A Stiletto Gumshoe’s Halloween: Witches, 1950’s Style.

This should’ve been in an October issue, but it’s actually from the February 1958 issue of Jem, “The Magazine For The Masterful Male”, one of the countless Playboy knockoffs from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

“Broom And Board” by R. Fred Arnold, is the “authentic, never-before printed story of the life and times of a witch”. Authentic it’s not, though 1950’s-funny it aims to be. Young Beaulah Broome of Coffeyville, Kansas is more or less a normal small-town teen who sometimes hears spooky voices and other-wordly laughter. Tossing and turning in bed one night, she awakes to find a witch perched right on her own footboard. “At least, I imagined it was a witch. She had on a peaked hat and long grey robes. There was a broom clutched in her hand. But far from being the weather-beaten hag pictured in the usual drawings of witches, she was a beauty. The grey robes fitted tight over a voluptuous figure. The peaked hat made her long face and laughing eyes even more beautiful.” With a sprightly “Hi-ya, witchy,” the visitor welcomes Beaulah to the IWW (the International Witch Workers) who’ve been monitoring her since childhood. Young Beulah is whisked away for training at…Wichita State University.

You can actually read the whole story online (the entire February 1958 issue of Jem is at Flashbak (flashback.com), “Where Everything Old Is New Again”. Beulah masters the art of infiltrating other women’s bodies in order to seduce men, but if you’re expecting something 1950’s-naughty, be warned: the tale’s strictly PG rated, if even that. Nonetheless, it did feature a nice (though uncredited) illustration.

A Stiletto Gumshoe’s Halloween: Dark Seduction.

If you plunk down some hard-earned coin for a look at Dark Seduction, a low-low budget film that’s part film noir pastiche and part 1980’s vampire spoof, don’t come looking for me. I’m not recommending Greg Travis and Steve Bishart’s twelve-years-in-the-making pet project, nor condemning it. Haven’t seen it, actually, only viewing an online trailer, and really only rooting around for suitable items to post here for the Halloween season. Stumbling across a 2016 LA Weekly article by Gwynedd Stuart titled “A Lesbian Vampire Film Noir 30 years In The Making Is A Time Capsule From 1984” seemed to fit the bill.

A Stiletto Gumshoe’s Halloween.

It’s mid-October and time to think about Halloween over the next couple weeks, even if trick-or-treating and costume parties are in jeopardy this year. Let’s kick off the season with Charlotte Gainsbourg striking a seasonably sinister pose as a bewitching femme fatale in this photo by Ali Mahdavi.

Mark of The Vampire.

Inside Detective - Mark Of The Vampire April 1939 copy

Mark of The Vampire? No, it’s not a feature on MGM’s 1935 Todd Browning film with Bela Lugosi donning the black cape (only the second time onscreen, I think).

This “Mark of The Vampire” is from the 1939 issue of Inside Detective magazine with cover art by illustrator Albert Fisher, and is a lurid ‘all-true’ story about an Oakland, California ‘vampire killer’, his victim found in a lovers lane.

Mark 3

I’d been planning on something goofy for later Halloween evening, once the trick-or-treaters stop ringing the bell, that is. Instead of watching creepy classics (and I have a few on DVD), maybe just a horror comedy like Victoria Justice in The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (what, you don’t have any guilty pleasures?) or perhaps the first Elvira movie with…well, Elvira, of course.

mark 1

But I know I have MGM’s 1935 Mark of The Vampire lurking somewhere on my shelves. Bela Lugosi, ultra-creepy Carrol Borland as his vampire daughter Luna, the two Lionel’s – Barrymore and Atwill – as an investigator and police inspector in a mid-1930’s visual delight of gothic eeriness, despite Todd Browning’s insistence on inserting intrusive comedic bits that really…just…aren’t. Originally titled The Vampires of Prague, adapted from Browning’s silent era London After Midnight (the Holy Grail of lost silent era films) and based on a scenario by Guy Endore, the film deals with the death of a Bohemian nobleman, apparently a victim of Count Mora and his daughter Luna, the local vampires. But near the film’s end, it’s all revealed as an elaborate ruse to catch a very human murderer with his eye on the victim’s daughter. I’ve never decided if Todd Browning was a genius or a hack (most likely a little of both) but the man sure could set up some stunning visuals, and Mark of The Vampire, for all of its flaws, is classic horror eye candy.

Hmmm…I could go gloomy and gothic instead of ‘goofy’, couldn’t I?

mark 2

 

Pulpy Vampire Noir

PNElrod 1

Happy All Hallows-Eve-Eve. Doesn’t quite look like Halloween hereabouts today. More like Xmas-Eve, with the snow falling this morning.

The preceding post looked at the “blurred lines” between horror and noir, as addressed by Zach Vasquez in a 10.29.19 Crime Reads article. Crime and horror often go hand in hand, with some ‘suspense’ novels more accurately billed as horror and some horror novels devoid of anything remotely supernatural but chock full of grisly stuff being done by sadistic crazed criminals. ‘Noir’ and horror can intersect, sharing hopeless quests, battles between indistinct shades of good and evil, shadowy figures in long cape-like coats emerging from the fog and evil seductresses tricking fools into (figuratively, at least) selling their souls.

Within the horror genre, vampires seem to be cyclical, dominating bookshelves and movie screens for a stretch, only to crawl back into their coffins to lay low till agents, editors and readers crave them once again after overdosing on the traditional castles-capes-n-fangs crowd, twinkling puppy-love teens, undead zombie style ghouls and various (and seemingly countless, at least in the E-book and self-published scene) sex-crazed vampiresses who prefer to do their imbibing in bed. Naked. Or, gussied up in period lingerie inevitably described in infinitely minute detail.

Oh yeah, and usually with another woman. (Don’t blame Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, blame those 1970’s Hammer movies.)

If “The Stiletto Gumshoe” is a home for quirky noir culture, there’s also a fondness here for most things retro-pulpy, so let’s peek at P.N. Elrod’s (Patricia Nead Elrod) The Vampire Files series, where hard-boiled meets horror, with vampires, no less. Elrod, a writer with a truly prodigious output in horror, fantasy, gaming tie-ins and more, wrote an even dozen titles in this series, I believe, the first published nearly thirty years ago. No, make that twelve and a half – I spotted a self-published version of The Devil You Know from Elrod’s own Vampwriter Press.

The Vampire Files novels are set in 1930’s Chicago (in the beginning), where ace newspaperman Jack Fleming must solve a murder in the first book, having awoken as a vampire after a gangland slaying. As in, his own. Ultimately, Fleming becomes a kind of undead hard-boiled private investigator (later a nightclub proprietor) aided by human pals and his new girlfriend Bobbi as they grapple with various mysteries, mobsters and supernatural villains, with a crew of determined vampire hunters always on his tail.

I no longer have any of Elrod’s books on my shelves, but if I recall, I had two or even three of The Vampire Files books at one time, including the first. Ace published new editions in 2010-2012 or thereabouts, with five volumes combining multiple novels from the original series in each. As I write this, I’m making a mental note to either track down some used bookstore originals or to order up the re-issued versions. As I recall, they were fun reads, with a good mix of supernatural vampiric-ness and retro-pulp style hard-boiled crime fiction, all punctuated with bits of wry humor.

Vampire detectives have been done by others, of course, particularly on television. Canada’s Forever Knight starring Geraint Wyn Davies ran from 1992 through 1996, based on a dropped 1989 CBS pilot starring Rick Springfield, and had a late-night cable run in the U.S. before going into syndication. I’m sure I’ve seen episodes on one of the many cable rerun channels (there are a few of those, aren’t there?). Blood Ties (2007 – 2008) originated in Canada as well, airing on Lifetime in the U.S., based on Tanya Huff’s Blood Books series and starring Christina Cox as a former Toronto cop turned P.I. who’s teamed up with a vampire. Moonlight (2007 – 2008) was a CBS prime time series starring Alex O’Loughlin as a private eye turned into a vampire. I’m sure there are more, and more vampire-as-investigator books and book series that I’m not mentioning here. P.N. Elrod’s Vampire Files deserved being singled out, its familiar retro crime fiction turf a good fit for The Stiletto Gumshoe’s world.

Now, get back to work on your Halloween costume.

PNElrod 6

 

 

Blurred Lines.

The Leopard Man

The Leopard Man (1943)

Crime Reads may not be the first place you’d turn to for talk about horror, even at Halloween time. But it’s definitely worth a visit to read Zach Vasquez’ look at 20 essential films which blur the line between horror and noir (link below). Myself, I’ve always been surprised that more films do don’t do precisely that, the two ‘genres’ sharing some common roots and any number of familiar tropes and stylistic cues. Want to quibble with some of Vasquez’ choices, or toss in your own instead? Go right ahead. I fully concur with several of the article’s selections.

Crime Reads

After all, anything produced by Val Lewton might qualify, and Vasquez’ chooses 1943’s The Leopard Man. Similarly, while the article singles out David Lynch’s 1997 Lost Highway, most anything in Lynch’s body of work will likely merge something horrific with the vaguely noirish, the possibly anachronistically retro, and certainly the just-plain-weird. Vasquez also points to The Eyes of Laura Mars from 1978, that Helmut Newton fashion-kink photo suite brought to life on the big screen, its screenplay adapted from a spec script penned by John Carpenter (Halloween). Or there’s Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro in Angel Heart from 1987, and of course, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 dark classic Les Diaboliques.

Les Diaboliques

Les Diaboliques (1955)

Some can argue that many films billed as horror are really just particularly gruesome serial killer thrillers. And others might assert that the moment a film (or story or novel) includes anything remotely supernatural, it no longer qualifies as ‘noir’. But then some people get too hung up on genres and classifications, and I’m not getting into those arguments. Rather, I’ll just encourage you to read Zach Vasquez’ 10.29.19 Crime Reads article “20 Essential Films That Blur The Line Between Horror And Noir” and see for yourself if you don’t find a film you might want to watch come Halloween night.

 

https://crimereads.com/20-essential-films-the-blur-the-line-between-horror-and-noir/

 

The Lady Is A Witch.

Startling Stories Earle K. Bergey

It’s almost Halloween, so let’s get witchy with an impractically attired sorceress perched on her flying broom for Norman Daniels’ “The Lady Is A Witch” from the March 1950 Startling Stories pulp magazine.

The cover illustration’s by Pennsylvania artist Earle K. Bergey (1901 – 1952), who’s better known for fetching female space adventurers who — like our witch here — tended to be on the scantily clad side. I’ve read that his many sex-i-fied sci-fi sirens, who often sported inventive metal breastplates of one sort or another, were the inspiration for Princess Leia’s ‘slave girl’ costume from Return Of The Jedi. True or just online myth, who knows?

Norman Daniels’ complete novel appeared in this nearly 70 year-old pulp with interior illustrations by famed fantasy pulp artist Virgil Finlay.

 

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