Bigfoot

Bigfoot
B. Ann Slate & Alan Berry | Bantam Books | 1976 | 171 pages

Jane Goodall said the Bigfoot subject was fascinating and wished us all good luck.”

Comparable to a contemporary embedded journalist in a war zone, co-author Alan Berry joins Warren and Lewis Johnson, brothers and seasonal hunters, in their Sierra Nevada cabin to record their recurring encounters with a group of communicative, if ultimately camera-shy, sasquatch.

The resulting accounts, recorded over a period of several stays in the cabin, are the most traditional Bigfoot tales in this purportedly non-fiction compendium of facts regarding the “Bigfoot Mystery.” The creatures skirt the perimeter of the brothers’ camp, vocalize in what seems to be an attempt at communication, bang sticks against nearby trees, and leave behind astonishingly large, quasi-human footprints. Other than a fleeting glimpse of a dark shape entering the woods, however, the beasts remain elusive to actually being sighted by the men in camp.

The scope quickly expands to other obsessions of seventies pop-culture, first with the contributions of two persons “gifted with extrasensory perception (ESP)”. The psychics claimed to find a telepathic link with the Bigfoot group, revealing the interpersonal [inter-bestial?] dynamics of what amounts to an extended family unit of the creatures visiting the Johnsons’ cabin and surrounding area.

Other anecdotes follow, detailing the various close encounters unsuspecting people have experienced with the foul-smelling, rock-throwing, upright-standing hairy beasts who vanish as quickly as they appear, leaving behind only a pattern of gigantic footprints (with a variously documented number of toes). Psychic phenomenon resurfaces later, with a teenager in Southern California claiming a telepathic-hypnotic link (or “mind-grab”) with the creatures, seemingly intent on summoning him away from his fellow campers for unknown purposes. Even more reports of the occurrence of hypnotic suggestion surrounding Bigfoot sightings lead the authors to speculate on the nature of Bigfoot’s ability to telepathically camouflage his appearance, even to the degree of rendering himself invisible.

What’s wrong with Jim? Is he on something?”

Conspiracy theories also begin to swirl around Bigfoot’s appearances. A potentially proto-human skull found near the Johnson cabin suspiciously disappears into the netherworlds of academic bureaucracy, after it is submitted to the anthropology department at UCLA for analysis. A number of sightings in remote forested areas are accompanied by reports of inexplicable underground mechanical noises, suggesting some sort of subterranean conspiracy on a grand scale.

But the ultimate expression of the supernatural fascinations of the era is the alleged link between Bigfoot and Unidentified Flying Objects. Various episodes of strange sightings, from lights in the sky to saucers or cigar-shaped metallic objects, correspond with confrontations with gigantic, hairy creatures. During one such Bigfoot-UFO encounter, a key witness to the events seemingly became possessed, issuing warnings of mankind’s imminent destruction of the planet.

“If they have been seen near UFOs, I would prefer to assume that the occupants of the UFO were just looking at the Sasquatch, or vice versa.”

The confluence of all the individual wacky elements propels this straight-laced, footnoted and annotated reportage into hyper-absurd overdrive. A telepathic, oft-invisible anthropological throwback working in conjunction with visitors from outer space (or another dimension) who may gain benefit by a conspiratorial league of underground facilities—perhaps the only element missing is a sighting in the Bermuda Triangle.

[Full Disclosure: The Loch Ness Monster is also briefly referenced.]

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To Walk the Night

To Walk the Night
William Sloane | Bantam Books | 1967 | 181 pages

Told primarily in a lengthy flashback, Berkeley (Bark) Jones recounts the strange story leading up to his best friend Jerry’s shocking suicide. Recapping the events of the last few months to Jerry’s father, Dr. Lister, Bark begins with the day of the “Big Game”.

Visiting their alma mater for a major football game with a rival team, Jerry convinces Bark to visit Professor LeNormand, Jerry’s mentor during his university days. LeNormand, an academic outcast who made many professional enemies with his controversial critique of Einstein’s Space-Time Continuum, lives an isolated existence in the university’s observatory. Upon their arrival, Bark and Jerry discover the still-smoldering remains of LeNormand, burned alive in his office chair.

The police are baffled by the circumstances of LeNormand’s death, but allow Bark and Jerry to return to New York City. Before they leave, however, they are shocked to learn that the stridently anti-social professor had married shortly before his death. Equally puzzling is Selena LeNormand herself, an alluringly beautiful, but strangely remote woman with seemingly no past life before her marriage.

Selena does not act like a grieving widow, and Bark is suspicious of her strange character and removed, out-of-sorts behavior. Jerry, however, immediately falls under Selena’s spell, and within a few weeks the couple become engaged.

With the compelling mystery of LeNormand’s death at its core, and the knowledge of Jerry’s suicide to come, To Walk the Night builds up the case for Selena’s implication through the accumulation of Bark’s small suspicions during his account to Dr. Lister. Although Bark’s tale ultimately leads to an expected conclusion, Selena’s role as a potential femme fatale leads to the examination of many individual clues as evidence of a greater, sinister purpose.

Beyond any potential cosmic or supernatural horror, however, Selena’s arrival succeeds as a drama describing the tension and insidious jealousy when a new romantic partner divides an existing male friendship. As roommates, Bark and Jerry behave like a married couple, cooking, traveling, and having picnics together. An exotic outsider changes a familiar dynamic, leaving one party resentful and full of recrimination.

Viewed as such, this disruptive template is recognizable in other stories of couple dynamics. For example, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Beatles—except for the:

***SPOILER***
breach in space/time and invasive, otherworldly presence

***END SPOILER***

Although, there are probably some who would still dubiously argue even those points.

Hell House

Hell House
Richard Matheson | Bantam Books | 1971 | 247 pages

Richard Matheson’s classic novel sends a group of intrepid psychic investigators, each with their own individual agendas and psychological baggage, to conquer the “The Mount Everest of haunted houses.”

A dying millionaire offers to pay Dr. Lionel Barrett one hundred thousand dollars to answer the eternal question, “Is there life after death?” Given only a single week to accomplish this task, the focus of the investigation is revealed to be the Belasco House in Maine, a notorious haunted house with a fatal history of failed parapsychological investigations. Along with his wife, Edith, Lionel’s team includes Florence Tanner, a spiritual medium, and Benjamin Franklin Fischer, a former psychic wunderkind—and only survivor of an attempt at unearthing the mysteries of Hell House thirty years prior.

Manifestations of the supernatural appear almost immediately after the team sequesters themselves in Hell House. Cold spots appear, furniture moves of its own accord, and Florence senses a deadly presence in the chapel. Later, she channels an unknown spirit during a séance with a more direct warning, “Get out of this house before I kill you all.”

Wringing a maximum of tension from what is essentially a four-character chamber piece, the incidents grow in frequency and intensity as the week’s deadline approaches. Although the group seemingly all acknowledge the source of the haunting as Belasco’s history of dark rituals and murderous debauchery at his mansion, they differ profoundly in their interpretation. Florence is convinced the ultimate source of the paranormal events is a spiritual haunting, with the ghost of Belasco himself perhaps commanding a group of other spirits trapped in the house. Lionel, a skeptic of mediums, seeks to prove a scientific basis for all supernatural events. He argues for the existence of a residual electromagnetic energy source, built up from a history of human actions, as the wellspring for paranormal occurrences, and aims to drain this energy field with a machine of his own creation.

Hell House itself serves as something of a fifth character. A brooding, oppressive atmosphere oozes from the gothic hulk, its rooms and corridors setting the stage for potential horrors. Pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo abounds, mixed along with ectoplasmic extrusions and spiritual possession, but the overall sense of dread is palpable. The arrival of Lionel’s machine telegraphs a final showdown with the controlling powers of the house.

However, Hell House provides a visceral ride, not just a malicious atmosphere. The characters are all beaten and abused over the course of the week, bruised and bloodied by the malicious forces at play. Glasses shatter, cutlery attacks, and sleepwalkers are directed to drown in the stagnant pond on the estate grounds. A violation from a wooden phallus protruding from an unholy, life-size crucifix in the chapel takes the abuse to a nearly absurd degree.

The constant attacks ultimately threaten to reduce the characters to broken dolls, tossed around inside a shaking, malevolent dollhouse.

The Priestess

thepriestess

The Priestess

Frank Lauria | Bantam Books | 1978 | 246 pages

Orient was sitting by the window, chin cupped in his hands, trying to synchronize his consciousness with the dim pulses of energy emanating from a plastic bottle cap.”

After an attempt on his life by a secret agency operating covertly within the CIA, Dr. Owen Orient sets aside his telekinetic research—and daily program of yoga and self-hypnosis—to flee from New York City to Miami. Taking a delivery position at a local mom-and-pop pharmacy under the name of David Clay, Orient settles into a mundane routine far removed from his previous life. However, when his new employer, Sam Fein, falls victim to a murderous voodoo cult, Orient becomes determined to finally stop running and stand up against evil.

Following a trail of clues back through a small-time beauty salon, Orient eventually identifies the criminal ringleader as Mojo Pay, a former NFL star and charismatic brujo, sorcerer priest of an organized crime syndicate practicing voodoo. Leveraging his own telepathic skills to win in Mojo’s casino, he captures Mojo’s attention and infiltrates his organization. Searching for any sign of weakness that could be exploited to topple the criminal empire, Orient finds his resolve weakening under the seductive charms of Mojo’s wife, and bruja, Cara O’Riley.

Orient always seems to fall for women in peril, making it his personal mission to save them, while brushing aside the ramifications of a shadowy network of psychic adepts—one of whom he encounters working as a restroom attendant in a Miami Beach hotel—controlling world events. Ultimately, The Priestess is an enjoyable mishmash of pseudoscience and mystic babble, propelling its protagonist through a landscape peppered with voodoo mumbo jumbo, lascivious zombies, sparkly piles of cocaine, and a sexual stamina battle-of-the-wills contest with a voodoo-practicing drug lord.

And for a true, era-appropriate exploitation coda, why not wrap up the overarching story with a Bermuda Triangle flavored deus ex machina?

The Guardian

theguardian

The Guardian
Jeffrey Konvitz | Bantam Books | 1979 | 293 pages

More supernatural shenanigans ensue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, as clueless residents and Vatican agents battle against Satan for control of the entrance to hell, in this sequel to Jeffrey Konvitz’s The Sentinel.

Ben and Faye Burdett seem to be happy in their new high-rise apartment on West 89th Street, with a close-knit group of neighbors on the twentieth floor to provide them with the necessary support to raise their infant son. Their only cause for concern is the blind nun next door who never leaves her apartment, and never ceases her perpetual vigil at the window. Their complacent lives are turned upside down, however, when Faye discovers a burned and disfigured body in the building’s trash compactor.

Due to similarities to the unsolved murders and disappearance of Allison Parker years earlier at the site of the former brownstone, the police consult with the now-retired Inspector Gatz, lead detective on the previous case. Gatz, who has somehow figured out that Allison Parker has been transformed into a Sentinel who guards the Gates of Hell, meets with Ben Burdett to warn him about the coming danger to his wife, who Gatz now believes may have been targeted by the Vatican as the next Sentinel. A series of shocking murders, along with Faye’s perplexing slide into catatonic shock, convinces Ben that Gatz’ theory is true. Ben steps into the role of detective, following the trail of bodies back to the secret organization pulling all the strings, in an attempt to save his wife from her forced destiny.

Since the central mystery of the location (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”), and its Sentinel has been stripped away at the start, The Guardian replaces the slow-burn suspense of the first novel with supernatural bluster. Rat attacks on nuns, invisible choking hands, in-door windstorms that propel their victims out of upper-story windows, and runaway subway trains characterize the near camp of this outing.

Charles Chazen, the kindly old man with his pet cat and bird (and embodiment of Satan), transforms here from the creepy figure in the first book into an occult bogeyman. Materializing in fields, underground tunnels, and lightning storms, he sends members of the Vatican team running scared with proclamations of Chazen is here! Chazen is coming! Chazen is in the building!

The only thread of mystery is the identity of the building resident that Chazen has assumed in order to get close to, and kill, the new Sentinel. As the bodies pile up around Ben Burdett, everyone seems to be someone else, but a paranoid sense of dread never materializes. The reveal of Chazen’s new identity emerges from a groan-worthy character reversal, in the form of a plot-twisting gender-swap, calling back to the opening series of prologues. Another related twist regarding the appointed Sentinel attempts to keep the interest in the story inflated as it lumbers toward the climax.

A largely unnecessary affair, The Guardian saves one final twist for the coda, resulting in a tease of a hell-loosed-on-earth that could have provided a more compelling starting point for a sequel.

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