Tag Archives: ESP

Dreaming Witness

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Dreaming Witness
Jean Davison | Berkley Books | 1978 | 218 pages

Chris Maguire has received psychic impressions since she was a child, frequently hearing the voices of strangers speaking in her head. Unable to turn-off the snatches of conversations or disturbing images that flood into her mind, she has long struggled with the anxiety caused by these unwanted telepathic intrusions. Postponing her impending marriage and honeymoon with her fiancé Brad, Chris volunteers to be a test subject for a psychic research study, hoping to discover a way to exert control over her “gift” and lead a normal life.

Professor Martin Lambert, Director of the Wellington Institute, engages Chris in a series of tests in his ESP dream lab. Waking her after periods of deep REM sleep, lab assistants question Chris on the details of her dreams to ascertain whether she has received the prearranged psychic signals that have been telepathically sent to her while sleeping. During the course of a routine test, Chris instead experiences the horrific vision of a murder—the brutal stabbing death of a young woman.

To her horror, the next day’s newspaper details a local murder with striking similarities to the one Chris witnessed during her ESP test session. Initially unwilling to contact the police, she ultimately has no choice when a transcript of her dream session—containing all the accurate specifics of the murder—is leaked to the press. The Chief of Police convinces Chris to ride along with Lieutenant Stephen Maravich, the detective assigned to the case, hoping that she receives another psychic impression that she will recognize as being from the killer.

Dreaming Witness exists in the sweet spot for the acceptance of psychic phenomenon, a time when pop culture (surrounding television shows such as Leonard Nimoy’s In Search of…) seemed to make ESP and telepathy almost a “scientific” certainty. Although Lieutenant Maravich has some initial reservations about her motivations, few other characters hesitate in accepting her extrasensory skills as genuine. However, other than occasionally nudging the investigation, Chris’ telepathic readings are hardly vital to the proceedings. In fact, by thoroughly checking the suspects’ alibis, the police should have found the critical piece of evidence without her extrasensory help.

Ultimately Dreaming Witness reads as a by-the-numbers entry in the I-saw-a-murder-in-a-psychic-vision genre, with its tepid central mystery failing to deliver much suspense. Although her cottage is broken into as a warning, Chris never seems to be in much personal jeopardy, with little sense of a tightening pressure to solve the case. The killer is eventually revealed after a series of interrogations, but his identity could easily be interchangeable with that of any other suspect without much impact. The final twist comes as expected, leaving Chris free to pursue Lieutenant Maravich as her new romantic interest—another happy ending for a psychic-meets-detective love story.

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The Mind Masters

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The Mind Masters
John F. Rossmann | New American Library| 1974 | 236 pages

Grand Prix driver Britt St. Vincent’s secret past overtakes him on the twisty mountain roads below desolate Skull Summit, California, as his Porsche is pursued and taunted by a phantom car. Recognizing his dead girlfriend at the wheel, he experiences a strange sensation of pain and dizziness, and blacks out. Britt awakens in the clandestine Mero Institute, whose director explains how Britt was not the victim of a supernatural visitation, but was intentionally summoned by a long-distance psychic suggestion.

Prior to his racing days, a secret government laboratory recruited Britt for his latent psychokinetic powers. The Harry Diamond Labs developed psychic warfare programs for the Pentagon in response to similar covert Cold War programs being developed by a host of unfriendly nations. Laboratory administrators even suspected that Richard Nixon’s erratic behavior during the Watergate years was a result of external mental directives created by such rival programs. However, when Britt discovered that human test subjects were being killed in laboratory-run experiments, he tried to flee—with disastrous results. Gayle Hillard, his girlfriend and fellow psychic researcher, was killed during their escape attempt by <dramatic pause> limb-enhanced cyborgs. Britt was only allowed to live if he agreed to never again participate in any form of psychic research.

The Mero Institute, a private non-governmental agency attempting to counterbalance the psychic warfare research being done at Diamond Labs, wants Britt to investigate incidents of hauntings around the world. The scientists at Mero believe that establishing a communications link to the spiritual world will assist in advancing their own telekinetic research. Britt and his specially selected team, using races on the Grand Prix circuit as cover, will seek out these ghostly hotspots and attempt to contact amenable spirits.

After 100 pages of dull back-story detail (which could have been reduced simply to “Race-car driver and psychic investigator, GO!!!), Britt and his team finally arrive in Sicily to investigate their first assignment: Castellum Mortis. An ancient Roman ruin perched on the edge of a volcanic crater, the Castle of Death is rumored to be the home of the vengeful spirit of its original owner. While doing some preliminary legwork in Palermo, Britt meets Maria Benudo, a Sicilian girl whose mother owns the local boarding house—and The Mind Master’s most thankless character.

Maria, a former Berkeley student, assists Britt in gaining access to the castle grounds. However, her back-story contains an unnecessarily ugly gang rape at the hands of a sex-slave ring. The violence in Maria’s past shifts to gratuitous sex scenes in the present, with her sheer dresses and easy availability relieving the occasional “stab of tightness…behind [Britt’s] scrotum.” The paranormal scientists posing as Britt’s racing crew also use her as a sounding board for the seemingly endless pseudo-scientific babble on the nature of their equipment.

***SPOILER ALERT *** Naturally, she is killed at the end. ***END SPOILER***

Britt’s research mainly consists of traipsing around the castle at night fiddling with the radio dials on the equipment. Even the haunted bedchamber provides fewer chills than head-scratching questions—an ancient Roman room with furniture intact? The restless spirit, and alleged focus of the paranormal investigation, plays an unusually small role in the conclusion, but a rival psychic agent fills the void, engaging Britt in an ultimate <final dramatic pause> battle-of-the-telekinetic-laser-eyes.

As the first book in a series, perhaps The Mind Masters works out enough of its convoluted long-windedness to benefit future installments. Blathering weird-science explanations and superfluous character history stall the small amount of action provided by Britt’s investigation. Chase a ghost, race a few laps on the Grand Prix circuit, and battle a psychic agent from a foreign government—what more do you really need?

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To the Dark Tower

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To the Dark Tower
Lyda Belknap Long | Prestige Books | 1969 | 191 pages

Young archeologist Joan Lambert returns home after encountering a strange supernatural force during a dig in Spain. While documenting the pictorial representations of witchcraft on the walls of a cave in the southern Pyrenees, a shadowy presence—which she vaguely perceives as a hawk-faced figure with talons—attaches itself to her. Even after fleeing the archeological site, Joan is visited several more times by the ominous force, usually accompanied by oppressive physical symptoms. Driving to meet her mentor, Dr. Wilfred Allen, at his Kentucky home, the dark intrusion manifests itself again in her car. She is able to shake off the attack, but a strange hooded figure in the roadway causes her to swerve and crash into an embankment.

Fleeing the crash scene, Joan runs into the town sheriff, who escorts her to safety. Dr. Allen has assembled a small team of psychologists and experts on occult phenomena at his home to assist Joan in battling her demonic affliction. However, the danger threatening Joan reveals itself to be greater than just the monstrous passenger accompanying her back from Spain. Looking out her guest room window the night of her arrival, Joan sees a dozen writhing figures in torchlight, engaged in some kind of horrific ritual dance, all circling around—what appears to her as—a giant, impaled toad.

Joan’s vision through the window blinds is interrupted by the news that the sheriff has returned to question her. A dim-witted local boy was found murdered by a curare-tipped poison dart at the scene of her car crash, with a voodoo doll bearing a striking resemblance to her resting near his body. Joan fears that the sheriff will discover her supernatural experiences in Spain, and somehow implicate her in the boy’s death by connecting them to the occult evidence found at the crime scene.

With only a few asides to follow the fates of other victims, (the tower-less) To the Dark Tower quickly unfolds over the course of a single night. Although the mastermind operating behind the witch cult is eventually revealed, the individual witches remain as rough sketches creeping in the night. Correspondingly, Dr. Allen seems remarkably oblivious to—what must have been—an amazingly high concentration of practitioners of the occult arts in his small Kentucky town. The sheriff wraps things up in a patchy denouement, revealing an arbitrary inheritance motivation that fails to adequately address Joan’s experiences in Spain—and oh, ESP.

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Fear No Evil

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Fear No Evil
Alice Brennan | Prestige Books | 1970 | 256 pages

Young English teacher Margaret Blyeth, blaming herself for the suicide of a prospective suitor whom she rejected, retreats to a resort on the shores of Upper Michigan’s Lake Superior. But Kaley House is no longer the cheerful manor by the lake she remembers from her childhood visits; the neglected grounds, overrun with weeds and debris, hide the now-decrepit main house. Seemingly to discourage her stay, a fallen tree blocks the remote lane to the resort from the main highway, and only a disused shortcut allows Margaret to continue ahead.

Tragedy also marks the lives of the few remaining staff members Margaret meets at Kaley House. Clemmy Hart, the proprietress of the resort, recently lost her husband in a fatal car accident. Clemmy’s mother, Petrolia (Mom Pet), was struck by a drunk driver three years before, and is now confined to a wheelchair. Mom Pet possesses a psychic gift, and was taught to read the future by her gypsy grandmother. Clemmy’s husband failed to heed the ominous warnings Mom Pet saw in the cards before his own violent death.

Also staying at Kaley house are three vacationing secretaries from Detroit. Mom Pet reads their future as a kind of parlour entertainment, predicting their upcoming potential loves. But for Margaret, Mom Pet sees an evil omen attached to a “dark young man”, leading to grief and perhaps, to death. When pressed for more details, Mom Pet only repeats in a kind of cryptic mantra, “The blind don’t see, the deaf don’t hear, the crippled don’t walk.”

Mom Pet’s warning is soon validated when shots are fired over Margaret’s head as she walks on the beach. She quickly dismisses the event as an accident, convincing herself that no one at the lake would want to harm her. But Margaret’s vacation isn’t all about recuperation; Carson Danville, her late suitor, killed himself less than twenty miles from Kaley House, and to clear her conscience in his suicide, she intends to investigate the circumstances of his death. She meets two local lake residents, David Miles and his controlling sister Verna, but they are seemingly unable to provide any information. Although initially attracted to David, Margaret is troubled when he unexpectedly reveals a short-tempered dark side, and his relationship with his sister may not be what it appears.

Margaret also becomes enamored with a new resident at the lakeshore: Julian Marsh, a Chicago lawyer summering at a cabin in the woods. He bears a striking resemblance to the “dark young man” that Mom Pet warned Margaret about during her reading. His cabin was the site of a grisly homicide the year before; the drunk driver that paralyzed Mom Pet, along with his entire family, was murdered there and the killer was never caught. The theme of rejected love continues with the arrival of Kelsey Hirsh, fashion model and Julian’s former girlfriend, who cannot accept his refusal and plans on winning back his attentions.

Fear No Evil swings the suspicion back and forth between Margaret’s two love interests, David and Julian*, as she moves ever closer to the reveal about Carson’s “suicide”. Mom Pet initially seems to be a controlling villain, but as the full roster of characters and their histories are revealed, she becomes something of a warning signal instead, repeating her admonitions from under the blanket in her wheelchair while evil actions spin all around her and her guests. The narrative ultimately contains many murderous loose ends to wrap up, but follows the basic recipe:

1. Clemmy worries while serving endless rounds of coffee

2. Mom Pet makes ominous pronouncements

3. More explicit attempts are made on Margaret’s life

4. Repeat

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*Possible Freudian Alert: both characters are introduced after they fire projectiles (or are suspected of firing) at Margaret—both, instead shooting over her head

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Chill

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Chill
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1978 | 244 pages

“The door opened, and a tall man stepped out into the morning sunshine. He wore aviator-type sunglasses to keep the glare from his eyes. He was trim and muscled in a short-sleeved light blue tennis shirt and dark blue double-knit slacks. His shoes were white-textured leather Florsheim loafers.”

Fashionable psychic investigator Russel V. “Chill” Childers (“Satan’s Seed”) returns to solve a mysterious case involving a girl seemingly trapped in a state of suspended animation. After moving into an old Louisiana mansion she inherited from a great-uncle she hardly knew, Patty Brunswick begins to have strange attacks of dizziness. Whenever she looks at her new house, her vision swims and the ground underneath her seems to waiver. She discovers that her condition is not unique; her husband Tom, a Hollywood documentary producer and Chill’s old friend, is also suffering from these bizarre episodes. While questioning the estate’s long-time groundskeeper Moses Petitjean, the couple is shocked when he points an accusing finger at their 15-year old daughter Joan as the source of the trouble. Joan immediately faints as a shudder runs through the house, and is unable to be revived.

Chill arrives on the scene and instantly squares off against Stan Morgan, the skeptical family doctor who cannot medically explain Joan’s condition; she cannot be awakened from what appears to be a deep and peaceful sleep. Chill suspects Joan is being held in a trance-like state, perhaps under the external control of some unseen force. But when creeping vines climb up the side of the house and attempt to invade her bloodstream through the intravenous drip in her arm, even Dr. Morgan’s rationalism is challenged.

Chill and his assistants, half-Sioux psychic Laura Littlefawn and university professor/occult-specialist Harold Strong, research the house and its history, suspecting that a clue to Joan’s present state exists in the details surrounding the unexpected inheritance and family lineage. They ultimately discover Joan’s ancestor, a nun in 17th-century France named Joan of Angels, was found to be possessed by Iscaaron, demon of lust, leading to an inquisition and its resulting tortures in the monastery. Laura conducts a séance to contact one of the nun’s spirits, and confirms Chill’s belief that the reincarnations of the players in the original possession are reenacting their occult drama in the present, with Joan as the point of demonic entry.

Beyond hacking and slashing the vines growing towards the sleeping Joan, Chill doesn’t really spring into action until the final face-off with the possessing demon. Even then, he is mostly unaware of the danger that surrounds him; Laura Littlefawn, with her sensitive psychic impressions, later relates to him the demonic forces she witnessed him battling. Perhaps intended to echo the influence of the lust demon on the assembled party at the estate, the greatest suspense comes from whether or not Chill will score with Tom’s beautiful blonde administrative assistant, Kim Michaels.

***Spoiler*** Their “dance of tongues” is interrupted by a phone call from Laura, just as Kim is “reaching for his manhood.” ***End Spoiler***

A subplot involving Ozzie and Clare Branson, the other (somewhat unwanted) guests at the estate, also underscores the influence of Iscaaron, as their 19-year old daughter Ginger attempts to seduce Tom Brunswick. An incestuous foundation for her behavior adds a little yuck-factor to the proceedings. But since Joan spends most of the story unmoving in her sick bed, Ginger becomes the stand-in as the girl-in-peril for some related mischief.

Through it all, Chill nibbles on his trademark sesame sticks and reflects upon the special nature of his relationship with Laura Littlefawn.

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Baffled!

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Baffled!
US/UK | 1973| 90 minutes
Starring Leonard Nimoy, Susan Hampshire, Rachel Roberts, Vera Miles
Directed by Philip Leacock

Race car driver Tom Kovack (Leonard Nimoy) experiences a psychic vision during a race, causing a near deadly crash. In what must be the worst public relations gaffe ever (sorry chum, but surrender your driver’s license at once), Tom recounts the details of his vision—a screaming woman and her child in peril on an English country estate—during a TV interview. After watching the broadcast, paranormal expert Michele Brent (Susan Hampshire) tries to convince him that what he experienced was a premonition, and that the woman’s life is actually in jeopardy. Is this chick coming on to me? Baffled!

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Kovack dismisses Michele’s admonitions until a second vision, including what appears to be his own drowning death, overcomes his doubts. Michele finds the location of Tom’s premonition—a hotel in Devon—in a book of English country houses, and they travel to England together. Upon checking in, they meet American actress Andrea Glenn (Vera Miles) and her daughter (Jewel Blanch), there to reunite with Andrea’s estranged English husband. Is Andrea the woman from my vision? Baffled!

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But something is not right with Andrea’s husband, and her daughter begins acting strangely “mature” for her years. In addition to the creepy Mrs. Farraday (Rachel Roberts), mistress of the house, the other guests—Italian engineer Verelli (Christopher Benjamin) and the swinging Tracewell couple (Ray Brooks, Angharad Rees)—all seem to be behaving suspiciously. Tom’s deadly visions continue as he attempts to uncover the mystery and save his own life. Is Verelli even really an Italian? Baffled!

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Baffled! plays like a standard hour-long TV episode rattling about in a movie format. Nimoy and Hampshire are appealing leads, traipsing around the hotel and grounds looking for clues from Tom Kovac’s psychic visions, although Nimoy suffers from some awkwardness and clunky delivery. The final reveal is, perhaps unintentionally, quite amusing in manner perhaps more suitable to Leonard Nimoy’s other television show (no, not that one), Mission: Impossible! Why was this pilot not picked up as a series? Baffled!

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