Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Dungeons of Doom: The Pre-Code Horror Comics Volume 13

Part Four

By Jose Cruz and
Peter Enfantino

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

Peter: Nazi Colonel Eric Von Grimm lords over the small Italian village of Basilio, systematically reducing its population daily. His wife, Helga, has developed a taste for fine furnishings, including lamp shades made from the skin of Von Grimm's prisoners. This gives the Commandant an idea: a general is to arrive at the camp and the Colonel's boots are beginning to wear down; maybe a pair made of the "finer material" would impress his boss. Von Grimm shoots one of the prisoners, has him skinned, and brings the "pelt" to the village's finest cobbler. When the man unrolls the skin, he discovers it belonged to his own son. A plan forms in his mind and he gets to work on the boots, delivering them soon afterward. The Colonel is delighted with the results, especially the unique heels the cobbler has devised. Smiling, he tells his men to shoot the man so that he can never tell of the Colonel's atrocities should Germany lose the war. Von Grimm attends the meeting with the General and clicks his heels together in salute. His boots, the heels loaded with dynamite, blow the entire gathering to kingdom come.

It's tough to say you enjoy a story set in a concentration camp, centering around a couple of deviates who skin prisoners for their whims, but this is a nasty, queasy, dirty little classic of the sub-genre with a (literally) explosive climax. Both the writer and artist of "Out of the Grave" (from #11) go beyond the realm of good taste when they depict scenes such as the one showing the cobbler unrolling the skin and displaying his own son's prisoner number. As I've said before (when reviewing the similar "Corpses of the Jury" back in Voodoo #5), the Ajax-Farrell horror stories appeared less than ten years after the atrocities of the Nazis were unveiled. Was this enough time for healing or was the attitude, "Ah, it's just a funny book"? The twist, the dy-no-mite boots, almost allows us to let out that breath we'd been holding while taking in the sheer vileness of the first five pages and laugh out loud. The art has that crude look that would become a staple of the underground comix a decade later; it's perfect for the visualization of a very nasty story.

Jose: Newlyweds David and Sylvia purchase their very own Southern plantation, a defnite move-on-up from their tiny apartment. Though Crestwood is a bit of a fixer-upper, the couple is still joyous over their recent acquisition, even if David can’t shake the feeling that the house seems so familiar to him. General unease becomes full-blown apprehension when David is woken in the middle of the night by an eerie voice calling his name. He follows the cries out into the fetid swamp where the beautiful specter of a dead woman waits for him. The ghost calls David her beloved and says that they will soon be reunited. Despite his horror, David is enraptured by the vision. Dried mud on his feet the next morning convinces him it was no dream and he finds himself longing for the next visitation. Their next boggy rendezvous stirs more passion in David’s breast, and the next morning he’s torn between despising his bewildered wife and holding on to her for fear of what is to come. The specter’s voice becomes too much to bear the following night and David ends up strangling Sylvia to reunite with his phantasmal mate in the churning waters of the bayou.

It’s tough to resist a well-told tale of haunting love. There was a small but considerable run of “supernatural Southern soaps” that cropped up in a few of the pre-codes, and “Screams in the Swamp” (from #10) can certainly count itself a member of that noble tradition. Though its lurid title seems to hint towards a ghastlier affair at its heart, “Screams” is a somber ghost story that draws its power from the moral/emotional conflict at its center, that of a possible-man-out-of-time facing the harrowing decision of choosing between the woman he knows and loves and the shadow of the one he feels destiny has drawn him back to. Ajax-Farrell attempted to tackle (and exploit) the man-with-multiple-lovers theme a few times—the apotheosis in ridiculousness of which has to be the howlingly misogynist “Fear of the Witch” from #15—but “Screams” never seems to be winking at its audience and approaches the text with the serious tone of a doomed romance. And for that we are thankful.

Peter: Dr. Chadwick is convinced that it is the will to live, not love, that is the strongest emotion in the human body. To prove his theory, he hires lovers Mary and Bob to live in a cage with little water or food. He continually taunts them, attempting to convince one to give up the other for a bite to eat. The lovers stay true for a week but then the savagery begins to roll in and soon they are at each other's throats. Chadwick's scientist buddy, Horton, stops in to see how the experiment is progressing and realizes, very quickly, that his colleague has gone mad and the couple need to be released immediately or the authorities will be summoned. Loathe to abort his research, Chadwick locks Horton in with Bob and Mary and watches as another week goes by and the trio become mad animals. While tossing a raw steak into the cage, the scientist slips and his legs enter the cage. The three drooling lab rats savagely tear Chadwick's legs off.

One of the most famous of the Ajax-Farrell horror stories... and for good reason. The truly nasty "Experiment in Terror" (from #13, reprinted in Tales from the Crypt V.1 #10) has a tightly written script (there's no fat or wasted pages in this one) that delves deeper into the human psyche than most pre-coders. Here we have yet another example of how mean-spirited these comic book writers could be, doling out injustice to the innocent. Bob's not a bank robber; Mary's not an adulterer. The future of the loving couple is hijacked simply because they needed enough dough to get hitched. I'm not complaining, mind you; I prefer my horror stories with a bite and "Experiment" provides us with a few of those bites. Chief among them is the climax, where we witness Chadwick falling prey to his subjects and having his legs gruesomely chewed off. Well, at least that's what we picture in our minds as the artist wisely limits what we see to the professor's face and anguished "M-my legs! EEEEEEYOWWWWWW-"  The most terrifying take away from "Experiment", to me is that, chances are good, no one will find the three poor souls trapped in that cage. Artist Carl Burgos loved his contorted figures (Chadwick is a hunchbacked dwarf) and he pulls yet another wonderful visualization out of his magic hat; in Burgos' hands, Bob and Mary go from vivacious, loving couple to fierce-eyed wharf rats in a matter of panels. Bill Schoell, in The Horror Comics (McFarland, 2014) calls this one "a mini-masterpiece." I can't argue with that.

Jose: Tortuga, 1703. Sir Giles Romney, governor of the colony, has an especially horrid means of punishing criminals: he has them lashed to wooden posts on the shore so that the hundreds of ravenous crabs coming in from the ebbing tide have a meal all tied and ready for them. Most folks can’t stand the governor’s cruelty, most of all his young wife Damaris who is actually dallying with handsome John Burton, Giles’ secretary. They meet in secret with the help of Damaris’ servant and plan their escape from the island. But on the way back the servant is hailed by Giles’ guards and questioned for her part in the conspiracy. The servant fesses up only after she is given a taste of the crabby treatment. Showing that he has some heart, Giles orders a speedier death for the servant and then cruises past the beach with Damaris in tow so that she can see her lover screaming a curse out as his skin is pincered-off inch by inch. The governor has Damaris locked away and then sets sail for the high seas, but he starts singing a different tune when pirates lay siege to his vessel. The two ships are blown to smithereens and Giles is left as the only survivor. The heavy driftwood that keeps him afloat ends up crushing his legs when he washes up on the beach where Burton’s denuded bones wait for him, and it isn’t long before the air is filled with the clacking of tiny claws and the ghostly laughter of the late, broken-hearted Damaris.

“Terror Below” (from #12) is without a doubt one of the handful of non-E.C. pre-code tales that came closest to successfully emulating that company’s treasured house style. A conte cruel whose gears of vengeance hum smoothly and audibly from the first panel, “Terror” remains on point throughout the entire duration and builds grandly to its inevitable but oh-so-righteous finale. It reads like a costume drama seasoned with a bit of the Grand Guignol to spice up the action. (Slow and gradual consumption by critters of sea and land is a staple of the pulp tradition, and this counts as one of the most squirmy variations of the theme.) Sir Giles is the pompous, utterly vile villain we all love to hate, and his punishment sits right along with with the best poetic-justice endings to come from the hallowed halls of horror comics.

Peter: Archaeologist Matt Taylor is bitten by the deadly temple spider while exploring the pyramids of Egypt. As he lay dying in his tent, a strange, sensual woman approaches and tells Matt's colleague her name is Suthina and that she can save the poisoned man. She puts her lips to his bite and, a few days later, Matt makes a full recovery. Owing his life to the woman, Matt agrees to Suthina's wish to travel back to the States with him. When the pair arrive at Matt's home, he has to explain to his frosty wife, Molly, that Suthina will be aiding him in his research and so will be staying at the house with them. It's not just the idea of a gorgeous dame living in the same four walls as her hubby but also the plethora of dusty crates Suthina has moved into her room. One day, while cleaning, a big ugly spider dashes across the floor in front of Molly and she kills it, drawing ire and a slap to the face from her house guest. Later that day, as Molly is trying to relax from her trying day of house cleaning, the door opens and several spiders march in and attack the terrified Molly, picking her bones in a matter of minutes. Suthina dumps the leftovers into the incinerator but the foul smell draws Matt downstairs and he makes a gruesome discovery. Confronting Suthina, Matt becomes entangled in a giant spider web and the sultry, sexy maiden reveals her true self to the doomed Matt. Then she devours him.

No, this doesn't contain the deepness displayed in "Experiment in Terror", but "Web of the Widow" (from #16 and reprinted in Weird V.1 #11) is a heck of a lot of fun. Matt seems to be one of the biggest chumps in the history of funny books, thinking that bringing home a babe from Egypt won't rock the boat. Then, opening his incinerator and emitting a puzzled "A human skull! F-freshly burned! But who - and why?" and confronting Suthina with "What the heck is going on around here? What's that skull doing in the furnace? Where is Molly?" Bright boy. Then there's the siren, Suthina (think Gale Sondergaard), who hasn't thought out her master plan beyond eating Matt and then setting her sights on a vacuum cleaner salesman named Christopher Fly ("His name is Fly! Oh no! This is too good! This is terrific!"). Suthina explains to Matt, just before she dines on him, that she's come to America to escape her enemies but what kind of enemies could a human spider fear (a giant wasp?)? Has she come to conquer America with her army of twelve spiders? And why does her body transform (into that rarest of spiders, the six-legged variety) but her head remain human? Don't ask me any of these questions because I... don't... care! Sometimes all you need from your pre-code horror stories is a sultry babe who can hide her stinger under a Dior.

Jose: Jack Burch sits in the lobby of the Rex Arms while his girl Liza is upstairs trying to explain to old flame Gregor that she is in love with Jack now. The saddened Gregor promises to do something desperate, and even as Jack tries to console the weepy Liza that everything will be alright Gregor takes a nosedive from his window right onto the sidewalk in front of them! Needless to say, Liza is mortified and eventually takes ill, losing more of her vitality every day. When Jack explains the situation to the foreign doctor attending her, the doc tells Jack he thinks Liza is the victim of “Satan’s disease”, a form of vampirism that Gregor’s tortured spirit may be committing on his beloved. The doctor promises to return with the necessary tools to expel the evil, but a stroll later that night reveals to Jack that the old man has been coincidentally struck down in the road by a hit-and-run driver. Jack nabs a parcel from the body before anyone notices and upon opening back at home finds a passage from a text on vampire-defense and a few choice relics. No sooner does he review these items than Liza is moaning in terror at the approach of a wispy, cloaked ghoul floating through the window. Jack bravely cuts his own wrist and fills a bottle with his blood to entice the revenant from Liza while brandishing a talisman to keep it at bay. Its hunger too great, the vampire mists its way into the bottle to drink and Jack corks it into a glass prison. Liza soon gets well but Jack still has his little vampy in a bottle. Perhaps you would like to take it off his hands…?

The biggest thing that “Devil’s Bride” (from #16, reprinted in Weird V. 1 #10) has going for it is Jack Burch. So many times in the pre-code horrors (and contemporaneous comics in general), the leading man fell into one of two categories: the Lysol-clean hero of unassailable virtue, or the unremitting, typically-lusty villain with a heart of mold. Those rare instances when writers were able to strike that happy middle ground—and, you know, make their characters seem a little more like people—would yield some beautiful results, and Jack is surely one of them. As our narrator, Jack comes off as a stereotypical wiseguy at first, even a little bit heartless for the small remorse he feels for taking Liza away from Gregor and his flippant attitude towards the suicide of same, but as the story goes on Jack proves himself as a caring lover with an impressive resourcefulness and fiery attitude that saves everyone’s bacon. (“Go on! Get in there!” he chides the demonic Gregor. “Wet your chops on some of that nice blood! My blood!”) The unknown artist renders the slobbering fiend as an ample match for Jack, two suitors fighting for the hand of Liza, and the writer’s addition of the old myth about suicides turning into vampires upon their death breathes a little refreshing air into the hoary creature. But it’s Jack Burch that we come away rooting for in the end. If only the folks at Ajax-Farrell could’ve given him his own series. I would’ve bought that for a nickel!

Peter: Detective Bill White and his partner Mike Todd answer a call and find a mutilated blonde ("She might have been pretty - once...") torn to shreds, as if by an animal. Nearby, the pair find their only clue: a huge three-toed footprint. The next night, a man is viciously mauled and lives long enough to give a description of his attacker: a demon with scales and talons! Again, nearby, a unique footprint is found. By the following week, the city has lost nine of its occupants to the murderer but White has a theory: he believes the monster is the evil spirit Kehama, a demon from the center of the Earth that can take human form and must eat flesh to survive. To his surprise, his commissioner shows interest in the theory and authorizes the use of policewomen as bait. The plan goes awry when Bill is clobbered from behind and the bait is gobbled up. Bill gives chase, tracking the killer by its patented three-toed footprint, and discovers the creature has doubled back and waits for the detective in Bill's apartment. White enters and the monster explains that it would have murdered Bill back in the alley but he needed the detective's body. The final panel reveals that it is the Kehama, not Detective Bill White, who has been relating the story.

Hardboiled detective meets inhuman monster in "Fanged Terror" (from #18), a nicely illustrated noir standout from the final issue of Haunted Thrills. More than anything, "Fanged Terror" resembles an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with its Kehama creature and the driving narrative. Amazing that, on a whim it seems, Bill visits a library and exits with the solution. What would send Bill into the library in the first place and what card file indexes "mythological flesh-eating creatures" (Bill's boss asks the man: "Huh! You mean you can read?")? The art here is top-notch for a pre-coder, with some panels right out of 1950s film noir. Though the finale, where Bill/Kehama lets the reader in on his secret, brings a smile ear to ear, I'd have liked to see a couple more panels depicting the monster jotting down the story in his notebook, attempting to hold a ballpoint with his giant three-fingered hand!

Jose: One would think it obvious not to get involved with a saucy lass with a name like Cynthia Hyde, but thick-in-muscle-and-skull farm laborer Tom Court can’t help but fall ass over tea kettle for the blonde beauty. Cynthia can’t wait to dump the boor, and she wastes no time in pursuing artist Tony Penberty, a fact which Tom finds out right after defending his lady’s honor in a bar scuffle. Efficiently jilted and maddened by jealousy, Tom sharpens his trusty scythe and lies in wait as the two lovebirds picnic in the isolated countryside of Dorset. Their afternoon tryst is brought to a screaming halt when Tom thunders out and slashes them to ribbons, dumping the murder weapon and their bodies in a deep bog and sending their car over a seaside cliff. Tom’s brought into the constabulary for questioning, but he chuckles the whole matter off since nothing can be stuck to him without the corpses turning up. The killer’s happy spot of fishing takes a dark turn when two hissing swans begin to menace him, snapping their beaks at his face. Tom realizes with cold dread that the swans have the eyes of Cynthia and Tony just before they stab out his own peepers, leaving him moaning and blind as they take flight to the heavens.

“Blade of Horror” (from #16, reprinted in Weird V. 2 #4) may seem a tad slight clocking in as it does at a lean five pages, but its short length gives the tale just the right amount time to deliver its final bite with a quiet power. It’s a fairly uncomplicated story, but it’s told with the assurance and grace of practiced hands plying an old trade, much like Tom does himself. Though Tom is depicted as a bit of a lummox, his anger over Cynthia’s romantic slight and the insane turn his machinations take come off as natural and even induce a touch of sympathy. The story really earns its stripes for the interesting manner in which Tom’s supernatural punishment is delivered. The elegant forms of the swans is an unexpected juxtaposition of beauty and horror, their seemingly-harmless appearance making their act of blinding Tom and leaving him to stumble through the rest of his life in complete darkness all the more cruel. For once in the pre-codes, death seems to be the more preferable of the options.

Peter: All his life, Wilbur Cummings has let people walk all over him. The poor little mouse avoids any kind of decision or confrontation for fear he'll be made to look a fool. One night, Wilbur trips and  has a fatal fall down his stairs. His soul arrives at the Gates of Heaven and Wilbur is excited to finally be in a place where he belongs. Unfortunately, Saint Peter has a nasty surprise for Wilbur: there's a place for a man who does good but not for a man who "never did anything much!" Dejected, Wilbur wanders the clouds until he falls between a gap and into a volcano. This time he appears at the Gates to Hell and demands an audience with Satan. Ol' Sparky asks Wilbur what evil he has done that warrants a pass into the exclusive club. Wilbur thinks long and finally offers that, as a child, he had stolen a watermelon from a neighbor's yard. The devil has the man thrown out on his ass for wasting his time. Once again without a home, Wilbur dusts himself off and wonders what he'll do next when a robed figure approaches. Death tells Wilbur Cummings that he feels sorry for him and is giving him one more chance at life on Earth but that he must do something either very good or very bad. As Wilbur approaches his house, he sees his wife in the upstairs window and wonders if he'll do something good (buy her that new house she's been ranting about) or something bad...

The very last story in the final issue of Haunted Thrills, "No Place to Go" is a deranged variation of It's a Wonderful Life but much funnier. From his hellacious marriage to his rejection from St. Peter (poor Peter can't even remember the man's name, calling him Wilbur Cummings and Wilbur Stevens in successive panels!) to his hilarious short time in Hades ("... you poor excuse for a sinner!"), Wilbur is comicdom's Saddest Sack, receiving satisfaction only in the final two panels. Nice touch leaving Wilbur's decision up to the reader's imagination. I know what I'd do.

Jose: In an old Roman camp near Dorset (again with bloody Dorset!), a series of bizarre killings has Scotland Yard baffled and word on the street linking the crimes to a horrible monster that can vanish in the blink of an eye. Fully acknowledging this belief as truth, the police force smartly assigns two patrolmen (!) on the night shift to keep an eye out for the critter. The bobbies get more than they bargained for when the slithery, dragon-like beast materializes and chomps down on one officer and leaves his pal shooting ineffectually at it. Realizing the extent of their ordeal, the Yard calls in supernatural expert Dr. Christopher Fenn to handle the spooky business. The doctor believes the monster is a “psychic manifestation of evil”, a leftover curse from the Druids that they placed on the heads of their sworn enemies, the Romans. Journeying to the site with Wendy—whether she’s wife or secretary we never find out—Fenn summons the spirits of three Roman soldiers using an incantation from the Devil’s Catalog. Fenn entices the soldiers to destroy the monster that murdered them long ago, figuring the only thing that can kill one ghost is another. His plan goes swimmingly, but with the serpent now dead the soldiers turn their swords on the humans and prepare to slaughter them for the inconvenience. Fenn and Wendy flee and then remind the soldiers they must hold off their punishment until the humans have had a fair trial. This stalls the centurions just long enough for Fenn to find the right spell and send them wisping away back to the underworld.

Deviations from the standard issue vampires and zombies and mad doctors were at times few and far between in pre-code land, so a tale along the lines of “Monster in the Mist” (from #17) always manages to come as a gentle respite from the same tired rehashings. It’s a rather gentle story when compared to some of the grue-splattered yarns that filled the pages of Haunted Thrills and others, and almost reaches into high fantasy territory with its depiction of the swords’n’sandals action. The injection of some historical background and mythology does much to enliven the intrigue and action, and the writer pulls a nice switcheroo when he shows us that the would-be saviors of the tale are just as bloodthirsty as the beast they have slain. Dr. Fenn himself isn’t the coolest (or entertainingly ineffectual) paranormal investigator we’ve seen so far, but the artist renders him and the rest of the cast with a rough, not-quite-finished style that adds a bit of charm here to an already smart and handsome tale.

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

War is Hell
Peter: Lieutenant Murphy is awarded the Silver Star for merit in combat but Murphy has self-doubts about whether he should have been given the medal in the first place. After all, the real heroes died on the battlefield and he was one of the lucky ones. In the end though, Murphy must admit that "Life is funny - and so is death, in a way! My men earned the medal, not me! But maybe the general was right - I'm wearing it for them!"

The vast majority of the stories I've picked over the last twelve chapters of Dungeons of Doom for "Stinker of the Month" have been tales that have put me to sleep or scripts so inane they defy description. Not so with "Badge of Glory". Oh, it's not a very good story, make no mistake, but my main objection to the story is that it has no business in Haunted Thrills. Yes, I'm well aware of the "horrors of war" and all that but if I want to explore that aspect of man's inhumanity to man, I'd pick up Our Army at War or Battleground. There's not one panel here that justifies its inclusion in a horror title. I assume "Badge of Glory" was actually slated for appearance in one of Ajax-Farrell's five war titles but all five had been axed prior to its appearance in Haunted Thrills #12 so the editors naturally dumped it into the first slot available. Not only does "Badge" come equipped with a cliched script (with stereotypical Asian soldiers), but it's also saddled with insanely ugly artwork and a baffling final-panel about-face from the main protagonist (after spending eight pages bemoaning his new medal, the light suddenly comes on in his head as if he's received a telegraph from the Ajax editor informing him his time is up). I've read a lot of stories for the DC War blog and this is not the worst I've ever slogged through but it deserves its "Instantly Forgettable" status.

Jose: Henry Cravens gets some bad news from the doctor: he has a malignant disease which he will soon die from. (Henry, not the doctor.) Henry bemoans his terrible diagnosis and savors all the beautiful nuances of life on his way home from the office. Now he’ll never know how really good that novel he never finished would have been. Alas! Henry writes out a meager last will and testament before bedtime and naturally suffers a vivid nightmare of his own death once asleep. The entire process from discovery and bereavement to interment and purification are seen in "vivid" detail. Henry awakens from this night terror only to give himself a heart attack from fright. But alas! Henry kicked the bucket too soon to see the note from the Doc that Henry’s test results were mixed up with some other poor sap’s and that he’s actually A-OK. Henry’s departing ghost doesn’t take kindly to the late notice and tears the Doc’s throat out as punishment.

The horrors of eczema. 

“If I Should Die—” (from #18) already has a tired plot working against it for starters, but the uncredited writer and artist proceed to let the reader down even further by failing to put anything into the story resembling effort. The script plods along for the duration without so much as a twinkling of excitement, and during the two crucial parts when you really expect some steam to pick up, the nightmare sequence and the vengeful ending, the art department blows the job in a big way. Not only are the illustrations throughout several rungs below coloring book-pedigree, but the juiciest bits of the story are completely weenie-fied so that the shot of Henry being “consumed” by hundreds of ravenous worms turns into him squeezing invisible pimples on his face and the gory finish for the doctor is communicated through an exterior shot of his office building and a speech bubble of his delirious pleas. It’s just as exciting as it sounds. If you should die before finishing this story, consider yourself luckier than Henry Cravens.


Dan was recognizable from his accent.
"All right, you old witch, I'm taking charge here! Gimme all the food you got, and all your money! Try to hold out and I'll wring your scrawny neck!"
- "Murder on the Moor"

"John Adams was a law-abiding man. When the authorities banned black magic rites on his small island, he thought out his duty very carefully and then decided his action. Long had he suspected old Yvonne of witch practices, and besides she was careless about paying her rent..."
- "Witch's Horror"

“Like ripe black fruit the figures dangle from the tree…”
- “Blood in the Sky”

“Colonel Eric von Grimm and his wife Helga were a loving couple—they loved to inflict pain, to hear the dying screams of those poor unfortunates who were not of the master race!”
- “Out of the Grave”

“Women! I’ll never understand them! Just because Gretchen has a lampshade of human skin—Helga must have one! While I—I haven’t even got a decent pair of boots!”
- “Out of the Grave”

“Allow me to introduce myself! I am the Cruel Cavalier—and I will kill you!”
- “Death Laughs Last”

“For the first time he feels fear stir in him—a feeling like cold worms moving in his entrails…”
- “Rendezvous with Doom”

"For the first time I touched her! She seemed to enjoy being petted, and watched me with her limped brown eyes..."
- "Death Do Us Part"

"Goodbye, Tasha! Thanks for everything! And when I hear people talking about dumb animals again, I'll tell them about you!"
- "Death Do Us Part"

-"Web of the Widow"
“For Hubert had a way with women—a way to do away with them, that is!”
- “Frigid Fear”

“A simple, routine business of opening a bank vault for the day’s work… and out popped the Devil!”
- “Wheel of Terror”

"Ohh, please hurry! The Merchants' Bank. A robbery..."
"Don't get so excited, lady. We'll be right there... But did you say the devil held up your bank?"
- "Wheel of Terror"

Even ghosts like Haunted Thrills!

“So, like a lamb to slaughter, the man from nowhere walks into the muttering ring of corpses…”
- “Trumpet of Doom”

"Looks hopeless! We'll never get to him! Guns are no good against those - (ugh) - things!"
"We're licked! Licked by a lot of corpses!"
- "Trumpet of Doom"

“I see no hope in exorcising this succumbus [sic], Mr. Farson!”
- “Fear of the Witch”

Reed: …Except that I’m going to kill you, too! You were a little too greedy! Now you neither get my body or my wife!
Doctor: No! Stop! You’re insane!
Reed: Hah-hah! Maybe I am! But you’re dead!
- “The Devil Collects”

“This is a crazy story! Or maybe not so crazy after all, maybe it’s just ghoulish and horrible and sickening!”
- “Devil’s Bride”

“Y-you pick a spider up and fondle it! You’re insane!”
- “Web of the Widow”

"Strange! We've got an incinerator for burning rubbish! And there's something I don't like about this smell! It seems vaguely familiar - like the burning ghats by the Indus River! I know - scorched bones!"
- "Web of the Widow"

Nannette the Tiger says these quotes are greeeeat!
“Not a cloud in the blue English sky, not a note of menace in the peaceful Dorset downs—yet cruel murder stalked the hedges!”
- “Blade of Horror”

"I know a way that might work, Jim! And it -- it isn't murder! But we might get rid of her!"
"Tell me, baby! I'll listen to anything -- except actual murder!"
- "Mirror of Madness"

“A foul smell fills the night! Fangs glisten and a long forked tongue licks out! Fire and smoke belch from the fetid mouth of the beast from the past! The constable never has a chance…”
- “Monster in the Mist”

“But when you monkey around with psychic phenomena, Wendy, you’ve got to be ready for anything!”
- “Monster in the Mist”

Vanya decides to shed her current lover.
"How could I have loved him? He is ugly to me now! And he dances like a cow!"
- "Devil's Ballet"

Sam Dexter was afraid! Sam Dexter had reason to be afraid! Because Sam was pretty sure he was going crazy! Insane! Every time he looked in a mirror he saw himself - as Napoleon! Was he Sam Dexter? Was he nuts?
- "Die Screaming"

"It's not only the mirror! I find myself reading battle maps, panning campaigns, things like that! And when anyone mentions Waterloo, I scream out loud!"
- "Die Screaming"
Peter's parents knew something was wrong after
he finished reading the final issue of Haunted Thrills

So the ancient Roman camp once more sleeps beneath the blood red moon! The dank night mist rises and curls over the ruins like an ever-changing shrowd [sic]!
- "Monster in the Mist"

"My work! The novel I'll never finish! It all seems so unimportant now! And it would have been a good novel, too!"
- "If I Should Die -"

"Poor Henry! Tough to die in your prime like this!"
"Yes, he was a good man! A good writer, too, but he didn't live long enough to really write anything good!"
- "If I Should Die -"


Peter: Sometimes it's very hard to explain why certain stories resonate the way they do. With nearly forty terror tales to choose from each month, it's extremely hard to narrow it down to just one example. There was no such anguish this month. When I read the camp classic known as "Die Screaming" (from #17), I immediately knew this had to be my Story of the Month. A quick read through might evoke "What crap!" from the majority of our readers but I implore you to read deeper into the context. I sincerely believe that our uncredited writer put his tongue firmly in his cheek and took the Mad Magazine fork in the road, offering up a parody of the type of story Haunted Thrills (and, indeed, all the pre-code titles) stuffed their zines with and a wrap-up worthy of a hardy WTF?!. Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong. I've read five hundred plus horror stories in the last ten months so I may be ready for a strait-jacket of my own (I just hope mine is as easy to break out of as our protagonist's). Campier than a pink parasol, I give you:

Jose: My picks for “Story of the Month” have generally fluctuated between “uppers” and “downers”. There’s been just as much corny goof-offs here as there has been bleak horror. Today’s selection is closer to the latter camp. Although it’s not quite near the soul-crushing despair of “Monumental Feat” or “Corpses… Coast to Coast”, “Trumpet of Doom” (from #14) certainly has its share of shocking frissons, not to mention a good deal of originality. Taking the standard zombie-master-out-for-revenge plot as its template, “Trumpet” gives it a fresh twist by incorporating elements of Biblical mythology. And in more ways than one, as the late appearance of a mysterious, unnamed character seems to testify. If “Trumpet” didn’t already send your eyebrows flaring with its depiction of a full-on revolt of the undead, then the holy-punishment-from-the-heavens conclusion (after the villain has revoked his sins to boot!) is sure to blow your mental gates wide open.

The Comics
Haunted Thrills #10-18

#10 (July 1953)
Cover Uncredited

"Death at the Mardi Gras"
Art Uncredited

"Screams in the Swamp"
Art Uncredited

"Murder on the Moor"
Art Uncredited

"Witch's Horror"
Art Uncredited

#11 (September 1953)
Cover Uncredited

"Blood in the Sky"
Art Uncredited

"Death at the Throttle"
Art Uncredited

"Dead Man's Chest"
Art Uncredited

"Out of the Grave"
Art Uncredited

#12 (November 1953)
Cover Uncredited

"Terror Below"
Art Uncredited

"Badge of Glory"
Art Uncredited

"Death Laughs Last"
Art Uncredited

"Voodoo Vengeance"
Art Uncredited

#13 (January 1954)
Cover Uncredited

"Experiment in Terror"
Ar by Carl Burgos

"Rendezvous with Doom"
Art Uncredited

"Death Do Us Part"
Art Uncredited

#14 (March 1954)
Cover Uncredited

"Frigid Fear!"
Art Uncredited

"Wheel of Terror"
Art Uncredited

"Trumpet of Doom"
Art by Robert Hayward Webb

"Dying is So Contagious"
Art Uncredited

#15 (May 1954) 
Cover Uncredited

"The Devil Collects"
Art Uncredited

"Terror on Location"
Art Uncredited

"Fear of the Witch"
Art Uncredited

"Death is the Jury!"
Art Uncredited

#16 (July 1954)
Cover Uncredited

"Devil's Bride"
Art Uncredited

"Web of the Widow"
Art Uncredited

"Blade of Horror"
Art Uncredited

#17 (September 1954)
Cover Uncredited

"Mirror of Madness"
Art Uncredited

"Devil's Ballet"
Art Uncredited

"Die Screaming"
Art Uncredited

"Monster in the Mist"
Art Uncredited

#18 (November 1954)
Cover Uncredited

"Tiger -- Tiger!"
Art Uncredited

"If I Should Die --"
Art Uncredited

"Fanged Terror"
Art Uncredited

"No Place to Go"
Art Uncredited

In four weeks, our first bone-shaking jaunt into the world of Strange Fantasy!


Jack Seabrook said...

Another great post, guys! It's really a shame that no one has identified the creators of these stories yet. Maybe someday!

Grant said...

And then setting her sights on a vacuum cleaner salesman named Christopher Fly."

Is that a very big tradition in horror stories? Because the same thing happens with Paul Birch's vampire from another planet and Dick Miller's vacuum cleaner salesman in NOT OF THIS EARTH.
And I saw a comic book scene like that recently on the "Horror Of It All" site, except that there it was not only a female SF creature, but a saleswoman instead of a man.

Peter Enfantino said...

It's probably because door-to-door salesmen were much more prevalent back in the 1950s. Today the monster would set her eye on the kid who works down at the Apple store.

Grant said...

Thank you.

Speaking of traditions, I can't help liking "Die Screaming" (in spite of disliking the sort of overdone morbid title), because another cliché that used to be so popular is the mental patient who thinks he's Napoleon. I'm not sure how it got started, but it was a big for some time idea in comedies (I'm not so sure about horror stories or other dramas).