Keeper of the Children

Keeper of the Children
William H. Hallahan | Avon Books | 1979 | 189 pages

Is that kid of yours worth it?”

Searching for his missing daughter, Renni, Eddie Benson discovers a cult of runaway children, lead by an insidious master of mind control. Tran Cao Kheim, a monk who fled Tibet following the Chinese takeover, exerts a powerful mental hold over Renni and the other lost children, directing them to panhandle on the streets of Philadelphia during the day, and return to his warehouse district compound at night.

Discouraged by the (inexplicable) failure of the police to return their children, Benson and a group of other parents take the matter into their own hands, devising a plan to have Kheim deported. Their actions, however, draw attention of the evil monk, who deploys his telekinetic powers to target them. Before he is able to deliver a briefcase of incriminating evidence to the Immigration Department, Kenneth Custis, the father of one of the captive boys, is brutally murdered on his farm—his neck broken by a scarecrow possessed and animated by Kheim’s astral-projected mind.

Kheim is something of a racist throwback to the early twentieth-century stereotypical villain, Fu Manchu, filled with the inscrutable menace of the Orient. Sax Rhomer’s character is even name-checked by Custis in explaining Kheim’s commune, but simply referring to a racist archetype does not provide free meta-text license to create it anew. The only difference is that this villain is gifted with the telekinetic powers so prevalent in seventies supernatural horror.

After nearly being killed by a telekinetically controlled marionette in his home, Benson becomes determined to fight Kheim using the monk’s own methods against him. He enlists the talents of Nullatumbi, a yogi who understands Kheim’s methods (an “oobie with PK”, or for the layperson, an out-of-body experience with psychokinesis). A long training sequence follows, with an appropriate level of hokum involved. Benson does much inner soul-searching, and cosmic wandering, over a two-week period, while mentally focusing on a blank white wall.

Kheim’s Pied Piper-like hold over the children is not fully explored, nor Renni’s seemingly singular ability to occasionally shake off his mental yoke and warn her father away. Since Kheim is capable of exerting control over a large group of children, why not their parents too?

The attacks are the absurdly appealing centerpieces, however, with a giant possessed teddy bear wielding an axe—a sequence the cover image teases, and the text actually delivers—being a highlight. An extended, literal cat fight, with the astral-projected combatants inhabiting feline bodies, serves as the ultimate showdown, with Benson and Kheim aiming at the tenuous psychic thread linking their respective minds back to their own corporeal bodies.

And that final battle is the second cat attack in the story.

The Priestess


The Priestess

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?

The Fury


The Fury
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.”

The Mind Masters


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?