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.