Our theme at the moment is ‘Bridges’. Spooky things, bridges. Think of the covered bridge Ichabod Crane had to reach to escape the Headless Horseman in “The Legend of Sleepy Horror”. Or the one in Beetlejuice where the main characters had an unfortunate encounter with a stray dog.
I’ve got a certain bridge in mind to discuss in this edition. Although according to the schedule I’ve made up for myself as to which medium to write about it’s Old Time Radio’s turn in the spotlight, we’ll begin with a few words about its successor, television.
I’ve written before in this space about Rod Serling and his most influential creation, The Twilight Zone, for which the word “groundbreaking” might well have been invented. On February 28, 1964, Serling did something that, to my knowledge, had never been done before – instead of his normal programming, he presented, without commercial interruption, a short French film from 1961 entitled “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce.
The film, which had no dialogue, had won both the Oscar and the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1962 for Best Short Subject. Serling saw it in France and picked it up for a song. Showing it instead of filming a new episode for what was to be The Twilight Zone’s final season brought the show in on budget, a rarity that pleased the suits at ABC-TV. They offered Serling another season, but he was over the whole ‘monster of the week’ format the network wanted, and he declined. And so, the show was canceled.
The story had previously been adapted in 1959 for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV program, and several times for radio, in addition to a number of times into various media since. It concerns one Peyton Farquhar, a Confederate spy during the American Civil War who is about to be hanged from the Owl Creek Bridge. When the rope breaks, he struggles to elude his Yankee pursuers and return to his home, until…
No spoilers here.
I have written before about the symbiotic relationship between the Old Time Radio shows Escape! and Suspense!, the way the two programs often shared scripts. So it was with the Bierce tale. It was aired on Escape! on December 10, 1947, starring OTR stalwart Harry Bartell. Suspense! had three performances – December 9, 1956, with Victor Jory; December 15, 1957, with Joseph Cotten; and July 19, 1959, with Vincent Price.
Since the era of Old Time Radio ended on the evening of September 30, 1962, there have been periodic attempts to revive the medium, with varying degrees of success. The most durable effort, The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, began in 1974 and ran until 1982, with a brief revival in 1998. For most of its run, it was hosted by E.G. Marshall, who played the old man terrified of bugs in the final segment of Creepshow in 1982. The show adapted the tale on June 4, 1974, the program’s 101st broadcast.
We have another pair of obituaries for this edition. American painter and illustrator James Bama, who contributed many covers to the long run of Doc Savage paperbacks in the 1960s and 1970s as well as the box art for the Aurora monster models kits, died on April 22, 2022, a few days before his 96th birthday.
And the revolutionary, not to mention legendary, American comic book artist Neal Adams passed away on April 28th. He was eighty. His uncanny ability to render the human form and face elevated the art form to a level it had never seen before, or possibly since. Adams’ genre work included stories for Warren Publications’ Creepy and Eerie magazines, as well as stories and covers for DC Comics’ House of Mystery in the late 1960s, and the El Diablo stories in Weird West Tales in the early 1970s.
Over much of his stellar career, Adams championed creators’ rights to their own intellectual property in an industry long reliant on ‘work for hire’ as its business model. He was able to get comics giant Jack “King” Kirby’s original artwork for Marvel returned to him, and garnered Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster long-overdue credit and remuneration for their seminal creation, one upon which the entire medium was built.
His run on the Deadman feature in DC’s Strange Adventures in the late 1960s will be covered in a future podcast segment. Stay tuned.
When next we gather together in this place, Rock Bands will be the theme and television the medium. That can only mean one thing to a child of the 1960s – a certain quartet of musicians with a distinctly simian appellation. Until then, oh ye appreciators of the abhorrent…
To say that my Southern Baptist parents did not entirely approve of my childhood interest in the macabre and the monstrous would be putting it mildly. They barely tolerated it, in fact, but drew the line firmly when it came to anything that smacked of the heathen practices of divination. So, of course, I was just contrary enough so as to be fascinated by the small collection of predictive playthings that began being advertised in the back pages of my favorite comic books in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. Not that I was ever foolish enough to bring one of those games or toys into the house, but I didn’t shy away when I encountered them in the homes of my friends.
Interactive playthings based on the supernatural had been around for all of that spooky period. We’ve discussed the reasons behind the general proliferation of horrific goodies in popular culture before. It was standard practice to cobble together board games based on the television shows that haunted the airwaves – The Twilight Zone, Dark Shadows, The Addams Family, etc. They were mostly variations on Parcheesi or Chutes ‘n’ Ladders or Life, but they were fun on those rainy days when riding our bikes at top speed down the hill in front of our house to crash-land at the end of the cul-de-sac our street dead-ended into was not an option. There were also Ideal’s 1962 Haunted House Game; the first glow-in-the-dark game, Green Ghost, released by Transogram in 1965; and Milton-Bradley’s Which Witch? from 1970, among others. And of course, lots of Ouija Boards, which Parker Brothers had been marketing since the early 20th Century.
The one I really wanted to get my hands on was an intriguing little item called Ka-Bala, a 1967 Transogram production. The comic book ads promised all manner of predictive delights, none of which I was able to take advantage of because I never knew anyone who had one. But just look at it, a big eye floating above the board, indicating which phony Tarot card will decide your future for you. How cool is that?
Not cool enough for all the Southern Baptists around me in those years to tolerate, apparently. I never even saw one, either in a store or at a friend’s house. That still sucks. Sure, I could shell out the nearly two hundred bucks the thing goes for on ebay, but I’d kind of like to stay married a little longer. And alive. My wife knows where too many sharp implements are to be located in our house.
I did have friends who had Ouija boards. The Catholics, of whom I knew none, seem in retrospect to have been a lot more concerned about the negative spiritual effects of using one of those to communicate with the deceased than did the Southern Baptists, or even the Methodists. But we all figured out pretty quickly that it was one of us moving the planchette around. We got bored with it almost immediately.
I like to think our amusement with Ka-Bala might have lasted a little longer. I mean, that big ol’ eye thing! The Ouija board just lay there, flat on the table. Ka-Bala had an eye, an actual eye, looking right into your soul, ready to tell you all sorts of things! I’m not even sure we’d have cared about the predictions. We weren’t all that interested in having jobs yet, or who we would get married to, or stuff like that. And I doubt it would reveal who would be the villain in the next issue of Spider-Man, or if the president would interrupt our evening programming for some boring speech regarding stuff we knew nothing about, but which would be on all three channels so – Arrrrrggghhhh! Every kid in the country seriously hated when that happened because we’d have to do homework instead of watching our favorite shows, and nothing sucked more than that.
Anyhow. No, it wasn’t going to tell us anything we really wanted to know, but that wasn’t the point. It was the principle of the thing. Knowing the future would grant us the only real power we could possibly feel in our very powerless young lives – being in on the secrets of the universe as only that solitary eye in the middle of the game board had the power to reveal. Or so we thought, which really was the fun of it all.
Ah, to be a child again. But only if my parents would be considerate enough to be atheists, this time around.
When next we meet, we’ll traipse across a bridge that leads to… well, nowhere, as it turns out. Until then, my fellow zealots of zombification…
Once upon a time, not far from Vanderbilt University, nestled snugly between the Elliston Place Soda Shop and the second best comic book store in Nashville, there existed an emporium known as Elder’s Bookstore. I remember it as being a dusty, dirty, disorganized display of decaying detritus, piled aimlessly and according to no discernable pattern, in which nothing was in its place, or even priced. If one did manage to find something desirable, and not too shabby, one had to confront Old Man Elder, himself. That ancient curmudgeon, as I recollect him, usually quoted a value far in excess of worth. In several decades of occasionally venturing into that dungeon of decomposing compositions, I only recall purchasing two objects – a dust-jacket free first edition of Don Marquis’s archy and mehitabel, for which I paid the very reasonable sum of ten dollars, and a rather ill-used copy of the June 1945 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, which cost what was at the time the mildly exorbitant sum of seven dollars. However, as pulp magazines were not a particularly common commodity in my hometown in the 1970s, I set aside my Scottish frugality and grabbed it up.
Famous Fantastic Mysteries was launched in 1939 by the Munsey Company as a venue for reprinting speculative fiction short stories that had originally premiered in its magazines, Argosy, All-Story, etc. A companion magazine, Fantastic Novels, appeared a year later, and featured longer works but only lasted five issues. In 1942, Famous Fantastic Mysteries was sold to Popular Publications, which switched it from multiple reprints to a single classic novel-length speculative fiction tale, accompanied by one or two new, or at least newer, shorter works. Popular revived Fantastic Novels in 1948, for a twenty-issue run over the next three years. Famous Fantastic Mysteries lasted until 1953, which was more or less the end of the pulp era.
The authors reprinted in the magazines represent a who’s-who of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and adventure scriveners of previous decades – A. Merritt, H. Rider Haggard, Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells, J.U. Geisy, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, George Allan England, Ralph Milne Farley, etc., etc., etc. Merritt seems to have been especially well represented, with virtually all of his novels appearing in one title or the other, usually represented by cover art courtesy of THE greatest of all the pulp illustrators, Virgil Finlay. More on him and his impact on fantasy art in a future column.
That first issue I acquired featured one of William Hope Hodgson’s nautical terror tales, his 1907 novel The Boats of the Glen Carrig. You might have run across another of his ship-borne yarns, “The Voice in the Dark”, which is one of the most reprinted short stories in all of horror literature. The second story is a 1936 short novel by one J.S. Bradford, Even a Worm. If Bradford ever published anything else, I cannot find evidence of such. Several pages of readers’ letters complete the issue.
The cover painting and interior artwork are all by the major pulp artist Lawrence Stevens, who signed his work simply ‘Lawrence’. I have since acquired a few other issues, all of which have covers by him. The inner pages, however, contain many fine examples of Finlay’s work, which pleases me no end. Apropos of nothing, in particular, they all feature novels by H. Rider Haggard, a favorite of mine since childhood. I’m not sure if that was intentional, or simply happenstance.
A significant number of issues of both magazines have been posted to the InternetArchives. Alas, my first issue hasn’t been. Maybe it will be, someday.
Our lagniappe for this edition is another sad one, an obituary of a contributor to the popular culture of horror. Mitchell Ryan passed away on March 4th at the age of 88. He starred as Burke Devlin in the first season of Dark Shadows, from June 1966 to June 1967. He also appeared in the 1995 film, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. I had the pleasure of seeing him on stage when I was at the University of Tennessee in 1983, playing Jason in Medea opposite Zoe Caldwell, whose passing I noted some time back. Slowly but surely, the various bits and pieces of my childhood and young adulthood go drifting off into the void. C’est la vie.
When next we meet, we’ll drop around to check out a very grave situation – a chapel in the heart of Europe in which the bones of the long-dead have been put to uses not normally recommended for human remains. Join me, won’t you, for a viewing of what I dig up for your edification and enjoyment.
I have written before in this space about being in some faraway place for what is likely to be the only time in your life and later finding out that you missed seeing something you would really have liked to have seen. Given the insane number of cool things in the world, that’s almost a given. It’s just about impossible to squeeze everything in, no matter where you go. It happened to me at least once more on that same 2011 trip through Eastern Europe during which I did not see Bela Lugosi’s bust.
It was early June in the Czech Republic, as it was still called in those days. Our Mercedes-Benz bus had left Brno behind after lunch and we motorvated towards the absolutely gorgeous city of Prague. As we neared the capital, we passed south of the town of Kutná Hora. Located in a suburb of that city is the Sedlec Ossuary, in which the bones of between 40,000 and 70,000 human beings have been repurposed as decorations and furnishings for a chapel under Hřbitovní Kostel Všech Svatých, the Cemetery Church of All Saints, in the former Sedlec Abbey.
As much as I would have liked to make that detour, we were well into the second week of our journey and ready for our last major stop. From Prague, we had only to drive back to Frankfurt-am-Main, with a lunch stop at Rothenberg, before heading home. There were forty-some of us on that bus including the driver and guide, and we were all in agreement that it was getting close to being time to break up the band. It had been fun, especially with so many Australians aboard, but we all longed for home and hearth.
Besides, we had spent an afternoon just a few days before exploring the Kaisergruft in Vienna, the crypt beneath a Cistercian monastery in which the remains of almost four hundred years worth of Austro-Hungarian royalty had been interred. That had been just about enough death, I suspect, for most of my traveling companions. Another dose might have proven fatal to what was left of our congenial fellowship.
And thus it was that we skipped the Sedlec Ossuary for a cruise on the Vltava River, a tour of St. Vitus Cathedral, and a walk across the Charles Bridge instead, as well as good food, great beer, and a fountain in the form of two men urinating at one another. Google search that on your own time. Warning: NSFW!
So, we ate, and we drank, and we were merry, and then we scattered to the four corners of the Earth and basked in the warmth of our memories, which did not, alas, include the Ossuary. I would like to direct your attention to a short film on YouTube that describes what we missed better than I possibly could. It’s only about ten minutes long, and in Czech, but it does have English subtitles. I recommend it highly.
There is a statue about halfway across the Charles Bridge that, when touched, is supposed to bring its molester back to Prague within a year. It didn’t work for me, but I do hope to return to that wonderful city someday and take that short trip to Kutná Hora as long as I’m in the neighborhood. I hope you can, too. Maybe we’ll meet in the Old Town Square in view of the Church of St. Mary before Tyn afterward, and talk about bones over a bottle of Becherovka.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
I will expound more fully on the Kaisergruft in a future column, by the way, as well as some of the other places I have visited wherein the deceased have found their perpetual rest. Something to look forward to, n’est pas? Do stay tuned.
Our lagniappe is the opening salvo from a collection I cannot recommend to the populace too highly, The 99 Darkest Pieces of Classical Music. While I don’t necessarily agree with all the selections being particularly dark, and certainly find a few of their omissions surprising, it is a good place to start for the budding aficionado of spooky classical music. For your cultural edification, I, therefore, present Franz Liszt’s Totentanz (Dance of Death). Enjoy!
In our next episode, we’ll be taking a look at a variety of games available to kids of my antiquated generation, pastimes designed to circumvent that veil that separates we mere mortals from the spirit world, as well as from future events. For, as Criswell pointed out in Plan 9 from Outer Space, the future is where you and I will be spending the rest of our lives! Join us for some spooky playtime.
I think I might have mentioned before in this space that the 1960s was a wonderful time in which to grow up. Along with every other aspect, the music flowing over the airwaves was objectively far superior to its modern-day counterpart. University studies have actually proven this. I kid thee not. No, seriously. You could look it up.
One of the more popular American musical acts of the mid-decade was one Domingo Samudio, born February 28, 1937. With and without his backup group, the Pharaohs, he became famous as Sam the Sham and had two huge hits, Wooly Bully and the somewhat genre-peripheral, Little Red Riding Hood. Both songs peaked at Number 2 on the American charts, a not-inconsiderable achievement in the midst of the British Invasion.
In 1964, he covered the 1958 Johnny Fuller hit, Haunted House. The song tells the tale of a gentleman who buys a house only to find he has an unwanted roommate, a being with ‘one big eye and two big feet ‘. The ghost tries every trick it can think of to drive the new owner out, but as Lydia Deetz said of her father in Beetlejuice, he is not one to walk away from equity. There’s no real resolution of the conflict by the fade-out, but that might be said of many such antagonistic arrangements in life. I like to think they’re both living there still, cohabiting with a minimum of friction. Nah, I don’t believe it either.
Fuller’s version was more rockabilly than R&B, which was unusual for an African-American artist of his time. He toured in the late 1950s with white acts like Paul Anka and Frankie Avalon, which distanced him from his previous black audience. He died of cancer in 1985 at the age of fifty-six.
Sam’s cover was a bluesy affair, as was the style by 1964. That same year, “Jumpin’” Gene Simmons issued a smoother, less edgy version. Of the three, I prefer Sam’s, probably because I associate it with the attendant joys of childhood. I do like the others, though.
A decade later, a bassist named Chaim Witz liked the last version so much, or at least the singer, that he changed his name to Gene Simmons and joined some rock ‘n’ roll band you might have heard of. I think they were called Kiss, or something like that. The name sounds vaguely familiar, anyhow.
The original Simmons began his career in 1956 as an opening act for Elvis Presley, even appearing in a bit part in one of The King’s movies, 1963’s Fun in Acapulco. His version reached Number 11 in the Top 100 on August 29, 1964. Exactly forty-two years later, he passed away at the age of seventy-three.
Haunted House was later covered by rock ‘n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis, former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty, and country singer John Anderson, among others. Come around my house in the weeks leading up to Halloween, and you’re apt to hear one version or another of it.
Sam the Sham has mostly retired from music, but still makes the occasional concert appearance. I have no information on whether or not he still performs Haunted House on those rare occasions when he puts the turban back on. I’d like to think he does.
This edition’s first lagniappe is a rather sad one, I’m afraid. As you might have noticed, I am no longer producing my Russian-novel length “In Memoriam” columns, but there have been a few recent passings that I felt ought to be noted.
Any post I make on the history of comic books, comic strips, or pulp magazines is likely to have been informed, at least in part, by the work of author and popular culture historian Ron Goulart. He passed away on January 14, 2022, one day after his eighty-ninth birthday.
French actress Yvette Mimieux, 75, star of the 1960 George Pal classic, The Time Machine, expired January 18th.
Czech-Canadian film director Ivan Reitman, 75, who gave us GhostBusters in 1984, departed this life on February 12th.
Be here in two weeks for an exploration of the wonders found in one of the great pulp magazines of the 1940s and 1950s, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, along with a preview of a future post regarding its most influential illustrator. I hope the populace will find the offering pleasing to the palate.
Word came yesterday as I write this that film director and occasional actor Peter Bogdanovich had passed away at the age of eighty-two. You might ask what that has to do with the horror genre since he mostly made comedies, musicals, and dramas. A fair question, given that his origins in the industry might be obscure to the average film fan, but true cineastes will know that Bogdanovich got his start as a film critic for Esquire Magazine before a chance meeting with Roger Corman in a movie theater in 1966. Corman had been directing a series of classic Edgar Allen Poe adaptations for American-International Pictures, most of them starring Vincent Price. He hired Bogdanovich, first as an assistant, then to direct a couple of low-budget pictures for him, one of which has gone down in horror movie history as a true classic.
Targets, on the other hand, was the last great film performance by legendary cinematic boogeyman Boris Karloff. He virtually plays himself as an old horror movie star named Byron Orlock. Orlock is on the eve of retiring because the horrors of the real world have eclipsed the relatively harmless frissons generated by the kinds of movies he had made for decades. He reluctantly agrees to make a personal appearance at a drive-in theater showing his final film, which is never named but is, in reality, his 1963 picture, The Terror, co-starring a very young Jack Nicholson. Bogdanovich plays the director, who sympathizes with Orlock’s dilemma but can’t help but resent his decision.
Meanwhile, unstable Vietnam Veteran Bobby Thompson has just bought a brand-new rifle. The script by Bogdanovich and Samuel Fuller was inspired by the rampage by Charles Whitman, who murdered his wife and mother in 1966 before killing fourteen random strangers and wounding thirty-one others at the University of Texas in Austin. In the film, Bobby shoots his wife and mother, then climbs on top of an oil storage tank and fires at random motorists on the highway below.
By the time of the film premiere that evening, Bobby has relocated to the theater. After killing the projectionist, he starts shooting into the cars below him from behind the screen. Orlock confronts him while his own image is projected above. Bobby freaks out and tries to kill Orlock’s character on the screen. Orlock whacks him over the head with his cane, rendering the mass-murderer dazed long enough for the police to arrive and arrest him. As Bobby is dragged away, he brags that at least he never missed.
Karloff made a few more truly awful pictures in Mexico, and a couple of memorable television appearances, but Targets was his last hurrah as a film star. It was released on August 15, 1968. Karloff died less than six months later, on February 2, 1969.
Bogdanovich went on to make the Best Picture Oscar winner of 1971, The Last Picture Show, and Paper Moon, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. And roughly thirty other feature films, shorts, documentaries and television episodes. He also wrote books and articles on film history. He only returned to the horror genre twice more, playing the Old Man in a 2016 film version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, and in 2018 making a cameo as himself in Reborn. Maybe he felt that the one contribution he made at the beginning of his career was so good that he didn’t have anything more to say about creating cinematic terrors. And maybe he was right.
My lagniappe for this time out is an addition to my post of a while back about The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was only after disseminating that essay that I discovered that the novel had been adapted to the Sherlock Holmes syndicated newspaper comic strip in 1955. Written by Edith Meisner and drawn by comics legend Frank Giacoia, the storyline ran from August 15 to October 27. I’m not aware that it’s been reprinted in any form that is currently available, but if it ever is, I shall alert the populace.
Next time out, we’ll be taking a look at that most horrific of the plays of William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus. Until then, my stalwarts of the supernatural…
I don’t think it would be accurate to say that my wife gave up a sparkling career in the theatre to tie herself down to me, but our first date did occur when she invited me to come to the closing performance of the play she was appearing in at the time, Noël Coward’s Hay Fever. She insisted I come along to the cast party afterward, which turned out to be an entire night of revelry in a variety of venues all around Nashville. Three weeks later, after the consumption of far too many Long Island Teas, we became engaged. The wedding was nine months after that, and despite valiant efforts on both of our parts, we are still married forty years later.
Hay Fever was the last stage production she was in, but far from the first. Before we met, she had won some sort of award that used to hang on a wall in our first apartment for playing Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. I had a vague idea of some of the other plays she’d been in, but the details have faded with the years, as they are oftentimes wont to do with advanced age.
Friday before last as I write this, Landra and I loaded way more than we needed to take with us into my Kia Sorento and motorvated on down to damn near the farthest away part it is possible to reach via a combustion engine driven vehicle of the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, where we have a timeshare. We hopped the Key West Express for a couple of days in Hemingway Country, and the bulk of six more lolling about on the pristine white sand beach a brisk three-minute walk from our condo on Marco Island. Many adult beverages were consumed during that just-over-a-week, let me tell you, along with much seafood of invariably exceptional quality. Two words: conch fritters. Yum!
At some point, late in the week as I recall, I mentioned that I was going to write my next column for this space on Joseph Kesselring’s 1939 play, Arsenic and Old Lace, and its various adaptations into other mediums. She reminded me that she herself had played one of the aunts in a production several years before we became an item, and opined that if we ever did tread the boards again, I would make an excellent Teddy as her co-star. I agreed as I have been well trained to do. And also because I’ve long thought it might be fun to essay a performance of the harmlessly delusional Brewster brother. I haven’t done any acting on stage since, oh, 1976 – the year, not the musical – so maybe we should pay attention to opportunities to indulge that old impulse to inflict ourselves on the theatre patrons of the 21st Century.
Or maybe not.
The play opened on Broadway on January 10, 1941, and ran for 1444 performances through 1944. It ran almost as many in the West End in London. Naturally, a film version had to be made. And so it was, as well as broadcasts on radio and, later, television, as late as 1969 in the United States. I am aware of televised broadcasts in Europe in 1971 and 2002, and there are probably more. It is a popular play for amateur revivals anywhere those are apt to occur, and if anyone does deign to produce it in my area, well, maybe Teddy is calling me, after all.
The story unfolds on Halloween, in Brooklyn. Mortimer Brewster has just married Elaine Harper, daughter of the snooty reverend next door. As they are trying to sneak away to Niagara Falls, Mortimer finds out that his dear, sweet aunts, Abby and Martha, have been engaging in the impromptu euthanasia of lonely old men by the surreptitious administration of arsenic, strychnine, and a pinch of cyanide in their homemade elderberry wine. As their prospective lodgers fall victim to what they’ve been telling their loopy nephew, who believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt, is yellow fever, he removes the remains to the basement. There he will proceed to dig a new lock in his own personal Panama Canal, in which the newly deceased is interred.
Mortimer discovers the latest victim before Teddy can plant him, and decides that it’s time for all concerned to be ensconced in a chuckles emporium. As he’s trying to arrange this, his long-lost brother, career criminal and psychopathic murderer Jonathan Brewster, comes back to his childhood home, accompanied by the inebriated medico who performs periodic plastic surgeries to hide Jonathan’s identity from the long arm of the law. The most recent operation had been performed after Dr. Einstein had watched a horror film, with rather unfortunate consequences for one gentleman whom Jonathan had killed because, and I quote, “He said I look like Boris Karloff”.
Given that Karloff created the role on Broadway, that line pretty much brought the house down every night.
Eventually, Jonathan is caught, Dr. Einstein slips away unnoticed, Teddy and his aunts receive a group rate admission to the Happydale Sanitarium, and Mortimer and Elaine finally take off for their honeymoon.
When three-time-Oscar winning director Frank Capra adapted Arsenic and Old Lace for the silver screen in late 1941, he retained Jean Adair as Aunt Martha, Josephine Hull as Aunt Abby, and John Alexander as Teddy, borrowing them from Broadway for the eight-week shooting schedule. Alan Joslyn was replaced with Cary Grant as Mortimer, full-time Warner Bros. Studios creepy character actor Peter Lorre became the new Dr. Einstein, and various Hollywood stalwarts took the places of the New York crowd. Alas, Karloff was still playing Jonathan on Broadway and was thus unavailable as he was the show’s main draw, so Capra cast Canadian actor Raymond Massey in his stead. Massey was more than adequate in the role. Because the various contracts specified the film had to wait to be released until the play ended its run, it was not released until 1944. By which time Karloff would have been available to play Jonathan.
It’s a delightfully warped film, very watchable even after seventy-seven years. It appears regularly on Turner Classic Movies and other old movie channels, is available on DVD, and is currently streaming on Amazon Instant. So, you have no excuse for not seeing it. Get to it. Now!
Or as soon as you finish reading this. I have a couple more things to say about Arsenic and Old Lace.
There were several productions done for the radio during the 1940s and into the 1950s, often with Karloff as Jonathan. Karloff reprised the role for television in 1955, but the broadcast has not survived. The only existing filmed version with Karloff appearing as Jonathan is a 1962 performance done on television’s Hallmark Hall of Fame. Tony Randall co-stars as Mortimer.
In 1969, shortly after Karloff’s passing, former Herman Munster Fred Gwynne starred as Jonathan in a television movie of the play. A proposed theatrical remake planned for Richard Pryor in the 1970s never happened, so that’s pretty much the end of that. Except for my wife’s performance, which was no doubt one of the best ever. Sorry, dear. THE best.
Apropos of nothing I have said heretofore, I will leave you now with one of my infamous lagnappes, a bit of sonic spookiness that popped up on my playlist this morning. Recorded by Jack and Jim in 1959, here is The Midnight Monsters Hop. Hope it meets the populace’s approval.
Raffaella Carrà (18 June 1943 – 5 July 2021) Italian singer (A far l’amore comincia tu), and actress in several genre-peripheral peplum (sword and sandal) pictures in the 1960s, including Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops and Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules (both 1961).
Richard Donner (April 24, 1930 – July 5, 2021) American film and television director on six episodes of The Twilight Zone in 1963 and 1964; one episode of The Sixth Sense, the spin-off from Night Gallery (“The House that Cried Murder”, Season 1, Episode 4, aired February 5, 1972); one episode of Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (“The Concrete Captain”, Season 1, Episode 2, aired September 22, 1972); the feature films The Omen(1976) and Scrooged (1988); and three episodes of Tales from the Crypt (1989-1992). And the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve, but since they aren’t horror, I won’t mention them.
Vladimir Menshov (17 September 1939 – 5 July 2021) Russian director and actor, appeared in Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006).
William Smith (March 24, 1933 – July 5, 2021) Ridiculously prolific American tough-guy actor who appeared in a huge array of delightfully cheesy horror pictures and a handful of borderline classics, including The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942); Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961); Crowhaven Farm (1970); Grave of the Vampire (as the first dhampyr in film history, 1972); The Thing withTwo Heads(1972); Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973); Conan the Barbarian (as Ahnuld’s daddy, 1982); Moon in Scorpio (1987); Maniac Cop (1988); Evil Altar (1988); Memorial Valley Massacre (1989); Feast (1992); The Evil Ones (1994); Manosaurus (1994); Interview with a Zombie (1997); Debbie Does Damnation (1999); The Vampire Hunters Club (2001); The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula (2001); Zombiegeddon (2003); Voices from the Graves (2006); Rapturious (2007); the first section of The Boneyard Collection (“Her Morbid Desires”, 2008); and Island of Witches (2014); and in one episode each of Kraft Suspense Theatre (“My Enemy, This Town”, Season 1, Episode 15, aired February 6, 1964); The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“The McGregor Affair”, Season 3, Episode 7, aired November 23, 1964), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (“The Energy Eater”, Season 1, Episode 10, aired December 13, 1974); and the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone (“Shadow Play”, Season 1, Episode 23, aired April 4, 1986). He also played the Frankenstein Monster on Fantasy Island (“The Lady and the Monster”, Season 5, Episode 4, aired October 31, 1981).
Robert Downey, Sr. (June 24, 1936 – July 7, 2021) American actor, director, writer, producer, and Iron Man’s daddy. Acted in one episode of the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone (“Wordplay”, Season 1, Episode 2, aired October 4, 1985) and directed three others.
Kumar Ramsey (1936 – July 8, 2021) Indian scriptwriter on Darwaza (1978), Aur Kaun? (1979), Saboot(1980), Guest House (1980), Dahshat (1981), Hotel (1981), Ghungroo Ki Awaaz (1981), Purana Mandir (1984), 3D Saamri (1985), Om (1986), Dak Bangla (1987), and Saaya (1989).
Ladislav Potměšil (2 September 1945 – 12 July 2021) Czech actor, Velká neznámá (The Great Unknown, 1970).
Don Jurwich (January 1, 1934 – July 14, 2021) American animator on Wacky Races (1968-1969), in which one of the competitor vehicles was the Creepy Coupe, driven by the Gruesomes, as well as producer on several incarnations of the Scooby-Doo Saturday morning franchise from 1977 to 1981.
Alfie Scopp (15 September 1919 – 24 July 2021) English-born Canadian actor in the feature film, The Mask (1961), and voice actor on the 1966 Saturday morning cartoon show, King Kong(see also the entry on Paul Soles in the previous quarter’s In Memoriam post).
Rick Aiello (September 21, 1955 – July 26, 2021) American actor in the feature film Silent Madness (1984) and one episode of Tales from the Crypt (“This’ll Kill Ya”, Season 4, Episode 2, aired June 27, 1992).
David Von Ancken (December 5, 1964 – July 26, 2021) American television director on three episodes of The Vampire Diaries from 2010 to 2013, five episodes of Salem in 2014, one episode of Ghost Wars (“Death’s Door”, Season 1, Episode 1, aired October 5, 2017), one episode of The Purge (“The Urge to Purge”, Season 1, Episode 3, aired September 18, 2018) and three episodes of The Order (2019-2020). He was also a producer on Salem, Ghost Wars and The Order.
Orlando Drummond (October 18, 1919 – July 27, 2021) Brazilian actor in Um Lobisomem na Amazônia (2005) and voice actor for the Portuguese-language versions of all the various series of Scooby-Doo from 1969 to 2010.
Saginaw Grant (July 20, 1936 – July 27, 2021) Native American character actor, Legend of the Phantom Rider (2002), Maneater (2009), the as-yet-unreleased Ghostkiller, and one episode of American Horror Story (“Birth”, Season 1, Episode 11, aired December 14, 2011)
Orestes Ojeda (January 3, 1956 − July 27, 2021) Filipino film and television actor, Kambal sa Uma (1979) and two episodes of the horror anthology series, Regal Shocker (1988).
Gérard Zingg (7 June 1942 – 27 July 2021) French screenwriter and director, Yéti, l’Homme Sauvage (2016).
Clive Scott (4 July 1937 – 28 July 2021) South African actor in a two-part adaptation of “The Masque of the Red Death” on Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Season 1, Episodes 11 and 12, aired November 17 and 24, 1995).
Pat Hitchcock (7 July 1928 – 9 August 2021), English actress and only child of Alfred Hitchcock. Appeared in several of her father’s films including Strangers on a Train (1951) and Psycho (1960), and in ten episodes of his television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1960).
Ken Hutchison (24 November 1948 – 9 August 2021) Scottish actor, Wuthering Heights (1978 BBC mini-series).
Sabina Ajrula (April 17, 1946 – August 10, 2021) North Macedonian-Turkish actress, Senki(Shadows, 2007).
Dilys Watling (5 May 1943 – 10 August 2021) English actress, Theatre of Death (1967).
Paulo José (20 March 1937 – 11 August 2021) Brazilian actor in the 1991-1992 television series, Vamp.
Una Stubbs (1 May 1937 – 12 August 2021) English actress probably best known to American audiences as Mrs. Hudson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes in the BBC series, Sherlock. Appeared in the BBC2 adaptation of the M.R. James short ghost story, “The Tractate Middoth” as part of the occasional series, A Ghost Story for Christmas, aired December 25, 2013.
Masanari Nihei (9 December 1940 – 21 August 2021) Japanese actor, Mosura (Mothra, 1961),
Marilyn Eastman (December 17, 1933 – August 22, 2021) American actress, played the mother killed with a trowel by her zombie daughter in Night of the Living Dead (1968). Also appeared in Santa Claws (1996).
Michael Nader (February 18, 1945 – August 23, 2021) American actor in the TV movie Nick Knight (1989), which was later remade as the first two episodes of the Forever Knight series (1992-1996), about a vampire detective.
Rosita Quintana (July 16, 1925 – August 23, 2021) Argentine-Mexican actress, El Demonio en la Sangre(Demon in the Blood, 1964).
Ed Asner (November 15, 1929 – August 29, 2021) Seven-time Emmy Award-winning American actor, five of those wins for the same character in two different shows, one a comedy (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and the other a drama (Lou Grant). Perhaps best known to modern audiences as the voice of Carl Fredrickson in Up (2009). Along with virtually every American television series for the past sixty-plus years, Asner made appearances in one episode each of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“What Frightened You, Fred?”, Season 7, Episode 30, aired May 1, 1962), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“To Catch a Butterfly”, Season 1, Episode 19, aired February 1, 1963), and The Outer Limits (“It Crawled Out of the Woodwork”, Season 1, Episode 11, aired December 9, 1963), as well as the made-for-television movie Daughter of the Mind (1969).
Ben Best (September 13, 1974 – September 12, 2021) American actor, Land of the Lost(2009).
Joel Rapp (May 22, 1934 – September 15, 2021) American writer on the supernatural sitcoms Topper (“The Package”, Season 1, Episode 32, aired May 14, 1954) and Bewitched (“Samantha and the Troll”, Season 7, Episode 19, aired February 18, 1971).
Ronald Roose (died September 15, 2021) American film editor, My Demon Lover (1987).
Jimmy Garrett (September 23, 1954 – September 17, 2012) American actor, had bit parts in one episode of The Twilight Zone (“The Night of the Meek”, Season 2, Episode 11, aired December 23, 1960) and in Munster, Go Home! (1966).
Basil Hoffman (January 18, 1938 – September 17, 2021) American actor, one episode of the revival of The Twilight Zone (“Button, Button”, Season 1, Episode 20, aired March 7, 1986) and The Elvira show (1993)
Shukhrat Irgashev (June 19, 1945 – September 17, 2021) Uzbekistani actor, Day Watch (2006).
John Challis (16 August 1942 – 19 September 2021) English actor, Dan Curtis’ Dracula (1974) and one episode of the British show Thriller (“Sleepwalker”, Season 6, Episode 1, aired April 10, 1976).
Peter Palmer (September 20, 1931 – September 21, 2021) American actor, Deep Space (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), one episode of the Bewitched spin-off series, Tabitha (“Tabitha’s Weighty Problem”, Season 1, Episode 2, aired September 10, 1977), and two episodes of Swamp Thing (“The Watchers”, Season 1, Episode 18, aired March 1, 1991, and “Judgment Day”, Season 3, Episode 22, aired December 19, 1992).
Melvin Van Peebles (August 21, 1932 – September 21, 2021) American actor and filmmaker, appeared in Jaws: The Revenge (1987) and as Dick Halloran in the 1997 mini-series version of The Shining.
Ravil Isyanov (20 August 1962 – 30 September 2021) Russian actor, Hamlet(1996), Octopus (2000), Arachnid (2001), No Escape (2020), and one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“No Place Like Home”, Season 5, Episode 5, aired October 24, 2000).
Except for those living under a rock somewhere, everyone has at least heard of the Big Two comic book companies, if only peripherally. Marvel, with its Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the rest of the Avengers, and DC, with its Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and their associated Justice Leaguers. In those halcyon days of my misspent youth in the 1960s, during what comics fans now refer to as the Silver Age of Comics, there were several other purveyors of four-color delights of equal importance to me and my peers, publishers long vanished and forgotten by all but the most die-hard connoisseurs of the medium. There was the American Comics Group, publisher of the very first horror comic in the late 1940s, Adventures into the Unknown, and of the most powerful comic book character ever created, the redoubtable Herbie Popnecker. There was Charlton, home to a cluster of third-tier super-heroes and several not-altogether-terrible horror comics. Archie was still putting out the occasional super-hero comics starring the Mighty Crusaders, comprised of characters left over from their Golden Age titles of the 1940s, along with the supernatural adventures of Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch. Dell had a few speculative fiction titles coming out, as well as the first comic book to acknowledge the developing war in Southeast Asia that would soon divide the country. Etc., etc., etc.
My favorite, however, was Gold Key, especially their horror titles – Twilight Zone, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe it or Not True Ghost Stories. They also had the monopoly – inherited from Dell Comics in 1962 – on Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters and the various Tarzan titles, as well as television adaptations, including The Munsters, Bewitched, Dark Shadows, and Scooby-Doo. And Turok, Son of Stone, great fun with Native Americans vs. dinosaurs in a lost valley.
What a wonderful time it was to be a kid – and all for twelve cents a copy! I don’t even want to know what a comic book would cost these days.
Gold Key was the comic imprint of K.K. Publications, located in the exotically named Poughkeepsie, New York. K.K., in turn, as I only discovered years later, was owned by Western Publishing. Hence, the title of this piece. Although Western survived as a corporate entity until 2001, it had even by then long since been reduced by the vicissitudes of time and the vagaries of the publishing world to but a shadow of its former glory. At least, in so far as this child of the ‘Sixties is concerned. Its last surviving brand, the Little Golden Books, has been taken over by Penguin Random House. Gold Key itself went belly up in 1984.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
Late in the story of Gold Key, its titles began to appear under an alternative imprint, Whitman. Whitman is actually still around, but only puts out coin and stamp collecting materials. In its heyday, though, under the steady guidance of Western Publishing, Whitman was a major disseminator of multi-media publications. Big Little Books, small, boxy things about popular movie, radio, and comic strip characters, with alternative pages of simple drawings and simpler text, for example. Some of these are worth a fortune today. I have one of the early Lone Ranger editions I got for the relatively low price of $35 some years ago. Yeah, go ahead. Put a hand on it. You’re apt to draw back a nub.
Popular culture characters also appeared in a series of standard-sized hardbound books, also primitively illustrated. I have several based on comic strips that only lack dust jackets to be worthy of funding my retirement, Blondie and Red Ryder among them. There was also a series of mysteries featuring popular female movie stars of the time, including Judy Garland, Deanna Durbin, Shirley Temple, even Gene Tierney, and Dorothy Lamour. And so on.
But all that was well before my time. In my decade, the 1960s, Whitman revived the Big Little Books with fewer pages and more contemporary characters such as the Man from U.N.C.L.E, Major Matt Mason, and the Fantastic Four. They also put out a couple of horror anthologies I still own, books that have gone a long way towards shaping my interest in all things spooky.
Those titles, Tales to Tremble By and More Tales to Tremble By, both edited by Stephen P. Sutton, came out in 1966 and 1968, respectively. I acquired the second one first, in 1968, around my tenth birthday, under circumstances of which I have no recollection. The first one, according to a note I obligingly scribbled inside the front cover at the time for the benefit of my future self, I bought in Texas. That would be over the Thanksgiving holiday of 1969, when my Uncle Allen married my Aunt Jeannie in Plainview, not far from the New Mexico border. That was at the time the longest trip I had ever been on. I’ve since gone farther than that. Don’t recall picking up anything as cool as Tales to Tremble By in St. Petersburg, Russia, though. I did get my wife a replica Fabergé egg for her birthday. She seemed to like it.
Anyhow, the books. By sometime in the 1950s, Whitman had done way with paper dust jackets and started putting out their books with laminated painted covers. I have a couple of Tarzans from that period. The practice continued for the rest of the company’s run. For all I know, their numismatic stuff comes the same way. Not being a numismatist, I have no idea. I only collect coins up until the point that it’s time to convert them into folding green to be spent upon trivialities like food, clothing, and shelter. And books. Lots and lots of books.
More Tales to Tremble By was not the first scary anthology I had read. My elementary school library had a volume of short stories I’d devoured at least a year before. All I remember of it was that it was a hardback book and old even then, probably from the 1930s or 1940s. Alas, the school has long since been sold off by the City of Nashville and absorbed into the David Lipscomb University system. I drive by every so often and experience sadness.
I miss that book.
Anyhow. THIS book. The table of contents is like a Hall of Fame of short horror tales and writers of the same. To whit —
Names to conjure with, surely. I anticipate that I shall devote a future column to each of the authors listed here in the future. Except of course for that Anonymous fellow. Can’t find a blessed thing about him. But the others, for sure.
I hope I live that long, anyhow.
There was at least one more horror anthology from Whitman, Ten Tales Calculated to Give You Shudders, edited by Ross R. Olney. It came out in 1972. My copy was originally owned by someone named Cindy, who seemed to enjoy writing her name out as it appears half a dozen times in various places. She also claimed to have been in love with Huey. I think I acquired it in an antique store when I was in college, but I’m not positive. Great stories in it, as well:
It’s a good book. I enjoy it. But, you know, it’s just not the same as the others. Not a treasured artifact of my childhood. I guess some things just remain more precious because of the context of their acquisition.
Anyhow. If it hasn’t happened before now, I encourage the populace to track down and read these tales. They are among the foundation stones of our genre, historically important, and wonderfully entertaining. Go, seek. You’ll be glad you did.
I’m pretty much positive that the first film adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles that I ever saw was the 1959 Hammer version starring Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. According to the database, I assembled several years ago from the television schedules in the Nashville newspaper for those years during which I developed my love of all things horrifying, I must have seen it on September 25, 1965, at 4:00 P.M. That was when the afternoon movie aired by our local CBS station, The Big Show, was on the air. I was in second grade at the time, attending a school close enough to have gotten home from by then, so it fits. None of the other showings I found were possible candidates. I would have either been on my way home from school during a period when it was a much longer trip, or the movie was shown much too late at night for me to have stayed up for at the tender age I was when it was broadcast. Ergo, not only did I see it when I was seven years old, I didn’t watch it again until I was much older. And yet, that viewing is firmly etched into my brain. I remember every detail clearly as if I saw it for the first time just a few years ago. We had only recently gotten our first color TV set, and I recall being fascinated by the vibrant hues of the process Hammer used in their productions.
Funny, isn’t it, how something we experience so young can have such a profound effect on our lives in later years? I had no idea who Sherlock Holmes was in 1965. I didn’t have a clue what a baronet was. I’m not entirely certain I was clear on what a hound was, and yet…
A baronet, by the way, is what Sir Henry Baskerville was. It’s a sort of hereditary knighthood, passed from father to son, or to the eldest male heir, with an attending estate thrown in. Baskerville Hall, in this situation. Baronets are not nobles. They are landed gentry, the highest level of commoner, just below a baron in the English social hierarchy. In case you were wondering.
Anyhow. It wasn’t long before I began exercising my newly gained literacy by tracking down the novel on which the film was based. I was a precocious child, given to reading beyond my years. By the end of the decade, I’d read all the Holmes tales, along with most of the major classics of horror and a great deal of world literature. It was not unusual for me to blaze through one long or two short books a day, and still have time to play with my friends and accumulate a host of scraped knees and bunged up elbows riding my Spyder-style bicycle recklessly and with wild abandon down the hill in front of our house to the wooden ramp waiting at the bottom, launching myself into the Venrick’s front yard to fetch up in a tangle of limbs and metal tubing, then back up the hill to do it all again.
God, to have a fraction of that energy back now! And the resilience to withstand the gallons of Bactine my mother was obliged to apply to my myriad minor injuries.
So, the Hound. The book is nominally a mystery, but I’ve never seen a movie version that couldn’t be properly classified as a horror film. The Hound itself is a monster if there ever was one, a gigantic beast that kills either through fear or by the vigorous application of its fangs upon fragile and succulent body parts. Inspired by centuries of English folklore, it is a primal, supernatural force, despite being nothing more than a dressed-up mastiff.
Well, let me tell you about mastiffs. I had a friend some years ago who raised that particular breed of dog. I once saw one pull a tree it had been tied to out of the ground. A smallish tree, true, but not a sapling. Maybe six inches in diameter at the base of the trunk. A tree. Out of the ground. This is not a puny animal. It was a terrifying beast, even with its owner nearby to keep it calm.
That’s one of several reasons why I prefer cats. I never want to own a pet that I cannot beat in a fair fight.
I count a dozen film versions of the story in my collection, including at least one silent, three German adaptations, and one in Russian. That is by no means an exhaustive list. My sources list over thirty film and television adaptations, parodies, pastiches, and reimaginings in several languages including Bengali, Ukrainian and Italian, since 1914. It might be the most filmed mystery novel of all time. Ergo, I hope the populace is at least somewhat familiar with the plot.
If not, here it is, in a nutshell: Holmes is charged with the protection of Sir Henry Baskerville, newly arrived from overseas. Sir Henry has inherited the family estate upon the death of his Uncle Charles, who was frightened to death, apparently by the family curse. Sooner or later, the Hound always gets the baronet, and the line passes on to the next heir. Holmes sends Dr. Watson down to Devonshire with Sir Henry while he finishes up some business in London. As it turns out, there is another heir envious of the title who has arranged to have his big, mean dog kill Sir Charles and try to kill Sir Henry. Holmes arrives in time to stop the plot, and the bad guy is swallowed up in the Great Grimpen Mire that surrounds the Baskerville estate. The End.
The book was written in 1901, during the Great Hiatus, that period when the world thought that the Great Detective’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed him off forever. Originally serialized in The StrandMagazine before its 1902 hardback publication, The Hound of the Baskervilles was a sort of nostalgic look back at the period before Holmes and Professor Moriarty threw each other off the rocky ledge into the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland in “The Final Problem”, published in 1893. The novel’s success convinced Doyle to bring Holmes back in 1903 in the short story, “The Adventure of the Empty House”, and things continued on as before until Doyle’s passing in 1930. The stories themselves were firmly set in the Victorian Era, however, with Holmes retiring not long after Her Little Majesty’s death in 1901 to raise bees in Sussex.
The film versions are consistently set within the canonical time period. The best one is probably the 1939 version, starring Basil Rathbone in the first of his fourteen movies as Holmes. This one and the first sequel, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, were made at 20th Century Fox. Rathbone took the series to Universal, and a contemporary wartime setting, for twelve more pictures with varying degrees of success. Still, he is firmly entrenched as the definitive Holmes for many fans of the character.
Cushing himself reprised his performance for a BBC Holmes series in 1968. The deerstalker cap has been worn on the Devonshire moor by Stewart Granger, Ian Richardson, Jeremy Brett, Matt Frewer and Richard Roxburgh, and even comedian Peter Cook and the former Fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker. The tale has been adapted to the stage and numerous radio broadcasts, including one 1941 American performance with Rathbone in the lead role, as well as a 1977 episode of that last great hurrah of old-time radio horrors, The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. There was a Classics Illustrated comic book edition, and Marvel Comics adapted the tale in the black-and-white magazine Marvel Preview #5 in 1975, among many other comic versions. Variations have been done on both the BBC’s Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch and CBS’s Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller. It’s a tale no one inspired by the Great Detective can leave alone, and that suits me fine. Of all the canonical Holmes tales, it is the one closest to my heart, for it has within its telling a true monster, even if the solution is a bit Scooby-Dooish. I’m looking forward to seeing what form the next adaptation of the grand old story takes. And the one after that. They’re bound to be interesting and should be appropriately terrifying. One hopes.
And so, until next time, my dear epicures of eeriness…
My devoted followers may recall that last time out, I briefly discussed the career of one Theodore Sturgeon, and his early story, “It”. The tale, which was published in the August 1940 issue of the fantasy and horror pulp magazine, Unknown, concerned the layers of naturally occurring compost that had formed around the lost skeleton of one Roger Kirk. Many years after Kirk’s passing, this was caused by some unknown mechanism the spontaneous generation of a sort of liveliness that resulted in death and destruction until the monster was dissolved in running water. A simple tale well told.
So, who the heck is Baron von Emmelmann?
For the answer to that question, we’ll need to fast forward a few years. The Golden Age of Comics was already in full flower by 1940, but it rapidly exploded into a riotous garden of four-color blooms once the United States joined the Second World War. Even before, as various patriotic-themed superheroes made their appearances even prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Captain America himself punched Adolf Hitler on the cover of the first issue of his own title in March of that year, and he wasn’t the first denizen of the new medium to take on the Nazi menace.
In the context of the times, comic book publishers proliferated, spewing out myriad characters ready, willing, and able to face the fascist threat and sell War Bonds, a large number of them heroic aviators. One of the smaller publishers, Hillman Publications, quickly assembled the first issue of an anthology title, Air Fighters Comics, that sold poorly. It was retooled a year later with an all-new line-up, including a young flyer with an almost sentient plane named Birdy. Airboy was so popular that the book was renamed after him a couple of years later, and ran until 1953.
In the eleven years between, a fair number of backup characters passed through the title’s pages, including a second-rate, gimmicky rip-off of Quality Publications aviation hero, Blackhawk. Sky Wolf hung around for a few years, and was featured in the Eclipse Comics’ Airboy revival of the 1980s. Honestly, though, his one real contribution to comic book history occurred in his second appearance, Air Fighters Comics volume 2, issue 3, with a cover date of December 1942.
In a brief flash-back to the First World War, German fighter pilot Baron Eric von Emmelmann was shot down over a swamp in Poland. His corpse festered and percolated there in the miasmic bog, accumulating layer upon layer of muck and mire. Eventually, the Heap emerged, like the creature in “It”, and began breaking things and mangling living beings. And, as in the Sturgeon tale, it resembled a huge, shambling mound with no discernable human features other than arms and legs.
Not long afterward von Emmelmann’s rebirth as the Heap, German pilot Colonel von Tundra was shot down over the same swamp. He survived and encountered the newly born muck-monster, who responded favorably to being yelled at in the native language of his former self. The Heap appeared in three more Sky Wolf stories as an ally of the Nazis before graduating to his own feature, beginning with Airboy Comics volume 3, number 9, October, 1946. By then, he was only vaguely aware of his origins, and less a villain and more of an elemental force for good. His adventures all over the world continued through the final issue in 1953. The character was parodied in an early issue of the Mad comic book, and revived briefly by Skywald Publications in the early 1970s, and a couple of times by Image in their Spawn comic book series. And of course, he was a prominent feature of the Eclipse run of Airboy previously mentioned.
Much more human-looking was DC Comics’ Solomon Grundy, who has never been anything but a villain, or at best an anti-hero. Originating as an opponent of the Golden Age Green Lantern in All-American Comics 61, October 1944, he has continued popping up in various titles and television shows, both animated and live-action, ever since. In his case, the swamp muck formed around the corpse of murder victim Cyrus Gold.
The Golden age of Comics began to wind down at the end of World War II. Super-heroes gradually gave way to other genres, including war, western, crime, romance, funny animals, amusing teenagers, and horror. Captain America’s publisher, Timely Comics, morphed into Atlas, and like so many other houses concentrated on these new genres, with only a brief revival of its old heroes in the mid-fifties. After the institution of the Comics Code Authority in 1955, Atlas’s horror output was rendered as bland and toothless as all the other publishers, but unlike so many of them, the company survived. Barely.
As the decade wound down, the primary creative force at Atlas, Stan Lee, shifted his focus from ghosts, alien invaders and the like to gargantuan monsters, remnants of ancient times like Chinese dragon Fin Fang Foom, or colossal mummies, or giant statues animated by lightning strikes. One of these was “Monstrum! The Dweller in the Black Swamp”, from Tales to Astonish #11, September 1960. As was not unusual in a Stan Lee tale, Monstrum was more clumsy than malicious, being a refugee from a far planet whose spaceship was trapped in the Black Swamp. Rejected by the humans he sought assistance from, he returned to the swamp to await the evolution of a more compassionate population.
Fortunately for all concerned, not long afterward Lee revived the super-hero genre at his company, renamed it Marvel, and revolutionized the industry. Without the use of any more swamp critters, at least for a while.
The next significant muck monster made his appearance in DC’s horror title, House of Secrets, in issue 92, July 1971. Swamp Thing was created by writer Len Wien and legendary artist, the late and very much lamented, Berni Wrightson. Alex Olsen was an early 20th Century scientist developing a plant-growth formula. When his laboratory was sabotaged, Olsen got mixed up with the formula and the essence of the swamp in which he was located. He returned as the sentient but mute Swamp Thing to get his revenge.
Under a new alter ego, Alex Holland, he was given a contemporary origin not long afterward in his own title that ran a mere dozen issues. A highly acclaimed series from writer Alan Moore followed in the 1980s, along with a pair of so-so theatrical films, two live-action TV shows and an animated TV mini-series.
Swamp Thing was no paragon of masculine pulchritude, but he was more-or-less sort of kind of human-shaped if you turned your head to one side and squinted. Marvel Comic’s Man-Thing was not. His original artist, Gray Morrow, returned to the source material, creating a shambling mound of insensate gunk and goo with a carrot-nose and beady eyes, much closer to the Heap than to his DC predecessors. First appearing in the black-and-white magazine format Savage Tales #1 in May of 1971, Man-Thing languished for a year before popping up again in a variety of Marvel super-hero titles. He attained his own series in January 1974. Man-Thing’s gimmick was that he was an empath. He responded well to the kindness of strangers, but not to their fear. His touch would burn anyone who was afraid of him, which fortunately turned out to usually be bad people. Man-Thing sold well enough that a second title was added, the unfortunately named Giant-Size Man-Thing. Go ahead, giggle. I won’t judge you. G-S M-T featured as a backup strip some of the earliest adventures of Howard the Duck, along with reprints from those old Atlas comics of the 1950s.
I honestly have no idea if Ted Sturgeon ever knew about the comic book characters that were inspired by his original creation. It never occurred to me to ask him, back in those halcyon days of my mis-spent youth. I’m sure he never received a dime in recompense from Hillman or DC or Marvel or any of the other comics publishers that made use of his concept. I’m not sure that would have bothered him. I hope not. My memories of Ted Sturgeon have no room for rancor, because I only remember him as genial and warm, and wickedly funny. Read, if you can find it, his 1972 short story, “Pruzy’s Pot”, about a living and very accommodating toilet. I heard him read that aloud in 1978, when he was the guest of honor at the Nashville science fiction convention for that year, Kubla Khan Ate. A room full of fen laughed uproariously at that one. There is a place for potty humor, indeed. It all winds up in the swamp, anyhow.
I presume that the populace is following with rapt attention the unfolding celebration here on HorrorAddicts.net of the advent of Adam Breckenridge’s new release, Deathly Fog. It looks really interesting, and I look forward to reading it as soon as Amazon deigns to complete my order for it. And of course, I wish Adam the very best of luck. I know that writing a coherent story is a major undertaking, having done that myself a fair number of times, and sincerely wish for him that he makes a lot more money from his efforts than I have from mine. Plus, there are less tangible benefits such as accolades, adulation, and the simple pride of accomplishment. But money is nice, as well. Samuel Johnson, after all, did once say that any writer who claimed to write for any reason other than money was either a liar or a fool. And the Good Doctor was rarely wrong, although his purported opinion of Shakespeare leaves something to be desired.
I’m sure my devoted reader(s) are wondering why all that makes Adam my new hero, and that’s a fair question. I’ve witnessed a lot of debuts and acclaimed releases in my nearly sixty years of literacy, and while I would never want to minimize his achievement, I could see why folks might think my reaction was just a tad over the top. Even with his attained goal of having completed a short story a day for an entire year, which is pretty damned impressive, hero worship seems so much more than would reasonably be called for.
It’s because something that Adam said in the post of August 15th regarding the inspiration for his tale brought me around to the notion of composing this and at least one subsequent column. I have never written 366 stories in a year, and it’s extremely unlikely that I ever will. I maybe write a short story or two a year, along with the odd poem, and my career as a novelist appears to have stalled at two volumes. Frankly, this column I concoct for the edification and entertainment of the populace is the bulk of the writing I’m doing at the moment. It brings me great pleasure to do so, but like all my creative endeavors, I find that inspiration does not always spring full-grown like Athena from the head of Zeus. There are many times when I struggle to settle on a subject.
Those who have been kind enough to follow my progress in this space might have noticed that I look for a connection to my current topic from my own life experiences and cultural frame of reference. I’m always seeking out ways to humanize the inhumane by providing a context based on the things I’ve seen and done and the places I’ve been and the people I’ve encountered along the way. And there have been a lot of all those.
The reality is that there are so many stories to tell, it’s often difficult to settle on a single one every couple of weeks. As I type this, I am sitting in what was once one of my now-grown children’s bedrooms, filled floor to ceiling on all four walls and in back-to-back free-standing bookcases centered in the space behind my desk with books and magazines and toys and recordings and objets d’art and various and sundry other odds and ends, all of which have their own yarn to relate. And that’s just in my office. Throughout the fairly sizeable house my wife and I still occupy are numerous other artifacts from all over the planet, the detritus of a whole family tree of world travelers and doodad acquisitors. Every piece in that accumulation of relics has a story to tell here.
And then there’s the better than six terabytes of stuff I have stored on two sizeable external hard drives. Two because those things don’t last forever, and backing up that much data every so often is de rigeur if one wants one’s career as your Historian of Horror to endure. You can thank me later for that foresight.
So, which one now? Which explication of the terrifying shall a personal anecdote or randomly noticed factoid or bit of cultural flotsam inspire for this particular exercise in the elucidation of the eerily ephemeral? Thanks to Adam, I have one ready, as of a few minutes after I read his post.
The fourth paragraph of which included a reference to ‘the old adage that ninety percent of everything is crap’, which has been known in science fiction fandom for sixty-five years now as Sturgeon’s Law. It even has its own Wiki page. I looked. It’s right here:
You see, I knew Theodore Sturgeon, a little. Not well; I doubt he would have remembered me for more than a few seconds at a time except as one of the myriad fen (there’s that word again!) who orbited around him at the several science fiction conventions we both attended in the 1970s. But he was always kind and gracious to me, as he was to all the fenfolk. He came to the cons, he hung out with us, he read his stories to us, he laughed and drank and dined with us, he signed anything we shoved under his nose to receive an autograph upon. And he let us call him Ted.
Well, I called him Mr. Sturgeon, because I was young and awed by being in the presence of one of the best writers of the 20th Century, regardless of genre. And he would smile and nod and seem genuinely pleased to have me ask him to sign my copy of the September 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction that contained his first published story, “Ether Breather”.
If only I still had it. Alas, it vanished in the Great Sell-Off of 1989, when I was obliged by financial constraints to pay my mortgage and feed my children on the proceeds from the liquidation of huge chunks of my various collections.
Oh, well. God knows where I’d put it all, if I still had it.
Anyhow, thanks to Adam, what I do have is a tale to tell you. One regarding things you didn’t even know you needed or wanted to know about.
How delicious is that?
But wait, you say. Sturgeon was a science fiction writer, not a horror writer. Well, y’know, Oscar Wilde was mainly the playwright of comedies of manners like The Importance of Being Ernest or Lady Windermere’s Fan, despite scribing The Picture of Dorian Gray. Robert Louis Stephenson wrote mostly adventure tales for boys like Treasure Island, and yet he managed to churn out the delicious horrors of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And Henry James was a mainstream author who wrote one of the greatest ghost stories ever, The Turn of the Screw. Even Charles Dickens took time out from his massive doorstop expositions on social conditions in Victorian England to bestow upon us all the many spooks and spirits found within A Christmas Carol. So, it’s okay if Ted Sturgeon wrote a few scary pieces along with the futuristic stuff. He’s allowed.
In my brief segment of one of the recent podcast episodes, I mentioned that, of all the pulp magazines that proliferated in the first half of the 20th Century, the most important for our genre was Weird Tales. The second most important in terms of historical impact was undoubtedly Unknown, published by Street & Smith as a companion to their science fiction magazine, Astounding. Both were edited by John W. Campbell, who demanded a higher standard of quality and serious thought from his writers than was required by most pulp publications, including Weird Tales, which relied more on shock and gruesome sensationalism than Campbell wanted for his periodical. Street & Smith had deeper pockets than most other publishers, as well, so Campbell’s authors, a cadre which included Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. Van Vogt, and even L. Ron Hubbard, were better paid and more prestigiously regarded than those who found exposure in lesser venues. Had Unknown, which was retitled Unknown Worlds near the end of its all-too-brief run, survived the wartime paper rationing that restricted the output of even the largest pulp publisher of its day, it might have wound up being the premier source of horrific literature for the subsequent decades that Astounding, now called Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, has been for its genre, rather than Weird Tales.
As I mentioned above, Sturgeon’s first story to appear in a pulp magazine was in Astounding in September of 1939. His next several were in Unknown. The first three were light fantasies. The fourth, though. Oh, boy. The fourth created an entire subgenre of swamp things and man-things and heaps and blobs and globs and all manner of frightening critters that emerged from bayous and marshes and peat bogs all over the world to terrorize mostly comic book audiences throughout the next several decades. And it has one of the best last lines in all of horror literature.
“It” was published in the August, 1940 issue of Unknown, and has been reprinted dozens of times since, in many languages. It is one of those elemental tales that was at the time so sui generis, and yet has been so inspirational that it is often overlooked as the original of the many horrors that followed its appearance. The early, one might almost say seminal scholar of speculative fiction, E.F. Bleiler, said of it in his 1983 book The Guide to Supernatural Fiction that it was ‘told with gusto… Obvious reminiscences of the Frankenstein monster and anticipations of the hordes of comic book Things that wander about destroying people.’. I think that was a tad dismissive for a work that has had so enormous an impact on subsequent developments in our favorite genre.
All about which I shall expound at length in the next installment. So, join us in a fortnight for “Whatever Happened to Baron von Emmelmann?” Same bat-time, same bat-channel. And, as always, my fellow denizens of the darkness…
The Good Girl Artist vs the Greatest Villain of Them All
Let’s look at the second half of that title first, shall we? Who is the greatest comic book villain of them all?
Lex Luthor? Not even close.
Galactus? What a piker.
Darkseid? Can’t even remember which planet he left his Mother Boxes on.
Green Goblin? Red Skull? Purple Pantywaist?
Nope, nope and nope.
The greatest villain in the history of comic books was a Vienna-born American psychiatrist who studied under Sigmund Freud and specialized in the treatment and understanding of violent behavior. His name was Fredric Wertham, M.D.
Like most villains, he was the hero of his own narrative. And, truth be told, he was not otherwise a horrible person. He never slaughtered half the life in the universe. He didn’t eat inhabited planets or reduce them to cinders. He didn’t kill Spider-Man’s girlfriend. His research was even put before the Supreme Court as evidence in the Brown vs Board of Education case that overturned racial segregation in American public schools in 1954. No, all he did was virtually shut down an entertainment medium on the verge of expanding out of its cultural ghetto into near respectability. Would the Pulitzer committee have had to wait until 1992 to award the first and only prize to a graphic novel without his baleful influence? Maybe, but we’ll never know, will we?
Wertham never set out to destroy the comics industry. He simply wanted to stop juvenile delinquency, using the false notion that, because naughty kids read comic books in the 1940s and early 1950s, then obviously, quad erat demonstratum, comic books caused childhood misbehavior. Of course, he had to falsify his data (i.e., make it up out of thin air) to prove his point, given that virtually every child in America read comic books in the period before television absorbed American popular culture into its unblinking cyclopean eye.
Along the way, he facilitated the forced shutdown of vast swaths of the comic book publishers of the time. The number of markets for comics creators dwindled from dozens to a handful. There were other factors, of course, and other decriers of the latest medium to draw the ire of concerned parents, but it was Wertham’s 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, that slew the so many of the giants of the field and made his name anathema to generations of comic book fans.
Notice I used ‘fans’, there. ‘Fen’ is only the plural of ‘fan’ in science fiction fandom, or was when I was active in both, way, way back in the Cultural Pleistocene Era.
Wertham didn’t manage to kill the industry off completely, nor was that his aim. He simply wanted parents to know what their children were reading, and give them tools to help them head off the behaviors he found so problematic. Like that has ever worked. Right, Tipper?
He didn’t even kill off the worst offenders among the super-heroes, Batman with his ‘homosexual’s dream’ relationship with Robin or the ‘lesbian ideal’, Wonder Woman. They, along with Superman, were too big to succumb to the general dying off of the rest of the super-hero genre.
Wertham did, however, inflict a fatal blow to other genres, particularly crime and horror. A Comics Code Authority was cobbled together by the remaining publishers to address Wertham’s concerns, led by the president of Archie Comics, John L. Goldwater. Werewolves and vampires were banned, as were the very words ‘horror’ or ‘terror’ in the titles of the magazines. Refusal to conform would cost the recalcitrant publisher access to distribution, unless that publisher was the acknowledged curator of wholesome sequential art content, Dell Comics. Those specific restrictions alone wiped out entire companies, most particularly E.C., which had drawn the ire of the Code hierarchy with a merciless and nearly libelous lampooning of Goldwater’s main money-maker, Archie Andrews, in Mad #12. E.C. publisher William M. Gaines soon switched over from putting out titles like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear to dumping all his yeggs into a single basket, a magazine format continuation of E.C.’s ground-breaking parody comic book, MAD, that was beyond the reach of the Comics Code Authority.
Didn’t see that one coming did you, Goldwater?
Among Wertham’s other targets for opprobrium were the ‘headlight’ comics, those that prominently featured female, er, prominences. One of the illustrations included in Seduction of the Innocent was a specific example of such, the cover of Fox Publications’ Phantom Lady #17 from 1948, an illustration in which the title character was bound with ropes to what looks like a dock piling in such a posture as to accentuate her, um, pulchritudinous assets.
The artist who drew that cover was the subject of the first part of the title above. Bet you were wondering when I’d get around to that. His name was Matt Baker, and he was the first significant African-American comic book artist. And from this point on, he is the focus of our tale, for he was the dominant, so to speak, ‘Good Girl Artist’ of his day.
That’s as in artist who drew girls good. The morality of the females involved was not necessarily their salient feature. Or features, as it were.
Clarence Matthew Baker was born in Forsythe County, North Carolina, on December 10, 1921. His family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania circa 1924, where Matt graduated from high school in 1940 with the stated ambition of being an artist and photographer.
Due to a heart condition, possibly due to having had rheumatic fever as a child, Matt was not eligible for military service during World War II. He did some sort of job for the Navy Department until moving to Brooklyn in 1943 with his brother and working for the National War Labor Board while studying art at Cooper Union in New York. He stayed at that school for only one term before taking a job with the Iger Studio.
Jerry Iger had started a studio that supplied content for the burgeoning comic book markets with his partner Will Eisner, but when Eisner’s creation, The Spirit, gained lucrative newspaper syndication, Iger carried on without him. Through Iger, Baker churned out mass quantities of work for the aforementioned Fox, as well as Fiction House, St. John Publications and myriad smaller houses. He drew mostly jungle hero and heroine stories for Fox and Fiction House, even going so far as to create the first obviously black hero in a mainstream comic book. Voodah ran in Crown Comics, published by a very minor house called McCombs, for the magazine’s entire nineteen-issue run from 1945 to 1949. Alas, Voodah was only dark-skinned in the first few issues before he miraculously transformed into a garden-variety Caucasian jungle hero.
Baker’s work for St. John was mostly in the romance genre, a field in which he excelled. Few artists of his day drew women so beautifully. There are those who claim his attention to the details of feminine beauty was due to him being quite the ladies’ man. There are those who claim the opposite and even speculate on the nature of his relationship with Archer St. John, his primary publisher. Either way, he turned in some great comics stories in those days, along with the first graphic novel, It Rhymes with Lust, published in 1950 by St. John, and a short-lived syndicated newspaper comic strip, Flamingo.
Baker did do horror tales for St. John, as well as for other, lesser publishers. Alas, in the wake of Wertham’s attack on his medium, Baker lost his most reliable markets. Fox and Fiction House were defunct by 1955. St. John held on until 1958, but just barely. Baker spent the rest of the decade working for the less prestigious houses Charlton and Atlas, the latter being the forerunner of the modern-day Marvel Comics. The titles he contributed to for those houses are a litany of defanged spookiness – Out of This World, Tales of the Mysterious Traveler and Strange Suspense Stories for Charlton; Journey into Mystery, Tales to Astonish, and World of Fantasy for Atlas. None of them with the frissons he created in his earlier horror work, but they paid the bills for the remainder of his short life.
Baker passed away from his life-long heart condition on August 11, 1959, at the much too young age of thirty-eight. Had he survived another decade, he would likely have been a major player in Marvel’s ascendancy in the 1960s. But that was not to be.
I doubt that Wertham took note of Baker’s passing. He wrote more books, even managing one last dig at the baleful effect of comics on American youth in his 1968 tome, A Sign for Cain. His last book was a generally favorable examination of the phenomenon of fanzines, those amateur paeans to various fandoms that proliferated in the days before the internet made everyone a pundit on whatever topic took their fancy. Present company included.
Wertham died in 1981, if not reviled by comics fans, at least regarded with ye olde legendary jaundiced eye. Comics writer Mark Evanier wrote a not entirely condemnatory article that was reprinted in his 2003 book, Wertham Was Right! I won’t go so far as to say that Wertham’s reputation was fully reformed by Evanier’s essay, but it does put his actions, however questionable, into a context that is more favorable than he enjoyed in earlier days.
Baker’s reputation, in the meantime, has remained high and even grown. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2009, and numerous artists of the last several decades cite him as a major influence on their own work. Given the comparative legacies of the Good Girl Artist and the Greatest Villain of Them All, I’d settle for Baker’s over Wertham’s any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
In addition to my well-worn copy of Seduction of the Innocent and the Evanier volume mentioned above, I would like to commend to the populace two other essential works on the relevant history of the period covered herein. To whit, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America by David Hadju, and Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books by Ken Quattro. Both are available from Amazon.
In most cases, someone has to have had a significant or even seminal impact on some aspect of their field of endeavor to have an award named after them. Hugo Gernsback essentially created science-fiction as its own genre, so the main fan-based award for that branch of literature is known as the Hugo. It looks like the rocket ship from the 1950 film, Destination Moon. Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story, so the commemorative statuette given out for mysteries is the Edgar. It’s a bust of the author. Bram Stoker’s Dracula has had an enormous effect on the popularity of horror, so the trophy for spooky writing is the Bram Stoker Award, which is in the shape of a haunted house. And so on. And so on.
You would think that a significant award for classic horror might be named for a major figure in the history of our genre. H.P. Lovecraft, perhaps. Until 2016, the World Fantasy Award was a bust of him. Boris Karloff might be another likely candidate. Or Bela Lugosi. Maybe Rod Serling. Surely someone of the stature of any of these gentlemen deserves to have a statuette modeled in their likeness to be given out for meritorious achievement.
So, why is the classic horror award not named for one of them? Why name it for a character actor who appeared in a barely noticeable bit part in one of the great horror films of that great horror film year of 1939, and a short series of performances as essentially the same character in a handful of extremely minor horror entries?
Why the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award?
Because Rondo Hatton was ugly, that’s why. Really, truly, a physically deformed human being. The Man Who Didn’t Need Makeup to Play a Monster! Who better to exemplify the monstrous and horrific?
He didn’t start out that way. He was actually voted the most handsome boy of his high school senior class in 1913, but around the end of the First World War, he began to manifest symptoms of acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland that causes accelerated growth in the bones of the head, face, hands and feet, and in some of the internal organs. Including the heart. Hatton did serve in the United States Army in France, but despite some reports, did not develop the disease as a result of a German mustard gas attack. It was a natural but extremely unpleasant occurrence.
It did, however, take him to Hollywood. He began picking up bit parts, including as one of the ‘Ugly Man Contest’ participants in the Charles Laughton version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Laughton’s Quasimodo won, of course, and Rondo went on to pile up a modest list of very small and rarely credited parts.
Going to backtrack here, a little bit. By the time you see this, you’ll possibly have been able to listen to Episode #195 of the Horror Addicts podcast for this season. In my little section, I stated that it was my intention to take a look in this space at the horror output beyond the main line of the Universal horrors, both at that studio and the others. Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man get the bulk of the press, so I thought I’d explore some of the lesser and less well-known efforts. Like the Inner Sanctum movies starring Lon Chaney, Jr., or the Captive Wild Woman trilogy.
Or The Creeper.
Which brings us back around to Rondo Hatton.
In the last two years of his brief life, Rondo wound up at Universal, where he played an inarticulate brute known variously as the Hoxton Creeper, Mario the Man Monster, or simply The Creeper. Basically the same character, a hideous murderer who crushes his victims in an iron grasp. Apart from the first one, an entry in the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes series, the series was so minor a run it barely registered at the box office. And yet, there’s that pesky award to bestow upon The Creeper a cachet he never enjoyed in his lifetime.
Good for him, I say. Not sure what he would say, though.
His first outing, as the Hoxton Creeper, was in The Pearl of Death, based on the Sherlock Holmes short story, “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”. It was the ninth film of the fourteen in which Rathbone played the great detective, the seventh at Universal. The first two were made by Twentieth-Century Fox, and one of those will be examined when that studio comes under the monstrous microscope in due time.
A pearl of great value has been hidden inside one of six busts of Napoleon sold to six different residents of London. The main villain sends out his henchman, the Hoxton Creeper, to smash each one until he finds the pearl. Of course, the owners of the busts object. Rondo reacts to their remonstrances by crushing their spines. Holmes is called in and figures things out in the requisite sixty-nine minutes allotted to b-movies at the studio in those days.
Evelyn Ankers, the studio’s resident “Queen of the Bs”, co-starred as another of the villain’s accomplices in her second appearance in the Holmes series. She had a long career in Universal horrors, barely escaping dismemberment at the hands of Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man in 1941, strangulation by his Frankenstein Monster in Ghost of Frankenstein in 1942, and exsanguination by his Count Alucard in Son of Dracula in 1943. One wonders if Chaney had something against her.
Spoiler alert – she didn’t always get away from him.
Rondo’s second turn, this time as Mario the Man Monster, came in what is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a sequel to another of the Rathbone Holmes pictures. The deliciously menacing Gale Sondergaard, who deserves a thorough examination in a future entry, played the title character in the 1943 Holmes picture, The Spider Woman. In 1946, she starred in The Spider Woman Strikes Back, which has absolutely no connection to the Holmes movie or her character in that film. Rondo is her lurking henchman as she slowly drains the blood from Brenda Joyce, who survived well enough to continue playing Jane in what was eventually a total of five Tarzan pictures. Mario neglects to crush anyone’s spine this time out, but he adds just a soupçon of that frisson the movie could have really used a lot more of.
Rondo made two more pictures, both as The Creeper, before passing away from a series of acromegaly related heart attacks on February 2, 1946. House of Horrors and The Brute Man were released posthumously, to barely noticeable acclaim. Rondo’s body was flown back east for interment in the American Legion Cemetery in his hometown of Tampa, Florida. He was fifty-one years old.
1945’s House of Horrors starred Martin Kosleck as a sculptor who is The Creeper’s only friend and protector until Rondo turns on him over the affections of the lovely Virginia Grey. Kosleck went on to forge something of a career playing Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. He died in obscurity in 1994.
Grey played in a number of prominent mainstream pictures before and after being menaced by The Creeper, including Another Thin Man in 1939, The Big Store with the Marx Brothers in 1941, and in support of star Lana Turner in 1966’s Madame X., Her last horror film role was Black Zoo in 1963, starring future Batman butler Michael Gough as the naughty zookeeper. Grey kept company for some years with King of Hollywood Clark Gable until he got distracted by and married a British noblewoman in 1949. She passed away in 2004.
Speaking of Batman’s butler, Alan Napier from the 1960s television series and 1966 feature film also appeared in House of Horrors. And the hero is played by Robert Lowery, who portrayed none other than Bruce Wayne himself, as well as his cowled alter ego, in the 1949 Columbia serial, Batman and Robin.
Everything leads back to the Caped Crusader eventually, it seems.
Finally, the least of the entries, The Brute Man, removed the last vestiges of the mild sympathy one might have felt for the poor Creeper and turned him into exactly what the title suggested, a brute hunted relentlessly by the police for going around breaking other human beings. Rondo blames hero Tom Neal for his disfigurement, leading to his antisocial behavior. Not much more plot than that, I’m afraid. In 1945, Neal played the lead in the film noir classic, Detour, directed by legendary horror director, Edgar G. Ulmer. He was convicted of manslaughter in the accidental death by gunshot of his wife in 1965. He served six years in prison and died in 1972.
So. There it is. The entire horror career of the man for whom a respected award is named. Of course, his grim visage has been resurrected often in comic books on both sides of the Big Pond, and as one of the villains in the 1991 film, The Rocketeer. And he has been referenced here and there in novels and television shows since the 1970s. And there’s the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award, which is modeled on the bust of The Creeper created by the Martin Kosleck character in House of Horrors.
I like to think he’d approve of all this attention. I’d like to, but I have to wonder how he would feel about his unfortunate situation being exploited so. Would he be grateful to be remembered so long after his death, or embarrassed by the context of that remembrance?
Forbidden Sinister Dark Mansion-House of Secret Haunted Love
I never read any of them that I remember, but my mother had a handful of paperback novels by folks like Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt, gothic romances with paintings of willowy maidens fleeing spooky houses on the covers. Not really my cup of hemlock as a child, although I did read several of the very similar Dark Shadows novels of the same period written by Dan Ross under his pseudonym of Marilyn Ross. Still have them, somewhere in this hodge-podge of occult literature and arcane artifacts that is my office. Dark Shadows was the only soap opera I was ever interested in, so of course I was drawn to whatever subsidiary relics it spawned. I even had a plastic model of Barnabas Collins. I think some of the pieces occupy a box within a few feet of where I am sitting at the moment, although Cthulhu alone knows which of the myriad containers that might be.
C’est la vie. C’est la mort. C’est l’horreur.
My long-time online friend, Melanie Jackson, currently writes several series of cozy mysteries, but when we first encountered each other whilst hanging out in some now-deceased horror message board twenty years ago, she was doing pretty well scribing paranormal romances for the late and unlamented Leisure Books. Or would have been doing pretty well, had Leisure paid their bills. Which is why there is no longer such a thing as Leisure Books, or so I’ve been told by more than one of their former stable of authors. Anyhow, Melanie assured me that Dan Ross was not alone in hiding his Y chromosome behind a female name in order to sell romance novels. Many romance novels are still being written by men under female noms-de-plume, or were when she told me that.
That didn’t stop DC Comics from declining to hide their male contributors behind petticoats in 1971, when they jumped into that genre with a pair of titles that only lasted four issues each. One might wonder if Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love and Sinister House of Secret Love could have survived longer had a fiction of feminine creatorship been maintained.
Probably not, to be honest. The genre of love comics was on its last legs, anyhow. Of all the comic book publishers that had flooded the drugstore spinner racks of America with four-color romances since 1947, only DC, its main rival, Marvel, and perpetual also-ran Charlton were still in the game. In fact, other than those three, only Harvey Publications, Archie, and Fawcett were even still in the comic book business.
Harvey had gone completely over to kiddie books like Casper the Friendly Ghost and Wendy the Little Witch and Little Dot the, uh, girl obsessed with polka dots, while Archie was only occasionally trying something not associated with its namesake character, usually under its Red Circle sub-brand. After being sued out of business by DC for their flagstaff super-hero, Captain Marvel, being considered too much a copy of Superman, Fawcett was left with its paperback book line and a license to publish a myriad of Dennis the Menace comics. DC eventually hoovered up the moribund Captain Marvel, but only after Marvel had reclaimed the name for the first in a string of their own characters, which is why the original is now called Shazam. Clear as mud?
The first publisher of romance comics, Prize Publications, switched over to joke and cartoon magazines in the 1960s until it quietly petered out in 1978. ACG (American Comics Group) was reduced to putting out industry advertising comics after 1967. St. John closed its doors altogether in 1958. Quality sold off its remaining titles to DC in 1956 and shut down production. And so on, and on, and on. Even the love comics Marvel and DC still published in 1971 were sputtering along on fumes. Not exactly an auspicious time to start up a new variation on a dying genre.
And yet, there they were. Two rather attractive bimonthly titles with covers painted by veterans of the paperback industry George Ziel and Victor Kalin. They were edited by long-time DC employee Dorothy Woolfolk, who was one of the folks credited with coming up with kryptonite in the various Superman comics. Dark Mansion led with a first issue dated September-October, 1971, with Sinister House #1 being dated October-November of the same year.
Both titles were fifty-two page comic books selling for twenty-five cents. The standard for most comics had been thirty-six pages for twelve cents since the very early 1960s, when the price went up from ten cents. Twenty-five cents would, in those halcyon days of my mis-spent youth, buy an eighty-page giant special issue, usually a reprint collection or annual, or the occasional regular series like the bulk of Tower Comics’s run in the mid-sixties. Later in the decade, that quarter of a dollar got you sixty-eight pages, then down to fifty-two by 1970. For a brief period, Marvel had jumped up its page count and cost for a single month on all its titles, often using reprints to flesh out the issues. DC followed suit for a year or so, not realizing that their chief rival had tricked them into following an expensive trend that was financially untenable. The readers benefitted, however, by being exposed to the treasures of the past that filled the back pages of those issues, helping to create the demand for Golden Age comics that led to major changes in distribution as well as collecting. Comics went from a drugstore item to being almost exclusively procured in specialty comic book stores, with a concurrent escalation of the value of older issues that led to the first appearance of Superman recently bringing in three-and-a-quarter million dollars.
Yeah, I wish I’d kept everything I ever owned, too. Oh, well.
Anyhow, Dark Mansion #1. The cover says, “The Secret of the Missing Bride”. The splash page says, “The Mystery of the Missing Bride”. Under either title, it was the first comic book written by Mary Skrenes, who went on to have a moderately successful career in both comics and television. She was also supposedly the inspiration for Howard the Duck’s human companion (and maybe girlfriend? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I will refrain from giving in to the temptation of stooping so law as to make the obvious naughty suggestion about the role played in their relationship by that portion of a duck’s plumage that is sometimes used to stuff pillows with), Beverly Switzler. The story, which filled the entire issue, was drawn by Tony DeZuniga, one of a cadre of artists DC recruited from the Philippines about that time. DeZuniga was also the initial artist on the long-running outre western character Jonah Hex when he first appeared the next year.
Sinister House #1 has two stories, neither reprints. Nor were they credited, either for the first story, which was clearly drawn by comics stalwart Don Heck, nor for the second, which was obviously at least inked by Vince Colletta. The art styles of each are quite distinctive. “The Curse of the MacIntyres” which according to the Grand Comics Database was also written by Mary Skrenes, occupies the bulk of the issue, while “A Night to Remember… A Day to Forget” was penciled by John Calnan, with the writer not known. It seems to me rather reminiscent of many stories from ACG titles like Adventures into the Unknown, in which romance and the supernatural overlapped from time to time.
And so it went for another three issues for each title. Almost entirely the one long story with only one other backup tale, mostly drawn by DeZuniga or Heck. One story had Colletta inks over pencils by Ernie Chua, another Filipino import. Sinister House #3 was penciled by comics legend, Alex Toth, who co-created Space Ghost for Saturday morning television in the 1960s, and inked by Frank Giacoia and Doug Wildey, who created Jonny Quest. Mary Skrenes wrote one more story. Editor Dorothy Woolfolk is credited with another, as is Tony DeZuniga’s wife, Mary.
Some of the one or two page text pieces that the post office requires be included in each issue for comic books to be considered enough of a literary medium to justify third-rate shipping rates, by the way, were written by none other than later legendary horror movie director, Wes Craven. Betcha didn’t see THAT coming!
Both were retitled with the fifth issues and switched over to standard horror format. Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love became Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion, while Sinister House of Secret Love morphed into Secrets of Sinister House. Very nearly the same, but without all the love. No more gothic romance, just the usual ‘ghoulies and ghosties and lang-legged beasties and things that gae bump in tha nacht’. And aside from one 1982 issue of DC Blue Ribbon Digest that reprinted a few of the yarns from these titles, that was it.
Well, almost. Remember that also-ran publisher I mentioned above? Charlton? The one that only kept going at all into the 1980s because they happened to own the printing presses they used to pump out their second-tier comic books? They managed to have the last laugh when their own gothic romance title, Haunted Love, premiered in 1973. It lasted eleven issues over the next two years, with Tom Sutton handling a significant portion of the artistic labors. The first story in the first story, however, was drawn by Joe Staton, who has been drawing the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip for just over a decade now. I met Joe back in the late 80s, when he visited the comic book store I managed briefly but much too long. Nice guy.
I have to confess that, until I sat down to write this entry, I had never read any of these comic books. Gothic romance simply isn’t my thing, but it does fill a significant niche in the history of our genre. If it is your thing, scans of all these issues can maybe possibly be found online to be read or even downloaded, given a diligent search in the right places. Not that I’d ever encourage anything even remotely resembling copyright infringement, though. Let your own conscience be your guide. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
September 30, 1962 was the end of an era in American popular culture. On that date, the last two programs of what has since come to be known as Old-Time Radio came to an end. Fifteen years after the introduction of national television broadcasting, and less than a decade after the proliferation of rock-n-roll oriented stations on the radio, the art form that had dominated the airwaves and entertained millions of Americans since the 1920s finally gave up the ghost.
Not that dramatic radio was never heard again in the United States. Almost immediately, new series popped up, and mostly sank into obscurity as quickly. The one significant exception was the CBS Radio Mystery Theater that ran for eight years in the 1970s and 1980s, and resurfaced briefly in the late 1990s. I will address that estimable program in a future column.
In other parts of the English-speaking world, the medium limped along, often as a companion to popular television shows or specifically to adapt popular or classic works of literature to a less expensive medium than television. In South Africa, where television was banned until the 1970s, radio remained a vital art form. But in America, it was television that ruled.
Two long-running series ended that last night of September in 1962. The final episode of the mystery show, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, about the insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account, was immediately preceded by the finale of the twenty-year-old Suspense!. Since 1942, Suspense! had featured major Hollywood stars in hundreds of stories based on some of horror literature’s most notable works, including the first adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story into another medium. From 1947 to 1954, Suspense! had a sort of companion show called Escape!, with which it occasionally swapped scripts and stars.
Some of those film stars made a secondary career in radio, including the redoubtable Vincent Price. He was radio’s Simon Templar, AKA The Saint, from 1947 to 1951, and in the meantime made guest appearances on dozens if not hundreds of other broadcasts. One such was the most memorable adaptation on either Suspense! or Escape! of the short story, “Three Skeleton Key”, by French writer Georges-Gustave Toudouze. The yarn was originally published in the January, 1937 issue of Esquire Magazine, and initially adapted to Escape! on the 15th of November, 1949. The broadcast starred Elliott Reid, William Conrad and Harry Bartell. That one’s pretty good, but it was the next adaptation that really sticks in the lizard brain section of the old bean.
It was Vincent Price’s first time in the lead four months later that was the one version that really gets to me. Nothing against Reid, Conrad and Bartell, who all enjoyed long and illustrious careers on radio, and on television in the case of William Conrad, but Vincent Price brought something special to the broadcast of the 17th of March, 1950. Or maybe the sound effects were better, or some other technical detail. I’m not completely sure what it was, but that one has always been the version I put on when I want to enjoy that frisson I mentioned way back in my first column in this space.
I’m not especially frightened of spiders, nor of any snake, I can see. That doesn’t mean I’m not wary and cautious of the ones I know to be dangerous, but I don’t let that wariness translate into incapacitating fear. And the same is true of a rat. One rat. As in, rattus norwegicus in the singular.
But hundreds of rats? Thousands? Enough to completely encase a lighthouse on a lonely rock cut off from the mainland, just off the coast of French Guiana and in the middle of a tempest-tossed sea? Enough to drive the inhabitants of that isolated edifice mad, so that the danger within is as great as the peril without? Yeah. That’s not at all festive.
Maybe it is just me. I leave it to the populace to judge for themselves. Listen, if you dare.
Harry Bartell returned in this version, with the added participation of Jeff Corey, a character actor with a resume as lengthy and impressive as the prominent nose on his face.
One last adaptation on Escape! followed, three years later, starring Ben Wright, Paul Frees and Jay Novello. After Escape! was canceled, the story moved over to Suspense! for two more versions, both starring Price with the support of Wright. John Dehner also appeared in the November 11, 1956 broadcast, and Lawrence Dobkin on October 18, 1958, but neither of these carries the impact of that first one with Price from 1950.
The power of Old-Time Radio lies in the fact that the images of the horrors inherent in the story are generated within the mind of the listener, and therefore are so much more terrifying than could be created by any visual medium available in that period. The monster you don’t see is much worse than any you do. That goes for rats, or “The Dunwich Horror” from the November 1, 1945 episode of Suspense!, or “The Thing on the Fourble Board” from the August 9, 1948 episode of Quiet, Please, or the Martian invaders from Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater presentation of The War of the Worlds on Halloween Eve, 1938, or any of the other myriad horrors unleashed upon the millions of Americans whose ears were glued to the speakers of an old Crosley or Philco radio in those halcyon days prior to September 30, 1962.
Unfortunately, many if not most broadcasts from the era of Old-Time Radio are lost to time. Whole swaths of radio history were not preserved. What remains is a fraction of the total number of programs aired over the four decades plus that the medium was a dominant force in American life. What we have, though, is lots of scary stuff, and a huge amount is available online, in the Internet Archive, and elsewhere. I encourage the populace to seek it out and enjoy it.
Most of the information used in this essay, by the way, came from that most invaluable website, Jerry’s Vintage Radio Logs http://www.otrsite.com/radiolog/ or from John Dunning’s hefty tome, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio.
So, listen, you who have ears to hear. Spooky things await you in the realm of a lost medium. And, as always…
Greetings, Denizens of the Dark! After consulting with the Powers That Be, it has been decided to provide this rundown of the horror-related folks we’ve lost to Prince Sirki on a quarterly basis, rather than presenting it annually. The populace will thus be spared the Russian novel length installment you got at the beginning of this year. There will also be a measure of immediacy to the obituaries. The passing of notable personages will perhaps be more impactful if we don’t wait as much as a year to celebrate their nefarious accomplishments.
Every effort has been made to make this list as complete as possible, but there remains the ever-looming possibility of having missed the demise of a major, or even a minor contributor to the genre we all enjoy. Feel free to make whatever additions you feel necessary in the comments.
Mark Eden (14 February 1928 – 1 January 2021) English actor, Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) with Boris Karloff and Barbara Steele, the first episode of the BBC television miniseries Quatermass and the Pit (“The Halfmen”, aired December 22, 1958), and one episode of One Step Beyond (season 3, episode 26: “Signal Received”, aired April 4, 1961).
George Gerdes (23 February 1948 – 1 January 2021) American actor, Bats (1999).
Vladimir Borisovich Korenev (20 June 1940 – 2 January 2021) Russian actor, Amphibian Man (1962).
Dick Kulpa (January 12, 1953 – January 3, 2021) American publisher and cartoonist on Cracked Magazine, and artist on various materials for Testor Corporation’s Weird-Ohs model kits in the 1980s. These were reissues of the classic monsters-driving-hot-rods kits made by Hawk in the mid-sixties. I built one or two of the originals, but had no idea they’d ever been revived. I might just have to track one down and put it together.
Lee Hong-kam (13 January 1932 – 4 January 2021) Chinese actress, opera star and producer, Story of the White-Haired Demon Girl (1959).
Tanya Roberts (October 15, 1955 – January 4, 2021), American actress and one-time Bond Girl, played one of the victims in Tourist Trap (1979).
Barbara Shelley (1932 or 1933 – 4 January 2021) Zaftig English actress and Hammer horror film scream queen in Blood of the Vampire (1958), The Gorgon (1964), Village of the Damned (1960), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), and the theatrical version of the 1958 BBC miniseries Quatermass and the Pit (AKA Five Million Years to Earth, 1967).
Gregory Sierra (January 25, 1937 – January 4, 2021) American actor in Vampires (1988), Donor (1990), and one episode of the revival series, The Munsters Today (season 1, episode 6, “Farewell Grandpa”, aired November 12, 1988).
James Greene (19 May 1931 – 5 January 2021) Northern Irish Actor in From Hell (2001) and The Sin Eater (2003).
Michael Apted (10 February 1941 – 7 January 2021) English director of the TV movie, Haunted: Poor Girl (1974).
Marion Ramsey (May 10, 1947 – January 7, 2021) American actress primarily notable for playing the gentle and soft-spoken (until provoked – then watch out!) Officer Hooks in the first six Police Academy movies. She played Teddie in 2015’s Lavalantula, about giant lava-breathing tarantulas, and its 2016 sequel, 2 Lava 2 Lantula! Oh, how the flighty have fallen!
Steve Lightle (November 19, 1959 – January 8, 2021) American comic book artist. Best known for super-hero work on such titles as The Legion of Super-Heroes and The Doom Patrol, he did pencil a Ghost Rider storyline in Marvel Comics Presents #132 to #136.
Steve Carver (April 5, 1945 – January 8, 2021) American director, The Tell-Tale Heart (1971).
Diana Millay (June 7, 1935 – January 8, 2021) American actress in sixty-two episodes during the first season of the supernatural American television soap opera Dark Shadows (1966), and in the related theatrical film, Night of Dark Shadows (1971).
Julie Strain (February 18, 1962 – January 10, 2021) American actress and model, with a long career in grade-z horror pictures starting with Repossessed in 1990, as well as voice work on Heavy Metal 2000 (2000) and in genre-related video games. Strain developed dementia due a head injury she received in a horse-riding accident in her 20s, and eventually succumbed to complications of that disorder.
Stacy Title (February 21, 1964 – January 11, 2021) American director, Hood of Horror (2006).
Mona Malm (24 January 1935 – 12 January 2021) Swedish actress, The Seventh Seal (1957).
Mark Richman (April 16, 1927 – January 14, 2021) American actor who was a perennial guest star on practically every dramatic American television show in the 1960s and 1970s, and on into the 80s and 90s on a smaller scale. He started earlier than that, on the Suspense! TV show (“The Duel”, season 5, episode 26, April 21, 1953). He was in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (season 4, episode 7, “Man With a Problem”, aired November 16, 1958 and season 5, episode 17, “The Cure”, aired January 24, 1960), one of The Twilight Zone (“The Fear”, season 5, episode 35, May 29, 1964), two episodes of The Outer Limits (“The Borderland”, season 1, episode 12, December 16, 1963, and “The Probe”, season 2, episode 17, January 16, 1965), and showed up on many occasionally peripherally genre-related shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Wild Wild West, The Invaders, Land of the Giants and Fantasy Island. His only horror movie role was in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in 1989.
Jean-Pierre Bacri (24 May 1951 – 18 January 2021) French actor, La Vénus d’Ille (1980), based on a story by Prosper Mérimée first published in 1837. It tells the tale of a statue of the Roman goddess, Venus, that comes to life and kills a man it believes to be her husband. The story was previously adapted for the old-time radio show, The Witch’s Tale, under the title “The Bronze Venus”, which was aired on July 2, 1931.
Bacri also appeared in one episode of the American TV horror series, Chillers (season 1, episode 5, “Old Folks at Home”, aired May 11, 1990), and in the 1994 French horror comedy, La cité de la peur (Fear City: A Family-Style Comedy).
Catherine Rich (born Catherine Renaudin, June 10, 1932 – January 18, 2021), French actress, The Burning Court (1962). Based on a story by John Dickson Carr, the tale was also adapted to old-time radio for the first episode of the Suspense! program, aired on June 17, 1942.
In 1973, she appeared in a French TV adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story, “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (“Le double assassinat de la rue Morgue”).
Mira Furlan (7 September 1955 – 20 January 2021) Croatian actress best known for her long run as Ambassador Delenn on the American science fiction television series, Babylon Five, appeared in one episode of The Night Stalker revival TV series (season 1, episode 9, “Timeless”, aired March 10, 2006).
Robert Avian (December 26, 1937 – January 21, 2021) American choreographer on the 2000 London musical stage production of The Witches of Eastwick.
Nathalie Delon (1 August 1941 – 21 January 2021), French actress and film director, The Monk (1972), Bluebeard (1972), and A Whisper in the Dark (1976).
Rémy Julienne (17 April 1930 – 21 January 2021) French stuntman, Fantomas (1964), A Witch’s Way of Love (1997), and several James Bond pictures.
Ron Campbell (26 December 1939 – 22 January 2021) Australian animator who worked on numerous American television cartoon series, specials, and movies beginning in the 1960s, including The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon show. Several of the episodes had horror related themes, beginning with the first one, aired on September 25, 1965, which was set in a haunted house. He also worked on Goober and the Ghost-Chasers, “The Mini-Munsters” episode of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie (a failed 1973 pilot, and having seen it, I get why it failed), The New Scooby-Doo Movies, the 1983 Beauty and the Beast animated TV movie, the 1986 animated series Ghostbusters (not related to the Bill Murray-Dan Aykroyd-Harold Ramis film), Aaahh! Real Monsters and Men in Black: The Series.
Tony Ferrer (born Antonio Laxa, June 12, 1934 – January 23, 2021) Filipino actor, The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967).
Alberto Grimaldi (28 March 1925 – 23 January 2021) Italian film producer on the “Toby Damnit” segment of the 1968 Poe-based omnibus film, Spirits of the Dead (AKA Histoires extraordinaires), starring Terence Stamp and directed by Federico Fellini. Also produced the 1968 giallo,Un tranquillo posto di campagna (A Quiet Place in the Country), starring Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave.
Hal Holbrook (February 17, 1925 – January 23, 2021) American actor, The Fog (1980), Creepshow (1982), The Unholy (1988). He also appeared in one episode of the 1995 revival of The Outer Limits (season 6, episode 21, “Final Appeal”, aired September 3, 2000). My dad, brother and I saw his one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight!, several years ago. I hadn’t had a haircut in a while, and my mustache was untrimmed as well. Consequently, I rather resembled Twain. Dad suggested that if Mr. Holbrook were unable to perform, they might ask me to step in. Fortunately for all concerned, he was more than up to the task.
Trisha Noble (3 February 1944 – 23 January 2021) Australian singer and actress, appeared in one episode of Night Gallery (season 2, episode 9, “House – With Ghost”, aired November 17, 1971).
Gunnel Lindblom (18 December 1931 – 24 January 2021) Swedish Actress, The Seventh Seal (1957).
Arik Brauer (4 January 1929 – 24 January 2021) Austrian painter, printmaker, poet, dancer, singer, and stage designer, Holocaust survivor, co-founder of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism with several other artists. Some of his images include borderline horrific imagery, somewhat reminiscent of the works of Hieronymus Bosch.
Tseng Chang (18 May 1930 – 25 January 2021) Chinese-American actor, All of them Witches (Sobrenatural, 1996), Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2000), Kingdom Hospital (2004), They Wait (2007), The Unseen (2016), and one episode of the TV series, Supernatural (season 4, episode 8, Wishful Thinking”, aired November 6, 2008).
Peter Vere-Jones (21 October 1939 – 26 January 2021) New Zealand actor, Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992).
Cloris Leachman (April 30, 1926 – January 26/27, 2021) Oscar and Emmy-winning American actress, Young Frankenstein (1974), Lake Placid 2 (2007). She appeared in a stage production of Blithe Spirit while in college at Northwestern University in 1943. Genre-related television work included Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Boris Karloff’sThriller, and The Twilight Zone, as well as Night Gallery and its spin-off series, The Sixth Sense.
Ryszard Kotys (20 March 1932 – 28 January 2021) Polish actor, The Saragossa Manuscript (1964).
Cicely Tyson (December 19, 1924 – January 28, 2021) Award-winning American actress, played Ebenita Scrooge in 1997’s Ms. Scrooge, a television version of A Christmas Carol with a mainly female cast. She also appeared in an episode of the 1995 reboot of The Outer Limits (season 6, episode 21, “Final Appeal”, aired 3 September, 2000 – see also Hal Holbrook above), and in A Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia in 2013.
Allan Burns (May 18, 1935 – January 30, 2021) American screenwriter and television producer who co-created and wrote for the TV sitcom, The Munsters.
Dustin Diamond (January 7, 1977 – February 1, 2021) American actor, appeared in one episode of The Munsters Today, the 1988-1991 revival of the classic 60s TV sitcom (season 3, episode 9, “Mind Reader”, aired December 1, 1990).
Jonas Gricius (5 August 1928 – 1 February 2021) Lithuanian cinematographer on the 1964 Russian film version of Hamlet, one of the very few filmed entirely in and around Elsinore Castle outside Copenhagen, where the play was set. And which I did not have a chance to tour when I was in Copenhagen a few years ago, a circumstance I’m still annoyed by. Often referred to by its Russian title of Gamlet, the film received numerous accolades. Despite its significantly condensed translation by Boris Pasternack (author of the 1957 novel, Dr. Zhivago), it is a masterful adaptation and one of my personal favorite versions of the play.
Kim Bo-kyung (3 April 1976 – 2 February 2021) South Korean actress, Epitaph (2007) and Horror Stories (2012).
Adelaide João (27 July 1921 – 3 February 2021) Portuguese actress, O Fantasma de Canterville (1966) and The Curse of Marialva (1991).
Raghavendra Kadkol (1943 – February 4, 2021) Indian actor, Ek Daav Bhutacha (1982),Zapatlela (1993), and Zapatlela 2 (2013).
Isa Bellini (19 June 1922 – 5 February 2021) Italian actress, The Happy Ghost (1941).
Christopher Plummer (December 13, 1929 – February 5, 2021) Canadian actor who was Sherlock Holmes hunting Jack the Ripper in Murder by Decree (1979), Van Helsing in Dracula 2000 (2000) and Rudyard Kipling in The Man Who Would Be King (1975). Starred in the TV movie, Hamlet at Elsinore in 1964. Other horror movie roles included The Pyx (1973) with Karen Black, the 1975 remake of The Spiral Staircase, Vampire in Venice (1988), and Skeletons (1997).
Harry Fielder (26 April 1940 – 6 February 2021) English actor who appeared as an extra in hundreds of televisions shows and movies, including Quatermass and the Pit (AKA Five Million Years to Earth, 1967), The Vengeance of She (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Cry of the Banshee (1970, with Vincent Price), Trog (1970, with Joan Crawford), Three Sisters (1970, as the Devil), Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971), Twins of Evil (1971), The Devils (1971), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), Frenzy (1972), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982, with Anthony Hopkins as Quasimodo), The Bride (1985), The Doctor and the Devils (1985), Nightbreed (1990), Mary Reilly (1996), and numerous episodes of Doctor Who.
Krzysztof Kowalewski (20 March 1937 – 6 February 2021) Polish actor and comedian. The only genre-related work I could ferret out for him was as a voice actor on the animated horror film, Kill it and Leave it Behind (2020). Maybe I should brush up on my Polish.
Giuseppe Rotunno (19 March 1923 – 7 February 2021) Italian cinematographer on Phantom Lovers (1961), the ‘Toby Dammit’ segment of Spirits of the Dead (1968 – see Alberto Grimaldi above), Orfeo (1985), Haunted Summer (1988), and Wolf (1994).
Jean-Claude Carrière (17 September 1931 – 8 February 2021) French screenwriter on The Diabolical Dr. Z. (1965), The Monk (1972), and Jack the Ripper (1976).
Clay Wilson (July 25, 1941 – February 7, 2021) American underground comix cartoonist, creator of the Checkered Demon in 1968 and contributor to the H.P. Lovecraft issue of Graphic Classics in 2002. His later work sometimes featured unexpected character types as zombies and vampires.
Goran Daničić (14 December 1962 – 10 February 2021) Serbian actor, The Meeting Point (1989).
Rowena Morrill (September 14, 1944 – February 11, 2021) American artist known for her speculative fiction illustrations, mostly science fiction and fantasy, but there be monsters in them-thar pictures.
Joan Weldon (August 5, 1930 – February 11, 2021) American actress, Them! (1954).
Christopher Pennock (June 7, 1944 – February 12, 2021) American actor, appeared in 126 episodes of Dark Shadows in 1970 and 1971, and in the second theatrical movie based on the soap opera, Night of Dark Shadows (1971). Was also in two episodes of the 1982 supernatural detective television series, Tucker’s Witch; in Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar (2014), which was the second film in the reboot of the classic supernatural crime boss series that originally ran from 1922 to 1963; the television short A Poem of Poe in 2015; as a vampire in The Job Interview (2015); in The Night-Time Winds (2017); in eight episodes of the 2014-2017 television series Theatre Fantastique; and in The Most Haunted House in Venice Beach (2021).
Lynn Stalmaster (November 17, 1927 – February 12, 2021) American casting director on Lady in a Cage (1964), The Satan Bug (1965), Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969), The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (1971), The Sixth Sense TV series (1972), Deliverance (1972), Audrey Rose (1977), Good Against Evil (1977), The Fury (1978), Damien: Omen II (1978), Nightwing (1979), Prophecy (1979), Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981), and Lady in White (1988).
Lucía Guilmáin (5 January 1938 – 15 February 2021) Mexican actress, Darker Than Night (2014).
Claudio Sorrentino (18 July 1945 – 16 February 2021) Italian actor and voice actor, appeared in one episode of the Italian television series, Il Fascino dell’Insolito (season 1, episode 5, “Miriam”, aired 9 February 1980).
Si Spencer (1961 – 16 February 2021)British comic book writer on The Books of Magick, Judge Death, The Creep, and Harke & Burr.
Alan Curtis (30 July 1930 – 18 February 2021) English actor, Die Screaming, Marianne (1971) and The Flesh and Blood Show (1972).
Alan Robert Murray (1954/1955 – February 24, 2021) Academy Award winning American sound editor, Scrooged (1988) and The Thirteenth Warrior (1999).
Erik Myers (February 29, 1980 – February 24, 2021) was an American comedian, actor, and writer who had a bit part in the not yet released horror film, The Tarot.
Ronald Alfred Pickup (7 June 1940 – 24 February 2021) English actor, Dark Floors (2008).
Bill Cartlidge (16 June 1942 – 3 March 2021) English Second-Unit and Assistant Director on Dr. Crippen (1963), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), The Reptile (1966) and Phase IV (1974), and co-producer on Haunted (1995).Nicola Pagett (15 June 1945 – 3 March 2021) British actress, Frankenstein: The True Story (1973).
John “Bud” Cardos (December 20, 1929 – March 4, 2021) American director, actor and stuntman, Nightmare in Wax (1969), Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969), Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970), The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971), House of Terror (1973), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), The Dark (1979), The Day Time Ended (1979), and Mutant (1984).
Tony Hendra (10 July 1941 – 4 March 2021) English screenwriter, Mama Dracula (1980). Also satirist, and actor; his best known film role was as the band’s manager in This is Spinal Tap (1984).
David Bailie (4 December 1937 – 5 March 2021) English actor, The Creeping Flesh (1973), Son of Dracula (1973), Legend of the Werewolf (1975), The House that Jack Built (2018), and In the Trap (2019). Also had a recurring role as Cotton in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (2003 – 2011).
Boris Komnenić (29 March 1957 – 6 March 2021) Serbian actor, T.T. Syndrome (2002)
Nikki van der Zyl (27 April 1935 – 6 March 2021) German voice-over actress on She (1965, dubbed Ursula Andress), One Million Years B.C. (1966, dubbed Raquel Welch), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967, dubbed Susan Denberg), and Scars of Dracula (1970, dubbed Jenny Hanley).
Frank Thorne (June 16, 1930 – March 7, 2021) American comic book artist-writer on Red Sonja (1977-1979), which like most sword and sorcery comics featured numerous monsters.
Sylvie Feit (29 July 1949 – 8 March 2021) French voice-over actress on The Fog (1980, dubbed Jamie Lee Curtis), Silent Madness (1984, dubbed Belinda Montgomery), and Aliens (1986, dubbed Jenette Goldstein). I might need to track down that last one, just to see what bad-ass Space Marine Private Vasquez sounds like en français. Ooh-la-la!
Trevor Peacock (19 May 1931 – 8 March 2021) No, no, no, no, no, no, no… yes, I’m afraid it’s true. English actor who appeared in the title role in the BBC television adaptation of Titus Andronicus (1985), as the gravedigger in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 film version of Hamlet with Mel Gibson and Glenn Close, and as Old Joe in the 1999 film adaptation of A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Not horror-related, but he was Jim Trott in the BBC’s The Vicar of Dibley (1994-2015), the funniest sitcom ever produced on either side of the Big Pond. I very much has the sads.
James Levine (June 23, 1943 – March 9, 2021) American conductor and pianist, and music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City for forty years (1976-2016), before his termination over allegations of sexual misconduct. He was particularly noted for his stagings of the complete Ring cycle by Richard Wagner – four operas (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung) collectively known as Der Ring des Nibelungen, full of dragons, giants and gods, as well as plenty of sturm und drang; a sixteen-hour marathon that Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd neatly condensed down to seven minutes. Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit… Don’t get me wrong, I love the operas. Just one at a time.
Isela Vega (5 November 1939 – 9 March 2021) Mexican actress who co-starred with Boris Karloff in Fear Chamber (AKA The Torture Zone, 1968), and with John Carradine in Diabolical Pact (1969). She was also in Enigma de Muerte (1969), La Señora Muerte (English title Madame Death, 1969), Los Amantes del Señor de la Noche (English title The Lovers of the Lord of the Night, 1986) and Island of the Dolls (2018).
Isidore Mankofsky (September 22, 1931 – March 11, 2021) American cinematographer, The Lottery (short film, 1969), Werewolves on Wheels (1971), Scream Blacula Scream (1973), Homebodies (1974), Carrie (1976), and Evil Town (1977).
Peter Patzak (2 January 1945 – 11 March 2021) Austrian film director and screenwriter, Parapsycho – Spectrum of Fear (1975).
Norman J. Warren (25 June 1942 – 11 March 2021) English film director of Satan’s Slave (1976), Prey (1977), Terror (1978), Inseminoid (1981), Bloody New Year (1987), and the short film, The Devil Made Them Do It (2014); actor in the short films Grave Tales (2011), Daddy Cross (2011), Turn Your Bloody Phone Off: The Second Batch (2013) and Dr. Balden Cross: Beyond the Void (2018); and as the subject and/or interviewee in a number of documentaries including Evil Heritage: Independent Film-Making and the Films of Norman J. Warren (1999), Horrorshow (2008), Slice and Dice: The Slasher Film Forever (2012), Horror Icon (2016), and Into the Dark: Exploring the Horror Film (currently in post-production).
Ronald Joseph DeFeo Jr. (September 26, 1951 – March 12, 2021) American mass murderer who slaughtered his family in 1974, a crime that inspired the 1977 book by Jay Anson, The Amityville Horror, as well as the 1979 film of the same title and its several sequels, prequels and remakes.
Henry Darrow (born Enrique Tomás Delgado Jiménez; September 15, 1933 – March 14, 2021) prolific American character actor, appeared in the 1959 vampire western, Curse of the Undead, the 1969 horror western, The Dream of Hamish Mose, and in one episode each of The Outer Limits (season 1, episode 13, “Tourist Attraction”, aired December 23, 1963), and Night Gallery (season 2, episode 12, “Cool Air”, based on the H.P. Lovecraft story, aired December 8, 1971).
Yaphet Kotto (November 15, 1939 – March 15, 2021) American actor in the feature films Alien (1979), Terror in the Aisles (1984) and Freddie’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), and on television, one episode of Night Gallery (season 2 episode 13 “The Messiah on Mott Street”, aired December 15, 1971).
Antón García Abril (19 May 1933 – 17 March 2021) Spanish composer of film scores for Un Vampiro para Dos (1965), Island of the Doomed (1967), The Werewolf versus the Vampire Woman 1971), Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972), Dr. Jekyll vs the Werewolf (1972), The Loreley’s Grasp (173), Return of the Evil Dead (1973), Curse of the Devil (1973), The Ghost Galleon (1974), Night of the Seagulls (1975), and The Monk (1990).
Amy Johnston (? – March 17, 2021) American actress, Jennifer (1978).
Richard Gilliland (January 23, 1950 – March 18, 2021) American actor in Bug (1975) and Vampire Clan (2002).
Yevgeny Nesterenko (8 January 1938 – 20 March 2021) Russian operatic bass, appeared in several horror-related operatic roles, including as Méphistophélès in Faust by Charles Gounod, Banquo in Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi and Vodnik the Water Goblin in Rusalka by Antonin Dvořák.
Susana Canales (5 September 1933 – 22 March 2021) Spanish actress, Fantasmi e Ladri (Ghosts and Thieves, 1959).
Anne Kerylen (6 December 1943 – 23 March 2021) French actress in the first episode of the French supernatural mystery La Brigade des maléfices (“Les disparus de Rambouillet”, aired August 2, 1971).
George Segal (February 13, 1934 – March 23, 2021) Oscar nominated American actor in No Way to Treat a Lady (1968), The Terminal Man (1974), and one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (season 2, episode 2, “A Nice Touch” aired October 4, 1963).
Craig Grant, AKA muMs da Schemer (December 18, 1968 – March 24, 2021) American actor and poet, had a bit part in Bringing Out the Dead (1999).
Jessica Walter (January 31, 1941 – March 24, 2021) Ubiquitous Emmy Award winning American television actress since the early 1960s, she did make a few theatrical genre films, most notably Play Misty for Me (1971), as well as Ghost in the Machine (1993) and Temptress (1995). She appeared in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (season 2, episode 25, “The Ordeal of Mrs. Snow”, aired April 14, 1964), and one episode of Poltergeist: The Legacy (season 3, episode 9, The Light”, aired March 20, 1998). She also played sorceress Morgan leFey in the 1978 TV movie, Dr. Strange. Yes, that Dr. Strange, but without Benedict Cumberbatch, who was only two years old at the time.
Robert Rodan (January 30, 1939 – March 25, 2021) American actor, played Adam, the Frankensteinian creature assembled by mad scientist Dr. Eric Lang in seventy-nine episodes of the American television soap opera Dark Shadows in 1968.
Bertrand Tavernier (25 April 1941 – 25 March 2021) French director, screenwriter, actor and producer. Assistant director on the 1969 giallo, Orgasmo (AKA Paranoia).
Nagayya (? – 27 March, 2021) Indian actor, Bhaagamathie (2019).
Wawan Wanisar (? – 29 March, 2021) Indonesian actor, Cinta dan Noda (1991), Misteri Kebun Tebu (1997), and Lukisan Ratu Kidul (2019).
Gérard Filipelli (December 12, 1942 – March 30, 2021) French actor, Les Charlots contre Dracula (1980).
Myra Frances (10 March 1943 – 30 March 2021) British actress, played Adrasta in the Tom Baker era Doctor Who serial, “The Creature from the Pit”, aired October 27, 1979 to November 17, 1979.
Evelyn Sakash (bodydiscovered March 30, 2021) American production designer on the American television mini-series, The Langoliers, aired May 14 and 15, 1995, based on the story by Stephen King. She was reported missing in September, 2020. Sakash had become a hoarder, and her mummified body was discovered under a pile of garbage in her New York City home.
Cleve Hall (22 June 1959 – 31 March 2021) American special effects artist, make-up artist, and actor on Nightmare (1981), The Dungeonmaster (1984), Ghoulies (1984), Re-Animator (1986), Troll (1986), TerrorVision (1986), Evil Spawn (1987), Terror Night (1987), Twisted Nightmare (1987), Demon Wind (1990), The Halfway House (2004), My Demon Within (2005), The Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis (2005), Bloodstruck (2010), The Summer of Massacre (2012), The Black Dahlia Haunting (2012), Camp Dread (2014), and The Vampire Santa I: The Beginning (not yet released).
So, there it is. Expect the next installment in three months’ time. In the meanwhile, your Friendly Neighborhood Historian of Horror will offer up a variety of elucidations into the past glories of all things horrifying, terrifying, and disturbing. Prepare yourselves to be amazed and enlightened. And, as always…
I will confess that it’s been a number of years since I read M.G. Lewis’s classic gothic novel, The Monk. I do recall that I was not convinced it truly ought to be classified as gothic. It’s too funny. It meanders all over Madrid, weaving a couple of major plots, several subplots and myriad ridiculous occurrences into a hilarious tapestry of lyrical ribaldry, more rococo, to my thinking, than gothic.
But, what do I know? I’ve always considered Moby Dick to be a comedy.
Gothic or rococo, what it was when it exploded across Europe in 1796, was lurid, licentious and controversial. It’s a picaresque of a devout Catholic priest, Ambrosius, who falls from grace and gives himself over to a series of lubricious episodes wallowing in the pleasures of the flesh scandalized the continent, so of course, it was a bestseller that has rarely been out of print for over two centuries.
The above highly condensed description is the main, er, thrust of the novel. The secondary plot concerns young lovers Raymond and Agnes, and the supernatural involvement of The Bloody Nun. And that is what bwings us togewwer today. Wuv, twoo wuv….
Sorry. Had a momentary attack of Princess Briditis. Won’t happen again. I hope.
Ahem. So, the Bloody Nun has, since 1835, been that part of The Monk that has most inspired the creative minds of what by then was the Romantic Era. On the 16th of February of that year, a five-act play, La nonne sanglante, premiered at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris. Written by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Julien de Mallian, it did, in the parlance of a later period, boffo box-office. Three years later, Gaetano Donizetti adapted the play into an opera, Maria de Rudenz…
Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. He just did an opera column last month. Can we please move on to some other medium? We haven’t done old-time radio yet, or comic books. Do we have to do opera again, so soon?
Well, my hands are sort of tied. This is for religious horror, the theme for the first part of this month. And I only recently acquired a DVD of a performance, not of the Donizetti work, but of one of the other two, later, completed operas. When am I ever going to enjoy the exploitation of such a glorious concatenation of circumstances? How can I not take this unique opportunity to address the episode of the Bloody Nun in its most exquisite manifestation?
All right, all right. Feel free to check in at the box office for a full refund of your admission price, if you so desire. The rest of us will proceed.
Ahem. So, Donizetti is dealt with. I’m not even going to mention Hector Berlioz taking a stab at it in 1841 that went nowhere, just a few bits that he later incorporated into Les Troyens. We move along, on to the 1850s, when not one but two operatic works, based not on the play but on the original novel, appeared. English composer Edward Loder’s 1855 Raymond and Agnes included material from a second Lewis novel, The Castle Spectre from 1797. It has its points of interest, but it’s not the subject of this essay.
Of the twelve operas, Charles Gounod composed, only Romeo et Juliette and Faust are still performed regularly. Fair warning – I will address Faust in the future, probably in relation to the other dozen or so operas based on the old deal-with-the-devil yarn, including the aforementioned Berioz’s own Damnation of Faust. I will take mercy on the populace and defer that for more than just a month, however.
Anyhow, Gounod’s second opera was La Nonne Sanglante, with a libretto by Eugene Scribe and Germaine Delavigne. A libretto is the book of lyrics set to the music created by the composer, by the way. It was not well received at its premiere on October 18, 1854, at the Salle le Peletier in Paris. A brief revival in 1866 in Cambridge, England was about it for over a hundred and fifty years. A German production in 2008 revived interest in the work, and a 2018 live performance at the Opera Comique in Paris was recorded for the DVD I purchased with my wife’s hard-earned cash.
Gounod relocated the action from Spain to 11th Century Bohemia, on the eve of the First Crusade. Works for me. To quote Three Dog Night, “Well, I never been to Spain…” I have been to Bohemia, just not in the 11th Century. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I recommend that, once we are able to travel again, folks should include it on their bucket list. Not that you’ll see anything in this opera that reflects that lovely city in any century.
The sets are quite minimalistic, in fact, which helps I think to focus the attention on the intimacy of the events. No grand Wagnerian settings with multiple moving parts, dragons, giants and gods. The action takes place in the space between the castles of two warring families, the Luddorfs and the Moldaws, apart from the hero’s brief sojourn in a nearby village. Tight. Intimate. Almost claustrophobic. Like being trapped in a banquet hall with a ghost only you can see.
It begins with a bit of a spoiler. Acted out during the playing of the overture, we see the title character being first rejected, then murdered by her lover. Just the sort of thing that results in an angry ghost wandering about in your typical Medieval castle. I’m not sure I approve, but for some reason, I was not consulted. An oversight, no doubt.
Once the overture is finished, we segue to a pitched battle between the warring families. The melee is interrupted by the local holy man, Pierre the Hermit (bass Jean Teitgen). He reminds the combatants that the Crusade is imminent, and urges them to save their bloodlust for the Muslim infidels in the Holy Land. He advises a marriage of convenience between Agnes de Moldaw (soprano Vannina Santoni) and Luddorf’s elder son, Theobald. Trouble is, Agnes is in love with the second Luddorf son, Rodolphe (tenor Michael Spyres), who is off recruiting fighters for the Crusade. By the time Rodolphe returns, the deal is done. He objects and is banished by his father.
You just can’t trust a bass. They always mess things up. Just ask Mighty Mouse.
Before he leaves, Rodolphe meets with Agnes, who tells him all about her family’s castle ghost, the Bloody Nun. Every night at midnight, she appears at the castle gate, carrying a lamp and a dagger. The guard lets her pass through to make her spectral rounds. Rodolphe has the bright idea that Agnes should disguise herself as the Bloody Nun, so the guard will let her out and they can run off together. Rodolphe is an idiot.
Act II begins with local commoners milling about before being sent off to bed. Rodolphe’s page, Arthur, hangs around to meet with him. Arthur is one of the best things about the performance, being wonderfully played by soprano Jodie Devos as a sort of cross between Matthew Broderick from Ladyhawke and the Artful Dodger. Rodolphe sends Arthur off to prepare for his departure while he loiters outside the Moldaw castle for Agnes to show up.
And so she does, but it’s the wrong Agnes. Rodolphe winds up pledging himself to the Bloody Nun (Marion Lebegue), who is also named Agnes. Rodolphe doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between a soprano and a mezzo-soprano. I do believe I did mention his cognitive deficit above. She informs him that she will hold him to his betrothal unless he kills the man who murdered her twenty years before. Being one of those more contrary kinds of specters, she declines to identify the miscreant. Rodolphe, in desperation, agrees before he leaves town.
This is the best scene of the opera so far, with the shades of Rodolphe’s family dead looming around him as he agonizes over the dilemma he’s gotten himself into. The music is dire and dour, deep into a minor key that accentuates the ghastly situation. Worth the price of admission alone.
Act III takes place in a small village where Rodolphe finds himself amidst a wedding party that devolves into a general orgy. Rodolphe extracts himself from the pile of writhing bodies long enough to fill Arthur in on how the Bloody Nun comes to him every night, reminding him of his pledge. Arthur shares the good news that Theobald has been killed in battle, and he is free and clear to marry Agnes. The correct Agnes. Rodolphe heads home.
The action amps up in Act IV as the now reconciled families hold a banquet celebrating the new arrangement. Unfortunately, the Blood Nun shows up as an uninvited guest, whom only Rodolphe can see and hear. She reminds him of his vows, he turns all party-pooper without explaining why, and everyone gets all pissy about it. Luddorf, however, figures out that his son is being haunted by the ghost of the woman he himself killed all those years ago, just as she tells Rodolphe that he’s going to have to execute his own father to get out of his engagement to her.
It’s a wild scene, full of tension and angst, and ending with the two families back on each other’s naughty list. Exeunt all, except for Luddorf, who agonizes over the crime he committed so long ago and the price his son will have to pay for that sin.
Moldaw partisans flood the scene at the onset of the final act, vowing to kill Rodolphe for his offense against their family. Luddorf overhears the plot, and when Rodolphe and Agnes show up to argue over the situation and his inability to communicate his feeling to her, Luddorf intervenes in the attack and gets himself killed. The Blood Nun shows up, takes Luddorf’s spirit away with her, and absolves Rodolphe of his pledge. Rodolphe and Agnes are left staring at each other from a distance of about six feet as the music swells and the house lights dim. Not social distancing, but perhaps having said too much during their conflict and thus, unsure of where they stand with each other. Like the orgy, a rather more modern take than Gounod probably intended, but I liked it. That’s just my cynical old curmudgeon side showing out, I suppose.
The individual performances varied in quality. As noted above, Jodie Devos was consistently delightful. Marion Lebegue was exceptional as the Bloody Nun. The others were more than up to the task, except I thought for Michael Spyres’ Rodolphe. I found him a tad light in his delivery in the first act, and not always exact. He did improve as the opera went on, but I never stopped wishing someone of the caliber of a Roberto Alagna had been available. And affordable, which is likely why Spyres was chosen. Alagna has played Gounod’s Romeo as well as his Faust, so perhaps, someday…
Anyhow, that’s all I have to say about that. I recommend taking a look at La Nonne Sanglante if you ever find yourselves in possession of the DVD, or in the vicinity of a live performance. The accompanying booklet does include some details I glossed over, although I was rather disappointed it did not contain the libretto, either in the original French or an English translation. The DVD does have subtitles in several languages and is nicely shot.
In lieu of all that, here is a sort of trailer, albeit with a different performer in the role of Luddorf. Or at least, a different look. Regardless, it’s a nice little extract, drawing mostly from the end of Act II…
It is a generally accepted truism among film historians that half of all films made before 1950 are lost. No copies are known to exist. By that metric, vast swathes of the horror films of the first half of the 20th Century should be unavailable for viewing. And yet…
Let’s take a headcount. The big one is, of course, Lon Chaney’s 1927 film, London After Midnight. The last known copy was destroyed in a fire in the mid-50s, and it has been The Holy Grail for horror fans ever since. Turner Classic Movies has assembled a sort of replica out of stills and the shooting script, but that’s a poor substitute.
What else? The 1930 version of The Cat and the Canary, entitled The Cat Creeps, both English and Spanish versions. The first two Golem films Paul Wegener made in Germany during the First World War. The second version of Frankenstein, Life Without Soul, from 1915, and an Italian version, Il Mostro de Frankenstein from 1921. Um…
Yes, there are more, but not as many major ones as one might think. Wonder why that is?
To find that out, we must needs peer back into the dark and abyss of time, to 1910. Carl Laemmle, a film exhibitor in New York City, decided he’d had enough of paying a royalty to Thomas Edison every time he used a movie projector. He also had a desire to make his own movies, but Edison collected even more exorbitant sums from anyone with the temerity to use one of his patented cameras. Laemmle’s solution was to uproot his whole operation, which consisted mostly of his relatives and relocate to somewhere in California, anywhere in California, far away from Thomas Edison and his patent attorneys. How about that sleeping little farming community near Los Angeles called Hollywood? Sure, sounds good. He called his new organization Universal Pictures. He set up shop out there and started making movies.
Within a couple of years, Jesse Lasky’s Famous Players followed suit, becoming Paramount Pictures in 1912. And so on, until Edison gave up on enforcing his patents and all the other studios followed Laemmle out to Hollywood.
Here’s the thing about Carl Laemmle: He never really caught on to the notion that feature-length was the way movies should be made. He was of the opinion that one or two reels per picture was plenty, each reel spooling out at roughly ten minutes. His underlings, Irving Thalberg and his son, Carl, Junior, among them, managed to convince him to allow longer productions, but Universal films still tended towards the shorter lengths. Nothing like the eight hours Erich von Stroheim was originally granted to make films like Greed over at M-G-M in 1924, but one of the biggest stars of the day, Lon Chaney, made a couple that hovered around an hour long while he was at Universal, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera among them. Before long, both Chaney and Thalberg had moved over to M-G-M, and it was up to Carl, Junior, to convince the old man to let him make feature films. Senior gave in, but was still loathe to let things get too far out of hand.
And so it is that once Universal get into the horror movie business in 1931 with Dracula and then Frankenstein, these films are still a tad shorter than the standard feature-length. Dracula came in at an hour and fifteen minutes, Frankenstein at an hour and ten minutes.
Which has what to do with the state of film preservation that seems to favor our beloved genre over others? Simply this – that when Universal started marketing fifty-two of their classic horror films to television in October of 1957 under the name Shock!, that just-over-an-hour length was very attractive. Add in the right number of commercials, and Shock Theater, as the release was generally called by the local television stations, came in at a comfortable hour and a half time slot. The program managers at those stations liked that ninety-minute block, and gobbled up the package all over the United States. There was even room for a local host to make a few jokes about the picture, and still, fit everything in. Another batch containing both Universal and Columbia releases the next year called Son of Shock made the old monster films a national phenomenon.
America went monster crazy. Every scary picture ever made was resurrected from whatever archive it had been interred in to be shown on late-night weekend, early morning, or after school television. Hence, the unusual percentage of old horror pictures that survived, in comparison with most other genres.
Inspired by the renewed interest in the classics, American International, a Poverty Row studio that specialized in teen-oriented films for drive-in theaters, switched from hot rods and motorcycle gangs to teenage werewolves, Frankensteins, and cavemen. They hired Roger Corman to make black-and-white fright films on a budget, and once the studio had raked in enough teenage dollars, they bought some color stock and turned Corman loose on Edgar Allen Poe. England got in on the action, too, and Hammer films began remaking the old classics in lurid color. A new generation of horror stars arose – Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, along with a new set of scream queens in tight Victorian bodices barely containing their, um, huge tracts of land. Monsters weren’t just hip – they were sexy!
Of course, at the tender age at which I began to absorb all this cinematic mayhem in the early 1960s, sexy wasn’t really an issue for me. I just liked the stuff – the model kits, the toys, the Halloween costumes, the games, the television shows.
And the magazines. In particular, one magazine. The one essential chronicle of all that was unholy in the popular culture of the 1960s and beyond – Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Back in 1957, before I was even a gleam in my daddy’s eye, legendary science fiction fan, and collector, and literary agent to the speculative fiction field, Forrest J. Ackerman, had come across a French magazine, Cinema, while on a tour of science fiction conventions in Europe. The specific issue he found featured articles on horror movies, and even had a picture of Henry Hull’s lycanthrope from the 1935 Universal picture, The Werewolf of London, on the cover.
Once back in the states, Ackerman contacted a men’s (read, girly) magazine publisher named James Warren who had lost his shirt on his previous publication and was looking for something to put his last few dollars into. Ackerman sold Warren on the idea of a one-shot about the classic horror films, using stills from Ackerman’s own extensive collection and written by Ackerman himself in a sort of jokey, corny and yet very ingratiating style that later generations of comic-book fans might associate more closely with Stan Lee. The idea was for it to appeal to an ideal demographic of eleven-and-a-half-year-old boys. Younger and older ones with thirty-five cents would be welcome to purchase a copy, however, as well as girls of all ages.
Ackerman began assembling his first issue, but Warren couldn’t find a distributor. Fortunately, Life Magazine ran an article on the resurgence of interest in the old horror pictures, and suddenly any publication with a monster on the cover was pure gold. That first issue appeared on newsstands in February of 1958, Warren himself pictured on the cover in a Frankenstein mask ‘menacing’ his girlfriend. The furor over the horrors of yesteryear demanded an ongoing series, and so it was ordained. It was six months before the second issue came out, but by the third, dated April, 1959, FM (as true fans know it) was appearing quarterly. By the tenth issue, it was bi-monthly. It ran as a Warren publication until 1983 and has been revived a couple of times since then by other publishers.
The first issue I ever got my hands on was Number 35, dated October 1965. I had just turned seven. I have no recollection of how I acquired it, although I suspect I traded for it with one of the kids in the neighborhood. Probably swapped a comic book or two for it. That was still a thing in 1965. Anyhow, I thought we might flip through it and see what horrors lurk inside.
The cover is by Vic Prezio, depicting Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Not from the 1931 Dracula, the older vampire from Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Not sure if that was the intent, but it seems that way to me. Basil Gogos is the artist most often associated with FM covers, but Prezio did a fair number in this period. The inside front cover is a close-up photo of Oliver Reed’s lycanthrope from the 1961 Hammer film, Curse of the Werewolf. Page 3 is a synopsis of the contents, followed by ads for the Famous Monsters of Filmland Club, free to join with the attached coupon, and for the 1966 Yearbook. Then, there’s a table of contents, followed by a photo of Lugosi that I believe is from 1935’s Mark of the Vampire. It’s labeled ‘Public Vampire No. 1’. Subtle, ain’t it?
The first article covers Lugosi’s 1951 trip to England, during which time he gave lots of interviews and co-starred in a film variously called Vampires Over London, My Son the Vampire and Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. Old Mother Riley was a popular character in English comedies at the time, played by comedian Arthur Lucan in drag. Not Bela’s finest moment, although much worse was yet to come.
A full-page close-up still of Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster is followed by the announcement of the winner of an amateur film-maker’s contest, won by Madona Marchant, who by the time this issue went to press had married cartoonist Rich Corben. Corben went on to have a long career illustrating horror comics for Warren’s Creepy and Eerie magazines, as well as the American iteration of the Heavy Metal magazine.
More on all those publications in a future installment of this column. Stay, as they say, tuned.
A rather interesting article is next, about the recently (at the time) discovered first film ever made by Charlton Heston. Heston was a seventeen-year-old high school student when he starred in an amateur film version of the Henryk Ibsen play, Peer Gynt. You can find it here:
Heston went on to star in the best version to date of the Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend, 1971’s Omega Man. Moses vs Vampires! Who could resist that?
The backlash by parents worried that horror movies, like horror comics a decade before, were warping their precious offspring, is addressed in the next article, “Monster Are Good for My Children – Yours Too!!!” I found it more persuasive than my mom and dad did, alas. Still, I survived and have yet to commit any of the atrocities forecast by those who were sure we monster fans were all destined to be mass murderers. Yet, being the operative word here.
One of the many ads for short snippets of eight-millimeter films scattered throughout the magazine follows, then came the Mystery Photo. This was a regular feature, an obscure still with vague clues to tantalize the fans, the answer to be revealed in the next issue.
Nine pages are devoted to one of the absolute worst horror movies of the first half of the 1960s, Night of the Blood Beast. Why? I have no idea. A few pages of miniatures photographed in Frankensteinian dioramas in France is followed by another regular feature, Hidden Horrors, in this case, a close-up of Norman Bates’ mother from Psycho. Mom’s looking a bit peaked there, Normie.
We then get a synopsis with stills of the American release of Godzilla (1956), Revenge of Mystery Lines (a horror movie quotes quiz), You Axed for It! (reader requested stills), and a two-page advertisement for back issues. “The Gordons Will Get You!” concerns the cheesy b-movie makers Alex and Rich Gordon, who made several of the very first horror-SciFi movies I remember seeing on television. More ads, then a two-page spread on Lon Chaney, Junior’s 1952 appearance as the Frankenstein monster on the television series, Tales of Tomorrow, which like most early television was broadcast live. No mention is made, however, of Chaney being too far in his cups to realize it wasn’t a rehearsal. He was therefore very careful to not break any of the furniture he was supposed to, thinking it would be needed for the ‘real’ broadcast. Sort of diminished the verisimilitude, that.
A letters page, Monster Mail Call, and Headlines from Horrorsville finished up the editorial content and were followed by over twenty pages of ads for 8mm films, projectors on which to show said films, books, records, masks, decals, the first few issues of Creepy, knickknacks, gewgaws and various odds and ends. All the advertising indicated the goodies were to be ordered from Captain Company, Warren’s own distributor of the sundries sold throughout the issue, and every issue for the magazine’s run. The history of Captain Company will no doubt be told in a future installment.
That’s a pretty average issue, regardless of year. FM reprinted content constantly, so every article in this issue showed up in a later one. In the 1970s, Star Wars sort of took over, but you could always count on the monsters of yesterday filling in. I happened to be reading a much later issue containing an article on 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein reprinted from God-knows which earlier issue the first time I heard “Your Move” by progressive rock band Yes on the radio, in about 1971. To this day, I can’t hear the song without thinking about the movie, and vice versa. Funny how memory works, isn’t it?
I did meet Ackerman, once, in 1980. He was one of several guests at the Nashville science fiction convention that year, Kubla Khan Ate, with Stephen King being the main Guest of Honor. ‘Uncle Forry’ showed me the rings he was wearing, one that Lugosi wore in Dracula in 1931, the other worn by Karloff in The Mummy the next year. We had a nice chat about those films, and others then settled down to discuss silent films of all genres. It was one of those pleasant little interludes that occurred at cons in those days. One of many things I miss from my misspent youth. I did run into King, briefly, the last day of that convention. I spent considerably more time with him a few years later, at the 1983 DeepSouth Con in Knoxville. More on that later.
So, there it is. I do hope folks are enjoying these little excursions through my monstrous memories. Expect more next month, when the theme for the first part of April is religious horror. No idea as of yet what I’ll share about that topic, but I hope it will be interesting. Until, then, as always —
Fiends in the Funnies, Creatures in the Comics by Mark Orr
One of my fondest memories of my pre-literate childhood is of sitting on the couch with my dad after he got home from work, or after church on Sundays, and he would read me the comic strips from the newspaper. He did all the voices differently, with lots of drama and humor and everything you’d want in a comics reader. Li’l Abner and Kerry Drake, Miss Peach and Grandma, Jimmy Hatlo’s They’ll Do it Every Time are all long-gone and forgotten now. Blondie and Dick Tracy and Nancy are still around, but who reads newspapers anymore?
Dad is eighty-eight and thinking about moving into an assisted living facility, so those memories are very much on my mind these days. I roll them over and over on my mind’s tongue, savoring as many of the minutes as I can call up after almost sixty years.
One thing I don’t recall is that any of our regular favorite comic strips in either of the Nashville papers of that time were in the least monstrous or horrific. Since I started accumulating material for my vast amorphous history of horror project some years ago, of which this column is a manifestation, I have looked for expressions of horror in all possible media, and generally found an abundance in each one. Except in the syndicated newspaper comic strips.
Full disclosure: I have not subscribed to a printed newspaper in years. However, I do subscribe to a daily service that sends approximately seventy-five comics strips to my email box every day. Of those seventy-five, exactly one has the kind of themes or characters one most often thinks of as horror-related. Almost all of them are more-or-less the typical gag-a-day strips usually found these days. Day-to-day continuity lasting over weeks and months is virtually a thing of the past.
Once upon a time, though, a significant proportion of the comics page was taken up with extended storylines in strips in all the genres represented in the medium – humor, drama, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, westerns, war, romance, soap operas, even religion. And thanks to the internet, a huge amount of that material is available for the perusal of historians of those bygone years.
I belong to what used to be a Yahoo group before Yahoo did away with groups, that mines online newspaper archives and stacks of slowly disintegrating newspapers for comic strips and disseminates them to the membership. I receive a minimum of sixty or seventy old comics strips every day, usually closer to two hundred. Some days, long runs covering years or decades of one or more particular strips will show up, and that count goes up into thousands or even tens of thousands. Of all the titles I receive, the ones with even peripherally or occasional horrific content go into a separate file on one of my external hard drives. The list is not a long one. It begins with…
Okay, so, if Dinosaurus can be sort of classified as a monster picture, or Jurassic Park or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms or The Giant Behemoth, then dinosaurs are monsters, right? They are monstrously big, and there are plenty you wouldn’t want to meet in person. Several strips have been set in that mythical period during which humans and dinosaurs ‘co-existed’.
The first was Our Antediluvian Ancestors, which ran from 1901 to roughly 1906. It was created by prolific cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper for the Hearst Syndicate.
There are only two currently running that I know of. One is B.C., a gag-a-day strip that only occasionally features dinosaurs, and then only in service of a specific joke. B.C. premiered seven months and eight days before I did, in 1958. Created by Johnny Hart (1931-2007), who also created The Wizard of Id (see the section on dragons, below), it is currently being produced by Hart’s grandson, Mason Mastroianni.
The longest-running dinosaur strip is Alley Oop, which debuted in 1932, three months and a day after my father. Are we seeing a trend here? Alley is a caveman who rides a brontosaurus named Dinny. In 1939, he and his girlfriend Ooola were snatched out of time and brought to the 20th Century by Professor Wonmugg’s time machine. I know of no one in my immediate or extended family born around that time. His subsequent adventures sent him all up and down the timeline, where (when?) he encountered ghosts and witches, among many other characters. In 1953 he found himself in the time of Macbeth as the events of Shakespeare’s play occurred, despite the play having little to do with the historical Macbeth.
Peter Piltdown was another anachronistic prehistoric comic strip, created by Mal Eaton. It ran from 1935 to 1946, then re-appeared in the pages of Boy’s Life Magazine in 1953 under the title of Rocky Stoneax. It lasted there until 1970. It was retitled because the Piltdown Man fossils had been found to be a hoax in the meantime, which is a whole ‘nother discussion I’ll save for later, if ever. Boy’s Life was produced by and for the Boy Scouts of America, so every Boomer boy who spent any time in Scouts likely ran across the strip. I remember it fondly, now that its original version has recently been among those I get via email from time to time.
Gary Larson’s The Far Side occasionally featured dinosaurs in his daily gags, usually observing the meteor about the wipe them out. They weren’t necessarily the focus of the strip, though, so that’s all I have to say about that.
Which of course leaves The Flintstones, although they began as a prime-time animated television series before appearing in newspaper syndication, as well as in comic books and other media. More dinosaurs used as props, generally, for the prehistoric antics of Fred and Barney and the gang.
One step up the monster ladder from dinosaurs would be, naturally, dragons. Dragons tend to pop up in strips set in Medieval times, along with witches and wizards and knights in shining armor. The aforementioned The Wizard of Id has been running since 1964. The dragon in that strip is the pet of the title character.
In 1937, Hal Foster turned the art chores on the Tarzan comic strip over to Burne Hogarth. He then began what has consistently been the most beautifully drawn comic strip ever since, Prince Valiant. Appearing only as a full-color Sunday strip, it has been drawn by John Cullen Murphy since 1971. Foster also gave legendary comic book artists Wally Wood and Gray Morrow tryouts before giving it over to Murphy. More of a Medieval adventure strip, the occasional dragons tend to be more-or-less lizards of unusual size, rather than true fire-breathers.
Two years before Prince Valiant, writer William McCleery and artist Ralph Fuller debuted Oaky Doaks, a strip about a Medieval farmboy who makes his own suit of armor out of a tin roof and goes about rescuing damsels in distress and slaying the odd dragon in the process. The strip ran until 1961.
Sir Bagby, created by brothers Rick and Bill Hackney, ran from 1957 to 1967. I’ve only got eighteen examples in my collection, but those few strips do include a polite but not altogether trustworthy dragon and a gryphon having an identity crisis.
There have been a number of science fiction comics strips with the occasional monster popping up like the saarlac in Return of the Jedi, but they weren’t really the focus of the strips. In this class we find Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Brick Bradford, Don Dixon and others, none of which warrant much more than a mention here. Worth looking at, but not particularly in this space.
Numerous comics strips have had the occasional spooky storyline, mostly ones that turn out to be less due to supernatural causes than the machinations of evil mortals. Oriental adventure strip character Ming Foo, who spouted more aphorisms in one strip than Charlie Chan managed in an entire movie, began life in 1934 as a ‘topper’ strip for the Little Annie Rooney Sunday page. Back in the days when Sunday comics were full page affairs instead of chopped up to fit five or six on one page, a secondary strip would often run at the top, over the main one, hence ‘topper’. Jungle Jim was the topper for Flash Gordon, Colonel Potterby for Blondie, and so forth. Ming Foo encountered a Mad Monster in 1940, a Sea of Mirthful Demons in 1941, and wandered about on the Graveyard Island in 1942. He vanished from the comics pages a year later.
In addition to his many years in the Saturday morning cartoon milieu, Bullwinkle enjoyed a few years as a daily comic strip. He spent a few months in 1963 in Transylvania, where everybody’s favorite moose encountered a Dr. Jekyll who looked suspiciously like Boris Karloff, Count Draculet, a ballet-dancing mummy, and a singing werewolf.
You would think that a comic strip about a character called The Phantom would have more supernatural content, but the Ghost Who Walks is no ghost. Rather, he was a generational hero whose costume and accouterments were passed down from father to son. He has faced the odd witch doctor since he was created in 1936 by Lee Falk, but that’s about it. His adventures are still appearing, and are even more popular in Australia, Scandinavia and India than in his home country.
Adaptations of popular books and stories in the daily comics were a fairly regular occurrence in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I have three separate adaptations of the classic Charles Dickens ghost story, A Christmas Carol, from 1937, 1950 and 1957. A strip called Famous Fiction adapted a couple of Edgar Allen Poe tales, “The Gold Bug” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, in the early 1940s. I’m sure there were others I have yet to track down.
There was a whole class of single panel comics during the Golden Age of Hollywood that were basically promotional strips for the studios, featuring the odd hobbies of the stars or hints that you really, really need to get out and see this or that movie when it comes around to your town. Horror movie stars such as Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney or Bela Lugosi were occasionally mentioned, which is just enough horror content to justify this paragraph. The titles of these strips included Closeup and Comedy, Private Lives and Seein’ Stars.
And now, we’re down to the four strips that can honestly be considered horror, that are truly inhabited, from beginning to end, top to bottom, side to side by monsters. The peripherals and occasionals are dealt with, and we’re left with these favored few. Over one hundred and twenty-five years of comic strip history, and this is what it boils down to.
And three of them are humorous.
Maybe the comic strip medium simply isn’t suitable for sustaining the tension of the genre. Perhaps three panels a day and a Sunday page just won’t bear the weight of true fright. Perhaps. Regardless, here they are:
Before creating the classic children’s book, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson came up with one of the great comic strips of all time. Barnaby was a five-year-old child who wished for a fairy godmother. What he got was a cigar smoking and rarely competent fairy godfather named Jackeen J. O’Malley. Their whimsical adventures meandered through plots involving standard issues of the day like scrap metal drives and victory gardens, but also ogres, gorgons, witches and wizards, and of course, Gus the Ghost. Never a success, Barnaby limped along from 1942 to 1952, never appearing in more than fifty-two newspapers. Still, Dorothy Parker loved it. There have been several reprints of the strip since 1943, when Holt issued two hardback volumes, both of which occupy honored places in my library. Fantagraphic Books has issued four volumes of a projected five-volume set of reprints covering the entire run. A play based on the characters was written and produced in 1946. It was adapted to television in 1959, starring Ron Howard as Barnaby and former Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr as Mr. O’Malley.
Russ Myers’ 1970 creation is still running. The title character is an alcoholic, cigar-smoking witch whose best friend is a troll. There’s a monster in a cave named Grelber who insults anyone foolish enough to get close to him. It’s a gag-a-day about these monsters and a few other beings. I’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s not scary. Moving on.
Gary is a vampire who has retired to suburbia with his demonic henchman, Leonard, a bedsheet-clad ghost named Owen, and a severed head in a jar named Travis. There’s also a zombie baby wandering around the neighborhood in one of those circular walker things all my grandkids had. Don’t try to tickle that baby. You’ll draw back a nub. It’s a gag-a-day, usually involving Leonard being horrible to anyone in reach, Owen whining about being dead or Travis wishing he still had limbs. Scary Gary was created by Mark Buford in 2008. It’s one of the seventy-five strips I get every morning in my email, and usually, the first one I read.
Finally, a serious comic strip with real continuity, starring daytime soap opera vampire Barnabas Collins. It was drawn by long-time comic book and comic strip artist Ken Bald under the penname Ken Bruce to avoid confusion with the other strip he was doing at the time, Dr. Kildare. Because those were so much alike. Dark Shadows had already been adapted to a Gold Key comic book that lasted thirty-five issues, and a long series of gothic romance novels by Marilyn Ross, who was actually William Edward Daniel Ross, because nobody would buy a gothic romance by a man in those days. Bald’s work on the newspaper version was beautifully done, a significant improvement over the comic books drawn by Joe Certa.
Which was probably why the strip lasted, oh, let me see…
A year. A YEAR? Seriously? One measly year?!?!?
‘Fraid so. March 14th, 1971 to March 11, 1972. That’s it. That’s all we get of the only truly horrific monster-populated comic strip ever created in the century and a quarter of the existence of the art form. Unless I’ve missed one, which is possible. If I have, please let me know in the comments.
Maybe we’ll have another one, someday, if the medium survives. We can only hope. In the meantime, as always…
Oh, one last thing: the article in the link below came to me too late for Women in Horror month, so I’ll just leave it here and let the populace peruse it at will.
A strange title, you might think, but it’s one born of long hours of contemplation of a writer whose works I’ve read for decades, and yet have had a hard time getting a handle on for this contribution to my little corner of the Horror Addicts realm. Her ghostly yarns written under this pen name have been anthologized extensively, but have impacted the popular culture outside of the confines of literature remarkably little. Two of her historical romances were made into silent films with significant casts. A handful of her suspense novels, all written under one of her other several pseudonyms, Joseph Shearing, were filmed either as theatrical releases or for television in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Only three of her many spooky short stories appear to have been adapted into other media, either during her lifetime or in the decade after her demise. And other than the occasional podcast, Libravox recording, or other internet-based venues, nothing since.
Nor is there any single work so inextricably linked to her name that to mention one invokes the other. Lady Cynthia Asquith has her “God Grante That She Lye Still”, Charlotte Perkins Gilpin her “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Edward Lucas White his “Lukundoo”. She was praised by no less a literary giant than Grahame Greene, although she was dismissed as a writer of “bad adventure stories” by the somewhat-less-impressive-but-not-totally-to-be-sneered-at Colin Wilson. Speculative fiction luminary Fritz Leiber considered her 1909 novel of Medieval witchcraft, Black Magic, to be brilliant. Weird fiction aficionado Sheldon Jaffery compared her work favorably to that of Mary Wilkins-Freeman, Edith Wharton, and the aforementioned Lady Asquith. So, why so small a footprint on the culture at large?
She was born Margaret Gabrielle Vere Campbell on a small island off the southern coast of England on the first of November in 1885. Her father was an alcoholic who died in a London street. She was raised by an emotionally detached mother in genteel poverty. She married twice, her first husband dying of tuberculosis three years into the marriage, and bore three sons and a daughter. The girl died in infancy. Bowen wrote her first novel, the violent historical epic, The Viper of Milan when she was only sixteen, and eventually produced over one hundred and fifty volumes of historical romances, biographies, popular histories, and supernatural yarns before her death from a concussion in 1952 at the age of sixty-seven.
Perhaps it is the plethora of pennames spread over several genres that have diffused her influence, for there is nothing inherently inferior in the work itself. Her short horror stories, frequently revolving around bad marriages or rakehell ‘gentlemen’ using ladies of quality but poorly, most certainly do compare favorably with her peers. So, the question remains: why so few adaptations of those tales?
Alfred Hitchcock himself took a run at her twice. The first was his 1949 historical epic, Under Capricorn, which starred Ingrid Bergman, who had played the wife but poorly used by her own nefarious husband in the 1944 Hollywood version of Gaslight. The second was for the seventh season of his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. “The Silk Petticoat” aired on January 2, 1962, and was the thirteenth episode of the season. Appropriate, n’est pas? It was based on Bowen’s short tale, “The Scoured Silk”, written in 1918 and included in her collection, The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories. Michael Rennie, who had been the visitor from another world in The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951 and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables the next year, starred as the not-quite-as-nice-as-he-seems husband who takes a second wife without being quite done with the first.
Of the other theatrical adaptations of Bowen’s works, a couple do have genre connections without being themselves horror films. Blanche Fury (1948) starred Valerie Hobson as the unhappy bride of Michael Gough and doomed lover of Stewart Granger. She had previously wed a mad scientist in Bride of Frankenstein and a lycanthrope in Werewolf of London, both in 1935, and later became engaged to a serial killer in the delightful black comedy, Kind Hearts, and Coronets, in 1949. In real life, her second husband was an English politician turned sex fiend and alleged Russian spy John Profumo. Perhaps she ought to have avoided marriage altogether.
Gough had a long career as a movie villain, in Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), the kaiju gorilla picture Konga (1961), the 1962 Hammer version of The Phantom of the Opera with Herbert Lom as the Phantom, the caged-animals-gone-wild movie Black Zoo (1963) and the Amicus anthology film Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), before reforming himself enough to appear four times as Batman’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth. He did play a more sympathetic role in Hammer’s Horror of Dracula in 1958, but that was an anomaly. Granger went on from this picture to replace Errol Flynn as the hero of big-budget swashbuckling adventure movies in the 1950s such as King Solomon’s Mines, Beau Brummell, Scaramouche and The Prisoner of Zenda, and played Sherlock Holmes in a 1972 television version of The House of the Baskervilles to something less than general acclaim.
So Evil My Love was made as a feature film in 1948 and for television in 1955 for the Lux Video Theatre series. The movie starred Ray Milland, star of genre films The Premature Burial in 1962, the only one of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptation for American International Pictures that didn’t star Vincent Price; X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes in 1963; and the exceedingly cheesy Frogs in 1972. The television version starred James Mason, who as Captain Nemo wrestled with a giant squid in the 1954 Disney film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and who as Professor Lindenbrook in 1959’s Journey to the Center of the Earth encountered several monstrous denizens of that region. He also played Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper film, Murder by Decree, in 1979, with the late Christopher Plummer as Holmes.
Moss Rose is the closest any of the feature films based on Bowen’s novels came to being possibly considered a horror picture. Made in 1947, it starred Victor Mature, caveman hero of One Million Years B.C. (1940); Ethel Barrymore, helpless old lady in the 1944 classic, The Spiral Staircase; frequent villain in myriad second feature horror movies George Zucco as the butler; and Vincent Price, playing against type as the police inspector tasked with unraveling the mystery and preventing the untimely demise of leading lady Peggy Cummings at the hands of a serial asphyxiast. Set in the Victorian era, it stylistically and thematically resembles the aforementioned Gaslight and Spiral Staircase, as well as other horrific thrillers like Hangover Square or The Lodger. So, yeah, maybe it is a horror picture, even if it is so very unlike Bowen’s ghost stories. I refuse to reveal whether or not the butler did it, by the way.
As for the other two television adaptations of her spooky yarns, I have so far been unable to track down videos of either “Avenging of Anne Leete”, the 166th episode (!) of the second season of the NBC series Matinee Theatre, aired May 23rd, 1957, or “They Found My Grave” from the Canadian series Shoestring Theater, aired February 12, 1961. The former starred future Simon Templar and James Bond Roger Moore, future Avenger John Steed Patrick McNee, and future mother to Richie Cunningham Marion Ross. The latter starred Kay Trembley, who had a bit part in Veronica Lake’s last movie, the abominable Flesh Feast, in 1970. Both tales are among Bowen’s best, and one could wish for a more accessible adaptation for each. But one must not hold one’s breath, apparently.
Her horror novels have pretty much gone out of print apart from the occasional independent or micro-press electronic editions, although her short stories do still pop up in anthologies assembled by the true cognoscenti of the genre, as they have since at least 1929 when mystery maven and creator of Lord Peter Wimsey Dorothy L. Sayers selected “The Avenging of Anne Leete” for the horror section of her landmark collection, The Omnibus of Crime. Dennis Wheatley included Black Magic in his “Library of the Occult” series of paperbacks in 1974 for Sphere, who also published The Spectral Bride the previous year, but if there’s been a dead tree version of any of the supernatural novels since, I haven’t found any evidence of such an endeavor.
Since Marjorie Bowen passed on more than twenty-seven years before Sonny Bono, on behalf of Disney Studios, got Congress to push the copyright laws back into the antediluvian era in which Mickey Mouse was born, her entire oeuvre seems to currently be in the public domain. Many of her works, including most if not all of her shorts, are available from
I don’t know about any of y’all, but I’m saving up for that one.
I also want to point out that Valancourt Books has a new edition of The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories coming out in March of 2021. I would encourage the populace to support that very worthy publisher by purchasing a copy from them rather than scooping it up for free from the internet, despite its contents being public domain. I intend to do so. Valancourt is an invaluable resource for rare and wonderful horrors from years gone by. They did not pay me to say that, nor would I accept money from them to do so. I value them that much.
Regardless of where they are to be found, I do hope the frequenters of this space give Marjorie Bowen’s stories a look. They deserve better than to be forgotten. And, as always, be afraid. Be very afraid.
When my daughters were young, we listened to Dad’s radio station when Dad was driving. This was back in the days when you were lucky if your vehicle had even so much as a cassette player, so I, being a child of the 60s, had oldies radio stations mapped out for the entire route, wherever we might go. As we passed through Dalton, Georgia, for example, we would let the Chattanooga oldies station go and switch over to the Atlanta station. And so on, all the way down to the southwestern tip of Florida, a frequent destination.
When I was home, all the buttons were set to the local oldies station, WMAK-FM, until that horrible morning in about 2003 when I got in my car and discovered that the station had changed format overnight to ‘whatever we want to play’. Which was not oldies, and not acceptable. After my first “Dude, where’s my radio station?” reaction, I found another one to program all the buttons for, but eventually had to give up and buy a car with a six-CD changer. It was a rag-top Mustang, so that was all right, but I still missed the spontaneity of wondering what great song by the Beatles or the Supremes or Marvin Gaye or Joni Mitchell that Coyote McCloud (God rest his soul) would offer up after this brief message from our sponsor.
Before that horrible day, however, my daughters’ friends would often ask, “Why does your dad listen to so many TV commercials?”, after I’d dropped them and my offspring at the skating rink or movie house or factory for their twelve hour shifts gluing labels onto bottles of shoe blacking. Even in those halcyon days, television advertisers mined no-longer-current popular music for the soundtracks of the mini-dramas designed to entice you to buy their specific brand of depilatory or laxative or breakfast cereal, which my less-enlightened passengers confused with my choices in musical entertainments. Think Bob Seger and Chevy Trucks.
At least “Like a Rock” makes sense. Trucks are supposed to be tough and solid, like a rock. They should have more mobility than your average boulder, but that’s beside the point. The song fits the commercial. Not all do.
I recall one ad for a cell phone company that used a song from 1973 by the glam-rock band T-Rex. It’s a great piece with a driving guitar hook, but somehow ‘Twentieth-Century Boy’ just doesn’t seem quite right for a 21st Century technology. Similarly, the one for some product I was too appalled to remember suggested that supreme happiness was attainable only by using said product via the medium of having a lovely young lady rip rapturously through what opera buffs know as ‘The Staccatos’, smiling ludicrously as she (probably) lip-synced whatever coloratura soprano actually sang the aria from which they were so rudely plucked. For ‘The Staccatos’ are notoriously challenging for even an experienced diva, and anyone who can do them well can make a lot of money singing them regularly at the Met or La Scala or Covent Garden. I couldn’t recall ever having seen her perform them onstage, on television or in a video, hence my suspicion that she was a shill.
They are also not a part of a happy aria. Not even close. ‘Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen’ (usually shortened to ‘Der Hölle Rache’) is about as far from being the light, pleasant piece the advertisers apparently believed it to be as possible. It is dark, it is direful, it is full of horrific forebodings. The title, which is, as is usual for operatic arias, the first line, translates to “Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart’. Which seems to me unlikely to inspire much confidence among average consumers – but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are masses of Americans ready to insert something or other into one or another of their various corporeal orifices the creation, manufacture, and marketing of which was inspired by the wrathful rage of His Satanic Majesty.
For various reasons not appropriate for expression here, it occurs to me that perhaps there are such people in this country who are comfortable with a proposition of that nature. Regardless, I only saw the commercial once, and never again, so, maybe there aren’t. That does leave us with this question, though: What makes this either horror related, or women in horror related?
The piece is often referred to as ‘The Queen of the Night’ because that is the character who, in the second act of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), sings it. Die Könegin der Nacht, as she is called in the opera’s original German, is an amalgamation of every evil sorceress and wicked stepmother in all the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault combined. She has decided that one Sarastro, high priest of the cult her daughter has joined, needs to be killed, and is such a horrific monster of a being that she hands the girl a knife and tells her to do the dirty deed herself, or be disowned and cursed.
As is often the case, the true horror lies in the presentation, and for this, one must needs judge how much menace and terror each great soprano is capable of bringing to the stage. Some bring more, some less. Some none. And a few, well, they just bring it.
Many have sung the role since 1791. The best are probably lost to the mists of time. The first was Mozart’s own sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer, who sang it to great acclaim for ten years. Alas, the technology to record the human voice wasn’t available for almost a century after Mozart’s demise, which occurred two weeks after the opera premiered. Fortunately, we do have quality recordings of many more recent divas essaying the role so that it is possible for me to pick a specific one to recommend, one in which all the fear and terror the Queen of the Night herself is capable of inflicting is brought down most brutally upon her poor offspring. And upon a receptive audience.
There are certain roles in opera that have become closely associated with specific singers in the minds of those of us that enjoy the artform. We might not all necessarily make the same connections, but I suspect we would understand why someone else might. I think of Aida, for example, and Leontyne Price comes to mind. Mention Medea, and Maria Callas pops up. Lucia di Lammermoor, Joan Sutherland. Violetta from La Traviata, Anna Moffo. For some, Lucia Popp is inextricably connected to her first starring role, which was The Queen of the Night, and I can see why some might feel that way. There are those who consider her the greatest Queen of all time. And again, I can see why, if only at a distance of nearly sixty years and based solely on the one audio recording we have of her performance. Which I love. She had an incredible voice and a technical mastery of it that made it truly magical. However, for me, the crystalline clarity of her divine instrument was just a little light for the weight of the horror that the role demands. The Queen is not a being of light, or lightness. The one video recording of her in the opera was from 1983, and she played the daughter, Pamina. This seems to me a more fitting role for her, if only in consideration of the one prima donna I and many opera buffs agree was, and still is, the best ever.
I would like for the populace to pay particular attention to the following video at the two minute and nine second mark. As was once said of Cruella DeVille, if this doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will. Prithee, watch it before continuing on. I’ll wait for you, right over here.
That is German soprano Diana Damrau. She has practically made a career out of playing this part. There are several videos on YouTube that showcase not only her skill as a singer, but as an actress able to project the appropriate menace the role calls for. This one, though. This one gets to me at that 2:09 mark, when she lifts her gaze to yours and snatches the very soul from your helpless body.
Women characters in operas are so often the tragically unwitting victims of careless or thoughtless or ruthless men, it’s refreshing to see a true villainess dominating the stage. And, so, The Queen of the Night is my nominee for the great female monster of her medium, even if Mozart couldn’t resist a happy ending for this work.
Curses, foiled again.
Speaking of women being the victims of the male villains in their lives, I would like to commend to the populace Mallory O’Meara’s recently published biography, The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. Patrick was one of Disney’s first female animators and went from there to Universal Studios. In 1954, she was the primary designer of the head of the costume for the titular star of the classic horror film, Creature from the Black Lagoon. The studio planned a publicity tour with her playing Beauty to the Gill Man’s Beast, but the head of Universal’s makeup department, Bud Westmore, was having none of that. He took all the credit, got her fired out of his infantile masculine jealousy, and she was virtually forgotten.
That just pisses me off. What an asshole.
The book is quite well-written, and is available in hardback, as a trade paperback, and as an ebook. Highly recommended.
I can sense that we’re getting to the point that I can almost feel through the internet ether the seismic quiver of eyes glazing over and rolling back, so I’ll wrap this edition up by offering the populace a small lagniappe: a few of the sources I use in my research for your own perusal.
Please do feel free to browse around in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.
I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a few familiar names there. Yes, including mine, although their entry on my works is woefully inadequate. Guess I’m going to have to crack the whip on them.
My entry in the FictionMags Index is marginally better, I suppose, given that most of my shorter yarns have appeared in anthologies rather than magazines.
As is de rigueur for this time of year, we look back at some of the genre connected people who passed away in 2020. Some connections are tenuous, some very solid. A few names, everyone knows. Many, I didn’t even know until I set out on this journey.
By the way, there be spoilers here. Act accordingly.
Veronika Fitz (3/28/36-1/2/20) German actress with a nearly six-decade career. Her only genre performance that I could find was a bit part in The Haunted Castle (1960). Oh, well. We had to start somewhere.
Robert Blanche (March 30, 1962 – January 3, 2020) American actor, played Sgt. Franco on the American television program, ‘Grimm’, from 2012 to 2017.
Edd Byrnes (July 30, 1932 – January 8, 2020) American actor, best known to the generation just prior to mine for his role as Kookie in the television mystery show, ’77 Sunset Strip’. Played a psycho killer in 1973’s Wicked, Wicked, a film notable only for its use of a split-screen for its entire running time. Brian de Palma had used the technique of showing two scenes at once in parts of his film, Sisters, that same year. Too much of a good thing, in this case.
Buck Henry (December 9, 1930 – January 8, 2020) American actor, writer, director. Creator of the classic ‘60s TV spy spoof ‘Get Smart’, frequent first season contributor to ‘Saturday Night Live’, and doomed swinger in the 1982 dark comedy, Eating Raoul.
Ivan Passer (10 July 1933 – 9 January 2020) Czech director of 1988’s Haunted Summer, one of several films about the 1815 gathering in Switzerland that produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s Vampyre.
Mike Resnick (March 5, 1942 – January 9, 2020) Award-winning American science fiction writer and editor. Author of The Official Guide to Fantastic Literature (1976).
Carol Serling (February 3, 1929 – January 9, 2020) The widow of Rod Serling, who guided the Twilight Zone brand through decades of reinvention and adaptation into other media, including the magazine of the same name.
Neda Arnerić (15 July 1953 – 10 January 2020) Serbian actress, Venom (a.k.a. The Legend of Spider Forest, 1971)
Patrick Jordan (10 October 1923 – 10 January 2020) English actor who spent most of a long career as a character actor on the BBC, but did manage to squeeze in a bit part in the 1959 kaiju classic, The Giant Behemoth.
Robert Sampson (May 10. 1933 – January 18, 2020) American actor who appeared in the TV shows ‘One Step Beyond’ and ‘The Twilight Zone’, and as Dean Halsey in 1985’s Re-Animator.
Terry Jones (1 February 1942 – 21 January 2020) Welsh actor and writer and founding member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Played Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a performance that required him to run away from several scary things. That rabbit’s dynamite!
John Karlen (May 28, 1933 – January 22, 2020) American actor. Ah, yes. Willie Loomis himself, who foolishly awoke vampire Barnabas Collins on the classic horror soap opera, ‘Dark Shadows’. In the second half of the 1960s, everyone I knew ran home from school to plop down in front of the television in order to find out what devilment Barnabas was up too, all because Willie had been tempted by the rumors that the undead main character had treasure buried in his coffin with him. He ought to have known better. Nobody puts chains around a coffin to keep people out. The chains are obviously there to keep the occupant in. Duh.
Robert Harper (May 19, 1951 – January 23, 2020) American actor devoured by the inhabitant of ‘The Crate’ in 1982’s Creepshow.
Monique van Vooren (March 25, 1927 – January 25, 2020) Belgian actress who essayed multiple roles in Andy Warhol’s 1973 film, Flesh for Frankenstein.
Jack Burns (November 15, 1933 – January 27, 2020) American actor and comedian, best known for his partnership with Avery Schreiber in the comedy team of, you guessed it, Burns & Schreiber, and for being Barney Fife’s replacement on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’. Did make one appearance on the late ‘60s supernatural TV show, ‘The Ghost & Mrs. Muir’.
Norbert Moutier (1941 – 27 January 2020) French director of 1983’s Mad Mutilator and 1993’s Dinosaur from the Deep.
Marj Dusay (2/20/36-1/28/20) American actress who had a lead role in the 1969 TV movie, Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon, a pilot for a supernatural investigations series that was not picked up by the network. She appeared in virtually every television series made in the United States during her very long career, including in one episode of the short-lived Tucker’s Witch in 1982, also a supernatural investigations show.
Nicholas Parsons (10 October 1923 – 28 January 2020) English actor. Okay, blame the Beatles for this, or maybe Elvis, but it seemed that every rock & roll band in the ‘60s made an effort to break into movies. The Spencer Davis Group tried their hand in 1966 in a fab little feature called The Ghost Goes Gear. Gear being a synonym of the time for fab, or george, or groovy. As opposed to grotty. Clear as mud? Parsons played the band’s manager, a nobleman whose manor house was haunted. I recommend sticking with A Hard Day’s Night.
Dyanne Thorne (October 14, 1936 – January 28, 2020) American actress, ‘star’ of Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S. (1975). Naughty, naughty Ilsa, performing all those awful experiments on her barely clothed female prisoners in her own personal Nazi concentration camp. Camp being the operative word.
Mary HigginsClark (December 24, 1927 – January 31, 2020) American author of numerous suspense novels than danced around the edges of being horror.
Andrée Melly (15 September 1932 – 31 January 2020) English actress in The Brides of Dracula in 1960 and the cheapjack retread of William Castle’s 1963 remake of The Old Dark House called The Horror of it All in 1964. Her image from Brides was also picked for the Old Maid in a 1964 monster card game in which she is misidentified as Dracula’s Daughter.
One of several things that Milton Bradley got wrong. Sounds like meat for a future column.
Katsumasa Uchida (19 September 1944 – 31 January 2020) Japanese actor, played an Interpol agent in 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla.
Lila Garrett (November 21, 1925 – February 1, 2020) American writer who scribed a dozen episodes of the 1960s supernatural TV series, ‘Bewitched’.
Luciano Ricceri (26 April 1940 – 1 February 2020) Italian production designer for the 1966 dark comedy, The Devil in Love.
Lovelady Powell (May 9, 1930 – February 2, 2020) American actress who appeared in one episode of ‘Dark Shadows’ in 1966 and in the 1972 horror thriller, The Possession of Joel Delaney
José Luis Cuerda (18 February 1947 – 4 February 2020) Spanish producer, The Others (2001), with Nicole Kidman.
Gianni Minervini (26 October 1928 – 4 February 2020) Italian producer of the 1976 Giallo, The House of the Laughing Windows
Kirk Douglas (December 9, 1916 – February 5, 2020) American actor not generally known for genre work, but he did star in a not-well-received musical TV version of ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ in 1973.
F. X. Feeney (September 1, 1953 – February 5, 2020) American screenwriter on Roger Corman’s 1990 adaptation of the Brian Aldiss novel, Frankenstein Unbound.
Raphaël Coleman (30 September 1994 – 6 February 2020) American actor in the 2009 remake of It’s Alive.
Orson Bean (July 22, 1928 – February 7, 2020) American actor who was all over television in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and who made one appearance on ‘The Twilight Zone’.
Robert Conrad (March 1, 1935 – February 8, 2020) If you love steampunk, this is one of the guys who created it. Conrad was the star of ‘The Wild Wild West’, still after fifty years my favorite TV show of all time. Only one episode is truly horror related, ‘The Night of the Man-Eating House’. Hurd Hatfield from 1945’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is the guest star.
Paula Kelly (October 21, 1942 – February 8, 2020) American actress in the borderline horrific science fiction films, 1971’s The Andromeda Strain and 1973’s Soylent Green. Spoiler alert: It’s People!
Ron McLarty (April 14, 1947 – February 8, 2020) American actor whose first film role was as the real estate agent in 1977’s The Sentinel, which was based on the Jeffrey Konvitz horror novel of the same name.
Mirella Freni (27 February 1935 – 9 February 2020) Italian operatic soprano who sang in several genre-related operas over her illustrious fifty-year career, including Gounod’s Faust and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame (AKA Queen of Spades).
Marjorie Redmond (December 14, 1924 – February 10, 2020) American television actress, likely best known as Sister Jacqueline in ‘The Flying Nun’ (yes, a ‘60s TV show about a nun who, you guessed it, could fly), with stopovers along the way in ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘The Munsters’, as well as an episode of the spin-off (sort of) from Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery’, ‘The Sixth Sense’ in 1972.
Raphael Romero Marchent (May 3, 1926 – February 13, 2020) Mexican director, Santo vs Doctor Death (1973) and Curse of the Black Cat (1977).
Zoe Caldwell (14 September 1933 – 16 February 2020) Australian actress with one appearance on the TV version of radio’s classic series, ‘Suspense’, in 1960. She’s best known for her stage performances in Macbeth and Medea, both of which have horrific connections. In fact, in early 1983, she brought her touring company of Medea to Knoxville, Tennessee, while my wife and I were students there. Yes, we saw it, and, yes, it was very, very good. Mitchell Ryan, late of ‘Dark Shadows’ and Dame Judith Anderson, who co-starred with Vincent Price in the great film noir, Laura, in 1946, appeared with her. There is a filmed performance of that production on YouTube.
Frances Cuka (21 August 1936 – 16 February 2020) English actress in 1980’s Watcher in the Woods with Bette Davis, and one episode of the ‘Hammer House of Horror’ BBC series.
Sonja Ziemann (8 February 1926 – 17 February 2020) German actress, Ghost in the Castle (AKA Spuk im Schloß, 1947)
Flavio Bucci (25 May 1947 – 18 February 2020) Italian actor, Suspiria (1977)
Bob Cobert (October 26, 1924 – February 19, 2020) Soundtrack composer on numerous genre films and TV shows, including the aforementioned ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ with Kirk Douglas; House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971); and The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973), the forerunners of the ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ TV series. Also, The Norliss Tapes (1973), 1974’s TV Dracula with Jack Palance, and the 2012 Dark Shadows feature film with Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins.
José Mojica Marins (13 March 1936 – 19 February 2020) Brazilian actor best known as Coffin Joe in a trilogy of films, 1964’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, 1967’s This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse and The Embodiment of Evil in 2008, with numerous other spooky film and TV appearances along the way.
Peter Dreher (26 August 1932 – 20 February 2020) German artist who enjoyed painting skulls. He called this series of creepy images ‘Totenschädel‘.
Claudette Nevins (April 10, 1937 – February 20, 2020) American actress, The Mask (1961). Not the one with Jim Carrey. This one is in 3-D, which would be much too much to tolerate from a Jim Carrey movie.
Nicola Cuti (October 29, 1944 – February 21, 2020) Comic book writer, editor and artist who wrote well over two hundred scripts for the horror comics line published by Charlton Comics in the 1970s, and co-created with artist Joe Staton the classic comic book super-hero, E-Man.
Boris Leskin AKA Boris Lyoskin (5 January 1923 – 21 February 2020) Romanian actor who had a small role in 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss with Nicolas Cage.
Russ Cochran (July 3, 1937 – February 23, 2020) A former physics professor who quit academia to collate and reprint the EC Comics of the early 1950s, preserving for new generations those gruesome yarns from crumbling issues of Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror. And some other stuff, Disney and Hopalong Cassidy comics and the like.
Ben Cooper (September 30, 1933 – February 24, 2020) American actor who made appearances on TV’s ‘Suspense’, ‘One Step Beyond’ and ‘The Twilight Zone’.
Michael Hugh Medwin, (18 July 1923 – 26 February 2020) American actor with one genre performance, in 1949’s Queen of Spades.
R. D. Call (February 16, 1950 – February 27, 2020) American character actor with appearances in ‘X-Files’ and ‘Supernatural’, among many, many other television shows.
Dieter Laser (17 February 1942 – 29 February 2020) German actor, Human Centipede (First Sequence), 2009
Frank McLaughlin (March 18, 1935 – March 4, 2020) Comic book artist and art director for Charlton Comics whose first credited work was on a story in the kaiju comic, Reptisaurus, in 1961.
Max von Sydow (10 April 1929 – 8 March 2020) Swedish actor and long-time collaborator with director Ingmar Bergman, he played chess with death in 1957 in The Seventh Seal and died trying to drive Pazuzu out of Linda Blair in The Exorcist in 1973.
Gary B. Kibbe (January 9, 1941 – March 9, 2020) American cinematographer on the John Carpenter films Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), In the Mouth of Madness (1995), Village of the Damned (1995), Escape from L.A. (1996) and Vampires (1998), and one episode of HBO’s ‘Tales from the Crypt’, 1992’s ‘King of the Road’ starring Brad Pitt.
Suzy Delair (31 December 1917 – 15 March 2020) French actress in the 1942 dark comedy L’assassin habite… au 21 (The Murderer Lives at Number 21).
Roy Hudd, (16 May 1936 – 15 March 2020) English actor who played a morgue attendant in 1968’s The Blood Beast Terror, which starred Peter Cushing.
Stuart Whitman (February 1, 1928 – March 16, 2020) American leading man, star of many theatrical and television westerns, mysteries and adventure yarns, with one episode of ‘Night Gallery’ on his resume. He also co-starred with Psycho victim Janet Leigh in 1972’s Night of the Lepus, generally considered one of the worst movies ever made. I will not take an opposing position on that question.
Giovanni Romanini (27 December 1945 – 20 March 2020) Italian cartoonist, illustrator of the dark and often horrific Italian comic book series, Satanik, in the early 1970s.
Lucia Bosè (28 January 1931 – 23 March 2020) Italian actress who had a small role in Jean Cocteau’s 1960 film, Testament d’Orphee.
David Collings (4 June 1940 – 23 March 2020) English actor who played Bob Cratchit in 1970’s Scrooge.
Melinda O. Fee (October 7, 1942 – March 24, 2020) American actress who played Mrs. Webber in 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddie’s Revenge.
Stuart Gordon (August 11, 1947 – March 24, 2020) American screenwriter and director on 1985’s Re-Animator, the 1991 version of The Pit and the Pendulum, 2001’s Dagon, and two episodes of the ‘Masters of Horror’ TV show.
Juan Padron (January 29, 1947 – March 24, 2020) Cuban director of Vampiros en La Habana (1985) and Mas Vampiros en La Habana (2003).
Barbara Rütting (21 November 1927 – 28 March 2020) German actress in early ‘60s adaptations of a couple of Edgar Wallace’s horror-thriller novels, Der Zinker (The Squeaker, 1963) and Das Phantom von Soho (1964).
Krzysztof Penderecki (23 November 1933 – 29 March 2020) Polish composer of Die Teufel von Loudun (The Devils of Loudun), a 1968-1975 opera based on an episode of mass demonic possession in 17th Century France. Yes, it took him seven years to write an opera. How long does it take YOU?
Hilary Heath, AKA Hilary Dwyer (6 May 1945 – 30 March 2020) British actress in 1968’s The Witchfinder General and 1969’s The Oblong Box, both with Vincent Price in Edgar Allen Poe inspired films, 1970’s Cry of the Banshee, also with Price, and in the 1970 version of Wuthering Heights, which starred future James Bond Timothy Dalton.
Vincent Marzello (July 4, 1951 – March 31, 2020) American actor in 1990’s The Witches.
Olan Montgomery (April 12, 1963 – April 4, 2020) An American actor known for playing a newsman for four episodes during the third season of the Netflix series, ‘Stranger Things’. He died of COVID-19.
Honor Blackman (22 August 1925 – 5 April 2020) British actress who made her mark in film history by portraying the redoubtable Pussy Galore in the third James Bond film, 1964’s Goldfinger, after having spent two seasons practicing her judo throws on bad guys in the BBC series, ‘The Avengers’. She co-starred with Christopher Lee and Nastassja Kinsky in 1976’s To the Devil a Daughter, based on the Dennis Wheatley novel.
Lee Fierro (February 13, 1929 – April 5, 2020) American actress who played the mother of the little boy eaten by the shark in Jaws in 1975.
James Drury (April 18, 1934 – April 6, 2020) American actor who spent nine seasons starring in the ninety-minute television western, ‘The Virginian’. Before that, though, he was a crewman on the spaceship C-57D in the 1956 science fiction classic, Forbidden Planet, which was loosely based on Shakespeare’s marginally horrific last play, The Tempest, and did have folks killed by something called ‘the monster from the Id’. So, yes. It counts as horror, at least a little.
Allen Garfield (AKA Allen Goorwitz; November 22, 1939 – April 7, 2020) American actor who specialized in playing officious minor authority figures whose bark was always worse than their bite. Except, of course, when he starred in 1978’s Sketches of a Strangler, in which he put the bite on several actresses in a manual way. He was also in the 1996 remake of the classic French horror film, Diabolique, with Sharon Stone.
Mort Drucker (March 22, 1929 – April 9, 2020) For decades, Hollywood actors only knew they’d finally ‘arrived’ when this Mad Magazine artist and master caricaturist included them in one of his movie or television parodies. Drucker started out doing war comics for DC before signing on with EC, Mad’s publisher, shortly after they shut down their comic book line (see the Russ Cochran entry above) in favor of putting all their eggs in the Mad basket. The first one of his I remember seeing must have been in one of the reprint collections Mad issued a time or two a year. It was the parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho. To this day, there are frames from that film I see in my mind’s eye, not in cinematic black and white, but in Drucker’s distinctive style as he recreated them for the magazine.
Nobuhiko Obayashi (9 January 1938 – 10 April 2020) Japanese director, House (1977)
Margot Hartman (August 15, 1933 – April 11, 2020) American actress, Curse of the Living Corpse (1964). Janet Leigh should stay out of showers, and poor Margot should stay out of tubs for the same reason. How is a lady supposed to stay clean?
Danny Goldman (October 30, 1939 – April 12, 2020 American actor in 1974’s Young Frankenstein. He was the obnoxious medical student who drove Gene Wilder to stab himself in the thigh with a scalpel.
Joel M. Reed (December 29, 1933 – April 13, 2020) American schlock director of Blood Sucking Freaks (1976) and other exercises in questionable taste.
Brian Dennehy (July 9, 1938 – April 15, 2020) American tough guy actor, who discovered in First Blood that he wasn’t nearly as tough as Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo. He didn’t do much better as the fire chief in 1977’s Ants!
Gene Deitch (August 8, 1924 – April 16, 2020) Czech-American animator on Where the Wild Things Are (1975), and creator of one of my childhood favorite cartoon series, ‘Tom Terrific’, who appeared periodically with his sidekick, Manfred the Wonder Dog, on the Captain Kangaroo show. Ah, the good old days.
Jacques Rosny (25 March 1939 – 18 April 2020) French actor who had a small role in Roman Polanski’s 1976 psychological horror film, The Tenant.
Hector Garrido (1928 – April 19, 2020) American illustrator who painted hundreds of paperback book covers in all genres, including horror.
Shirley Knight (July 5, 1936 – April 22, 2020) Oscar-nominated American actress whose only genre work I know of was an episode of ‘The Outer Limits’ in 1963, co-starring Martin Landau.
John Lafia (April 2, 1957 – April 29, 2020) American director of 1993’s Man’s Best Friend, one of several lethal dog movies from around that period
John Ericson (September 25, 1926 – May 3, 2020) German-American actor, the leading man and personification of the Great God Pan in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao in 1964, and the German officer whose invading force was driven off of Britain’s shores by empty suits of armor animated by apprentice witch Angela Lansbury in the 1971 Disney live-action feature, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Richard Sala (June 2, 1954 – May 7, 2020) American comic book creator on 1995’s The Ghastly Ones and Other Fiendish Frolics from Manic D Press, and IDW’s 2005 Dracula, among others.
Marty Pasko (August 4, 1954 – May 10, 2020) Canadian comic book writer who primarily worked in the super-hero genre for DC and Marvel, but who began his career with a script each for Warren Publication’s Eerie and Vampirella magazines in the early ‘70s.
Jerry Stiller (June 8, 1927 – May 11, 2020) American comedian and actor, father of Ben. He appeared in one episode of ‘Tales from the Darkside’.
Frank Bolle (June 23, 1924 – May 12, 2020) Italian-American comic book artist who, among many other things, illustrated horror stories for Atlas Comics, the precursor to Marvel Comics, in 1956 and 1957.
Fred Willard (September 18, 1933 – May 15, 2020) American comedy actor, perhaps best known for his work in the series of Christopher Guest comedy films of the 1980s and 1990s, beginning with This is Spinal Tap. He did make a memorable appearance as the rascally realtor in the 1979 TV miniseries Salem’s Lot who gets caught with his pants down, both by the cuckolded husband and by vampire Kurt Barlow.
Cindy Butler (October 15, 1955 – May 26, 2020) American actress, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) and Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues (1984). Neither one, to paraphrase Dr. Samuel Johnson, worth seeing, and even less worth going to see.
Richard Herd (September 26, 1932 – May 26, 2020) American character actor whose genre career began with 1980’s Schizoid and culminated in a videotaped performance of patriarch Roman Armitage in 2017’s Get Out, with a stop in the ‘Tales from the Crypt’ TV series along the way.
Anthony James (July 22, 1942 – May 26, 2020) Twitchy American actor, sort of the poor-man’s Anthony Perkins, who played the chauffeur in the 1976 classic Burnt Offerings with Bette Davis.
Dan van Husen (30 April 1945 – May 2020) German actor who, among many other minor horror roles, played the warden in 1979’s Nosferatu the Vampyre. If forced to choose between this among his films, or Killer Barbys vs Dracula from 2001, I think you know which way to jump.
Andrée Champagne (July 17, 1939 – June 6, 2020) Canadian actress, Playgirl Killer (1967). Not Canada’s finest hour.
Joanne Lara (June 3, 1952 – June 9, 2020) American actress notable, if that’s the word, for being the title character (‘Maria’) in an episode of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, and for playing a bit part in It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive.
Joe Johnson (June 25, 1957 – June 10, 2020) American actor, victim of a misapplied power tool in The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Dennis O’Neil (May 3, 1939 – June 11, 2020) American comic book writer who worked for both Marvel and DC but is best known for his long association with the artist Neal Adams on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and on the various Batman titles, many stories for which he included a supernatural element. ‘The Secret of the Waiting Graves’, the Batman story in Detective Comics 295 from January of 1970 concerns a couple whose time ultimately runs out after several hundred years, for example. O’Neil also worked with artist Steve Ditko on Beware… the Creeper in the 1960s and with Mike W. Kaluta on The Shadow in the early 1970s.
Ian Holm (12 September 1931 – 19 June 2020) Distinguished English actor who, long before he was Bilbo Baggins, played a murderous android in 1979’s Alien.
Philip Latham (17 January 1929 – 20 June 2020) English actor, Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Joel Schumacher (August 29, 1939 – June 22, 2020) American director, notorious for taking the campy surrealism of Tim Burton’s two Batman films and twisting the franchise in his own two sequels into a surrealistic campiness that was a definite step down. Viewers can make up their own minds as to whether he redeemed himself by directing Gerard Butler in the film version of the Phantom of the Opera musical in 2004. This deponent sayeth not.
Joe Sinnott (October 16, 1926 – June 25, 2020) Legendary comic book artist, favored inker over the pencil work of King of the Comics Jack Kirby, and prolific illustrator of 1950s horror tales for the aforementioned Atlas Comics.
Stuart Cornfeld (November 13, 1952 – June 26, 2020) American producer, The Fly (1986)
Taryn Power (September 13, 1953 – June 26, 2020) American actress, daughter of Golden Age of Hollywood megastar Tyrone Power, Junior, and granddaughter of silent movie star Tyrone Power, Senior. She appeared in the Ray Harryhausen classic, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and not much else. This apple did, it seems, fall far from the tree.
James Holloway (d. June 28, 2020) American illustrator for many monster-laden Dungeons & Dragons related publications, including Dragon Magazine.
Johnny Mandel (November 23, 1925 – June 29, 2020) American music producer, orchestrator and conductor, Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
Dan Hicks (July 19, 1951 – June 30, 2020) American actor, Evil Dead II (1987) and Darkman (1990).
Billy Tang (1951 – 7/2/20) Chinese director, Dial D for Demons (2000)
Yoon Sam-yook (May 25, 1937 – July 2, 2020) Korean screenwriter, Suddenly in the Dark (1981)
Ronald L. Schwary (May 23, 1944 – July 2, 2020) American producer, Meet Joe Black, the 1998 remake of the classic Death Takes a Holiday, previously filmed in 1934 and 1971.
P.H. Aykroyd (February 5, 1922 – July 4, 2020) Canadian father of Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd, author of “A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Seances, Mediums, Ghosts and Ghostbusters” with Angela Narth
Ennio Morricone (10 November 1928 – 6 July 2020) Italian soundtrack composer, The Thing (1982), as well as numerous gialli. The spaghetti western scores he is most famous for comprise a small percentage of his total, voluminous output. Tell me you didn’t just whistle the opening bars to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Go ahead. Not that I’ll believe you. Wah-WAH-wah…
Charlie Daniels (October 28, 1936 – July 6, 2020) American musician, The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The Devil should have known better than to bet a golden fiddle against the soul of a Saltine-American bluegrass champion. Stupid Devil.
Raymundo Capetillo (1 September 1943 – 12 July 2020) Mexican actor, Bestia Nocturna (1986).
Kelly Preston (October 13, 1962 – July 12, 2020) American actress, Christine (1983).
Sonia Darrin (June 16, 1924 – July 19, 2020) American actress best known for playing the snarky porno dealer in the 1946 Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall film noir classic, The Big Sleep, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. That was pretty much the pinnacle of her brief career, but she did manage to squeeze in a bit part in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in 1943.
Jacqueline Scott (June 25, 1931 – July 23, 2020) American actress, Macabre (1958).
John Saxon (August 5, 1936 – July 25, 2020) American actor, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). I had no idea he was living maybe twenty miles from me when he passed away. I’m not sure what I would have done had I known, but I’d like to think if I’d run into him at some point, I might’ve asked to shake the hand of a man who had sparred with Bruce Lee. That’s something not a whole lot of folks can say they’ve done.
Dame Olivia de Havilland (July 1, 1916 – July 26, 2020) British actress born in Japan, the woman no less an expert on the topic of feminine pulchritude than Errol Flynn always considered ‘the one that got away’. They made some damn good movies together, starting with 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, far and away the best film version of that legend. Alas, Errol died in 1959, and a few years later Olivia joined the brigade of past-their-prime actresses in the psychological horror film fad of the early 1960s. Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte was the 1964 entry in that sweepstakes, and it’s a doozy, with Bette Davis, Bruce Dern, Mary Astor, Joseph Cotten and Agnes Morehead along for the ride.
Jan Skopeček (19 September 1925 – 27 July 2020) Czech actor, The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981)
Gianrico Tedeschi (20 April 1920 – 27 July 2020) Italian actor, Frankenstein: Italian Style (1975) and Dr. Jekyll Likes Them Hot (1979).
Alan Parker (14 February 1944 – 31 July 2020) English director, Angel Heart (1987), starring Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro as the Devil, based on the novel by William Hjortsberg.
Wilford Brimley (September 27, 1934 – August 1, 2020) American actor and commercial spokesman, owner of one of the few mustaches more impressive than mine, and one of the poor fools isolated at the top of the world with an interplanetary shapeshifter in 1982’s second version of The Thing. Okay, the 1951 original scared the hell out of me when I was eight and caught it on Night Owl Theater early on a Saturday morning, but I totally get why many folks consider John Carpenter’s remake of John W. Campbell’s 1938 short story ‘Who Goes There?’ to be superior. I don’t agree, but I don’t totally disagree. Either way, Brimley’s performance is suitably creepy, albeit brief.
Daisy Coleman (March 30, 1997 – August 4, 2020) American actress and advocate for her fellow victims of sexual violence, she made Texas Death Trippin’ in 2019 before committing suicide a year later. Regardless of the film’s quality, it’s such a terrible waste of a human life and potential that I find the situation far more horrific than the film could possibly be. People suck.
Ben Cross (16 December 1947 – 18 August 2020) English actor who essayed the role of Barnabas Collins in the revival of the TV classic, Dark Shadows, in 1991. He also appeared in an episode of HBO’s ‘Tales from the Crypt’, and played another vampire in 1989’s Nightlife opposite Maryam d’Abo.
Lori Nelson (August 15, 1933 – August 23, 2020) American actress, Revenge of the Creature (1955). Clint Eastwood has a bit part as a marginally competent lab assistant. Lori gets carried off into the Florida swamps by the escaped Gillman in this first sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon, until she’s rescued by leading man and former Mr. Shirley Temple John Agar. Like the first one, this is also in 3-D.
Joe Ruby (March 30, 1933 – August 26, 2020) American television producer and co-creator of Scooby-Doo. Darn those meddling kids!
Peter Licassi (April 1, 1959 – August 27, 2020) Actor, Killer Clowns from Outer Space (1988)
Sidney Noel Rideau (December 25, 1929 – August 27, 2020) New Orleans TV host of ‘House of Shock’ (Dr. Morgus).
Bob Fujitani (October 15, 1921 – September 6, 2020) American comic book artist of Irish-Japanese ancestry. He illustrated numerous stories in all genres for a variety of publishers in the 1940s, including some horror. He had a long run on the peripherally horrific series, The Hangman. The Hangman appeared in MLJ’s Pep Comics as well as in his own title. MLJ was the original name of the publisher now called Archie Comics, by the way.
Dame Diana Rigg (20 July 1938 – 10 September 2020) British actress who, like Honor Blackman, graduated from female lead of the BBC’s ‘The Avengers’ to Bond Girl status in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. Unlike Blackman, she got 007 (George Lazenby) to put a ring on it. Too bad arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld machine-gunned her out of the British spy’s life before the wedding night. She went on to play the daughter of crazed Shakespearean actor Vincent Price in 1973’s Theatre of Blood, probably the best specifically Vincent Price movie ever. Partisans of the Dr. Phibes films are free to disagree, but they’re still wrong.
Barbara Jefford (26 July 1930 – 12 September 2020) British actress who manages to get herself garroted in her wheelchair in The Ninth Gate (1999). How rude!
Michael Chapman (November 21, 1935 – September 20, 2020) American cinematographer, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). The second version of the classic Jack Finney story first published in Collier’s Weekly magazine in the 1950s. The tale of how I and two friends saw this film at the old Tennessee Theater in downtown Nashville is the stuff of legend, and if you and I ever run in to one another in a bar or pub somewhere, and you buy me a few drinks, I will tell you all about it. The saga involves a 1956 Chevy, a double-boom wrecker and a multiple Hugo Award winning science fiction author, so I don’t think I’m too out of line in assuming that you’ll be obliged to admit in advance that it’s worth the price of a few drinks to be told. If I’m wrong, I’ll apologize.
Ron Cobb (September 21, 1937 – September 21, 2020) American production designer and concept artist, Alien (1979). And what a great job he did! I’ve got to tell you folks, I saw this film the first night of its release, and I was the only person in the audience who knew about the chest-burster scene. You have not lived until you’ve been in a movie theater with four hundred strangers going absolutely berserk over what’s happening to John Hurt, while you’re sitting back and laughing at the whole bloody thing.
Xavier Loyá (December 31, 1934 – September 22, 2020) Mexican actor, one of the partygoers trapped in the apres-opera drawing room in the Luis Buñuel classic, The Exterminating Angel (1962). He was also in Santo vs the Vampire Women the same year. A very versatile fellow, apparently.
Juliette Gréco (7 February 1927 – 23 September 2020) French actress, Jean Cocteau’s Orphee (1950).
Yūko Takeuchi (April 1, 1980 – September 27, 2020) Japanese actress, Ringu (1998).
Maud Hansson (5 December 1937 – 1 October 2020) The Swedish actress appeared as a witch in the 1957 Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal.
Armelia McQueen (January 6, 1952 – October 3, 2020) American actress, Ghost (1990).
Henryk Boukolowski (January 11, 1937 – October 4, 2020) Polish actor in the 1972 short film, Beczka Amontillado, based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, ‘A Cask of Amontillado’. For the love of God, Montressor!
Margaret Nolan (29 October 1943 – 5 October 2020) English actress, went from a bit part in 1964’s Goldfinger with Sean Connery to a bit part in 1968’s Witchfinder General with Vincent Price. Not exactly a step up, but neither was it a step down. Call it a lateral move.
Osvaldo Ruggieri (January 8, 1928 – October 10, 2020) Italian actor, Werewolf Woman (1976).
Rhonda Fleming (8/10/23-10/14/20) Zaftig American actress known as the Queen of Technicolor for how the process loved her red hair, green eyes and fair skin. She made mostly westerns and a few films noir, as well as the first (and best) version of The Spiral Staircase in 1946, based on the novel by Ethel Lina White. She gets her pretty neck wrung by serial killer George Brent well before the denouement. Am I beginning to sense a theme here?
Spencer Davis (17 July 1939 – 19 October 2020) Welsh musician and actor. Way up there, near the top of this list, I mentioned The Ghost Goes Gear. Here it is again. See the previous entry. Davis discovered his lead singer, Steve Winwood, later of Traffic, when the fourteen-year-old was playing jazz in a club in Birmingham, England. The Spencer Davis Group made some very good records. Movies, not so much. Unlike Herman’s Hermits, who made three films, they had the good sense to quit when they weren’t too far behind.
Gianni Dei (21 December 1940 – 19 October 2020) Italian actor, Patrick Still Lives (1980).
Wojciech Pszoniak (2 May 1942 – 19 October 2020) Polish actor, The Devil (1972).
Marge Champion (September 2, 1919 – October 21, 2020) American dancer who, with her husband, Gower, was perpetually prominent in the MGM musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and who modeled for Walt Disney on his feature films, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves (1937), Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia (1940). Not specifically for characters in the scary parts of those pictures, but close enough for inclusion here.
Richard A. Lupoff (February 21, 1935 – October 22, 2020) American speculative fiction author and genre historian. I can’t say that knew Dick Lupoff, although he was a member of a couple of Yahoo groups I belonged to when that was still a thing. We might have commented on the same threads, I don’t recall. I wish I had interacted more with him when I had the chance, for he was a treasure. He was one of the editors and contributors to both All in Color for a Dime and The Comic Book Book, two of the seminal histories of one of the crucial media by which our genre has been disseminated, and both of which volumes included important chapters regarding horror in the comic books. Future columns on horror comics will no doubt contain information gleaned from one or the other of those two volumes.
Jacques Godin (September 14, 1930 – October 26, 2020) Canadian actor, The Pyx (1973) with Karen Black and Christopher Plummer.
Ricardo Blume (August 16, 1933 – October 30, 2020) Peruvian actor, Sobrenatural (All of Them Witches, 1996)
Sean Connery (25 August 1930 – 31 October 2020) Scottish actor. There is a no-doubt apocryphal story that Connery was contacted when Gordon Scott decided to hang up his loincloth and retire as the cinematic Tarzan. Connery had played one of the villains in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure in 1959, Scott’s penultimate appearance in the series. Sean had done such a good job that he was supposedly asked if he’d be willing to don the loincloth himself. According to legend, he told Tarzan producer Sy Weintraub that he was committed to star in some spy picture, and that once that was finished, he’d consider the offer to play the Lord of the Jungle. As everyone knows, Connery went on to play James Bond another six times after Dr. No, won an Oscar for The Untouchables in 1987 and never got around to playing the apeman. Weintraub was forced to go with the villain from Scott’s last Tarzan picture, Jock Mahoney, as his next jungle lord. The two pictures Mahoney starred in are considered among the best of the Tarzan films. A pity Connery got so tied up with Bond. He might have made something of himself, had he dispensed with the vodka martinis, Aston-Martins and Bond Babes, doffed his tuxedo and run off into the jungle wearing a scrap of deerskin instead. Ah, well. Fortunately for horror fans, he had already appeared in the Disney live-action Halloween staple, Darby O’Gill & the Little People, in 1959, as scary a picture as the Mouse Factory ever produced.
Rachel Caine (April 27, 1962 – November 1, 2020) Author of, among other works, the Morganville Vampire series of young adult novels.
Elsa Raven (September 21, 1929 – November 2, 2020) American actress, The Amityville Horror (1979).
John Fraser (18 March 1931 – 6 November 2020) Scottish actor in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), with Catherine Deneuve.
Ken Jones (d. November 6, 2020) American actor, Phantasm (1979).
Sven Wollter (11 January 1934 – 10 November 2020) Swedish actor, The 13th Warrior (1999).
Philip Voss (20 August 1936 – 13 November 2020) English actor, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974). Voss’s last work was as Mason in the British TV series, ‘Vicious’, with Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Derek Jacoby.
Daria Nicolodi (19 June 1950 – 26 November 2020) Italian actress, Dario Argento’s Profundo Rosso (Deep Red, 1975) and Paganini Horror (1989).
David Prowse (7/1/35-11/28/20) English bodybuilder and actor. Yes, yes we all know about Darth Vader, but everyone eulogizing Prowse seems to have forgotten that he also played the monster in two Hammer films, The Horror of Frankenstein in 1970 and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell in 1974. And in 1980, he was in Nashville for a Star Wars convention I attended. I was standing in the back of one of those big hotel ballrooms, in front of a pair of double doors, listening to Peter Mayhew talk about being Chewbacca. I was twenty-two years old, six-foot-one, 210 solid pounds, young and impressive and in the best shape of my life, with all my teeth and a lot more wavy, blond hair than I possess now. I frequently enjoyed the company of attractive ladies, and they seemed to enjoy my company, as well. I was feeling, in other words, pretty good about myself.
And then, something huge moved into the room behind me. It was like being in the gravity well of a small planet. I turned and looked up and up and up at David Prowse, not in the Vader costume, but a head taller and a twice as wide across the shoulders as me on my best day. I felt very, very small and insignificant, indeed. We smiled and nodded, and then he was gone. I never spoke to him at that convention. I’m not sure I would have been able to.
The weekend was not ruined for me, I’m glad to say. That evening turned out well. Remember those drinks you were going to buy me? Add a few more, and you’ll hear the epic saga of a gold-plated droid, an AMC Hornet, and a crimson crustacean.
Richard Corben (10/1/40-12/2/20) American comic book artist. I first noticed his distinctive air-brushed style in the black and white Warren magazines, Creepy and Eerie, around 1970. His best-known work was probably in the Heavy Metal magazine in the late 1970s, for which he created the perpetually naked, bald and musclebound hero, Den. Den’s origin story was adapted to animated form in the Heavy Metal movie in 1981. He also did a lot of horror genre work for underground publishers Last Gasp and Rip Off Press.
André Gagnon (2 August 1936 – 3 December 2020) Canadian soundtrack composer, Phobia (1980)
Eduardo Galvão (April 19, 1962 – December 7, 2020) Brazilian actor, appeared in one episode of the 2002 television series ‘O Beijo do Vampiro’ (A Vampire’s Kiss).
Barbara Windsor (6 August 1937 – 10 December 2020) English actress, played Jack the Ripper’s second victim Annie Chapman in 1965’s A Study in Terror. The poor lass was well and truly dismembered before Sherlock Holmes (John Neville) could put a stop to Jack’s spree of spontaneous vivisection.
Hanna Stankówna (4 May 1938 – 14 December 2020) Polish stage and screen actress from the lovely city of Posnan, where my wife and I enjoyed a delightful lunch and some damn good beer some years ago. Her only genre role, as far as I can tell given my non-existent ability to decipher titles or plot synopses in her native language, was Lokis. Rekopis profesora Wittembacha (Lokis, the Manuscript of Professor Wittembach), from 1970.
Peter Lamont (12 November 1929 – 18 December 2020) British art director and production designer, Aliens (1986), as well as a slew of James Bond films.
Jiří Hálek (9/10/1930-12/18/2020) Czech actor, The Cremator (1969).
David Giler (January 10, 1943 – December 19, 2020) American film producer & screenwriter, Alien (1979).
Pero Kvrgić (4 March 1927 − 23 December 2020) Croatian actor, Nausikaya (1995).
Guy N. Smith (21 November 1939 – 24 December 2020) Prolific British horror author.
Josefina Echánove (September 29, 1927 or July 21, 1928 – December 29, 2020) Mexican actress, Amityville 3-D (1983).
Corrado Olmi (24 October 1926 – 29 December 2020) Italian actor in the dark comedy The Devil in Love (1966) and in the classic Giallo, The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971).
Dawn Wells (October 18, 1938 – December 30, 2020) American actress. Like most families in the 1960s, we only had one television. While my parents were pretty indulgent as far as allowing my brother and I, and later our sisters, to watch whatever we wanted to, Dad did draw the line a few times. One of those instances was whenever Gilligan’s Island came on. He considered it the dumbest show ever, and objectively, at this considerable temporal remove, it’s only the existence of My Mother, the Car that argues very much against that assessment. So it was that I rarely watched it in first run. However, it ran, and still runs, in syndication, so I caught up with it as I raced into puberty in the early 1970s. And I was Team Ginger, all the way. I never got why anyone would prefer Mary Ann, and still don’t. I didn’t dislike her. As a character, I thought she was fine. As fine as the material allowed, anyhow. She seemed very sweet, and she was pretty in a cornfed sort of way, but for pure prurient interest, it was Ginger for whom I lusted. Oddly, in the case of WKRP in Cincinnati, I’m all about Bailey instead of Jennifer, which is the exact opposite dynamic. Wonder why that is?
Never mind. When Dawn Wells died, yesterday as I write this, from COVID-19, I was shocked and more than a little saddened. She lived in my hometown of Nashville for some years, and lent her support to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, a worthy cause if there ever was one. Ginger is the last surviving castaway, and that makes me feel more than a little old. Dawn’s only forays into horror were a couple of truly wretched B-flicks, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) and Return to Boggy Creek (1977). Probably just as well she didn’t make any more, but I’m glad there were enough to include her in this list, even if she never was the object of my desire.
Robert Hossein (30 December 1927 – 31 December 2020) French writer, director and actor, The Wax Mask (AKA Maschera di Cera, 1997)
And there it is. Hopefully, the list I compile at the end of 2021 will be shorter. ‘Twould be a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.
They tell me this is Freaky Foodie Month here at HorrorAddicts.net, so I’ve wandered down into the kitchen area of the basement laboratory and cobbled together a tasty little treat that I hope will satisfy the palate of even the most discriminating connoisseur de frissons. And yes, there will be dessert. I call this offering:
Submitted for Your Approval – A Man with No Upper Lip
Rod Serling got his start as a writer by winning a radio contest, after spending a few years in the Pacific Theater jumping out of airplanes in order to expedite the extermination of Japanese soldiers. He gradually worked his way up to the new medium of television in time for what is considered its Golden Age, a period when every evening brought Great Dramas into the homes of millions of Americans. Serling wrote his fair share of those Great Dramas, including Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight. Both were later made into movies and are considered high points of that Golden Age.
This was all heady stuff for a decorated war veteran and one of early television’s cadre of angry young men, but Serling wanted more. He yearned for a vessel into which he could pour his social concerns about censorship, racism, and war, and maybe exorcise the psychological demons left over from his military service. Alas, comfortable and complacent Middle America wasn’t ready to have its collective face shoved into its sins, and so a more allegorical approach was called for.
The Twilight Zone premiered on October 2, 1959. For five years, Serling, along with collaborators Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, created a series of little morality plays couched in the more palatable tropes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror tales. And then, it was gone, cancelled by the suits, only to reappear in the realm of perpetual syndication, where it lives on even today. Sixties television devolved into an endless parade of sitcoms, many of them with a supernatural bent; westerns; shoot-em-up action dramas; variety shows; spoofs of comic books and spy movies; and body counts from the Vietnam War on the evening news.
Like the War, the Sixties slopped over into the next decade. Popular music continued on much as before, not yet sullied by the arrival of disco. The usual array of genres persisted on television. And the news was still just as depressing as ever. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Serling spent the second half of the Sixties much as he had the Fifties, writing dramas for a medium that had turned out to be too small for him. He wrote a successful teleplay about an airline high-jacking, and an adaptation of A Christmas Carol that was as weighted towards modern concerns as the original story was towards the social ills of the Victorian Era. He created a high-brow western series called The Loner that only lasted one season, and lent his distinctive voice and stiff-upper-lip visage to a number of commercials.
At the end of the decade, he came up with a made-for-TV movie superficially similar to his last great success. Night Gallery was an anthology of three spooky stories, more horror-based than Twilight Zone ever was. Serling introduced each tale by revealing a painting inspired by it. Hence, the ‘gallery’ part of the title. The middle section, Eyes, starring Joan Crawford, was directed by Steven Spielberg. It was his first professional media job, and very nearly her last. Her final performance came a few years later in Night Gallery’s spin-off series, The Sixth Sense. More on that, and her, and him later in this space. Stay tuned!
Night Gallery was picked up for regular broadcast in 1971, one of a set of four titles that rotated weekly episodes as part of what was called a wheel series. The other show that survived Four in One’s only season was the fish-out-of-water detective show McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver. McCloud moved over into another wheel series with two other long-running mysteries, Columbo and McMillan and Wife. Night Gallery went into regular production as a weekly program. Win for Serling!
But not quite as much as before. More of the same, but less, I’m afraid. This is not to say that Night Gallery wasn’t a good program; it was. It just wasn’t The Twilight Zone. But then, what was? Not even a major motion picture and a couple of revival series have been able to recapture that particular lightning-bolt-in-a-bottle.
It might have helped had Serling been able to exert more creative control than he was allowed, but that was not to be. Still, Night Gallery is not a series to be brushed aside without due consideration. It adapted some of the great stories in the genre, including works by H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Fritz Leiber, Algernon Blackwood and Robert Bloch, and by Serling’s old pal from Twilight Zone days, Richard Matheson.
Christianna Brand is not a name well-known to horror enthusiasts, I suspect. She was a mystery writer of some renown, but she only wrote enough horror tales to fill one collection, What Dread Hand?, published in 1968. One of the yarns therein, ‘The Sins of the Fathers’, first appeared, as far as I have been able to ascertain, in The Fifth Pan Book of Horror Stories. It was edited by Herbert van Thal four years previously. If you’re not familiar with this delightful series of anthologies, I urge you to haunt whatever used paperback vendors you have available to you and track down as many editions as you can get your talons into. I shall have more to say later on regarding the estimable Mijnheer van Thal, but for now, the dish upon the table is getting cold. And a little, um, congealed.
Sin eating is an old practice found in Wales and those English counties bordering Wales, in which a poor person would be hired for a nominal sum to dine upon bread and ale placed atop the corpse of a recently deceased sinner as it lay in state. The sins of the late reprobate would transfer, through the bread and ale, to the soul of the diner, preventing the lamented one from wandering the Earth as a vengeful spirit. The question remains, what of the sins of the sin eater, both original, and those acquired through gustation? What keeps that worthy in his grave? Therein lies the tale.
‘Sins of the Father’ was one of two stories presented in the second episode of Night Gallery’s second season, airing on February 23, 1972. It starred, among others, Barbara Steele, she of the vast, magnetizing eyes long familiar to horror aficionados from her performances in such classic terror films as Black Sunday, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Ghost. Frequent Oscar nominee and future winner Geraldine Page was along for the bumpy ride, as well, along with soon-to-be John-Boy Walton Richard Thomas, former Batman butler Alan Napier, and Michael Dunn, who had just recently completed a long run as master villain Dr. Miguelito Loveless on the classic spy-western show, The Wild Wild West.
Dunn scours the Welsh countryside on half of his master, who lies three days dead, covered in a feast of lamb and cakes and cheeses. The servant is in search of a sin eater, one who has not already succumbed to the plague and famine ravaging the land. With time running out, he finds his last option too sick with disease and hunger to travel the distance, but that sin eater has a son. The boy absconds with the food without taking on the sins of the dead man, but when he returns home, finds his own father dead. Where are that sin eater’s sins to go, but into the starving mouth of the next one in line?
Not so horrifying in the brief description, perhaps, but like any fine meal, there’s so much more in the presentation. Even better, every name mentioned above has a genre pedigree that dates back, in some cases, into the silent era. Lots of material for future installments.
I did mention dessert, yes? Well, Stanley Ellin is another mystery writer of historical significance who dabbled in the macabre. His first published short story, ‘Specialty of the House’, is one of those that really sticks to the ribs, so to speak. A restaurant that caters to a very particular clientele offers an occasional specialty that only the best customers get to sample, or participate in the preparation thereof. Creepiness is on the menu, served with healthy dollop of frisson on the side.
‘Specialty of the House’ has been reprinted in dozens of periodicals, collections and anthologies since it was first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, in the May, 1948 issue. It was adapted to television during the fifth season of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show and broadcast on December 13, 1959, and on the revival of that series on March 21, 1987. Robert Morley, whose turn upon the spit in Theatre of Blood also involves food, stars. That classic film deserves its own lengthy consideration, rather than a superficial glossing over here, so more on that later.
The first one is available for viewing here:
In the early Seventies, Vincent Price was among several stars who were part of an attempted revival of old-time radio in the modern era. His BBC program, The Price of Fear, featured an adaptation of the yarn on April 13th, 1974. It can be found on You Tube or in the Internet Archives. Worth seeking out!
So, there it is. Hope you enjoyed my little concoction. Would you like an aperitif? A little libation to wash it all down with? Don’t worry, there will be more coming, perhaps sooner than you think. Stay blood-thirsty, my friends. And, as always –
On a regular basis when we were kids, my brother and I were shipped off from Nashville to visit our grandmothers and cousins for a few weeks every summer so our parents could get a well-deserved rest from our shenanigans. Today, I suspect that would be considered child abuse at best, given that we were ferried by either car or train to a small town in Northern Alabama in the days before the pervasive hum and whir of air conditioning could be heard everywhere.
The funny thing is, I don’t remember the heat being all that oppressive. There were lots of electric fans, and open windows, and sleeping in upstairs bedrooms under thin sheets, while the distant sound of a train whistle carried us away with it into slumberland after long discussions about girls and Auburn football and whether or not it were possible to tip one of my uncle’s Black Angus bulls. It’s not, by the way, and given how much at least one of them resented the attempt, it’s a wonder any of us are still alive.
Even better, for the voracious consumer of popular culture that I was even at the tender age of eleven, was that a marvelous new invention did arrive in Athens about 1969, one that would not make it to Nashville for another sixteen years. Nowadays, cable television is almost quaint, but in those halcyon days of three channels, it was a magic carpet ride that carried me for that brief, hot period beyond the Lawrence Welk schmaltz and Mike Douglas talking about God knows what with people you’d never heard of and soap operas that for some reason didn’t feature vampires, and all the other adult programming that pervaded the local airwaves of the tiny town to which we were remanded into durance vile for those few weeks.
I’m exaggerating, of course. We had lots of fun with the cousins, and occasionally with the kids who went to the Baptist and Methodist churches in which our grandmothers were virtually matriarchic figures. But there are times when you just want to turn on the TV, and it was in Athens that I first encountered What Lay Beyond.
Athens is about halfway between Nashville to the north and Birmingham to the south, and twenty miles west of Huntsville, which at the time had, I believe, one television station. If the weather conditions were just right, you could almost pick up a Nashville station and maybe two Birmingham stations, but you couldn’t count on it. Which is exactly why the first rudimentary cable system I encountered was in tiny Athens. Its original purpose was apparently to bring those distant network affiliates (and their commercials) out into the hinterlands.
I have no idea at this late date which of the ten buttons on my grandmother’s cable box I pressed to find the old horror pictures I was already enamored of, but I sure figured it out at the time. A few days into our enforced vacation, I had started missing the daily after-school movie, the Big Show on Channel Five from which I normally got my fix. When I discovered something close enough to it to serve in a pinch, I latched on to it. I remember seeing old-time movie star Jon Hall stomping around in a rubber suit in Monster in the Surf for the first time on whatever channel it was, along with the big-headed BEMs from Invasion of the Saucer Men and a string of pictures that were rather clumsily dubbed into English and with the credits in Spanish.
I had never seen Mexican horror movies before. The Big Show was full of Universal monsters and Hammer horrors and Japanese behemoths stomping model cities flat, but nothing like this new thing I’d found. I don’t recall any specific titles from that summer more than fifty years ago, but I do remember that they were fun, and spooky, and some of them starred masked wrestlers. I was a big fan at that age of the local wrestlers who popped up on TV back home, Jacky Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto and that crowd, so I gleefully absorbed the adventures of Santo and the Blue Devil as they battled a variety of monsters and mad scientists that summer, while my grandmother was off working at the local newspaper where she was the society editor. I’m sure she would have disapproved, had she known.
But isn’t that the best part?
The Mexican horror movies weren’t there on her cable box the next time I visited Athens. It was years before I saw any of them again. It took the internet to bring them back into view, and while I understand the draw those specific films must have had on my eleven year old mind, this much older geezer is looking for something a little more sophisticated. And, just as one should never judge classic North American films by, say, the Bowery Boys, one should look for a higher level of fright-inducing Mexican cinematics with an expectation that one would find it.
I will admit that, despite my early exposure to Mexican films, I am not yet as conversant with the national oeuvre as I am with, say, French or Japanese filmmaking. I suppose it does take a while to get all the way around the world and back close to home again in exploring world cinema, even with the wonders available online. I am of course familiar with the great films made by Spanish ex-patriot Luis Buñuel during his time in Mexico from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. The Exterminating Angel is the closest I can think of to Buñuel having made a genre film, but I’m not really sure it can be classified as a horror film. I might take a gander at it in this space down the road, anyhow, but for now, let’s look, as we would pretty much have to in regards to North American horror films, at the middle range of overall cinematic quality.
And there it is that we find a number of quite good Mexican horror films in the early 1960s, on a level with anything being done in the genre by Hollywood filmmakers such as Roger Corman or William Castle, if not, in some cases, better. (Notice how nimbly I wriggled out of including Psycho in that category? Hitchcock was a director on a par with Buñuel, and like the Spaniard, not really a horror director, per se, no matter how he might have dabbled in its pleasures.)
I will speak in future of Messers Corman and Castle. For now, let’s speak of la Llorona.
The Weeping Woman, in English. An old Mexican folktale about an abandoned mother who avenges the betrayal of her unfaithful husband/lover by murdering their children. She regrets her act when denied entry into Heaven, and is fated to roam the Earth in search of her dead children. Since they are beyond her reach, she seeks to replace them with the children of other mothers, with dire results all around. It’s one of those cautionary tales meant to keep the younguns of Mesoamerica in line. I have no data as to how well it works. What I do have is some Mexican-made films I want to have us all take a look at.
I’m not in this instance concerned with the numerous recent North American and Mesoamerican cinematic examinations, of varying quality, of the ancient legend. And by recent, I should point out that I mean anything since about 1980. When you get to my age, that’s when the cut-off date between old and new falls. Hell, I’m so old, cougars are barely legal.
Can I get a rimshot? No? Oh, well. Never mind.
I want to examine in this space three of the earliest films that were constructed around this legend – 1933’s La Llorona, 1960’s La Llorona, and 1963’s The Curse of the Crying Woman. There is one from 1947 I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of yet, La Herencia de la Llorona, but I hope to correct that oversight in the very near future. I expect I’ll address that one in a coda to a future column if you would all be so kind as to be patient with an auld phart.
The first la Llorona film, indeed the first Mexican horror film, was directed by Ramón Peón, one of roughly seventy films he made over a long career. La Llorona is not a bad film, but production-wise, about on a par with one of the better Hollywood Poverty Row studio films of its period. Some of this impression could be a simple lack of a good, restored copy, given that I’ve only been able to find a rather fuzzy presentation on YouTube, along with poorly synced subtitles to match. Maybe. The running time, like many of the la Llorona films of all periods, is taken up with an extensive flashback of the original legend as it unfolded in the late 16th Century. There is a second flashback to an even earlier, similar legend, that of la Malinche. She was the Aztec translator for and lover of Hernando Cortez, who also responded to being treated shabbily by killing the children she had borne the Conquistador almost a century before la Llorona began to weep. I’m not sure that segment adds to the overall quality of the film, but it does have some interest as a historical artifact. None of the other pictures I looked at for this column featured that older tale.
I think I might have just noticed a few eyes glaze over there a moment ago when I mentioned Poverty Row. My wife has been complaining for forty years now that I tend to throw out terms without always explaining them. I promise I will take a long, loving, terrified look at the old Hollywood studio system in the not-too-distant future, including what that phrase meant in the history of our genre. For now, you only need to know that Poverty Row was the collective noun for small, cheaply run and often fly-by-night independent studios mostly clustered along Gower Street in Hollywood that produced, at best, grade B movies. Westerns, serials, gangster pictures, and low-grade but often quite enjoyable horror pictures poured out of these movie mills, some shot in a matter of days on budgets that wouldn’t pay for a good used car today.
Moving on. That first La Llorona film has placed around the two flashbacks a contemporary story involving descendants of the original family, and the peril to the newest member, Juanito, on his fourth birthday. According to a legend related by the mother’s father, every first-born child in that line of descent disappeared on their fourth birthday, carried away by la Llorona. A mysterious, cloaked and masked figure lurks around the set, peering through secret panels and other such conventions of the Old Dark House sub-genre. It has comic relief, red herrings and all the trappings of better, and worse films. The climax reveals – Spoiler alert! – that it has been a trusted servant that has been possessed by the evil spirit of la Llorona. It had been she who was behind the several thwarted attempts to make away with the little boy.
As I stated above, not bad. Competently acted and directed, with a brisk but not rushed pace, it’s an enjoyable film of its period, with all the technical limitations inherent to that era. I just wish I could have found better subtitles, as my Spanish is not much better than at a ‘decipher-the-menu’ level. I suspect if I had been able to, I’d rate this one at C+. As it is, it’s a solid C.
The identically named version from 1960 is, structurally, very similar to the first film, but technically on a much higher level. I could easily see this coming from a North American studio of the caliber of Columbia or a second-tier Universal unit in that same time period. In fact, it reminds me, stylistically and technically, of one of the better William Castle vehicles, without the distracting gimmicks. A solid, well-made film, very enjoyable. I liked that the identity of la Llorona is made clear during her repeated attempts to do away with the child in this version. The build up of suspense for every attempt is handled with stylistic flair and subtle, gradual make-up effects at least as good as a contemporary Hollywood picture of its kind and time. B+
That leaves us with what is perhaps the most problematic of the films under consideration, The Curse of the Crying Woman, AKA La Maldición de la Llorona. Problematic in that it doesn’t exactly fit thematically with the others, being closer in tone and storyline to one of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. Still, it’s quite an attractively mounted film, albeit in black-&-white rather than the color productions Corman was making by 1963. Otherwise, the influence is obvious. Its historical setting, in this case, the mid-to-late 19th Century, the mise en scene, the acting, are all seemingly in keeping with the style Corman had established north of the Rio Grande. And yet, its departures from the basic legend make it hard to judge as a la Llorona film.
Oh, boy, I did it again, didn’t I? Mise en scene is, simply put, everything in a film or play that isn’t acting or dialogue. Costumes, set design, props, lighting, music, etc. Clear as mud? Moving on.
This time out, the spirit of la Llorona is lurking around an ancient house, waiting to displace the soul of her nearest available female descendant. At the exact moment of her twenty-fifth birthday, the latest in the line is fated to pull a spear out of what looks like a Medieval torture device known as a Catherine Wheel upon which the decayed corpse of the original la Llorona has been pinned since she was executed for her crimes. That will free the spirit of la Llorona to possess the young woman so she can carry on her demonic career. The somewhat convenient escape of the insane former owner of the crumbling house, up until the climax locked away in the bell tower, scotches the evil plans by strangling the villainous aunt so that the heroine can escape with her less-than-hypercompetent husband.
Good, solid filmmaking of its kind and era. I rate it a B.
I hope the populace doesn’t object to my comparing these efforts of the Mexican studios to the contemporary output of Hollywood. I’m making the perhaps unwarranted assumption that the majority of the folks likely to read this are more familiar with North American horror films, and that that familiarity might provide some context for fitting these three pictures into the overall history of the genre. If I’m incorrect, feel free to let me have it with both barrels in your comments. I’m a tough old codger. I can take it.
So, read the edges of maps in the Age of Discovery, that period when Europeans wandered around the planet, snatching up lands and property and natural resources from indigenous peoples, to designate those areas into which they had not yet ventured. They feared what was there, but coveted the treasures they suspected would be found in those unexplored and unexploited regions. That’s where the monsters were, they thought, never realizing that they themselves were the monsters.
Isn’t that how it goes? The peril in staring so long into the abyss, according to Nietzsche, is that the abyss stares back into us. We become what we fear if we’re not careful. Alas, we are not very often a careful species. As Pogo Possum pointed out in the 1950s, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
And so, off the edge of the map, we sail, in search of treasures. And, in the case of the horror genre, monsters. For what would horror be without monsters?
The easy answer is, it would be suspense. There’s nothing wrong with suspense, as a genre. In many of its respects, it is very much like horror. It relies on many of the same tropes and tricks as horror. It’s just not what we’re are gathered here together to talk about. And, therefore, we must needs talk about monsters.
We love them, we hate them. We fear them, we pity them. We jump when they suddenly appear, we weep when they fall off of the Empire State Building. They are the primary and most reliable delivery system for le frisson, that delicious shiver we’re all looking for in our horror diet. That transient, delightful, cathartic physical sensation we feel when fangs pierce flesh when the mask is ripped away from the Phantom’s hideous face when clawed fingers emerge from the darkened room on the other side of the slowly opening door. The goosebumps, the dilation of the pupils, the quickening of the breath as we eagerly and, let’s admit it, sadistically anticipate the gruesome demise of some unfortunate nonentity.
Who’s the monster now?
More importantly, what is a monster?
The word comes from the Latin monstrum, from an earlier word that meant a warning or omen, often of evil events raining down upon humanity from the gods themselves. As applied to the manifestations of those warnings, it refers to beings that are disfigured or distorted in body or mind, the unnatural and the supernatural, those that are both outsized and outside the norm in other ways. In other words, those that we readily identify in our own culture as monsters.
Fritz Leiber, Jr. is more renowned for his fantasy than for his horror, having coined the term ‘sword and sorcery’ in 1961 and being arguably its most adept practitioner over the bulk of his nearly sixty-year career, but he wrote quite a few tales of terror and one major novel in the genre, Conjure Wife. He also won five Hugo Awards for science-fiction, but that’s even more neither here nor there than the fantasy. It’s horror we’re after! And I do plan to cover the estimable Mr. Leiber and his novel in more detail later, so don’t worry that you’ve inadvertently skipped a page or something, or that I’ve gotten you turned around or otherwise lost in the narrative. All shall be revealed at a later date.
Anyhow, in 1974, DAW Books published The Book of Fritz Leiber, for which he wrote a short essay entitled, “Monsters and Monster-Lovers”. Over the course of thirteen pages – and how fitting is that? – Leiber explicated his understanding of what a monster is, whence comes our fascination with them, and how does one go about most effectively creating them and using them to summon that frisson I mentioned earlier. Along the way, he lists some of his favorites, all of whom I intend to expound upon in future entries herein. Lovecraftian menaces from the outer darknesses, creatures of folklore and science fiction, giant apes and shapeshifters and even poor old Richard III, all will have their say in this space. Feeling that shiver of anticipation yet?
No? Then let me introduce you to legendary anthologist Peter Haining, who included in his 1988 collection, Movie Monsters: Great Horror Film Stories, a prologue by the late great Ray Bradbury. In “Inviting Frankenstein into the Parlour”, Bradbury covered much of the same ground Leiber had fourteen years earlier, with some additions. Including Vertigo, of all things. He made a fairly good case for a third Hitchcock horror film, along with Psycho and The Birds. I expect I’ll take a look at that one of these days, as well. It’s too soon to mark your calendars, but don’t be surprised when it pops up.
Haining himself deserves a lengthy entry or two, along with other great gatherers of literary horrors like Richard Dalby, Donald A. Wollheim, August Derleth, Marvin Kaye, Christine Bernard, Dennis Wheatley, Gerald Page, Herbert Van Thal, and Charles Birkin. That and more will be forthcoming in times to come, along with so much more. But for now, the central question remains:
Why monsters? What is it about the disfigured, the deformed, the gigantic and the unnatural that draws us into their world, time and again? Is it some deep-seated need to exorcise our fears, or tap into the collective unconscious, or connect with the like-minded, or some other intense but subcutaneous psychological need?
Or is it simply that monsters are fun?
Yeah. I think that’s it. Don’t you?
I came along at the tail-end of that first generation to be inundated by the classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s when Universal and other studios realized they had a gold mine and dumped their catalogs onto local television stations all over the United States. I was too young to stay up late on weekend nights to watch Shock Theater or whatever it was called in Nashville, but there were frequent appearance by Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man and their myriad fellow denizens of the night on our local stations during the hours when I was awake. I, like a few million other boomer kids, scheduled my playtime around movie presentations like the Big Show, which came on right after Dark Shadows and had at least one classic horror film a week. Or I’d crawl out of bed at five o’clock on a Saturday morning to catch Son of Frankenstein or The Mummy’s Curse on Night Owl Theater, before settling in with a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and a morning filled with cartoons. The Universal horror films were rarely much more than an hour in length, so once commercials were spliced in, they fit very nicely into the ninety-minute slot allotted to them. I’ve always suspected that was why it was that horror movies were so widely distributed on television, and thus one of the first entire classes of films largely preserved for future generations. Thank the Elder Gods for ninety-minute time slots.
Kids today are accustomed to massive promotional campaigns for pretty much anything that shows up on TV or in the movies, but that was a fairly new phenomenon in the early 1960s. There had been such campaigns in the 1950s for TV cowboys and such, but they were very specific. Hopalong Cassidy was the first, and Davy Crockett the most extensive, but those were before my time. My earliest memories of advertising premiums were the action figures from the third James Bond film, Goldfinger, that several of my fellow second-graders had, or the lunch-boxes decorated with pictures of popular TV and movie characters. Those, and all the monster stuff. And what monster stuff we had!
My parents frequently shopped at the old Sears store on Lafayette Street in Nashville. That building is now the Union Rescue Mission, but when I was a kid, when you came in through the garden department, you emerged into a magical world. Toys as far as you could see, and to your right a display of Matchbox Cars, back when they were actually packaged in matchbox-sized cardboard containers. Hence the name. Just beyond those was the real treasure trove, a long wall filled with plastic models, including the Aurora Monster kits. Frankenstein. The Mummy. Godzilla. Dracula’s Dragster. The Bride of Frankenstein. I built them all, at one time or another. There were monster wallets, too. I had one with the Phantom of the Opera on one side and the Wolf Man on the other. Didn’t have any money to put in it, though. My allowance was fifty cents a week, which barely covered a few comic books and some baseball cards and the occasional paperback or Whitman hardback or Big Little Book. But I had the wallet! And I had a Thingmaker, with metal molds you filled up with Plastigoop and baked in the little oven until Creepy Crawlers emerged that you could throw at your little sister and freak her out.
Best of all, when you could find one, were the issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. Articles on all the old horror films, and news of upcoming ones, with lots of pictures and groan-inducing puns. The thirty-five-cent cover price took up most of my allowance, cutting into my comic book collecting, but it was worth it to read Forrest J. Ackerman’s deathless prose about Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre and peruse the ads in the back for Don Post monster masks and 8mm films of old horror movies and real-life venus flytraps and record albums of scary stories and all the other goodies for sale to those whose allowance was more generous than mine.
All of which I intend to examine in some detail in installments yet to come, along with all the other spooky goodies I’ve read and seen and heard and otherwise accumulated in the decades since then. Hang around and travel down my memory lane with me into dark corners of horror you might not have ever suspected existed, and meet some monsters you might not have encountered yet.
It should be fun. Because, yeah, monsters are fun.