Then he lay down on the kitchen floor and cried until the tears dried up and he was empty. The world was empty again. I believe. There is a place where happiness exists. A place, and a time.
It was as I lay on the cellar floor, feeling the blood on my back become sticky and cold, that the angel first spoke to me. She filled the air with the scent of metal and surrounded me with a circle of blue flame, and I was frightened.
“Don’t be afraid,” she told me. “I have come to speak to you, and through you. At the command of the god-machine you shall hear my words and know them to be true.” Her voice was like the notes of a flute and their vibrations calmed my fear. And that was how I learned the secret history of the world.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Sixties Shockers: A Critical Filmography of Horror Cinema, 1960-1969 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Mark Clark and Bryan Senn, foreword by Robert Tinnell.
Designed primarily as a reference book, Sixties Shockers is a comprehensive overview of a wide swath of horror cinema from the 1960s. It is organized into three principal sections. The first is “The Decade,” a chronological set of essays regarding the major cultural trends, social circumstances, and cinematic contributors of the period. It’s a good read, and it emphasizes the positives: innovations and transformations in the movies, along with their contexts and sources. The second section is “The Movies,” organized alphabetically by film title. Each entry includes basic filmographic data, a little clip of promotional prose (often hilarious), and a substantial review, usually with insider anecdotes about the production of the movie. The final section is “More Movies,” supplementing the second section with entries for genre-borderline movies, and movies produced in the 60s, but not shown (in the US, anyway) until later. For ease of use, I would have preferred that the third section have been folded in to the second. It is in a smaller font — presumably to indicate its lesser importance as well as to fit in the surplus material — and that font could have been kept as an editorial convention for the “More” entries, even if they were all alphabetized with the main set.
The review elements are opinionated, but even-handed, dishing out praise and condemnation with equal facility. Despite their obvious enthusiasm for the genre, the authors are actually a bit harder on the individual films than I would be. For example, they pan one of my favorites: The Dunwich Horror (1969). That makes their enthusiastic reviews that much more intriguing, though.
Much of the movie-specific information in the first section is repeated in the entries for the relevant movies, which is probably for the best. A reader using the book as a specialized encyclopedia can be sure that all of its data on a particular movie are collected under its heading. The genre is rife with variant titles, and these are often given as cross-references at the heading level. The material production of the book is admirable: it’s large and solid, with abundant black-and-white illustrations reproducing stills from the movies as well as posters and other promotional literature. It’s not typo-free, but the text quality is reasonably high. The appended index is very useful for referencing particular producers, directors, and performers.
Religion, like nations and individuals, passes through the regular gradation, first of infancy, when religious ideas and thoughts are crude in the extreme; the age of Puritanism, when innocent women and children are burned at the stake for witchcraft, when with gloomy faces and in unsightly dress the poor fanatics sacrificed every pleasure on the altar of duty; the time when Sunday was a day of horror to children from its gloom, a day when every innocent amusement was forbidden. After religion’s infancy comes youth. At that stage, the absurd dress and gloomy faces were not considered essential adjuncts to religion, but free discussion was not allowed upon religious subjects. Everything must be taken for granted, without any investigation on the part of the people. After youth comes manhood, the time when reason has full sway, when superstition and credulities form no part of religious teaching and thought. People are able to think, to reason for themselves. After the age of manhood, comes old age and that is the stage of agnosticism. Questions are being asked, and ideas propounded which must not be overlooked nor treated with contempt. All questions asked in a fair spirit, must be answered in a fair manner. It is not sufficient to say, “it is so”, but good and tangible reasons must be given to prove the truth of an assertion. We are now in the stage of “old age.” Agnosticism and Infidelity are wide spread. After old age comes decay and the decline of the absolutely orthodox. From time immemorial, every religion has passed through the same gradation, of infancy, youth, old age and decay finally comes philosophy.
Haiti was the only place in the world with a widespread belief in zombies. And what the dead need when they return to the world of the living is sea water. In all mythology there is some kernel of truth, otherwise it would not survive. So therefore…
The Art of Arkham Horror is essentially a 2021 successor volume to the 2006 Art of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Both are lavish showcases for illustrations produced originally for a range of tabletop games set in the world of pulp-era Yog-Sothothery. Where the earlier book drew on work for games from both Chaosium and Fantasy Flight publishers, this more recent one is all from the further fifteen years of Fantasy Flight “Arkham Files” games. The art has previously appeared on box exteriors, rule books, cards, playmats, and other game components.
The books are structured in the same manner, with the art organized into seven or eight topically-defined chapters. Other than the artist credits and occasional subject-matter captions, there is little text, and it is all basically ornamental. In many instances, the text in the new book consists of quotations from the Arkham Horror novellas published by Fantasy Flight from 2017 through 2020. The earlier book had what appeared to be artists’ titles for the individual pieces, and those are lacking in The Art of Arkham Horror. As before, art is often shown at a greater size and less cropped than it had been in its game appearances.
Landscapes and untenanted interiors account for a considerable number of the images here, owing in part to the production of art for the location cards in Arkham Horror: The Card Game. At the same time, with the development of the canonical stable of Arkham Files investigators, there is a large bank of individual character portraits which also feature quite prominently. On the whole, the illustration quality does seem to have improved from the earlier collection to the later one. The new book includes a greater number of illustrations overall: there is far less blank page space and the pages are slightly larger than the already-generous size of the predecessor volume.
Standout artists in this collection include Anders Finer, Magali Villeneuve, Tomasz Jedruszek, Jacob Murray, Ethan Patrick Harris, and Cristi Balanescu. But there are dozens of different artists represented, and the quality of illustration is very high throughout. The supernatural horror subject matter allows for surreal vistas, strange mutations, and other striking expressions of visual imagination. And yet much of this art shows real subtlety as well.
This novel is a lively sword and sandal and sorcery story set in the Rome of Claudius and Messalina. It is a “team-up” adventure with Tierney’s Simon of Gitta (i.e. the Samaritan Simon Magus) and Rahman’s Rufus Hibernicus (a.k.a. Dunlaing MacSamthainn), although Simon plays the larger part. It’s a fast-paced adventure story throughout, with some quasi-esoteric details drawn from the Cthulhu mythos.
The co-authors of this fiction have collaborated to good effect. I enjoyed Tierney’s Simon stories collected in The Scroll of Thoth, and The Gardens of Lucullus measures up to them nicely. I might seek out Rahman’s Rufus novel Heir of Darkness on the strength of this read.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews What the Hell Did I Just Read [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by David Wong (now revealed as a pseudonym of Jason Pargin), book 3 of the John Dies at the End series.
The third “John and Dave” cosmic horror-comedy novel is a little closer in spirit to the first than the second, I think. The central cast of Dave, John, and Amy is unchanged. The setting in the small Midwestern US city of “[Undisclosed]” this time features riparian flooding as a difficulty (unremarkable climate change and infrastructural neglect) incidental and basically unrelated to the main threat of invasion by mind-controlling entities from another dimension.
This volume’s slightly lower overall count of dick jokes is more than compensated by a correspondingly higher number of ass jokes. It reads at a hectic pace. Readers who enjoyed the previous books should appreciate this one too, and while This Book Is Full of Spiders is certainly worth reading, it would be possible to read this third book directly after John Dies at the End with no greater sense of disorientation than the books deliberately offer in their published sequence.
In an afterword in his own voice, writer Jason Pargin sets aside his David Wong character to remark that he doesn’t view the three books as a completed trilogy, and to offer some earnest words about mental health, lest anyone take the wrong lesson from his stories of flawed reality-testing–as he seems to think that certain of his correspondents have done.