Mittwoch, 12. September 2012

The Red Brain (and other creepy thrillers)
Selected by Dashiell Hammett
Belmont books 1961. $0.35

                                         My copy of the 1691 Belmont edition.
The Contents:

Introduction - Dashiell Hammett
John Collier - Green Thoughts
Robert Dean Frisbie - The Ghost Of Alexander Perks, A. B.
Peter Fleming - The Kill
Peter MacDonald - Ten O'Clock
L. A. G. Strong - Breakdown
S. Fowler Wright - The Rat
Irvin S. Cobb - Faith, Hope And Charity
H. P. Lovecraft - The Music Of Erich Zann
Donald Wandrei - The Red Brain
W. Elwyn Backus - The Phantom Bus


                                                                      The UK edtion from Four Square

                                  The companion volume from Belmont which completes the original anthology

The original 1931 Hardcover edition.

I’m posting a lot later than usual because I honestly do try to re-read each book before I write about it and I haven’t had as much free time these past weeks.

Anyways, I enjoyed this anthology a lot more than I thought I would.  I was thinking that even though Mr. Hammett was a world class mystery writer he might not be the best anthologist of horror stories. Happily he proved me wrong.
 Regarding this collection, as old as my Belmont edition is, the original anthology is even older and originally appeared way back in 1932 as “Creeps by Night”. I find the originally title much better.  I mean, the original has me asking myself is “creeps” what the stories do or are there actually those who “creep” by night or lastly, are there those who are Creeps at night? It doesn’t really matter though. This is a fairly strong anthology that contains stories that haven’t been heavily anthologized. And rarely anthologized stories are always seen as good things here at the Bunker.
 I like the cover a lot. It’s dark and colorful at the same time. Sadly I have no idea who the artist is.

Now let’s take a look at the stories.

John Collier - Green Thoughts

     I’m starting to become a big John Collier fan. This is the fourth one of his stories that I’ve read this year and they’ve all been good fun with a mean little streak of nastiness running through them. Mr. Mannering inherits the effects of a late friend who disappeared on an Amazon expedition. One of the items is a plant bulb which he promptly plants in his green house. This quickly grows into an extremely large Orchid type plant, the kind of which Mr. Mannering has never seen before. He finds out to his own peril that this plant is carnivorous and can procure its own meals. First housse pets and then household members disappear until Mr. Bannering himself falls victim to the plant. It seems that once a meal has been digested it re-appears as a sentient bud on the Orchid. This doesn’t seem to bother Mr. Bannering much until his hated and sadistic nephew inherits his estate. Reading this I have the funny feeling that “Little Shop of Horrors” isn’t such an original story after all. This is an enjoyable story with a nasty and somewhat unexpected end.

Robert Dean Frisbie -The Ghost Of Alexander Perks, A.B.

     This is a semi-comic story regarding the titular ghost who is haunting a tramp steamer. “A.B.” means “Able Bodies Seaman”. We discover that a ghost abandoning a ship is even worse than when the rats do.  You would never imagine that suicide because of loneliness could be actualy be the driving force behind a fairly humorous ghost story. I liked this one. It even has a fairly happy end. At least no one dies.

Peter Fleming - The Kill

     A young man stranded in a isolated train station shares the story of the recent events which took place on his Uncle’s estate with the only other passenger stranded with him. It’s seems his Uncle sired an illegitimate son with a servant girl who he neglected and had sent away. The bastard son turns out to be a werewolf (through a curse his mother placed on the narrators Uncle.) who has returned to kill any heirs of the Uncle. The Uncle had disinherited his nephew and had as his heir a female companion. She ends up killed and eaten. This, the nephew explains, makes him once again the Uncle’s heir. The silent stranger react strangely when he here’s of this change in the Uncle’s Will. You can, I hope, see where this is going. Even if the ending was telegraphed from a great distance I still enjoyed the story.

Peter MacDonald -
Ten O'Clock

     This was an odd one which, for my tastes, took too long of a time getting to the end. A wealthy young lawyer cuts short his vacation in the country side to return to London so that he can be reunited with his mistress. He promises to call on her at 10 P.M exactly. While waiting to go to her he is called upon for legal advice from a merchant seaman who seems to have troubles with a lover who jilted him for a wealthy man. It seems that the trouble is that the seaman has murdered this woman. While he is so anxious to get to his rendezvous with his lover, the lawyer advises his visitor to turn himself in to the police. The young man also promises to act as the sailors advocate during the trial. The seaman thanks him and takes his leave. The young lawyer notices that it’s now almost 10 P.M. and won’t arrive at the promised time. He telephones his mistress, but no one answers. He then notices the hatbox that the seaman seems to have left behind. Hmmmm? What could be in it? Except that this story was printed 20 years to early it could have come straight from the pages of an old EC horror comic. It’s a nice story that sadly telegraphs the payoff much too soon.

L. A. G. Strong – Breakdown

     This is an odd one. A man wishes to murder his mistress in his own home and comes up with one of the most convoluted means of establishing an alibi. It gave me a headache just trying to follow his plan. Why he just doesn’t kill the woman some place else and dispose of the body was a huge nagging question while reading the story. Since his plan is for him and his wife to return from a day trip and discover the body in their living room when they return. That drove me crazy. The murder seen is particularly grisly and nerve racking. Once they return home with his alibi in palace it seems the body has vanished along with all signs of the crime. This quickly drives him to a nervous breakdown where he confesses everything to his wife with surprising results. I have to admit that I didn’t see the ending coming. That alone makes this story extremely rewarding the first time you read it. Hat’s of to L.A. G. Strong!!

S. Fowler Wright - The Rat

     A man on a sea voyage gets stranded on a rocky atoll in the middle of the ocean with very meagre supplies, hardly any hope of rescue. His only companion is the titular rat and it wants his food supply. As you expect, a battle of wills ensues between the two.  This is a somewhat depressing story with a very satisfying ending.

Irvin S. Cobb - Faith, Hope and Charity
     3 criminals escape while being transported across the south western U. S. to be deported and eventually executed in the prospective countries. They come to realize that each of them is kept alive by a belief in one of the 3 positive (positive that is, in their own twisted logic.) traits mentioned above in the title of the story. We also learn that each faces a different form of punishment. Each one also believes that the punishment that he faces is much worse than the methods facing the other two. Through the course of the story each man meets his doom in a way reflecting how he is supposed to be executed or punished. These dooms are brought about to each man by way of what he perceives as being his driving motivational trait. This one reads like “John Steinbeck” when he was in a very bad mood.  This one was a nice surprise with honest satisfaction at the end.

H. P. Lovecraft - The Music of Erich Zann

     This is an outstanding early HPL story which displays the beginnings of what would be major themes in his stories. A destitute student lives in a very old neighbourhood at the top of a large hill in an unnamed, but obviously French city.
In the room above his lives old Eric Zahn who plays very strange music at night on his violin. The young student befriends the old musician and learns that the old man can use his music to open up a gateway tot the outer spheres and call down the entities that exist there. Of course things end badly with the old man devoured and the student rushing out in the night half insane with fear. He returns the next day only to discover that the entire section of town has not only disappeared, but seems to have never existed!  I get a big kick out of this story every time I read it.  The entire story just reeks of “lovecraftian” ideas without getting to hysterical or wandering over in to unintentional self parody. Even if this can’t be considered one of Mr. Lovecraft’s best stories I do consider it to be some of his best writing. It has 100% of his weirdness while still marinating great self control in writing style and structure.

Donald Wandrei - The Red Brain

Mr. Wandrei was the co-founder of Arkham House Publishing

     Antares, incredibly far into the future at the end of time, is the last existing star with a planet supporting life. All of the other stars in the entire universe have turned to dust that is choking out the entire universe. The beings from the Antares system have evolved into huge brains that live by pure thought alone. They attempt to turn back the death of the universe by creating artificial brains that has greater intellects and problem solving skills than their own. These experiments in creating artificial intellects finally reach their highest level of perfection with the creation of the greatest intellect the Universe has ever seen. This being is the Red Brain. The Red Brain has the mental and psychic powers to restore life to the dying Universe. There is only one problem though……………………………………………………….

                                 The Red Brain was mad!

W. Elwyn Backus - The Phantom Bus

     A man whole recently lost his fiancé in bus crash begins to notice every day, a few minutes before it arrives, that his bus will be preceded by an old decrepit black bus similar to the make in which his fiancé died. No one ever gets on or off of this mysterious bus. This mystery finally drives him into taking this mystery bus himself so that he can find out what its destination is. This turns out to not be a very good idea.
 Reads like an old time radio show.  It’s an ok story with no surprises.

Well that’s it for this week. I’ll try to get back on my weekly schedule as soon as possible.


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