Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Twelve Frights of Christmas edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg

(1986: horror/science fiction anthology.  "Introduction" by Isaac Asimov.)

From the back cover:

"We wish you a macabre Christmas with thirteen of the best horror tales of the season. Hang on to your stocking with very special care by 'The Chimney,' a chiller about what really comes down from the roof on Christmas Eve. Or join Robert Bloch on 'The Night Before Christmas' by trimming the tree. . . in a shocking fashion. It's hardly a silent night even in outer space, where Arthur C. Clarke makes our blood run cold with the truth about Bethelhem's star.

"So curl up by those chestnuts roasting on an open fire. . . as these masters leave you screaming on a white Christmas."


Overall review:

Quality-wise, this anthology is a mixed bag.

Seven of the stories are good or excellent, the rest are decent or unpublishable (those that fall into this category often run too long; with some quick trimming, they, too, might've been excellent, or at least publishable).

Worth checking out from the library, this. Don't spend your money on it.


Review, story by story:


1.) "The Chimney" - Ramsey Campbell: A boy discovers another spirit of Christmas. Miasmic, relentless, childhood-true.


2.) "Markheim" - Robert Louis Stevenson: An impoverished criminal (Markheim), trying to complete what appears to be a successful crime, is interrupted by a wily stranger. Overly long, chatty, sharp-humored story.

"Markheim" has been filmed twice.

The first version, a twenty-five minute short, aired on Polish television on January 28, 1972. It was directed and scripted by Janusz Majewski.

Jerzy Kamsas played Markheim. Grazyna Dluglecka played Karolinka. Aleksander Bardini played Antykwariusz. Jan Tesarz played Pijak.

The second version aired on British television on December 24, 1974. Tina Wakerell directed the film, from a script by Tom Wright.

Derek Jacobi played Markheim. Paul Curran played "The Dealer". Julian Glover played "The Stranger". Sally Kinghorn played "The Maid".


3.) "The Night Before Christmas" - Robert Bloch: A portrait painter gets caught in the middle of a dangerous divorce between a rich man and his beautiful wife. Suspenseful, witty, noir- and horror-veracious tale.


4.) "The Festival" - H.P. Lovecraft: In the town of Kingsport, a questing man, honoring the wishes of his people, attends a terrifying, subterranean, once-a-century "Yule-rite".

This is a typical Lovecraft story: vivid, miasmic-mood descriptions, oozing/spooky locales and, of course, a touch of madness. The story ends on a tepid - compared to what precedes it - note, but otherwise it's okay.


5.) "The Old Nurse's Story" - Mrs. Gaskell: Ultra-chatty first-person POV tale -- too loquacious for this reader: I stopped reading it two pages into the story.


6.) "Glámr" - S. Baring-Gould: Long than necessary, but overall okay Norse horror story about a ghost-/vampire-haunted sheepwalk.


7.) "Pollock and the Porroh Man" - H.G. Wells: Pollock, a callous man, falls prey to a witch doctor's vengeful predation. Good, colorful story.


8.) "The Weird Woman" - Anonymous: Two brothers (Frank and Oswald Tregethan), along with a cousin (Cicely Mostyn), arrive at their dead uncle's estate in North Wales to attend the reading of his will, only to fall under the dark sway of "The Tregethan Curse".

Atmospheric, spooky, exciting tale.


9.) "The Hellhound Project" - Ron Goulart: 2030 A.D. Thad McIntosh, a homeless man, is asked by the Opposition Party to go undercover, investigate and stop a mysterious corporate secret weapons program.

Fun science fiction/action story, with lots of twists and twisty characters.


10.) "Wolverden Tower" - Grant Allen: Mostly-solid tale about a young woman (Maisie Llewelyn), whose arrival at Wolverden Hall sets off a series of supernatural events.

The story's deep flaws reside in its excessive length and its anticlimactic, obvious-early-on finish.


11.) "Planet of Fakers" - J.T. McIntosh: Alien, human-possessing telepaths (Procarpans) threaten to take over a human population on an alien planet. Good, clever, plot- and character-wending piece.


12.) "Life Sentence" - James McConnell: Oliver Symmes, an institutionalized aged murderer, relives, again and again, the events that led him to his current situation. Well-written, okay-plot work.


13.) "The Star" - Arthur C. Clarke: Scientists, investigating the aftermath of a supernova, discover humanity-altering veracities among the scattered cosmic rocks.

This is an excellent, intellectualized story that sports a big nod at Clarke's novel 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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