Come to Castlemoor

Come to Castlemoor
Beatrice Parker | Dell Books | 1970 | 205 pages

A dubious historical assertion on the purpose of neolithic stone circles underpins this gothic tale of a city girl stumbling towards uncovering a deadly secret in a small English village.

After the accidental death of her brother, Kathy Hunt packs up her belongings and moves from London to the evocatively named village of Darkmead to continue his research on the Stonehenge-like circle of standing stones dominating the moors outside of town. Accompanied by her maid Stella, a sassy girl with a seemingly singular fixation on strapping young farm lads, Kathy occupies her brother’s former house, a small cottage not far from the stone circles and under the malevolent watch of the village’s medieval castle.

Although Kathy considers herself a forward-thinking young woman, the character of Darkmead’s stone circle initially tests her Victorian-era sensibilities. The standing stones she encounters at Darkmead, unlike the purely architectural post-and-lintel forms at Stonehenge, overtly resemble phalluses. While searching for her brother’s missing manuscript, Kathy also discovers a similarly-shaped small stone necklace in his study.

Against the background mystery of her brother’s death, a familiar romantic melodrama unfolds, with Kathy at one corner of a potential love triangle. Cousins and Castlemoor residents Burton Rodd and Edward Clark both jockey for Kathy’s attention in their own fashion. The brooding Burton masks his attraction with a seemingly antagonistic attitude toward Kathy, whom he insists leave Darkmead at once. The ingratiating Edward charms on the surface, but perhaps hides a less sincere motivation. Meanwhile, Bella’s beribboned and corseted seduction of a hunky farm hand plays almost as a bickering comic relief.

Glimpses of figures in white drifting across the moors, possible sightings of lost loves in the gloom of the castle dungeons, and hints of a secret network at work in Darkmead all permeate the romantic shenanigans with some atmosphere of mystery and foreboding—although one character’s attempt at a secret handshake with Kathy comes off as unintentionally humorous.

The lessons learned: small towns harbor dark secrets, and misplaced trust ultimately leads to an unholy ritual on a sacrificial altar.

The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson | Popular Library | 1959 | 174 pages

Shirley Jackson’s monumental haunted house tale sets the standard for the genre, while delivering a poignant character study of a lonely and dispossessed woman searching for a place to call her own.


Paranormal investigator Dr. John Montague assembles a small team to stay inside Hill House, a blighted mansion with a history of misfortunes, and record any instances of the supernatural. Joining him is Luke Sanderson, heir to the estate, Theodora, a young woman with exceptional psychic abilities, and Eleanor Vance, a longtime caregiver to her recently deceased mother.

Freed from the demands of her ailing mother and the pressures of a shared living space with her overbearing sister, Eleanor is the sole member of Dr. Montague’s team to actually embrace the prospect of living at Hill House. Eleanor Initially bonds with Theodora, perhaps the sister she always wanted, but their relationship is ultimately strained by Eleanor’s growing emotional neediness, and the increasing undercurrent of jealousy over Luke’s attention.

Then the nocturnal noises begin.

Although the history of Hill House is detailed, the nature of the haunting remains ambiguous. Rather than particular specters, the manifestations here are limited to an inexplicable cold spot, and a series of explosive poundings and door bangings that methodically travels down the hallways at night. The most deliciously creepy scene, involving holding hands in the dark, subtly underplays its shock, delivering a chill-inducing moment more effective in its absence than a more explicit depiction of horror.

Amid growing tensions with Theodora, Eleanor is further singled out of the group when a mysterious message is found scrawled on the wall, referring to her by name. The late arrival of Dr. Montague’s wife throws even more turmoil into the group dynamic of the house. Mrs. Montague serves as the vulgar counterpoint to Dr. Montague’s more thoughtful, if ineffectual, approach to the paranormal. With her planchette in hand, she quickly spins out an embellished and factually-challenged tale of nuns being sealed alive in the walls of the house.

Regardless of her proclivity toward showmanship and arguable charlatanism, Mrs. Montague does seem to sense the special importance Eleanor holds to Hill House, and touches on her eventual fate. Her pronouncement that contacted spirits “love to repeat themselves” during sessions eerily evokes an early scene with Eleanor. Defending her intent to drive to Hill House over the objections of her sister, Eleanor’s repeated protests (“It’s half my car…. It’s half my car…. It’s half my car….”), foreshadow the pattern of a failed communications from the spirit world.

Eleanor occupies the focal point and and serves as the catalyst of the haunting at Hill House. Existing as something of a ghost in her regular life, she is particularly vulnerable to the supernatural forces at play. Hill House never explicitly reveals the details of its malevolent entity, but this determined ambiguity helps vault its haunted house to a more universal level, and painfully exposes the personal failings of its intrepid research team.

Much more an evocative, character-driven mood piece than a straight-out shocker, The Haunting of Hill House remains required reading for well-seasoned horror fans, and genre newcomers seeking a quintessential ghost story.

The Woman Hunter

The Woman Hunter
Starring Barbara Eden | Robert Vaughn | Stuart Whitman
Written by Brian Clemens | Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski
Made for Television | 1972 | 1 hour, 14 minutes

A luminous Barbara Eden, with the support of a handful of glamorous outfits, shines in this otherwise tepid made-for-television thriller.

Recovering in Mexico from the trauma of an auto accident, Dina Hunter (Barbara Eden) feels herself slowly becoming estranged from her cold, business-oriented husband, Paul (Robert Vaughn). Overcoming her early resistance, she falls for the masculine charms of her neighbor on the beach, Paul Carter (Stuart Whitman). Seemingly tracking Dina from afar, Carter could actually be an international jewel thief and murderer intent on stealing her valuable necklace.

Lumpy and hairy in a middle-aged, seventies leading man sort of way, Stuart Whitman provides easily the most terrifying moment in the film—the prospect of emerging from the surf without his swimming trunks.

Barbara Eden carries the low-grade, woman-in-peril story with her screen presence alone—including an unintentionally funny, weirdly jerky dance number that predates Elaine’s awkward dance on Seinfeld by about twenty years.

Unfolding without much suspense over most of its running time, The Woman Hunter crawls along at a slow pace until delivering a predictable, yet unlikely, twist ending. However, the modest locations and era fashions make for a pleasantly inessential, wallpaper viewing.

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Night Gallery | Season 1 – Episode 6


Night Gallery | Season One | Episode 6 | January 20, 1971

Segment One | They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar
William Windom | Diane Baker | Bert Convey | Written by Rod Serling | Directed by Don Taylor

Down-at-heel sales director Randy Lane (William Windom) reflects back upon twenty-five lost years at a plastics company, as the world around him crumbles. His sympathetic secretary Lynn Alcott (Diane Baker) tries to save him from his failing work performance, reliance upon the bottle, and up-and-coming rival executive, Harvey Doane (Bert Convey). Lane’s most cherished memories, including those of his late wife, all seem to be inexorably tied to Tim Riley’s Bar, now closed and slated for destruction, yet another erased link to a past that can never be recovered.

Windom’s empathetic portrait of a man disconnected from the modern world drives a surprisingly sentimental episode, lacking the traditional “gotcha” punch at the end. In the face of everything Lane cares about being lost to time, comes the most frightening question of all, “Who will remember?”








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Terror Touches Me


Terror Touches Me
Stanton Forbes | Pyramid Books | 1967 | 150 pages

Hey! I didn’t even eat the [salmon] mousse.” — Debbie Katzenberg (Michael Palin), Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)

Following the death of her father, and her sister Connie’s recent marriage, Mary Owen reacts to the depressing thought of spending her life alone by impulsively marrying a man she briefly met at the wedding ceremony. Eamon Doyle, a roguish, gold-toothed Irishman and business acquaintance of Connie’s husband, sweeps Mary off her feet, and takes his new bride to live at his family’s ancestral home outside Dublin. However, other than the gray skies and peat fire in the hearth, little is made of the Irish setting.

Arriving unannounced with Eamon at Doylescourt, a ramshackle castle with sprawling grounds, Mary discovers an unexpected tension amongst the family members residing there. Eamon’s father, Sean Doyle, seems engaged in a much-repeated argument regarding the future direction of the family estate with his children: Brendan, the oldest and most somber, more interested in botany than the family business; Liam, straggly-bearded bohemian and musician in a pub band; and Angela, unreadable under her cool demeanor and blank expression.

Just the same, there is something—some kind of violent undercurrent that I feel, only feel. Even their quarreling is deeper—deadlier than the usual family disagreements even though is seems to be about nothing of importance.

Mary’s observations about the Doyles prove to be prescient. On her very first evening the entire family is stricken after a shared dinner of smoked salmon. Although Mary was unaffected, Eamon’s father collapses, and shortly thereafter dies from an unknown illness. The police ultimately trace the cause of death to a poisoned bottle of whiskey, and conclude that one member of the household is a murderer.

More murders quickly follow, as Eamon’s siblings succumb one by one to mysterious poisonings. The only commonality seems to be Mary, present with each of the victims at the various times and places of their deaths. A growing suspect in the eyes of the police, Mary nevertheless confronts an inescapable conclusion—her own husband is responsible for the shocking crimes. Although he is a man she barely knows, could he really be a cold-blooded killer?

A passable entry in the newlywed-trapped-with-her-sinister-new-family category of gothic fiction, Terror Touches Me fails to generate much suspense on two fronts. Although surrounded by death, Mary never seems to be in immediate jeopardy, since she doesn’t appear to be a primary target herself. Also, even though she becomes a person of interest to the police, the dragnet of wrongful accusation around Mary as a serious suspect never closes in too tightly.

About two-thirds of the way through the story, Mrs. Ryan, the cook, professes to have heard a banshee keening outside her kitchen window, indicating a foreboding spirit lurking on the grounds of the estate. Unfortunately, nothing comes of this possible encounter—supernatural or otherwise—just a failed opportunity to lift the proceedings above the expected inheritance drama.

Night Gallery | Season 1, Episode 5


Night Gallery | Season One | Episode 5 | January 13, 1971

Segment One | Pamela’s Voice

Jonathan (John Astin) discovers that hell is certain other people, when the spirit of his murdered wife, Pamela (Phyllis Diller), returns from the dead to torment him. Continuing to suffer from the specter’s ceaseless nagging at the funeral home, his only hope of relief seems to be in finally burying her corpse. Although playing into the stereotype of the carping wife, Diller’s shrewish cackle—and arched, painted eyebrows–almost conjures a sense of sympathy for Astin’s homicidal husband, who discovers an unexpected difficulty in finding a moment of peace and quiet.






Segment Two | Lone Survivor

Picking up what they believe to be a single woman alone in a lifeboat, a ship’s crew discovers a man in women’s clothing, and a boat mysteriously emblazoned with the logo of the RMS Titanic. An effective early twist regarding the perceived time of the rescue is ultimately squandered in service to a familiar story of cyclical retribution. John Colicos plays the role of the survivor with sweaty desperation–and a powdered-blue nightdress.






Segment Three | The Doll

A British Colonel (John Williams) returning from service in India is confronted with a creepily malevolent (or maybe just grubby) doll, received via post by his young niece. Recognizing the doll as an agent of evil directed at him, the Colonel tries to convince the young girl to relinquish it–arguably, she should also have been persuaded to relinquish that satin blue ribbon in her hair. Pandit Chola (Henry Silva), the Indian mystic who devised the curse in retaliation for his brother’s execution as a resistance fighter, ultimately learns a lesson about karma from the doddering old imperialist.

Aside from a few more-silly-than-scary grimaces, the doll’s supernatural movements are left mostly to the imagination, helping to maintain the episode’s overall mood, and also proving the age-old axiom, “Never go full Chucky.”






The Brooding House


The Brooding House
Alice Brennan | Prestige Books | 1965 | 254 pages

Young, red-haired nurse Larcy Ryan accepts a position as live-in caretaker for David Magnam, a terminal patient living in a rambling house on the shores of Lake Huron. Larcy finds David to be a disagreeable man, always mocking and insulting, referring to her as “Miss Bedpan”. He also exists in a constant state of paranoia regarding the possible malevolent actions of his own family. Sharing the estate is David’s daughter Bena, whose navy husband is out to sea, and her niece, Lyn, whose mother died in a mental institution. Lyn, a badly behaved adolescent, does justify David’s paranoia by confiding with Larcy about Bena,

She needs his money, and she isn’t going to get it until dear David is dead.”

From that foundation, The Brooding House builds itself into an inheritance melodrama, with Larcy fearing that a plot is afoot to kill David for his money. She overhears incriminating snatches of conversations between Bena and a strange man on the beach, and spots her meeting with another suspicious character in the town diner. When the body of Bena’s former brother-in-law turns up at the beach, Larcy becomes convinced that evil machinations are actually underway.

Strange coming-and-goings from David’s room, incriminating newspaper clippings, and the aloof housekeeper’s use of poison, ostensibly for rat traps outside the kitchen, all add to the general atmosphere of menace at the lake house. When Larcy witnesses a strange scene at the pier one night, her own safety becomes directly involved in the events.

As much a nascent romance as a thriller, Larcy finds time to reflect on the nature of love throughout all the mysterious unfolding of events. Although suspicious of Bena’s actions, Larcy admires the relationship between her and her husband, Johnson, whose portrait commands attention in the house while its subject is out to sea. Larcy envies the apparent “fireworks” between the couple, evident in Bena’s emotional longing, but absent with her own prospective fiancée, Pete Crimmins.

Pete, the boy-next-door type, comes off as something of a heel later in the story, when Larcy turns to him for help. However, for all his alleged romantic charms, Johnson doesn’t rate much better. Bena, assessing her own slenderness, remarks,

Johnson abhors fat women. It’s a phobia with him. He actually gets nauseous.”

The Torture Trust


The Torture Trust (Secret Agent X #1)
Brant House | Corinth Books | 1966 | 160 pages

Originally written in the thirties for a pulp magazine, several of the initial Secret Agent X series titles were reprinted by Corinth Books in the sixties. The never-named crime-fighting agent is a master of disguise, infiltrating and destroying criminal operations with his exceptional skills and ingenious gadgetry. Agent X is driven by a personal moral code, and is reviled by the police force as well as the criminal world. Intrepid newspaper reporter, Betty Dale, occasionally assists him in his campaign against evil, but she remains unaware of his true identity.

Investigating a string of acid-attack murders attributed to a cabal of villains known collectively as the Torture Trust, Secret Agent X assumes the identity of a low-level criminal to make contact with the group. Shadowing one of the black-robed members of the evil triad following an arranged secret meeting, X trails him back to an unremarkable house in the suburbs. Breaking into the man’s study, X discovers him to be Ronald Morvay, professor of psychology. Determined to uncover the motives of the Torture Trust and bring its remaining members to justice, X pursues a dangerous course of impersonations to infiltrate its inner core.

The biggest thrills in The Torture Trust derive from repeatedly placing its hero in impossible situations, trapped without hope of escape, that require use of his genius for quick-change disguise, or implementation of his unique arsenal of gadgetry. Whether caught in a police lock-down following a nightclub murder, or trapped in the secret headquarters of a criminal organization, Secret Agent X must utilize all the skills of his trade to free himself and keep his identity from being revealed. Conforming to serial adventure genre tropes, X must also rescue his colleague, Betty Dale, who is (naturally) kidnapped during the course of his investigation.

Although a certain suspension of disbelief is required regarding the equipment X must hide on his person to facilitate some of his high-wire persona changes (even Batman’s utility belt must surely pale in comparison), the pulpy fun of the escape scenarios more than compensates for the narrative convenience of having “just the right item” at hand.

Occasional footnotes by the author provide an almost exposé-like context for some of the agent’s exploits. We learn that X rarely eats regular food, but rather synthetic meals in pill form. He utilizes a radium-based paint to taunt his enemies (and the police), with the graphic letter “X” appearing on walls and phony business cards in his wake. Further, he possesses a moral code to never kill, equipping a gas gun and paralysis dart (in his shoe) that debilitates, rather than kills, his targets.

Establishing the groundwork for the series to come, The Torture Trust mixes elements from the adventure, spy, horror, and science fiction genres into a highly entertaining romp.

Satan’s Coast


Satan’s Coast
Elsie Lee | Lancer Books | 1969 | 254 pages

After the sudden death of her husband, Bartolomeu, Nell Valentim takes her fifteen-year old stepson, Chris, to live in her newly inherited family estate on the Portuguese coast. A ramshackle series of additions to the original castle built up over the last few hundred years, the run-down estate named Costa Demonio was seemingly the only item of value possessed by her late husband. Leaving New York to live rent-free in Portugal, the now strapped-for-cash Nell wonders if Bart’s great-uncle Sansao—from whom he inherited Costa Demonio—hid a secret stash of valuables somewhere on the grounds of the estate, since during his lifetime he had the reputation of possessing a great personal wealth.

Upon arrival at Costa Demonio, Nell is greeted with a less-than-expected courtesy toward its new owner. Damon Lord, an English tenant living in a farmhouse on the property, tries to convince Nell that the castle is uninhabitable, and that she must leave at once. A previously unknown cousin, Alexi Valentim, comes forward to warn Nell away from exploring any of the original structures, citing a concern for her personal safety. Even Huberto, the old caretaker, seems to treat her with disdain, reserving any respect for her stepson, whom he considers to be the true dom of the estate. The family’s local agent and lawyer not only seems to be unaware of Nell’s visit, but of her very existence.

During one of her first nights at Costa Demonio, Nell sees flashing lights on the estate grounds, and a mysterious boat braving the jagged coastal outcroppings to enter the small harbor during a storm. Because of the region’s history of piracy, Nell immediately assumes that a smuggling operation is being conducted through the property, and that the behavior of her new acquaintances implicates them in the suspected crimes. Determined to expose the operation, she ignores all her previous warnings and begins a search for secret tunnels and hidden storehouses in the old castle.

A tepid thriller, Satan’s Coast distinguishes itself from other genre entries through its heroine’s self-awareness of conventions [or maybe she’s just a good detective rather than an avid reader of romance paperbacks]. After witnessing a few mysterious lights and a boat offshore, Nell immediately deduces what, in other Gothic romances, is often revealed in the denouement as the source of mysterious doings in similar old castle locations—namely, a smuggling operation. However, Satan’s Coast doesn’t have much left to offer, with few twists along the way other than the disclosure of who exactly will be implicated when Interpol finally arrives [at least hide something in one character’s artificial foot, if nothing more than as a red herring!].

Other than a blow to the head during an investigation of possible secret tunnel locations, Nell is never really is much imminent danger. Although the villagers fear that the castle is haunted, there aren’t even any ghostly specters to liven up another day of gardening and assembling one-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles. The fate of Bart’s first wife, Cecily, could have provided a foundation for an ongoing undercurrent of tension, with Nell fearing that history will repeat itself, but even that potential remains mostly undeveloped.

Perhaps the greatest loss comes in the anticlimactic photo-shoot that Nell, a former fashion model, organizes on the grounds of Costa Demonio to thwart the suspected smuggling operation. A classic case of all dressed up and nowhere to go, the long-weekend event at the castle, filled with a roster of supermodels, ends with a square dance and a round of polite goodbyes.

To Kill a House


To Kill a House
Suzanne Roberts | Lancer Books | 1973 | 285 pages

Leaving her estranged husband behind in New York, Marra Manning travels to Ireland to inspect Kerrington Keep, an ancestral castle willed to her in an inheritance from her recently deceased grandfather. Perplexed by the cool reception she receives from the townspeople, she discovers that she bears an uncanny resemblance to her historical namesake, Marra Kerrington, mistress of the castle centuries earlier. The previous Marra was responsible for the murder of dozens of members of a rival clan, an infamous act that reputedly drives the spirits of the victims to haunt the estate’s Great Hall today.

But historical deaths are not the only ones plaguing Kerrington Keep. Prior to Marra’s arrival, a watchman fell to his death through a secret trap door off the Great Hall, leading some superstitious types in the village to fear that Marra’s “return”—through the presence of her descendant—will lead to a new cycle of death and mayhem at the castle. Further, some of the estate’s current tenants have claimed to hear moaning emanating from the Great Stones, the cellar brickwork beneath the castle, and to have viewed ghostly figures walking the halls. Marra also faces a threat from the human realm, when she receives a threatening letter demanding that she abandon Kerrington Keep and return to America at once—or face the consequences of an imminent death.

After her only real friend in town mysteriously vanishes, Marra begins to question the trustworthiness of her motley group of residents: the overly protective grandmother and her “amnesiac” granddaughter, the socially withdrawn professor (and former mental patient), the housekeeping couple who lost a child, and the roguishly handsome actor, whom she fears will test the limits of her failed marriage—if she allows herself to fall under his romantic spell. Rejecting the notion of a ghostly cause for her troubles, Marra draws upon the strength of her notorious ancestor to uncover the motivations driving one, or more, of them to seek her removal from Kerrington Keep.

The appeal of To Kill a House lies not so much in the scares the story delivers, which are few, but the atmosphere of growing suspicion and mistrust surrounding Marra. The characters all seem to be harboring secrets; an overheard snatch of phone conversation, some newspapers left in a tenant’s room, and unexplained lights in a basement window all, in turn, point an accusatory finger towards one or another. Marra’s appeal as a heroine grows as she finds the resolve to stay at Kerrington and face the growing danger herself—until she exasperatingly squanders all her newfound mettle by writing to her husband in New York, asking him to come to Ireland and become head of the estate in an effort to make their marriage work.