Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Forty-Two: "Blood Bargain" [9.5]

by Jack Seabrook

Henry Slesar's fifth script for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is "Blood Bargain," based on his own story of the same title. This is easily the best hour-long episode Slesar penned so far!

"Blood Bargain" first appeared in the September 1961 issue of Web Detective Stories. The story begins as William Derry, professional hit man, gets off a train and is met by Earl, who takes him to see his boss, Harney, in a warehouse office. Harney hires Derry to kill Eddie Breech, who used to work for him but who began stealing from him. Earl takes Derry to the apartment house where Breech lives with his wife, Connie, a beautiful blond who is confined to a wheelchair. Derry learns that Breech had hit his wife, causing her to fall down a flight of stairs and injure her back.

Derry spends the night in a cheap hotel and the next day asks about Breech and his wife in a neighborhood bar. Soon, Derry waits outside for Breech and gets in his car with him, gun in hand. Breech offers to double Harney's offer and admits to having cheated the man but says that he did it to get money to help his wife. Instead of killing Breech, Derry accompanies him to his apartment and meets Connie. Derry tells Breech and his wife to get ready to leave the country and plans to fake Breech's murder. He visits Joe Figaro at the funeral parlor and arranges to get a dead body.

Richard Kiley as Derry
Derry then visits the Breeches and tells them to take a plane to Mexico City that night. He gets the corpse from Figaro, drives it out of town in Breech's car, and sets fire to the car, leaving the corpse inside to burn beyond recognition. After collecting his fee from Harney, Derry is promptly arrested and taken to police headquarters, where he learns that Earl has spilled his guts to the police. Derry tells the truth to Lt. Geer, who informs the hit man that Breech had been cheating on his wife and she knew it. To Derry's surprise, Breech has been found in his apartment, shot to death with Derry's gun, and Connie has told the police that Derry killed her husband. Geer tells Derry that he should have killed Connie as well, adding: "You shouldn't have been so soft-hearted."

Anne Francis as Connie
"Blood Bargain" is a compact crime story that features a nice twist at the end. It represents the first time that Slesar would adapt one of his own previously-published stories for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The episode, also titled "Blood Bargain," was broadcast on CBS on Friday, October 25, 1963, making it Slesar's first script for the second season of the hour-long show. The show is ably directed by Bernard Girard and features an excellent cast, all of whom give strong performances, especially Anne Francis as Connie.

Slesar's teleplay does not make any significant changes to the story. The character of Earl, Harney's young assistant, is expanded and he becomes an ambitious young man who is too cocky for his own good. Right from the start, he tells Derry that he thinks hiring a hit man for the job was unnecessary, and later in the show he waits for Derry at the door to his hotel room. Earl pulls a gun on the older man, who quickly disarms him and tosses him to the ground, telling him to go home.

Barney Martin as Harney
Harney, the bookie who hires Derry, is a study in contrasts, a businessman for whom contracting a murder is just another day at the office. In his first scene, he interrupts his conversation with Derry twice: first, to switch on the TV to see a horse race, and second, to take a telephone call from his daughter, who is calling to remind him to come and see her at school that night. Harney can switch back and forth from ruthless criminal to doting father in an instant.

The scene in the story where Derry goes to a bar alone to ask about the Breeches is altered in the TV version, where he observes the Breeches in the bar and even speaks to Mrs. Breech, gallantly picking up a coin she has dropped on the floor and inserting it into a jukebox for her. The implication is that Derry is attracted to the beautiful blond, a suggestion that is played out even more in the scenes in the Breeches' apartment. Connie seems to grasp Derry's attraction to her right away and uses it to her advantage.

Derry sees the hearse reflected in a window
Slesar expands the story by drawing out the middle section. Instead of brief scenes at the apartment and the funeral parlor, as in the story, Derry goes to the apartment and leaves to think about how to avoid killing Breech. A nice shot of Derry reflected in a shop window outside provides the spark for his plan when a hearse is seen driving by behind him. He then visits the apartment for a second time to explain his idea; this time, Connie encourages her husband to follow Derry's advice and even closes the door to prevent her husband from leaving.

Derry goes out again and calls the mortuary to ask about a corpse. Figaro calls back to say he has a body that Derry may pick up that night. This sets up Derry's third visit to the apartment. This time, Connie is alone; she has been drinking and wallows in self-pity, telling Derry that pity is the reason he is helping her and her husband. Derry tells her no and seems like he is about to tell her something else when she begins to talk about his line of work and he shuts down just as Eddie comes home.

Derry is stunned and forgets his coffee
All of this stretching of scenes and events allows Slesar to develop his characters more fully than he did on the printed page, and the actors do a fine job of inhabiting their roles. After Derry leaves the apartment for the third time he has his run in with Earl before going to the mortuary to get the body. There is a nice shot where he slips Breech's wedding ring and wristwatch onto the arm of the corpse. This is followed by a night scene where he torches the car in a remote spot outside of town. The show's final scene is very well done, with an especially animated performance by Ross Elliott as Lt. Geer. He plays a reel to reel tape recording of Earl's confession that pins the murder of Breech on Derry, but the topper occurs in an incident not in the story that heightens the dramatic effect. Instead of Geer telling Derry that Connie fingered him, he brings Connie into the room with Derry, and she tells him and Geer that she witnessed her husband's murder. Richard Kiley, as Derry, stands there in shock as he listens to the lie; the coffee cup he is holding slowly tips forward and coffee begins to spill onto the floor as he hears his own death sentence.

Connie smiles to herself
The show ends with a shot of Connie wheeling herself down the corridor of the police station, a satisfied smile playing over her lips.

"Blood Bargain" is a good, hard boiled story that Slesar expanded into a strong, noir hour of television, made better by a very good cast.

Richard Kiley (1922-1999) plays Derry as a no-nonsense hit man who almost seems surprised by his own decision to help the man he was hired to kill. Kiley won two Tony awards and three Emmy awards; he was an accomplished actor on stage, screen and television. He appeared in one half-hour episode of the Hitchcock show as well as "Blood Bargain," and his other notable roles included the live television play "Patterns" by Rod Serling (1955) and two episodes of Night Gallery.

Richard Long as Breech
Richard Long (1927-1974), playing Eddie Breech,  returns to the Hitchcock show for the second and last time; his other appearance was in "The Opportunity," co-written by Slesar.

Anne Francis (1930-2011) plays Connie; she was also in the prior Slesar episode, "What Really Happened," as well as Slesar's "Keep Me Company" and three other episodes.

Turning in a strong performance as Harney, who hires Derry, is Barney Martin (1923-2005). Martin started out as a stand in for Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners (1955-1956) and went on to a long career in movies and on TV. He was in The Producers (1967), on The Odd Couple, and a semi-regular on Seinfeld as Jerry's father. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Ross Elliott as Lt. Geer
As Lt. Geer, Ross Elliott (1917-1999) is very animated and entertaining, cannily portraying a seasoned policeman who enjoys his job and likes toying with a suspect. Elliott was in the famous 1939 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, and he made countless appearances in movies and on TV. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series; he was also seen on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Anthony Call plays Earl, the ambitious young hoodlum. He was born Anthony Biberman, the son of director Abner Biberman. He was on the Hitchcock show only once, appeared on The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, and has been acting on TV in one form or another since 1952. He is still working today.

Peter Brocco as Figaro
Peter Brocco (1903-1992) is a familiar face as Figaro, the funeral parlor owner. He was seen in numerous films starting in 1932 and in many TV shows starting in 1951. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he made four appearances on Thriller and was on just about every genre TV show at one time or another.

Finally, Bernard Girard (1918-1997) directed "Blood Bargain." He worked in movies and on TV from the early 1950s through the mid-1970s. He directed four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including Slesar's "The Matched Pearl," as well as eight episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including Robert Bloch's "Water's Edge."

As usual, "Blood Bargain" has yet to be released in the U.S. on DVD and I was not able to find it on YouTube.

"Blood Bargain." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 25 Oct. 1963. Television.
The FictionMags Index. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.
Slesar, Henry. "Blood Bargain." 1961. Death on Television: The Best of Henry Slesar's Alfred Hitchcock Stories. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1989. 180-93. Print.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

Anthony Call as Earl

Derry gets the drop on Breech

Getting ready to torch the car

Derry runs from the burning car

*MeTV is showing The Alfred Hitchcock Hour every Saturday night/Sunday morning at 3 a.m. Eastern Time.

*Antenna TV is showing back to back episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents every night from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. Eastern time.

*In two weeks: "Starring the Defense," with Richard Basehart and Russell Collins!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 41: October 1962

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Russ Heath
All American Men of War 93

"The Silent Rider!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Wings for a Knight!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"The Jinx Rides My Jet!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Johnny Cloud reminisces about the boy who saved his life on the reservation years before. A horse had thrown Johnny and was about to stomp him into the sand when a local ranch boy, Jiminy Peak, comes to the rescue. While saving Johnny's life, Jiminy is permanently scarred by the horse and Johnny is indebted to the boy for life. Years later, Cloud and his men are attacked by enemy fighters and Johnny must make an emergency landing. There, his plane is fired on by an enemy tank but, before a direct hit can be made, a mystery bazooka man runs out of the brush and kayos the tin can. Incredibly, Johnny's savior is the same Jiminy Peak who risked his life years before. The pair hop into Cloud's P-51 and take to the sky, where they are able to get the best of a few more fighters before heading into the drink. Jiminy can't swim so Johnny Cloud must save him, paying off his lifelong debt. I'm not sure what's most amazing in this story: the fact that Johnny just happens to be thinking about Jiminy and up he pops, or the perfectly formed horseshoe scar on the man's face. Far be it for me to tell Bob Kanigher how to write a story but "The Silent Rider" would have read much better if Johnny was imagining Peak was back in his life. This coincidence bears the longest stretch marks I've ever seen. Johnny opens the story by proclaiming that he can never get into the cockpit without considering Peak to be his "Silent Rider." That's peculiar, since we've ridden shotgun on an even dozen Johnny Cloud missions and this is the first we've heard of the future mascot of the Indianapolis Colts.

"The Ballad of the Perfectly-Formed Scar"

Jack: That is one heck of a scar and an even bigger coincidence! I was not a physics major, but can a person riding in a plane fire a bazooka? I just learned online that bazookas have no recoil. However, the other day, my wife and I were riding along at about 50 mph and there was a berry squashed on the sun roof, so I opened it partway and stuck my hand up with a napkin to try to clean off the berry. Whoosh! The wind took that napkin and off it flew! Now, a plane would be flying much faster and a bazooka is much bigger and I have to wonder if it would have been whisked off as soon as Jiminy popped his head and shoulders above the cockpit. The Nazi jets might have had to watch out for flying debris!

Peter: Since The Lance of Flambeau was stolen by the Germans, a squadron of WWI pilots just can't seem to find their mojo, being eliminated one by one. Now, with the help of an American stunt pilot, the men aim to win back their pride. With a little bit of showmanship, our American hero is able to win back the Lance and put an end to the ferocious Baron Von Sturm. "Wings for a Knight" is a serviceable time waster, nothing more. It's that kind of story that reminds you of several others you've read before (but I'm too lazy to look through my past notes). I do wish I had been keeping a checklist of Barons. They all have the same name, don't they?

"Wings for a Knight"

Jack: Zee French folk--zey have me pining for our long-lost Mlle. Marie! When the U.S. pilot finally gets to Meet the Fokkers (I couldn't help myself), he does some stunt flying and grabs the lance from the ground. As if that's not ridiculous enough, he then throws it like a spear in midair and knocks out the enemy plane! Mon Dieu! And another thing--this is yet another story where a pilot drops a glove out of his plane in order to issue a challenge. Did anyone ever really do that?

Peter: Fighter pilot Doug has it bad; he's got a jinx that he can't shed. His mates tell him the only way to get rid of a jinx is to ride it out until it disappears. Doug gets the chance to test that theory when his jet crashes uphill from an enemy base and he has to ride down the hill behind a bomb. Base exploded, jinx evicted. "The Jinx Rides My Jet" is an exciting, though extremely improbable, thriller that uses its brief space wisely, never stopping to explain too much nor giving the reader much time to pause and exclaim, "Yeah, right!"

"The Jinx Rides My Jet!"

Jack: A pretty dumb story until the pilot gets tangled up with the bomb and is riding downhill toward his doom! That was some pretty slick shooting to free himself from the ropes at top speed while bumping along down a hill. He should've done like the guy did in last week's post and shot his arm off! That would be more likely to succeed.

Jerry Grandenetti
Our Army at War 123

"Battle Brass Ring!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Secret Convoy Killer!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Pick Up the Pieces!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Ring is the new man in Easy Co. and the other guys nickname him "Brass Ring," since he's reaching for Sgt. Rock's job right away! Ring disobeys orders and shoots down a Nazi plane, causing some of the other men to be injured needlessly, but he won't listen to criticism. He single handedly blows up a Nazi machine gun nest cut into a hillside and gets some grudging respect from Rock. He blows up a tank hidden in a haystack and Rock admits he's two for two. But when Easy Co.'s guns run out of ammo and Ring is hung up on barbed wire in No Man's Land, Ice Cream Soldier risks his life to save the new guy and gets shot for his trouble. Darkness falls and the men of Easy Co. rescue Ring, but they have to defeat a Nazi tank with only their bayonets before they can escape with their lives. We are so used to great art by Joe Kubert on this strip that seeing it drawn by Jerry Grandenetti just seems wrong. I knew we were in trouble when the cover announced "a TNT surprise," and Kanigher does not disappoint, mentioning a "T.N.T. stare" at one point in this story and a "T.N.T. broom" in another.

Joe Kubert, please come home!
Peter: We've read 43 Sgt Rock adventures so far in our journey and I think this is easily the worst. I truly believe that Robert Kanigher saved his best stuff for Kubert and, if now and then his back was against the deadline wall and he had to pump out a sub-par effort, the assignment would go to Grandenetti. You can't convince me otherwise. This story is proof, ripe with DC war cliches and uninspired dialogue. A rare Kanigher/Rock TNT misfire.

Jack: Will the Allied invasion of France on D-Day be foiled by a Nazi drone sub packed with T.N.T.? Not if frogman Andy Walton has anything to do with it! He manages to redirect the sub so that it crashes into another U-boat, saving his brother Eddie--who is poised to storm the beaches--in the process! Not a bad little story. We haven't seen a frogman in awhile and I've missed them. Haney outdoes Kanigher with the T.N.T. references this time around: we have a "T.N.T. rendezvous," a "T.N.T. express," a "T.N.T. drone" and a "T.N.T. sub," which probably should have been the title of this story!

Peter: Any excitement generated by the story is balanced by really dumb one-liners and early 1960s ding-dong-daddy-O lingo. The art's pretty ugly as well. I won't even mention that the story's foundation is built on DC War Cliche #3: the two brothers going off to war and crossing paths.

Jack: A lone soldier from the Quartermaster Corps laments his role, which consists of cleaning up the junk left over when a company of soldiers abandons a battlefield. This time, after King Co. leaves, he is alone and has to fight off a surprise attack by the Nazis, which he does successfully using the last bits of weaponry left behind. Despite the overuse of the title phrase, this is an exciting story about one man against an army, with above average art by Jack Abel.

Peter: Yet another cliche: one branch of the army looking down on another. Right from that point you know what's going to happen. Not a good issue of Our Army.

Jerry Grandenetti and Jack Adler
Our Fighting Forces 71

"End of the Marines!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Battle of the Ghost Ships!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Gunner, Sarge and Pooch have worked together for so long that they can read each other's minds, something that comes in handy when they have to battle two Japanese tanks! They manage to dispose of the enemy leaders and the supporting troops fall apart without anyone in charge. Col. Hakawa learns a lesson from this and decides that the way to beat the Marines is to divide and conquer. Pooch is captured by an enemy boat, Sarge is caught in a booby trap hanging from a tree, and Gunner falls into a camouflaged hole. Is this the "End of the Marines"? Not hardly! It turns out that each of our three heroes escaped their peril and they teach Col. Hakawa another lesson--the Marines are unbeatable! Jerry G's art may be all wrong for Sgt. Rock but it works on this story, probably due to the lighter tone. There are silly moments, but the most outrageous has to be when Pooch starts firing the Japanese machine gun with his paws! On the T.N.T. watch, we have someone brewing "T.N.T. tea" and someone throwing a "T.N.T. egg." The gorgeous wash cover is the best these three have ever looked!

How did this war last as long as it did?

Peter: Everything about this series is a farce and this chapter is no different. The idea that the laughably stereotypical Col. Hakawa would suspend all war operations to concentrate his attention on splitting up two soldiers and their dog is almost as hilarious as the sight of Pooch manning a machine gun. Some farces are fun, but this one just tests my patience. Whatever problems I have with "End of the Marines," I do have to say that the wash tone cover that represents it is a stunner.

"Battle of the Ghost Ships!"
Jack: Near the end of WWI, the American ship 309 meets and sinks the German U-boat U-9, ending the undersea craft's reign of terror on the high seas. The German commander vows revenge so, when WWII gets underway, the Nazis raise the U-9 and it once again becomes a scourge. Soon enough, it encounters the 309 and sinks it, but after some time passes the 309 is raised and back in action, setting up a "Battle of the Ghost Ships!" The last time they meet, the 309 trounces the U-9 once and for all. This was my favorite story of the month, with exciting sea action spanning two wars. I'll ignore the mentions of a "T.N.T. fish" and a "T.N.T. bloodhound."

Peter: This one's pretty exciting, if a little long, but I have to wonder if filling your bow with ping pong balls would really keep your ship afloat after being torpedoed several times. Two Von Sturms in one month? This was either a case of a large family getting around WWI or the writers were officially running out of German surnames. Or maybe Von Sturm was an ace and a U-boat captain with nine lives?

In Our Next Blood-Soaked Issue!
On Sale December 1st!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Voices in the Dark: The Horrors of Dark Fantasy (1941-1942) Part Seven-Finale

by Jose Cruz

28. Rendezvous with Satan

Original Broadcast: May 29, 1942

Cast: Ben Morris (Carl Fisher), Bloyce Wright (David West), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Laura Fisher), Fred Wayne (Satan), Muir Hite (Reverend Brooks), and Georgianna Cook (Secretary). 

Reverend Brooks is delivering a solemn eulogy at the funeral of Carl Fisher. He comforts the guests by saying that although Carl led an illicit life, he will still find peace “in the coldness of death.” Somebody should have told Carl that because soon a woman is screaming after seeing the cadaver’s hand stirring in the coffin!

Meanwhile on the River Styx, Carl’s spirit is sailing down into the depths of Hell upon a silk-lined boat steered by none other than Old Scratch himself. “They have your body in a church, Carl,” Satan muses. “Imagine. You in a church.” Carl finally starts to grasp the reality of the situation. “You devil!” he hisses at Lucifer’s cutting jibes. “That’s irony!” Satan retorts, cruelly adding that Carl’s daughter—whom he had refused to bury in a churchyard—now resides in heaven while his soul occupies a less honorable space. Carl insists that he was forced into the sinful path that led him to fire and brimstone and makes a bargain with the devil that he can turn his whole life around if given the chance. Satan agrees, but only on the stipulation that Carl will be able to fully redeem himself in 24 hours. 

Oh, how that Devil loves his clauses!

On Earth, Carl’s wife Laura is talking with one of their mutual friends, David West, after the service. Coming upon Carl’s crypt, the pair are stunned to find the doors unlocked and his casket empty. “Carl said he would always come back,” David recalls, even if it meant beating the Devil himself. Back at home, Laura hears the sounds of an electric razor and finds her resurrected hubby sprucing himself up. (Step one to redeeming your soul: Always have a clean shave.) Carl initially has no memory of his death at all, but bit by bit he remembers being shot in cold blood at his office and the episode in Hades. 

Just then David enters the apartment while Carl holes himself away. David is delirious with passion, ranting about his immense love for Laura and how they should be together now that that “criminal” Carl is out of the picture. David knows that Laura has feelings for him too because of an incident that occurred during a party at David’s place when all the female guests gave him a little peck but Laura, being the naughty pussycat, waited until her husband had left the room before she embraced her host. 

Hearing noises from the next room, David begins to think that some other Lothario has stolen his beloved’s heart. Satan begins to speak to Carl from the netherworld, prodding him into believing that Laura has been having an affair behind his back. After David leaves and Laura explains the situation, Carl earnestly tells her “It’s alright, dearest. I believe you.” The organ chirps accordingly, signaling that Carl has retrieved his soul from the sordid depths he previously dwelled in.

The next day Carl enters his office, giving his secretary a good scare that sends her shrieking out of the building. David is there to anticipate his arrival, hardly shaken by his formerly deceased friend’s appearance. David tells Carl that he will happily look the other way and even leave Laura with him if he’ll adjust his will so that David will acquire half of his business. 

It’s then that Carl realizes that it was David who murdered him, but Carl refrains from doing anything that would land him back in the hot seat. David pulls a gun on Carl and shots ring out. Laura arrives just at that moment with her own gun and manages to shoot David, but not before several fatal blows take Carl down. As his final living act, Carl asks Laura to give him the gun so that all blame for the murder will be placed on him. After Carl passes away, Satan solemnly concedes that the man has won his bet. 

This episode sees Bishop returning to the melodramatic—but economical—storytelling that made the series’ first episode, “The Man Who Came Back,” such a joy to listen to. The role of odious villain that had originally been essayed by regular lead Ben Morris is here played by newcomer Bloyce Wright, and he shows that he was more than game for the challenge. Morris plays the wronged hero in a nice twist, and the final scene between the two actors sparks as the merciless West faces the born-again Fisher in a stand-off that is fascinating for going against the grain of other genre tales: Carl doesn’t try (or even wants) to hurt David for what he’s done, simply acknowledging his belief that the ne’er-do-well will meet his karmic executioner soon enough.

There’s another moment earlier in the episode that also carries an air of sophistication in the depiction of its characters. During the scene of Carl’s gradual recollection of his death and spiritual adventure, we are hearing him attempting to grapple with an incredible situation, one that implies that he is just a small, insignificant soul in the face of powers that control his very existence. It’s a fleeting impression, but once made it resounds throughout the rest of the drama.

That said, Bishop isn’t immune from throwing in some hand-wringing dialogue that reeks of barnstormers. Depending on your tastes, this may be a good thing, but not even Wright with his capable skills can make the line “You belong to me now. Yes. Yes, I say, you're mine!” seem like anything but the type of writing solely meant to elicit hisses and jeers from the peanut gallery. Bishop and the cast keep the histrionics down to a minimum though, and the conclusion that sees the irascible Devil bowing his head (cause he knew that he’d been beat) and Carl presumably going to heaven is a heartening change of pace. 

29. I Am Your Brother 

Original Broadcast: June 5, 1942

Cast: Ben Morris (Dr. Julius Zamek), Bloyce Wright (Stephan Hamlin), and Muir Hite (Carl Miller). 

Dr. Julius Zamek is giving an important lecture on blood loss before he is forced to reprimand a student for balancing his bank account during class. Relieving his woes with colleague Carl Miller, Julius is reminded of Stephan Hamlin, a brilliant student of his that was on the rise before his untimely death. Carl notes that Julius did not seem surprised or saddened by the news of Stephan’s passing; if anything he appeared to be relieved. 

And that’s not all. Julius shows his friend that he now has Stephan’s brain preserved in a jar. He says that it was the “best developed human brain I’ve ever seen,” so the fact that he has it stowed away in his office is less creepy because it’s for SCIENCE. Carl is astounded to see that the gray matter moves as if alive. As if it wasn’t already apparent, Julius goes on to explain that Stephan Hamlin was something more than human.

Julius originally met Stephan when he was a child in Kansas. Stephan was eight years old but for some bizarre reason would only crawl about the floors like an infant despite the fact that he was perfectly capable of walking. Some said that the boy suffered from a mental handicap but Julius never believed this for a second. While hanging out with the kid, Julius is jostled when he sees Stephan standing before him and addressing him with the voice of an adult. “You don’t like me,” the boy states. Stephan claims that he has had these abilities since birth but never exercised them before because he didn’t find any interest in the effort. 

As a further demonstration of his powers, Stephan conjures a horrible vision of a derailed train, forcing Julius to shield his eyes in order to blot out the “unspeakable horror.” He blacks out and upon awaking discovers that there was an actual train that fell into a gorge in Paris. The insinuation that Stephan had a hand in this is rather ambiguous… or maybe that was just me falling asleep.

Julius comes into contact with the weird wunderkind again when Stephan is a student at the college where Julius is teaching. Stephan has become cold and distant from the rest of the pupils, the source of many a-rumor from the judgmental majority. Stephan invites Julius to his dormitory and the professor marvels over a wonderful essay on human diseases the lad has composed. Stephan accomplished it all through his own intrinsic knowledge. 

Stephan finally reveals his true nature: he is an alien being and he has been searching for his spiritual brother for his entire life. He has complete knowledge of the universe and even provides details to Julius concerning the apocalypse that he has planned (?) for mankind, yet he knows nothing of his own demise. Julius has him covered on that point. Just as he’s revealing his plan of doom and destruction, Stephan is cut down by a bullet from the heroic professor. With his dying breath Stephan refers to Julius as his brother.

I’ll be honest: I actually started dozing during this episode. This certainly didn’t help me sort out the notes that I had written or to remember some of the story’s finer points. The performances are uniformly solid. Morris and Hite are always reliable (the latter doesn’t get much to do besides the establishing scene) and Wright demonstrates his able talent at characterization in his second episode for the program as the enigmatic Stephan. The fact that their competent acting is derived from one of Bishop’s lesser scripts actually doesn’t hurt the overall production. 

The giddiness or suspense that fueled other dramas like “Funeral Arrangements Completed”—an energy that would otherwise mask any narrative shortcomings—is short on hand here, but the prevailing somber mood is consistent throughout, and despite the fact that Stephan’s alien qualities are a little vague Wright manages to build him up into a mysterious and even threatening character by virtue of his forceful, measured vocalizations. 

Though at times it feels more like a sketch than a story, “I Am Your Brother” coasts along thanks to its moderately strong thespian talent. 

30. The Sleeping Death

Original Broadcast: June 12, 1942

**No Cast Listed**

Paul Wentworth is laid up with a sore leg in the office of Dr. Clarence Mason. Although the physician attempts to calm his patient’s nerves, he is more than direct in explaining to the man that his limb will very likely have to be amputated in order to prevent the poison in the leg from reaching his brain. Something seems to be amiss when Mason begins asking Paul if he has any relatives that he should notify; Paul has none. 

To add to that, Paul can’t even seem to recall how he ended up in Mason’s care. The doctor is quick to tell him that he fainted in the street and was rushed to his hospital. It’s not just any healthcare facility though: Paul is in the private-island Fairchild Sanitarium, a place that has been closed for years. “Has it?” Mason teases. Paul used to work as an orderly at the sanitarium… and so did Mason. The doctor asks Paul to study his face carefully. With no small amount of shock Paul recognizes Mason is really Abraham Holtz, the physician he testified against in court. 

Mason/Holtz shows that he’s a little unhinged himself. Thinking that Paul was trying to win the heart of lead doctor Von Sickle, Holtz did the natural thing by killing the old man though the cause of death remained undetermined by the authorities. “They’re so easily baffled,” sneers the mad medico. Paul can’t understand how Holtz escaped his life imprisonment at the state penitentiary, and Holtz doesn’t let on to how he managed it. Paul makes a break for the exit but finds he can’t move. The “sedative” that Holtz has administered is working nicely.

In a short flashback to the trial we hear Paul claim Holtz had “[become] more like a devil;” reports of the doctor’s mistreatment of his staff served as the instigating event of the judicial proceedings. Holtz asserts that the hospital workers were treated like beasts because they were beasts, and just as he corners Paul with another hypo at the ready he mutters evilly “What will happen next will probably amaze you,” adding with quiet wickedness “At first I was only going to take one of your legs…” 

Later, Miss Linda Young arrives at the hospital to interview for an open position. A nurse approaches her and tries to desperately warn her away from the wretched place. The arrival of “Dr. Mason” cuts her off. The doctor tries to explain the nurse’s hysteria away by telling Linda that the lady’s brother was a surgeon at the hospital who was dismissed that afternoon for carrying through with an operation that Mason had forbidden. But the villain has a tougher time accounting for why the rattled nurse referred to him as “Dr. Holtz.”

By this time Linda has seen through the charade. A former employee at Fairchild herself, Linda calls out Holtz for the dirty devil that he is. Realizing the game is up, Holtz breaks out of character and addresses Linda as his true self. He hints that Paul has already been admitted to his little hospital, and promises that Linda will be having a reunion with her old colleague “much sooner than you expect.”

Wow, talk about potential! It’s a bloody shame that “The Sleeping Death” should only exist in this abbreviated version, as the extant scenes detailed above are just as thrilling and sharp (if not moreso) than any of the other scripts Scott Bishop had written for the show. The concept of the avenging doctor may not exactly be fresh product, but the program is attacked with such energy by the actors that one can’t help but squirm in delight at every turn of the screw. 

Mason/Holtz is probably Ben Morris’ best characterization in the whole run. We’ve seen him play some dastardly dogs before like Ken in “The Man Who Came Back” and Barker in “Superstition Be Hanged,” but whereas those were treated as our slightly-sympathetic protagonists, Holtz is all evil all the time. He doesn’t reach the outlandish heights of Garland Moss’ Dr. Luther from “Spawn of the Subhuman,” but his slinky, sardonic approach is just as tickling as that nutjob’s ravings. I especially loved his response to Linda when she tells him he had a fair trial: “Are you so very certain I did?” The way Morris says this drips with acid.

Perhaps it is only appropriate that Dark Fantasy’s run should “end” in this manner. Without an exciting climax provided for us, we listeners are encouraged to use our fertile imaginations to dream up the horrible fate that likely befell our wicked doctor. Was there a high-speed chase that ensued between captor and heroine that ended in Holtz’s death by cliffside plunge? Did he try to toss Linda into a pit of his cruel “operations” only to find himself at the mercy of his mutilated victims? Would we discover that all of the events were the products of Holtz’s diseased mind as he rotted away at the penitentiary, the guards lamenting over how the poor doc believed he had escaped all along?

The choice, dear listener, is up to you!

31. **Title Unknown** LOST

Original Broadcast: June 19, 1942


Best Performances

1. Dr. Luther, “Spawn of the Subhuman” (Garland Moss)
2. Clarence Mason/Abraham Holtz, “The Sleeping Death” (Ben Morris)
3. Carl Fisher, “Rendezvous with Satan” (Ben Morris)
4. Barker, “Superstition Be Hanged” (Ben Morris)
5. Mary Billings, “Debt from the Past” (Jane Wyatt)
6. Philip Blake, “The Man Who Came Back” (Eugene Francis)
7. Winston Everly, “Convoy for Atlantis” (Murillo Schofield)

Best Scripts
1. “The Demon Tree”
2. “W is for Werewolf”
3. “Rendezvous with Satan”
4. “The Edge of the Shadow”
5. “Pennsylvania Turnpike”
6. “The Man Who Came Back”
7. “Superstition Be Hanged”

Best Musical Accompaniment

“The Demon Tree”

Best Featured Creature

Stephan, the Gorilla of the Opera!

Top Overall Episodes

1. “The Demon Tree”
2. “Spawn of the Subhuman”
3. “W is for Werewolf”
4. “The Man Who Came Back”
5. “Funeral Arrangements Completed”
6. “The Man with the Scarlet Satchel”
7. “The Headless Dead”

*Special mention to “The Sleeping Death” for what it could have been!


Well, that was surprising.

It’s been years since I’ve listened to any of the Dark Fantasy shows, so revisiting them proved an enlightening experience, both in regards to what I remember of the program and what I have learned in the intervening time of auditory narratives. This has revealed some of the episodes (more than I initially thought there would be when I mounted this series, admittedly) were not quite as fresh and exciting as I recalled them; entries such as “Dead Hands Reaching” and “The Thing from the Darkness” lacked the punch that had been impressed on my mind when I stayed up late with nothing but my headphones and the shadows to keep me company. Still others, like “The Letter from Yesterday,” turned out to be even more boring the second time around!

But we’ve heard all that already. What is it that we can take away from Dark Fantasy?

For a grassroots effort that managed to wrangle national syndication just like the New York studio heavyweights like Lights Out! and Suspense, Scott Bishop’s program was certainly commendable for the hard work that was put in by its familial staff of actors and technicians. Though it never boasted a vast array of aural effects and Foley shocks or sometimes even the most polished of scripts, Dark Fantasy brewed some wonderful moments from its Midwestern witch’s cauldron that should earn it a place in the hallowed hall of horror radio shows.

Its staff of thespians was almost always in fine form, from such steadfast and endearing leads like Ben Morris and Eleanor Naylor Caughron to the delightfully colorful portrayals of character actors Muir Hite and Garland Moss. The stories would hearken back to time-honored tropes like zombies and reincarnation one week and in the next attempt to break the barriers of narrative and genre with fusions of acid-visioned science fiction (“The Cup of Gold”) and metafictional excursions into religion (“The House of Bread”). Dark Fantasy was nothing if not ambitious in its own way, and even when its limited resources became apparent the show’s heart was always in the right place.

It’s this aspect of the series that seemed to resonate the most with me in returning to its crackling terrors. It draws you into its grasp with the howling of a creepy organ and the promise of spooky stories, but in tuning in you can picture all the participants working together in a “Let’s put on a show” kind of camaraderie that provides you with a glimpse at the smiling wizards working behind the curtain. 

If you’ve had the opportunity to listen to Dark Fantasy, let us know what you thought. Have any memorable episodes? Have a say on any other radio shows of yesteryear that you shuddered along with? Tell us all about it in the comments! We thank you for joining us for the ride and hope that you enjoyed your stay.

Just don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave. The voices only come out in the dark. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Forty: October 1973

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

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 151

"Sorry, I'm Not Ready to Die!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ernie Chua

"Act of Vengeance"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by ER Cruz

"Grave in the Sky"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Jack: Jamison's horoscope warns him that an enemy will kill him tonight, but he thinks, "Sorry, I'm Not Ready to Die!" so he kidnaps his three enemies and traps them in a room in his house, intending to set them free in the morning. As the night wears on, he begins to think that his wife is planning to kill him, so he throws her in with the other three. Finally, he believes a mysterious intruder is after him, so he tries to escape from his own house but is killed when a poison crab attacks him. A poison crab? Where did that thing come from? It flew out of nowhere, latched onto his throat, and injected its deadly poison. Was it one of his booby traps or did a flying crab just happen by at the right moment?

Peter: Groan! Some of these Unexpected stories are so bad that I've run out of synonyms for "lousy." This one smells like it was pulled straight out of the shudder pulps (except for Jamison's trap-filled mansion, which is straight out of the 1960s Batman). I guess "Groan!" is about as good as I get with this one.

Jack: Raoul Boldin's brother is put to death but left a message for his surviving sibling: commit an "Act of Vengeance" and kill the man who did this to me! Raoul tracks down the very man and tries to kill him. He is arrested and sentenced to death. Only as he is about to die does he notice that the man he was convicted of killing did not die but is his executioner! Peter, do you think the DC horror editors piled all of the stories each month on a desk and picked out the worst ones for Ghosts and Unexpected?

Shouldn't be hard to find---

Peter: This one was pretty silly but the end twist is effective, albeit a twist that doesn't hold up to scrutiny. That Gauchon is one tough cookie. Bludgeoned and tossed from a bridge and he still swam back to execute "his would-be assassin." I assume the authorities who hired Gauchon have no idea what the guy looks like, no street address, etc., and that's why they aren't standing off to the side of the guillotine saying "Hey, hang on a minute! How could Raoul be accused of murder if the victim is standing right in front of us?" Cruz's art is effective.

The scary sock puppet
Jack: In a little Mexican village, Ramon tries to convince the other villagers that the American engineers who plan to drill for gas will bring prosperity. Ramon's old grandfather climbs to the top of the volcano that sits near the village in order to  beg forgiveness from the buried spirits. Just then, the engineers set off explosions with TNT, inadvertently causing the volcano to erupt for the first time in many years. The lava and gas spewing from the volcano take on the shape of phantom spirits and the face of Ramon's grandfather, who is by now a piece of burnt toast in a "Grave in the Sky." The engineers drop bombs into the volcano and quiet it, but one last bit of lava catches up with the head engineer and kills him. This is another example of Alfredo Alcala's lesser work. The story is ludicrous.

Peter: The volcano erupts and out pops a sock puppet? Not one of the most effective smoke demons I've seen nor is it close to Alfredo's best but, as the old cliche goes, bad Alacala is still light years better than the best Grandenetti. I was surprised to see this was written by George Kashdan since it's more the forte of Len Wein, Gerry Conway, or Doug Moench; mid-1970s rebels with a cause, a typewriter, and four colors.

George Evans
The House of Mystery 218

"The Abominable Ivy!"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"An Ice Place to Visit"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Frank Thorne

Peter: Garbage has been very, very good to Bob French (the garbage business that is) but he's tired of pulling his partner Sid's dead weight around all day. When the city comes to Bob guaranteeing a new contract worth millions, Bob knows Sid has got to go. Fittingly, Sid has an "accident" one day while fixing one of the firm's trucks and his body is dumped in a landfill. Bob makes his millions, moves to a ritzy part of town and encounters ivy that refuses to grow. One day, a mystery bag of fertilizer composed of "reprocessed garbage" appears on the tycoon's doorstep and Bob applies it to the stubborn plant. The ivy goes wild, so wild that it wraps itself around Bob and hangs him outside his bedroom window for all to see. Definitely a Fleisher script! You can spot the nastiness a mile away. "The Abominable Ivy" isn't anything spectacular but Fleisher's dark humor and Talaoc's nice art make it an enjoyable read. That climax, with a full page panel of the hanging, is ostensibly a shock twist but halfway through the tale you know what's going to happen so it's not much of a surprise. It is gruesome.

Jack: We need to see more stories like this one! The scene where poor Sid gets squashed in the garbage truck was an "EC moment," and the story was going great guns up till the reveal on the final page, which I thought was a bit disappointing. A for effort, though!

Peter: Al Lavers runs the most popular ice house in 1938 Texas but good times could come to a screeching halt if John Percival, the state water inspector, has anything to say about it. Seems as though Al has been pumping water from a contaminated well to manufacture his ice and Percival is going to sing to his higher-ups. Of course, this being a DC mystery comic story, Percival doesn't get the chance as Al stabs him with an icepick and proceeds to make little square Johns out of him. Not long after, townsfolk begin coming down with a nasty virus and, after a young girl dies, the local doctor puts two and two together and comes up with Al's Ice House. A mob of angry villagers heads up the hill with torches and clubs but an unknown spectre gets there first, putting Al on ice forever. "An Ice Place to Visit" is Michael Fleisher's way of squeezing blood from an overused formula. This strip is pretty much the same story as "The Abominable Ivy" right down to the unseen hand of justice at the climax (well, to be fair, we do see a hand but that's about it). Who exactly doled out the justice? Was it Percival's ghost? And why do we keep getting "shock" climaxes that don't actually shock? The final panel, of Al as a huge, bisected ice cube, resembles the kind of images Michael Fleisher would cook up for The Spectre in Adventure Comics in 1974.

Holy Mackerel! The ice maker has been made into ice cubes!

Jack: Another story that comes very close to being very good. How did they get Al's body into two giant ice blocks? Wouldn't it make more sense if it was one big ice block? I always liked Frank Thorne's art on Red Sonja and I just looked him up online and found out that he's 84 years old and lives in the town next to the town where I grew up. Heck, I probably rode my bike past his house on my way to the stationery store to buy Red Sonja!

Luis Dominguez
The House of Secrets 112

"The Witch Doctor's Magic Cloak"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Rudy Nebres

"The Case of the Demon Spawn!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Luis Dominguez

Peter: Escaped bank robber and murderer Dirk Travers crashes his light plane in a remote part of Africa (nope, Mexico wasn't far enough for Dirk) and must shoot his arm off with a revolver to escape the explosion. Found and nursed back to health by a witch doctor and his Bandari tribe, Dirk discovers the man used a magic cloak to reassemble Dirk's missing arm. Not one to pass up a quick buck, Dirk steals "The Witch Doctor's Magic Cloak," killing a guard in the process, and heads out into the jungle. It's not long before Travers falls into an animal pit and the witch doctor finds him. The medicine man is not so kind to Dirk this time. The final sequence shows the witch doctor dropping his cloak on Travers and the man screaming that it's alive but I'll be darned if I know what happened. In the epilogue, we see Dirk as a circus sideshow freak with human feet sprouting everywhere on his body. Did I miss something important that would signify all the feet? Dirk Travers' mastering of the Bandari's language after just a few weeks (peaking with a laugh-out-loud translation of the witch doctor's gibberish, reprinted below) is simply incredible, a feat you'd never expect of a common bank robber. Three scripts from Michael Fleisher so far this month and only one slightly good one in the bunch. I'll be patient though as I know what the guy's capable of.

Bandari made easy
Jack: It was just sick that he had to shoot off his own arm to get out of the plane! Nebres's art is very nice and it is in line with the work we've been seeing by the other Filipino artists. I too was shocked at Dirk's amazing ability to translate the native tongue. What a shame such a genius turned to a life of crime! I thought the story was over when he was in the pit, but then I turned the page and saw the sideshow reveal. Three Fleisher stories, and all are trying for the EC-type of revenge tale with a gross-out twist at the end. He doesn't quite have it down pat yet but I like where this is going.

Peter: In 1894 London, Private Investigator Roderick Doyle and his partner, John Winston accept the beautiful Ms. Christine McBain into their parlor and begin "The Case of the Demon Spawn." Ms. McBain tells a terrifying tale of familial ghouls at her vast estate and wishes the heroic pair might come to her aid. Once Doyle and Winston arrive, however, the very bright and observant Doyle recognizes details that differ from the heroine's story. When he runs across a collection of Winston's published memoirs of their celebrated cases ("The Wound of the Drescervilts" and "Study in Crimson" amongst them) in the family library, Doyle is on to the clan. Too late, alas, since the family pick exactly that moment to spill the beans: they are all vampires and they wanted to show the famous Mr. Doyle that the supernatural truly exists. The next day, back in their parlor, the pair reminisce about the case and look forward to solving more crimes as vampires. Tongue firmly in cheek, Gerry Conway delivers a fun homage to Holmes and Watson with stylish Dominguez art to boot. I'd love to see further adventures of Roderick Doyle, Vampire Investigator.

Jack: One of the worst stories of the year! The art was almost as bad. Roderick and Winston? Come on! Haven't we had enough corny stories where someone turns out to be a vampire? What was the point of writing this story? DC would pick up the rights to Sherlock Holmes and publish a real Holmes comic two years later. Once again, Gerry Conway shows me why he was the most overrated comic writer of the '70s.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 35

"The Dread of Night"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Luis Dominguez

"Cry in Car 13"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Norman Maurer

"Child of Evil!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: Poor Nina Hollister. She has a heart condition, she's in a wheelchair, and her step-sister Bridget wants to kill her to collect the money left to them by their recently deceased old man! Bridget's boyfriend Jamie has been dressing up as a green, scaly monster and skulking around in "The Dread of Night" to try to scare Nina to death. When Bridget and Jamie decide to poison Nina's cup of tea, Jamie pulls the old switcheroo and knocks out Bridget. Turns out he's really in love with Nina! He puts Bridget's unconscious body in the car and starts the engine with the garage door closed, ensuring her death by asphyxiation. But when Nina has an episode with her bad heart, he doesn't know how much medicine to give her and mistakenly provides an overdose that kills her. The cops don't buy his story and he's found guilty of a murder he didn't commit! Kind of an old story, though Dominguez draws a hot Bridget.

Hubba hubba!

Peter: So, at what point did Jamie jump ship and trade sides? The intro shows the guy coming through Nina's window dressed as a monster and the woman clearly frightened out of her wits. If they were in cahoots against Bridget the whole time, why the show? Nina's personality turns on a dime from poor helpless maiden to saucy, bitchy co-schemer but that's how these things always play out when the author is trying to trick you. Usually, it's a cheat but for some reason I bought it here. The ironic climax is a big plus as well, with Jamie screaming out his undying love for Nina (and the whole time I thought it was nothing but the Benjamins). That's a puzzle piece you don't see often.

Jack: On a train ride from Virginia to New York, Lucille seems to be the only passenger who feels sorry for little Millie Bly, a girl left alone to "Cry in Car 13." Millie insists that her mother is on the train and the passengers assume she's back in the club car getting soused. Only when they arrive at their destination is the truth revealed, as the coffin of Millie's mother is unloaded from the train. First of all, it's a lot further from Virginia to New York than 120 miles, no matter how you slice it. Second, that's one nasty bunch of folks on the train, telling people to shut up! Finally, this is the second story in a row where the artist is just identified by last name. First "Dominguez," now "Maurer." Kind of like "Picasso," only worse.

Peter: Obviously "Cry in Car 13" is all about the pay-off, the final panel (one that I must admit to not anticipating), but who would leave a little girl alone on a train journey? Pretty silly.

Jack: Jebediah Wilkes is a plantation owner and slaveholder who spends $5 to buy old Liza to look after his pregnant wife Lavinia. Over time, Lavinia takes to Liza, and Jebediah discovers one night that his wife and the old slave are spending time together in the slave's cabin, where she uses charms and potions to help Lavinia have a healthy pregnancy. Liza makes Jebediah promise to free her if the baby is born alive and healthy, but when the fateful day comes, the wee bairn pops out looking just like Liza, who says she always wanted a child of her own! Jebediah sends the old slave woman and her baby packing. What a creepy story! Who thought it was a good idea to set a story on a plantation in the ante-bellum South? Strangest of all is the lack of any vengeance on the cruel plantation owner. Instead, the old slave woman gets the baby she always wanted and gets her freedom as well. A bizarre tale.

"Child of Evil!"

Peter: "Child of Evil!" has a real sleazy, oily feel to it, and I'm surprised there wasn't a skirmish with the CCA over its general vibe and message. There's not one decent character to be found here, not even new mother Lavinia Wilkes who, when confronted by the child she's just given birth to, tells the old witch, "Take her... she belongs to you! Get out of here --- you and the child! I never want to see that ugly little creature again!" No chance of a Rosemary's Baby situation here. Lee Elias is not a name I'd immediately conjure up as a go-to guy in the DC mystery bullpen but his work here is atmospheric and detailed. The panel of Lavinia on the wooden floor with Liza above her, working her black magic, is visually stunning, almost resembling a screen capture.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 19

"The Dead Live On"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Specter From the Bog"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Body in Mystic Lake"
Story Uncredited
Art by Rico Rival

Jack: When Angela's Aunt Rachel dies, her Uncle Neville promises to look after her. Right after the funeral, Neville discovers that "The Dead Live On" when Rachel's ghost takes possession of Angela's body and threatens to expose Neville as her murderer. A fall from their speeding carriage snaps Angela back to normal, but Neville isn't one to take chances, so he takes her to Old Joachim and has Rachel's ghost exorcised. The spirit announces Neville's guilt, so the schemer murders Joachim, who saw and heard it all. Over the ensuing months, Neville courts Angela, but at their wedding another ghost--that of Old Joachim--takes over Neville's body and announces both murders to the assembled guests. Oops! What have we here? A really good story in Ghosts? What next?

"The Dead Live On"
Peter: Now here's one story that (Uncredited) really should have taken (Credit) for, the best I think I've read in Ghosts thus far. No, seriously! "The Dead Live On" should have been saved for House of Mystery or House of Secrets; it's that good. Alcala, as I've noted at least 3,000 times, is my favorite horror artist but, aside from the Ghosts story, this was not a very good month for AA despite the fact that he's represented by four entries. I think, however, that "The Dead Live On" is some of his best work, very detailed, and his human characters  (always a thorn in Alcala's side) have never looked better. A big thumbs up all around.

Jack: On a military mission for the Dutch High Command in 1939, Col. Borgen sees a skeleton of a man riding a skeleton of a horse and screeches his jeep to a halt, avoiding a patch of quicksand that had been hidden by fog. He learns the legend of Hans Vertig, who died in the quicksand 50 years ago and now rides out as "The Specter From the Bog" to warn travelers away from danger. A year later, the Nazis have invaded and they capture Col. Borgen to use him as a guide. They see the ghostly rider but think it's a trick to lead them toward the quicksand, so they ignore the warning and drive right into their own doom. For a story written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Sam Glanzman, this is pretty darn good! It makes sense and is interesting, which is not always true in Ghosts. When I see Glanzman's art, I always think that maybe I could have been a comic artist.

"The Specter From the Bog"
Peter: Another very good story with above-average visuals from Sam Glanzman, an artist I've found it hard to warm up to. Glanzman's "death on horseback" is chilling while his human characters look like they've sprung from an underground comic. The climax, with the double (or is it triple) twist, is needlessly complicated but, otherwise, a very solid strip.

Jack: It's 1968, and Roy and Norma Craven's date in the swamp is interrupted by Rita, who yells at Roy for breaking his promise to marry her. She then hops in a canoe, bumps into a log, falls in the water and disappears, presumably drowned. The police never find her body and assume she swam to shore. Months later, Roy and Norma marry and spend their honeymoon in--you guessed it--the swamp!

We don't understand what's going on, either!
Norma is fishing from their boat one day and hooks a wig, which looks suspiciously like the late Rita's long blond mane. Norma is so taken with the wig that she starts wearing it all time time, including to bed at night, but in the mornings she wakes up with her head soaking wet. They decide to go over to Mystic Lake and, when they are out on the water, a skeletal hand reaches up and snatches the hair off Norma's head. Somehow, Rita's skeleton is lying at the bottom of Mystic Lake and it has now reclaimed its hair. This is one of those stories that just makes me shake my head. The main problem I have is with Norma, who fishes a hunk of blond hair out of the swamp and decides to wear it to bed every night! What's with that?

Peter: The weak link this issue, "The Body in Mystic Lake" suffers from blandiosis, a malady that has killed many a DC mystery strip. I thought, for a brief spell, that Rita was a wood nymph, dressed in that gown as she is and lobbing curses. Who dresses up in a white gown to go canoeing in the swamp? And, seriously, what woman is going to don a hairpiece fished out of the swamp?

Luis Dominguez
Secrets of Sinister House 14

"The Man and the Snake"
Story by Ambrose Bierce
Adapted by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Roommate"
Story by Fred Wolfe
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Bill Draut

"The Glass Nightmare"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: As a guest of Dr. Druring, Harker Brayton lounges on a sofa in his room, reading about the marvels of the snake when he happens to notice, under his bed, a snake! Since Druring is a collector of reptiles, Harker assumes the creature has escaped from its pen and decides that now is a good time to test the myths he's heard about snakes. Not a good idea. Quickly, he becomes enthralled by its eyes, forcing him to come even closer. From downstairs, the doctor and his wife hear a blood-curdling scream and rush upstairs, where they find their guest dead of "a fit." The doctor notices the snake under the bed and grabs hold of it, wondering aloud how the stuffed toy managed to get in the room. Yeah, it's Ambrose Bierce so I'm probably expected to acclaim aloud what a classic story this is but it didn't do a thing for me. Where did the stuffed snake come from? Did Harker have a pre-existing condition that may have been kept from us and did he do something to deserve this fate? I thought we'd learn that Harker was spending a little time with Mrs. Druring and the doctor meted out a bit of revenge. That would have made a little more sense.

Jack: Simply dreadful. I went back and read the Bierce story and it is much better than this illustrated version. I think that the problem is the need to add pictures. The words alone by Bierce conjure up a tense situation and the ending works well, as is usually the case with Bierce. In the story, they had to draw a real snake, and that spoils it. Alcala's art is good, especially when he draws the hypnotic snake with the sunshiny eyes. The panel of Brayton frothing at the mouth is unintentionally hilarious.

Peter: Priscilla loves David! David loves Priscilla! But something may be coming between the two, a pretty little something named Ariadne, "The Roommate." When Priscilla has to study for finals, Ariadne agrees to show Priscilla's beau around the college campus and, very quickly, David becomes entranced and falls in love with the beauty. Ideally, Priscilla dies soon after, her blood drained and the only marks on her are two small puncture wounds on her throat. Driving away from the funeral, David professes his love to Ariadne and she confesses to a yen for human blood. Rather than become one of the undead, David crashes the car and Ariadne is impaled. The horror is ended. You could have knocked me over with a feather when it's revealed that "The Roommate" is a vampire! You'd be forgiven for not picking up on all the clues (the way Ariadne looks at David's finger when he has a mishap with a rose; her fascination with the veins in a leaf; it's all there for the alert reader) while you're distracted by Mike Sekowsky's poor excuse for art. Easily, and consistently, the worst artist working the DC mystery line.

Jack: Gee, Peter, the fangs on Ariadne in the FIRST PANEL didn't give it away? This is some weird art. Usually, when I see a credit that lists two artists, I assume one did pencils and the other inks. In this story, it looks like Sekowsky did some panels and then Draut did some panels. I'm not kidding! Sekowsky's heavy black lines are easy to spot, but in other places it's obviously Draut's Archie Andrews-type work. This story is goofy but I found it less annoying than Gerry Conway's Holmes takeoff in this month's House of Secrets. Having Ariadne thrown from the car and impaled on a fence post is beyond belief. And enough with the vampires already!

Peter: While out for a drive in the country, successful businessman Thaddeus Ressler breaks down and goes looking for help. What Ressler finds instead is his next gold mine: an old man who makes incredibly realistic snow globes. Seeing dollar signs flash before his eyes, Thaddeus attempts to talk Mr. Weaver into an exclusive contract but the old timer ain't budgin'. Thaddeus flips and Weaver trips. With the old man dead, Ressler calls up his workers to come clean out Weaver's house before the cops arrive. While he's waiting, he falls asleep in a hammock in the back yard and awakens to find several feet of snow covering the landscape. Very soon, he discovers he's trapped inside one of the old man's globes. "The Glass Nightmare" is one of those stories that makes my head hurt trying to work out the small details. When Ressler fights his way through the snow and gets back to Weaver's house, he finds the old man's body just how he left it. Just then, two of the neighborhood kids come in to play with some of the globes. How could this house be inside the globe when it's also outside the globe? Michael Fleisher sets up an intriguing scenario but falls back on the old EC Comics cliches. Thaddeus Ressler is just such a rotten guy you're supposed to be glad he ends up as part of the collection; all I can think is "how can there be such a rotten guy?"

Jack: What a master salesman is Ressler, telling the old man: "Don't you see what I'm offering you, you old buzzard?" Smooth talk like that wins 'em over every time. Alcala's art is very sharp in this story, better than the one that opened this issue, but Fleisher's story is his weakest of the month. The revelation that the guy was trapped in a snow globe should have come at the end, but they must have had to pad the page count because the story keeps going for another page although nothing happens.

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