Dean Marney – The Turkey That Ate My Father (1995)

Review by Justin Tate

This Thanksgiving the turkey bites back! In the same universe as  The Jack-O’-Lantern That Ate My Brother, Elizabeth is once again faced with a holiday foe. She doesn’t remember her prior supernatural adventures, but something tells her these strange events are linked to a mysterious man named Ralph.

It all starts with a bizarre advertisement for a giant paper turkey. The cost is free and the delivery is free. Just call this number and speak to Ralph. Of course the kids place an order! What could go wrong?

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Sarah Nichols – The Very Dead of Winter (1974)

Review by Justin Tate

When an orphaned heiress suffers a difficult breakup with an older man, she checks herself into a remote group therapy lodge near a mountainous ski resort. The lodge is peopled with psychologists and fellow patients. Rather than feel better about her distress, however, Hallie is thrust into a series of fearful encounters.

Nocturnal visitors enter her bedroom unannounced and strange sounds are heard among the wintry wilderness. She feels perpetually drowsy, faint and forgetful. Have drugs been mixed into her wine? Did someone swap her aspirin with hard sedatives? Is she just paranoid, or is everyone out to get her? After several near-death experiences which are far too calculated to be mere accidents, Hallie pieces together the sinister plot unfurling around her. But can she escape before it’s too late?

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Rhoda Temple – A Heart for Santa (1945)

Review by Justin Tate

It’s February, 1945, a tumultuous month in WWII history. The USAAF drops more than 2,000 tons of bombs on Berlin. Ecuador declares war on Japan. German submarine U-989 is sunk by British warships. Among many other bombings, many other battles, new alliances, new declarations of war. It’ll all be over by the end of the year but at this moment it seems like it could go on forever.

This is the backdrop for Gay Love Stories, a love pulp magazine designed to give readers a monthly dose of fiction light on conflict and heavy on romance. Certainly A Heart for Santa fits that bill.

After returning from a stint in the South Pacific, Terry discovers that his girlfriend has taken his job as top editor for the local paper. Worse than that, she’s doing a better job than him! With a bruised ego, he lashes out. She’s devastated by his cruelty and returns his ring. It seems their love is doomed. Clearly the sexual tension is still there, though…

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Anonymous – He Took Me To A Frozen Hell (1955)

Review by Justin Tate

Personal Romances, and other “confession” magazines, were particularly popular in the 1940s and ’50s. They featured anonymously-authored fiction, non-fiction, and fiction posing as non-fiction. Usually the stories dealt with taboo subjects. Like going to a priest to confess sins, the idea of a “confession” story is to write about dark secrets that could never be shared openly. Common topics include sex out of wedlock, abortion, sexual affairs, kinky sexual desire, swinging, divorce…anything controversial, but especially anything to do with sex.

Long dismissed as trash, it’s easier to admire these publications now. In a highly suppressed world where women had few outlets to express their terror, rage and frustration with societal injustices, the confession mag became that secret place for women readers and writers to bare all. Honestly, I’m surprised they haven’t made a comeback yet.

He Took Me To A Frozen Hell, a “novel” from this January, 1955, issue is an anti-Christmas Christmas story about a young bride who’s miserable after her husband moved her from sunny Florida to treacherous Alaska. While he is away from home as the pilot for a puddle jumper, she faces the williwaw winds and subzero temperatures alone. Alone except for generous bottles of liquor…

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Peggy Dern – Christmas Witch (1949)

Review by Justin Tate

From the depths of pulp romance fiction is Christmas Witch. It tells the charming story of Chloe, a spoiled brat who dismisses Christmas as a “racket” where you “spend a lot of money you can’t afford to buy a lot of crazy gadgets nobody wants.” And the spirit of the season? Well, “Where are you going to find men of goodwill nowadays?” But her worst insult is simply that Christmas “bores” her. She’d rather spend the holiday with her friends on a yacht to Rio.

Enter Scott Kelvin, the handsome young doctor who puts Chloe “Christmas witch” in her place. With a harsh word and a firm kiss on the mouth, Chloe is stunned into disbelief. She swears to never have anything to do with that abominable man again. That is until she runs him down the next morning in her roadster. Indebted by her near-fatal accident, she agrees to put on the Christmas presentation Dr. Kelvin had planned for the poor before being hospitalized. She even agrees to get whatever presents the children ask for—no matter how difficult to acquire: “Anything short of atom bombs and bowie-knives, they shall have.”

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Dean Marney – The Jack-O’-Lantern That Ate My Brother (1994)

Review by Justin Tate

Bizarre kid horror that I somehow missed in the ’90s. Love that there’s a whole series of books where holiday icons eat family members. Up next are titles like The Turkey That Ate My Father and The Christmas Tree That Ate My Mother.

One might expect a wacky story about a killer pumpkin on the loose, but in actuality it’s more bonkers than that.

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Elsa J. Radcliffe – Gothic Novels of the Twentieth Century (1979)

Review by Justin Tate

In the foreword, Radcliffe writes: “This bibliography may be of use some day in the distant future to scholars who, from my observations, appear to be interested in this type of literature only in retrospect, when it achieves the distinction of antiquity, if nothing more.”

These are prophetic words. At long last, we have reached that “distant future” where scholars are intrigued by the literary merit of paperback gothic fiction. Radcliffe’s bibliography catalogs pseudonyms, personal reviews and publishing information for nearly 2,000 gothic titles—a majority printed during the golden revival of the 1960s through mid-1970s. For those obsessed with reading, researching and writing about these novels, it is hard to imagine not having Radcliffe’s book on the shelf.

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Michael McDowell – Blackwater: The Complete Saga (1983)

Review by Justin Tate

Blackwater makes you utterly desperate to find out what happens next, as if your life depends upon it. When I was almost done, I considered calling in sick because I was afraid I might die in a car crash before finding out how the story ends. It’s that good.

Though categorized as a southern gothic and shelved in the horror section (when it’s not out-of-print) it often feels closer to Harper Lee or John Steinbeck than Stephen King. But other times, always when you least expect it, it is very much a horror novel. Not King, though, nor Lovecraft. This is a quiet, creeping horror that doesn’t exactly feel supernatural. After grounding the story so firmly in realistic, earthy characters, how can anything—even water monsters and vengeful apparitions—be unreal?

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Short Fiction: Justin Tate – Before the Clock Strikes Six (2016)

Re-printed with permission by the author

A woman preps in a kitchen. Like a robot, her movements are both jittery and fluid from repetition. She reaches into cabinets with urgency, gathering oils, jars, utensils and cookware. Ladles and tongs rattle in her grasp. A package of flour slips, bursts and clouds the air. The refrigerator is emptied onto the counter, one item at a time, all in a row. She plucks a few spices from the rack, reconsiders, and brings down the complete set. Her eyes dart toward the huge grandfather clock in the living room. It is five minutes before five.

She surveys the ingredients scattered about the counter. There is no logic to the array, it is simply all that she can find. Tonight she is preparing a new recipe from an old book. Anything can happen.

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Marilyn Ross – Dark Shadows (Books 1-10) (1966-1969)

Review by Justin Tate

Today we might laugh at Dark Shadows, a Gothic soap opera which ran for 1,225 episodes from 1966 to 1971. We might cry because the Tim Burton-directed film was so horrendous. But whatever we do, we can’t deny how influential Dark Shadows was in re-popularizing Gothic fiction. It’s true the show was largely cashing in on an already-developing craze during the 1960s, but it also gave the movement enough staying power for publishers to churn out thousands upon thousands of Gothic paperbacks over two decades.

Of course, Dark Shadows had its own tie-in paperback series. These books were authored by genre heavyweight Marilyn Ross, AKA William Ross (1912-1995). Sometimes they follow the corresponding TV plots, but mostly they do their own thing. Always they are campy, over-the-top, self-aware, and a jolly good time—even at their worst. We’re slowly reading through all thirty-two books and providing unfiltered reactions. This review focuses on the first ten.

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