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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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?

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Alan Judd – The Devil’s Own Work (1991)

Review by Justin Tate

A meaty 100-page novella exploring the seemingly supernatural (and spooky) elements of artistic inspiration. I think most writers—particularly those who are successful—feel perplexed by their own abilities. Maybe it’s imposter syndrome, maybe it’s demonic possession, but ask “where do you get your ideas” and you’ll likely see a dark shadow fall across their face before receiving a vague response.

Where do ideas come from? Is a writer really the mastermind behind fiction, or are they merely servants transcribing a cosmic signal?

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Ann Radcliffe – The Romance of the Forest (1791)

Review by Justin Tate

In 1791, while George Washington served his second year as president and politicians were preoccupied with drafting something called the Bill of Rights, readers across the pond devoured Ann Radcliffe’s hotly anticipated new novel The Romance of the Forest. If foreign affairs consumed their mind, these thoughts were easily vanquished to a fictional world of chilling melodrama and gothic romance.

Radcliffe wasn’t yet a household name—she would become one with her next novel, however—but the majority of literate society was familiar with A Sicilian Romance (1790) which was published only months earlier. This new novel, printed over three volumes, was longer, spookier, more atmospheric and more heart-pounding than her last. No surprise that it became an instant bestseller.

I suspect my reaction, 200+ years later, is similar to Radcliffe’s original audience: YES!!!! This story has everything I want and more. Can’t wait to read her next book!

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Ann Radcliffe – A Sicilian Romance (1790)

Review by Justin Tate

Ann Radcliffe was the J.K. Rowling of the late 1700s. She churned out bestsellers so popular they made her the world’s highest paid author for an entire decade. Her atmospheric gothic romances entranced the reading public similar to how Rowling made us obsessed with wizardry and magic.

Critics and fans alike could not get enough of Radcliffe. Once they finished her novels they fantasized about her personal life, imagining it as dramatic as her stories. Wild rumors were spread, including that she wrote while confined to a madhouse. The boring truth is that she was merely a private person who likely never traveled to any of the picturesque settings featured in her novels.

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