Gaston Leroux’s The Machine to Kill was written in NINETEEN TWENTY-FOUR. Many book sites list it as 1935, but that was just the year it was finally translated into English.
Personally I would use the title The Clockwork Dead Man or The Clockwork Killer because for modern readers The Machine to Kill sounds like a traditional science fiction tale about technology run amok.
In reality this neglected Gaston Leroux novel is a horror/sci fi hybrid about an android/ cyborg mix whose mechanized body has been outfitted with the brain, eyes and nervous system of a guillotined murderer. The robotic man – called Gabriel – was created by Dr Jacques Cotentin, who needed an absolutely fresh brain, hence having to settle for a just-executed criminal. Continue reading
THE GHOST PIRATES (1909) – HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Balladeer’s Blog wraps up another Halloween Month with a look at this novella written by William Hope Hodgson. Just a few years ago my review of Hodgson’s 1908 The House on the Borderland closed out October here. That excellent novel was a forerunner of Lovecraftian cosmic horror combined with traditional haunted house elements.
The Ghost Pirates, published a year later, combined haunted ship tales with ghost stories and themes of the living dead emerging from the sea to swell their own ranks with more doomed men. In addition there is some nice theorizing about the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead.
The story begins in turn of the century San Francisco, as a seasoned sailor named Jessop signs onto an outgoing ship called the Mortzestus. When it had arrived in San Francisco all but one member of the officers and crew fled the vessel, refusing to return and even forsaking the pay they would have received for sailing the ship back to its home port in Great Britain.
That sole member of the original crew, Williams, tells Jessop and other new crew members about the ship being haunted and worse, but Jessop, like the other replacement hires, dismisses such claims. Williams seems a bit unnerved and maybe even unhinged by whatever happened on the original journey to San Francisco. He is bitterly obsessed with completing the round trip and collecting his pay despite horrific incidents that he is obviously hiding. Continue reading
Halloween Month is racing toward its end so here’s another seasonal post. It’s a review of the first three volumes of Graveyard Shift, the “monsters as superheroes” series by Jon Malin, Mark Poulton and Aaron Alfeche.
GRAVEYARD SHIFT Volume 1 (2019)
Professor Blood, the Monster, the Bride, Monster Girl, Sea Urchin and Ghost in the Machine. I’d call this team the greatest heroes alive … except they’re all dead. This initial Graveyard Shift installment was a critical and financial triumph, blending horror, science fiction, superheroics and OUTSTANDING artwork into one of the most acclaimed independent comics ever. (Yes, these sequential art visionaries left the creative suffocation at the Big Two publishers to pursue their own projects.)
Each volume is the length of almost 3 regular comic books. The unfolding story in Graveyard Shift also pays homage to many horror classics through the names of several characters and organizations.
Atlantis Corporation, a subaquatic base for scientific research run by a man named Abraham Van Helsing is pursuing many projects for its charming but nefarious founder. One of those projects is an enormous spaceship that is being readied to transport thousands of scientists and colonists into space to explore distant planets.
Another undertaking (as it were) is Project Wormwood, which involves Regen Chambers to restore life to newly slain soldiers in order to form an unbeatable army, and Mind Wipe technology to reprogram the revived dead to know nothing but their new existence as servitors of whatever nation buys them (but really as servitors of Van Helsing himself). Continue reading
THE BLACK REAPER (1899) – By Bernard Capes. Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with this neglected horror tale. The story takes place in 1665 in a secluded British farming town called Anathoth.
The Black Reaper of the title is an interesting humanoid monster. Religious superstition and human evil mingle in this tale, just like in so many other great horror stories. And it seems Stephen King must have been, uh … “inspired” by The Black Reaper.
The citizens of Anathoth are described in the narrative as the kind of religious people who merely pay lip service to their beliefs but don’t live by them. They even treated their previous Vicar like a joke.
Now the plague is once more at large in the land and a new fire-and- brimstone preacher has replaced the disrespected man in Anathoth. The new “holy” man frequently rails at the citizens, telling them that they are all horrible sinners and that God will one day mow them down like ripe corn.
All of them, that is, except the children. Continue reading
Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog with two more overlooked tales.
YEGOR’S PORTRAIT (1897) – Written by George Hepworth. A well to do Russian named Yegor was killed in a horse riding accident. A portrait of the man haunts those who remember him. By night the Yegor of the portrait emerges from the work of art.
Stephan, Yegor’s cousin and closest friend in life befriends the apparition from the painting. As the pair spend a night drinking and gambling together, Yegor admits to Stephan that the reason his essence is bound to the material world is because he left behind him an illegitimate child with no financial support. Continue reading
Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at some of the neglected literary horror tales I’ve reviewed.
THE ENSOULED VIOLIN (1880) – Written by THE Madame Blavatsky. A gifted Austrian violin player named Franz Stenio is drawn to occult studies while away at college. Hearing dark legends about how Niccolo Paganini supposedly acquired his otherworldly skill with the violin, Franz carries out some of the rumored rituals in real life, to bloody and deadly effect. The fallout is horrific. CLICK HERE.
CITY OF VAMPIRES (1867) – Written by Paul Feval. This criminally neglected story depicts a fictionalized young version of the Gothic horror writer Ann Radcliffe when she was still Ann Ward. To try to save some friends she trails them to the Belgrade city of vampires called Selene as well as the Sepulchre. In that perpetually gloomy and overcast village Ann and company must deal with vampires of varied abilities from back in the era before vampire lore was as set in stone as it later became. CLICK HERE.
THE WERWOLVES (1898) – Written by Honore Beaugrand. A pack of werewolves prey upon victims in Canada. Plenty of unusual takes on lycanthrope lore with a north of the border touch. These particular werewolves are of Iroquois extraction which, along with the cold and snowy backdrop, helps to make this Canadian horror tale stand out from the rest. CLICK HERE. Continue reading
THE OLD GODS WAKEN (1979) – Another Halloween Month begins here at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at the first novel featuring Manly Wade Wellman’s iconic Pulp Hero Silver John. In 2011 I reviewed all of Wellman’s short stories and vignettes about this figure. The Old Gods Waken was the first of five Silver John novels.
For newcomers to these tales I’ll point out that Silver John aka John the Balladeer was a wandering guitar player in the Appalachian Mountain communities of yore. He would do battle with assorted supernatural menaces from mountain folklore like a combination of Kolchak and Orpheus. John’s silver guitar strings and silver coins were powerful repellants against much of the evils he faced down.
For more details on this neglected fictional hero click HERE or HERE or HERE. If you want an easy comparison the Silver John stories were based on the same type of mountain/ country folklore about music and the supernatural that the song The Devil Went Down To Georgia was based on.
The Old Gods Waken deals with Silver John performing with other musicians at a music festival, then getting drawn into a property line dispute between the Forshay family and two sinister British men calling themselves Brummitt and Hooper Voth. As usual in our hero’s travels there are dark supernatural forces at work behind this boundary dispute – forces ultimately dealing with Pre-Columbian entities and transplanted Druidism.
I enjoy the Silver John short works far more than the novels and this book reflects plenty of reasons why. If The Old Gods Waken is a reader’s first exposure to the wandering balladeer then they might like it much better than I do based on the strength of the character and Manly Wade Wellman’s ear for old mountain dialects. As for me, I’ll explore the reasons why I think this novel embodies all the shortcomings of the (still very good) long form Silver John adventures. Continue reading
With Squaw Valley becoming Palisades Tahoe now I figured what better time to revisit this neglected 1879 horror story which deserves to be as remembered as Sleepy Hollow, House of the Seven Gables and others.
THE SQUAW HOLLOW SENSATION (1879) – The Squaw Hollow Sensation was originally published in serialized form in the California newspaper The Mountain Democrat from May 31st to July 26th, 1879. The story was set in Squaw Hollow, California, near Placerville in present-day El Dorado County. In fact the El Dorado County Historical Museum was where I obtained my copy of the story for this review.
Our main character is Berlin’s Doctor Loerder Von Herbst, a man trying to prove that ancient Egyptians migrated across the Atlantic Ocean and that the Aztecs were really a colony of Egypt. His studies have led him throughout the American West, northern Mexico and part of California, wherever he believes the legendary region of ancient Aztlan to have been. Von Herbst theorizes that the preserved figures called Aztec Mummies are not corpses but rather living beings who were put into a centuries-long sleep and can be revived.
The good doctor has created a special chemical solution that in experiments has restored body parts from dissected corpses to a condition resembling living tissue. He believes he can use this chemical solution as part of a procedure to bring an Aztec Mummy back to life. Ancient papyri refer to “Heaven’s fire” and Dr Von Herbst is convinced that means lightning and so he plans to use electricity generated from a Daniell’s Battery to aid in the resuscitation process.
With the aid of various assistants the doctor investigates an Aztec tomb uncovered by mining operations. Inside that subterranean tomb are 50 mummified Aztec bodies that are over a thousand years old. With this bonanza on his hands Doctor Von Herbst sets up a laboratory in the massive burial structure and sets to work, carefully keeping a secret of the bodies he and his assistants have discovered. He begins by soaking the mummies in large vats full of his restorative chemical solution which replenishes the bodily fluids of the dehydrated bodies. Continue reading
Happy Halloween 2020 from Balladeer’s Blog!
THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND (1908) – Written by William Hope Hodgson. This tale is a terrific but often overlooked forerunner of Lovecraftian horror blended with traditional haunted house elements. Throw in material that puts the reader in mind of Madame Blavatsky’s and Aleister Crowley’s horror fiction and it’s a magnificent story for Halloween.
Our tale is set in and around an isolated house in a desolate, eerie location in West Ireland. The main character is an elderly man who lives there with his sister. His sleep is tainted with disturbing dreams that become more like occult visions of barren but impossible landscapes. (Think “If M.C. Esher did landscaping.”)
In those visions his and his sister’s house is always in the middle of the terrifying geography. After these unsettling experiences on the astral plane the material version of those forces are unleashed in the real world by a minor earthquake near our main character’s house.
Swinish humanoids that resemble the illusory pig-faced monster in the movie Boardinghouse emerge from the new fissure and besiege the two terrified humans, Night of the Living Dead style. Continue reading
As Halloween Month continues what could be more appropriate than to resume Balladeer’s Blog’s examination of the macabre 1868 French language work The Songs of Maldoror.
WARNING: THIS IS ANOTHER OF THE MOST TWISTED, DISTURBING AND HORRIFIC STANZAS IN THE ENTIRE BOOK.
VICTIMS BOTH LIVING AND DEAD
The malevolent supernatural being Maldoror commits one of his most horrific acts of violence ever in this stanza. For those horror fans who prefer to see our vile main character perpetrating genuine atrocities this is the tale for you.
This stanza begins with Maldoror contemplating an elderly, poverty-stricken madwoman who roams the roads of France. She wears tattered clothing and her aged face is withered like a mummy’s while what little hair she has left falls like long spider-legs over her head and neck. Continue reading