Sunday, October 28, 2018

10 Essential Scary Books

10 Essential Scary Books

It’s damp and cold and the October wind is rattling your window shutters at midnight. For those of you looking for appropriate reading material, you can follow the “Scary Books” tag on this blog’s alphabetical right-hand column for an on-going list. Meanwhile, here are ten essential classics I recommend for those of you interested in putting together a home library.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Originally published in 1817, Frankenstein has endured for two centuries. Quite naturally my introduction to the story came courtesy of Boris Karloff’s three films, and by the time I first read this paperback I was well acquainted with the basic plot and images from the movies. At that tender age I found the book challenging, but over the years I have nurtured a fondness for Shelley’s original tale. It is admittedly difficult to separate the name “Frankenstein” from the Jack Pierce classic make-up and Karloff’s brilliant portrayal of the monster. There is so much more involved in the story than just the monster’s horrific appearance. I don’t know who painted the cover shown here for the Airmont paperback but I believe it perfectly captures the essence if not the mood of Mary Shelley’s novel. Here is a brooding Victor Frankenstein, contemplating his violent creation, haunted forever by the creature that will eventually doom them both. The gothic castle on the hill, the graveyard, and the laboratory’s glass beakers and vials add a Victorian touch to the moody scene. The hint of the monster’s visage in the upper right corner, clearly inspired by the make-up Jack Pierce created for Boris Karloff, adds the now familiar Hollywood touch to a perfect cover. There are many editions of Frankenstein available, but this pulp style paperback is my favorite.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Pictured here is the Airmont Publishing 1963 paperback edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The best known vampire novel ever published, Dracula continues to inspire a host of vampire films, both good and bad. Bela Lugosi’s quintessential performance in Universal’s 1931 class film went far in making Dracula a household name.  Stoker’s vision of Dracula differs markedly from the film versions – he was white haired albeit still creepy – but the basic gothic elements of Stoker’s novel have transferred well to the screen treatments. Written in the leisurely style of the Victorian era, the novel’s suspense builds slowly but the concluding chapters are truly riveting. This Airmont paperback was the first edition I had read and the cover is clearly modeled after Christopher Lee’s film version. It’s a great gothic cover. I don’t know who painted the cover but it’s one of my all-time favorites for a great book. It’s possible this cover was painted by Elaine Duillo who created so many memorable covers for the paperback market. Modern editions all offer a lackluster cover. Dracula is a fun book to read and definitely on my list of scariest books.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Even if they haven’t read the book most people are familiar with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Published in 1886, Stevenson tackles the idea of what some refer to a split personality. Of course, what he was really getting at is the idea that within each of us there is a beast – a beast that must be suppressed or else it will cause death and destruction wherever it goes. Perhaps this idea is not far removed from Mary Shelley’s themes in Frankenstein. According to his biographers, Stevenson dreamed this story and when he woke up he wrote it all down in a rush. And so we have the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll whose experiments turn him into the monstrous Mr. Hyde. Next to Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula there is no monster as well-known as Mr. Hyde. Stevenson is said to have considered his story an allegory for the human condition where certain people are conflicted by the good and evil side of their nature. It all worked beautifully and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is another classic deserving your attention during this Halloween season.

The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells
When people talk about books by H.G. Wells they usually talk about The War of the Worlds. Sure, it’s a masterpiece, but so is The Island of Dr. Moreau. Published in 1896 it has never been out of print. Told in a first person narrative by Edward Pendrick who has been shipwrecked on left on the island that is home to Dr. Moreau and his mad experiments. Pendrick soon discovers that Moreau is also experimenting humans. Having created an Ape-Man, Pendrick discovers a race of half-animal and half-human creatures living on the island. A variation on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Wells is tackling moral issues and man’s potential interference in nature with his science. These issues still resonate today. The Island of Dr. Moreau is a horror story of the highest order but it’s also just a great adventure yarn. Readers can take whatever approach they like when reading this great book and they are assured of one thing – they will find this novel compelling. Another personal favorite, The Island of Dr. Moreau is a chilling tale. Slip into that over-sized leather chair and light a candle to read this one by. You won’t be disappointed.

Fear by L. Ron Hubbard
L. Ron Hubbard’s Fear is a masterpiece of suspense. Published in 1940 in Unknown Fantasy Fiction magazine, it was later reprinted in hardcover. Since then Fear has been reprinted many times. I have seen it described as a psychological thriller, which is true in a broad sense. I think of it as a character study, layered with a growing sense of dread. The plot involves Professor James Lowry who publishes an article that asserts that witchcraft and magic can’t possibly exist. Then he loses his hat and soon discovers that he can’t recall four hours of his life. His journey to discover what has happened to him leads him into one harrowing nightmare after another. The ending, albeit slightly (and intentionally) ambiguous, manages to tie it all together with a neat twist. The suspense never really lets up and I consider this book one of the all-time classics of horror. No, it doesn’t have the gruesome descriptions that modern novels flaunt, but it makes up for that with its well-crafted plot, characterization and pacing. Fear is one of three of Hubbard’s novels that found its way onto the Modern Library 100 Best Novels in the Reader’s List. I can easily understand why. Put this one on the bookshelf with Psycho by Robert Bloch and Hell House by Richard Matheson and keep the doors locked and windows shut when you read them. L. Ron Hubbard’s Fear is a suspense-filled classic.

Psycho by Robert Bloch
You’ve seen the film but have you read the book? Robert Bloch was an immensely talented pulp writer and Psycho made him a household name. Bloch’s 1959 novel was loosely based on Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein, Bloch’s book is far more violent than the famous 1960 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock but equally as fascinating. Psycho is really a tour-de-force pulp story, bloody and suspenseful. By comparison, most of today’s horror writers produce far more gruesome and explicit novels, but they don’t necessarily possess Bloch’s mastery of characterization, plotting and dialogue. Psycho holds up very well indeed but I believe its high quality has been eclipsed by the movie’s fame. This is unfortunate because the book is a brilliant roman √† clef; so named because so much of it was inspired by a madman named Ed Gein and others like him. In 1983 Universal Studios released Psycho II and the same year Bloch published Psycho II. Equally as gripping, Psycho II is unrelated to the second film but does serve as a direct sequel to his original novel. Norman Bates is back, deadlier than ever. Although there are similarities between Psycho II the novel and Psycho II the film it’s important to point out that Bloch’s novel was published first. In 1990 Bloch published Psycho House which is also unrelated to the film series. By all rights Robert Bloch’s Psycho should be considered one of the great horror novels.

Hell House by Richard Matheson
By now your nerves should be shattered, and this book will finish you off. After you read this one I expect we’ll have to pick you up off the floor and pour whiskey down your throat to revive you! Matheson is well known and no doubt most of you are familiar with his many novels. Hell House is captivating, frightening and another textbook example of what a great horror novel should be. It’s still in print so if you haven’t read it this would be a good month to do so. Four people enter Hell House where the lingering spirit of Emeric Belasco is up to no good. Belasco disappeared in 1929 and these four strangers are brought in to determine if the house is indeed haunted. Here’s a book that I’m sure Stephen King wishes he’d written (and perhaps has been trying to write ever since he read it) and one of the grand tales of spooks and possession. Claustrophobic, creepy and unflinchingly suspenseful, Hell House by Richard Matheson is one of the all-time greats.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
I originally intended to blog about Bradbury’s Halloween Tree but after some deep pondering I realized that Something Wicked this Way Comes is a far more chilling book. In some ways Something Wicked this Way Comes is the polar opposite of Dandelion Wine, Bradbury’s homage to summer and boyhood. You’ll never forget Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show and Jim and Will, two thirteen year old boys, get swept up in its evil aura. A chilling study of evil, Something Wicked this Way Comes is among Ray Bradbury’s finest works. I think people tend to forget that Bradbury could write just as masterful a suspense novel as anyone. Here’s the evidence. A fully realized, haunting tale that kept me spellbound when I first read it. In this riveting tale Jim and Will learn that Mr. Dark has a tattoo representing each soul that was lured into his service. Charles Halloway, Will’s father, Stands in opposition to Mr. Dark. The boys are destined to become engaged in a struggle to save not only themselves but Will’s father too. October is the perfect month to read anything Bradbury wrote, but Something Wicked this Way Comes is especially appropriate.

The Wood by Guy N. Smith
This one gets off to a fast start: During World War II Bertie Hass, a Luftwaffe pilot, parachutes from his crippled airplane over England and lands in a place called Droy Wood. He doesn’t know it, but he’ll never see Germany again. Droy Wood is haunted, and Hass becomes part of an ancient and sinister tableau. Cut to modern times: Carol Embleton is pissed at her boyfriend, Andy Dark, and walks home from the discotheque, passing perilously close to Droy Wood. Carol accepts a ride from a stranger as she passes Droy Wood, and suddenly she’s been stripped naked and raped. Fearing for her life, she runs naked into Droy Wood, pursued by James Foster, the rapist. Later Andy and the police organize a search party and everyone slips into Droy Wood looking for Carol, who remains naked, frightened but most decidedly not alone. In addition to Bertie Hass, there are strange creatures in the cold bog and an ancient army preparing for battle. Droy Wood is one spooky damn place. There are multiple characters in this book, and many of them come to a gruesome end. Guy N. Smith lives in England and has published dozens of books, all of them good. The Wood is a modern horror classic.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
Best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard’s many stories have all been collected by Ballantine Books. This massive collection covers a lot of territory with mostly short tales, but each beautifully written and benefiting from Howard’s wild imagination and imagistic prose. Included here are classic tales like “Wolfshead,” “The Children of the Night,” “People of the Dark,” “Worms of the Earth” and “Pigeons from Hell.” This is hard-boiled testosterone laced fiction at its finest. All of the lesser known stories are equally fantastic, such as “Dig Me No Grave” and “The Cairn on the Headland.”  The volume includes some of Howard’s poetry as well. If you haven’t read anything by Robert E. Howard, this book is a great place to start. Ballantine Books have many other collected volumes available of Howard’s work. This edition benefits from beautiful detailed illustrations by Greg Staples.

Thank you and have a frightfully good time!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Sabat 5: Wistman’s Wood by Guy N. Smith

For reader’s unfamiliar with Mark Sabat, ex-priest, SAS (Special Air Service) trained killer, and exorcist, you are encouraged to track down the compilation, Dead Meat which includes all of the Sabat novels prior to this one. Individual titles in paperback are easily found on e-bay. The Mark Sabat novels are among Guy N. Smith’s more popular series and well worth your time. Wistman’s Wood is Guy’s brand new novel this year and a real treat. Guy brings readers up-to-date quickly on Sabat’s background and the horror starts right away. Wistman’s Wood is in many ways a traditional horror story, and perhaps that’s why it’s so appealing. Guy Smith makes the idea of a haunted forest seem fresh, and Sabat’s decades long battle against his evil brother adds another texture. This, coupled with some hot romance in the form of Toni Anderson who keeps Sabat warm between the sheets, and Wistman’s Wood is a Halloween delight. Sabat is on the hunt for his brother, and when people go missing in Wistman’s Wood and then turn up later as The Living Dead, the gruesome factor and fright factor rise exponentially. The prolific and ever popular Guy N. Smith proves yet again that his wicked imagination is in top form, and writers don’t need to publish 500 page tomes to tell a good story. Wistman’s Wood is 143 pages of pure terror with a shocking ending for Sabat fans. This is absolutely my favorite scary book this season, and highly recommended.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Siren’s Call by Mary Ann Mitchell

Siren’s Call is about a stripper named Sirena who happens to be a serial killer. She’s hot and sexy and suffered abuse as a child and that’s what flipped the wrong switch that puts her on the road to murder. The story moves briskly and involves her friends at the strip club called Silky Femmes. You’ll meet Chrissie and Treyce and Ross, and later a few more. Ross the bartender is quite fond of Sirena without knowing anything about her. One circumstance leads to another shortly after Sirena kills a pick-up named Duncan. Ross become suspicious of Sirena after Duncan never returns home, and someone naturally comes looking for him. The set-up is typical of a thriller of this type, but Mitchell keeps it lively. The graphic descriptions of Sirena cutting up the bodies are appropriately brief, but be warned there’s a dash of necrophilia here. Siren’s Call is a solid thriller and available for Kindle. Mary Ann Mitchell previously had published several top-flight vampire novels with Leisure Books. All of these are now available as e-books as well. Cathedral of Vampires, Ambrosial Flesh and Sips of Blood are all recommended. I haven’t read everything that Mitchell has published, but when I do read one of her stories I’ve always enjoyed them. The Siren’s Call enticing cover should spice up your Kindle, and Mitchell’s prose will keep you flipping the pages.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Bronze Age Swamp Thing Vol. One

Swamp Thing first appeared in House of Secrets in the summer of 1971. Created by writer Len Wein with artist Bernie Wrightson, the first issue of Swamp Thing appeared in the autumn of the following year and together Wein and Wrightson had created the best horror comic in DCs long history. The Wein and Wrightson collaboration lasted ten issues and then Nestor Redondo drew the next three issues. That initial run of the Swamp Thing comic book would run 24 issues but those first thirteen issues are the ones that count. After that, other editors, writers and artists would tackle the muck-encrusted monstrosity, make changes to the origin, and generally bugger-up a premise that didn’t need changing. Even later, when Alan Moore penned the series – and he was very good – unnecessary changes continued to be the standard operating method. Go back and read those first stories by the late great Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson and Nestor Redondo, and you’ll no doubt agree as to their value. I’ve always been a Swamp Thing fan, and I even interviewed actor Dick Durock, the actor who played Swamp Thing in the films and on television, and that magazine article I wrote is one of my favorites. Dick Durock was cool and Swamp Thing is cool. This compilation collects all of the Wein and Wrightson/Redondo issues and is part of DCs outstanding dedication to quality reprints of their famous titles. This, at last, they have done right. The stories are reprinted in their entirety, in full color, and with the covers reproduced as well. This is Wein and Wrightson and Swamp Thing at their best. The weirdness factor ramps up quickly, and serves as a reminder that Swamp Thing was first and foremost a horror comic with science fiction elements. Later writers and artists forgot or ignored that crucial point. Yes, there were some excellent Swamp Thing issues later on, but this trade paperback gives readers the quintessential tales that defined the character. Mark it as Must-Have.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Cursed Comics Cavalcade # 1

Fresh on the racks from DC Comics is Cursed Comics Cavalcade # 1 featuring 10 terrifying tales for Halloween. With a cover design and artwork intentionally mimicking the historic 1950s horror comic books, Cursed Comics Cavalcade # 1 is something of an anomaly in DCs roundup. I was startled to learn they were even attempting such a book, but I’m glad they did. With a gruesome cover by Doug Mahnke and starring Swamp Thing, Guy Gardner, Zatanna, Batman, Superman, Black Lightning, Green Arrow, and others, Cursed Comics Cavalcade # 1 offers up a macabre series of chilling tales for Halloween. The diverse artistic styles mesh perfectly with each other without seeming obtrusive. I think my favorites are the Swamp Thing tale by Tim Seely and Kyle Hotz, followed by Gary Dauberman and Ricardo Federici’s Batman tale and Michael Moreci and Felipe Watanabe and Jonas Trindade’s Green Arrow Story. These stories are a tad more explicit than you normally find in a DC Comic, and DC marketed this book as “the most terrifying, most shocking and most horrific comic that DC Comics has ever published!” That bold statement is nearly proven on every page, although still shy of the shock value found in 1950s era classics like Tales from the Crypt or The Vault of Horror. This title, in conjunction with DCs recently released Swamp Thing Halloween Horror Giant # 1, might help usher in a new era of monthly horror titles – if we’re lucky.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Swamp Thing Halloween Horror Giant # 1

All but one of the stories included here are reprints, but these are good stories. Swamp Thing Halloween Horror Giant # 1 is available exclusively at Wal-Mart as part of their special contract with the retailer. To date, this is the one title DC has released to Wal-Mart that I believe should be considered a hot, collectible book. This compilation begins with a new, short Swamp Thing story by Brian Azzarello and Greg Capullo and concludes with a reprint of the first Swamp Thing story by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson from House of Secrets # 92. Wein and Wrightson both passed away last year, and that makes this book bittersweet for us Swamp Thing fans. The other stories feature Aquaman, Superman, Zatanna, The Enchantress and Blue Devil. Notable is the inclusion of the classic Batman story, “Night of the Reaper,” by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano and Denny O’Neil. Best of all, none of these stories are “continued next issue...” which plagues the other Wal-Mart titles. Overall, this is a great collection of spooky tales. There are fewer Halloween themed comics on the racks these days, and when they do appear they usually mimic (unsuccessfully) the classic horror titles of the 1950s. In fact, DC Comics just released Cursed Comics Cavalcade which I’ll review next. Anyway, Swamp Thing was originally a horror comic with science fiction elements, but over time DC writers and editors tried to mold him into a superhero, which never really worked. Swamp Thing Halloween Horror Giant # 1 gives us a taste of the source material, and makes for a fun Halloween season read.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The New Adventures of Frankenstein by Donald F. Glut

This is volume one reprinting Don Glut’s pulp paperback stories from late 60s and through the 70s where he resurrected Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster. Included here are the novels Frankenstein Lives Again, Terror of Frankenstein, Bones of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets Dracula, Frankenstein Vs. the Werewolf, and Frankenstein in the Lost World. A lifelong fan of the famed Universal Studios classic monster films, Don Glut is a comic book writer, book collector, film collector and film director, and super-fan extraordinaire.  These moody and pulpish creepshow stories reflect all of those influences, with a dash of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker thrown into the mix. The material is often wacky and over-the-top, defying logic and demanding that you suspend your disbelief. That’s okay with me, because Glut is a fine writer and the creepiness and action seldom let up. This oversized edition comes with photographs scattered throughout, and a concluding essay by Glut explaining the origins of the stories and why he chose to amend and rewrite sections of the novels. I thought it was all great, and my only nitpicking complaint is that the oversized book is hard to hold in your hands. A small Trade Paperback size would have been the better size choice. Mark Maddox created the splendid cover, and it’s all published by Pulp 2.0 Press. Volume two is already available. Don’s latest venture is an independent film titled Tales of Frankenstein and should be available on DVD soon.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin by Erika M. Szabo and Joe Bonadonna

This delightful book offers a great story for middle-grade children who enjoy Halloween tales or who simply love to read. When Nikki and Jack find a black pumpkin on Halloween, a skeleton named Wishbone tells them that inside the pumpkin are the ghosts of the Wishmothers. This clever premise sets up the ensuing adventure. Nikki and Jack decide to help and Wishbone takes them to a place called Creepy Hollow where they need to find the three wands required to free the Wishmothers. The adventure is all great fun, creepy but never gross, and a truly fine story for readers of any age. You’ll meet Ghoulina, a beautiful vegetarian, and Catman, both of whom assist Nikki and Jack. The authors do a great job of world building as Nikki and Jack venture through Red Crow Forest (I love that name), and the Cave of the Spooks. The villain is the wicked Hobgoblin whom you’ll meet up front in the tale’s preface. Erika M. Szabo also provided the cover and interior artwork which adds another appealing layer to the novel. Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin is a modern Halloween classic for middle-grade readers and highly recommended. Best of all there is a sequel, The Power of the Sapphire Wand, and a combined edition is available as Creepy Hollow Adventures 1 & 2. Kindle and audiobook editions are also available. Authors Erika M. Szabo and Joe Bonadonna have published many books independently and interested readers will do well by tracking down books by these authors. Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin is a must-buy for Halloween.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Frankenstein’s Tower by Jean-Claude Carriere

Originally published in French in 1957 under the pseudonym Benoit Becker, this edition is translated by Denese Morden and was published by Grey Tiger Books in 2016. Carriere wrote six novels that continued the plot of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Frankenstein’s Tower, Frankenstein’ Tread, The Night of Frankenstein, The Seal of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Prowls, and Frankenstein’s Cellar. These French novels initiated a cult following for decades. I am missing the final two, but will attest to the quality on the first four. Frankenstein’s Tower is a bone chilling fright-fest. In September 1875, and in the countryside of Kanderley near Belfast, eighteen-year-old Helen Coostle is visiting her grandmother where she soon meets a fascinating old man that tells her about the ruins of a nearby castle that features a museum about Dr. Frankenstein. Intrigued, she ventures forth and soon views what she believes are the remains of Frankenstein’s monster. The monster now has a name – Gouroull. He is gigantic, grey-skinned, vicious and vengeful. Awakened from his slumber after surviving the ice-flow decades earlier, Gouroull is unleashed upon the world once more. Frankenstein’s Tower has the feel of a pulpish penny dreadful, with breezy prose but grim circumstances and a strong sense of evil. An older man named Blessed is instrumental in sparking Helen’s interest in the allegedly haunted castle, and with Gouroull soon rampaging about, her terror and confusion mount with each swift chapter. The plot doesn’t get resolved with a bouquet of flowers. In fact, the conclusion is chilling. Highly recommended for fans of both Mary Shelley’s novel and the legendary films from Universal Studios. The cover art is by Michael Gourdon from the original French dust jacket and pays homage to Boris Karloff.