Max Hallan Danne – Premature Burial (1962)

Review by Justin Tate

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Premature Burial” was adapted for film in 1962. Usually this would result in a reprint of the original book with new cover art to promote the movie. In this case, however, another writer—the mysterious “Max Hallan Danne”—was hired to pen a novelization of the screenplay, written by Twilight Zone alumni, Charles Berumont. So this book is actually an adaptation of an adaptation. And it’s way better than it should be. Dare I say, it may be even superior to the original source material.

Read more “Max Hallan Danne – Premature Burial (1962)”

James Barr – Quatrefoil (1950)

Review by Justin Tate

From an historical perspective, Quatrefoil is immensely significant. It is known for being the first American novel to depict gay relationships in a positive way. In the 1950s, Quatrefoil (pronounced cat-er-foil) became the bible for battling suicidal thoughts and embracing monogamous love, while simultaneously masquerading as straight to avoid blackmail and social ruin. Often the plot functions more as self-help than fiction. Tim and Phillip, one more experienced with his identity as a homosexual, the other still coming to grips, serve as stand-ins for readers going through their own journey.

Given this historical context, it’s no wonder the book became such a classic—and deemed so “obscene” that Greenberg, its publisher, was indicted on a federal charge of “sending obscene material through the mail.” After five years of legal woes, they eventually settled on a $3,500 fine and promised to keep the novel out of print. All this hullabaloo, mind you, for a book with absolutely zero sex scenes—not even a kiss! The only “problem” was its depiction of gay love in a positive light.

Read more “James Barr – Quatrefoil (1950)”

Joseph Taylor – The Danger of Premature Interment (1816)

Review by Justin Tate

First published in 1816, when Edgar Allan Poe was an impressionable seven years old, this “science” volume chronicles reported incidents of premature burials, re-animated corpses, and bizarre embalming methods. It even finds time to get into politics, advocating for new laws that would make burial illegal within church yards and city limits.

Poe scholars point to this text as a possible reason for the author’s obsession with alive burials. Even if Poe never read it, its existence shows there was a general unease about premature interment at this point in history. Such evidence can further be found in early nineteenth century coffin technology which might include literal bells and whistles to alert a passing sexton.

Read more “Joseph Taylor – The Danger of Premature Interment (1816)”

Hugh Zachary – Gwen, In Green (1974)

Review by Justin Tate

Avoid the pond water and don’t cut the grass! This eco-gothic horror novel delivers more plant-based thrills than an Earth Day celebration. You’ll think twice about weedy vegetation overwhelming that ramshackle house outside of town, and may even second guess having outdoor trysts with woodland nymphomaniacs.

It’s rare for a pulp novel to live up to its brilliant cover, but this one does. Actually, the story surpasses any of the wild assumptions you might have going in. It gets crazier and crazier with every page, and I’m all about it!

Read more “Hugh Zachary – Gwen, In Green (1974)”

Jean-Anne de Pré – Die, Jessica, Die (1972)

Review by Justin Tate

Die, Jessica, Die is a 1972 novel from the “Queen-Size Gothic” series. The series promotes itself as “greater in length and drama, richer in reading pleasure.” Presumably this appeals to readers who found mass-market gothic novellas of the 1960s and ‘70s too short and simplistic. In reality, the most “queen-size” thing about the series is thicker pulp paper (which makes 285 pages look more like 400) and a large font. Sometimes the plots are juicier than typical, but often they are as basic as any gothic romance paperback.

No exceptions here. Despite its alluring title and a narrator who promises much diabolical intrigue, there are no unconventional surprises.

As Jessica returns home after four long years at college, she finds her father’s mansion much-changed. There’s a new housekeeper she’s never met before, an attractive handyman roaming about, a strange doctor who administers tranquilizers at the first sign of distress, and a “burly” lawyer who may or may not be seducing Jessica for his own gain.

Read more “Jean-Anne de Pré – Die, Jessica, Die (1972)”

Charlotte Dacre – Zofloya (1806)

Review by Justin Tate

Zofloya is a pre-Freud gothic novel first published in 1806, but it often seems informed by modern theories of sexual psychology. Much of the drama arises from megalomania in the characters’ brains. This includes a philandering man with a fetish for married women. He has the very specific goal of using his charms to wreck happy homes. Then there’s the young Leonardo who thinks himself above temptation, but soon finds himself the love slave of a fifteenth century dominatrix.

Read more “Charlotte Dacre – Zofloya (1806)”

Mrs. Humphry – Manners for Men (1897)

Review by Justin Tate

First published in 1897 by “Girl’s Gossip” columnist C. E. Humphry, this how-to guide on not being a cad or embarrassing yourself in polite society is surprisingly readable. Mrs. Humphry utilizes sharp wit that remains hilarious 100+ years later. Other laugh-out-loud moments emerge thanks to the rich ironies of drastic culture change. My favorite parts, however, are when she berates men for engaging in uncouth behavior that continues to plague today’s society.

For example, manspreading. Yes, the act of bowed legs on public transit was an issue in 1897 as well. She has a whole section on it:

True courtesy will prevent a man from infringing the rights of his neighbours on either side by occupying more than his own allotted space. Very stout men are obliged to do so, but at least they need not spread out their knees in a way that is calculated to aggravate the evil. Even a thin man can take up a quantity of room by thus disposing himself at an angle of forty-five with the other occupants of an omnibus.

Read more “Mrs. Humphry – Manners for Men (1897)”

William J. Lambert, III – Adonis Trilogy (1969-1970)

Review by Justin Tate

It doesn’t get any more 1969 than Adonis. This novel is as trippy as an extended foot and more surreal than Salvador Dali’s wet dreams. Though billed as “adult only” gay entertainment, much of the sex oozes with a slime of horror and supernatural mystery. You don’t know whether to be repulsed, turned on or terrified. Perhaps it’s the combination of all three which make it so unique.

Back in the day Adonis was popular enough to warrant two sequels. Today it’s an extremely rare find that might cost three figures for a tattered used copy.

California Scene, one of the more literary-minded gay presses, reviewed the novel in their May 1971 issue. They described it as “quite an exciting detective story” and praised Lambert’s “great skill in handling” a “number of good ideas.” In the same breath, however, there was concern that the “extremely involved” plot was peopled with “too many characters” and consequently difficult to follow.

Read more “William J. Lambert, III – Adonis Trilogy (1969-1970)”

George Sylvester Viereck – Men Into Beasts (1952)

Review by Justin Tate

A fascinating memoir of the American prison system in the 1940s, amid peak WWII fervor. Extremely problematic given its author, but wonderfully composed and gripping from beginning to end. The “story” spans the 4.5 years that Viereck was imprisoned and touches on a bit of everything, from the court system to wormy food to prison politics to character studies of murderers and thieves. The most shocking details—at least for its 1952 audience—involve semi-explicit accounts of “situational homosexuality.” Or, in other words, when straight men bang each other because there’s no women around.

Read more “George Sylvester Viereck – Men Into Beasts (1952)”

Anonymous – Barnabas Collins in a Funny Vein (1969)

Review by Justin Tate

Ever aware of the show’s campy tone, this novelty joke book first appeared in February 1969. Apparently it exceeded expectations, as there there at least five additional printings in only ten months. This impressive accomplishment is more indicative of the national frenzy for Dark Shadows anything, I believe, than the book’s content.

Read more “Anonymous – Barnabas Collins in a Funny Vein (1969)”