Tag Archives: Pinnacle Books

Horrorscope #3 | The Curse of Leo

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Horrorscope #3 | The Curse of Leo
Robert Lory | Pinnacle Books | 1974 | 176 pages

“If you can have a werewolf, why not a werelion?”

Calder Heath, heir to a large mining company, returns to South Africa from years of living abroad in England following the suicide of his father. However, all is not well at the mines. Two violent mauling deaths among the black laborers have renewed gossip about a curse on the Heath family, and Calder awakens following the full moon covered in blood, with no memory of his recent actions.

Granley, a long-time clerk at Heath Mines, recounts the story of the curse to Calder. After an illicit affair with his housekeeper, the elder Heath abandoned the young girl from the black township when he discovered she was about to give birth to his illegitimate child. When the child died from a tragic, but preventable, illness, the grieving mother channeled her anger at Heath through a curse, twisting his naturally leonine features against him. The light of the full moon would transform him–and all his male descendants–into a bloodthirsty man-lion!

If you can have a werelion, why not a wereaardvark or even a weresloth?

Calder desperately tries to shield his delicate wife, Eunice, from his bloody escapades at night, while deflecting suspicion from his gruff American mine manager, Sam York, and the slovenly, but deceptively astute detective assigned to investigate the deaths. Struggling against the growing realization that he is responsible for the grisly killings plaguing the mines, Calder calls upon the old witch in the township for aid.

A straightforward revenge curse and monster-run-amok tale, with the resulting character anguish, for most of its page count, The Curse of Leo eventually throws a twist worthy of the Scooby Doo playbook—before turning back again at the conclusion. Although multigenerational curses always seem inherently misguided (afflicting innocent descendants), Calder does prove himself to be violent and despicable enough to (arguably) warrant his curse. The very real horrors of the South African mining industry, with its history of forced labor and oppression, remain completely unaddressed, providing only convenient decoration for the werelion to roam.

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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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House of Scorpions (Chill #6)

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House of Scorpions (Chill #6)
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1980 | 176 pages

Things get personal for supernatural investigator Russell V. “Chill” Childers in this sixth outing of the occult series, when his psychic sidekick, Laura Littlefawn, comes under attack by a Navajo scorpion cult.

The cult actually consists of only Dan Crooked Creek, a disgruntled tribal outcast, and Rowena Carter, an impressionable young runaway who has fallen under his spell. Dan’s drive to destroy Laura springs from an exceptionally mundane source–not from some personal grievance or perceived injustice, but from her success selling Native American artisan crafts. Experiencing a series of threatening visions involving scorpions, Laura turns to Chill for help in battling her psychic attackers (or more correctly, she places a psychic phone call to his housekeeper).

House of Scorpions offers very little mystery for Chill to investigate, since alternating chapters completely reveal Dan’s obsession with the scorpion’s symbolism, his related messianic complex, and his plans against Laura. His own telepathic abilities are rather nebulously explained, since his main method of attack involves enticing his collected group of scorpions to attack. Rather than simply confronting Laura, Dan somehow telepathically projects his location–in a cave outside Rowena’s family house–to Laura in a dream, luring her and Chill into a rather dubiously conceived trap [Modest Spoiler Alert: he hits Chill over the head with a rock].

Passages involving scorpion handling, mating rituals of a captive breeding pair, attempted cult indoctrination involving stinging, and eventually an attack on Chill’s hippie handyman, evoke a kind of nature-run-amok horror, as the series trademark telepathic content takes a backseat to more naturalistic shocks. Epic struggles on the astral plane are conspicuously absent in this entry, replaced by more intimate corporeal encounters involving scorpions crawling out from under beds and down nightshirts. Rowena takes the mating dance of the scorpions to a logical conclusion in a grotesque scene late in the story, one of its few horrific highlights.

Readers with arachnophobia, rather than insectophobia (“Scorpions are not insects,” as Chill reminds us), will possibly discover something here to trigger a modest case of the creepy-crawlies.

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The Devil’s Virgin

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The Devil’s Virgin (Lucifer Cove Book 3)
Virginia Coffman | Pinnacle Books | 1978 | 214 pages

On holiday break, eighteen-year-old student Diane Deeth travels to Lucifer Cove, the mysterious spa dedicated to the pursuit of hedonism on the secluded coast south of San Francisco, to check on the health and well being of her mother. Christine Deeth, leaving a broken marriage and her two children behind, previously checked in to the resort to calm her troubled nerves, but has since been unwilling, or seemingly unable, to leave.

Diane meets Bill Janocek, another outsider entering Lucifer Cove with his own agenda. Bill is the brother of Nadine Janos, High Priestess of the Devil Cult that performs satanic services at the Grecian-style temple on the hill high above the spa community. A freshly graduated cub reporter, Bill seeks to write an exposé on the criminal element drawn to the permissive lifestyle at Lucifer Cove. His main target is Warren Kittmer, a young Manson-like group leader who, although never been officially charged by the police, brags of his involvement in a thrill killing of a family in Los Angeles.

Diane finds her mother in generally good spirits, but notes that Christine seems unusually anxious for her daughter to leave Lucifer Cove. Diane suspects that her mother may be romantically involved with another of the Cove’s residents, and that the relationship may be at the root of Christine’s reluctance to return to her regular family life. Meanwhile, Diane spends much of her time weighing the potential of her own romantic possibilities. Although she develops a growing fondness toward Bill, helping him in his investigations, she cannot seem to resist the darkly magnetic charms of Marc Meridon, the elusive owner of a major share in the resort.

Since readers of the earlier Lucifer Cove novels already know of Christine’s relationship with Marc Meridon, the long drawn-out revelation comes as no surprise. The bigger mystery is why no one else at the resort would inform Diane of the identity of her mother’s love interest. Although Diane finds a dead body and experiences some supernatural manifestations, the main pull of the story revolves around implicating Warren Kittmer in the murders. However, the pimply-faced adolescent killer is such a minor character at Lucifer Cove that his eventual takedown bears little weight.

Nadine Janos also suffers from a lack of continuity from the previous books, disappointingly slipping back into a smaller, more caricatured role. She was treated to a full-blown, more nuanced character study in the earlier series entry, Priestess of the Damned. Even in her newly diminished capacity, Nadine still fails to be consistent in her behavior. She quickly turns from an aggressive disinterest toward Diane, to a full acceptance of Diane’s poorly conceived plan of attack on Kittmer and his group of followers—a plan that unthinkably calls upon Diane to lead Nadine’s cult service at the temple.

Even putting aside the supernatural elements and taking the book simply as a piece of romance fiction, The Devil’s Virgin has difficulty delivering any tension. Between Marc Meridon’s otherworldly hold over Christine Deeth, and Nadine Janos’ love-hate relationship with her Irish handyman assistant, Diane really only has one candidate to embrace—the “square” with the warm, muscular arms.

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The Phoenix Man (Chill #5)

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The Phoenix Man (Chill #5)
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1980 | 175 pages

Psychic investigator Dr. Russel V. “Chill” Chillders returns in the fifth installment of the supernatural series.

Chill responds to a request for help from Wilbur Hornsby, who along with his twin scientist brother, Malcolm, has succeeded in creating a method for human cloning. Upon their test subject’s death, the soul of the recently deceased seeks out and inhabits the next in a series of fully grown cloned bodies, which wait indefinitely suspended in a row of fluid-filled bubbles in the pair’s laboratory. However, Wilbur suspects that his brother intends to use the clone—who in a glaring example of scientific oversight, happens to be violent drifter with a criminal history—to kill him and take the credit for their discoveries.

Unfortunately, The Phoenix Man plays out as more of a men’s action-adventure tale than an occult mystery, complete with descriptions of weapons and their impact on the human anatomy that flirt with becoming gun-porn.

“The Speer bullet slammed a hole in Samson’s forehead at the speed of 1625 feet per second. The soft lead core flattened against the frontal bone, crumpling the inner fluted jacket of the bullet, creating, in effect, a tiny lethal hammer. A spray of blood blew out with the brains, bone, and gristle of Samson’s head, leaving a gaping hole in the rear of his skull.”

Chill himself is cast in the role of action hero, with his burgeoning telepathic powers kept fallow. Laura Littlefawn, Chill’s half-Sioux psychic associate, only briefly enters a trance-state to elicit the location of a subject; otherwise, she tags along to provide the will-they-or-won’t-they romantic tension [they won’t], and falls into the hands of the villains—becoming another victim in need of rescuing by Chill. Hal Strong, the occult-minded professor who rounds out Chill’s usual team, literally waits out the entire story in an RV.

By this fifth book in the series, the characters have all become extremely reductive; Chill reflects by munching on sesame sticks, Laura wears turquoise and silver jewelry to accentuate her dark hair and eyes, and Hal wonders where he can pick-up road-loving ladies to accompany him in his recreational vehicle isolation. Even Malcolm Hornsby is defined by a distinctive facial tic, which conveniently proves quite useful later to differentiate him from his good brother.

The Hornsby brothers’ clone is driven by a rage from a single factor, not the greater existential quandary of his predicament, but rather his newfound impotence.

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Chill #4 (Vegas Vampire)

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Chill #4 (Vegas Vampire)
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1980 | 173 pages

An enjoyable, but completely disposable entry in the “Chill” Chillders supernatural investigation series, with tacky Vegas fashions—ranging from pink polo shirt ensembles to a variety of dazzling pantsuits—stealing interest away from its tale of a vampire manipulated into serving its human benefactor’s interests.

Following his keynote speech at the First Annual Psychic Seminar in Las Vegas (greeted with a round of thunderous applause), psychic investigator Dr. Russell V. “Chill” Chillders is approached by Captain Loomis of the Las Vegas Police Department. Under the advice of pathologist Dr. Bill Patterson, Loomis enlists Chill’s aid in solving the mysterious death of a local showgirl, whose blood-drained body was found in the dry creek bed beyond the Gold Dust Queen Casino where she worked. But it was the puncture wounds on the victim’s throat that led Patterson to believe that the perpetrator was of supernatural origin—a conclusion Chill never doubts.

Chill and his team—Laura Littlefawn, his half-Sioux clairvoyant assistant, and Hal Strong, literature professor and expert in the occult—discover that this death is only the latest in a string of killings targeting the showgirls at the Gold Dust Queen. The casino’s owner Ramsey Bullock, a prancing, pink-clad caricature sporting an effeminate watch and gold slippers, suspects the involvement of his rival Amelia Robinson, owner of the neighboring Silver Foxxe Casino. After a brief meeting with Amelia, Chill quickly deduces her role in the affair, and in no time is exploring the underground tunnels beneath the casinos to uncover the vampire’s lair.

Vegas Vampire holds very little mystery, since Amelia’s role in controlling the vampire is revealed in the early pages of the story. Chill’s team is also severely underutilized in this outing, with Laura Littlefawn in particular reduced to a glorified clothes horse, existing solely to make dramatic entrances wearing her butter-yellow pantsuit and turquoise jewelry, rather than engaging in any feats of psychic detection. Speaking of pantsuits, Amelia sports her own tight-fitting model splashed with silver glitter, enhanced by her complete look consisting of false eyelashes, patent leather shoes, and long cigarette holder. Chill himself is in cool form, sipping his orange juice and munching on sesame sticks in his polo shirt and crisply pressed slacks, while doing very little actual detective work—psychic or otherwise.

Disappointingly, the text hints at, but never develops, the idea that monsters of myth such as vampires exist as projections into reality from our own primordial dream state. Following this conceptual strand could have taken Vegas Vampire to a much more original and satisfying place than its silver-staking and burning-in-the-sun finale.

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The Bamboo Demons (Chill #3)

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The Bamboo Demons (Chill #3)
Jory Sherman | Pinnacle Books | 1979 | 182 pages

Occult investigator Dr. Russell “Chill” Childers returns in a new adventure that takes him and his assistant, half-Sioux psychic Laura Littlefawn, to the Philippines to battle an aswang—a mythological shape-shifting demon from Filipino folklore.

Felix Bulatao, a Manila scholar well-versed in local mythology, witnesses his young friend Paco’s girlfriend Caridad being violated and torn to pieces by a creature they believe to be an aswang. This fiendish beast shares similar traits with the werewolf and vampire in Western culture, feeding on human blood (and entrails) and having the ability to change form, often to that of a large dog. Felix reaches out to Chill, author of Modern Occultism and renowned investigator of the supernatural, for help in tracking down and destroying the monster. Chill and Laura Littlefawn fly to the Philippines to meet Felix and travel to Caridad’s village, looking for clues to put them on the aswang’s trail.

During a psychic session, Laura sees a vision of a man wearing military clothes, and produces a cryptic clue in the form of a single word, “Yesterday”. While driving around the countryside, the investigative team of Chill, Laura, Felix and Paco encounter sporadic fighting amongst armed rebel groups. However, violence of a more supernatural kind descends upon the home of Paco’s parents, as the aswang attacks during the night, brutally killing—and partially eating—Paco’s father. Even while examining scenes of gory carnage, Chill takes timeout to munch on his trademark sesame sticks. [Other series checkboxes ticked off: Chill is a vegetarian who likes to make salads, Check! Chill shows great interest in vintage firearms, Check! Chill and Laura have unexpressed feelings for each other, Check!]

Since the identity of the primary aswang villain is revealed almost immediately, the story slogs along as Chill tries to catch up to the reader’s knowledge. Perhaps as a nod to the Marcos-era Philippine setting and the aswang’s role as a guerrilla leader, the play of various insurgent and governmental groups becomes important, but these passages bore when compared with less frequent encounters directly between our team members and their supernatural opponents—such as when a hypnotically beautiful female aswang visits a vulnerable Laura (during a psychic vision in the bathtub). From the initial click of the radio turning off in the next room, to Laura following her unexpected visitor outside, to her finally fainting at the site of the aswang’s physical transformation (and in the process losing her hastily-wrapped bath towel), this sequence delivers in way disappointingly absent in the rest of the story.

Occasionally, The Bamboo Demons does inspire a certain kind of monster-fighting giddiness, as the group prepares to go aswang hunting with Chill’s modified Spanish dueling pistols—loaded with his homemade bamboo-tipped ammunition. Then it’s time to pass the sesame sticks and wait for the next installment.

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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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