Thursday, May 21, 2015

COLD PRINT: "Calcutta, Lord of Nerves" and "The Ash of Memory, the Dust of Desire" by Poppy Z. Brite

by Jose Cruz

I found it in my aunt and uncle's office. It was early afternoon, the combined light of the day outside and the eggshell glow from the bulbs of the rotating fan above giving the setting an innocuous, decidedly mundane atmosphere. But I knew that the book I held in my hands was anything but innocuous or mundane.

The cover looked fairly generic at first glance, emphasis placed on the author’s name rather than the artistic rendition to sell the book. Still, there was something patently forbidden in the pallid, scarred face that stared out off-center, its lips either submerged in the gummy waters of the bayou or covered by cross-hatchings of Spanish moss. Or sewn shut with black voodoo thread. And the title of the book itself: Wormwood. Biblical, ancient, full of whispery pestilence. And just below that an even more telling reveal, a line that explains this short story collection was previously released under the title Swamp Foetus. I was still in middle school when I picked up the book that sunny afternoon, but I still had enough knowledge of these matters to realize that this was horror as I had never conceived before.

It was then that I realized that this Poppy Z. Brite meant business and was, very likely, highly dangerous.

It was only early this year that I finally confronted the work within that forsaken text. My initial apprehensions of Brite being a tawdry peddler in the erotic horror paperback market had been stamped out in the intervening time between that initial encounter and now, appraisals and tributes to her wonderful and unique craft ever-intriguing me to reevaluate that hasty and paranoid assertion I had made as a foolish boy. Diving into Brite’s prose was a full realization of all the praise I had heard.

The renamed collection from Dell (1996)
In her short stories, Brite is audacious and merciless, the viciousness of her narratives honed to a keener edge by the refinement she brings to her work. To read Poppy Z. Brite is to immerse yourself in a cesspool of sensations both thrilling and horrendous: one comes to admire her delectable descriptions of cuisine and landscape with the same fervor as her portrayals of bodily mutilation and raw sexuality. Brite knows that horror is a genre of feelings both physical and emotional, her uniquely trained eye for unconventional imagery and metaphor perfectly suited to elicit frissons in the reader during the course of any one of her poetical tales. Two of them from later in the collection, “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” and “The Ash of Memory, the Dust of Desire,” are the subject of today’s post.

Reading each story in Wormwood in its presented order allows the reader to pick up on many of Brite’s fascinations and recurrent themes. The underground Goth scene figures heavily in many, as does the rambling, shadowy streets of New Orleans, both of which Brite has called herself a resident. “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves,” therefore, surprises one in its departure from the familiar settings and preoccupations with art and love that came before it. Originally published for Craig Spector’s and John Skipp’s anthology Still Dead (1992), their follow-up to their successful Book of the Dead (1989), the story is another in a gathering of fictions taking place in a universe wherein George Romero's zombies have overtaken the world.

Mark V. Ziesing, 1992
The story is related to us by a nameless narrator (my favorite kind), the son of an American man and Indian woman who was rescued when the hospital he was birthed in burned to the ground, his mother’s bloody body left in the basement morgue after she died in labor. Early on Brite readily establishes her strengths in painting the most vivid pictures with her prose:

[My father] pressed his thin chapped lips to the satin of my hair. I remember opening my eyes—they felt tight and shiny, parched by the flames—and looking up at the column of smoke that roiled in the sky, a night sky blasted cloudy pink like a sky full of blood and milk.

After his despairing father drinks himself to death, the narrator returns to his homeland of Calcutta as a young man.

Calcutta, you will say. What a place to have been when the dead began to walk.

As he sees it, his home has changed very little with the proliferation of the living dead. The city was already a crawling mass of bodies wishing for death, so the sights of zombies eating the entrails of catatonic mothers through their vaginas and munching on the skulls of their children have only become a part of the greater squalor rather than upsetting the social norm.

Not having any responsibilities in a world gone mad (and living in a city that already was), the narrator spends most of his time wandering through the streets overcrowded with ramshackle buildings and watching the degeneracy unfolding around him to preoccupy his time. From the incinerated zombies tossed into the Hooghly River by the police to the rotting beggars who have scarcer meals than the zombies, the narrator witnesses it all with an impassive eye, loving his home all the more with every horrible revelation.

One of his mandatory stops during his trips is the Kalighat, the temple of worship for the goddess Kali. The narrator is entranced by the power and mystifying sex the goddess represents in her monstrous physicality and deathly adornments. As the narrator continues his walks and muses on the practical and metaphysical problems presented by the living dead (a perfunctory explanation linking their reanimation to a biologically-engineered microbe meant to eat plastic waste is the only one given, and briefly), he eventually finds that the labyrinthine streets of the city have led him back to the Kalighat come nightfall. But when he returns to the altar of his beloved mistress, he finds a different kind of congregation gathered in the temple.

I saw human heads balanced on raw stumps of necks, eyes turned up to crescents of silver-white. I saw gobbets of meat that might have been torn from a belly or a thigh. I saw severed hands like pale lotus flowers, the fingers like petals opening silently in the night.

Most of all, piled on every side of the altar, I saw bones. Bones picked so clean that they gleamed in the candlelight. Bones with smears of meat and long snotty runners of fat still attached. Skinny arm-bones, clubby leg-bones, the pretzel of a pelvis, the beadwork of a spine. The delicate bones of children. The crumbling ivory bones of the old. The bones of those that could not run.

These things the dead brought to their goddess. She had been their goddess all along, and they her acolytes.

This macabre diorama, combined with the animation of the sinuous statue itself, compel the narrator to run from the scene back to the ruins of the hospital. He lowers himself into a cradle of ashes, returned to the dust from whence he was born as the dawn of a new day arrives.

Brite’s writing demonstrates such a potent musicality that when paired with these gruesome sights it creates a symphony of terror. “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” is a narrative of tensions and contradictions. The city is redolent both with beauty and misery; the living dead both of equal standing with the human citizens and perversions of humanity; Kali acting as both a guard of the old faith and the vicious herald of the New World Order. The best writers have the power to take your breath away, to make you envious of their gifts, to keep you thinking long after you’ve finished that last sentence. Poppy Z. Brite does all of this with “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” and had it been her only story the world could only be so thankful to have at least gotten this little masterpiece from her.

“Calcutta…” presents a vivid depiction of a social horror eating away like a cancer, and in this way it is similar to “The Ash of Memory, the Dust of Desire,” but the latter tale is more secretive where the former was illustrative, dwelling more in the pockets of darkness in between the “candyscapes of nighttime lights” than in the glaring light of the unflinching sun.

St. Martin's Press, 1991
Originally appearing in Dead End: City Limits (1991) edited by Paul F. Olson and David B. Silva, “The Ash of Memory…” is a tale of the modern city, or what would at first appear to be the modern city. The stink and spice of India is left behind in favor of the steely cool of the American metropolis (its exact name is never given) where our narrator, Jonny, works as head chef for the posh hotel restaurant the Blue Shell with his aspiring artist friend Cleve. Jonny’s girlfriend Leah spent a passionate night with Cleve for which the couple is still feeling the emotional shockwaves from, their intimacy gradually crumbling in the wake of the infidelity. Not only that, but Leah has found out she is pregnant. The baby could belong to either man.

Conflicted by his feelings for both Leah and Cleve, Jonny continues to kick back and listen to jazz records with Cleve and comfort Leah in her times of need even when she makes her resentment of his boyish sweetness known to him. When she gets an appointment with a private doctor in a run-down neighborhood to carry out the abortion, Jonny decides to accompany her despite his fear of the decrepit district.

Other parts of the city were more dangerous, but to me the old factories and mills were the most frightening places. The places where abandoned machinery sat silent and brooding, and twenty-foot swaths of cobweb hung from the disused cogs and levers like dusty gray curtains. The places that everyone mostly stayed away from, mostly left alone with the superstitious reverence given all graveyards. But once in a while something would be found in the basement of a factory or tucked into the backroom of a warehouse. A head, once, so badly decomposed that no one could ever put a face to it. The gnawed bones and dried tendons and other unpalatable parts of a wino, jealously guarded by a pack of feral dogs. This was where the free clinic was; this was where certain doctors set up their offices, and where desperate girls visited them.

There’s a telling reveal in Jonny’s words about the head that “no one could ever put a face to it.” This description not only speaks to his fear of the city’s erosion of identity and how a distinct human body can be reduced to a nameless pile of remains that no one can mourn but also his fear of the random, anonymous incidents themselves. Early in the story Jonny speaks of “the grand melodramatic murders” that the city hosts, but one never gets the impression that Jonny speaks of these things as products of human nature. The atrocities he describes in the quoted passage seem to be attributed to a greater and more arcane horror, victims erased from existence by the very environment rather than some mortal perpetrator. This notion is lent more credence as the tale advances.


When Jonny and Leah begin arguing after having difficulty finding the doctor’s office, Jonny runs off, his impotent rage leveled only by his blind devotion to Leah, leading him to make sure that she remains in earshot as she gives chase to him. But Jonny ends up losing track of her, finding evidence that Leah had taken a spill outside an alley before seemingly disappearing from the spot. This is where Brite demonstrates a touch for queasy suspense, ratcheting up the tension as Jonny sees a worn sign pointing down the alley marked with their destination.

But whereas the couple had been searching for “127 Payne Street,” the sign indicates that he has found “Pain Street,” and the number itself is scratched into the face of a yawning metal door leading into one of the ghostly factories. There he discovers the corpse of a young girl “half buried and half dissolved into the grime and ash of the factory floor,” one of the miserably impregnated who sought the aid of a doctor years ago and only found death. Jonny quickly sees that Leah has come to a similar end herself: she’s been run through with one of the towering machine’s gleaming, organic hooks and lifted into the air, the desiccated fetus ripped from her abdomen. The sight leaves Jonny maddened and haunted in the tradition of the Lovecraftian narrator, but any melodramatics are played down with Brite’s eloquent style.

I no longer thought I knew something about love.

Now I knew what love was all about.

A reprint from Penguin Books (1995)
Like “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves,” “The Ash of Memory, the Dust of Desire” leaves off with all its horrors intact, the narrators left to study their lives—or whatever may be left of them—as the dark forces of the unknown continue their work and propagation in the background. The latter story would make a favorable pairing with Clive Barker’s “The Midnight Meat Train,” another tale concerned with the bloody black magic of the old ways literally existing underneath a veneer of modernity. While Barker gives his terrors a face, Brite leaves her story ambiguous. Who or what is controlling these machines? Are they sentient? How did they come to be? Like many things of this earth, there’s more to it than anything Brite or Jonny could have dreamt up in their philosophies.

Both of Brite’s stories are in the end concerned with the unloved and the unwanted. The narrator from “Calcutta” is the product of a fatal birth, one he believes his mother may have despised him for, and an undesirable child is the whole driving force in "The Ash of Memory...". Though separated by hundreds of geographic miles, Leah and the catatonic mothers of India are in their hearts one in the same, victims of circumstances both within and without of their control, food for monsters. It shows us that in spite of our differences, horror is a tie that binds us.

Brite now identifies as Billy Martin, and you can find his blog here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 53: October 1963

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 135

"Battlefield Double!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Invasion Jitters!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: Ice Cream Soldier's comment that everyone has a twin somewhere sticks in Sgt. Rock's mind and he begins to think he sees his double in other heroic soldiers on the battlefield. His first suspected twin is a soldier who helps destroy a Nazi bunker when Easy Co. assaults Red Beach. The soldier dies in the battle and Rock realizes they look nothing alike.

Sgt. Rock moves on inland and sees another "Battlefield Double!" in a paratrooper whose chute gets stuck in a tree and who blows up a Nazi machine gun nest. Once again, closer inspection reveals that the men do not resemble each other. A third hero in a tank makes Rock see double until he gets close enough to realize he's wrong. Rock gets a two-day pass and thinks he can clear his head of the thought of a twin. He finds himself back at Red Beach, where the Nazi bunker turns out to have one Nazi left in it, and that man is Rock's double! Rock sneaks up on the enemy and they grapple before Rock emerges victorious, his evil twin silenced.

"Battlefield Double!"

Sgt. Rock rides a bike!
First of all, what's with Kubert turning in one third of a cover again this issue? Issues 129 and 134 through 137 all have this type of cover, where there are three stripes and only the middle features art. Seems kind of like cheating. The story is decent with the usual outstanding art by Joe. The sight of a Nazi Sgt. Rock is a bit disconcerting.

Peter: I was hoping this would avoid all cliches when Rock thinks he sees his double and it turns out he's imagining things but, as usual, Kanigher makes sure he hammers home the message in the end. "Battlefield Double" could have been so much more had it not succumbed to the obvious. It's a decent read but nothing special.

Jack: The Japanese are guarding a key island with the Steel Dragon, a giant gun that is powerful enough to blow ships and subs out of the water from a distance. Brothers Danny and Rick don't have "Invasion Jitters!" since they vow to meet after the attack is complete. Frogman Danny heads off with a time-bomb wristwatch just before Rick's sub is sunk by the Steel Dragon. From his rubber raft, Danny blows up an enemy plane with a well-thrown stick of dynamite, but he is captured by the Japanese and locked in a cabin aboard a boat. His captors take his watch, which soon blows up everyone on board but Danny. He uses the boat as a ram to destroy the Steel Dragon, then sees an enemy destroyer laying depth charges and blows it up with a handy floating mine.

"Invasion Jitters!"
Danny submerges and sees Rick's submarine stuck on the ocean floor. Some quick banging on the hull with Morse Code confirms that Rick and the crew are alive and well. Danny intercepts a depth charge and sends it back to the surface, where it blows up another destroyer. Danny uses a piece of the wreckage to free the sub from the ocean floor and the brothers are reunited at last. Whew! Danny deserves about ten medals for that day's work! I really enjoyed this goofy story and thought Grandenetti's art fit it perfectly. It's almost like James Bond in World War Two, especially with the TNT wristwatch.

Peter: At this point in the game, I'm not sure why DC didn't have a funny book titled Brothers-in-Arms for the many many times they're going back to that well. This one is text heavy; not necessarily a bad thing unless the words are as clunky and confusing as they are here: "The secret hiding place of the giant "dragon" coastal gun--that'll chew up our invasion--if it isn't destroyed!" To confound things, we get bad Grandenetti again after he'd been impressing me so much lately.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 79

"Backs to the Sea!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Battling Broomstick!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Col. Hakawa and his men attack the marines on the beach who now have their "Backs to the Sea!" After the battle is over, a transport plane lands and Gunner and Sarge send marines on stretchers away from danger. They also load Pooch on the plane, hoping to protect him from harm, but the clever mutt hops off the plane, swims back to the island, and disappears into the jungle. Gunner and Sarge give chase, only to find Pooch appear in various places where he can help them defeat Col. Hakawa's best. At the end, Pooch appears to have been killed in a fight, but he revives when brought back to base. We now have a strong candidate for worst all-around story of the year!

Make it stop!
Peter: In re: that splash page, what the heck is a "TNT frolic"? I'd like to think that "Backs to the Sea" is the lowest both Kanigher and Grandenetti can reach but something tells me higher peaks are yet to be scaled. This is the closest we've come, in the war comics, to the truly awful Jerry we experience on a monthly basis while dissecting the DC horror comics. Call me an idiot, but I thought Kanigher was actually killing off Pooch and a solitary tear came to my eye, remembering all the good times we'd shared.

Jack: PT boat captain Blake laments the fact that he and his crew keep getting sent on reconnaissance missions and never get into much fighting. When finally given some ammunition, they get into one heck of a fight with the enemy and are finally able to raise "The Battling Broomstick!" to show that they made a clean sweep. Jack Abel's long-faced soldiers and sailors are really getting tiresome. I liked Hank Chapman's other two stories this month, but this one is a dud. The worst moment comes at the end, when the PT boat finds itself perched above the conning tower of a sub, firing torpedoes at enemy ships from mid-air.

I can accept Superman flying through space.
I can accept Flash circling the Earth 8 times in a second.
I can accept a duck in a top hat looking for gold.
But this is too much!
Peter: There's way too much dopiness here, from the TNT lingo only a vet could understand (Our sitting duck couldn't waddle--but it still could quack lead calibers... but the other zero shook his TNT seasoning over our fouled-up fowl...) to the PT skipper dumb enough to pal around with comrades who mock his lack of kills to, silliest of all, the sight of a PT boat balanced atop the con tower of a surfaced sub. Oh, and, I wish Hank had explained the concept of the Battling Broomstick one more time as I didn't catch it the first five. Another bad issue of Our Fighting Forces, the Ghosts of DC War.

Irv Novick
All American Men of War 99

"The Empty Cockpit!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Attack from Yesterday!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Bad dreams force Johnny Cloud's CO to ground him, sending him on leave to London. In the dream, Johnny is always flying under a squadron of Nazi fighter planes when a terror rocket emerges and heads for London. At the last minute (still in the dream) Johnny always notices a lone plane that seems ready to intercept and destroy the rocket but, on closer inspection, our hero notes "The Empty Cockpit!" On his first day in London. Johnny narrowly avoids becoming part of Piccadilly Square when a bomb blows up while he's driving through. Meeting up with a British pilot named Allan, Johnny decides that leave is not what he's looking for and accompanies the Brit back to his base. Just as they get there, an alarm is sounded and a scenario very familiar to Johnny begins to unfold. When Allan's plane limps back to base, Johnny is there to help his new friend but Allan is beyond help. Knowing his services are needed, Cloud hops into Allan's plane to finish the job. Once in the air, a terror rocket is launched and Johnny realizes that he is in "The Empty Cockpit!" With a little daring and a whole lot of luck, Johnny wipes out the menace and his bad dreams all in one fell swoop.

Not a bad little adventure. Sure it's got coincidences galore but what DC War story doesn't?  I appreciate that, for the most part, we've put the fact that Johnny Cloud is a Native American off to the side and concentrated on his bravery (pun intended) and air prowess. Yeah, I know, we still get the silly "great white cloud" now and then but at least we're not presented with the "wash, rinse, repeat" of "Johnny meets up with new squadron and has to endure injun jokes" every issue. Nice touch when it's revealed that Johnny himself is occupying that empty cockpit of his dreams.

Jack: When a story starts off with a long dream sequence and then repeats key parts of it several times, you know that the end of the story will feature the dream coming true. It's like Chekhov's gun. Johnny is working so hard that he's exhausted again and gets sent on leave. Aren't there any other fliers in the European theater?

Peter: The Hall Brothers happen to serve under their father, Captain Willard Hall (what are the chances?), a WWI vet who steadfastly declares time and again that the weapons of WWI were much more efficient than those of the current conflict. When the three are attacked in a small village by Nazis, the Captain is separated from his sons and finds himself in a WWI museum (what are the chances?). The Hall Brothers find their pop and the three fire up an ancient spad and a WWI tank and take out the entire German army with their antiques. Hank Chapman manages to rope in two of the most overused DC Warhorses ("the family that fights together..." and "the melding of two wars" and spits out "Attack From Yesterday," a hammy and totally unbelievable bit of nonsense made all the worse by pedestrian Jack Abel art. I'll give it one half star for the sequence when one of the Hall Bros. tells his pa that "the machines in this museum are battle-ready! Just as they were in the first World War!" Though I don't doubt that some of the vehicles could have been kept in pristine condition for twenty years, I do wonder why the proprietors of the museum would keep them fueled!

Jack: I'm surprised you didn't like this one. I thought it was fun and exciting and Abel's art is some of his best work. I know the family fighting together is a cliche but it's so cool to see them resurrect the old battle machines and head out to fight some Nazis!

In our next Alcala-drenched issue of
Do You Dare Enter?
On Sale May 25th!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Classic Movie Day--The Abominable Dr. Phibes

This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th). Click here to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon.

As part of the blogathon, we all decided to sit down and watch one of the most treasured cinematic chestnuts, the story of one's man limitless love for his wife and all the bastards he has to kill to prove it...


Synopsis: Eminent surgeons are being systematically murdered in bizarre fashion during England's Roaring Twenties, and Inspector Pike, er, Trout, is on the case. The policeman gradually discovers that the victims--the first stung to death by bees (unseen), the second ravaged by vampire bats, and the third's head crushed by a frog mask at a costume ball--were at one point all part of a surgical team led by Dr. Vesalius.

The one case they undertook together (along with four other physicians and a nurse) was that of Victoria Phibes, wife of theology and music expert Dr. Anton Phibes. Victoria died on the operating table and Anton himself was immolated in a tragic car accident and died on the way to the hospital. 

Or did he?

With time running short, Inspector Trout and Dr. Vesalius must outwit their nemesis as the grim-faced madman continues to use the Biblical Ten Plagues of Egypt as the modus operandi of his crimes. And with such lovely and novel forms of execution at his disposal as locusts, hail, and blood draining, and a gorgeous assistant at his side, Phibes is determined to beat the tenacious efforts of the Law and have the last laugh.

Jose: If only all horror films had an opening as great as THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. Right from those reverent strummings on the pipe organ, the entire credit sequence just feels right. It's a testament to just how much a director can wring from a wordless prologue, using only music and imagery to convey the atmosphere and emotional truth of the overall production. Too bad it's mostly a forgotten practice these days, but director Robert Fuest (AND SOON THE DARKNESS) shows how completely in control he is in this moment. All I need to do is think back to Phibes's grand flourishes in his dark cloak, the neon red of the organ rising from the ground like a rock from Hell into his art deco heaven, bare trees peopled with stuffed owls and a stage of robotic jazz players waiting for their winding cue, and I am at peace. It's the type of opening that has nothing but promise for lovers of horror and strange beauty.

Murder by bats

Peter: You're on the money as usual, my young compadre. There is no film quite like PHIBES. Rather than a delicate composition of great music, incredible sets, and canny casting choices, PHIBES feels wonderfully thrown together. I love how we're dropped right into the lap of the narrative, almost as though the director has whispered in our ears, "You're late... and you missed the first twenty minutes... there's not much time to recap." We're not even shown the first murder, only told in passing that a victim of bee stings may have something to do with the current case. There are so many questions I have! Who the heck is Vulnavia? She's hot, yes, we know that, but why is she hanging out with a dead guy? Is she dead, too? A groupie? What about that party where head-shrinker Hargreaves gets his head shrunken (nice irony that, no?) in a frog mask vice? Who are these people and how did Phibes get invited? For that matter, how does Anton always know where his victims will be? I want to know the answers to these questions -- I've wanted to know for over forty years -- but make no mistake: it doesn't matter! Legend has it that PHIBES was on his TV the day Keith Moon swallowed way too many pills. How appropriate is it that a loon would go out watching a nutty flick like this?

Murder by frog

John: The fact that there's no dialog until after the first murder has been committed is pretty amazing, and yet watching it you hardly notice because the setup is so engaging. It moves briskly from one set piece to the next; right up to the nail-biting climax.

Murder by exsanguination (blood)

Jack: I presume that's Vincent Price hamming it up at the organ in the opening sequence, though we never see his face. It's so funny that his hand movements and flourishes seem to have no connection to the organ music being played; at one point, he throws both hands up in the air while the music keeps going! All of the elements that make this film great remind me of The Avengers, where Fuest had directed a number of episodes in the late '60s.

Murder by hail

Jose: In addition to a mastery of the technical elements, the film also boasts a great, fun script by James Whiton and William Goldstein. It's particularly impressive when you account for the fact that this was both writers' very first big screen effort, but it has the flow and feel of veteran scribes in their prime. The script combines two of my favorite narrative touches--creepy suspense and wry comedy--in a manner that other films I love (CREEPSHOW, FRIGHT NIGHT) would demonstrate in later years. The laughs in this film are of the typically dry, British flavor, naturally, and they tickle me no matter how many times I've seen them. From the low-key (Trout asking where one of his men are and the policeman responding matter-of-factly from atop a bureau, "Up here, sir") to the patently slapstick (the unscrewing of Dr. Whitcombe's body from the unicorn's horn), it's all delivered with just the right air to ensure that all of the funny bits never jar you from the rest of the film but rather feel apiece with the whole production. The look Price gives the racy painting in Terry-Thomas's library kills me every time.

Murder by rats

John: Jose nailed it. I think one of the reasons I loved the film growing up was that Phibes was a sympathetic character. How could one blame him for wanting revenge after losing his lovely young wife (more on the enchanting-even-as-a-corpse Caroline Munro later)? And despite being packed wall-to-wall with murders, the humorous bits with the bumbling inspectors of Scotland Yard (save our relentless Trout, who never falters) make those sequences out to be more camp than anything else. Which contributes to the final climax being so effective—by the time we get to Vesalius's struggle to save his son, it's clear this is no longer a joke.

Murder by unicorn (?)

Jack: I think we would all agree that we would be willing to murder any doctor who harmed Caroline Munro!

Victoria Phibes in happier days

Peter: I saw PHIBES in the Spring of '71 at the Capitol Drive-In in San Jose (on a double-bill, if I'm not mistaken, with the fabulously sleazy The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant) and, even at the ripe old age of 9, knew it was something special. I was a Cushing and Lee fan, through and through, but Vincent Price always kept my attention even when he popped up in "talky and boring" (that's the nine year old speaking) flicks like Scream and Scream Again, Cry of the Banshee and Conqueror Worm (the latter of which put me to sleep). It was PHIBES, though, that transformed me into a Price follower and, from that point on, I would venture out to the cinema and take in anything he made.

Dr. Phibes and Vulnavia

John: Watching it again, I began to wonder if Price gave a better performance in his career. To this day, I'm convinced that Phibes can't move his mouth. Rather than just relying on a recorded voiceover, he 'speaks' all of his lines while keeping his lips still, providing a creepy, yet completely believable, performance.

Sorting the Brussels sprouts

Jose: The "vengeful doctor" tale was far from fresh by the time Fuest lensed this film, having been a staple of everything from the pulp magazines and comic books to motion pictures decades prior--the setting of the story in the Twenties could then perhaps be considered a canny move by Whiton and Goldstein--but Dr. Phibes is such a delicious amalgam of madman conventions and confections that one can't help but resist his sinister aura. With a prosthetic death-mask that's not quite as mobile as Lionel Atwill's in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) and a killer fashion sense, Phibes shows that not only does he have all the requisite know-how of villainy (he puts a chauffeur into submission with a sleeper hold), but has enough class and taste to fill a sparkling ballroom.

Murder by locusts

Jack: Speaking of killer fashion sense, can anyone make sense of Vulnavia? When I watched this film recently, for the first time in many years, I kept thinking that she'd be revealed to be either Phibes's wife or his girlfriend. Turns out I was mixing it up in my head with THEATRE OF BLOOD and Vulnavia goes through the entire film as a cipher. Why would this beautiful young woman be so devoted to Phibes? Who is she? She really doesn't deserve the acid in her face that she receives at the end. I don't think she ever says a word, and the romantic wine and waltz scene she shares with the bad doctor makes one think he has more on his mind than his dead wife.

Speaking through the side of his neck

John: I think the art direction and set design are worth mentioning as well. All these years later, the strange art deco designs, from Phibes house with the bizarre clockwork Wizards orchestra, the wax head lamps of his intended victims (visible in the background in an early opening shot), his car having his profile on the drawn shades, to Vulnavia's elaborate costumes, all contribute to the film's timeless feel. And kudos for the grand production values that allowed for real (and particularly creepy) live bats (save one shot of a bat on a string that's all the more obvious on Blu Ray) and so many other inventive ways of delivering the curses upon his victims. My personal favorite has to be the locusts. I love how Price inspects and casually tosses aside some Brussels sprouts while mixing his concoction, how he lays out a full scale (nude) drawing of the nurse's body so he can figure out—exactly—where to drill a hole in the ceiling right over her head and, best of all, after dripping the green syrup and live locusts on her, the discovery of her skeletal body (but with hair!) covered in locusts. Have I mentioned how much I love this film?

Peter: PHIBES has a Phabulous soundtrack but, oddly enough, the album released by American-International Records (AIR) shorty after the film's release has several pieces not found in the film. Famed impersonator (and voice of Boris Badenov) Paul Frees was brought in to sing on several cuts, aping such legends as Humphrey Bogart, Al Jolson and W.C. Fields. I have no idea why but, as a monster-obsessed nine year-old, I managed to talk my mom into dropping four big ones on this album at Gemco. I'd never had a soundtrack before and my musical tastes ran closer to The Partridge Family (a fondness which, I must confess, lasts to this day) so it may have been the incredible poster artwork that graced the sleeve. In any event, I took that record home and played the hell out of it. I've still got it (as evidenced by the honest-to-gosh real photo taken in my study recently) and, for a 44 year-old slab of vinyl, it's in pretty good shape. The musical highlight of the film (and record) is composer Basil Kirchin's "Vulnavia," which you can access here.

John: Regular readers of bare•bones are very familiar with my fondness for Caroline Munro. While her role in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES is no more than a glorified cameo—in which she has more screen time via photographs than as a (remarkably well-preserved) corpse—any opportunity to see her onscreen is a welcome one.  And on the bright side, playing a corpse prevented the studio from bringing in another actress to dub her lines, something that occurred all too often throughout her career. Of her PHIBES experience, she told me that it was rather difficult to remain perfectly still in her few scenes, both in that she was allergic to the feathers on her costume, and also because Price had brought in paté to share with the cast and crew, which caused her to burp!

Jack: As stunning as she was, the photos that are shown late in the film of her smiling and hanging around are some of the least sexy pictures of Caroline Munro ever taken. I guess it would not have looked right to dress her in her Golden Voyage of Sinbad outfit . . .

Joseph Cotten

Peter: Several sequels were planned after the first Dr. Phibes made quite a splash but only Dr. Phibes Rises Again came to fruition. To get a fabulously detailed dissection of the various Phibes projects throughout the years (including the most recent, the proposed Johnny Depp/Tim Burton re-imagining), pick up the special Dr. Phibes issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors.

Speaking through a phonograph

Watching the acid

Our first view of the real Phibes

At the organ

Right before an acid bath

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Hitchcock Project-Roald Dahl Part Six: "The Landlady" [6.19], overview, episode guide

by Jack Seabrook

"The Landlady"
The Landlady

The sixth and final Roald Dahl story to be adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "The Landlady," which aired on February 21, 1961. Since Robert Bloch wrote the teleplay, this episode is discussed here, as part of the "Robert Bloch on TV" series.


The Roald Dahl episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents represent a special group.

"Lamb to the Slaughter," the first, was adapted for television by Dahl himself and directed by Hitchcock. It features a fine performance by Barbara Bel Geddes and its mix of murder and humor have made it one of the most well known episodes of the entire series.

"Dip in the Pool" came next, also directed by Hitchcock and starring Keenan Wynn in a story that features more humor but no murder, just an accidental suicide.

In "Poison," the third Dahl adaptation to be directed by Hitchcock, the story is one of extreme suspense in a confined space, where the televised version features a significant change in focus from the original story.

Best of the lot is "Man From the South," one of the finest examples of suspense ever produced for television. It has been remade, imitated and parodied, but it has never been equaled. Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre turn in superb performances and the direction by Norman Lloyd ratchets up the tension until the surprising climax.

Hitchcock returned to direct "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat," which tells a tale of humor, revenge and deception while painting an unflattering portrait of a marriage. There are no standouts but cast and crew work together to produce solid entertainment.

"Dip in the Pool"
Finally, Paul Henreid directed "The Landlady" from a teleplay by Robert Bloch. Dean Stockwell and Patricia Collinge are well cast in a dreamlike episode with an unforgettable ending.

The fact that Hitchcock himself chose to direct four of the six Dahl episodes shows that they were considered special, and Dahl's short stories were a perfect fit for the sensibilities of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Here is an episode guide to the Roald Dahl episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with links that lead back to the posts discussing each episode.


Episode title-“Lamb to the Slaughter” [3.28]
Broadcast date-13 Apr. 1958
Teleplay by-Dahl
Based on-"Lamb to the Slaughter" by Dahl
First print appearance-Harper's, Sept. 1953
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-here

"Lamb to the Slaughter"

Episode title-“Dip in the Pool” [3.35]
Broadcast date-1 June 1958
Teleplay by-Robert C. Dennis
Based on-"Dip in the Pool" by Dahl
First print appearance-The New Yorker, 19 Jan. 1952
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-“Poison” [4.1]
Broadcast date-5 Oct. 1958
Teleplay by-Casey Robinson
Based on-"Poison" by Dahl
First print appearance-Collier's, 3 June 1950
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-here

"Man From the South"

Episode title-“Man From the South” [5.23]
Broadcast date-13 Mar. 1960
Teleplay by-William Fay
Based on-"Collector's Item" by Dahl
First print appearance-Collier's, 4 Sept. 1948
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-here

Episode title-“Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat” [6.1]
Broadcast date-27 Sept. 1960
Teleplay by-Halsted Welles
Based on-"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" by Dahl
First print appearance-Nugget, December 1959
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-here

"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat"

Episode title-“The Landlady” [6.19]
Broadcast date-21 Feb. 1961
Teleplay by-Robert Bloch
Based on-"The Landlady" by Dahl
First print appearance-The New Yorker, 28 November 1959
Watch episode-unavailable
Available on DVD?-here


Monday, May 11, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty-Two: October 1974

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

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 159

"A Cry in the Night"
Story by Sam Meade
Art by Jess Jodloman

Story and Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Creature That Never Existed!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Lee Elias
(Originally appeared in Tales of the Unexpected #89, July 1965)

"The Tell Tale Hand!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Curt Swan and George Klein
(Originally appeared in House of Mystery #6, September 1952)

"I Was Blackmailed by a Phantom"
Story Uncredited
Art by Howard Sherman
(Originally appeared in My Greatest Adventure #67, May 1962)

"Frozen in Fear"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Fred Carrillo

"The Swami of Broadway"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Ely
(Originally appeared in House of Secrets #14, November 1958)

"The Rainbow Man"
Story Uncredited
Art by George Roussos
(Originally appeared in Tales of the Unexpected #15, July 1957)

"The Night I Watched Myself Die!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bob Brown
(Originally appeared in Unexpected #105, March 1968)

"The Demon Gun!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jim Mooney
(Originally appeared in House of Mystery #30, September 1954)

"The Strange Experiment of Dr. Grimm!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Howard Purcell and Sheldon Moldoff
(Originally appeared in House of Mystery #2, March 1952)

"Who's That Lying in My Coffin?"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Alex Nino

Don't worry--
it's a hoax!
Jack: Macho man Horst brings back a rare catch from the Black Forest to present to the Baron, the man he hopes will soon be his father-in-law--a savage, wild boy in a crate! The Baron is impressed but his daughter is not. Poor Horst wants to marry her but she loves Walter, the stable boy. Walter wisely locks the young savage in with other beasts but the Baron wants to civilize him and decides to take him on a boar hunt (an odd way to start the civilizing process). When the Baron does not come home and is found dead in the forest, the wild boy is suspected of the murder. But wait! The wild boy is not so wild after all! Horst paid him to fake it and tries to betray and kill him. Unfortunately for Horst, the wild boy gets the upper hand and kills Horst instead. Walter and his girlfriend later find the wild boy trapped in a camouflaged pit that had been set to catch wild animals. The wild boy now reveals he can speak English quite well but Walter tells him he can explain it all to the police. "A Cry in the Night" is a poor start to this issue of Unexpected, with unfocused art by Jodloman and a script by Sam Meade that makes little sense.

Peter: The climax of "A Cry in the Night" was Unexpected, to say the least. In fact, I thumbed through  #159 several times (yep, I have a real honest to gosh paper version of this one) to try to find the last page of the story, which is clearly missing from my copy. Perhaps Underdeveloped would be a better title for this comic book?

Jack: Jim Laskey knows that the state of California has abolished the death penalty, so he doesn't feel too bad about shooting a San Francisco cop as he runs away from a movie theater he's just robbed. He climbs onto a cable car to rest for the night, only to find it take off of its own accord. On the car with him are the cop he killed and a judge and jury, who try him for his crime. He gets a "Shocker" of an experience when he sits in the driver's chair and is electrocuted in a freak accident. When the police find him dead the next morning, they hear on the radio that Governor Reagan just reinstated the death penalty. I guess that means that Laskey's death was poetic justice?

The ghost of Barney Fife

Peter: Laskey's primary motive for his crime spree seems to be the repeal of the death penalty, as though life in prison is no dissuader. Seems like a good reason to rob and kill. Jerry Grandenetti proves he's just as good a writer as artist.

Jack: Old Pietro, the graveyard watchman, leaves his ghostly pals to return to his shack on a damp, cold evening, only to find two criminals holed up there. When the crooks threaten to kill him, they are "Frozen in Fear" and scared to death by Pietro's ghost pals. Three pages and not much to this one.

Saved by his ghostly pals!

Peter: A silly little nothing that avoids being a waste of paper thanks to some decent Fred Carrillo work.

Jack: Herb Mowery and his wife Addie share a recurring dream that Herb is dead and lying in his coffin. When a shrink tells him that this means he will die, he splurges on a fancy coffin. He is kidnapped by criminals and told to turn over his bankbook, but he refuses. They kill his wife to get the money and Herb asks, "Who's That Lying in My Coffin?" Terrible story but great art by Nino, the best in this issue.

Another Nino freakout!

Peter: So the killers took the time to lay Addie out in her coffin? Well, that was mighty nice of them. As usual, Alex Nino makes turning the pages a glorious exercise but do try to avoid the words.

Jack: Lots of reprints this time around and it seems we've just about reached the bottom of the barrel. I liked "The Tell Tale Hand!" in which a killer is convinced by a gypsy that his crime will be revealed by a noose that appears in the lines on his palm. As usual, it turns out to be an elaborate setup by the resourceful police. "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Grimm!" is a nutty story where the sheer number of words nearly crowds out the pictures as a scientist becomes the mind slave of a brain in a glass case. A well-placed lightning bolt (through an open window, no less!) breaks the spell. Fun stuff.

Peter: A real mixed bag of reprints this time out with only one story stepping out from the rest of the pack. "The Creature That Never Existed" is a giant monster tale that reeks of innocent times. This one could have been torn from the pages of the competitor's Kirby/Ditko-laden anthologies and is noteworthy for its lack of an exposition that explains away the paranormal presence (like the one found in "The Tell-Tale Hand" wherein a strangler is betrayed by the etched image of a noose in his palm, a graphic planted there by an enterprising young cop to guilt the murderer into confessing!). It amazes me that DC was publishing kid stuff like "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Grimm" and the aforementioned "Tell Tale Hand" at the same time EC was reveling in cannibalism, murderous lawmen, and baseball players that use body parts for their equipment. Was DC the lone holdout in the marathon of bad taste?

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 124

"Last of the Frankensteins"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chua

"Never Rouse a Vampire!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by J. Albister

"Make Believe"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: Edmund is "The Last of the Frankensteins" and he aims to clear the family name by creating life and proving his father was not insane. Edmund's wife, Emily, does not approve but goes along with her husband's eccentricities at first. When faced with proof that Edmund is really going through with the crazy experiments (she stumbles upon the jigsaw creature he has created), she goes to the local burgermeister and rats out her man. A mob of angry villagers lights up the torches and heads up the hill to Castle Frankenstein, cornering the young scientist until he falls from the castle's rooftop. The mob burns down the castle and heads back to the pub. Emily and the police chief come across the broken body of Edmund and realize that Father Frankenstein had been dipping his toes into all sorts of experiments: son Edmund is a robot.

"Last of the Frankensteins"
You always have to hoot at a story where a married protagonist is discovered to have been an android/robot/synthetic man the entire time. What does that say about wife Emily and her powers of observation and, um, touch? Oleck seems to have had a problem deciding what time period this story takes place. Edmund, with his contemporary auto and clothes, is clearly a 1970s man so why does his pop look like he's living in the 19th Century? Ernie Chan's art is serviceable here, nothing more, looking a bit rushed and indistinct.

Jack: Arrgh! So that's where this was going? Frankenstein is a robot? I was so sure Jack Oleck had something up his sleeve after he retold the whole Son of Frankenstein bit and then it turns out he's a robot! Boo! As for Emily, I guess if you marry a guy named Frankenstein you have to expect some family baggage. There's one panel where a well-placed word balloon blocks what would have been a code-violating view of her naked backside through her sheer nightie.

Peter: Regular carnival geeks don't attract crowds anymore, it seems, so Cal Bronson has to think up craftier tricks for his run-down sideshow. With the help of his squeeze, Evelyn, Cal talks the custodian, Amos, into filing down his teeth and acting out the vampire part for the new attraction. Evelyn baits Amos with her charms and the show is a massive success but Amos soon figures out there's someone else sharing Evelyn with him and the act goes south. Turns out Amos was a blood-sucker the whole time and you should "Never Rouse a Vampire!" Here's one that has a decent build-up and climaxes with a massive cliche. So, a vampire is going to allow someone to file down his already sharp teeth? Albister's art is hit and miss, but Amos makes for a pretty pathetic vampire.

"Never Rouse a Vampire!"

Jack: I enjoyed this one, probably because of the seedy carnival setting. There are some nice silhouette panels where the vampire's shadow looks like the blood-sucker from Nosferatu. I love the pitch to the simpleton: "All we have to do is file your teeth, put a little hair on your arms--" In other words, no big deal! They also appear to have painted him yellow, from the looks of things.

Peter: Sickly young Bobby Nolan has moved, with his father and his nurse, to a small Greek island called Xanthos. Bobby becomes immersed in local mythology and believes a centaur named Deimos and other legendary creatures have come to him to cheer up his life. His father wants Bobby to grow up and recognize that there is no room for fairy tales in real life. When Bobby continues his fanciful talk, his father hires a psychiatrist, who tells the man that Bobby is slipping dangerously into a fantasy world and that they should leave Greece immediately. When the boy is told the news, he visits Deimos and the centaur talks Bobby into leaving with him. The half-man half-horse then gallops off a cliff into the sea, Bobby astride his back. After days of searching, the police are convinced the boy fell into the sea and drowned. Standing on his terrace one day, Bobby's father is convinced he sees his son atop the opposite cliff with Deimos. Whereas the obvious comparison, Jack Oleck's classic "Nightmare" (from HoM #186), was sincere and heartbreaking, its variation, "Make Believe," is ham-fisted and maudlin. The only comparison that could be made between the two is that both contain great artwork. The message here (everybody has to have a dream) is hammered into our craniums panel after panel.

Jack: The other comparison I would make is to "The Inheritors" on The Outer Limits, where disabled kids go into a spaceship and are able to live without their handicaps (if I remember it right). Did you see a gay subtext in this story? It takes place in Greece, the boy meets ancient Greek creatures, and he likes to sneak out at night and hop on the back of a half-naked male stranger. I wonder if Jack Oleck slipped one by the Code here.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 47

"Who Must I Kill Tonight?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Day Happy Died!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by John Calnan

"Haunted Any Houses Lately?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex Nino

Jack: John Durmond has a problem. By day, he's a happy family man, but by night, he's a cold-blooded killer who takes orders from the mysterious Mr. Zeeman. He can't recall what he does at night and his wife is starting to wonder. When the answer to "Who Must I Kill Tonight?" is his own wife, his mind snaps and it turns out that Mr. Zeeman is actually John in a mirror. He smashes the mirror and a shard of glass lands him in the hospital, where the doctor announces that John has a split personality. The worst thing about this story is that Ruben Yandoc (who often signs his work as "Rubeny") draws the ugliest Cynthia I've ever seen. And Cynthia is sometimes the best thing in The Witching Hour.

Yes, that's supposed to be Cynthia

Peter: This one gave me a migraine. If "sane John" didn't know what was going on when he turned into Mr. Hyde, how did he know where to drive to before he would transform? How did the doctor know about John's underworld contacts? The Mrs. fell out of a second story window, head first mind you, and walked away with nary a scratch thanks to the bush she fell in? Another hopelessly dumb story from George Trashcan.

Yay! I'm dead!
Jack: Young Rusty Boland has been distraught ever since "The Day Happy Died!" Happy was his dog, you see, and Rusty's family home burned down. Rusty thinks he sees Happy in the yard but soon learns that Happy did not die--Rusty did! Soon enough, the dog lies down on Rusty's grave and expires from grief. What a cheery three pages that was! And so well drawn by John Calnan!

Peter: And... another confusing wrap-up. So did little Rusty escape his father's arms and run back into the fire to rescue a dog that wasn't in the house in the first place? Why is the kid dead and the dog alive? John Calnan continues to set new bars for awful art. I did love Rusty's exclamation: "Let me go, Pa--Please I gotta get happy!"

Jack: Paul and Edna Walsh have moved into the old family castle Edna inherited from her grandfather, but they are having trouble making ends meet. Along comes their pal Harry Philbin, a/k/a The Great Philbin, Master of Illusion, who asks "Haunted Any Houses Lately?" Harry has a plan to don a skeleton costume and pretend to haunt the house for ticket-buying tourists. His first performance is a success but they soon find him dead of suffocation. Edna finds a letter that Paul wrote to Harry about how to murder Edna and blame it on the supposed ghost. Paul starts to go after Edna to finish the job but is stopped by the real ghost of her ancestor, who causes Paul to suffocate, fall off a high wall, and become impaled on the lance of a statue below. That night, Edna and the ghost discuss how he tipped her off to Paul's murder plot and they were able to turn the tables. The story has too many surprise twists but, once again, Nino's art is lovely.

Peter: That makes it three for three in this issue for needlessly confusing twists. There are about three too many reveals in "Haunted Any Houses Lately" but my favorite bit of dopiness is the letter Paul wrote to Harry detailing their plan to murder Edna. That's something you'd leave lying around the castle, right? The DC mystery bullpen went back to the "inherited money and a big old castle" well a few too many times in the mid-1970s.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 31

"The Spectral Coffin-Maker"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Blood on the Moon"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bill Payne

"The Specter of the Dark Devourer"
Story Uncredited
Art by ER Cruz

Jack: Every time "The Spectral Coffin-Maker" comes to town, people are afraid because someone always dies. Little Anton is not fearful, though, and his kindness to the old traveling salesman is repaid later on when the coffin-maker warns him away from a city where a tragic earthquake occurs. Gerry Talaoc's art makes this readable, even though we all know that Anton will be saved from some sort of tragedy long before it happens.

"The Spectral Coffin-Maker"

Peter: I'd lay a fiver down that Leo Dorfman is responsible for this one. It comes off as one of those Ripley's stories Leo has been pumping out for Ghosts since day one. Imagine how much more "Believe It or Not" hogwash Leo could have turned in to Boltinoff with Google at his fingertips.

Jack: Al, Charlie and Bart are poaching alligators (or is it crocodiles?) in the Florida Everglades when a game warden surprises them and they kill him. They see blood on the moon and recognize it as a bad omen. A month later, Al goes back out to the scene of the crime to do some fishing. There is blood on the moon again and the ghost of the dead game warden rises from the muck and mire to scare Al into some quicksand, where he meets his end. Next month, Charlie sees blood on the moon and the ghost rises again, causing him to crash his car in a canal where hungry alligators await. Finally, Bart goes out one evening for a swim, sees blood on the moon, up pops the specter, and next thing you know Bart chokes to death. "Blood on the Moon" would not be such a hot story were it not for the welcome return of Bill Payne, whose art is tremendous. He has no respect for panel boundaries or conventional structure and some of his figures remind me of those of Graham Ingels.

A whole page of Payne!

Peter: Though it sputters and runs out of gas a couple pages prior to its climax, "Blood on the Moon" is an effective and atmospheric chiller. Those are two adjectives I don't use too often when describing Ghosts stories. Most of that atmosphere, admittedly, is due to Bill Payne's stark, noirish artwork but, I gotta give Carl Wessler a bit of the credit as well. It's a gritty little tale, the likes of which are usually found in the pages of the gold standard of DC horror, The House of Mystery.

Jack: Evil strip miners in West Virginia tussle with the wrong bunch of hicks when they dig a hole near the Stope farm. Poor, retarded Dulcie ventures too near the pit and her beloved doll falls victim to a landslide. She uses some incantations her granny taught her and conjures up "The Specter of the Dark Devourer," which is really dark and devours the strip miners. Cruz's art would be the highlight of this issue were it not for the home run hit by Bill Payne in the prior story!

Dark Devourer? Or great big pink pussycat?

Peter: Two really good stories (with great art) in one issue of Ghosts? Could this be the beginning of a renaissance era? Don't bet on it, but enjoy the quality while you can. "Dark Devourer" is much too dark and nasty to have come from Leo; my guess would be one of the young guns like Len Wein.

In our next historically-accurate issue!
On Sale May 18th!