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Tuesday Terrors!

The Horror fiction of Robert E. Howard

By Tim Janson     January 03, 2012


Welcome to the first 2012 installment of Tuesday Terrors. First I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year…and hopefully it’s not our LAST new year what with all the Mayan calendar paranoia. This week’s Tuesday Terrors features several new reviews and a spotlight on the horror fiction of the great Robert E. Howard. 
The Terrifying News!
Judge rules in favor of marvel regarding the rights to Ghost Rider
A federal judge rules that the rights to the flaming-skull motorcycle-riding Ghost Rider belongs to Marvel Comics. Comic writer, Gary Friedrich who created the character in 1972 claimed in his lawsuit that Marvel had infringed on his rights to the character and its use in movies and merchandise. The judge said Friedrich relinquished his rights to "Ghost Rider" when he endorsed and cashed checks from Marvel. The checks contained language relinquishing all rights. Friedrich's lawyer said he would file an appeal. Now one can argue that Marvel is being the evil corporate bully but certainly no one conceived of Ghost Rider films and toys nearly 40 years ago. Marvel was protecting its rights to the character at that time and most writers blindly agreed to the stipulations at the time in order to continue working.
Arnold Schwarzenegger to star in new supernatural action thriller
The former Governator will star in the new supernatural action film Black Sunday. Schwarzenegger will play an immortal. "I'm a kind of angel," he said, "I can not currently say more about this film." The movie, with Arnold raging war against weapons dealers as an immortal instrument of death, is being described as a cross between Constantine and Commando. Black Sunday will be directed by Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy.
Blade Anime series to debut January 13 on G4
Harold Perrineau of “Lost” will provide the voice of Eric Brooks, the supernatural Daywalker known as Blade, making his animated series debut with more action, terrifying villains and bloodthirsty monsters than you've ever seen before. Following in the steps of other hit Marvel anime series, Blade offers viewers 12 half-hour weekly episodes exclusively on G4. The show debuts January 13th at 11:00pm
Piranha 3DD to be direct-to-video?
It’s looking that way…The John Gulager-directed follow-up to 2010's gore/sheest fest Piranha 3D was originally scheduled to open in November until Dimension Films yanked it from the 2011 release line-up. In the UK, it appears it is going to bypass theaters completely and head direct-to-DVD. So will it also be direct-to-video here in the U.S? The film still doesn't have a U.S. release date. Dimension Films made a big splash at the Spike Awards back in October with a trailer implying that a wide run in theaters was coming, but we’ll now have to wait and see.
The Horror Fiction of Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard is widely regarded as the father of the Swords & Sorcery genre. The creator of Conan the Barbarian, King Kull of Atlantis, Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane, and Pictish King Bran Mak Morn, Howard’s creations have lived on for decades after his death. Howard was nothing if not pragmatic as a writer. While contemporaries like H.P. Lovecraft labored for perfection on their stories, Howard first and foremost wanted to make a living as a writer and consequently refused to be limited to any particular genre. He went where the markets took him…In addition to his swords & sorcery tales Howard also wrote dozens of historical adventures of characters like Francis Xavier Gordon, Kirby O’Donnell, and swordswoman Dark Agnes de Chastilon. He wrote Westerns featuring characters like Breckinridge Elkins and gunfighter the Sonoroa Kid. He wrote numerous boxing and fighting stories with tough two-fisted protagonists like Sailor Steve Costigan. Howard even dabbled in detective stories and comedies but if there was one genre where Howard truly excelled in other than Swords & Sorcery, it was horror.

Horror Items from this week

Some of Howard’s horror tales have been re-printed in recent years, first with Baen’s Robert E. Howard Library in the mid-1990s and more recently by Del Rey in their collections of Howard’s works. However a number of Howard’s stories have fallen into public domain so you can read many of them online for free at sites like Project Gutenberg. 
Howard wrote over 60 horror stories in his career. Lovecraft, Howard’s friend whom corresponded with him for years, encouraged Howard and other writers of the day to develop their own takes on his Cthulhu mythos. Howard was only too eager and created his own tome of unspeakable evil similar to Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. The Unaussprechlichen Kulten or “Nameless Cults” was introduced in Howard’s story “The Black Stone”. In this story the narrator investigates an ancient monolith in the village of Stregoicavar in the mountains of Hungary. There he has a frightening encounter with a monstrous toad-like deity that nearly drives him insane. 
“The Hoofed Thing” shows the fundamental difference between Howard’s Cthulhu Mythos stories and those of Lovecraft’s. A demonic creature is brought into our world that threatens humanity. While Lovecraft’s protagonist might have lived in fear for the rest of his life or been driven insane after his encounter with the demon, Howard’s protagonist grabs an ancient sword and kills the creature. Even in horror, Howard could not escape his heroic principles. 
“Skull-Face” combines 1930s weird menace with a bit of Mythos tossed in as an ancient sarcophagus is found floating in the ocean. Inside is a creature named Kathulos that lived long before recorded time and is resurrected again to plague mankind. Read it at Project Gutenberg: Skull-face

Horror Items from this week

“The Haunter of the Ring” is a story set in modern day but featuring a dose of Conan’s Hyborian Age horror. A woman who has tried to murder her husband is found to be possessed by an elemental spirit that emanated from a ring she was given as a gift…a ring depicting a coiled snake. Conan fans will remember this as The Serpent Ring, once possessed by Conan’s archenemy, the sorcerer Thoth-Amon. See the link: Haunter of the Ring
Somewhat Lovecraftian in tone although not necessarily a Mythos tale is “The People of the Black Coast”. Here a man and woman become shipwrecked on a foreboding island that is inhabited by giant crabs. Now this isn’t some schlocky, 1950’s style monster story but rather these giant crabs are highly intelligent and have even live in a giant city. Rather than merely attack the humans they rather observe and toy with them. The male protagonist wages what he knows will be a losing war and that eventually he’ll be overrun by the creatures but intends to take as many with him as possible in a violent, bloody battle. 
Many of Howard’s stories are Southern Gothic tales set in the deep south or Southwest and were stories that were influenced by the myths and folklore he read and heard about as a child. One of these is “Black Canaan” a tale of zombies and voodoo set in New Orleans and Arkansas. While the story is filled with racial epithets that are quite offensive today, it still must be noted that the main antagonist, Saul Stark a black conjure-man, is the most interesting and intelligent character in the story while most of the white characters are simply portrayed as dumb, paranoid rednecks. Read Black Canaan here: Black Canaan
“Black Wind Blowing” (boy Howard sure loved to use the word “black” in his story titles) is another one of his weird menace stories, this one written in 1936. This tale has the honor of being one of Howard’s most violent and brutal stories. A young Texas rancher is given what sounds to be a sweet deal by his landlord…the deed to his ranch, a $1000 dollars, and his niece’s hand in marriage. The catch? Well his landlord was formerly a member of a satanic cult and the cult has now tracked him down to murder him and take his niece as a sacrifice. Read it at Project Gutenberg: black wind blowing
Perhaps Howard’s most-well known horror story is “Pigeons from Hell,” first published in Weird Tales in 1938. This southern gothic relates the tale of two men travelling in the south and spending the night in a rundown, abandoned manor. One of the men awakes from his sleep to find the other missing. As he searches the house he finds his friend walking as if in a trance but with his skull split by an axe. The other man flees the house and soon learns about the horrifying reputation of the house steeped in West Indies voodoo and zombie lore. The pigeons of the story's title are ghostly birds that sometimes flock mysteriously about the decaying manor. In 1983, Stephen King, writing in Danse Macabre, considered "Pigeons from Hell" to be "one of the finest horror stories of our century". The story was the basis for an episode of the Boris Karloff Thriller television series, airing in June 1961. Joe R. Lansdale more recently adapted it for a 4 issue mini-series from Dark Horse comics.

Horror Items from this week


While his horror work will never surpass his Swords and Sorcery creations, Howard still proved himself as a very capable horror writer, and able to transcend different styles. If you are a Howard fan, here are a couple of great websites you can check out that are dedicated to his works:
Beware (Maya Entertainment) DVD
Grade D
Now here is a film with an appropriate title…Beware…As in beware of watching this utter amateurish piece of junk. I mean I hate to kill an independent horror as I love indy horrors but this one is just atrocious on every level. We start with the stereotypical group of kids (the back cover calls them teenagers but if they’re teenagers then so am I) out on a final weekend trip together before returning to school. Right on cue their SUV breaks down in a backwater town called “Shady Grove” where several murders were committed a few years earlier. The characters are bargain bid one dimensional cutouts purchased at the slasher film dollar store. There’s the sex-crazed couple (you know the’ll be the first to get killed), the shy, nerdy character, the quiet male leader, and the cute and smart female lead who you know will be the final survivor.
A local woman named Maria allows the group to spend the night at her house as they wait for their vehicle to be fixed. Maria relates the tales of the murder and the local urban myth of a boy named Shane who is chained in the woods for years when his father finds out he’s not the actual biological father and kills his wife. No really…I’m not making this up. So apparently this boy who was maybe about 10 when he was chained up, is left out there even though the town apparently knows about it. I say apparently because nothing in this film is all that clear. Half the film is told in numerous flashbacks to different time periods making it a confusing mess. Once we get the film’s plot twist it sends the whole thing careening out of control.
The acting is as bad as I have seen in a long…long time. Not surprising considering that this was the first role for several members of the cast. I’m still trying to figure out if they were trying to be funny-bad or if they were just that bad. Not even the slasher elements are able to save this dud. About the only redeeming quality the film has is several attractive female characters but it gets to the point where you’d rather just see them dead so the film can mercifully come to an end.

Zombie Apocalypse (The Asylum) Blu-Ray
Grade D+
When the dreaded words “Syfy original” show up on your screen it brings with it more dreaded apprehension than an actual zombie apocalypse. Credit the film for one thing; it actually managed to perform even below my bottom shelf expectations. A brief prologue relates how a zombie plague referred to as the VM2 virus wipes out most of the world’s population. The United States Government decides to utilize satellites to hit the nation with an EMP blast, wiping out all electronics in the hopes of containing the plague. This immediately sets up the absurd nature of the film. The last I checked, zombies don’t drive cars or use cell phones.  Of course this move means the films survivors have no means to communicate with anyone and have to travel on foot. 
The survivors include Henry (Ving Rhames), Mack (Gary Weeks), Ramona (Taryn Manning), Julian (Johnny Pacar), and Cassie (Leslie-Ann Brandt whom you might recognize from Starz’ Spartacus TV series). The group is making their way to California in order to reach Catalina Island, a reported safe haven. The characters might as well be cardboard cutouts for all of the development they get. The repetitious plot is nothing more than movie, fight zombies, rest…then do it six more times. Director Nick Lyon didn’t seem to know whether he wanted fast moving zombies as in the Dawn of the Dead remake or traditional George Romero shambling undead…thus we get an inconsistent mix of zombies that sort of skip along like they all have one bum leg. What’s more the zombies also behave inconsistently as well. In one scene, the zombies hide out in a school gymnasium and ambush the group…yet in another they blissfully stroll by as the group hides out in a van.
The makeup is strictly amateur hour and anyone with access to a Halloween store could do just as capable a job. A lot of the zombies look like they just had some blood splatter on them without any signs of decomposition. But everything gets back to the ridiculous scripting that makes you roll your eyes in exasperation. Whenever the group enters a new building, they call out, “Are there any humans in here?” What’s the point of that? If someone replies doesn’t that mean they’re humans since, ya know, ZOMBIES DON’T TALK!!! Uggh…If you’re interested in subjecting yourself to more torture there’s a short making of featurette (4:33) and a gag reel (1:02) but when it comes down to it, this entire film is a gag reel.

30 Days of Night: Night, Again Graphic Novel (IDW)
Grade: B-
There’s no question that the original 30 Days of Night was a brilliant concept from writer Steve Niles. How could no one have ever conceived of vampires making a Northern Alaska town its target since its shrouded in darkness for a month. No one was surprised to see a sequel…multiple sequels. But Night, Again is about the 10th sequel in the series and you get the feeling there’s not much left in the tank. One thing this graphic novel (which reprints a four-issue limited series) has going for it is that it’s written by Joe Lansdale, one of our finest modern horror writrers. This time the vampires are on the trail of a group of survivors who manages to escape the town of Barrow and are heading to another small town some one hundred miles from Barrow.
Reaching the town the find it all but abandoned but for a small team of researchers measuring climate change. The researchers have found a large cylinder frozen in the ice. Inside is a being even more ancient and more powerful than the vampires…A Golem, long hidden away for safety. But will the creature aid the humans or the vampires? I like the combination of the Jewish mythology of the Golem mixed in with the usual 30 Days of Night vampires. It certainly sets up a different dynamic than previous 30 Days of Night storylines. Lansdale is a master of creating interesting, earthy characters and Night, Again is no different, from the snarling venomous female vamp leader to the thoughtful, strong-willed Trudy who lost the love of her life to the vamps.
But Sam Keith’s art does the story no justice. It’s hard to take a horror story serious when you’re looking at Keith’s scribbling for 100 pages. Admittedly his art is an acquired taste and he has his fans but I’m not one of them. Granted the art of Ben Templesmith on the original series was also rough and abstract but it also had a pervading sense of horror that Keith’s art sorely lacks. It didn’t work and only detracted from Lansdale’s story.

Horror Items from this week


Showing items 1 - 7 of 7
Wiseguy 1/3/2012 9:09:10 AM

By 1972 anyone writing comics should've known better due to Superman and Batman just to name 2, of the consequences. I won't be shedding any tears for this GR guy or any others filing similar claims like the family of Superman's creators.

That Black Sunday sounds like Arnie is going back to his roots. Yeah it sounds very 80s like but I'm a fan and I'm sure that I'll be there opening day.

I love CONAN but nothing else of Howard's ever called to me, not even King Kull. Still very cool of you to include these links, maybe on a quite Sunday now that the NFL is down to its last month I'll read some of these works.

Wiseguy 1/3/2012 9:15:24 AM

Oh yeah, not surprised about Pirahna 3DD going straight to video. The franchise started out with Aja directing and then they take a huge step down and bring in the winner of a contest to direct the sequel.

Thanks for warning us about some of these films. I did somehow catch like 15 minutes of Zombie Apocalypse and damn I can't believe Ving Rhames agreed to that.

tjanson 1/3/2012 9:28:30 AM

Ya...Poor Ving must have owed someone a huge favor!

jedibanner 1/3/2012 9:53:52 AM

I saw that Zombie Apocalypse and Man, is it bad or what. Ving Rhames must be really short for cash because, that's his third zombie movie and they are just getting badder and badder one after another.

Might be best to go direct-to-video for Pirahna 3DD because...well first it's 3D so who cares and then a sequel for something this stupid...just sell it for cheap and that's it (which somehow, Ving Rhames found himself back into the sequel anyway).

doublec 1/3/2012 10:00:30 AM

Really, how is anyone surprised that something made for Siffee by The Asylum is gonna be crap? Admittedly, when they're in on that joke the films can be fun, but often they actually think they're making art and that's when they suck mightily.

The new 30 Days of Night series sounds cool, but the very primitive artwork on that cover worries me. And just how would European Jews from the Middle Ages have hidden the Golem in the Artic?!?

Roqueja 1/3/2012 2:34:00 PM

Some of Sam Keith's artwork was mind-blowing and inspired.  Those were individual pieces mind you.  I really don't like his visual style for series work, and is usually exactly what was reviewed, distracting from the story.

All of the lame zombiefests out make me miss Walking Dead even more.

stonedtodeath 1/3/2012 2:55:41 PM

Robert E Howard is from Cross Plains, Texas, I used to hunt there and lived about an hour away.  When you drive into the town there is a sign with his picture that says "The Hometown of Robert E. Howard", I thought to myself Who is that douche?  Did my homework and it turned out he used to be a boxer, wrote lots of science fiction and fantasy stories, is considered by some to be the father of fantasy novels or sword and sorcery, something like that, and the most interesting thing about Howard is kind of a horror or mystery story in and of itself.  His mother lies sick in a hospital, breathing possibly, her last breath.  Howard walks out of the hospital and across the street to his car, gets in, and shoots himself in the head.  He inspired people like George R.R. Martin and Tolkien.  Most interesting guy I'd never heard of.



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