Fingers of Fear

Fingers of Fear
John U. Nicolson | Paperback Library | 1966 | 224 pages

Werewolf or vampire? Perhaps the distinction is ultimately meaningless for members of the Ormes family, who may suffer from an incurable blood lust when the moon is full.

Under the auspices of organizing an inherited library for his old college chum (Ormand Ormes), a down-on-his-luck writer (Seldon Seaverns) quickly becomes enmeshed in a whirlpool of supernatural horrors. Seaverns is visited by a phantom presence on his first night at the Ormes estate, waking in the morning with a violent bruise on his neck.

And it seemed to have been drawn there by the sucking action of a woman’s young and evil mouth!”

Although tantalized by Ormand’s sister, Gray, an enigmatic beauty exhibiting wild mood swings, Seldon nonetheless suspects that she is responsible for his nocturnal intrusion. But there are other potential suspects housed under the roof the family estate: Ormand’s aunt Barbara, a recluse haunted by some undefined emotional trauma, and Agnes Ormes, Ormand’s disaffected wife, a self-indulgent woman longing for a less-isolated life.

A series of violent murders jolts the household, potentially exposing a secret family history of lycanthropy. The throats of the victims show evidence of being ripped out with human teeth, with great accompanying blood loss. This naturalistic—and ambiguously supernatural—approach foreshadows similar genre treatment in later vampire stories, such as George Romero’s Martin.

However, Fingers of Fear does not simply limit its horrors to lycanthropy and vampirism. Ghostly apparitions, secret family murders, inheritance intrigue and unfolding plans of criminal extortion all trail in the wake of the werewolf/vampire attacks. Already set in an old, dark house riddled with secret passages, these additional elements teeter the story on the verge of campiness.

Originally written in the thirties and steeped in the failure of depression economics, Fingers of Fear is repackaged in this sixties edition under the Paperback Library Gothic banner, replete with the “woman-running-in-fear-from-the-castle” cover art [along with an incorrect character name]. However melodramatic, with its male point of view and oddly supernatural flourishes, it still emerges as a much weirder concoction than the comparable gothic romances of the era.

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Dark Shadows | Issue #19

Dark Shadows | Issue #19
Island of Eternal Life
Gold Key Comics | April 1973

Stumbling upon a corpse—invisible to mortal eyes—washed up on the beach, Barnabas Collins encounters a murderous band of pirates living an eternal life beyond the conventional limits of time.

Why pirates? Why not pirates?

A voodoo priest, serving the pirates and exhibiting an uncanny resemblance to a living Troll Doll, places an “Umba—Umba—Umba” curse on Barnabas, stripping him of his free will and leaving him at the mercy of the captain’s commands. His will imprisoned in a small vial, Barnabas’ reduced state echoes the fear expressed by General Jack D. Ripper (from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove) of a “conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.” Unable to resist, Barnabas is forced to pillage a luxury yacht with the rest of the brigand, in the only sequence of the story that remotely approaches swashbuckling—a strange shortcoming for a pirate adventure.

Later, Barnabas meets Lani, a beautiful native girl also trapped beyond time with the pirates on their island hideaway. Unlike Gauguin in Tahiti, Barnabas does not debauch himself, but plans their escape by summoning the powers of his vampire curse to fight off the voodoo spell imprisoning him. Challenged to be more than mere window-dressing in this issue, Lani muses philosophically, “Who are we to question the fates?” before rowing away in a hidden canoe.

A quick and rather convenient resolution presents itself, when the pirates considerately allow their only weakness to be exposed. The final showdown crashes another voodoo ceremony recycling the same  “Umba—Umba—Umba” chant, cutting short Barnabas Collins’ tropical sojourn.

Dark Shadows | Issue #18

Dark Shadows | Issue #18
Guest in the House Gold Key Comics | December 1972

Gangsters on the run from turf wars in New York City infiltrate Collinwood in an attempt to establish a new front for their criminal activity. The flimsy premise potentially would have resulted in the shortest solution of the series—if not for the sticky question of Barnabas Collins’ morality.

Underworld kingpin Erik Mica, assuming the guise of a real estate agent named Erik Michaels, insinuates himself into the good graces of Elizabeth Collins. While maneuvering to take over Collinwood, he senses something unusual about Barnabas Collins. Exhibiting a mental acuity belied by his uninspired choice of an alias, Michaels quickly pieces together the scant evidence and deduces that Barnabas is a vampire.

Prior to this sudden conclusion, Barnabas inexplicably withholds evidence of Michaels’ true identity from Elizabeth. This lack of forthrightness is puzzling, since the revelation would have caused the entire criminal scheme to collapse. Barnabas grapples with his own sense of morality throughout the issue, although this particular crisis at Collinwood offers a sublimely simple solution—kill Michaels.

A rival gangster named Paul Robbors (with another deviously cryptic alias, Paul Robbins) appears at Collinwood and conveniently solves Barnabas’ dilemma for him. Barnabas engineers a passive, but fatal, attack on Robbors, that stops short of direct murder, but surely fails any basic morality test. Following a hypothetical moral code akin to Asimov’s Law of Robotics—as redefined to suit his particular cursed state of being—Barnabas still fails the First Law:

“A [moral vampire] may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”

What would Julia Hoffman do?

Dark Shadows | Issue #17

Dark Shadows | Issue #17
The Bride of Barnabas Collins
Gold Key Comics | December 1972

After a momentary self-searching existential crisis regarding the nature of his curse, Barnabas Collins inadvertently wanders through the “fogs of time” into Limbo, a place trapped in the perpetual present beyond the reaches of time. He meets Hope Forsythe, another traveler stuck in this atemporal world, and within a few panels, WHAM-BAM-THANK-YOU-MA’AM they are declaring eternal love for each other! The few other characters Barnabas encounters seem to have wandered into Limbo from a discounted rate Renaissance Faire.

But Hope has another predicament beyond being stranded in this world, as a following exposition dump of arbitrary rules details. Her brother, Ward, has been captured and held hostage by Tibourne, the strongman who rules over Limbo. Tibourne, an evil man who is eternally trapped in Limbo, can only hope to escape his purgatory prison by marrying someone who still retains the ability to freely travel back to their own time—namely Hope. Unless she complies, Ward will be killed.

Delicately dancing around the ultimate “Oh, by the way, I’m a vampire” confessional, Barnabas learns that Hope may have a dark secret of her own. Hope disappears, pointy-hatted guards capture Barnabas, Ward somehow escapes on his own (rendering the whole affair rather pointless), and many fistfights ensue.

Barnabas, later reflecting back upon Limbo from the “fogs of time” doorway, decries, “Hope! Come! This fog … it is so thick!”

For a more accurate assessment, simply replace “fog” with “horseshit”.

Dark Shadows | Issue #16

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Dark Shadows | Issue #16
The Scarab
Gold Key Comics | October 1972

An ancient Egyptian mystic of the black arts recruits Barnabas Collins into his undead army in this issue of the ongoing comic series.

The unholy priest, Potiphar, possesses a strange power enabling him to control those spirits trapped between worlds, such as the cursed Barnabas. Potiphar’s army, assembled over the last four thousand years, seeks to reunite the lost treasure of the First Kingdom, a mythic cache of legendary objects that will grant its owner total dominion over the Earth.

Barnabas’ first directive under Potiphar’s control is stealing one such item, the improbably named Golden Girdle of Ibex. Aside from his ability to fly away with the stolen cloth in his bat talons, Barnabas’ specially chosen role as “First Minister” to Potiphar amounts to little more than smash-and-grab robber among confused museum guards.

Meanwhile at a Collinwood cocktail party, Professor Stokes deduces the entire plan—and Potiphar’s responsibility, in particular—from the gathered small talk surrounding the simple news of a museum robbery.

Professor Stokes is rarely wrong…but, no! The whole thing is too preposterous!

After discovering that Barnabas’ coffin is missing, Julia Hoffman convenes an emergency séance to send a message to him through the spirit plane, thus breaking Potiphar’s spell.

Ultimately, Barnabas faces off against the other creatures of darkness, and Potiphar learns the dangers of transmutation—particularly surrounding the inherent vulnerability in taking the form of a beetle.

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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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Dark Shadows (Issue #14)

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Dark Shadows, Issue #14
The Mystic Painting
Gold Key Comics | June 1972

While cleaning out the attic at Collinwood, Elizabeth and Barnabas discover an old family portrait. They uncover another painting hidden underneath, a landscape treatment of Collingreen, an extended family estate outside London. The painting seemingly calls out to Barnabas, issuing psychic vibrations and triggering an actual memory of a visit to his uncle, Lord Balsham, at the great house in 1743.

During his visit, Barnabas meets young painter, Owen Roberts, who hides a not-so-secret attraction to Barnabas’ cousin, Sara. Tragedy soon ensues when Sara is killed, and Owen takes the blame, and corporal punishment, for the crime from a vengeful Lord Balsham. However, Barnabas fears his own culpability since the violent attack occurred during a resurgent episode of his own vampiric curse.

The Mystic Painting fails to offer much new to the series, as Barnabas travels in time, faces a confrontational ghost, and—of course—attends a seance to end the suffering represented by the cursed painting. He ultimately discovers the true identity of the culprit behind Sara’s death, to little surprise. Continuing to make up new rules from one episode to the next (vampires cannot have their portraits painted; bat transformations are initiated by the full moon), this issue at least sends Barnabas traveling through time via the mechanics, however dubious, of a haunted painting, rather than by simply closing his eyes and magically wishing it to happen.

Ruminating on the conflicting details rising from the failed seance, Professor Stokes could have instead been reflecting upon the series canon by declaring, “Hmm…er, yes, it may have been! But then, who knows about these things?

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Dark Shadows (Issue #13)

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Dark Shadows, Issue #13
Hellfire
Gold Key Comics | April 1972

Constance Collins, yet another in a long line of previously unknown Collins family members, returns to Collinwood to announce her upcoming engagement. Barnabas Collins, again suffering from the vampire curse inflicted upon him by the witch, Angelique, nearly makes her a victim of his insatiable hunger before recognizing a family heirloom worn around her neck. Avoiding an early death at the hands (or more correctly, fangs) of a vampire, Constance’s life is further threatened by another supernatural menace at the family estate, a deadly manifestation of hellfire.

A coldly burning explosive fire that does not consume surrounding fuel in the natural manner, hellfire—as immediately recognized by Professor Stokes—occurs in places of great evil, transporting the innocents who unwittingly gaze into its cold flames directly to hell itself. Passing off an inexplicable fireball in the halls of Collinwood as a mere candle reflection, Barnabas sends Constance to bed, wondering if his cursed presence has summoned the hellfire. Naturally, Constance awakens in the night to a fiery glow, and cannot help but to stare into the hypnotizing flames. Seeing his cousin vanish into the pyre, Barnabas jumps in himself, vowing to pull her back from the black pits into which she has disappeared.

Given the epic nature of his task—journeying to hell and battling Satan for Constance’s soul—Barnabas has a rather easy time in this outing. It seems the devil is running a crooked three-card monte hustle in hell, and Barnabas need only break up his grift to release their souls. Never has defeating great Evil been as simple as knocking over a card table.

A half-expected twist, that Constance’s fiancée is the true source of evil calling up the hellfire, never develops. Disappointingly, he just turns out to be something of a mute Ken doll—a Ken doll with blank, malevolent eyes.

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