Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween skedaddles along! Here’s a look at my favorite horror tales of the neglected American writer Irvin S Cobb.
THE GALLOWSMITH (1918) – A traveling hangman really loves his work and has executed countless figures with no care regarding their guilt or innocence. If the court condemned them, he does his job.
An evil gunslinger called the Lone-Hand Kid has been condemned to death for a killing he didn’t actually commit. He berates the Gallowsmith so thoroughly while being hanged that our title character screws up, killing the Kid slowly and painfully instead of with one clean, neck-breaking drop.
As he dies the Kid curses the hangman, bringing on a ghastly finale. Continue reading
Halloween Month continues as Balladeer’s Blog takes a look at another tale of Gothic Horror which, like The Lost Stradivarius, centers around a violin player.
THE ENSOULED VIOLIN (1880) Written by Helena Blavatsky, aka Madame Blavatsky, famous for the Theosophy Movement and its premier work Isis Unveiled. Later she wrote The Secret Doctrine, another milestone theosophical opus.
This tale of Gothic Horror is set in the 1820s. The main character is a young violin virtuoso named Franz Stenio from Styria in Austria. Though studying the occult arts and alchemy while away at college his central passion had remained music.
Franz’s skill was extraordinary but eventually his widowed mother ran short of money, ending his studies. He left university and moved back home. Franz devoted his every waking moment to his violin and he refused even to go to church with his mother when she begged him.
The youth’s occult studies had filled him with contempt for Christianity and he preferred to think of himself as a pagan. Franz’s mother worried herself sick over the potential fate of her son’s soul and eventually she put such a strain on herself that she died. Some dark whispers hinted that her son had killed her. Continue reading
THE TOP BEST MAN (1832) – Halloween Month continues! Published anonymously in 1832 this long-ish short story centers around a man found on a long-lost ship called the Top Best. This vessel was a ship out of Maine that is found trapped in ice in far northern waters.
The ship that has found it, the Dartmouth Lady, has likewise become trapped in ice and its crew has spotted another ice-bound craft off in the distance when it finally stops snowing. An away team travels to the other craft hoping to find survivors or at least equipment which can help cut a way out of the ice for both ships.
Despite the size of the vessel only one man is found on board and he seems to be frozen to death. The away team manage to get a fire started from some of the Top Best‘s own wood and resolve to warm up just a bit before heading back to the Dartmouth Lady with the equipment taken from the derelict.
The fire has warmed the surroundings sufficiently for the sole survivor’s cold body to be taken along as well, including the ship’s log he apparently died clutching to his chest. The crew of the Dartmouth Lady succeed in cutting their way through the ice and return to Maine. By the time they reach their home port it turns out the body has thawed and the Top Best man is miraculously still alive. Continue reading
Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog. This time around I take a look at Algernon Blackwood’s occult physician Doctor John Silence.
JOHN SILENCE, PHYSICIAN EXTRAORDINARY (1908) – A selection of short stories about Blackwood’s fictional neurologist Doctor Silence and his encounters with the supernatural.
THE PSYCHICAL INVASION – A professional writer who specializes in humorous stories becomes a patient of Doctor Silence when he suddenly finds himself unable to write anything except grotesque horror tales. Silence discovers that on an occasion when the author’s psychic defenses were neutralized during a hashish jag the spirit of a 19th Century sorceress possessed him. The vile entity ended its life being hanged at Newgate. Doctor Silence must do psychic battle with the spirit to save his patient. Continue reading
THE BLACK ABBOT (1897) – Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with another neglected work of horror – this one penned by Robert W Chambers, author of The King in Yellow, which I reviewed HERE
The story – also known as The Black Priest or The Messenger – is set in 1896 in the mysterious Brittany region of northwest France. Richard Darrel, a wealthy American knickerbocker (upstate New York gentry) has bought a Breton estate with assorted household staff. He lives there with his beautiful (of course) wife Lys, a native of Brittany.
Landscaping work near Richard’s estate has uncovered thirty-eight skeletons: men killed in a battle between English invaders and Breton defenders back in 1760. A bronze cylinder in the mass grave holds a delicate parchment with a message written in human blood at the time of the burial. The writing is in the ancient language of Brittany, which only the clergy of the 1760 time period were literate in.
Our American hero senses that the local authorities are withholding vital information from him. He is also intrigued by the revelation that there were thirty-nine men buried in the pit but only thirty-eight skeletons have been found.
The story gets even more intriguing from there, in typical R.W. Chambers style. The skull of the missing dead man is found. It belonged to Abbe Sorgue, a Breton priest who supposedly betrayed the nearby fort to the British attackers. Legend held that for his treachery the priest was branded on the forehead all the way through to his skull. A skull has been found with an arrow-shaped burn on the forehead, obviously the dead traitor.
That skull keeps mysteriously showing up, no matter how many times it seems to have been disposed of. Eventually the Mayor of Saint Gildas confides in Richard that part of the scroll made reference to a link between the Black Abbot and the American’s wife.
Very soon the workmen involved in disturbing the Black Abbot’s remains start turning up dead and Richard finds a superabundance of coincidences tying his wife’s Breton family to the Black Abbot. When that undead villain begins terrorizing the American’s now-pregnant wife he researches what history can be learned about Abbe Sorgue, the Black Abbot himself. Continue reading
It’s another October 1st and as all readers of Balladeer’s Blog know that means 31 days of obscure and/or forgotten horror films and stories mixed in with all of my usual topics.
THE SCARLET GOSPELS (2015) – Written by Clive Barker, or I guess I should make that “Written by Clive Barker” (wink). I notice from other reviews of this disappointing novel that I’m far from alone in thinking Barker wrote only the Prologue and a ghost writer completed the work. Probably Damon Lindelöf. (I’m kidding!)
How do you go wrong with a novel featuring Barker’s recurring Occult Detective Harry D’Amour taking on the Hell Priest aka Pinhead (or “Lead Cenobite” as he was known to the ancients. Hellraiser fans will get it.)? How do you do it? With horrific writing that is worse than most fan fiction, that’s how.
Let’s start with the good: the Prologue. This prologue is so tantalizingly good that the jarring plunge in quality the rest of the way makes reading The Scarlet Gospels feel like some exquisitely refined brand of torture being pioneered by the Cenobites and their Order of the Gash. Continue reading