Monday, August 31, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Sixty: June 1975

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

Luis Dominguez
Unexpected 165

"Slayride in July"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Death Rides the Raging Wind"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Dick Dillin and Nick Cardy

Jack: Forty-four years old, out of work, and with a wife and daughter to support, Bruno Walton spends his days looking for work without success. One evening as he walks home from work to save bus fare, he happens upon Ivor Henry, a rich jewelry salesman, who is trying to change a flat tire. Bruno changes the tire for him, then murders Ivor with the tire iron and cleans out his wallet and jewelry case. Burying Ivor in the road bed where it looks like men are about to repave seems like a fine idea, and when Bruno gets home he hides the jewelry case.

Next morning, his wife and daughter have gone shopping and he can't find his wallet. As soon as his family returns, he jumps in the car and drives to the burial site, but it turns into a "Slayride in July" when he is frightened by a dancing silhouette he takes to be Ivor's ghost and his car crashes into a police car, killing him. Little did he know that the cops had already found the poorly buried body and the dancing ghost was really a new toy his wife had just bought for his daughter. Bruno must be part dog, because he manages to dig a grave for a full-grown man using nothing but a tire iron. And how foggy must it have been on that road for him to mistake a dancing doll inside his own car for a ghost outside the car?

Peter: Well, it's not all that good but it's not horrible. About as competent a story as you can get from Carl Wessler.

Jack: As a hurricane bears down on the Florida Keys, Ilene Evans and her young son Hank prepare for the worst, little knowing that "Death Rides the Raging Wind." Hank's father, Buck, disappeared after flying his plane toward Jamaica two weeks before, but when a couple of killers take refuge in the Evans house during the storm, Buck's ghost returns to drive them off and seal their doom in a car accident. This story has a retro feel to it but that may just be a function of Dillin's pencils. Cardy's inks smooth out some of the rough spots but this is still weak fare.

Peter: That second panel is kinda creepy with its (unintentional?) hints of incest. I thought the panel of the menacing tree was pretty cool but, otherwise, "Death Rides..." is lukewarm pablum.  I'm convinced that if you scramble Dick Dillin's name, you'll get "mediocrity."

Luis Dominguez
The House of Mystery 232

"The Last Tango in Hell"
Story by David Michelinie and Russell Carley
Art by Ramona Fradon

"Demon Hound"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: In depression-era New York, Orville Branch, a particularly nasty piece of work, owns a dance hall where he stages dance marathons for days on end. The couples believe they're vying for high cash prizes but Orville has no intention of paying one dime to the gullible contestants. After an accident leaves one couple dead, Orville's clean-up man threatens to sing to the coppers about the hazardous conditions in the ballroom until Orville whacks the man across the skull and kills him. The next night, as he's contemplating his next scheme, the ghosts of his victims come calling and Orville Branch learns to dance.

Michelinie (or Joe Orlando) missed a chance here, titling this one "Last Tango in Hell" (an obvious nod to the X-Rated Marlon Brando flick that was all the rage at about this time) instead of the obvious "They Shoot Corpses... Don't They?" There's nothing new to report about this one, sorry to say, as it's just a recycling of the tired "heartless SOB who gets his comeuppance in the end" plot that's been used in these pages dozens of times. The only difference between this and, say, "Night Stalker in Slim City," is the dance hall setting and They Shoot Horses... Don't They said just about everything there was to be said about that nasty era, didn't it? Except to tell us about the ghost dancers, of course.

Jack: This story could've been written by Michael Fleisher. It's interesting that Russell Carley, who worked with Fleisher so often, works here with David Michelinie, a relatively new kid on the block at DC. Reading the DC horror line for this blog has made me a fan of Ramona Fradon's art and she doesn't disappoint; one particularly nice page features multiple images of Branch spinning around the dance floor with his ghostly partner. This tale is in the running for my top ten of 1975.

Peter: Harry and Rose will never be voted best foster parents of the year but, if social services did their job, poor little Billy would be with a family that appreciates him. To drive away his loneliness, Billy conjures up a dog named Duke, an animal who protects the boy and frightens his foster parents. Harry puts an axe in the skull of the "Demon Hound" and he and his wife bury the dog before Billy can get wise to their devious act. But the next night, Rose spies the hound running in the backyard and begins to believe the boy's claim that he wished for the dog... and he appeared. Finding the perfect vehicle to dispatch her abusive husband, Rose gets Billy out of the house and then has the boy wish the dog back into the house while Harry's home. The next day, the police find Harry all over the porch and Rose is a happy woman. She tells Billy he can never wish Duke back again but, too late, the boy assumed his foster mother loved his pet and the "Demon Hound" waits for her in the next room.

It's been a long time since we got a really good horror story around here. This isn't really good but maybe absence makes my heart grow fonder because this one will do for now. Yep, it's built on yet another plot device that we see way too much of (the put-upon orphan who must turn to supernatural forces to protect himself) but "Demon Hound" has a nice, nasty climax and Yandoc's usual top-notch art (in particular, the panel showing Harry's murder is particularly graphic without spilling the guts and, oh, that splash!) to elevate it to the B-level.

Jack: The story gets a C but the art gets a B+. I'm not as enamored of Yandoc as you are and Jack Oleck hasn't written a really good story in quite a while, or so it seems to me. I was surprised when Harry took an axe to the dog, but fortunately it was not shown. Harry didn't put up much of a fight when the dog slaughtered him, though. This story didn't really work for me.

Ernie Chan
The House of Secrets 132

"The Contortionist!"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

"Killer Instinct"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: Percival Pope is "The Contortionist", but he's finding that today's audience wants something new, something more exciting than a guy who can bend his leg back behind his head. While strolling the street in thought, Percival is almost brained by a medallion dropped from a tall building. The owner apologizes and then stretches down to the street to pick up his bauble. Amazed, Pope visits the strange man and discovers the secret is a juice extracted from a rare berry that grows in India. When the old man won't sell, Percy tries to steal the flask of juice and accidentally kills him. The juice makes Percy a star but drinking the potion for an extended time has side effects; Percy finds it takes longer and longer for his muscles to return to their normal shape. Deciding he's milked the act for all it's worth, Percy announces his retirement but after his great last gig, his adoring fans literally stretch his patience to the breaking point.

Though, again, there's nothing but a load of cliched plot devices piled atop themselves, at least we've got the fabulously sick sense of humor that Michael Fleisher became famous for. That final panel, of the stretched out Percival Pope, must have been the nightmare that kept Reed Richards and Plastic Man up 'til all hours of the morning. Duranona's art is at times really creepy and at other times, really ugly and scratchy. I've seen great art by Leopoldo published in the Warren magazines so maybe black and white brings out the best in his work.

Jack: I'm glad you've seen great art by Duranona somewhere, because it sure isn't on display here. Just as good (or great) art can elevate a mediocre story into something more, bad art can highlight the flaws in a story like this. Poozleberry juice? Come on. The ending was telegraphed and the story was too thin to stretch out to ten pages.

Peter: Steve Burns has everything a prize fighter needs except for the "Killer Instinct." Steve will have a man against the ropes and walk away. Not much life for a boxer with that sort of shortcoming, is there? One night, after another hard fought surrender, Steve meets the devil, who tells the chump he can deliver him the "Killer Instinct" he needs to become Heavyweight Champion of the World. Steve won't offer up his soul but Satan offers him a freebie so a deal is struck. Steve quickly becomes the Champion but only after killing his opponent in the ring and that doesn't sit well with Mrs. Burns, who tells her husband she's leaving. Steve throttles his wife and, as the cops are on the way, accepts Satan's new bargain: he'll transport Steve to a place the cops can't find him in exchange for his soul. Turns out that place is the arena in ancient Rome, where Steve Burns is now a gladiator. His "Killer Instinct" didn't make the journey, though, and Steve refuses to kill his opponent this time. Magically, he's transported back before he was granted his first bargain and decides to quit boxing, accepting his "second chance."

Very imaginative fantasy tale with the rare hook of a sympathetic, kindly Satan, "Killer Instinct" has the feel of a good Twilight Zone episode. It's hard to imagine, though, a boxer getting very far if he refuses to put the other guy on the canvas. How did Steve (who tells his wife, when she begs him to quit, that "fighting is my trade!") entice a manager to waste time on him and how many surrenders in the ring before the fight commission would ban him from "his trade?" An exemplary issue of Secrets!

Jack: Give Jack Oleck credit, he wrote a great story here! I'm not as fond of Yandoc as you are, Peter, or I'd give this one an A+ across the board. The twist ending was a pleasant surprise, and you're right that it has a Twilight Zone feel; it's also reminiscent of Jack Finney's story, "Second Chance," minus the devil, of course. I wonder if the shadowy figure wasn't really the devil. He allows Burns to call him that but he never calls himself that, and giving people second chances isn't the devil's stock in trade. Maybe he was a good angel who knew that Burns would have to think he was making a deal with the devil in order to fall far enough to earn his redemption?

Luis Dominguez
The Witching Hour 55

"Kiss the Boys--And Make Them Die"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernesto Patricio

"One Good Shock Deserves Another!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Rudy Nebres

"Stand-In for a Corpse"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Jack: Sylvia is the prettiest gal in the office, but she refuses to date anyone because she must care for her elderly parents. The cops wonder if two of her office mates disappeared after she decided to "Kiss the Boys--And Make Them Die," but they find no evidence of wrongdoing. When office gigolo James Arlen visits Sylvia's house, he discovers that her parents are rotting corpses. Wessler's story might not be half-bad if he tried to use a plot, and Patricio's is passable at best.

Surprise! Her parents are dead.

Peter: You gotta wonder whose bright idea it was to put the "shocking twist ending" in bright Luis Dominguez color right on the cover! Not to worry though--you'll see the climax coming half way through this mess. Patricio's art is very hard on the eyes.

Jack: Badly injured in a plane crash, Robert Burton suddenly has a miraculous recovery and returns home with an ugly hag of a wife. She treats the servants so badly that the butler murders her, only to learn that her powers of witchcraft were the only thing keeping Robert looking normal. At three pages, "One Good Shock Deserves Another!" does not wear out its welcome, and Rudy Nebres does a nice job with the art. Didn't we read a very similar story not long ago??

Surprise! His wife was a witch.

Peter: I can't believe I'm going to say this but Kashdan's script could have stood a couple more pages length. It's not that bad and is helped by Nebres's lovely art, especially in the reveal panel. Ironically, I've been raking Rudy Nebres and his bleeding, incomprehensible art for Deadly Hands of Kung Fu over at our sister blog, Marvel University. Obviously, editor Murray Boltinoff had more restrictive rules for the art submitted for The Witching Hour and, for once, those restrictions paid off for the artist.

Jack: Morgue attendant Tom Riker thinks that it's his lucky day when he examines a newly arrived corpse and finds a photo of a gorgeous gal and a letter saying that she can't wait to meet her beau to get married! It seems the dead man courted Alidda by mail and her parents have promised a dowry of $100K. Riker decides to impersonate the dead man, traveling to Alidda's home and going through with an immediate marriage ceremony, only to discover that his bride died that morning of food poisoning. He grabs the check and avoids her parents, who tell him that their Satanic sect has a rule that a spouse is fated to die in the same manner as his bride. Riker runs into the woods and is bitten by a snake. He cuts his arm and sucks out the poison but dies anyway. It seems the poison didn't kill him but rather he died due to an infection from a dirty razor blade.

Who hasn't had this experience?

"Stand-In for a Corpse" gets off to a great start and holds reader interest right up till a disappointing end, when the twist with the razor blade causes the story to fizzle out. Still, this is well above average for what we've been seeing in most of the DC horror books lately.

Peter: This one's a bit wild and all over the place but it's the best Witching Hour tale we've had come across our desk in many a month. Rubeny's art is all over the map as well, from the highs of the church scene to the sloppiness of Tom's death scene.

Luis Dominguez
Weird Mystery Tales 19

"Fire Dance"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Abe Ocampo

Story and Art by Lee Marrs

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ruben Yandoc

Peter: Jon Anderson is obsessed with killing moths; the guy can't get enough of it. He's also a sleaze who has multiple pin-ups on his living room wall and can't figure why the girls won't give him the time of day. Enter a very large moth who happens to be a shape-shifter, her other "self" being a scantily clad beauty (what a coincidence!). When Jon decides he just has to have the creature, he hunts her through the forest but she proves to be too smart for the brute. After lightning strikes, she scoops him up in her claws and takes him into the resulting fire. The End. Here's comes B.K. with yet another convoluted mess. There may indeed be people out there in the world who get their jollies by mass-destroying moths but that doesn't mean I want my DC horror stories to be populated by them. It's a tough sell, no? Yes, I know it's a CCA-approved book but do all shape-shifting moths sprout string bikinis when they transform? Abe Ocampo's art for "Fire Dance" is fantastic and deserving of a better script.

Jack: Unintentionally hilarious were the words that came to mind as I read this story. The sight of Anderson joining the hot babe in a goofy dance after he stalks her in the forest is bad, but the final indignity comes when she turns into a giant moth and picks him up to fly into the fire, reminding me of Alan Arkin's story in The In-Laws about the giant tsetse flies.

DC hands over the crayons to the
elementary school down the street
Peter: A woman kills her boss then flees on a jet airliner. After noticing that everyone on board is ugly or malformed, she demands to see the pilot. It's only then that she discovers that she's on a "Flight" bound for... (GASP!) Hell and Satan's flying the plane!!! Oh, right, that's why there are circus freaks and misbehaving children on this flight. It's going to Hell. What a fabulously unique idea. We've had trains and elevators that go to Hades but not planes. Let's thank Lee Marrs for this delightfully novel concept. One question though: is the woman dead already or do they take the living down there now? If nothing else, Marrs is the one to beat for Worst Art of the Year.

Jack: I have to part company with you on this one! The story is predictable, sure, but the art is fabulous! This is not the first time we've seen Lee Marrs, and I love the underground comix look of her work, like a DC Robert Crumb. It's so different and expressive that I get a real kick out of it. She's one of the few women artists we've encountered on our journey and one of the very few artists to work in underground comix and mainstream comics in the 1970s.

Peter: Lighthouse keeper Will Addams spots a strange, 18th-Century ship called the Lorelei approaching the rocks one night and watches as it seems to disappear in thin air. That night, he hears musical voices calling out to him. When Will's relief comes the next month, he quizzes the old man about the ship and he tells him the history of the Lorelei, which was carrying a bevy of beautiful women bound for America. The Lorelei crashed against the rocks near the lighthouse and all crew and passengers were lost at sea. When Will returns the next month for his shift, the voices call out to him and he takes a dive near the rocks. Ghostly hands reach out and drag him down to become another passenger of the Lorelei. Though "Death-Calling" isn't as bad as "Fire Dance," it suffers from the same malady that ails most of Robert Kanigher's horror fiction: a lack of anything resembling pace, order, and reason. We know these sirens are at the bottom of the sea but why do they want Will? Why don't they call out to the other lighthouse keepers? For that matter, why was the Lorelei stacked (please pardon the pun) with bodacious women from England?

Jack: Two sequences make this the best work we've seen from Yandoc this month: one, the panels where he gradually zooms in on the pages of a book telling the story of the doomed ship, and two, the final underwater sequence. As you note, Kanigher's story is flat, but Yandoc's art is quite good.

Luis Dominguez
Ghosts 39

"The Most Hated Ghost in England"
Story Uncredited
Art by E.R. Cruz

"The Blossoms in Blood"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Haunting Hitchhiker"
Story Uncredited
Art by John Calnan

"The Phantom Hangman"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rico Rival

Jack: Why is William Darrell "The Most Hated Ghost in England?" He married for money and then turned out his wife and baby, that's why. They died on the moors and their specters haunted him till he died in a fall from a horse. Now their ghosts torment his ghost. I don't really see him as "The Most Hated Ghost in England" based on this story, but his wife's ghost doesn't think very highly of him.

Peter: Absolutely fabulous art by E.R. Cruz highlights one of the better stories of the month (and to think it appears in Ghosts!).

Jack: It's 1971 in Bangladesh and Col. Hassan has killed a Bengali loyalist and commandeered his home as the new headquarters. The only servant left is Lal, the old gardener, who tells Hassan that plants have feelings. After Hassan accidentally kills Lal and is shot by a sniper, he recovers in a hospital bed. A nurse places a plant in his room and soon he is found dead, having been strangled by "The Blossoms in Blood," since the plant's flower bore the image of the dead Lal. A neat little story with strong art by Yandoc, the climax of this one owes a bit to Roger Corman.

Peter: Two good stories in the same issue of Ghosts? Enjoy it while you can. Yandoc's art? "Blossoms" further solidifies my assertion that Ruben is the best DC horror artist now that Alfredo Alcala has left for greener pastures.

Jack: Motorists in the U.S.A. in 1974 share a similar and strange experience: they pick up a hitchhiker who looks a lot like Jesus and then he disappears from the back seat. Not exactly "The Haunting Hitchhiker," more like the disappearing hitchhiker. This seems to be a version of the urban legend about the Vanishing Hitchhiker.

Peter: There is no point to "The Haunting Hitchhiker." Is the specter supposed to be Christ? Perhaps Uncredited was trying to get that across but worried the CCA would shut the story down.

Jack: When Billy Heath was hanged in 1758, he put a curse on the spot. In 1969, two young American women on a cycling tour ignore a local bobby's warning and choose to spend the night in the barn on the spot of the hanging centuries before. They are menaced by an escaped convict who is very much alive until he is hanged by "The Phantom Hangman." Another story about young girls on a cycling trip is crossed with another story about an escaped convict. If only we could've worked a hitchhiker into the mix!

Peter: "Uncredited" has certainly got the English accent down pat (" 'arf an hour.") but that's about all that's memorable about this crap. Sheesh. Are these the same two American girls who have wandered into  Ghosts stories before or do these teenage characters always look the same?

Ernie Chua
Tales of Ghost Castle 1

"A Child's Garden of Graves"
Story by Paul Levitz
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"A Soul A Day Keeps the Devil Away"
Story by Paul Levitz
Art by Quico Redondo

"The Mushroom Man"
Story by David Michelinie and Martin Pasko
Art by Buddy Gernale

Jack: Mr. and Mrs. Williams adopt little Holly Harkins, not aware that her digging in the orphanage grounds was really to make "A Child's Garden of Graves." At home with the Williams family, Holly is sad to see that she has competition: a brother and sister who are none too happy to welcome her into their household. No matter, as soon as she gets gardening tools, Holly murders her new siblings and buries them in the yard, something her new parents are less than happy to discover.

Wow! Paul Levitz sure can tell a depressing story. Ruben Yandoc's drawing board must have been burning up this month--this is his sixth contribution!

Peter: Orphaned children must have been right up there with vampires, ghouls, and werewolves on the DC Mystery "go-to" list. Child murder was (and still is) very cutting edge for a funny book so some credit must be given to writer Levitz for having the stones to tackle the subject but I wouldn't exactly say the climax was a shock ending since we all knew where this was going. No doubting the power of that panel depicting the unchiseled gravestones.

Glasses, earrings,
watch . . .
Jack: Gak the demon enjoys his work in Hell, since "A Soul a Day Keeps the Devil Away." He finds his next target in a dentist named Farber but Gak receives an unpleasant surprise when the doctor turns down his offer, preferring the experience of inflicting pain on his patients to the promise of a life of leisure. The most amusing thing about this four-pager is how Redondo finds ways to cover up the demons' naughty bits in each panel!

Peter: This one seemed to be gaining a healthy, humorous head of steam before puttering out halfway through the story. And, I hesitate to ask, why would sleeping gas affect a demon?

Jack: Brian Jannis owes money to some bad dudes from Vegas, so when his uncle, "The Mushroom Man," tells him about a new discovery that will make a him a fortune, he kills the old man and cashes in. Brian plans to get rid of the strange mushrooms growing in the old man's basement and fires the cook after she feeds some of them to him for dinner. It's too late for Brian, though, since a tummy ache that night leads to death the next morning, brought on by angry mushrooms sprouting from his body. Some of these stories seem like the writer came up with an idea for a final panel and then wrote backwards from there. Didn't we vote another story by Buddy Gernale as worst of the year awhile back?

Peter: Uncle Sebastian's body must have been "stinkin' to high heaven" (to borrow a famous line from Loudon Wainwright) and no one noticed, not even the maid who was digging around in the mushroom beds? A highly unimaginative story thanks to lazy writing. The old guy was a mushroom nut so for the big shock panel, his killer will sprout mushrooms! What's so hard about writing by-the-number scripts?

Jack: Tales of Ghost Castle is not off to a great start. Our host is Lucien, the librarian of the castle, who tells us that he has been there since "the castle was abandoned by both sides in World War Two," which sounds like a more interesting story than any of the three he tells! He also has a pet werewolf named Rover. The series will last just three issues.

In the 61st Issue of Star Spangled...
You'll get sentimental and all that icky grown-up stuff.
On Sale September 7th!

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