Historian of Horror : You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dawg…

You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dawg…

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 Strand Magazine 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…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror : Whatever Happened to Baron von Emmelmann?

Whatever Happened to Baron von Emmelmann?

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.

And so, until next time, connoisseurs of chills…

Be afraid. 

Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror : Why Adam Breckenridge is My New Hero

Why Adam Breckenridge is My New Hero

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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law

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.

Oh, well.

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…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror: In Memoriam April ~ June, 2021

In Memoriam, April through June 2021

We are met again to celebrate those who made contributions to the horror genre and who passed

away during the second quarter of the year.

April

William “Biff” McGuire (October 25, 1926 – April 1, 2021) American actor in one episode of Kraft Theatre (season 6, episode 13, “A Christmas Carol”, aired December 24, 1952), four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1956 to 1958, and The Werewolf of Washington  (1974). 

Mark Elliott (September 24, 1939 – April 3, 2021) American actor in Edge of Sanity (1989).

John Paragon (December 9, 1954 – April 3, 2021) American actor, appeared in the feature films Eating Raoul (1982), Pandemonium (1982), Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988), and Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001); and on television in Elvira’s Movie Macabre, Elvira’s MTV Halloween Party, The Elvira Show and 13 Nights of Elvira from 1981 to 2011.

Giuseppe Pinori (September 15, 1928 – April 3, 2021) Italian cinematographer on the 1984 giallo, Murderrock: Uccide a Passo di Danza (English title – Murder-Rock: Dancing Death), as well as the horror films Contamination (1980) and l’Apocalisse della Schimmie (2012).

Francisco Haghenbeck (1965 – April 4, 2021) Mexican comic book writer, novelist and screenwriter. His 2011 novel El Diablo me obligó was the basis for the Netflix supernatural television series Diablero

Zygmunt Malanowicz (4 February 1938 – 4 April 2021) Polish film actor, The Lure (2015).

Phil Eason (May 5, 1960 – April 5, 2012) British actor and puppeteer, Labyrinth (1986) and Little Shop of Horrors (1986).

Robert Fletcher (August 23, 1922 – April 5, 2021) American costume and set designer, The Scarecrow (TV movie, 1972) and Fright Night (1985)

Paul Ritter (5 March 1967 – 5 April 2021) English actor in Nostradamus (2006), Hannibal Rising (2007), The Limehouse Golem (2016) and all four episodes of the English television mini-series, Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories (2016). He also played Bram Stoker in one episode of the 2016 mini-series, Houdini and Doyle.

Grischa Huber (18 September 1944 – 6 April 2021) German actress, Vampira (1971).

Walter Olkewicz (November 14, 1948 – April 6, 2021) American character actor in Comedy of Horrors (1981) and the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” episode of Tall Tales & Legends (season 1, episode 1, aired September 25, 1985). He also had a recurring role as Jean-Michel Renault in the various incarnations of Twin Peaks (1990-2017).

James Hampton (July 9, 1936 – April 7, 2021) American actor who played the lycanthropic dad in Teen Wolf (1985) and Teen Wolf Too (1987), as well as the Teen Wolf television series (1986-1987).

Olga Pashkova (2 January 1966 – 7 April 2021) Russian actress, Burial of the Rats (1995).

Earl Simmons (AKA DMX, December 18, 1970 – April 9, 2021) American rapper, songwriter, and actor in The Bleeding (2009).

Edwin L. Aguilar (August 16, 1974 – April 10, 2021) Salvadoran-born American animator on The Simpsons, including several of the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.

Giannetto De Rossi (8 August 1942 – 11 April 2021) Italian makeup artist on Doctor Faustus (1967), Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974), Zombi 2 (1979), Cannibals in the Streets (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), King Kong Lives (1988), and Killer Crocodile (1989).

Enzo Sciotti (September 24, 1944 – April 11, 2021) Italian illustrator, noted for producing more than 3000 movie posters including those for the horror films The Beyond (1981), Manhattan Baby (1982), Demons (1985), Phenomena (1985), Neon Maniacs (1986), Girlfriend from Hell (1989), A Cat in the Brain (1990), and Two Evil Eyes (1990).

Zoran Simjanović (11 May 1946 – 11 April 2021) Serbian composer on film scores for Variola Vera (1982), Već viđeno (1987 AKA Reflections and Deja Vu) and Sabirni Centar (1989, The Meeting Point).

John C. Pelan (July 19, 1957 – April 12, 2021) American horror and science fiction author, editor and small-press publisher.

Siboney Lo (31 October 1978 – 13 April 2021) Chilean actress, Fragmentos Urbanos (2002), Get Pony Boy (2007), Hidden in the Woods (2012), and Road Kill (2014).

Amedeo Tommasi (1 December 1935 – 13 April 2021) Italian film music composer on the horror films Balsamus, l’uomo di Satana (1970), Thomas and the Bewitched (1970), Hanno cambiato facia (They Have Changed Their Face 1971), Off Season (1980), and Il signor Diavolo (2019); on two gialli, The House with Laughing Windows (1976) and Sleepless (2001); and on the giallo spoof, Tutti Defunti… Tranne i Morti (1977).

Patricio Castillo (December 29, 1939 – April 15, 2021) Chilean-born Mexican actor, Violencia a Sangre Fria (1989)

Ira Keeler (July 22, 1940 – April 15, 2021) British visual effects artist on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Jurassic Park (1993), Congo (1995), Mars Attacks (1996), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Men in Black (1997), The Mummy (1999), and Jurassic Park III (2001)

Helen McCrory (17 August 1968 – 16 April 2021) English actress, appeared in the feature films Interview with the Vampire (1994), The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2015), and as Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter film series. On television, she appeared in the 2007 British version of Frankenstein, “The Vampires of Venice” episode of Doctor Who (Season 5, Episode 6, aired May 8, 2010), and as Evelyn Poole (AKA Madame Kali) in the first two seasons of Penny Dreadful (2014-2015). On stage, she played Lady Macbeth in 1994 at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, for which she won the Richard Burton Award for Most Promising Newcomer, and starred in Medea at the Royal National Theatre, for which she won the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award in 2015. Wonder how Edward Lionheart would have felt about that?

Abu Bakar Omar (1949 – April 16, 2021) Malaysian actor, Rahsia (1987).

Anthony Powell (2 June 1935 – 16 April 2021) Oscar, BAFTA and Tony Award-winning English costume designer on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and The Ninth Gate (1999).

Liam Scarlett (8 April 1986 – 16 April 2021) British choreographer who was associated with a number of ballet companies worldwide, including as artist-in-residence at The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, London. He choreographed several genre-related ballets, including Frankenstein, Queen of Spades, and Die Toteninsel.

Felix Silla (January 11, 1937 – April 16, 2021) Italian-born American film and television actor and stuntman, played Cousin Itt on The Addams Family series in the 1960s and in the 1977 television movie, Halloween with the New Addams Family. Also played the Polka Dotted Horse and other roles in H.R. Pufnstuf (1969-1970) and the related 1970 film, Pufnstuf; a goblin in a 1967 episode of Bewitched and a troll in a 1971 episode of the same show; Colonel Poom on Lidsville (1971-1972); and Baby New Year in “The Diary” segment of the November 10, 1971 episode of Night Gallery (season 2, episode 8). He acted in the feature films She Freak (1967), Sssssss (1973), Demon Seed (1977), The Manitou (1978), The Brood (1979), The Dungeonmaster (1984), and House (1985), and the 1973 television movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. He performed stunts in Poltergeist (1982), The Monster Squad (1987) and Phantasm II (1988).

Jim Steinman (November 1, 1947 – April 19, 2021) American composer, songwriter, record producer and playwright. Wrote the music and lyrics for Meat Loaf’s debut album, Bat Out of Hell, as well as Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell; also wrote the music for the 1997 stage musical Tanz der Vampires, first performed in Vienna (hence the German title) which was based on the 1967 Roman Polanski film The Fearless Vampire Killers.

Monte Hellman (July 12, 1929 – April 20, 2021) American film director, producer, writer, and editor. Directed The Beast from Haunted Cave (1959); was location director on Roger Corman’s The Terror (1963), starring Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson; and wrote, directed, edited and had an uncredited cameo in the 1989 slasher film, Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!.

Wiesława Mazurkiewicz (25 March 1926 – 20 April 2021) Polish actress, Lokis. Rekopis profesora Wittembacha (Lokis, the Manuscript of Professor Wittembach, 1970).

Tempest Storm (born Annie Blanche Banks, February 29, 1928 – April 20, 2021), “The Queen of Exotic Dancers,” American burlesque star who was one of the most famous strippers of her generation. Her handful of movie appearances included Mundo Depravados (1967), written and directed by her husband, Herb Jeffries, who had his own unique film career as the pre-eminent African-American western movie star of the 1930s.

Charles Fries (September 30, 1928 – April 22, 2021) American film producer or executive producer on She Waits (1972), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Norliss Tapes (1973), The Vault of Horror (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), The Strange and Deadly Occurrence (1974), The Spell (1977), Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977), Night Cries (1978), The Initiation of Sarah (1978), Are You in the House Alone? (1978), Cat People (1982), Terror at London Bridge (1985), Flowers in the Attic (1987), Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge (1988), Deathstone (1990), Screamers (1995), The Initiation of Sarah (2006), Screamers: The Hunting (2009), Flowers in the Attic (2014), Petals on the Wind (2014), If There Be Thorns (2015), and Seeds of Yesterday (2015).

Amit Mistry (January 12, 1974 – April 23, 2021) Indian actor, Bhoot Police (2021).

Yves Rénier (29 September 1942 – 23 April 2021) French actor, director, screenwriter and voice actor. Appeared in the television mini-series Belphegor, or Phantom of the Louvre (1965). Dubbed the voice of James Woods in the French-language release of John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998).

Shunsuke Kikuchi (1 November 1931 – 24 April 2021) Japanese film and television music composer, Kaidan semushi otoko (House of Terrors, 1965), Kaitei daisensô (The Terror Beneath the Sea, 1966), Kaidan hebi-onna (Snake Woman’s Curse, 1968), Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968), Gamera vs Guiron (1969), Gamera vs Jiger (1970), Gamera vs Zigra (1971), and Gamera: Super Monster (1980).

Charles Beeson (10 May, 1957 – 26 April 2021) British television producer and director on the 2015 American mini-series The Whispers, and director on one episode of The Vampire Diaries (Season 2, Episode 7, “Masquerade”, aired October 28, 2010), five episodes of Fringe (2010-2012) and fourteen episodes of Supernatural from 2007 to 2020.

Johnny Crawford (March 26, 1946 – April 29, 2021) American actor, one of the original Mousketeers in the 1950s and prolific child star on American television into the 1960s. Best known for his role as the son of Chuck Connors in the classic western TV series, The Rifleman (1958-1963). He also, along with most of his fellow television adolescents of that era, placed a few bubblegummy songs in the Top 40, with “Cindy’s Birthday” making it all the way to the #8 position in 1962. Played one of the thirty-foot-tall juvenile delinquents terrorizing a small town in the utterly bonkers dark comedy, Village of the Giants (1965).

Billie Hayes (August 5, 1924 – April 29, 2021) American stage, film, television and voice actress, played Witchipoo on the children’s television series H.R. Pufnstuf (1969), The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1969) and the second season of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour in (1969); a similar character in one episode of Bewitched (Season 8, Episode 10, “Hansel and Gretel in Samantha-Land”, aired November 17, 1971); and Weenie the Genie on Lidsville (1971-1972). She also appeared in one episode of the Bewitched spin-off series, Tabitha (Season 1, Episode 6, “Mr. Nice Guy”, aired December 10, 1977). She did voice work for the animated television series Trollkins (1981), The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries (1984), The Real Ghostbusters (1986), Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1995), and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (2005), and the feature films The Black Cauldron (1985) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

S. G. Chelladurai (1937 – April 29, 2021) Indian actor, Airaa (2019).

Libertad Leblanc (February 24, 1938 – April 30, 2021) Argentine platinum blonde sex symbol, best known for her work in erotic films. She did make a couple of horror pictures, La Endemoniada (A Woman Possessed, 1968) in Mexico and the Spanish/Italian Cerco de Terror (Siege of Terror, 1971).

May

Tom Hickey (1944 – 1 May 2021) Irish actor, Gothic (1986) and High Spirits (1988).

Bikramjeet Kanwarpal (29 August 1968 – 01 May 2021) Indian actor, Mallika (2010), Dangerous Ishhq (Dangerous Love, 2012), Horror Story (2013), and Creature 3D (2014).

Willy Kurant (15 February 1934 – 1 May 2021) Belgian cinematographer, The Incredible Melting Man (1977) and Mama Dracula (1980).

Chuck Hicks (December 26, 1927 – May 4, 2021) American actor and stuntman, Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), Shock Corridor (1963), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972), Beyond Evil (1980), The Ring (2002), Hood of Horror (2006), and Legion (2010). On television, he appeared in one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Ten O’Clock Tiger”, season 7, Episode 26, aired April 3, 1962) and two of The Twilight Zone (“Steel”, Season 5, Episode 2, aired October 4, 1963, and “Ninety Years Without Slumbering”, Season 5, Episode 12, aired December 20, 1963).

Feđa Stojanović (31 January 1948 – 5 May 2021) Serbian actor, T.T. Syndrome (2002)

Guillermo Murray (15 June 1927 – 6 May 2021) Argentine-born Mexican actor, El Mundo de los Vampiros (1961), La Huella Macabra (1963), Los Murcialagos (1964), The Chinese Room (1968), and Six Tickets to Hell (1981).

Tawny Kitaen (August 5, 1961 – May 7, 2021) American actress, Witchboard (1986)

Jean-Claude Romer (19 January 1933 – 8 May 2021) French actor, Les week-ends maléfiques du Comte Zaroff (Seven Women for Satan, 1976), Cinemania (short film, as the Frankenstein Monster, 1978), Baby Blood (1990), Time Demon (1996), and Marquis de Slime (1997). Romer was also co-editor of the French science fiction, fantasy and horror film magazine, Midi-Minuit Fantastique (1962-1972). The first issue is available in the Internet Archives.

Neil Connery (1 January 1938 – 10 May 2021) Scottish actor and the younger brother of Sean Connery, The Body Stealers (1969).

Dennis Joseph (October 20, 1957 – May 10, 2021) Indian scriptwriter and director, Geethaanjali (2013).

Norman Lloyd (November 8, 1914 – May 11, 2021) American actor whom I was about convinced would live forever. Linked both to Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, he was a significant presence in every medium of American entertainment for most of a century. He appeared in the May 24, 1945 episode of the Suspense! radio show (“My Own Murderer”). His genre-related films included the 1951 remake of M with David Wayne in the role created twenty years earlier by Peter Lorre; Audrey Rose (1977); the TV mini-series The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978); Jaws of Satan (1981), Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes (1989); and the 1995 TV remake of The Omen. On television, he directed, produced and/or acted in several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as well as being executive producer on the 1968-1969 series Journey into the Unknown and producer on Tales of the Unexpected (1982-1985). He acted in one episode each of One Step Beyond (Season 2, Episode 1, “Delusion”, aired September 15, 1959), Night Gallery (Season 2, Episode 16, “A Feast of Blood”, aired January 12, 1972) and the Twilight Zone revival series (Season 1, Episode 24, “The Last Defender of Camelot”, aired April 11, 1986).

Jaime Garza (January 28, 1954 – May 14, 2021) Mexican actor, Dinastia Sangrienta (1988) and The Bloody Monks (1989).

Roy Scammell (28 July 1932 – 15 May 2021) British stuntman and stunt arranger, Circus of Fear (1966), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Horror Hospital (1973), Alien (1979), Venom (1981), and Seize the Night (2015).

René Cardona III (1962 – May 16, 2021) Mexican actor, director and screenwriter, The Bermuda Triangle (1978), Terror en las Barrios (1983), Cementario del Terror (1985), Vacaciones de Terror (1989), Alarido del Terror (1991), El Beso de la Muerte: Historias Espeluznantes (1991), Pesadilla Fatal (1991), Colmillos, el Hombre Lobo (1993), and El Asesino del Teatro (1996)

Nitish Veera (1976 – 17 May 2021) Indian actor, Airaa (2019) and Neeya 2 (2019). 

Vladimir Fyodorov (February 19, 1939 — May 18, 2021) Russian actor, Ruslan i Lyudmila (1972), Dikaya okhota korolya Stakha (Savage Hunt of King Stakh, 1980), and Lisova Pisnya. Mavka (1981). 

Charles Grodin (April 21, 1935 – May 18, 2021) Award-winning American actor, comedian, author, and television talk show host, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), King Kong (1976), and So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993).

David Anthony Kraft (May 31, 1952 – May 19, 2021) American comic book writer, publisher, and critic. Wrote the Man-Wolf feature in several Marvel comic book titles in the middle 1970s, including Creatures on the Loose and Marvel Premiere. Man-Wolf was the astronaut son of Spider-Man’s nemesis J. Jonah Jameson who developed lycanthropy after picking up a magical rock on the moon. 

Kraft also wrote stories for the Marvel publications Giant-Size Dracula, Haunt of Horror and Tales of the Zombie. He wrote Demon Hunter #1 for Atlas/Seaboard in 1975, and a Swamp Thing issue for DC Comics in 1976. Kraft founded Fictioneer Books in 1974. Its subsidiary imprint, Comics Interview, published the Southern Knights comic book during the 1980s. Southern Knights was a super-hero group, one member of which was a dragon who could assume human form. A friend of mine at the time illustrated the final issue. 

Romy Walthall (September 16, 1963 – May 19, 2021) American actress in the feature films Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988), The House of Usher (1989), and Howling: New Moon Rising (1995); and in one episode each of The X-Files (“Millennium”, Season 7, Episode 4, aired November 28, 1999) and The Nightmare Room (“Don’t Forget me”, Season 1, Episode 1, aired August 31, 2001)).

Robert Green Hall (27 November 1973 – May 24, 2021) American special makeup effects artist on the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and the feature films Vacancy (2007), Killer Pad (2008), The Crazies (2010), Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011), and Fear Clinic (2014). Also directed Laid to Rest (2009) and ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2 (2011).

Desiree Gould (March 27, 1945 – May 25, 2021) American actress, Sleepaway Camp (1983), Under Surveillance (2006), Caesar and Otto Meet Dracula’s Lawyer (2010), and Tales of Poe (2014).

Ben Kruger (25 March 1957 – 25 May 2021) South African actor, Snake Island (2002).

Carla Fracci (20 August 1936 – 27 May 2021) Italian ballet dancer, best known for the supernatural ballet Giselle

Robert Hogan (September 28, 1933 – May 27, 2021) Prolific American film and television actor in the feature films Westworld (1973), Species II (1998), and in one episode each of The Twilight Zone (“Spur of the Moment”, Season 5, Episode 21, aired February 21, 1964), Kraft Suspense Theatre (“The Wine Dark Sea”, Season 2, Episode 11, aired December 31, 1964), Night Gallery (“Brenda”, Season 2, Episode 7, aired November 3, 1971), and Tales of the Unexpected (“No Way Out”, Season 1, Episode 8, aired August 24, 1977).

Lorina Kamburova (February 1, 1991 – May 26, 2021) Bulgarian actress, Nightworld: Door of Hell (2017), Leatherface (2017), Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2017), and Doom: Annihilation (2019).

Paul Soles (August 11, 1930 – May 26, 2021) Canadian voice actor on the 1966 Saturday morning Japanese-produced American cartoon series King Kong. Yes, THAT King Kong. Big monkey King Kong. As a commenter on the show’s IMDb page pointed out, it wasn’t a particularly memorable series, but it had one of the catchiest theme songs on Saturday mornings when I was a kid. Not as great as the theme song from Underdog, but still pretty darn good. Soles also did voice work for several of the cartoon shows based on the Marvel Comics characters during the 1960s, including as the title character in Spider-Man, making him the first actor to ever play the web-slinger. It also had a great theme song. Yes, childrens, music was indeed better in the ‘60s, in every aspect of the popular culture.

Shane Briant (17 August 1946 – 27 May 2021) English actor, Demons of the Mind (1972), Straight on Till Morning (1972), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973), Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter (1974), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), Cassandra (1987), Out of the Body (1989), and Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein (2019).

David Butler (March 1, 1960 – May 27, 2021) South African actor, The Canterville Ghost (1983).

Marcell Jankovics (21 October 1941 – 29 May 2021) Hungarian animator, A Székely asszony és az ördög (The Transylvanian Woman and the Devil, 1985), one of a series of short animated films based on Hungarian folk tales.

Maurice Capovila (16 January 1936 – 29 May 2021) Brazilian film director and screenwriter. His 1970 dramatic film, The Prophet of Hunger, while not explicitly horror, may appeal to horror fans as it starred Jose Mojica Marins, better known as Coffin Joe, and had a rather surrealistic plot.

John Gregg (12 January 1939 – 29 May 2021) Australian actor in one episode of the British television series Dead of Night (“Two in the Morning”, Season 1, Episode 6, aired December 10, 1972), and one episode of the Australian supernatural comedy series, Spirited (“Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead”, Season 1, Episode 2, aired September 1, 2010).

Joe Lara (October 2, 1962 – May 29, 2021) American actor best known for playing Tarzan on television in the 1990s. Died in a plane crash in Percy Priest Lake, a few miles from where I live in Middle Tennessee. Appeared in the horror films Night Wars (1988) and The Presence (1992).

Gavin MacLeod (February 28, 1931 – May 29, 2021) American actor best known for playing Murray Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) and Captain Stubing on The Love Boat (1977-1986). Appeared in one episode of The Munsters (Season 1, Episode 12, “The Sleeping Cutie”, aired December 10, 1964).

Arlene Golonka (January 23, 1936 – May 31, 2021) Ubiquitous American actress with an extensive career in television from the 1960s to the 1980s. Appeared in Skeletons (1997). Also did some voice work for the Saturday morning cartoon series, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, in 1973.

June

Violeta Vidaurre (12 September 1928 – 1 June 2021) Chilean actress with a long career in television and in the theater. She appeared as Ercilia Núñez in twenty-three episodes of the Chilean vampire telenovela, Conde Vrolok (2009-2010).

Michael Ray Escamilla (died June 3, 2021) American actor, The Orphan Killer (2011) and The Possession of Michael King (2014)

Damaris Hayman (16 June 1929 – 3 June 2021) English character actress who appeared in one storyline of Doctor Who during the tenure of Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor. She played Miss Hawthorne in all five episodes of “The Dæmons” in 1971.

Ernie Lively (January 29, 1947 – June 3, 2021) Prolific American character actor, Ghost Chase (AKA Hollywood-Monster, 1987), Shocker (1989), Sleepwalkers (1992), and one episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents revival series (“Four O’Clock”, based on the classic short story by Cornell Woolrich, Season 1, Episode 21, aired May 4. 1986).

N. Rangarajan (17 December 1930 – 3 June 2021) Indian film director, Kalyanaraman (1979).

Valeriy Sheptekita (December 20, 1940 – June 3, 2021) Ukrainian actor, Ivanko I Tsar Poganin (1984), 

Arlene Tolibas (1966 – June 3, 2021) Filipina actress in Regal Shocker: The Movie (1989), Tarot (2009), and one episode of the Filipino Tagalog-language TV series #ParangNormal Activity (“Yung may ghost na extra”, Season 1, Episode 5, aired August 8, 2015).

John Sacret Young (May 24, 1946 – June 3, 2021[1]) American screenwriter, The Possessed (1977).

Clarence Williams III (August 21, 1939 – June 4, 2021) American actor, appeared in the feature films Perfect Victims (1988), Maniac Cop 2 (1990), Tales from the Hood (1995), Mindstorm (2001), and American Nightmares (2018). First made his mark on television as one of the leads of The Mod Squad (1968-1973) and worked extensively in the medium, including one episode of the BBC program Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries (“The Furnished Room”, Season 1, Episode 26, aired February 24, 1974), one of Tales from the Crypt (“Maniac at Large”, Season 4, Episode 10, aired August 19, 1992), and as FBI Agent Roger Hardy in two episodes of Twin Peaks (1990). 

Camilla Amado (7 August 1938 – 6 June 2021) Brazilian actress, Quem Tem Medo de Lobisomem? (Who’s Afraid of the Werewolf?, 1975).

Surekha (10 March 1955 – 6 June 2021) Indian actress, Aathma (1993).

Douglas S. Cramer (August 22, 1931 – June 7, 2021) American producer on the television movies The Cat Creature (1973), The Dead Don’t Die (1975), Snowbeast (1977), Cruise into Terror (1978), and Don’t Go to Sleep (1982). 

Laszlo George (May 30, 1931 – June 7, 2021) Canadian cinematographer, Something is Out There (1988), and two episodes of Reaper (“Rebellion”, Season 1, Episode 14, aired April 22, 2008 and “Coming to Grips”, Season 1, Episode 15, aired April 29, 2008).

Ben Roberts (1 July 1950 – 7 June 2021) British actor, Jane Eyre (2011).

Julio Calasso (1941 – June 11, 2012) Brazilian actor, Filme Demencia (1986) and Olhos de Vampa (1996).

Kay Hawtrey (November 8, 1926 – June 11, 2021) Canadian character actress, Funeral Home (1980), The Intruder (1981), Videodrome (1983), Haunted by Her Past (1987), Urban Legend (1998) and American Psycho II: All-American Girl (2002).

Dennis Berry (August 11, 1944 – June 12, 2021) American film director and actor. Directed La mort mystérieuse de Nina Chéreau (The Mysterious Death of Nina Chereau, 1988). Played a bit part in the “Metzengerstein” segment of the Poe-based anthology film, Histoires extraordinaires (Spirits of the Dead, 1968).

Ned Beatty (July 6, 1937 – June 13, 2021) Prolific American character actor, Deliverance (1972), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Haunting of Barney Palmer (1987), Purple People Eater (1988), The Unholy (1988), Repossessed (1990), one episode of Tales of the Unexpected (“The Final Chapter”, Season 1, Episode 1, aired February 2, 1977), and the pilot for the revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Incident in a Small Jail”, aired May 5, 1985). Perhaps best known to many for playing Lex Luthor’s dim-witted henchman Otis is the first two Superman films starring Christopher Reeve.

John Gabriel (May 25, 1931 – June 13, 2021) American actor, Fantasies (1982).

David Lightfoot (1959/1960 – 13 June 2021) Australian film producer, Wolf Creek (2005) and Rogue (2007)

Lisa Banes (July 9, 1955 – June 14, 2021) American actress, Dragonfly (2002) and Them (2021).

Dinah Shearing (12 February 1926 – 14 June 2021) Australian actress, appeared on stage in Medee, Macbeth and Bell, Book and Candle, and in a 1960 production of Macbeth for Australian television.

Robert Desroches (14 July 1929 – 15 June 2021) Canadian actor, Friday the 13th: The Series (“The Prophecies: Part 1”, Season 3, Episode 1, and “The Prophecies: Part 2”, Season 3, Episode 2, both aired October 7, 1989).

Sanchari Vijay (July 18, 1983 – June 15, 2021) Indian actor, Riktha (2017).

Lily Weiding (22 October 1924 – 15 June 2021) Danish actress, The Green Butchers (2003).

Frank Bonner (February 28, 1942 – June 16, 2021) American actor, best known for playing sleazy sales manager Herb Tarlek on the classic sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. He apparently also thought turkeys could fly. Appeared in the 1970 horror film, Equinox, which also featured Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine editor Forrest J. Ackerman and horror, science-fiction and fantasy writer, and sometime actor, Fritz Leiber, Jr. 

Chandrashekhar (7 July 1922 – 16 June 2021) Indian actor, Maa (1991).

Linda Touby (1942 – June 17, 2021) American artist, widow of legendary illustrator Basil Gogos, as well as custodian of his estate. Gogos painted numerous covers for Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine.

Joanne Linville (January 15, 1928 – June 20, 2021) Prolific American television actress, appeared in one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“The Safe Place”, Season 3, Episode 36, aired June 8, 1958), two of One Step Beyond (“The Dead Part of the House”, Season 1, Episode 9, aired March 17, 1959 and “Moment of Hate”, Season 3, Episode 6, aired October 25, 1960), one of The Twilight Zone (“The Passersby”, Season 3, Episode 4, Aired October 6, 1961), and the 1989 television movie, From the Dead of Night.

Nina Divíšková (12 July 1936 – 21 June 2021) Czech actress, The Great Unknown (1970), Morgiana (1972), and Wolf’s Hole (1987).

Robert Sacchi (March 27, 1932 – June 23, 2021) American character actor best known for his uncanny resemblance to legendary Hollywood tough guy star Humphrey Bogart. He exploited that similarity to play the inspector in The French Sex Murders (1972). As he also sounded like Bogie, he was the voice of Lou Spinelli in one episode of Tales from the Crypt (“You, Murderer”, Season 6, Episode 15, aired January 25, 1995). The story was shot from Spinelli’s point of view, but whenever he was seen in mirrors or other reflective surfaces, his appearance consisted of images of Bogart recycled from old films noir.

Med Reventberg (7 June 1948 – 24 June 2021) Swedish actress, Porträttet (1999), based on the short horror story “The Portrait” by Nikolai Gogol.

John Erman (August 3, 1935 – June 25, 2021) American television and film director, directed one episode of The Outer Limits (“Nightmare”, Season 1, Episode 10, aired December 2, 1963) and eight episodes of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir from 1968 to 1970.

Hans Holtegaard (August 5, 1952 – June 26, 2021) Danish actor, The Substitute (2007).

John Langley (June 1, 1943 – June 26, 2021) American television and film director, writer, and producer best known for creating the series Cops (1989). He co-wrote the screenplay for Deadly Sins (1995) and was executive producer on Vampire Clan (2002).

Stuart Damon (February 5, 1937 – June 29, 2021) American actor best known for his thirty-six-year run on the soap opera General Hospital. I first came across him on the late-sixties BBC series, The Champions, which was sort of like the contemporary BBC show The Avengers, but with super-powered leads. He appeared in one episode of the British TV series Thriller (“Nightmare for a Nightingale”, Season 6, Episode 3, aired October 2, 1975), and the 1982 television horror movie, Fantasies.

Graham Rouse (1934 – June 29, 2021) Australian actor, appeared in one episode of the Australian horror television series Things That Go Bump in the Night (“I See a Dark Stranger”, Season 1, Episode 3, aired March 13, 1974).

 

Historian of Horror : You Had To Be Then

You Had to Be Then

The one Nashville science fiction convention in the second half of the 1970s I couldn’t attend was the 1977 Kublai Khan. None other than the redoubtable and controversial Harlan Ellison was the guest of honor that year. I had just started a job at Opryland, the theme park that is now a mall and a convention hotel and a testament to the excesses of modern American life. Instead of interacting with one of the great writers of the 20th Century, I spent that weekend washing and drying and dry-cleaning and pressing and hanging up the costumes for all the shows performed in the park. 

Oh, well.

Like most of my fellow fen in that deep and abyss of time that was my misspent youth, I had fairly strong opinions about Harlan Ellison. I loved his work and still do. I’d seen him on television several times, so I knew he had little inclination to couch his own opinions in tactful language. And he did have opinions, many of them. I tended to agree with most of them, so missing out on the chance to meet him and hear him speak was yet another one of those regrets I mentioned a couple of columns ago.

Oh, well.

I’d first encountered his writings in the late 1960s, back when he was one of the brash young things pushing science fiction to emerge from the genre ghetto it had existed in for so many decades and evolve into a real live literary form worthy of respect from academia and Hollywood alike as well as being one able to generate lots more money than was being paid to its practitioners in them thar days.

He was part of the New Wave that had started in England during Michael Moorcock’s tenure as editor of New Worlds magazine that was dedicated to taking speculative fiction (as Ellison called what he did rather than the stale old term ‘science fiction that the non-cognoscenti thought meant cheesy special effects and monster costumes with the zippers clearly visible in the back) in new directions.

It was real people doing real things; in space, in laboratories, even in bedrooms. Because real people, you know, have sex. And poop, so, yeah, let’s think about how a being from Alpha Centauri might arrange his bathroom. That’s part of it, although nowhere near all. But you kind of see what some of the ideas floating around were like in those days. Real people, or real BEMs (Bug-Eyed Monsters), doing what they will probably actually be doing in the future, explained in language that was more sophisticated and poetic than the simplistic pulpy sensationalism of days of yore. Or something like that.

It was the 60s. As the title of this piece points out, you had to be then.

In 1967, Ellison edited a ground-breaking anthology of New Wave stories called Dangerous Visions. He got more than thirty of his fellows in the field whom he had not managed to completely alienate to write the best stories of their lives, the ones they’d always wanted to write, but never felt would get bought by the publishers of that time. The tales that were too avant-garde, too controversial, too dirty for the fiction markets of the day. 

And so, they did, those thirty-plus legendary scriveners. And it was an era-defining success. Fritz Leiber, Jr. (whose novel Conjure Wife will receive some attention in a future column – stay tuned!) won both a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award for his novelette, “Gonna Roll the Bones”, beating out Philip K. Dick’s “Faith of Our Fathers” for the Hugo. Philip Jose Farmer took the Hugo’s novella category for “Riders of the Purple Wage”, and Samuel R. Delany won the same award for his short story, “Aye, and Gomorrah…” That’s pretty much a sweep for a single anthology. Ellison was also honored at the 26th World SF Convention in Berkeley, California (of course) for his efforts. 

Now, those of you denizens of darkness out there who only know of Robert Bloch as having written the book Alfred Hitchcock based his most famous movie on might be surprised to learn that the author of Psycho also wrote science fiction. In fact, he won the 1959 short story Hugo Award for “That Hell-Bound Train”, so of course, he was invited to contribute to Dangerous Visions

And boy, did he deliver. He delivered so well that Ellison was inspired to write a sequel to “A Toy for Juliette” that he called with his typical carefully considered restraint “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World”. But it’s the Bloch tale that concerns us in this space, in this moment, as we’re thinking about time travel this week. 

Simply stated, in “A Toy for Juliette”, a man in the distant future has been fetching people from the past for his bored, jaded, spoiled rotten and thoroughly homicidal daughter to play with. One day, he decides she needs a real challenge, so the toy he brings to her is…

Spoiler Alert!

Spoiler Alert!

Spoiler Alert!

Oh, go ahead and look. You know you want to.

Jack the Ripper.

Yep. That Jack. 

The Ripper. The Whitechapel Horror. 

Hoo, boy.

Dismemberments ensue.

No wonder he was never caught, huh?

Is it science fiction? Well, yes.

Is it horror? Very much so. Did I happen to mention dismemberment?

Is it time travel? You bet. So, it fits with our theme, n’est pas?

If Ellison didn’t suspect Bloch might go that route, he probably ought to have. Bloch had already written one of the most important Jack tales of the 1940s, “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”, which by 1967 had been adapted to both radio and television. Bloch was more than due to revisit his old friend anyhow, and Ellison gave him the perfect showcase for it.

According to its Amazon page, Dangerous Visions does appear to still be in print, if not available from your local second-hand bookstore, if there is such a thing near you. There was a follow-up anthology, Again, Dangerous Visions, which is available as an ebook from Amazon. I found no dead tree editions for sale except in the used book markets. It had forty-six stories from forty-six different writers. 

There was to be a third volume, The Last Dangerous Visions, but Ellison was never able to get it into print before he passed away in 2018. Some of the purported 150 stories he contracted for it by 1979 were eventually placed elsewhere. Some were withdrawn. In 2020, the executor of Ellison’s estate, Michael Straczynski, announced that he intended to go ahead with publication of whatever is left of Ellison’s original compilation. 

I worry, though, that there will turn out to be a consensus that the moment might have passed, that those visions are no longer particularly dangerous. That the tales Ellison gathered together over forty years ago are nowadays pretty much in the mainstream of the genre at best, dated at worst, and that despite all the efforts of the New Wave writers the genre they strove to bring legitimacy to is still called science fiction and still thought of by the illiterati as ‘that Buck Rogers stuff.

Oh, well. 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The more it changes, the more it stays the same. 

I haven’t provided my fellow horror addicts a lagniappe in a while. You know, that little something extra, like the thirteenth doughnut in a dozen that nobody gives out anymore, or the free lifetime tire rotations you get when you buy four new Michelins. It’s well past time you had une lagniappe, and I think I’ve got a doozy for you.

Way back in the early years of the millennium, I placed a cluster of short stories in several long-out-of-print anthologies published by Rage Machine Books. Rage Machine is an imprint run by a gentleman and a scholar by the name of G.W. Thomas. He has spent a couple of decades doing yeoman labours in the field of the history and study of the supernatural detective story, which was the focus of most my own work in those days, as well as of the Rage Machine anthologies in which the majority of my yarns appeared. G.W. also had an email thingie you could sign up for to receive daily “flashshots”, very short tales of one hundred words or less. I placed eight or nine ultra-short stories in that venue, one of which is right here:

God Bless Us, Every One

Thanks to Scrooge’s change of heart, Tiny Tim lived, and he grew strong. Forty-five years after the events of that memorable Christmas Eve, the man who had been Tiny Tim stood in a dingy, blood-spattered room in Whitechapel, hacking away at the corpse of Mary Kelly, muttering under his breath, “God bless us, every one… God bless us, every one… God bless us…”

Sixty-three words, not counting the title. Not the shortest one I did; a gruesome little piece called “Oops!” clocked in at a mere thirty-two words. I did try to expand “God Bless Us, Every One” into a longer yarn later on, but never could get it right. The concept cried out for a flash tale of sixty-three words, and no more.

Oh, well.

Anyhow, G.W.’s website and associated blog contain a wealth of information on some aspects of the history of our genre that I have not yet examined, and are well worth the time anyone interested in our shared cultural heritage might be inclined to invest in them. I commend them to you. They can be located here:

http://darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org/

Go thou and be enlightened, as well as entertained. It’s good stuff.

And so, until next time, fellow fiends…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror : To Creep or Not to Creep, That is the Question…

To Creep or Not to Creep, That Is the Question…

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? 

I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. 

Until next time, fellow fiends…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

And maybe, a tad compassionate.

Historian of Horror : Forbidden Sinister Dark Mansion-House of Secret Haunted Love

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.

And so, until next time, fellow fiends…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror: Why Did It Have To Be Rats?!?!?!?


Rats… Why Did it Have to Be Rats?!?!?!?

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…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror – In Memorium

In Memoriam, January through March, 2021

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.

January

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. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W06VI9GkxfM

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n66u1UxVuuM

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’s Thriller, 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.

February

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.

https://arthive.com/artists/64732~Rowena_Morrill/works

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).

March

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 (body discovered 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…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror: Nun but the Lonely heart

Nun but the Lonely Heart

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…

So, until next time, as always…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

Historian of Horror: How the Monsters Became Famous

How the Monsters Became Famous

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 —

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror: The Answer, My Friend, is Bowen in the Wind

The Answer, My Friend, is Bowen in the Wind…

by Mark Orr

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 

Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/41727 

Project Gutenberg Australia http://gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m.html#bowen 

Open Library https://openlibrary.org/authors/OL27801A/Marjorie_Bowen 

Ray Glashon’s Library http://freeread.com.au/@RGLibrary/MarjorieBowen/MarjorieBowen.html 

Libravox https://librivox.org/author/12478

and the Internet Archive https://archive.org/search.php?query=%28%28subject%3A%22Bowen%2C%20Marjorie

An online biography by Jessica Amanda Salmonson (much more in depth than the one I provided above) can be found here: https://web.archive.org/web/20081204234335/http://www.violetbooks.com/bowen.html and information on a new print biography, The Furies of Marjorie Bowen, by University of Kansas associate professor of film and media studies John C. Tibbetts here: https://news.ku.edu/2019/12/06/book-aims-revive-interest-forgotten-weird-fiction-writer 

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.

https://www.valancourtbooks.com/the-bishop-of-hell-and-other-stories-1949.html

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.

Historian of Horror: All Are Mad But Me and Thee-and Sometimes I Wonder About Thee

All Are Mad But Me and Thee — 

And Sometimes I Wonder About Thee.

by Mark Orr

At the end of the silent movie period, French film director René Clair went on the record as being very skeptical of sound, feeling that it was “an unnatural creation” Cinema as its own art form was a purely visual one, he thought, and the introduction of sound would make films nothing more than recorded stage plays. He relented, and made some truly great sound films, but watching what is, as far as I’ve been able to determine the earliest surviving Japanese horror film, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Kurutta Ippeji (A Page of Madness), one might wonder if he wasn’t on to something. 

Not that Kinugasa was aware of Clair’s opinion in 1926, or even of his work; there’s no indication that he saw any western films at the beginning of his career. He started in the industry as a female impersonator in 1917, then switched to directing once Japanese studios began using female actors in the early 1920s. It wasn’t until 1929 that he had the opportunity to travel abroad and encounter European films, which makes Kurutta Ippeji all the more remarkable. Stylistically, it would fit very nicely into any one of several European traditions, particularly German expressionism. There is in Kinugasa’s picture more than a trace of what the French called Caligarisme, that most extreme variety of expressionism exemplified by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to be sure. However, it’s purely a parallel development, as Kinugasa wouldn’t have known Caligarisme in 1926 if he tripped over it. He was talented enough to discover it on his own.

A more impressive achievement is that it truly is a silent film, even more so than any that Clair had directed in France up until that time. There are no intertitles, those cards that pop up periodically in almost all silents with bits of dialogue or expository material. Kinugasa was able to tell a coherent story with no dialogue, no expository material. The images are the story, and they need nothing else. 

The story is, to be sure, a simple one. A man hires on as a janitor at the insane asylum where his wife is an inpatient. He loses contact with reality himself while attempting to extricate her from the asylum against her will, plus deal with his daughter’s disintegrating marriage. His own mental state comes to mirror that of several of the other inmates, and it is in the presentation of their madness and his that Kinugasa creates some truly horrific imagery. It possesses a poetic subtlety that possibly doesn’t translate well into our time for most modern horror fans, which is a damn shame. 

Like almost all early Japanese films, it was thought lost until Kinugasa came across a copy in his garden shed in the 1970s, a few years after his long and very productive career had come to an end. He died in 1982, at the age of eighty-six.

Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday was yesterday as I write this, an anniversary that should be near and dear to the hearts of all horror fans. Poe is also revered by the mystery buffs, who named their most prestigious award the Edgar in his honor. And in his honor, the second part of this celebration of Asian horrors is herewith presented unto the populace.

Japanese mystery writer Tirō Hirai adopted the pseudonym Edogawa Ranpo (sometimes written as Rampo) in 1923. If you say that new name fast, it sort of sounds like Poe’s full name, which was the point, I do believe. Regardless, he had a long and distinguished career as a mystery author, penning numerous novels and short stories.

Which has what to do with horror, Asian or otherwise? you may well ask. Well, like many writers, Ranpo had difficulty playing in his own sandbox. On occasion, he would tinker with other genres. One such time, he came up with what might well be the creepiest tale I’ve ever read. 

A prominent lady writer receives a manuscript from an aspiring author. In it, he tells of his life as a hideously ugly and poverty-stricken chair-maker, a man whose carpentry skills are as great as his social skills are poor. Having received a commission for a large chair to be installed in a fancy hotel, he decides to build one that he can hide in so that he can sneak out and steal from the wealthy clientele. He spends months living in this chair, emerging from it at night to pilfer valuables. He waxes rhapsodic on how various people sit on him during the day, how he could differentiate one type of person from another by how their bodies press down onto his.

After a long time, the carpenter writes, the hotel decided to redecorate, and the chair was sold. And guess what! You’re sitting on me now! The lady author freaks and flees, only to receive a second letter telling her that the manuscript is pure fiction, ha-ha, just kidding. Did you like it and would you help me get it published? It shall be called, “The Human Chair”. This seems like a cheat on a par with The Wizard of Oz having all been a dream. If the second letter is true.

If. 

If not…

Well?

See? Creepy, right?

Ranpo published his story, also called “The Human Chair”, in 1925, in the October issue of the literary magazine, Kuraku. I first read it in David Alexander’s 1962 paperback anthology, Tales for a Rainy Night

It can also be found in Peter Haining’s 1972 anthology Beyond the Curtain of Dark and in Ranpo’s own collection, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. And no doubt in others. I encourage all and sundry among the populace to seek it out, in order to see for yourself if it delivers the same frisson to you it did to me the first time I read it. 

And, as always, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Historian of Horror: For Freaky Foodies Month / Food, Goriest Food

Food, Goriest Food!

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. 

Mangiamo!

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 –

Be afraid. Be very afraid.