Thursday, March 26, 2015

COLD PRINT: William Sansom's "A Smell of Fear" and "The Little Room"

by Jose Cruz

The tricky thing about anthologies is that you're never entirely sure what you're going to get with them. Being that individualized reviews for the book's diverse contents are hardly if ever written, this only increases the unpredictability of each story. When I picked up my copy of The Seventh Pan Book of Horror Stories (1966), what I had expected were tales of gangrenous aberrations and loathsome creatures of the night. The collection certainly had given me my share of this with the likes of R. Chetwynd-Hayes' "The Thing" and David Grant's "The Bats" and Martin Waddell's "Cannibals." But when I arrived at the pair of tales written by William Sansom (1912 - 1976), “A Smell of Fear” and "The Little Room," the last thing I imagined I would find was actual horror.

Like many, I'm attracted to the various trappings and aesthetics of the horror genre, even down to the hoariest of settings. Give me a lonely graveyard or a cobweb-strewn hallway and I'll manage to get my buzz. Vampire crawling out of a casket? Even better. Throw in some fog and a waxy full moon and I'll be good until the morning. But I'll be the first to admit that these elements are empty calories. They're fairly useless unless the writer working with them has imbued them with true dread and vibrancy. Of course, one does not need to rely on these conventions to stir up fearful sensations in the reader's mind. Sometimes the most affecting of horror tales have nary a tombstone in sight.

“A Smell of Fear” and “The Little Room” are two such stories. A former firefighter during the London Blitz, Sansom turned to writing everything from romances to supernatural horror after the Second World War, making his biggest impression with collections published in the 40s and 50s. “The Little Room” debuted in his premier anthology, Something Terrible, Something Lovely (1948) while “A Smell of Fear” was an original to Herbert van Thal’s seventh Pan omnibus. Another tale, “The Vertical Ladder,” had been seen in Pan’s second volume of shuddersome stories while what is perhaps his most famous story, “A Woman Seldom Found,” made the paperback anthology rounds, first cropping up in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do on TV (1957) and hopping around Fontana and Hamlyn books before finding its most recent host in the Vandermeer’s doorstopper volume The Weird (2012). A sold-out collection of Sansom's macabre writings from Tartarus Press was released in 2002.

2nd printing, 1980
“A Smell of Fear” is a portrait of urban paranoia that would likely gain the sympathies of Ramsey Campbell. Diana Craig is a young woman living by herself in London, going through the motions of a dreamless existence interrupted only by Diana’s sharp bursts of fear and apprehension at the most innocuous of situations. Sansom displays his canny eye for descriptive detail both mundane and extraordinary in the opening scene that finds Diana cutting her nails over her bathtub. A moment as thunderingly ordinary as this is imbued with slightly sinister portent, as Diana fancies her cut cuticles resembling shellfish:

However white such nails looked on her fingers, they gleamed yellowish against the white enamel. They just looked curled, and wet, like shrimps or sandfleas. And the surface tension of the water gave them a greyish blur of legs and feelers.

Now a big dark drop of blood splashed down among the shrimp pairings, it washed out pale pink and brought her abruptly to her proper senses.

Sansom pairs the wandering mind of the dreamer, imagining pieces of his character’s body taking on animalistic characteristics, with a kitchen-sink, everyday realism that strikes a primal chord in the reader no matter how much we may differ from Diana. Haven’t we all caught ourselves with one of these funny ideas in our heads?

Funny isn’t exactly what Diana makes of it. She scolds herself for her imagination, just like she does when she believes she’s being methodically followed by a limping man with an ugly birthmark on his face. Is he really breathing down her neck in the fish monger’s shop? Does he actually follow her in the streets as she tries to elude him?

Sansom is both delicate and blunt in his depiction of Diana, laying all her insecurities bare for the scrutiny of the reader. His heartbreaking description of Diana's opinion of her looks demonstrates a knowledge of the way that loneliness and the sound of one's own voice can have on our minds:

Sometimes in a double mirror she had caught sight of her profile and had noticed a tone of placidity in the face, as though this profiled stranger were a little too heavy or pallid or something, shapely but overdone, like a Roman bust. Lips – not enough color? Pale eyelashes? Cheeks too full and flat? It could not be exactly said – and she avoided saying it. A mixture of vanity and humility told her that she was a good-looking, unattractive girl. 

The veracity of the narrative is appropriately muddied by Diana’s neuroses. Like the female protagonists of Shirley Jackson, Sansom’s character is one not to be entirely trusted but she is nonetheless someone who inspires our sympathies. Unlike her male counterparts, Diana feels no need or desire to investigate her apprehensions and “get to the bottom of things.” Her womanly intuition tells her everything; she knows that she’s being followed for a fact, no matter how much she chides herself in the other direction. She is the archetype of the “hysterical woman,” but if anything this shows her (and all her other literary ancestors right down from the madwoman in “The Yellow Wallpaper”) to be the more emotionally intelligent of the sexes. When faced with darkness, men are compelled to probe it while woman instinctively know it for what it is. Fittingly in the horror genre neither gender comes out the better in the end.

And that is exactly how Sansom ends it. Diana finds herself walking along the lonely streets at night with her strange watcher tagging behind and, with that growing fear stirring inside her, the one that can be smelt by dogs (and wolves), she contemplates seeking shelter in a bustling pub before she heads off again because of old anxieties cropping back up. What follows is a startling altercation wherein we discover that Diana’s suspicions were right—but for the wrong reasons—and that good deeds performed in the face of mortal danger lead to punishment. Sansom doesn’t resort to a Blochian twist to unsettle our nerves (she was a werewolf the whole time!), but the frankness with which he confronts the final events of the story grimly reinforce that old adage of the genre we mentioned before: no one goes free.

Though the ending of “A Smell of Fear” is retained to allow the reader to have their first-time frissons with the story, the nature of the discussion for Sansom’s second tale under review entails a precise detailing of its climax and aftermath. Consider this ye only warning.

Hogarth Press, 1948
The titular location of “The Little Room” is the apartment of Sister Margherita, a nun who has just been punished by her convent’s order for an unknown offense. Whatever this woman's crime is, her sentence is clear: death. But the sister will not be facing a firing squad or the gallows. She is to be sealed inside her cubicle, bricked in and cut off from any supply of oxygen so that she will eventually--very eventually--perish from asphyxiation.

And that's it. Margherita's last moments on this earth are described in poignant and unflinching detail by Samson. The story is completely at odds with the reputation that the paperback Pan Horror series garnered with their depictions of stinking flesh and human depravity. Not one drop of blood is spilled and yet it completely succeeds in chilling ours.

One of Samson's great assets as a writer is his sharp insight into the workings of the human mind, a trait that is used to devastating effect here. We initially see Margherita accepting her fate with all the patience and open-heartedness of the truly devoted; she holds no anger or fear for what is to come. She even begins to become bothered by the presence of the female artisans who busy themselves with creating her artificial tomb. It's a purely human tic that finds expression even in the face of permanent isolation. We wish everyone would just go away until they finally do. Then, like a touch of cold, the loneliness begins to seep in.

Not only that, but Margherita's judges have seen it fit to have a barometer installed in the room so that the prosecuted may see the actual decrease in air as time goes by, a most effective means in promoting penance in the criminal's heart. The barometer is surrounded by a mesh of brass, so that the guilty may clearly see its measurements but refrain from, as Sansom puts it, "injur[ing] the instrument in the belief, perhaps, that it was the agent of death rather than its mentor."

Although Margherita initially takes her sentence in stride, it isn't long before the inevitability of her situation begins to crawl into her mind. The monotony of the room itself, the lack of the ceremonial bread and water the order provides as a final courtesy, the ever-teasing and never-wavering needle of the barometer; all of these begin to impress upon her that most incomprehensible of thoughts that she will not be long for this world.

"This person, this 'me,' that I am, this familiarity of hands and memories and close wishes and dry disgusts, this well-shaped shadow lying about my inner thoughts--all this is going to die. It will cease to be. There will be nothing more of it."

How do you comprehend that? How do you deal with the notion that the very thoughts running through your mind will not exist in the next second? Sansom of course doesn't have any answers. And that's what's so damn terrifying about it. And with the doubt and the terror there comes the regret that we have not fulfilled all the potential dreams of our sorry existence:

Whatever it was, she had left it undone. However much she might have done, she could have done more. However much she had seen, she had not felt deeply enough. However much she had felt, she had not stored those feelings deeply enough.

I don't recall just how I was imagining "The Little Room" would pan out upon my initial reading of it, but for whatever reason I hadn't thought that Sansom would deliver on exactly what he had promised. In a way I became like Margherita, a small flame of hope quivering in my heart for some kind of last-minute intervention or redemption. But it never came, for me or for her. Margherita was sentenced to her fate and no other would be supplied. The throat that had been choked with tears now gasped for air while the barometer--cold, dispassionate, mechanical--reached its final destination.

For a story featured in a series infamous for its gruesomeness, "The Little Room" is the cruelest of the entire lot. It gets to the heart of fear and never blinks an eye the entire time. Death will not sneak in and destroy us in gaudy violence. We'll see it, advancing slowly and assuredly, its course definite and unchanging. It will come and claim us and we won't be able to do a thing about it and, like Margherita, we will eventually stop moving.

Read "A Woman Seldom Found" here.

Read "Various Temptations" here.

NEXT CHAPTER: Poppy Z. Brite

Monday, March 23, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 49: June 1963

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 131

"One Pair of Dogtags--For Sale!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Desert Hotfoot"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Everybody Makes It In Dog Co.!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: When Easy Co. is given the task of taking the French village of L'Oisseau, it looks deserted, but Sgt. Rock goes on ahead alone to make sure. He finds a Nazi machine gun nest hidden in the wreckage and manages to destroy it with some well-thrown grenades. Giving the all-clear sign to the rest of Easy Co. turns out to be a mistake, as the weapon from a second Nazi machine gun pins down the men of Easy and knocks Rock off his feet. The sergeant doesn't give up, though, and manages to crawl up under fire and disarm the gun using his helmet. Rock is critically wounded and, when Easy Co. gets him to a doctor in a nearby camp, no one can find a donor with AB negative blood to save the fading hero. Luckily, a nurse lying on a stretcher has the necessary blood type and, one transfusion later, Rock is saved.

As Easy Co. moves on, Rock is troubled by not knowing the name of the nurse who saved him and whom he was not able to thank. He asks after her everywhere but is unable to locate her until she turns up in the middle of another battle. This time, she is wounded, and Rock is able to repay the favor at last with a blood donation of his own. When Kanigher and Kubert are firing on all cylinders, it makes me glad I read comic books. "One Pair of Dogtags--For Sale!" is a terrific story that will be in my top ten of 1963.

Sgt. Rock hallucinates that
Bulldozer is a cute blonde

Peter: A bit of a lightweight entry compared to some of the heavy lifters we've read lately but, make no mistake, still a good read. For some reason, the happy ending doesn't come off as sappy to me. Far from lightweight, though, is the standout sequence where Rock has to improvise or watch his men die; he manages to craft an oven mitt from his tin pot to deflect a cannon from taking out his guys. Fabulously gritty stuff, that!

Not so much
Jack: A soldier with aching feet gets a "Desert Hotfoot!" when his sarge tells him to walk across the desert and bring back a prisoner. He trades his watch for a passing Arab's camel but is quickly thrown from the beast's back. He hitches a ride on a U.S. tank but finds it has been hijacked by Nazis. Finally, he forces a Nazi commander at gunpoint to give him a piggyback ride back to camp. It's discouraging to see such a poor story follow such a great Sgt. Rock story, but at least it was short.

Peter:  Lucky for our lazy soldier that the Nazi tank men speak English and they speak it loud enough to hear through inches of steel! So, the only amusing scene in this tedium was the one you weren't supposed to laugh at.  Nothing worse than a comedy that's not funny.

Jack: A soldier trying to take Dead End Hill is determined not to die and let his dog tags become part of the sergeant's growing collection. He rushes a tank and destroys it by shooting into its view slit, thus saving his company from further carnage. His sarge plants a rifle in the ground at the top of the hill and hangs the dog tags of the men who didn't make it from the butt end, announcing that "Everyone Makes it in Dog Co!" To the top of the hill, that is--eventually. A gritty little four-pager from Kanigher that shows that death and despair are not always the end of the story.

Peter: Write this down: "You're not getting my dog tags, Sarge!" There, you've just written a DC war story.

Irv Novick
All American Men of War 97

"The Ship That Fought In Three Wars!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"A 'Target' Called Johnny!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: A World War I pilot suddenly finds himself in "The Ship That Fought in Three Wars!" Unable to impress the British pilots he's been detailed with, Leftenant Brooks, a young American pilot, attempts to win their attention and respect with air tricks but the seasoned aces aren't buying. They want victories, not stunts. So, determined to score a few kills before the sun rises, our hero hits the skies in search of prey and finds a helpless German zeppelin. Shooting the giant balloon down, the pilot heads home convinced he's taken the first step, only to be shot down (pun intended) by his seniors, who demand proof of the victory. Undeterred, our boy heads back out with his comrades but manages to lose himself in a heavy cloud bank. When he comes out the other end, he's attacked by a lone Messerschmitt, a plane that won't even exist for over two decades! Though Brooks shoots the German from the sky, the men are still not convinced and Brooks heads back out the next day with his young mechanic, Albert, in tow. Emerging from the same strange cloud bank, they are fired upon by a commie jet over Korean skies. While filming the phantom jet, Albert takes a bullet for the team just before Brooks blasts it from the sky. Once on the ground, the film is shown to be blank but, just as he's receiving another dressing-down from his Major, a doctor rushes into the viewing room to announce he's just dug a bullet out of young Albert; a bullet of unknown caliber! Enjoyable enough romp, but don't look for any explanations from Bob. How did this pilot fly into a cloud and end up in MIG Alley? Who knows? Another five pages and Leftenant Brooks might have landed on one of those uncharted islands in the Pacific. I'm more interested in why the film was blank.

Jack: H'I found bucktoothed, red-headed H'Albert rather annoying, Guv'nor! Haven't we seen this story before, where an American pilot has to prove himself as the first Yank to fight with the RAF? Like you, I was waiting for him to fly over some dinosaurs after he passed through that cloud, but I guess they're limited to the Pacific Ocean. And how handy is that time-warp cloud? He flies through it unintentionally the first time, yet it's always there when he needs to fly back to 1917. And why is Johnny Cloud relegated to the backup slot in his own book?

Peter: In his 16th adventure, Johnny Cloud is having a tough time convincing a hard-nosed tank sergeant that pilots and tank men can work together to win the war. It's only after Cloud makes himself "A Target Called Johnny" and draws the fire of the enemy that the tank sergeant comes around to our hero's way of thinking. The bottom of the bill in our Kanigher/Novick Double Feature isn't much better than the "prestige picture," but it's not bad for a Johnny Cloud starrer. There's a bit in this story where the tank guys admit they have no idea how to use the clock face to identify where an enemy is. That's hard to imagine, isn't it? There's one word to describe Irv Novick's usually dependable artwork in "A Target Called Johnny": cluttered. Way too much activity going on in every panel to focus; it's as if Novick decided each and every panel had to be filled with military vehicles and gunfire. We get one of those typically sappy climaxes where the antagonist comes around to the way our hero thinks in the space of two or three panels and acknowledges what we already know: Johnny Cloud is a genius. Groan.

Jack: Novick's splash page is exciting, but you're right about the cluttered look to the rest of the story. This tale is nearly non-stop battle with little letup and the premise that tank guys don't know how to direct planes is an interesting one. More interesting than this issue's lead feature, but I think that at this point in the run of All American Bob Kanigher was focused on getting three wars into the mag one way or another.

In Our Next Shape-Changing Issue!
On Sale March 30!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Hitchcock Project-Roald Dahl Part Two: "Dip in the Pool" [3.35]

by Jack Seabrook

The second story by Roald Dahl to be adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Dip in the Pool," written in the fall of 1951 and first published in the January 19, 1952 issue of The New Yorker. William Botibol, an American on a British ship cruising across the Atlantic, dines with the ship's purser and asks him when the captain usually estimates the distance the ship will cover in the twenty-four hours that began that noon. After a calm start to the day, the sea had grown unexpectedly rough around dinner time, and Botibol imagines that the distance traveled will be less than the captain's estimate. Each evening, the ship's passengers bid at auction on numbers estimating how far the ship will travel in a day, and Botibol thinks that he can win a large sum of money if he secures the "low field' estimate. He uses all the money in his savings to win the low field but awakens the next morning to find that the sea has calmed and the ship is moving fast to make up lost time.

"Dip in the Pool" was first
published in this issue
Botibol decides to leap off the side of the ship and into the ocean, figuring that his rescue will slow the vessel's progress and he will win the money. He finds a solitary woman on deck to witness his plight and call for help, but when he leaps into the water the woman is silent. Unfortunately for Mr. Botibol, the woman's nurse does not believe her story of a man who dived overboard, and he is left to drown as the ship continues on its voyage.

Dahl's story is a witty piece of understated English irony, where the pool of the title represents both the betting pool and the enormous pool of the Atlantic Ocean. Botibol takes a dip in both pools; dip is also slang for a pickpocket, and he tries to pick the pockets of his fellow passengers by attempting to ensure his own victory. Botibol is also a bit of a dip himself, or a loser. The ending is clever, for as the ship moves away from Botibol, a "bobbing black speck," Dahl ignores his plight and focuses instead on the nameless "woman with the fat ankles" who tells her attendant, "Such a nice man . . . he waved to me." The wave, of course, was a desperate signal for help, but to the poor woman it was a sign of friendship.

Once again, Dahl mixes horror and humor in a compact tale. Does Botibol deserve his fate? Of course not, but it does represent an amusing comeuppance for a know it all.

Keenan Wynn as Botibol
The story has been adapted for television three times. The first was for the CBS series Danger; Albert Hubbell wrote the teleplay and Harry Townes starred in a program broadcast on March 21, 1954. Robert C. Dennis next adapted it for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958; the episode was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Keenan Wynn as William Botibol. It was rehearsed and filmed on April 15 and 16, 1958, and it aired on CBS on Sunday, June 1, 1958. During filming, Hitchcock's wife Alma was undergoing experimental treatment for cervical cancer and, though the director was an emotional wreck off set, he maintained a calm demeanor during production.

From the introduction to the show
The television show is a triumph of light entertainment, where Dennis's script expands the story and the cast performs to perfection. In the framing sequence, Hitchcock lounges on a deck chair on the S.S. Hitchcock, reading a copy of what close inspection reveals to be the February 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine! During the episode, a character named Renshaw sits at a table in the ship's lounge, reading the very same issue of Hitchcock's magazine. Some writers have called this an example of Hitchcock making a cameo appearance in the episode, much like his famous cameo in Lifeboat in a newspaper ad for weight loss, but I think it is more in the nature of a not so subtle plug for the periodical, which had begun publication with an issue dated December 1956.

Close up
While Botibol travels alone in the story, the show opens with a scene in the cabin shared by him and his wife, Ethel. She reads excitedly from a travel guide about sites to see in Florence while he preens before a mirror; his idea of fun involves gambling casinos, bistros and dancing girls. Ethel remarks that her aunt left the money to her, yet Botibol is brash and boorish, over tipping a steward who brings a cocktail and a bottle of seasickness pills. He wears a loud, plaid dinner jacket that displays his lack of refined taste.

What Alfred is reading
On his way to the lounge, Botibol runs into Emily, a middle-aged woman who finds him charming and tells her companion so; she is the same woman who will fail to raise the alarm in the episode's final scene. Botibol arrives in the lounge and joins Renshaw, another character new to the story; he is a refined Englishman, wealthy and somewhat older than Botibol, who finds the American to be amusing company. Botibol continues to demonstrate his lack of class, over tipping again and pretending to be a seasoned European traveler. Renshaw invites Botibol to the pool after dinner, explaining what it is and how it works for both his companion and the viewer. Renshaw unfavorably compares betting in the pool to investing in the stock market, which represents an investment based on careful research--or, as Botibol understands it, "inside information."

This failure to grasp the difference between a wager and an investment based on detailed research turns out to be Botibol's undoing. He sits with the purser at dinner and grills him about the captain's estimate, in a scene that mirrors the first scene in the short story, then asks a crew member on deck about the ship's speed before turning up at the auction and asking Renshaw for his opinion. Botibol thinks he has done the research needed to make a wise investment, yet--like his over tipping and loud dinner jacket--his actions betray his lack of knowledge. The auction is held and the details are spelled out much more explicitly than in the story. Next morning, Botibol and Ethel greet the calm day in their twin beds (1950s TV at its most censored); he admits to her that he lost money gambling but conceals the real amount, almost $1000 of their $1500 travel budget.

Renshaw is reading it too!
Later that morning, Botibol sees Mr. and Mrs. Renshaw relaxing in deck chairs; Mrs. Renshaw finds him unbearable and quickly excuses herself, allowing the gambler to replace her in the chair next to Renshaw. After Renshaw offers a few less than helpful suggestions of ways that Botibol might still win his bet, he leaves, and Botibol plans his final, desperate leap, his thoughts conveyed in voice over. The voice over continues in his cabin as he dresses and formulates his plan; on deck, he finds Emily, the woman whom he had met earlier, and converses with her. Once again, he is making a feeble attempt to do research and gather information. His brief chat with the woman leads him to conclude: "Hearing good. Eyesight adequate. You're it, lady." As he did the evening before, he thinks that he has gathered enough intelligence to turn a bet into an investment; he believes that his leap into the ocean will result in predictable behavior on the woman's part. However, his shallow investigation failed to reveal that she was not of sound mind, and the lack of that key piece of information means that he loses his bet and his life.

Close up
A vacant-eyed Emily speaks the final lines, as she did in the story, with the camera close up on her face. Donald Spoto noted that, like "Lamb to the Slaughter," "Dip in the Pool" ends with "the stare of madness." Robert C. Dennis's adaptation of Dahl's short story is brilliant; by adding new characters and focusing on Botibol's attempts to turn a bet into an investment, he deepens the meaning of the story without changing its central plot points.

Robert C. Dennis (1915-1983) wrote for radio before moving into TV in 1950. He penned many episodes for TV series over the next 35 years, including 30 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and four episodes of The Outer Limits. Hitchcock teleplays include adapting Henry Slesar's "The Right Kind of House" and co-writing "A True Account" with Fredric Brown.

Keenan Wynn and Louise Platt
Keenan Wynn (1916-1986) stars as Botibol and gives an outstanding, comic performance. The son of vaudeville comic Ed Wynn, he was born Francis Xavier Aloysius James Jeremiah Keenan Wynn! A great character actor on radio, he appeared in movies from the early 1940s to the 1980s and on TV from the mid 1950s till his death. Notable roles included parts in Rod Serling's TV drama Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964), an episode of The Twilight Zone, two episodes of Night Gallery, and two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Henry Slesar's "The Last Escape."

Philip Bourneuf and Fay Wray
The role of Renshaw is played by Philip Bourneuf (1908-1979), a founding member of the Actors Studio who appeared in movies and on TV from the 1940s through the 1970s. He was on the Hitchcock show three times, appeared on Thriller once, and had a role in Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

Mrs. Renshaw is played by Fay Wray (1907-2004), who starred in King Kong (1933) and many other classic films. This was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the other was in Henry Slesar's "The Morning After." An impressive website dedicated to Ms. Wray may be found here.

"He waved to me!"
Ethel Botibol, William's long-suffering wife, is played by Louise Platt (1915-2003), who is best known for a part in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). She had a handful of parts in movies and on TV, including two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but was mostly a stage actress.

Emily, the woman who watches Botibol dive off the side of the ship, is played by Doreen Lang (1915-1999); while this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock TV show, she did have small parts in three Hitchcock films: The Wrong Man (1956), North By Northwest (1959) and The Birds (1963).

That speck in the water is Botibol
I was not able to find a source to watch the 1954 adaptation (titled "A Dip in the Pool") on the TV series Danger, but the 1979 adaptation for Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected is available for free online viewing here. The teleplay is by Ronald Harwood and Jack Weston stars as Botibol. In his introduction to the show, Dahl admits to being a "mad gambler" and says that he enjoys writing stories about gamblers because he is interested in how people behave when they make a big wager. This version retains the Renshaw character but leaves out Botibol's wife. It is much more faithful to the original story than was the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version and the half-hour is quite entertaining, mainly due to Weston's performance; he has a much different interpretation of Botibol than does Keenan Wynn. This version aired on May 12, 1979.

Dahls' original story may be read for free here. The Hitchcock version is available on DVD but is not currently available for online viewing.


Dahl, Roald. "Dip in the Pool." 1952. Roald Dahl Collected Stories. Ed. Jeremy Treglown. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 284-94. Print.

"Dip in the Pool." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 1 June 1958. Television.

"A Dip in the Pool." Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. 12 May 1979. Television.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.

IMDb., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Regan, 2003. Print.

Spoto, Donald. The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius. London: Collins, 1983. Print.

Treglown, Jeremy. "Appendix." Roald Dahl Collected Stories. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 850. Print.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

William and Ethel in their cabin

William meets Emily in the corridor
Renshaw is so dapper
The auction
Renshaw has traded in his
magazine for a book
Checking out Emily
Over the side he goes!
She doesn't believe a word of it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Forty-Eight: June 1974

The DC Mystery Anthologies 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino and
Jack Seabrook

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 157

"The House of the Executioner"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by ER Cruz

"The Corpse in the Dead Letter Office"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Calnan

"Something's Alive in Volcano 13!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jim Mooney
(reprinted from House of Mystery #83, February 1959)

"The Man Who Cheated Death"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted from House of Mystery #101, August 1960)

"The Mystery of the Sorcerer's Squad"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery #118, January 1962)

"The Phantom Duel"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted from House of Secrets #1, December 1956)

"Beware, I Can Read Your Mind"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sheldon Moldoff
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #7, November 1956)

"I Battled the Abominable Snowman"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Prentice
(reprinted from My Greatest Adventure #10, August 1956)

"Born Loser!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Sonny Trinidad

"The Mystery of the Teen-Age Swami"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(reprinted from House of Mystery #92, November 1959)

"Body Snatcher!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Rich Buckler

"Who Will Kill Gigantus?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter Enfantino's dream girl
Jack: Sheldon Sutton, reporter for The Dispatch, shows up late one evening at "The House of the Executioner" to interview Loren Grue, the pretty, young woman who is the last of a long line of executioners. The building is haunted by the ghosts of her ancestors, including Uncle Jonah, who died a frustrated man. He only got to use his hangman's noose on one criminal before the state changed to the electric chair and then outlawed capital punishment. His last victim was Sheldon Sutton's brother! Sutton believes his late sibling was innocent and pulls a gun on Ms. Grue, but before he can shoot he is electrocuted when he yanks the phone cord from the wall and it comes in contact with a fully functional electric chair that Uncle Jonah had left behind. This reads like a story that was slotted for Ghosts and Leo Dorfman never met a tale he couldn't monotonize. Cruz's art is nice to look at but the story goes nowhere fast.

Peter: Another 100-page Super Spectacular! and, judging by the first two stories, the same will hold true of this one that held for the others: the old stuff is better than the new. "The House of the Executioner" is a nicely illustrated bit of mindless fluff. Why would anyone live in a house haunted by dead executioners? Sutton being unmasked as the brother of the final victim of Uncle Jonah is a tad... um... shocking?

Click here for the music
Jack: When Margaret Poe and Luanne Lowry decided to tour the old ghost town of Copperton, they did not suspect that one of them would end up "The Corpse in the Dead Letter Office"! Margaret finds a yellowed newspaper from a hundred years ago and reads an ad from Sam Harrison, a man looking to correspond with a woman. She mails him a letter and becomes possessed. A seance reveals that ghosts are after her and she disappears, only to turn up dead. There is no mystery as to why the writer of this muck did not sign his work. John Calnan also neglected to put his name on the art, but the GCD confirmed what we all suspected about who was responsible for the bizarre poses of the two young women.

Peter: The much "beloved" (at least around these parts) art of John Calnan continues to confound. I'm pretty sure that Madge is supposed to be terrified in the panel at the bottom of page 3 so why does she look like she's attempting the twist? Has Calnan ever filled in his backgrounds with anything but a solid color? And I'm really confused by that climax. Why did the spirits murder Marge?

"Born Loser!"
Jack: Lou Lowry is a "Born Loser!" who wants to get himself arrested and thrown in jail so that he can take advantage of free room and board for the weekend. His plans are interrupted by various good deeds that endear him to the police but, when a man offers him a job, he finds himself thrown in the pokey for trying to sneak through the turnstiles on the subway for lack of a token. Wessler's story makes sense for a change and Trinidad's art isn't half-bad, but praising something like this really shows how low our expectations are.

Peter: I'll take what I can get, Jack! "Born Loser" is something not only Unexpected but perhaps Unprecedented... a really good story (with a satisfyingly ironic climax) courtesy of Carl Wessler. Someone ring the dinner gong!

Jack: Morgue attendant Roy Cabal becomes a "Body Snatcher!" when he starts selling corpses to the local medical school so that he can spend money on his new girlfriend. He murders his partner when the man threatens to tell the cops, but the act causes a near-fatal heart attack and Roy is rushed into surgery. The heart surgeon gives him a new ticker but Roy won't get to enjoy it for long, since he's headed for the electric chair for murder. This is some fairly rough, early work by Rich Buckler, who seems not to have discovered the Kirby swipe file quite yet.

"Body Snatcher!"
Peter: It's not just the out-of-whack linear storytelling that makes "Body Snatcher" a stinker (welcome home, Carl Wessler!), it's the dreadful Buckler artwork. Even though these DC titles never listed inkers, I have to believe it's the embellisher's fault that Rich's art is so bad here. For proof, one only has to jump over to Marvel's Fantastic Four #147 (on sale the same month as this issue of Unexpected) to see what the right inker can do for Buckler (in the case of FF, it was Joltin' Joe Sinnott). The artist's work there is dynamic and cutting-edge (and would become even more so by the time he helped create Deathlok the Demolisher for Astonishing Tales a couple months later), arguably the best FF artwork since The King jumped ship. You can't convince me Buckler did his own inks here, as "Body Snatcher" is just too muddy and pedestrian.

"Who Will Kill Gigantus?"
Jack: Calvert and Boehme discover a T-Rex in the jungle and bring it back to Washington, D.C., but the natives who came with it set it off on a path of destruction. The horrified public wonders "Who Will Kill Gigantus?" and the native chief says he can tame the monster if he is allowed to return him to the jungle. Calvert sees his profits evaporating and puts up a fight, but soon finds himself dead and plugging a hole in Gigantus's noggin, keeping the beast calm on the trip home. Even Alcala can't save this sloppy mess.

Peter: George Kashdan's take on King Kong benefits greatly from the art of "He Who Knows No Peer" but suffers from a super-silly climax wherein an inspector evidently doesn't even check the top of the dinosaur's head and thus misses the fact that there's a human being stuck inside Gigantus' blowhole! Oh well, who reads these things anyway? I like the pitchers!

Jack: Reprint time! "Something's Alive in Volcano 13!" and it turns out to be Prof. Fielding, who was transformed into a giant caveman by mysterious gases. Can the intrepid team of explorers get out alive before they start to grow and get hairy? The Mole, a tank with a drill for a nose, got them down below easily enough but getting back up is not as easy.

"The Mystery of the
Sorcerer's Squad"
Lucky Lorman is "The Man Who Cheated Death" by means of a magical painting given to him by a dying hobo. His success at beating the reaper helps him climb to the pinnacle of the crime world, but he forgets that being on top means someone will come gunning for you.

"The Mystery of the Sorcerer's Squad" has to do with three ancient magic wands that appear to have real power--or do they? My favorite bit in this one comes when an antique dealer asks "Lt. Jed Conway of the Bunko Squad" to verify the antiquity of the artifacts, because he knows about such things.

In "The Phantom Duel," a suitor wins his lady's hand by defeating his rival in a duel, but the ghost of the loser finds a way to exact his revenge a year later.

"Beware, I Can Read Your Mind," warns Tello the Great. He should have waited a few years and become a Marvel superhero! As a boy, Tello was exposed to radiation and, as a result, he found that he could hear the thoughts of others. He becomes a carnival mind reader but has to flee society when all of the thoughts he hears start to overwhelm him. An intriguing story with fun art by an unknown artist.

"Beware, I Can Read Your Mind"
Frank Martin is able to boast that "I Battled the Abominable Snowman" after a trip to the Himalayas to capture a wild mountain goat. But was the snowman real or was it just a trick performed by another man in the party?

Finally, "The Mystery of the Teen-Age Swami" turns out to rest with a camera from the future, yet safecracker Ray Weede runs into trouble when he tries to profit from the strange device. The reprints range from good to really good this time around, though I could do without the final panel revisions to have a character say something along the lines of "That was so UNEXPECTED!"

"Something's Alive
in Volcano 13!"
Peter: Seven reprints this issue and not a horrendous one in the bunch. Despite a whole lot of silliness and naiveté, there's also a big bunch of imagination and wonder on display; as I've remarked before, the writers of the 1950s and 1960s DC fantasy tales just seem to have had a lot more respect for their readership than those pumping out swill like the first two "original" tales in this issue. "Something's Alive" is a fun time-waster that won't tax your brain much (in the best tradition of DC sci-fi). Think of all the fabulous things you could do with a "mole"! The best of the oldies, "The Phantom Duel" has a few Unexpected twists and turns I didn't see coming (like the otherwise respectable lead protagonist cheating while dueling and his ultimate death by uprooted tree!) and some nice Bill Ely artwork. "Sorcerer's Squad!" relies on some pretty questionable sleights of hand to get its message across (my favorite roll-your-eyes moment being the revelation that the staggered crew of pranksters were actually attached to a hook!) but still retains a heaping helping of charm.

Jack: The annual sales report in this issue tells us that Unexpected was selling an average of 164,102 copies a month. Not bad!

Luis Dominguez
House of Secrets 120

"To Never Grow Old"
Story by Virgil North
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"The Right Demon Could Do It!"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Paul Kirchner and Tex Blaisdell

"The Lion's Share"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: Scientist Harry Jungmann is hoping "To Never Grow Old" by inventing a machine that not only stops the aging process but reverses it! After several false starts, Harry is trying the patience of his business partner, Max. During the latest experiment, an aged skid row bum is transformed into a young man but, after only a few minutes, the derelict dies. Seeing this as his golden opportunity, Max conks Harry over the head, steals the way-back machine, and calls the police to report a homicide. Harry gets twenty to life but, happily for him, the prison has a fabulous laboratory and Harry gets back to work. Since he's been a model prisoner, Harry is released after only fifteen years and looks up his old partner, Max. But this is a completely different Harry, a younger version of his old self, and Max is impressed  enough to offer his backing once again to finance Harry's machine. The professor tells Max that he wants everything in the past to be forgotten and, to prove it, he'll make Max young again as well. Professor Jungmann zaps his partner with his youth ray and Max becomes a crying baby. The House of Secrets prison is just as well-stocked and utilized as the one on the old Batman TV show (where they used to let Penguin and Riddler lounge around in their uniforms!), letting its inmates have the run of the place. And this was a nutty professor who got sent up the river for conducting dangerous experiments in the first place. Rehabilitation, indeed! The climax is a good zinger but the journey there is a bit tired. At least we have the art of Tony DeZuniga to keep us awake.

"To Never Grow Old"

Jack: DeZuniga's art is always good but I think it worked better on the Batman comic around this time. I have to admit I did not see that ending coming, which is always a plus. However, the story seems like it could have had a little more meat to it--there is no real horror here, just a twist ending.

Where is John Calnan now that we need him?
Peter: Harrison Quimby goes through life cursing people right and left, never knowing he's being watched by a demon who's taking notes. Eventually, said demon approaches Quimby with a proposition: he'll make Quimby the ruler of the world and that will solve the man's general dislike of everything and everyone. Quimby agrees but, in the grand tradition of deals with the devil, the world he's left to lord over is not to his liking either. "The Right Demon Could Do It!"is a decent "Demonic Bargain" tale that is rendered virtually unreadable by the absolutely ugly and cartoonish artwork. At least the backgrounds are filled in (smiley face emoticon inserted here). Blaisdell spent several years as the primary on the daily Little Orphan Annie strip.

Jack: I went from thinking this was terrible to loving it. Paul Kirchner also drew for High Times and Heavy Metal and his pencils here are so stylized that they look like something out of an underground comic. Some panels remind me of Sam Glanzman or Robert Crumb. The demon is wonderful and it grows bigger and bigger until it fills entire frames. The buxom Miss Fox and the downbeat ending, where the demon gives Quimby a noose, are unlike much else we've seen in the DC horror line.

Peter: Big game hunter Michael Hoover is a right old nasty sod but adept with a rifle in the African wilderness. When Hoover kills a sacred lion, he makes enemies of the local voodoo-practicing natives. Despite my obvious thumbs-up for the art, "The Lion's Share" hammers the nail in the coffin of the sub-genre of "treacherous, unfeeling, unthinking, and selfish hunter who's eventually brought down by black magic." Mr. Skeates... perhaps it's time to investigate another old warhorse?

"The Lion's Share"

Jack: Alcala is always worth a look but this is a tired story, as you note. Did Alfredo spend time in the jungle observing native rituals? He sure seems to have them down pat.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 43

"Village of the Vile"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Gun That Couldn't Stop Killing"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"When Time Went Mad"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: Sandy and Inga are two pretty young women on a cycling tour who happen upon the "Village of the Vile," where everyone is nasty and the inhabitants await the arrival of an important visitor at midnight. The only spark of kindness comes from a small boy, who offers Sandy his handkerchief to use as a bandage when she hurts her ankle in a fall. At midnight the Devil arrives, but the boy's single act of kindness disqualifies the village from joining Satan's kingdom. The women ride off and the townsfolk are angry that all of their nastiness went for naught, but when the boy kicks a cat they decide that perhaps the Devil will return and reconsider letting them join him. The story starts off a bit shakily, in part due to Alcala's trouble drawing normal people, but when the Devil shows up it improves, and the downbeat ending is of interest.

"Village of the Vile"
 Peter: Funny that the cover claims this is a "Village of Evil" but Kashdan plays Scrabble with the title on the inside. Either spelling, "Vile/Evil" is one very dumb story. Are these the same two witless dames we've seen traveling through these stories lately or do they all look and act alike? Just remember that editor Murray Botinoff had a big sign over his office door: "throw whatever you can at the wall and hope something sticks!"

Jack: Lucius Howton is so upset at being passed over for the top job at Yorktown College that he hypnotizes a gun-toting stranger and tells him to kill the school's president. The deed is done and Lucius is next in line, but he didn't reckon with "The Gun That Couldn't Stop Killing." The man remains hypnotized and stalks Howton, the new president. Howton demands police protection and eventually gets his own gun, but when the stranger appears on the scene the police mistake Howton for the killer and shoot him in the back. As Howton dies, his trigger finger contracts and the gun fires, killing the stranger. Yandoc is a second-tier member of the Filipino artist group, in my opinion, but his talent is far greater than that of Carl Wessler ca. 1974, since this story is a one-note joke that goes on too long.

"The Gun That Couldn't Stop Killing"

Peter: The cop never found out he'd shot the wrong man? 1974: The Year Before Ballistics!

"When Time Went Mad"
Jack: Horst is a rotten young man whose dying father gives him three bottles with a liquid that, when consumed, will send him into the past, present or future. He robs a jewelry store and uses a drink to escape into the past, only to find himself in a worse situation. Another drink sends him into the future, where things are no better. Drinking from the third bottle sends him back to the present, where he is again at the scene of the robbery. Desperate to escape, he recalls his father's instruction to take a drink from all three bottles to escape trouble. This lands him in limbo, where he will remain for eternity. At least, I think that's what happened in "When Time Went Mad." The crazy moves back and forth through time are illustrated in the usual slapdash Grandenetti style, so who can be certain?

Peter: "When Time Went Mad" is way too disjointed to make heads or tails of and welcome back, Bad Jerry!

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 27

"House of 1,000 Ghosts"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Conversation with a Corpse!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Bob Brown and Frank McLaughlin

"The Haunted Hotel"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Ernie Chan

"Welcome to Your Tomb"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

Jack: Sarah Winchester, wife of the man who invented the Winchester rifle, is tormented by the ghost of her husband, who insists that she build a home for the specters of all those who were killed by the gun. She spends a fortune to build a massive mansion where the ghosts take up residence and she and a team of servants wait on them. One night, a terrible calamity occurs and Sarah and the servants flee the house, only to witness the servants' wing collapse in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Sarah is convinced that the ghosts created an uproar to save the lives of all the living inhabitants of the "House of 1,000 Ghosts." It feels like we don't get enough of Gerry Talaoc's art lately in these comics, so I'm happy to see it, but the story is flat.

"House of 1,000 Ghosts"

Peter: Having grown up ten miles north of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, and having toured the landmark a few times, I can attest to most of what transpires in "House of 1,000 Ghosts." Well, most of what happens. The "true-life" foundation of Leo Dorfman's short stories always drowns out any decent narrative; it's a lazy way of writing when all you do is connect dots.

"Conversation with a Corpse!"
Jack: Lt. Harry Burger is a bombardier flying over Berlin in late 1944 when his plane is attacked and nearly everyone but him is killed. He sees the ghost of a German plane from WWI and realizes it's the same plane whose pilot his father had saved. He follows the plane to safety, guided by whispered instructions from his badly wounded captain. Landing in England, he is told that what he thought was a ghost plane was really the reflection of his own plane on a cloud. Worse still is the news that the captain was shot through the heart and Harry had been having a "Conversation with a Corpse!" Not a bad little story from Leo Dorfman, though it mines familiar territory. Brown and McLaughlin turn in serviceable art.

Peter: Nice art by Bob Brown (who was about to take over Marvel's Daredevil at the time and save that title from the doldrums) but I can't help feeling I've read this story... more than a few times. Dorfman makes things overly confusing by involving not one but two ghosts in the narrative.

Ghosts check in, but they don't check out
Jack: Ronald Morton spends a chilling night in "The Haunted Hotel" as a spook repeatedly stabs at a ghostly figure in the bed. Next morning, he learns that a murder took place there a century ago and he and the manager discover the skeleton of the murderer behind a hidden door inside the room's closet. A three-page quickie, this tale is enlivened by Ernie Chua's facility at drawing ghosts and skeletons. The last panel is especially nice.

Peter: Well, at least it was only three pages long but how did Ronald Morton know so much about the skeleton when, obviously, no one else did?

Jack: One rainy night in 1972, Sam Edwards, foreman of a wrecking crew that will knock down a brownstone in midtown Manhattan the next day, sees human figures inside the soon to be demolished building. He goes in and discovers the funeral of a young woman being held by a witches' coven! They lock him in a closet but he escapes by picking the lock with a button he finds on the floor. Sam races to the police station, only to be told that the event he witnessed happened 20 years ago and the button he holds is a campaign button for Ike from 1952. He heads back to the brownstone and again sees the figures through the window, causing him to wonder if he will kill living people when he razes the building the next day. Sam is quite handy with the pin on that button and he manages to jump out of a window without getting hurt due to some conveniently placed sandbags.

Another hot babe sacrificed to Satan

Peter: What's worse: a credit at the beginning of a story that reads Art by John Calnan or getting to the climax of a story only to realize Leo decided not to write an ending to the story? And starring Ed Asner as the disbelieving Sergeant.

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