Thursday, October 31, 2013

Marvel Comics Horror

   In 1971, the ironclad grip of the Comics Code Authority, a self regulating group formed to make comics safe for the youth of America, loosened slightly, making certain things that had been forbidden in comic books since the late 1950s usable again. This included vampires, ghouls, and werewolves, as long as they were handled tastefully. Oh yeah.
   By the mid seventies Marvel Comics had unleashed the horrors, publishing color titles like Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night, Morbius the Living Vampire, The Ghost Rider, and The Monster of Frankenstein, plus Black and White magazines such as Dracula Lives and tales of the Zombie.
   I started reading Marvel comics about 1974, and the monster movement was just getting up and running. Monsters seemed to be popping up everywhere. Spiderman fought Morbius and Dracula and a werewolf called Manwolf. The Ghost Rider turned up in Marvel Team-Up and even joined a short-lived super group, The Champions.
   This was also around the same time that movies like The Exorcist, The Omen, and other devil centered films were becoming popular. Marvel jumped in with characters like The Son of Satan and Satana: The Devil's Daughter. I can recall the only time my mother ever flipped out over a comic book was when I brought home The Son of Satan. To me it was just another superhero comic. (He wore tights and a cape.) To my mom it was a tool of the devil. I was requested to remove those comics from my collection. I actually just moved them to the bottom of the trunk where I kept the comics. The lesson here, parents, is dig deeper.
   Anyway, here on Halloween I'm thinking about the Marvel Monsters. While I was at the comic book store last night, I picked up the Essential Marvel Horror volume one, a telephone book size collection of an assortment of Marvel horror characters.You get The Ghost Rider, Dracula, Satana, and yes, The Son of Satan. Sorry mom. There's also a second volume which has The Living Zombie and Brother Voodoo. Ah, comic books. There are also Essential collections of Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night and most of the other Marvel Horror titles.
   The bad news is many of these volumes are out of print. The good news is, they are readily available at Amazon, Ebay, or well stocked Comic Book Shops like the one I shop at.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Almost Halloween

Well here we are at the end of October. One day to go until Halloween. My Halloween season has been good. I've watched a lot of scary movies and read scary stories by folks like E.F. Benson, Karl Edward Wagner, Hugh B. Cave, and Robert E. Howard. I've also worked my way back through a bunch of horror comics, mostly Marvel's Black & White Magazines, like Tales of the Zombie, and Dracula Lives. Some wild stuff from the 1970s. Tonight I'll be out with the Dr. No's gang.
   I've scheduled a long weekend, leaving work tomorrow after lunch and taking off on Friday, not because of Halloween but because, as usual, I've got a lot of leftover vacation to burn here at the end of the year. Still it's nice knowing I can stay up late on Halloween and not have to roll out of bed early on Friday. Going to watch a couple more movies, and finish up the season in fine style.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Let Sleeping Cats Lie

I throw my down lined jacket on the sofa, because Bruce likes to sleep inside it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Carnacki is a Go.

My Carnacki the Ghostfinder story 'How They Met Themselves' has been picked up for the anthology Carnacki: The New Adventures. More info when I get it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Conan Joins the Avengers

Okay, not really, but when I was a kid I always wanted to see such a team-up. And look, the bad guys are the Sons of The Serpent. Conan fought the minions of set, and in the comics he ran into the Serpent men of Valusia. This is a British comic and while it did feature reprints of the Avengers and Conan, there wasn't an actual crossover.

Sea of Secrets

 When I was a kid in the late 1960s early 1970s, my mother read about a gazillion Gothic Romances by authors like Madeleine Brent, Dorothy Eden, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt. Before I could read, I referred to them as 'girl running away from house' books, because they all seemed to have a similar cover image, a young woman in a flowing dress or nightgown running from a sinister dark house or castle. Up until a few years ago, I hadn't read any of the books myself but after discovering that one of the Lovecraft Circle, Frank Belknap Long had authored seven Gothic Romances, I read those and followed up with several by the authors my mom had read. My favorite of mom's favorites was Victoria Holt.
   The other day I was wondering if anyone had written anything like that recently and started browsing Amazon. Came across a book called Sea of Secrets by Amanda Dewees. The cover had the prerequisites. Girl in flowing dress. Check. Spooky castle. Check.
   I used the 'Look Inside' feature to read the first few pages of the book. Dewees had me after about five paragraphs. The heroine's voice was so witty and engaging that I knew this was a character I was going to like. She was obviously intelligent, fond of irony and a bit of a wise-ass. A good start.
   The plot moves quickly. After the death of her beloved brother, Oriel Pembroke is disowned by her cruel father without a dime. With no clear way to support herself she approaches a wealthy relative she doesn't know well, hoping she can help Oriel find a situation. Instead, the former Duchess of Ellsworth basically adopts her, taking her home to the Duchess's lavish seaside home. At first, Oreil can't believe her own good fortune, but this being a Gothic, things quickly take a dark turn.
   It seems the Duchess has created a scandal by marrying her late husband's brother without waiting what polite Victorian society considers a proper amount of time. Not only that, but her son Herron, a troubled and brooding lad, thinks his mother hasn't shown sufficient respect to his father's memory with her quick marriage to his uncle. (If, like me, you're picking up parallels to Shakespeare's Hamlet, you're not wrong.)
   In any good Gothic Romance you need two possible romantic interests. One nice guy and one brooding guy. Check. However if you think you know where this book plot is going, you're probably wrong. Amanda Dewees is too good a writer to just regurgitate old Gothic plots. This is a thinking person's Gothic Romance. She doesn't scrimp on the tropes though. Ghosts, storms, crashing seas, family secrets, mystery and rumors of murder. And maybe more than rumors. The period detail is great, and applied as you need it.
   Anyway, in case you couldn't tell, I really enjoyed Sea of Secrets. A specimen of an old genre with a fresh voice, some good writing, and some nice twists. And yes, I recommended it to my mother.

For more about Amanda Dewees and her books, check out her website here:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Sexton Blake Dossier

   Found an interesting item on Ebay the other day and it arrived yesterday. The Sexton Blake Dossier is a small booklet with tiny little printing that was given to writers working on the Sexton Blake Library series in the 1950s. The series 'bible', basically. It contains brief bios and stats for all the main characters, Blake, his assistant Tinker, his secretary Paula Dane, friends like Splash Kirby, Inspector Coutts, and so forth. It also has descriptions of Blake's rooms in Baker Street, his offices in Berkeley Square, his car, handguns, etc etc. For a collector who is also a writer, this is pretty darn spiffy.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Innocents (1961)

   I remember seeing parts of this film on television when I was five or six years old. Scared the bejeebus out of me. Don't know that I ever watched it all the way through until today. Have to say, it has considerable power still. It's considered one of the first psychological horror films and the production, particularly the directing is very impressive.
   Based on Henry James' story THE TURN OF THE SCREW, The Innocents is taken from the stage play version. Deborah Kerr plays a governess given charge over two young children, a boy and a girl, at a large country estate. At first everything seems fine but then Kerr begins to learn about the fate of the previous governess. She had been having an open and somewhat kinky affair with another estate employee. The man was killed in what was probably an accident, and the woman fell into a deep depression and finally drowned herself in a lake.
   After witnessing some strange events, Kerr begins to suspect that the ghosts of the two lovers have possessed the children. Her attempts to 'save' the kids don't go very well and her own mental state begins to deteriorate.
   Just as in James' original story, the viewer isn't sure if there really are ghosts or if the governess is imagining all the spooky stuff. You can draw your own conclusions about whether this is a ghost story or a story of a woman going mad or both. In any case, this is a very well done horror tale with some truly frightening moments. The atmosphere is seriously Gothic and Deborah Kerr's performance carries the film.  All and all, a very satisfying entry into my Halloween movie watching.

Friday, October 18, 2013

When the Stars Are Right...

My cat Bruce loves the Necronom-nom-nom-icon...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Once Upon a Time

   I've gotten hooked on ABC's Once Upon a Time. I had caught about half an episode a couple of months back and noted two things. The concept was really good and the Evil Queen was hot. That was about the extent of my involvement. Last weekend I read an article about the show which intrigued me a bit more. My pal Cliff had mentioned that he had bought OUaT on Blu-Ray and he was kind enough to loan me the first season. After three episodes I was hooked.
   The basic concept of the show is that all the story book characters like Snow White, Prince Charming, Little Red Riding hood, etc really existed. Snow White's step mom, the Evil Queen, placed a curse on everybody in the magic realm, sending them to our world and replacing their memories with false ones so that they believe they have always lived here. For 28 years nobody ages and no one notices in the town of Storybrooke. The Queen is the Mayor and she pretty much rules the town.
   However Snow White and Price Charming had a daughter and they managed to spirit her away to our world as an infant before the Queen's curse took effect. On her 28th birthday, the girl's 10 year old son, whom she gave up for adoption, arrives on her doorstep with a crazy story about a town called Storybrooke and his wicked adopted mom who is actually the Evil Queen from the fairy tales. His birth mom, Emma, takes him back to Storybrooke and things get interesting.
   I'm not sure why the concept appealed to me so much. There is something about those old old stories that seems to resonate with folks and it's fun to see these familiar characters in a new way. The writing on the show is clever and the plots move fast. The show switches back and forth from the present in our world to the past in the fairy tale realm, so you get to see the characters as both versions. One thing I really liked was that she show builds slowly so that early on you're not sure if Emma's son Henry is delusional of if his adopted mom really is the Evil Queen.
   Anyway, I'm rolling up on the end of season one and I've enjoyed it tremendously. Glad I decided to give it a shot. Oh, and that Evil Queen? (actress Lana Parrilla) My initial assessment was correct. She's hot.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sexton Blake: Pengarth Castle

I decided to give the 1960s era Sexton Blake books a rest and go back to some classic Blake from 1925. I read a two part serial, THE PAUPER OF PENGARTH CASTLE and THE CURSE OF PENGARTH CASTLE. Some nice Gothic goings on, particularly in part II.
   Pauper begins with Sexton Blake receiving a telegram in Baker Street. It seems someone is impersonating him as a guest at Pengarth castle in Cornwall. Blake and his young assistant Tinker catch the next train to Cornwall to see what's what.
   Turns out that the man using Blake's name is an old enemy, Rupert Waldo, aka The Wonder Man. Waldo possesses superhuman strength, speed, stamina, and agility, but fortunately he's of the gentleman bandit school and he and Blake actually sort of like one another. Waldo tends to act on whims and he's just as likely to do good as evil depending on his mood. He ended up invited to Pengarth castle after he used his prodigious strength to rescue the Earl of Pengarth's daughter, Lady Betty, from a falling tree. Since he didn't want to reveal his own identity, he claimed to be Sexton Blake, a name that opens doors. He didn't know, however, that the family butler had actually met Blake and it was the Butler who sent the telegram to the genuine article.
   Once Blake arrives, Waldo cheerfully departs, or seems to, and the plot gets going as Blake learns that the old Earl is about to lose his castle. His lawyer has tricked him into signing away his holdings and now that lawyer has sold the castle to a boorish businessman. When said business man arrives, seeking entrance, the earl sends him packing. Unfortunately the man returns and breaks into the castle where someone promptly murders him. The Earl is found standing over the body and things look grim. End of part one.
   In part two, Sexton Blake shifts into full Sherlock Holmes mode as he tries to clear the Earl of the murder charge. The local constable is none too keen on Blake, but he can't send the famous criminologist packing without causing an uproar. And of course Lady Betty has complete faith in Sexton Blake. Who wouldn't?
   Meanwhile Rupert Waldo, acting on one of his whims, (and with a bit of self interest) decides to see what he can do about the scheming lawyer's crimes.
   The resolution to THE CURSE OF PENGARTH CASTLE owes a bit to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES but for the most part it's all Sexton Blake's show.
   This is a tremendously fun story from Sexton Blake's Golden period with plenty of action, suspense, mystery, and a bit of melodrama. British pulp at its very best.
   Next up. A monster from a century old painting seems to have come alive to wreak havoc in THE GNOMID.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Zombie and Ice Cream Dreams

  Last night I dreamed about Zombies. I don't recall ever doing that before. In the dream, the ever popular zombie apocalypse had occurred and I was wandering around, steering clear of the flesh eating predators. Had it a little easier than the folks in Walking Dead because for whatever reason, these zombies only came out at night.
   I came across this huge old house and there were several people living inside. They had zombie proofed the place as best they could but they warned me that that the upstairs was better protected than the downstairs because zombies couldn't climb well, so all they had to do was barricade the stairwell every night. However when evening came the upstairs was so crowded that I decided to take my chances downstairs. Bad choice. The zombies broke in after dark and action horrific ensued.
   I survived, but the next night I decided overcrowding wasn't that bad. Don't remember much after that. Later I dreamed I was at some sort of convention along with my brother. We had ice cream from one of those soft serve machines and everyone was amazed at my ability to make a Dairy Queen curl on top of the cones. (My family owned a Dairy Queen when I was growing up.)
   Teach me to eat pizza in the afternoon I guess.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Autumn Thoughts

   I took the day off today. I had originally planned to go and buy some tires, but that plan has hit a slight snag, so it must be reconsidered. I slept in, not getting up until 6:15. For me, that's late.
   I've been out to breakfast at J. Christopher's. A skillet of potatoes and corn beef hash with two eggs on top. Now I am sitting here typing. The windows are open. I can hear Bruce in the kitchen munching on cat food with that odd hollow sound that cats make when devouring dry cat food.
   Not sure what the rest of the day holds. May head for a bookstore. May just sit here and watch scary movies and read books all day. Think there could be some pizza in there somewhere.
   Fall is off to a fine start here in Georgia. Leaves are turning and some are falling. The mornings are crisp and cool and the afternoons are still warm. The light has that particular quality that only comes with autumn. I am restless, as I always am at this time of year.
   Bruce has left the kitchen now and is sitting in the window, nose pressed to the screen, green eyes searching for chipmunks, squirrels or the stray McDonald's wrapper carried on the autumn wind.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Now With More Scary Movies

   Both Cliff and Jim came through last night with Blu-Rays and DVDs of scary movies to add to this year's Fright Flick Festival. Jim brought me SESSION 9, which I've heard good things about, and Cliff brought me the remastered Blu-Ray of The Universal Horror movies plus some other films, so I can add those to the stuff I haven't watched yet.
   Cliff also loaned me the first seasons of Grimm and Once Upon a Time, so now I can catch up on my fairy tale based shows.
   Did I mention I'm enjoying Sleepy Hollow? The winning mix of "fish out of water buddy cops" protagonists, the supernatural bad guys, and some clever writing makes this show a lot of fun. And it premiered just in time for Halloween. I'll have more to say about the show once I get caught up on the episodes.

East Tennessee Writer's Hall of Fame Inducts Karl Edward Wagner

   Karl Edward Wagner is being inducted into the East Tennessee Writer's Hall of Fame as of today. Through the efforts of his friend John Mayer and of Wagner's fans, KEW is finally getting some recognition in his home town of Knoxville. Read all about it here:

Monday, October 07, 2013

Weekend Report

 The Halloween season has gotten off to a good start. Over the weekend I watched several scary movies, starting with the 1977 BBC version of Dracula. This one, titled Count Dracula, starred Louis Jourdan as the bloodthirsty count. It's probably the closest adaptation of the book anyone has done, which made it drag a bit to tell the truth. If someone cut this script just a bit and then shot it as a two hour movie with today's special effects it might make the best Dracula so far. Still, this is a very Gothic version and manages to capture the feel of Bram Stoker's novel. Oh and Frank Finley is great as Van Helsing.
   Then I jumped to a more modern horror film, 2010's INSIDIOUS. What appears to be a haunted house film turns into something entirely different. Like the trailer said, it's not the house that's haunted. Some good suspense, a broodingly creepy atmosphere, and no gore to speak of made this a winner for me. I like horror films that are disturbing and this one fits the bill.
   And then I watched the BBC version of the Woman in Black. You may recall that I liked the 2012 theatrical version quite a lot, and that I thought Susan Hill's novel was even better. The BBC version is also quite good, but the 2012 version is scarier. There is one truly frightening moment in the BBC version though, which had me squirming in my seat. I did find it interesting that both versions strayed a bit from the novel and in different ways and that neither used the novel's ending exactly.
   Reading-wise I read yet another Sexton Blake novel, The Deadlier of the Species. Very good in a whodunit sort of way, though I spotted the killer fairly early on. Of course the title had already tipped me off that the murderer would be female, so it allowed me to rule out half the suspects. A lesson in poorly chosen titles there, kids.
   I read several western short stories from the collection THE LONG RIDE BACK, which is a massive tome of Ed Gorman's westerns. Gorman is one of my favorite crime writers and he sure knows his way around a Western too. Really it doesn't matter what genre Gorman is writing in because his stories are always about people.
   Also read some stories from the new anthology WORLDS OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS, about which I'll have more to say later.
   All and all a good weekend for reading and movies.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Congregations of the Dead Almost Ready for Release

Here's the first look at Congregations of the Dead, the new novel by James A. Moore and me. Check out those end papers. This one is even scarier than Blind Shadows.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Vestments of Pestilence

   Do you like sword and sorcery? The real stuff, I mean, where sorcery is something dark and dangerous and people get hurt when they fight with sharp edged weapons? Something that's a little exotic and makes you think of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, but still is very much its own thing?
   Then boy have I got a story for you.
   Vestments of Pestilence is a short story by John C. Hocking, author of one of my top five Conan pastiches, Conan and the Emerald Lotus. Over the last few years John has written several stories about a pair of adventurers, The Archivist and Lucella. The Archivist is what his title implies, a man of learning who travels John's well imagined world seeking knowledge of arcane and Eldrich subjects. Lucella is a warrior woman who is not to be messed with.
   I'm not going to give you a plot summary of this one, because watching events unfold is half the fun of this story. There are some mystery elements, some humor, a lot of action, and considerable sorcery, all told in a smooth first person voice that has echoes of hard boiled heroes like Marlowe and Spade, but not the overblown snark that seems to be so popular in current urban fantasy. You wouldn't mind hanging out with The Archivist after the adventure has passed. First person is hard to carry off in fantasy I think, but John's got the knack.
   Don't get the idea that this is some sort of old school REH pastiche though. The feel of the story is nice and dark but the story telling itself is very modern. I was aware as I read that the pace and the suspense were slowly being ratcheted up until I was racing through the last couple of scenes to see how things turned out. There's also some marvelous characterization in the tale, and trust me, in a story of this length, that's a hard thing to do.
   So yeah, very cool story, with engaging heroes and solid action and suspense. This is the real thing for S&S fans. And get this. Right now you can read it for free over at Black Gate Magazine. I'll supply a link at the bottom of the post. This is the fifth tale of The Archivist and Lucella, so maybe John will put together a collection soon. Or better yet, a novel featuring the pair.
   Now here's the link. Go check it out.