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 The clock's face had been replaced by the vision of Conchita.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


Jack Seabrook said...

I can't imagine how you manage to read these stories. The world owes you quite a debt for plowing through them and remaining relatively sane.

Peter Enfantino said...

Professor Jack!

Accent on the "relatively", as you know by now! I'd love to get my hands on those two bedsheets to read but won't pay the crazy prices for them.

Todd Mason said...

Yeah...I think I'll be collecting that Other SHOCK first...pity it didn't do better...

Todd Mason said...

Though I'll give This SHOCK this much...they managed less inept covers, barely, than WEB TERROR...but both got the point(s) across...

Walker Martin said...

I used to have all of these including the two bedsheets and then in a moment of sanity, I took them to Pulpcon and sold them. The stories are completely unreadable and I remember the bedsheets being just as bad as the digests. The cover art is the only good thing about the magazines. That is if you like seeing girls whipped...

Peter Enfantino said...

Finally, after all these months, we've discovered something that Walker Martin doesn't have in his museum. Granted, he used to have them but they're not there any more!

John Scoleri said...

Don't take the bait, Walker! He's trying to get you to go out and re-buy them... ;)

Walker Martin said...

John may be right. I'm sure Peter's girlfriend wants him to get rid of the SHOCK digests. The covers probably make her nervous because it's beginning to dawn on her that all guys like to mistreat women. It's in our blood; we can't help it.

Since the stories are unreadable maybe Peter can sell me the covers only...

Todd Mason said...

Phil Stephensen-Payne has covers for three issues of the good SHOCK, here:

Peter Enfantino said...

Ah, yes, three issues. I have those.
Walker-- I don't have the Shock Mystery Tales but if I did, I'd rip those covers off for you, my friend!

Todd Mason said...

Well, um, Walker...I know you're kidding, but not everyone who makes such claims does...

Peter, I mention the third issue since your coda mentions that the better SHOCK only saw two issues, rather than the proper three...

Peter Enfantino said...

Good catch, Todd, thanks.

Todd Mason said...

Then there was the 1948 3-issue pulp SHOCK that looks pretty good, too...two issues had lead stories by John D. MacDonald...

Todd Mason said...

for an Amazon citation, selling the third issue for $14O:

This is how your review will appear:

1.0 out of 5 stars SHOCK MYSTERY begs for the MAD and imitators treatment, as SCHLOCK MISTREATMENT STORIES..., March 16, 2013
By Todd Mason - See all my reviews
This review is from: Shock Mystery Tales Magazine May 1962 (Paperback)
This was a digest-sized (for the first four issues) successor to the "shudder pulps," which featured sadistic crime fiction/fake horror fiction (in the SCOOBY-DOO mode, where all the supernatural aspects are eventually shown to be faked)...the last two 8 1/2 x 11" issues of the magazine, much like the "men's sweat" magazines that were also heirs to the shudder pulps, sought that audience, since the digest audience was somewhat limited (generally liked better fiction, frankly).