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.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Book Review: The Ancient Enemy

Book Review: 'The Ancient Enemy' by Donald Thompson

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Ancient Enemy’ ( 220 pp) was published by Fawcett Crest in 1979; the cover artist is uncredited.

It’s no major spoiler to disclose that the subject of this horror novel is………carnivorous insects.

As the novel opens, its protagonist, Dr. Roberto Costaign, is driving up into the mountain country of Nevada, looking forward to a week of vacation.

Author Thompson knows he’s not writing for the Quiet Horror crowd; by page five, Costaign witnesses a disturbing sight: a nude young woman is staggering down the side of the road, her long blonde hair askew, her body covered in blood….!

Costaign takes the young woman into the nearby town of Cherakowa. There, Sheriff Anton Whitney asks Costaign to accompany him back up the mountain road to where the woman probably was working: the brothel known as Eros Ranch.

Arriving at the Ranch, Costaign and Whitney find the Ranch to be……you guessed it…..Eerily Quiet.

A bit of poking around reveals.......... a scene of shocking horror……..!

Has Plague descended on the hapless Eros Ranch ? Sheriff Whitney returns to town and calls the state health department to ask for an epidemiologist.

But the Mayor of Cherakowa asks him to lay off any further intervention………for the town is just starting its Centennial Festival, a major moneymaker. The last thing Cherakowa needs is rumors of plague, a state task force, and blocked roads.

Against his better judgment, Sheriff Whitney agrees to soft-peddle the disaster at the Ranch just long enough for the Festival to close…..a decision that will have fateful consequences. For the epidemiologist – an attractive woman named Pat Symington – isn’t the only person heading to the Ranch. A group of Working Girls and their Vietnam Veteran boyfriends have decided to stop by the Ranch, too………..setting up a confrontation with a group of homicidal bikers bent on revenge against the Sheriff.

And just under the soil surrounding the Ranch, the Ancient Enemy is preparing to come out with the arrival of dusk………there are many of them, and they all are hungry……..

‘The Ancient Enemy’ is a classic late 70’s eco-horror novel, one with thematic resemblances to movies like Willard, Phase IVFrogs, and Squirm

Author Thompson’s prose style is not particularly sophisticated: men Squiggle through bushes, and water Giggles Out through a tiny hole.

But, to be fair, such writing isn’t all that much different from the purple prose Ramsey Campbell used in his stories of the era, stories frequently considered among the 'Year’s Best Horror Stories'.

And ‘The Ancient Enemy’ has a narrative that is fast-moving and action-centered, making it a jolt of adrenaline when compared to the labored, overwritten horror stories of Charles L. Grant, Dennis Etchison, and T. E. D. Klein that were garnering much praise in the late 70s.

Summing up, I can’t recommend ‘The Ancient Enemy’ as a must-read. But if you are fond of those low, low budget ‘creature’ films that air on the SyFy TV, then you may want to pick up a copy.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Shift: Vampire from Scream issue 5

Shift: Vampire
written by Augustine Funnell
art by Emilio Bernado
from Scream (Skywald) No. 5, April 1974

An offbeat little tale that asks the question: what if a vampire had access to a time machine......?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: Ossian's Ride

Book Review: 'Ossian's Ride' by Fred Hoyle

3 / 5 Stars

‘Ossian’s Ride’ first was published in 1959; this Berkley Medallion paperback (153 pp) was published in January 1961. The cover art is by Richard Powers.

The novel is set in the near future, that is, 1970. Ireland is the most technologically advanced nation in the world, thanks to the efforts of a cryptic entity called the Industrial Corporation of Eire, or ICE.

Founded in 1958, as a humble enterprise to commercialize chemicals extracted from peat, the ICE has overseen the advent of fission power and other advanced technologies within the boundaries of Ireland – but not does not share its knowledge and expertise with the rest of a bewildered world. Indeed, County Kerry, where the ICE is located, is closed to all visitors save those scientists from around the globe who elect to come and work for the agency.

The British government has viewed Ireland’s rise to power with mingled envy and alarm. Unfortunately, all efforts by the British to infiltrate the ICE and learn its secrets have been dismal failures, as the ICE is not only adept at counterespionage, but takes a mocking tone as it dismantles one British spy ring after another.

As the novel opens a young mathematician and recent Cambridge graduate named Thomas Sherwood is recruited by British Intelligence to discover the secret within Ireland. The hope is that Sherwood can credibly pose as a scientist with a legitimate interest in working for the ICE. Sherwood is sent to Dublin, there to contact one of the last remnants of the UK’s spy ring. From Dublin, his mission is to enter County Kerry, learn the ICE’s secrets of fission power, and bring them back to London……..

The cover blurbs for ‘Ossian’s Ride’ state that it’s a novel in the tradition of John Buchan’s ‘The 39 Steps’, and this certainly is true. Much of the plot in ‘Ossian’ deals with Sherwood’s travels amidst the bucolic countryside of Ireland, its quaint villages and cities, in the course of evading pursuit or seeking his next contact. While occasional episodes of violence give the narrative sufficient momentum, this is by no means a slam-bang adventure novel with explosions and gadgets.

‘Ossian’ is written with the clean, careful prose style that marks the sf authored by Fred Hoyle. I found it an easy read. But its major weakness is the ending; while I won’t disclose any spoilers, I will say that I found it unconvincing, as well as imparting a contrived character to many of the plot developments preceding it.

Summing up, if you’re looking for a well-crafted short sf novel, then ‘Ossian’s Ride’ is worth picking up. But be mindful that its Big Revelation is purely in keeping with the attitudes of sf from the late 50s.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cheap Trick: Dream Police

Cheap Trick: 'Dream Police'
released September 21, 1979

I remember when this album was released in September of 1979......it had a very cool cover (note Rick Neilsen is toting a chain saw, with a dismembered female mannequin lying nearby). 

The interior gatefold and back cover also were pretty elaborate.

I didn't know it at the time, but the band made a music video to promote the album........this was two years before MTV even existed, so it was rather unusual for 1979.

Although the title track and the followup single 'Voices' are the best known cuts, there are a couple of other tracks worth listening too on the album. These are garage rock songs, genuine 70s stuff. 

The signature song in the album probably is the 9 minute 'Gonna Raise Hell'......an overambitious song, and arguably an outstanding example of 70s Excess (there is an segment where Robin Zander tries to screech and wail like Robert Plant........!) but also a song possessed of a kind of crazed energy and exuberance that is very rare in today's over-produced guitar rock........

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Book Review: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu

Book Review: 'Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu' by L. Neil Smith

0 / 5 Stars

'Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu' (182 pp) was published by Ballantine Books in July, 1983. The cover artwork is by William Schmidt.

Lester Neil Smith (b. 1946) wrote three Lando Calrissian adventures for Ballantine; 'Mindharp' is the first of the trilogy, the other two being 'Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon' (1983) and 'Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka' (1983).

[According to PorPor Blog reader Edo Bosnar, 'Mindharp' is set prior to the film Star Wars IV: A New Hope, as Lando is in possession of the MiIlenium Falcon and using it to travel around various star systems in search of gambling venues, and easy money.]

When Lando hears rumors of The Treasure of Rafa - a priceless artifact located (logically enough) in the Rafa system, he decides to investigate. Unfortunately for our hero, he falls afoul of two reprobates on Rafa IV: Duttes Mir and Rokur Gepta. They make Lando an offer he can't refuse......... travel to Rafa V and retrieve the artifact: the Mindharp of Sharu.

The Mindharp is a musical instrument left behind by the Sharu, a humanoid race of considerable technological advancement, who mysteriously vanished thousands of years ago. If Lando can find it and bring it back to Duttes Mir and Rokur Gepta, he will be a wealthy man - or so they tell him.

He'll also be released from prison.

Lando has no choice but to agree to find the Mindharp. Accompanied by an eccentric old man named Moh, and a droid with the cutesy name of Vuffi Ra, Lando makes for Raffa V. 

But finding the Harp won't be easy: lurking at Raffa V are hostile tribesmen, crystal trees that leech away one's mind, and the knowledge that Duttes Mir and Rokur Gepta are the kind of men who rarely keep their bargains...........

While I always have reduced expectations when reading a Franchise novel, 'Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu' was a chore to finish. I kept plugging away, chapter after chapter, hoping that at some point the story would get better. But it never did.

L. Neil Smith wrote a number of sf novels during the 80s, which I have not read. Whether those novels are well-written or not is unclear. But with 'Mindharp', he was simply writing to pay the bills. His prose style throughout 'Mindharp' displays a deliberately campy style that gives the entire endeavor a hokey, facetious attitude.

Here's a sample of the book's dialogue:

Lando slammed a palm on the armrest of his chair: "Well, I'll be double-dyed, hornswoggled, and trussed up like a holiday fowl ! We were set up, Vuffi Ra ! Gepta must have had his convict spies watching the port for months - possibly years - to find a sucker with the right qualifications: gambler, spaceship-captain, with an unenameled droid and a weak mind. That's why neither a creepy old Tund magician nor that ugly neckless governor of his could play this hand themselves: they don't fit the Toka legend !"

The entire book is filled with this stuff.........it's painful to read. 

Even die-hard Star Wars fans are urged to pass on this dud !

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Battle for the Planet of the Apes Part IV

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Part IV of VII
by Doug Moench (script) and Sonny Trinidad, Yong Montano, and Dino Castrillo (art) 
Planet of the Apes (Marvel / Curtis) No. 25, October 1976