Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gary Brandner Born Today, 1933

Best known as the author of The Howling  werewolf series, Gary Brandner wrote a good handful of 1980s horror novels published by Fawcett Gold Medal. These have got to be some of the lamest covers of that era (except, of course, his Cat People novelization, which is the movie poster image anyway)! Brandner died in 2013.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Queen of Hell by J.N. Williamson (1981): Queen Nothing Approximately

I swear I bought this one only for the cover! And it's a good thing too, because while Queen of Hell (Leisure Books, 1981) boasts a breast-baring beauty with forked tongue beckoning us to our doom, the novel itself offers little but boredom. Despite a few thoughtful nods to what J.N. Willamson probably thought of as "women's lib," the descriptions of female characters are all hair color and body types (so I guess the cover is at least accurate in that respect). Willamson seems hell-bent on shoving in all the history, biography, and mythology he's read but his own style is square and stuffy, with awkward dialogue crammed into characters' mouths like wooden blocks, and a grating pall of pretension over everything.

Williamson seems a perfect example of the prolific over- and self-educated pulp writer, eager to show off his erudition, but unable to work it into his writing seamlessly. Check out the full page of quotes that introduce each section: he employs the likes of Homer, Milton, Byron, Freud, Algernon Swinburne, et. al. The author's belief that these great minds are somehow relevant to his piece of pulp dreck is silly. Williamson might be a reader and appreciator of great literature, but he can hardly write it.

So: there's a prologue set in turn of the century, one that mentions Hecate, this horrific bloody dark goddess of ancient Greece, and hints at her returning in the new century. Okay, my curiosity's piqued some. Then we're in the new century, and there's a teenage girl who was raped--of course, of course--so she's convalescing in a Catholic hospital, writing down weird visions she has of the past that are freaking out nuns and priests left and right. They think she's possessed--of course, of course--but her mother, a modern lady, is skeptical. Mom is a college prof, wants to teach a course on goddess mythology to empower female students, walking in the footsteps of her father, a great and respected scholar. She argues with a priest about the origins of her daughter's visions and takes her daughter home. Daughter wonders if Hecate is living in the modern world. End Part One.

In the second half of the novel we meet three of those female students and trudge through their shenanigans--I'm skimming, more like flipping pages at this point--and there's graphic violent sex, gross old lady corpses, mythic rituals with naked people--of course, of course--and an apocalyptic climax featuring Satan himself. The novel's final lines are literally "THE END, ALMOST..." I mean, just ugh. Nothing in Queen of Hell clicked with me, and Williamson's tendency to overwrite and have characters over-speak was exhausting.

J.N. Williamson (1932 - 2005)

But wait, there's more! For whatever reason, Williamson adds an author's note, titled--not too pretentiously now--"A Necessary Adieu from the Author." It's completely nonsensical, a cranky rant from an old white man upset about uppity women who don't believe in God but follow all that hippy-dippy goddess stuff. He tries to be funny with it but man it's just.. odd. And another odd thing is that Williamson is totally wrong about Hecate. In Greek myth she has nothing to do with darkness, death, destruction, lust, violence, etc., at all, so I don't know what sources Williamson was reading. Probably Aleister Crowley, who turns up a couple times in Queen of Hell.

I don't want to get all down on Williamson, because in his interview in Dark Dreamers (1990) he seems like a nice enough old fella, ready and willing to help young writers get published. An editor of some renown, he put together the well-regarded, all-star, multi-volume Masques series. But he actually was aware that his speedy skill at the typewriter produced less-than-stellar horror fiction, and lots of it. It's fine that he's honest about that, but honestly for me, I doubt I'll be reading any more of it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

Zebra Horror Paperbacks: The 1990s

Even as the paperback horror boom raced toward its inevitable fall, Zebra Books continued to crank out these little lovelies. The creepy kids' hair and clothing styles get updated and more photo-realistic, but overall it's still the same old story, tales of death all gory...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Horror Fiction Help XVI

All right guys: any ideas? Help some people who wanna find these long-forgotten horror stories!

1. The book was a black cloth hard-cover, and appeared to be a treatise or horror essay (not an anthology of stories). If ONLY I could remember the title or the author I'd find it fast enough online, but the only thing that stands out in my mind are parts of two sentences: ". . . frozen wagon wheel ruts" and "trees denuded of leaves . . ."    "The woods were gray with denuded trees, and the frozen wagon ruts in the mud of the road as cold and hard as iron." There was mention of vampires but also mention of werewolves as well. It might have been published in the early 40s or 50s, maybe earlier.

2. Back in the way back (1963-4) my dad gave me an anthology of one page horror stories that were so well written, I still, these many years later, will not eat a can of food sans wrapper--even if it's from my own pantry. There were also two stories about babies--one read as a prisoner escaping his cell, turning the bars, pretending to sleep when the guards came by, only to find its a toddler in his playpen. Found! It's:

3. Story begins when a man of American Indian heritage, living in a cabin in the woods alone, wakes up one morning in early autumn to find that a spider has spun a web across his porch. The man’s Indian heritage leads him to take this event as a sign of an early and harsh winter, and also as a possible omen of something much more dreadful. The man’s misgivings are then amplified into a sense of impending doom by a second incident on the same day: While walking in the woods, he is attacked by a savage, angry rabbit. This latter incident convinces the man that he is going to die that winter, and he does in fact die in the course of the book. I remember that these opening pages set a magnificent sense of dark impending fate in the midst of the bright colors of a beautiful autumn morning.     The only other things I remember about the book is that the latter part is set in a hunting lodge in the deep woods, and that the action culminates in a hunt in which a giant wolf—or maybe werewolf—is killed. The heroine is involved in the hunt, but I think that she might be something akin to a werewolf herself.

4. The book was a collection of stories - three in all, I think, and by the same author - intended for young readers. We read it when we were in third grade, which would have been 1998ish, and it was not a new book. My feeling is that is was published in the '80s or early '90s.  I don't remember much about the appearance of the book other than the fact that it was a paperback, but my sister says it was a dark background with lurid bright colors. She thinks it was a fairground setting with two children cowering in fear, and that there might have been a scary old man involved.   I remember two of the stories in the book with great clarity, which makes it all the more infuriating that I can't identify the book. One story was about two friends, a boy and a girl, who ran afoul of a man at a fairground/carnival who had special pencils that made whatever he drew with them real. Pretty sure he turned someone into a chicken thing (a la Freaks), and he messed with the kids by doing stuff like skipping from the afternoon to the next morning in order to deprive the kids of sleep. The kids ended up sending him to a tropical island somehow, and the story ended with him sending them a letter saying he would be back soon because the island had all the stuff he needed to make more magic pencils. Found! It's:

5. When I was in elementary school there was a 2- or 3-set anthology Horror/Sci Fi if I remember correctly. One of the stories was titled "Wendonai’s Child." Found! It's:"Wendigo's Child" from:

6. A man wants revenge against creatures that only come out at night, they killed his wife or lover. He finds them at an amusement park and he is going to blow them up. That is pretty much the sum of my memory regarding this book/story.

7. All I remember is on the cover it has a picture of a burnt doll's face. It was about a man who survived the crash and it was the doll he was going to take to his daughter.

8. I remember having an anthology back in the late 80's/early 90's. I remember parts of a particular story. The story was about the devil getting to come to earth on a particular Sunday. I believe Sunday may have been in the title. Also there were references/quotes from the kookaburra song. Found! It's from: