Thursday, April 30, 2015

Wicked Stepmother


Wicked Stepmother by Axel Young (Michael McDowell and Dennis Schuetz), September 1983, Avon first printing

Cover photograph by Hartwig Klappert and Isa Eisermann

 Wicked Stepmother - Front Cover

JONATHAN never really had a chance to be close to his father. Now he might not have long to miss him.

VERITY was too busy chasing men and good times to care. But she cares about staying alive.

CASSANDRA thinks she can finish off her stepmother. But her stepmother's had a lot more practice at it.

Wicked Stepmother - Back Cover

I really love the cover so I dug up three more photographs by Hartwig Klappert from the same time period:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Frankenturkey - Sept 28, 1996

Bone Chillers was a children's horror book series by Betsy Haynes and adapted for television in 1996. The fourth episode, "Frankenturkey," was written by Michael McDowell along with Adam Rifkin.

Unlike Goosebumps which relied on a new cast each episode, Bone Chillers centered around a group of students at Edgar Allan Poe High School.

From USA Today:
ABC hopes Bone Chillers will be the next Goosebumps.
R.L. Stine's Goosebumps children's books were adapted into a series by Fox last fall, quickly becoming its highest-rated kids' show.
Producer Fred Silverman came across the Bone Chillers series of books by Betsy Haynes and thought it, too, had potential. (The former head of programming for ABC, CBS and NBC, Silverman got his start in children's TV in the 1970s.) He has sold it to ABC as a Saturday morning live action series for fall. 
"One of the books had four kids at a haunted high school," he says. "I figured that if we could produce a comedy horror show with continuing characters, we had the opportunity for a gargantuan-sized hit."
The show was not a gargantuan-sized hit like Goosebumps and only lasted twelve episodes.

Synopsis from the VHS release:

Fritz, Brian, Sarah and Lexi try to save a doomed Thanksgiving turkey by building a fake one, but when it gets struck by lightning...see everyone turn chicken!

VHS release (front)

VHS release (back)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shadowings: The Reader's Guide to Horror Fiction 1981-82

In Douglas E. Winter's guide to horror fiction, Alan Ryan contributed a piece entitled "The North and South of Horror," examining the use of isolated settings and the device of a particular house. The two books reviewed are Herman Raucher's Maynard's House and Michael McDowell's The Elementals.

A quote from his review:

"The Elementals is a fine novel with the quirky characters McDowell does so well, his usual rich and allusive writing, and a deep sense of 'the Southern way of life with its pervasive friendliness, its offhanded viciousness, its overwhelming lassitude.' "

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Book of Lists: Horror

In The Book of Lists: Horror, Poppy Z. Brite contributed a list of top ten "Dine 'n' Die" stories in horror fiction. McDowell's The Amulet made the list due to a very special scene involving applesauce. I won't say more than that in case you haven't read the book.

Many other great authors (and filmmakers!) are featured in The Book of Lists including Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Stephen Volk, and loads more.

Oh, and James Jenkins (Valancourt Books) also has a list in this book: "The Ten Weirdest Gothic Novels."

You can purchase The Book of Lists: Horror here for a pretty good price.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Oyster Boy

I first came across this on Horror Drive-In which led back to An Empire of One. It appears McDowell may have originally written Tim Burton's "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy" in the late 80s. "The Oyster Boy" was submitted to Steve Bissette for inclusion in Taboo #8. It was submitted as a story written by Michael McDowell and included illustrations by Tim Burton. It was not used, but did get a shout-out in the issue:

"There were so many, many more [stories that had been completed, but not published in Taboo]: Michael McDowell and Tim Burton’s sardonic “The Oyster Boy,” completed but lost in the shuffle of Burton’s post-Batman career."

Many years later when Burton released "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy," he was listed as the sole author and gave McDowell a mere mention in the acknowledgements.

From Steve Bissette's blog:
My deepest regret over TABOO-related material was the loss of a set of photocopies. 
Back in 1987, before Tim Burton's life and career was turned upside-down by BATMAN, I was contacted by author Michael McDowell (author of many excellent novels, including GILDED NEEDLES and the BLACKWATER trilogy, along with many teleplays and screenplays -- including BEETLEJUICE). Working with his friend, filmmaker and artist Tim Burton, Michael had cooked up a story to offer TABOO, a delicious little illustrated verse tale entitled "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy." We received it in photocopy form. It was a marvelous slice of the macabre written and drawn in the style of Edward Gorey. I particularly loved Burton's rough sketches illustrating Michael's tale, and I was excited at the prospect of publishing such a gem. I wanted to publish it as it was, but Michael told me that Burton didn't want his rough sketches used; we had to wait for Tim to complete more polished pen-and-ink renditions.
I eagerly agreed, and then waited -- and waited -- and -- 
Well, you can imagine how it went. Once the BATMAN movie consumed Burton's affairs, "The Oyster Boy" quietly sank into the waves. A couple of years later, Michael called back to say they still wanted the story to appear in TABOO, and that I could go ahead and print it with Tim's original sketches. I was jubilant. The problem was, Tim couldn't FIND the original art, nor could either of them locate photocopies -- could I print from the set they'd sent me years before? 
To make a long, bitter tale short, we couldn't FIND the photocopies. We searched for AGES. I'm STILL looking. I traced every single set we had circulated: John Totleben had moved and thrown out all TABOO-related material; magazines and comic shops we'd sent photocopies to had since tossed or lost them; and so it went. To this day, I have found EVERY scrap of paper even remotely related to TABOO, except, of course, "The Oyster Boy." 
I practically did a jig when I found this nifty little hardcover book at a local bookshop. Here, finally, is "The Oyster Boy," headlining the showcase he long deserved. It looks exactly as it had been submitted to TABOO, lovingly reproduced from Tim's sketches. Burton's art is beguiling, and the accompanying stories are also grim delights. 
My only problem with this collection is the solo credit on the cover and title page proferring Tim Burton as the lone author. This seems deceptive at best. Through the events I've just described to you, I can attest to the fact that Michael McDowell wrote the Oyster Boy story; if you're at all familiar with Michael's own work, his voice rings loud and clear. I'd sure like to know who really wrote the rest of this book. Buried on page 115 are the acknowledgements, with "Thanks to" a number of writers -- prominent among them Michael McDowell. It seems fair to assume the others listed had a hand in the rest of the stories and verse, too. Can anyone out there provide some credits and credentials here? 
Those misgivings aside, this is RECOMMENDED, and makes a great gift.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fangoria #19, 1982 - Cold Moon Over Babylon

*Used with permission of Stanley Wiater

-Some spoilers ahead-

Fangoria #19, 1982 - Review of Cold Moon Over Babylon by Stanley Wiater

One of the many enjoyable qualities of Michael McDowell's The Elementals is the obvious good time the author had in writing it. Before the first chapter is at an end, and we are told of the very odd funeral customs of the Savage family in Alabama, the reader knows he is in good--if perversely twisted--hands with McDowell.

Appropriately enough, the novel begins at a funeral, where we meet the central characters of Dauphin Savage, his wife Leigh, and their elderly black maid, Odessa. Related to them by marriage are Big Barbara McCray, her recently divorced son Lukar, and his thirteen year old daughter India. India, however, was not raised along the coast of Mobile, but in the heart of New York City, where she naturally learned not to be afraid of anything she could see or hear. Of course, what she encounters at Beldame with the five others is like nothing she ever imagined could exist either in New York or in her worst nightmares.

And what's wrong with Beldame? It's unclear at first. Beldame is a tiny piece of land off the coast, cut off by water at high tide, where the Savages and McCrays have been coming to spend their summer vacations for the past thirty years. They stay in two of the identically built Victorian-style houses which comprise the only structures in existence on Beldame. It's not too long before India learns why no one ever goes into the Third House, a house which is slowly but steadily being buried by the wind-blown sand. . . . Of course, India isn't afraid like her cowardly relatives, and had no hesitation to sneak over to the Third House and peer inside a window not yet covered by the sand dunes. She even waves at the little black girl she observes playing inside the house. Only the little black girl tries to break out once she sees India, and when her mouth opens to speak, only a stream of sand pours out. And when India tells this to Odessa, she learns that the black maid had a little girl who supposedly drowned here at Beldame. Even though the body was never recovered, no one was willing to go into the Third House to see if she might have gotten trapped somehow in there.

As The Washington Post has already declared, "McDowell has a flair for the gruesome." He continues to display it in The Elementals (his fourth novel: the first three have also been well received critically); he not only knows how to create startling images of horror, but the novel could stand on its own because of the equally interesting characters, who, to be blunt, are very odd creatures themselves. In other words, McDowell already has the reader on the edge of his seat by describing the tensions and pressures his characters are going through just by being forced together in various unpleasant situations, such as Big Barbara's drinking problem, or the possibility that her husband intends to sell Beldame to a company looking for oil off the coast. McDowell then brings in, seemingly out of left field, the icy touch of the supernatural--and effectively makes the reader's skin crawl.

This reviewer, for example, counted no less than five times when he experienced that feeling which the French call frisson, which is a more concise way of describing how a particular line or image in a horror story/movie gives you goose bumps up and down your arms. It's difficult to think of a better compliment to bestow.

McDowell knows exactly what he is doing, from the first page to the last. When the being inhabiting the Third House (the Elementals--the spirits) begin to move into the first two houses, the reader is swept along as McDowell refuses to allow us to outguess him as to which characters will survive to the end. For a while, we're lulled into thinking that these Elementals are really without any material substance, that they can scare us--but not physically harm us. They're just elements of sand and wind. That is, until the lights go out and something grabs India's ankle and almost tears her foot off just as she is about to escape from the Third House.

McDowell is fast becoming a writer to be respected, and is clearly destined to achieve greater glories as a horror novelist. At a talk at a recent convention McDowell mentioned how, when he writes horror, "I can only take it out of myself. I can only take the sort of things which scare me, and they're sort of formless, but I try to transfer that . . . so when I run out of nightmares, I don't know what I'm going to do! In The Elementals, I use some of my worst nightmares. I wrote that late at night--which was a real mistake. I wrote between twelve and two every night, and I would have to stop at two o'clock because I was so scared to be in the room alone, and come downstairs and go to bed. But I think eventually I'll run out of nightmares. I wake up in the middle of them and write them down, intensely grateful that something else has come my way!"