Monday, August 22, 2016

A Cool August Night at the Movies!

A front moved through, and the constant heat and humidity that has hung over us for the past month has finally dissipated. There's a cool nip in the air as we assemble at our favorite restaurant and share a meal as we talk about our adventures.

After we're done....and Viola and Rose, thanks for picking up my tab....and we head up the street to that old theater. The young lady at the refreshment stand actually gives us a smile, and the fellow with the biceps and tattoos greets us warmly as he takes our tickets.

Tonight's movie is the 1935 semi-classic CONDEMNED TO LIVE.



With its unique twist on the vampire theme (a character being born a vampire due to a prenatal influence), its mannered dialogue and stately pace, and its Mittel-European setting, CONDEMNED TO LIVE is considered by many to be a forerunner to Hammer Films' horror output. It's certainly different from other Poverty-Row shockers of the period.

Show's over...let's all have a drink, shall we? You guys go ahead....the ticket-taker and I will be along in a minute or two.....

Sunday, August 14, 2016

THE SKELETON CLOSET OF JULES DE GRANDIN by Seabury Quinn


The next in the Jules de Grandin series, and the cover is amusing as it's classified as "science fiction" and the picture has a monster in a spacesuit...and of course, there's no space aliens in it.

This is more fun from Grandin, and this was actually the first Grandin volume I ever picked up, I bought it on a family vacation as a teen and devoured it, and went bonkers trying to find the rest. As an adult, I finally finished the set with the help of Ebay.

This is more mature Quinn, and the themes could be quite more mature as well. I was surprised reading this as a teen, and even in comparison with the other books, it's a bit eyebrow-raising. There are some blatant sexual horrors here, a bit unusual for this genre. Something so sexual was usually reserved for the Spicy pulps (which dealt with a lot of suggestion, and girls running around naked) and the weird-menace subgenre (which featured sadomasochistic themes and male characters being drugged, hypnotized, or otherwise coerced into bizarre and violent BDSM situations).

So, to go down the stories...

"The Drums of Damballah" is a tale of a voodoo cult practicing in the midst of their small New Jersey town. It's pretty straightforward; they find out a local girl is part of a cult, she gets killed, then a baby is kidnapped, and they follow clues to the cult's ceremony. It's all pretty mundane, with no supernatural content. There is a nice bit at the end when Grandin compassionately allows a woman to grieve her dead son, even though they were both parts of the cult, as he feels a mother's grief is universal and should be honored.

"The Doom of the House of Phipps" involves a family curse, in which the men of an old New England family die with blood on their lips when their first born is delivered, and no Phipps man ever beholds his firstborn child. The source of the curse is a French Catholic girl whom a Phipps ancestor took as a bond-maid, and on whom the ancestor, a stern Puritan, fathered a child. Really, the cause of the curse is good old-fashioned Puritan hypocrisy! Thankfully, the last Phipps man finds a woman who is able to dismiss the curse. (This will occur later in the book...a man is saved from a dire supernatural fate by the courage of a woman who loves him.)

"Dust of Egypt" is intriguing. A brother and sister move into the house of a departed uncle, who was a collector of Egyptian antiquities. A series of strange manifestations occur, and the brother is in bad shape...and while it's not a revived mummy, it's just as bad. In this case, the real root of the problem is the late uncle's thought patterns and belief in the curses of the old tombs...which, really, can be a valid source of concern. Half the time, it's the demons of our minds that are the biggest menace.

"The Brain-Thief" really reflects small-town morality of the day. A man abandons his wife, and a woman abandons her husband, to marry. After a year of facing small-town scorn, suddenly the man returns to his ex-wife's house as if he's coming home from work, and seems to have forgotten the past year. He's horrified to find a new woman in his bed and a baby he doesn't recognize. The wife is hurt and confused, and then seems to "come to" and seek her former husband. The menace? A Hindu victim of racism, who's using his psychic mind-control gifts to disrupt the lives of wealthy Westerners. Again, a sexual note, the revelation that one has been forced and manipulated into infidelity.

"The Bride of Dewer" is the pinnacle of the sexual horrors here. A newlywed couple's honeymoon is disrupted by a strange, supernatural visitor, and husband reveals that his family's men are always told they can't marry. The menace here is Quinn's best, a pagan demon demanding droit du seigneur with any woman the men of the house marry. It's a harrowing concept, that simply marrying someone opens you up to rape by a supernatural monster...but finally, with some help, the wife's courage saves the day.

"Daughter of the Moonlight" is a lesser tale, and a bit disjointed, almost as if it were two tales merged into one. A young woman of Harrisonville society brings disaster to all around her, and she seems to be a witch of some sort, a born witch. It winds up with a scene reminiscent of Byron's fragment of a vampire tale; Quinn seems to have been very well-read.

It's a fun collection, and the sexual horrors contained within will give you a very different perspective on pulp fiction horrors. Like all the de Grandin stories, this is highly recommended.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

August in the Phantom Recital Hall

It's a hot night in early August, and we're taking advantage of a free evening out at that lovely old concert hall we like. They're unveiling their new, smaller-scale recital hall for chamber works or experimental pieces.

We're in lighter versions of our bohemian finery, and meet after a light meal to hear some lovely music. A highlight of tonight's program is a chamber work for two violins, Telemann's "Gulliver Suite," inspired by the Swift classic. It's in five movements...watch for the second one, "Lilliput," which is less than 30 seconds long...



Sorry I'm a little late this month...I've been focused on job-hunting. I've been throwing applications left and right, and waiting for responses, so hopefully something will fall into place soon.

Show's over...let's hit that bar over there for a cool drink, shall we?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

THE VENGEANCE OF THE WITCH-FINDER by John Bellairs and Brad Strickland

"By John Bellairs, Completed by Brad Strickland," claims this book's cover and title page, but I'm inclined to believe it's mostly Strickland. That's not entirely bad.

Set concurrent with the previous book, THE GHOST IN THE MIRROR, this depicts Lewis' adventures in Europe with his uncle. They go to England first, to visit a cousin who lives in the ancestral mansion in the British countryside. Lewis is intrigued by a maze on the property, and moved by the poverty of his cousin, decides to explore and find a possible treasure within. He's assisted by Bertie Goodring, the son of the his cousin's housekeeper, who is blind after being struck by a beam during the Blitz. (The book touches on some of the realities of life in postwar Britain, where rationing was still in force.) They find a hidden area in the maze (as seen on the cover above) and unleash something invisible and hostile. Lewis and his uncle continue to journey through Europe, and when they return to Barnavelt Manor for a visit before returning to the US, they find things there to be strange and sinister....

It borrows elements from several sources, including M. R. James' "Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance," Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Musgrave Ritual," and the real story of Matthew Hopkins. Bellairs/Strickland takes jabs at adult hypocrisy. Strickland was good at characterization and with this book it really starts to become a feature of the series.

It's got some good atmosphere in the descriptions of the maze and the old house. However, in the end this is one of my less favorite books in the series. One of the antagonists just shows up, supposedly "summoned" but summoned offstage. And Lewis is terrified of talking to his uncle about his experience in the maze, which presses credibility. Uncle Jonathan has been extremely understanding of Lewis' involvement with the supernatural, and Lewis should have got over his fear long before now. The way Lewis keeps his secret just doesn't ring true and seems more a plot device than anything else.

Still, it's a decent entertainment, and the hardcover is worth getting for the Gorey cover.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A July Night at the Movies!

Oh lawdy, it's been hot lately! We're all dragging as we exit the restaurant after a light meal (and I'm grateful for Mark picking up the tab for me...I'll pay you back, I promise....). The heat and humidity are very oppressive, and it's only to get worse over the weekend.

Thankfully the theater is air-conditioned, the drinks are cold, and the ticket-taker has a new tattoo on those impressive biceps. We sink into our seats, stretching our legs, as the show starts.

Tonight's movie is the 1935 thriller "One Frightened Night"!



"One Frightened Night" is one of the more successful feature films from Mascot, a studio normally associated with low-budget serials, and the script was based on a preliminary treatment by Stuart Palmer, the author of the Hildegarde Withers mystery series.

Show's over! After a few friendly flirtations with the ticket-taker and the refreshment counter staff, we stagger out into the sultry night...let's go get something cold again....

Friday, July 15, 2016

Personal Note for July

It's a scorching hot summer here in Baltimore, and just as I was starting to get things better arranged for me, I dealt a sharp blow from an unexpected direction; I lost my job. I'd had a sneaking suspicion that it might happen, but really thought I could hang on until I found something else, and I was in the process of starting up a job hunt anyway. I'd been unhappy

Thankfully, I have resources for assistance, including some professional resume help, and a lot of friends in the area willing to lend a hand, for which I am truly thankful. And I have the library and my own enormous collection of books (really, I am almost a compulsive book-buyer). And really, what sorts of adventures await me as I look for a new job?

NIGHT SHIVERS; THE GHOST STORIES OF J. H. RIDDELL

Here's another collection from Wordsworth Editions, this collects a good chunk of Mrs. Riddell's short supernatural fiction. "The Uninhabited House," a novella, was already reviewed here a few years ago, so thankfully I will skip it here. This was a lengthy volume, 449 pages, and it took me forever to get through.

Mrs. Riddell has her strengths and weaknesses; she can be flowery and overly sentimental, but she's also good about giving her characters real economic lives and dealing with the struggles of the middle class. A lot of her haunted-house tales also deal with the notion of haunted houses as economic liabilities; they seem to be more about haunts from a real-estate perspective.

"Nut Bush Farm" deals with hauntings at a rural farm, a struggling middle-class man seeks a quiet country retreat, but finds it haunted by the ghost of a former owner. "The Open Door" deals with a desperate young man jumping at a chance to solve a haunting in a baronial mansion...so it can be sold or inhabited. It all ends up with a door that can't be shut, a re-enacted murder, and a missing will.

"The Last of Squire Ennismore" is a folktale, basically, of a wicked noble being carried off by the devil. "A Strange Christmas Game" is a brief tale of an old murder being solved by ghostly manifestations. A young man, kicked out by his father, resorts to staying in a haunted house in "The Old House in Vauxhall Walk," much to his economic benefit. "Sandy the Tinker" deals with ghosts and approaching doom.

"Forewarned, Forearmed," deals with prophetic dreams, but also has memorable atmosphere. "Hertford O'Donnell's Warning" is a romantic tale of visions and destiny. "Walnut-Tree House" has more romance and more missing wills. "Old Mrs. Jones" was a bit odd...a ghost story that might not actually be a ghost story, with a milieu of a boarding-house and middle-class characters.

"Why Dr. Cray Left Southam" deals more with psychic visions than ghosts, with a mortal woman having visions (maybe) of a murdered woman (maybe). It's actually a bit vague and unresolved, which a lot left up to the reader to decide, which actually makes it a very forward-thinking and modern work. While I wasn't enthused about the plot, I was impressed by its literary merit.

"Conn Kilrea" has an Irish officer having visions and ghostly visitations (because that's what happens when you're Irish, it seems), and "Diarmid Chittock's Story" is a tale of murder being revealed by the supernatural. And "A Terrible Vengeance" is nasty tale of a murdered woman who seeks spectral vengeance, but it's also boosted by some very good characterizations, including some very nasty people.

It's got good stories in it, but it's a bit of a slog. There's some repetition, and the style can drag, and it's a lot of Riddell to take in. There were many times when I picked it up, meaning to read it over lunch in the break room, or the like, but found myself unwilling to do it. This is something to have on hand by your reading chair for the occasional dip, rather than try to make all the way through.

Still, it's worth it for a glimpse into Mrs. Riddell's middle-class Victorian world, and also for some of her more modern tales. She ranges from the folkloric to the almost avant-garde nature of "Why Dr. Cray Left Southam." So yeah, worth purchasing if you like Victoriana.