Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Dungeons of Doom!: The Pre-Code Horror Comics Volume 14

Part Five

By Jose Cruz and
Peter Enfantino

Note: We rely on the fine people at Comic Book Plus and Digital Comic Museum for public domain digital downloads. Unfortunately, a full run of Strange Fantasy isn't available yet so we've had to resort to reading several stories via their reprints in the Eerie Publication titles, similarly available for download at this essential siteThough we'd obviously prefer to use the original comic books, we can't afford to purchase these very expensive issues. We thought this the best avenue rather than missing out on so many terror tales but, of course, it necessitates representing some artwork in black and white. We hope that you will agree with our decision and enjoy the stories in these altered formats. -Jose and Peter

Peter: Three intrepid adventurers, two men and a woman, attempt to conquer Everest but the mountain's natural hazards are not what the trio fear. Halfway up, the travelers and their guide, Oog, encounter a ghostly apparition that warns them to turn back, that he is the spirit of Karl Morton, a climber who had died on Everest years before. Undaunted, the party moves on and soon stumble upon the icy grave of Morton himself. Just as they finish unearthing the corpse, a storm kicks up and an avalanche kills all but Sandra, who flees blindly through the freezing wind, pursued by the ghostly Morton. Deciding she'd rather die in a fall than at the hands of the horror at her heels, Sandra falls from a cliff but, incredibly, lands on a snow bank far below. Karl Morton appears out of the snow drifts to inform Sandra that he likes her spunk and, as a consolation prize for surviving Everest, he's going to allow her to live and tell civilization of the ordeal she's been through as a warning to all comers. Weeks later, in a hospital bed in Tibet, Sandra learns that her hair has gone white and her skin aged. Her lasting reward for conquering Everest.

Even back as a wee funny book reader, I always valued the story over the art. I still do, but sometimes there are exceptions. "Death on Ice" (from Strange Fantasy #6) is one of those exceptions. The story is involving enough but, by now, we've read dozens of similar plot lines; no, it's the fabulously atmospheric art that drew me in and kept me involved. Our first glimpse of the skeletal Morton, through the blinding snow, is almost as nerve-jangling as being there in the flesh. Right from the intro, when our narrator tells us, "My name is Sandra Scott and the story I'm about to tell is true, every word of it! And this is how I looked before the story began several months ago," we're on edge. What does this pretty girl mean, "...this is how I looked..."? [Maybe more importantly, how is Sandra able to narrate her flashback from her unravaged body?!] It's only when we get to the finale (which is a bit of a letdown when you think of all the things this ghostly corpse might do to poor Sandra) that the true meaning of her words becomes apparent. Rare, also, is an early 1950s heroine who's not terrorized in her kitchen but on the face of Everest, vowing she'll "keep up with the men."

Jose: On an evening patrol in an old cemetery, two gendarmes cross paths with a withered old coot who insists that he is on a most important errand: he is trying to find a skull! The gendarmes humor the monk-like figure and listen to the strange history that has led the stranger to this point, beginning almost a thousand years ago. In tenth century France, the man, Jules, was an alchemist in love with the fair Anne and who promised her that he would discover the elixir of life. Experimenting in his lab that night, Jules mixes just the right draught and is now on the path to euphoric immortality. He tells Anne the good news but, as a precaution, has created an antidote to the potion that will restore them to mortal life should Jules’ next mixture fail to give Anne eternal life. A good idea, but Jules is arrested as a witch before he can meet up with Anne and upon being released from his harmless torture session discovers that Anne met similar charges and was strangled to death, the amulet buried along with her. Naturally, Jules is distressed and is now forced to roam the earth as an undying lover without a companion. Now the old man is sure that Anne’s remains lie in a newly restored crypt and, with further indulgence from the police, finds what he is looking for. After the old man takes the antidote, the gendarmes are astounded to see two skeletons resting peacefully together.

With a general setting and final coda that identifies it as a kissing cousin of Victor Hugo’s classic Notre-Dame de Paris, “Skull Scavenger” (from #6) is a macabre mini-epic that manages to effectively course the byways of romance, tragedy, and horror in the span of eight pages. The narrative shows a level of detail and care missing from many other tales, and while it may not be perfect or even logic-proof the effort is certainly more than commendable. (For instance, Jules is smart enough to create a mortality-restorer should his plans go bust but dumb enough to pawn it off to his girlfriend even when he’s the only immortal one at this point.) It really is too bad that much of this art remains unaccredited, as I dig the Gothic, line-heavy work on display here and I’m almost positive I’ve seen this artist a few times before in the Ajax-Farrell titles. Whoever you may be, anonymous Iger Shop freelancer, know that I dig your style!

Peter: Peter and Anne Doyle buy a gloomy old fix-'er-upper from Mr. Black, a strange man who gives them a bargain too good to be true and throws in the furniture as a bonus. Anne goes to work to liven the place up but makes a startling discovery: a box containing milk bottles filled with fresh blood! Not wanting to upset Peter (and his weak heart), Anne (naturally) hides the bottles in the basement and heads back upstairs to dust. Just then, the eerie Mr. Black comes to the door, demanding his bottles, and Anne flees to the basement in horror. Black follows her and, discovering the hidden bottles, gorges himself on their contents. The blood drinker strongly cautions the terrified young housewife to forget all she's seen or she will fall victim to "Anemia Ultima!" Anne begs Peter to come home from work but, when her husband comes to the door clutching his chest, she chickens out and claims a bad case of nerves. Peter knows something's up and finally gets the full story from his frazzled mate, hypothesizing that Black is a vampire and had forgotten to change his delivery address with the "bloodman." The next morning, the bloodman indeed arrives but, much to the dismay of our lovely couple, not to deliver but pick up. "Two bodies! - Paid... in... full!"

Up front, "Nightmare Merchant" (from #7) merits inclusion not for its outstanding quality or award-worthy art but for its sheer insanity. Throughout the story, the reader wonders why the hell Mr. Black would move out of his cushy place and then forget to let his neighborhood plasma delivery man know he'd left but then, with our twisted finale, we get our answer: to pay his tab! But why would he forget his stashed supply? Good question! I say in order to jump-start the events that lead to his debt eradication but then I've got a forgiving attitude when it comes to nonsensical horror stories that contain just a whiff of originality or audacity. I'm sure the Freudians among us would make the conjecture that the entire incident takes place within the fevered brain of Anne Doyle, who's been starved for sex and attention since she married the frail Peter (hell, the wimp practically has a heart attack just coming home in a rush -- how could he perform in the sack?) but, no, this is just a loveably dopey urban nightmare. It's always fun to compare the original presentations to their altered reprintings in the Eerie Publications titles and "Merchant" may be one of the most extreme examples. In its original form, "Nightmare Merchant" is relatively blood-free (save, obviously, for the milk bottles) but, as you can see from the splash pages below (taken from Terror Tales V1/N7, March 1969), just about every Eerie panel has been gored up (laughably, Mr. Black is drooling blood onto the sale contract and Peter doesn't even blink, let alone infarct) for its jaded Viet Nam-era audience. Though Strange Fantasy #7 is not currently available online, you can read the original version of "Nightmare Merchant" here.

From Strange Fantasy #7
And its re-dressing from Terror Tales. Note not only
the oozing orifices of Mr. Black, but also the gash in
Anne's lovely face.

Jose: B. S. Fitts, publisher of the “foul, filthy, but high profitable” yellow rag the Daily Whisper, puts in another long day at the office verbally abusing his tortured staff when he gets news from his doctor that the old boy is due for a long rest if he’s to make the most of his remaining years. And before you can say “R&R”, Fitts’ trusted butler enters with an anonymous package from Transvania (yeah) containing a strange mud that purports to have rejuvenating properties. Astounded by the energy boost he gets from the mud, Fitts hops on the next train to Transvania where he meets the enigmatic Madame Satin, owner of the health clinic where the geezer will be staying. Satin shows she has an unorthodox method for administering relaxation when she has two burly attendants ambush Fitts in bed the next morning, strip him down to his drawers, and dump his wrinkly keester in a mud bath. The mystery mixture smoothes Fitts’ temper out immediately and leaves him in a state of euphoria that temporarily clouds his judgment when he signs over all his assets to the clinic upon his death as an act of charity. Too bad for the old boy that Madame Satin is looking to collect immediately, as he finds out the next day when the attendants toss him into an empty grave and fill it not with the miraculous mud but with wet concrete. (For some reason they only cover him up to the neck just to then deposit him another grave and fill it with dirt. Talk about inefficiency!) Fitts isn’t in the ground long before his grumpy spirit calls upon Satin’s other past victims to gang up on the villainess and return the favor.

Why bury 'im alive once when you can do it twice?

Though its serviceable art suffers from some unfortunate cluttering in the panels (all the harder to distinguish detail in the B&W reprint from Weird V. 3 #1), “Grave Rehearsal” (from Strange Fantasy #7) is a feisty little yarn with loads of personality that allows it to rise in estimation. Fitts is a great, irascible old coot in the same tradition as J. Jonah Jameson, like a plumper Keenan Wynn that rages against just about anyone who dare speak to him. It’s his blustery attitude that makes the story as engaging as it is, a refreshing change from the typical baloney-flavored Good Guys and Girls who typically find themselves in the clutches of Evil in these stories. The story shows further invention in the addition of Madame Satin, a whip-wielding witch straight from a Margaret Brundage illustration, not to mention the non-traditional setting that puts a unique spin on the buried-alive motif. It all ends with a nice double-wink that finds Satin’s concrete-sealed corpse identified by her now-smiling skull ring and the late Fitts turning in the story of his death to his own trash rag!

Peter: "Little Pat Patrick was a mama's boy." At least that's what the neighborhood kids thought of Pat and his shoulder length hair but poor Pat can't help it. His hair seems to have a life of its own and thwarts any attempts at barbering. As he grows older, Pat's hair grows unmanageable and begins to grow thickly on his body as well. Tired of insults and snide remarks, Pat (now completely covered with long flowing hair) becomes a hermit and hibernates in the hills. Returning one day for food, Pat discovers he likes human flesh and learns he can consume a full grown man, bones and all, in a matter of minutes. As is usually the case, the authorities frown upon this activity and chase the giant ball of fur into a warehouse where they dump a vat of hair remover on him. Pat manages to take two more of his torturers out before being reduced to "nothing but a small pile of dandruff!"

Like "Nightmare Merchant," "Hair Yee-Eeee" (from #9) scores high on the Inanity Meter but still manages to impress with its stark art and high level of humor (when Pat becomes completely engulfed in hair, he tosses away his clothes with a simple "These... are... a... bother!"). Though the surroundings differ, the monster of "Hair..." is obviously a knockoff/homage of Hillman's The Heap, a swamp monster  that had just completed a healthy run of eleven years in Air Fighters Comics. Pat is called a shape, a mass, and an ex-being, before our narrator finally fesses up and labels Pat "the heap." There's not much sense to the story, of course; we never find out why Pat's mane overruns him and if he'd never had a haircut in his life, that mess on top of his head would be a heck of a lot longer but it's got a goofy charm to it. Chief among the ingredients that make up this wacky soufflé  is the art, co-created by the legendary Steve Ditko.

Jose: Peter is called to the bedside of his dying grandfather Hubert so the old man can relay a message of great import: Peter must go to the familial estate of Marsdale and kill a clock! Needless to say, Peter is flummoxed by his relative’s words and remains haunted by them as he arrives at Marsdale with his friends to fix up the dilapidated manse. As they soon note, there is an imposing clock tower on the grounds but, failing to see the clock’s luminous face snarling at them, are unable to understand Hubert’s insistence to have it destroyed. Later on author Mike decides to venture into the clock tower thinking it’d be a crackerjack setting for his next mystery novel. But the only murder Mike contemplates is his own when the floor suddenly slants up and deposits the screaming scribe into the clock’s hungry gears. Peter and the two ladies go out looking for Mike later, and he and Jenny witness the horror firsthand when they see the bloodslick cogs and are almost devoured themselves before Peter can crack off a shot into the machinery. The party figures on hightailing it out of there but the ambulatory clock snatches poor Alice right from her room just as she’s packing. Peter and Jenny run straight into the woods to escape the flesh-hungry clock but the timepiece easily corners them. Full from its meal, “[t]he clock strikes four times—and then only silence…”

For wearing such a risible premise on its sleeve, “Death Strikes Four” (from #8) remains a surprisingly competent affair that never once cracks cute about the notion of a full-sized clock tower getting up and running after some tasty victims. The image has a similar nonsensical resonance as the Dish and Spoon of nursery rhyme fame, and the overall arc of the story resembles “The Demon Tree” episode from the old time radio program Dark Fantasy. (From one Fantasy to another!) This story in particular seems to telegraph many hallmarks of the slasher genre thirty years before the trend would catch on in cinema, including everything from the foreboding old coot, the isolated killing grounds, the group of friends picked off one-by-one, the investigation into the disappearance of said friends, and the downbeat ending that sees the heroes meeting death at the hands of the not-so-dead killer. There’s even a choreographed jump scare where Peter attacks Jenny in the clock tower after seeing her slinking shadow on the wall. Add to that the fact that the out-of-use clock requires the blood of the innocent instead of conventional oil to lubricate its rusted and you have yourself a good time.

Peter: She was known simply as "Sister" but "Sinister" might have been a better nickname for this little street urchin. Adopted by a "high-strung, irritable woman," Sister is constantly finding the jar of devil's candy and ransacking it. What begins as simple child's play becomes deadly serious when Sister throttles the woman with a noose and leaves the body for her foster father to discover. Refusing to cover for the little girl, the man reports the murder to the police but, once the cops arrive, the suspicion is cast on him rather than on Sister. No one will believe his story and soon he stands trial, is found guilty, and hanged for the girl's crime. When Sister is returned to the orphanage, a psychiatrist takes interest in the child and soon comes to believe she's the real culprit. Before his suspicions can be shared, Sister stabs him to death and burns his notes. Later that night, as the girl sleeps, her new guardians sigh and wonder aloud why the doctor would commit suicide in front of such a sweet little girl.

The same year William March wrote The Bad Seed (and two years before it was adapted for the big screen), Strange Fantasy #10 gave us "Bloody Mary" (a really dumb title since there's no Mary amongst the cast), a fascinatingly sick and twisted six pages that supports the argument that having kids can kill you. Like the unfortunate protagonist of "Hair Yee-Eeee," we're never given an explanation for Sister's psychotic tendencies other than she's "a devil's child." One day she makes the leap from stealing sugar to lassoing old women and finds the carnage to her liking. Ostensibly, this is simply a "bad seed" but one panel, in which she tells the doctor he's getting too close for comfort ("You know too much, you question-asking old fool!"), almost leads this reader to believe the girl really is a demon. The sequence where Sister's foster father comes home and finds his wife dead on the couch and then rants about blame is hilarious but the cake is taken by her inability to fix her hair following the murder ("Darn these braids... sometimes I can fix them, but today... well, I'm a little upset...").

Jose: You are just an average guy out for a stroll one beautiful afternoon and admiring the blustery wind’s effect on the skirts of beautiful women when your reverie is shattered by the approach of a truck hurtling towards you in the road! You jump back just in the nick of time only to stumble and bash your head on a fire hydrant. Thankfully, you’re still alive… it’s just that no one else seems to realize it. Your mind is in perfect working order, but your body shows no signs of life, so it’s off to the morgue for you. You can hardly believe your devastating bad luck as the chatty attendants strip you down, put you on a slab, and slap a D.O.A. tag on your toe as they consider where to go for lunch. There’s a ray of hope when your wife Mary arrives; surely she can clear all this up. But the only thing she’s clearing is her conscience as she admits to the impending divorce she was going to ask for so she could be with your best friend Bill. She gives you a literal kiss-off just before you’re hauled into the examining room for your autopsy. Thankfully, there is no physical pain… just the news that judging by your heart you would have died at any moment had the truck not gotten you first. With all this in mind, you endure the tears of all the friends you had in life at your funeral before it’s off to the cemetery where you repose alone in your grave. And then, right at that last moment of consciousness, your body awakens and allows you one, final scream.

You can be forgiven for being reminded of Louis Pollock’s eternally-adapted short story “Breakdown” upon reading the first few pages of “Cry from the Coffin” (from #8). But upon the arrival of our hapless surrogate’s body at the morgue, “Cry” departs the source material by taking a severely dark turn that leaves us reeling and makes Pollock’s original seem like an ice cream float. Delivered with sophistication and a sense of irony as biting as anything produced by those merry band of ghouls at E. C. The story unravels like an onion, peeling back each layer of the main character’s life to reveal a little more about the person he was before he ended up as John Doe at the morgue. But, in a brilliant bit of inspiration, this “revealing” of the character’s past simultaneously flips all of his preconceived notions of who he was: the wife he thought loved him was going to leave and the spiritual euphoria he felt masked a fatal physical condition. Even the sight of all the funeral attendants—more people than he thought he had in his life—is a hard blow, the character’s realization that he was so cherished in life making his eventual destination all the grimmer. And that ending! Joseph Cotten got to silently weep his way to salvation. But that’s one of those preconceived notions you’re best not to believe. After all, you haven’t been very lucky today.

Peter: Lieutenant Peter Carson is called to the city morgue when a woman's body is found floating in the East River. Carson gets there to find a bloated, mutilated corpse, its teeth pulled to prevent identification. The coroner tells the cop that there's pressure on this case since the body may be the daughter of a wealthy friend of the police commissioner. The lieutenant insists that it couldn't be that girl and, upon exiting the room, he pulls a gun and shoots himself in the head. We then flash back to Peter Carson's tour of duty in France in 1946. There, Carson is in charge of identifying dead soldiers by their body parts. One night out, Peter meets a beautiful local girl named Giselle and begins a lusty affair. Giselle wants Carson to bring her to America but he's more interested in the money that belongs to an old sweetheart named Dolores, who writes to Peter to let him know her husband has died and left her millions. Carson dumps Giselle and heads back to the States, where he marries Dolores and settles in to his new lifestyle until Giselle shows up to reclaim him. They meet late at night at a deserted bridge where Carson murders the girl and dumps her body in the river. After Carson commits suicide, the coroner remarks, as he surveys Peter's body lying next to Giselle's, that they'll probably never know the real reason Peter Carson took his own life.

Reeking of noir in both title and plot, "In a Lonely Place" (from #11) is one of the grimmest seven pages ever presented in an Ajax-Farrell funny book. Indeed, though the events are horrific, this is the kind of story that Lev Gleason would have packed into his legendary Crime Does Not Pay comic title -- gory, no-holds-barred accounts of robbery and murder that helped sell millions of copies every month. The non-linear narrative (which, though overworked these days, must have been bold for its time) is jarring; we're barely introduced to Peter Carson, whom we take to be a respectable, hard-working guy based on the few conversations he has before pulling the trigger and blowing those conceptions out the back of our heads. Carson, we later discover, is actually a gold digger who does not hesitate breaking Giselle's heart (and later cracking her skull) all in the name of money. The perfect noir protagonist. And it's a nice rarity to be able to commend the artist by name. Robert Webb's primitive but nonetheless effective visuals are just what a bleak story like this needs. Webb, like many of the pre-code artists, worked for the Iger Shop and was responsible for several Comics Illustrated novel adaptations (including Frankenstein and The Mysterious Island).

False advertising, but we'll take it anyway!

Jose: A tall dark stranger slinks into the city one night on a shadowy mission that involves him tracking another man. The stranger rents a room bordering his target’s so that he might keep tabs on all his movements. Seeing his quarry—an ugly little man—leave the house into the rain-lashed night, the stranger tails him through the wet alleys before the little man seems to actually detect the scent of his pursuer and disappears into the darkness. The stranger is not deterred; he has the patience of many lifetimes behind him. A few nights later the stranger follows the little man to the dockside and it is here that his suspicions are irrefutably confirmed, for within a grotty alcove he sees the little man conferring with a gathering of a hundred huge rats! But once again the quarry sniffs the stranger out and hightails it out with his friends. The stranger returns to his room quite satisfied by the evening’s events and instantly realizes he is not alone. Sure enough, the little man is there to receive him and they engage in a little verbal sparring before the little fellow warns the stranger to get out while he has the chance. When the stranger refuses, the little man shows he means business by assuming his true form: a giant rat! The stranger accepts the invitation by turning into an equally large cat. Fangs and claws slash before the cat comes out the victor. With his quarry finally slain, the stranger reverts to human shape and talks of his next imminent appointment in London.

Stagnation is something that a lover of any form of entertainment will run into at one time or another, whether it be within a single series or across a genre as a whole, and it is certainly no stranger to the realm of comic books. All too often in our experience we’ve seen the sour spouse plotting murder and the maggoty corpse clawing its way through earth and flesh alike and the mad scientist creating an abomination for “the good of mankind”, so when something along the lines of “Fangs of Fear” (from #12) comes along we can’t help but cheer the effort that went into it. While the story unfortunately never delivers on that gloriously promising splash page, it makes it up to the reader by treading fresher ground and going for a moodier, character-driven approach. If the story feels overlong in spots it’s probably because certain lines cut the shock of the reveal off at the knees; at one point the stranger is said to slip “through the turgid night like a great cat.” Still, it’s rewarding to watch the tale unfold like a kind of detective/mystery yarn that alludes to darker terrain, the stranger a stone-faced Holmes matching animal wits with a vermin Moriarty. The unconventional twists marks “Fangs of Fear” as a definite curiosity from the cabinet of pre-code horror, and for that we are certainly thankful.

And the "Stinking Zombie Award" goes to...

Peter: Pulah, jungle goddess, and her traveling companion, the leopard known as Saber, are on their way to the Commissioner's office when they happen upon a human sacrifice already underway.  Pulah tells Saber to fetch the Commish but, when events escalate, the wild jungle vixen must intercede. Unfortunately for Pulah, the sacrifice is being handled by intelligent apes and Pulah is conked on the head and taken captive. The gorillas take the girl to their leader, a masked woman named Flora, who has taken a vow to sacrifice all the "useless, ugly females" of the jungle. Meanwhile, Saber finally gets to the Commissioner's office and relays Pulah's message to the Panther-fluent cop. Back at the Flora's torture garden, Pulah has been tied to the stake and about to be set fire to but, as every jungle goddess is aware, apes are notoriously lousy with their slip knots and our heroine frees herself and unmasks Flora. The disfigured Queen confesses all just as the Commissioner pulls up to save the already saved day.

Stuffed to the gills with bad dialogue and silly events, "Death Dance" (from #3) is the latest in a line of "Jungle Princess" stories that found their way into the Ajax-Farrell horror comics (followed shortly after by Kolah, Queen of the Jungle in "Desperate Peril!" in #13). Why the writers bothered coming up with new names for these characters is beyond me; the plots usually followed a standard outline: pretty girl dressed in next to nothing (in this case, some kind of midriff fish net contraption), aided by her jungle cat, must fight some big baddy, all the while pining for the local cop. The scene where Saber convinces the Commissioner he's needed in the jungle is brilliant; the cat needs no dialogue to get across his message (a lesser writer would have scripted a monologue for the leopard). This one was so innocuous, it was reprinted (in Eerie's Weird V2N4, October 1967) with nary an added bloodbath.  I don't know about you but I could live another twenty years without reading a jungle princess story.

Jose: Life isn’t all gumdrops and pickled pig’s feet for ace fighter pilot Bob Davis. His efforts to blow the Commies’ railway system to smithereens becomes a losing battle with the enemy using forced labor to reassemble the tracks in record time. But the army has a new method planned to stymie the Chinese Reds: guided missiles remotely manned by pilots for the destruction of the difficult-to-repair tunnels that connect the railway system. Davis is a little leery of the notion, and with good reason. Once in the air, the American is tailed by enemy aircraft headed straight for his plane. Davis makes short work of the “gooks” and successfully delivers his winged package straight into the gullet of a Commie tunnel. He isn’t out of the fire yet: a low gas tank forces the pilot to make an impromptu landing at a U. S. base without an actual landing strip. But Davis makes it out without a scratch and smiling over his date with the colonel.

Though I haven’t read extensively into the war comics of the day, “Guided Death” (from #8) appears to be a fairly standard idea of what one could expect upon glimpsing the pages of Ajax-Farrell titles like Battle Report and The Fighting Man. What one would not immediately expect would be to find it in the pages of a rag named Strange Fantasy. We’ve voiced our dissension over these kinds of editorial decisions in the past—the seemingly random and haphazard inclusion of straight war, detective and jungle girl stories in the midst of the comic’s other horrific contents—and although our dubbing of them as “the worst” may be unfair and totally predicated on their obvious displacement in the magazine, one could also argue it unfair that the stories were put there in the first place. And while “Guided Death” isn’t mid-numbing, it certainly won’t be taking home any awards for complex storytelling or cultural sensitivity as it merrily goes about its tale of a handsome, grinnin’ white bread American boy blowing up heavily-caricatured Asians while hurling racial slurs as their bodies drop from the sky. I can’t help but wonder if us horror freaks look at low-pitched morale-boosters like this with the same cynical eye that the war buffs cast towards our beloved tales of cheaters and thieves meeting their shuffling zombie makers.


Go long, Satan!
"Look at this hand! Smell it! A fine white hand that never knew the feel of strong, yellow laundry soap... until tonight!
- "Death Claws"

"Good grief, dad! Did you hear that? From Sally's room!"
"They heard that back in New York. Probably a savage mouse! And I was just about to undress..."
- "Death Claws"

“Yipe! If Emmett has pulled a boner, we’ll be in headlines!”
- “Death Claws”

"An aviary! Good grief, Emmet - I thought that was where they kept apes!"
- "Death Claws"

“When Zero packed his luggage, it was on second thought that he took along his ghost-melting disintegrator, hardly a piece of vacation equipment—but without it his postcards home might have read, “Having a haunted time, be glad you’re not here!”
- “The Captain Who Wouldn’t Die”

"More than routine murder to this, all right! A three-pointed spear and a three-pointed fork! Most people would have used the spear, but our killer used the fork! And then steals the spear... or someone did."
- "Chant of the Dead"

"Get dressed and get down here, Jerry! I need you. Frances Talbott, the prominent society woman has been murdered! I've been working like a beaver for the past couple hours clue hunting... and my score is still zero!"
- "Chant of the Dead"

“I’ve heard a lot of loony reports, but this one is tops! Some man calls and says his friend just turned to stone!”
“Never a dull moment! Well, we’ll look into it!”
- “Fatal Horror”

“…And as always there was a clean getaway, no witnesses, no evidence but the cold bodies of the dead men who marked the passage of the Shadow Mob!”
- “Death is No Stranger”

“Mrs. Hunt?”
“Y-yes! Is-is there something wrong, officer?”
“I’m afraid there is, Mrs. Hunt! Your husband—he, well, I’ve got bad news! He’s dead!”
- “Visiting Corpse”

Suspended in a shadowland of lost space and decayed time, Trudy, the student has become Ozarb the Queen... but won't death return to again claim that which it rightfully owned?
- "Dead or Alive?"

"Oh-Oh! Now what? The place is vibrating with the bellows of a thousand wild voices!"
- "Death Dance"

"Here goes nothing! You can give your attentions to Pulah, uglies, and we'll use your own arena for the scene of our battle royal!
- "Death Dance"

"Take her along with you... she can see for herself how Flora operates to keep the Congo free of useless, ugly females!"
- "Death Dance"

"Aaaa... I die! No... no..."
- "Death Dance

"It's Saber, Pulah's pet! And he's trying to tell me something... looks like he wants me to follow him. I guess Pulah must be in danger!"
- "Death Dance"

“Over the wolf howl of the wind came another and more sinister sound—the shrill and horrible cry of death!”
- “Death on Ice”

“It seems incredible… insane… but there’s only one possible explanation, Anne! Brace yourself! Here it comes!”
- “Nightmare Merchant”

“If they’re trying to make a fool of B. S. Fitts, they’ll be very sorry. B. S. Fitts is not to be trifled with!”
- “Grave Rehearsal”

Uh oh!
“So long, buck tooth! See you in prison camp!”
- “Guided Death”

“Mr. Kane, sir, I am afraid he is after your head!”
“M-my head! But the ghost I saw…”
“Had a head! I know! As a ghost, he would, of course!”
- “Dream of Horror”

Night after night the attacks continued. The only audibility to the prying ears of the night was an occasional, incoherent babble from a shapeless monster.
- "Hair Yee-Eeee"

“I wonder what on Earth it was?”
“Let’s find out!”
“Wait! Poke at it from a distance first!”
- “Hair Yee-Eeee”

No, Bobby... nooooooo!
"That's right, my dear! Hold them! Don't be afraid! They can't hurt you!
"They feel so funny! Warm and - slimy!"
- "The Terror of Akbar"

A few minutes later, in the dark mummy room of the museum...
"I - Akbar - want my eyes! I know they are somewhere close!"
- "The Terror of Akbar"

“Huh—Yiiiiiii—Akbar falls! Ooowwwwww—Akbar dies!”
- “The Terror of Akbar”

"Well, I've had enough of science for one day! How about buying a girl a dinner, professor?"
"It's a date! Let's try that new little French place down in the old market district! I hear they've got a garlic sauce that's out of this world!"
- "Terror Town"

"Huh! S-something tearing that b-building apart! But what is it? Sort of a gooey, red mass, all blue and red! Hey, it looks like a brain!"
- "Terror Town"

"Wilkens! I'm sorry! I did it! It's all my fault! I sent you the wrong brain! I got mixed up and sent you the brain of an octopus that died, instead of the ape's brain as I'd intended!"
"Johnson! You what -- an octopus!"
- "Terror Town"

Before anyone can stop him Johnson drinks the poison and falls dead...
"He was just getting over a nervous breakdown, I think! Sort of a hysterical little type anyway! Well, at least the brain won't get him!"
- "Terror Town"

Paging Dr. Wertham!
“Five people that might want to kill me! And they all live right here in town!”
- “Doom Deferred

"Several more days pass, and then one day George forgets his keys! And Linda, after all, is a woman! The temptation, which has been gnawing at her, is too much...
- ""Terror in the Attic"

"You cheated me, remember! Not the other way around! It's just like you to try and twist it to suit you! So I'll just have my swim and say goodbye!"
- "The Murder Pool"

“If having two wives makes a man a bigamist—then Harry Green was a bigamist!”
- “The Corpse Came to Dinner”


Peter: Sometimes we (or maybe just I) lose sight of the fact that these little yarns were designed to entertain rather than tax your gray matter and "The Terror of Akbar" (from #10) is the perfect reminder of that. Here is the story of an ancient mummy so horrifying that he keeps our supporting cast at their wit's end... and yet, can't seem to keep his eyeballs in their proper place.

Jose: It seems my co-hort and I were riding the same wavelength this time around because my selection for the featured reprint is another story so deliriously confused with itself that it reaches a level of deranged art that only train-wreck connoisseurs can fully savor. “Dream of Horror” (from #9) starts out conventionally enough with a poor sap suffering nightmares of beheaded stiffs out for his skin but then proceeds to stuff magical wishes, the fires of Hades, teleportation, and headless ghosts that can smell their prey into this loaded turkey and then sews the whole bird up with a jittery hand. We’ve seen stories that have demonstrated blatant disregard for narrative structure and common logic before, but what separates “Dream of Horror” from the rest of the drooling lot is its utter lack of deluded pretension that any of this is going to make a lick of sense. It’s as if the writer had a V-8 moment and said “Well, it isn’t Tess of the d’Urbervilles, so I’m just gonna go ahead and lose my bleeding mind.” And—God bless ‘em—that’s exactly what they did.

The Comics
Strange Fantasy #1-14

#1 (August 1952)
Cover Uncredited

“The Ghoul and the Guest”
Art Uncredited

“Death Claws”
Art Uncredited

“The Captain Who Wouldn’t Die”
Art Uncredited

“Primitive Peril”
Art Uncredited

#2 (October 1952)
Cover Uncredited

“Death Holds an Auction”
Art Uncredited

“Fate Has a Thousand Faces”
Art Uncredited

“Chant of the Dead”
Art Uncredited

“The Frozen Bride”
Art Uncredited

#3 (No Cover Date)
Cover Uncredited

“Fatal Horror”
Art Uncredited

“The Dancing Ghost”
Art Uncredited

“Death Dance”
Art by Matt Baker

#4 (February 1953)
Cover Uncredited

“Debt of Fear”
Art Uncredited

“Death Is No Stranger”
Art Uncredited

“Solar Disaster” **MISSING**
Art Uncredited

“Demon in the Dungeon”
Art Uncredited

#5 (April 1953)
Cover Uncredited

“Witch’s Brand”
Art Uncredited

“Visiting Corpse”
Art Uncredited

“Cadaver’s Revenge”
Art Uncredited

“Dead or Alive?”
Art Uncredited

#6 (June 1953)
Cover Uncredited

“Skull Scavenger”
Art Uncredited

“Rest in Peril”
Art Uncredited

“Death on Ice”
Art Uncredited

“Love Trap”
Art Uncredited

#7 (August 1953)
Cover Uncredited

“Nightmare Merchant”
Art Uncredited

“Tideswept Terror” **MISSING**
Art Uncredited

“A Skeleton in the Closet”
Art Uncredited

“Grave Rehearsal”
Art Uncredited

#8 (October 1953)
Cover Uncredited

“Death Strikes Four”
Art Uncredited

“The Riddle of Manitou Rock”
Art Uncredited

“Guided Death”
Art Uncredited

“Cry from the Coffin”
Art Uncredited

#9 (December 1953)
Cover Uncredited

“Dream of Horror”
Art by Robert Webb

“Hair Yee-eeee”
Art by Steve Ditko and Sy Moskowitz

“Portrait of Doom”
Art Uncredited

“Mirror of Death”
Art by Sol Brodsky

#10 (February/March 1954)
Cover Uncredited

“The Terror of Akbar”
Art Uncredited

“Bloody Mary”
Art Uncredited

“Tee Off a Tomb”
Art Uncredited

“One Very Wide Coffin”
Art Uncredited

#11 (April/May 1954)
Cover Uncredited

“In a Lonely Place”
Art by Robert Webb

“Death Packs a Suitcase”
Art Uncredited

“Frozen in Stone” (Reprint from Voodoo #2)
Art Uncredited

“Doom Deferred”
Art Uncredited

#12 (June/July 1954)
Cover Uncredited

“The Undying Fiend”
Art Uncredited

“The Scales of Death”
Art Uncredited

“Fangs of Fear”
Art Uncredited

“Terror Town”
Art Uncredited

#13 (August/September 1954)
Cover Uncredited

“Terror in the Attic”
Art Uncredited

“Desperate Peril”
Art Uncredited

“The Corpse Came to Dinner”
Art Uncredited

“The Murder Pool”
Art Uncredited

#14 (October/November 1954)
Cover Uncredited

“Meet Me in the Tomb”
Art Uncredited

“Ghostly Guns”
Art Uncredited

“Demon’s Doom”
Art Uncredited

“Monster in the Building”
Art Uncredited

Next Up:
The Final Chapter of our Survey of
Fantastic Fears/Fantastic!

1 comment:

Grant said...

"Bloody Mary" really does seem to anticipate "The Bad Seed" in all kinds of ways. Evidently the original story and play, unlike the movie, have Rhoda surviving at the end. And of course there's that down-to-earth moment you mention about her fussing with her braids, which is like so many little moments in The Bad Seed.

It's nice to hear the name of the man who illustrated the Classics Illustrated Frankenstein. It's about the only Classics Illustrated item I ever had, but I got very attached to it.