Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder

Carnacki the Ghost-Finder | William Hope Hodgson | Sphere Books | 1981 (First published 1913) | 239 pages

I am not given to either believing or disbelieving things ‘on principle,’ as I have found many idiots prone to be, and what is more, some of them not ashamed to boast of the insane fact.

The telling of the ghostly tales is always the same. Carnacki gathers his long-suffering group of companions—Dodgson, Jessop, Arkwright, and Taylor—for a dinner, revealing nothing until the time is right. After settling into a comfortable chair with an after-dinner smoke from his pipe, Carnacki finally gives his captive audience what they want: a detailed account of his latest case of occult detective work.

Carnacki seems relentlessly cheerful in his retelling, imploring his friends to keep up by frequently peppering his monologue with repetitive calls of “Do you follow?” However, his breathless delivery seems to occasionally undercut any potential horror derived from the scene.

The cases vary from instances of hauntings to strange manifestations, but are not always supernatural in origin. A good fifty years before Scooby Doo ushered in its gang of meddling kids unmasking evildoers perpetrating ghostly deeds, Carnacki uncovers (The House Among the Laurels) the hidden wire used to mysteriously slam shut a door, and the secret ceiling recess where an otherwise inexplicable rain of blood drops originates.

Although drawing on some mystical properties, such as the defensive force provided by a pentagram drawn on the floor, Carnacki also utilizes a system of scientific methods to battle the forces of the occult. In The Gateway Monster and The Hog, he implements a battery-powered series of vacuum tubes that channel electric current to boost the effectiveness of the pentacle. Carnacki also elaborates, in some detail, the inherent powers of the spectrum, with a system of colored vacuum tubes providing an additional line of psychic defense.

Although some cases are revealed as frauds, most are ultimately supernatural in their origins. Psychic forces manifest in the material world, and Carnacki references an entire arcane body of work in his methodology. Drawing material from these fantastic texts, he battles instances of “induced hauntings” (The Horse of the Invisible) and psychical imprint of past evil deeds (The Gateway of the Monster), before facing his ultimate deadly test in The Hog.

Whereas most of the earlier accounts are retold with a breezy good humor, the tale of The Hog presents an epic struggle against a malevolent intrusion from an “Outer Level” of existence. Carnaki’s success, although foregone by the structure of the telling, seems tenuous. Saddled with his stricken client—who is incapacitated, and reduced to making grunting  noises—in a fragile series of electric-powered vacuum tubes installed to defend against a powerful psychical intrustion, Carnacki nearly succumbs to the black pit of an interdimensional void, through which comes the snout of a gigantic hog.

In addition to the previously cited metaphysical text references, this tale unpacks an entire cosmology on the nature of “psychic gases” in the solar system, the creatures spawned by it, and their intrusion into our world. But following all the long-winded pontificating comes relief, as Carnacki eventually finishes his tale and (once again) curtly dismisses his audience:

‘Out you go!’ he said using the recognised formula in friendly fashion. ‘Out you go! I want a sleep.’

John Silence

John Silence | Algernon Blackwood | Dutton | 1929 | 345 pages

It is, alas, chiefly the evil emotions that are able to leave their photographs upon surrounding scenes and objects….. It is unfortunate. But the wicked passions of men’s hearts alone seem strong enough to leave pictures that persist; the good are ever too lukewarm.

Granted a life free of financial concerns by a significant family fortune, John Silence pursued a medical career to advance his unimpeachably altruistic desire to help people. A highly attuned sense of empathy also proved conducive to matters of a more “psychical” nature. After an extensive, five-year study of the occult arts (left virtually undefined in these collected stories), John Silence became uniquely qualified to deal with cases of a special nature—as a psychic doctor.

Case 1 – Psychical Invasion

Felix Pender, a writer of humorous stories, solicits the help of Dr. Silence when a spiritual intrusion infuses him with a malady that robs him of his levity, and his ability to write. Reading mostly as a haunted house tale, Silence eventually confronts the sinister presence afflicting Pender with two unusual assistants. Smoke, a cat, and Flame, a dog, react to the ghostly menace in a long series of described actions. Author Blackwood seemingly charts their every prosaic movement, their every response to the unseen forces slowly building an assault against Silence. However, more than illuminating the abilities of animals on a more psychic level, these descriptions serve to slow down the action and bore more than enlighten.

In what will seem like pure camp to contemporary readers, the experimental use of marijuana is offered as one of the purported causes of the opening of the barrier between the spirit and the corporeal world, arguably placing the story into the canon of cautionary tales warning against the dangers of drug use. 

And you think,” asked Pender hastily, “that is all primarily due to the Cannibas?

Case 2 – Ancient Sorceries

In a case mostly recounted to Silence, Arthur Vezin, a timid Englishman traveling in France, describes the strange occurrences he encounters after compulsively leaving his train at a deserted stop in a remote village.

Ancestral memories, shapeshifters, and a Witches Sabbath add to an atmospheric tale of the strange denizens operating below the placid surface of country life. The moody foreboding and paranoia prefigures the modern folk horror of The Wicker Man, Harvest Home, and other stories of city folk encountering rural terrors.

Case 3 – The Nemesis of Fire

Retired soldier Colonel Horace Wragge calls for the services of Dr. John Silence following a series of strange occurrences plaguing the manor house that he occupies with his invalid sister.

Inexplicable heat, smoke, small fires, and burning circles in the woods outside the estate test the colonel’s ability to respond with a rational mind. The fires also evoke the strange circumstances of his brother’s death in the nearby woods nearly twenty years before, with his seared corpse exhibiting signs of scorching.

Introducing Mr. Hubbard, Silence’s sometimes confidential secretary, the twists of plot eventually reveal an unexpected ancient Egyptian connection—unexpected to all, perhaps, except Silence, who (although good-naturedly) early on taunts Hubbard at his inability to see through the metaphorical smoke to the source of the mystery.

The story succeeds as a grotesque horror, but the highly telepathic nature of Silence’s approach undercuts any real thrill of deduction. Although clearly empathetic and possessing a selfless desire to assist his clients, the almost front-loaded, intuitive psychic knowledge possessed by Silence makes him seem rather smug. Although his cheer and indefatigable spirit reinforce his humanity, his immediate and unerring telepathic insight deflates much in the way of suspense towards solving the enigmatic puzzle at hand.

Case 4 – Secret Worship

Harris, a travelling English silk merchant, returns to his childhood boarding school in southern Germany, only to find a secret brotherhood of devil worshipers. Silence once again exhibits a preternatural ability to predict events, allowing him to ultimately step in and save the day after an early chance encounter.

The quiet horror grows increasingly in volume as Harris indulges in childhood nostalgia, transforming a rose-tinted recollection of his school days into a deadly realization that he is becoming trapped among those who are ultimately not as they appear.

Case 5 – The Camp of the Dog

Silence comes to the aid of Mr. Hubbard, whose two-month camping trip on a remote island in the Baltic Sea outside of Stockholm turns into an outing in horror. Along with Hubbard, Reverend Timothy Maloney, his wife, daughter, and young student, are terrorized nightly by what appears to be a wild beast, stalking them and shredding their tents, but whose location on the small island is unable to be determined. After Hubbard witnesses the creature seemingly wink out of existence, and into the sleeping form of one of the campers, he realizes that Dr. Silence may be the only person capable of solving the case.

The story posits a unique spin on the traditional werewolf tale. Strong human desires, amplified by a natural setting stripped of the trappings of civilization, generate an astral projection of the basest instincts, which can take a non-human form. Unfortunately, an inherent streak of racism runs through the tale, with the “savage” blood of indigenous people also registering as an essential ingredient for the metaphysical transformation.

Case 6 – A Victim of Higher Space 

Racine Mudge, a man with a unique affliction, consults Silence for a possible cure. Through his own intense study, Mudge has gained the ability to travel into the fourth-dimension, but is unable to control his dimensional transits. The smallest external stimulus, even a few bars of Wagner (which, unfortunately, he encounters twice over his consultation with Silence), are able to send him into another plane of existence.

But perhaps even more horrifying than Mudge’s dilemma is the glimpse into Silence’s “Green Room”, a consulting space for clients equipped with triggers for the release of narcotic gas, and a secret spy-hole.

The Dream Detective

The Dream Detective
Sax Rohmer | Pyramid Books | 1966 (First published in 1920) | 191 pages

Adorned with his trademark brown bowler and gold-rimmed pince-nez, Moris Klaw spends his working days as proprietor of a small, out-of-the-way Wapping curio ship, offering for sale a selection of “seatless chairs, dilapidated chests, and a litter of books, stuffed birds, cameos, inkstands, swords, lamps, and other unclassifiable rubbish.” But when Inspector Grimsby of Scotland Yard encounters a case of uncanny dimensions, Klaw proffers his exceptional psychic abilities in service of its resolution.

Klaw is able to take the “odic impressions” that linger at a crime scene, producing something akin to a mental photograph of the thoughts and emotions experienced by the criminal. Assisted by his strikingly beautiful (and inexplicably French-accented) daughter, Isis, Klaw typically sleeps in the location the crime has occurred, allowing the psychic impressions to register on his hyper-sensitive brain. 

Along with Mr. Searles, who functions as a biographer of Klaw’s adventures (in the vein of Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes), Moris Klaw and Isis encounter a host of mysterious thefts, decapitated mummies, locked-door mysteries, country-house hauntings, and one seemingly outright case of possession over the course of this collection of ten short stories, first published as a magazine series in the 1910s. That era’s fascination with Orientalism is evident throughout, with references to the god Anubis, the cult of Isis, and many artefacts plundered from ancient Egypt.

The short nature and construction of the stories, however, preclude much interest beyond their general occult flavor. One after another, the stories follow a simple four-step beat: establish the odd details of the crime, introduce Klaw, take the equivalent of a psychic snapshot, then proceed to resolution.

A few stories amount to locked-door puzzles. A giant diamond is stolen among a group of men in a locked room in “The Blue Rajah” [no, it was not swallowed]. In “The Ivory Statue”, a life-sized statue disappears under the watch of its sculptor. Later stories take a more supernatural bent. A specter forces an heir out of his inherited estate in “The Haunting of Grange”, and nocturnal voices plague a reputedly haunted house in “The Whispering Poplars.” It seems merely window dressing, however, before the smug occult detective peels away the mystery with his “odic” powers.

Ultimately the failure of Klaw as a compelling detective is due to the nature of his psychic abilities, which essentially border on the magical. The lack of real process prevents any opportunity at play-along detective work on the part of the reader. No mechanics exist in Rohmer’s occult detective akin to the working of Poirot’s “little gray cells”, or even the singular focus of Holmes when “the game is afoot,” and the stories suffer for that lack.

What’s left beyond the superficial interest provided by the vaguely supernatural trappings of the individual cases? A recumbent detective with a silk pillow.


Anna Kavan | Popular Library | 1974 | 207 pages

A slippery treatise on all-consuming obsession and desire masquerading as apocalyptic science fiction, Ice exposes its protagonist’s unreliable nature early in the narrative, declaring his chronic suffering from headaches and insomnia and the resulting “horrible dreams” from prescribed medication.

The unnamed narrator returns to his hometown after a long absence, driven by a desire to see a girl whose affection was ultimately lost to a romantic rival. After a childhood of abuse from a sadistic mother, the girl (also unnamed but repeatedly referred to as “fragile” and “glass-like”) now lives trapped in an unhappy marriage, but does not relish the visit from her former suitor. Upon his arrival, she flees both men, escaping into an unknown future.

Against this broken love triangle, a strange climatic change unfolds over the town. An advance of ice and snow flurries marks the arrival of an unnatural cold season, driving polar weather across the country. Although details are not forthcoming, speculation suggests the pervasive temperature change is the result of some undetermined man-made event, perhaps nuclear in origin. News, it seems, is also not to be trusted.

The narrator sets off in pursuit of the girl, but his intentions are far from noble. His own recurring dreams and fantasies do not revolve around her rescue and potential rehabilitation, but objectify her as a delicate object to be bruised by his touch. His own sense of reality seems to blur between dream and fantasy, with descriptions of the advance of kaleidoscopic sheets of ice. These fantastic visions sometimes accompany specific, first-hand descriptions of the girl’s flight, details the narrator could not possibly possess.

Booking international passage on a freighter to a city on a fjord, the narrator witnesses the girl fall under the control of another man, a blue-eyed brute who ultimately becomes known as “the warden”. The relationship between the three establishes the motif for the entire novel. 

A travelogue of sorts ensues, sending the narrator through a string of various gray and ruined port cities, following the ephemeral trail of the girl and the various incarnations of the warden, who is by turn, city official, guerrilla fighter, or head of state. The girl remains passive, however, a frightened captive of her powerful keeper, but suspicious and afraid of the relentless advances made by the narrator.

Fractured sheets of mountainous ice continue to advance, laying waste to countries and precipitating civil wars, as the narrator keeps one step ahead of the tightening circle of glacial masses. He crosses frontiers and books passage to the next port of call in an attempt to confront the warden and take possession of the girl. But how literal is this world? 

And does the warden even really exist?

The girl flatly states how closely she views the intentions of both warden and narrator, shrinking and withering from the touch of both. Beyond acknowledging a growing, brother-like affinity towards the warden, blurring the boundaries between them, the narrator himself experiences a near body-switch, briefly occupying the warden’s body and experiencing a direct point-of-view from behind his icy blue eyes.

Ice ultimately answers no questions, but instead posits a rather dark view of human relations, characterized by perpetual cycles of control and victimhood. Its troubled characters occupy a greater, fatalistic world, one that traps its inhabitants in an existence beyond their influence, with no redemptive path out—perhaps save for a final relief hinted at by a gun stashed in the glovebox of a car.

Where Have All the People Gone?

Where Have All the People Gone?
ABC Made-for-Television Movie | Starring Peter Graves, George O’Hanlon, Jr., Kathleen Quinlan, Vera Bloom | Written by Lewis John Carlino & Sandor Stern | Directed by John Lewelleyn Moxey | 74 minutes | Originally aired on October 8, 1974

Two weeks ago I was manufacturing plastic cups…”

Steven Anders (Peter Graves) and his children David and Deborah (George O’Hanlon, Kathleen Quinlan) choose an auspicious time to explore some caves in the California foothills. While underground, a mysterious solar flare kills most of the exposed population on the surface, leaving the rest not instantly vaporized to rapidly sicken and reduce to a scattered white powder.

Fearing for the safety of his wife in their Malibu home, Steven gathers his children for a trek across the now post-apocalyptic landscape of Los Angeles for what, he hopes, to be a happy family reunion. Along the way, they encounter a dusty wasteland devoid of people, but eventually link up with a few other survivors: Jenny (Vera Bloom), a nearly catatonic woman who has clearly suffered some unspeakable trauma, and Michael (Michael James Wixted), a young boy whose parents were murdered by marauding car thieves.

Filmed around the Agoura Hills suburbs of Los Angeles, the film has a grubby, blistering atmosphere that benefits the bare-bones story. The  quintent’s odyssey across a barren, de-populated wasteland establishes Where Have All the People Gone? as an effective mood piece. Although David, a college physics student, eventually postulates the causes of the disaster, they are simply nonsensical.

Overlooking the pseudo-scientific chain of causality between solar flares, earthquakes, and human disintegration allows the opportunity to enjoy the human drama along the way—and some mostly under-realized animal attacks. Day of the Animals would later embody the when-animals-attack genre, but here we have a brief cat assault, an unconvincing dog menace (with what appears to be a taped-down snarl), and an actual threatening dog pack.

Due to its short running time limited for its TV-movie time slot, the ending feels rushed, and unexpectedly positive for such bleak subject matter. The five survivors make a convenient surrogate family, as they set off for their new life together with some unearned, manipulated good cheer.

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Damnation Alley

Damnation Alley
Roger Zelazny | Berkley Medallion | 1970 | 157 pages

He raised his goggles and looked at the world through crap-colored glasses….

Unlikely antihero Hell Tanner races across a post-apocalyptic American landscape to deliver a supply of vaccine to plague-stricken Boston—and clear his own criminal history—in Roger Zelazny’s two-fisted action tale.

The now independent nation of California, mostly spared from the nuclear hellstorm unleashed on the world a few decades prior, recruits biker Hell Tanner to drive a weapon-enhanced car cross country to transport a plague vaccine to the only other pocket of civilization remaining in North America. The car’s high-powered cannons, grenade-launchers, and flame-flowers, along with its armor plating and radiation shields, are needed to combat the dangers of the wasted landscape between the coasts.

Like Robert Mitchum’s character in Night of the Hunter, Hell Tanner has a defining tattoo inked across his knuckles. Instead of “Love” and “Hate”, however, Tanner’s is more fundamentally narcissistic: “Hell Tanner”.

Explosive bands of wind and radiation now swirl around the globe, prohibiting air travel and raining down rocks, boulders, schools of fish, and other debris picked up over the surface. Tanner’s car, along with two others, set out from California and are quickly met with giant swarms of cyclones,electric storms, volcanoes and other environmental hazards, along with attacks from giant mutated creatures.

Gila monsters the size of cars, giant bats, and gargantuan spiders capable of weaving webs across entire roadways now define the new fauna of “The Alley”. Soon, Tanner’s car is the only one remaining, and he encounters the additional threat that has now become a standard in post-apocalyptic fiction of all sorts: other humans.

Breathless action is the main hallmark here, with exposition describing Tanner’s progress and—usually violent–action against the threats encountered in Damnation Alley. However, a few pauses allow for breathing room to reflect upon the personal and societal nature of this new world, as Tanner interacts with vestiges of a lost humanity (with characters that are not overtly trying to kill him). Tanner hears the story of a former biologist, driven mad by his role in the violent overthrow and destruction of academia, thought to be responsible for the world’s destruction, and muses with a young boy on the inevitable disappointment of childhood dreams.

A rather short, poetic chapter on the nature of the new environment–under assault from  global windstorms–stands out from the singularly straight-ahead action of surrounding chapters, with their deadly rifleman attacks and the relentless pursuit of a biker gang.

The world building doesn’t always make sense, but the foot-on-the-accelerator pacing along with Tanner’s bad-guy-doing-the-right-thing attitude, but without a secret heart of gold, make Damnation Alley a run worth taking.

The Space Vampires

The Space Vampires
Colin Wilson | Pocket Books | 1977 | 123 pages

And you must have noticed very often that certain people seem to drain your vitality—usually rather dreary, self-pitying people. They are also vampires.

Expectations will need to be held in check with The Space Vampires, whose title may evoke a pulpy Vampire-Lovers-in-outer-space vibe, but whose reality edges closer to a languorous pseudo-intellectual rumination on the back-and-forth battle of psychic energy crackling between the sexes.

The story begins with promise. A routine space mission led by Commander Olof Carlsen encounters the first evidence of intelligent alien life, a seemingly abandoned fifty-mile-long ship filled with great, cathedral-like interior spaces. However, the ship is not empty; humanoid creatures are discovered in a form of stasis, housed in pods of some unknown material. Eventually, Carlsen returns to Earth with three of these alien subjects as specimens for research.

A great early shock occurs when the beautiful young female alien unexpectedly sits up in the research lab, and completely drains the life energy of a nearby reporter, reducing him to a dry husk. Carlsen witnesses the killing firsthand, experiencing a strange arousal–and passive lack of resistance– towards the alien before she escapes the lab into the outside world.

However, the action here takes a prolonged sidebar. Through his brief, but intimate contact with the alien at the lab, Carlsen quickly surmises her nature as an energy-stealing vampiric creature. Joined by Hans Fallada, research scientist and author of The Anatomy and Pathology of Vampirism, Carlsen travels to northern Sweden to visit Count Geijerstam, an eccentric recluse whose notoriety rose through his own investigations in the subject of vampirism.

At the Count’s remote estate, Carlsen, Fallada, and Geijerstam engage in long philosophical discussions on the nature and history of vampires. They ponder and bloviate at leisure on the inherent vampirism in all living creatures, but specifically the exchange of life energy transferred between the genders during sexual relations. The Count’s three beautiful young assistants put his theories into practice, with a back-and-forth series of attractions towards Carlsen that reveals his own latent vampiric ability.

After a hypnosis session and a psychic reading reveals a potential location of one of the space vampires, the action resumes as Carlsen and Fallada return to London. A prison for the criminally insane may hold refuge for a vampire, who has potentially swapped bodies with an incarcerated inmate. Another long discussion session follows between Carlsen, Fallada, and the prison warden on the nature of predators and prey, criminals and victims, and men and women, portending to a philosophical gravitas. The text demonstrates again its philosophical pretensions, far removed from the potential exploitative excesses of what could have been a chapter called Space Vampires in Prison.

Even after the head vampire is ultimately confronted, a long period of exposition follows. G’room, from a planet around the star Rigel, recounts the history of his race and their use of sentient creatures as food. Several major revelations are imperturbably recounted to Carlsen, including alien involvement in human evolution, the destruction of a habitable planet in our solar system (now the asteroid belt), and the existence of a race of giants on Mars. Of course, the alien could be lying, but the ramifications of these explosive allegations are tabled without much reflection.

Human beings were trivial; personal, self-obsessed, lazy, stupid, dishonest; a race of feeble-minded drifters, hardly better than imbeciles.

The possession by vampires of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, explained to be weak from his own self-deception and pandering nature, prefigures the unspeakable horror of certain contemporary political leaders; soulless, life-sucking creatures leaving a wasted and exhausted electorate in their selfish, attention-starved wake.

Adapted for the screen in 1985 by Dan O’Bannon as Lifeforce (directed by Tobe Hooper), the film deviates from the source material of and is mostly remembered today for its abundant female nudity.

Sign of the Labrys

Sign of the Labrys
Margaret St. Clair | Bantam Books | 1963 | 139 pages

Science fiction and witchcraft mix in this post-apocalyptic quest that reads like a progression of video game levels, although written over a decade before the appearance of the earliest gaming consoles.

After a yeast-based plague kills ninety percent of the human race, a handful of survivors have created the foundation of a subterranean civilization in a series of underground bunkers originally designed for shelter from a nuclear war. An aftereffect of the plague causes the survivors to experience a sense of growing revulsion in the prolonged presence of other people.

Sam Sewell’s life of menial labor–arbitrarily moving boxes back and forth between warehouses—is interrupted by an usual visit from the FBY (Federal Bureau of Yeast). FBY Agent Ames somehow suspects Sewell of knowing the whereabouts of Despoina, a mysterious woman who may have the key to the cure for the yeast virus still infecting underground survivors of the plague. 

Sam’s search for Despoina ultimately drives him deeper and deeper underground, with each new sub-level introducing him to unexpected vistas, strange residents and deadly traps. He encounters a beach front simulated out of hewn rock, a migratory wave of lab rats filling the corridors in a synchronized cycle, and a specially-clad decontamination crew freezing anyone suspected of harboring a yeast infection. 

A few instances of bubbly pox aside, this tale skirts the boundaries of conventional bio-horror. The yeast component and the fungal subsistence of the survivors sets it aside from the expected genre tropes, but the burgeoning intrusion of magic breaks all the conventions.

Wicca are people who know things without being told.

Sam develops an affinity towards Despoina, who is revealed to be the high priestess of a Wiccan cult. Sam’s own unlikely connection to Wicca unfolds through knowledge he seemingly unlocks at random, sketchily explained as ancestral memories bubbling up into his consciousness. At convenient moments, he displays previously unknown talents in mind-control and telepathy. These deus ex machina escapes tend to undermine the suspense of individual scenes by pulling out the rug from underneath the novel’s established parameters.

To reach the innermost level of the underground maze (a command center office conceived for use by the President of the United States during a nuclear attack), Sam discovers and initiates a matter transmitter, a forerunner to the Star Trek molecular transporter, to beam himself to his final destination—undeterred even by a series of dramatic test failures.

Too bad we can’t really fly on broomsticks.

After struggling with the laborious downward trek through multiple setbacks, dangerous pitfalls and hostile occupants, Sam would be perfectly reasonable to ask himself the question, “Why didn’t I know about this sooner?

Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons, cited the book (among a rather lengthy list of other titles) as an inspiration for the game [thanks, Wikipedia!], acknowledging the latent role-playing DNA embedded in the text.

Terror on the Beach

Terror on the Beach
Made-for-Television Movie | Starring Dennis Weaver, Estelle Parsons, Susan Dey, Kristoffer Tabori | Written by Bill Svanoe | Directed by Paul Wendkos | Originally Aired on September 18, 1973

A milquetoast dad and his family run afoul of a group of sadistic hippies during a camping trip on the beach in this modest made-for-television thriller with trappings of familial melodrama.

After their camper is run off the road by young hooligans in a dune buggy, Neil Glynn (Dennis Weaver) and his family proceed to an isolated stretch of California beach. Of course they are followed, but before the terror begins, family rifts are exposed as conversations around the campsite turn to matters relating to societal ills and the generation gap. DeeDee (Susan Dey) confronts her mother, Arlene (Estelle Parsons), over the role of the dedicated housewife in the burgeoning feminist era, while Steve (Kristoffer Tabori) decries his father’s ineffectual pacificim in dealing with their roadside tormentors. 

Interestingly, the father-son dynamic reverses the expected roles of the era, with the son advocating a more confrontational tactic. Steve’s potential call to violence seemingly contradicts his generation’s outrage over the war in Vietnam, and places his father in the position of humanizing the enemy. Steve’s view of his father arguably travels back yet another generation, channelling a bit of Jim Stark (James Dean) from Rebel Without a Cause, who suffers a near existential embarrassment toward his own emasculated father Frank (Jim Backus).

The motivations of the faux family of hippies is never really explained, as their torment of the Glynn family slowly ramps up from simple intimidation to creepy mannequin stunts, nighttime audio terrors, and eventual campsite destruction, escalating finally in a violent dune buggy chase on the beach. If anything, the Manson-lite group of long-haired youth serve as a sort of cardboard bogeyman to Neil Glynn’s perception of a straight-laced family unit. Ultimately, the elder Glynn will have his mano-a-mano moment, as he reaches deep inside for some latent violence in a beatdown against the cult leader.

Overall, the thrills are scarce, with the most unintentionally horrifying scene coming as an enthusiastic family sing-a-long of I Went to the Animal Fair around the campfire. For Susan Dey, it’s certainly no Laurie Partridge moment singing back-up vocals on Come On Get Happy. Perhaps in some universe there exists a missed crossover opportunity as Partridge Family Terror on the Beach—but unlike Neil Glynn, Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones) simply would not suffer the barbarity of a group of misbehaving flower children.

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Rogue Moon

Rogue Moon
Algis Budrys | Fawcett Books | 1960 | 176 pages

After the discovery of a possibly alien artifact on the dark side of the moon, research scientist Dr. Edward Hawks employs his experimental project in an attempt to uncover the mystery surrounding the strange lunar construct.

Dr. Hawks has created a matter transmitter capable of copying a human being on the particle level and beaming the information to a receiver on the moon. The receiver takes this subatomic blueprint and creates a duplicate human, assembling it from available lunar materials. The two identical brains–although separated by cosmic distances–are able to share a telepathic link, allowing the terrestrial human to download the memories from his lunar copy.

However, the alien construct functions as a deadly trap, killing any intruder in a matter of steps. The humans on earth are unable to process the memories of their deaths experienced by their projected selves, and are ultimately driven insane. This dilemma leads Dr. Hawks to seek out a new kind of test subject, one that will be better equipped to withstand the psychic damage created by this strange form of deadly exploration.

Enter Al Barker, a thrill-seeking daredevil who races fast cars and lives for the adrenaline rush of his next brush with death. Manipulated by Vincent Connington, a sleazy personnel director with an agenda of his own, into volunteering as Hawks’ next test subject, Barker seems the perfect candidate for the mission. His psychological makeup suggests that he possesses an inherent resistance to the mortal terrors produced by memories of death.

A man should fight…. A man should show he is never afraid to die. He should go into the midst of his enemies, singing his death song, and he should kill or be killed…. He must never be afraid to meet the test of his manhood.

Very little time is dedicated to exploring the deadly alien maze on the moon, however, as Hawks and Barker quip, counter, and pontificate on the nature of man. Hawks (the cold and sadistic clinician) and Barker (the hot-blooded alpha male) establish polar ends to a treatise on human nature, engaging in what amounts to a pissing contest for the attention of Barker’s beautiful but bored wife, Claire.

Such creatures are not to be thought of as good or bad. Not by mortal men…. They are born among us – car hops, dice girls, Woolworth clerks – but they rise to their heritage…. Woe to us who would pursue them on their cometary track.

Hawks lapses into long speeches on the nature of gender and man’s role in life, as Barker eventually suffers the effects of matter transmission and fears losing his hold over Claire. The characters are mostly unlikable, and when we finally glimpse the inside of the structure on the moon, it comes as a series of abstract descriptions. The most impactful images from within the maze involve Barker passing the corpses of his previously transmitted versions, who failed and were killed at some junction in their exploration.

After listening to much rumination on the nature of identity, Claire frames the overall experience most succinctly:

Why don’t you just shut up, Hawks? What do you do, go through life making speeches? You know what you are, Hawks? You’re a creep. A bore and a creep.

Notable at the time of publication for its psychological themes of inner space, Rogue Moon raises many questions on human nature but answers few, treating an alien monument as a device for reflection on mortality, rather than a gateway for conventional science fiction story telling.