Saturday, December 29, 2012

Robert Lory, author of The Dracula Horror Series, born today 1936

Some classics from Robert Lory's nine-volume The Dracula Horror Series, which began April 1973, with the aptly-titled Dracula Returns. The covers for the US editions published by Pinnacle featured at first traditional opera-caped Drac, bats, sexy vampire brides, and full moons. As the series progressed you saw other pulp/horror icons like the zombie and the mummy, and then-hot fads like cults, pyramids, and lost civilizations. Artist Harry Borgman illustrated the first four, a "J. Thompson" did number five, and Victor Valla did the last bunch. All have their groovy charms, but I think my favorites are the first two. Read full, positive reviews of the series here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Rod Serling Born Today, 1924

Without Rod Serling's iconic TV show "The Twilight Zone," the genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy would probably be less a part of pop culture than they are. By installing the weird, the uncanny, the awesome and the dreadful in middle American living rooms throughout the '50s and '60s - and on into eternity - Serling made this kind of entertainment acceptable fare for all. He got us to see that our lives were in thrall to powers beyond our control, that what was strange, bewildering, horrific for some was the normal course of things for others. Sometimes these moments of realization led to acceptance of human foibles; as often, they led to death and despair.

Joey Ramone enjoys some Serling, 1977

Of course Serling also helped the careers of writers Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont (not to mention the countless actors and actresses that got their start on the show) for which we must be thankful. I read quite a few of these Bantam "Twilight Zone" paperbacks, originally published throughout the 1960s, as they were reprinted through the late 1970s and '80s. Of course I even tried my hand at my own versions of TZ stories when I was a pre-teen. Serling and "Twilight Zone" were indeed my introduction, my gateway, to all of horror fiction!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Horror Fiction Help XI

Once again I'm asking my readers for help in ID-ing some forgotten horror novels. The following are descriptions which I've received in emails from folks eager to lay their hands upon tomes read long ago...

1. A demon that controls people minds in the jungles of Africa and sucks the blood of the victims through the eyes of the person with two tentacles. Leading character is taken to a village to talk to a man who was blinded by the demon but was able to survive because he had a tumor. the demon is transported to the united states before he can be killed. It turns out that the leading character is a distant relative to a hero who fought the demon a long time ago, thus the demon cannot control his mind. This was found out after he was hypnotized.

2. Remember finding this old hardcover book on the library shelf with an possibly embossed sort of melting eye on the cover. It freaked me out so I had to read it but the only memory seems to be about a some students? or a couple? that for some reason enter an old mansion and find some secret passage going deep into the earth. 

3. A child who was hanged for witchcraft in the 1700's and consequently, sells her soul before she dies so she can avenge herself upon the descendents of the ones who hanged her. She is reincarnated as a child in modern times and draws pictures of gallows poles while she is in school. Throughout the book, she lives with her religious driven father who doesn't allow her to watch tv while she carries out acts of vengeance against those around her who are the bloodline of her accusers. The book ends with her being adopted out by a family who is the sole remaining descendent she intends to kill. 

4. Some kids who go into an old house in the middle of nowhere and they know the old story about the owner of the property being a witch.  The old lady is some kind of witch and spells the souls of children into the bodies of all the old dolls she has in and around her property.  I think the setting for this story maybe the Bayou, but I can’t remember much more.

5. A guy who falls in love/gets married to a woman who has some sort of dark secret.
I think her family home is a big mansion in the woods... maybe not. Eventually it turns out, if I'm remembering correctly, that the woman is promised to the devil. So when she reaches a certain age he will come for her. There are sinister hints about her father (who is dead or missing I think) and a mysterious trunk that is eventually opened to reveal photos documenting their incestuous relationship and devil worship. It's all kind of subtle and I don't remember a lot of 'action'... not a lot of murders or gruesome scenes... just a building apprehension. 

6. The cover was a light yellow, I believe. Nothing too fancy except I think a creepy kid on the cover. Kid scared the bejesus out of me. White glowing eyes. The story had something to do with a kid conceived by insects. Insect kid. That's all I have. I think the mom gets raped by insects out in the forest, but that could just be me. I can't recall if the boy on the cover has antennae or not. 

Any help is much appreciated. I'm halfway through two different horror novels this holiday season, so should have some good new reviews up soon!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Stephen King: The First Signet Paperback Covers

You know 'em, you love 'em - well, probably you do - these are the classic early novels from Stephen King, all published by Signet/New American Library. The bold, striking, even iconic original first-edition paperback cover art for The Stand (Jan 1980) is by Don Brautigam, and is (mostly) superior in every way to all the countless King reprints that have followed. The short novels in Different Seasons (August 1983) are my favorites of these, followed very closely by The Dead Zone (August 1980), while Cujo (August 1982) and Firestarter (August 1981/art for both by Stephen Stroud) I've always felt were somewhat minor works. I haven't reviewed any of these titles here yet but they provided me hours upon hours of pure horror entertainment, and there's not much more I want!

(Check out other first-edition paperback covers of earlier King classics: Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, and Night Shift. I loves 'em all.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Count Saint-Germain: The Signet Paperback Covers

Must plead complete ignorance of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's long ongoing series about the Count Saint-Germain, a vampire she based on a real-life personage of dubious nature; I haven't read a word of them. However I find the cover art an intriguing mix of sweeping historical romance and traditional Gothic/vampire horror imagery, the whole heaving breasts and ripped bodices thing, and tall, dark, vaguely threatening men in full Lugosi-style vampire garb (cover artist unknown).

 The prolific Yarbro began the Saint-Germain story with 1978's Hotel Transylvania (Signet paperback, Jan 1979) which takes place in the court of King Louis XV. Next was The Palace (Signet Dec 1979), set in Florence during the Renaissance. Blood Games (Signet Sep 1980) goes all the way back to Nero's Rome, while Path of the Eclipse (Signet 1982) has the Count under the 13th century Mongolian reign of Genghis Khan. Finally we get to the 20th century with Tempting Fate (Signet Nov 1982), in which the Count witnesses the rise of Nazi Germany before WWII. Whew. Epic.

Not sure which audience the publisher wanted to snag, either: the ever-discerning fans of Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers, or the Anne Rice crowd - but since Yarbro's vampire "reimagining" predates Rice's, there might not have been a huge horror fiction fanbase for such books. So I wonder if these were shelved with the romance novels or the horror novels? Burning questions for all the ages, no doubt.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Psycho by Robert Bloch (1959): Motel Money Murder Madness

Then the horror wasn't in the house... it was in his head.

Modern horror entertainment would not be what it is today were it not for the seminal work Psycho, the sixth novel by the vastly prolific Robert Bloch. The book's main character, Norman Bates, has become an immortal symbol of the madness hiding behind the banal, the prosaic, the mundane. It is horror rooted in the everyday; it does not haunt a crumbling Gothic castle, nor does it reside outside space and time. It's here and it's now and it's coming through the bathroom door...

Famously inspired by the Ed Gein case, Bloch pieced together the vague details he'd heard about his fellow Wisconsinite and created Bates, a fellow with, shall we say, mother issues. In the novel, Bates is balding, overweight, a voracious reader and somewhat of a drunk - one of the few changes Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano made when they adapted Psycho for film. Another is - probably a major disappointment for readers hungry for violence; I know I was when I first read Psycho as a teenager - the infamous shower murder. Bloch dispatches the character in a single lurid, pulpy sentence; there is nothing that even hints of what Hitchcock would put on the screen.

And I must admit I found it difficult to keep from picturing Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam, etc., in my head. Suspense and mystery are mostly muted when reading Psycho because of that classic movie. That's why I appreciated seeing how Bloch concealed the fact that Mother Bates is dead; I think those who read it before the movie would never have suspected she's an exhumed corpse. Bloch takes us right inside Bates's head, understanding the origins of his homicidal rage and impotent fury. The conversations between mother and son are ultimately one-sided, her vicious beratements taking on a pathetic poignancy, knowing as we do that they're Norman's own thoughts:

"I'm the one who has the strength. I've always had it. Enough for both of us. That's why you'll never rid of me, even if you really wanted to. Of course, deep down, you don't want to. You need me, boy. That's the truth, isn't it?"

Young Bloch in undated photo, from

One of my favorite parts was when Lila Crane is sneaking through the Bates home, looking for clues to her sister's disappearance, and finds Norman's library:

Here Lila found herself pausing, puzzling, then peering in perplexity at the incongruous contents of Norman Bates's library. A New Model of the Universe, The Extension of Consciousness, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, Dimension and Being. These were not the books of a small boy, and there were equally out of place in the home of a rural motel proprietor. She scanned the shelves rapidly. Abnormal psychology, occultism, theosophy. Translations of La Bas, Justine. And here, on the bottom shelf, a nondescript assortment of untitled volumes, poorly bound. Lila pulled one out at random and opened it. The illustration that leaped out at her was almost pathologically pornographic.

Warner Books reprint (with stepback), 1982

We get some of Bloch's famous word play in that first line, as well as the "forbidden books" trope so popular in weird pulp fiction. Bloch wrote an unassuming little thriller that shows touches of real-life horror in places, and one that's as singularly important to the horror genre - pre-King of course - as anything by Lovecraft or Matheson or Levin. That it's overshadowed by its unparalleled film adaptation is no inherent fault, and Psycho should still be read and savored today. See more paperback editions here.