Mary Danby (ed.) - The 16th Fontana Book Of Great Horror Stories (Fontana, 1983)
“A midnight feast of unspeakable evil and hideous terror …”
Steve Rasnic Tem - The Farmer Terry Tapp - See How They Run H. Warner Munn - The Wheel Roger Clarke - Blackberries Mark Channing - The Feet Phillip C. Heath - Creepogs Frederick Cowles - The Horror Of Abbot’s Grange Dorothy K. Haynes - Oblige Me With A Loaf Alison Prince - Mother’s Day Roger Malisson - Switching Off Bram Stoker - The Burial Of The Rats Mary Danby - Curleylocks
Frederick Cowles - The Horror Of Abbot’s Grange: Seeking whom he may devour. God frustrate him always.. Ritton. Michael and wife Joan lease the Grange which has remained untenanted for so long that the present Lord Salton has it earmarked for demolition. Terms are agreed with the agent who is insistent on one point: should they wish to visit the chapel - closed these three hundred years - they must do so only during the day and on no account allow the door to be unlocked between dusk and daybreak.
It transpires that the chapel houses the tomb of William, the first Lord Salton (1501-97), a Cistercian monk who dabbled in black magic and was dismissed from the Abbey. He was given his title in return for informing against the Abbot and his holy brethren which saw seven of them executed, and there’s an impressive portrait of him hanging under the stairs. The artist was clearly a conscientious man: he’s even painted in the guy’s fangs.
Come the housewarming party and, of course, some fool just has to nose around the chapel. A blood-curdling laugh and - William Salton is free!
Child sacrifice, dead party-goers, a haunted portrait and a vampire with Tod Slaughter tendencies. This is Cowles at his most pulpy, cliched and unutterably entertaining. And, God help me, he even slips in some Jamesian touches.
Terry Tapp - See How They Run: More fun on the farm. Cassie tells husband David to pop in on Mr. Moyce and pick up some traps as she's found another mouse carcass in the kitchen. Of course, he forgets - not that it would've made much difference. while he's out in the fields, the rodents converge on the house in their millions. The obvious comparison is James Herbert, but this is closer in spirit to Michael Annesley's Not At Night classic, Rats.
Roger Malisson - Switching Off: Dad finally had enough of Mums sleeping around and packed his bags and menopausal Miss William's makes his every day at school a misery. The only thing that keeps Mark Sugden going is his determination that one day he'll leave school and become an electrician like his father. His world takes an amazing turn for the better when, school and Miss Williams behind him, he gets a job as a sweeper-upper and tea maker at the salon. Pam, the pretty young proprietor, takes a shine to him and with her encouragement he begins to show promise as a hairdresser. Everything is going well until his old nemesis pops in for a cut and dry. As with the Tapp story, this is good old fashioned horror of a kind we don't see so much of these days now the trend seems to be for brainy old dark fantasy.
Steve Rasnic Tem - The Farmer: Grandfather explains to the boy that, to get a magnificent crop, you must make sacrifices, really give something of yourself to the land. Which accounts for the several disappearances in the area and the fact that each member of the family is missing the odd limb or a chunk of face.
Mark Channing - The Feet: Here's that Peter Penzoldt, Ph.d. quote I was looking for:
"Before I conclude, some mention should be made of the worst type of horror tale; that containing descriptions of sadism. These stories may appear with or without the element of the supernatural, but in any case it is never more than a pretext for introducing the cheapest kind of horror. The most famous example is Kipling's The Mark Of The Beast with its realistic descriptions of torture. Others are Thomas Burke's The Bird, Carl Tanzler Von Cosel's Helena's Tomb, Mark Channing's The Feet and Marjorie Bowen's disgusting stories in The Bishop Of Hell.
How such tales can be constantly republished in the face of the laws against pornographic literature is an unsolved mystery."
The Supernatural In Fiction, 1952
Hard to believe that the Pan Horrors were only a few years away, ain't it? Anyway, Channing's story isn't exactly excessive (or particularly memorable) for its own day - the 'thirties - and you could probably run it in a children's scary stories book now without anybody getting too apoplectic. Uncle Harvey is a collector of Indian curios as was his father before him. His Bloomsbury studio houses his 'Chamber of Horrors' and the grimmest of the mementos is a pair of ankle bracelets with bells on. A previous occupant was a sadistic Nawab, exiled for his cruelty, whose disposition wasn't improved any when he came to London. When one of his harem fell for an Englishman, he cut off her feet and sent them to her lover. His evil ghost walks the house.
There's slightly more to it than that, but not much.
Alison Prince - Mother's Day: Nice Tom Rampage and his feisty, Save The Whale campaigning girlfriend Irma visit his embittered, paranoid old mother at the nursing home. Irma's been messing about on the tennis courts and has a speck of rust in her eye. Let Mrs. Rampage see to it for you, dear ...
you know exactly what's going to happen - especially if you've read the back cover blurb which puts even the most sadistic Vault spoilers to shame - but it's the crushing inevitability of the outcome that gives Prince's evil little tale its power.
Phillip C. Heath - Creepogs: Invasion of the swamp crabs! They're only titchy, but there are so many of them that they'll soon have you stripped down to a skeleton.
Two things you shouldn't do when encountered by a creepog army: the first is don't make any loud noises (they don't like them), the second, don't turn on the light (it really gets them going). Lucille, covered in the pesky little blighters, is understandably screaming her head off but will her husband abide by golden rule number two?
H. Warner Munn - The Wheel: A companion piece to his Weird Tales/ Not At Night squirm-inducer The Chain. The American, Preece, is given a guided tour of Bohorquia's torture chamber, the centre piece of which is a customised treadmill suspended over a trough of bubbling pitch. Once you're on there, it's a case of keep walking, keep awake, as the guy operating the fiendish contraption has all these snazzy coloured levers he can pull to flick you over the side.
Mein host, who is clearly a loose cannon, relates the grim fate of three of his ancestors at the hands of the Inquisition and the campaign by generations of Bohorquia's to obliterate the families responsible from the face of the earth. Now there's only one person to be rid of and the revenge is complete. Rotten moment for Preece to realise who he's descended from ...
Munn capably handles the suspense and nihilistic ending is, to my mind at least, exactly spot on. As with Mother's Day, you know it's coming - the authors won't let you imagine any other outcome.
Oh, the fun and games if Peter Penzolt had sunk his fangs into this one!
Mary Danby - Curlylocks: Rock House, Garthwaite. Nineteen year old Angela has realised that maybe it wasn't such a shrewd move marrying Geoffrey after all. A wealthy solicitor, sixteen years her senior, Geoffrey won't let her do a thing for herself and she's doomed to a non-life of daytime TV with the occasional hour off for the joys of staring into space. When he refuses to allow her to cut her hair she rebels: isolated and resentful, she chances on a book about witchcraft in the local library and tries out some nasty anti-Geoffrey spells. Her dabbling in black sorcery is all too successful.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.