Retropulp Covers: Horror

I have a bit of a thing for cover art inspired by pulp and grindhouse. Here are four horror novels I’ve come across with great covers. I’m not commenting on the novels themselves (as I haven’t read all of them – yet), just showcasing the fantastic cover art.

Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz

Will Burgess is used to hard knocks. Abandoned by his father, son of a drug-addicted mother, and charged with raising his six-year-old sister, Will has far more to worry about than most high school freshmen. To make matters worse, Mia Samuels, the girl of Will’s dreams, is dating his worst enemy, the most sadistic upperclassman at Shadeland High. Will’s troubles, however, are just beginning.

Because one of the nation’s most notorious criminals—the Moonlight Killer—has escaped from prison and is headed straight toward Will’s hometown. And something else is lurking in Savage Hollow, the forest surrounding Will’s rundown house. Something ancient and infinitely evil. When the worst storm of the decade descends on Shadeland, Will and his friends must confront unfathomable horrors. Everyone Will loves—his mother, his little sister, Mia, and his friends—will be threatened.

And very few of them will escape with their lives.

savages_front_large-683x1024Savages by Greg F. Gifune

It began as a vacation to the Cook Islands. But when seven friends are lost in the South Pacific after their boat goes down in a storm, they must survive at sea for several days in a small raft. Blown miles off course from their original position, and deep into open waters, they eventually encounter a small uncharted island.

Grateful to be alive, they begin their quest for survival, hopeful they’ll be rescued sooner than later. But the island is not the paradise it appears to be. Instead, it is a place of horror, death, torture and evil, of terrible secrets thought long buried and forgotten.

And they are not alone.

Something guards those horrible secrets, something evil and relentlessly violent, an ancient horror born of rage and vengeance, a blood-crazed predator that lives to kill and will stop at nothing to protect the island from those intruding upon its dark legacy.

The savage is loose, and there is no escape.

SAVAGES, the new novel from Greg F. Gifune

18 Wheels of Horror by Various

Psychotic killers, devious ghosts, alien monsters, howling storms, undead creatures, and other dark forces haunt the highways and the truckers who drive them in these 18 chilling tales!
A ghostly voice on a trucker’s CB radio knows more about his life than it should… Two drivers find their cargo gives them inhuman appetites… A boy in a truck stop encounters a supernatural force that threatens to destroy the world… The hypnotic singing lulling a driver to sleep might not be coming from the tires… A fender-bender between a big rig and a four wheeler is not as accidental as it seems… The sinister cargo lurking in a rock and roll band’s fleet of trucks is unleashed at their final show…

Hit the road with this anthology of trucking horror fiction!

Contains the 2016 Bram Stoker Award winning short story “Happy Joe’s Rest Stop” by John Palisano.

gateways-to-abomination

Gateways to Abomination by Matthew M. Bartlett

Bizarre radio broadcasts luring dissolute souls into the dark woods of Western Massachusetts. Sinister old men in topcoats gathered at corners and in playgrounds. A long-dead sorcerer returning to obscene life in the form of an old buck goat. Welcome to Leeds, Massachusetts, where the drowned walk, where winged leeches blast angry static, where black magic casts a shadow over a cringing populace. You’ve tuned in to WXXT. The fracture in the stanchion. The drop of blood in your morning milk. The viper in the veins of the Pioneer Valley.

Advertisements

A Quick Guide to Universal Monster Movies

universal-monsters-title-card

The widow’s peak and opera cloak. The flat-topped head and neck bolts. The angry mob of pitchfork-wielding peasants. The hunchbacked assistant. These things are iconic to the point of cliche when it comes to monster movies but they all originated in the horror output of Universal Studios in the 1930s and ’40s; an era that left a defining legacy on cinema and pop culture in general.

Lon Chaney as the Phantom of the Opera

Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Right from the early days, Universal Studios was known for dabbling in the horrific and the macabre. Lon Chaney starred in two silent horror pictures for Universal; The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). His grotesque (and self designed) makeup appalled and thrilled audiences and earned him the title ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’. Further silent chillers from the studio included The Cat and the Canary (1927) and The Man Who Laughs (1928) which was based on Hunchback writer Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name. 1928 was also the year that Universal Studios’ founder Carl Laemmle Sr. made his son, Carl Jr. head of production as his 21st birthday present.

dracula1931
Carl Jr. was more of a risk taker than his father and as well as building a chain of theaters he pushed Universal’s move into sound production. He also recognized the lucrative potential of horror movies and, much against the advice of his father, pursued the rights to Dracula for the studio’s first horror ‘talkie’. Based on the stage play rather than Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula (1931) starred Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi in a career (not to mention character) defining performance as the count. Due to its massive success, Universal quickly went into production on a second horror picture. Frankenstein (1931) was originally conceived as a vehicle for Bela Lugosi, but it was to be Boris Karloff who would eventually play the monster in a remarkably sympathetic portrayal. It wasn’t just the flat-topped head and neck bolts that Frankenstein left as its legacy. The sparking electrical effects and fizzing Tesla Coil became the standard for Frankenstein movies as did the hunchbacked assistant (who does not appear in Mary Shelly’s novel). The film was another hit for Universal and Karloff quickly overtook Lugosi as the studio’s leading horror icon, appearing in the following year’s The Mummy. Universal went down a more comedic route with The Invisible Man (1933) which blended slapstick and groundbreaking special effects. Then they created the first real werewolf movie in Werewolf of London (1935). The same year, Karloff and director James Whale returned for a sequel to Frankenstein. Bride of Frankenstein is widely regarded as a masterpiece both in terms of style and characterization and is often quoted as a rare example of a sequel superior to its source.

bride-of-frankenstein-1

Elsa Lanchester and Boris Karloff in Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

draculas_daughter_-_poster_1936Despite the popularity of its horror niche, Universal Studios floundered in the late 1930s. Carl Laemmle Jr., known for his wild spending, went against his father’s rule of never borrowing money and took out a loan of $750,000 to finance a lavish remake of 1929’s Show Boat with the Laemmle family’s controlling interest in the studio as collateral. Show Boat (1936) was vastly over budget and, although a commercial success, it was too little too late. Out went Carl Jr. and his big budget monster movies with him. Dracula’s Daughter (1936) was the first Universal monster movie to be made as a b-movie. While successful, it wasn’t enough to revive Universal’s monster trademark and the genre remained untouched until the end of the decade. The re-release of Dracula and Frankenstein as a double-bill in 1938 was immensely popular and encouraged production on a new movie. Son of Frankenstein (1939) starring Basil Rathbone as the titular son and Bela Lugosi as the hunchbacked assistant Ygor, did very well and revived Universal’s monster formula for a new decade.

f8115d88af6bc976e19b8c96ed68332e

Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolfman (1941)

1940 saw the release of three low-budget horror movies keen to carry on Universal’s horror brand. Rather than being a direct sequel to the original, The Mummy’s Hand swapped Karloff’s intelligent if decrepit villain for a shambling bandage-wrapped corpse murdering at its master’s whim which became the blueprint for most future mummy flicks. The Invisible Man got two sequels that year – The Invisible Man Returns and The Invisible Woman – the latter of which was a definite comedy rather than a horror film. 1941 gave the world one of Universal’s most influential monsters. Lon Chaney Jr. (son of the Man of a Thousand Faces) followed in his father’s footsteps and became a horror icon in The Wolfman; an atmospheric second take on the werewolf movie which Universal had previously attempted in 1935’s Werewolf of London.

frankenstein-meets-the-wolfmanThe rest of the decade was dominated by low-budget sequels to Universal’s earlier hits. Kharis the mummy lurched across screens three more times in The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) and the The Mummy’s Curse (1944) while H. G. Wells’s concept was continued in Invisible Agent (1942) and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944). Lon Chaney Jr. tried his hand at other roles and starred as the monster in 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein and as the count himself in 1943’s Son of Dracula. But the Universal monster formula was about to change. Allegedly inspired by a cynical joke, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) finally featured Bela Lugosi as the monster and Lon Chaney Jr. back in his most famous role. This ‘monster mash-up’ idea was continued with House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), both featuring Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman and Dracula in convoluted plots involving cures and revivals.

creatureblacklagoon

‘Gill Man’ from Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

By the late ’40s, Universal’s monster appeal was, once again, starting to wear thin. Their once terrifying creatures were now foils for the slapstick antics of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello who starred in three comedic riffs on the studio’s monster hits. The world had changed too. With the developing Cold War the horror film had begun to incorporate the space race and the atom bomb. UFOs and radiation were considered far more terrifying than vampires and werewolves and in 1954, Universal gave us their last great classic monster. The ‘Gill Man’ in Creature from the Black Lagoon presented a more science based monster to keep with the times and appeared in two sequels; Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). While some consider the likes of the big-brained alien mutant from This Island Earth (1955) to be a continuation of the Universal monster, there can be no denying that by this point the classic age of Universal’s movie monsters was over.

d87bc162d73f8364ac109e6a174cf62f

Famous Monsters of Filmland was a magazine that ran from 1958 to 1983 and captured the rise of monster fandom.

Universal’s monster movies have had a huge influence on pop culture. In 1957, a package of 52 Universal horror movies were released for television syndication. Hosted on various stations by horror hosts like Zacherley, as ‘Shock Theatre’, the package introduced Universal’s monsters to a new generation who took them to heart. From the Munsters TV series in the ’60s to the Aurora model kits, Sesame Street, Ben Cooper Halloween costumes and Count Chocula breakfast cereal, the Universal monster legacy has never died.

the_mummy_2017_teaser_posterUniversal Studios have ever been reluctant to let their monster franchise die. Imhotep was revived for a new version of The Mummy in 1999 (spawning two sequels). Its director, Stephen Sommers, took another crack at the monster menagerie in 2005 with Van Helsing; an action adventure that pitted Hugh Jackman against Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman. The Wolfman itself was remade in 2010 and Dracula got an origin story in Dracula Untold (2014). Currently there is talk of a shared Universal Monster Movie Universe after the fashion of Marvel’s superheroes, the first installment of which is The Mummy starring Tom Cruise due for a 2017 release.

1942-complete-cover-2My most recent novel – Curse of the Blood Fiends – is an homage to the monster movies of the 1940s as well as Film Noir. It’s an action-packed mystery-horror novel set in 1942 and deals with a virus spawned by a military research project in the Amazon that threatens to turn all of Los Angeles into blood-hungry monsters. I included many nods to Universal’s legacy including vampires, werewolves, reconstituted corpses, a hunchbacked scientist and even a mummy.

New Novel Out Now!

1942-complete-cover-2My new novel – Curse of the Blood Fiends – is officially out and will be a mere $1.99 on Kindle all month! There is also a paperback version for those who wish to kick it old school.

This is the first entry in a series of stand-alone tales inspired by b-movies of various eras. Set in 1940s Los Angeles Curse of the Blood Fiends is a noirish detective story influenced by the monster movies of that era.

amazon

amazon-uk

 

New Novel Coming soon!

It’s been over a year since the last Lazarus Longman novel came out and now I’m back with a new series! Celluloid Terrors will be a series of stand-alone horror novels inspired by grindhouse and b-movies of various decades. The novels will have no relation to each other but will take their cues from the types of movies that were popular during the periods in which they are set. The first novel – Curse of the Blood Fiends – is set in the 1940s. This was when Universal Studios was having great success with their monster movies, many of them sequels to their earlier hits like Dracula (1931) Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932) and The Wolfman (1941). During the war and with limited resources, they started to throw monsters together in movies like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) and House of Dracula (1945). The 1940s was also the period of Film Noir; shady crime flicks that showed the seamy underbelly of the American city, filled with post-war paranoia and cynicism. This set the perfect mood for a pulpy detective story in a city overrun by creatures of the night.

Curse of the Blood Fiends is set for a late December/early January release. Take a look at the cover and blurb and watch this space!

1942-complete-cover-2

The year is 1942 and something deadly lurks in the shadows of the City of Angels.

When private detective Rosa Bridger took the case of tracking down a drug-addled starlet for her fiancé’s movie mogul father she thought it would be a simple missing person’s case. She needs the help of her ex-fling, Steve; the only honest cop she knows. This doesn’t go over so well with her fiancé, Flynn; Hollywood’s hottest swashbuckler. And Rosa has stumbled over the trail of something much more sinister than the hoodlums and hop pushers she is used to dealing with.

A military research project in the Amazon has gone horribly wrong spawning monstrous man-made creatures who kill all in their path. One man survives and makes the long journey home to Los Angeles. Henry Gross – game warden and tough-guy for hire – has been infected with the virus that makes him kill by night. And that virus threatens to turn the entire city into immortal creatures ravenous for human blood.

An action-packed mystery-horror novel inspired by Film Noir and the monster movies of the 1940s.

Free Short Story!

There’s a new Lazarus Longman story free at Smashwords! I wrote this some time ago and wasn’t sure what to do with it. As I already have a free novella there I thought I might as well give this one away too.

Whereas On Rails of Gold was a prequel to the first Lazarus Longman novel, Through Mines of Deception is something of a prequel to the entire series, showing how Longman became an agent for the British Empire.

through-mines-of-deception-free

Discover the start of the Lazarus Longman Chronicles in this thrilling novella written in the spirit of H. Rider Haggard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!

On the scorching plains of the Zimbabwe Plateau a thrilling adventure is set in motion to prevent a catastrophic war between Boers, Zulus and British redcoats.

Archaeologist Lazarus Longman is contacted by an agent of the British Empire and given an important mission; find the mythical gold mines of Great Zimbabwe before the Boers do and prevent revolution in Southern Africa.

Greatest Ever Pulp Stories #8 – The Curse of Capistrano

capistrano2 By: Johnston McCulley

Appeared in: All-Story Weekly (August – September 1919)

Character/Series: Zorro

The All-Story magazine (which had published Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and John Carter novels) switched to a weekly schedule in 1914, becoming All-Story Weekly (and eventually Argosy Weekly in 1920). In 1919 the magazine featured the first tale of another character which would join Tarzan’s company as one of the most influential pulp characters ever.

Zorro (Spanish for ‘fox’) is the eponymous ‘curse’ in the title and Capistrano refers to San Juan Capistrano in California which was under Mexican rule in the early 19th century. It’s easy to see the influence on Batman in this masked crusader for justice and his foppish, playboy alter-ego, Don Diego Vega. Don Diego is a wealthy but cowardly caballero in love with Lolita; the daughter of a local aristocrat who has fallen upon hard times. Her father, Carlos, is thrilled at the promise of a union between the two, but the feisty Lolita is infatuated by Zorro; the dashing bandit and hero of the people (having no idea they are one and the same). Also vying for Lolita’s hand is Ramón; a captain in the Mexican army.

When Lolita is left home alone for an evening, Captain Ramón  visits her and comes on a little too strong. Zorro appears and defends her honor. Ramón swears vengeance on both of them and writes to the governor that Lolita’s family are aiding Zorro. The Governor arrives and has Lolita and her mother and father thrown into jail. Zorro sets about rallying the local caballeros into a band committed to fighting injustice and their first task is to free Lolita and her family, thus thwarting the dastardly Captain Ramón and his oafish henchman Sergeant Gonzales.

mark-of-zorro-the_cropped

Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro (1920) – the first of over 40 movies to feature the character.

The story is a fairly simple swashbuckler and is essentially Robin Hood in Mexico with a liberal helping from The Scarlet Pimpernel. As well as being jam packed with sword fights, gun play and horse chases, it also has a good deal of humor largely stemming from Don Diego’s cover as the idle son of a rich man and his lack of interest in anything approaching adventure or romance. McCulley laid down the groundwork for generations of ‘masked crusader’ characters like Batman and The Shadow and created a timeless character who became synonymous with swashbuckling adventure from the early days of cinema to the present day.

Silent star Douglas Fairbanks purchased the rights to the story as the first production for his new company United Artists. The Mark of Zorro (1920) was so popular that McCulley’s novel was renamed and released in book form in 1924 and has remained The Mark of Zorro ever since. The character’s appeal has barely diminished on film and page with McCulley writing over fifty sequels and many authors and comic book writers picking up the torch after his death in 1958. The Mark of Zorro was remade in 1940 as a ‘talkie’ starring Tyrone Power and there have been countless film and TV appearances of Zorro from serials like Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939) to the more recent movies starring Antonio Banderas.

zorro

Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones in The Legend of Zorro (2005)

 

 

Greatest Ever Pulp Stories #7 – Under the Moons of Mars

aprincessofmars-c3By: Norman Bean (Edgar Rice Burroughs)

Appeared in: The All-Story (February – July, 1912)

Character/Series: John Carter/Barsoom

More commonly known as A Princess of Mars or John Carter of Mars these days, this swashbuckling sci-fi adventure penned by the author of Tarzan almost single-handedly created the Planetary Romance genre (where action and exotic settings take precedence over science), as well as influencing generations of science fiction writers from Robert A. Heinlein to Arthur C. Clarke.

While prospecting in Arizona, Civil War veteran John Carter hides in a cave from pursuing Apaches. Through some sort of astral projection, he wakes up on Mars (known locally as ‘Barsoom’). Being written in 1912, this version of Mars has breathable atmosphere, water and is inhabited by many colorful multi-legged creatures at war with one another. Due to the planet’s weaker gravity, John Carter has superhuman strength and is able to make great leaps into the air a la Superman.

Captured by a tribe of Tharks (tall, green-skinned creatures with tusks and six limbs), Carter gains their respect by slaying two great white apes and saving the life of Sola; his female guardian. When the Tharks shoot down an airship belonging to the red-skinned people of Barsoom, they capture Dejah Thoris; the beautiful princess of the city of Helium. Kept under guard by Woola – a ten-legged guard dog-like creature – and tutored by Sola, Carter learns more about Thark culture. He develops a strong bond with a warrior called Tars Tarkas and gradually falls in love with Dejah Thoris who is scheduled to be executed.

Carter, Sola and Dejah escape the Tharks and fall in with Kantos Kan; a red-skinned warrior who is leading a massive search party for the missing Princess of Helium. Helium is under threat by another red-skinned people called the Zodangans and, after many further adventures, Carter saves Helium by leading an army of Tharks (now under the chieftainship of Tars Tarkas) to victory over the people of Zodanga, thus forging an alliance between red and green Martians and becoming Prince of Barsoom.

dejah-thoris-a-princess-of-mars-by-frank-frazetta

Cover art for the 1970 paperback by Frank Frazetta

Norman Bean (a typo – it should have been ‘Normal Bean’) was a pseudonym for Edgar Rice Burroughs who wanted to distance himself from some of his more outlandish work as well as joke that he was, in fact, a normal guy and not a lunatic for writing this stuff.  Under the Moons of Mars was republished in hardback as A Princess of Mars in 1917 and Burroughs penned ten sequels although John Carter largely bows out of the series after book 3 with his children by Dejah Thoris as well as other characters taking over as the protagonists.

Under the Moons of Mars is very much a product of its time. Burroughs utilized contemporary science, most notably the theories of Percival Lowell, who postulated that Mars had waterways that were steadily drying out, thus dooming its ancient civilization. Presenting a dying world and the possibility of using technology to change the ecology of a planet, Burroughs left a huge mark on science fiction. We can see his influence in Frank Herbert’s Dune and in the terraforming company in Aliens (1986). By blending the exotic with elements of the Western and creating a feudal alien world where medieval values of honor and chivalry are fused with advanced technology, the Planetary Romance genre was born eventually leading to Flash Gordon and Star Wars (1977).

There was a movie in 2012 with the rather dull title John Carter. Although it took some liberties with the plot and blended in elements from the sequels, the film is generally well-liked by fans. Unfortunately it failed to do much business at the box office shutting down plans for a series. Many blame Disney’s marketing of the film for not playing up the pulpy side and failing to make it clear that this was written a century ago by the creator of Tarzan.