Monday, October 28, 2013

TV Horror Anthology - Thriller (1960)

NBC 1960-62

Hour long series hosted by Boris Karloff at his most charming.  His introductions are an excellent stage for him, allowing him to be manic and over the top without too much self parody.

The episodes were well made and have a certain appeal, but weren't particularly chilling.  Standouts include The Incredible Doktor Markesan and an adaptation of Robert E Howard's Pigeons From Hell.

There was a comic book version that lasted into the 80s, while Thriller didn't even bother the show up for it's own finale, which was an unsold pilot for a crime drama, the Specialists.

See also A Thriller a Day.

History's Gallery of Monsters 5 - William Stewart, the Monster of the Mary Russell

History's Gallery of Monsters 5 - William Stewart, the Monster of the Mary Russell
by John Kobler
Dime Mystery Magazine v17 n01 04/1938

There was a series of historical true crime articles in Dime Mystery Magazine, and if this entry is any indication, they were nastier than the weird menace tales that the periodical was known for.
"the crowbar descended, mashing his nose, jaw, forehead into an obscene horror of splintered bone and flesh."
Oh, dear.
"Wielding his weapon like a medieval battle-axe, he slashed back and forth, breaking Connell's head as though it were a flower-pot." 
Oh, my!
"He flung the crowbar from him and took up an axe. He plunged himself into
a fresh frenzy of slaughter. He was like a mad butcher loosed in a slaughterhouse. He literally chopped the battered flesh around him into small bits until he stood ankle-deep in blood, until brain and bone and fragments of flesh had splattered every inch of floor and ceiling."

The whole issue is available at

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Shadow Warriors 3: Ninja Nightmare

Shadow Warriors 3: Ninja Nightmare
by Joseph Rosenberger
Dell Publishing 1988

We're thrown into the action right from the beginning, as ninja master Scott McKenna botches a hit on some Chicago gang leaders.  He's assisted by a wrongfully fired Chicago cop and a shopkeeper whose family was murdered after he refused to pay protection.  Weirdly, these two are working for pay, while one of the famously altruistic ninja is doing it pro bono.  Evidently ninjas murder people for some kind of vague sense of Buddhist oneness or something, which explains why he isn't bothered with killing a cop and blacking out half of Chicago (causing untold rioting and mayhem) in the process.

This is Rosenberger so let's get ready to ... plan!  In the second failed assassination attempt, McKenna lies in wait hidden amongst roofing insulation for a day before and after the hit.  If this isn't exciting enough, we're taken through every detail of the planning, walkthrough, and execution.

The martial arts sequences aren't quite as silly as the Mace series, though with more mysticism.  McKenna is able to bring his consciousness to a state in which he can see the future, which doesn't seem to enter into things other than to increase his confidence.  He's also able to bring his breathing into a state called "Stroking the Death Bird", which I'm sure is not a euphemism.

This heightened sense of awareness and altered state of consciousness serves McKenna well in the conclusion, in which he dispatches an army of gangsters using the ancient art of lobbing grenades and C4 at everybody until everybody is dead.

The action scenes are serviceable, though perhaps not as manic as some of his other writing.  Only one enemy looked stupid when he died, and there isn't a detailed medical report on every wound dealt out.

Let's see how Rosenberger does with the touchy subject of race relations.  At the very least the lingo is outdated.  Nobody was a jive turkey in 1988, and I doubt any gangster's been named Jelly Roll since World War II.  McKenna's little gang is appropriately multi-racial for the time period, though points off for having to mention every time a new character is "a black".

There is the small matter of McKenna running around in blackface through about half of the novel.  I'm willing to give some allowances.  After all, he is a master of disguise, and he did have a valid tactical reason for the subterfuge.  However, McKenna's almost mystical talents have their limitations:
"you don't sound black.  Your voice is too young, too educated"
 Go stroke your Death Bird, Rosenberger.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Secret 6 - House of Walking Corpses

Secret 6 2
House of Walking Corpses
by Robert J Hogan
Secret 6 11/34

The Secret 6 were six adventurers that banded together to fight crime, known only to each other by their code names.  There's King, the leader, Shakespeare, the actor and makeup expert, Doctor, the scientist, Bishop, a strong fat guy, and Key the lockpick.  Rounding out the Six is Luga, a Zulu chieftain, which would have been progressive for the time if not for the fact that he's a "self-appointed slave" to King, calls him Master, speaks in broken English, etc.

In this adventure the Six run into a dead body, encounter walking corpses, deal with a fake curse, but mostly they deal with petty travel arrangements, like how to refuel a plane and which car the members will take.

A watered down Doc Savage copy, with none of the wit or fun of the original.

Dead End

Dead End
by Guy N. Smith
1996 Zebra Books

Guy N. Smith does Kafka.  Or Jacob's Ladder, or Dark City, or whatever.  There is a portal to hell in a closed city development, and dead souls live out a continuation of their miserable mortal lives.  The rich are corrupt, the poor shiftless, and the vagrant Downers are the lowest of the low, smoking crack and feeding on human flesh.

A driving instructor and his deaf (when Smith remembers it) student sneak into the Ghetto to rescue their departed loved ones.  There is an election in the Ghetto/Waste/Hell between equally corrupt factions, leading to a massacre of Downers and prisoners in the only horrific scenes of the book.  Smith goes for Kafkaesque frustration and befuddlement more than thrills.

Smith sometimes pretends that maybe something else is going on, like a government conspiracy, but no, it's just hell.  He has a bad habit of entertaining an atmosphere of mystery only to reveal that everything is pretty much what he said it was in the first place. 


by Guy N. Smith
1982 Dell Books

Had enough of exorcists yet?  Guy Smith hasn't, and this time we've got one as a main character.  A former Jesuit exorcist has a mid-life crisis after his wife leaves him, and he takes up with a codependent divorcee.  For a lark, they go on a tour of a closed slate mine, because that's what people do for fun in Wales.

Just so happens that the mine is haunted, and the exorcist prepares to drive the spirits out.  He spends some time talking to unfriendly townsfolk to discover the horrible secret of the mine, to learn what dreadful sins were committed that people generations later refuse to talk about.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Dark One

The Dark One
Guy N. Smith
1995 Zebra Books

A middle class family watch the troubled child of their working class friends.  Grisly accidents seem to follow him, later revealed to be the result of satanic rituals.

Set against the backdrop of the Satanic Panic scare that hit England after America grew out of it, the real horrors seem to be the more mundane creepiness that lies implicit behind the page: wife swapping, sexual abuse, puberty.  Unfortunately, these elements weren't exploited.

For those keeping score, another failed exorcism, another adulterous newspaperman, and more looking down one's nose at the despicable poor.

Kindle ebook from Amazon

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

TV Horror Anthology: Ghost Story aka Circle of Fear

Ghost Story
aka Circle of Fear
NBC 1972

William Castle goes back to the well with the modern gothic formula that worked so well in Rosemary's Baby and pretty much nowhere else, including here.  A shame considering the names that were involved: Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Jimmy Sangster.  The first thirteen episodes were hosted by Sebastian Cabot as Winston Essex, the owner of the hotel Mansfield House.  Because nothing says terror like one of television's most friendly faces speaking from a pleasant sunny resort.  After the rating didn't improve, Cabot was dropped and the name changed to Circle of Fear, though the stories remained in the realm of the supernatural.

The washed out VHS copies I saw didn't help, but the whole series screams 70s made for TV movie, all hair and earth tones.  The only stand out was Legion of Demons, if only because it had Dr. Moustache Love himself Paul Carr as part of a corporate coven.

Other moments of interest include what may be a prenatal appearance by Sean Astin, and Tab Hunter proving that, despite his camp charm, he could barely talk, much less act.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Death Merchant 43: The Devil's Trashcan

Death Merchant 43: The Devil's Trashcan
by Joseph Rosenberger
1981 Pinnacle Books

To lure out the Nazi organization ODESSA, the Death Merchant Richard Camellion, along with US and West German intelligence agencies, send out a diving expedition to the bottom of Lake Toplitz, where a legendary stash of Nazi documents may have been buried at the end of the war.

I've read reviews about the ridiculous, over the top violence of the Death Merchant series, but maybe I've just had bad luck.  This particular installment had two small action scenes, neither especially memorable or graphic.  What we had instead were lengthy planning sequences, pissing contests over which intelligence agency was more gay, and more planning.  And dive tables.  Because nothing says action like discussing what ratio of oxygen to nitrogen is needed for diving at varying depths for varying length of time.

I know Rosenberger went to all the trouble of going to the library to get these tables, so damn it, he's going to use them.  But nobody cares.  I'm sure actual divers care when they go diving, but it doesn't make for interesting reading.  You're the Death Merchant.  You kill people for a living.  Memorizing dive tables doesn't make you any cooler.

Paperback from AbeBooks

Doc Savage 004 - The Polar Treasure

Doc Savage 004
June 1933
The Polar Treasure
by Lester Dent as Kenneth Robeson

Doc and the gang save the life of a blind musician who's the key to finding a treasure sunken in the polar icecap.  I managed to get this far in the Doc Savage series before running into any particularly nasty racism.  Dent must have been saving it up, because he does not like him some Eskimos.  In addition to being savage and ignorant, a sentence doesn't go by without calling them greasy or smelly.

Things that Doc Savage is the best in the world of in this episode include world's best composer and world's best singing voice.  Also, he can cure blindness and his skin repels water like a duck.

Kindle ebook from Amazon

Friday, October 11, 2013

Satan's Snowdrop

Satan's Snowdrop
Guy N. Smith
1983 Pocket Books

An old stilted house belonging to the Reichenbach family, overlooking the cliffs where Sherlock Holmes met/faked his death, haunts the families of two different men that move the house, first to New York, then England.

There's quite a bit of nastiness in the visions of the tortures that haunt the house's past: piles of limbs, crotches lashed off with whips, etc.  In the "real" world, victims die of accidents or heart failure, including an exorcist and a boy killed by a possessed spacehopper.

As with too much supernatural horror, there is more page length dedicated to figuring out the rules than actual scary stuff.  Does transferring ownership of the house end the curse?  How about the mysterious snowdrop flower, will replanting it put the souls of the dead to rest?  How exactly should it be planted?  This kind of tedium bogs the whole business down.

Kindle ebook from Amazon

Pluto Pact

Pluto Pact
Guy N Smith
Littlehampton Book Services 1982

I'd say this was in the small occult nuclear accident genre, but the only other example I can think of off-hand is Holocaust 2000.

A plutonium processing plant in Scotland is in crisis after accepting too many deposits, and it threatens to blow up England and maybe the world - I'm not sure about the science here.

The plant is opposed by a small town newspaper publisher, and most of the page count is taken up by him cheating on his wife and being a general SOB.

For some reason the leak of nuclear materials causes a couple of men to kill prostitutes (casually referred to as whores by the narrator).  The area is quarantined, and the book's mild horrors come from the resulting rioting and suicides.

Did I mention the warlock's curse?  Well, neither did Smith, hardly, but the area is cursed by a warlock, which aside from a couple of dreams only manifests in the conclusion.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Executioner 362: Patriot Acts

Executioner 362
Patriot Acts
by Douglas P. Wojtowicz
2009 Gold Eagle

Brainwashed assassins of a deep cover pseudo government agency The Rose Initiative slip their programming and team up with militia groups to capture the Initiative's stash of weapons of mass destruction in an effort to start a civil war.

Pretty by-the-numbers.  Mack Bolan beats up people to find a place to shoot people.  The action scenes are decently handled, with just enough gun porn to keep things from becoming too monotonous.  Patriot Acts does suffer from a lack of sense of place.  Too many times characters are just there doing things, with no idea of where they are or how they got there.

Kindle ebook from Amazon