Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Howling in the Bones of Her Face

Do I love me a creepy pencil-sketch! The stark simplicity of it is a terrific contrast to the usually colorful and garish cover art of the day. Artist unknown, however...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Avon Paperbacks of A. Merritt: Going from This Land Here to That

One of the most prolific and well-known of the original pulp masters, A. Merritt had his fiction published for decades by Avon. These are the 1970s reprints, featuring some pretty stellar paperback cover art! As his Wikipedia entry states, "Merritt's stories typically revolve around conventional pulp magazine themes: lost civilizations, hideous monsters, etc." Oh, etc.: love it! Also: "His heroes are gallant Irishmen or Scandinavians, his villains treacherous Germans or Russians, and his heroines often virginal, mysterious and scantily clad." Oh, scantily clad: love it! Honestly I don't think I've read anything by him, but these would look pretty great on my shelves...

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Horror Fiction Help XII

More emails from frustrated folks looking for forgotten horror fictions. Any help would be most appreciated!

1. The main character was a young woman traveling with her husband or boyfriend.  They, somehow, come under the power the an older couple who have twisted religious/ sexual issues.  The older woman takes the heroine and tries to brainwash or dominate her into act like a prepubescent girl.  I seem to remember the main character having to dress in little girls clothes, shave her pubic hair, and hide menstruation, because the older woman thought that was when girls become"dirty".  The older man would sexually abuse the woman, but it took on a creepier tone of " daddys special little girl" involving having to sit on his knee and   be fondled leading up to the inevitable rape. This has to be hidden from the older woman bcause she would blame the "girls" for again being dirty and wicked. The boyfriend meets a bad end.  For "dirtying" the main character, he is murdered, and it is his murder scene that is the most vivid in my memory.  I remember him waking him and having a noose around his neck.  He is standing on a chair, and under his feet in a hotplate.  The woman turns the hotplate on and his feet start to burn.  I remember the horror of reading it because his dilemma is to either step of the plate to save his feet, thereby hanging himself. Or, wait until his feet burn enough that he slowly strangles or involuntarily steps off in extreme pain.  It seems to me that the woman wants some kind of confession from the man, and says she is willing to let him go if he admits his sins. Found! It's:

2. A young girl (very intelligent, pretty and pure) leaving high school and being excepted to a very old, prestigious and expensive college/university far from home on scholarship. she then gets involved with the popular kids.. one or two of the teachers is involved in the occult and "talks" to the school. it is based in America. The school is basically evil and wants a sacrifice mainly being the young " innocent" girl. I think the school embodies Satan. It's quite dark and sexual.  Found! It's:


3. The cover was fully black and “puffy” or 3D with white or silver lettering of the title…it may’ve had red eyes as well. I cannot recall the author or the title. I could have sworn it had the word “beast” in it, like Bloodbeast and seem to remember it was just one word in the title. I’ve tried googling in all sorts of ways but with no luck. In the story, the beast is a wolf-like creature shredding people in the lake/outdoorsy town and the sheriff-type guy was on the hunt of it. The book would primarily use the sheriff’s perspective I believe, then go into italics when telling the story from the perspective of the wolf-monster (who I think was female).       

4. The cover has a red-haired woman with a skeletal hand, holding a bloody knife. In the beginning she kills her step-mother with a scorpion and I think later on in the book she kills someone else with a scorpion.

5. Centered around some sort of scientific or military expedition or research group. Of course there was a creature at some point. Based on what I remember of the book, it was a relatively slim volume (200 pages tops, I'd think), and I vaguely recall a pretty bland cover design (something blue and white?) that leads me to believe the publication had to be no later than the early-mid 1970s

6. I read back it in the late 70s or 80s. It was about a book that the people who ever read this book, what ever they read then happened to them. Found! It's:

7. A pedophile who kidnaps a young boy and keeps him for awhile (note: it wasn’t Billy, by Strieber). I want to say that it had a pretty awesome cover, and for some reason my ancient mind even thinks it was a Fawcett paperback (original?). Found! It's:

8. Cult builds a bigger shell for hermit crab.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories, ed. by Alan Ryan (1987): At Dawn They Sleep

My my, but is this a tasteful, refined anthology of vampire stories! It simply drips pedigree like so much blood from a fanged maw. The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories (Penguin, Oct 1988), for the most part, stars classy creatures of the night, so refined and polite you could practically invite them to the publisher's cocktail party (after all this is Penguin Books we're talking about; it simply wouldn't do to have the hosts drained before the petits fours are served - leave those kinds of déclassé shenanigans for the folks at Zebra). I really appreciated that late editor/author Alan Ryan (Cast a Cold Eye, Dead White) chose such stories, which convey weirdness, unholy hunger, and chills with understatement and insinuation. Although he notes in his short introduction that the writers included "explore the vampire myth in new ways... the variety of twentieth-century vampires is dazzling," there is very little re- or de-mythologizing of the monster here: reading these stories in the 21st century, I was pleasantly surprised to see that all the traditional tropes are present and accounted for - in fact, this is where they were created. Sometimes you just want old-school.

What's most satisfying is the sheer quality of the writing itself. Some writers go for subtle intimation; others for pulpy thrills; still others prefer thoughtful, genteel bloodletting. Ryan did a stupendous job of gathering all kinds of vampire fiction, dating back nearly 200 years, into one volume, and it's all very good to great. I've dipped in and out of this book since I was in high school, but only these past couple weeks did I really make an effort to read (almost) all of it; I'm happy to report this antho is a must-have, an absolute must-have, for horror and/or vampire fiction fans - as well as plenty other folks who like great short fiction. Plus you can't deny the pure black-winged awesomeness that is the Edward Gorey (below) cover.

Arranged chronologically, we begin with the usual suspects undead: Varney the Vampyre, Carmilla, Dracula. No surprises there. It's easy to see why "Dracula's Guest" was a deleted chapter from Stoker's original Dracula (1897); not bad in and of itself, it adds little to Harker's journey to Dracula. I didn't reread J. Sheridan Le Fanu's pre-Drac "Carmilla" (1872) but lordy how I love its first movie adaptation, Hammer's The Vampire Lovers (1970)! That counts, right? Sure it do. M.R. James presents a tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale - I think - for "An Episode of Cathedral History." Other supernatural classicists like Algernon Blackwood, E.F. Benson, and F. Marion Crawford come around too, in good form all. Solid foundations for the horrors to come...

On, then, to the classic pulp writers, who knew a thing or two about vampires - and what they didn't know, of course, they'd make up. "The Drifting Snow" is one of the few non-HPL tales I've read from August Derleth; it's marvelous, a tale of delicate understated terror. Again, horror mingles well with a frozen landscape. What lurks out in that winter wonderland you see out the window of your cozy country home? Nobody you'd wanna meet after dark, that's for sure. Stephen King had to have been thinking of Derleth's story when he revisited 'Salem's Lot in "One for the Road."

Gerard de l'Automne was meditating the rimes of a new ballade in honor of Fleurette, as he followed the leaf-arrased pathway toward Vyones through the woodland, begins "A Rendezvous in Averoigne." Brimming with purply, pulpy poetic prose as only Clark Ashton Smith (above) can write, the story's exoticism and decadence herald late 20th century modern vampires à la Rice (who is absent from this antho as she never wrote a short story).

The foods were rich and of strange savor; and the wines were fabulously old, and seemed to retain in their topaz or violet depths the unextinguished fire of buried centuries. But Gerard and Fleurette could barely touch them; and they saw that the Sieur du Malinbois and his lady did not eat or drink at all... the stifling air was laden with unformulable menace, was constrained by the spell of a black and lethal necromancy.

Moore wrote many SF stories featuring her proto Han Solo; here, with Shambleau herself

"Shambleau," the first and most famous story by early female speculative fiction writer Catherine L. Moore, is an overheated tale of horror-fantasy-science fiction straight from Freudian depths. It's pretty awesome: a space pirate named Northwest Smith rescues a feral young woman from a Martian mob and discovers those ancient Earth myths just might be based in reality after all. It's rife with perverse sexual imagery, all writhing wetness and delicious revulsion:

In nightmares until he died he remembered that moment... a nauseous, smothering odor as the wetness shut around him - thick, pulsing worms clasping every inch of his body, sliding, writhing, their wetness and warmth striking through his garments as if he stood naked to heir embrace.

No surprise it became a big hit with the Weird Tales crowd. An erotic horror classic!

The foggy, moonlit courtyard of an abandoned dwelling, perfect setting for a vampire tale, features in Carl Jacobi's "Revelations in Black" (see a cool comic book adaptation of it here). Stuff I love also featured: a bookish guy obsessed with a mysterious tome and a lovely lady of the night. Not that kind of lady, however: That face - it was divinely beautiful, the hair black as sable, the cheeks a classic white. But the lips - ! I grew suddenly sick as I looked upon them. They were scarlet...

 My god how I hate this cover

Moving into modern day with Fritz Leiber's essential, oft-anthologized "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes," about an urban photog and a model fit for the new world of advertising and consumerism. Familiar names Robert Bloch, Charles Beaumont, Ramsey Campbell, and Charles L. Grant all have good solid work included, stories in their own inimitable voices and styles. Two excellent stories I've reviewed elsewhere on this blog: Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's "Cabin 33" and Suzy McKee Charnas's "Unicorn Tapestry." Expectedly, "Pages from a Young Girl's Diary" is Robert Aickman's stately, measured, interiorized account of said young English girl's introduction to a mysterious gentleman at a turn-of-the-century ball while her well-to-do family vacations in Italy.

In some ways the most romantic thing of all is that I do not even know his name. As people were beginning to the leave the party, he took my hand and this time held it, nor did I even affect to resist. "We shall meet again," he said, "many times;" looking so deeply and steadily into my eyes that I felt he had penetrated my inmost heart and soul... I could only murmur "Yes," in a voice so weak that he could hardly have heard me...

Aickman tiptoes in his own manner up to a finish of fate accepted, something I rather enjoy in my vampire tales. "Pages" won the 1975 World Fantasy Award for best short fiction, and is a shining example of that classiness I was talking about.

Horror and humor mix delightfully well in R. Chetwynd Hayes's "The Werewolf and the Vampire," the kind of story Gahan Wilson would probably love to illustrate. Written in a breezy, British vernacular, these travails of a young man who discovers he's a werewolf and can confide only in a Cockney family of vampires are witty and even charming. Loverly!

And editor Ryan's own story, "Following the Way," has to be one of the most sensitively written stories I've read for this blog. His easy way of relating the intellectual pursuits of a young student at a Jesuit school and the relationship he builds with an older, inquisitive priest who gently tries to convince him to join the order over quite a few years, is utterly authentic; the story carries you along with conviction and its payoff feels just right, even if expected. Especially when expected! I only wish there had been a paperback collection of Ryan's short horror fiction back in the late '80s or so; today it'd be a stone-cold classic.

Tanith Lee's "Bite-Me-Not" wraps up the 600-page anthology; Ryan has saved one of the best of the lot for last. Lee entrances the reader with this truly dark fantasy, rich with strange and medieval imagery - usually something I cannot tolerate (I mean I can't even do Game of Thrones, books or show) - although leavened by sympathetic characters and prose that recalls a half-forgotten fable from the mists of history:

For Feroluce and his people are winged beings. They are more like a nest of dark eagles than anything, mounted high among the rocky pilasters and pinnacles of the mountain. Cruel and magnificent, like eagles, the somber sentries motionless as statuary on the ledge-edges, their sable wings folded about them.

1952 If magazine illustration of "Drink My Blood" - more here

And of course no vampire anthology would be complete without the legend himself, Richard Matheson - someone who definitely knew a thing or two about vampires, and made up what he didn't. Here we have "Drink My Blood," which ends on a chilling note of horror and hope; it's a classic Matheson twist and a story that has stuck with me for a gajillion years since I read it as a young teenager, but under the title "Blood Son." Shy, odd little Jules reads an essay in class. Doesn't go over well.

"When I grow up I want to be a vampire."
The teacher's smiling lips jerked down and out. Her eyes popped wide. 
"I want to live forever and get even with everybody and make all the girls vampires."

Boy, I hear ya buddy. I hear ya.

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