Curse of the Wolf Man

Eighty-year-old Miss Edna was a snoopy old bat who constantly pestered Sheriff Ben Carter with her scandalous town gossip and conspiracy theories. She had cried wolf so many times, the sheriff no longer paid any attention to what she said. 

This time, however, Miss Edna really saw a wolf—a wolf man to be exact. “I was just sitting on my porch Halloween night minding my own business,” she said, “when this man in what I thought was a wolf costume came running out of the woods.”

Edna lived in a small Mississippi town just south of Memphis. Like similar townlets, Mercy was full of eccentric outliers and castaways. To her knowledge there wasn’t a single werewolf among them.

But regardless, there he was in the middle of the woods—a werewolf shot through the heart with a silver bullet. Investigating the crime scene, Sheriff Carter and his cousin Lily Gayle Lambert couldn’t believe their eyes. Where had the wolf man come from, they wondered? Had the monster escaped from an asylum? A zoo? A circus??

Carter and his cousin didn’t have any RL experience with werewolves, but the corpse certainly looked like the real deal. Although, to be honest, they both noticed that the face didn’t have the elongated snout of a wolf or any razor-sharp teeth. The guy looked more like Lon Chaney Jr. in those old black-and-white Wolf Man movies. 

Naturally, the sheriff wanted to keep the murder on the down low. His cousin, on the other hand, couldn’t stop chattering about it. “I would follow the devil into hell to solve this case,” the middle-aged Nancy Drew wannabe confessed. “The imp of perversity always sits on my shoulder.” I wouldn’t call Lily Gayle nosy; she just needed to know things. 

And sure enough, while Sheriff Carter was running around in endless circles, Lambert began working her gossip network. She picked up a few tantalizing clues from her lady friends, but she was only able to solve the case when an unexpected deus ex machina popped up in her email inbox. 

Deus ex machina or not, sharp readers will be able to figure out the mystery of Death of a Wolfman by the end of the first page. You may want to stick around until the end, however. The third act plays out like a cheap paperback gothic romance from the 60s. In other words, it’s silly and predictable in the best possible way. 

[Death of a Wolfman / By Susan Boles / First Printing: August 2016 / ISBN: 9780997909302]

Monster Fight! Part 2

Like the first volume (read my review here), Duel of the Monsters, Vol. 2 features a riotous mix of combative monsters: vampire vs. utahraptor, bigfoot vs. grizzly, Mr. Hyde vs. the Phantom of the Opera, sea serpent vs. kraken, swamp thing vs. incredible hulk and many, many more. 

Unlike the first volume, however, this latest outing is 100 percent satisfying. Looking back, the series debut was a fun romp through the monster-verse, but it was ultimately undone by poor execution. I’m happy to report that there’s been a big bump in quality for Vol. 2. There isn’t a duff cut in this 11-story comp. Congratulations to everyone involved. 

What’s more, the new batch of stories has the potential to be serialized in future volumes. If you know anything about me, you know how much I love serialized fiction. I’m not sure what editor Christofer Nigro and his colleagues have planned for Vol. 3, but hopefully we’ll see more of Subject 17, papa wendigo, Arthur Osmond the werewolf hero and Bruce Banner Bradford the ramblin’ man-beast. 

My favorite contributions come from authors D.G. Valdron and Matthew Dennion. Both of these stories compare the cultural legacy of two iconic monsters. 

Dennion’s “Vile Intentions” pits Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde against Erik, the Phantom of the Opera. The two madmen share many of the same proclivities (they both love chanteuse Christine Daaé, for example), but each one is different in a fundamental way. ”You are simply a man who looks like a monster,” says Edward Hyde to his adversary from les souterrains de Paris. “But me, I truly am a monster.”

“The Masterpiece Creation” is a smart smash-up of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and King Kong. It’s a twisted tale of friendship, hate, love and sexual frustration. 

The story by D.G. Valdron is told from the perspective of the great ape. “I was another of the master’s experiments,” he explains, “an effort to grant human intelligence to an ape. I was given human intelligence … and human desires.”

The ape and Mary Shelley’s original monster are good friends. They share a similar origin story and are united in their hatred for their creator. At night, when the master sleeps, they sip wine and play chess. 

In the background, the Bride is waiting to be reanimated. She was made for the monster, but has aroused the ardor of the great ape. “She waits,” he says. “She is my dream, my vision, my perfection, my goddess, my empty vessel, my bride.”

Eventually, this unrequited sexual lust causes friction between the two friends. Who will win the affection of the newly reborn woman? Or is she just a pretty receptacle for the victor’s pleasure? 

Even during battle, the great ape isn’t quite sure how things will turn out. He wonders: “Will she resent the two of us, and our base desires, for having brought her into existence, with no other intent than applying her to those desires?” 

[Duel of the Monsters, Vol. 2 / Edited by Christofer Nigro / First Printing: November 2021 / ISBN: 9781737895923]

Vengeance of the Gods

Pharos the Egyptian (a.k.a. Ptahmes the Magician) was born 3,000 years ago. In his lifetime he witnessed the first Olympic games, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the birth of Lao-tse and the death of Cleopatra. Gee, maybe he even got to meet author Guy Boothby?

But, alas, eternal life always comes with a heavy burden. For his bad behavior and hubris, the Egyptian gods denied Pharos the endless sleep he sought for three millennia.  

Not only did Pharos hold a grudge against the ancient Pharaoh who cursed him, but he also resented the gross lifestyle of contemporary European society. Wrote Boothby: “For such a man as Pharos to exist in the prosaic 19th century was absurd.”

Pharos was a disgruntled (and world-weary) mummy who had sworn vengeance on the human race. His plan was simple: kill everyone in Europe and hope Osiris would be pleased. For backup he enlisted the aid of a beautiful Hungarian violinist and a nominally famous painter from England. 

Being a musician or an artist wasn’t important, however. Pharos simply needed two weak-willed individuals to exploit for his own selfish purposes. Fräulein Valerie de Vocxqal [sic] was a convenient medium for the will of the Egyptian gods and Cyril Forrester was simply a vessel to carry “The Egyptian Fever” across the continent. “The truth is,” cried Forrester when he finally figured everything out, “we are both in the hands of a remorseless fate, and are being dragged along by it, powerless to help ourselves.”

It wasn’t all vengeance and pestilence in Boothby’s novel. As with most Victorian fiction, there was also a fierce love story to grab onto. The ensuing courtship between de Vocxqal and Forrester was appropriately breathless and intense, but unfortunately the two young lovers were doomed by circumstances beyond their control. 

It’s crazy ol’ Pharos, of course, who steals the show, and Boothby wastes no opportunity to describe his pet ghoul. “He had an expression of cunning malignity on his face,” said the author. “A more evil-looking figure could scarcely have been imagined by Victor Hugo.” Later, de Vocxqal wondered: “How was it possible that a man breathing the pure air of heaven could be so vile?” He was terror incarnate and an inhuman monster assessed Forrester. I have to admit Pharos had mad gaslighting skills as well.

By the end of the book, the plague had killed 159,838 people stretching from Constantinople to London (a strangely specific number, don’t you think?). Satisfied with his accomplishments, Pharos tapped de Vocxqal to petition a response from the elder gods. 

Their reply was predictable. “Thou hast used the power vouchsafed thee by the gods for thine own purposes and to enrich thyself to the goods of the earth. Therefore thy doom is decreed and thy punishment awaits thee.”

Pharos’s death rattle was immediate. His skin fell from his bones and his skeletal fingers tore at his throat. He slumped to the floor dead, an inglorious 3,000-year-old pile of dust and bones. Good riddance. 

[Pharos the Egyptian / By Guy Boothby / Wildside Press Edition: June 2002 / ISBN: 9781587158407]

Neo-Frankensteinian Meta-Man

A Lovely Monster is a parody of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein filtered through a sexy 70s lens. Funny but not as funny as Young Frankenstein, fun but not as fun as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Richard De Marinis’s novel is more self-aware and digs deeper into its 19th century source material.

It’s also like a Bizarro World version of Frankenstein. Instead of being a misunderstood, unloved wretch, this monster is attractive, makes friends easily, gets a job and enjoys an active sex life. The author even flips the emotional dynamic. “I wanted you to think of me as your father,” says Dr. Kraft Tellenbeck to his newborn creation. “I asked you to call me by my first name. You remember? But you refused. You rejected me. YOU REJECTED ME.”

But it’s funny how things turn out. Even though the patchwork monster is a stud, and the doctor is an emotional wreck, the end results mirror Shelley’s original narrative. “I am out of place,” admits the monster, “and as long as I live, I always will be.”

When he first rises from the slab, the monster is simply known as Alpha Six, initially nothing more than a successful experiment to Dr. Tellenbeck. But after a few weeks of watching old movies on television, he picks a name for himself. “I am not a machine with nomenclature,” he announces one day. “I am a person. Call me Claude Rains.”

Rains, of course, is the actor famous for being filmland’s Invisible Man—a man who can’t see himself unless he’s wrapped in bandages. “There is a sadness in this,” says the monster who intuitively understands the Invisible Man’s existential predicament.

Even though A Lovely Monster contains layers of sadness, the beginning of the novel is actually quite funny. Claude is a golden boy full of confidence and sexual swagger “The fear of dysfunction is not strong in me,” he says without blinking.

He is confident and rightly so. Imagine being young and beautiful in Hollywood during the 70s—Warren Beatty or Don Johnson for example. Imagine also having the cock of a Shetland stallion and the balls of a mountain gorilla. “It’s a nice piece of artillery,” says one admirer.

Claude’s circle of friends represents broad caricatures of L.A. culture at the time. One woman is a curvy nudist obsessed with est therapy, another woman is a landscape painter who is sexually adventurous and one guy speaks in outdated hipster lingo like Maynard G. Krebs.

But it’s Dr. Tellenbeck who is Claude’s biggest champion. Right from the beginning he cares for his creation like a baby. He holds his hand and dries his tears. He is Claude’s number one fan (until he isn’t).

And then slowly, as everybody knew would happen, Claude reaches a peak of dispause. His flesh starts to sag off the bone, his toes fall off and he suffers from impotency. “Mechanical breakdown due to inferior materials and indifferent workmanship is growing at an alarming rate,” he notices while looking at his reflection in the mirror.

And like Shelley’s monster before him, Claude becomes melancholy and morbid. He embarks on a spiritual journey of transformation to escape dreams of angry villagers carrying torches. Even though he’s a science fiction icon, he knows science can’t be trusted.   

[A Lovely Monster / By Richard De Marinis / First Printing: January 1976 / ISBN: 9780671221751]

Challengers of the Unknown

Immediately following the end of WWI, German U-boat captain Hans Farrow took his submarine and set sail for adventure. Where his journey would take him he could not say.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Traveling the world, visiting exotic seaports like Casablanca and Bequia. What a life. Nothing to think about except the sky of blue and the sea of green.

But there was one nagging problem for Capt. Farrow. Because of the Treaty of Versailles, he and his jolly team of submariners (including son Jörn and strongman Hein Gruber) were political dissidents. They flagrantly ignored the prevailing Entente following WWI, deciding instead to recast themselves as seafaring romantics.

I wouldn’t call Farrow a flag-waving German Nationalist. He simply didn’t want to give up his “wonderful submarine” and submit to postwar restrictions. To him, the sea was a neutral zone filled with mystery and adventure.

In this particular adventure (circa 1930-something), Farrow visits the island of Celebes. While picking up supplies and doing a little sightseeing, he hears about a giant stingray terrorizing the Spermonde Archipelago. Immediately his curiosity is piqued. “It’s true that some skates have been caught that were nine feet wide and seven feet long,” he muses. He wants to see the sea monster for himself.

The locals, however, warn him to stay clear of the nearby archipelago. The stingray has already destroyed many ships that foolishly ignored the danger. “I want to try it anyway,” says Farrow. “We may be able to spot the monster ray. And if there’s rich booty around, then maybe we could be in luck.”

The stingray isn’t the only danger afoot. There’s a village bully and two Chinese scoundrels who all share a nasty agenda. Farrow could tell they were up to no good. The war and being chased by Interpol awoke in him a sixth sense, which rarely let him down.

As it turns out, the three criminals and the giant skate are connected to each other. Are you surprised? If so, you haven’t read enough pulp fiction, German or otherwise.

Soon enough, the submarine’s crew encounters the sea creature. The giant ray’s tail rose from the water and crushed the ship’s tender to bits. “The monster must be so large that it could easily swallow a man whole,” opines the captain’s son Jörn.

But was it really a colossal stingray—maybe even a newly discovered species? Or perhaps it was some kind of animatronic trick concocted by the Chinese hooligans? The onboard scientist didn’t know what to think. “Was it really a ray?” he wonders. “The tail glittered silver all over, but rays usually have dark tails.”

Anybody who’s familiar with fake monster stories (or seen an episode of Scooby-Doo) will easily figure out if the skate was real or simply a mechanical prank. Captain Farrow, on the other hand, didn’t catch on very quickly. It took him an entire novel to solve the riddle.  

[Jörn Farrow’s U-Boat Adventures: The Sea Monster / By Reinhard Wilhelm / Translated by Joseph Lovece / Dime Novel Cover First Printing: August 2015 / ISBN: 9781515229063]

To Conserve and Protect, Part 3

Kathy West and Nathan Toland are back for another monstrous wildlife adventure. The two rangers work in secret for the U.S. Park Service, investigating and protecting the public from supernatural and dangerous creatures that live in national parks.

In their first adventure (see my review here), West and Toland put the kibosh on a giant crab invasion. In the next book, the pair went toe-to-toe with a lounge of mutant fire-breathing lizards (review here). This time, the power rangers are in Yellowstone Park investigating a conspiracy of murderous mega-ravens and a sleuth of prehistoric beasts.

If you had only one chance to visit a U.S. national park, Yellowstone would be a great choice. Officially declared a government wilderness sanctuary 150 years ago, it includes 2.2 million acres and shares borders with three different states—Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. A trip to Yellowstone National Park, says author Russell James, is the North American version of going on an African safari.

Yellowstone has a long-forgotten secret, however, and Toland and West are tasked to uncover it. Here’s a clue for readers: If this assignment is anything like their previous assignments, it’ll assuredly include a giant monster or two.

As an NPS historian, Toland gleefully dives into the park’s massive library of paperwork (much like Scrooge McDuck diving into his vault of money). West, being the action-hero type, investigates tourist-restricted trails, mountains and woodland areas.

Pretty quickly the rangers piece together a compelling jigsaw puzzle of Yellowstone arcana. The info they uncover confirms the existence of a secret government organization initially fronted by President Theodore Roosevelt. And yes, as expected, there are horrible monsters involved.

Before long, Kathy West and Nathan Toland discovered that the nation’s park service was founded on a great big lie. On paper, the parks were meant to save unique natural ecosystems for the enjoyment of future generations. But in reality, a small splinter group within the government had purposely regulated public access to various parks and historical sites. As it turned out, Yellowstone wasn’t a sanctuary to protect indigenous flora and fauna—it was actually a prison for monsters. To be continued!

[Ravens of Yellowstone / By Russell James / First Printing: December 2021 / ISBN: 9781922551214]

Return of the Blobs

“By the 70s,” writes Kevin Candela in his introduction to this volume, “blob stories had run their course.” Especially in movies, monsters made of Play-Doh couldn’t compete with vampires, werewolves, space aliens, zombies and exorcists.

Spineless, faceless, gelatinous, icky creatures are still around, of course, but they’ve never been able to scare a generation of moviegoers like they did back in 1958 when the original titular Blob debuted in theaters.

In their respective intros, both Candela and co-editor Raymond Johnson do a wonderful job expressing their love of the gooey genre while giving readers a quick history lesson at the same time. Unquestionably, these two men love “shapeless slimes, blobs and evil oozes,” and their enthusiasm will get you pumped up to read the ensuing stories in this collection.  

Beware the Blobs! starts strong with stories by Candela, Johnson and Essel Pratt. “Shapeless In Seattle,” begins with an attempted rape and escalates quickly to the end of the world. “Sometimes you win the wrong lottery,” admits Mary the blobissa.

“The Ectenic Force” features a string of tragedies leading to an unwonted conclusion. Tobin Grace (not Topher Grace) inadvertently gives a blob access to a secondary reality. “Grace hadn’t doomed the world,” says the author. “He had damned it.”

And finally, “This Is How It Ends” is an apocalyptic downer with a kooky ending. The world is destroyed in 11 pages—only the rancid stench of death and the sweet aroma of gelatin desserts remained.  

The collection concludes with another excellent story by Johnson. Unfortunately, readers have to suffer through a handful of wince-worthy efforts before getting to it—in particular “Nu-Goo!” and “The Ooze King of the Planet Xanorior.” Both are desperately in need of a line edit, and it makes me wonder what type of services the book’s two editors provided—if anything.

I agree with Kevin Candela when he says the blob mirrors our “formless and incomprehensible origins in the cosmos.” Blob mania may have ended 50 years ago, but I suspect it’s ready for a big amorphous comeback. Like the tagline from the original movie says: “Nothing can stop it!”

[Beware the Blobs! / Edited by Raymond Johnson and Roma Gray / First Printing: May 2021 / ISBN: 9798512454275]

I, Werewolf

The Werewolf of Ponkert is a (somewhat) famous novella from 1925. First published in the pages of Weird Tales magazine, it’s become notable for a couple of things. One, it was inspired by a notion from H.P. Lovecraft, and two, it’s a first-person narrative told from the titular werewolf’s perspective.

The story set in the 15th century was originally carved into human skin and kept in a church’s basement. First written in Hungarian, the grisly manuscript was eventually translated into Latin, then to modern French and finally into English. Anachronisms abound, admitted author H. Warner Munn, “but it was without dispute the first authentic document known of a werewolf’s experiences, dictated by himself.”

It’s a sad story of course: A single man beset by a pack of wolves one night in the woods. There was no escape. “Little red eyes, swinish and glittering like hell-sparks shone malevolently at me by the reflected light of the fully risen moon,” wrote the luckless memoirist. Given a choice to join the werewolf gang or become a tasty midnight snack, Wladislaw Brenryk took the only option that allowed him to stay alive—he reluctantly became the werewolf of Ponkert. “I was damned forever,” he wrote.

Brenryk was alive, but he was an angst-y wolf-man. Night after night he was growing hardened and inured to his lot, and only rarely did his soul sicken as at his first metamorphosis. But a pinch of humanity still remained. “Was I the unwitting cause of my further undoing?” he wondered constantly.

After ripping his wife to shreds (oops!), Brenryk surrendered to local authorities and helped his small Hungarian village eradicate its werewolf problem. He knew he’d be killed too, but he didn’t care. “Give me revenge and I will burn in hell for eternity most happily,” he confessed.

The story of Wladislaw Brenryk continued a generation later in a short story called “The Werewolf’s Daughter.” With nowhere else to go, Brenryk’s only surviving family member continued to live in Ponkert. But it wasn’t a hospitable place for her. “No one can ever love me. Never!” cried Ivga in despair. “I am the werewolf’s daughter, shunned, hated and feared by all, cursed at birth and despised by even children. There is no love for me in this ugly world.”

With the help of her Conan the Barbarian-like guardian, Ivga eventually escaped her village and fell in love with a French aristocrat. Whether she lived happily ever after is up to the reader’s imagination, but it’s easy to see how “The Werewolf’s Daughter” (first published in 1928) was a rudimentary (and awkward) hybrid of gothic romance and pulpy sword and sorcery novels.

[The Werewolf of Ponkert / By H. Warner Munn / Fiction House Press Edition: August 2020 / ISBN: 9781647201685]

Rock Star

In her latest prose adventure from 2020, Vampirella is in Hong Kong to infiltrate some kind of “crazy-ass” cult. She doesn’t know anyone personally in South China, but her reputation precedes her. Even in a dingy nightclub late at night, she’s recognizable. “You’re Vampirella,” says an awestruck bartender. “Meeting you is one of the coolest things to ever happen to me. You’re a rock star!”

I agree: Vampirella is a rock star. With her red “slingshot suit,” her six-inch stiletto heels and her retro Bettie Page hairdo, she’s the most magnetic vampire in the world.

But even with all her explosive charisma, author Dan Wickline can’t figure out a way to make Vampirella the protagonist in her own novel. She isn’t the A story in The Blood Dragon. She’s not even the B story. For pity’s sake, she’s a lowly C-lister! How could this happen??

The dramatic core of the novel belongs to Jincan and her centuries-old pursuit of revenge. Zhang Wei, the son of the infamous Dragon Lady, represents the supporting story. Vampirella, on the other hand, is simply the helpful outsider.

Eons ago, Xuê Lông (the Blood Dragon) was condemned to exile by the Jade Emperor. In recent years, however, a cult by the name of the Servants of the Blood has been working overtime to bring the demon back to Earth-Prime. Serendipity brings Jincan, Zhang Wei and Vampirella together to stop the cult’s machinations.

Unfortunately, the Warriors Three are unable to stop the Blood Dragon from returning. When he arrives, he’s as tall as a two-story building with wings twice that wide. Says Wickline: “His head was as big as Vampirella and his mouth looked as if it could swallow her in one gulp.”

As I said earlier, Vampirella isn’t the protagonist of this story. Jincan ultimately gets her revenge and Zhang Wei gets his redemption, but there’s no story arc for Vampirella. She’s just passing through on the way to her next adventure (in Russia apparently).

Throughout the book, Wickline has some good-natured fun with Vampirella’s wardrobe. How could he resist? In the beginning he dresses her in acid-wash jeans and a Gangnam Style T-shirt. Later, after the dust settles, Vampirella is spotted in a vintage KISS jersey.

All of it is kind of cute, but my favorite LOL moment comes during the endgame’s epic battle. While pummeling each other in the streets of Hong Kong, Vampirella and the Blood Dragon exchange a few tart quips.

“You’re not as clever as you think you are,” spits the demon. “I don’t know,” replies Vampirella with a shrug. “I do pretty well for myself—although I probably should’ve thought twice before wearing my red sling outfit today. The guy behind me is ignoring you and keeps staring at my ass.”

[Vampirella: The Blood Dragon / By Dan Wickline / First Printing: April 2020 / ISBN: 9781524119607]

A New Age of Monsters

“On Earth today,” wrote James H. Schmitz over 18,000 days ago, “we see a sorry lack of appealing monsters to write about. The vampire is a joke, and dinosaurs are quaint creatures in children’s picture books.”

There was a time when monsters were very real, however, and the beast remains part of our collective heritage unforgotten. “There is a kinship, a bond between it and us,” said the author. “It’s part of the raw substance of life.”

Nevertheless, back in the early 70s, Schmitz wanted readers to forget about all the prehistoric creatures and ancient folkloric monster variants. They were too simple-minded, I guess, too dusty, too scaly—too boring. It was time to embrace a new age of monsters, he said—the kind found in this anthology for example. 

A Pride of Monsters does include a new kind of monster. Or, at least, I’m sure mid-20th-century-readers thought so. Except for one terrific story at the end, Schmitz wasn’t interested in the mysteries of terra incognita. He set his sights upward toward the stars.

In the first story, a mysterious creature is loose in a luxury hotel in outer space. The crew spends 80 tedious pages looking for the rogue Hlat with no success. Finally, tiring of the cat-and-mouse game, the monster reveals itself in a surprising (not surprising) ending.

In a similar story, a big snakish thing hunts the passengers aboard a bulky space freighter. Predating the movie Alien by nearly 20 years, “The Winds of Time” is a rare science fiction horror story. FYI: Check out the book’s cover illustration for a peek at the story’s mind-bending predator.

More often than not, Schmitz stumbles in his attempts to create the ultimate cosmic terror. Language fails him throughout A Pride of Monsters. In “The Searcher,” for example, he calls his monster “a sheet of luminescence,” “a flowing purple fire” and “a living, deadly energy mass.” I can’t criticize him too much; even H.P. Lovecraft struggled to describe the embodiment of the hostile universe.

Interestingly, the best story in the collection is about an Earthly monster. Brought to America on a banana boat, “Greenface” is a queer looking thing—shiny, squiggly and the size and shape of a goose egg. At first sight, it looks like a fat, smiling idol made of green jade.

Soon enough, Greenface grows to 30 feet and starts to resemble Egg Fu, the long-time Wonder Woman villain. Big or small, the creepy egg monster is truly a memorable character. “Its nebulous leering head swayed slowly from side to side like the head of a hanged and half-rotten thing.”

Greenface is a sad and crazy freak of nature, but it’s also unarguably the most terrifying thing in this book. Author James H. Schmitz was searching for a new kind of monster in the stars. In the end, the most terrifying thing he found was in his own backyard.

[A Pride of Monsters / By James H. Schmitz / First Collier Books Edition: 1973 / ISBN: 9780026071000]