Hitchcock presents thirteen excellent tales of terror.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Bar the Doors contains some of the best macabre fiction we’ve ever read. The collection begins with H.G. Wells’ violent, oppressive tale of murder and voodoo in Sierra Leone “Pollock and the Porroh Man.” The story was written in 1895 and comes with the sort of classical styling you might expect, but with a surprisingly modern pacing as the first paragraph finds the lead character caught in the middle of a stabbing. Pollock pulls a gun to defend himself and the Porroh Man flees, but not before casting an infuriated gaze back that promises revenge. Little does Pollock know that revenge can take supernatural form. You’d expect the tale to be laced with racism, and it is—this line from the first paragraph is simply amazing: “At any rate, the Porroh Man stabbed the woman through the heart as though he had been a mere low class Italian.” African characters fare far worse. However in this context of mortal struggle between a voodoo conjurer and a self-entitled Englishman, racism comes off as impotence against overwhelming powers.
“Pollock and the Porroh Man” was written four years before Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Conrad’s work is a novella-length masterpiece, whereas Wells’ story is under ten pages, but Wells is quite successful at exploring a different heart of darkness by bringing to life the deepest colonial fear, the one chortling, brandy-swilling men laugh at as long as they’re in a well lit room bolstered by their own numbers—the fear that munitions and cruelty will suffice to maintain control only insofar as natives aren’t pushed too far. But when that day comes, when native peoples have had enough, then colonials will find that voodoo and magic are real, that technology is truly the illusion, and bloody payment is due for crimes committed against people that wanted only to be left alone.
There are other great stories in the collection—F. Marion Crawford’s “The Upper Berth” tells the tale of a man who has an unwanted supernatural visitor in his stateroom every night; Alfred Noyes’ “Midnight Express” preys on readers’ classic misgivings about deserted tube platforms; Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing” tackles the Lovecraftian theme of an other-dimensional beast that cannot be seen; and McKnight Malmar’s “The Storm” might be of interest to those who just experienced last night’s thunderous downpours in Great Britain. In fact, the entire collection is stormy night reading. Obviously, we very rarely discuss books in detail here, because—let’s face it—it’s tedious, but we’ve made an exception this time because Bar the Doors is an unusually good collection, first published in 1946 and reprinted numerous times, as the selection of alternate covers above reveals. Highly recommended.
Pay no attention to the fiend behind the curtain.
Above is an absolutely vibrant cover for Charles Higham’s vampire anthology The Curse of Dracula and Other Terrifying Tales, published by the Aussie imprint Horwitz in 1962. Inside you get six stories by Theophile Gautier, H.T.W. Bousfield, Ambrose Bierce, E. Nesbit, Honoré de Balzac, and that one guy, er, what’s his name? Ah! Bram Stoker. The cover artist was Frank Benier, who was Australian by birth but Basque by ancestry and saw his first piece published when he was but fourteen. Apparently, he was primarily a cartoonist, but this is a top tier pulp painting he’s put together here. Hopefully we’ll run across more of his work down the line.
Chestnuts roasting by an open fire.
After a few weeks of uncharacteristically normal models, the guys from Goodtime Weekly get back to business as usual with a photo from Ron Vogel and model who is—there’s no other phrase—enormously endowed. Autumn is here, after all, so perhaps she symbolizes the stockpiling of food for winter, the horn of plenty filled with inexhaustible gifts, the warmth sought on cold nights. Or maybe they just liked big boobs. Anyway, we said last week we’d try a few of the Goodtime quips in the real world, and, “Ahhh!” Ahhh haaah!” was usually the reaction. Or, “That’s, um—where did you hear that?” But a few went over well. So experiment inconclusive. We’ll continue testing during the next couple of weeks, because the American expat clique has a few Halloween related social gatherings coming up. When we’re done with this experiment we will know definitively whether Goodtime Weekly humor is timeless, or should simply be forgotten.
Oct 20: “Mother-in-law: A woman who arranged a match for her daughter and then intends to referee as well.”—Pat Buttram
Oct 21: “Bar bells are sometimes easier to pick up than bar bills.”—Sam Cowling
Oct 22: “The wife of an archaeologist says, ‘The older I get the better I look to my husband.’”—Phyllis Diller
Oct 23: “A bore is a person who talks when you wish him to listen.”—Ambrose Bierce
Oct 24: Cars are not the only things that can hit and run a man down; gossipers have done worse.
Oct 25: “A perfect husband is one who can understand every word his wife isn’t saying.”—Sig Sakowicz
Oct 26: “Some wives cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go,”—Freddie Flintstone
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
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