Monday, October 31, 2016

Book Review: Death Spore

Book Review: 'Death Spore' by Harry Adam Knight

5 / 5 Stars

Harry Adam Knight was the pseudonym used by the Australian author and film critic John Brosnan (1947 - 2005). Under his own name, or 'Simon Ian Childer' ( yet another pseudonym), Brosnan wrote a number of Splatterpunk horror novels during the 80s, including such gorehound faves as Slimer (1983), Carnosaur (1984), and Worm (1987).

Knight / Brosnan published The Fungus in 1985 as a paperback with UK publisher Star.

A hardcover version was published in 1989 by Franklin Watts.

The U.S. version of the book was retitled 'Death Spore' (256 pp) and published by Pinnacle Books in May, 1990. The cover artist is uncredited.

(Note: The reviews for The Fungus at amazon give away much of the plot - use caution when consulting them).

Whether it's titled The Fungus or Death Spore, this book is a fun read !

The novel is set in London in the mid-80s. Its opening chapters are a string of vignettes describing how various people become ill with horrible fungal diseases. The only link among them ? Contact with a glamorous blonde woman who is roaming the streets of the city.

As the hospitals see more and more cases of people suffering from drastic infections, suspicion grows that an epidemic has begun. But this is unlike any epidemic the world has ever seen before.

Barry Wilson, a former mycologist turned detective novel writer, may be the only one who can combat the epidemic. But as the social order breaks down under the strain of the epidemic, time is running out for Wilson.....and perhaps the entire world......

'Death Spore' makes no pretense of being a 'quiet' or 'literary' horror novel. To the contrary, it's very much in the vein of the classic James Herbert novel The Fog. Indeed, author Knight adopts the spare, clinical prose style of Herbert, with some well-timed moments of gross-outs and sarcastic humor.

Despite a fast-moving plot that has little time for Deep Musings, the lead characters are interesting, and their adventures engrossing.

If you're looking for a creepy-crawlies horror novel, one that sits comfortably on the shelves reserved for James Herbert, Shaun Hutson, and John Halkin, then you'll want a copy of 'Death Spore' !

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Hungry Ghoul

The Hungry Ghoul
by Dick Ayers
from Witches' Tales (Eerie Publications) 
Vol. 4, No. 1 February 1972

I remember first reading this comic was back in the early 70s when I was in junior high school. I found it depraved and disgusting - and fantastic ! 'The Hungry Ghoul' was permanently seared into my consciousness. It was indeed 'comic gore that warped millions of young minds.' 

Only in the black and white comic magazines from Eerie Publications would you find something this unapologetically gross. The Warren magazines certainly wouldn't have touched it, and as for the color comics from Marvel and DC - well, needless to say, printing 'The Hungry Ghoul' in an issue of House of Mystery would have nuked the Comics Code.

Dick Ayers drew this strip, and it features his artistic signature: the 'detached eyeball' effect of the mutilated corpse.

For your viewing pleasure, here's the mind-warping 'Hungry Ghoul' from 1972.........

Monday, October 24, 2016

Retribution in Blood

Retribution in Blood
Story by Don Glut, art by David Wenzel
from Savage Sword of Conan (Marvel / Curtis), #26, January 1978

Marvel had Solomon Kane tangle with Dracula in issue 3 of their black and white comic magazine Dracula Lives (October 1973). That memorable encounter ended in a draw. 

It was nearly five years later before Marvel offered a rematch, this time in issue 26 of The Savage Sword of Conan.

As with the first installment, this episode suffers somewhat from the tendency to have too many panels and too much dialogue crammed into each page. But David Wenzel's art is of good quality, and Don Glut's script avoids another draw.......I won't disclose any spoilers, but I will say that either Kane, or Dracula, will not survive this fight.........

Friday, October 21, 2016

Book Review: Tales of Terror from Outer Space

Book Review: 'Tales of Terror from Outer Space', edited by R. Chetwynd-Hayes

3 / 5 Stars

‘Tales of Terror from Outer Space’ (190 pp) was published by Fontana Books (UK) in 1975. The cover artist is uncredited.

Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes (1919 – 2001) was the British equivalent of Roger Elwood in the US; like Elwood, Chetwynd-Hayes edited a large number of anthologies on sf, horror, and other topics during the 1970s and 1980s. Critics considered the majority of these anthologies to be mediocre.

The entries in 'Tales of Terror from Outer Space' all were previously published in sf magazines and digests during the interval from 1953 – 1975.

My capsule summaries of the contents:

I, Mars, by Ray Bradbury: a man stranded on Mars finds himself ‘haunted’ by telephone calls from someone he knows very well……too well, it seems……….like all of Bradbury’s ‘Martian’ stories this one dwells on psychological tension rather than external threats. It’s not particularly rewarding.

Eight O’Clock in the Morning, by Ray Nelson: a man is convinced that aliens, using a mind-control ray to deceive everyone in the world, have taken over the planet. He takes action. This story first was published in ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction’ in November 1963, and was the basis for the 1985 John Carpenter film They Live.

Heresies of the Huge God, by Brian W. Aldiss: an alien creature 4,500 miles long, with eight legs, decides to lie atop the globe; the ensuing geographical disasters give rise to violent religious conflicts. This story is really more of a dark satire about religious dogmatism than a horror story per se; there is much dry humor.

The Head-Hunters, by Ralph Williams: an old school inspiration for the film Predator.

The Animators, by Sydney J. Bounds: a Terran expedition on Mars confronts a disturbing event. One of the better stories in the anthology.

The Night of the Seventh Finger, by Robert Presslie: walking home late at night, teenager Sue Bradley passes the old house that is rumored to be haunted…..

No More for Mary, by Charles Birkin: on holiday at an Italian villa, Toby Lewis spots something unusual in the garden.

Invasion of Privacy, by Bob Shaw: a boy named Sammy insists that he saw his recently deceased grandmother alive and well in an decrepit old house….although the sf element in this entry from veteran sf author Shaw is a bit contrived, this remains a good story.

The Ruum, by Arthur Porges: in the remote Canadian wilderness, a prospector comes upon a disturbing alien artifact. One of the better stories in the anthology.

The First Days of May, by Claude Veillot: first published in 1961, this story by French author Veillot was translated by Damon Knight. It’s a ‘buglike aliens take over Earth’ story that really works. It’s not a satire or an allegory, but a genuinely creepy tale, and one of the better sf horror stories I’ve ever read.

Specialist, by Robert Sheckley: a starship crewed by aliens needs a new member….and an Earthman can fit the bill. More of a humor story than a horror story.

No Morning After, by Arthur C. Clark: William Cross receives a telepathic message from the alien Thaar. This story relies more on sardonic humor, than horror.

Shipwreck, by R. Chetwynd-Hayes: when Sarcan the alien crash-lands on Earth, he’ll use whatever means are necessary to get back to his home planet………

The verdict ? Anthologies of sf-themed horror stories are quite rare, so it’s difficult to find other volumes to compare this one to. However, there are enough good stories in ‘Tales of Terror from Outer Space’ to make this anthology worth picking up if you see it on the shelves of a used bookstore.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Horror Movies: Tales of Terror in the Cinema

Horror Movies
Tales of Terror in the Cinema
by Alan G. Frank
Octopus Books, 1974

When I first spotted this book on the shelves of the public library in my hometown in upstate New York in the mid-70s, I immediately checked it out. It went on to become one of my favorite books of that era.

While nowadays you can go to an online book store and easily find any number of volumes on horror movies and horror films, back in 1974, there were few such publications. Some were academic studies that were unrewarding to read, while others were perfunctory affairs designed as 'budget' treatments of the genre.

'Horror Movies: Tales of Terror in the Cinema' (160 pp), with its higher quality binding and higher quality reproductions of stills and posters, was a welcome advance in terms of surveying the genre.

The book is organized into chapters covering Frankenstein and his creatures; vampires; wolfmen and mummies; zombies; women monsters; mad scientists and psychos; and sci-fi monsters.

Most of the stills are in black and white, with some in color.

The text sections are necessarily limited, and consist primarily of providing an overview of theme for a given chapter, with longer descriptions or synopses afforded to those films that the author feels are truly memorable.

While the author does cover the 'classic' movies of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, much of the contents is devoted to the Hammer films of the 60s and 70s. In this regard the book is sure to spark nostalgia among those fans who remember the great films and the great stars of that era in British cinema.

In the U.S. in the mid-70s, of course, video cassettes were still in their infancy. There was no internet, and cable TV choices were limited. Accordingly, many of the Hammer films (and films from other UK companies, such as Amicus), if they were viewed at all by American audiences, were done so as features in drive-ins or 'grindhouse' movie theatres.

There are sure to be some Hammer films in this book that have escaped notice from U.S. fans and may be worth hunting down. However, when checking Netflix's catalog, I found only a few such films available. I've yet to look at the many 'cult' film channels on Roku, which rely on archives of films in the public domain.

That said, I'm skeptical that younger members of contemporary horror film fandom will find the movies described in 'Horror Movies' to be all that compelling. The slower-paced films from Hammer, with moments of grue carefully parceled out in-between lengthy segments of dialogue, will probably seem stilted and dull...... I recently watched the 1957 film The Curse of Frankenstein on the TCM channel, and I had to conclude that it likely will have little appeal to those raised on The Walking Dead, or the Paranormal Activity movies.

One drawback to 'Horror Movies' is Alan Frank's habit of disclosing spoilers for many of the films he surveys.

Other than that, however, reading 'Horror Movies: Tales of Terror in the Cinema' is to once again encounter 70s Pop Culture Goodness. If you are a fan of the movies of that era, then getting a used copy of this book - which are quite affordable - is recommended.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Book Review: The Year's Best Horror Stories: Series IX

Book Review: 'The Year's Best Horror Stories: Series IX' edited by Karl Edward Wagner

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series IX’ ( 223 pp) is DAW Book No. 445, published in August 1981. The excellent cover illustration is by Michael Whelan.

As is customary for these volumes, editor Karl Edward Wagner provides an Introduction that covers the world of horror short story publishing for the featured year; for this volume, it's 1980. The landmark event of that year was of course the release of Dark Forces, a sizeable anthology of horror fiction edited by Kirby McCauley.

All of the entries in ‘The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series IX’ all were published in 1980, many in ‘slick’magazines like Cavalier and Gallery, others, in small press publications and original anthologies.

My capsule summaries of the contents:

The Monkey, by Stephen King: when Hal Shelburn returns to the old house in Maine where he was raised, he finds that the disturbing toy from his childhood years is still in a moldering box in a corner of the attic……….a toy monkey, one with clapping cymbals. The problem is, whenever the cymbals clap, Something Really Bad Happens………

Having a Stephen King novelette in an anthology was a big deal, and a guaranteed cover blurb, in the late 70 and early 80s. Some of Kings’ entries were good, others, less so. This one is reasonably successful. While the idea of a toy monkey epitomizing evil gets contrived rather quickly, there is a sufficient number of untimely demises to give this story a worthwhile degree of impact.

The Gap, by Ramsey Campbell: when he agrees to host a pair of American tourists, author Lionel Tate finds his English rectitude tested by their unpleasant manners.

‘The Gap’ is not so much a short story, as it is a collection of similes and metaphors strung together to form something of a narrative. This story could serve as a textbook example of how not to write fiction. Indeed, even by the standards of his prose at this time on his career, Campbell’s inability to restrain himself leads some remarkably bad writing. For example, here’s sentence where there are THREE metaphors/similes IN A ROW:

Candlelight made food hop restlessly on plates, waiters loomed beneath the low beams and flung their vague shadows over the tables.

The mental picture generated by this purple prose is unintentionally funny……..on the other hand, it’s not funny that editor Wagner thought this story one of the Year’s Best………how many more deserving entries got excluded because of Wagner’s insistence on including Ramsey Campbell………….. ?!

The Cats of Pere LaChaise, by Neil Olonoff: at the famed Paris cemetery, a visitor notices that the feral cats slinking among the gravestones are very large and well-fed…….one of the better tales in the anthology.

The Propert Bequest, by Basil A. Smith: a posthumous entry from author Smith, who wrote English Ghost Stories in the mode of M. R. James. This novelette deals with a former chapel in the countryside near York; the chapel has been given unusual alterations, not with the best of intentions. While slow-paced and more than a little over-written, this story ultimately is rewarding.

On Call, by Dennis Etchison: the obligatory Etchison entry. A man finds that a shabby medical clinic in downtown L.A. has a disturbing nature. Like almost all Etchison stories from the early 80s, this tale is all about mood and atmosphere, with an unconvincing ending.

The Catacomb, by Peter Shilston: an English tourist, on holiday in an odd little Sicilian town, decides to break out on his own and do some exploring. While relying, like Etchison’s entry, on mood and atmosphere, this story avoids overdosing on figurative prose and delivers a satisfactory ending.

Black Man with a Horn, by T. E. D. Klein: the obligatory Klein entry. This novelette deals with an elderly man who has some modest degree of fame from writing H. P. Lovecraft pastiches; he has an in-flight encounter with a terrified former missionary, who speaks of dark doings in the untracked interior of Malaysia. Like Klein’s previous entries for the ‘Year’s Best’ series, this work is well-written, but takes its time getting underway. And like Klein’s earlier entries, the ending is too ambiguous to be very rewarding.

The King, by William Relling: a band that performs tributes to a fallen rock n' roll idol attracts unwanted attention.

Footsteps, by Harlan Ellison: this story features a lengthy and self-serving Introduction by Ellison, who relates that the story was (apparently) written in one day in May, 1980, as part of a publicity stunt associated with a bookstore in Paris. A makeshift table was set up in the front of the bookstore where Ellison sat with his portable typewriter; lucky passersby could gaze into the store and see a Master Craftsman at work.

The story itself is reasonably effective; a young woman walks the nighttime streets of Paris despite rumors of horrible mutilations and murders committed by a mad slasher.

Without Rhyme or Reason, by Peter Valentine Timlett: a girl takes a position as a live-in maid to an eccentric middle-aged woman, who tends a certain spot in the garden of her country estate with a disturbing degree of intensity…….

Summing up, ‘The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series IX’ is one of the better books in the series. If you can find a copy in good condition that is affordable, it’s worth picking up.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Wonder Book and Video, Hagerstown, Maryland

Wonder Book and Video, Hagerstown, Maryland

While I've been to the Wonder Book and Video stores in Frederick, Maryland and Gaithersburg, Maryland, I've never been to the one in Hagerstown. So this past Sunday I decided to drive up and check it out.

The Hagerstown store is located in a rundown shopping plaza on Dual Highway (i.e., Rte 40). it's got more or less the same space and floor plan as the other two Wonder Book outlets.

I was able to pick up eight older paperbacks:

All of the above books were priced in the $3 - $4 range.

As with the other stores, Wonder has a good selection of these older books - particularly DAW Books from the 70s and early 80s. 

Needless to say a lot of these are going to be Marrion Zimmer Bradley, Andre Norton, Bertram Chandler, and John Brunner volumes. But if you are willing to scrutinize the shelves - and to bend down on aging, creaking knees to look at the selections on the bottom shelves, where no one ever goes - you are likely to find some rarities.

As with the other Wonder outlets, there was a large section devoted to paperback horror novels. As well, there is significant shelf space for hardbound sf. And by the time I finished the sf aisle, well, I didn't really have time left to examine the aisle devoted to non-genre fiction paperbacks - one could easily devote at least an hour to that aisle itself.

Summing up, all three Wonder outlets are worth travelling to if you are looking to get some old paperbacks at affordable prices. Given that the Hagerstown and Frederick stores both are located on the same road - Rte 40 - and they are only about 27 miles apart, it's entirely feasible to visit both stores in the same afternoon.....and the drive between Hagerstown and Frederick, past both Greenbrier and Gambrills state parks, is very scenic. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Twins of Evil from The House of Hammer

Twins of Evil
from The House of Hammer
No. 7 (January - February 1977)

This adaptation of the 1971 Hammer film features some good artwork from Spanish artist Blas Gallego.