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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.

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.”

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.

I have written before, extensively, about my relationship with the Crestwood House monster books, most recently in the first issue of Weird Horror from Undertow Publications. For those who weren’t like me, the Crestwood House books were a series of retellings of the classic horror films of yesteryear, illustrated with evocative black-and-white film stills from those same flicks, at least some of them provided by none other than Forrest J. Ackerman.

The school library at just about every elementary school I ever attended had at least a few of them, usually the whole series. The first and best-known set, which kicked off in the late ’70s, had orange-and-black covers and titles hitting upon some of the biggest names in the Universal monster canon, including Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon – not to mention more weirdo titles like The Deadly Mantis and It Came from Outer Space.

Each of those orange books provided an abridged novelization of the film, alongside trivia and context for the films that surrounded it. The Frankenstein book, for instance, summarized the James Whale film, but also talked about Mary Shelley’s novel, Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein, and other films and adaptations before and since.

The lesser-known purple series came out later, kicking off in the ’80s (the ones I have are copyrighted 1985 and 1987) and including more B-sides than its predecessor. Hence, we get titles like Werewolf of London, Tarantula, and House of Fear.

The dimensions of the books were also smaller. While the orange titles were the size of a standard “board book,” the purple series were closer in scale to a mid-grade chapter book. And where the orange books had included a breezy summary of the main film, alongside details about others, the purple series included a more scene-by-scene novelization of the film in question, even if the result was still quite brisk.

While I was obsessed with those books, I never owned any of them – I’m pretty sure they were sold only to libraries, as I’ve never seen a copy without a library stamp inside. Today, they sell for big bucks online, when you can find them at all. Recently, I came across seven of the purple cover titles in a book-filled booth at an antique mall, and brought them all home with me. It’s not quite the full series – I’ve never been able to find a definitive list, but I know I’m missing several titles. Now, as we head toward Halloween, I’ll be reading one a week and posting about it here.

Most of the books in the orange cover series were credited to writer Ian Thorne, actually science fiction author Julian May. All of the purple ones – or, at least, the ones I have – are credited to Carl R. Green and William R. Sanford, authors, according to the website of Enslow Publishing, of “more than one hundred books for young people.”

Each book includes a prologue, usually about a page long, that gives some minor context for the story you’re about to read, and from there on it’s just raw adaptation of the screenplay, accompanied, once again, by black-and-white stills.

I decided to start with Werewolf of London for a variety of reasons. The 1935 film is an oddity, given that it predates The Wolf Man by more than half-a-decade, yet never managed to kick off a franchise the way that film did, even though it was the first mainstream Hollywood film to feature a werewolf. What’s more, it actually features two werewolves, and not just one begetting the other, as in that later picture. Here, there’s an actual werewolf-on-werewolf fight!

Werewolf of London is also interesting in its relationship to the Crestwood House canon. While it didn’t get a book in the orange series, it also kind of did. Not only does the orange Wolf Man book summarize this flick alongside the Lon Chaney Jr. one, it’s the werewolf from Werewolf of London – with his Eddie Munster widow’s peak – who decorates that cover.

It’s been long enough since I watched the film that I can’t tell you for sure which liberties Green and Sanford took with the script, but the writing is, for the most part, of the “see Jane run” style you might expect, with short, unambiguous sentences. “Lisa and Miss Ettie ran down the stairs,” one climactic scene tells us. “The wolfman was faster.”

Which is not to say that such direct language can’t be occasionally effective. “Glendon knew he was now a werewolf,” an earlier scene says, conveying his transformation. “Deep, evil powers ruled him.”

The original King Kong (1933) is a singular movie for all sorts of reasons, and it remains one of the best monster and adventure movies ever made. No small part of this can be laid at the feet of special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien, who did the stop-motion effects for Kong.

In fact, the effects were good enough – and novel enough – that plenty of people supposedly believed that the big ape was played by a guy in a suit, which was the standard way of making an ape movie by 1933. (Another rumor has it that the filmmakers had originally wanted Kong to be played by an actual ape, though that proved logistically unfeasible.)

The mark Kong left on movies was immediate. The sequel, Son of Kong, hit theaters later the same year as its predecessor – a quick turnaround, even for Golden Age Hollywood – and plenty of spoofs and imitators followed both immediately and for years to come. Kong would get remade a bunch of times (some of those remakes getting their own sequels), ripped-off by everyone from Britain to South Korea, and borrowed by Toho to go toe-to-toe with Godzilla (which he then did again here recently, only back in Hollywood this time).

One of the earliest of those spoofs, homages, and so on was an ultimately unfinished, one-reel musical called The Lost Island, which was slated for release in 1934, just a year after Kong had first hit the screen. What makes The Lost Island stand out among the litany of imitators and send-ups of King Kong – both made and otherwise – is that it basically flips the special effects formula of the original film on its head.

Here, Kong is, indeed, played by a guy in a suit – specifically, Charles Gemora, who had basically made a career out of playing apes in movies – and so are the dinosaurs that he skirmishes with. The humans, on the other hand, are puppets. That’s right, in this deliriously weird-sounding lost film, all the human characters of King Kong – Ann Darrow, Carl Denham, and the rest – would have been literal marionettes, doing song-and-dance numbers while a “giant” guy in a gorilla suit wrestled with a guy in a dinosaur costume in their midst.

Sadly, all that survives of the uncompleted picture are a handful of production stills, but they look every bit as surreal as you might expect from that description. It was also intended to be the first short film released in Technicolor.

All this doesn’t come up from nothing. I just watched a 35-minute short film from 2019 called Howl from Beyond the Fog. It’s a kaiju film unlike any other – set in 1909 and made entirely with puppets. It also hearkens back to the earliest origins of the kaiju film. Not King Kong, in this case, but Ray Bradbury’s 1951 short story “The Fog Horn,” which was adapted into the 1953 film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which is widely believed to have influenced the creation of Godzilla, which came out the following year. (Beast also had stop motion effects by Ray Harryhausen, probably history’s greatest practitioner of the form, who was himself inspired by seeing King Kong when he was younger.)

For those who have Amazon Prime, Howl from Beyond the Fog is on there for free right now, and I believe it’s also on Tubi. The runtime is a bit misleading, though. The short film is only 35 minutes long. The rest of the 70 minutes on Prime is behind-the-scenes features.

For those not familiar with the hashtag, #kaijune is for artists to draw illustrations of kaiju, as one might well imagine; one a day, for the entire month of June. This year, in spite of drowning in a deluge of work, I decided to play along. Except that I can’t draw my way out of a wet paper sack, so instead, I wrote a piece of Twitter-length flash fiction every day for the entire month, working off the list of prompts that Alan Cortes posted.

Thanks to anyone and everyone who followed along as I worked through the month, and for those who missed it, here are all my #kaijune pieces:

1. Brute

It came out of the sea, huge and indestructible. When it rose first, just eye stalks, we thought maybe, but as the battleships rolled off its chitinous shoulders, we knew better. Then we saw the first claw…

2. Fortress

Even when the planes and the tanks finally brought it down, what were we to do with it? The city was rubble beneath its bulk and there was no hope of a machine big enough to ever shift it, so we moved into what was left and made new homes within its bones.

3. Shell

I remember my son, asking how mountains form, as I tried to explain things like magma and plate tectonics. Looking out the window now, at the shell that rises up like a new peak from the sea, I wonder which of our other mountains are just waiting to move…

4. Burrow

When we finally defeated the thing that the leader of the mole people called Burrox, a ragged cheer went up from what remained of the defenders. Then we felt the rumbling of all the others beneath us…

5. Frozen

“How would you know a god if you saw one?” she had asked me. Looking up at the expanse of the thing, where it curled in the glacier, I finally knew why.

6. Apex

We thought we had seen the worst of it when they came, like trilobites large enough to bulldoze cities. Then the big one appeared – the new one, the different one – and began hunting the others…

7. Leech

It came from the swamp; black and green, yellow and red. They saw the top of it first, the suckers like eyes, the moving mouth parts, then it came up onto land. “I just didn’t expect it to have legs,” Toby said, as it waded into the city.

8. Colossal

The metallic purple worm crashed down into the Gulf of Mexico. Eyeless, blind, but so big around you couldn’t seen one side of it from the other, even with planes and choppers. Another followed, then another, and we realized they weren’t worms, but fingers.

9. Poison

“Sir,” he said, “the latest reports are in. It’s stopped moving but sir, that isn’t the main thing.”

“Out with it, private.”

“All the people who’ve come into contact with it; who’ve come into contact with places it passed over. Sir … they’re changing.”

10. Brittle

The rocks grew with the rain until they formed massive towers so tall they fell and shattered, littering the desert floor with more rocks that all began to grow in turn. The people in their path watched the weather report with horror.

(A nod to one of my favorite of the “big bug” and adjacents subgenre of movies popular in the ’50s.)

11. Insect

“How did you make the sound?” Tara was asking, her finger pressed up against the screen of the portable TV showing THEY CRAWL.

“You’ll hear soon enough,” was all the director said, his dark green raincoat hunched around his shoulders. He was right.

12. Shadow

It started at 115th Street. A pool of dark gathering between the buildings, growing, stretching, in spite of the noonday sun.

It wasn’t until it reached 87th Street that the buildings began to fall into it.

13. Amphibious

Frogor, King of Toads, crawls forth from the swamp. With three bulbous eyes, he scans his surroundings, where housing developments have grown up while he slumbered. Their tiny, pink inhabitants run and shriek as they spot him, and Frogor licks his lips…

14. Mutant

What came out of the portal was like a mass of chewed bubblegum, its surfaced studded with strange, metallic protrusions. “What is it?” Jiro asked, but even as he said it he thought he recognized a name on what he now realized were helmets…

15. Free Space

“It looks like… I don’t even know how to describe it, folks. Like geometry and trigonometry come to life. It’s making a sound that seems like talking, but not in any language I know. And everything it touches just disappears.”

16. Feathered

We once believed Venus to be a planet of lush jungles. We later learned that it rains sulfuric acid. What we were not prepared for was the serpent that came when our mining robots cracked open the planet’s core, its body shining with jeweled feathers.

17. Cosmic

Movies and video games had taught me to expect giant reptiles, mutated insects, anime robots. This… it was like a tear in the picture of reality lurching through the city, through which I could see only unfamiliar stars.

18. Prehistoric

Over time I guess we kind of got used to the occasional rampages of the atomic lizards, the titanic insects, the giant apes. It never occurred to us that there would be something that was to them as dinosaurs were to our modern chickens…

19. Mimic

I was walking down 117th, I guess, and the edge of the Warren Building just… peeled off, like. The shadows changed and we looked up and what had been windows were now a wing, and beneath that a mouth opening wider and wider…

20. Fungal

One needn’t cook up a giant fungus for #kaijune. It already exists, larger than 200 whales, spreading its hyphae beneath the west coast, waiting for the world above to die so it can feed.

21. Crowned

When the Summer Queen expired, the faerie folk all gathered to see who among their number would manifest the glowing crown. None expected the enormous gator that crawled from the swamp, exhaling butterflies as she came.

22. Laser

“What is a laser,” Professor Shimizu was saying, “but light applied to a minute point? Why not, then, light applied to something much larger?”

By then, however, no one was listening, because the Laser Beast was already blazing its way out of the warehouse.

23. Beast

Dr. Bradus had convinced me it was the only way to defeat the invaders. Transfer my intellect into the body of the giant ape he had created. Once inside that huge frame, however, I found myself wanting nothing but to destroy…

24. Atomic

We didn’t design 8-6, five meters of metal wrapped around a compact atomic core, to fight the trolls. We didn’t really design it for anything. But when the trolls invaded from Jotunheim, we hoped that maybe it had found its purpose, after all.

25. Horror

We knew we had killed it. The experimental bomb Dr. Kozen developed had done its job. So when the waters began to boil we wondered: did it have a child?

The truth was much worse. We had killed it, but we hadn’t stopped it…

26. Savage

“I thought that magnetic collar of yours was supposed to make it more docile,” General Murphy shouted over the carnage.

“Believe me, General,” I replied, “compared to its normal behavior, this is docile.”

27. Ablaze

Robo-17 threw Mozura into the reactors and in the explosion that followed we thought, we hoped, that would be the end of it.

What came out of the blaze, enraged and burning, was so much worse than what had gone in…

28. Conjoined

There is a hush as the two giants finally clash. Our last hope is that they will somehow crush one another.

Instead, their flesh begins to flow like wax as they come together, merge, become one, bigger and more destructive than the sum of its parts.

29. Maw

We always figured that there was something special about the big, red sandstone formation on grandpa’s land.

Then, one day, it opened its eyes, hinged upward from the ground, and revealed its teeth.

30. Transform

“I am Gorgoth,” it bellowed, its wings folding into its body as a second head sprouted above the mouth in its stomach, “the Master of the Id. I can be anything.”

And it was.

“If it can happen to the gerenuk, it can happen to you.”

In case you were concerned that I was abandoning my core brand with all this recent talk about Dungeons & Dragons and board games, I lately learned that there was a 1962 episode of the show Route 66 in which Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney, Jr. guest star as themselves.

Better still, I learned that it’s currently on Prime. So, today I watched it. Please bear in mind that I have never seen even a single other episode of Route 66 – which a little sleuthing tells me was a show in the same “semi-anthology” format as series-creator Stirling Silliphant’s other famous series, The Naked City, with a couple of recurring characters but stand-alone stories driven by the guest stars – and, indeed, didn’t even know the basic plot of the show before I sat down to watch this episode.

The episode, which is set and shot outside Chicago, originally showed on October 26, 1962. Its dual plots involve our two ostensible protagonists (played by Martin Milner and George Maharis) taking jobs as “junior executives in charge of convention liaison” at a hotel where a secretary’s convention is being held along with a secret meeting between Karloff, Lorre, and Chaney (as well as Martita Hunt from Brides of Dracula playing their legal advisor) so that the trio can plan a new series of horror films they will be producing.

Peter Lorre is convinced that the old ways are the best ways and wants to create new movies in the classic gothic style, arguing in favor of monsters in which people can see themselves. Karloff, on the other hand, doesn’t think that anyone will be afraid of the creaky old monsters, and wants to create new, “adult” horror. (“My kind of horror is not horror anymore,” Karloff would lament just six years later in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets. “No one is afraid of a painted monster.”)

In fact, this episode of Route 66 makes a good thematic double-feature with the much more serious Targets, which tackles a similar question with regards to the efficacy of classic horror and comes to very different conclusions. Dedicated readers no doubt remember me writing about Targets in the past, and recognize the above quote as the source of the title of my second collection.

This episode, titled “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing,” came out just six years before Bogdanovich’s film, but a world of difference has elapsed in those six years. If Targets is a film about how horror cinema – and the nation – changed from before the ’60s to after, then “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” is an episode that sees that change coming, but still takes refuge in the comforts of what was.

Not that this is a thematically-dense episode. It’s a confection, and mostly an excuse for Karloff, Lorre, and Chaney to have a blast – which they do, from Chaney’s weepy temper tantrums when people aren’t afraid of him to the recurring gag that people are afraid of Peter Lorre, even when he’s not trying.

“You’re the spitting image of Peter Lorre,” the desk clerk tells him, as he’s checking in incognito. “A bit insulting, isn’t it?” Lorre replies, as only Lorre can. Later, as Chaney in his wolf-man getup is frightening the secretaries and causing them to faint, three of them faint dead away upon catching sight of Lorre just standing there like normal.

“I think I resent that,” Lorre quips, aridly.

It’s also a piece of horror history – even while it’s really nothing more than a piece of horror ephemera. Karloff dons a cut-rate version of the Frankenstein’s monster makeup for the first time since 1939, and we get to see Chaney done up as the mummy, the wolf-man, and even a take on his late father’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.