Thursday, October 8, 2015

Secret Strangers - Thomas Tessier

He had been kind of a secret stranger in their lives, someone who could accept love and apparently give it in return, a person they knew mainly in terms of their own expectations, and didn't really know at all. 

Dark Harvest 1st Edition 1992
 Secret Strangers by Thomas Tessier would likely be found in the horror shelves of the bookstore, only because Tessier is primarily known for his horror novels. But I'm telling you, this is straight up noir, and I mean depraved nasty twisted noir. I found a copy of this book some years back and knew it was coming home with me.

Tessier's best known novel is probably The Nightwalker, about a Vietnam veteran in London who may or may not be a werewolf. Then there is his ultra-disturbing Finishing Touches about a plastic surgeon's descent into a world of S&M and death. Both novels are horror books for adults and better than anything you'll likely read by the "bigger" names on the horror shelves.

Then there is Secret Strangers, from 1990. I may be in small company by really liking this one. It's one of those novels that gets its painted fingernails into you and squeezes you out to the finish. There are literally pages that make you want to turn away. And it's a classic study of an idea that seems good at the outset yet ends up spinning wildly out of control and spilling havoc on its participants.

Heidi Luckner is a 17 year old high school student, living in an upper class community named Clearville, a town of ten thousand people outside of New York City. Heidi's life is in upheaval after her father, John Luckner, goes missing. Her father's disappearance is the first of many cracks that inexorably crumbles her world. Still, she's got her job at an upscale deli, her best friend Bella who's always there for her, and her boyfriend Gary who drives a black Camaro IROC, But without her father's income and support, her mom will have no alternative but to sell their home and move from Clearville. Something Heidi will not accept.

One night, Heidi is babysitting for her neighbors, Jane and Richard Seaton. The Seatons are those yuppie types who seemingly have it all, a beautiful home, exciting careers, beauty, health and vitality. After putting their young daughter Carrie to bed, Heidi does what probably most teenage girls might do if given the opportunity and goes snooping through their home. Fueled by mix of envy and curiosity, Heidi becomes almost a voyeur into Richard and Jane's privacy, and discovers something horrible. A set of Polaroids depicting sex acts between Richard and Jane Seaton, and what looks like teenaged children. Heidi is stunned and immediately places the pictures back into their hiding place. But the images of Jane Seaton in the pictures are too deeply etched into her psyche. Days go by and Heidi smokes Lucky Strikes, hangs out with her boyfriend Gary, fights with her mother...and thinks of the Seatons and their secrets. She reaches out to Jane as though building a relationship with a confidant, an older woman who can giver her advice and friendship. She's strangely attracted to Jane's confidant facade that masks a dark perversion, And then, when asked to house-sit for the Seatons over a holiday weekend. Heidi steals the photos, and with them, papers of coded symbols.

Heidi figures she'll start small, maybe twenty five thousand dollars. After that, she'll ask for more, tightening the screws and bleeding the Seatons out of their wealth. They can afford it. The Seatons are rich. Only Heidi is going to need some help. She can't blackmail them alone. So she turns to Gary as an accomplice. At first things seem like they're going to go as planned. Heidi can get money from the Seatons, find an apartment and stay in Clearville and keep her friends. Only plans never go down as imagined over cigarettes and sex in the back of a Camaro.

This is one of those "river of blood" kind of plots, where intentions, both good and bad, result in the worst outcomes. One has gone so far into the depravity and horror that to turn back is as far a journey as it is to see it through to the end. The players behind the suburban lawns are far more dangerous and powerful than Heidi, our teenage girl "hero" could have foreseen.

It's too bad this book isn't more well-known, or easier to find. It's a terrific nasty ride into darkness that leaves scars. If you run across a copy of it, read it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Terror Tales - June 1974

"Hello! I'm going to tell you about this dream of mine! It is only a dream, of course, but I have it a lot. Night after night, the same dream. And maybe you'll find it interesting, too! And dreams do come true sometimes, don't they? Now about my dream..."  

Eerie Publications, Vol 6 No 3 June 1974
Cover by O.A. Novelle
Back in the early 70's you couldn't help but see these crazy covers littering the magazine racks in the local supermarket. Usually near the MAD and CRACKED magazines. They sprouted like toadstools in a Florida lawn, a new one seemingly every week. Gruesome, gory, bloody and awesome. I used to wonder what kind of person bought stuff like this. Freaks? Psychos? Murderers? I knew there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that my mom would let me take one of these suckers home.

TERROR TALES, HORROR TALES, TALES of VOODOO, WITCHES TALES. Slobbering ghouls hovering over dismembered bodies, torture, blood-dripping fangs...the worst depravity you could show your friends at in school. Yes, these magazines went there. On the covers, at least. As for the contents, well...

These magazines were put out under the editorship of Myron Fass, who saw an opportunity and jumped on the coattails of the "horror" trends that Warren Publishing was cashing in on with CREEPY and EERIE. The only thing needed was material and a cover that'll grab the kids. The material was filched from the volumes of pre-code horror and crime comics. Covers were courtesy of artists like Bill Alexander, Chic Stone, Vilanova, OA Novelle, to name a few. And these covers have to be seen to be believed! Eerie Publications would pretty much take a story and add some minor touches or changes here and there, and slap that baby out into the stands. Typos and misprints and numbering were an afterthought. What mattered was getting the product out. Titles, stories, art, you name it, was up for grabs with these magazines. And what the hell? it wasn't like a kid my age at the time would know that a story had been ripped off from something twenty years previous. And it's not like the pre-code horror comics didn't "borrow" their stories from other sources as well.

Cheap and fast was the MO with these publications. And thumbing through one now 40 years later you can readily tell it's not the product that Warren Magazines was producing. None of the stories in my issue shown here are credited. Nor is the art, unless you happen to catch a signature on one of the panels.

As for the stories. Well, they're okay. None of them reflect the cover art and likely never did. Nary a single story features a "bigfoot" creature raking its claws into a hot babe in the blue dress. But whose complaining. The kids shelling out 75 cents just wanted the goods, man.

The whole sordid story of Eerie Publications can be found in this terrific book that comes with a high recommendation from me. It's a perfect Halloween gift for that special ghoul in your life.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lone Star and a Saloon Called Hell - Wesley Ellis

Here was this man, tough guy cold-blooded killer, being reduced to a groveling worshiping worm before her feet. Perversion worked in her mind and excited her, and this was not the first time, either, where her fantasy and warped desires became reality. There were no limits to what Jessie's mind could conjure, no limits to what her heart could desire. Perversion and pure lust sated is degrading and ugly, and it leaves you feeling ashamed and degraded, Jessie knew. 

Jove Books - July 1994
Holy crap, was this book insane! I thought I knew what to expect, sort of, when I picked this one up to read. I'd read an earlier book in the Lone Star series and enjoyed it. But that adventure, while cool pulp, has nothing on this one. Perversion and Lust...yes, there is plenty of that. Violence and mayhem...yes, even more of that to boot.

The plot is a simple one, as it should be. Jessie and Ki are traveling deep into Wyoming to find a young friend of theirs named Billy Johnson who's been accused of murdering a no good woman. The victim's father has hired a passel of bounty hunters to bring Billy in, dead or alive. Jessie once knew Billy as a wild young boy growing up, and hopes that she can find him before the bounty hunters do.

Jessie's mood is as heavy as the winter mist that's settled over the land. She's weary, tired and beaten down by the evils of life and the seemingly pointlessness of it all. In other words, she's in a deep existential angst. So deep that her partner and friend Ki is worried that she'll not recover from it. As the two of them seek out Billy they come across a bounty hunter named Barabbas. Barabbas is one of those battle-scarred "angel of death" types in black who lives by the gun. He's got a swath of wanted posters in his pouch, including one for Billy Johnson. He tells Jessie and Ki that Billy isn't worth the effort of bringing in, but that the hombres after Billy are. So, he promises Jessie and Ki that he'll leave Billy alone, but that he's getting the men who are after Billy. With that, an uneasy alliance between Jessie and Barabbas is formed.

Soon, the three riders reach the town where Billy is rumored to be hiding out. A town shrouded in perpetual fog and twilight. A town named Apocalypse, And in it, a saloon named Hell.

Okay, you know a saloon named Hell isn't going to be the sort of establishment where one partakes of mint juleps over a game of Bridge and witty banter. It's named Hell for a reason. Because it's full of the worst low-down varmints, lowlifes and whores imaginable. And as bad as the saloon's denizens are, even worse is the bastard that runs it. A giant Indian named Bull.

Bull had a body as muscular as any Jessie had ever seen. Indeed, every muscle in his body rippled as he strode out from behind the bar. There he stood, hands on his hips, proudly displaying the biggest cock Jessie had ever seen. It hung to his knees. His eyes laughed as he said, "Like what you see?"

Yup, that's right my friends. Down to his knees. We know this because Bull doesn't wear any clothes. Just walks around in all his naked glory. And by the time Bull makes his grand entrance we've already been witness to a half naked red-headed spitfire whipping a man to death before blasting him in half with a shotgun. Then, moments later, Jessie and Ki blast four more miscreants into oblivion. In the meantime, Bull sits and gets serviced by the hot redhead with the whip. This type of scene repeats itself day after day, between bouts of hot sex that Jessie shares with Barabbas and Bull.

And then, oh yeah, there's this reason they came into town in the first place. This kid named Billy Johnson, who's supposedly hiding out in town somewhere. Remember Billy? I wasn't sure Jessie did. Because Jessie seems none too interested in finding Billy once she's got a taste of that trouser(less) snake that Bull's swinging around. More killing, more bloodshed, more cowpokes shitting their pants as they die. I mean this saloon called Hell is pretty much a slaughterhouse.

Then, finally, the outlaw posse arrives in town looking for Billy. And they go by the name the Four Horsemen. And hell reigns down upon them all, or something like it.

So...did I like it? Actually, yeah I did like it. It's definitely X-rated and pulpy as all get out. I spent maybe a dollar on it and got my dollar's worth from it. And here's the thing. I kind of want to check out another one of these Jessie Lonestar novels, just to see if she's really that same moody, horny little twist she was in this one. Kind of like a goth girl with whip and lasso in hand who's more than ready to shove her ass into some no good varmint's face and have him kiss it before filling him full of hot lead. We'll see.