Philip Straker," an pseudonym of Edward Lee, who would become a prolific extreme horror author in later years, and from what I can tell, he has disowned these two early titles.

According to various Goodreads and online reviews, these are more police procedural/serial killer thrillers, and at least one, Without Mercy by "Leonard Jordan"—another pseudonym, this one used by prolific pulp writer Len Levinson—is worth a read

Monday, March 7, 2022

Kiki by John Gill (1979): Plastic Fantastic Lover

When I first saw a copy of the gloriously-covered Kiki (Fawcett Popular Library, Oct 1980, no cover art credit) on a fellow paperback horror fan's Instagram, I bought a copy immediately, $5 on Abebooks. Mannequin horror, it looked like, promising illicit erotic thrills, you know I had to have it. How had this book passed me by? I'd never come across it before, and the author's name, John Gill, meant nothing to me. Factor in that Publishers Weekly blurb about "A cool little horror story with a triple twist at the end," and I was expecting a nice, tight creepy thriller. Which is, happily, about what I got...

Ellis Sargesson, "Sarge" for short, is an American physician practicing medicine in the French Riviera. He is grieving the death of his teenage daughter. He is looking for an out-of-the-way house with a basement that can be soundproofed. Some nights Sarge drinks an iceless martini with a single olive soaking in it and listens to the Ray Noble Orchestra; other times its Armagnac while he plays the soundtrack to Singin' in the Rain. He buys Kiki, a Swedish-blonde, anatomically-correct blow-up doll—she's not a mannequin after all!—in a sex shop in Nice. The shop also sells Black and Asian dolls, even a rosy-lipped boy, an imitation catamite ("You would prefer a boy?" the clerk asks Sarge in halting English, "The boy is very popular with the priests.") More than that of the plot I don't want to say.

Nor can I say much about Gill himself. A brief bio of him (born in the South Pacific, no birth year given, "now" lives in Europe) is appended to the last page of the Kiki paperback; my bibliographic Googling turned up little about him other than that he once apparently was the head of drama at the BBC. Copies of his other novels were on eBay, all suspense thrillers. He had no Goodreads author page and his books were misattributed, identifying him as a John Gill who was a Catholic theologian in, oh, the 18th century. I corrected that as well as I could.

There's a very subtle, creepy quality to Kiki that I think would appeal to horror fans who appreciate offbeat, genre-adjacent works. If you've enjoyed past TMHF favorites The Happy Man, The Tenant, The Cormorant, you just might find Kiki to your taste. Gill’s smoothly professional prose and pacing isn’t entirely original, but much welcomed anyway. The vibe is reminiscent of vintage Polanski: European, insular, obsessive, cool, detached; Hitchcock himself would have approved of the goings-on as well. Twists and turns are ably deployed; the climactic confrontation(s) satisfy, all laced with a delicious black irony. I went into Kiki blind; I'd encourage everyone else to do the same!

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Horror Fiction Help XXVI

Time once again in which I seek identification of these forgotten horrors for fellow blog readers. Thanks in advance!

1. In the late 1990s or 2000 I read a paperback about a married couple who move into a new house. The wife somehow disappears in a room or door in the attic that leads to another world or dimension. 

2. A horror/supernatural/ghost anthology published 1985-1993. One story was set in the last years of the 19th century/first years of the 20th century, probably 1890s. A young woman is involved with seances or psychic research in some way, and an older, unattractive man is pursuing her sexually. She's not interested. The older man dies, but she gets no respite : Now his GHOST is harassing her, and publicly covering her with "ectoplasm". It is not blatantly pointed out  that the "ectoplasm" is similar to semen, but that was sure the impression I was left with. The story ends with the young woman retreating back to her home, where her sister(s) lock her in her bedroom with a lock they had  surreptitiously  put on the OUTSIDE of the door... And the reader is left with the impression the girl might be locked up for the rest of her life, because the haunting is so embarrassing for her sister(s). Found! It's Lisa Tuttle's short story "Mr. Elphinstone's Hands," first published in 1990's Skin of the Soul.

3. Circa 1988-1993, probably more towards the end of that range. The cover painting showed a blonde woman using her fangs on the neck of a dark-haired man, who I realized looked a lot like Hitler. So I read the blurb on the back, confirmed the blonde was Eva Braun and her victim was Hitler, and I put it back as probably dumb and trashy. I've been regretting it ever since. No clue as to author or title, I just remember the cover painting.

4. A forty-something guy and teenage girl are harassed by an Aztec god's cult that want to sacrifice one of them,don't remember if they were father and daughter or  just neighbors, but I remember the girl's boyfriend is part of the cult.

5. Little girl is possessed by the soul of a pedophile serial killer that was executed in the electric chair, it follows the father of one of the little girl's friends.

6. A bizarre short story in some anthology long ago when I was a teen where a father is out for revenge over someone in a carnival raping or killing his daughter I think. He finds the guy and essentially turns him into an animal. Breaks his knees, cuts out his tongue, sews him into a be a suit and at the end the guy is a sideshow attraction crawling and grunting. Found! It's Robert Bloch's oft-anthologized short story "The Animal Fair," first published in the May 1971 issue of Playboy.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Latest Title in Valancourt's Paperbacks from Hell Series: Progeny of the Adder!

Coming this summer, the 15th title in the Paperbacks from Hell reprint series published by Valancourt Books! Progeny of the Adder is a 1965 horror-thriller by Leslie H. Whitten (1928 - 2017), a Florida-born journalist who also wrote several genre novels. I first read this title over 10 years ago and reviewed it here, and mentioned it in my recommended reading afterward for PfH. I'm looking forward to rereading it so I can write the introduction. Head over to Valancourt's page for ordering info. Psyched that we're able to continue this line of books!

Friday, December 31, 2021

2021: The Year in Review

Alas: 2021 was another year in which I've had more luck buying horror paperbacks than I have had in reading them. You've probably noticed the dearth of reviews on the blog. This year I started to read so many but gave up on them in a flash, realizing I'm having the same reaction to them as editors/critics like Karl Edward Wagner, Dennis Etchison, and Charles L. Grant had back in the day: the books I was reading were tired, dumb, lazily written, and/or noticeably cribbed from more popular works. Even titles I've searched for for years and had high hopes for, like Florence Stevenson's A Feast of Eggshells, left me disappointed in the first handful of chapters. As Diamond David Lee Roth once put it, "I got no time to mess around," so I've been feeling less guilty about books going back on the shelf unread. Have I lost my touch for plucking and rescuing forgotten titles out of obscurity?!
The last novel I read, The Devil's Advocate, a 1990 Pocket Book from Andrew Neiderman, was disgracefully, shamefully dumb. A pale, 90-pound weakling of a book. A spineless, enervated ripoff of Ira Levin and John Grisham. No idea why the spine has the word "horror" on it. At one point the main character says, "Bob, I have come to the conclusion that John Milton is an evil man with supernatural powers. Probably he's not a man, or, what I mean is, he's more than a man. He's most probably Satan himself." This might be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard anyone say in "horror novel," and you know that's saying a lot. 

But all that aside, I'm thrilled with the books I've been purchasing online lately (visits to brick-and-mortar stores are few and far between these days). I am a collector building a library, and in my possession I have books that are proving harder and harder to find at affordable prices. This isn't a brag; it's my growing awareness that these books are truly the ephemera of the past and I'm doing a part in keeping it alive and archived. This year I've leaned into that more.

Valancourt Books continues to publish sought-after horror fiction from the Paperbacks from Hell era; this year we reprinted Hugh Zachary's 1974 eco-erotic-horror novel Gwen, in Green. We have another title in the chamber for the PfH series: Les Whitten's Progeny of the Adder. This 1965 horror/mystery novel was a precursor to TV's "The Night Stalker" as well as, indirectly, 'Salem's Lot. Not part of the series but still highly anticipated, Valancourt will be offering Carnosaur by "Harry Adam Knight" (pseudonym of Australian pulp author John Brosnan) and In a Lonely Place by Karl Edward Wagner.
The former is a 1984 "animal attack" thriller that presages Jurassic Park by several years, while the latter is one of the rarest of vintage horror paperbacks, containing some of Wagner's best work, like "Sticks" and "Where the Summer Ends." I'll be doing intros for Adder and Carnosaur, so that's something for me to look forward to.

My wife and I made a trip to France back in September, first time for me. It was of course wonderful (and very safe, we got tested twice while there and had the results emailed to us in 15 minutes). I found one terrific English-language bookstore in Paris, and while they didn't have a horror section per se, there was at least one tiny treasure tucked away in the vast paperbacks shelves: a signed US copy of Slither!

The biggest news was of course the death of Anne Rice. While I haven't read one of her books in 30 years, the ones I did read—that is, the original trilogy of The Vampire Chronicles—were very important to me way back when (I went to one of her book signings in Philly in 1991 or 1992, sad to say no pictures were taken though). Her contributions to horror and Gothic literature are immeasurable. I've since added first-editions paperbacks of The Witching Hour and The Mummy to my shelves; perhaps 2022 is the year I will finally read them!

We also lost beloved artist Rowena Morrill, whose illustration adorns this wonderful, if scuffed, Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories. I got this guy in the mail about a day before she died.

Below are many of my acquisitions from this year. I don't think I paid more than $15 for any one. This year I finally finished cataloguing all of my horror paperbacks; I'm at around 1,100 or so mass-markets alone. Here's to a brighter 2022 everyone!