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Well, 2021 sure was a year, huh? I guess it was better than 2020, all things considered, but I think we all also hoped to be someplace better than this by the time we bid 2021 adieu, yet here we are. I have a lot to be thankful for from the year gone by, and a lot to look forward to in the one to come, but that doesn’t mean that getting here was exactly a cake walk.

I’m not really here to rehash everything that happened in 2021. It was a lot. I stayed pretty into tabletop gaming, in spite of mostly not being able to actually play. I wrote a bunch more stuff for Privateer Press, including the contents of a couple of very successful Kickstarters, with another on the way. I didn’t publish a ton of stories, but I had a few come out, and I’m proud of them all.

I kept a daily aesthetic thread on Twitter every single day for the whole year. For the entire month of June, I wrote a tweet-length “story” about a giant monster every day. I got lampooned by the Midnight Society. I largely quit using Goodreads. I read a lot of old comic books and watched a lot of movies, and occasionally wrote about both. I read fewer books than either of those other things, but not none. I did a presentation for the Johnson County Library and peer-reviewed a book for a major university press. I wrote regular columns for Signal Horizon, Unwinnable, and Weird Horror.

It’s been a lot, is what I’m saying.

But a lot of it has been good. My freelance work has kept my nose to the grindstone for much of the year, but I can’t really complain. In all, things in my life have been pretty great, even as the world around me doesn’t always come out looking so rosy.

I said I wasn’t here to rehash the year, though, and I’m not. I’m here to do my usual roundup of things that I watched and read. If you want something more like a proper end-of-the-year list, you can find me writing up a few of these items in various places online, or listen to me chatting with Tyler Unsell about them at the Horror Pod Class.

Now, let’s do the numbers. In the course of 2021, I watched some 270 movies. Of those, 173 were ones that I watched for the first time. Of those, roughly 19 were actually released in 2021. My busiest month was October, at 40 movies. My least was May, with only 13. The first movie I watched in 2021 was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020), the last was Zeiram (1991).

As I’ve done for a couple of years now, I kept an ongoing Twitter thread of my favorite new-to-me movies of the year, as I watched them. Of those, the highlights not released in 2021 included (in the order that I saw them) Nightmare in Wax (1969), Night of the Devils (1972), Anguish (1987), Opera (1987), Death Ship (1980), City of the Living Dead (1980), Shadow of the Cat (1961), The Spider Labyrinth (1988), The Boneyard (1991), Possession (1981), Frankenstein 1970 (1958), The Snake Girl and the Silver-haired Witch (1968), and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972).

My favorite books that I read in 2021 include Jonathan Raab’s The Secret Goatman Spookshow, Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart is a Chainsaw, and Richard Sala’s (sadly posthumous) Poison Flowers & Pandemonium.

My favorite movie released in 2021 (of the 19, remember, that I saw) was Malignant, which also gave us our Monster of the Year, that thing I do frankly sporadically because I don’t always remember to, what?

Gabriel is one of the best parts of a bonkers movie that I absolutely loved and that was definitely the best time I had in a theater all year – and I’m so glad I managed to see it in a theater, because damn.

There were a few other good monsters this year, to boot, many of them in horror movies. I also dug Antlers more than most people seem to have, and it had a great monster designed (at least partly) by Guy Davis. There are several other movies with promising monsters that I haven’t yet seen, including The Night House and The Green Knight. (Everyone else absolutely loved Raatma in V/H/S ’94, but it didn’t do that much for me, even though it looks a lot like a Trevor Henderson creep.)

Monsters also showed up in a lot of the big-budget movies of the year, too, with Starro from Suicide Squad deserving of a special mention, even though I haven’t actually seen Suicide Squad just yet. There’s stuff I’m looking forward to in 2022, but a lot of it isn’t necessarily new releases. Toward the end of the year, I got Severin’s All the Haunts Be Ours boxed set of folk horror movies, so I can’t wait to check those out, along with Arrow’s massive Shawscope boxed set. Plus, October of 2022 should see the release of my next collection from Word Horde, not to mention some other stuff that I can’t talk about just yet.

And that’s basically it for closing out what I inadvertently dubbed “the Year of Dumb Shit” over at Unwinnable. Here’s to hoping that shit in 2022 is maybe a little less dumb, even if the movies can stand to stay this dumb, that’s totally fine.

A few days ago, I posted to Instagram photos of the cover of an issue of Satan’s Six, a short-lived 1993 comic from Topps that – like so many other comics rolled out and just as quickly dispatched during that oft-unfortunate era – bore the name of Jack Kirby, if little enough else of the King remained in their pages.

I was dimly aware of the title prior to picking up the entire run on a lark at my friendly local comic shop, spurred on by that cover. But I had never investigated it any too carefully. As I said, such things were a dime a dozen at the time, and, as one person pointed out on Facebook when I posted the picture, Topps comics of its ilk, “were so hard to get rid of for a while that my neighborhood comic shop in the 90s gave one free away with every purchase.”

When I posted the picture, the comics were all still sealed in the bags that Topps comics of that era came in – accompanied by collectible cards that, likely, no one collects. However, curiosity is what had driven me to buy the comics in the first place, and it also drove me to open them up and read what was inside.

So I can safely say that the comics themselves are, in a word, terrible. Puerile and jokey while also attempting to be edgy and hip, the ’90s have much to answer for, and no touch of genuine wonder can be found within their pages. What few contributions Kirby does bring feel dated and at odds with the tone of the rest of the book and John Cleary’s art, while certainly matching the aforementioned tone, is decidedly chaotic and difficult to follow from a storytelling standpoint.

Which all serves to obscure something delightfully strange: the subject of that cover, tacked onto the fourth issue, that prompted me to buy the comics in the first place, and to post the photo that I did.

First, a little background: Satan’s Six, for those who would prefer to be spared looking the series up, concerns a quintet of characters all consigned to limbo who are trying to earn a place in either heaven or hell – and who have been employed by Satan to do the latter. (The sixth is rounded out by Frightful, a genuine-article demon sent to keep tabs on them.)

At the beginning of the fourth and final issue, their demonic master – not Old Scratch himself, but a middle manager – arrives to chastise them for not doing a better job, and brings along a little muscle in the form of none other than Jason Voorhees. Y’see, for those who haven’t already done the math, this was the same year that Jason went to hell in the ninth installment of the Friday the 13th franchise, and the comic seems to be after a little cross-promotion.

In fact, Jason’s demonic sponsor is about to utter that film’s title when he gets cut off with a glib, fourth-wall-breaking, “I can’t let you use this comic for such a blatant plug!”

So, not only does “ol’ dead-face himself” show up for a pointless brawl that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot, he also crops up in the bullpen at the back of the issue, where then-editor-in-chief Jim Salicrup advertises not just the movie (which New Line claims will be the “very last, ain’t gonna be no more, no way, no how”) but the Topps comic adaptation of same.

Here’s the thing, though. This issue of Satan’s Six was released in July of 1993 – a month before the film hit theaters, and the same month as the first issue of the Topps adaptation. Meaning that this is, as near as I can tell, basically Jason’s first appearance in a comic book – even if they do manage to misspell his name.

So that’s something, anyway.

The last of these Crestwood House books I found is also the other one that covers a movie I’ve never seen. In this case, that’s Joe May’s 1939 film House of Fear, itself a remake of Paul Leni’s 1928 film The Last Warning, which was an adaptation of a stage play of the same name that was, itself, an adaptation of a story with this film’s title, written by Wadsworth Camp, who was the father of Madeleine L’Engle.

[deep breath]

“The people who bought tickets probably thought they were going to see a horror film,” the authors say in the book, by way of introduction. “They knew that most of the films with similar names took place in haunted houses. In addition, Universal was famous for movies about monsters, vampires, and werewolves.” (Less the werewolves in 1939, since only Werewolf of London had hit screens by then, and The Wolf Man wasn’t coming until the following year, but we’ll let them have it.)

“The audiences must have been surprised,” the authors continue. That seems somewhat unlikely, given the fare that surrounded House of Fear was frequently of this “murder mystery by way of Scooby-Doo variety,” and such old dark house films and plays had been de rigueur for years by ’39. It’s a good way to distinguish House of Fear from the other books in this set, though.

This isn’t a monster movie, nor even a gothic in the House of Seven Gables vein. Instead, this is very much a whodunit, just that the “who” in question wants the characters – just as the filmmakers want the audience – to believe that there’s a ghost loose in the theatre, until the mask is pulled off the proverbial Old Man Withers at the end.

It starts with a murder during a live production of a stage play. Then, the corpse vanishes, as corpses were so often wont to do in these old movies. “A dead body can’t walk away, can it?” one of the characters says. From there, the action jumps forward a year. The theatre has been sitting empty, because anytime anyone tries to put on a play in it, there are ghostly happenings that scare everyone off.

We’re treated to some of these spectral goings-on, such as an impossible phone call from a disconnected phone (“You didn’t talk to anyone on this phone,” the phone company rep tells our lead. “It’s as dead as a graveyard.”) We just hear about others, such as the genuinely creepy story of an actor looking through the keyhole into the murdered man’s dressing room and seeing the body “rolling around on the floor.”

Because this is a whodunit with an ultimately naturalistic explanation (even if they never bother to explain how the bad guys pulled off things like the phantom phone call), we have to establish a number of possible motives for potential perpetrators, while also telling both the story of the detective pretending to be a Broadway producer in order to catch the killer, and sprinkling in the eerie happenings that are meant to convince us there really is a ghost.

All of which means that House of Fear actually feels unusually dense compared to the other books in this set, even though I don’t think it’s any longer.

I’ve seen a lot of people argue that the film itself is a minor effort, especially compared to its silent predecessor, but I love these kinds of spooky whodunits, and the book makes it sound like something I’ll really enjoy, whenever I finally get to see it! Until then, I’ve got this nice little book…

Happy Halloween!

“Frankenstein’s Monster has had more lives than a cat!”

So begins the prologue of the Crestwood House book on Ghost of Frankenstein, the 1942 film that was the fourth in Universal’s Frankenstein series. The authors go on to give us an extremely condensed history of the franchise, starting with Mary Shelley’s novel and continuing through the previous three Universal films, devoting about a sentence to each one. (They also incorrectly identify the Frankenstein of the book as “the mad Dr. Heinrich Frankenstein,” rather than Victor Frankenstein.)

“Was that the end of Frankenstein’s Monster?” they ask, after their recap of 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. “Perhaps it should have been. But the Monster was still selling movie tickets.”

That “perhaps it should have been” may have been intended by the authors as a nod to the tragic – for himself and others – trajectory of the Monster’s life, but given that we’re about the read about Ghost of Frankenstein, it sounds a bit like they’re lamenting that the franchise has staggered on this long.

Indeed, there are several points in the narrative when it seems like the authors’ hearts simply aren’t in it this time around, even though this is one of the volumes copyrighted in 1985 rather than ’87, meaning there were still several more to come. Also, it’s a bit hard to tell whether they were just less into retelling Ghost of Frankenstein or whether that sensation is because, let’s face it, Ghost of Frankenstein is a bit of a hot mess.

Everyone changes their mind at the drop of a hat, the literal ghost of Frankenstein shows up at one point and begs to have his creation not be destroyed which… doesn’t seem in keeping with the events of the previous films, let’s say. And that’s not getting into how this movie really doubles down on the idea that the problem with the Monster is that it has a criminal’s brain – never mind that the Monster is pretty uniformly gentle and good-natured until people attack or betray it.

Which is not to say that the novelization isn’t occasionally able to rise to a kind of poetry, even with its simplistic language. “Now I see,” Ygor says, when lightning strikes the Monster and revivifies it. “Dr. Frankenstein was your father, but the lightning was your mother!” You can virtually hear Bela Lugosi’s unmistakable voice uttering the lines, even if you haven’t watched the movie lately, and even though – as has been the case with most of the rest of these books – the actual lines in the film are subtly different.

Indeed, re-watching Ghost of Frankenstein after reading the book, the authors once again make a host of sometimes inexplicable changes. For example, in the book, it’s Ludwig Frankenstein’s daughter who suggests the rather grisly idea of performing vivisection on the Monster in order to destroy it, while in the movie it is Frankenstein himself who proposes it, and she never offers anything remotely as bloodthirsty.

Once again, perhaps the most striking deviation is left for the (relatively muddled, even on screen) ending, however. The broad strokes are mostly the same, as Ygor’s brain is secretly switched at the last minute and implanted into the monster. However, in the movie we get the explanation that Ygor’s blood type is different from the Monster’s, meaning that the blood won’t feed the sensory organs and leading the “Ygor-Monster’s” sight to fail, before he is ultimately consumed in a fire that destroys the house, as fires are wont to do in movies like this.

The book… makes less sense. “I forgot that the Monster’s blood won’t feed a normal brain,” Frankenstein crows as the Ygor-Monster goes blind in the book. “Ygor’s brain is dying!”

That’s… there’s a lot to unpack there. What does he mean by a “normal brain” in this context? Given that the movie version of Frankenstein’s Monster received a criminal brain, are we to assume that criminals – or possibly the mentally ill – have different blood than other people? And given that Ygor is probably both a criminal and mentally ill, shouldn’t he be fine?

The movie also gives no such indication that Ygor’s brain is “dying,” merely that he can’t see. He dies – or is implied to – when the house burns down, though, of course, the Monster will be back the following year in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

In the movie, Frankenstein’s daughter and her love interest walk silently away from the burning house and into a sunset as the end titles come up. In the book they do that, too, but the authors put some condescending dialogue in the mouth of the male lead. “Don’t look back,” he tells Frankenstein’s daughter. “Your grandfather died in the same kind of fire that has killed your father. Now it is up to us to go on with our lives.”

Sure, guy, that follows.

I am not, generally speaking, here to tell you what to do. But there are exceptions to every rule, and I’m telling you now, if you like the kinds of weirdo reviews, columns, and other nonsense that I write, you want to subscribe to Unwinnable. More than perhaps any other periodical, Unwinnable has been giving me free reign to write about what I want, which usually amounts to random movie reviews and my regular monthly column on board games, “I Played It, Like, Twice.”

But that’s not all I write for them. I’ve written about my relationship with dungeon crawl games, about growing up with The Monster Squad, and, most recently, about the inadvertent science-fiction of the early Universal Mummy sequels. I’ve also written for their sister publication, Exploits, about everything from “Call of Cthulhu” to Turbulence 3 to Hammer’s weird cat-centric proto-slasher, Shadow of the Cat, and beyond.

And right now, Unwinnable is doing their annual subscription drive. And what that means to you, besides a chance to jump on board one of the most exciting publications out there, is opportunities to unlock exciting new content, as the drive continues. Notably, for those who are reading along on this here blog, there are two “theme issues” that can be unlocked if we get enough subscribers. And one of those themes is “monsters.”

As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited about that. I think you might be, too.

But my writing isn’t the only reason to throw your support behind Unwinnable. Hell, monsters aren’t even the only reason (they’re enough of one, though, right?) No, maybe the best reason to subscribe to Unwinnable (or back their Patreon) is that it is a routinely gorgeous publication, put out by smart, cool, thoughtful folks, filled with so much more than just clever and insightful vidjamagames criticism (though there’s plenty of that, too). All funded through an ad-free model that, not to get too NPR on you here, relies on your subscriptions to keep going.

If you follow me on social media, too, you’ll be hearing about this more before the subscription drive is done. For now, though, why don’t you listen to the pumpkin and go subscribe. The pumpkin thinks you should. The pumpkin doesn’t like to be disappointed…

In 1940, Universal made a movie adaptation of Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables, with Vincent Price in the good guy role. So times change, is what I’m saying.

(Indeed, he would play essentially the opposing part in the much-abridged version of the story included in 1963’s Twice-Told Tales.)

The Crestwood House book doesn’t tell us that, though. Instead, it introduces itself with this bon mot: “Writers of the 1800s believed their stories should teach lessons about life.” However, the prologue goes on to let us know, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stories were “more than sermons against sin. People still read them today for their interesting characters and plots.” (And because they’re assigned to read them in school, but the book doesn’t say that, either.)

Interestingly, given that the other books in this series have tended to shy away from the more lurid, graphic, or violent episodes of their chosen films, this one gives us a nicely vivid quote of the curse placed on Colonel Pyncheon by the man he has accused of witchcraft so he can steal his land: “God hath given him blood to drink!”

In these seven books, there were two for films that I had never seen when I picked them up. In an odd twist, both have “house” in the title. This is the first of them. It feels like I’ve seen it, because I’ve seen Price doing the “House of Seven Gables” story in Twice-Told Tales, but I haven’t seen this version, more’s the pity.

To that end, I can’t tell you how the book stacks up against the movie, though I can say that the working out of the plot, as presented here, is less horror story and more melodrama. And I can say that, in the book at least, the ending feels considerably rushed, to the extent that I was not entirely positive – until looking at the film still that follows “THE END” – whether both couples had gotten married or just the one.

While movies from this era have a tendency to just be like “monster’s dead, the end,” I have a feeling this one probably seems a little less rushed on film than it does in the pages of the book. (Also, there is no monster in The House of Seven Gables, for those who are unfamiliar with the story. At least, not the kind that we’re talking about when we talk about monsters on this blog. There’s just an asshole.)

Dracula’s Daughter (1936) is actually pretty well regarded, compared to most of the other films covered in this series. For its novel approach to the material, its lesbian themes, its unusual antagonist, its Gloria Holden, you name it. And unlike the last couple of titles I wrote about, Dracula’s Daughter is one that, while I have seen it, I hadn’t seen it as recently – or as often – as those flicks that got the MST treatment.

The prologue of this volume very briefly introduces us to two very different concepts. First, the historical Vlad Dracula, as the book calls him. “Dracula was a brave leader,” the authors tell us, “but he was also in love with death.” I think we could all hope for such a pithy summary of our lives five centuries after our demise.

However, again according to Green and Sanford, “Few people cared about Vlad Dracula, except for Bram Stoker.” I feel like there are at least a few Romanians who would probably disagree. Anyway, the book continues, Stoker wrote his famous novel in 1897 and it was “wonderfully scary. Everyone wanted to read it!”

The authors use this as a springboard to explaining their second concept, the idea of the movie sequel – there’s a certain charming naivete in assuming that any child old enough to read this book would be unfamiliar with the idea of a sequel. “How could Universal make another vampire movie and still use Dracula’s name?” the authors wonder. “Some clever writers came up with a good answer. They said, ‘Imagine that Dracula had a daughter!'”

From there, the book moves into the realm of recounting the events of the film. At the time I reread it, I hadn’t seen the movie recently enough to make clear notes about what was different or the same, though I have watched it since, but right away the novelization is nicely more atmospheric and suggestive than our last couple of installments, thanks partly to the more gothic nature of the film itself.

The first few sentences of the first chapter, which is entitled “A Body Vanishes,” describe Carfax Abbey. “Overhead, a pale moon was lost behind heavy clouds. A bat circled above the tall towers of the old house.” This is also embellishment, as the film provides no such establishing shot. The story picks up immediately following the events of Tod Browning’s 1931 film, never mind that Dracula’s Daughter didn’t hit screens until five years later.

Edward Van Sloan is back as Professor Von (as it’s spelled here and in the original film) Helsing, who is in trouble with the law because he’s been found with the corpse of Dracula, and nobody seems to believe him that it was just a vampire he staked. In short order, we meet Dracula’s eponymous daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden). “Some fathers raise their daughters to be artists or writers,” she tells our protagonist, played by Otto Kruger. “My father made me a vampire!”

What makes the line, which is one of the better ones in the book, honestly, particularly interesting is that she never actually says it in the movie. In the film, she simply tells him that she’s Dracula’s daughter and lets him draw his own conclusions as to what that means – which, by then, he has already done.

A much longer essay than this could be written about the film’s themes, and how they were cut to ribbons by the Hays Code. Among these are the parallels between vampirism and mental illness – the suggestion that either Countess Zaleska herself or even Von Helsing could simply be delusional. More striking are how the scenes suggesting a lesbian subtext to Zaleska’s actions were cut, despite that same subtext being used to peddle the film, with taglines like, “Save the women of London from Dracula’s Daughter!”

Instead, I’ll leave you with a bit of background from when Joseph Breen, then head of the Production Code Administration, was asked to look over the script of the scene in which the Countess attacks a young model who has come to pose for her. Breen demanded – his wording not taking the form or “should” or even “must” but “will” – that the implication that the model posed in the nude be cut, and went on to say, “The whole sequence will be treated in such a way as to avoid any suggestion of perverse sexual desire on the part of Marya or of an attempted sexual attack by her upon Lili.”

“What’s hidden just beyond the veil? A bloody good time, of course.”

I’ve talked, often and at length, about how what I want to write, when I sit down to write, is “fun horror.” And because of that, I’m often asked in interviews or casual conversation just what I mean by that. The ethos behind it, sure, but also for examples, so I’m always pleased when I find some.

Jonathan Raab is not only one of the best living practitioners we have of the form, he’s also a testament to the fact that “fun horror” can also be smart horror, political horror, character-driven horror, psychological horror, cosmic horror, thinking person’s horror, you name it.

Raab refers to himself as a “hack horror writer,” and that affection for B-grade horror shines through in his work, but he’s never just making lazy pastiches of the slasher flicks that decorated our screens when we grew up. He’s taking the subtext that was often there – or that we saw there, even when it wasn’t – and making it text. Repurposing camp into paranoid, conspiracy-laden, doom-synth chronicles of the secret world behind the world, the scratching at the back of your brain, on the other side of the tube, on the outside of your window as you fall asleep.

As with so many writers I first got to know via social media, I can’t remember how Jonathan and I first met. We were already on friendly terms by the time he solicited a story from me for Terror in 16-Bits, drawn together because we shared a similar set of references, a similar cache of filmic, video game, and tabletop inspirations, a similar set of aesthetic and thematic fixations – yet also different enough to keep things from overlapping too much.

Aside from conventions, I’ve only ever met Jonathan in person once. I was spending some time in Boulder, Colorado – my significant other attending a flute workshop, myself tagging along to explore the environs and write in the hotel room – and I drove down to his house, past a prison, into a setting from a Jonathan Raab story, even though, at that time, I’m not positive I had yet ever read one.

We walked down the street and had a big breakfast at a crowded greasy spoon, then back to his place where we talked all manner of subjects high and low. By then we were already friends – I can’t remember yet if I was a fan.

I wrote a blurb for one of his books, The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie, but it was his novel Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI that fully sold me. That converted me. As I read those pages – part fictionalized novelization of a late-era slasher movie that never was (or was it?), part conspiracy-laden meta-fictional journal, part cosmic horror – that I realized that Raab had risen to the ranks of one of my favorite working authors, the kind where I would eagerly seek out each new thing he did.

And given that short story collections are about my favorite type of book, well, I was damned excited about the release of The Secret Goatman Spookshow, Raab’s first such collection. I preordered the book, but I forced myself to wait to read it until we were nearing the Halloween season – which wasn’t as hard as it might otherwise have been, because I was buried in freelance work when it arrived.

Along with it, I had secreted away another little treasure. A zine-length special he had put out for the season called The Crypt of Blood. I’m bad at guessing word counts, but it was maybe a novella. An ideal length, spooky and short, but not too short. Enough so that there was some meat on the bones…

As summer gave way to fall, as September dwindled down to October, the month of rubber bats and autumn moons, of grinning pumpkins and cotton candy cobwebs, I read them both, one after the other. The Secret Goatman Spookshow would have made a convert of me, had I not been one already. The stories inside travel around, from those told prosaically to those presented in a more experimental fashion – there is a story in the form of the rules for a tabletop roleplaying game, episodes of a cable access show, an oral history of a video game – interspersed with fragments that often directly address the reader.

Yet all of them bear the unmistakable stamp of authorial voice. Whether he’s channeling the buckets of so-fake-it’s-real gore of a SOV slasher or the high strange horror of The X-Files, whether he’s simulating the techniques of found footage so effortlessly that it becomes unnoticeable, or peppering in references to Ghostbusters 2, every story is fun until the exact moment that it isn’t – pulling the rug from under your feet to show you the maggots that have always been squirming beneath.

The same is true of The Crypt of Blood just… focused. For an idea of what you’ll get with Crypt of Blood, imagine if the WNUF Halloween Special were a Hammer vampire film. Then imagine that they were entirely committed to the bit – so much so that the actual narrative was the stuff that took place off screen. Instead of faux commercials full of local color, you have bizarro interstitials that devolve into Ligottian weirdness – interstitials where the real story is being told, because in a Jonathan Raab story, the real story is always the one behind the curtain.

In other words, the perfect read for a dark and stormy Halloween night. (If a dark and stormy Halloween night is not available, please contact your local cable affiliate.)

Here we are with the third (of seven) in my weekly explorations of the purple cover Crestwood House Movie Monsters books that I found at an antique store. As I mentioned in my last post, this time around I’m tackling Revenge of the Creature, a 1987 title in the series adapting the (lackluster) 1955 sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Like The Mole People before it, Revenge is a film that has gotten the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, meaning that I’m more than usually familiar with the script. Which, once again, enables me to let you know that the authors of this book, somewhat inexplicably, took some liberties with the events of the story.

While the end of the book isn’t identical to the end of the picture, it’s much closer this time around than in The Mole People. Instead, the differences crop up in other, less explicable places. For example, when the Gill Man arrives at Ocean Harbor in the movie, he comes by boat (Porpoise III, to be precise) whereas in the book he arrives in a seaplane “specially fitted to carry a large water tank.”

Ocean Harbor is called Ocean Harbor Seaworld in the book, as well. These are just a few of the differences, though most of the others are not so striking. The love triangle between John Agar (again playing a pompous scientist), Lori Nelson, and John Bromfield is downplayed here. The line Agar tosses out about Bromfield being a “grade-A wolf” is still here, but the follow-up that he’s not going to let “Captain America cut into my cake” is missing, along with much of the rest of the film’s sexism. Instead, Agar’s character and Bromfield’s shake hands and Nelson sees that they’re “good friends.”

The book also gets inside the Gill Man’s head a little bit. “Within the Gill Man’s slow brain, a plan was forming,” the authors inform us, after the Gill Man has absconded with Lori Nelson’s character. “This woman was his. He would take her with him to the Black Lagoon.”

Okay, so maybe not all of the sexism is gone.

(Thank god that still over there got a full-page spread, by the way, so we can all bask in its fine quality.)

Like all the books in this series, this one prefaces its retelling of the film with a brief prologue contextualizing the picture. “The earliest sailors believed that monsters lived under the sea,” this one starts. “Even when scientists proved that the stories were false, many people still half-believed them.”

Ah, those good ol’ days when even most people listened to scientists when they said stuff.

The prologue goes on to briefly explain what a sequel is, and suggest that this film was intended to make the audience “feel sorry for the Gill Man,” as if the first movie didn’t already do that more than adequately. “Will you feel sorry for the creature?” the authors ask. “Maybe… as long as he stays hidden in the Black Lagoon!”

I wrote last time about my relationship with the Crestwood House monster books, how I found seven of them at an antique mall, and my plans to post about each one, one a week, until Halloween. So if you need a refresher, there you go.

Thanks to its being featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I am probably more familiar with the script for The Mole People than any other movie in either of the Crestwood sets, with the possible exception of two other MST alums, Revenge of the Creature (which I’ll be covering next time) and The Deadly Mantis, from the orange series. Which means I can tell you, unequivocally, that they changed some stuff here.

Like, the beats are all there, but the dialogue is all different. And not just that they excised some of it to keep the length of the book intact, what is there is almost always slightly off in wording – if usually similar in meaning – to what the actors actually say. But the dialogue is the least of it, in some ways. Perhaps the most startling change comes at the end…

The movie ends with the slave girl Adad – played by Cynthia Patrick, who has been gifted to John Agar’s pompous archaeologist Roger Bentley and becomes his love interest in typically ’50s creepy fashion – perishing in an aftershock just after Agar and company reach the surface. The earthquake is here, but Agar and Leave it to Beaver‘s Hugh Beaumont dig her back out and resuscitate her in a fairly anticlimactic sequence.

“Bently uncovered her face,” the authors write. “She was barely breathing. He started giving her first aid. At last, her eyes opened. In a little while she was strong enough to start the climb downward.”

Indeed, where the film ended with Adad perishing, then cutting to a sequence of the subterranean temple being destroyed by the quake, the book adds several paragraphs as Agar, Beaumont, and Patrick make their way down the mountain, and Agar laments that he has no proof of his discovery, except for Adad who, after all, looks just like any other (white) person.

He vows to dig the lost civilization back up, but Adad begs him not to, asking him to, “Let the mountain keep its secrets.”

Ultimately, he agrees. “After all,” the final lines of the book speculate, “there were plenty of other places he could dig. Besides, who would believe his story?”

Normally, in a novelization, we would chalk such a disparity up to the writers working from a shooting script, some previous version that got changed before the film was released. But given that The Mole People came out in 1956 and this book was copyrighted in 1985, that seems an unlikely explanation. Perhaps the authors were pressured (or simply chose) to give the tale a more traditional “happy” ending. I suppose only time will tell if the other volumes in this series share similar variations from their source material.

The ending isn’t the only deviation in The Mole People, even while it is the most major one. Agar’s character is less insufferable here than he is in the film, and, in a haphazard gesture toward at least a kind of diversity, the eponymous mole people are, occasionally, referred to as “Mole Men and Mole Women.” Oh, and the mole people talk in the book, which also doesn’t happen in the movie.

When Agar and Beaumont save some of the mole people from their albino Sumerian oppressors, one of them stops before leaving to tell Agar, “We re-mem-ber,” making their attack at the picture’s climax more an intentional combining of efforts, rather than the conveniently-timed but largely unrelated uprising that it seems on film.