Archive for March, 2016

Charles L. Grant’s “The Soft Whisper of the Dead” (1982)

Posted in "The Soft Whisper of the Dead", Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop, Charles L. Grant, Oxrun Station prequel trilogy, Oxrun Station Series, R.J. Krupowicz, Vampire Novels with tags , , , , , , , on March 30, 2016 by Manuel Paul Arenas

As I have mentioned before, one of my favorite places to go to when I lived in Boston in the 90’s, was the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop. It was the first place I used to visit on payday and I loved browsing their selection of collectable books, which they would feature near the cash register at the front of the store. Initially, I would be on the lookout for my usual Arkham House editions, but every once in a while I would see an unfamiliar title which caught my eye and I would take a chance on it. I made two great discoveries this way; Les Daniels’ “Don Sebastian de Villanueva” vampire series was one, and the other was Charles L. Grant’s “Oxrun Station” prequel trilogy.

Cover art by R.J. Krupowicz for the 1st edition of "The Soft Whisper of the Dead" by Charles L. Grant (1982, Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc).

Cover art by R.J. Krupowicz for the 1st edition of “The Soft Whisper of the Dead” by Charles L. Grant (1982, Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc).

What really grabbed my attention with these, especially the Grant books, was the cover art and, in the case of the Oxrun books, the interior illustrations by R.J. Krupowicz. His pen and ink illustrations are highly stylized and ornately baroque. His use of red ink in key illustrations to accent gore or red limned vampire eyes was inspired and made the drawings pop from the page. I had to have this book! Fortunately, the story justified the ornamentation. I devoured this trilogy and kept the books in my collection for decades but afterward found myself only returning to them to admire their artwork. Recently, I decided to re-read the trilogy when I couldn’t remember any specific detail from the series. After burning through the first book in a couple of days, I am glad for my decision. It was like getting reacquainted with an old friend, only this time I read the book as a writer, and could appreciate the craftsmanship behind the story.

“The Soft Whisper of the Dead” is the first in a trilogy which takes place within the fictional town of Oxrun Station. Much of Grant’s fiction takes place in this town, which is akin to Lovecraft’s Arkham or Stephen King’s Castle Rock. The conceit of the trilogy, however, is that it takes place in historical Oxrun Station, sometime in the 19th century I gather, since everyone is still using horses and carriages. Grant’s horror is subtle and atmospheric. Most of the scares are implied; a footstep behind you on a lonely street, a low growl from an unseen beast, etc. In unschooled hands this sort of horror can be dull at best or, at worst, risible. Grant is at home here though and he uses subtlety to great effect, and when the few splashes of gore hit the page, they have a more defined impact. I was impressed with the minutiae in certain scenes. A telling smirk from a villain, or a hinted horror which would send a chill up one’s spine, the swell of a woman’s breast in the cut of her dress, which hinted at sexuality but didn’t become bogged down with gratuitous sex scenes. Here is a true wordsmith who knows how to tell a good yarn without overplaying his hand.

The novel deals with a vampiric count who tries to take over the town of Oxrun Station by infiltrating the founding family’s homestead. It is up to the young daughter of the family and her brash young detective sweetheart to stop them before it’s too late. It reads like a Universal Horror film, or an early Hammer, before the “Flesh and Blood” became their mainstay.  The language is unadorned and straightforward, although there are some descriptive passages which border on the poetic. The story moves at a fast pace and is engaging despite the restraint on the action. I recommend this for anyone who likes a good old school supernatural tale without all of the explicit content of most contemporary horror.

I scoured the Internet for images of Krupowicz’s artwork, but came up with almost nothing. I found a snapshot of a page on Ebay which shows an illustration of a minor character reading a book, where one may at least see the detail and the beauty of the drawings, but I would have loved to share one of the monster pics with the red blood, which really are impressive.

Ebay image of an illustration by R.J. Krupowicz, from "The Soft Whisper of the Dead" by Charles M Grant.

Ebay image of an illustration by R.J. Krupowicz, from “The Soft Whisper of the Dead” by Charles M Grant.

Update 03/31/16: I was informed by my good friend Chester that there is a version of the book which contains an introduction from Grant explaining the impetus behind the trilogy of historical Oxrun novels. After some research I can only find it in the mass market paperback version by Berkley Books, released in 1987. It is titled: “A Foreword for Those Who Remember Ralph Bates”.

Berkley Books 1987 paperback edition of "the Soft Whisper of the Dead".

Berkley Books 1987 paperback edition of “The Soft Whisper of the Dead”.

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Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (1971)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 26, 2016 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Originally released in Spain in 1968 under the more appropriate title of “La Marca del Hombre Lobo”, this was Paul Naschy’s first starring role as Waldemar Daninsky: El Hombre Lobo. As a young lad Jacinto Molina (Naschy’s real name) had seen the film “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man”, which really struck a chord with him. Years later, he wrote a script intending to give it to Lon Chaney Jr, but Mr Chaney was already too long in the tooth for the role, so it was suggested that Molina play the part of the wolf man. Changing his name to sound more exotic and in step (or steppe?) with the region where most of the traditional Horror tales take place, he chose to take on the stage name of Paul Naschy; Paul, after the concurrent pope, and Naschy after a well-known Hungarian athlete of the day.

Spanish poster for "La Marca del Hombre Lobo" (1968).

Spanish poster for “La Marca del Hombre Lobo” (1968).

It was released in the US under the title “Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror” in 1971 because the distributor had promised a Frankenstein movie to pad a double billing for contractual reasons, so they created an animated sequence at the beginning of the film to explain why there is no Frankenstein monster in the film, despite the title and poster art:

USA poster for "Frankenstein's Bloody Terror" (1971)

USA poster for “Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror” (1971)

“Now the most frightening Frankenstein story of all, as the ancient werewolf curse brands the family of monster makers as Wolfstein…Wolfstein, the inhuman clan of blood-hungry wolf monsters!”

There is no other mention of the Frankenstein family or their monster for the remainder of the film. This is the version that I saw, so it will be the one I review.

Count Sigmund von Aarenberg throws a masquerade party for his debutante daughter, the lovely young Countess Janice von Aarenberg to celebrate her return from school and her entrance into society. At the party, she reunites with an old childhood chum, Rudolph Weissmann, the son of her father’s colleague, Judge Aarno Weissmann. Both the judge and the count are pleased to see the youngsters dancing and getting reacquainted, until a stranger comes in who sweeps Janice off her feet. It is the infamous Count Waldemar Daninsky, who has a reputation for having some sinister interests, particularly the abandoned castle of Imre Wolfstein.

Upon a drive home from a failed outing with Waldemar, Janice and Rudolph at the Wolfstein castle, the youngsters almost run a gypsy couple’s wagon off the road. Daninsky, however, stops to help them get back on the road and directs them to the castle as a place to take shelter for the night.

The gypsies follow his advice but upon arrival start to snoop around through the cupboards until they find a stash of wine bottles, which they drink to excess. Emboldened by the wine, they decide to open the sarcophagi in the family crypt to look for spoils but instead find the previous tenant to be intact, save for a silver knife shaped like a cross shoved into his heart. Startled at first, their greed overpowers their trepidation and they yank the precious blade out of Imre Wolfstein’s supernaturally preserved corpse, which revives him; after which, he quickly changes into a werewolf, and kills them both. The bodies of the gypsies are later discovered by Waldemar, who pockets the silver blade which he finds in the hands of the dead gypsy woman.

The gypsies attempt to plunder the sarcophagus of Imre Wolfstein.

The gypsies attempt to plunder the sarcophagus of Imre Wolfstein.

The werewolf then roams freely, terrorizing the countryside, so a hunting party is formed to find the creature and put an end to his bloody spree. Waldemar hears Rudolph cry out and runs to find him in a fight for his life with Wolfstein. Waldemar saves him by returning the silver blade to its rightful place, but gets bitten by Wolfstein in the process. Rudolph is then torn between feeling indebted to the Count, yet still resentful that his sweetheart seems to favor the Count over him. Even so, he pledges to help the Count find a cure.

A shackled Waldemar begins to shapeshift.

A shackled Waldemar begins to shapeshift.

Daninsky decides to set up shop in the castle where he can look through Wolfstein’s library for clues on how to cure himself of his werewolf curse and be locked in the dungeon on nights of the full moon. Eventually, it is Janice who stumbles across a letter to Wolfstein from a Doctor Janos Mikhelov who had offered to help with his curse, so Rudolph contacts him to see if he would help Waldemar. He responds in the affirmative, stating that he will arrive in a couple of days on a late-night train. Mikhelov’s arrival with his wife Wandessa, a voluptuous Maria Callas look-alike (all hair, nose and lips, with a pronounced decolletage), surprises everyone because he is so young looking and the letter was at least 30 years old. The tall, gaunt young doctor explains that he is the son of the original Dr. Mikhelov, but that he has continued his father’s studies and can still help. Unfortunately, Waldemar and company soon find out that the Doctor and his wife have misrepresented themselves, and that they have agendas of their own.

A page from the pressbook for "Frankenstein's Bloody Terror".

A page from the pressbook for “Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror”.

I enjoyed this movie a lot. It has lots of good Gothic atmosphere and a decent plot. The actors played their respective parts well, and I particularly enjoyed Dr. Mikhelov and his wife. The lead ingenue was delectable, but unlike the ladies in the latter films, she kept her clothes on–at least in this edit of the film. The gore wasn’t as explicit either, with only a few splashes of blood here and there. In essence, this is probably closer to the Universal film that inspired Naschy than his later efforts, which were more exploitative.

It would take a couple of years for the Count Waldemar Daninsky franchise to find success with 1971’s “La Noche de Walpurgis” (a/k/a “The Werewolf vs The Vampire Woman”), but once he got the ball rolling there was no stopping him! Naschy also played other classic monsters over the years including Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, etc, but none so well as his own creations. He is also known for his character Alaric de Marnac whom he modeled after Gilles de Rais, the infamous medieval French nobleman known for his satanic interests and murderous pastimes.