Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Three: Fog Closing In [2.2]

by Jack Seabrook

In the ten years that Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour were on the air, they won only three Emmy Awards. Edward W. Williams won in 1956 for editing "Breakdown," Robert Stevens won in 1958 for directing "The Glass Eye," and James P. Cavanagh won in 1957 for writing "Fog Closing In." That same year, Rod Serling won the Emmy for writing "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (Serling's teleplay won in the category of shows that ran one hour or more, while Cavanagh's won in the half-hour category). What was it about this episode that led industry professionals to give it an award that otherwise eluded this well-written series?

"Fog Closing In" is based on a short story titled "The Fog Closing In" by Martin Brooke that was published in the April 1956 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The story begins as Mary Turner and her husband argue over breakfast about an ongoing dispute. The summer before, they moved to Kansas City because he got a better territory for his job as a salesman. They bought a large house so Mary's parents could visit and they purchased a dog named Clancy to protect her while she is at home by herself. They even hired a woman named Mrs. Powell to stay with Mary at night when her husband is away. Why, then, is she fearful?

Phyllis Thaxter as Mary
Mary's husband leaves to go on a sales trip and she is alone in the house, with every sound she hears causing her to grow increasingly apprehensive. She waits until six o'clock, when the long-distance telephone rates go down, then tries to call her parents, but all of the circuits are busy. Mrs. Powell fails to appear at 6:30 and the sounds in the empty house cause Mary's fear to increase, until she hears someone enter through the cellar door and ascend the stairs. She takes a revolver from the desk drawer and remains quiet when her husband calls to her through the locked door of her bedroom. "Now, now at last she knew the name for all her fears." Her husband breaks down the door and Mary shoots and kills him. The telephone rings and her mother is on the line; Mary tells her: "'Everything is fine now. I'm coming home.'"

"The Fog Closing In" is a gripping portrait of a neurotic woman, unhappy in her marriage, who allows her fears and imagination to run wild when she is left alone. In the end, she settles on her husband as the cause of her problems and kills him, thinking she can return to the safety of her pre-adult life with her parents.

The introduction to the story provides some information about Martin Brooke, which is a pseudonym for a female author born in Virginia and approximately 40 years old. She had worked as an advertising copywriter and this was her first short story. The FictionMags Index lists one other story by Martin Brooke ("Flowers for the Living," Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, June 1957), but I have not been able to find anything else by or about this obscure writer.

Paul Langton as Arthur
Her story was purchased and James P. Cavanagh adapted it for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The episode aired on CBS on Sunday, October 7, 1956, and stars Phyllis Thaxter as Mary, who is given the last name of Summers. Following Chekhov's principle about the gun, Cavanagh shows the gun in the very first shot as Mary's husband Arthur removes the firearm from the drawer and shows it to his wife, reassuring her, "'Don't worry--it won't go off.'" Students of Anton Chekhov know full well that if you show the audience a gun in the first act, it had better go off in the second.

The first scene between Mary and Arthur dramatizes the narrative in the story and provides exposition through dialogue; here, we learn that Mary's parents lived with her and Arthur for five years. Mary and Arthur moved to a new house to get away from them and, while Mary wants them to move back in, Arthur does not. Mary is inexplicably afraid, whether she is alone or not, and seems to fear adulthood, even at age 35, since she has been unable to separate from her parents successfully. Arthur suggests that she see a psychiatrist but Mary at first refuses and then reluctantly agrees to consider his recommendation.

After Arthur leaves, Mary closes the blinds and we see that there are two framed photos on the fireplace mantle, one on either end, with photos of her husband and her father, representing the two male forces competing for her love. Time passes slowly as she waits until six p.m. to call her parents; unlike the story, where she has a dog, in the TV show she is completely alone in the house. She hears a crash and ventures into the dark hall downstairs, where she sees an open door, a broken vase on the floor, and a cat, its eyes shining in the blackness. What she does not see at first is a man hiding against the wall in the hallway. She closes the open door, turns, sees the man, and is frightened.

George Grizzard as Ted
The stranger speaks kindly to her and tells her, "'Don't be afraid, I'm not gonna hurt you.'" He appears to be as scared of her as she is of him and she quickly realizes that he has escaped from the state hospital. Mary is kind to the man, whose name is Ted, and invites him into the living room, confessing that "'I know what it's like to be afraid of a place.'" She identifies with Ted and sees herself in him, telling him that she thinks she is worse off because she cannot identify the source of her fear. She talks about recalling a time when she was safe and she walks to stand by the photo of her father on the mantle; the memory she shares is of her father protecting her.

Mary realizes that she is afraid without her parents and that her husband does not understand. She confides in Ted that she never wanted to get married and only did so because her parents lost their money and she thought her husband could take care of them. She then relates a recurring dream of being in her bedroom ("'I'm afraid of my bedroom'") alone when she hears footsteps approaching the door. She always wakes up screaming as the door opens. The dream seems to be a clear reference to a fear of sex and this extended scene, which Cavanagh added to the story, suggests that her interaction with Ted allows Mary to express, in a subtle way, that her real fear is of sex with her husband. One wonders whether she is frigid and whether she and Arthur have consummated the marriage; in the story, he makes reference to an unfulfilled desire to have a family.

Billy Nelson
as the cab driver
At this point, once Mary has had her breakthrough, the character of Ted is no longer necessary to the drama and can be disposed of. Two men arrive from the state hospital and ask to search the house, looking for Ted; Mary allows them to do so as Ted escapes out the back door. She never tells them that Ted had been there and, their search concluded, they leave.

Mary then goes upstairs and the teleplay picks up where the short story left off. She tries to telephone her parents but the circuits are busy. Mary is alone in her bedroom and it seems as if her dream is being reenacted: she hears someone enter the house and she hears footsteps approaching the bedroom. Mary takes the gun from the desk drawer and, when Arthur enters, he tells her that he came back because he heard about the man who escaped from the hospital and he was worried about her. Mary seems to be in a trance and shoots Arthur. He falls to the floor and the telephone rings. Mary answers it and tells her father: "'I'm alright now. Now I can come home.'"

"Fog Closing In" is a psychological study of a woman who never wanted to get married and who fears sex and adulthood, finally killing her husband so she can return to her father and her place in his family as a child. Cavanagh adds the character of Ted, who serves as her counterpart and who allows her to see what she is afraid of and act on it, even though the act is not rational and will have consequences.

Norman Willis as the orderly
Is the teleplay worth an Emmy? Watching the episode is a tedious experience with too much dialogue and not enough action. Studying it for subtext is more interesting than sitting though it. This is not the fault of Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012), who plays Mary; she was a fine actress who deserves more attention than she has received. Born in Maine, Thaxter started out on Broadway in 1939 and made her first film in 1944, with her first TV appearance coming in 1953. Among her nine appearances on the Hitchcock show are "The Five-Forty Eight," in which she also plays a mentally unstable woman, and "The Long Silence," where she lies in bed, unable to speak and in great danger. She also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller and she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978).

Arthur is played by Paul Langton (1913-1980), who played many character roles in a screen career that lasted from 1943 to 1972. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he was on The Twilight Zone twice and he was a regular on Peyton Place from 1964 to 1968.

George Grizzard (1928-2007) adds another disturbed character to his repertoire with that of Ted. Grizzard was on screen from 1955 to 2006, working more on television than on film. He had a Broadway career that spanned the same years and he was in the original cast of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Grizzard was seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller and the famous Bus Stop episode, "I Kiss Your Shadow."

In smaller roles:
  • Billy Nelson (1903-1973) plays the cab driver who comes to the front door to pick up Arthur; he started out in vaudeville and was on screen from 1935 to 1961. He played mostly bit parts and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series. There is a tribute to him here.
  • Norman Willis (1903-1988) plays the lead orderly from the state hospital who asks to search the house; he was on screen from 1934 to 1965, usually in small parts. He was in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Revenge."
  • Paul Frees (1920-1986) is uncredited on screen but provides the voice of Mary's father on the telephone at the end of the show; he had a long career as a voice actor and was the voice of Boris Badenov in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, among countless others. He had five voice-only roles on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, all uncredited.
The cat's eyes shine in the darkness of the hallway.
Carol Veazie (1895-1984) also receives a screen credit, and print sources report that she plays Mrs. Connolly, but she is nowhere to be seen in the show.

Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993) directs the show with little verve; his prior directorial effort on the series was the much-better episode, "The Creeper," also written by Cavanagh. Daugherty directed 27 episodes in the Hitchcock series.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story.

Watch "Fog Closing In" for free online here or buy the DVD here. The next episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be written by James P. Cavanagh was "None Are So Blind," which is reviewed here, in the series on John Collier.

Brooke, Martin. “The Fog Closing In.” Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Apr. 1956, pp. 106–111.
The FictionMags Index,
“Fog Closing In.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 2, CBS, 7 Oct. 1956.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2018,

In two weeks: The End of Indian Summer with Steve Forrest and Gladys Cooper.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 1: Creepy!

The Critical Guide to 
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter

Jack Davis
Creepy #1 (Late 1964)
editor Russ Jones

Story by Russ Jones and Bill Pearson
Art by Joe Orlando

"H2O World!" ★★
Story by Larry Ivie
Art by Al Williamson and Roy G. Krenkel

"Vampires Fly at Dusk!" ★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Werewolf!" ★★★1/2
Story by Larry Ivie
Art by Frank Frazetta

"Bewitched!" 1/2
Story by Larry Ivie
Art by Gray Morrow

"The Success Story" ★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Al Williamson

"Pursuit of the Vampire!" 1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

Eerie #1, published in 1959 by Hastings.
Cover by George Tuska
There had been horror comics since EC closed its Vault, but most of the chills and thrills presented in illustrated form had been CCA-approved pablum like DC's House of Mystery and Atlas's gelded horror line (Uncanny Tales, Spellbound, etc.). Few instances of real horror managed to sneak under the radar of the all-seeing eye (though the first issue of John Stanley's Ghost Stories, published in 1963 by Dell, came very close to rekindling that EC fire, and a single issue of a magazine-sized illustrated horror comic, Eerie #1, was published by Hastings five years prior to Warren's bright idea) and so, when Jim Warren decided to launch a new magazine of illustrated horror, he wisely chose the non-CCA required magazine format for Creepy. But Warren, prodded by Russ Jones (who would become Creepy's first editor), not only wanted to capture the vibe of the legendary EC comics, but also wanted to revive it with help from several members of the old EC bullpen, including Joe Orlando, Reed Crandall, Wally Wood, Al Williamson and, incredibly enough (but for one show only!), Frank Frazetta. The story behind the birth of Creepy has been told a boatload of times before, so I won't retype it here* (but you can read a fabulous version of it right here), but suffice it to say, Warren and Co. had the right idea. But the real question is: could Warren, Jones, and their crew come up with enough original ideas to fill out 42 pages of original material (as opposed to the 26 pages Gaines and Co. had to fill) every issue, or would this experiment fall to the levels of the non-EC publishers? No more stalling. Let's find out...

Frank Prentiss is a bit perturbed that his wife has become fond of "Voodoo!," but what else is a girl to do for kicks when she lives in the jungle with a loser of a husband? Things get heated when Sylvia brings a shrunken head home and Frank banishes her from the hut. The angry woman then uses black magic to draw Frank out into the jungle and attempts to decapitate him, but the plan goes awry and it's Sylvia who ends up without a noggin. Terrified, Frank bolts into the jungle but soon hears the chant of his name, as if called by the dead woman. A figure approaches him and, sure enough, it's Sylvia, with a very tiny head atop her shoulders, come to claim her prize. In both art and script, "Voodoo!" is doo-doo. We've just come from evaluating a whole lot of bad Joe Orlando art and this, if anything, is worse than his EC work. Time may be playing tricks on my mind but I recall Joe's work with DC on House of Mystery and Witching Hour (a few years after this first issue of Creepy) was at least tolerable, but "Voodoo!" looks like something that would have fit comfortably in a Myron Fass publication. We get no explanation for the fact that Sylvia is beheaded and then, magically, has a shrunken head attached to her body. Jones and Pearson seem content to go for the shock rather than supply a well-written story, just like many comic writers who grew up on a steady diet of EC Comics (Jones was only 22 years old when this first Creepy was published and he was the first editor to boot!) and believed it was the final shock panel that delivered the goods every time.

"H2O World!"
A young couple explore an undersea kingdom located just below the waves in "H2O World" and come across a peaceful but human-shy race of amphibious creatures. Their leader explains that, after World War III, his race decided to have nothing to do with the surface world. The memory of the undersea world is wiped from the minds of the couple and the fish-leader muses that, eventually, man will destroy everything. An early example of ecological fiction, a genre that would be dipped into several times in the Warren era. Neither better nor worse than a lot of the "preachies," "H2O World" suffers from a sense of being a small part of a larger story. How did the young couple stumble onto this find and why aren't there more explorers? Writer Larry Ivie had an illustrious career in the funny books and monster magazines, which included contributing to the classic Castle of Frankenstein, and editing and publishing Monsters and Heroes, a very weird melange of monsters, heroes, and photography. Like Joe Orlando, Williamson and Krenkel were rescued from post-EC purgatory for Warren's big hoo-hah. Williamson had been working on comic strips and on comics over at Gold Key, while Krenkel had pretty much disappeared from the face of the planet. "H2O World" is just as gorgeous as the work the duo did a decade before for EC.

"Vampires Fly At Dusk!"
In "Vampires Fly at Dusk!," Elena believes her husband may be the vicious vampire killer draining the nearby villagers of their blood. Cooped up in a mansion high upon a hill overlooking the plagued village, Elena's imagination runs away with her. Why does Carlo prefer to sleep during the day and do business at night? Why does he disappear for hours at a time? Why is Carlo's library full of books on vampires? One night, while snooping around, Elena discovers a secret passageway into the castle and encounters Carlo entering with a jar of blood. Terrified, the young woman races downstairs and pulls the curtains open on the rising sun. Bad idea. Carlo explains to Elena that he's not the vampire, as her body turns to dust. Even though the "twist" is a surprise to no one but Elena, I liked this very EC-inspired tale very much. Reed Crandall's pencils and line work (especially on the last page) are glorious, sheer perfection.

Many fans feel Larry Ivie's "Werewolf!" is the single greatest story Creepy ever ran; not for the story, obviously, but for the ultra-rare, full-length Frazetta work. While I'm not in that group, I'll allow it's hard to argue with the quality of the visuals. The fabulous art overshadows what is essentially a reworking of “The Most Dangerous Game.” Big-game hunter Biff Demmon (a dead ringer for Ernest Borgnine) tracks the ultimate game in Africa, but when he finally comes across the rare beast, the tables are turned. The third panel of the fourth page depicting the werewolf hulking over the hunters is a classic piece of art, one that Warren brought out many times over the years. It's a shame that Warren couldn't persuade (or offer enough coin to) Frank to contribute more longer pieces but, at least, we've got the multitude of classic covers.

A man (who remains nameless) decides it would be a fun idea to burn a basketful of holly atop a hill (a sure way to kill witches), just for the hell of it, and incurs the wrath of a local coven. The man burns the holly, then hallucinates that he's being chased by a dinosaur and awakens in bed with a pain in his side. His daughter enters with a voodoo doll and explains that a nice old woman distributed exact copies of the doll (along with long needles to poke it with) to all the girls of her Brownie troop. "Bewitched!" is a really silly, meandering tale that doesn't seem to know in which direction to travel. There are hints that Madge, the protagonist's wife, may be a witch herself (shades of ABC's Bewitched, a show that debuted right around the time this issue went on sale in October 1964) but that area is not explored. Artist Gray Morrow (who would go on to 1970s' fame, if not fortune, co-creating Marvel's Man-Thing) gives his all despite the script, but there's only so much you can do with  a sow's ear. Morrow was a contributor to that aforementioned Hastings zine, Eerie, as were Torres, Orlando, and Williamson.

"The Success Story"
Cartoonist Baldo Smudge worked his way up from the ground floor to "The Success Story" he is today. Smudge began his career ruling panel borders and stumbled onto a good thing when his wife's uncle died and left them with a boatload of money. Baldo hires a writer, an artist, and an inker to create and maintain his strip, while taking all the credit for himself. The strip becomes a big hit and the three hired hands demand a raise and credit, but Smudge isn't about to give over any slices of his pie so he shoots all three and dumps them in the river. Several months later, the three corpses rise from the muck and use Baldo Smudge to make their masterpiece. Ladies and gentlemen... the Bob Kane story! Sure, "The Success Story" exaggerates some elements (I think) and devises a nasty ending for the glory hog but, otherwise, this is a true story in the comics world. There were (and probably still are) quite a few "creators" who (à la Tom Clancy and James Patterson) loan out their names for a big cash prize and think nothing of taking the credit right to the grave. "The Success Story" has a lot of humor and the rising corpses are almost an afterthought to Archie's real message. Best of all is the sequence (reprinted here) where Smudge has to deal with his workers.

"Pursuit of the Vampire!"
A stranger comes to a small Austrian village to help dispatch a batch of vampires who have been draining the locals of their blood and transforming them into creatures of the night. With help from the town's burgomeister, two female vampires are found and staked but the king vampire remains loose. The stranger confides that he knows the burgomeister is the original vampire but before the blood-sucker can attack, the newcomer shows his true self: he's a werewolf here to stop the competition. Taking elements from a whole bunch of EC stories (and Harvey and Atlas and ACG and...) and crafting "Pursuit of the Vampire!" must have been the easiest pay Archie Goodwin ever made. It's silly stuff but at least it's got some gorgeous Angelo Torres pencils to distract us. I couldn't help but wonder, throughout this entire first issue, how color would have affected the quality of these seven stories. There's some dreadful stuff in this premiere issue but, taken as a whole, it's not a bad reintroduction to graphic horror comics. -Peter

Can it get much better than this?
Jack: Never having read a single issue of Creepy before just now, I expected higher praise from you! "Voodoo!" does not get things off to a great start, but I found Orlando's art less annoying than it was at EC and it's a neat trick how Sylvia manages to decapitate herself. "H2O World" seems to me to show some Marvel Comics influence, and by fall 1964 Marvel was putting out some decent comics. Ivie's script is too talky but the art by Williamson and Krenkel is superb. I was happy to see Reed Crandall make an appearance with  "Vampires Fly At Dusk!" but the story was predictable. "Werewolf!" is a dopey tale but it's a real treat to see six pages of classic Frazetta and his work on the wolf is outstanding.

"Bewitched!" is the third story by Larry Ivie in this issue and it made me think that he wrote some weird fiction. I love Grey Morrow's work and think he makes a great addition to the bullpen of horror artists. This story seems a bit more original than the ones before it, what with the parade of vampires and werewolves. Most original of all is "The Success Story," a funny look at the comic strip business with more wonderful art by Al Williamson. Like you, Peter, I found myself wishing for color. Finally, "Pursuit of the Vampire!" makes one too many vampire stories in this issue; it's not a strong story and the end is terrible, but (again) the art is great. Seven stories at six pages each and those wonderful Warren ads in between! I like it!

Frank Frazetta
Creepy #2 (April 1965)
editors Russ Jones, Archie Goodwin

"Fun and Games!"★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Joe Orlando

"Spawn of the Cat People"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Wardrobe of Monsters!"★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Gray Morrow

"Welcome Stranger"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Al Williamson

"i Robot"★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Orlando

"Ogre's Castle"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

"Fun & Games!"
Harry and Phyllis Gorman have a screaming match outside an arcade that offers "Fun & Games!" Phyllis storms off and Harry succumbs to the entreaties of a hunchbacked tout, going inside to try his hand at the special games in the back room. He shoots a realistic rifle at a dummy that resembles Phyllis, but when he goes home he finds her dead on the living room floor. Harry returns to the arcade, but this time he is the target and Phyllis does the shooting.

The cover of Creepy #2 promises "The Greatest Comic Artists in the World," notably failing to mention anything about the writers. This first story makes little sense and is all about the twist ending, which is predictable. I think Peter would agree that Joe Orlando was not in our list of "The Greatest Comic Artists in the World," though this piece is reasonably well executed.

"Spawn of the Cat People"
Todd is hunting in New Mexico when he comes across a strange scene--several men have a beautiful woman tied to two stakes in the ground. The men tell Todd that they killed the girl's father and that she inherited a curse from him. Todd rescues the girl and she leads him nimbly through the woods until they reach a cave, where he decides that she is able to turn into a cat. He shoots and kills her but, to his surprise, the rest of the men find him and reveal that she was the only one in the area who cannot turn into a cat. They all turn into cats in order to finish him off.

Two weak stories in a row don't make me think the people behind Creepy have solved the conundrum we've encountered with so many horror comics: how to find writing to match the art? Reed Crandall draws everything well but the ending of "Spawn of the Cat People" makes little sense other than as a simple shock.

"Wardrobe of Monsters!"
Five men who stole the mummy of Pharaoh Ank-Ummem from a pyramid examine several extra sarcophagi that they found accompanying the mummy. In those ancient coffins they find artificial forms of a vampire, a werewolf, a devil, and Frankenstein's monster! Archaeologist Arnold Baxter translates hieroglyphics and reads that the figures are a "Wardrobe of Monsters!" that the pharaoh could put on like living clothes. Baxter invokes a magic formula and discovers that he can inhabit the forms; one by one, he uses the monstrous bodies to murder his colleagues so he can keep all of the Pharaoh's treasure. He destroys the Pharaoh's body to eliminate a potential rival, only to find that doing so frees the Pharaoh's spirit, which takes over Baxter's physical form, leaving the murderous archaeologist stuck in the body of Frankenstein's monster!

When I read Creepy #1, I wondered where the mummy story was--and here it is! Binder's narrative is quite creative, and the idea of finding a way to work all of these classic (let's face it, Universal) monsters into one story is loads of fun. I liked the idea of Baxter taking on one monster form at a time to murder his colleagues, but I thought the denouement was a letdown, as if the page limit was reached before Binder was finished telling his tale. At eight pages, this is the longest story yet; every other one so far has clocked in at six pages.

"Welcome Stranger"
Mark and Randy are out scouting for a movie location when their sports car suffers a blowout of two tires. They see a sign for Jonesville and walk toward the town, looking for a mechanic. Instead, the duo stumble upon a sacrifice in progress in the town cemetery. A girl is tied to a stake but, when Mark and Randy protest, the townsfolk announce that the interlopers will replace the unfortunate girl. A ghost is summoned out of an open grave amid a pillar of fire; the townsfolk yell "surprise" and reveal that the whole scene was set up to demonstrate the town's fitness as a movie set. Unfortunately, Mark and Randy died of fright when the ghost rose from the grave.

The usual sharp artwork by Al Williamson highlights "Welcome Stranger," a fast-moving but, in the end, disappointing seven-page story that held my interest until the corny ending. Archie Goodwin should've thought this one out a bit more.

What happened the day Peter got lost.
("i Robot")
Dr. Link builds an intelligent robot and names him Adam. The robot learns quickly but, when its creator is murdered, Adam must run from those who hold him responsible for the crime. In the end, he decides to switch himself off to prevent him from harming any of the humans who hunt him.

"I Robot" again? What is it about this story that makes it so appealing to horror comic publishers? We had to suffer through Adam Link stories at EC and now here we go again, with seven pages seeming like twenty and Uncle Creepy telling us there will be more to come in future issues. Joe Orlando's art is fairly good for Joe Orlando, which is not saying much.

A knight approaches the "Ogre's Castle" where his brother had disappeared on a prior quest. Ignoring the warnings on an old man, the sight of skulls on posts, and the shock of seeing a beautiful girl led by two monsters, the knight crashes through the castle gates, only to meet up with an ogre. The knight defeats guards, bats, and a demon-hound; he rescues a fair maiden and kills the ogre with a well-thrown knife. Sadly, the ogre changes back into the knight's brother and the maiden turns out to be a sorceress, who changes the knight into the new ogre guarding the castle.

Angelo Torres joins every other artist from this issue not named Joe Orlando in producing pages that are lovely to look at, even though Goodwin's script is nothing special. Did anyone reading this not know that those monsters and ogres were going to turn out to be spellbound men? I bet not. Still, the second issue of Creepy is an improvement over the first and I look forward to more.--Jack

"Ogre's Castle"
Peter: With the second issue, staff writer Archie Goodwin steps in to assist Russ Jones with the editing (Jones will jump ship after the third issue and leave Archie as the sole editor as of #4). I've always had a soft soft for Goodwin, as it seems like everything he touches turns to quality. We'll have to see what he's got up his sleeve in a couple of issues. There's not a lot to like in this sophomore effort, just more cliches and tired plots we've seen countless times before. "Fun & Games!" makes no sense whatsoever (it reminded me a lot of that Twilight Zone episode where the guy watches himself kill his wife on TV); "Spawn of the Cat People" rips off the fabulous Val Lewton flick (at least that's a semi-unique "borrow"); "Wardrobe of Monsters!" is overlong and gawdawful; "Welcome, Stranger" is a little too elaborate and owns a very silly climax; and "Adam Link" was a boring SF novelty when it ran in Weird Science-Fantasy and it's no better here (might have to do with the fact that the same crew worked on both versions). That leaves the final story, "Ogre's Castle," the best of the six this issue. I first read this one when it was reprinted in Eerie #42 (by 1972, Warren had abandoned their annual yearbooks and incorporated a full-reprint issue within the regular numbering); Angelo Torres's art gave me the willies back then and it still does. It's got a really nasty twist and ends on a downbeat note to leave the issue on an upbeat one.

* By the way, we're getting most of the historical details (who did what and how many times, etc.) from Gathering Horror by David Horne (Phrona Press, 2010), a gargantuan, insanely detailed guide to all things Warren.

First word on Creepy from the pages
of Famous Monsters of Filmland #31

In Two Weeks...
Just wait 'til you see what
crawls from the muck!

Next Week...
What have the Losers gotten themselves
into this time?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

1971 Flashback: Omega-Mania Sweeps the Country - Boxoffice, August 16, 1971

by John Scoleri

Warner Brothers unleashed their first adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend on the world on August 1, 1971. The Omega Man starred Charlton Heston as Robert Neville, believed to be the last normal man on Earth living in Los Angeles following a plague unleashed due to a Russian/Chinese conflict. Said plague killed off most of society, and left the remainder a gathering of deranged mutants with an aversion to light that drives them into hiding by day. Directed by Boris Sagal, the liberal adaptation was written by the husband and wife team of John William and Joyce Corrington. A pre-Exorcist William Peter Blatty would also provide an uncredited polish on the screenplay. While the film is quite far removed from Matheson's original novel, it's still an entertaining piece of 70s cinema, and pairs nicely with Heston's other sci-fi efforts of the period, Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green.

The August 16, 1971 issue of Boxoffice (Volume 99, Number 18) trumpeted the early success of the film in a number of territories, including house records in Charlotte, North Carolina and Columbia, South Carolina. Now granted, a $64,000 opening in eleven theaters over five days in Dallas (with heavy rain!) is nothing in today's numbers, but back when the average ticket price was $1.65, it's a little more impressive.

What's even more intriguing to fans of the film are some of the promotions hinted at in the two-page spread Warner paid for.

I would love to know if anyone attended an around-the-clock Omegathon! The Omega morning and Omega noon sound far less exciting. In all my years of collecting, I've never seen any Last Man/Last Woman buttons promoting the film. And what could they possibly mean by 'a giant Omega chain store tie-up'? The mind reels at the thought...

This issue of Boxoffice also includes a synopsis of the film, catchlines ("The Family Was Out to Destroy All Symbols of Civilization" and the more effective "The Last Man Alive is Not Alone!") and exploitation tips (have a zodiac display?) and a generally positive review of the film.

Sad to say we lost actor Paul Koslo on January 9, 2019, who played 'Dutch' in the film. You can read an interview with Koslo, as well as Charlton Heston, at the I Am Legend Archive.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror! Issue 27

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 12 
December 1951
+ The Ten Best Stories of 1949-1951

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #8

"Face of Stone"(a: Paul Reinman)  ★ 
"When a Planet Dies!" (a: Joe Maneely)  ★1/2
"No Return!" (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2
"The World Beyond" (a: Al Hartley)  

World renowned sculptor, Lucifer Marsh, has spent a lifetime making masterpieces out of stone but, one night at his gallery, Marsh stumbles across what he feels will become his greatest achievement: the beautiful Jane. Marsh talks the gorgeous gal into posing for him and, while she's not paying attention slips her a special mickey designed to transform her lovely bones into stone. The process complete, Marsh stands back to admire his "work," when Jane's boyfriend busts down the door, demanding to know where his girlfriend is. A fistfight breaks out and the vat of Marsh's special stone-juice spills on both the men. They quickly become statues but the crazed Lucifer Marsh looks on the bright side of things: he is his own last masterpiece.

Another of the standard 1950s horror plots was the crazed sculptor/wax museum owner and Lucifer Marsh holds his own with the best of them. Even more evil than turning his subjects into stone is the fact that the victims don't die (well, I assume they do eventually, but we aren't given a time frame) and that's particularly nasty since poor Jane is an innocent as is her white knight, the doomed Henry. The final panel, of Marsh complaining that the formula prevents him from smiling while his face turns to stone is darkly humorous. Paul Reinman continues up my chart of Favorite Atlas artists; he's simple but effective without the typical cheats and shortcuts.

When scientists discover that the military on Jupiter is sending a robot to conquer Mars, powers-that-be on Earth decide we have to build a robot capable of conquering Mars first! To that end, the big brains select Anthony Rogers as the perfect specimen of manhood, the only human being powerful enough to concentrate on rocketing the robot to Mars. The two robots met and duke it out but Rogers is just too powerful for the puny Jupterian and Earth claims Mars. But Rogers doesn't stop there. He sends his juggernaut to Jupiter to destroy all life and, with his final order, then return to Earth to do the same. Why? Because Anthony Rogers isn't human, he's a peace-loving Martian! Lovely Maneely art propels "When a Planet Dies!," a decent space opera script with a clever twist in its tail. Not so clever is "No Return!," which wastes the vast talents of Russ Heath on a silly time travel story about an industrialist who muscles his way onto a time machine (it's amazing that the scientists in these tales always set the way-forward lever on 3951, exactly 2000 years into the-then future) and then finds himself stranded in a utopia that has no need for money. We're not even told how the greedy guy found out about the time machine!

Jack Buckley buys a gorgeous mirror in a shop and gets it home to discover a flaw: the glass does not reflect but, instead, shows the way down a tunnel to the underground world of Stygia. Jack takes the mirror back to the shop owner, who shows an interest in tracking down the tunnel, and the two go on an adventure. Jack and Marla find the tunnel but, halfway to Stygia, Marla pulls a gun and discloses her true nature. The pair meet up with the citizens of Stygia and their leader explains to Jack that they lure humans down to test on them from time to time and then release them back to the surface to sell mirrors to unwary consumers. He further explains that Jack will now only be able to breathe surface air for a short period of time and that he must sell his quota of mirrors to regain entry to Stygia. And Jack is a lousy salesman. "The World Beyond" features a fanciful hook, but one that draws the interest of the reader and wraps up with a dark and satisfying climax. Not so satisfying is Al Hartley's art, which is sketchy and crude, appearing almost unfinished in spots. Hartley's number one claim to fame was his work on the long-running teenage girl title, Patsy and Hedy, for Atlas/Marvel.

 Venus #17

"The Storm!" (a: Allen Bellman) 

Carston Fuller is deathly afraid of water and when a storm lashes his remote cabin, that fear escalates to terror. Somehow, a single drop of water leaks from the roof and grows larger before Carston; soon he's engulfed by the water and imagines a world of mermaids. The gorgeous fish-girls tell Carston he can remain with them but first he must write out a list of the reasons he hates water. He agrees, and the next morning, his body is found by the local police, drowned by the leaking rain from his roof. A nonsensical fantasy that only takes up four pages but somehow seems to be ten times that size. Much better (but beyond my purview) are the Venus stories this issue, wherein the gorgeous goddess must tackle the terrors of  "The Tower of Death" and quash the attack of "The Stone Man." As usual, the anything-goes scripts and superb Everett art combine for a boatload of fun.

George Tuska
 Suspense #12

"The Dark Road" (a: Russ Heath) 
"The Trumpet!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"You're Killing Me!" (a: Norman Steinberg) ★1/2
"Draw Me a Picture" (a: George Tuska) 
"Fingers of Fire!" ★1/2 
"The Old Woman" (a: Paul Reinman) 

A man drives through a driving rain down "The Dark Road," when, out of nowhere, he sees a figure to the side of the road, hitchhiking. Figuring it's not fit for a dog outside in this weather, he pulls over and lets the stranger in. Just as they pull away, the radio announces that an inmate at a local asylum has escaped and the driver eyes the stranger warily. He makes an excuse to stop, his passenger gets out to wipe off the headlights, and the driver runs him down. The tire blows out and another driver comes along, asking about the body on the ground. Our protagonist, hearing another bulletin, this time conforming that the maniac is behind the wheel of a stolen car, fears that this may be the killer looney and crushes his skull with a tire iron. He flees to a nearby diner, where he meets up with a pretty girl. As he's using the phone, he sees a reflection of the woman grabbing a long knife and heading for him. He grabs a cleaver and is about to carve up some lunch meat when he's shot dead by two cops, who tell the woman the man dying in front of them is the escaped lunatic.

Though this plot line is as old as Moses, the uncredited writer (probably Stan) delivers a couple of clever twists to throw us off guard and keep us guessing up to (what turns out to be) the predictable outcome. I assumed from the get-go that it was the driver who was the madman, as that twist has been done to death, but the escalating violence gave me hope that we were in for something new. Alas...  Oddly enough, Al Feldstein will write almost the exact same story ("The Escaped Maniac!") and it will see print a mere one month after this issue of Suspense, in Crime SuspenStories #8. How about that for coincidence? Russ Heath does a marvelous job accentuating the driver's fear (Heath loved those beads of sweat, didn't he?), an effective way of confounding our expectations. That hitch-hiker looks almost like a zombie; surely he's a homicidal maniac!

"The Trumpet" is a silly two-pager about Gabriel having his horn stolen while on a train. If it wasn't signed Joe Maneely, I'd have a hard time believing this was his work. It looks more like a rushed Don Heck to me. Equally inane is "You're Killing Me!," about a guy who murders his uncle for money and then must contend with the parrot who witnessed the killing. Not much can be done with three pages but artist Norman Steinberg gives it a go, delivering a nasty and effective splash.

Fred is a 60-buck-a-week artist at a New York ad agency when the boss rejects a drawing Fred did and gives him a gift, a new pencil that somehow has a magical, but deadly, gift. When Fred draws a picture and then uses the pencil to erase part of the drawing, disaster follows. It works with a bridge, a jet, the horses, anything Fred puts his nib to. Lots of dough follows and that's great because Fred is in love with the office secretary, Lil, who is in love with the green stuff. Fred shows off the fruits of his "labor" and Lil shuts down her boyfriend to marry Fred, but before it can happen, disaster falls when Fred accidentally erases a drawing of himself.

"Draw Me a Picture" is another Atlas story that resembles an EC story, one that wouldn't be published for another two years: "Easel Kill Ya" (from Vault of Horror #31). I doubt if writer Johnny Craig got his inspiration for "Easel..." from "Draw Me a Picture," but even if he did, he batted that one out of the park and "Draw Me..." barely gets to first base thanks to its lifeless art and snail's-pace script. One hilarious scene which makes it almost worth the read is when Fred stumbles on horse racing to win a bundle. How would he go about that, you ask. Fred stands next to the track and sketches each horse he wants to stumble as they're running by. This guy can not only draw faster than anyone on the planet but he can make each sketch unique in its own way!

Heartless businessman James Evans is in a nasty train crash and appears dead but it's only his body that's comatose. His brain is still working and he works feverishly to send off some signal to his "rescuers" to let them know he's still alive. At the funeral parlor, his associate is called in to identify Evans and one of the attendants excitedly points to what appears to be a tear on Evans' face. "Impossible," the associate sighs, "Evans was a man who could never cry!" Into the cremation chamber goes Evans! Yes, "Fingers of Fire!" bears a more-than-striking resemblance to the Louis Pollock short story, "Breakdown," published in a 1945 issue of Collier's (and later adapted as a Hitch-directed episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents), but Evans meets a fiery end while Pollock's character evades death thanks to his tear ducts. Does that make this story worth reading then? Nope; it's just a shameless steal and it's got really really bad art.

Two grifters, on the prowl for an easy mark, come upon the house of "The Old Woman." Thinking they can ease their way into the woman's confidence, Hink and Grace rent a room from the old lady, get her to trust them (she confides that her money was made from writing romance books), and then drop the boom on her. They tell her to cut herself off from the outside world and sign her checks over to them from now on. The sweet old thing happily agrees, thinking it all so exciting and a break from her old routine. Her grin and general good mood eventually wear thin for the con artists and they demand to know what's going on. The woman allows that there may just be a fortune stashed in her cellar and, after very little prodding, she leads the way. Once in through the cellar door, Hink and Grace are locked in and told they'll be inspiration for her new trade: writing suspense novels!

There's a deliberately vague climax to "the Old Woman" that intrigues me. After telling her prisoners of her plans, the old woman becomes almost ghostly and then the final panel caption reads: Perhaps there are screams still coming from that deserted little White House... perhaps not... over a drawing of a dilapidated cottage, clearly the house shown in the opening but then not quite the same one. So, was the old woman a ghost the entire time? It appears so. Whatever the case, that final three-panel sequence is supremely creepy, as is most of the story, thanks mostly to Paul Reinman's visuals and a light foot on the gas that allows for the gradual eeriness.

 Strange Tales #4

"The Evil Eye" (a: Bill Everett) 
"Dial... City Morgue!" (a: Sol Brodsky) 
"It!" (a: John Romita) 
"The Man on the Beach!" (a: Bill LaCava) ★1/2

Scientists assume that the huge object deep in space which has popped up in their telescopes is a new star but the closer it gets to earth, the more apparent it becomes that it's a giant eye. Only one man, Professor Lyle Chambers, knows the secret of "The Evil Eye," but is he mad or is he responsible for bringing this monstrosity into our atmosphere? Death, destruction, and wild scientist hair equals everything you could ask for in a 1951 science fiction comic story. And it's got a nice art job by the legendary Bill Everett to boot. Just about anything Everett worked on was worth... looking at.

Ted discovers that his new phone used to belong to the city morgue. Now, when he makes a phone call to someone exactly one year after a death in the city, the person he's calling will drop dead (yes, I know, it's a bit complicated so you can skip this one if you want... I wish I had). Things go great for Ted when he calls his business rival and his rich aunt and both meet with untimely deaths, leaving Ted a boatload of money. But, as these things usually go, Ted makes the wrong phone call at the wrong time and ends up a victim of his own greed. "Dial...City Morgue!" is incredibly silly and unnecessarily complicated with its hook. It's also about three pages too long.

Not Pennywise, but "It!" nonetheless!
Bill and Jenny Carter have just adopted the sweetest baby and can't wait to get home to spoil him. Once there, though, Jenny becomes increasingly agitated and exhausted, and Bill becomes convinced the baby is to blame. Then he discovers poison in his coffee pot and suspicion swings to his wife. Could she be mentally ill? Jenny takes a bad tumble down the stairs and breaks her neck, leaving Bill to fend for himself and their son. Hearing a noise in his study, Bill opens the door to discover his baby boy holding a gun, pointed at his pop. Just before he pulls the trigger, the child explains that he's actually an alien from outer space and his mission was to kill Bill and Jenny. At Bill's funeral, all the women fawn over the new orphan and wonder who will be lucky enough to adopt the little darling.

The humorous climax of "The Man on the Beach!"
"It!" explores the fears and angst that every couple face when they become parents, the deep-rooted terror that maybe you're not doing your best... Yeah, right. Well, maybe that was the initial goal of "It!" but the whole thing comes off as so ludicrous, it's tough to consider that the writer may have had loftier goals in mind. The poor kid is never clothed, spending his entire four-page life in a nappie and nothing else and the sight of him hoisting that gun, looking all the world like a young gangster, is more hilarious than ten issues of Melvin the Monster. But what's the goal of this baby alien? He kills his parents for what purpose? They could have raised him to be the first Damien Thorn just as well as the next couple, right? Clarity is all I ask for. Ray Bradbury spun this first, and much better I hasten to add, with "The Small Assassin" (adapted by Al Feldstein for Shock SuspenStories #7).

A young couple come across a disheveled, wild-talking "Man on the Beach," who claims he is the only man who can save Earth from destruction. They invite the gaunt man into their beach tent and hear his fantastic story. Time-traveling scientists, who warn of armageddon and time backwashing, shrink the Earth and then entrust it to our grizzled hero for safe-keeping and send him back to present day. Unfortunately, the scientists didn't do their homework or else they'd know this is the world's most clumsiest man and, sure enough, he manages to lose the world on the beach. The couple scoff at the man's claims until things start disappearing around them. "The Man on the Beach" is so complicated (even for a 1950s Atlas funny book) that it defies description and almost warrants a Tylenol or two. That's not to say it's a bad story (though the LaCava art is tough to sit through),; it's actually quite clever and earns an extra star for breaking the fourth wall in the final panels. I wonder how many kids figured it was a printing error!

More from "The Evil Eye!"

Astonishing #7

"Nightmare" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Paid in Full" (a: Harry Lazarus) 
"Out of My Mind" (a: John Romita) ★1/2
"Out of the Darkness" (a: Joe Maneely) 

The third anniversary party for Connie and Tony ends after a night of wild partying, when the doorbell rings and a gorgeous dame walks in. Tony gasps and utters a single word, "Rita!" Seems as though Tony hadn't told Connie about the girl he dumped to marry her, but Rita is here to wish the both of them the best. After the babe mixes them all drinks, the room spins for Connie and a terrifying tableau lays itself before her. Tony grabs Rita and kisses her madly and Rita urges her old beau to kill Connie so that they can be together. Tony picks up the andiron and sinks it into Connie's head as she screams...

Herself awake! Yep, all just a "Nightmare!" Now Tony tells her to calm down and get ready for the anniversary party that night. But Connie has a sense of doom approaching and can't relax all night. Sure enough, after the party is over, the doorbell rings and it's Rita! The whole scenario repeats itself. Connie screams... herself awake. Yep, we've gotten the "it was only a dream but hang on, was it really cuz it's about to happen again" plot a zillion times but maybe it's because this one happened so early in the game that I can excuse the tired old cliche one more time. And then there's an extra jolt when the murder scene is repeated a second time and Connie's last thought is Am I really awake now... or is this too, a... a... nightmare? That's scary stuff.

Nathaniel Hastings begs miser Jeremiah Leech (who holds the note on Nathaniel's farm) to just give him a little more time to pay his mortgage, but Leech tells the poor old man he doesn't care about anything but money and he'll be foreclosing very soon. Nathaniel heads back to his farm in a driving snow and suffers a fatal heart attack. A few nights later, Leech, still smiling about the foreclosure, answers a knock at his door and discovers Nathaniel Hastings on his porch. A bit surprised, Leech asks the old man what he's doing out when he's supposed to be dead and the very pale Nathaniel answers that he can't find peace until he's paid his debt. The dead man promises a great fortune if Leech will follow him into the night and Jeremiah, afraid of nothing, agrees. The men end up in  Nathaniel's tomb, where Leech finally finds something to be afraid of when he finds he's been locked in. Yet another money-hungry scrooge gets his comeuppance in "Paid in Full." There's nothing new nor interesting about this latest variation although I must admit I thought Harry Lazarus's art very atmospheric in spots.

Horror writer Isaac Bartley is beyond astonished when he discovers that his greatest creation, the murderer named Axton, has somehow come to life and is threatening his creator when the creation gets wind that Bartley is about to kill off the golden goose. Axton lets on that he's set up shop in a gambling establishment downtown and Bartley heads on over to check it out to see if he's losing his mind or if this could be the real deal. Sure enough, once Bartley gets past the thug at the door, he sees Axton, lording over a roulette wheel. Axton sees his maker and gives chase but has a nasty fall down the staircase and is impaled on a statue holding a sword. Exactly how Bartley write Axton's death scene! Relieved, Bartley heads home to finish his book but, unbeknownst to the absorbed writer, Axton sneaks up behind him and...

"Out of My Mind" is not a great story but it benefits from some early John Romita work and an early example of the "fiction comes to life" plot line used to great advantage decades later by Stephen King (The Dark Half) and John Carpenter (In the Mouth of Madness). At one point, Bartley's editor tells his writer to tone down the scary stuff since "three people have been driven insane trying to read your books!," another avenue explored by Carpenter. Romita's Axton is not very threatening though with his Zorro eyes, Elvis lip, and Michael Jackson nose. The climax is a letdown but the build-up is a winner.

The oddball in this issue's quartet would have to be the final story, "Out of the Darkness," an old-fashioned science fiction story about life 2000 years after World War III. The Earth's surface had become poisoned and man had had to go underground and build a new world but evolution is throwing a funny (but annoying) monkey wrench at the survivors: the children being born in this generation resemble rats and are massing together to murder their human parents. It's up to scientist/super-stud Carleton Lar to invent a contraption that will clear up the poisons and allow man to walk the Earth again. Preliminary scouts discover a freakish form of dinosaur has evolved up top and the creatures must be destroyed if civilization is to "move upstairs." Luckily, Carleton's machine kills two dinosaurs with one stone; when the poison clouds disappear, the monsters die! Not sure who thought this would be a good fit amidst three horror stories, but "Out of the Darkness" is imaginative and enjoyable for both its wild scenario and its Joe Maneely artwork. It's funny to think of this as a throwback story since it was published 66 years ago but it has the feel of a 1940s SF adventure. I assume the radiation is to blame for the full-grown dinosaurs our heroes have to face.


I didn't feel that enough issues were published from 1949 and 1950 to warrant a Ten Best list but the end of 1951 seems a good place to start a yearly Best of.

So far we've covered 247 stories from 65 issues and the quality is surprisingly high. Of those 247 stories, 34 received a rating of three stars or higher (out of four), with two receiving the full four stars.

  1 "The Devil Birds" (Mystic #4)
  2 "The Evil Eye" (Suspense #8)
  3 "Don't Open This Door" (Suspense #8)
  4 "Juggernaut" (Marvel Tales #98)
  5 "The Spider" (Marvel Tales #101)
  6 "The Brain" (Adventures Into Terror #4)
  7 "The Man Who Lost HIs Head" (Suspense #3)
  8 "Felix the Great" (Suspense #6)
  9 "A Man Named Satan" (Marvel Tales #98)
10 "The Pin" (Strange Tales #2)

In Two Weeks...
Could '52 be even more grim than '51?

A change of format for the text piece in Astonishing #7