Tag Archives: Occult

Chalet Diabolique | Lucifer Cove #5

Chalet Diabolique | Lucifer Cove #5
Virginia Coffman | Lancer Books | 1971 | 206 pages

The fifth book in the series reduces Lucifer Cove to a white-noise occult backdrop, a lost episode of an alternate television history Fantasy Island (featuring Mr. Roarke as the devil), with the arriving guests ultimately discovering the infernal mechanics under the surface.

Kay Aronson is the guest in this outing, arriving in Lucifer Cove following the mysterious death of her husband. Leo Aronson had set out alone to the secretive spa town on the coast of California south of San Francisco, only to be killed in a plane crash. Convinced that the fatal crash was not an accident, Kay investigates Leo’s connection to Lucifer Cove, determined to uncover the real reason behind his death.

Accompanied by her husband’s personal assistant, Arthur Dugald, Kay encounters characters from earlier entries in the series—High Priestess of the Devil’s Temple, Nadine Janos; beleaguered beauty, Caro Teague; the darkly magnetic spa owner, Marc Meridon; and his mistress, the empathetic Christine Deeth—mostly in incidental appearances. Unsure of whom to trust, Kay is surprised to discover her own romantic feelings developing toward both Arthur and Marc, forming the competing sides in an unlikely love triangle. She becomes more and more convinced that all is not as it seems behind the quiet Tudor facades of Lucifer Cove.

Since series readers are already aware of Marc Meridon’s diabolical nature, and his relationship to the seemingly omnipresent cat, Kinkajou, little opportunity exists to create much suspense, although there are some creepy shenanigans in the tunnels below Kay’s chalet house. After its initial underground discovery, the body of a former guest at the resort makes a second shocking appearance.

A brief, near fatal encounter with the power of hypnosis illustrates the ease at disposing with Kay and her investigation, and her general insignificance in the greater picture of Lucifer’s Cove makes the reluctance towards her disposal something of a question.

Also, a potentially eternal cosmic struggle boils down to a literal dog-and-cat fight.

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The Brownstone

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The Brownstone
Ken Eulo | Pocket Books | 1980 | 332 pages

“What do you want from me?” she screamed. “What!”

Tepid genre thrills, maybe? Faded gothic horrors, copies—one generation removed–of other supernatural apartment terrors, such as Rosemary’s Baby or The Sentinel?

After being evicted from their building, Chandal and Justin Knight move into a too-good-to-be-true apartment in an old brownstone on the Upper West Side. Owned by elderly sisters, Magdalen and Elizabeth, the brownstone provides one last opportunity for Justin to stay in New York and pursue his theatre career. Just below the sisters, the spacious first floor apartment also provides growing room for the newly expectant Chandal.

Justin’s behavior begins to change soon after their arrival. Showing an unusual fascination for the sickly Magdalen, he exhibits violent mood swings. Displaying a new interest in photography, he converts the basement into a darkroom, and disappears for days at a time. Taking a job at the Natural History Museum, Chandal’s contact with her husband diminishes to viewing the red darkroom light above the locked basement door.

Alone for much of the time in the brownstone, Chandal experiences the sensation of being watched. In addition, she begins to see evidence—and ultimately visions—of a young couple in her new nursery. Fearing that the stress of a deteriorating marriage is impacting her sanity, she nonetheless wonders if her specters are actually living people, somehow connected to the sisters upstairs.

Interspersed with short passages of a patient’s file at a mental institution, The Brownstone delivers few surprises. Diverging from her similarity to Rosemary after she loses her baby, Chandal nonetheless continues to play the familiar role of heroine immersed in a threatening environment. The atmosphere of dread and paranoia are lessened from the early pages, however, since an occult ritual informs the reasons behind all the actions. Even an unexpected, late betrayal by a friend, with the resultant potential of a larger conspiracy, becomes a throwaway moment, since any fateful repercussions fail to arise.

The saga of the accursed brownstone continues with The Bloodstone. Hopefully, that book will not reveal Chandal as a blind nun keeping vigil at the attic window.

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The Pyx

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The Pyx
John Buell | Crest Books | 1959 | 128 pages

Warning! The last few pages of this book are entitled: The Secret of the Pyx. DO NOT—DO NOT READ THIS SECTION UNTIL YOU HAVE FINISHED THE BOOK. – from the back cover

After a cab driver witnesses a young woman in a white evening gown fatally plummet to the ground from the penthouse balcony of an eleven story apartment building, Detective Henderson works to uncover the details of her death. The ethereal white trail tracing the path of Elizabeth Lucy’s death is the central haunting image in this slim novel, told in alternating point-of-view chapters. In the present, Henderson tracks the clues leading back to the possible murder, as Elizabeth, in the past, lives out her fateful last few days.

Elizabeth, a small-town runaway working as a call girl out of a rundown boarding house, falls under the eye of a powerful, mysterious client. As her sense of fatalism surrounding their upcoming “date” grows, she seeks solace in whatever private moments she can afford, sharing a small space away from her trade with her only real friend, Jimmy, a troubled—and through implication, closeted gay–youth seeking his own sense of escape. Elizabeth also bears a burden of responsibility toward her former roommate, another call girl who suffered a complete mental breakdown, and now lives in a near-catatonic state in an asylum.

Back in the present, Henderson begins to exhibit a fascination with the deceased that echoes that of Dana Andrews’ detective in Otto Preminger’s Laura. Small details in the case cause his suspicions of murder to grow, with more deaths soon occurring in Elizabeth’s circle of acquaintances. Through all, Elizabeth emerges as a melancholy and expressly empathetic character. Minus the dictionary definition preface pointing to the supernatural, The Pyx could function simply as a melodrama on the dangers of juvenile delinquency, right up to the occult-tinged conclusion.

Since readers are aware of Elizabeth’s fate from the first few pages, the only suspense derives from uncovering the circumstances ultimately leading her to the penthouse. Her arrival is unexpectedly anticlimactic in its brevity, with her trip over the balcony railing coming at a surprising speed. Only a few final details, suggesting the monstrous undercurrent of the proceedings, reveal the true nature of her death.

However, a howlingly bad postscript, The Secret of the Pyx, explains everything in a pseudo-educational report—which could easily be imagined unspooling on grainy film stock in a fifties-era classroom–on the history of demonic possession and the black masses.

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Doctor Strange | Issue #7

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Doctor Strange | Issue #7
The Demon Fever
Marvel Comics | April 1975

By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!”

With more colorful linguistic ejaculations than an episode of the original Batman television series, this issue features Doctor Strange battling Umar, sister of the imprisoned demon, Dormammu. Regenerating his powers in the fiery center of the earth, Dormammu plots nothing short of world domination, and enlists his diabolical allies to crush the only obstacle in his path–Doctor Strange.

Vipers of Valtorr!”

Engaging Umar in a psychic battle on the astral plane, Strange feels “…the tri-dimensional spoor of a trans-dimensional war” before succumbing to “a confederate, some accursed anti-psychic toady lying in wait for my more potent thrust!” Failing in his Freudian advance against Umar, Strange must rely on the assistance of Clea, a former disciple who previously battled Dormammu, and barely survived by escaping through a volcanic vent. Pointedly avoiding Strange as a potential ally (and dragging down the pace of the story), she approaches a dubious laundry list of other mystic masters—Wong, Rama Kaliph, Genghis, and the Junkie–before turning to Strange. However, Clea harbors a dark secret that may ultimately betray him.

“Demons of Denak!”

For a novice to the Doctor Strange universe, the names, places, and references have the clinging aroma of the “made-up” about them, even with the occasional footnote (to past issues or series) to verify their accuracy. Even Strange himself shares a moment of existential crisis regarding his world, confessing to a “mental nausea.” Perhaps issue eight will provide some relief.

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The Naked Witch

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The Naked Witch
Starring Jo Maryman | Robert Short | Libby Hall | Directed by Larry Buchanan | 1961 | 59 minutes

After a patience-testing voiceover on the history of witchcraft, with accompanying images of Hieronymus Bosch paintings, the story finally begins with an unnamed college student (Robert Short) arriving in a small Texas town. Immediately launching into another pseudo-historical voiceover narration, the student details the history of the isolated German immigrant community he has come to study. Interested in the folklore of witchcraft and the occult in the town, the student discovers that local residents are unwilling to talk about their superstitious beliefs.

Breaking the communal silence, Kirska (Joy Maryman), the coquettish innkeeper’s daughter, gives the student a one-hundred-year-old book about the Luckenbach Witch, a local widow who was accused of witchcraft by an adulterous husband. Before being staked to death for her alleged crimes, the widow places a curse on all the descendants of her accusers. Drawn to the (remarkably shallow) grave of the witch in the story, the student removes the fatal stake and inadvertently resurrects the slumbering witch (Libby Hall).

Taking time out for the occasional skinny dip in the vegetation-laden local pond, the witch pursues her century-old revenge against the townspeople. Splashing about in the water, hair and make-up continuity errors arguably outnumber the awkward teases of nude flesh. Guilty about his role in the witch’s return, the student pursues her (with the help of the local librarian), to a nearby series of caves. Falling under the witch’s seductive spell, the student must struggle to save her final victim—Kirska!

A low-budget titillation for its time, The Naked Witch possesses a certain charm with its artless framing, sporadic organ score, and poorly synced dialogue. However, today’s viewers may want to save the full 59-minute running time (which seems much longer), and derive a greater and more immediate reward by simply Googling “naked+witch”.

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Prince of Darkness

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Prince of Darkness
Barbara Michaels | Fawcett Books | 1969 | 224 pages

An outsider discovers yet another small village steeped in a secret history of black magic and occult rituals. Only in Prince of Darkness, the outsider’s intentions are far from pure.

Peter Stewart, a small-time con man recently released from an English prison, travels to Middleburg, Maryland, to pursue a new target. Through a disreputable old investigator, Peter gathers information on Dr. Katherine (Kate) More, a folklore professor in Middleburg who has recently been driven into a state of nervous exhaustion following the mysterious suicide of her English fiancé. Her grief, or perhaps her guilt, has triggered her descent into the world of spiritualism, transforming her into a true believer in the mysticism of her academic studies.

After the death of her uncle Stephan, Kate inherited his rambling estate in the Maryland countryside. Sharing the old house is her cousin, Tiphaine, an enchanting young girl with a talent for folk music. The quaint exterior of charming village life in Middleburg hides a dark history, with the remnants of an old religion—including its cyclical rites of ritual sacrifice—holding a firm grasp on the local population.

Stealthily surveying Kate’s house one night shortly after his arrival, Peter witnesses a ritualistic séance. Along with Kate and Tiphaine, Peter recognizes a few of the town’s citizens, including the proprietress of Peter’s boardinghouse, Mrs. Adams, who seems to be leading the ceremony. Assuming that Kate is trying to raise the spirit of her dead lover, Peter formulates a plan to insinuate himself into her life, and to further her mental breakdown to the point of collapse.

Prince of Darkness delivers many familiar genre trappings, including voodoo dolls, suspicious townsfolk, black magic, sacrificial altars, and animal-masked ritual attendees, but its shift in perspective helps set it apart from the standard fare. The typical viewpoint into this realm of occult danger is through Kate, as mysterious events push her to the brink of madness. Instead, here readers look into her world from the outside through Peter, as he puts his shady plan into motion. However, Peter’s anti-heroic nature fails to maintain through to the end, as other sinister forces emerge to threaten Kate. She moves to the center for the final third of the story, allowing for a return to more normal genre standards, along with the expected romance.

A final twist regarding Kate’s dead lover, accompanied by some pseudo-contemplative prattle reflecting upon the meaning of the title, wrap things up at (of course) a witches’ Sabbat on Halloween night.

As a total aside, Tiphaine’s enchanting musical interlude–if a book can be said to truly have one–at the Folklore Society of Middleburg conjures up the insidious, seductive Willow’s Song, the musical interlude from Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973). So here it is:

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Dark Shadows | Issue #15

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Dark Shadows | Issue #15
The Night Children
Gold Key Comics | August 1972

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Creepy kids drive Barnabas Collins to Hell in this issue, along with the requisite curses, strange monsters, and otherworldly transformations characterized by the series.

Angelique, the witch, conjures two Night Children, demonic creatures in the form of innocent youths, to seek out and destroy Barnabas Collins. Any potential victim with goodness in their heart will be trapped in their gaze, locked under their malevolent control. They show up at Collinwood under the pretense of looking for their lost dog, only to lure Barnabas out into a clearing in the woods.

Of all the children’s dark powers, the ability to lie seems strangely lacking. When Barnabas calls them out as Night Children (due to their lack of shadows), they immediately cry out in unison, “Yessssssss!” However, Barnabas is soon debilitated and laid out in repose for the morning sunrise, the rays of light fatal to his vampiric form.

The evil cherubs return to Collinwood, breaking up a dinner party where Professor Stokes, ever the pedant, bores everyone with his incessant small talk of the Black Arts. Placing the guests under their control, the Night Children attempt to create a ritual that will destroy the great estate. Suffering the effects of the full moon while locked safely away in the cellar, only Quentin escapes falling into the hands of the children. His cursed heart the only one at Collinwood that holds enough darkness to keep their powers at bay.

To its detriment, this issue seems to improvise (or, more critically, just plain make up) a significant number of consequential rules over the course of its brief page count: five victims are needed to complete a double pentagram ritual, since the supernatural fire the Night Children seek to create cannot be generated from a figure of four (four being a symbol of good); only those who “linger in both worlds” are able to see the entrance to the Black Pit, which is fortunate for Barnabas after the Night Children escape into it; unless saved by an (undisclosed) act of kindness, Barnabas will be trapped forever in the Black Pit if Angelique catches him in his human form, or if he is killed there; and, finally, there are creatures who carry fallen spirits down into the Black Pit called Zozos, that are essentially flying monkeys.

On the plus side, Barnabas fights flying monkeys.

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Horrorscope #2 | The Revenge of Taurus

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Horrorscope #2 | The Revenge of Taurus
Robert Lory | Pinnacle Books | 1974 | 178 pages

In a short prologue echoing that of the first book, a mysterious figure in a long grey robe and hood makes an invocation, activating one section in a radial symbol on the floor of a strange, cave-like chamber. Mad laughter accompanies his call to Taurus for a deadly story, designed for our—the reader’s—amusement. What follows is less an astronomical Danse Macabre, than a retelling of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

Leander Maxwell, a has-been movie producer whose old-fashioned subjects have long fallen out of favor with modern audiences, summons a group of old associates to his remote house in Crete, ostensibly for one last film project. Ed Banner, an American screenwriter specializing in European genre films, and his fledging actress love interest, Michelle “Mike” Conant, arrive at Maxwell’s isolated estate only to find that the other guests have little information regarding the new film, other than the prospective title,The Labyrinth. While waiting for the appearance of their host, horror strikes, and all gathered come to realize the true nature of their congregation.

Will Weisenbacker, cameraman on several Maxwell productions, dissolves into a fleshy soup after he dives into the estate’s swimming pool—which has been filled with acid. A recorded message from Maxwell announces, “Welcome to my labyrinth!” Further communications from their absent host spell out his plan to revenge the perceived wrongs he has suffered at the hands of his guests, by killing them all one by one. The aging actress, Leah Arnold, even makes an offhand allusion to the “ten little Indians” of Christie’s tale by dismissing Michelle as “little Mike.”

The ever-dwindling guests are directed through increasingly elaborate and believability-shattering traps in Maxwell’s labyrinth of revenge. Some personality flaws and weaknesses, such as gluttony and fear of dogs, are exploited, as characters are torn apart by vicious dobermans, drowned in a vat of valuable wine, and impaled upon a wall of spears in a slowly contracting room.

To ultimately answer the question, “What does all this have to do with the robed figure from the prologue?”, the anticipated figure of myth makes an appearance—thanks to the location of Maxwell’s estate on the site of the original ancient labyrinth of Minos—if for no other reason than to allow the story to circle back to the zodiac theme.

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Horrorscope #1 | The Green Flames of Aries

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Horrorscope #1 | The Green Flames of Aries
Robert Lory | Pinnacle Books | 1974 | 158 pages

Gilligan’s Island meets the Twilight Zone in the first installment of the Horoscope series, when an ill-fated cruise ship from Hawaii encounters a mysterious castaway, whose presence traps the passengers in a mystery that they can neither escape nor understand.

Beach bum and petty grifter Mark Larimer accepts an invitation for a cruise aboard the Silver Lining, a party boat overseen by Dora Davage, a former sculptress and aging socialite well known for her Bacchanalias. Dora has personally assembled a diverse group of thrill seekers, including Harlan Hickey, a rock star complete with two fawning young groupies; Professor Randall Warren, expert in multiple areas of arcane knowledge; Narda Charles, raven-haired beauty whose husband was previously lost at sea, and who seems to have a covert connection to the boat’s captain; Avery Sorg, porcine banker and former enemy of Larimer’s from a previous encounter in Philadelphia; Lelsi “with an i ” Cross, midwestern schoolteacher determined to see the world; and Mr. Cantos, a mystery man in a formal attire seemingly ill-suited to the tropics.

The party comes to a premature end when Lesli spots a man floating on a makeshift raft. Pulling him aboard the Silver Lining, the passengers are horrified to discover that the survivor is near death and eyeless, muttering incoherently about pirate treasure. Clutched in his fist, however, are a pair of mysterious gold doubloons, minted in an unknown ancient language and depicting the image of a grinning goat. While arguments rage over returning to port or pursuing a course to find the treasure, explosions rock the boat, crippling the engines and leaving it adrift. Left to ponder their circumstances, all aboard are further panicked by an inexplicable fog, advancing from three directions and casting their crippled ship in an impenetrable cloud cover.

Similar in form to familiar Twilight Zone scripts, the trapped characters in The Green Flames of Aries reveal their true motivations and clash with each other while attempting to understand the nature of their seemingly supernatural predicament. The initial mood here is everything, rich with the uncanny and the stricken, sightless castaway. This atmosphere mostly sustains itself, before eventually dissipating to score some rather easy points on the nature of human greed, and twisting around to a circular, predestined conclusion.

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