Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Fear Today—Gone Tomorrow by Robert Bloch

 

(pb; 1971)

From the back cover

“HORROR—

“Harvey Wolf had his first taste of it when a witch doctor offered him a warm red drink from a hollowed skull—and Harvey developed cravings that nothing in this world could ever satisfy.

“HORROR—

“Crothers created it when he devised a much-too-successful solution to population control: a Madison-Avenue-launched suicide craze that swept the globe—and swept it clean.

“HORROR—

“Dave Larson looked into its eyes and read its history—as ancient as tribal sacrifice, as destructive as war, as bloody as the hands of a mass murderer. And then he become its most devoted servant.

“HORROR—

“The men of Earth invited it when they under-estimated the power of a woman—Venutian variety—and discovered, too late, that lovers can sometimes be terrifying strangers.”

 

Review

Bloch’s Fear, about aliens plotting the acceleration of mankind’s demise, is an ambitious, often darkly clever (a Blochian trademark) and piece-meal work, one advertised as a novel. It should’ve been back cover-blurbed (and advertised) as a loosely linked anthology, given how many word-sketched and loosely linked characters play their parts in Fear’s wide-ranging and blink-and-you’ll-lose-track storyline(s) before the characters permanently disappear (usually for good reason). Also, Fear jumps around a lot, a la Ray Bradbury’s theme- and location-based story collection The Martian Chronicles (1950), but where Bradbury’s iconic work succeeds, Bloch’s feels (too) abstract, dialogue-chatty, and scatter-shot in its thematic arc to be effective or reader-rewarding in its wrap-up. By the time this reader got to the end, I was just glad it was over, despite its sly wit, fast pacing, and wild genre elements (with mythic sourcing—hello, Minerva).

A hard-to-follow novel by a great writer, this is best read as a story anthology, with a loosely defined theme (humanity is likely doomed), buoyed in fleeting parts by Bloch’s black wit and (sometimes, in this case) tight set-ups and events. Worth reading, with the right expectations.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Not Long For This World by August Derleth

 

(pb; 1948: story anthology)

From the back cover

“Turn up the lights and lock the windows. . .

“These stories are of all kinds—these are tales of psychic residue and ghostly vengeance, of witchcraft and ancient sorcery, justice and pure horror, of black magic and THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT.”

 

Overall review

The twenty-two stories in this anthology range from solid to excellent, bearing in mind that when Derleth wrote these stories (between 1931 and 1948) his moralistic, tightly plotted and neatly wrapped up style was not as familiar to readers as it is today. This is a good anthology by a master writer whose horrors lurk largely and effectively in the reader’s imagination, less spelled out than suggestive. Worth reading, this, perhaps owning if you enjoy Old School/sometimes Lovecraft-inspired short waste-no-words short works.

 

Review, story by story

The Shadow on the Sky”: A writer (Sir Hilary James) while writinghis family history on his estate, sees—imagines?—a man hanging on a nearby tree, one that repeatedly vanishes and reappears. When two doctors (Sir Massingham Halstead and Dr. Robin Davey) try to help him, James’s situation takes on a darker, more pressing urgency.

Modern readers are likely to figure out where “Shadow” (and other stories in this collection) are going, but between Derleth’s spare prose and unsettling premise, it’s still an entertaining read.

 

Birkett’s Twelfth Corpse”: The rivalry between two boatmen (good-natured Fred Birkett and violent Hank Room) turns deadly, with a fitting end. “Birkett’s” brevity—shared by “The Shadow on the Sky”—as well as its succinct set-up and action makes this macabre tale effectively atmospheric, spooky and moralistic.

 

The White Moth”: Paul Blake, a widower who got away with his wife’s murder, starts seeing her mocking presence everywhere. “White” ends the way many readers might expect, but it’s a solid story.

 

Nellie Foster”: Delight, excellent piece about two women (Mrs. Kraft and Mrs. Perkins) who take matters into their hands when a vampire begins feeding on their town’s children. Effective commentary about sexism, with a smile-inducing end-line.

 

Wild Grapes”: A killer (Luke Adams) buries his victim (Uncle Rasta) and grows grapes over Rasta’s corpse, a clever but flawed plan. Solid work.

 

Feigman’s Beard”: Martha Feigman, who’s had it with her vain, thieving half-brother (Eb), has a hex woman (the widow Klopp) place a death curse on him, with unexpected (for her) results. Solid work.

 

The Drifting Snow”: Extreme winter poses a serious supernatural threat to a family, one that will likely claim one of them before the night is through. Atmospheric story with a strong terror build-up and a solid finish.

 

The Return of Sarah Purcell”: An old woman (Emma Purcell) is haunted by her recently deceased sister (Sarah) who’s obsessed with a doll. Solid, spooky writing, meh finish.

 

Logoda’s Heads”: Logoda, a troublesome voodoo priest for certain Englishmen, becomes more so with an additional shrunken head in his collection—one that will change everything for him and one man in particular. Good story, could see myself reading this one in illustrated form in an issue of EC Comics.

 

The Second Print”: A young woman (Moncati) becomes increasingly disturbed by the last photo he took of his evil, murderous stepfather (Hercules Teddifer), recently killed by his own machinations. Solid story, you’ll likely see where it’s going, but otherwise well-written.

 

Mrs. Elting Does Her Part”: Solid end-twist tale about a psychic (Elting) whose séance strikes a too-true-for-comfort chord in a scam artist (Sanders Hawk).

 

Mrs. Bentley’s Daughter”: In Sac Prairie, a woman (Mrs. Vaile) encounters a “pert” child (Dorothy Bentley) by a well, more storied than Vaile thinks. Modern readers might immediately suss what’s going on (the case with many stories in this anthology), but—like those stories—it’s well-written, entertaining.

 

Those Who Seek”: An ancient oceanside abbey is the site of repeated supernatural terrors—in “Those,” the most recent tale, an artist (Jason Phillips) and Arnsley Leveredge (whose father inherited the abbey ruins) spend the night there, unaware of the horrors that lurk there.

 

Seek” is one of the best, ambitious and thick-with-effective-atmosphere entries in this collection, a gripping Lovecraftian read, more straightforward than Lovecraft’s work. Memorable, excellent.

 

Mrs. Berbeck Had a Dream”: Sometimes-spooky, overall excellent tale about a poisoned murder victim (Mrs. Berbeck), her son (Peter), his wife, and Mrs. Berbeck’s fitting, imaginative revenge. One of the few stories in this book where I wasn’t sure where the characters were going to end up. All-around great and memorable piece, this, with a clever title.

 

The Lilac Bush”: Two children (Ada Jones and her brother) become obsess with a bush on their family property as well as the man they see picking lilacs from it. Solid story.

 

A Matter of Sight”: Fun, quirky and memorable work about two strangers on a train, one talking about unlikely, phantasmic visions of high-profile history, and the other (his car-mate), nettled by the man’s intrusive presence and conversation. Intriguing lead-up, great ending.

 

Mrs. Lanisfree”: Jack, hired to be a house-cleaning live-in companion to Roger Lanisfree (an older man)( in his summer house, is drawn into a macabre mystery of nightly sea-water footprints on the kitchen floor, Lanisfree’s absent wife (Myra), and an unsettled Roger Lanisfree.

Modern readers may immediately spot the set-up, but’s it’s still a fun ride.

 

After You, Mr. Henderson”: Two cousins (Lucas and Ellerett Henderson) engage in a disreputable financial stunt with their company after their share-holder cousin (Laetitia) dies. Humorous, entertaining piece.

 

The Lost Day”: Excellent story about Jasper Camberveigh, who wakes up one morning and discovers that his mirror reflection, for a second, is not his own. This leads him down a troubling and destructive path, involving an occult book bound in human skin and a sinister bookseller, Max Anima.

 

A Collector of Stones”: Elisha Merrihew, an unscrupulous collector of everyday stones, takes four perfect specimens and discovers there’s much more to them than he first thought.

Entertaining read, with a finish that delightfully and subtly sidesteps the usual moralistic-horror tropes.

 

The Gold-Box”: An ancient decorative box, containing dangerous contents, falls into the hands of a thief (Philip Caravel), with unsurprising, ghastly results. Good read.

 

Saunder’s Little Friend”: Raneleigh Saunder’s Aunt Agatha, an old woman he dislikes, dies, leaving him her estate—with strange, specific stipulations. Of course, he can’t help himself. . . What follows is not shocking, but it’s fun and striking, at least for this reader. Good story from a master craftsman.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Heat 2 by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner

 

(pb; 2022)

From the back cover

“One day after the end of Heat, Chris Shiherlis is holed up in Koreatown, desperately trying to escape LA. Hunting him is LAPD detective Vincent Hanna. Hours earlier, Hanna killed Shiherlis’s brother in arms Neil McCauley. Now Hanna’s determined to capture or kill Shiherlis, the last survivor of McCauley’s crew.

“In 1988, seven years earlier, McCauley, Shiherlis, and their highline crew are taking scores on the West Coast, the US-Mexican border, and now in Chicago. And Chicago homicide detective Vincent Hanna is following his calling, the pursuit of armed and dangerous men.

“Meanwhile, the fallout from McCauley’s scores and Hanna’s pursuit cause unexpected repercussions in a parallel narrative, driving through the years following Heat.”


Review

Like the movie that spawned it, Heat 2 is a slick, intense, clipped-tone and violent work that reads somewhere between a screenplay and a novel (given the background of its co-authors this is not unexpected), a book delves deeply into its characters while moving quickly through their actions and machinations. Heat 2 is an excellent, swiftly paced and worthy follow-up to Heat, one worth seeking out.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

SIMPLE MEN and TRUST by Hal Hartley

 

(pb; 1992: screenplays, with an interview by Graham Fuller)

From the back cover

Hal Hartley has one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary American cinema, and the two screenplays brought together in this volume display Hartley’s characteristic verbal dexterity and mordant humor.

Simple Men tells the story of two brothers, Bill and Dennis McCabe. Dennis is a quietly handsome, inexperienced, bookish student, while his older brother is a rough-hewn ladies’ man who verges on misogyny. Thrown together to search for their long-lost father, the pair crash into confrontations with their expectations of themselves and their attitudes towards women.

Trust is a droll analysis of family violence and the moral courage it takes to defeat it and assume faith in others.

“Also contained in this volume is an exhaustive interview in which Hartley explores both the personal and creative aspects of his work.”

 

Review

The two word-spare screenplays, true to Hartley form, are deadpan funny and clever, with characters who rarely (if ever) smile, and set-ups/situations/characters whose limited, sometimes violent situations ably reveal larger themes and commentary. Excellent, worth reading (and whose resulting films are viewing.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Taking Shape: Developing Halloween From Script to Scream by Dustin MacNeill and Travis Mullens

 

(oversized pb; 2020: nonfiction)

From the back cover

“DELETED SCENES! UNUSED IDEAS! REJECTED PITCHES! ALTERNATE CUTS!

“Silver Shamrock. Thorn. It’s all in here. Join authors Dustin McNeill and Travis Mullins for a deep dive into the evolution of Halloween’s vast mythology. Extensively researched, Taking Shape is the ultimate guide to the first forty years of Haddonfield history. Featuring exclusive interviews with filmmaker from every installment, prepare to gain new insight into Halloween’s iconic boogeyman.. .

Taking Shape includes:

Comprehensive story analysis on the entire series!

A look at what scholars got right (and wrong) about H1!

Exclusive details on Nigel Kneale’s original H3 script!

Comparisons of early scripts to the final theatrical films!

A rare interview with H5 screenwriter Michael Jacobs!

An exhaustive account of H6’s troubled production!

An examination of H20’s roots as a direct-to-video sequel!

A revealing look behind the grunge of the Rob Zombie era!

Insight into how test audiences and execs shaped the films!

In-depth dissection of the official novelizations!”

 

Review

Taking is one of the best books I’ve read about the Halloween franchise. Its chapters include all the movies up through Halloween (2018), living up to its excitable back cover description. It is indeed “exhaustive” (in a good way) in its balanced-tone detailing of how each entry in the series went from sometimes-misguided notions to silver screen reality as well as the many of the motivations of those who did (or didn’t) make those films happen. For now, it’s safe to say that Taking, for most Halloween (1978) fans, is a veritable bible on the subject—aside from some of the worthwhile movie novelizations, particularly Curtis Richards’s, for the first film. Worth owning, this. Followed by Taking Shape II: The Lost Halloween Sequels.

Halloween Ends by Paul Brad Logan

 

(pb; 2022: movie tie-in)

From the back cover

“The town of Haddonfield still lives in the shadow of Michael Myers. It has been four years since he mysteriously vanished. As Laurie attempts to put the tragedies of her past behind her, Allyson is desperate to get away from life with her grandmother in the dead-end town scorched by bloodshed.

“When local outcast Corey Cunningham discovers the truth of Michael’s whereabouts, he inadvertently unleashes a new wave of violence. With Haddonfield once more the backdrop to murderous impulses, Allyson endeavors to escape as Laurie prepares for one final confrontation with her boogeyman.”

 

Review

Logan, one of the screenwriters for the film version, is a mostly solid writer as far as expanding the story’s details and the background characters’ backgrounds (giving them names when they didn’t have them in the film, e.g., Christopher Nelson, the sewer bum who takes care of Michael Myers, and has a briefly linked past with the iconic killer). Unfortunately, Logan’s mostly solid writing can’t fix a disjointed story, with lead characters who, even if they changed in four years, feel like entirely different/new characters when compared to the first two films/novels—it’s as if the first two films/novels might as well as not existed, that this is not part of a wrap-up for the Halloween franchise. Rather, it feels like a side story that could’ve been titled Corey Cunningham: F**k-Up, with shoehorned appearances by Michael Myers, and a ridiculous final fate for Michael (which might’ve worked in a better-written film).

Ends, like its film version counterpart, has two competing storylines that should not exist within the same work. It’s like the screenwriters wanted to do a side film (that shouldn’t even be part of this supposed trilogy end-film/book) that also briefly showed Myers and a boring—yes, boring— and half-assed retread of Laurie Strode’s more-thrilling confrontations with Myers in Halloween (1978) and Halloween (2018). It’s nice that the filmmakers wanted to try something different (even beyond what they did in Halloween Kills, 2021) but this storyline is misguided, not scary, a “social message” Myers-has-new-psychic-powers film with truncated/badly patched-together scenes that add up to utter crap. If they’d stuck with Cunningham’s story (minus the possessed-with-Myers’s-evil element) it would’ve been an interesting Halloween side-story (perhaps titled Tales of Haddonfield) work. But it’s not. It’s disjointed, a betrayal of what went before with the characters (never mind the fact that Ends should’ve focused on Allyson, Laurie Strode’s granddaughter, like it did on the first two films, keeping with trilogic consistency).

Don’t waste your time with this unless you consider this a side Halloween alternate-universe work. Additionally, given Halloween Kills’s cliffhanger ending, it might be best to pretend Kills doesn’t exist, that John Passarella’s novelization of Halloween (2018) was the thus-far final (and worthwhile) entry in the Halloween franchise.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Elvira: Transylvania 90210 by Elvira and John Paragon

 

(pb; 1996: YA novel. First book in the Elvira trilogy.)

 

From the back cover

“I’m Elvira. Mistress of the Dark. Welcome to my nightmare.

“Think it’s easy being a glamour ghoul? Think again.

“My love life is so dead I have to dig up dates with a shovel. My bad hair days would make a werewolf eat a silver bullet. And my neighbors, well. . . my neighbors suck blood!

“You see, these weirdos just moved in next door, and their taste in furniture is early Mausoleum—I’m talking caskets here. Their servant is a total Igor. They only come out at night. And they seem to prefer a liquid diet, if you know what I mean. There goes the neighborhood!

“I like vampires as much as the next ghoul. But when they start chomping on my friends, look out. The new creeps on the block are about to receive a little visit—from Elvira’s unwelcome wagon.”

 

Review

Narrated by Cassandra Peterson’s sarcastic, smart Goth ghoulish alter ego, Transylvania is a consistently entertaining, funny-quip-filled young adult novel with PG-rated double entendre adult overtones (I’d recommend this for older teens). While reading it, I could hear Peterson/Elvira’s voice, Transylvania's silliness, horror and tone Elvira-true, and its quick-moving plot playfully dispensing with cliches, even as Elvira and her teenage friends figure out what to do when the vampiric Sevil Alucard and his bug-eating servant (Skreech) come to town. This 169-page book, out of print and pricy, is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, as fun as watching either of her movies or her any of her movie-host shows. Worth seeking, this.  Followed by Elvira: Camp Vamp.


Monday, October 24, 2022

White Shark by Peter Benchley

 

(pb; 1994; a.k.a. Peter Benchley’s Creature)

From the back cover

“At a small marina institute off the coast of Connecticut, only marine biologist Simon Chase realizes that a sixteen-foot pregnant Great White is feeding in the area. But even Simon doesn’t know a far deadlier creature is about to come out of the deep and threaten everything he cares for. A creature whose malevolence is unthinkable. Whose need to feed is insatiable. And whose relentless hunt for prey is unstoppable.”

 

Review

White Shark is a slick, fun, and fast-moving ocean-based thriller, with a gleefully B-movie elements (a mad Nazi doctor, a seemingly unstoppable and physically imposing monster, brief-but-effective gore), well-defined good guys and bad guys, and a tidy wrap-up that you’ll likely see coming but (maybe) appreciate anyway. Entertaining read by a great writer, this, worth picking up.

#

The resulting two-episode TV miniseries, titled Creature, originally aired on ABC on May 17, 1998. Stuart Gillard directed it from a teleplay by Rockne S. O’Bannon.

Craig T. Nelson played Dr. Simon Chase. Kim Catrall played Dr. Amanda Mayson. Cress Williams played Tall Man.

Colm Feore played Adm. Aaron Richland. Michael Riley Burke played Adam Puckett. Giancarlo Esposito played Lt. Thomas Peniston/Werewolf. Peter Benchley cameoed as "Exec's Buddy".






Thursday, October 13, 2022

Liarmouth. . . A Feel-Bad Romance by John Waters

 

(hb; 2022)

From the inside flap

“Marsha Sprinkle: Suitcase thief. Scammer. Master of disguise. Dogs and children hate her. Her own family wants her dead. She’s smart, desperate, she’s disturbed, and she’s on the run with a big chip on her shoulder. They call her Liarmouth—until one insane man makes her tell the truth.”

 

 

Review

Waters’s first novel reads like his best, darkly hilarious, shocking, odd, and deviant-sex movies. Marsha Sprinkle is iconoclastic to the bone, beloathed by her family and all those who know her. After a normal airport suitcase-theft job goes awry for her and her sex-enthralled flunkie, Daryl, she flees from Dutch Village, Baltimore, to Provincetown, Maryland, with people—including her cultic, bounce-obsessed daughter (Poppy), her mother (Adora), Daryl (with his compromised sex) in mostly hateful pursuit. Fast-moving, at times loosely descriptive (but always in a true-to-effective form Waters way), Liarmouth builds to a howlingly funny and morally/physically icky climax that could’ve easily been one of his early films. Worth owning, this, if you’re a fan of Waters, or occasional-gross-out/scalpel-to-cultural-norms, criminal humor.


Sunday, October 02, 2022

Witches' Brew edited/presented by Alfred Hitchcock

 

(pb; 1965: crime anthology)

From the back cover

“Hitchcock loves little old ladies. . . especially when they have stringy hair, warts on their noses, broomsticks at the ready, and cauldrons bubbling over.  That’s why he’s dedicated this collection of terror treats to them. Here is sufficient horror to make a hag shout hurrah and enough evil to make a bride of Satan go on a second honeymoon. For all the rest of us, it’s the macabre most in bone-chilling magic. . .”

 

Overall review

Excellent anthology with good-to-great entries, presented by Hitchcock, worth owning.

 

Review, story by story

Premonition” – Charles Mergendahl: A woman (Martha Ricker) with “queer feelings” about impending, certain-to-happen events becomes convinced she’ll be the next victim of a killer whose M.O. involves neckties. Entertaining, highly visual story with a solid-twist finish.

 

A Shot from a Dark Night” – Avram Davidson: A popular businessman and politician (James Calvin “Jaysey” William) is jarred out of his comfortable life when an oddly familiar stranger (James “Jemmy” Buxton) shows up in Williams’s small town. Excellent story about secrets, guilt and small town life, one of my favorite entries in this story collection.

 

I Had a Hunch. . .” – Talmage Powell: A murdered woman’s spirit (Janet) haunts a cop (Joe) investigating her death, trying to influence him to her end for what it was, and arrest the culprit. Effective twists in this emotionally involving story.

 

A Killing in the Market” – Robert Bloch: An employee (Albert Kessler) of a Wall Street firm seeks out a highly successful investor for investment tips and finds himself in a world of deception and trouble. Intriguing story that plays with familiar tropes.

 

Gone, as by Magic” – Richard Hardwick: A year after a man (Frank Pilcher) disappears in a small, can’t-stop-talking-about-it town (Garrison), his best friend (Burt Webb) recounts, to the reader, the events leading up to Pilcher’s disappearance and its aftermath. Good, fun story.

 

The Big Bajoor” – Borden Deal: Clever, waste-no-words piece about a gypsy (Vanya) whose swindles of an old woman goes darkly, humorously awry.

 

The Gentle Miss Bluebeard” – Nedra Tyre: Miss Mary Anne Beard, sixty-five, begins killing people to help them in her peculiar way. Solid, “gentle” (as the title says) story.

 

The Guy That Laughs Last” – Philip Tremont: A gangster (Big Freddy), fond of practical jokes and paranoid that he’s being set up by his underlings, prepares for a supposed rendezvous with a pretty, young woman (Margo). The ending to this is blunter than I’d hoped, but it’s still a solid piece with good foreshadowing.

 

Diet and Die” – Wenzell Brown: Told in the first person to a police psychiatrist, a fine-food connoisseur admits to homicide, and his reasons for doing so are less than common. Fun, smart story.

 

Just for Kicks” – Richard Marsten: Charlie Frank, a successful advertising executive who gets no thrills out of life, tries murder for sport. The ending, not surprising, is striking and effective.

 

Please Forgive Me” – Henry Kane: A cop (Paul Matthew) becomes concerned that his eighteen-year-old son (Billy) has become a criminal lifestyle. Good story and emotional content, character focused.

 

A Crime Worthy of Me” – Hal Dresner: An employee sets out to rob his employer (Mr. Cumberly of Bainesville Home Finance and Loan Company), using a fictional detective story as his modus operandi.

 

When Buying a Fine Murder” – Jack Ritchie: A hitman is hired for a job by Walter Brandt, a man who’s never met him. The hitman’s target: himself. In trying to find out why Brandt wants him dead, the killer discovers things about those around him (including his “gorgeous” wife, Helen). Entertaining, sharply written, and clever—almost to the point of being disingenuous— tale (it barely works as short story, but in reality, a pro might not go to such lengths to correct certain issues).


Monday, September 12, 2022

Children of Edomia by J.M. Kind

 

(oversized pb; 2022: second novel in the Edomia series; a.k.a. Children of Edomia: Tales from the Edomian Mythos (Book 2))

 

From the back cover

“The story unfolds through the eyes of Afina, a young woman burdened with a dangerous secret. After the ruthlessly ambitious Serpent Prince and his rapacious retainers invade the only home Afina has ever known—the ancient cloister on the isolated island of Forgotten Women—the reluctant heroine is tasked with the guardianship of the prince’s unborn daughter. Seven years later, when a fanatical order of holy inquisitors invade the island again, Afina must fight to protect the child’s true identity even as she and her companions are taken captive aboard a ship bound for the slave markets of Jorn Gthang far to the north. Stolen again during a daring raid, Afina meets beautiful, devious pirate queen, Aa-Zra and her colorful crew. But when the captain’s plans for the young woman become clear, Afina’s troubles—and her adventures—have only just begun! Will Afina become a pawn in Ava-Zra’s dangerous game of seduction and shifting alliances, or will the young woman unwittingly fall in with eh very people who would enslave her once again?”

 

Review

The second book in the Edomia series is an excellent full-of-action-and-adventure fantasy tale with a new lead character, Afina, who wasn’t in the first book, but encounters characters who were. Children, in high-spirited, entertaining and sometimes LBGT+/sexual fashion, expands on the Edomian Mythos, is more straightforward, lacking Brother Morek k’Areth’s and Edomia’s mixed-in backstory chapters (though Morek’s travelogue concerning his journey between Earth and Edomia are completed in an end-of-book story, “Marco Polo of Edomia: The Testament of Brother Morek k’Areth”). Great, streamlined and worth purchasing read—am looking forward to the third Edomia novel.