Saturday, September 28, 2013

New Arrivals

This is what today's mail brought. There are 36 books in the Mayflower/Dell Sexton Blake series. This brings me to 22.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Horror Stories of E.F. Benson

   Still in my pre-Halloween warm up, (Heck it's always Halloween at my place) I've been reading the short stories of E.F. Benson. Benson was a British writer who wrote a couple of my favorite horror tales, Caterpillars and The Room in the Tower. But he wrote a lot more than that, and over the last couple of weeks I've been working my way through a Kindle collection, reading a story every other day or so and finding some real chillers. H.P. Lovecraft was fond of 'Negotium Perambulans', and having read it, I can see why it appealed to the Gentleman from Providence.
   Another couple of good ones are 'The House With the Brick Kiln' and 'The Other Bed'. Benson's stories are very much those of a Victorian, but his prose isn't as mannered as someone like M. R. James. His horror tales are mostly written in a straight forward first person style that gives them the feeling of actual accounts, like someone who has experienced a terrible ordeal is telling you about it in confidence.
   You can track down some of E.F. Benson's work on the web for free, but the collection I picked up was only 99 cents for 36 horror tales. Well worth your time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The 2013 Fright Flick Festival

Been gathering films for this year's Halloween Fright Flick Festival, which begins on the 1st of October. I jumped the gun a bit, watching  The Watcher in the Woods and The Son of Frankenstein, but I've managed to keep my hands off the other DVDs. So what do I have in store? So far I have:

The Innocents. The 1961 adaptation of Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw'. Been years since I watched this movie. I remember it as being darn creepy.

Count Dracula. The 1977 BBC mini series starring Louis Jourdan as the Count. Haven't seen this since it originally aired. Hope it doesn't suck. heh heh heh...

Frankenstein Unbound. An old favorite from 1990. This is probably my favorite Roger Corman film. It has horror, monsters, and time travel. Who could resist?

Universal Horrors. Cliff is loaning me his blu-ray set of the original Universal Horror films so I plan to watch Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man. Classics all.

That's the list as it stands. I'm sure other films will occur to me as the season gets up and running. I usually watch the original version of The Haunting every year. Hocus Pocus might be due for a rewatch this time around. We shall see.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Happy Birthday Bilbo Baggins!

Kharrn stops by Rivendell to Wish Bilbo a happy Birthday.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sexton Blake: The Case of the Stag at Bay

1965's The Case of the Stag at Bay is about as pure a whodunit as I've read in the sixties era Sexton Blake Library yet. After a thoroughly annoying aristocrat is murdered in the Scottish Highlands, Sexton Blake and Tinker head for Scotland to try and clear a man who has been accused of the crime.
   There's plenty of local color as Blake wanders around an old castle, now used as a staging ground for stag hunts, and there's a full set of Agatha Christie style guests to act as suspects. Clues, misdirections, and red herrings abound. Not quite as gritty as some of the Blakes I've read recently but in some ways it's a nice break. There's a certain homey British feel to this one with roaring fires, huge Scottish breakfasts, and after dinner drinks in the drawing room.
   Pedro the bloodhound even gets to strut his stuff in the novel, leading Blake to some ancient Pictish ruins where a body is found among recent archeological digging. (No sign of Bran mac Morn, however.)
   Wilfred McNeilly is the author of Stag. I've read several of his Blakes now and one of his two Guardian novels. McNeilly is perhaps the most solid writer of the group I've read so far. His prose is lively and he often makes a nice turn of phrase. Wikipedia tells me that he was Scottish and that probably explains the fairly dense Scottish background for this book. There are a lot of asides for quick lessons in the  history, geography, and so forth of Scotland and the attitude toward the Scots is very positive.
   The solution to the mystery is one I've seen before and if somewhat improbable, it's in keeping with the spirit of the classic whodunits on which the book is obviously modeled. Very little swinging sixties moments here (though one bit would make fans of Austen Powers giggle) but it's fun to see Sexton Blake acting in pure detective mode.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Seven Forges: Release Party and Book Signing

   Just thought I'd mention that next week will see the release of my pal James A Moore's new heroic fantasy novel Seven Forges. And my favorite comic book store Dr. No's will be holding a release party next Wednesday, the 25th from 6:00 pm until 7:30. Jim will be signing books and talking to folks. Come on down and get an autographed book. Details at Jim's blog.

Directions and other info for Dr. No's here:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Watcher in the Woods

   I first saw this movie when it hit theaters in 1981. I was unaware until this week that the film had had a sneak peek release in 1980 but had been pulled because the ending was deemed confusing and too scary. More about that later. This movie is 33 years old so I'm not going to worry about spoilers in this review. You've been warned.
   The plot of the movie involves a family comprised of husband, wife, and two daughters, who move into an old manor house in the English countryside. The house's owner, played by Betty Davis, lives in a cottage next door. The older daughter Jan (Lynn Holly Johnson) begins to see strange lights in the woods and later the ghostly figure of a young girl who appears in mirrors or other reflective surfaces.
   Jan learns that the old woman's daughter Karen disappeared during a seance/initiation ceremony performed by three local youths during a solar eclipse 30 years back. A bolt of lightning struck the old chapel where the ceremony occurred, setting the building afire. Three of the kids escaped, but not Karen. However one of the three had looked back and he claimed that Karen had vanished before the chapel roof collapsed. Jan begins to realize that there is something in the woods around the manor stalking she and her sister and to stop the 'haunting' she must solve the mystery of what happened to Karen.
  Back in 1980 Trailers for the movie stressed Watcher in the Woods was NOT a standard Disney film and wasn't meant for small children. It actually is pretty creepy. There's a lot of the special effects one expects from this sort of film. Odd camera angles. Mysterious winds from nowhere. Steadycam shots of something following the protagonists. The camera work is moody and claustrophobic.
   Now, about that ending. When I saw the movie in the theater, it was revealed that the titular Watcher was not a ghost, but an extra dimensional being. Somehow the solar eclipse and the seance had caused the being to switch places with Karen, trapping the girl in the creature's dimension and he in ours. This is somewhat Lovecraftian in of itself, but it gets better.
   In the movie I saw, the extra dimensional being was shown as a pillar of light, but in the original cut the creature was pure Lovecraft, with membranous wings, a Cthulhu style skull and long, spidery limbs and fingers. It was quite a surprise for me tonight when I saw it. Just think. I could have seen a Lovecraftian monster onscreen back when I was a teenager. THAT would have been a kick.
   So anyway, I enjoyed the film. It still holds up after all these years in terms of suspense and a few good scares. And what a nice surprise to find that the Watcher was originally conceived as a extra dimensional beasty from the outer dark. HPL would have approved.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Where to Find the Horrors

My buddy Keith asked for a list of where I read these stories. I try to be helpful when I can.

1. Black Train Blues by James a. Moore

   I actually read this in manuscript, but it was published in issue #9 of Midnight Echo Magazine, which is also on Kindle. Info here:

2. Bad Sanctuary by Heath Lowrance

   Downloaded this one for my Kindle.

3. The Tent by Kealan Patrick Burke

  Another Kindle purchase.

4. A Black Solitude by H. Russell Wakefield

   From The Best Stories of Russell Wakefield. Academy Chicago. 1982

   5. Gray Matter by Stephen King

   From the 1978 Doubleday collection, Night Shift.

6. The Ash Tree by M.R. James

   From the collection Ghost Stories of Antiquary, originally published in 1904. Available as e-book.

7. When It was Moonlight by Manly Wade Wellman

   From Worse Things Waiting. Carcosa 1973.

8. Where the Summer Ends by Karl Edward Wagner

   From The Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, Volume 1. Centipede Press 2012.

9. Murgunstrumm by Hugh B. Cave

   From Murgunstrum and Others. Carcosa 1977. (Also available as an e-book.)

10. The Signalman by Charles Dickens

   From The Signalman and Other Ghost stories. Academy Chicago, 2005.

11. The Haunter of the Dark by H.P. Lovecraft

   From The Best of H.P. Lovecraft, Del Rey 1982.

12. The Double Shadow by Clark Ashton Smith

   From The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith Vol 3. Nightshade Books 2007

13. City of the Seven Winds by Joseph Payne Brennan

   From The Feaster From Afar. Midnight House Books, 2008.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Charles Rutledge's Book of Horror Volume 5

 Yes, it's mid September and that means it's time once again for me to post the table of contents for my annual  imaginary Horror Anthology. Were I an editor, and given free rein, this is the book I would compile. I always try and have the list up by September so that anyone who might wish to read some of these stories for the Halloween season will have time to track them down.
   This isn't a 'year's best' compilation, as some of these stories were written decades ago, but it does feature some new stories and some stories by friends of mine. Being a friend doesn't get you on the list, but it doesn't keep you off either, and truthfully the stories by Heath Lowrance, Kealan Patrick Burke, and James A. Moore were some of my favorite horror tales I've read in a long time.
   For my other choices, I've tried to cover a wide range from the horror genre. Charles Dickens' THE SIGNALMAN is one of my all time favorites, as is THE ASH TREE, by M.R. James. The ending of ASH TREE still packs considerable punch.
   WHERE THE SUMMER ENDS is one of those tales that could only come from the South and from the dark imagination of Karl Edward Wagner and MURGUNSTRUMM, the longest story on the list, is one of Hugh B. Cave's creepiest and most justly famous stories.
   The other stories, by the usual suspects, King, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, etc, are all yarns that I've read many times. Some are spooky. Some are disturbing. And some are just flat out horrifying. So anyway, here are this year's unlucky thirteen tales of terror. As ever, I wish you shadow haunted days and sleepless nights.

1. Black Train Blues by James a. Moore

2. Bad Sanctuary by Heath Lowrance

3. The Tent by Kealan Patrick Burke

4. A Black Solitude by H. Russel Wakefield

5. Gray Matter by Stephen King

6. The Ash Tree by M.R. James

7. When It was Moonlight by Manly Wade Wellman

8. Where the Summer Ends by Karl Edward Wagner

9. Murgunstrumm by Hugh B. Cave

10. The Signalman by Charles Dickens

11. The Haunter of the Dark by H.P. Lovecraft

12. The Double Shadow by Clark Ashton Smith

13. City of the Seven Winds by Joseph Payne Brennan

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Earl Norem's Conan

Just because the page needed some Conan!

Sexton Blake: Star Crossed

 I read two books yesterday. First was a reread of Robert B. Parker's Spenser novel Paper Doll, which was, of course, a first person private eye novel. The second was Star Crossed, which oddly enough, was also a first person private eye novel. See, the majority of Sexton Blake stories, old and new, were written in third person. There are notable exceptions, especially the stories from 'Tinker's Case Diary' a series from 1913 or so, where the adventures were told from the point of view of Sexton Blake's young assistant, Tinker. However for the most part, Blake stories are written in third.
   This one is told by American private eye Matt Mead, whose name is also on the cover of the book. Shades of Ellery Queen. The detective is also the author. Mead is very much a hard boiled PI, more in the tradition of Shell Scott than Raymond Chandler though. A breezy wise-ass with a quick trigger finger and an eye for the broads. He's crossed the pond to investigate a possible insurance scam and the company teams him up with Sexton Blake.
   At first Mead doesn't quite know what to think about Blake, but soon the two detectives are swapping bullets with kidnappers and the Mafia and Mead learns that Blake bows to no one in a scrap.
   There are some very funny bits where Blake gets all kind of cooperation from people who won't give Mead the time of day just because Blake is Blake. The London cops salute Blake. They watch his car for him when he parks on the street. They basically treat him the way the New York cops treat Doc Savage. Reluctant witnesses suddenly turn talkative when they learn they are talking to Sexton Blake and criminals quail at the mention of the great detective's name.
   Mead, on the other hand can't get a break. However, he does bed a couple of lookers and makes the usual expected smarmy remarks about the figures of the women he and Blake encounter. It's all very 60s like a toned down Mike Hammer book. Truthfully though it's not toned down that much. The inclusion of a tough guy private eye seemed to inspire the writer, whoever he was, to levels of violence beyond what I've normally seen in these books. There's one particularly bloody gun battle in an old house with both Mead and Blake blazing away.
   By the end, the two detectives are fast friends and Mead makes a vow to return to England when he gets the chance. Unfortunately, as near as I can tell, that never happened. Really too bad because the combination of Holmes style and Hammer style heroes was quite a lot of fun.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Thomas and Smith's Conan:Red Nails

   Finally got time (and the right lighting) to look at the Genesis West artist edition of Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith's Conan: Red Nails, and it is amazingly cool. The pages were shot from the original art at full size, so you get to see all the incredible detail Smith lavished on these pages, which were probably the height of his work on the Marvel Comics Conan series. This is as close as you can get to owning the original art.
   You can see the notes written to each other by Barry and Roy in the margins. You can see where the artist used white out to fix errors or where something had to be pasted up. You can see where Smith tested the point of his brush on the corner of the page and the changes in ink density as bottles were switched or the ink dried on pen or brush. You can see where Barry's pencil drawing went beyond the panel borders and how he set up his perspective work. For an artist this is a terrific learning opportunity.
   For the Robert E. Howard fan, REH gets full credit in this volume. It's also interesting to see how Smith referred back to Howard's story as he drew the adaptation. In the margin notes at the bottom of many pages he gives the page number of the book he was using. A quick bit of detective work, comparing notes to page numbers, shows that Smith was using the Lancer/Ace edition of Conan the Warrior, which I put next to the book and its slip cover in the picture that accompanies this post.
   Roy Thomas provides an introduction where he talks about working on the story and there's an appreciation by artist George Perez. There are also bios of Thomas, Smith, and REH and some other nifty features.
   These books aren't cheap and of the editions put out by various companies, so far I've bought only two, Joe Kubert's Tarzan and this one. Basically when a favorite artist draws a favorite character, even I can't resist. Red Nails is a true beauty.

Autumn Thoughts

   It's a cool morning out there. Though autumn doesn't officially begin for another few days, it's fall as far as I'm concerned. Leaves are turning, in some cases falling, and the quality of light has begun to change, darkening the shadows and sharpening the edges. Fall is my favorite time of year, though it always makes me restless. This morning I have the windows open and Bruce the cat is standing on the windowsill surveying his domain. Farewell Summer.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Sons and Gunslicks

   Something I always enjoy is a skillfully written cross-genre novel. Chap O'Keefe's novel Sons and Gunslicks is a Western/Mystery that manages to hit the right notes in both genres.
   It starts off like a private eye novel, with former Pinkerton detective Joshua Dillard being hired by "Big" Jack Greatheart (A former town tamer lawman himself, now felled by illness) to find Jack's missing daughter, Emily.
   Emily had traveled to Arizona to meet the family of the man she had planned to marry after her fiance had been killed in a gun fight by the son of a rival rancher. She had disappeared after leaving the ranch of her not quite in-laws  and only her bloodstained jacket had been found on the wagon she had rented.
   Dillard finds a cold trail and hot lead waiting for him in Arizona as he tries to find out the fate of the girl. He'll buck an ineffectual sheriff, a power mad rancher, and a host of hired guns. There are enough gunfights, horse chases, bushwhackers, and other Western tropes to satisfy any fan, plus clues, red herrings, and suspects to make mystery readers happy.
   Dillard himself is a great character, almost a frontier Mike Hammer, who doesn't take crap off of anyone and isn't above beating up thugs for information when ratiocination fails. He's also a standup guy who's looking out for those who can't look after themselves, The classic tough/tender sleuth in a stetson and duster.
   As you can probably tell I had a lot of fun with this book. I downloaded it for my Kindle and read it in a sitting, and I'll be reading another Joshua Dillard adventure soon.

Sexton Blake: Dead Respectable

 This 1967 Sexton Blake novel is the most London-centric of the later Blake adventures that I've read so far. Beginning at Embankment, the book wanders all over the city as Sexton Blake hunts an American college student who has gone missing. The search will center on Chelsea, where a dangerous but charismatic man known only as Bobo holds sway over the beatniks, hippies, and other young people.
   This is definitely another swinging sixties story with lots of scenes in nightclubs, private swinger parties, and such. There are references to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and other sixties culture. The book is also another fairly hardboiled crime story. Lots of violence as Blake and his assistant Tinker mix it up with thugs and drug addicts in the mean streets and back alleys.
   That's one of the most fun things about these books. you never know quite what sort of adventure you're going to get. Could involve the supernatural. Could be a spy thriller. Could be humorous. Could be a whodunit. Could be a hard edged crime story. You just have to dive in and find out. Personally I prefer the ones where Blake is solving a murder, but that's just because I've been reading mysteries for many years.
   The author of Dead Respectable is Desmond Reid, which was a house name for Fleetwood/Amalgamated and later for Mayflower/Dell. I've no idea who really wrote it. According to Wikipedia, at least 30 writers used the pen name at one time or another, including Michael Moorcock on his one Sexton Blake book, the Caribbean Crisis, which he wrote with James Cawthorn.
   Whoever the writer, they preferred old school Blake. The great detective operates out of his Baker Street flat rather than his Berkley Square office. Tinker is his main helper with little mention of Paula Dane of Blake's other employees. Even Pedro the bloodhound makes a brief appearance.
   The plotting is solid, and even though I did spot the 'big reveal' about halfway through, Dead Respectable is a decent enough mystery. A good entry in the series.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Orc Wars

   My friend Tim Knight brought the Kickstarter Campaign for the movie Orc Wars to my attention. I'm a sucker for films where modern day heroes fight fantasy creatures like orcs and dragons so I decided to contribute. Wednesday night my copy of the DVD arrived, signed by the writer/director Kohl Glass. Sat down to watch it yesterday and I really enjoyed it.
   Truthfully I didn't know what to expect as I knew that the film had been made on a pretty limited budget, but the filmmakers did a fine job. The story concerns a marine, back from some unnamed conflict, who just wants to be left alone. he buys a secluded farm in the American West and for a little while things are calm. Then a beautiful elf princess shows up followed by an army of smelly, nasty LotR style orcs and his short lived peace is shattered.
   The rest of the movie is a running battle between the orcs and the soldier. The hero is played by Rusty Joiner, who looks good in the part, and the princess is played by the very cute Masiela Lusha. There are plenty of martial arts, automatic weapons, a creepy evil sorceress, and a native American mystic (Wesley John)  who can kick some serious butt when called upon. You'll also get to see an elf princess ride a four wheeler and a battle between a dragon and an armored personnel carrier.
   Keep in mind the budget as you watch the movie. The special effects are a bit uneven, but overall this film has the look of something shot on a much higher budget. I had a lot of fun with it.