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?
Priestess of the Damned
Virginia Coffman | Lancer Books | 1970 | 222 pages
A time capsule of the occult-drenched California of the early seventies (perhaps existing only in the geography of the imagination), Book Two of the Lucifer Cove gothic occult series, features a sympathetic satanic priestess as protagonist. That alone makes the book hard to imagine existing at any other time—particularly after the “satanic panic” of the eighties, which seemingly sought to unearth a conspiracy of devil-worshippers behind every conceivable societal ill.
Nadine Janos, High Priestess of the Devil’s Coven, holds periodic rituals in the Grecian-like temple above Lucifer Cove, an exclusive spa and resort on the remote coast south of San Francisco. A returning character from the first book in the series, The Devil’s Mistress, she is revealed to be something of an outsider in this outing, trying to maintain an aloof status as conduit to Satan among the residents of the small seaside community. Not truly a believer in the package of goods she peddles to her favor-seeking flock, Nadine employs a series of visual tricks and acid-laced ritual drinks to inspire a sense of awe in her powers—and solicit greater donations.
Along with her Irish handyman (and sometime romantic interest) assistant, Sean O’Flannery, Nadine caters to lumpy businessman Buddy Hemplemeier’s wish for stock market success, Edna Schallert’s lonely middle-aged plea for attention, and Sergei Illich’s need to be desirable to his young lover’s eyes with staged spectacles. However, alone one night at the temple, she feels a strange presence and witnesses an otherworldly manifestation, making her wonder about the authenticity of her powers.
Nadine, for the head of a coven of Satan worshippers, seems strangely out of step with the rampant hedonism at Lucifer Cove, where drugs and sex define the treatment as much as time spent in the spa or hot springs. She makes a point in not partaking in the frequent opportunities for personal pleasures, which includes ignoring (except for the aspirin) the engraved silver box filled with a variety of designer drugs issued to the residents. Lost in the labyrinthine corridors during a visit to the spa, she actually turns and runs away from the lascivious advances of two of the resort’s masseuses.
An underlying fear for her independence as High Priestess marks Nadine’s wariness surrounding the intentions of the mysterious resort owner, Marc Meridon, who approaches her with a favor regarding his mistress, Christine Deeth. Nadine also suspects a vague threat in the form of Dr. Erich Haupt, the German doctor (and Hitler look alike) from the spa’s clinic, who doubles as master of ceremonies for many of the resort’s Bacchanalian celebrations.
Although Nadine experiences some unexplained phenomenon in her temple, watches the club’s greasy gigolo die in mysterious circumstances, and discovers some evidence pointing to a celebrity body-snatching ring, Priestess of the Damned succeeds mainly as a character study. The threads of an overarching story are as elusive as the club’s resident cat, Kinkajou, and mainly serve to further the lingering question for future installments, “Who exactly is Marc Meridon and what really is going on at Lucifer Cove?”
John Farris | Fawcett Popular Library | 1976 | 349 pages
The Fury burns as an epic beacon, warning readers away from a story that features potentially delirious elements—(birthed apart) psychic twins, a former psychic research subject struggling to reunite with his estranged son, and a vengeful one-armed villain leading a shadowy psychokinetic research organization operating secretly within the U.S. government—yet somehow never rises much beyond a dull slog.
Peter Sandza, a down-at-heel, one-time potential psychic who burned out after a series of secret governmental tests, searches for his lost son Robin, a young man gifted with telekinetic powers of his own. Robin has fallen into the hands (or in this case, hand) of a covert agency-within-an-agency that specializes in grooming psychic talents, ultimately for military use against potential Cold War targets. Childermass, the agency’s director, is on the trail to neutralize Sandza, preventing him from liberating Robin, and seeking retribution for the arm that was blown off in a previous encounter. Robin has been sending psychic messages via the astral plane to his psychic twin, Gillian Bellaver, the young daughter of a wealthy New York family. Gillian experiences these messages in a dream state that, unfortunately, causes those people in close personal contact to violently bleed out.
The story alternates between the group of main characters, and the others whose lives they intersect, without building up much interest or momentum. A few brief action passages when their individual stories come together—particularly when Peter encounters Gillian after she has been hospitalized following an traumatic experience, with Childermass and his Black-Ops team following close behind—help liven the pace, but only momentarily. The character arcs only come together again after about page three hundred, setting the stage for the final resolution, but the lack of a single central protagonist dampens interest along the way.
John Farris also wrote the screenplay for the 1978 film adaptation of his novel, directed by Brian De Palma. The film version varies much of the specific details of the story, but maintains the development and prescribed fates of the major characters. De Palma energizes the proceedings by pumping up the violence to near-histrionic levels, creating gory set pieces with splatter and spinning bodies. Even the campy depiction of glowing blue psychic eyes is forgiven with the riotously explosive comeuppance to the Childress character (changed from Childermass in the book), played with a smug malice by John Cassavetes.
However, the book does reflect the zeitgeist of the time in which it was written, with its preoccupation with psychic phenomenon and the occult, offering some sage advice regarding the dangers of witchcraft in Seventies California:
“You don’t understand. Along with dope, it’s the number one fact of life out there. If you’re a girl and good-looking they come up to you on the street or beaches, for God’s sake, warlocks looking for recruits. The covens will fuck you over fast if you don’t know how to protect yourself. Oh, it’s creepy in Southern Cal.”
Sex and Horror
The Art of Emanuele Taglietti
Mark Alfrey | Korero Press | 2015 | 160 pages
Sex and Horror features a spectacularly lurid collection of Emanuele Taglietti’s seventies and eighties Italian comic book cover art.
Taglietti first worked as a set designer in Italian cinema before becoming a freelance illustrator for the burgeoning fumetti (comic book) industry. The cultural revolution of the sixties ushered in an era of acceptance towards adults-only themes of sex and horror in comics, with outrageous cover art selling the prospect of titillation in the cheaply printed pages.
Painting upwards of twelve covers a month, often with little direction or information about the story contained inside, Taglietti rendered images of popular characters across the crime, fantasy and horror genres. Taking advantage of the relaxation of the country’s censorship laws to fully emphasis the female anatomy, his vampires, policewomen and musketeers burst from the confines of their clothing—only occasionally being encumbered with the presence of undergarments.
Easily dismissed by today’s standards as gratuitous or exploitative, Taglietti’s art illuminates a vanished period of gleeful abandon in comic book illustration.
A Film with Frankenstein, Cimiteria #46, 1980.
Red Roses for Killing, Wallenstein il Mostro #8, 1975.
The Machines for Love, Cimiteria #26, 1978.
Habakkuk the Magician, Belzeba #11, 1977.
Dollars and Blood, Sukia #2, 1978.
The Transatlantic Vampire, Sukia #120, 1983.
The Church of Satan, Vipera Bionda #15, 1978.