Ann Radcliffe – The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)

Review by Justin Tate

The Mysteries of Udolpho is considered Radcliffe’s most enduring literary achievement. At nearly 700 pages it’s certainly her longest. As such, and because I’m usually juggling several books, I decided to blog my review over time. This way I can capture a range of emotion experienced in the duration of such a sprawling epic.

Here’s how it all went down…

11/16/2020 Update – Seventy pages in and I can tell Radcliffe is doing something different this time. The mystery element mulls more beneath the surface than usual and pacing is far more luxuriant. Gorgeous scenery is crucial to the Radcliffe formula, but she really stops to smell the roses. Not a bad thing, as her travel writing skills have improved from her earlier novels. Here’s one lovely example:

Read more “Ann Radcliffe – The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)”

Shelley Katz – Alligator (1977)

Review by Justin Tate

Published in 1977, sometimes attributed to Shelley and Paul Katz, but more often just Shelley, now thoroughly out of print, Alligator is one of the bazillion killer creature novels to emerge after the success of Jaws (1974). Unlike other rip-offs, however, this one is actually good. Unexpectedly, almost shockingly good.

The first chapter is ablaze with rich characterization, ominous Everglades atmosphere, and the chomps we paid for. Then there’s about 75 pages of rubbish. But then, holy shit, the excess characters thin out and we’re left with two guys battling the elements, an evil alligator, and their own hyper masculinity.

Read more “Shelley Katz – Alligator (1977)”

Russell O’Neil – Venom (1979)

Review by Justin Tate

Snakes are my favorite beast to go berserk and here we have a satisfying nest of Indian cobras terrorizing New York City apartment buildings. It’s a good set-up that’s just as zany as one would expect and hope for. Only slightly marred by a long list of characters who are probably given more attention than necessary.

That said, characters are also what makes this a good time. Our lead is a creepy vagabond type fellow who’s gone to the dark side because of his overbearing mother. He breaks a girl’s heart after using her to smuggle snakes into the States. His intended purpose with the snakes remains a mystery, but we do know that he has wet dreams whenever he hears them slithering about.

The girl definitely dodged a bullet.

Read more “Russell O’Neil – Venom (1979)”

Elvira & John Paragon – Transylvania 90210 (1996)

Review by Justin Tate

Fear Street, Christopher Pike, Caroline B. Cooney and other teen thrillers were big in the ’90s, but did you know Elvira had her own book series?! I didn’t before stumbling upon this old paperback. When the description compared itself to R.L. Stine, stars aligned and I felt this book must’ve been written specifically for me.

No surprise, I LOVE it! Written along with John Paragon, who collaborated with her on Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988), Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001) and other Elvira-related sketches, it encapsulates everything we love about the busty horror hostess.

Read more “Elvira & John Paragon – Transylvania 90210 (1996)”

William J. Lambert – Valley of the Damned (1971) + Interview

Review by Justin Tate

Reading rare and obscure books has become my obsession, and this is the rarest one yet. Considered the first gay werewolf novel, it has significance to queer horror fans, but its appearance in 1971, amid a swirl of gay socio-political turmoil, interests me even more. I can’t read it and not imagine myself as a groovy gay man, the possibility of equal rights newly in my head after the Stonewall Riots, but knowing actual equality is so far off as to be unimaginable. My existence is considered monstrous to almost everyone. I know because they told me. Maybe not me specifically, because of course I’m in the closet, but they’ve said it out loud. Many times.

In 1971 you could be jailed for writing books like this, and reading them wasn’t always safer. Obscenity laws still percolated in the Supreme Court and Greenleaf Classics, Lambert’s publisher, faced endless legal battles.

Read more “William J. Lambert – Valley of the Damned (1971) + Interview”

Robert Devereaux – Santa Steps Out (1998)

Review by Justin Tate

The most salacious story ever told. Easily one of my favorite horror novels of all time—holiday themed or otherwise. Just as fascinating, the backstory on how such delightful filth finally got published…

It’s spring, 1998. The world is obsessed with Titanic, discovering the Internet through AOL, rocking out to bubblegum boy bands, enjoying newly-FDA approved Viagra, and learning a lot about sex in the oral office—I mean, oval office. It also happens to be the year that fledgling writer Robert Devereaux finally publishes his landmark novel Santa Steps Out.

Read more “Robert Devereaux – Santa Steps Out (1998)”

Michael McDowell – The Elementals (1981)

Review by Justin Tate

Horror virtuoso Michael McDowell discards the gloomy norms of haunted house literature and sets this masterpiece along sandy shores of the sunny Gulf Coast. With sparkling waves at their doorstep and tanning oil on their pale skin, an exceedingly wealthy southern family relax in isolation at their Victorian beach houses over the summer. The respite is much-needed after the death–and bizarre funeral—of a detestable family matriarch.

One of the vacant beach houses is infested with a nasty spirit. Something that’s not quite ghost, not quite monster, but capable of physical manifestation and elemental manipulation. The family had suspicions about the house for years. Rather than do anything about it, however, they’ve elected to let it become overtaken by sand dunes and fall into ruin. Until this year, that is, when thirteen-year-old India is unable to resist her curiosity.

Read more “Michael McDowell – The Elementals (1981)”

Brenda Brown Canary – The Voice of the Clown (1982)

Review by Justin Tate

A rare title sought highly by horror lovers. Most copies are listed for $100+. Its notoriety, it seems, can be sourced to an active cult fandom and Grady Hendrix’s sweeping praise.

In Paperbacks From Hell, which chronicles the publishing history of horror literature during the 1970s and 80s, Hendrix lists this book as a standout among the “creepy kids” subgenre. He goes on to say that it’s one of the few books to ever make his “jaw drop.”

Read more “Brenda Brown Canary – The Voice of the Clown (1982)”

Edwina Noone (ed.) – Edwina Noone’s Gothic Sampler (1966)

Review by Justin Tate

A collection of gothic short stories “from the world’s leading ladies of terror.” The editor, Edwina Noone, goes on for some time celebrating the triumphant female takeover from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Hugh Walpole, Henry James and other male gothic icons. “Who is better equipped to write of a female in trouble than a talented lady author?” muses Noone in the introduction, declaring the included “authoresses” are among “the most gifted in the genre.”

This is all a bit cheeky, since Edwina Noone is actually the femnine pseudonym of writer Michael Avallone. Avallone self-satisfyingly includes two of his own stories in this anthology, one under the moniker “Edwina Noone” and another under his other pseudonym “Priscilla Dalton.”

Read more “Edwina Noone (ed.) – Edwina Noone’s Gothic Sampler (1966)”

Rohan O’Grady – Bleak November (1970)

Review by Justin Tate

If there’s ever a time to read a spooky novel entitled Bleak November, this November, in the year 2020 A.D., seems fitting. For historical reference, the world’s been hunkered down over eight months thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve skipped birthdays, weddings, funerals, seated dining and blockbuster movies to social distance. For many, Thanksgiving is going to be a Zoom affair because airports are germy and we don’t want to kill Grandma. In the United States, confirmed virus cases have reached a record-shattering 125k+ per day. At the time of this writing, our death toll is 243,768.

Part of me did worry that reading a bleak novel during a bleak time would be overwhelming. My decision to pick up Stephen King’s The Stand right at the beginning of the outbreak led to some chilling nightmares and panic attacks. Still, I thought, you can only live through 2020 once. Why not make the most of it?

Read more “Rohan O’Grady – Bleak November (1970)”