Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Hitchcock Project-Robert C. Dennis Part Eight: "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby" [1.29]

by Jack Seabrook

Stanley Ellin's short story, "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby," first published in the May 1950 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, was adapted for television twice and is a good example of how the changes made for televised versions in 1956 and 1980 reflect the tastes and mores of the times.

Mr. Appleby, a "small, prim man," as described by Ellin, decides to murder his wife and consults a "text on forensic medicine" that he finds in a used book store. He reads of a case where a woman died "after what was presumably an accidental fall on a scatter rug in her home." A lawyer charged her husband with murder but the accused died of a sudden heart attack before anything was proved. Mrs. X had been bringing her husband a glass of water and the lawyer speculated that the man could have put "one hand behind his wife's shoulder, another hand along her jaw, and with a sudden thrust" produced the same result as a fall on a scatter rug.

Appleby is devoted to his shop, where he sells antiques and curios, but when his mother died he needed a new source of money to support the unsuccessful business. He married a woman who did not appreciate his love for the items on his shop, so he murdered her and used her money to stay in business. He married and killed five more wives, each time moving to a new location, but eventually the money ran out and he was forced to seek out a new bride.

Robert H. Harris as Appleby
He meets Martha Sturgis who, though "slovenly and strident," has half a million dollars in the bank. He woos and wins her and she comments often on how Appleby reminds her of her own father. Her lawyer, Gainsborough, makes the arrangements and soon Appleby is once again thinking of murder for profit. Forced to live in his new wife's disorderly home and fed meals too rich for his taste, "Appie," as Martha takes to calling him, is miserable.

One evening, he decides to set his plan in motion and asks her to bring him a glass of water. As she approaches, Appleby places one hand on her shoulder and the other on her jaw, only to hear Martha ask, "Is that what happened to all the others?" To his surprise, she knows all about his prior wives. It seems Martha's parents were the couple that Appleby read about in the textbook: her father murdered her mother by the very method that Appleby adopted for his own series of crimes. Martha decided to get revenge by marrying a man similar to her father and making him unhappy for the rest of his life.

Martha tells Appleby that Gainsborough has enough evidence to convict him of six murders. The lawyer calls every night to check on her and will turn the evidence over to the police if she is not there and in good health when he telephones. Gainsborough calls and Appleby summons his wife, who promptly slips on the scatter rug, falls, and fatally hits her head. Appleby hears Gainsborough on the other end of the telephone line telling him, "Your time is up!"

Meg Mundy as Martha
Like "The Cat's Paw," the prior story by Stanley Ellin to be adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents by Robert C. Dennis, "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby" is a perfect fit for the series. The main character is an ordinary, rather dull man who does extraordinary things. Domestic murders are committed, and there are not one but two twist endings. The first TV adaptation was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, April 15, 1956, near the end of the first season. The title card states that the teleplay is by Victor Wolfson and Robert C. Dennis, based on the story by Stanley Ellin. At this late date, it is not likely that we will determine why it took two writers to adapt this story for the small screen, but it is possible that Wolfson had some difficulties and Dennis corrected them.

While the TV show follows the same basic plot as the story, it also includes significant changes.The show opens by cutting out the story's first section, in which Appleby has already murdered six wives. Instead, we see Martha Sturgis shopping at Appleby's store. A new character named Dizar is introduced; he demands payment of $12,000 for inventory that his father shipped to the curio shop. This increases the pressure on Appleby to come up with money in a hurry and dramatizes his dilemma by adding a somewhat threatening character from the Middle East. Martha drops a valuable antique and it shatters on the floor, foreshadowing her own fall at the end of the show.

We then see Appleby at home with his current wife, who is slovenly and unhappy. He asks her to cash in her insurance policy so he can pay Dizar, but she refuses. He takes a book that was hidden at the back of his bookcase and consults it; the book's title is Accident or Murder, and the fact that it was already there and hidden suggests that he was already thinking about killing his wife.

Appleby brings in a throw rug and arranges it on the floor in front of his chair. He consults the book, asks for a glass of water, bends down as if to tie his shoelace and, when his wife is in position, yanks the rug out from under her. The image of Appleby sitting back in his chair with the rug pulled up to his chest and a stricken look on his face is quite memorable and will be repeated later in the episode. His wife falls and dies when her head hits the stone fireplace hearth; presumably, Wolfson and Dennis decided that a fall to the floor was insufficient to ensure sudden death and added the contact between head and stone.

Appleby immediately calls the police to report an accident, foreshadowing his position at the end of the episode, where he remains on the telephone after Martha's fatal fall. The fact that he has to consult a book to follow the steps to murder suggests that he has not done it before, unlike the story, where he already had murdered six wives without getting caught. The financial pressure on Appleby continues to be a focus of the teleplay, as he pays Dizar the money he owes and then learns that he will not receive any more inventory unless he pays for it on delivery. Dizar suggests to Appleby that he sell more items to Martha Sturgis, who was in the shop when Dizar first visited, and Appleby takes this advice to heart, visiting the woman at home and attempting to make a gift to her of an antique jewel box, though she insists on paying for it.

Gage Clarke as Gainsborough
Appleby begins to court Martha, and Robert H. Harris, in the lead role, is delightfully smarmy in the way he flatters the lonely spinster. They are married and he moves into her home, where he is unhappy with the disorder around him. She, on the other hand, is pleased at the thought that he might lose his shop, since it would mean that he would spend all of his time at home with her. Gainsborough telephones, as he has done every night since her father died, and we see a shot from Appleby's point of view of Martha's feet on a small throw rug. It is clear that he is starting to think about murder. By adding the detail of Gainsborough's nightly call prior to the conclusion, Wolfson and Dennis set up the climax neatly.

Money troubles again rear their ugly head and Appleby comes home one night to say that he must pay Dizar $7000 by the next day or he will lose his shop. Martha refuses to lend him the money. In a parallel to the earlier scene with his first wife, the desperate need for quick cash drives Appleby to attempt a murderous act. Once again he arranges the rug on the floor, sits down, requests a glass of water, bends to tie his laces, and suddenly yanks the rug from the floor, this time pulling it all the way up to his chin. However, there is no sudden fall; instead, Martha asks: "Was that how you did it before? Was it Accident or Murder?" She tells him that she found the book and Gainsborough found out about his first wife.

Michael Ansara as Dizar
Here, the show diverges in a very important way from the story, as there is no mention of Martha's parents. Instead of seeking revenge for her mother's murder, she sees it as her duty to protect other, unsuspecting women from Appleby by remaining his wife. Wolfson and Dennis must have decided that the coincidence of having Martha be the child of the couple about whom Appleby reads in the textbook was too far fetched, and they may have been correct. The Martha of the TV show appears to have been genuine in her affection for Appleby and it is clear that she was disappointed to discover his true colors. The final scene is the same as that in Ellin's story, though when Martha falls she hits her head on a stone hearth, just like Appleby's first wife.

Other than streamlining the plot and making it fit into a half-hour format, the changes wrought by Wolfson and Dennis make Appleby less of a Bluebeard and more of a victim of circumstance, if that can be said of a man who murders his wife to get her money. The threat of financial ruin is increased and is used as the explanation for his crimes. Perhaps the killer of six wives would not have been as palatable to the censors in 1956 as the killer of one wife.

The story was first
published here
"The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby" was again adapted for television in 1980, this time by Robin Chapman, and broadcast on June 7, 1980, during the second season of Tales of the Unexpected. While the color remakes of stories originally shown on the black and white Alfred Hitchcock Presents are usually not as good as the originals, this episode is an exception and may be a better adaptation of Ellin's story than the 1956 version. This time, voice over narration by series host Roald Dahl explains that Appleby had already killed three wives to support his business; from 1956 to 1980, the acceptable number of wife murders had tripled! The show occurs, inexplicably, in what appears to be England between World War One and World War Two; perhaps the events of the tale seemed to require an old-fashioned setting. In this version, Martha is presented as a much stronger and more forthright woman. She smokes cigarettes incessantly and dominates Appleby physically and emotionally from the first time they meet. Unlike the 1956 version, she often comments on how much Appleby reminds her of her father; this is carried over from Ellin's story but had been removed from the earlier teleplay by Wolfson and Dennis.

Once Appleby and Martha are wed, there is a strong undercurrent of sex in the show that was lacking in the story or the earlier TV version. Martha walks around the house in a nightgown, seems to have a ravenous sexual appetite, and wants her husband to spend more time at home so he can share her bed more frequently. At one point, she hops into bed and says to him, "I'm looking for a distinct improvement tonight." The most memorable images from the earlier version are removed: Appleby does not kill his wives by yanking the rug out from under them. Instead, as in the short story, they slip on the rugs themselves. In another detail from the story, Martha reveals to Appleby at the conclusion that she hated her father, who married and killed her mother for her money by means of a slippery rug on a polished floor. There is no mention of the textbook, Appleby does no formal research into murder techniques, and Martha's parents were not written up in a true crime narrative.

Martha's accidental death
The concluding fall is done in slow motion and is not terribly convincing, especially since Martha hits her head on a wood floor and immediately dies. Elizabeth Spriggs gives an outstanding performance as Martha and Robert Lang is very good as Appleby, though not as wonderfully obsequious as Robert H. Harris in the earlier version. In all three versions, a killer gets away with murder but is done in due to a death he did not engineer; in this way, "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby" fits in with other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents where a criminal is punished by fate for past crimes.

Victor Wolfson (1909-1990), who is credited as having co-written the teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents with Robert C. Dennis, wrote books, plays, documentary films, and episodic television. He wrote eight episodes of Suspense, the precursor to the Hitchcock series, in 1951 and 1952, and he wrote an episode of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse, the series produced by Joan Harrison, in 1954. He wrote or co-wrote six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including another Stanley Ellin classic, "Specialty of the House."

"The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby" was directed by James Neilson (1909-1979), who directed twelve episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Help Wanted."

"Your time is up!"
Appleby is played by Robert H. Harris (1911-1981), a great character actor who started in theater and then had an onscreen career from the late 1940s to the late 1970s. He was in nine episodes of the Hitchcock show, including Ray Bradbury's "Shopping for Death," Fredric Brown's "The Dangerous People," and Robert Bloch's "The Greatest Monster of Them All."

Meg Mundy (1915- ) plays Martha; this was one of her two appearances on the Hitchcock series. She was on TV from 1949 to 2001 and turned 100 years old earlier this year.

Playing Gainsborough, Martha's lawyer, is Gage Clarke (1900-1964); he was also in Henry Slesar's "The Right Kind of Medicine" and appeared in two other episodes of the Hitchcock program.

Finally, Michael Ansara (1922-2013) is effortlessly menacing as Dizar. Born in Lebanon, his long career on screen stretched from 1944 to 1999. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "Shopping for Death," and his many other TV credits included starring in Broken Arrow (1956-1958), "Soldier" on The Outer Limits, and a classic role on Star Trek. He was married to Barbara Eden from 1958 to 1974.

Note the interesting radio on the left
I plan to write a piece discussing the relationship between Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock Presents/Hour and Tales of the Unexpected in the future; the three series (and the 1980s color remake of the Hitchcock series) have much in common and often adapted the same stories for television.

The 1956 version of "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby" is available on DVD here but is not currently available for free online viewing. The 1980 version may be viewed for free online here.


Ellin, Stanley. "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (May 1950). Rpt. in Murderous Schemes: An Anthology of Classic Detective Stories. Ed. Donald Westlake. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. 298-315. Print.

"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville: MD: OTR Pub., 2001.
IMDb. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
"The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 15 Apr. 1956.
"The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby." Tales of the Unexpected. 7 June 1980.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

In two weeks: "The Belfry," starring Jack Mullaney and Pat Hitchcock!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Sixty-Four: October 1975

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

Luis Dominguez
Ghosts 43

"The River of Phantoms"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Frank Redondo

"The Boy Who Cried Ghosts"
Story Uncredited
Art by Buddy Gernale

"Specter in the Stone"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by J. B. Ingente

"3 Corpses on a Rope"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: Kurov, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, tells reporters that he escaped the Soviet Union with the aid of a ghostly boatman, who ferried him safely along "The River of Phantoms." His story is seconded by the captain of the ship on which he now travels. In 1906, the captain's family had fled Czar Nicholas with the aid of the same ghostly boatman, who turned them all into specters just long enough to avoid being killed by bullets from the czar's soldiers. An unusually evocative story from Wessler, it made me look up Kurov and the Ghostly Boatman of the Dnieper but, alas, both appear to be invented. There is a real river by that name, though.

Peter: The art by Frank Redondo keeps this one from being a total waste of time.

Jack: Belgium, 1970, and young Jean-Pierre is "The Boy Who Cried Ghosts." After he annoys his grandparents twice with his hollering, they lock him out the third time, and soon Gramps finds Jean-Pierre dead in the cemetery outside. Three pages is plenty for a silly little story like this.

Peter: This one made no sense at all to me. How did Jean-Pierre die? And how would he then see his own ghost?

Jack: Alabama, 1904, and train engineer Robert Musgrove is killed in a crash just before he is to be wed. His wife soon disappears, but later local residents observe a "Specter in the Stone," an image of the young woman imprinted on the monument that marks Robert's grave. Another short tale--two pages--but decent art.

Peter: Another confusing one. So the woman died and then became part of the stone? How much time passed before she became part of that stone? Ingente was yet another member of the Filipino Invasion at DC and, while he displays a nice style, he only had a few more credits (chief among them as inker on a couple issues of DC's Kong the Untamed) before dropping out of sight altogether.

Jack: Baltimore, 1849, and three medical students steal the body of Edgar Allan Poe from its grave to sell for anatomy studies. A church bell rings and Poe's ghost warns the men that they will be "3 Corpses on a Rope" and that they all will die by the rope that rings the bill. One by one, they pass away, the first two at the foot of the bell tower and the third under water when he tries to dispose of the deadly rope. Messing with real people is dangerous, as Wessler discovers in this tepid tale, but Lee Elias surely could have done a better job of rendering the writer whose face is so well known.

Peter: The climax saves this one from being a total ho-hum. Four strikes and you're out this issue but at least we get pretty pitchers to look at.

Bill Draut
The House of Secrets 136

"Buried Treasure"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Frank Reyes

"Last Voyage of the Lady Luck"
Story by Maxene Fabe
Art by Ramona Fradon

Peter: Jeff Hunt believes that his grandfather's fortune should go to him and not to his two brothers so, after the old man decrees that the grandson who finds the "Buried Treasure" inherits the fortune, Hunt murders his two siblings and prepares to make a "killing." When Gramps falls ill and sends his man-servant, Chin, out on an errand, Hunt pressures his grandfather for the location of the fortune, while confessing to the murders. The old man has some 'fessing of his own to do: he suspected Jeff of the crimes and played ill. Chin enters the room, having heard the entire monologue, and he and Jeff battle. Hunt is accidentally killed and Gramps has him buried in a special coffin: one made of solid gold, his entire fortune.

Right next to "the swamp witch on the edge of the bayou" in the cliched and overused plot device department is the greedy relative. Lord knows Jack Oleck has used this one countless times before and it's showing its age. The only deviation here is, of course, the solid gold coffin. A nice twist but it can't save this from being a bore.

Jack: Boring yes, but I was happy to see a quick bit of karate at the end when Chin chops Jeff. The credit on this story says Frank Reyes but all the way through it looks like Alex Nino was involved, perhaps in the inking. Many of the panels really look like Nino's style.

Peter: Young Paul Parker's parents are lost at sea and he's forced to live with his aunt and uncle, two elderly, crusty barnacles who couldn't care less about the boy and make no bones about it. The old timers are feeling the money pinch as they've just invested all their money in a new ship. Feeling rejected, Paul races from the house with suicide on his mind. He makes his way down to the docks, where he runs into a salty old sea dog who shows Paul the boat his uncle has just bought, a broken-down pile of lumber that may not make its way out of port.

The old man tells Paul there's a way to make sure the ship succeeds and then shows the lad a "mystic ship," a child's size boat on rockers. They take the ship back to the house of his (perturbed) relatives and he learns how to "sail" the toy. Sure enough, his uncle's boat breaks all sea records on its first journey and, soon, the old codgers are rich. Thinking nothing of sharing their wealth with their young ward, the couple instead pressure Paul to keep the fame and fortune alive. Unfortunately, the second trip doesn't go so well and Paul's uncle is fuming, threatening to send the boy to an orphanage if their luck doesn't return. The boy returns to his room and, when the ship leaves for its next voyage, hops back aboard his mystic ship. The next morning, Paul's uncle bursts in to share the good news: the voyage had been a success. He finds the lifeless body of Paul, his lungs filled with water.

A very downbeat ending to this enchanting fable (well, excise all the child labor laws being broken and it's a bit of a light fantasy, no?), which rewards the guilty and punishes the innocent, something we see very little of here in the DC Mystery titles. Ramona Fradon's art has run hot and cold for me but, on "Last Voyage of the Lady Luck," it's bullseye perfect, cartoony enough for the subject matter and whimsical enough to make the reader expect a happy ending. Then Maxene Fabe lowers the boom! If the story ran uncredited, I'd swear this was from the desk of Michael Fleisher. Only Mike has been this mean and cruel to his characters in the past. Watch for "Lady Luck" to pull into Top Ten Harbor in a couple months.

Jack: Maxene Fabe does a nice job of "paying tribute to" (ripping off) D.H. Lawrence's 1926 short story, "The Rocking-Horse Winner," even down to naming the boy Paul and following essentially the same plot, replacing a race horse with a sailing ship. If this story caused anyone to seek out Lawrence's fiction, that's a good thing, but without crediting the source that's hard to imagine. Fradon's art is outstanding and reminded me in one panel of something Will Eisner would have drawn in the late '40s.

Bernie Wrightson
The House of Mystery 236

"Death Played a Sideshow"
Story by Coram Nobis (David V. Reed)
Art by Steve Ditko and Mike Royer

"Deep Sleep"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Paul Kirchner and Neal Adams

Peter: Tom Mapes is in love but his object of affection won't have a thing to do with him so he goes to see carnival "spiritualist" Dr. Krupke for advice. Unknown to Tom, Krupke is a con-man and charlatan; he tells the boy to bring all his money to burn in Krupke's urn in order to prove that love is more important than money. Like a dope, Tom falls for the act and brings his entire life savings to burn a little at a time. Krupke switches the dough out for counterfeit, which he burns in his "sacred urn." Once the dough is gone, he tells Tom not to propose marriage for three days (the carnival leaves in two), but the intended gets wind of Tom's foolishness and elopes with another man. When the frazzled and broken-hearted young man comes back to demand his money be returned, the con-man bashes him over the head and dumps his body in the river. When Tom's friends are told of his death, they go to the sheriff and the group hatches a plan. They'll scare Krupke into confessing by having one of the boys pose as Tom's ghost. That night, Krupke is visited by a scary spirit and exits the tent, screaming for sanctuary in jail. The boys are excited that they've succeeded until they find out the ruse got waylaid;  they realize it was really Tom's ghost!

Groan. Not this one again. How many times did we see the old "sorry, Bob, I couldn't get the werewolf make-up on in time, the road washed out, and I got a flat tire, so what happened?" climax when the DC horror titles were chock full of reprints? If you were in love with a girl and she didn't love you back, why would you go to a fortune teller? Didn't this town have a Swamp Witch Haddie like every other DC town? The return of Steve Ditko sounds great in theory but this Ditko wasn't the same guy who lit up our childhoods with Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. By 1975, Steve was doing his work predominately for Charlton but had just set up shop again at DC, where he worked on Shade, the Changing Man, Stalker, and a revival of The Creeper. "Death Played a Sideshow" should have appeared in one of those Charlton titles; it certainly doesn't fit in the House of Mystery.

Jack: Peter, m'boy, you are 100% wrong! Ditko was great at Charlton and his return to DC was wonderful, just like this story. The tale moves along pleasantly and is nice and simple, without the convoluted, confusing twists and turns we see from Wessler and Kashdan. The art is clean, simple and smooth, and I thought it was delightful. I did not see the twist ending coming because I was having such a good time. I know we've seen the "Banquo's Chair" switch a zillion times but for some reason it fits perfectly here.

Peter: John Lawson is summoned to the estate of his friend, Alan Trent, and asked to watch over Alan and his sister Elizabeth should anything happen to them. Alan tells John that he and his sister share a rare disease that makes them appear dead. They both fear being buried alive and ask John to stay with them as a safeguard. Elizabeth dies very soon afterward and Alan inters her in the family mausoleum with a chain connected to a chime inside the house. Should Elizabeth "rise from the dead," she will be saved. John stays but, after a week of no sleep, he's lost his patience. When Alan falls asleep, John chooses that moment to relax a bit as well. Alan awakens, relating a horrible dream about his sister and the men rush to the mausoleum. There they find that Elizabeth had awakened and struggled to leave the tomb but was too weak to succeed. Alan is beside himself and so John agrees to live out his days with the man, feeling guilty that he'd drugged John on the night Elizabeth rang the chimes.

Had the DC Mystery Bullpen run out of ideas by 1975? The two stories in this issue seem to make a good case in the affirmative. "Deep Sleep" is about the most unoriginal Jack Oleck script we've seen. Yes, there have been bad ones, but nothing so cribbed as this Frankenstein-like stitching together of several Poe stories. The return of Neal Adams should be a celebration but if anyone can see a hint of Neal in there, please point it out to me. It's evident to me that Paul Kirchner got his inspiration from old Hammer film stills (Alan Trent is clearly Peter Cushing and in one panel, we get Peter Cushing's head on Chris Lee's Dracula body!), with the rest of the art see-sawing between eerie and uninspiring.  Unfortunately, this issue is a sign of things to come.

Hammer's Greatest Hits

Jack: I was excited when I saw Neal Adams's name on this story, but I am at a loss trying to figure out what he did. Granted, the layouts are kind of nice and there is some spooky work with shadows and color, but the faces and figures look nothing like any Neal Adams art I've ever seen. The last page has a cool layout with three narrow panels depicting a character drinking from a glass; they remind me a bit of what Neal was doing (briefly) in the X-Men during his short run on that title.

Luis Dominguez
Unexpected 169

"What Can Be Worse Than Dying?"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"How Ugly the Face of Death!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"5 Miles to Midnight"
Story by Wesley Marsh (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Lee Elias

Jack: Matt Halstead thinks he got away with sabotaging his own Middle Eastern oil wells to collect the insurance money, but when fall guy Reza shows up and vows revenge, Matt knows he will soon wonder: "What Can Be Worse Than Dying?" Reza was on the receiving end of some Middle Eastern justice that left him missing an arm, a leg and an eye, so when Matt returns to the states his dog is first to feel the pain, losing a leg. His son then loses an arm after a car crash. Matt tries to protect his wife by pretending she lost an eye in a fire, but the fire gets out of control and Matt becomes Reza's last victim, losing an arm, both legs and an eye. I am not one of those fans who loves to see gore, so I found this story to be in bad taste. It's a shame Ruben Yandoc's art is wasted on something like this.

That's just wrong!

Peter: Not bad. Not bad at all, but everything about "What Can Be Worse..." is wrong for Unexpected; it belongs in one of the titles that spotlights darker material like HoS or HoM.

Jack: Wilson staggers through a future wasteland, suffering from radiation poisoning. He is captured and subjected to surgery to try to halt his deterioration, but the operation fails. He is sent back to the wasteland to live among the other freaks, who looks like us--the normal folks below ground look like monsters. "How Ugly the Face of Death!" is derivative but the art is rather impressive. It's funny that the last two stories by Alcala featured similar themes.

In Interlaken, NY, Rod Serling
just rolled over in his grave.
Peter: Should have been titled "Farewell to the Master," as this is the last we'll see of Alfredo Alcala after a tenure of three years and 59 stories. As far as I'm concerned, this journey has only strengthened my argument that Alcala was the best artist who ever drew for the DC Mystery line but, unfortunately, "How Ugly..." is not nearly his best work. Though there's no inker credited, I have to believe there was one involved as this Alcala looks buried under an inkpot. This little 3-page rip-off of "Eye of the Beholder" (from The Twilight Zone) is easily forgotten but what will be remembered are at least a half-dozen horror classics Alfredo put his pencil to from 1972 through 1975.

Jack: While wandering through the Scottish countryside, James Macrae and his young son Donald happen upon the little town of Midnight, where they visit a house to pay their respects to the dead. To James's horror, the townsfolk are celebrating the death of a miser named Angus Ferguson, who suddenly sits up in his coffin, announces that he's not dead, and orders them out of his house. He tells James and Donald that they are the only decent people he has met and gives them the key to his safety deposit box. The townsfolk go crazy and James fights them off, telling Donald to run for it.

Confused and lost, Donald winds up back where he started and has to hide in Ferguson's coffin from the returning townsfolk. His coffin-mate is dead, shot by the villagers, who haul the coffin out for burial. A fight breaks out among the ruffians and Donald is spared, happily reunited with his father. A complicated little story, "5 Miles to Midnight" is easily the highlight of this issue of Unexpected, and Lee Elias's art is growing on me.

Peter: A strange one, this. Boltinoff tricks us into thinking the old man is the villain when he's actually the "innocent." The climax is weak but I liked the set-up enough to give "5 Miles to Midnight" a thumbs-up.

Ernie Chan
Weird Mystery Tales 23

"The Quiz Show"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Fred Carrillo

"Fair Exchange"
Story by Sergio Aragones and Steve Skeates
Art by Wally Wood

Peter: Horace Perkin is caught embezzling by his boss and given one week to repay the 25K he's "borrowed," or it's lights out for Horace. Wonderfully for Horace, his afternoon mail brings an invitation to guest on Outwit the Clock, a TV quiz show which pays out big bucks. Horace arrives at the show and is put through a series of dangerous stunts, such as bobbing for apples while his head is in a guillotine. Horace manages to survive all the ordeals he faces on "The Quiz Show" and is rewarded with a new car and forty grand. Ecstatic, the embezzler drives off the set, through the door and discovers he's been shrunken. He's run over by a taxi and squashed. The host of the show and his three gal-pals all change back into witches and ride their brooms into the night, laughing merrily. Mike Fleisher's script is pretty dumb (although I'll admit the final panel drew half a chuckle) and it's not helped at all by Fred Carrillo's generic art.

Jack: We usually can count on Fleisher for a good story with a killer twist ending, but not here. I was enjoying the story quite a bit, despite the artwork, until the dumb twist at the end. I was thinking, "why did he and his car suddenly shrink?" and then I found out that everyone on the quiz show was a witch! Makes perfect sense. Was it a coincidence that they targeted Horace, or did they know about his embezzling? Fleisher does a good job of satirizing a mid-'70s TV game show, but he should have come up with a better ending to tie the whole thing together.

That's definitely Wally

Peter: Seymour can't stand his rich, smothering Aunt Sybil and the little weasel wants to eliminate her and gain access to her wealth. Seymour's girlfriend has a better idea: they'll trick the gardener, Don Pascual, into murdering Sybil and they'll be free and clear. They drug the man and make him believe he's dying and then Seymour appears in Don's room, disguised as Death. Delirious, the man asks Death if there's any way he can immediately avoid the afterlife and he's told the only way is to murder Sybil and then the Grim Reaper will grant him a stay of ten years. Seymour throws his aunt a party and, at that shindig, Pascual kills Sybil. When Seymour and his girlfriend arrive on scene, they discover that their ruse worked too well and Pascual has gone mad, believing he's made a deal with Death for even more years. He shoots them both. Two "greedy relatives" stories in one month is a bit much but at least "Fair Exchange" has a decent twist in its tail. Wally Wood, much like Steve Ditko, had seen better days. I'm wondering if someone else inked this without credit as there are only a few glimpses of the genius on display here; the art is drab and lifeless, two adjectives I'd never applied to Wally's work before.

This, though, is debatable

Jack: I liked this one quite a bit as well. It looks like mid-1970s Wally Wood to me. Wood's return to DC around this time was exciting to me, just like Ditko's return. As you note, the twist is a good one.

Luis Dominguez
Witching Hour 59

"Reunion in Blood"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"The Hanging Judge"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Buddy Gernale

"The Corpse Wore Shoes"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by E.R. Cruz

Jack: Paul Carlin returns to Carlinsberg at his father's urgent request, only to find his hometown a mess. It seems a monster has been killing townsfolk and being a general nuisance. Paul learns that the monster emanates from his father, whom the villagers were loath to kill. Paul announces that he'll take care of it and goes to his father's house, where he finds that Emil, a servant, has already killed the old man. The fact that the monster's latest rampage occurred after Pop's death means that Paul is a monster, too, and he and Emil grapple until both are dead. The end of "Reunion in Blood" would be more surprising if we didn't see a monster coming out of Paul on the very first page!

Spoiler alert!
Peter: This is not bad for a George Kashdan script (always with my disclaimers, right?) but did Georgie really believe he'd surprise us with that finale? With the exit of Alfredo Alcala (whose last DC horror story appears in this month's Unexpected), Ruben Yandoc becomes the go-to guy for creepy, detailed art.

One angry judge!
Jack: Judge Bradford Karnes is known as "The Hanging Judge" because he sentences murderers to hang each and every time. After having committed murder and receiving a similar sentence, the judge kills his lawyer and escapes from prison, UNEXPECTEDLY also killing the messenger who was bringing word from the governor that his sentence had been commuted. Did I say UNEXPECTEDLY? Oops, wrong comic. Sadly, other than the narration by the three witches, The Witching Hour and Unexpected have become interchangeable.

Peter: Well, we can at least be glad "The Hanging Judge" was only three pages long.

Jack: Lorraine Abernathy is a pretty, hired girl with designs on her employer, Jeb Kemp. When a tornado approaches, Lorraine locks Jeb's wife Julie out of the storm cellar, causing Julie's death. "The Corpse Wore Shoes" that Lorraine fancied, so she steals them from Julie's coffin and takes to wearing them, even to her wedding to Jeb a few months later. Julie's coffin rises from the grave after a flood and then again after an earthquake, but the third time it comes back Lorraine loses her mind and the Kemps find those pretty shoes right back where they belong. Have there been many story titles more mundane than this one? At least we have some nice-looking female types drawn by Mr. Cruz.

Peter: Lori steals the shoes off his dead wife's corpse and all this dope can say is "I wish you'd found a better way to be thrifty!"? Then the guy opens up his wife's coffin in front of his children? There's something a bit off about this family.

Tales of Ghost Castle 3

"The Demon's Here to Stay!"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chan and Bill Draut

"A Very Private Hell!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"In the Eye of the Beholder"
Story by Mal Warwick
Art by Bill Draut

Peter: Andre LeBraun's a big boy and his parents become worried about their son when he starts exhibiting symptoms of telekinesis, which wouldn't be such a big deal if they didn't live in a village known for burning witches at the stake. Andre just wants to be left alone with his dog but, when the village medicine man becomes involved and recommends an exorcism, there's going to be hell to pay. When the votives and pews take to the air and spin, the exorcising priest throws up his hands and the doc turns Andre into the town sheriff. Andre is burnt at the stake and his heartbroken parents return home.

Andre's cur shows up and is given a very unfriendly welcome by Paul LeBrun. Suddenly, the house comes down on Paul and his wife and, as he is dying, the man realizes that the wrong witch was burned at the stake. "The Demon's Here to Stay" is a really long story that meanders; every other panel seems to be Paul and his wife discussing how strange their son is with yet another party. This is the ugliest Ernie Chan art I've ever seen, almost Draut-ish in its awfulness, but the whole affair is semi-saved by a twist I never saw coming. Sometimes that's all it takes to elevate a DC Mystery story from dreck to... well, not complete dreck.

Jack: You taught me well, because I knew it was the dog by page four. Ernie Chan must have drawn stick figures for layouts because this looks 100% Draut to me.

Peter: Tyrone Blake murders his young girlfriend, Tina, when she decides to end their relationship, and then he runs home to his wife and children. But Tyrone can't seem to escape his evil deed, as it plagues his dreams and taints everything he sees. When his wife suggests they move to the country, Tyrone jumps at the chance to escape the city and his memories but, even with the new surroundings he can't shake Tina. The exact opposite of the opening story, "A Very Private Hell!" has a strong foundation, a clever gimmick (Frank Redondo uses a "split screen" format to show how Tyrone sees everything bleakly while his wife takes in the beauty around her), but a weak and inane climax. Bob Kanigher seems to be batting .500 with his mystery stories lately.

Jack: The gimmick of having everyone else see things as they are while Tyrone sees them through a lens of horror was interesting, though never explained. I suppose it was due to his own guilt. Frank Redondo's art is okay, but he's no Nestor.

Peter: Aliens search Earth for civilization and are delighted to find the planet teeming with life. Unfortunately, for mankind, life is in "The Eye of the Beholder" as we discover these visitors are made of metal and they perceive our vehicles as the real civilization. When they spy the occupants of the vehicles, they believe them to be parasites and drop a nasty "bug bomb," wiping out mankind. An amusing three-pager with a nice twist (something we don't see much of in these short-shorts) and the best art you can expect out of Bill Draut.

Jack: I completely agree. This one was fun and the art fit the story perfectly. It's a clever idea to suggest that the machines are the real inhabitants of Earth and that the humans are parasites who latch onto them. Mal Warwick's stories are more science fiction than horror.

Peter: And that ends the three-issue run of Tales of Ghost Castle, a title launched at a time when the sales of the DC Mystery line were dwindling. This won't be the last short-run horror zine launched in the 1970s, as 1978 will see five issues of Doorway to Nightmare, an anthology hosted by Madame Xanadu, a mystic who would find fame and fortune among the spandex decades later. The highlight of DtN was the cover art by Xanadu creator Mike Kaluta.

In the 65th TNT-Pineapple-filled Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories...
You Will Believe That Planes Can Fly in Train Tunnels!
On Sale November 2nd!

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!