Friday, May 31, 2013

To Walk the Night

Here's a recent acquisition thanks to a fan of TMHF. Enjoy! It's taking me forever to write up a review of the great 1990s anthology I finished this week. Coming soon...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Isobel (1977): The Rowena Morrill Cover Art

Glorious and sublime, this cover art truly embodies the classic era of horror paperbacks. Artist Rowena Morrill gives us virtually everything we want - demons, winged creatures of the night, alligator people (with boobs!), creepy landscape, and yes, a naked lady - for Jane Parkhurst's 1977 occult/witchcraft novel Isobel (which I haven't read), and can you believe it was Morrill's first cover? How would one ever top this?!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pick One and Die: More Playboy Paperbacks

And here I was thinking I'd already found the best in canine carnage cover art! Foolish me. Playboy Paperbacks went for the throat with The Accursed (Dec '82) and The Haven (1977). Who knew the entrance to the underworld was paved with bathroom tiles?

Standard creepy kids cover with The Banished (Nov '81), while the moody Earthbound (Sep '82) is excellent; Swanson is a Richard Matheson pseudonym.

Another monster?! Oh Hellstone (Jan 1981), you tease.

Then we get the starkly named Hex (May '80), Death (Aug '82), Nightmares (Sep '79), Terrors (Jul '82), and Horrors (Oct '81) all but the first quiet-horror anthologies. I love that they're actual photos! Blood and bone, baby, that's all you need. And a refrigerator magnet alphabet.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Build Me a Woman: The Horror of Playboy Paperbacks

During the early 1980s, the Playboy empire, perhaps unsurprisingly, extended its reach into the paperback pulp fiction market, publishing dozens of horror, occult, fantasy, science fiction, and crime novels under its Playboy Paperbacks imprint. Not all were paperback originals, simply reprints of books sometimes published years before. I've long seen the little icon on various titles I've picked up in the last couple years, on even "respectable" stuff like anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant and Stuart David Schiff. Here however I want to focus here on the tawdrier side of their cover art, that very retro conflation of horror and cheesecake that you know Playboy could do right.

Satyr (1981) hits a couple uncomfortable notes but how could you think such a title wouldn't? This cover is amazing though in its utter tackiness. Linda Crockett Gray wrote half a dozen or so horror novels, some later published by Tor in the 1980s; I've got one or two but haven't read them.

Blood Wrath (June 1981) kinda freaks you out with its Revlon model going all crazy eye killah on you. Whither hast thou gone, Chester Krone?

Darker Places (Dec 1980) features some gender, er, politics I'm not sure I wanna parse. Is the woman clad in a negligee trying to defend herself from a psycho killer, or is the male - veins bulging in his bare forearm, nice obvious allusion! - protecting himself from a desperate, crazed, suicidal woman, prefiguring Fatal Attraction? Parke Godwin has at least written lots of SF/F.

Night Screams (Mar 1981) could trade in some ambiguity with those luscious lips and perfect teeth, engaged in some playful bit of - oh, that tagline... nope. Pronzini and Malzberg collaborated on several crime thrillers which I've yet to read.

On the Eight Day (June 1981) God built a woman? I dunno, I thought He'd already had that covered. Lawrence Okun, no bible scholar he.

The Wanting Factor (1980) makes me wonder where I can get one of those gold t-shaped pendants.

Image of the Beast (1979) Farmer wrote mostly SF but this novel is apparently based on Gilles de Rais, so of course, you know, fuck yeah. Love the vampire lady, don't know what she's got to do with the story though.

The Shaman (Mar 1982) isn't too lurid but back 30 years ago it was probably still fairly scandalous for women to have all-over tats.

I've saved the best for last. This gorgeous cover for Siren (May 1982) - the only good image I could find of the book on all the internets - is captivating (natch). Love the turquoise eyes! Compare this cover to the shit Tor reprint one. Ouch.

More to come...

Friday, May 10, 2013

Book Sale Horror Haul

Every year the Wake County Libraries hold an enormous book sale at the North Carolina Fairgrounds. This is the third year I've gone and it is to die. These are all the books I bought yesterday... for $36. Most are in near-mint condition as they've been in storage for decades. I'm sure you can imagine my anticipation and excitement as I scoured the packed tables, and the sense of satisfaction I felt when I found a perfect copy of The Howling Man, the long out-of-print Tor collection of Charles Beaumont, a mint first-edition The Cellar (for archival purposes of course), the rest of the Shadows series which I needed, The Best of Masques, a slim volume packed with awesome writers, and a handful of Year's Best Horror from the '70s thru' the '90s. Not to mention Tessier, Bloch, Campbell, King...

Like an airplane hangar filled with books

I really cleaned out the selection of horror fiction - which was, to my disappointment, mixed in with science fiction this year (which my girlfriend attributed to the fact that we bought practically the whole horror section last year). So now I've got to reorganize my entire horror library to fit in these great new titles... and don't even think to ask me the question of when I'm gonna find time to read 'em!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Shock Rock, edited by Jeff Gelb (1992): The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle

Brimming with monstrous mash-ups of horror and rock'n'roll, Shock Rock (Pocket Books, Jan 1992) takes the old-timey preacher scare that rock is the Devil's music not as a warning but as fait accompli. In his introduction, Jeff Gelb (editor of the long-running Hot Blood erotic horror series) points out the long relationship between rock'n'roll and horror movies and comics - so why not horror fiction (Alice Cooper says the same thing in his forward)? "At last count, less than half a dozen horror novels have attempted to meld rock and horror thematically," Gelb notes. Well, I think there is a reason for the rarity: that intertwining works wonderfully well for album covers and song lyrics, but it generally produces less than stellar horror fiction. Such is the case, sad to say, with Shock Rock.

I passed on Shock Rock when it was published, and my instincts were right. Most of the 20 tales Gelb assembled are, to not put too fine a point on it, adolescent and amateurish (I know, I know, you could describe a lot of rock'n'roll the same way and so think I'm being a hypocritical snob when I criticize the stories thusly). While there is a splatterpunk energy, too many are dorky and earnest, an outsider's imagining of what it's like to be a rock star, a drug addict, or a teenage rebel. And no Poppy Z. Brite?! She's one of the few horror writers of that era to have written with any sensitivity or authenticity about how music informs characters' lives and thoughts.

Thomas Tessier's "Addicted to Love" stands out as the best story of the lot, as its pure clear notes soar high above the cluttered, tuneless din of the rest of Shock Rock. Workaday Neil Jensen is a thoughtful music fan who likes - lives for - challenging, edgy, exciting rock music. He meets a woman at a show by The Bombsite Boys (a fictional band, well-named), a woman who tells him she likes Public Image and The The, The Cure and The Adverts.

Neil felt a tremor of excitement. If she could appreciate groups like those, she had to have some musical intelligence. He bought her a drink, reminding himself not to get his hopes up to high. He had been disappointed before, every time.

Then he gets her home, and she wants to hear a particular song, a song that is not challenging, edgy, or exciting. She wants to hear it over and over again.... Tessier can write, and has written convincingly about the music scene before, in his first novel The Nightwalker. Placing Tessier's prose within the same pages as Rex Miller's or Paul Dale Anderson's or Michael Garrett's is unfair; it only highlights how clumsy are their attempts to meld rock and horror.

1994 Pocket Books sequel

Other stories worth reading: "Vargr Rule" by Nancy Collins, a nicely sleazy werewolf tale, which contains one of the antho's most surprising scenes; Richard Christian Matheson's taut and fatalistic "Groupies," about you-know-what; and definitely "Requiem" from Brian Hodge. He creates a pretty believable art/prog-rock band of the 1970s and '80s, Grendel, who all die in a plane crash, leaving behind countless grieving fans and a rumored concept album about the Knights of the Round Table. "You Know They've Got a Helluva Band" from Stephen King mines baby-boomer dead rocker territory in a fairly by-the-numbers manner. Jimi Hendrix features in "Voodoo Child" - well, duh - Graham Masterton's contribution. It has a nicely personal vibe, a sadness about the passing of time and wild youth. "Flaming Telepaths" ends the antho, former punk singer John Shirley's swipe at smug televangelists - one of 1980s horror fiction's go-to villains.

Cooper and Shirley, 2001

The fault of Shock Rock is that too many of the authors simply have no feel for the written word, or for capturing human speech patterns and motivations; they may as well be re-telling a moldy-oldy EC Comics story, only adding more sex and graphic violence but no depth. Slapdash and junky, most don't even show a particular feel for rock'n'roll other than its most obvious trappings of sexist excess, substance abuse, and amps that go to 11. To me, that's the most shocking thing of all.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

And the Night When the Wolves Cry Out

Here's some moody werewolf cover art for you, thanks to good old George Ziel. I've been remiss in my posting, but I finished a '90s horror antho last week and have slooowly been working up my review. Till then...