Saturday, October 29, 2011

Robert Bloch on TV Part One - Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “The Cure”

by Jack Seabrook

Beloved horror writer Robert Bloch was the source for no less than 17 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and its successor, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.  The first of these to air was “The Cure,” based on Bloch’s story of the same name that had been published in the October 1957 issue of Playboy.

Nehemiah Persoff as Jeff
As the story begins, it is after midnight when Jeff awakens to see Marie standing next to his bed, naked.  She attacks him with a machete.  He grapples with her until Luiz, an Indian, grabs her and pins her to the wall, his own machete pressed to her throat.  Jeff tells him not to kill her.  Mike arrives and he and Jeff agree that Marie is sick in the head.  They are all waiting for money to come.  Luiz is loyal to Jeff and protective of him.  Mike and Jeff discuss Marie, and Jeff says she needs to go to Belém, the big city, to see a headshrinker.  Mike plans to go with Luiz to take Marie to Santarém, then on to Belém.

Mike and Marie plan to kill Luiz
Mike and Luiz leave with Marie while Jeff stays behind to let his ankle wound heal.  He recalls robbing an armored truck with Mike before hiding out in the Brazilian jungle until their associate, Gonzales, could launder the money in Cuba and send them their cut.  They took a freighter to Pòrto de Moz and met Luiz.  Jeff also met Marie, a TV singer, and brought her along with promises of cash and the good life.  Yet life in Brazil is unbearable.  Jeff waits for the others to return as his ankle heals and his fever breaks.

Luiz finally returns, alone, and tells Jeff that Mike had the money already.  It turns out that Mike was planning to kill Luiz and run off with Marie.  Mike failed in his goal, however, and Luiz killed him instead.  The money fell in the river, but Luiz took care of matters himself.  He took Marie to see his friends in the jungle and she saw a headshrinker after all—Luiz unwraps a bundle and out rolls Marie’s shrunken head, the size of an orange.

The three cities in the story.
"The Cure" first appeared
in the October 1957 Playboy.
“The Cure” is an atmospheric little story with a great twist ending.  It takes place somewhere deep in the Brazilian jungle, along a river.  The three cities mentioned—Belém, Santarém, and Pòrto de Moz—are all in the province of Para in the northern region of Brazil.  Both the Amazon and the Tapajos Rivers border Santarém and, judging from internal evidence in the story, Jeff’s camp was further inland than Santarém. 

“The Cure” was adapted for television as an episode during the fifth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and broadcast on CBS on Sunday, January 24, 1960.  The teleplay was by Michael Pertwee, brother of Jon (Dr. Who) Pertwee and the director was Herschel Daugherty.  Michael Pertwee (1916-1991) had an undistinguished career, mostly in British television, and this was his only Hitchcock episode.  Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993), on the other hand, had a long and wonderful career from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, directing 24 half-hour and 3 hour episodes of the Hitchcock series among many other well-remembered shows.  His work was notable for its atmosphere—he worked best in black and white.

The television version of “The Cure” sticks closely to the short story, with some exceptions.  In the first scene, when Marie attacks Jeff, she wears a flimsy nightgown but is not naked.  She attacks Jeff with a knife rather than a machete and injures his arm, not his ankle.  On television in 1960, a woman could not appear naked, and perhaps the producers thought a machete too horrifying.  As played by Cara Williams, Marie never really seems mentally ill—just annoyed and cruel.  At one point, she laughs at Jeff, who is played by Nehemiah Persoff as a very primitive man, naïve and stupid.

Jhean Butler as Chita
A fifth character is added to the four-character story in the person of Chita, an Indian who essentially babysits Marie during the night.  The relationship between Mike and Jeff is more fleshed out in the TV show, with Mike suggesting that Marie doesn’t love Jeff and that he should have allowed Luiz to kill her.  The reason that they are all in Brazil is also changed.  In the story, they were crooks hiding out with a TV singer. In the show, they are looking for oil and Jeff suggests that Marie was something like a prostitute when he met her.  Also, Mike and Marie embrace at one point, showing that they have a secret relationship even before they head off to the city to find a headshrinker.  On TV, we get to see Mike, Marie and Luiz take off on the river in a small motorboat, stop on the river bank for the night, and fight.  Luiz kills Mike rather brutally onscreen, though the actual slaughter is not shown.  The twist ending is the same, and it is beautifully executed.  Luiz tells Jeff that he took Marie to the “best headshrinkers in the world,” and he pulls her shrunken head out of his bag.  We are treated to a final close up of the impressive shrunken head prop, complete with hair that looks like Marie’s.

Mark Richman as Mike
Nehemiah Persoff (Jeff) was born in 1919 and is still living today. He started acting in movies in the late 1940s and usually played ethnic roles, in such genre series as The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and The Untouchables.  He has a website to sell his paintings and it includes what looks like a recent photograph of the 92 year old actor.  Mark Richmond, as Jeff, was born in 1927 and is also still alive.  He as appeared on countless television shows and last turned up in 1999.  He starred in the series Cain’s Hundred (1961-1962), was on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and had starring roles on Dynasty and Santa Barbara.  He also has a website .  There is an interesting interview with him in which he discusses some of his work in genre TV shows at

Cara Williams, as Marie, was born Bernice Kamiat in 1925 and is also still alive. She started in movies in 1941 as Bernice Kay, and acted until 1978, starring in two series:  Peter and Gladys (1960-1962) and The Cara Williams Show (1964-1965).  TV producers tried to market her as a Lucille Ball type due to her red hair, but she never caught on.

Leonard Strong as Luiz
Leonard Strong (1908-1980), as Luiz, is familiar to Twilight Zone fans as the title character from the episode, “The Hitchhiker.”  He appeared on three episodes of the Hitchcock series, and a woman claiming to be his daughter has posted that reports of his Eurasian heritage are incorrect—he was of British heritage and got roles as Eurasians because he was short, had an olive complexion, and Japanese actors were interred in camps during World War Two when he first started acting in films, leaving a void to be filled by white actors who looked the part!

Last of all, Jhean Burton (1928-1992) played Chita, the female Indian.  Her career is notable for a role in Roger Corman’s cheapo camp classic, A Bucket of Blood (1959).

“The Cure” as been collected in Blood Runs Cold (1961), Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of (1979) and Bitter Ends:  The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch, Volume Two (1990).  The television program of “The Cure” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents has not yet been issued on DVD by Universal, but it has been scheduled for release on January 3, 2012.

Bloch, Robert. "The Cure." Bitter Ends: The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch. Vol. Two. New York: First Carol Group, 1990. 91-96. Print.
"The Cure." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 24 Jan. 1960. Television.
Galactic Central. Web. 27 Oct. 2011.
Google Maps. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
Wikipedia. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Richard Matheson: Duke Magazine's Author of the Issue, December 1967

by John Scoleri

In a spin-off from my ongoing annotated index of Richard Matheson's original short fiction appearances, this installment reprints a late 60s Men's Magazine feature on the author. Duke was published by M. F. Enterprises, who anyone who collects oddball magazines from the late 60s through the 80s will recognize as Myron Fass. While Myron's name is nowhere to be found amongst the editorial team on Duke, brother Irving is the Executive Art Director. It's interesting to note that the other authors profiled in Duke (that I've been able to confirm) include Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, and Ed McBain/Evan Hunter. Certainly a more diverse group than we're used to seeing Matheson associated with.

Volume 1 No. 5
December 1967

Author of the Issue: Richard Matheson

For those who believe that science-fiction deals only with complicated machines and far-out gadgets, with robots and rocketships, the bizarre and terrifying world created by Richard Matheson in his novels and short stories, will come as a revelation. He has the ability to take a simple situation, twist is slightly, and then develop it to its logical conclusion.

Consider, for instance, the idea of a normal man who, because he has been exposed to a peculiar combination of radiation and chemicals, slowly, gradually begins to grow smaller. Too slight an idea for a science-fiction novel? Not the way Matheson handles it. Like all really talented writers of fantasy and science-fiction, Matheson emphasizes the human element, the impact of the frightening, the unknown, upon man's mind. ow does a man feel, what does he think about, how does he relate to those around him when little by little he diminishes in size, and no doctor, no scientist, is able to reverse the process?

The Shrinking Man, which was later made into a movie, can be considered on two levels, and this is typical of all good science-fiction. First, as an adventure-suspense story, the novel keeps the reader turning pages as the hero grows smaller and smaller. There is a horrifying scene in which he is living in a doll house, the only comfortable place his wife can find for him, and he is attached by the family cat. He must pit his human brain and his will to survive against the predatory animal instincts of his former pet.

Again, when he has grown smaller still and has taken refuge in the basement of his home, he is attacked by a spider, and once more it is a duel between a man and the blind force of nature. He defeats the spider and then awaits his death, believing that when he grows small enough he will cease to exist, but he discovers that there are dimensions besides our own in the universe, that the spirit of man is indestructible.

Illustration by Bruce Hall

In his short story, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," Matheson again takes a familiar, if fantastic idea and develops it into a study in terror and suspense. Everyone has read about gremlins, the little men who were supposed to have plagued the Allied pilots when they went aloft in World War II. A humorous idea? Not the way Matheson develops it in this short story. Wilson, the hero of the story has just taken off in a commercial airliner, when he glances out the window to see a creature—presumably a gremlin—walking along the wing. He knows he is not insane, but the problem is that no one else aboard, none of the other passengers, the pilot or the stewardess is able to see the nightmare figure who is trying to wreck the plane. Once again, it is a situation of man's intelligence and courage against the forces of the unknown.

Although all good science-fiction must be entertaining, the really skilled writers in this genre do far more than entertain their readers. Because of the absence of limitations in this type of fiction, the ability to move unhampered through time and space, to write of the future as if it were already here, and of possible civilizations on other planets, the science-fiction writer has a unique opportunity to hold a mirror up to our own culture. He can put a spotlight on certain aspects of our civilization, and can show the dangers we may face in the future, if certain trends in the present are permitted to continue.

One problem that has always concerned the science-fiction writer, from the time of H. G. Wells to the present, is the danger that if things continue as they have been going, the machines may take over civilization. Men may lose all initiative, all their inherent will to survive, and become slaves to the very machines they created. In his story, "When the Waker Sleeps," Matheson has presented such a society, with one great difference. The machines that used to do all the work have ceased to function, but at the same time, the human race has lost its drive, its desire to keep the civilization going.

The doctors and scientists have therefore had to create a dream world for these people, to make them believe, through the use of drugs and suggestion that they were engaged in glamorous adventures, when they were really performing the mundane chores that were necessary to keep the race from extinction. The story is told from the point of view of one of the doctors, who wonders why he should work to keep the human race going at all.

"Why visit them every month, fill their veins with hypnotic drugs and sit back and watch them, one by one, go bursting into their dream worlds to escape boredom? Must he endlessly send his suggestions into their loosened brainwaves, fly them to planets and moons, crowd all forms of love and grand adventure into their mock-heroic dreams?"

Is this a far-fetched idea, a too-grim picture of man's future? When we consider that a great number of Americans today spend most of their leisure time, which they have gained as a result of the perfection of complex machines, in watching TV, going to movies and viewing spectator sports, we must admit that Matheson's fears about our future are not so far-out after all.

With few exceptions, most science-fiction writers are opposed to prejudice in any form whatsoever; it is logical that men who write of Martians and Venusians tend to think of the human race as being united in its goals and desires, not split into factions by petty differences. The theme of prejudice is handled in many ways, depending on the author.

In "Full Circle," Matheson makes the Martians the victims of prejudice on the part of the people of Earth. Since few Earthmen have ever spoken to a Martian as an equal, their view of the Martian race is distorted and contemptuous. Then a young reporter is sent out on a routine assignment, to review a puppet show of sorts, in which the Martians are used as puppets to entertain the children of Earth. After the performance the reporter goes backstage and finds himself drawn into a serious coversation with one of the Martian actors.

"Larg (the Martian) seemed a brother then. Not an Earth-brother or Mars-brother. I mean a brother—a person possessing that nonracial, universal trait which is separate from feature or environment. That sense of being which may exist in the savage and not in the priest.

"Or in the Martian and not in the Earthman. A dignity, a self-respect, a soul."

Of course it is an allegory, but so skillfully and imaginatively handled that there is no sense of objectionable "preaching" on the part of the author. This is the acid test of all good science-fiction, and Matheson passes it with flying colors. He combines a deep concern for the future of the human race with the ability to tell an exciting and suspenseful story.

P.S. Shortly after I sat down to write this up, I found a reprint of the article in the March 1970 issue of Jaguar (which I assume is another M. F. Enterprises publication), with a different illustration designed to fit into the already formatted text-wrap!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Collection of Rare Fredric Brown Items!

by Jack Seabrook

Fredric Brown fans, rejoice!  Phil Stephensen-Payne, master of the invaluable Galactic Central website, has published The Proofreaders' Page and other Uncollected Items by Fredric Brown!

This brand new book, available on line for only $20, collects all of Brown's "Proofreaders' Page" columns from The American Printer, written and published on an almost monthly basis from 1937 to 1946.  Living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and two sons during the Great Depression, Brown worked as a proofreader, first for the Fowle Printing Co. and then for Cuneo Printing Co. Beginning in 1937, he also proofread for the Milwaukee Journal, a job he would continue on and off until 1945.

Brown's expertise as a proofreader led to a job as columnist for the trade magazine The American Printer, and his columns, written in a question and answer format, provide advice to readers about proofreading and editing, often in a humorous fashion.  Brown knew his stuff, both grammatically and from the standpoint of one who had spent plenty of time in a press room.  The columns are worth reading both for the advice, which still holds true today, and for the excellent writing.

Only a very small sample of these columns has ever been reprinted before, in Dennis McMillan's limited edition collection, The Gibbering Night (1991). While the Proofreaders' Page columns take up nearly 300 pages of this new volume, including a helpful index to topics and column titles, there is a lot more included.  The Proofreaders' Page also features about 70 pages of Brown's Colonel Cluck columns, reprinted from trade magazines that Brown wrote for in the late 1930s. These columns are pure humor, with made-up questions that set up funny, often punning replies.  It's easy to see Brown beginning to grow as a writer in this early work, and the funny side of his fiction would last to the end of his career.

A few of the Colonel Cluck columns were reprinted in the McMillan collection, The Pickled Punks (1991), but Stephensen-Payne has done Brown completists a favor by collecting and reprinting all of the columns that have survived.

One might think that nearly 400 pages of columns from The American Printer and Colonel Cluck would be enough for a single volume, but that's not even close to all that readers will find here!  Also included is the first reprint of "Fatal Facsimile," a lost short story featuring Henry Smith, Brown's intrepid insurance salesman who had appeared in six previous stories in the 1940s.  Bibliographers to date (including me) had missed this story due to its title's similarity to another story, "Fatal Error").  A discussion of this lost story can be found here; read the story for yourself in the new volume!

Stephensen-Payne's dedicated research has uncovered items by Fredric Brown that no one has ever seen before, including three stories from Feedstuffs featuring the character of Ernie. A number of other Ernie stories were collected in The Water-Walker (1990), but the ones reprinted in this new volume had been lost for over 70 years.

Finally, Stephensen-Payne uncovered two stories that Fredric Brown wrote in high school in the 1920s, and they're not bad!  There is also poetry reprinted from children's magazines and Brown's high school magazine, children's games (I dare you to solve them!), and various introductions and short pieces Fredric Brown wrote for anthology volumes.

To complete this essential volume, Stephensen-Payne has provided an essay on items that still remain missing, and there is even an article by yours truly that discusses Brown's novels and their magazine versions, comparing them and telling the reader where they can be found and what's worth seeking out.

The book is almost 450 pages long and can be ordered for the bargain price of $20 (paperback) or $32 (hardcover) directly from Lulu.  It's a must-have for fans of Fredric Brown.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

E-Man Part Ten--The Witch of Hog Wallow

by Jack Seabrook

The tenth and final issue of E-Man features another painted cover by Joe Staton, a sixteen-page E-Man Story, and a seven-page Rog-2000 story.

In "The Witch of Hog Wallow," we learn for the first time that E-Man spent some time on our planet before he first met Nova Kane.  Nova comes home and finds a note tacked to his mailbox from a woman named Maisy-June, promising to visit at noon.  Jealous, Nova demands an explanation and E-Man tells her how he met Maisy-June.

When he arrived on Earth, he took the form of a fawn, copying the shape of one of the first creatures he saw.  He lived among forest animals until seeing a beautiful blond country girl walk by.  He transformed himself into a handsome prince from a fairy tale book she carried, and his demonstration of his own limitless powers led her to call him her genie.

The local hicks saw her in the woods "conjurin' up all sorts of things," and decided she must be a witch.  E-Man protected her by transforming into a super hero like the ones he'd seen in her comic books.  When the locals captured Maisy-June and tied her to a stake for burning, E-Man scared them away by transforming into the Devil.  Maisy-June was not sane, though, and E-Man had to use his powers to convince her that the local asylum was actually his castle, where she would live happily ever after.

Today, she has been cured and is on her way to visit an old friend.  Nova hates her on sight because of her beauty, but quickly warms to her once she meets Maisy-June's husband.  The story ends on a happy and humorous note.

The final E-Man story of the 1970s series is a good one, demonstrating that the title had really run its course by issue #8 and had nowhere else to go once Nova had died and been reborn as an energy being.  The story in issue #10 is a flashback, which avoids having to figure out how to handle Nova's new powers and any corresponding change in her relationship with E-Man.  Cuti and Staton comment wryly on the super-hero genre, as E-Man initially transforms himself into a costumed hero with a cape until he trips over the cape and dispenses with it.

The rural setting is also an opportunity for E-Man's creators to quote from Al Capp's L'il Abner comics; Maisy-June is a takeoff on Daisy Mae, and a small sign in one panel reads "Capp's Little Acre," a nod to Capp and also to the popular 1933 novel, God's Little Acre, by Erskine Caldwell.  In one panel, a sign tacked to a tree features a caricature of Al Capp and the slogan, "Capp for Dawg Catcher."  In another, a comic book on the ground features Capp's satirical detective, Fearless Fosdick.  Finally, the last panel reveals Maisy-June's husband to be none other than L'il Abner himself, here renamed Dabney Slocum.

The backup story in this issue again features the wisecracking, cab-driving robot, Rog-2000.  A living garbage heap named The Sog threatens New York City as it consumes garbage and citizens at random.  The city is evacuated and Rog is deputized to help the Army; The Sog is finally defeated by its own desires, when it dies from overeating--as Rog comments, "there was too much garbage in New York even for The Sog---!"

"Rog 2000 vs The Sog" is a short, entertaining story that spoofs the creatures like Man-Thing and Swamp Thing that were popular in the mid-1970s after the Comics Code had relaxed its rules and monsters returned after having been absent since the early 1950s purge.

Unfortunately, the letters page of E-Man #10 includes a note to the readers from the editor stating that this is the last issue of E-Man.  Poor sales are given as the reason for the cancellation, though I suspect this had more to do with Charlton's spotty distribution and the general glut of comics on the market.  E-Man's adventures were promised to continue in Charlton Bullseye, though only one short tale was subsequently printed in that fanzine.

E-Man remains one of my favorite comics of the 1970s.  Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton created memorable characters, from the humorous and heroic E-Man to the sexy and smart Nova Kane.  The supporting cast was good, as well, including seedy private eye Michael Mauser, and villains The Brain and Samuel Boar.  While the backup stories were forgettable during the first several issues of the series' run, once Cuti and John Byrne introduced Rog-2000, those short tales were also worth reading.

Cuti would leave Charlton soon after E-Man ended in 1975.  Joe Staton moved on the DC, where he became a popular artist on several titles.  John Byrne went on to fame with Marvel drawing X-Men and other hero books.  They all served their time at Charlton, the low-paying publisher in Derby, Connecticut, where Steve Ditko toiled on and off for decades, a company that never quite broke through to the top tier of comics but which, nevertheless, was responsible for many memorable books.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Shock Mystery Tales! The Digest

by Peter Enfantino

Naked women and big ugly men.
Torture chambers.
Whips and chains.

I know what you're thinking: Hugh Hefner's house, right? Wrong. These were just a few of the wonderful elements that made up the sleazy package published in 1961 and 1962 as Shock Mystery Tales (SMT).

Important note: Unlike my previous entries, the individual stories of SHOCK MYSTERY TALES are not awarded any star rating, simply because none deserve a star rating. If the story rises above the bilge, I'll note it (in fact, I'll scream it).

Volume 2/#1 December 1961

Brides for the Devil's Cauldron by Don Unatin (7800 words)
Three young beauties accidentally run over a mountain girl and the girl's father vows the three will burn in hell. Shortly thereafter, the girls disappear. When next we meet up with them, they're hanging naked over a burning pit. Lots of naked blistering flesh and whip burns.

I Am the Monster by Art Crockett (9000 words)
Barry dreams he becomes a beastly character named Avram at night and ravages his fiance while she sleeps. This escalates to murder and Barry finds it very hard to enjoy his sleep. This story and the preceding story perfectly illustrate the problem that SHOCK MYSTERY TALES' editor (whoever the hell he might have been) had in discerning a novelette (as BRIDES was labelled) from a short story (which was what I AM THE MONSTER was designated in spite of the fact that I AM is actually over 1000 words longer than BRIDES).

Curse of the Serpent Goddess by Bill Ryder (8100 words)
Newspaper reporter falls under the spell of a nightclub performer, Conchita, the titular serpent goddess. Seems Conchita wants Greg to join her merry band of zombie slaves, but true love wills out and Greg fights off Conchita's hypnotic powers before burying a dagger into the naked quivering flesh of his fiance. Throughout the story we're led to believe that Conchita may just be of serpent background, but the finale's laughable explanation (one that would have made Velma of SCOOBY DOO proud) points to Conchita as just another love-lust hussy. Everything about this story cries out "Low-budget Universal horror of the 1950s," such as :

"I looked up again. I staggered backwards in my chair. The clock's face had been replaced by the vision of Conchita. Her blood red lips curled back in a mirthless smirk of victory."

Vengeance of the Undead by Anthony Stuart (4700 words)
Salim's got a torture chamber (who doesn't?) and he intends to put it to good use when he captures the last remaining member of the family that put to death his great-great grandparents. The naked blistering flesh adds a nice unique approach.

Hell's Photographer by Jim Burnett (5600 words)
Curt Simpson is the most revered photographer in the United States. He's also a bondage freak who loves to torture his favorite subjects until they're naked, bleeding and dead. Enter Merilee, a beautiful model with no brains and big plans. One of the few SMT stories that doesn't include blistering nakedness (I kinda missed it actually).

The Damned of Terror Island by Jim Arthur (7500 words)
Ace newspaper photog Chet Morgan is convinced that eccentric millionaire Jason Trundle is up to something fishy on his private island. Turns out Trundle is kidnapping hookers and burning them alive as sacrifices to his hooded followers.

Her Killer's Waiting by Seymour Shubin (1400 words)
When a woman shows up at his precinct voicing the concern that her husband plans to kill her, Detective Stone has no choice but to agree to talk to the man, little knowing the woman has actually set a trap to rid herself of her abusive husband.

Volume 2/ #2 March 1962

Soft Hands of Madness by Bill Ryder (8000 words)
Margaret Dillard, the new nurse at dr. Gruber's mental institution, begins to suspect something's up when the patients keep screaming gibberish about hands and the basement. Gruber's assistant Greta Himmelsdorf is a Nazi war criminal conducting experiments on Gruber's patients. A rare tale told in first-person from a female perspective. Liberal doses of the typical s&m, torture chambers, and mad scientists, with a twist of subtle lesbianism thrown in for good measure.

Satan's Mistress by Craighton Lamont (7400 words)
Theo and Margie O'Malley manage to make a wrong turn somewhere in Ireland and end up in the small town of Bynagh. Ignoring speed limit signs, Theo is pulled over by the local constable and the couple is hauled off to jail...or what they think is a jail. The police actually take Theo and Margie to a castle, where hooded Nazis prepare a SMT version of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. A rare good story, despite the necessary breast implants and lacy panties. The story does have its' sense of humor:

"His eyes were hooded and cruel and his whole expression was theatrically sardonic as though he'd just been advised by prepaid cable that the late Adolf Hitler had been his uncle."

The Devil's Carress by William H. Duhart (3400 words)
Mafia man George Sebold is bound and determined to get Gloria Hanson, MD in the sack. Gloria sidesteps him, but when Sebold attempts rape, the woman cracks.

Lust of the Jungle Goddess by Bob Shields (8200 words)
Rider Morrison and his Psychical Research team are combing the jungles of North America in search of voodoo. What they find is voodoo queen Ormulu and her vicious Hawk Men. What they're up to, I can't tell you, other than to reiterate that SMT has a lot of naked glistening flesh amidst its crumbling pages.

Brides of Pain by Jim Burnett (8400 words)
Gary and Ruth spend their honeymoon in hell with the sadistic Senor and Senora Mureda, cabin owners who add a little something to a couple's weekend: torture. Incredibly gory tale which exists only to titillate those who live on stuff like Jeffrey Dahmer trading cards.

Black Chapel by Larry Dickson (800 words)
Docu-drama about witch sightings in Salem in the 17th Century.

Horror Island by Anthony Stuart (8700 words)
A botanist and his crew happen to crack their boat up on the reef of an island belonging to the famous Japanese war criminal (proof that SMT was indeed politically correct) Dr. Kimpei Sueyoshi, who's concocted a killer fungus to destroy the world (think Fool Manchu). "Horror Island" is a lot of fun, with heaping ingredients of what makes shudder pulps popular even today: the crazed scientist (who "resembles a human Praying Mantis") with steel pincers in lieu of hands, a blood-sucking squid, and giant centipedes. Stuart's descriptions of the florid horrors the men discover on the island tend to be a bit descriptive:

"Huge, man-thick trunks soared fifty feet in the air, trunks warted and noduled with masses of parasitical fungi. Great fluted fangs of smooth-surfaced umber spread on either side of us. Vast fungoid eruptions and excrescences loomed beside us like monstrous boils on the leperous-colored earth. Things spread out in venomous splotched yellow greens like enormous fungivorous octopi, waiting with thousands of warted suckers to trap the unwary."

Volume 2/ #3 May 1962

Terror Castle! by Craighton Lamont (7300 words)
Craig Saxon marries into millions when he courts ex-prostitute Bunny Moscowitz Murray. While vacationing abroad, the couple is kidnapped and tortured by Bunny's angry uncle, angered about being left out of the will.

Curse of the Undead! by James Barnett (9400 words)
Way back in 1925, the otherwise gentle townfolk of Middlebury lynched the murdering rapist known only as "Young Gower." Beside his twisting, mutilated corpse, his old crony witch mother swears vengeance on the virgin daughters of her son's executioners. Nearly 40 years later, the town's new school teacher sees the old lady's curse unfolding before her supple glistening eyes.

Black Chapel! by Larry Dickson (1600 words)
In the second installment of this psuedo-history of sadism through the ages, we're enlightened to the benefits of burying one's victims alive, as well as the fine arts of boiling, pressing, and crucifixion.

Death's Cold Arms! by Bill Ryder (7300 words)
It's apparent that Ilene Masters is the latest victim of the Masters curse, which has killed off all of the Masters, save one, Lynn, who has all but resigned herself to death. Of course, we readers know by page 3 (at least those of us who have read any of the SMT stories) that two facts are apparent: that Lynn will feel the chill air on her naked flesh and that it's really Uncle Malcolm who's killing off the Masters so that he may (all together now) claim the Masters inheritance.

Bride of the Serpent Demon! by Stuart Wood (7300 words)
The nameless narrator has dame problems. First he picks up Angelina, a "sultry, unusually developed teen-aged girl" with a fondness for snakes. When he gets over her (the next day), he falls madly in love with Nanette, who (coincidentally?) turns out to be Angelina's roommate. When the stud confronts Angelina with the news that he and Nanette will soon be married, the vixen drops a bombshell right on his manhood:

"Do you mean to say she hasn't told you," she sneered into my face.
"Told me what?"
"Nanette's a lesbian. We - "
"O, my god!"

But it doesn't matter to this Romeo because "when she was in my arms, she behaved normally." Turns out though that Angelina is not only an Anne Heche admirer, but a devil snake worshipper to boot and intends to make Nanette her latest sacrifice. Pretty risque mix of lesbianism, three-way sex, and snake charming. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a sequel to "Curse of the Serpent Goddess."

Lovely Maiden From Hell! by Anthony Stuart (7000 words)
What is the secret of Karamaneh Siva, the famous actress known for her steamy role in SATAN'S MISTRESS? She seems to be older than her years, and our hero finds out that's because Siva drains and drinks the blood of kidnapped girls to retain her beauty and youth.

Lust of the Vampire Queen! by Alan Lance (4100 words)
Newlyweds Dan and Darla stop off at the Museum of Hollywood Horrors owned and operated by the famous Monica Le Vine, star of 27 vampire movies. Evidentally the vampire stuff finally got to Monica, because now she just sits in her museum and waits for young beauties to come along so she can slaughter them and drink their blood, ensuring the continuation of her good looks.

Volume 2/ #4 July 1962

Soft Brides for the Damned! by James Barnett (8900 words)
Covering society for The Clarion, ace newspaperperson Judy Townshend witnesses first hand the cruelty inflicted upon Dr. Snipe (of the Wilmer Home for Crippled Men) by the women of the Midview Country Club. The last laughs belong to Dr. Snipe, however, when he commands his merry men to kidnap and torture all the women who mocked him. This includes our ace reporter, who deep down had felt sympathy for the doc, but will get naked and tortured regardless. The SMT Theatre version of Tod Browning's FREAKS, "Soft Brides" is filled with wonderfully pulpish sentences:

"This couldn't happen. This was the 20th Century. A group of freaks couldn't suddenly descend on an apartment development, hogtie a woman, and carry her off into the night."

"I knew this phase of my abduction was like nothing which was to come."

"Her magnificent breasts strained upwards towards the ceiling"

Black Chapel! by Richard Shaw (2400 words)
The third and final installment takes a look at poltergeists. No raw naked flesh in sight.

Vengeance of the Devil's Mistress! by Art Crockett (6400 words)
Rod Porter, a "television scenic developer," and his main squeeze, are scouting backgrounds for an upcoming TV show on witchcraft when they stumble onto a mysterious old woman on a dark country road.

Handmaidens of the Monster! by Alan Lance (4500 words)
Evil Professor Demal has been creating frog-girls and rat-men for Hollywood monster movies. Special effects man is on to him though, and soon brings the walls crashing down on the mad scientist's film career. So where are the handmaidens?

Evil Stalks the Night! by F. X. Fallon (3000 words)
Psychopath Billy wanders from town to town, murdering young girls and dumping their bodies in the forest. His travels lead him to the farm house of kindly Ma and Pa Pembley, a wonderful old couple, still grieving the loss of their son, also named Billy. Before Billy can realize what's going on, he's locked in the cellar, doomed to be the Pembleys' little boy forever. Not bad, but definitely out of place in SMT since there are no threatened couples or torture devices. I suspect that this was a story originally slated for SMT's sister publication, WEB DETECTIVE STORIES until the DETECTIVE was dropped in favor of a TERROR.

Night of the Walking Dead! by Jim Arthur (4600 words)
Cataleptic George Peterson is nearly buried alive by his wife and her lover. When George's servant grows suspicious and digs George up in the proverbial nick of time, George (naturally) emerges with a large chip on his shoulder (understandably). He buries the two lovers alive but (ironically) is struck with a bout of catalepsy just as he's unloading the last shovelful of dirt. Lying seemingly dead, George is eaten (gruesomely) by vultures. Like the preceding story, a change of pace for SMT, "Night" most resembles an oft-told EC horror comics story.

In the Name of Terror by Larry Dickson (2200 words)
The Crypt Speaks! by Harvey Berg (1300 words)
Two companion pieces to "The Black Chapel," "In the Name of Terror" tells the story of voodoo in Haiti, while "The Crypt Speaks" of ghostly visits.

Satan's Ballet! by Bill Ryder (9800 words)
The maestro himself, Antoine Duval, has conceived of the ultimate dance show, The Mephisto Ballet, and beautiful Mercedes St. Clair is trapped amidst the orgy when all hell breaks loose. Now this is more like the SMT we've come to expect - "burning brimstone on naked flesh" and "the sensuous undulation of unfettered hips."

Some collectors have put forth the theory that Shock Mystery Tales grew from a digest called simply Shock!, published by Winston. Only three issues saw print (May, July, and September 1960). I have a hard time connecting the two digests as the contents are polar opposites. Whereas Shock Mystery published lurid fantasies, Shock! was filled with classy material by writers such as Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and Theodore Sturgeon. Shock Mystery Tales also saw two bedsheet-sized issues, October 1962 and February 1963. These two zines are highly collectible and very seldom seen for sale. Heritage auctioned off the pair last summer and fetched $143 and $155 respectively. I've never had them so can't critique the contents (listed below) but they sound as though they're filled with all the delights of their little brothers. If anyone out there in Readerland has these, please write in and fill in the blanks for us.

October 1962

Art Crockett - Temptress From the Black Pit
Bill Anthony - The Devil Wants Blood
Jim Arthur - Lust of the Undead
Richard Shaw - In the Name of Terror
James Rosenquest - Dreadnight
Bruce Chandler - Soft Captive of Terror Mountain
Renee Kessler - Voice from the Grave
Bill Ryder - Horror’s Handmaidens
R. Martin - Black Chapel
Larry Dickson - The Crypt Speaks
Andrew Blake - A Lovely Bride for Satan

February 1963
Jim Arthur- Soft Virgins of Horror Island
Mark Brand- Hell's Pit
Bill Ryder- Portrait of the She-Devil of Lust
Brad Singleton- Maidens for the Monster's Revenge
Richard Shaw- The Crypt Speaks
James Barnett- The Dolls of Death
Stuart Wood- Satan Claims a Bride
Larry Dickson- From Beyond the Grave
Andrew Blake- Terror Gallery
Steve Lawton- The Lovely Be Damned

Saturday, October 1, 2011

E-Man Part Nine--The Genius Plant

by Jack Seabrook

After attending a softball game where E-Man played first base (the actual bag, not the position), Nova visits Professor Wright in order to conduct an interview for the Xanadu Gazette.  Wright has an enormous cranium and an elongated forehead, and he tells Nova that he needs a supply of genius plants to stay brilliant.  Before Nova's eyes his head shrinks and his intelligence shrinks along with it.

A flying robot bursts through a window and kills the professor; Nova dispatches the robot and transforms into her superhero garb.  After meeting up with E-Man, they visit Michael Mauser, who is working on a case he calls Highbrow.  Professor Wright was only one of several prominent men whose large foreheads coincide with their genius.  General Dove tells them that all of the men belong to an organization that plans to take over the world from its base on an island.  E-Man and Nova agree to investigate.

Energy being or not, Nova
always looks great!

Part two finds E-Man and Nova reaching the island in the form of dolphins and then birds.  Captured and brought to see Genius One, they learn that he had been a scientist who discovered a new species of plant with the late Professor Wright.  The two men ate the plants and became geniuses, with elongated foreheads and massive brains.  Genius One plans to conquer the Earth and make it a paradise.

 E-Man and Nova enter the island's computer and cause it to destroy the genius plants; the army follows and attacks the island.  Deprived of brain food, Genius One's head shrinks back to sub-normal size, making him a moron and ending the threat.

After the excitement of E-Man #8, which featured Nova's death and rebirth as an energy being and which was the first full-length E-Man story, "The Genius Plant" is a disappointment.  The first page is a rehash of the duo's origin stories.  The rest of the story doesn't make much sense.  Now that Nova is no longer human, it seems like she should not need to go to college anymore, yet she is suddenly interviewing a scientist for the school newspaper.  The menace of the genius plants is never very clearly explained, and E-Man and Nova have little trouble defeating them.  The story is, unfortunately, a series of cliches strung together.

Teddy is now a regular character
in E-Man, having accompanied
E-Man and Nova back home from
the North Pole in issue #8.
 Although I was disappointed that the E-Man story was not full-length, at least the second story features Rog-2000, the wisecracking robot.  This is his third appearance and, as always, Nicola Cuti writes and John Byrne draws.  In "The Wish," Rog breaks up a mugging and is rewarded by the victim, who turns out to be a witch.  Without his knowledge, she turns him into a human being!  Rog as a human is funny, looking like a flesh and blood version of his robot self, and he also happens to resemble someone named "Duck" Griffin.  There is a contract out on Duck, so the unsuspecting Rog becomes the target of murderous gangsters.  Only a chance encounter with the old witch on the subway allows him to turn back into a robot, just in time to bash the bad guys.

"The Wish" is another entertaining Rog-2000 story, highlighted by the very 1970s hip human version of the robot protagonist.  As usual, John Byrne's art is cartoonish and fun, making a nice complement to Joe Staton's similarly lighthearted approach in the E-Man tales.

Rog as a human, with shaggy mop
and bell bottoms.

This ad appeared in E-Man #9 for
Charlton Bullseye, a very good fanzine!