Archive for July, 2015

James Whale’s “The Old Dark House” (1932)

Posted in "Benighted" Book, Black Comedy, Boris Karloff, Charles Addams, Ernest Thesiger, J.B. Priestley, James Whale, Kino DVD, The Old Dark House, Uncategorized, Universal Horror Movies with tags , , , , , , , on July 29, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas
"Benighted", by J.B. Priestley, 1927 London: William Heinemann, London, 1st edition.

“Benighted”, by J.B. Priestley, 1927 London: William Heinemann, London, 1st edition.

I finally got around to watching my DVD of “The Old Dark House” (1932) in it’s entirety. I’ve had it for years and have started it once or twice before, but always seemed to get distracted early on in the film and put it off for later. I’m glad I did finally see it to the end though, because it is well worth being patient and wading through the darkly shot scenes and muffled soundtrack for the great performances and the clever dialog. In the audio commentary of the Kino DVD, James Curtis, author of the James Whale biography “A World of Gods and Monsters”, claims that the screenplay by Benn W Levy is more or less faithful to the book, but Whale’s direction changed the tone visually which, along with in the cast’s delivery of the dialog, created a humorous slant which is not evident in the book, “Benighted” by J.B. Priestly on which it was based. The film is a black comedy about some travelers who seek shelter from a storm in an old house in the boonies of Wales. The family inside are all looney and vile and hide dark secrets, which unravel during the course of the night. Directed by James Whale, it features a host of great actors (Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Eva Moore, etc) and is notable for being one of the few pictures to feature the character actor Ernest Thesiger. In fact, Thesiger really makes the movie with his eccentric performance as Horace Femm, the host of the house.

Screencap of Ernest Thesiger from "The Old Dark House".

Screencap of Ernest Thesiger from “The Old Dark House”.

Horace’s repartee with his sister Rebecca (played by veteran actress Eva Moore) is one of the most amusing parts of the film. She is supposedly hard of hearing and always asks of her brother what everyone is saying, but if he glosses over something or lies about it she always seems to know and calls him out on it.

Screencap of Moore & Thesiger.

Screencap of Moore & Thesiger.

One of Moore’s best scenes, however, is when she harangues the film’s ingenue, Margaret Waverton, portrayed by the lovely Gloria Stuart. When Margaret asks for a private room to change out of her wet clothes Rebecca tells her some of the sordid family history then turns on her saying, “Your wicked too, young and handsome–silly and wicked! You think of nothing but your long straight legs and your white body and how to please your man. You revel in the joys of fleshly love, don’t you?” Pointing to her silky undergarments and fair skin she continues, “That’s fine stuff, but it’ll rot. That’s finer stuff still, but it’ll rot too, in time.” Of course, Margaret is horrified and screams “Don’t! How dare you?”  She leaves her then, but catches up with her later on to further brow-beat her when she is innocently making shadows on the wall with her hands. Unfortunately, this poor girl cannot catch a break, as she is also later stalked by a drunken Morgan.

Morgan grabs Margaret.

Morgan grabs Margaret.

Even though he got top billing, following his success with Frankenstein, one forgets that is is Boris Karloff underneath that scarred hairy visage. Universal even saw fit to put a disclaimer to this effect pointing out that it is indeed Boris underneath all that make up.

Screencap of pre-opening credit disclaimer .

Screencap of pre-opening credit disclaimer .

He lumbers about menacingly enough, but his grunted dialog seems to be dubbed. Even so, Karloff’s portrayal of the frightful, hulking manservant Morgan, is noteworthy and was also Chas Addams’ inspiration for Lurch from the Addams Family.

Boris Karloff as Morgan, the mute butler.

Boris Karloff as Morgan, the mute butler.

In fact, in an early conception of Lurch (and Morticia) he even sports a beard and looks very much like Karloff’s Morgan. The only image online I could find, which was large enough and crisp enough to bother sharing, however, is in Italian:

Bearded Lurch from an early Chas Addams cartoon. Caption translates to "Vibrationless, noiseless, and a great time and back saver. No well-appointed home should be without it."

Bearded Lurch from an early Chas Addams cartoon. Caption translates to “Vibrationless, noiseless, and a great time and back saver. No well-appointed home should be without it.”

Boris acknowledged the tribute in an introduction to Addams’ collection “Drawn and Quartered” (1942) a scan of which I found online:

Edit from Karloff's introduction to "Drawn and Quartered" by Chas Addams.

Edit from Karloff’s introduction to “Drawn and Quartered” by Chas Addams.

The film opened strongly in the States but petered off quickly. Across the pond, however, it performed very well in the Capitol Theatre, in London, where it broke house records. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Dark_House#Reception retrieved 07/28/2015)

A remake was made in 1963 by William Castle in conjunction with Hammer Films. An odd, but potentially promising pairing, no doubt, yet it seems to have only yielded a slapstick comedy of little merit which has none of the mood nor cleverness of the 1932 original.

UK poster for the 1963 remake.

UK poster for the 1963 remake.

“The Old Dark House” was in danger of being lost until it was saved by television and movie director, and James Whale enthusiast, Curtis Harrington, who befriended Whale in his later years. There is a brief interview with him on the Kino DVD wherein he tells the story of how he came to love horror movies and especially the movies by James Whale. He tells of his acquaintance with Whale and how he rescued the surviving print from Universal’s vault, where it was literally rotting away, and helped restore it through Eastman House. I, for one, am glad he did.

"The Old Dark House" DVD from Kino Video.

“The Old Dark House” DVD from Kino Video.

 

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Luvian’s Pelt

Posted in Gothic Poetry, werewolf poetry with tags , , , on July 22, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Part two of the Greenwood Manse Poetry Cycle. For more on that, go here: https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/the-greenwood-manse-poetry-cycle/

Note to the reader: “Luvian” has one made-up word, “ululame” which I created to fit the rhyme. It is a combination of “ululation” and “lamentation”.

Luvian’s Pelt

When the inclemency of winter, with its blustery weather, makes it impossible for me to go outside

I then become dispirited, for I am forced, reluctantly, to spend my days inside

Excepting on the rare occasion when a-calling I do go to my favorite haunt by far

To the enigmatic and ancient abode of its analogous matron, my beloved Grandmamma

I’ve told you once, or so I believe, of my Great Aunt Lucretia and her ebony-posted bed

But have I mentioned my Great Uncle Luvian, who donned a pelt which made him  lose his head?

It all began when my errant uncle came home after a year’s excursion in France

He brought with him a woman, a Mademoiselle Grenier, at whose comely visage he would stare, as if in a trance

They would spend their days in bookshops which were shunned by most of the town

Purchasing grimoires and sundry treatises by scribes of nefarious renown

When nightfall came, they could not be found in or around the estate

Till it was rumored by some that they were in consortium with brokers from beyond the Seven Gates

When Luvian, confronted by all, was asked about where they had been

He’d simply smile and look towards his wife with her circean eyes so green

The shepherds would come round complaining of slain or missing sheep

Great Uncle told them to have more care and vigilance over their keep

The talk got hotter by the day, though none accused him yet outright

Though when they found the riven remnants of a boy, it set the town alight

It seems a canid creature of truculent bent rent the child asunder

And after opening his unfledged chest, his sappy heart did plunder

That night, the townsfolk stormed the house, demanding to see their lord

They found him gone and so took to the woods with pitchfork, gun and sword

Out in the umbrage of the night, they searched with torches aflame

Following the sound of an unholy thing howling in ululame

They soon found the source of the stentorian yowls lamenting as in keen

The death of its mate, whose incarnadine bowels flowed as in a stream

The lycanthrope turned round to stare, his jaws with gore imbrued

Resignedly accepting the retribution which ensued

They smote his head in one fell swoop and shot him through the heart

With bullets forged from molten silver, swaged from a crucifix part

When his corpse fell to the ground his lupine form had changed

Into the shell of Luvian, though this they thought not strange

He bore no clothes save for a belt made from a werewolf’s hide

For which he sold his immortal soul, to be collected when he died

So it was that ravens came at the moment of his death

To claim his soul and bear it to the land of fiery depth

They took as well the sullied soul of his sorceress wife

Who he had slain for starting him on this wicked life

But in the hubbub of his death, an agile hand unseen

The pelt, had taken, leaving no clue as to who it might have been

Now I hold it in my hands to place it round my waist

Where Luvian failed, a weak-willed man, a woman shall take his place

To do the job that should have made his consort-teacher proud

So she’ll be goaded then to rise and shirk her ancient shroud

To share with me her secret rites and knowledge long retained

Which Luvian could not comprehend and proved to be his bane

And all of this I owe to she, who heedful of its special powers

Pulled the pelt to ass to me, her clever budding flower

My Grandmama shall not regret the choice which she has made

Of making a shape-shifting priestess out of a fledgling maid

 

The Were Wolves

The Were Wolves

The Bed

Posted in Gothic Horror, Gothic Poetry, vampire poetry with tags , , , , on July 22, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas
  • Part one of the Greenwood Manse Poetry Cycle. For more on that, go here: https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/the-greenwood-manse-poetry-cycle/

    The Bed

    In my Grandmama’s house, there is a room decorated in the most sublimely under stated way;

    and it is in this room that I customarily retire to, when I occasion to stay

    Within this quaintly curious room of quiet disquietude, there is an ebony-posted bed,

    which is my favorite place, at the day’s end, on which to rest my head.

    It is an old family heirloom, which belonged to my Great Aunt Lucretia.

    She spent the last six months of her life in it, wasting away from consumption and dementia.

    It all started when she lost her lusty young lover to the sickness known as anemia.

    She became listless, wan, and her behavior grew quite unseemlier.

    She slept till late in the day, spent all of her time, and took meals in her bed;

    as she pored over many a tome of eldritch lore, and was called upon by many self styled communers-of-the-dead.

    As her illness progressed, they put her into trances to see if it could be divined what her ailment might be.

    But mesmerism was indeed not the answer, and she deteriorated not just in body now, but also mentally.

    She commenced to cry out in the middle of the night, and when asked what was wrong

    would rant about shroud-clad revenants, with eyes of fire,breath so foul, and eye-teeth sharp and long.

    These stories were met with much consternation and disbelief,as she was assumed to have gone mad.

    But when she spoke of having been made love to by the cadaver of her beloved, they destroyed all of the occult books she had.

    They say she died on the eve of May Day, and a ghastly shriek was said to have reverberated throughout the household.

    They found her in her bed, wide-eyed, bloodless, and in her fist–something clenched in a death-grip hold.

    Well, after some time, when rigor mortis gave way, they found what that something had been.

    It was apparently a torn ear, a right ripe ol’ piece of carrion, all putrescent and green.

    But that was long ago, and what need have I to fear old ghosts and undying loves?

    For I am a smart young lass; virginal, pious, and pure as the snow white dove.

    I say my prayers each night, and although I may indulge in a good ghost story now and again,

    I steer clear of such writ of the like which my aunt treasured so and helped to drive her insane.

    So when she comes to my bedside in the wee hours, with her cadaverous visage and sepulchral breath,

    I recite some old psalms, and clutch the crucifix, which rests on my young tender breast.

    And when she finally leaves, a-hissing and spewing curses foul, with her one-eared lover in tow,

    I whisper my grateful thanks to God, let out a nervous chuckle, pull up the sheets, and dream about the evening’s show.

    Image of a Victorian bed which approximates what Lucretia's four poster might have looked like.

    Image of a Victorian bed which approximates what Lucretia’s crib might have looked like.

The Greenwood Manse Poetry Cycle

Posted in vampire poetry, werewolf poetry, Women Wielding Words in the Alley, Words in the Alley with tags , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Back in the 1990’s I wrote a couple of Gothic Horror poems about a family, over the span of a few generations, focusing on strong female characters and told from the point of view of an unnamed young woman in Victorian times. The name “Greenwood” is a reference to the street I used to live on in Seattle, and the manse is the place where all of the action in the cycle takes place. In “The Bed”, the young woman tells a tale of how she liked to stay at her grandmama’s house (the aforementioned manse) and sleep in the ebony posted bed of her great aunt Lucretia, who was haunted by a dead lover. In the sequel, “Luvian’s Pelt”, she tells the tale of her great uncle Luvian who is brought to his doom by his sorceress wife. There is a third poem telling a tale from when her grandmama was a girl, but it remains unfinished. Perhaps some day I shall complete it and create a chapbook featuring all three poems.

In October of 2014, my friend Hydroxia read the two completed poems at Women Wielding Words in the Alley. She looked lovely and did an awesome job. If and whenever I finish this last poem I hope to have her read it as well. For more on that event, see here:

https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/women-wielding-words-in-the-alley-10-07-14/

For the poem “The Bed”, go here: https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/the-bed/

For the poem “Luvian’s Pelt”, go here: https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/luvians-pelt/

Early Poems

Posted in colored pencil illustration, Gothic Poetry, illustration, lyrics, vampire poetry, Van der Graaf Generator with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I recently discovered some illustrations I’d done, circa 1992-93, for some of my early poems and wished to share them with you all. They were outlined using fine point colored pens, then filled out with colored pencils.

The first one is “Coup de Corps”, a prose poem, where I compare vampirism to spiritual highjacking…

“Coup de Corps” 1992.

“Coup de Corps”

It’s rather like watching a horrible scene without being able to close your eyes; or being a helpless and unheeded passenger on an endless nightmare ride throughout eternity.

My body is it’s own master. When I speak, the words are not my own. I sit in a cavern somewhere in the pit of my heart and await the day when it is pierced, and the walls are broken which enclose me in this rebellious, sanguinary shell gone mad.

*

Next is “The Necromancer”, which I intended to be a lyric for a possible song from my days in the Gloom Twins duo. We actually came up with a tune for it, driven by a dissonant organ riff (a la Van der Graaf Generator) but it never got past the early development stages. There is a clumsy reference to the Necronomicon, because I was just really starting to delve deeply into the Lovecraft Mythos at the time, otherwise it’s a bit more Faustian in tone. I was never quite happy with the result, but here it is in all of it’s awkward glory, accompanied by an illustration which I am rather fond of. On the shelf is Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, Robert E Howard’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten, and, my own creation, the Grimorium Iuvenis Oscurum.

“The Necromancer” 1992.

“The Necromancer”

I have delved into the realms of darkness, and spoken to the dead

Called upon the daemons who send servants in their stead

Made sacrifice to devils, paid tribute to their Lord

In return for youth and power and jewels for my hoard

The blackest of books I have read, the cursed rites of Abdul Alhazred

Mad Arab’s testament for which he was torn to shreds

Necronomicon, Book of the Dead

Dealing with tricksters, which don’t keep their word, sifting through their lies

Tempting me to leave my circle, I never meet their eyes

The darkest of pleasures I have sought

Untold destruction I have wrought

The blackest of majicks were my tools

But they, in turn, used me–and I am the fool!

Now I have asked for much, without considering the cost

And in my lust for power, my immortal soul I have lost

Within my dying breath, I see Lilith come to me

To burn me with Her infernal love, and down to Hell then drag me

*

Last, but not least, we have an illustration for “My Friend Boris”, which really was written about a spider that lived in my bathtub in Hartford, CT circa 1988. It later became a poetry piece for my old band The Dark Young. Again, that’s supposed to be me, but it doesn’t really look like me. By the way, , FYI; I feel obligated to point out here that I have never sported a mullet, my hair is tucked behind my ears here–LOL!

"My Friend Boris" illustration, 1992, by yours truly.

“My Friend Boris” 1992.

“My Friend Boris”

A spider Lives in my bathroom; today I gave it a name. I called it Boris; I named it after a song.

I hope it’s a boy. After all, I wouldn’t want to offend it in any way by giving it a name of the opposite gender, now would I? Why, I hardly even know it yet!

Boris keeps me company when I’m bored and lonely–what a guy that Boris is.

I don’t know what he lives on. I suppose the baby roaches which I see crawling in and out of the cracks in the walls.

What a nasty fellow that Boris is! Imagine, feeding on babes! Oh well, different strokes, different folks.

Just the same, he is my friend. He is my familiar, Boris is, and I think I’ll let him live.

To roam and feast on his cockroach critters and any other little beasties and vermin which may come to call–uninvited.

What a guy that Boris is, what a guy!

Watercolor Macabre

Posted in Classics Illustrated, Edgar Allan Poe, Horror Art, Jerusalem's Lot, Night Shift book, Stephen King, The Raven and Other Poems, watercolor painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

While rummaging through my storage locker, I found a plastic bag which contained some watercolor paintings I had done in the 90’s. Prior to that, I hadn’t played with paints since I was in grade school, and I am not 100% certain what prompted me to take it up at this moment, but I did and the results were interesting, if not spectacular, and definitely macabre in theme. Unfortunately, the best of the lot, a depiction of Madeline Usher in the climactic scene from Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”, seems to be missing. My parents had it hanging on the wall of their study for years but it seems to have been misplaced and they could not locate it last I asked them about it. The eight remaining paintings are a mixed bag, but each have their things to recommend them. The first is “The Conqueror Worm”, inspired by the Poe poem of the same name. I believe somewhere in the back of my mind was the Gahan Wilson illustration for the same piece, from the Classics Illustrated version of “The Raven and Other Poems”. Looking at it now, it also brings to mind the worm from Stephen King’s “Jerusalem’s Lot” story in “Night Shift”.

“The Conqueror Worm”

Next is “Kiss of Death”, inspired a little by “Death and the Maiden”, which I believe was an alternate idea for a title name. Note the blood smear on the young maid’s lips; she has just received the fatal smooch. Kiss of Death Here is another graveyard scene. I think “Ascension” when I see this one, although it’s really just a ghost rising from a fissure in the cemetery grounds.

“Ascension”

This one is called “The Monster & the Crucifix”. It was inspired by something I’d read about a scene which was never shot for James Whale’s “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), with Boris Karloff. In it, he has just escaped imprisonment and is racing through the local graveyard when he comes across a life-sized crucifix. Seeing the crucified Jesus, he runs to help him and pull him off the cross. The censors said “no”, but I said “yes”. I made the monster look different because I wanted to make it my own interpretation. Besides, I wasn’t sure I could do ole Boris the proper justice in reproducing his image.

“The Monster & the Crucifix”

This one is called “The Lair” and was partially inspired by the Munster’s pet dragon, Spot, which lived under their stairwell. In the lead-in to the show I believe they have a flash of his eyes lighting up as he breathes fire in the darkness.

“The Lair”

This one I think I’ll call “Vampyre”. I realize this is the second redhead to appear here, but they do not represent anyone in particular. It was partially an aesthetic choice because red contrasts better with some of the other colors I used in the paintings. Also I believe I had in mind the idea that in the Old World, redheads were usually associated more with witchcraft and the supernatural. I think this one has a bit of the Hammer Horror feel to it. My vampire here looks like she could be one of the Hammer Glamour Girls with her red hair, colorful cloak and dress, as well as her prominent cleavage. Her victim is an attempt at portraying myself as I looked at the time. I never get me right.

“Vampyre”

This next one is pretty gruesome. I suppose I’d call it “Burn”. For some reason I was going to do a series of paintings related to dungeons, torture, and execution,  and this was the first. The most notable things I see here are the thickness of the flames and the detail of his eyes having been burnt. Perhaps he saw something he wasn’t supposed to?

“Burn”

The last painting, “Inferno” is probably the most striking one. Intended as part of my aforementioned series, I decided to make it take place in some underworld dungeon. The victim is hanging upside down, suspended by a chain which is held by nothing. The torturer is blue, perhaps a demon of some sort. He is expressionless. The victim seems to be smiling, but I intentionally made his muscles droop to show he’d been hanging in that position for a very long time. His parchment yellow skin was inspired by an early promotional photo of the group Iron Maiden taken in the torture room at Madame Tussaud’s  Wax Museum, where a corpse in a gibbet sports a similar hue.

“Inferno”

Of course, aside from the shocking full-frontal torture scene, the most striking thing to my eye is the fiery backdrop. I made a point of making it look as hot and bright as I could. The rights to all of these images are mine, so if you want to re-post them, just ask for permission and let me know what you intend to use them for, and I shall be glad to give my consent. In the same batch of artwork I found some colored pencil illustrations I did for various poems of mine, here are links to their respective pages:

“The Author” another botched attempt at drawing myself (the author) and some of the creatures from my poetry. Featured here are my “Flower of Evil”, “Gargoyle”, “My Friend Boris”, and the symbol from “Conjunctio” an esoter-otica poem I am too skittish about to publish publicly.

Flower of Evil:

https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/flower-of-evil/

Early Poems (Coup de Corps / The Necromancer / My Friend Boris):

https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/early-poems-2/

Clark Ashton Smith’s “Mother of Toads”

Posted in Uncategorized, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Back in the early 90’s I used to frequent the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop on Newbury St in Boston, Massachusetts. It was conveniently right across the street from my job at Tower Records, the atmosphere was great, the staff was friendly, and the selection was awesome. I spent many an afternoon there as well as a generous amount of my hard earned cash! It was there that I really began to delve into the writings of the Weird Tales crowd as well as other writers of Horror and Fantasy. For instance,it was there that I bought the Donald Grant editions of Charles L Grant’s Oxrun novels featuring the classic monsters. It was there that I first found Les Daniel’s Don Sebastian de Villanueva novels, and it is there that I found the Necronomicon Press chapbooks featuring the unexpurgated writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, et al.

Although I had read a little Lovecraft already by this point, I had only heard of C.A. Smith, most likely from having read L. Sprague de Camp’s “Lovecraft: A Biography”. The chapbooks were colorful, scholarly researched and contained such strange content, and because of their indie press look, I felt like I was in on a secret that only the enlightened (benighted?) few were aware of.  Every paycheck, I would go across the street and see what fresh horrors awaited me on the shelves. Usually, I would buy two, which would run me around $10, being at that time about $4.95 a piece. Now, having been out of print for so long, they fetch exorbitant prices on Amazon.com.

An assortment of Smith titles from Necronomicon Press. Although this image is from the Internet, I do own all of the titles featured here.

An assortment of Smith titles from Necronomicon Press. Although this image is from the Internet, I do own all of the titles featured here.

I tried a few of the different writers covered by the series, but found that I preferred the Lovecraft and Smith stories to everything else. In particular, the chapbook “Nostalgia of the Unknown” featuring the complete prose poetry of Clark Ashton Smith, had an impact on me as a writer of both poetry and prose, echoes of which can still be discerned in my work today.

Nostalgia of the Unknown (1993, Necronomicon Press).

Nostalgia of the Unknown (1993, Necronomicon Press).

Of the stories, I believe my favorite was “The Mother of Toads”, which takes place in Smith’s fictional medieval French province of Averoigne.

A map of Smith's Averoigne.

A map of Smith’s Averoigne.

I think I liked that it was more of a Horror tale and less Sci-Fi, as some of his work can be. It also had a bit of an unsavory sensuality to it which I am sure appealed to my still adolescent 20-something tastes. Apparently, Smith had intended it to be a sort of weird bawdy tale and tried to sell it to Spicy Mystery Stories, but they rejected it. After another rejection from Esquire, he toned down the more lurid parts and sold it to Weird Tales, which published it in their July 1938 issue.[Smith, Clark Ashton. The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies. pp 357-358. New York: Penguin, 2014. Print.]

Mother of Toads (1987, Necronomicon Press).

Mother of Toads (1987, Necronomicon Press).

The story is of a young apothecary’s assistant named Pierre, who is sent by his boss to retrieve a magic philtre from the witch Mère Antoinette, who is apparently known around town as La Mère des Crapauds, the Mother of Toads, partially because of the veritable infestation of  large toads that surround her residence, which are rumored to be her familiars, and also because of her “batrachian” aspect. Here, Smith is a bit heavy-handed with the hints of things to come, comparing her voice to a croak, and comparing her physical features to that of a toad,  even down to her webbed fingers and “huge breasts” which he describes as “pale as frogs bellies”.

To make matters worse, the witch seems to have a thing for the young assistant and is always hitting on him every time he visits on an errand for his master. On this particular visit, she lays it on thick and even offers him a drink of mulled wine to fortify him on his long walk home in the cold. Hesitant at first, he relents and of course, lives to regret it–for a while anyway.

Although it is fairly obvious where the story is heading, it is told so masterfully and in such gorgeously baroque and evocative language, that one cannot help but read on to the inevitable and grotesque denouement.

“Mother of Toads” also bears the distinction of being one of the few Clark Ashton Smith tales to have been adapted to film. In the 2011 portmanteau film “The Theatre Bizarre”, director Richard Stanley filmed a segment which is a sort of modern retelling of the story. In his interview with Unfilmable.com he explains, ” I have always been a huge fan of Smith’s work and as much of his fiction is now in the public domain it seemed to me that the time was ripe to produce a cinematic homage, based around the folkloric character of the ‘Mother of Toads‘ herself and assimilating various elements of the Lovecraft canon such as the dreaded Necronomicon and the cult of the Old Ones. Smith’s story was a grim fable recounting the erotic misadventures of an apothecary’s apprentice in dark age France whereas I think you’ll find that our similarly titled short is a rather different animal. The completed film is firmly rooted in the 21st century and concerns a young American anthropology student and his girlfriend who come into contact with the fictional sorceress’s real life counterpart with bizarre and ultimately ghastly consequences.” [http://unfilmable.blogspot.com/2010/11/unfilmablecom-interview-richard-stanley.html, retrieved 07-02-15]

My only real complaint about this version, aside from the modern setting, is the mention of H.P. Lovecraft and the Elder Sign. This is one of the very few adaptations of a Smith story (the other adaptation of note is the Night Gallery episode of “Return of the Sorcerer”, with Vincent Price, which took a really creepy, somewhat gory tale of black magic and turned it into a campy romp) and if they were going to bring things into the real world so to speak, why did they not mention Smith instead of Lovecraft? To anyone seeing the segment, they might get the impression that it was just another Lovecraft tale.

Stanley does get points, however, for his use of the French countryside, which is gorgeous and not a little ominous looking. The segment starts off with a couple at a fair in the ancient French village of Montsegur, where the girl spies some unusual looking earrings. The young man, Martin, recognizes the design as the Elder Sign, and goes on about H.P. Lovecraft. The vendor, a spooky looking woman in what looks like a black burqa, seems taken with him. The girl insists on having the earrings and Martin begrudgingly buys them for her. The witch lures the young man to her lair with talk of possessing the Necronomicon. Once there, things wind up more or less as they did in the original tale.

Catriona MacColl as Mère Antoinette.

Catriona MacColl as Mère Antoinette.

The witch, played by veteran horror actress Catriona MacColl, is suitably intense and creepy, but a bit too attractive to have the same repulsive affect on Martin as Mère Antoinette had on Pierre. The rest of the segment plays out like the original tale with the added fate of the girlfriend. I understand what Stanley was going for, and he gets points for atmosphere and for the bits that did follow the original tale, which were fun to see.

I understand that the rest of the Theatre Bizarre is hit or miss, as most films of this type tend to be, but I did enjoy this segment, warts and all, if only to see one of my favorite tales by one of my favorite authors brought to life on the silver screen.

The Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop closed down years ago, but apparently has an online presence which can be found at http://avenuevictorhugobooks.com/.