Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Nest of Nightmares by Lisa Tuttle (1986): Bodies in the Bosom of Hell

So often the horror genre is an adolescent male fantasy land, obsessed with the extremities of life and limb, madness and fear, sex and death. How far can the writer go? How much can the reader take? While I like a good splatterpunker as much as the next reader, it's also a distinct pleasure to find authors who use restraint and throughtfulness as their tools of the horror trade, writers who can portray the finer points of the human experience. Someone like Lisa Tuttle is probably not much appreciated by a fanbase that wants gore, stark terror, degradation, and perversity. With her clear sensitivity to the delicate threads that bind friends and lovers, mothers and children, the stories collected in Nest of Nightmares (Sphere Books, March 1986, creeeeepy baby bird cover art by Nick Bantock) exist in a homey, cozy world... until, of course, those threads begin to unwind and fray and snap, launching the (always) female protagonist into a stratosphere of pain, guilt, loss, death.

After reading her three impressive contributions to the third volume of the Night Visions anthology series, I realized Tuttle was a writer I needed to read more by. Nest had already been on my to-find list, and as it was only published in the UK, I knew finding it wouldn't be easy. But last month I lucked into a copy in a used bookstore, and didn't put off reading it. Tuttle is a master of the formula horror story, but not in a way that makes them obvious, creaky, or cliched. Her style is clean and quiet, not obtrusive and able to convey subtle horrors that sneak up on both the character as well as the reader. An astute chronicler of the female psyche, it's a mainstream contemporary writer vibe I get from Tuttle - until, as I noted, the horror starts. Then she wraps them right up in a hellish embrace without hesitation.

There is the set up, which she introduces with a light, modern touch, bespeaking more of a woman's experience than, say, a male pulp writer. Her flawed female characters appealed to me greatly, as did the scenarios they populated, and their final horrors sealed the deal for me. Tuttle was a practitioner of a kind of horror tale I find quite satisfying: the "punishments" her characters face are born and bred of daily weakness and insecurity, feelings suppressed and sublimated. Often the horror is all too recognizable: sadness, alienation, a not-belongness, modern anxieties and disappointments. But she is doubly cruel, for her characters suffer not just these pains but also the ineffable and unpredictable slings and arrows of the supernatural, the unexplainable, the uncanny.

But then I guess all I just did here was expand upon that simple tagline at the top of the cover: Into the worlds of loneliness, anxiety and fear...  Yes, these women are lonely, even heartbroken people, scarred by the past and uncertain of the future. At times I was reminded of Ramsey Campbell's unfulfilled protagonists going about their dreary, workaday lives; even Clive Barker's early Books of Blood tales, when the lost find meaning only in their sudden doom (so not for nothing did editor George R. R. Martin team them all up for that Night Visions antho). These things to me are all good things, and Nest of Nightmares is an unassuming collection of modern, female-centric psychological horror. Now on to the baker's dozen of tales, mostly published throughout the 1980s in either Twilight Zone mag or the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction...

"Bug House" begins the book, and it's a nice simple creepy-crawler reminiscent of Campbell's stories of urban blight. Aunt May lives in a crumbling ocean-side home and niece Ellen hopes to help. But we know better: ...A spider, pale as the sand, danced warily on pipe-cleaner legs. Circling it, chitinous body gleaming darkly in the sunlight, was a deadly black dart of a wasp... Although she liked neither spiders nor wasps, Ellen hoped that the spider would win. I think you can guess what's going on, and what waits for Ellen at story's end. Next are a couple brief, nasty episodes, “Doll Burger” and “Community Property,” which pack a not altogether surprising punch in their final lines.

I've said before one of my favorite types of horror tale are those that explore writers' lives, and in "Flying to Byzantium," we see that can be its own particular kind of hell. A realistic story of Sheila Stoller, author of a successful fantasy novel, flying from LA back to her tiny titular hometown in Texas to appear at a science fiction convention. But she no longer feels the need to write, having escaped home: Writing… took her out of herself, away from loneliness, dull school classes, and the tedium of working… when she was writing she could forget she wasn’t pretty, didn’t have a boyfriend, had no talents and no future. Girls her age thought she was a boring, stuck-up bookworm.

Illustration for "Flying to Byzantium," from Twilight Zone mag, June 1985

Her mother always said, Don’t think you’re different, don’t think you’re special. After being picked up at the airport by two women who organized and invited her to the convention, she sees they are the unwanted... the sort of people she had been lumped in with at school... women like the ones she shunned rather than admit that she was like them. Slowly, unavoidably, indignity piles upon indignity, and Sheila doesn’t have the will power to resist. Will her fantasy heroine be enough inspiration to escape Byzantium? The awkwardness throughout could be a comedy of errors were it not so pitiless about Sheila's delusions and refusal to assert herself... just as her mother never stopped reminding her.

A ghostly premonition of grief haunts "Treading the Maze," in which a husband and wife witness a seemingly harmless pagan ritual, and she will come to realize it wasn't so harmless. So, so good, and so sad, as Tuttle couches an unthinkable reality in terms of the unknown. In "Horse Lord," "The Memory of Wood," and "The Other Mother," children are a woman's undoing (ancient myths and possessed equines don't help either). Can one be a mother and a full individual person at the same time? I don't know if I can manage it, not even with all the good examples of other women, or all the babysitters in the world, says Sara in the latter story. These are words mothers must not say aloud, for once spoken those forces will manifest themselves in otherworldly ways. Tuttle unleashes them, those inchoate fears at the bottom of women's minds, and lets them do their worst. Definitely some of my faves here, each with chilling moments of helpless creeping terror.

Tuttle's first novel, 1983

The similarly titled "Need" and "A Friend in Need" feature the longing for companionship and understanding and the contradictory compulsion in us to separate, to isolate, to define ourselves at the expense of others. Another favorite, "Sun City" - a story originally chosen by Ramsey Campbell to be included in his New Terrors (1980) anthology -  is pure grotesque horror, as Nora, working a hotel desk night shift, deals with leaving her husband, as well as a horrific event she witnessed on their honeymoon in Mexico - about which she did nothing. She begins to notice a rotting stench in her apartment, then an apparition at the foot of her bed, which she sees clearly since she sleeps during the day:

The strange cloak ended in blackened tatters that hung over his hands and feet, and the hood had ragged holes torn in it for eyes and mouth - with a rush of horror, Nora realized what she was seeing. The figure was dressed in a human skin.

A perfect '80s horror tale! The collection ends with, of course, a story titled "The Nest," in which two adult sisters buy a home together, the roof of which has a large, poorly covered hole in it, which younger sister Sylvia discovers when she climbs - head-first, to her sister's dismay - into the attic. Older sister Pam wonders at what debris and vermin could have gotten into the house, but hopes the two of them can make a cozy home there. One day out for a walk, Sylvia notices something large and black in one of the trees; something that reminded me horribly of a man crouching there, spying on the house... Could something still get in through that hole in the roof? We're never sure what Sylvia sees, but the careful reader will understand, from an incident in their adolescence that Sylvia relays, remembering Pam talking to a black-leather-jacketed boy... What Sylvia finds later in the attic will utterly distress her; what she doesn't find will break her heart. Brilliant.

Will I read one of Lisa Tuttle's novels? I'm not sure yet - will her facility with the short story format translate to longer works? One can only hope. Chosen by Robert Holdstock for Jones & Newman's Horror: 100 Best Books, I can say I enjoyed every one of the stories included in Nest of Nightmares (unfortunately, copies of Nest are going for rarely less than $50 online - buy the old copies of TZ and F&SF magazines with these stories instead). Yes, some tales are minor and some more effective than others, but Tuttle, a lifelong fan of ghost stories and weird tales, gives them all a solid horror payoff, and their sometimes predictable nature to me works not against them but in their favor: no matter how cozy we are in our rooms and solid homes we are still most naked and vulnerable, and we cannot hide from the waiting world; no matter how well we tend our nests for ourselves and our offspring, certain doom awaits within and without. All that is uncertain is when.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Like a Pigeon from Hell: The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

This week saw the 108th anniversary of the birth of the pulp king of sword and sorcery  and the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard. You probably already know this, but along with Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, he was a titan of the pulp era and his books have long been available in countless and now collectible paperback editions. Time was kind to the art of a man who committed suicide when he was 30 years old, unable to face a future without his beloved mother, who lie comatose and near death when he put a pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger. 

When it comes to Howard's fiction, I have been mostly unfamiliar with it, preferring the horror/dark fantasy tales from HPL and CAS. These two paperbacks - Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors (Baen Books, May 1987, cover by Steve Hickman) and Pigeons from Hell and Other Weird and Fantastic Adventures (Zebra Books, June 1976, cover by Jeffrey Catherine Jones) - feature mostly Howard's own brand of HPL-tinged horror/sword-and-sorcery/dark fantasy tales, all published in Weird Tales throughout the 1930s. You probably already knew this too, but there is some fantastic stuff here.

Sadly, both covers feature misleading - albeit spectacular - imagery: neither Cthulhu nor dinosaurs truly appear in the stories. They are however threaded with the fictional forbidden tomes, esoteric knowledge, and dark gods that are familiar to readers of horror; they're also purely Howard's own. His heroes aren't pasty scholars and recluses, no, they are men of muscle, bone, and sinew - which he won't often let you forget - while locales are often misty craggy lands from a deep and forgotten ancient age rather than the wilds of Arkham or the historic university environs of Providence. Howard even goes for the one-up on HPL when a character from "Pigeons from Hell" states, "Witchcraft always meant the old towns of New England, to me - but all this is more terrible." Zing!

I kinda skimmed through stories that contained vast passages about pure races, tribal honor, bravery, vengeance, that sort of thing (sword and sorcery - not my sort of thing), even when mixed with vague Lovecraftian darkness. Still, Howard's tales of grue work well and work often, and a few - "Pigeons from Hell," of course, "The Black Stone," "The Fires of Asshurbanipal" - I consider classics of their era. The famous and intriguingly titled "Pigeons from Hell" is a virtually perfect example of pulp horror. From its haunted house opening to its voodoo revenge turn all the way to its lurid, heart-palpitating climax, Howard never falters in his ability to propel a story forward (modern readers could probably do without the consistent use of the N-word, period-appropriate as it may be). I've read this tale a few times over the decades, read one comic book version, and recently saw its very well-done adaptation on the old "Thriller" show. Listen:

"A zuvembie is no longer human. It knows neither relatives nor friends. It is one with the people of the Black World. It commands the natural demons - owls, bats, snakes and werewolves, and can fetch darkness to blot out light... It dwells like a bat in a cave or a house... It can hypnotize the living by the sound of its voice, and when it slays a man, it can command his lifeless body until the flesh is cold. As long the blood flows, the corpse is its slave. Its pleasure lies in the slaughter of human beings."

Eclipse Books, 1988

It works like gangbusters, and if you haven't read "Pigeons," step away from your computer or smartphone or whatever and get to it! "The Black Stone" showcases Howard's main contribution to the Cthulhu mythos, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten, or Nameless Cults, by Friedrich Wilhelm von Junzt, an adventurer-scholar who of course discovers something he shouldn't have and is murdered - only after he finishes his book. This is the most overtly Lovecraftian story, with its academic narrator finally learning the horrors hinted at in a forbidden book are - gasp! - all too real. Howard whips himself into a frenzy of outlandish pulp prose  when he sets out to describe those "nameless rites" our old pal HPL was too squeamish to depict forthrightly. In a brooding forest beneath the moonlight, the narrator has found the titular object, but watches from afar:

...the worshipers, howling and foaming at the mouths, turned on each other with tooth and nail, rendering one another's garments and flesh in a blind passion of bestiality. The priest swept up an infant with a long arm, and shouting again that Name, whirled the wailing babe high in the air and dashed its brains out against the monolith, leaving a ghastly stain on the black surface. Cold with horror I saw him rip the tiny body open...

Ballantine 1979, Paul Lehr cover art 

I mean what! So, so good, really. The Ballantine paperback cover above captures the mood perfectly. "The Fire of Asshurbanipal" was also excellent, successfully mixing men's adventure in the exotic land of Arabia with mind-blasting cosmic horror. The back-story from Howard, about a green jewel, an ancient desert land of black stone, and a vengeful sorcerer, reads a bit like "The Shadow out of Time," and the two protagonists' entrance to this lost, deserted city evokes At the Mountains of Madness.They're looking for that fabled jewel, but they've been followed across the burning desert sands:

The shrieks had faded into a more horrific silence. Holding their breath, they heard suddenly a sound that froze the blood in their veins - the soft sliding of metal or stone in a groove. At the same time the hidden door began to open, and Steve caught a glimmer in the blackness that might have been the glitter of monstrous eyes. He closed his own; he dared not look upon whatever horror slunk from the hideous black well. He knew that there are strains the human brain cannot stand, and every primitive instinct in his soul cried out to him this thing was nightmare and lunacy.

Well, duh. Howard had a long obsession with obscure history, languages, and peoples, and enriched his pulp writing with it; "The People of the Dark," "The Children of the Night," "The Garden Fear," and "The Valley of the Worm" are the best examples of this proclivity. While not necessarily to my taste, I can see how young Weird Tales readers found their minds stimulated and expanded on such fare - which made Howard the success he was, and why he's still read today. Other tales like "Old Garfield's Heart," "The Thing on the Roof," and "Dig Me No Grave," are pure enjoyable gruesomeness with twist endings but retain a charm and readability for all that. Robert E. Howard's muscular prose, vivid action scenes, moody horrors, and ability to conjure in writing precisely what he imagined, can hijack your mind to a place in a past in which men are made of iron, honor is king, pigeons are from hell and dark and hungry gods demand nothing less than our very blood.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I'm Warning You, I'll Put a Knife Right in You

The snarling ferocity on display, while awesome in its paperback pulp horror perfection, perplexes me: why on earth would a creature with such fanged and frightening jaws ever feel a need to pick up a butcher knife?! Is he unaware of his supernatured gift? Perhaps he likes his humans fileted? Reminds me of this idiot creature.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Keep by F. Paul Wilson (1981): Just One Deathless Night

Nazism will forever be the benchmark by which all other human evil is measured (well, until something worse comes along). So what do you get when you pit the SS against an unimaginably malevolent supernatural force that, with their stubborn reliance on "rationality," they can scarcely comprehend? You get The Keep, the first horror novel from New Jersey physician/author F. Paul Wilson, who spent the 1970s writing science fiction tales when not practicing medicine (and apparently has spent the decades since writing a series that began with The Keep). There is nothing resembling science fiction in this highly-regarded (going by reviews on Goodreads and Amazon) "novel of deep horror," and it's dedicated to pulp horror/fantasy icons Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard. This is no surprise - The Keep's fictional grimoires, subterranean lairs, manly adventuring, and even some sword-and-sorcerering, find Wilson emulating those classic writers but not slavishly imitating them. After finishing the novel, and at various moments throughout, I wished he had emulated those guys more. Much, much more.

A few words to preface this review: I read Wilson's short story collection Soft and Others couple years back and mostly hated it because his writing was so one-dimensional, dull, and tone deaf. Honestly, I think Wilson can be a downright terrible writer, so I was relieved to find when I began reading The Keep he'd seemingly improved (how could he not?). What keeps the reader glued to the pages is the sheer power of the story. I mean it's Nazis, in a keep - a type of fortified tower built within castles during the Middle Ages by European nobility, Wikipedia tells me - battling an evil entity who slaughters Nazis handily. I'm in!

Or... am I?

 Original 1981 hardcover

So we've got a German army, led by Captain Klaus Woermann, stationed in a keep high in the Alps of Romania, to protect precious oil fields needed for the Nazi war effort. But when two grunts dig into the fortification trying to find out if the oddly-shaped metal crosses embedded in the stone walls everywhere in the keep are made of real gold and silver, they find behind those stones an opening that leads to... Well, evil and darkness and decapitation. And unsolvable impossible deaths follow after, each night for a week, till an exhausted, reluctant Woermann sends for help from the Nazis, whom he regards with skepticism and distrust, himself too old to have been seduced by the charismatic Hitler (I found this detail quite satisfying). He words his missive carefully: Request immediate relocation. Something is murdering my men... That ought to get their attention!

Enter SS Major Erich Kaempffer, an honest-to-God Nazi, and his einsatzkommandos, reinforcements for the beleaguered soldiers, to find out what the hell that something is that's killing Woermann's men. Kaempffer is eager to begin his post as commandant of a coming-soon death camp in Ploiesti, and feels this assignment is almost beneath him, but must impress his superiors. If he succeeds in discovering the murderer, he knows he will make Woermann look like an ineffective fool - something he's longed to do since Woermann witnessed an unfortunate incident of cowardice on Kaempffer's part in the Great War. The two men barely tolerate one another, and their conflict, well-done by Wilson in the first third of the novel, propels much of the story.

But Kaempffer has no luck sniffing out the killer even though he scoffs at notions that it might be a supernatural agent of some kind - surely it's just local guerrillas. Then his men start turning up dead, two of them even walk right into his room from their post, their throats torn out, and collapse before him (all kinda cool). Reluctantly he accepts the advice of the local innkeeper - after terrorizing him and threatening to kill the nearby villagers he's taken into the keep - and brings in Theodore Cuza, an old sick man who lost his position as an esteemed professor because of his Judaism. Cuza is an expert on the history and folklore of the region. Along with Cuza comes his 30-ish daughter Magda, his caretaker, beautiful and untouched. Meanwhile, a strange scarred unnamed red-headed man is doggedly traveling miles across land and sea, avoiding wartime danger zones, for some unknown reason to meet an evil in Romania he thought had been vanquished ages before...

And now The Keep begins to crumble. One prominent weakness is the thoughtless, cliched romance that grows between Magda and that redheaded man - Glenn, at first - a relationship practically clipped with scissors out of a cheap historical or Harlequin romance novel, seemingly inserted to make the novel fit the bestseller mold: She had found the man unattractive in the extreme; in addition to his odor and grimy appearance, there was a trace of arrogance and condescension that she found equally offensive. Ugh! There is no originality, no human insight, just gross lazy simplifications about men and women and sex. Would that Wilson had just left this part out completely, or rewrote the passages another time or two to tone down the rank sexism, or at least evince a sort of detached or ironic attitude about it. Or something to make it palatable, anything!

And the depiction of Nazis and their reign of terror - an easily exploitable topic, a hack writer's dream! I like tasteless exploitation/horror when done right, but Wilson doesn't rise - or sink - to the occasion. The Nazis are barely cardboard - as the novel goes on, all the characters become cardboard pieces. When we first meet the god-like evil denizen of the keep, a baddie named Molasar, there are the de rigueur horror moments, such as his "friendship" with Ol' Vlad Tepes back in the day and talk about feeding off the evils of humanity. But Molasar is dressed like a comic-book villain and speaks like one too: "I have my own means of moving about which does not require doors or secret passages. A method quite beyond your comprehension."  My God, who knew evil was so dorky?

 Map of the Keep itself

(Some spoilers) Other faults: Wilson makes an interesting observation about vampire lore when Cuza, a devout Jew, sees Molasar's fear of the Christian cross - does that mean that faith is the true one, and not Cuza's Judaism? He agonizes over his own potential loss of belief, but for Wilson, it's only a dead end. Later Cuza gets Molasar all riled up when he informs him what "death camps" are and that the Nazis are planning on rounding up Molasar's Wallachian "people" and exterminating them. So Malasar decides he's going to kill Hitler and his crew, with Cuza helping out as daytime dogsbody, getting out of the keep and up into Hitler's shit. Yep, that hoariest of tropes, KILL HITLER, seems too convenient a turnabout (to be fair this novel is over 30 years old so I guess the trope wasn't as hoary then). Molasar's gonna gain power from all that Nazi badness, don't you know, then take over the world...

1983 Dutch edition - creepier than any scene in the book

I haven't even mentioned the thudding dialogue, unimaginative scenes of violent mayhem, the climax of ageless good v. evil, and the sappy, unearned epilogue, all of which have been seen a hundred, a thousand times before. It all adds up to the reader never feeling that tingle, that can't-turn-pages-fast-enough vibe that makes this kind of mainstream bestseller work. There's a notable lack of atmosphere too, which makes The Keep deadly dull in places: I mean, the setting is a fucking castle in the mountains of Romania occupied by terrified Nazis because a mysterious monstrous vampire is trying kill them all! You gotta work it hard in the opposite direction to suck the creepy out of that set-up. And Wilson, unfortunately, is up to the task.

Yes, even as the bodies piled up and the mystery deepened, I struggled with this one. You'd think a horror novel like this would be pretty bad-ass and the ever-popular "unputdownable," but it's not at all. I'd put it down for a few days, a week, and almost forget I'd been reading it. I'd pick it up and start yawning after a couple pages, since Wilson's prose style overall is vapid. That dedication to HPL, Howard, and Smith becomes ludicrous - this is some of the lamest "pulp" I've read, and trying to excuse its lameness by calling it pulp doesn't help. If Wilson weren't such a trite, banal writer - Never had the supernatural been so real to him. Never would he be able to view the world or existence itself as he had before -  he could've produced a richly detailed novel of historical horror and eternal evil. But neither his handling of the supernatural nor of the natural has enough conviction or weight; the story is there, and like the proverbial sculptor who knows his subject is hiding in that hunk of marble, all F. Paul Wilson has to do is find it. But most often he doesn't, or he can't; The Keep is a boring blank surface that, while sometimes interesting in and of itself, refuses to reveal the true horror novel that resides within.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Miming After Midnight

Clowns after midnight? Pshaw. Mimes are the true masters of silent midnight terror. Take a look at one of the best covers I've discovered recently - an unheard of novel, The Mime (HB Jove, 1978), by an unknown writer, Tony Profumo. And dig that tagline - Was she possessed by Eros - or by Satan? Spectacular!

Friday, January 3, 2014

My Favorite Horror Reads of 2013

This year was the year I thought I had been dropping the ball on writing actual reviews of books I read. I found plenty of great horror covers to post, sure, but as far as reading, it seemed like I was slowing down, hitting too many snags with just okay books but not finding that something special I just had to share. But then I looked through this year's posts and saw that I'd really read some great books and short stories. Some were surprisingly satisfying rereads, and some were new and welcome to my pantheon of favorites. All would be stellar additions to your own bookshelves! Click on links to read my full reviews.

The Bad Seed by William March. The pitch-perfect exposé of a child's clinical sociopathy.
Borderlands edited by  Thomas F. Monteleone. One of the major anthologies of horror, filled with challenging, imaginative, unsettling short works.
The Brains of Rats by Michael Blumlein. Scalpel-sharp stories of medical madness and domestic doom.
Carrie by Stephen King. She still packs a powerful psychic punch after all these years.
Cast a Cold Eye by Alan Ryan. A quiet, cozy, creepy Irish ghost story.
Childmare by A.G. Scott. A teenage riot in sleepy London town.
Cold Moon over Babylon by Michael McDowell. Vengeful Southern ghosts, alternately quiet and grotesque.
Night Visions 3: The Hellbound Heart edited by George R.R. Martin. Stellar example of 1980s short horror fiction thanks to Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, and Lisa Tuttle.
The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories edited by Alan Ryan. Spectacular tales of the vampire from ages past and present.
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Unparalleled popular fiction that dives deep into the pool of psychopathia.

Aaand one alternate: The Hunger by Whitley Strieber, a rich, violent, seductive novel of vampirism.

Additionally, I hit the jackpot several times throughout the year, scoring dozens of paperbacks at a local yearly book fair, while on vacation driving throughout Colorado, a random day at a regular haunt, and a brief Christmas visit to my hometown and the used bookstore I worked at while in college.

So you can see I've got plenty of reading material for 2014 - again, some rereads and some all-new to me - coming up, a review of a fairly well-known '80s horror novel in the next few days...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

French Paperback Horror, Part Deux

Quelle horreur! And it continues, these covers for French translations of some terrific vintage horror (for more, much more of these as well as artist info, go here). For their splatterpunk magnum opus The Scream (1988), Skipp & Spector get a Heavy Metal-esque cover, pretty fitting considering the metal mayhem contained within.

Ah, The Cipher! Here, Kathe Koja's stunning debut novel becomes "Breach of Hell," fitting, although the cover image doesn't quite capture the amorphous quality of the cipher itself, which was basically a nothing... Still, creepy cool.

A simplistic, not too impressive rendition of Fletcher and Jaffe, the warring spiritual duo in Barker's 1989 novel of the fantastique, The Great and Secret Show.

Holy shit is that terrifying. And erotic. And terrifying. Nice work! Don't know this book by the recently late Gary Brandner, who is most famous for writing The Howling (1977).

A glorious rendition of the images contained in Poppy Z. Brite's essential 1993 short story collection, variously known as Swamp Foetus and Wormwood. I believe the title translates as "Stories of the Green Fairy," that being an old literary term for absinthe - clearly visible and ready for the imbibing. Watch out for Kali though!

This noxious cover reminds me that I really need to reread The Fog since I really member nothing about it; the James Herbert classic from 1975 is highly praised for being a pure pulp delight in Steve King's Danse Macabre. But you knew that.

A gorgeously Gothic and evocative work of art for Straub's 1980 novel. "La terre l'ombre," if my high school French serves, could've been the translated title.

Last but not least, Lansdale! Lurid and lusty. Lovely!