Freitag, 22. Februar 2013

Happy Birthday Richard Matheson!

Happy Belated  86th Birthday to Mr. Richard Matheson!!

Mr. Matheson ,who as far as I’m concerned the greatest living american writer of horrific ficiton, turned 86 this past Wednesday. Mr. Matheson  has written genre classics for the pulps, mainstream literature, film and Televison.  Mr. Matheson has written 28 Novels, more short stories than I can count, 22 film scripts and at least 48 film scripts! 15 of those scripts were for the original Twilight Zone“ alone! Who can forget „Nightmare at 20,00 feet“?  He wrote the scripts for the famous  Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe films from the 1960s. His two  most famous TV scripts were for  TV films  „The Night Stalker“ and  „Duel“.
Mr. Matheson‘s stories and novels are a heady mix of SF and Horror. His Vampire apocalypse novel  „I am Legend“ is probably the  greatest SF horror novels of all time. I recently did a fairly large Richard Matheson re-read this winter and his short stories have aged exceptionaly well. Much of his work is still in print. So go check  him out. And i mean  now!
He is also, to my knowledge, the last survivng writer who appeared in „Weird Tales“ during it’s original incarnation.
The man is a true national treasure of the macabre and a giant in his field.
Happy Birthday Mr. Matheson!!

Time hasn't been in abundance these past two weeks. I had a telephone converstion with the great artist Mr. Murray Tinkelman this past Sunday and I hope to have it written up as soon as I finish renovating our bathroom. "She who must be obeyed" takes priority this time! ;-)

Thanks for stopping by and I apologize for such a short posting.

Sonntag, 10. Februar 2013

Terror at Night

“Terror at Night”
Edited by Herbert Williams.

New Avon Library. 1947.

No cover price.

                                                           My battered copy


·         HP LovecraftThe Haunter of the Dark (Weird Tales, 12/36; Cthulhu Mythos, sequel to Robert Bloch’s The Shambler from the Stars)

·         Bram Stoker – The Judge’s House (Holly Leaves, 12/5/1891)

·         WW Jacobs – The Interruption (The Strand, 11/1925)

·         Thomas Burke – The Black Courtyard (Night-Pieces: Eighteen Tales, 1935)

·         HR Wakefield - The Seventeenth Hole at Duncaster (Shivers, 1932)

·         Algernon Blackwood – The Second Generation (The Westminster Gazette, 6/6/1912)

·         W Elwyn Backus – The Phantom Bus (Weird Tales, 9/30)

·         Arthur Machen – Change (The Children of the Pool and Other Stories, 1936)

·         Henry S Whitehead – The Left Eye (Weird Tales, 6/27)

·         Ambrose Bierce – A Watcher by the Dead (San Francisco Examiner, 12/29/1889)

·         Lord Dunsany – The Two Bottles of Relish (serialized in Time & Tide beginning 11/12/32)

·         MR James – Lost Hearts (Pall Mall Magazine, 12/1895)

·         EF Benson – Caterpillars (The Room in the Tower and Other Stories, 1912)

Terror at Night” is one of the oldest books in my collection. I’m amazed that it didn’t fall apart last week while reading it. Thankfully it didn’t though. This might possible be explained by a statement on the back cover.
 “Bound in heavy weight covers, they have a delightful flexibility in handling, and stand up well under reading and rereading. The covers are specially processed to make them resistant to dirt, damp and rough usage”
I wonder if they realized that this edition would still be read 66 years later.
And I have to say that I love the old style “George Mayers” cover. Mr. Mayers did quite a few covers back then and later on did lots of covers for the old “men’s adventure” magazines. There is one thing about the collection that does bother me. The cover states that it “Complete and Unabridged”. This infers to me that this is a reprint, most likely, from a hardback. His isn’t the case though. This edition is a true first edition. I’m betting that this is an intentional trick to make the book look more legitimate. From what I’ve read, paperbacks were very looked down upon when they first came out, many readers seeing them as an inferior product both in physical and subject quality. So I’m betting they wanted to trick readers into thinking that this was simply and inexpensive edition of a “real” book.

Now let’s take a look at those stories.

The Haunter of the Dark”

by H.P. Lovecraft.

“Haunter" is one of Mr. Lovecraft’s popular stories which has been reprinted to death since paperbacks came into existence. According to the “ISFDB” it’s been reprinted 76 times in English alone! Another thing that makes the tale so noteworthy is that is dedicated to an extremely young “Robert Bloch”. The stories narrator is a fictionalized Bloch who Lovecraft is kind enough to kill off at the end of the story. It seems a young writer/occult investigator learns of a treasure looked in the steeple of an abandoned church on a hill in the middle of “Akham Massachusets” It seems that the church had been desecrated and taken over by some esoteric cult during the 19th century, all of whose members disappeared. Rumors persist that the church is cursed, haunted and that a treasure remains within. It’s supposedly a huge gem-stone, the so called “Shining Trapezohedron“. Our hero (victim since HPL stories don’t have heroes. They just have people who get eaten, go insane or both.)  „Robert Harrison Blake of 620 East Knapp Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin”, breaks into the church and finds the gem stone, which he takes home. As always, this is a huge mistake since whatever that has been protecting the gem also follows Blake home. The ending is classic HPL hysterics. This is the kind of HPL ending that so many people tend to make fun of. I can’t understand why though. I do the same thing if I was in Robert Blake’s shoes. The story ends with Blake’s last journal entry…..
 “Lights still out—must be five minutes now. Everything depends on lightning. Yaddith grant it will keep up! . . . Some influence seems beating through it. . . . Rain and thunder and wind deafen. . . . The thing is taking hold of my mind. . . .
      “Trouble with memory. I see things I never knew before. Other worlds and other galaxies . . . Dark . . . The lightning seems dark and the darkness seems light. . . .
      “It cannot be the real hill and church that I see in the pitch-darkness. Must be retinal impression left by flashes. Heaven grant the Italians are out with their candles if the lightning stops!

      “What am I afraid of? Is it not an avatar of Nyarlathotep, who in antique and shadowy Khem even took the form of man? I remember Yuggoth, and more distant Shaggai, and the ultimate void of the black planets. . . .
      “The long, winging flight through the void . . . cannot cross the universe of light . . . re-created by the thoughts caught in the Shining Trapezohedron . . . send it through the horrible abysses of radiance. . . .
      “My name is Blake—Robert Harrison Blake of
620 East Knapp Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. . . . I am on this planet. . . .
      “Azathoth have mercy!—the lightning no longer flashes—horrible—I can see everything with a monstrous sense that is not sight—light is dark and dark is light . . . those people on the hill . . . guard . . . candles and charms . . . their priests. . . .
      “Sense of distance gone—far is near and near is far. No light—no glass—see that steeple—that tower—window—can hear—Roderick Usher—am mad or going mad—the thing is stirring and fumbling in the tower—I am it and it is I—I want to get out . . . “must get out and unify the forces. . . . It knows where I am. . . .
      “I am Robert Blake, but I see the tower in the dark. There is a monstrous odour . . . senses transfigured . . . boarding at that tower window cracking and giving way. . . . Iä . . . ngai . . . ygg. . . .
      “I see it—coming here—hell-wind—titan blur—black wings—Yog-Sothoth save me—the three-lobed burning eye. . . .”

I love this story and reread it every year.

“The Judge’s House”

by Bram Stoker

I’ve never this particular Stoker story before. I’m happy to have been able rectify this situation though. “The Judge’s House” is a very entertaining story about a young student who decides to rent the wrong house for the summer. It’s one of those stories where summer gets a summer rental at a puzzlingly low price. And of course as a genre fan you know exactly why the young man gets the place so cheaply even if he doesn’t.  The original owner of the house was an evil judge who took great pleasure in sentencing people to death by hanging. The judge enjoyed these hangings so much that he took the hangman’s rope with him upon retiring from office and having it attached to the bell in the signal tower of his home. Later tenants of this house seem to develop very successful suicidal tendencies. The young student learns of all this from his housekeeper who he hired for the summer from the local village. He of course scoffs at the story and considers it to be just a superstition help by the locals. The village rector even tries to warn him, to no avail. It turns out the young man likes to put in very long evenings of study. These cramming sessions though, aren’t what they’re cut up to be since he is visited every night by huge rat with glowing red eyes. Another problem is that during these midnight visitations a portrait o the old judge seems to change expression and leer at the young man. Needless to say, things don’t turn out well for the young man.
Even with the tragic ending, this is a fun little story that has aged  well even though it was written over one 112 years ago.

“The Interruption”

by W, W, Jacobs

This is only the 2nd story that I’ve ever read from Mr. Jacobs. The other one is not only his most famous, but also one of the most famous horror stories of all time. I’m talking about “The Monkey’s Paw”. This was one of the very first horror stories that I ever read.  “The Monkey’s Paw” has become so iconic that even those who have never read it still know the basic story.  It’s such an pervasive story that the Simpsons even did a take off of it on one of their Halloween shows.
So anyways, “The Interruption” is as much of a horror tale as it is a murder suspense story. It seems that an upper class English gentleman poisoned his wife and managed to make it look like a lingering illness. He manages to fool everyone except his house-keeper. She begins to black mail him with insinuations of how awful it would be if there was an inquest and the body had to be exhumed. Eventual the servant becomes the master and visa versa. The “grieving” widower finally decides that the situation is intolerable and attempts to frame his housekeeper with the murder of his wife by poisoning himself and setting up his house-keeper to take the fall before he succumbs. The idea is that his physician should discover the poisoning before it is too late. Sadly, it turns out that his house-keeper has been one step ahead of him the entire time.
I enjoyed this one. You can see the ending is pretty obvious, but I’m a sucker for someone getting their “just desserts” ala EC comics.

“The Black courtyard”

by Thomas Burke.

“The Black Courtyard” is a genuinely creepy and atmospheric psychological horror story.  A desperate young man breaks into an old miser’s home with the intention of relieving the old man of some of his hoarded wealth. As it always happens in this sort of story, things goes badly wrong and the young man graduates from incompetent burglar to guilt ridden murderer. Every night he compulsively returns to the scene of his crime in a somnambulistic state. And every day he compulsively walks home from work by way of the murder scene. He slowly goes mad with guilt and fear until he receives the inevitable visit from the police.
This is a brilliant story. You honestly agonize and sweat with the murderer. You sympathize with his suffering and truly hope that he gets away with it. It’s truly a good story when you find yourself emoting with a murderer!

“The Seventeenth Hole at Duncaster”

by H. R. Wakefield

“Seventeenth Hole" is one of my favourite Wakefield stories. Imagine if M.R. James was writing shorter and snappier horror stories. The Welsh Golf club of Duncaster has built themselves a new 17th hole. It’s a lovely thing to behold. It plays awfully though, what with most balls seeming to always land in the woods. Guests also seem to have the terrible luck of dying there. It appears as if some unknown wild beast has been mauling them to death. . It turns out that the 17th hole is too near an ancient Celtic sacrificial grove and what ever it was that they called up is still hanging about. Unluckily, since the Druids have vacated the area during the past few thousand years, the thing has been reduced to going out and finding its own sacrifices.
This is a fun and creepy little story.

“The Second Generation”

by Algernon Blackwood

This is a tough one to judge. If it had been written by someone I’m not familiar with I would have said it was a good story. But it wasn’t written by someone unfamiliar to me. It was written by the great Mr. Blackwood and that’s a completely different kettle of fish. I had very high expectation for a Blackwood story that I’ve never read before.
I have to say that as far as I’m concerned, this is very minor Blackwood. In fact, I think it is the weakest story in the anthology.
A  class conscious young man is deeply in love with a woman who he fears has a social standing that is too far above his. Because of his insecurity he never gets up the courage to express his true sentiments and he leaves England for India to seek his fortune. Many years later he returns to England a wealthy man. He knows that she married an older man during his absence and that her husband has just recently died. He screws up his courage and decides to send her a telegram asking if he may pay her a visit because he has important matters he wishes to discuss with her. He receives an oddly impersonal reply that he may call on her at his convenience. Arriving at the mansion he is instructed by a servant to wait in the drawing room until the “Lady of the house” is ready. While waiting to be received he agonizes over his past insecurity and indecisiveness. Suddenly the woman appears to him and sits with him while he is drinking his tea. She gently chastises him over his past cowardice and bemoans the fact that he never told her how he felt about her. He is distracted by the entrance one of the servants and in turning back to his hostess he finds her seat beside him on the sofa to be empty. The servant informs him that her ladyship will now receive him. At this announcement a strange young woman enters the room and inquires about the purpose of his visit and if he has papers for her to sign. He then realizes that this is the wife of deceased husband’s grown son from his first marriage and that the woman he has actually come to visit is also dead. He excuses himself and leaves.
The one thing I did like about this story is that I can’t decide whether it’s a ghost story or psychological story of a man haunted by regret and past mistakes.

“The Phantom Bus”

by W. Elwyn Backus

I’ve covered this story in an earlier post when I discussed another anthology that it appeared in.
This would have made a good “Twilight Zone” episode along the lines of "A Stop at Willoughby". A man notices every day at his bus stop that another bus always appears a few minutes before his. No one ever gets on or off. He eventually decides out of pure curiosity to take this particular bus just to see where it goes. Too bad he never noticed how pale and still the passengers are or that the bus is strikingly similar  to a bus that ran the same line a few years earlier until it plunged off a bridge during an ice storm. You can pretty much see where this one is going.
I like it though even though you figure it out within the first few paragraphs. Think of it as an extremely genteel version of “Clive Barker’s “Midnight Meat Train”.


by Arthur Machen.

This is a good one! Mr. Machen has never disappointed me and this story is no exception.
Several families are vacationing on the Cornish coast during summer vacation and befriend each other. And while the other families are so impressed with the one family’s nanny, they decided to pool resources and allow her to watch all of the children. One day Nanny, against the advice of the locals takes the children picnicking to a local series of caves. They fail to return come evening and a search party is sent out. They come across the missing nanny and children as said group are were searching for one of the children who seems to have gone lost on the way home. The nanny and children had been enjoying themselves so much in the caverns that they never noticed that the sun had set. While trying to find their way home in the darkness and wood one child became separated from the group. The child is eventually found but in a strangely altered state. In fact, the child has become wizened and strangely age. He also seems to have forgotten English and now speaks a strange unknown language. Did I mention that the villagers leave their lights burning the entire night because the inhabitants of the region have terrible fear of fairies?  Well the do. A friend of the family, during a later exploration, discovers evidence of witchcraft in the cave and after making a few inquiries learns that the nanny had lost an earlier position at a boarding school because of some hushed up scandal involving the children she was in charge of.
This is a great story that unfolds a piece at a time and leads up to a huge payoff.

“The Left Eye”

by Henry S. Whitehead

I’m going to make this one quick since it was only a little while ago that I covered it in another anthology post.
A French Canadian Bootlegger living on the shores of Lake Champlain, with his very large family, brutally murders his oldest daughter and the parish priest who befriended her. His daughter was the only member of the family who was a truly decent person. The rest of the clan was the worst sort of “white trash”. The old man gets wind of his daughters planned flight and beats her and the priest to death with an iron bar, reducing both of them to bloody pulp. Fleeing the law, the Bootlegger decides to hide out a few weeks on an uninhabited island in the middle of Lake Champlain. His plan is to wait out the island until the search dies out or move on. It turns out that the island isn’t quite as uninhabited as he thought. It’s the home of a very large species of ground dwelling spiders.  Hilarity ensues!
This is a great story. It’s a lot bloodier and gorier than most of Rev. Whitehead’s stories. And one of the few stories that he wrote that weren’t set in the West Indies.
Wordsworth Books has just published a very affordable edition of Rev. Whitehead’s collected horror stories. Get it while it’s still available. This it the most complete collection of Whitehead stories ever published and the first one to appear in over 30 years. It’s available at Amazon.

“A Watcher of the Dead”

by Ambrose Bierce

This is a mean spirited story as only Ambrose Bierce could write them.
Two doctors bet a gambler that he would not be able to stay sane while locked in a totally darkened and locked room with a corpse. The gambler discovers that winning the bet isn’t as easy as he thought. Especially when he discovers that the corpse is starting to move around in the darkness. This all ends in death, betrayal and madness with one of the most bizarre twist ending that I’ve ever read.
 You’ll love this tale If you like your horror served up with a huge helping of meanness and cynicism.

“The Two Bottles of Relish”

by Lord Dunsany

This story starts out as a kind of locked room mystery and ends up as one of the best sick jokes that I ever read.
Two amateur sleuths decide to investigate a murder case that even Scotland Yard hasn’t been able to solve.  A young woman moved into a bungalow with her common law husband. Shortly afterwards she disappears and is never seen again. Her “husband” tell everyone that she headed out for parts south. This is quickly exposed as a lie. The “husband” is also found to be holding a sum of money identical to an amount of money the missing woman withdrew from her bank account the day before her disappearance. All evidence points to foul play, but there is no body! So we have a classic case of Corpus Delecti. With no corpse you have no crime. The only suspicious evidence it that for the two weeks directly after the disappearance the “husband2 never left the property, ordered nothing but vegetables and two bottles of relish from the grocer, cut down every tree on the rented property and reduced them all to fire wood which he never used. The two amateurs finally solve the crime, but there is nothing to been done about it after the fact. The story closes with one of the best punch lines that I’ve ever read. It would have been more at home in a Robert Bloch story.
“But why,” he said, “did he cut down the trees?”
“Soley,” said Linley, “in order to get an appetite”
The tale is a true classic of gallows humour!

“Lost Hearts”

by M. R. James

M.R. James had the talent of writing some of the best ghost stories that ever appeared in print. He also had the genius to write tales that were simultaneously genteel and grisly. It’s this odd combination that makes his stories so effective and unforgettable. 
“Lost Hearts” is a story that gets under your skin and won’t be easy to forget. A 11 old orphaned boy gets taken in by an elderly distant cousin who he never knew existed. The young man is overjoyed by his good fortune even though he knows nothing about his benefactor. After arriving at his cousin’s isolated country estate (are there any other kind?) he is pleased to learn the old man is extremely kind and friendly, even if he seem to be inordinately interested in the boys birth date. After becoming settled in the young man is befriended by the house-keeper who takes him under her wing and tries to make him comfortable in his new surroundings. He learns from his new friend that his elderly cousin is extremely fond of children. So fond in fact, that the old man has taken in homeless children twice. The first child was a young gypsy girl and then on later a little Italian boy. It turns out that both of these little ingrates ended up nearly breaking the old man’s heart by seemingly running off in the middle of the night. They seemed to be in such a hurry to leave that they even left all of their personal effects behind. The house-keeper assumes that this to be blamed on the “wander lust” that many foreigners suffer under. After becoming settled in to the routine of a new life, the young man starts have nightmare, vision and sleep walking incidents involving to emaciated pale children who are clutching gaping wounds on their breasts! The boy tells his benefactor about these events and oddly enough the old man doesn’t seem to be surprised at all by these nocturnal visitations. During the course of events the boy learns that his cousin is a leading expert in ancient occult beliefs and rituals. Things come to a head on the eve of the boys 12th birthday when the old man bids him to secretly visit him in the library at midnight. The old man won’t explain why, but impresses upon the importance of utmost secrecy! No one else in the household must know of this. Being to excite to sleep for a few hours the young man passes the time until midnight by gazing out his window onto the moon lit garden. He notices two shapes coming out of the nearby woods heading in the direction of the house. It appears to be the two children of his dreams. He looses sight of them as they round the corner of the house. It seems that they are going to the library patio on that side. Midnight arrives and the boy sneaks down to the library as promised. Upon entering the library our young narrator notices that his cousin appears to have prepared some odd ceremony!
I won’t spoil the ending, but I’m fairly sure that you can see where the whole thing is heading.  If you’re interested then head on over to Amazon, since Mr. James’ Ghost stories are still in print!


by E.F. Benson

“Caterpillars” is one of Mr. Bensons most famous stories that’s has been frequently reprinted in the past. Even though the story is quite simple and straight forward it is still fairly unsettling. A man spending a few weeks vacation at a hotel on the Riviera decides one night, after suffering a bout of insomnia, to go down to the hotel’s reading room to get a book that he had seen earlier that day. After retrieving the book he notices on the way back upstairs that someone has left the door open on one of the empty rooms. Deciding to take a peek inside he sees the following……

“Then I saw that the greyish light of the bedroom came from the bed, or rather from what was on the bed. For it was covered with great caterpillars, a foot or more in length, which crawled over it. They were faintly luminous, and it was the light from them that showed me the room. Instead of the sucker-feet of ordinary caterpillars they had rows of pincers like crabs, and they moved by grasping what they lay on with their pincers, and then sliding their.bodies forward. In colour these dreadful insects were yellowish-grey, and they were covered with irregular lumps and swellings. There must have been hundreds of them, for they formed a sort of writhing, crawling pyramid on the bed. Occasionally one fell off on to the floor, with a soft fleshy thud, and though the floor was of hard concrete, it yielded to the pincerfeet as if it had been putty, and, crawling back, the caterpillar would mount on to the bed again, to rejoin its fearful companions. They appeared to have no faces, so to speak, but at one end of them there was a mouth that opened sideways in respiration.
Then, as I looked, it seemed to me as if they all suddenly became conscious of my presence.

After fleeing back to his room the man spends the rest of the night wide awake with the fear that the caterpillars are coming for him. As the sun starts to rise he convinces himself that it was just a waking nightmare and nothing more. That day he learns that the room from the night before is now occupied by a fellow Englishman and the strike up an acquaintance. A few days later while they are walking through the hotel’s garden his new friend says that he wants to show him something odd that he found in his room that morning. He pulls a matchbox from his pocket and upon opening it shows him a living, but miniature version of the caterpillars that had terrified the one man a few nights previously. They both remark that it appears to some sort of un-catalogued caterpillar.  Needless to say their investigation doesn’t bring them any further and they dismiss the whole incident. That very same night the first man is once again unable to sleep and heads once more to the reading room. Upon returning to his room he sees a repeat performance of the giant caterpillar migration. This time they are stream into the new occupant’s room and not out of it. Convinced that he is dreaming he says nothing about it. A year later the first man is staying once again at the hotel. While conversing with the lady who runs the hotel, he learns that his friend is suffering from incurable cancer. The land lady then confides that she feels partially responsible since the room had been empty for an entire year before she rented it to his new acquaintance. It seems that the previous occupant had suffered from terminal cancer.  
If this sound like your thing, then go to Amazon since Wordsworth books has also just released the complete ghost/horror stories of E.F. Benson in another very affordable edition.

Well that’s it for this time!
Take care and Thanks for stopping by.