Robert Bloch - Fear And Trembling (Tor, March 1989)
The Yougoslaves A Most Unusual Murder The Brood Of Bubastis Groovyland The Chaney Legacy Floral Tribute Reaper The Shrink And The Mink A Killing In The Market The New Season ETFF Freak Show Horror Scope
The Yougoslaves: A youthful gang pick the pocket of an old man in Paris. He's not worried about losing cash and credit cards, but his wallet contained a ruby-studded key of much importance. He forces one of the rogues to take him to the Fagin wannabee's hideout - the sewers - where he witnesses the gang rape of a girl of six and finds himself on the wrong end of Mr. Big's revolver. He's starting to get annoyed now. And there sure are an awful lot of rats down there ...
The story has been so grim and realistic up until now that it comes as a shock - and a disappointment - when Bloch let's on that the aged fellow is none other than .. an old friend of ours.
A Most Unusual Murder: Kane buys a battered medical kit for a staggering £100 from a London antique dealer who seems strangely reluctant to part with it. The bag once belonged to 'J. Ridley, MD' who, Kane explains to his friend Woods, was better known as Jack the Ripper. The old proprietor comes looking to retrieve the bag as it's a prize exhibit in his personal Black Museum. He's not what he seems, of course ....
The New Season: Millionaire Talk show host Harry Hoaker is coming apart due to an AIDs related illness. He's had so much plastic surgery, so many organ transplants and computer circuits wired into his body that he's little better than a robot. But while he's been hiding away the world has moved on as he learns the next time he steps before a 'live' audience.
Freak Show: Sheriff Higgs don't much care for this Mr. Fall who's blown into Goober City, Mayhem County intent on putting on his 'Carnival Of Life', particularly as he's illegally fly-posted it as an 'Adults Only' performance. A handful of dollars and reassurance that it's only an old fashioned freak show goes some way to placating the lawman. The locals are invited along for free. They'd have been better advised to stay away ...
Groovyland: Drool, a little green man from outer space, falls to earth during the summer of 1969 and hooks up with aspiring author Joe Considine, psychedelic flower child Sandy Simpson and her hippie commune (Luke Emia, Grafitti, Swinger, Cy Kotic, Dr. Barf) who agree to help him conquer the globe .... through the medium of longhair rock music. Drool, you see, can mimic every sound he hears.
For me, it doesn't really work as it should because Bloch is completely out of sympathy with the culture he's satirising and just sounds like some reactionary old timer, but a neat source for imaginary bands: Galloping Cruds ("I'd Like to Turn You on, Baby, But I Can't Find The Switch"), Eddie Breech & The Clouts, the Zappers ("Doobie-Do or Doobie-Don't You?", Vermin & The Varmints, Riga Mortice, Yogie & The Yo-Yo's ....
The Chaney Legacy: Silent movie buff Dale buys 'the Chaney house', a cottage halfway up Nichols Canyon in the Hollywood Hills and chances upon his hero's mirror and makeup kit. The mirror holds an unholy fascination for Dale, seemingly drawing strength from him each time he feels compelled to look into the glass which always reflects a face from Chaney's horror repertoire, never his own. When Dale reconciles with estranged girlfriend Debbie, the familiar hideous skull-face looks set to burst free. He finally finds the strength to smash the glass and heads off to answer a knock at the front door .....
Reaper: Michigan. 65-year-old Dark Fantasy author Ross makes a deal with the Grim Reaper (a scythe-wielding skeleton, just like his Tarot picture) whereby for every murder he commits he's granted another year on his life. Ross resolves to kill only those who've forfeited the right to life and soon discovers he has a flair for committing the perfect murder, it's just he's hopeless at eliminating his intended targets. When the Reaper demands he kills the nurse he was intent on marrying, Ross steals his scythe and destroys it. It doesn't do him any good.
Floral Tribute: Six year old orphan Ed lives with his Grandma, Hannah Morse, in the house backing onto the cemetery. Each day she sends him across the garden fence to fetch fresh flowers from the graves with the warning to avoid 'Old Sourpuss', the caretaker. Granny and boy live in harmony with the dead who visit them in the parlour every evening. When a social worker gets to hear of Hannah's eccentricity, the boy is taken into care and she's dragged off to the Sanatorium. Two decades later and now a War veteran, Ed returns to the old house where Grandma awaits. Gentle ghost story played remarkably straight by Bloch's standards.
The Shrink And The Mink: Sex farce originally published in a 1983 edition of Hustler. Twenty year old beauty Angela consults young Dr. Degradian about her problem: each night she's visited by an incubus and it's wearing her out. When none of his prescriptions works, he advises her to see Father O'Flannery about an exorcism. The banishment ritual is a success, but Angela has become a nymphomaniac and no man - including the old Priest - is spared her advances. Can Degradian bring back her incubus?
Horror Scope: Original to the collection and at least its an all out bloodbath. The narrator, a retired professor of criminology, is helping the police in their attempts to catch a serial killer who severs a body part from each of his (to date) twelve victims, none of whom seem to have any connection to the others. The old man's dedication to trawling through data finally identifies the link and a name. Nasty.
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.
I really like Fear and Trembling, great collection. The Chaney Legacy and Reaper were both filmed for the TV series Monsters. TCL appeared as 'Legacy'. Mannikins of Horror was also filmed for Monsters and is one of the best adaptations of a Bloch story ever put on film.