Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Kind of Face You SLASH!!: Day 15 - Laughing Like Crazy

Robert Bloch once titled one of his short story collections Such Stuff as Screams are Made Of. Although the cover doesn't really make this clear, I'm going to go ahead and assume that Bloch's preference was that the words "screams" be printed in all caps.

That's the kind of horror writer Bloch was. In his introduction to the aforementioned book, Gahan Wilson says:

Chatting on about rotting vampires or slavering fiends did not seem to depress him in any way. Indeed, it often appeared that nothing cheered him up more than some new way to sever heads of inflict damage on innocent children, and any ghastly act of sadism which crossed his mind only set him to chortling, so long as he could make a pun on it.

If all of that is true, then obviously Bloch's imaginative capacity for sadism was extremely limited compared to the horror writers who succeeded him. And that's one of the things that's so great about him: to our jaded eyes, his stuff is downright charming. Yes, he had a tendency to throw out the occasional awful pun, but he also could tell a great, straight-forward story, a story that was genuinely creepy, fun, often with a great stinger of a last line. Bloch -- along with Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and others -- helped bridge the gap between the horror of H. P. Lovecraft and M. R. James and the endlessly influential The Twilight Zone, as well as comic books like Tales from the Crypt. In short, before hitting it big when his novel Psycho was adapted as a film, Robert Bloch was a pulp writer. So was everyone else I've mentioned here, save James, but Bloch was one of those guys who made his living pounding out one short story after another for roughly a penny a word, who wrote fiction as a 9 to 5 job. And the results were successful, more often than not.

In "The Weird Tailor", a man named Erik Conrad, who works in the title profession, sees that his business is failing around him. It's hard to say for sure why, but the incredibly unsettling dummy he has set up in his front window. The dummy -- whom his abused immigrant wife takes to calling Otto, after her beloved and deceased cousin -- is falling apart, and its grinning face has taken on a kind of demented, leering quality. Oh well, can't be helped. Conrad is too busy worrying about his debts, anyway. Fortunately, one day a man named Mr. Smith enters the shop and asks that he make a very special suit for his son. The suit must be made out of a very strange fabric which Smith provides himself, and it must be made to the exact (and bizarre) specifications laid out. Oh, and Conrad can only work on the suit at certain times of the night. This, Smith says, is because he believes in astrology...

In "Lucy Comes to Stay", a woman named Vi is being kept locked up in her own home by her husband George and a live-in nurse. Vi's friend Lucy, who has to sneak in to visit her, tells her that George and the nurse are having an affair, and are tricking the doctors into believing Vi is insane. Although Lucy frequently insults Vi, she does promise to help her escape. Which she does. But how did they get out?

I know, what I've written is nothing more than a couple of blurbs for a couple of obscure Bloch short stories. But frankly, there's not much to say about these. Both are good, solid stories. They may not stop you cold with their brilliance, and the methods he uses might now seem shop-worn to some of you, but that's because Bloch has been ripped off a lot. And as I said, they're just fun. Fun's good.


Anonymous said...

Bill, I have to revisit Bloch. It's been years. It may have been just a couple of blurbs, but they piqued my interest in him again. Good job.

bill r. said...

You're just being kind. I was just not feeling this yesterday.

Greg said...

I've noticed not a lot seems to go into the titles of horror fiction. The Weird Tailor, Lucy Comes to Stay. They rely on basic description to get you to read the story which is probably a good thing. The Weird Tailor sounds really cool to me and I think I'll check it out. Is it available online maybe, or do I have to buy the collection?

bill r. said...

I couldn't find it online, so I guess you'll have to buy it. But you should be able to find it on-line for very little.

I'm big on titles, myself. I'm bad at them, but I love a good one (in case anyone was wondering, the titles for all of these posts are just quotes from the stories, or, in the case of Throat Sprockets, a quote from Shakespeare used in the novel). "The Weird Tailor" is the kind of title you can't skip over, for whatever reason.

Fox said...

Did you decide not to post today b/c you're worried about your Redskins?? :0)

Don't worry, they will be ok. I mean, you should be happy for me and Brian that our teams won last week. In fact, I'm hanging on hopes of the Texans being 3-4 at the end of October. (Hoping for 3-4 is sad, I know, but it's baby steps man.)

bill r. said...

No, Fox, it's just getting hard to do this every day. I may double up today to make up for the lost time, but I don't know. Reading and writing about what you've just read every day is a real motherscratcher.