Halloween Havoc! Book Extra: DARK DETECTIVES (Edited by Stephen Jones; Titan Books paperback 2015)


Back in September, I was browsing at the local Barnes & Noble (as I frequently do, given the lack of independent bookstores around here) looking for something to review this Halloween season. I’d just finished with Stephen King’s REVIVAL (Pocket Books paperback, 2017), and while it’s good, everybody does King this time of year, and I wanted something different. I wandered through the fantasy section, and waaaay up on the top shelf I spotted a title that caught my interest. DARK DETECTIVES: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries, combining two of my favorite genres, horror and detective fiction! Curiosity piqued, I grabbed the book and bought it (along with the great James Lee Burke’s latest novel, ROBICHEAUX).

DARK DETECTIVES, first published as a limited edition in 1999, features ten short stories, some old, some written especially for the anthology, by authors I’m familiar with (and I assume you are too, if you’re into horror fiction): names like Clive Barker, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Neil Gaiman, Brian Lumley, and Manly Wade Wellman. Interspersed between these stories of supernatural sleuthing is Kim Newman’s serial “Seven Stars”, based loosely on Bram Stoker’s novel JEWEL OF THE SEVEN STARS, using it as a starting point to tell a Lovecraftian tale  that spans the centuries. Each chapter features one of Newman’s creations battling against the other-worldly power of the jewel: Charles Beauregard and Edwin Winthrop of The Diogenes Club, the 70’s-styled sleuth Richard Jeperson, futuristic Jerome Rhodes (aka Dr. Shade), and the vampiress Genevieve Dieudonne. There are some amazing twists and turns in this 187-page novella, and it will definitely hold the interest of any horror aficionado.

The other stories are quite good as well, some more on the detective side (Peter Tremayne’s “Our Lady of Death”, Basil Copper’s Sherlock Holmes pastiche “The Adventure of the Crawling Horror”), others out-and-out horror (Lumley’s “Dr. Marigny’s Clock”, Brian Mooney’s “Vultures Gather”, Barker’s “Lost Souls”, Gaiman’s prose poem “Bay Wolf”), all guaranteed to keep you up at night. Another thing about DARK DETECTIVES that was fun for me is the connection between the stories and film. Stoker’s original “Seven Stars” was made into a Hammer film in 1971 (BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB ), Chetwyn-Hayes’s short stories have been adapted into the horror portmanteaus FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE and THE MONSTER CLUB, and Barker is well-known as a filmmaker in his own right (HELLRAISER, NIGHTBREED, LORDS OF ILLUSION). Some of the stories also feature famous film luminaries along the way, Familiar Faces like John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, Peter Lorre, John Carradine, and… John Wayne??? Wait, what’s The Duke doing among all this Lovecraftian weirdness, you may well ask – but you’ll have to read Marty Burns’s “The Man Who Shot The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” to find that out!

An example of Randy Broecker’s artwork

Illustrations by noted fantasy artist Randy Broecker accompany each spooky story. Editor Stephen Jones, winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the prestigious Horror Writers Association, has complied another wonderful collection of creepiness sure to please the horror lover in all of you. I suggest you scan your own local B&N, or wherever you may go to get your literary horror fix, and pick up a copy soon as you can, gather by the fireplace with your favorite beverage, and be prepared to let some spellbinding authors carry you to places you dare not go alone!

Moldy Horror: FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (Warner Bros/Amicus 1973)

I’ve discussed the Max Roseberg/Milton Subotsky Amicus horror anthologies before on this blog. All are good, if uneven, little entries in the genre, and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is no exception. This was the last of the Amicus tales of terror, a quartet of creepiness based on the work of British horror writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes. I’ll admit I’m not familiar with Mr. Cheywynd-Hayes’s work, so I couldn’t tell you if the movie’s faithful to it or not. I can tell you FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is about 50/50 in the chills department.

An all-star British cast gives it a game try, though. The segments are linked by horror icon Peter Cushing , looking rather gaunter than usual as the proprietor of Temptations Ltd., an antique shop which serves to set the stories in motion. Unfortunately, the part is a waste of Cushing’s talent; I could see him in any of a number of roles in the stories ahead to far greater effect.

The first involves David Warner as a man who purchases an antique mirror, then gathers his friends around to hold a séance. Warner gets more than he bargained for when he’s possessed by a murderous spirit trapped on the mirror’s other side. This segment is particularly gruesome, and Warner is good as always, but so predictable that it failed to satisfy the horror lover in me.

Next up we find Ian Bannen as a drudge married to a shrewish wife (zaftig Brit ex-sexpot Diana Dors ), who steals a Distinguished Service Medal in order to impress an Army veteran-turned-beggar (Donald Pleasence ). Bannen’s invited to dinner at the beggar’s flat, and becomes spellbound by his daughter (Pleasence’s real-life daughter Angela). This one’s got a pretty neat twist ending that I didn’t see coming, which is rare for a hard-core horror fan like me. Kudos!

We turn now to comedy, with Margaret Leighton as a dotty psychic who aids a couple (Ian Charmichael, Nyree Dawn Porter) rid themselves of an Elemental, a mischievous, malevolent spirit trying to possess the husband. Despite some cool special effects during the exorcism scene, and Leighton’s fun turn as the clairvoyant, this segment was just okay.

Finally, we come to Ian Oglivy , who buys a door with a strange-looking carving on it. Bringing it home to wife Lesley-Anne Down, he installs it as a kitschy cupboard door, only to discover upon opening it that it leads to a mysterious blue room where evil and black magic dwell. This was a very good, scary piece with a Corman/Poe type atmosphere, and for me ranked as the best of the lot.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE suffers most from the pedestrian direction of Kevin Connor, making his feature debut. Connor would go on to a fairly pedestrian career, helming the Amicus/Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations; of his filmography, only MOTEL HELL is a real standout. The movie, as I said, is about half successful, and I’d recommend DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS or TALES FROM THE CRYPT as better representatives of the Amicus horror anthologies. But for genre fans, it’s worth a look anyway.

Halloween Havoc!: THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (Amicus 1971)

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Hammer Films wasn’t the only British company cranking out the horrors back in the 60’s and 70’s. American ex-pats producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg formed Amicus Films in 1962 and after a couple of films aimed at the teen audience (with American rockers like Chubby Checker, Del Shannon, Freddy Cannon, and Gene Vincent) began concentrating on horror. The team specialized in the anthology genre, or “portmanteau” as the intelligentsia call them. I’ll stick with anthologies!

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was a 1971 effort written by Robert Bloch, forever known as “The Guy Who Wrote PSYCHO”. The nail to hang Bloch’s four tales on concerns the disappearance of famous horror actor Paul Henderson, who was last seen at the old house in the countryside. Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) of Scotland Yard (where else?) arrives on the scene and speaks with the local constable, who warns Holloway about mysterious doings past:

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In “Method for Murder”, horror writer Charles Hillyer (Denholm Elliott) thinks the quiet country manor is the ideal cure for his writer’s block, and moves in with wife Alice (Joanna Dunham). Hillyer comes up with a story about serial strangler Dominick roaming the countryside, and soon begins to have visions of his creation lurking around the house and grounds. It’s the old GASLIGHT routine, and though it does boast a double-twist ending, this one’s probably the weakest of the quartet.

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Up next is “Waxworks”, starring Peter Cushing as a retired stockbroker who rents the house. Cushing visits Jacquelin’s Museum of Horrors, and is mesmerized by a statue of Salome that resembles his late ex-love. His friend and former love rival (Joss Ackland) drops by, and he too is enthralled by the figure. The proprietor (Wolfe Morris) tells the men Salome was modeled on his dearly departed wife, who chopped up her lover with an axe and was sentenced to death. Although this segment isn’t bad, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s viewed MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM or HOUSE OF WAX.

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Our Inspector then travels to the office of realtor A.J. Stoker (!!), who conveys the final two tales. “Sweets for the Sweet” finds widower Christopher Lee renting the house with young daughter Jane (Chloe Franks). He hires nanny Anne Norton (Nyree Dawn Porter) to tutor the child, whom he treats rather coldly. The father forbids Jane from going to school and interacting with other children or playing with toys, especially dolls. The reason being Jane’s mother was a witch, and the child has inherited her evil ways. This vignette is built up well, with the cast elevating it from merely creepy to suspenseful horror.

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Now we come to the most recent tenant, Paul Henderson, in “The Cloak”. This one’s a lot of fun, as hammy horror star Henderson (Jon Pertwee) begins filming yet another low-budget shocker, titled “Curse of the Bloodsuckers”. Henderson is pissed about the piss-poor sets and costumes, and goes on a tirade about the state of the horror film: “That’s what’s wrong with your present-day horror films, there’s no realism! Not like the old ones, no, the great ones… FRANKENSTEIN, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, DRACULA … the one with Bela Lugosi, not the new fellow!”. After his rant, Henderson receives a card from Theo Von Hartmann, costumer in the local village. Von Hartmann’s a slender, sinister looking old gent cradling a black cat in his arms who sells Henderson an antique cloak. The actor thinks it’s just right for his film, but when he dons it in his dressing room, he’s startled to discover he can no longer see his reflection in the mirror.

While filming a scene with frequent co-star Carla Lynde (Hammer honey Ingrid Pitt), Henderson puts the bite on her for real, earning him a slap in the face. At home, he once again puts on the cloak, and to his horror begins floating around the room. The next day he apologizes to Carla and invites her to dinner, where he tells her about the powers of the evil cloak. This time, the cloak doesn’t work, as Carla’s switched it for a prop (“Property of Shepperton Studios” is sewn in the label!). Now Carla has it, and prepares to sink her teeth into some juicy ham!

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Inspector Holloway dismisses all these tales as rubbish, demanding to go into the house himself, where of course he’s attacked by the vampires, bringing our tales of terror to a close. THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is okay, no better or worse than any other Amicus production (or episode of NIGHT GALLERY for that matter), and the final two segments are terrific. Subotsky and Rosenberg did other stand-alone horror flicks (THE SKULL, THE DEADLY BEES, THE BEAST MUST DIE), a pair of DOCTOR WHO features, and some Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations, but it’s for their anthologies they’re best remembered. DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, TORTURE GARDEN, ASYLUM, and two EC Comics-inspired movies (TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE VAULT OF HORROR) are all worth watching, as is THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Nothing groundbreaking, just a good way to spend a dark and stormy night!

 

Halloween Havoc!: GALLERY OF HORROR (1967) complete movie!

galleryofhp10Last night I took a look at the classic British horror anthology Dead of Night. Today’s Saturday Matinee movie is a not-quite-so-classic anthology from 1967. It does star two of horrordom’s great classic actors, though: John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. Also featuring Rochelle Hudson, who acted with everyone from Will Rogers to James Dean, here’s GALLERY OF HORROR:

Halloween Havoc!: DEAD OF NIGHT (Ealing 1945)

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The horror anthology film has been around since the silent era. German cinema began the trend with Robert Oswald’s EERIE TALES (1919), Fritz Lang’s DESTINY(1921), and Paul Leni’s WAXWORKS (1924). Things were quiet on the anthology front during the first talking horror cycle of the 1930’s, but the format was revived by Julien Duvivier in his 1943 FLESH AND FANTASY, linking three tales of the supernatural. Britain’s Ealing Studios came up with one of the best in the genre ever when they released 1945’s DEAD OF NIGHT. This influential classic chiller is still the gold standard for horror anthologies, with many of its themes and its wrap around storyline being used by horror filmmakers for years to come.

Architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) is summoned to a countryside home by Eliot Foley (Roland Culver). Craig has the strange feeling he’s been here before, and is filled with a sense of dread. He recognizes the people gathered at the house: race car driver Hugh Grainger (Anthony Baird), psychiatrist Dr. Van Stratten (Frederick Valk), married Joan Courtland (Googie Withers), and young Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes) from dreams he’s had, dreams that are “forecasting the future…but why?”. Van Straaten is skeptical about the whole idea, giving a psychological explanation about Craig’s deja vu, but the guests speak up about strange phenomena that have happened to them in the past.

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The film uses the talents of four different directors to tell the guest’s tales. Basil Dearden (who also does the linking segments) directs Grainger’s story, about happenings that occurred after a near fatal car crash. Brazilian director Alberto Cavalcanti gives us Sally’s recounting of her meeting a ghostly child at a Christmas party. Robert Hamer handles the tale of Joan and a cursed antique mirror. Charles Crichton’s segment is played for laughs, as Eliot recounts what happened when two golfing buddies (Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne) vying for the affections of a woman play a deadly 18 holes. Cavalcanti is back again with the film’s most famous segment, as Dr. Van Straaten recalls the strange case of ventriloquist Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave) and his almost human dummy, Hugo.

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The twist ending may not surprise horror lovers anymore, but still manages to seem fresh. Screenwriters John Baines and Angus MacPhail pull out all the stops, using material based on short stories by H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, and their own original ideas. The ventriloquist story is justifiably the most well-known, having been hashed and rehashed over the years, but I particularly liked the one about the antique mirror. DEAD OF NIGHT scores high on the list of best horror anthologies. I know everyone has their favorites, and I dig BLACK SABBATH, DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, and CREEPSHOW as much as the next guy. But DEAD OF NIGHT was there first, and would be a first-rate choice for your Halloween watch list. For that matter, this film deserves to be seen any time of the year.