Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, January 5, 2023


 The House of Living Death and Other Terror Tales, edited by "Jon Hanlon" (Earl Kemp), 1966

Terror Tales was a weird menace pulp magazine from Popular Publications, edited by Rogers Terrill, and running from September 1934 to March 1941 for a total of 51 issues.  Highly influenced by Grand Guignol theater, the weird menace pulps (or shudder pulps) generally had their heroes fighting sadistic villains and included a healthy (or unhealthy) dollop ot sadism and torture.  Usually added to the mix were gleamings of machochism, racism, voyeurism, misogeny, nudism, and heavy hints of erotica.  Villains were often racial stereotypes, mad doctors, or would-be crime czars; their cronies were more often than not misshapen creatures of brute strength and low intelligence.  The stories were gory, tawdry, and increasingly graphic.  It was a heady mix.  Tales were quickly written, quickly edited, full of overblown prose, and lurid enough to keep the mainly male readership coming back for more.  The garish covers just added to the popularity of the titles.  Terror Tales was one of the most popular of the ilk.

Back in the day, there were a number of weird menace pulps on the market, starting with Dime Mystery (which originhally saw light as a straight crime pulp) and moving on to Terror Tales, Horror Stories, Thrilling Mystery, Mystery Tales, and others.  Many of the hero pulps also took up the weird menace mantle, some to a slightly lesser degree, but costumed heroes such as The Spider, The Scorpion, Operator #5, and Secret Agent X had their pages filled with gruesome mass murders.  Villains also had their day in the sun with their own pulp magazines:  Dr. Death, Dr. Yen Sen, and The Mysterious Dr. Wu Fang among them.

The heyday of the shudder pulps was from the mid 1930s until the early 1940s.  They were killed by a strong backlash of censorship.  Today the tales have taken on a camp-like ambiance.  Never meant to destroy a nation's morals or anything like that, they were merely a marketing response to a demand for uncomplicated, entertaining reading from a male audience which often had not finished high school.

In the late fifties, science fiction author and publisher William Hamling began publishing a men's magazine, Rogue.  The magazine was so successful that Hamling soon dropped the science fiction magazines he had been publishing and added a line of adult paperback novels under such imprints, as Nightstand Books, Midnight Reader, Leisure Books, Greenleaf Classics, Idle Hour, Ember Library and others.  Hamling paid fast and well and these books became a training ground for such writers as Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Robert Silverberg, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Hal Dresner, John Jakes, Harlan Ellison, and Andrew Knowles.  Ellison also edited Regency Books, a paperback line that included such noted authors as Robert Bloch, Cordwainer Smith, Philip Jose Farmer, B. Traven, Algis Budrys, Avram Davidson, and others.  And then there was Corinth Books.

Corinth, under the editorship of Earl Kemp, issued paperbacks reprinting some of the popular pulp characters, including twenty-two adventures of the Phantom Detective, eight adventures of Operator #5, four books featuring the air adventures of Dusty Ayers, three novels about Dr. Death, as well as a number adventures of G-8 and His Battle Aces and numerous original adventures of 0008, a sexed-up mash-up of James Bond and Batman.  In 1966, Corinth also issued three collections of weird menace tales, the first two took their contents from the first issues of  Terror Tales (with one additional story from Operator #5), and the third a collection of stories from Dr. Death.

The first of these books, The House of Living Death and Other Terror Tales, reprints four stories:

  • "The House of Living Death" by Arthur Leo Zagat (Terror Tales, September 1934)  "Death, hasty and unkind, claimed Harold's father whith Harold thousands of miles away, remote and inaccesible.  The long journey back to claim his legacy was almost an alcoholic blure to Harold, but nothing to compare to the tortures of damnation that awaited him at the dock, where he rushed headlong into the horrendous nightmare of blood and fiendish chortling that awaited him at...The House of the Living Dead."  Hal Armour had been in a remote area of Chile for a year looking after his widowed father's business interests when he recieved a brief message that his father had died.  Not able to book passage home for a full week, Hal went on a bender and showed up at the boat a blind drunk.  It took several weeks of DTs on the voyage home to pull himself out of the abyss.  While on board drunk, he received a telegram urging him to come at once upon landing to see someone called Avery Dunn.  The message was signed Irma Kahn.  Hal had never heard of either.  When he arrived at Dunn's office he found Dunn to be a shady little character who claimed to be the lawyer for his father's estate, appointed by Irma Kahn, the executrix of the estate.  Kahn claimed to be the long-lost sister of Hal's father.  Then there was a faint scream for help coming from a nearby door.  Rushing there, he saw a man struggling with another just as a knife was thown into the back of one of them.  Turning around, hal saw a naked black giant aiming a pistol at him.  And then, darkness.  When  he awoke, police had arrived.  Dunn claimed that Hal had tried to kill him with a knife.  There was no body in the room next dorr.  In fact, the room did not exist as Hal remembered it.  There was also no naked black man with a pistol.  There was only one way into and out of Dunn's office, and over a dozen of Dunn's employees swore no one else had entered or left the office and that they all heard Hal's loud voice threatening Dunn.  Hal mwas beginnig to doubt his sanity.  He tries to escape but is captured and drugged.  He wakes up in a shabby mental hospital run by a giggling, effeminate doctor, with a whip-wielding sadistic giant for an assistant.  Most of the patients are gibbering mad men and women, often grotesquesly misshappened -- one of whom is a gigantic, ape-like mental defective who goes into homicidal rages   Among the other patients, though, he meets Nan, a beautiful blonde who does not appear to belong there..  Torture, murder, and depravity are the norm in this house of living death.  Can Hal and Nan ever escape?  P.S., Hal's aunt, a luscious raven-haired beauty, tries to seduce him.  P.P.S., at one point Hal is fed a "crisp poached egg" [emphasis mine] with his coffee.  Gotta love a story like that!
  • "Blood Hunter" by "Charles R. Wayne" (Robert C. Blackmon) (Operator #5, June 1934)   "Horror House stood all alone in the darkness.  It was surrounded by terror in the shape of mysterious deaths, bloodless animal corpses, and occassional kidnapings [sic].  Little wonder the local natives shunned it obsessively...and little wonder they tried to persuade Bart Nisson to detour around Horror House to avoid the ferocious half-wolf, half-dog that prowled the grounds of Horror House, stalking any...Blood Hunter."  This tale is an outlier and, while still remaining a weird menace story, it lacks many of the special touches that define a true shudder pulp story.  Treasury Departmen Special Agent Bart Nisson is traveling on a rural country road on his way to headquarters to receove a special assignment.  Ahead of him he spies a man being attacked by some sort of wolf-like creature.  Gun ready, Bart rushes to help but arrives too late.  The man nis dead, his throat torn out.  The creaure has escaped through the woods.  The dead man turns out be a local doctor who had vanished without a trace two weeks before.  Bart follows the trail to a lonely house where a family is being held prisoner by a highly organized gang of counterfeiters who have been using a trained and deadly wolf-hybrid to frighten locals away from the site.  Hoping to free the family, Bart is attacked by the beast, which pins him to the floor and is going for his throat before he could reach his gun...I suspect that this short 15-page tale was included mainly to make up the book's page count. 
  • "Dead Man's Bride" by Wyatt Blassingame (Terror Tales, September 1934)  "When he confessed his eternal love for Eve to his uncle, John was not quite prepared for the story he heard.  The ancient A'Hearn curse that kept every DeJarnett away from the altar...from his bride...and gave in return, Death!  But John was determined to break the tradition and rushed headlong into the old crumbling family mansion...straight into the arms of men dead some eighty years, and determined to do away with John, and claim the...Dean Man's Bride."  The A'hearn curse was placed on the DeJarnett family eighty years ago by occultist Casey A'Hearn, who felt slighted when his cousin Lacey DeJarnett inherited the family estate in Alabama instead of him.  Any DeJarnett who inherited the property would never turn it over to one of his children.  Four times over the past eighty years has a DeJarnett died horribly before marriage; four times their brides vanished completely.  Now John  has discovered that he has inherited the place -- one where he had never been and one that he had never heard of before.  When he spies a creepy-looking man outside his fiancee's house and learns that the man is the exact image of old Casey A'Hearn,  John is determined to go to the old mansion and clear the matter up.  Driving up an isolated mountain road that night, he comes across the figure of Casey A'Hearn upon a horse but convinces himself that it was just his imagination.  Ariving at the old estate he is met by an acient caretaker who had been expecting him even though John had not announced his plans to anyone.  At dinner, the caretaker sets a place for "the master," who turns out to be the revenant of Casey A'Hearn.  John's fiance arrives, led to the estate by a note that John never sent.  A'Hearn leads the pair to a cellar where the disintegrating corpses of John's four ancestors are displayed.  A'Hearn tells the pair that Eve, John's fiance, is to become a bride to Death.  With that, Eve vanishes and John  finds himself locked in the cellar.  Later, he allowed to enter the altar room by the preternaturally strong servant who, it turns out, had died eight decades before.  Eve is tied to the alter, wearing a blood-stained wedding dress, and with a corpse tied to each arm.  John is bound to a chair, watching helplessly as Casey approaches Eve with a large knife aimed at her throat...What happens next is a nihilistic climax that shatters John's life forever.  Internal logic is not a hallmark of this type of fiction and the reader will go crazy trying to figure out exactly how so many generations of DeJarnetts have been able to inherit the estate, giving the specifics of the curse.
  • "Hands Beyond the Grave" by Henry Treat Sperry (Terror Tales, September 1934)  "Walking into his house alone, late one evening, Robert Mercer was not at all prepared for the apparition that greeted him.  The vague but definite ghost Thing that just had to have Robert's body...what better way to get to Sylvia, Robert's fiancee?  Mrs, Crumb, the prominent ghost-hunter. started her seance then, with Robert and Dr. Crandall, little suspecting she would make fatal contact with...Hands Beyond the Grave."  A week before his wedding to Sylvia Blanding, Robert Mercer wakes up to find an man-like amorphous figure in his bedroom.  This apparition had no distinguishng features and appeared to be merely watching him.  After five minutes of watching this being, Robert slides out of bed and attempts to reach a javelin that is hung on his bedroom wall (because isn't that what everyone has decorating their bedroom?).  As fast as Robert is, the apparition is as fast, both reaching the javelin at the same time.  Robert stabs at the figure with the weapon and the ghost vanishes with a large, explosive noise.  Frightened, Robert retuns to bed for a restless night.  The next morning, still shaken, he calls his medical friend Howard Crandall, who also happens to be a psychic investigator.  Crandall arrives and decides they need the help of a talented medium, Mrs. Crumb.  Later that day the three hold a seance in which a large powerful voice threatens the trio if they try to block what it calls "its vengeance."  Vengeance for what? we have no idea.  Crandall and Mrs. Crumb spent the night at Mercer's house and Mrs. Crumb is murdered, strangled in a lockd bedroom.  Mercer is convinced that he had somehow committed the murder while posessed by the ghost Thing.  Mercer then sneaks away and goes to his fiancee's house, enters her bedroom, and starts to strangle her.  But it is not Mercer who is doing this.  It is the ghost Thing, which has taken over his body while also being able to manifest itself at the same time -- piture something like a four-armed thing.  Are you still with me?  Mercer knows that the only way to save Sylvia from strangulation is for him to kill himself, but that's going to be mighty difficult with the "other" in control of him...As I indicated above, internal logic be damned with this type of story!  BTW, the ghost Thing is the manisfestation of a century-dead fiend who was determined to end the line of the Blanding family.  Why did it wait so long?  I dunno.  What do you expect, internal logic?  
All four authors were prolific pulpsters, adept at the art of purple prose.  The book is all jolly good fun for those who do not mind being uncritical and are ready to embrace any sense of disbelief.

The House of Living Death, sadly, went through only one printing and had spotty distribution.  Copies may be available through the usual internet sellers.

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