The Red Lamp

The Red Lamp
Mary Roberts Rinehart | Dell Books | 1954 | 312 pages

After the death of his uncle, William Porter inherits a remote estate with a checkered history. Formerly occupied by a medium, the seances held there reputedly succeeded in summoning the spirit of man who died a violent death in the house. Prior to moving in to the inherited estate, William’s wife, Jane, experiences a strange vision of his late uncle, seeing his ghostly form manifested among a group of people.

Jane’s growing sense of unease finally prevents the couple from moving in to the main house, instead occupying a smaller cabin on the estate. Through a letter of introduction by a mutual friend, William rents out the house to a reclusive writer, an elderly invalid accompanied by a young assistant. The general sense of fear instilled by Jane’s vision only intensifies, however, as a strange series of sheep killings plagues the local countryside.

Told primarily through a series of entries in William’s journal, the couple–joined by William’s niece and her intended beau—experience a growing number of seemingly supernatural experiences, from mysterious lights to ghostly visitations. After a shocking murder rattles the village, William begins to suspect that the crime is somehow connected to their own supernatural encounters, and ultimately back to his uncle’s suspicious death.

The Red Lamp has all the elements to fuel its atmosphere of dread and superstition: a spooky old house, phantoms, multiple seances, psychic visions, and a string of potentially related murders. Under suspicion himself from the law, William plays the role of amateur detective, puzzling together a growing chain of small clues. Along the way, he challenges his own skepticism of the supernatural with a series of philosophical ruminations on the finality of death and the potential of a plane beyond, wondering if his uncle has indeed returned from the grave, and if so, for what purpose.

However, it’s the small individual moments of investigation—finding an altar made of stones, deciphering a letter written in code, breaking into a room to examine the signature characters struck by a typewriter—that work best, generating a much greater level of interest than the whole overarching span. Strangely, the journal format runs out at the denouement, supplanted by a stodgy dump of information that summarizes the events and unmasks the true culprit, but structurally fails as a payoff to the narrative.

Sisters of Death

Sisters of Death | Starring Arthur Franz, Claudia Jennings, Cheri Howell, Sherry Boucher, Paul Carr, Joe E. Tata & Sherry Alberoni | Written by Peter Arnold & Elwyn Richards | Directed by Joe Mazzuca | 87 minutes | 1976

An occult-tinged sorority initiation leads to the death of a pledge in a prologue that teases a different sort of horror experience than the film actually delivers. 

[I watched Satan’s School for Girls. Satan’s School for Girls was a friend of mine. Sisters of Death, you’re no Satan’s School for Girls.]

Seven years after the hazing death, the surviving sorority members receive an anonymous invitation to a reunion in Paso Robles. Why Paso Robles; why NOT Paso Robles? Seemingly unfazed by their tragic past—or irresistibly drawn to the prospect of a full welcoming champagne brunch—they gather at a remote estate, only to find themselves trapped and isolated inside an electrified fence.

I really don’t think you should take a shower.

The purported culprit of this proto-slasher reveals himself early, as the sisters begin to be killed one by one. For a seventies horror, the film is remarkably tepid, almost playing like a made-for-TV project. The kill sequences are mostly bloodless, and the most suspenseful scene arguably involves a tarantula crawling across a bed. Later, the film resorts to another potential animal attack, this time a rattlesnake, to wake up its audience. Even after abandoning all pretense of reason with a laugh-inducing set-up involving a character announcing that—in the middle of all the murders—she intends on taking a shower, the ultimate payoff fails to generate any shock or titillation. 

Logic unravels completely at the finale, but the unexpected introduction of a gatling gun almost compensates.

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Conan | Conan the Barbarian #1

Conan | Conan the Barbarian #1
Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter | Ace Books | 1967 | 221 pages

The Thing in the Crypt (Carter & de Camp)

The introductory tale to the collection reads like a single scene, brisk and to the point, with a hair-raising payoff that prefigures the choices presented in choose-your-own-adventure stories or D&D campaigns.

Fleeing a hungry pack of wolves, Conan discovers the remnants of an ancient high altar hidden deep in a cave. The mummified corpse of a long forgotten king is seated upon the throne, with a gleaming sword held across its lap. The fantastic blade beckons Conan to pick it up. What could possibly go wrong?

The Tower of the Elephant (Howard)

The second story plays like a heist, only Barbarian style—without anything remotely resembling meticulous planning, but featuring plenty of run-right-in-and-take-it action.

Scaling a bejewelled tower to plunder the Elephant’s Heart, a fabled gemstone imbued with magical power reputedly hidden inside the walls, Conan battles against a pack of guardian lions and a pig-sized spider before ultimately facing off against an evil wizard. However, the reveal of the gem’s namesake infuses the simple attempted theft with an unexpected sense of melancholy, and throws open a window on an entirely new cosmology.\

The Hall of the Dead (Howard & de Camp)

Joined by the sole survivor of a team of soldiers ordered to capture him, Conan plunders the ruins of the fabled metropolis of Larsha. 

Once inside the walls of the cursed city, Conan tracks through a sticky trail of ooze on the ground, leading him into battle against a fantastic creature — or a simple, gargantuanly grown, garden pest — that puts the musclebound Cimmerian unexpectedly on the run. 

The treasure room scene treads on some more overly familiar ground (and precipitates another action sequence) as Conan discovers seven brilliant gems on a low altar, with only the sightless gaze of seven seemingly dead guardians to view the theft—-until he drops the gems in his pouch. 

The epilogue in the tavern provides a satisfying reversal of fortune, as Conan attempts to spend the spoils of his pillage. Although he perhaps fails to recognize any greater moral to his tale, Conan does display a good-natured allegiance to the phrase, “Honor Among Thieves”.

The God in the Bowl (Howard)

When a guard stumbles across Conan standing above the body of the slain master of the house, a murder mystery of sorts ensues with the local constabulary standing off against the muscular Cimmerian.

The inquisitor’s focus eventually shifts to an unusual item of interest: an ancient burial urn now standing open in a chamber adjacent to the murder room. Comparable to a suspenseful chamber piece, tensions among the group ebb and flow, ultimately being released with the sudden beheading of a pompous young aristocrat. In the wake of this violent act, the former occupant of the sarcophagus-like object reveals its otherworldly nature, setting the (now cleared) stage for a horrific climax.

Rogues in the House (Howard)

Conan descends into the murkiness of palace intrigue after agreeing to assassinate Nabonidus, a corrupt high priest, in exchange for being released from prison.

All does not go according to plan, however, as Conan ultimately finds himself trapped in the sewers below Nabonidus’ manor with the young nobleman who hired him, and —- unexpectedly —- his intended victim. Seemingly, the priest’s strange ward Thak, a hairy beast akin to a missing link in man’s evolution, chose this night to run amok and kill everyone in the great house. The unusual threesome strike a new alliances to evade Thak’s murderous rampage, and escape the rooms above—-rooms set and loaded with diabolical traps blocking their route to freedom.

Although capable of fantastic violence and possessing little understanding of the complex rules of society, Conan’s actions illustrate the barbarian’s unwavering internal moral compass, set in stark contrast to the duplicity of the highborn classes.

Plus a brutal creature fight.

The Hand of Nergal (Howard & Carter)

While engaged in some battlefield carnage as a mercenary, Conan witnesses a nearly apocalyptic attack by ethereal, bat-shaped beings. Awakening after the onslaught to discover himself alone in a sea of corpses, he is recruited by a young girl to aid the local king in his battle against a powerful sorcerer. It seems the dark magician has gained possession of a legendary ancient artifact, giving him control over unimaginable forces of darkness.

After building a bit of lore surrounding the Hand of Nergal, and its opposing talisman, the Heart of Tammuz, Conan sets off for the throne room to confront the mage and destroy the evil object.

Ultimately rescued by the girl from the immediate threat of the shadowy demons released from the Hand, Conan essentially stands back and watches the battle of opposing cosmic forces, reduced to a light show playing before his eyes. 

The City of Skulls (Carter & de Camp)

While escorting Princess Zosara to her betrothed in a distant land of Khan nomads, a swarm of savage attackers descends upon the wedding party. Along with Zosara, Conan and his fellow mercenary Juma are the only survivors. The trio of prisoners are led across the rugged Talakma mountains to the remote kingdom of Meru. Once inside the capital of Shamballah, a sacred city festooned with images of skulls, they are brought before King Jalung Thoma to learn of their fate.

It’s all stage setting for a few action pieces, including Conan and Juma making a particularly bone-crushing escape from a slave galley. Later while stealthily working their way through passages under the city, they —quite fortuitously—emerge in the high temple during a ceremony with the captured Zosara. Conan unexpectedly discovers the true nature of the power held by the “toad-like little god-king”, battling yet another monster-come-to-life-by-wizardry, and confirming the understandable rationale behind the barbarian’s superstitious fear of the uncanny.

Brand of the Werewolf | Doc Savage #5

Brand of the Werewolf | Doc Savage #5
Kenneth Robeson | Bantam Books | 1975 | 138 pages

Taking a transcontinental train to his uncle’s remote Canadian cabin (for a brief respite from his adventures in fighting against evil), Doc Savage and his gang of super-scientist companions are the target of a strange, silent attack. An odd trio of other passengers—the “swarthy” Señor Oveja, his ravishingly beautiful daughter Cere, and the “girl-faced” El Rabanos—set a trap to frame Doc for a similar attack, and subsequently, for the murder of the train’s conductor.

Disappointingly, this entry in the action series does not settle into a parlour mystery set aboard a speeding train. Soon, Doc and his friends are off the train, following Oveja and company to uncle Alex’s cabin, where the senior Savage has recently died under mysterious circumstances. Overseeing the remote estate is Doc’s cousin Patricia, a beautiful young woman who shares the bronze hero’s statuesque build and metallic coloring. 

Unfortunately, Patricia’s Native American household staff falls victim to the cheap stereotyping so common in the Doc Savage series. Patricia’s handyman, Boat-face, speaks almost exclusively with offensively bad retorts of “Him bad medicine” or “Him heap big coward.” Patricia actually punches him in the eye for being insolent, toppling him out of their canoe. Meanwhile, Boat-face’s “squaw”, Tiny, is a rotund woman who constantly chases him around with a raised rolling pin.

Patricia herself is also a sadly underdeveloped character. Sharing few of her cousin’s superhuman traits, she mostly seems to exist in order to provide a victim in need of the occasional rescuing. In one sequence, Doc incapacitates her with a specially applied nerve pinch, and bodily carries her to safety tucked under his arm.

The story is replete with the expected action sequences, as Doc eventually battles a criminal gang in a race toward an unlikely pirate treasure. Monk and Ham trade quips, and compete to win over the attention of Patricia (whose notable physical resemblance to Doc may posit an unintentional question surrounding the true object of their attraction). Doc’s other team members produce an unexpected amount of gear from luggage intended to support a fishing trip, while all paths finally converge on a shipwreck in an underground cavern.

The resolution relies too much on a multitude of actions performed by a key character, but the circumstances of his death ultimately defy the very logic of those actions.

…and most unforgivable of all, Doc
never wrestles a werewolf, as promised on the cover.

The Polar Treasure | Doc Savage #4

The Polar Treasure | Doc Savage #4
Kenneth Robeson | Bantam Books | 1965 | 122 pages

A map tattooed on the back of a blind violinist leads Doc and his crew on a chase for lost treasure in the frozen wastes of the uncharted Arctic.

After attending a concert (featuring a classical piece he wrote anonymously), super crime-fighter Doc Savage thwarts an attempt to assault the orchestra’s blind violinist, Victor Vail. The criminal ringleader spouts enough nautical gibberish (“Sink ‘im, mateys! Scuttle ‘im! Well, keelhaul me!”) to his henchmen during the attack that Vail recognizes the voice from his tragic past. 

Fifteen years previously, Vail was among a handful of survivors aboard the Oceanic, a passenger ship that was lost among the arctic icefields off the coast of Greenland. Although his wife and daughter were purported casualties, Vail himself mysteriously had no recollection of the actual sinking. Unaccountably blacking out just prior to the disaster, he awoke afterwards with a strange, stinging sensation on his back, carried away with a small band of the surviving crew members. Vail recognizes the salty voice of his attempted kidnapper as belonging to a leader of an opposing faction of that crew, whose men instigated a violent internal struggle before splitting off from the others.

After Doc discovers the Oceanic carried a wealth of gold and jewels as its cargo, he embarks on a race against two rival gangs in order to beat them to the treasure, and uncover the true fate of the ship and its passengers. Although Doc’s five super-genius companions disappear for a time, they have enough time to engage in the trademark adventures of the series: plentiful instances of fisticuffs, gunfights, and gadgetry that propel each short burst of a chapter to the next. 

Long Tom (the electrical wizard) fiddles with the radio set, Renny (the engineer) beats down doors with his gigantic fists, Johnny (the archaeologist) assesses the group’s chances with the local terrain and population, while Monk (the chemist) and Ham (the lawyer) exchange enough corny insults to put an old married couple to shame. Ham and Renny even engage in a brawl with the walrus-like captain of a polar submarine that prefigures Doc’s own fight with an actual polar bear. 

SPOILER: he virtually punches it to death.

The implicit racism of the era that unfortunately informs many of the characterizations in the series is also demonstrated in this installment. The eskimo fighters are almost universally referred to as fat, greasy, or foul-smelling, and one attacker is specifically derided as a “greasy eater of blubber.”

Doc’s abilities and goodwill are nearly limitless, and he even takes time to perform a miraculous surgery on Vail, completely restoring the sight the violinist has been without since birth. However, an offhand remark suggests that his surgical skills are also directed to more dubious concerns, at least to modern sensibilities. Rather than sending his apprehended criminals to the police, Doc admits to sending them to a secret, extralegal installation in upstate New York, where advanced brain surgery modifies their behavior and facilitates a medical restraint from future criminality.

As Renny would say, “Holy cow!

Meteor Menace | Doc Savage #3

Meteor Menace | Doc Savage #3
Kenneth Robeson | Bantam Books | 1972 | 140 pages

A screaming comes across the sky.” 

[Stop.] That’s Gravity’s Rainbow. [Restart.]

A cosmic blue light and shrill whistling comes across the sky, rendering those unfortunate witnesses on the earth below into brainless automatons. That’s Meteor Menace, third entry in the Doc Savage series of proto-super hero adventures originally written in the thirties.

About as far from Pynchon post-modernism as possible on the page, the two-fisted, globe-trotting action series functions as a travelogue of sorts; only the food is always terrible and the locals are less than civilized.

While dedicating a hospital in South America, Doc Savage — multi-disciplined super genius, international crime fighter, and all-around astounding physical specimen — is approached by the beautiful young Rae Stanley in an appeal to aid in the rescue of her father. Professor Stanley, a world-renowned astronomer, disappeared in the wilds of Tibet on a mission to research a legendary blue meteor that reputedly struck somewhere in the desolate wastes of the high Himalyan plateau. 

Before fully investigating Rae’s plea for help, Doc and his five-man crew of super-scientists–Johnny, Renny, Long Tom, Monk, and Ham–come under attack by a group of Tibetan mercenaries, who all seem to speak in a stereotypical jet of colloquialisms (“Lower the box, offspring of silly partridges!”). The group’s leader is Shrops, a cockney Englishman who whose own speech is characterized by an affected dialogue style (“Not ‘arf bad o’ you t’ let me com hup.”). Shrops control over the Tibetans stems from his power to summon the Blue Meteor, an aeronautical anomaly that reduces those in close proximity to gibbering idiots.

Doc and his crew become such unwitting victims after the meteor passes overhead, until unexpectedly awakening from their meteor-induced stupor in a small house in Tibet. Maneuvered by Shrops to find and eliminate his former crime-lord boss and rival, Mo-Gwei (modestly self-titled “The Devil-faced, Master of the Blue Meteor, and Future Master of All Mankind.”), Doc’s sojourns into the Tibetan interior will bring him to the source of the Blue Meteor, while ultimately uncovering the secret surrounding the fate of Rae’s father.

In each chapter, Doc advances through an escalating series of scrapes, abductions, rescues, brawls and gunfights, all providing a modest set of cliffhanger action along the way. However, with his amazing strength, resourcefulness, and something akin to a utility belt full of remarkable (for the time) devices, Doc’s ability to overcome any danger is never really in question.

Meanwhile, a fancy set of purple-striped pajamas offers a pinnacle of comic relief.

The Thousand-Headed Man | Doc Savage #2

The Thousand-Headed Man | Doc Savage #2
Kenneth Robeson | Bantam Books | 1975 | 150 pages

Proto-superhero Doc Savage, Man of Bronze, and his crew–Johnny, Renny, Long Tom, Ham, and Monk–return for more two-fisted action, groan-inducing racial stereotyping, and no-apologies plundering of indigenous cultural treasures.

On a stopover in London, Doc Savage comes to the aid of Lucile Copeland, daughter of an explorer lost in the jungles of Southeast Asia. A single survivor of her father’s fateful expedition provides Doc with a strange black stick, allegedly the key to a mythological abandoned city that houses a vast treasure. Somewhere in the unmapped jungles of the region, the city is reputedly guarded by a single occupant—the legendary Thousand-Headed Man.

Doc, however, is not the only interested party in the elder Copeland’s fate, and the treasure that may be unearthed in discovering his whereabouts. Sen Gat, a mercenary crime boss, is also on the trail, and makes an attempt on the lives of Doc and his men in order to steal away the treasure key in their possession. Gunfights, kidnapping, and murder all ensue, leading to an air race across the globe to find the lost city in the jungle, and the riches that await its discovery.

Except for the notoriously long-winded Johnny, Doc’s companions fail to live up to their reputations as super-geniuses in their respective fields, generally barking monosyllabic replies to their situations. However, Monk the chemical genius does enact an unusually creative solution to hiding the black key (he melts it down and soaks the resulting liquid in his undershirt).

Sen Gat is depicted as a colorful villain, with his curling fingernails covered in gold, but Doc’s foil also suffers from the inherent racism against Asians so pervasive in the popular culture of the era in which the book was written. Virtually every description of Sen Gat and his gang make reference to their slant-eyed appearance, inscrutable ways, and singsong English; “Velly solly.” This baked-in obstacle to enjoying the pulp action is in no way exclusive to the Doc Savage series, but is certainly a potential warning signal for those readers understandably unable to contextualize the offensive content. Even an intended altruistic finale, with Doc declaring his portion of looted treasure going to the construction of local hospitals, reinforces the racist notion of a white man’s burden—or bronze man, perhaps, in this case. Monk even attempts to justify their theft by arguing, “Their ancestors probably swiped it from the original owners.

Once Doc and crew finally disembark their aircraft in the jungle, they are stalked by a strange entity and suffer inexplicable black-outs. Lucile Copeland even insists she gets a glimpse of a man with a thousand heads outside their camp. This enjoyable sense of suspense as they delve deeper into the jungle doesn’t last long enough, however, as explanations soon enough deflate the air of mystery. Seemingly recycling the finale of the first installment in the series, Doc and company eventually find themselves holed up in a temple, shooting it out with waves of incoming enemy fighters.

Still, there are enough menacing crocodiles, escapes from writhing snake pits, deadly encounters with cultists, and squealing escapades with Monk’s pet pig, Habeas Corpus, to keep turning the pages

The Man of Bronze | Doc Savage #1

The Man of Bronze | Doc Savage #1
Kenneth Robeson | Bantam Books | 1975 | 170 pages

There is not a thing he can’t do, I reckon.

Fisticuffs! Shootouts! Airplane dogfights! Proto-typical superhero Doc Savage and his band of adventure-seeking super scientists propel themselves through what amounts to an origin story, all told in a breathless style simply describing the action. With exclamation points! Lots of exclamation points!

After surviving an attempt on his life by an unknown, red-fingered assassin, Doc discovers a bequeath by his late father, granting him a significant land holding in the Central American country of Hidalgo. Doc’s father instilled an unmatched drive and sense of discipline in his young son, whose years of mental and physical training have developed his mind and body into an unprecedented paragon of human perfection. That very perfection also undermines almost all suspense, because Doc will surely pull upon his unlimited knowledge of chemistry, biology, archaeology, engineering, law, medicine, or surgery to overcome any obstacle in his way, not to mention his seemingly superhuman physical prowess.

Doc’s team of all-star scientific experts—Johnny, Renny, Long Tom, Ham and Monk—are rarely called upon to exert their (alleged) collective genius, reduced to providing support by punching walls, firing off pistol rounds, ribbing each other, or shouting exclamations.

We’re sitting pretty!

Knock on wood, you lunk!

Fooey–we’re lost!

Originally written in the thirties, the story displays the inherent racist and colonial attitudes characteristic of the day. Condescending views towards Latin America, lazy or corrupt local citizens and officials, and an endless stream of swarthy villains all contrast the perfection of our intrepid band of white explorers. Even the gold resources of a lost kingdom are all served up to these new conquistadores in their pursuit of global adventures. Lacking details regarding his heritage, Doc’s status of exemplar of his race is still curious, particularly given his dark (albeit metallic) complexion; Chalcolithic-American, perhaps?

After accepting Doc’s naturally bronze skin and golden eyes, perhaps the most difficult question to answer remains, “What’s the story with his waterproof hair?

The Hephaestus Plague

The Hephaestus Plague
Thomas Page | Bantam Books | 1975 | 217 pages

Once you crack the chitinous shell of disbelief, the Hephaestus Plague delivers a skittering, insectile variation on the animals-run-amok theme so prevalent in seventies ecological horror.

Following an anomalous earthquake in a small North Carolina town, a previously unknown type of beetle issues forth from a newly-created fissure in the earth. Completely blind and equipped with an impenetrable shell, this throwback species living underground since prehistoric times also possesses a unique anatomical feature — two flint-like back legs capable of sparking fire. As a series of fatal fires spreads along the east coast, reclusive entomologist James Parmiter leads the academic drive to find a way of stopping the insects and their apocalyptic threat to society.

The details of the beetle’s cross-country march (via the tailpipes of cars) and their fiery reign of destruction are delivered in an almost clinical, detached state of observation. This sense of removal from affairs starkly contrasts Parmiter’s growing obsession with the beetles and the mystery surrounding their reproductive process. Withdrawing into the dingy confines of his basement laboratory, Parmiter arguably descends into madness as he conducts breeding experiments, first to unlock any potential vulnerabilities, but later to unknown ends.

After Parmiter successfully cross breeds the fire beetles with a common domestic species, events unmoor from any pretense of clinical foundations and take a firm detour into the realm of weird science. Swarming over his experimental notes and listening to his voice, the beetles develop an understanding of language, communicating with Parmiter by assembling words through formations on the wall: “Parmiter”, “No”, and eventually, “Kill”.

Parminter’s relationship with his experimental beetle Goldback recalls the special animal bonding formed with the rat from Willard, with Goldback following Parmiter from his bowl and listening attentively from his perch on the windowsill. Parmiter’s fog of madness obscures his motivations to the degree that his goal is uncertain. Is he attempting to stop the plague of beetles, or facilitating it?

A brief flirtation with body horror, after Parmiter’s lab assistant develops odd symptoms following a bite on the hand, ultimately leads nowhere, although another transformation akin to an interspecies amalgamation is later hinted. The expected heebie-jeebies in a purported insect horror are also mostly absent until the finale, when a character pushes knee-deep through a swarm of beetles.

Dreadful Hollow

Dreadful Hollow
Irina Karlova | Paperback Library | 1968 | 221 pages

Young Jillian Dare accepts a position as a companion to the aging Countess Ana Czerner in her hulking Grange manor estate, only to discover herself trapped in a mysterious, secluded world of burgeoning horror. Obvious clues will dampen the mystery, however, as early descriptions of Eastern European heritage, blood-red lips, sharp teeth, and an aversion to garlic all but scream “VAMPIRE!” to Jillian, who seems stubbornly resistant to hearing it.

Chapters periodically alternate between those from Jillian’s perspective and journal entries from Larry Clyde, a young village doctor who becomes enamoured with Jillian and fixated on her continued well-being at Grange manor. “Miss Muffett”, Clyde’s arguably belittling and infuriatingly repeated pet name for Jillian, actually proves well chosen, since Jillian behaves as a total naif throughout the course of many sinister developments. Although she senses a general presence of enveloping danger, she remains nearly oblivious to the threat from the “spider who sat down beside her”.

Dreadful Hollow mostly succeeds in delivering a rich mood of decay and despair, heightened by a grotesque cast of supporting characters. Grange manor is initially populated by a withered household servant and a mentally defective gardener, but they are soon joined by a sinister Romanian doctor along with the voluptuous Vera Czerner, Ana’s young and magnetic niece. Her lips, like those of her aunt, are luxuriously red and reveal the occasional glimpse of stunning white teeth, posing two questions:

Why are they never in the same room together?

How does Jillian not know the answer?

Dr. Clyde makes a nominal effort to uncover whether or not Jillian is simply crazy, traveling to London to question her family in regard to her mental history. His attention is momentarily piqued by Jillian’s younger sister—who appears to have mental issues—until she is revealed to only having been dropped on her head as a child!

When a village boy goes missing and the evidence ultimately points to the occupants of Grange manor, the combined pressure of the village constable and Dr. Clyde finally elevates the long-simmering suspicions about the countess(es) to a boiling point. Interestingly, the resolution to the child’s whereabouts and to Countess Czerner’s strange condition all unfold at a distance, with little explicit first-hand detail. Instead, a general hot-house environment of evil intentions permeates Grange manor, providing enough anticipation to overcome any inherent final lack of surprise.