Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hallo, Weenies!


Happy Halloween!
I took these covers of Weird Tales from the Internet to help us all get in the mood for Halloween. Click on the pictures for full-size images.Matt Fox was a unique and unusual artist, even for as unique and unusual a magazine as Weird Tales. These covers, done from the late 1940s to the early 1950s, show his really oddball semi-cartoony style. He was a painter, and a good one. He had a bizarre imagination, too. Either that or he drank, smoked or otherwise ingested something that gave him such hallucinatory ideas.
I tried googling Matt Fox, and came up with Matthew Fox, who is the star of TV's Lost. That Matt Fox is not this Matt Fox. I don't have any biographical details, but along the same time he did some comic book work that is just as screwy as these covers.
I think if the original art for these covers still exists, then it belongs in museums. I don't know what this could be classified as. Outsider art? Sure. Surrealistic? Well, it ain't realistic, that's for sure. Maybe the classification could be just Matt Fox, Weird Tales. A class of its own.Enjoy your Halloween, and save some of the treats for the kids.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Magazine of Horror

I can tell it's nearly Halloween; the hair on my neck is standing up. It's either Halloween or I need a haircut.

It's both!

I'm digging deeper into my stacks of old books and magazines, just to find these goodies for you. Magazine of Horror and Startling Mystery Stories were published in the 1960s, and ended their runs in the early '70s. They seemed to be a shoestring operation; published by a company called Health Knowledge, and edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes, a writer, editor and anthologist. The magazines were hard to find. I only knew one store in town that carried them, and they only came out every three months or so. The stories they reprinted were mainly stories from old pulp magazines. The stories themselves had copyrights expired so they were free for the using.

They did publish occasional new stories: Startling Mystery Stories published Stephen King's first short stories. Here's the cover featuring one of his early ones, "The Reaper's Image."I have three or four other reprints of the classic, "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs, but it's such a great story I have probably read it every time I've encountered it.

These magazines aren't impossible to find, but I went to eBay and spot-checked. I found one, and the seller wanted $14.95. I'll hang on to the ones I have. Maybe on Halloween night, in between trick or treaters, I'll treat myself to "The Monkey's Paw":

"But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed the third and last wish."

Boo!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Gerrie

There's a disparity in sentencing for sex offenders. For sex crimes women get off lighter than men. A recent article in my local newspaper, with stories of teachers in trouble for having sex with students, showed that men usually get years in prison, women might get a year or so, or more likely probation.

I thought about it: why? Is it still part of the old double standard? Or is it more that when men pick victims they can pick girls too physically immature to have sex, whereas a woman would have to pick a young man past puberty. They need a guy who can get it up! I think the men with the longest jail times are the ones who have sex with kids in elementary school. It's completely different for a woman of 35 to have sex with a 14-year-old male than it is for a 35-year-old guy to have sex with a 14-year-old female. Don't call me sexist, but in most instances the women I've read about in these jams had some sort of emotional connection to the boys. Men don't need that emotional component to have sex. A judge or jury could look at a weeping woman who said, "I loved him!" and be more likely to go easier than to a man who got off on 10-year-old girls, or boys.

I think comedian George Carlin had it right when he said they ought to call boys who have sex with their teachers what they really are, "lucky little bastards." I had a real crush on my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. S. Her first name was Gerrie, and I thought she was the sexiest thing ever. It was 1963; she wore spike heels, nylons with garters--I sometimes saw the tops of her stockings when she sat down; no pantyhose in those days--tight dresses…ah, the memories are hard for me. Very hard, if you know what I mean. If I would pick a moment that desire for a woman first overtook me, it would be during that year in Gerrie S.'s class. Had she chosen to indoctrinate me into the world of sexual pleasure I wouldn't have called it abuse. Maybe the law would call it illegal, but I'd call it a gift from God.

Of course it didn't happen. I was a little boy, and about as interesting to Gerrie S. as the eraser for the blackboard or the furniture in the room.

Don was a classmate who also had the teenage hots for Gerrie. We'd talk about her; locker room guy talk. Don also hero worshiped a custodian, whose name was coincidentally, Jerry. Jerry was a tall guy who worked out at the gym. When Don wasn't talking about Gerrie, he was talking about Jerry. In retrospect I wonder about Don... Jerry swaggered when he walked; he was surrounded by students when he'd be in the lunchroom. The kids thought he was great. It turned out that Jerry got arrested when, one weekend, he got into the school with his key, stole all of the TV sets, and sold them to a motel in the southern end of the state. He was one of America's dumbest criminals. The cops went right to him because he left a trail that was easy to follow.

Don said he went to visit Jerry in jail. I wonder now whether it happened, or whether it was just his imagination. In those days I didn't question what people told me, just accepted it, like the young, naïve kid I was. Don told me, "Jerry said he's screwed every woman he's ever went out (sic) with. He said he screwed Gerrie S. And she loved it."

In my mind a nuclear bomb went off. This was information that was so devastating, so awful that I practically shut down. It incinerated all of my fantasies. My beautiful, my sexy, gorgeous, sexy--have I already mentioned sexy?--Gerrie…with that TV-stealing janitor? No freakin' way, man! You're lyin', man! She's perfect, man! She's saving it for…who…? Me? Ulp. Errrr, uh, well, never mind. I realized it didn't really matter, because no way was it gonna be me.

We never saw Jerry again, obviously, and at the end of the year Gerrie S. was obviously pregnant. I didn't know anything about pregnancy except that it took a sex act to cause it. Mrs S. was married, after all. I didn't think Jerry the Janitor had gotten her pregnant, because I just didn't think like that in those days. In retrospect who knows? If I believe Don that he talked to Jerry, if I believe Jerry that he had sex with Gerrie, maybe Gerrie's baby came out with a mop in his hand. In those days married teachers who got pregnant quit. Maybe a few years later Mrs S. came back, but I was gone by then. I never saw her again, but in my mind I can see her now. Green eyes. Blonde hair, tight black dress, black 3" spike-heeled shoes. That first one who lets you see a little bit of paradise, puts the ideas in your head, that's the one who's hard to forget. Very hard, again if you know what I mean.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Blochheads

Besides the other genres of fantasy, science fiction and horror that Robert Bloch wrote, he also got into the serial killers. Norman Bates from Psycho was inspired by Ed Gein. Gein's ghoulish story inspired a lot of horror fiction and movies. Hitchcock changed parts of Bloch's novel. Bloch's Norman was fat and had a stash of porn. His "mother" disapproved, of course.

American Gothic was published in 1974. If it wasn't for the big Bloch byline I would have mistaken this for just another in an endless series of paperback gothic romance novels with a cover showing a heroine in the foreground, and a castle in the background. Despite the misleading look to it, it is actually inspired by real life swindler and killer H. H. Holmes, who operated out of a castle in Chicago during the time of the 1893 World's Fair. Bloch's character is called G. Gordon Gregg, which sounds suspiciously like Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy, in the news almost every day during that time period.Finally, this is a copy of Psycho House, a 1990 sequel to the original. Bloch signed it. I found it in a thrift store for 75¢, which makes it one of my better thrift store finds. Bloch's sense of humor shows in the way he signed it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hate Your Boss Day

If actor Rondo Hatton wasn't dead, I'd pick him to play my boss in the movie version of my life.

This past Wednesday it was (urp, gag) Bosses Day. To my mind Bosses Day is the most stupid observance ever created! What sick suck-up mind conceived of it I don't know, but I covered it in this past posting here.

If you'll read that, you'll see there's not much I like about Bosses Day, or bosses in general.

To his credit, when the secretary jumped in at the end of a staff meeting and said, "Today is Bosses Day," and handed my boss a present, he said, "Isn't every day Bosses Day?" meaning, I think, what I mean when I say it: the boss has the power of life and death over you, and shouldn't be singled out on one day for some sort of observance. No, I say, make every day of the week Hate Your Boss Day!

I have worked for my boss for almost 20 years now, so my reaction to the secretary's sycophantic act was to turn my head and stick my finger in my mouth in the universal gagging mime. I don't know whether the boss saw it, but what if he did? I'm way past trying to please him because it just isn't possible. The secretary can get along with him because he has an entirely different way of treating women. He treats them with deference and respect. Not so the guys I work with, who get the Abu Ghraib treatment for every infraction. That includes me, but my job takes me away from him, and I might only see the boss once every week or so. That's enough.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bloch party

Still on my Halloween kick.

I think the best analogy to the success of Robert Bloch as a writer is found in Tony Bennett's success as a singer. Not that Bloch ever sang a hit record, or that Tony Bennett ever wrote a short story or book. But both artists toiled in their fields for years, both had a fair amount of success, and then both hit it really big: Bennett with the worldwide hit song, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," and Bloch for the good fortune of having Alfred Hitchcock pick his book, Psycho, to be made into a movie.

Bennett said about his biggest hit, "it gave me the key to the world." I'm sure Bloch must've felt that way about Psycho, too. He got more mainstream attention, his books sold well, his short story anthologies sold well, more movies were made from his stories, he wrote screenplays. He had it pretty good! He was an excellent writer; he deserved his success, even if he had to share some of it with the notoriously egotistical Alfie. While Hitchcock made Psycho a "Hitchcock movie," Bloch was allowed to put on the covers of his books, "Author of Psycho," which gave him instant credibility amidst an avalanche of other novels and would-be famous authors.Bloch died in 1994 at age 77.

These covers represent some of Bloch's short story anthologies. They're both UK and US paperbacks. When it comes to mystery, suspense, horror, fantasy, science fiction or humorous dollops of all of those genres, it would be hard to beat Robert Bloch. As for leaving his heart anywhere, much less San Francisco, Bloch said, "Underneath it all, I have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk."

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Legendary I Am Legend



Dad was describing to me a book he'd read that scared him. "This guy is all alone because everyone else is a vampire. He goes out during the day and hunts them down and kills them. He hides out at night when they come around trying to get him. One day he's out hunting vampires when his watch stops and it gets to be dark before he can get back to his hiding place…"

"What happened then?"

"I don't know. The book scared me so much I stopped reading."

What Dad was describing back in the late 1950s was the novel, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. The first printing, shown above, appeared as a 1954 paperback original.

I didn't catch up to the novel until 1964 when this edition came out:



I immediately recognized it as the novel that scared Dad so much 10 years before. And rightly so. I Am Legend is itself a legend; one of the scariest horror stories ever told. Up until that time the vampire story was pretty much accepted as being good versus evil, caused by supernatural forces. Matheson's novel postulated that vampirism could be caused by non-supernatural means. In a cold war world with nuclear jitters there was already a lot of fiction about post-apocalyptic worlds, but none like this.

The paranoia in this novel is about as up front as you get. A man alone, besieged by monsters.

It had far reaching effect, right down to today. On December 17 a new movie version of I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, will be released. Earlier official movie versions have been The Last Man On Earth with Vincent Price and The Omega Man with Charlton Heston. The unofficial movies keep coming; the novel I Am Legend begat the movie, Night Of The Living Dead, which begat sequels, imitations, etc. The novel, and subsequent novels by Matheson, The Shrinking Man, A Stir Of Echoes, and Hell House kept up his tradition of telling horror stories in a new way.




He influenced writers like Stephen King, who credit him with his influence. He has written a lot of books, and has a lot of anthologies of short stories to his credit, but I Am Legend, the book that scared my dad, was the daddy of them all.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Weirdest of the weird

Weird Tales had a good long run for a pulp magazine. It was published from 1923 to 1954. Along the way it published some of the best authors since Edgar Allan Poe. Many of them became personal friends; they fed off each other, creating a coterie of writers nearly unparalled in modern fiction. Whole books of anthologies, dozens of them at least, have been published using Weird Tales as their source for material. The stories have also been anthologized on television and in movies. It is a rich literary vein to mine.

But you can't sell magazines unless people pick them up and look at them, so most of the covers were like other pulps, sexy and lurid. These covers from the 1930s, except for the "newest" one from 1941, are painted by Margaret Brundage, who used her own daughters for models. The robot cover is by an artist named Hannes Bok.

People must've hung onto their copies of Weird Tales, because they seem to be fairly well available. Pulp magazines in general sold in the millions every month, so there are still a lot of them out there. Collections might be expensive to amass, but not impossible. As far as I'm concerned, Weird Tales was the best of the best for this sort of fiction.

The word "weird" has changed over the years. Now it means anything unusual, but when Weird Tales was originally published it meant supernatural. Where else but from Postino are you gonna learn this kind of trivia?

Click on the pictures for full-size images. The files are big. Go work on your Halloween costume while they're downloading.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Whistling past the yawning graveyard...

Boo again! I'm still in that Halloween mood, even though it's early in the month. You can see the kiddies in the schools are already excited. The stores put out the sacks of trick or treat candy early, the moms buy some…the kids eat them…the sugar makes them high. We have a bunch of sugar junkies leaping up and down in the classrooms. Solution: put Ritalin in the school's water fountains.

Anyway, with the exception of the last one, this is a nice little collection of horror anthology paperbacks from the UK. I bought them in Petaluma, California, where a guy was selling them in his antiques kiosk for $1.00 apiece.

Besides being a fine writer, August Derleth was also a publisher. His imprint, Arkham House, anthologized many of the great Weird Tales writers like H. P. Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long, Clark Ashton Smith, etc.

Dashiell Hammett is most famous for his detective stories, but lending his name to a horror anthology probably helped sales.

I threw in the Pan Book because until I saw the Gold Medal logo and 50¢ price I thought it was from the UK. Well, scare me with a screaming skull if that don't beat all! Nice cover, though.







Monday, October 08, 2007

When there's no more room in hell...





It's October, fiends. Time to drag the decomposing bodies out of the basement, cut down the guy hanging in the closet and listen to the clatter of the skeleton bones as they move to the spectral music of their cemetery dance.

There's just something about the first chill of the air, the wind whipping leaves around the yard, the frost on the Jack O'Lantern that tells us it's nearly Halloween.

Over 35 years ago I went to a drive-in movie showing of Night Of The Living Dead. It was gory, it was fun, but I didn't think it would start a trend in horror movies still popular today. I guess to a young horror movie audience saturated with killings and gore from video games, it's only natural to seek out that stuff.

Of all of the zombie movies, my personal favorite is Shaun Of The Dead , which is a really sharp satire on the whole zombie movie genre. The title is a pun on Dawn Of The Dead, the 1979 original by George Romero, which my wife and I saw on its first release. Walking into the theater that day 28 years ago I saw the employees all wearing black t-shirts that said, "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth." I wanted one of those shirts and asked the kid taking tickets. His response was a blank look and a "Huh?" It appeared the zombies weren't all on the screen.

******Speaking of splatter films (which is what most zombie movies are), I saw 300 recently. It's supposed to be about the Battle of Thermopylae, when 300 brave Spartans took on the whole Persian army. It's based on a graphic novel I haven't read, and probably won't. 300 is all glitz, gore and glamour. One critic said if he stood next to the guys in the movie he'd "spontaneously grow ovaries." That's funny, but there's no mistaking how buff everyone is in this film. My guess is the actors all took several months in the gym with personal trainers before filming started. Not only that, makeup was used on the muscles to "model" them, give them more definition. It's plain to the eye.

There's hammy overacting, especially on the part of the lead, Gerard Butler as King Leonidas. He hardly speaks below a roar, and his mouth makes the shape of a square. I notice most of the actors had some form of British accent. That's because British accents are very pleasing to American ears but also sound "foreign" to us.

The movie's action and scenery is courtesy of CGI special effects. The blood flies in big dollops, streams and sprays; heads are chopped off, arms, legs. Jolly good fun, I'd say!

The movie is aimed at a very young audience, at least mid-to-late teens, those most likely to play video games. It's aimed at comic book fans, although that core audience wouldn't support a movie costing over $100 million to make. It's also aimed at gay audiences by parading the beefcake. There's even some fetish stuff, with chains dripping off Persian king Xerxes, in a bit of weird non-historic costuming.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Part-Time Polygamist Wife Wanted, episode 2



Tomorrow my wife flies to Boston to visit a cousin. That will leave me on my own for a week.

Moan, groan. That means fending for myself in the kitchen, a skill for which I'm not known. Cooking for myself is a hopeless endeavor. Not only do I not have the cooking gene, I can't stand to eat anything I've cooked. After all, I know the chef!

I'm still looking for a part-time polygamist wife to take care of me during times my wife is out of town or pet sitting at someone else's house. The first installment of my search is here.

At least I'm still getting candidates for second wife, although you have to help me narrow down my choices. First up is a young woman who said, "I'd bring some baggage (about 9 lbs 6 oz worth) to the marriage."I got this from a woman named Harlene. She said, "Hope you ride a motorcycle. Oh, and it takes me two cans of hairspray to get my hair to stay in place while riding. It gives me hard hair and I don't need a helmet."Clara Tin says she's not much for kissing, or for anything else for that matter. She has some serious allergies.
On the other hand, Nicki Tina says she "has some issues with needing oral gratification. This could be to your advantage, by the way." Sorry, Nicki, but no smoking in my house. Clara Tin isn't the only one with allergies.
Finally, a woman who signs herself only as Kitty, says, "I like a man in the house who's underfoot all the time." Gulp.As you can see, I'm still taking candidates for part-time polygamist second wife, so keep those pictures coming, gals.