Tuesday, August 30, 2016

THE DOOM OF THE HAUNTED OPERA by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

Another Bellairs/Strickland "posthumous collaboration", although I'm strongly of the opinion that this is all Strickland. After this one, the covers would site, "John Bellairs' Lewis Barnavelt in (book title) by Brad Strickland."

Lewis and Rose Rita are doing a project on local history and remember stories of an abandoned opera house over some downtown shops. (Apparently Bellairs based this on a real abandoned theater in his childhood home town.) They ask nicely and are let in to look around, when Lewis stumbles on the score of an opera, hidden in a decayed piano, and is warned away by a ghost. Still, they take the opera away to show their teachers, who are suitably impressed. Meanwhile, Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann go off to Florida to attend a friend's funeral and wrap up his affairs...not coincidentally, their old friend was a wizard.

When a tune from the opera is played at a PTA meeting, a man claiming to be the composer's son shows up, and gets everyone worked up into a frenzy to get the opera produced. Lewis and Rose Rita, who distrust the man, go on a fact-finding mission and realize the town is surrounded by an impenetrable fog cloud, and no communications can go in or out. They attempt to find members of the county magician's society (who are real wizards and witches), only to find their houses gone and the neighbors having no memory of them. And Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Z are away in Florida. All alone, the two have to face a man who wants to become the King of the Dead.

This is good fun. The requisite thrills and chills are all there, as well as some good light humor. There's a great scene in the town cemetery where Lewis and Rose Rita are menaced by a sort of demonic guardian statue that can only move when nobody's looking at it, and which becomes more and more grotesque every time they see it. And this book introduces two fun supporting characters: Rose Rita's Grandpa Galway, a repository of local history and tinkerer, and Mildred Jaeger, a sensible, grounded would-be witch who simply lacks magical talent, but has a lot of knowledge.

Again, the kids are on their own, but this time there's a good reason as they're physically cut off. None of the old "Oh, we can't tell them because they'll hate us!" stuff.

This is a good YA horror programmer, not groundbreaking, but a fun read.

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 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?