Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Two: The Creeper [1.38]

by Jack Seabrook

On May 8, 1945, Winston Churchill announced that World War Two had come to an end in Europe, but the fight was ongoing in the Far East. In Chicago, while soldiers were still far away and their wives and girlfriends were making the best of things on the home front, a woman named Josephine Ross was found stabbed to death in her apartment on June 5th. Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, bringing fighting overseas to a close, but the Ross murder went unsolved and, on December 10, 1945, a second murder in Chicago set the stage for "The Creeper," the second episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents with a teleplay by James P. Cavanagh.

The second murder, of a woman named Frances Brown, who was found dead of a stab wound and a bullet wound, was a spectacular news event because, written on the wall of her apartment in lipstick, was the message: "For heavens/Sake catch me/Before I kill more/I cannot control myself." A third murder followed, when six-year-old Suzanne Degnan's body was found in pieces after she had been reported missing from her family's apartment on January 7, 1946.

An intense search for the killer was underway when, on March 29, 1946, the radio show Molle Mystery Theater presented "The Creeper," by Joseph Ruscoll, a dramatization that fictionalized the story of the Lipstick Killer, as the unknown murderer had been dubbed, compressing the time of the murders, moving the location to New York City, and suggesting a solution. The radio broadcast was a success and led to numerous re-stagings of the tale on radio and television until it aired as the next-to-last episode of season one of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The radio play begins as husband and wife Steve and Georgia Grant hear a radio news broadcast reporting that the Creeper has struck again, strangling his third female victim in as many days and leaving a note scrawled on the wall begging police to catch him before he kills again. The Grants bicker over breakfast: he has been suspended from his job as a policeman due to overeating and she is getting over the flu. Although the lock on their apartment door is broken and there have been murders in their Washington Heights neighborhood three days in a row, Steve goes out and leaves Georgia home alone.

Steve goes to a bar and runs into Pearley Chase, a newspaper reporter who drinks too much; we learn that Georgia is a beauty who used to be on the stage. Steve and Pearley speculate on the Creeper's identity and mention that all of his victims have been redheads. Pearley comments that there seems to be a pattern: the women lived in apartments numbered 1-A, 2-B, and 3-C. Steve discounts the alarming fact that his wife is a redhead who lives in Washington Heights and that their apartment number happens to be 4-D.

Meanwhile, Georgia walks to the drugstore to buy medicine. The druggist is flirtatious, but Georgia refuses his offer to deliver her order to her apartment and leaves the store in terror after he quotes the Creeper's message. She runs into Mrs. Stone, who lives across the hall, and talk turns again to the Creeper; when Mrs. Stone suggests that the Creeper might be a woman, Georgia flees in fear. Things don't go much better for Georgia when she returns to her apartment building. The doorman's comments unnerve her and the elevator boy makes a pass at her and causes the elevator to get stuck between floors until she tells him to get moving.

Constance Ford as Ellen
Back in her apartment, Georgia struggles with the broken door lock and telephones a locksmith but receives an unexpected visit from Pearley Chase, who claims that her husband asked him to keep an eye on her and who tells the locksmith he need not bother to come. Pearley knew Georgia when she was on the stage, before she married Steve and, though she tries to get rid of him, he insists that she turn on the radio and forces her to dance with him. Pearley still loves her but she despises him; in frustration, he remarks that he could kill her and get away with it. She breaks down in tears and he finally leaves, after telling her that she will be the Creeper's next victim.

The doorman buzzes through and tells Georgia that the druggist has arrived with her medicine; she will not let either man come up and instead calls the locksmith and begs him to come in a hurry. Mrs. Stone from across the hall tries to come in but Georgia will not let her; at last, Steve telephones and says he is back on the police force and on his way home. They apologize to each other for their behavior that morning and Steve tells her that he did, in fact, ask Pearley to keep an eye on her. Though Steve tells her not to let anyone in, she admits the locksmith, just as her husband tells her that the police have a new theory about the Creeper's identity: that of a locksmith! The locksmith/Creeper strangles Georgia as Steve speaks frantically on the telephone, then the Creeper picks up the phone and repeats his famous message to the husband of the woman he has just killed.

In the final scene, reporter Pearley Chase calls in a story to the newspaper to say that the elevator boy heard Georgia scream and called a cop; the Creeper was shot running from the building but it was too late for Georgia Grant.

Steve Brodie as Steve
In the summer of 1946, 17-year-old William Heirens was convicted in Chicago of the three real-life murders and sentenced to life in prison. He was not a locksmith. In the world of entertainment, Joseph Ruscoll's radio play "The Creeper" became a staple of the airwaves. A new production was broadcast on the series, Murder at Midnight, on November 25, 1946, and by this time it was referred to as "a classic in terror and suspense." This version ends with Georgia's death and omits the final scene where Pearly Chase reports the capture of the Creeper.

A second broadcast on Molle Mystery Theater followed on April 11, 1947, but this version has been lost. "The Creeper" was then adapted for the television show, Suspense, and aired on April 19, 1949. This early TV show has not survived. It was back to the radio for the next adaptation, which aired on Murder By Experts on July 18, 1949; this version dramatizes the third murder in the opening scene and alters the scene where Georgia (renamed Vicky) takes the elevator and fends off a pass by the elevator boy--here, the elevator operator is older and less forward. The original ending is restored this time around, with Pearley reporting the capture of the Creeper.

A second TV version followed, on the series The Web on November 29, 1950; unfortunately, like the version on TV's Suspense, this broadcast has been lost. The last radio version aired on a series called The Chase on January 25, 1953; the announcer calls it "Joseph Ruscoll's famous thriller" and this version includes the original ending.

Harry Townes as Ed
The year 1953 saw publication of The Bloody Spur, a Dell paperback original by Charles Einstein that fictionalized the story of William Heirens and the Lipstick Killer murders in Chicago, though the novel, like the radio plays before it, moves the action to New York City. Lucy Freeman's non-fiction study of the murders, Before I Kill More, was published in 1955 and, on May 16, 1956, While the City Sleeps, Fritz Lang's filmed adaptation of The Bloody Spur, was released.

Joseph Ruscoll (1906-1956), who started it all with his radio play, "The Creeper," in March 1946, began his career as a freelance radio scriptwriter in the early 1940s before joining the CBS radio writing staff in 1943. A two-year stint in the Army from 1943-1945 was followed by a return to radio writing, and a number of his stories were adapted for early TV anthology shows in the 1950s. He did not write any scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but another radio play of his, "A Bullet for Baldwin," was adapted during the show's first season. Ruscoll was protective of his famous radio play, "The Creeper," and sued the producer of an unrelated 1948 film called The Creeper for using the title.

Ruscoll died on November 19, 1956 at the age of 50. Before he died, he may have seen the adaptation of "The Creeper" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents; this has become the most familiar version due to regular reruns over the last six decades. While the various radio versions that survive stick closely to the original broadcast of the radio play that aired in March 1946, the Hitchcock version makes significant changes, perhaps because it was ten years' removed from the actual event on which the story was based.

The show begins with a street scene that is set on the front stoop of a New York apartment building, where the Grants' neighbor, Mrs. Stone, chats with George, the new janitor, and we see a newspaper headline: "East Side Killer Still At Large--Police Tag Killer Of Two Women 'The Creeper.'" Mrs. Stone strikes a moralistic tone, remarking that "'Decent women don't get themselves murdered,'" and Mrs. Grant sticks her head out the window to tell George that she has been trying to get someone from the hardware store to come and install a bolt and chain on the inside of her apartment door. Mrs. Stone notes that both of the women who were murdered had husbands who worked the night shift, as does Mr. Grant.

Reta Shaw as Mrs. Stone
The location then shifts indoors to the Grants' apartment, where the next scene follows the first scene of Ruscoll's radio play as the Grants bicker. Georgia has been renamed Ellen and she is over the flu; Steve asks her to go to the shoe store to pick up his shoes, and this outing will later replace her visit to the drugstore from the radio play. The most notable change in this scene--and in the show as a whole--is the absence of any mention of the lipstick message scrawled on the wall of the murdered women's apartments. Gone is the plea to "catch me before I kill more" that was such an integral part of the radio show; in its place is a more run of the mill serial killer.

In addition to this important change, James P. Cavanagh's script moves events around and eliminates characters from the radio show. The scene in the Grants' apartment is followed by a visit from Mrs. Stone that corresponds to Georgia Grant's walk back from the drugstore in the radio play; here, Mrs. Stone stops by from across the hall and we see that the Grants' apartment number is 1-A, not the 4-D of Ruscoll's original. The bar scene with Steve and Ed (as Pearley is renamed) follows, but instead of three redheads killed in apartments 1-A, 2-B, and 3-C, here two blondes have been killed and both were left alone by husbands working the night shift.

The location of the next scene is changed from a drugstore to a shoe store, though the content is essentially the same; Ellen then returns home, skipping the walk with Mrs. Stone. Also gone are the interactions with the doorman and the elevator boy; the Grants are too poor to live in a building with such services and those characters are replaced by George, the janitor, who replaces a light bulb in the dark entranceway as Ellen scurries to safety in her apartment.

Percy Helton as George
She turns to see that Ed Chase has let himself in and the scene that follows is quite similar to the one in the radio show with her and Pearley. When Ed turns the music up loud to drown out her screams, it causes the janitor to come knocking; of course, Mrs. Stone has complained about the noise. Ellen is able to get rid of Ed, but Mrs. Stone witnessed him leaving her apartment and takes the opportunity to do some more moralizing, equating Ellen with  the other immoral women who have been the victims of the Creeper. In the final scene, the locksmith calls on the intercom and we hear his voice, though we never see him. Steve telephones and there are cuts back and forth between him and Ellen as they converse; we hear the locksmith come in and, just as Steve warns Ellen about the police suspicion that the Creeper is a locksmith, the terror of who she has admitted to her apartment fills Ellen and her face shows fear as a hand comes from offscreen to cover her mouth. The show ends here, without the final commentary by Pearley Chase about the capture of the killer, though Hitchcock delivers much the same commentary in his closing remarks.

The original radio play of "The Creeper" revolved around the horrible message written in lipstick on the wall of the victims and repeated numerous times throughout the show by various characters. Why did James P. Cavanagh decide to eliminate this central point when he adapted the show for television? Perhaps it had to do with While the City Sleeps having been released just a month before this episode aired on CBS on Sunday, June 17, 1956. The episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents appear to have been filmed no more than a couple of months before they aired, so it may be that the producer was aware of the impending release of the Lang film at the time the script was assigned and the decision was made to avoid telling a story that was so close to that of the film. It would be interesting to see if the prior TV adaptations of "The Creeper" included the lipstick message; unfortunately, neither televised version seems to have survived.

In any case, the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock Presents version of "The Creeper" is an excellent half hour of suspense, with a fast-moving script, solid direction, and an outstanding cast. Starring as Ellen is Constance Ford (1923-1993), who was born Cornelia Ford in the Bronx, just across the Harlem River from Washington Heights, where Joseph Ruscoll's radio play of "The Creeper" is set. She started modeling at age 15, was in the original cast of Death of a Salesman in 1949 as Miss Forsythe, and began her screen career in 1950. She was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents twice and also had roles on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. She had a long-running role on the soap opera Another World, from 1967 to 1992, and died in 1993.

Alfred Linder as the shoe store man
Ellen's husband, Steve, is played by Steve Brodie (1919-1992), who was born John Stevenson and who took as his stage name the name of the man who famously claimed he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived. Brodie was on screen from 1944 to 1988 and was seen in the classic noir film, Out of the Past (1947). He was in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Enough Rope for Two," and he was also on Thriller.

Giving a fine performance as Ed Chase is Harry Townes (1914-2001), an actor who could seem intense and menacing one moment yet sad and vulnerable the next. He was on Broadway before serving in the Army Air Corps in WWII; his screen career lasted from 1949 to 1988 and included an important role in The Screaming Mimi (1958). He was on the Hitchcock show four times and also appeared in classic episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller. Oddly enough, in addition to being an actor, he was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1974.

The redoubtable Reta Shaw (1912-1982) plays Mrs. Stone; she was on Broadway beginning in 1947 and had a screen career from 1952 to 1975. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show but she is remembered for her role in Mary Poppins (1964) and as a regular on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir from 1968 to 1970. She was also on Thriller.

Always-welcome Percy Helton (1894-1971) plays George, the janitor; he began his career in vaudeville as a child and served in Europe in WWI. His career on screen lasted from 1915 to 1922, then again from 1936 to his death; he was on The Twilight Zone twice and on Alfred Hitchcock Presents seven times, including "Nightmare in 4-D."

William Heirens, who served a
life sentence for the murders
Alfred Linder (1902-1957) plays the man behind the counter in the shoe store; he was on screen from 1939 to 1957 and also appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Shopping for Death."

Finally, "The Creeper" was directed by Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993), who directed 27 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Cure," and who also directed 16 episodes of Thriller.

"The Creeper" was remade for the 1980s' revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and aired on March 16, 1986. Though the credits say the teleplay is based on Cavanagh's 1956 teleplay and Ruscoll's story, the latest version is almost unrecognizable. Karen Allen stars as a woman who lives alone in a dirty and dangerous big city; the menace comes more from the fragmented metropolis and its unfriendly denizens than the serial killer himself. This show is a disturbing portrayal of a woman alone.

The surviving versions of "The Creeper" may be accessed online for free as follows:

Molle Mystery Theater, March 29, 1946
Murder at Midnight, November 25, 1946
Murder By Experts, July 18, 1949
The Chase, January 25, 1953
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, June 17, 1956
Alfred Hitchcock Presents, March 16, 1986.

The Hitchcock versions are also available on DVD here and here.

Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here.

"The Creeper." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 1, episode 17, NBC, 16 Mar. 1986.
"The Creeper." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 1, episode 38, CBS, 17 June 1956.
Ellett, Ryan. Radio Drama and Comedy Writers, 1928-1962. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2017.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Ruscoll, Joseph. "The Creeper." The Chase, 25 Jan. 1953.
Ruscoll, Joseph. "The Creeper." Molle Mystery Theater, 29 Mar. 1946.
Ruscoll, Joseph. "The Creeper." Murder at Midnight, 25 Nov. 1946.
Ruscoll, Joseph. "The Creeper." Murder By Experts, 18 July 1949.
Stewart, Bhob. "Lipstick Traces." Confessions Illustrated. Gemstone Pub., 2006.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2018,

In two weeks: Fog Closing in, starring Phyllis Thaxter!

Monday, January 28, 2019

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! The Final Issue!

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
The Final Issue: The Picto-Fiction Titles
The Third (and Fourth) Issues + The Wrap-Up

Rudy Nappi
Shock Illustrated 3 (May 1956)

"Curiosity Killed"★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall
(from Tales from the Crypt #36)

"The Demon"★★1/2
Story by John Larner
Art by Graham Ingels

"Sin Doll"★★★
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"One Man's Meat"★★★1/2
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by George Evans

"Curiosity Killed"
Henrietta Clayton suspects her neighbor Wallace murdered his wife Emily and begins to watch his movements closely. She observes that he comes home every day with a shoebox and figures out that he is carrying out an elaborate scheme, cutting his wife's body into pieces small enough to fit in a can carried away by a pigeon, then emptying the contents of the can so it can be eaten by dogs. When she explains this to her husband, he reveals that he plans to do the same to her.

One of Feldstein's loonier ideas, "Curiosity Killed" originally appeared in shorter form in Tales From the Crypt. It's still fun, though a bit drawn out, and I think I'd enjoy anything drawn by Reed Crandall.

There's been a murder in the wax museum! A madman named Ellis cut the throat of another victim right in front of a wax figure of himself and escaped unseen! The police are nervous and, when a reporter named Hardy mocks them, they challenge him to demonstrate his courage by spending a night in the waxworks alone. He agrees and the night is a horror, since the wax dummy of Ellis comes to life and holds a knife to Hardy's throat. In the morning, the police find him dead of fright, with nary a mark on him; Ellis had been caught the evening before, uptown.

"The Demon"
An uncredited adaptation of A.M. Burrage's classic 1931 story, "The Waxworks," "The Demon" adds a nonsensical murder at the beginning before getting down to business. Ingels does a decent job with the illustrations but there's little new here, and I wonder why they didn't credit the source. Didn't they learn their lesson after Ray Bradbury caught them?

Laura awakens after another night spent with a strange man and sobs to her rag doll, Lorelei. She receives an unexpected visit from her former beau, Fred, who is distraught at having been dumped. He shoots her and then himself, but his suicidal aim is better than his homicidal one, and she is barely injured. Laura has a breakdown but is quickly cured by a stay in a hospital; when she gets out, she picks up a sailor and beds him. Disgusted with her own behavior, she begins psychoanalysis and discovers that her disorder stems from a reaction to her emotionally abusive father. Now that the mental floodgates are open, the former "Sin Doll" looks forward to a cure.

"Sin Doll"
One of the better psychology stories I've read in the EC line, this tells an extended tale over the course of 20 pages. Kamen's art is at its best, for the most part, and the problems Laura encounters and their causes fit together logically.

Paul is a milquetoast whose wife, Myra, treats him with scorn. He finds out that she's cheating on him with a man named Marsh, but when he begs her to give up her lover she is unmoved. Things were so much better when Paul and Myra spent their honeymoon at the lake! After Myra stays away for two weeks, she comes home and it becomes clear that Marsh has stopped returning her calls. Paul takes her back to the lake to try to recapture the old magic and makes her a nice dinner but, when she scorns him, he reveals that the meat that made up the main course was cut from her lover's body.

The ending of "One Man's Meat" took me completely by surprise! I fully expected Paul to snap and murder Myra. Instead, we get a reminder of the great, ghoulish EC style of yore, albeit without the gore. Evans's art is superb throughout.-Jack

"One Man's Meat"
Peter: "The Demon" starts off as a variation on (ohholyJesusnotthisagain) the hackneyed "night alone in a wax museum" plot, then veers a bit into a more satisfactory territory with its genuinely creepy climax. Yeah, I was ready to crow on about the fact that Ellis can hold his breath for hours at a time and that surely Inspector Clouseau is heading up the search in the wax museum when writer John Larner throws in a perfectly acceptable twist. Really nice Ingels pencils here as well.

"Sin Doll" is a sleazy (without being fun sleazy) dip into subtle nymphomania and endless psychobabble that runs on at least ten pages too long and gets us absolutely nowhere when it finishes up. By this time, my moaning and groaning about Jack Kamen's stencils is probably getting as old as I am after reading this crap, but I'll just say this and leave well enough alone: I thought for sure this story was going down a different alley when Laura saw Fred (the guy who had recently eaten his gun) in a sailor's suit on the bus. Of course, that was a misunderstanding on my part due to the fact that all of Kamen's characters look exactly alike!

"One Man's Meat" (oh, is that title a double entendre or what?) is the kind of story EC historians should stumble over themselves to call "groundbreaking" or "daring" or "hell razing," but that I would call "tawdry" or "cheap" or (once again) "sleazy." It might be historic if Jack Oleck had told it like it is, daring to address the issue without masking it in an apron or an aversion to dusting ("Not that Paul was that type"). It's a wonder we don't see our poor, put-upon protagonist dancing in his living room, clad only in Myra's panties and a feather boa, singing show tunes. If Paul is such a dandy, how the heck did he get the upper hand on Marsh? Oh, and if Jack didn't mention it already, that final panel is a rip-off of Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter."

Reed Crandall
Crime Illustrated 3 
(Cover-dated June 1956 but never released)

"Deadline" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall
(From Shock SuspenStories #12)

"Repeat Performance" ★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Wally Wood

"Wanted for Murder" ★★★ 1/2
Story by John Larner
Art by Al Williamson

"Booby Trap"  ★1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Charles Sultan

"Out of My Mind" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen
(From Crime SuspenStories #6)

Lawrence Greig was a fine reporter till he began to hit the bottle hard. Now he's just a drunk, begging the managing editor of the Morning Globe for a break. Greig is in love with a beauty named Annie and needs cash to keep seeing her, so the editor tells him he can have his job back if he digs up a front page story. Wandering the streets, he enters a greasy spoon and happens upon a murder--the owner of the place just killed his wife in the back room and tells Greig that she was a tramp. The reporter calls in his story but hears the woman let out a moan. He bashes her skull in so as not to lose his big story but is horrified to see that the woman he just killed is his beloved Annie!

"Plain" Margaret in
"Repeat Performance"
"Deadline" may have a predictable finish, but Reed Crandall's art is suitable for a pulp or a 1950s' paperback cover. His shading is especially nice, evoking the despair of the drunken reporter whose last chance goes horribly wrong. This is a far cry from the art of Jack Kamen in the original comic book story.

Handsome George and his plain wife Margaret rent a great apartment at a low price and don't mind that it was the scene of a murder three months before, when David King poisoned his wife, Ruth. Soon, Margaret meets beautiful Lisa Dayton, who lives downstairs with her husband. Lisa cozies up to her new neighbor, George, and before you know it they are lovers. George confesses to Martha and gives her a bitter-tasting drink. Yet when the cops take a dead woman out of the building it isn't Martha, it's Lisa, whose husband poisoned her. He finally got tired of her philandering, since she had also been the other woman in the prior murder.

Assigning Wally Wood to draw a story like "Repeat Performance," with a main character who is described as a plain female, is doomed to failure, and this story has one bad twist after another. The final surprise--Lisa is dead, not Margaret--is poorly executed.

"Wanted for Murder"
An escaped convict named Kempner comes across a beautiful woman bathing naked in a stream and follows her to a campsite, where she joins a man. The convict attacks them and learns that they are Harry and Susan Baird, who bargain for their lives by telling Kempner that they can lead him to a fortune in an abandoned shack. The trio makes its way to the shack, where Kempner is surprised by police, who shackle him to Baird. It seems Baird and Susan are not married: Harry killed her father and they hid his money in the shack!

A taut and suspenseful story, "Wanted for Murder" benefits immensely from Al Williamson's art, especially his depiction of Susan, a real knockout.

"Booby Trap"
Insurance man Frank Bliss meets pretty Joyce Fairbanks at a party. The fact that she is married doesn't stop him from calling her the next morning to ask for a date, an invitation she accepts. Within months they are in love and, before you can say Fred MacMurray, Bliss sells Joyce's husband, Ed, a $30,000 life insurance policy. Frank plans a "Booby Trap"--a man is beaten to death and his body is sent off a cliff in his car. The killer returns to Joyce, who gloats over the success of her plan with her husband to murder Bliss; she will identify his body as that of her husband and collect the insurance money.

Little more than warmed-over Double Indemnity, this story, illustrated by newcomer Sultan, falls apart when the murder occurs and the identity of the killer has to be hidden for the last couple of pages. It's clear there's a twist ending being set up and that can mean only one thing.

Betty Jane Andrews plans to murder her rich husband, Bert. She fakes an attempt on his life to show she's "Out of My Mind," then decides she will kill him for real later that night. Betty murders Bert in his bed with a meat cleaver and pleads insanity at trial, where she is sentenced to the insane asylum run by Bert's brother, Harvey. In the asylum, Betty does a good impression of a lunatic and receives treatments that begin to be a bit much, so she confesses to Harvey that she meant to kill Bert and is perfectly sane. He admits that he knew it all along and orders more treatments for her, since she'll be there a long time.

"Out of My Mind"
What starts out as a fairly entertaining story with a female killer who is hard-boiled and straightforward about her intentions drags on too long and becomes a catalog of treatments in the crazy house. Jack Kamen's art is no more exciting here than in the comics.-Jack

Peter: I liked “Repeat Performance” and “Wanted for Murder” in both script and art department. It’s nice to get a few last glimpses at the work of Wally and Al and there are some comedic moments in “Repeat” that really shine (“George, she . . . she’s simply fascinating,” Margaret told George’s newspaper one day.). Like the best of the crime Pictos, these two stories call to mind Gold Medal crime novels. I was not so fond of “Booby Trap,” which has a climax very reminiscent of “Repeat Performance” and some lazy graphics by Charles Sultan. Roger Hill, in his detailed notes for Crime Illustrated in the Cochran box, remembers that EC fans were not at all happy with Sultan’s work, and it’s easy to see why. Sultan's style is a little too much like Joe Orlando’s and Sultan peppers his stuff with the same kind of swipes as Orlando (here he borrows Liz Taylor for some angles of Joyce). I will say that it’s fascinating that Oleck and Feldstein took advantage of the prose delivery and were able to conceal the similar switcheroos in “Booby” and “Repeat” right up to the last “panel.”

Reed Crandall
Terror Illustrated 3 
(cover dated June 1956 but never released)

Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall
(From Shock SuspenStories # 2)

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Mother"★★1/2
Story by John Larner
Art by Jack Davis

"Kid Stuff"★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"The Long Wait"★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Johnny Craig
(Originally appeared as "Dead Wait" in Vault of Horror # 23)

Ann Dennis takes a job minding the children at Briarwood Orphan Asylum, which is run by the penny-pinching Mr. Critchit. She supplements what little money she gets to buy food for the children by adding her own cash and goes door to door begging for used clothing. Critchit refuses even to buy a pumpkin so the kiddies can celebrate "Halloween" and, when Ann discovers that he's being paid well and keeping most of the money, she confronts him. He begins to strangle her but the children, dressed in their costumes, intervene and use his severed head as their jack o'lantern!


A classic EC story, brilliantly illustrated by Crandall. Happily, the final panel doesn't shy away from showing us the head, though the lack of color tamps down the gore.

When Miss Hetty dies, the old undertaker thinks back to how he had known and loved her since they were children. She grew up and married a salesman named John Price; when he died, only the undertaker knew that Hetty had murdered him. She grew old, lost her mind, and finally died, and when the undertaker visited her home he found that she had taken Price's corpse and slept next to it for years. The faithful undertaker will replace her corpse next to that of her husband.

No one draws old, sad folks quite like Ghastly, but "Keepsake," a rather blatant knockoff of Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," is so slow-paced that the ending is hardly a shock.

An alcoholic named Krebs leads his wife and kids to shelter of a sort in an abandoned house where rats roam free. In a rage, Krebs strikes his wife and kills her; after he walls up her body, the kids are taken away and he is left alone with the vermin. Krebs begins to think one particular rat is the reincarnation of his wife, but his efforts to kill it backfire and lead to his own demise.

"The Mother"
Jack Davis's dynamic visuals are the highlight of "The Mother," which meanders from plot point to plot point but which ends on a satisfying note.

Playing in the local cemetery, brother and sister Joey and Melissa fall through a sinkhole and discover an underground cavern, where they find a coffin that houses a vampire! Mom doesn't want them playing near dead things and Dad works a long, hard day, so the kids are basically left to their own devices. Dead pets are one thing, but when a woman is found dead then Joey takes matters in hand and fashions a stake in the shape of a cross. He and Melissa destroy the vampire and go home to the realization that Dad won't ever be coming home.

Young Peter watches The Twilight Zone
George Evans does a fine job on "Kid Stuff" and the story is well-told, even if the end lacks punch. However, if one is going to address the vampire myth, why is the coffin open and bathed in sunlight from above, and why does Dad head off to work each day? Are we supposed to take that "going to work" equals sleeping in his coffin?

Buckley has spent years enduring "The Long Wait" before snatching the opportunity to murder Duval on a remote island and steal his valuable black pearl. He orders Kulu to row him back to civilization, but the native decides to harvest a treasure of his own: the red-haired head of the white man named Buckley!

Terror Illustrated ends with a retread of a decent story that allows Johnny Craig to demonstrate yet again why he was so good at comics and illustration.-Jack

"The Long Wait"
Peter: "Keepsake" is a bit on the long side but it's effective and rather risqué (after all, necrophilia wasn't as widely accepted in the 1950s as it is today). Surely, Oleck was trying to evoke Poe with his flowery prose. "The Mother" has to be the most padded picto-fiction story we've yet encountered and the finale is over the top. "Kid Stuff" is an honest-to-goodness monster story, sadly scarce in the Pictos, but its reveal is predictable and built on a foundation of cheats and misinformation. Did mom know about dad's nighttime occupation? Without getting into salacious detail, I'd say she must have! If so, did she marry him with this peculiar character trait? If so, how did he sire two children? How could she trust a vampire in the house with her two kids? Wouldn't Joey have been afraid of asking his pop about vampires after seeing him in a coffin? Sloppy storytelling.

Rudy Nappi
Confessions Illustrated 3
(cover dated July 1956 but never released)

"High School Bride" ★★ 1/2
"Teen-Age Temptress" ★ 1/2
Stories by Daniel Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"Love Cheat" ★★
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Johnny Craig

"The Alcoholic" ★
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"Two Husbands" ★★
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Joe Orlando

"High School Bride"
Cathy Martin is head over heels in love with dreamy Lee Everett and he thinks she's pretty keen as well, so they ignore the fact that they're not even out of their teens yet and, before she knows it, Cathy is a "High School Bride"! Their parents don't see things the way the young couple do and Lee's dad forces him to remain in school and get a night job to support his new wife, so the lovebirds move in with Lee's parents to begin their holy matrimony. But marriage isn't all it's cracked up to be, Cathy finds, and Lee is a stick in the mud, working all the time. By the time he gets home, he's not in the mood for... well, you know. Cathy begins to go out on her own at night and is soon carousing with horndog Bob Lowery. At first, she resists his untoward advances but, when a woman can't get free cookies at home, she tends to shop at another store. She lets Bob take her (that way) but the shame is too much and she skips town, heading for the city and a new life.

After a short time, she begins to miss Lee and all the great times they had (revisionist history at work), so she hops a train and heads home. While she's aboard, Cathy worries what Lee might say when she tells him she's been sharing the goodies, but a dizzy spell wipes all that from her mind and, suddenly, she has more to worry about than Lee. A woman knows her own body, but a trip to the family doctor confirms her suspicions... Cathy is about to have a little Lee! Uh oh. Suddenly, Cathy realizes she might not be having a little Lee but rather a little Bob. Suddenly, her husband's reaction is a big deal again ("What would he say when I told him that I was going to have a baby... and that I didn't know if it was his... or Bob's?") but, luckily, sweet strumpet Cathy lives in a 1956 EC world, where men forgive their wives' sins and love them forever, even if the kid looks like the guy who delivers the milk, and Cathy and Lee decide to give it one more go.

"Teen-Age Temptress"
And you thought the first two issues were risqué and middle-fingers at Wertham! The outcome is a little too predictable (and lifted almost whole from "Unfaithful Wife" in the previous issue), but there's no denying that these little sleazy fables are a hoot and highly entertaining. It's always fun to see how Keyes will describe that intimate moment that inevitably befalls our female narrators (I knew that it was wrong. I knew. But it was sweet, too.). In a fascinating essay in the Russ Cochran box set of the Picto-Fictions, EC historian Roger Hill relates how Confessions Illustrated was the only one of the new PF line that was imitated by another publisher (Myron Fass's True Problems, published in June, 1956) and, after Hill's summary of that one-shot, I know I can't sleep at night until I've read it.

The unnamed narrator/protagonist of "Teen-Age Temptress" is one of Daniel Keyes's sleazier creations, a woman seemingly devoid of any morals or self-imposed stop signs. She beds her beau's pompous, bible-thumping father in order to prove he's just as salacious as she but then, after rubbing the infidelity in her boyfriend's face, she is shocked to find the old man hanging from the chandelier. Now sonny refuses to marry her. The disgraced harlot packs her bag and becomes the 34th Confessions Illustrated girl to leave town with her head hung low. I don't know enough about the author (and, in the same Picto-Fiction Cochran volume, John Benson raises doubts as to Keyes's authorship of these CI stories) to raise questions about Daniel Keyes's thoughts about 1950s' women in general, but maybe this was the kind of material he was told to write by Al Feldstein. The "Jezebel" of "Teen-Age Temptress" (and several other of Keyes's female characters) is deeply disturbed and immoral but is surrounded by moral and upstanding males. The one man who strays pays the ultimate price to "bury his dry lips in the soft hollow" of this girl's throat. She's willing to sacrifice her self-esteem just to hurt the boy she claims to love. Of all the Confessions Illustrated stories, this one is probably the nastiest.

"Love Cheat"
In "Love Cheat," Andrea has had enough of her dead-end life. Do you blame her? She's a young, gorgeous woman stuck in a 9-to-5 waitress job at the diner her husband, Tim, sunk his last penny into, far from the bright lights and gaiety she desires. So, when a Hollywood producer comes into the diner one day and sweeps her off her feet with promises of stardom, riches, and romance, Andrea slips out the back door and begins a new life. But, as so many of her CI sisters can attest, life is full of simple promises and paper dreams and, very soon, Andrea learns that something that sounds too good to be true usually unravels by page nine. Mr. Hollywood puts Andrea up in an expensive hotel but then ditches her after he gets what he wants (wink, wink) and leaves her with a boatload of bills. With no other recourse, the depressed dame takes a job as a waitress in a seedy diner (oh, the irony!) and settles in for a miserable life. An angel with extra-large wings arrives in the form of hubby, Tim, who hired private dicks to hunt Andrea down and is now on his knee, begging her to come back. Life as a waitress in your husband's Five-and-Diner ain't so bad, you know? Well, I knew it was only a matter of time before these things started settling into a pattern and lost the variety that hooked me in the first place. How many more wives who desire a better life so they leave their devoted husband and fall on hard times only to be rescued by said hubby? The Craig art is a plus and there are a few giggles here and there (as when Andrea gives up her sweeties to the producer and sighs, "How could I deny him what he wanted?"), but the writing is certainly on the wall.

"The Alcoholic"
Jill loves to make a drunken spectacle of herself at the parties she attends with panty-waist husband, Bill, but it seems that Bill has had just about enough. He accuses her of drinking to excess so she can come on to the other men at the party and Jill tells him that she only drinks because she's sick to death of his rules and regulations. Friend Dr. Cottrell suggests that both of them should be in therapy and, after a particularly lengthy scream-fest (and Jill's arrest for drunken driving), the couple agree to see a therapist. It's there that Bill makes his stunning confession: it's he who's "The Alcoholic," and he's been one for years. Y'see, his mom was an alky and his dad killed himself to escape her and ever since then Bill has hated what liquor can do to a person and yet, two-faced dork that he is, he's kept his sickness from Jill all these years and tortured her with his accusations! But the psychiatrist brings all of Bill's self-loathing and mom-hatred to the surface and it all escapes like so many bubbles from flat champagne. All that's left is the make-up kiss, fifty thousand bucks in psychiatry bills, and lawsuits from Jill's drunken accident. In so many ways, "The Alcoholic" is a stunning departure from any other story that appeared in Confessions Illustrated. For one, it's the longest (at sixteen pages) and the wordiest; two, there's no first-person narrative; and three, it's easily the most boring and insipid trash to appear in the rag, lacking anything remotely close to a new thought or interesting thread. Bill's alcoholism almost seems to be dropped in to make things spicy at the climax. Only one ludicrous scene brought a smile to my face: when Jill and Bill have a nasty argument in the kitchen, the fiery babe slaps her husband's sandwich from his hand and "the bread and meat flew in all directions." In his notes in the Cochran box, John Benson theorizes that "The Alcoholic" was not written for CI. I'd second that theory and further hypothesize that the script was actually written for Psychoanalysis and, when that title mercifully imploded, re-written with a new therapist.

"Two Husbands"
In the final story in the final issue, Ellen discovers, to her shock and amazement, that she has "Two Husbands"! How in the world did this poor girl find herself in such a pickle? I'm glad you asked. Seems that first husband, Bruce, was captured by the enemy and presumed dead in Korea. Ellen, being your typical weak woman of the 1950s, decided she couldn't raise her two kids on her own (and she needed another man for, you know, that stuff) and married one of Bruce's army buddies, Andy, who's taken good care of his new family for the last year. That is, until Ellen gets the note from the War Department, beginning with the sentence, "Er, Um, We may have been a bit presumptuous with our proclamation of Bruce's death..." So, now, with her two husbands in the room together, Ellen must make a really hard choice: Bruce or Andy? At least, CI goes out on a high note (or would have, had this issue ever seen a newsstand) with "Two Husbands," the shortest tattle-tale to appear in the zine yet, another departure. Ellen's predicament is not a result of overactive womanly wants or a desire to see the big city; Ellen sincerely thinks she's making the best choice for her two children, despite the fact that she might not even love her second husband. Joe Orlando exits EC with a highly derivative set of pencils (Ellen is clearly patterned after Elizabeth Taylor, one might say a little too derivative), a skill he'd carry over in his work the following decade over at DC. Oh, and a note on the cover report at top: that's not the cover that would have been used for #3 but one derived from another source and used in the Cochran box set. -Peter

Jack: I agree with your assessment of this issue for the most part, Peter. In "High-School Bride," we learn that a married woman is not punished for sleeping with another man. In "Teen-Age Temptress," the woman is not married, so she must be punished for sleeping with her boyfriend's father. Two Kamen stories in a row is too much Kamen. I loved the line: "the sweet roundness of me was temptingly near" her male target. Seeing Johnny Craig's art on "Love Cheat" was a welcome break from the Kamen onslaught and, once again, a married woman is forgiven for straying. It's back to Kamen in "The Alcoholic," a story I had to force myself to finish reading. It lacks the melodramatic charm of the best Confessions and is dull and preachy. "Two Husbands" is almost as dull but only half as long. It seems like these Picto-Fiction mags ran out of steam by the last issue.

Rudy Nappi
Shock Illustrated 4
(Cover dated July 1956 but never released)

Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Kamen

"Came the Dawn"★★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Frank Frazetta
(from Shock SuspenStories #9)

"The Survivor"★★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by George Evans

"Another Man's Poison"★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen
(Originally appeared as "Medicine" in
Crime SuspenStories #9)

"Alter Ego"★★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Graham Ingels

Burton hates his wife, and for good reason: she's fat, ugly, and cruel to him. Finally, he kills her and cuts her into fourteen pieces; he mails her head to the hotel by a lake where they spent their honeymoon and where he booked a return trip for them both, and he buries the other bits in the park. Just as he's about to leave on vacation, the mailman brings back the head, which Burton drops. It rolls down the front steps and the wrapping comes off, exposing his wife's severed head to the cop on the beat. Too bad she'd canceled their trip right before he killed her and the hotel mailed back his package!

Shock #4 is off to a shaky start with "Headwork," yet another variation on a story we saw just last issue! Kamen's work is back to normal, which is not a good thing, and Burton's wife is hideous.

"Comes the Dawn"
A hunter returns to his lodge to find that a beautiful, naked woman had taken refuge there, lost and wet from falling in a stream. She's Cathy Maxwell, recovering from a broken engagement. He's Bob Ames, stunned at her voluptuous beauty. "That night, Cathy was a furnace of consuming desire, and I was her stoker." In the morning, Bob hears a radio report of an escaped homicidal maniac who fits Cathy's description. He shoves her out the door and ignores her pleas to be let in; she screams and he opens the door to find her dead, murdered by the real maniac.

It's fascinating to see Frazetta's work in progress here and I almost like it better than what the finished product might have looked like, since my imagination fills in the rest.

The Survivor"
When the sole survivor of the shipwrecked Dolphin is picked up by a passing vessel, the captain wonders how she survived when the crewmen did not. Little does he know that spinster Miss Anniston and her cat Phoebe made it onto a lifeboat and then a deserted island, where one by one the men died or were killed. In the end, all that was left was the cat, which survived by snacking on its owner.

Some sharp Evans art is wasted in "The Survivor" which, at 10 pages, seems way too long. I figured out that the surprise ending would have the cat as the only one to make it; getting there was really just turning pages.

Nora Haines is consumed by jealousy because she thinks her husband, Luther, a brain surgeon, is cheating on her with his nurse. She spikes his four o'clock dose of medicine with cyanide and promptly gets in a car crash that leaves her needing--you guessed it--brain surgery. Too bad Luther's nurse remembers to give him his medicine right before he heads to the OR.

"Another Man's Poison"
Shock #4 is shaping up to be more useful for historical interest than entertainment value. "Another Man's Poison" is dull and, at twelve pages, twice as long as it needs to be. More and more, I'm beginning to see why EC Comics stories ended on page seven.

George Perry is an unimportant man who notices another man on the bus who reminds him of himself. George decides he must kill the other man, so he befriends him. George invites the man, whose name is Walter, to dinner, planning to murder him, but George gets a surprise when he reads Walter's diary and discovers that his double has identical plans for him.

Ghastly doesn't have much to do in "Alter Ego," a rather predictable little tale, and by the end I thought it was about time to close the books on EC. -Jack

"Alter Ego"
Peter: Well, this is certainly bonus coverage, dissecting a magazine that not only was never published but never even assembled! Again, for the full story, I would prod interested readers to fork over some dough for the Russ Cochran box set which goes above and beyond in its completeness, including the Frazetta art for "Came the Dawn," which only exists on art boards! As for the contents of SI #4, "Headwork" is a drab, lifeless thing with one of the dumbest climaxes to grace an EC tale ever. So, the packaging around Pearl's head managed to make a round-trip to the hotel and back but came completely unraveled when falling from Burton's hands? And the text on page four--"A storekeeper nodded. Ryan, the neighborhood policeman, waved."--describes the scene one way, but the art shows exactly the opposite, suggesting that Jack Kamen had pretty much given up by this point and was probably searching the funny book want ads for a new bullpen to haunt. "The Survivor" aims to throw the reader off the scent (When the seamen left, she began a meticulous toilet...), but it's obvious right from the get-go who the "survivor" is, and the climax comes off as supremely stupid rather than shocking. I doubt so much fuss would be paid to a cat. The only question I have is why the feline waited until Mrs. Anniston was dead to munch on corpses. At least SI goes out on a high note with "Alter Ego," a nicely told story that would fit very well in a collection of Roald Dahl tales or dramatized on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Yes, the reveal is predictable but, for me at least, the twist was secondary to the details of George's drab life and how he aimed to interrupt it for just a bit with something new.


Peter: From the very beginning of this massive project, I took extensive (some would say anally-extensive) notes and rated every single one of the 1167 stories we read and commented on. Those who don't find lists or numbers interesting, feel free to skip this section. One note before the outraged start sending death threats: the percentage represents the stories given a  ★★1/2 or higher, so if a title is given a 50% rating, that means I found half of the stories at least "good." It's pretty tough to hit a homer every time at the plate (Ty Cobb ended up with a record .366 lifetime batting average, which means more than six times out of ten he didn't connect).

TITLE                                ISSUES   STORIES    ★★1/2 +    ★★★★       PERCENTAGE

Frontline Combat                  15              60               49                 5                     82%    
Piracy                                      7              28               21                 5                     75%
Valor                                       5              20               14                 1                     70%                  
Two-Fisted Tales                   24              96              62                 8                     65%
Aces High                               5              20               13                 2                     65%
Shock SuspenStories            18              72               44               10                     61%
Weird Fantasy                       22              88               53               10                     60%
WSF/Incredible SF               11              41               23                 1                     56%
Haunt of Fear                        28            111               56                 5                     50%
Mad                                       23             80                36               10                    45%
Weird Science                       22             88                40                 8                    45%
Crime SuspenStories            27            107                44                 1                    41%
Tales from the Crypt             30           120                46                 6                    38%
Vault of Horror                     29            116               29                 5                     34%
Impact                                    5              20                 5                  1                    25%
MD                                         5              20                3                   0                   15%
Panic                                    12              48                 6                  0                    13%
Extra                                      5              20                 2                  0                    10%
Psychoanalysis                      4              12                 0                  0                      0%

TOTALS                            297          1167            546                 79                    47%

Our Twenty Favorite EC Stories of All Time!


1. "Poetic Justice" (Haunt of Fear #12)
2. "Big 'If'" (Frontline Combat #5)
3. "Halloween" (Shock SuspenStories #2)
4. "A Little Stranger" (Haunt of Fear #14)
5. 'Taint the Meat ... It's the Humanity!" (Tales from the Crypt #32)
6. "Horror We? How's Bayou?" (Haunt of Fear #17)
7. "Mars is Heaven!" (Weird Science #18)
8. "Shadow!" (Mad #4)
9. "Foul Play!" (Haunt of Fear #19)
10. "Outer Sanctum!" (Mad #5)
11. "Carrion Death" (Shock SuspenStories #9)
12. "Strop! You're Killing Me!" (Tales from the Crypt #37)
13. "Whirlpool!" (Vault of Horror #32)
14. "Squeeze Play" (Shock SuspenStories #13)
15. "...And All Through the House..." (Vault of Horror #35)
16. "Shoe-Button Eyes!" (Vault of Horror #35)
17.  "Flesh Garden!" (Mad #11)
18. "Starchie!" (Mad #12)
19. "Blind Alleys" (Tales from the Crypt #46)
20. "Master Race" (Impact #1)


1. “Old Soldiers Never Die” (Two-Fisted Tales #23)
2. “Squeeze Play”
3. “A Little Stranger”
4. “Ping Pong” (Mad #6)
5. “The Handler” (Tales from the Crypt #36)
6. “Enemy Assault” (Frontline Combat #1)
7. “In Gratitude…” (Shock SuspenStories #11)
8. “Surprise Party” (Vault of Horror #37)
9. “Whupped” (Frontline Combat #14)
10. “The People’s Choice” (Weird Science #16)
11. “A Kind of Justice” (Shock SuspenStories #16)
12. “Gasoline Valley” (Mad #15)
13. “Wolf Bait” (Haunt of Fear #13)
14. “Judgment Day” (Weird Fantasy #18)
15. “…so shall ye reap” (Shock SuspenStories #10)
16. “The Aliens” (Weird Fantasy #17)
17. “Mopping Up” (Frontline Combat #7)
18. “Which Witch’s Which” (Vault of Horror #36)
19. “Star Light, Star Bright” (Vault of Horror #34)
20. “A Rottin’ Trick” (Tales from the Crypt #29)


1. "Master Race"
2. "The People's Choice" (Weird Science #16)
3.  "Poetic Justice"
4.   "The Patriots" (Shock SuspenStories #2)
5.  "Starchie"
6.  "Home to Stay" (Weird Fantasy #13)
7.   "Wolf Bait" (Haunt of Fear #13)
8.   "More Blessed to Give" (Crime SuspenStories #24)
9. "In the Bag" (Shock SuspenStories #18)
10. "The Aliens" (Weird Fantasy #17)
11.  "Squeeze Play"
12.  "Wish You Were Here" (Haunt of Fear #22)
13.  "The Million Year Picnic" (Weird Fantasy #21)
14. "...And All Through the House..."
15. "Carrion Death"
16. "Pipe Dream" (Vault of Horror #36)
17.  "Prairie Schooner" (Tales from the Crypt #40)
18. "The Radioactive Child" (Weird Science #15)
19.  "There Shall Come Soft Rains" (Weird Fantasy #17)
20.  "Jivaro Death!" (Two-Fisted Tales #19)

Next Week...
Will love come to the Losers?

And, Finally!
In Two Weeks...
A New Era Begins!