Anonymous (ed.) - The Best Horror Stories (Hamlyn, 1977, 1984, 1985)
Introduction - Lynn Picknett
Edgar Allan Poe - The Black Cat Edgar Allan Poe - The Tell-Tale Heart Edgar Allan Poe - The Premature Burial Villiers De L'Isle Adam - The Torture Of Hope Honore De Balzac - An Episode In The Terror Guy De Maupassant - The Hand Thomas Hardy - The Withered Arm Joseph Conrad - The Idiots Thomas Burke - The Bird Arthur Machen - The Terror Arthur Conan Doyle - Lot No. 249 Hilaire Belloc - The Apprentice J. Kaden-Bandrowski - The Sentence Ernest Hemmingway - The Killers A. E. Coppard - Arabesque: The Mouse F. Tennyson Jesse - Treasure Trove Luigi Pirandello - Cinci Dorothy L. Sayers - Suspicion Alec Waugh - The Last Chukka Conrad Woolrich - Dead On Her Feet Geoffrey Household - Taboo Graham Greene - A Little Place Off The Edgware Road C. M. Kornbluth - The Words Of Guru Robert Bloch - Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper John Keir Cross - The Glass Eye D'Arcy Niland - The Web C. M. Kornbluth - The Little Black Bag C. S. Forester - The Physiology Of Fear C. S. Forester - The Head And The Feet Ray Bradbury - The Veld Ray Bradbury - Skeleton John Collier - Evening Primrose Robert Silverberg - Back From The Grave William Faulkner - A Rose For Emily John Christopher - The Island Of Bright Birds Flannery O'Connor - The Comforts Of Home Penelope Mortimer - The Skylight Roald Dahl - Pig Stanley Ellin - Robert Stanley Ellin - The Question Frank Baker - In The Steam Room Edmund Crispen - The Pencil Olaf Ruhen - The Dark Of The Moon William Brittain - Falling Object Patricia Highsmith - The Terrapin Eddy C. Bertin - The Taste Of Your Love Leonard Tushnet - Aunt Jennie's Tonic Daphne Du Maurier - Not After Midnight Thomasina Weber - The Game Arthur Porges - The Fanatic Harlan Ellison - The Whimper Of Whipped Dogs Brian M. Stableford - Judas Story Joe Gores - You're Putting Me On - Aren't You? Tim Stout - Wake Up Dead David Fletcher - Corabella
I've had this for so long as to have all but forgotten about it, and rediscovering Best Horror Stories recently was like getting my hands on a brand new book. Or at least, half of one. See, when I bought it, everything was fresh and new to me and my passion was for early Weird Tales, shudder pulps, Gothic, Victorian and Edwardian horror. Post-WWII or - even worse - contemporary exercises in the macabre held no interest whatsoever, and I couldn't be doing with subtle stuff at all. The fledgling-demonik would have loathed D'Arcy Niland for pulling back, denying The Web the obvious and spectacularly dreadful ending it deserves. Come to think of it, all the non-supernatural stuff could go fuck itself. Who cares about your stupid terrapin?
Anyhow, I thought I'd concentrate on the very stories that used to irk me so. Of course, this time around, I love them to death!
Thomasina Weber - The Game: Roger Clamm is a man with a hobby: abducting children. Specifically, he kidnaps and murders prepubescent schoolgirls of a surly, impudent disposition, as these have the potential to mature into the type of woman he most despises. Nine year old Betty - adopted daughter of Judge Wilson of the Juvenile Court - is his latest victim. But she's even more disturbed than he is ...
Joe Gores - You're Putting Me On - Aren't You?: Lizbeth, sexy, liberated, groovy hippy chick, picks up our narrator, "Mr. Straight", by the swimming pool and invites him to buy her dinner. He manages to finish work in time to take her up on this once in a lifetime opportunity and endures Lizbeth using every device in her vast armoury of put-downs to prove what a boring, conformist, pro-Vietnam, pig-loving square he is. Our man is miffed: he's always prided himself on his coolness and assures Lizbeth "We're vibing together, Miss Hip." Fortunately, she talks like this too, so he doesn't lose any points at that early stage. By the end of their first night of sexual gymnastics, it's honours even, but then she plays her trump card by insisting to know how he makes his bread. So he tells her .... As with The Game, this originally appeared in Lucy Freeman's Killers Of The Mind anthology for Gollancz (1974). It's nowhere near as nasty as Ms. Weber's mini-masterpiece, but the sub-Starsky & Hutch dialogue speaks to me of crimplene, tank-tops and bellbottoms.
Arthur Porges - The Fanatic: Jerry knows that the animal kingdom has been infiltrated by aliens who are spying on mankind, for what purpose, he's yet to establish by, by God, he will! So he traps rabbits, mice and raccoons in the woods around his home in Redwood Canyon and tortures them to make them squeal. He explains all this to Eunice, who understandably gives him the usual response - the words 'psychiatrist' and 'paranoia' are mentioned - but hears him out all the same. When she asks if she might sit in on one of his interrogations, he goes berserk, fingering her as a sadistic thrill-seeker. But Jerry's done her an injustice. Far from being a pain-freak, Eunice has a vested interest in the outcome of his campaign.
David Fletcher - Corabella: Michael's happiness with Janice is tempered by the fact that the two children by her previous marriage, Paul and Melinda, despise his guts. He does all in his power to be friendly, patient and sympathetic, but they're not buying into him at all. Things come to a head when Melinda shows him her new pet - Corabella, the fat, juicy spider. How could she know he's arachnophobic? Some weeks after the flare up, the kids approach him in conciliatory mood. Will he take them to the funfair? Michael is only too pleased, and all is going so well that Melinda wants to give him a present. And she does. Once they're right up top of the Big Wheel.
Along similar lines:
D'Arcy Niland - The Web: Gramps moves in with his daughter's family. They accept the blind old man from the first, but he has to work on the boy, Joe, who's remote, wary .... until he learns of the old man's aversion to spiders and cash signs flow before his eyes. Will he live long enough to win a Young Businessman of the Year award?
Edmund Crispen - The Pencil: London gangland. Hit-man Eliot contrives to get himself captured and roughed up by Holden's firm. It's all part of a scheme cooked up by rival gangster Addison and Eliot's being well paid to take a few punches. Holden's boys are amateurish and don't even find the lethal weapon he's carrying ...
Here's some I made earlier, the first couple from Richard Davis's ace Orbit Book Of Horror Stories (1975)
Tim Stout - Wake Up Dead: Camber Fell Prison for the Criminally Insane. Dr. Kellin invites select colleagues along to witness the unveiling of his new invention, a machine that transmits dreams as though they were regular TV shows. His volunteer is mass-murderer John Vanner who has always maintained that he committed his crimes while asleep. Vanner endured the most traumatic childhood - his father killed his mother and then came looking for him - and has been a martyr to his nightmares ever since. Should be fun getting to see what so terrorises him then ...
Eddy C. Bertin - The Taste Of Your Love: Riccione, near Rimini. A serial-killer with a long history of torture-murders behind him picks up his latest intended victim at a disco and takes her back to his lodgings for a night of passion. But the girl with 'the finely drawn features and dark lonely eyes' is every bit his match. Soon she has him pinned to the bed in a grip of steel. And then she flicks her hair aside to show him the left side of her face, deformed by what looks like something one of Marilyn Manson's cheerleaders would paint on her cheek ....
Stanley Ellin - The Question: So it's all one long build up to a killer last line that you can see coming a mile off, but this story of an aging state executioner who's trying to impress upon his obstinate offspring that it's his "duty" to follow in his footsteps is still brilliant. Normal, decent God-fearing patriots - they're the one's you can never turn your back on.
Ray Bradbury - Skeleton: Mr. Harris has consulted him so many times about his aching bones that Dr. Burleigh has him figured as a hypochondriac. He isn't. His skeleton really is in open revolt versus his body and will stop at nothing to be rid of all that flesh and innards. The late, great Sydney Bounds reworked this as The Flesh Is Weak but Bradbury's original is peerless E.C. stuff.
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.