Enoch The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton The Opener of the Way Return to the Sabbath The Mandarin’s Canaries The Shambler from the Stars The Secret of Sebek
Seth lives in the hut on the edge of the swamp, alone since his witch mother died years ago. Though not entirely alone, for he has Enoch – a demon living on the top of his head, talking to him, telling him to kill the unwary who pass through the swamp, to cut off their heads and give them to him. Then the Shefiff arrives and it’s off to jail for Seth and Enoch. No one believes when he tells them about Enoch, not even the District Attorney who encourages Seth to give the demon over to him, still not believing – he soon regrets it.
‘The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton’
I was quite reluctant to start this one, it seemed way too sci-fi for me but it’s worth sticking with. The story begins with Richard Clayton poised to take off in his spaceship ‘Future’ on a solo flight to Mars, taking ten years to get there and the same to return. This is no NASA mission, it seems more like a rocket in the back garden job, but the pilot ignites the atomic discharge propulsion engines anyway. There is a problem, the ‘Future’ shakes and vibrates so badly the instrument panel is shattered and useless, he has no idea how far he’s travelled or where he’s heading. Nevertheless Clayton begins his voyage, losing all track of time and becoming subject to all manner of nightmares and vividly horrifying dreams of aliens capturing him and devouring him. The worst shock he gets is when he wakes to find he’s ageing rapidly. Then he realises the ‘Future’ has landed…
‘The Opener of the Way’
The story of Sir Ronald Barton and his son Peter as they find the tomb guarded by the immense statue of the Egyptian god Anubis, the Opener of the Way. Sir Ronald had nicked an ancient scroll from an earlier dig which gave the location of the fantastic tomb, hinting at great treasure and promising limitless power. Sir Ronald’s obsession leads him to Anubis…
‘Return to the Sabbath’
Set in Hollywood, this begins with a PR man and an assistant producer going out in LA talent spotting. They accidentally catch a European horror movie in a sleazy theatre and are stunned by the lead actor’s performance. They discover the movie is called ‘Return to the Sabbath’ and the actor a man called Karl Jorla. They contact Jorla in Europe who signs a contract to make a similar film in America. It turns out Jorla was very keen to flee Europe, for the devil worshipping scenes in the film were all real and the cult blame him for betraying their secret rituals. The cult soon close in on Jorla…
‘The Mandarin’s Canaries’
This is all about the thoroughly evil Mandarin Quong, a powerful nobleman wicked and twisted in his tastes since childhood. The Mandarin delights in the agony of others, proclaiming himself Executioner so he can torture and kill as he pleases. He creates a terrible Garden of Pain, with vines growing on iron racks and creepers climbing the scaffolds. For Mandarin Quong has an unexpected love of Nature, but no bird will sing in his garden. When two missionaries arrive with a cage full of canaries he soon kills the missionaries and keeps the birds. In his Garden of Pain the birds breed in huge numbers and develop a taste for human flesh, cleaning up after the Mandarin has had his pleasure then rewarding him with beautiful birdsong. Quong hires an expert bowman to inflict the Death of a Thousand Arrows, the man brings to the palace his beautiful bride who the Mandarin uses then kills. The anguished bowman waits for his opportunity to get his revenge…
‘The Shambler from the Stars’
Bloch’s homage to H.P. Lovecraft has a writer of ‘weird fiction’ seek out rare and forbidden texts to further his knowledge and feed his imagination. He is delighted with his latest prize ‘The Mysteries of the Worm’ by Ludvig Prinn, a man exectued at the stake during witchcraft trials in Brussels. The book is written in latin however but a like minded friend agrees to translate. The writer watches in horror as the spoken words from the book summon a creature from the stars that is invisible at first, until it has drunk the blood of the invoker, then he sees the beast in all its glory…
‘The Secret of Sebek’
A lonely young writer of occult tales accepts an invitation to a party at the height of the New Orleans Mardi Gras. It turns out this was no chance meeting, as wealthy occultist Henricus Vanning has invited the writer to his masqued ball for a purpose. Vanning and four other men have persued their esoteric interests vigorously, resulting in the purchase of the famed book ‘The Mysteries of the Worm’ by Ludvig Prinn and a priceless Egyptian mummy, that of Sebek – the Crocodile God of the Nile, said to be half man and half crocodile. But now Vanning’s inner circle are getting cold feet, scared of what they may have already done in desecrating Sebek’s resting place. Vanning wants the writer’s advice, to proceed further or call it a day – but the writer is distracted, he’s sure he’s seen someone in a strange crocodile mask at Vanning’s party…
I really enjoyed this collection, they all work well to some degree but the highlight for me was the ‘Mandarin’s Canaries’, very nasty at times. ‘The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton’ almost disappointed but Bloch wisely reigned in the sci-fi for the ending. The weakest of the bunch for me was ‘The Opener of the Way’ and although I liked the Egyptian theme it didn’t really float my boat.
I’m pretty sure this collection has been mentioned elsewhere, and I’ve certainly seen an alternative cover for it, but can’t locate it naturally.
Here's the alleged Torture Garden tie-in (Four Square, 1967) which proudly boasts on the (terrific!) cover “The story on which the Columbia film is based”, referring to the opener, Enoch. Of course, this is a bit of a cheek, as the film was also based on Terror Over Hollywood, The Man Who Collected Poe and Mr. Steinway too, but none of them make the book.
As to the stories that do make the book, I'd go with Return To The Sabbath as one of Bloch's most effective Hollywood stories and The Mandarin's Canaries as a fine example of early ('thirties), nasty Bloch.
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.