File It Under Fear

Before I write about this unseasonably warm Hallowe’en, I just want to announce how fascinating I’ve found the BBC Genome Project, which archives issues of the Radio Times.  I found out the very night my dad sent me to bed in 1973 when I wanted to see Barbarella. (Monday November 26th!) It is an amazing tool to reacquaint you with your childhood and adolescence through  BBC TV.

It also lends weight to my recent theory that, as a very small boy, I only began to watch Patrick Troughton in Dr. Who because Batman had ended on STV in the spring of 1967.  I hope Scottish nostalgists might supply transmission dates for Batman in the Clyde Valley area.

It’s curious that the notion of Hallowe’en as a month-long festival and something of a holiday has seemed to have filtered into our culture in the last couple of decades- probably through the service industry and US corporations like Wal-Mart. Trick or Treat was an exclusively Yank custom in my childhood; we called it “guising” and it was a time for monkey nuts, not Haribo. 

However, I don’t need much encouragement to watch old Universal or Hammer movies at the weekend. This year, it was Sixties Brit monster movie, Island of Terror and Thirties Art Deco-Satanist shocker, The Black Cat.

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The former is like a Pertwee Who projected backwards a few years in time. It features Peter Cushing and the bluff Edward Judd fighting bone -eating  monsters on a (not very) Irish island. I think I first saw it in the 80s on C4 and it’s quite slow. The “look” reminds me very much of Daleks -Invasion Earth 2150 AD.

I first saw The Black Cat, I think, the weekend before our holiday in the Rhins in 1977: the weekend before Elvis died. It is an astonishing -and very short- story of necrophilia, torture and revenge. Karloff and Lugosi play old enemies who engage in a battle of wills in a fantastic Bauhaus fortress. It must have been very shocking to its audience and it’s still powerful (if a little mannered to our tastes). Interestingly, the soundtrack was reused for the Flash Gordon serials – and his Trip to Mars was on the very same Saturday in ’77.

ghosts

My Halloween reading matter included DC’s  Showcase Presents Ghosts. I’ve read a couple of volumes of the Joe Orlando stable of titles from the late Sixties and early 70s. Ghosts was editor Murray Boltinoff’s contribution: Levitz says it was a “disproportionately good seller”.

It purports to present “true tales of the weird and supernatural” but the very first story borrows heavily from that of Miss Havisham in Great expectations so I hae ma doots on that score.

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Many of the stories  were written by Leo Dorfman, who created Pete Ross, Superboy’s pal. I didn’t find Ghosts anywhere as enjoyable as The Witching Hour, for example but I like Cardy’s stylish scroll design for the covers. I also came to enjoy the exuberance and surrealism of Jerry Grandinetti.

Last night I read the sole two issues of Marvel’s 1975 Masters  of Terror anthology. This was quite a late entry in their horror line of b/w magazines: Dracula Lives and Vampire Tales were finally staked at this year. 

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The selling point of this mag was its literary value: these were all shockers by Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard etc. They had all appeared in colour two or three years earlier too, so it was a reprint collection, tapping the vein, as it were, of Chamber of Darkness, Journey Into Mystery, Supernatural Thrillers and others. I never read many of those titles at the time- I preferred the superheroes and I often found DC’s “mystery” books like House of ,eh, Mystery quite scary!

Here’s a run down of the contents of issues 1 & 2:

It: first published in Supernatural Thrillers and  the originator of swamp monsters  including Solomon Grundy, Swamp Thing and Man-Thing. Really well-written. Adapted by Roy Thomas and Marie Severin.

The Horror from the Mound: dull Mexican vampire tale by REH. Adapted by Gardner Fox and Frank Brunner for Chamber of Chills.

The Terrible Old Man: primitive work by Barry Smith on a Lovecraft story in Tower of Shadows (and from the first issue I ever glimpsed). Disappointing on all levels, although I like the Kirby-isms a little.

The Drifting Snow: eerie, gorgeous vampire tale from, uh, Vampire Tales #4. Adapted by Tony Isabella and Esteban (Satana) Maroto.

The Shambler from the Stars: Robert Bloch does Lovecraft adapted by Ron Goulart and Jim Starlin. Very early Starlin is not great. This story and the next are both from Journey into Mystery

Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper: dynamic Bloch adaptation by Goulart, Thomas and Gil Kane. A very well-known story- one of my S4 pupils wrote about it in her Added Value Unit. Second-best thing in this issue.

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The second edition opens with The Invisible Man by Goulart and Val Mayerik who always seemed like a poor man’s Berni Wrightson. I think I first saw this “Supernatural Thriller”  in POTA weekly and maybe again in Dr. Who Weekly. it’s competent but a bit boring.

The Man Who Cried Werewolf: weak Bloch adaptation by Gerry Conway and Pablo Marcos. You can see Steranko influences. This was the headliner in Monsters Unleashed #1.

Dig Me No Grave: my favourite in this issue. a Faustian tale by REH, adapted by Thomas and Kane. Again, from the revived Journey Into Mystery and an early POTA reprint too.

The Music of Erich Zann: Thomas and Johnny Craig provide the first of two Lovecraft adaptations from Chamber of Darkness. This cosmic tale is competent but not brilliant.

Pickman’s Model: The other Lovecraft shockeroonie is by Thomas and Tom Palmer. it’s very naturalistic but also predictable.

The Roaches: this is quite unsettling. Gerry Conway and Ralph Reese bring an Underground Comix flavour to a queasy revenge story by Thomas Disch, who novelised The Prisoner. The Roaches ( from Monsters Unleashed features a rather racist and sexually repressed woman with an obsession for cleanliness.

There were no further issues of Masters of Terror ( although the branding was re-used in 1978 in an issue of Marvel Preview). This is a pity because I would be interested in more reprints from Tower of Shadows . Ron Goulart was a name I associated with the one-and only issue of Power of Warlock I got at Glasgow’s Queen Street Station in the early 70s. Turns out not only did he ghost-write Shatner’s Tekwars, he also wrote this Flash Gordon book I got later in the decade.

Flash Gordon 1 Lion Men

And neatly we return to the Seventies- tonight I have House of Dark Shadows to catch up with and the beginning of the Twelfth Doctor’s series finale. More on this to come…

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

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