Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, October 25, 2022


 The Hammer Horror Film Omnibus by John Burke  (London:  Pan Book, 1966)

With Halloween less than a week away, it's time to turn some classic horror stories, courtesy of England's Hammer Film Corporation.  Four of the famous Hammer films have been adapted for this book.  Although the cover of the proclims them as "novels," in reality they are actually short stories or, at most novelettes, which means I feel it safe to include them in this Short Story Wednesday post.

"The Gorgon" takes place early in the Nineteenth century in a small village in Bavaria.  Recently there had been a number of strange deaths in and around the village.  The conditions of the bodies have been kept a secret because all of the victims had been turned to stone.  Local superstition pointed to the ruins of the centuries-old Castle Borski which looked down upon the village and of a Gorgon -- a beast in the form of a woman with snakes for hair -- who had the power to assumed the shape of a normal woman when not yeilding her terrible power.  New to the village was Bruno Heitz, a young artist who had gained the attentions of the local innkeeper's lusty daughter, Sasha.  Sasha tells Bruno that she is pregnant and the jubulant Bruno rushed off into the night to confront her father who must now at last give his permission for Bruno to marry Sasha.  Sasha rushes after Bruno but gets lost in the darkness and confronts the gorgon.  Sasha turn to stone and is found the next morning; a little ways off is Bruno, dead, hanging from a tree.  Bruno's father, Professor Jules Heitz, arrives to find out what had happened to his son.  The professor is met with resistance, vague answers, and a refusal to let him view the body.  Determined to get answers, the professor writes to his surviving son, asking him to join him, and then goes to Castle Borski where he, too, is turned to stone.  Paul Heitz arrives at the village to find that his father, too, had died.  Paul also meets with resistance from lovl officials and from the town's Dr, Nmaroff, the head of the Vandorf Medical Institution.  Paul also meets (and falls in love with) the beautiful Carla Hoffman, Namaroff's nurse.  A few years before, Carla had suffered from bouts of amnesia which had been cured by Namaroff.  Carla now feels compelled to stay with Namaroff.  Is it because he cured her, or is it because she still needs his cure.  Could the bouts of amnesia been recurring?  And, if so, what was Carla doing during the times she had no memory?

"The Curse of Frankenstein" has Victor Frankenstein attempting to animate life.  His assistant in this process is Paul Krempe, originally hired to serve as young Victor's tutor.  From childhood, Frankenstein had been betrothed to his cousin Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth's mother died, Frankenstein had her brought to his estate to run the household she would one day be mistress of.  Speaking of mistresses, Victor had been having an affair with the young maid Justine, who read more into the arrangement than waas there, fully expecting one day to marry Victor.  Victor and Paul meanwhile had been assembling body parts, while Paul slowly realized that what they were attempting was wrong.  Victor invites Professor Bernstein, Europe's greatest living physicist, to is estate and kills him, making it seem like an accident.  Frankenstein's creation must have an extraordinary brain, you see.  Paul rebels and leaves the estate but stays in the village hoping to protect Elizabeth, who refuses to leave Victor.  The creature is animated although restrained because its condition was delicate and time was needed for the creature to heal properly.  The creature healed fater than expected and tore loose of its bonds while Victor was out of the laboratory.  Justine informed Victor that she is pregnant and tht he must marry her.  Victor laughs at this and locks her in the laboratory with the creature, who kills her.  Paul kills the creature and, duty done, leaves the village.  But, fie on you, Paul -- Victor reanimates the corpse.  Locals are becoming suspicious.   Victor destroys the creature.  Authorities discover the body of Justine and arrest Victor.  Vicotr's rambligs that a creature had killed the maid go unheeded because there is no creature to be seen, andVictor is condemned to death.

"The Revenge of Frankenstein" takes up immediatelt after the previous story.  Victormis about to hanged the next day.  He has entered into a bargain with Werner, the mishappened dwarf who was his guard.  If Werner could somehow find a way for Frankenstein to escape the gallows (in the film, kit was the guillotine), Frankenstein would create a new body for Werner -- one strong, healthy, and not deformed.  Werner came through and the priest who accompanied Frankenstein to the gallows wwas hanged instead.  No longer ale to be Baron Frankenstein, Victor relocated himself in Carlsbruck as Dr. Stein.  As Stein, Victor slowly  amassed a reputation and eough money to continue his researches.  He volunteered at the Workhouse Hospital, giving him access to the body parts he needed, even if he had to amputte them from his patients.  Victor gave short shrift to the local medical establishment, gaining him a number of enmeies among them.  One who was not an enemy, though, was Hans Kleve, a young doctor who had recognized Victor as the infamous Baron Frankenstein.  Kleve was eager to work with Frankenstein and to learn from him.  After several years of preparation, Werner's new body was ready for him and the brain was removed from the dwarf and placed into a healthy body.  Again, it takes a while for the reanimated body to heal and to adjust to its new environment; during that time it had be restrained.  A young, kind-hearted volunteer at the hospital came across the bound patient and, out of pity, loosened the restraints.  Werner frees himself much too early and goes to Victor's lab and destroys his old body.   He then vanishes.  One problem that Victor had had in the past with the animals that he worked on was that the reanimated beasts reverted to cannibalism.  Victor felt, given time, he could eliminate that defect in Werner, but victor no longer had that time.  Wernor's brain is beginning to force his new body to revert, to take on the mishappened appearnce of his old body.  Werner kills a local girl, then bursts on a social gathering Victor was attending and begged him, "Frankenstein, help me!" before dying.  Frankenstein and Hans destroy Werner's new body, but the fact that the creature had called him Frankenstein has started the rumor mill going.  Autorities dig up what was supposed to be Frankenstein's grave and discover the body of the priest.  They go to arrest him.  Meanwhile the patients at the Workhouse Hospital realize what Frankenstein had been doing to them and attack him, mortally wounding him.  Baron Frankenstein is now dead and uried.  But Hans disinters him and reanimates him.  Now in England and in a new, unrecognizable body, Frankenstein is free once again to perform his evil experiments.

"The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb" opens with the Kng Expedition to Egypt to open the tomb of Egyptian king Ra Antef with its many fabulous treaures.  But we all know that Egyptian tombs are cursed.  One of the expedition's two leaders, Pierre Dubois is vicously killed, his hand severed.  The other leader, Sir Giles Dalrymple, along with Dubois' daughter Annette and Dalrymple's assistant John Bray, decide to close up shop and remove all treasures and the sarcophagus of Ra Antef to Cairo, where the Cairo Museum has made a generous offer for the entire trove.  Dalrymple feels that the tomb's contents belong in Egypt and urges the expedition's financier, Alexander King, to accept the offer.  King (a typical crass American) feels that much more money can be made by putting it up on exhibit, travelling across the world, charging a mere dime to view the mummy of the king; his overall profits should equal at least ten times what the Cairo Museum has offered.   Dalrymple is shocked and disgusted at King's decision and resigns, but urges John Bray and Annette to stay on with King in the hope that they may be able to blunt some of the American's instincts and preserve some dignity for the long-dead king.   As the party sails to England where King plans to first display the mummy and the wealth of the tomb, an aristocratic stranger named Adam Beacham ingratiates himself to Annette and Bray and ends up helping them with the exhibit.  A millenia-old talisman that Annette's father had given her the day before he was murdered goes missing,  At the opening of the exhibit, Ra Antef's sarcophagus is opened -- it is empty; the mummy is missing.  And then the killings begin in earnest...

All four stories are quickly told and follow the pacing of the films.  There's not much room for detail or nuance here.  Taken for what they are, the stories are effective in portraaying the charm (is that the word I want?) of the original films.  The Hammer Studio horror movies may be looked dow upon by film critics for their by-the-books storytelling and melodramatic flare, but as I get older I find myself appreciating the the films more and more.  Great art it may not be, but it sure is pretty neat story-telling.  And transferred to the written page, what more can you ask for for a Halloween season's reading?

 It may be difficult to find a copy of this book.  The British paperback was reprinted only once by Pan, in 1973.  There were no other English language editions, although a Dutch translation appeared in a trade paper edition in 1983.  No copies are currently available on abebooks or eBay.

Burke followed this one with The Second Hammer Horror Film Omnibus in 1967.  That volume included adaptations of The Reptile, Dracula -- Prince of Darkness, Rasputin -- The Mad Monk, and The Plague of the Zombies.  An earlier Pan paperback was Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), which incorporated five stories within the framing device of that film.

John Burke (1922-2011) was a prolific British writer in  many genres, including at least four dozen adaptations of films and television shows (among them The Entertainer, Look Back in Anger, The Magnificent Air Race -- from the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Dad's Army, and A Hard Day's Night -- the last was almost never published because Clarence Paget, the Diretor of Pan Books, felt that the Beatles were just a passing fad; Burke and members of the Pan staff lobbied for the book, which eventully sold 1.25 million copies).

A brief look through the internet fails to find a complete bibliography for Burke, but he published well over 125 books under his own name and as Jonathan Burke, J. F. Burke, Sara Morris, Jonathan George (a joint pseudonymn with George Theiner), Owen Burke, Martin Sands, Robert Miall, Harriet Esmond (a joint pseudonym with his wife, Jean Burke), Joanna Jones, Russ Ames, and Roger Rougiere.  Burke's first novel, Swift Summer (1949) won the Atlantic Award for Literature.  His suspense novels and science fiction stories, many written early in his career, proved to be very popular.  From 1963 to 1965 he served as London story editor for 20th Century Fox.  He became a full-time writer in 1966.  Four of his later novels features psychic investigator and occult detective Dr. Alex Caspian; the careful reearch that went into these, as well as the "Harriet Esmond" suspense novels is evident.  Burke's non-fiction works include at least fifteen books on British travel and history.  Burke has also translated novels from the Danish and has written for the screen, television, and radio.  In 1985, Burke reached the semi-finals in the long-runnng British quiz show Mastermind; his wife Jean also reched the semi-finals two years later.

For your perusing pleasure, here are the original trailers for the four films adapted in The Hammer Horror Film Omnibus; all should be available to watch in full on YouTube:

The Gorgon (1964), with Petter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Richard Pasco

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) with Peter Cushing, Chrisstopher Lee, Hazel Court, and Robert Urguehart

The Revenge of Frankentein (1958) with Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, and Eunice Gayson

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964) with Terence Morgan, Ronald howard, and Fred Clark

Happy Halloween!


  1. You do put a lot of effort into your posts. Makes me feel lazy.

  2. This looks terrific! I'll have to check it out!