Mistress of Terror and Other Stories: Alabama Getaway

Mistress of Terror and Other Stories by Wyatt BlassingameMistress of Terror and Other Stories by Wyatt Blassingame

Mistress of Terror and Other Stories by Wyatt BlassingameBy the time a reader gets to the fourth and final volume in Ramble House’s series of books dedicated to Wyatt Blassingame, he/she will almost inevitably have come to the realization that the Alabama-born author surely was a master of that peculiar horror subgenre known as “weird-menace” fiction. And indeed, those first three volumes – The Tongueless Horror and Other Stories: The Weird Tales of Wyatt Blassingame, Volume One, Lady of the Yellow Death and Other Stories: The Weird Tales of Wyatt Blassingame, Volume Two, and The Unholy Goddess and Other Stories: The Weird Tales of Wyatt Blassingame, Volume Three – had provided the reader with 26 tales guaranteed to both shock and astonish. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that even confined as Blassingame was by the weird-menace formula – which dictated that seemingly supernatural events be ultimately rationalized in a far-fetched yet mundane manner … although, significantly, not always, in this author’s case – the variety of plots that he managed to concoct was seemingly endless. Volume Three alone had given us stories dealing with a life-draining orchid woman, the ghost of a homicidal sibling, a Druidic cult in the Kentucky mountains, voodoo, a woman composed of moonlight and fog, terror in the Yucatan, a house of torture in Alabama’s Dismal Swamp, an amnesiac prone to bouts of murder, a werewolf living in Greenwich Village, and a cursed expedition to explore buried Mayan ruins. As you can see, a wide range of subject matter here, despite the limitations of the genre.

And so, we come to the last entry of the series: Mistress of Terror and Other Stories: The Weird Tales of Wyatt Blassingame, Volume Four, released by Ramble House in 2014 and offering up 10 more flabbergasting outings from the pen of this pulp master. As in the previous volumes, John Pelan here provides the highly informative introduction and Gavin O’Keefe gives us some more of his wonderful artwork for the cover. Also as in previous volumes, most of the tales here were culled from two of the foremost weird-menace pulp publications of the era, Dime Mystery Magazine and Terror Tales. But in Volume Four, we also have a tale from Thrilling Mystery (which released 88 issues over its respectable run from 1935 – 1944), as well as one tale from The Scorpion magazine (whose April/May 1939 issue, I believe, was its first and last). The tales here range from short story to novella length and span the period 1935 – 1939, the heyday of the weird-menace tale.

Okay, are you ready to hear about the 10 doozies in this collection? Well, things get started with a definite bang in the traditional vampire story “They Thirst By Night.” Here, Kenneth Partridge, the rector of a small community in Sumter County, AL, pays a visit to the town’s newest resident, Virginia Bradford. When the beautiful woman accidentally cuts her finger on a rusty nail, the good curate does the only neighborly thing possible … namely, suck out any possible infection from the wound, thereby swallowing some blood in the process. And before long, as the good rector begins to get the urge for more blood, and the hankering to roam the night, the new resident reveals herself to be nothing less than a lusty vampiress! And such a shame that the blood that Rector Partridge is most desirous of now is that from his own fiancée, the lovely Rose McLarkin. Into this deliciously dreary and downbeat tale Blassingame incorporates a few genuine shocks as well as this wonderful description of Virginia Bradford: “Her hair was as dark as the shadow of a grave”! You’ve gotta love it!

Forsaking the Alabama countryside, the action jumps to Mexico City in the next outing, “Gods Never Die.” In this tale, one of Mexico’s foremost stage actors, Don Pancho, tells two Americans the story of what had occurred when he’d performed at the Palace of Fine Arts on its opening night. The theater had been built on the former site of an Aztec temple, its construction having been plagued by numerous setbacks, supposedly brought about by the angry and vengeful gods themselves. And as Don Pancho’s story reveals, and subsequent events demonstrate all too convincingly, those gods continue to be highly ticked off in this modern era. Blassingame’s attention to realistic detail is here revealed by his accurate descriptions of the Mexican peaks Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, as well as the Palace of Fine Arts, which was inaugurated in November 1934, 18 months before this story’s publication.

Mistress of Terror and Other Stories by Wyatt BlassingameIn “And Only Death Shall Save!,” Andy Madox, publisher of a small newspaper in Dothan (Alabama, natch), is tasked by the town’s sheriff to warn off an East Indian guru of sorts named Carmin Sorel. Sorel had lately been attempting to form a new religion centered around himself, and had been cajoling the town’s black populace to commit all sorts of crimes for his own enrichment. Andy, for some reason, makes the huge mistake of taking along his girlfriend, Janis Wingate, and the two are put under a curse by the irate Indian fakir. And in the days to come, Andy begins to hear the footsteps of an invisible something that accompanies him wherever he goes, as he and Janis both begin to sicken and grow feverish. A burnt-faced cousin, gunplay, swamp action (in Dismal Swamp, which had also figured in Blassingame’s story “Death Blisters”), and an invisible barrier are all thrown into this head spinner of a tale. My only complaint: Isn’t Dothan in Houston County, not Ozark?

An appropriately titled and brutal story that is most definitely not for the squeamish, “The Prince of Pain” shows us what happens when Joe Fall, a federal game warden, investigates the sadistic treatment of some birds and fish in his Florida bailiwick. Fall’s researches lead him to an isolated island near Tampa Bay, and in the only house on that island, he discovers a hairy wild man who is being kept prisoner in a filthy basement, an insane woman locked in a closet … and the sadistic criminal Anthony Spaci, his Russian moll, and his gorillalike henchman Harry Bruen! This story features some of the most punishing fisticuffs you have ever encountered in your life, fingernail torture, tongue ripping (hardly the first Blassingame story to showcase that particular treatment), and immolation; it is quite a ghastly catalog of atrocities that poor Joe Fall encounters. As I said, this remarkable little chiller is assuredly not for the faint of heart!

The collection’s longest offering, “The Invisible Horror,” is up next, and it is, happily, one of the best. In this one, the freighter called Rosy Day takes on some passengers and undergoes a terrifying time while on the high seas. We witness the bizarre events through the eyes of first mate Pete Stark, as a passenger is shot dead by another doing a quarrel, is buried at sea … and then returns to slay the other passengers and crew! Even worse, everyone on the so-called “hell ship” is eventually struck blind, leading to the wonderful line “Blind on a ship where a dead man stalked among the living, carrying death in his hollow laughter.” A terrific sea adventure as well as a rattlingly fine fright fest, “The Invisible Horror” is yet somewhat undermined by an ending that doesn’t quite explain all that had come before, leaving the reader wondering if perhaps this tale is both supernatural and mundane. Read it for yourself and see…

As far as the collection’s title story, “Mistress of Terror,” is concerned, it might be, at least for this reader, the weakest tale in the bunch. Here, Ben Marshall arrives in Barbados to visit his best friend, Ed Thomas, only to find the man dying in his bed of some mysterious malady. Thomas had, a short time earlier, gone to look at an ancient Dutch box that a native had recently found in a field … a box that the natives deemed to be cursed. After Thomas’ passing, Ben goes to have a look at the box himself and is also struck with a disabling illness. Meanwhile, Thomas’ lady friend, Marian, whose eyes and movements forcefully remind Ben of a cat – yes, I suppose that is supposed to be her, on O’Keefe’s fanciful cover – keeps turning up at the most unusual moments. Personally, I feel that this tale would have worked better had it just confined itself to that Dutch relic and its disease-causing nature. The author here does not seem able to decide if Marian is indeed a “cat woman” or not, and darned if I could figure it out either.

Much more to my liking, however, is the remarkable story “Dictator of the Damned,” into which Blassingame threw everything but the proverbial kitchen sink to guarantee a good time. In this one, a criminal organization demands not only amnesty from the government, but a Pacific island, millions in cash, and good-looking women to bring along, as well! The wife and daughters of the unnamed city’s mayor, police commissioner and governor are kidnapped, as is beautiful Bobby Ellis, beloved of newspaper owner Alden Case. But when the criminals’ demands are not met, that’s when the real terror begins, as plague-carrying rats and disease-carrying mosquitoes are released, the wild animals in the zoo are set free, and a colony of lepers is set loose on the streets! (This is at least the fourth story in this Blassingame series to spotlight lepers, oddly enough.) Also featuring a tank of a man named Knuckleduster Donohue, scorpion torture (perhaps this story should have appeared in The Scorpion magazine!), a shootout in the sewer system, still another tongue ripping, female nudity, and death by water moccasin, this mind-boggling action yarn surely did give the Dime Mystery readers their 10 cents’ worth!

In the short but wonderful “Dark Child of Doom,” explorer Tom Mainor reappears after a five-year absence and tells his friend what had transpired after he’d been shipwrecked on a small island south of Bali. The natives there, apparently, had been friendly, and he’d even gone so far as to marry the beautiful island maiden Teela, thus incurring the wrath of the local witch doctor, Lezor, who had put a curse on Tom and his bride. And around a year later, a son had been born to Tom and Teela … a hairy, misshapen little thing with feral eyes and hands like an animal’s paws. Fearing the reaction of the superstitious villagers, Tom and his family had literally taken to the hills, while Teela herself had begun to grow increasingly savage, and his young son to grow larger and more beastlike at an alarming rate. This terrific little tale, as it turns out, is both beautifully written and ultimately shocking. And bonus points for Mainor’s description of Teela when he first met her: “She was a tall, slender girl with skin the color of a rising moon…”

“The Blank Face of Horror” transpires in a fogbound and noirish New Orleans, during a time when a crime wave has been shocking the city. These crimes had been perpetrated by living automatons; people who had been abducted and then brainwashed/programmed/compelled to commit the dastardly acts. When Terry Blanchard’s business partner Ken Howell is kidnapped, he does some investigating on his own, thereby encountering the mysteriously motivated woman Olive LeBlanc. And matters only worsen when Terry’s kid sister Doris is also abducted! Into this tense and highly atmospheric tale Blassingame throws a mad doctor, brain surgeries, paralysis gas, more gunplay, chases through the nighttime streets of the Big Easy, and one helluva windup to guarantee a good time. And bonus points for this story’s wonderfully suggestive final line!

Bringing a close to Volume Four, and so to this series itself (as of this date, anyway), is a perfect example of the weird-menace tale, “The Corroding Death,” from the short-lived Scorpion magazine. This story transpires at a brand-new resort located high atop a mountain, accessible only by a primitive elevator, in what I’d imagine to be the U.S. Southwest. As the other guests look on in horror, little bratty Archie Wingate (a relative of Janis Wingate, perhaps?) goes into a trance and begins speaking in a strange voice, saying that an Indian curse has been placed upon them all, and that anybody who attempts to leave the mountain will die. And when two of the guests do attempt to depart, they are mysteriously burned alive from the inside out! Ex-Hollywood stuntman Alan Brooke, recuperating at the resort following an accident, decides to get to the bottom of these deaths, while the reader gets to know something about the other guests and their various reasons for desperately needing to leave. The story, thus, is almost like the movie Grand Hotel crossed with an Agatha Christie murder mystery, and brings this Volume Four to a close in winning fashion. Points off, however, for the resort’s drunken doctor, Dr. Bedlow, being called Dr. Drew later on. Wha?

Anyway, there you have it … 10 more remarkable stories in a series that serves to consolidate Wyatt Blassingame’s claim to pulp-master fame. It is a pretty impressive quartet of books, actually, only marred by the abundant typos to be found in all of them. And this Volume Four might be the worst in that regard: simple typos, missing words, botched punctuation … you name it. Even the book cover of the book is botched, telling us as it does that “The Horror at His Heels” is one of the included stories. But that story had actually appeared in Volume Three! Holy cripes! Still, the stories themselves are, generally speaking, so very good that the reader remains spellbound despite those annoyances; a sure sign of the strength of the writing of an author who was, as John Pelan tells us in his introduction, a “Lost Master of the Weird Tale”…

Published in  2014. Wyatt Blassingame must have something going for him — Ramble House is up to Volume 4 of his horror stories while the best of the other loons at Dancing Tuatara Press have barely had two! Maybe it’s because no one else could write a weird menace yarn like Blassingame. Just check out the titles of his stories and you’ll see why he stands out when it comes to trolling the depths of depravity. They Thirst by Night, Dime Mystery Magazine, June 1935 Gods Never Die, Terror Tales, May 1936 And Only Death Shall Save! Terror Tales, March-April 1937 The Prince of Pain, Dime Mystery Magazine, February 1938 The Invisible Horror, Terror Tales, July 1935 Mistress of Terror, Dime Mystery Magazine, May 1935 Dictator of the Damned, Dime Mystery Magazine, February 1935 Dark Child of Doom, Terror Tales, January 1935 The Blank Face of Horror, Thrilling Mystery, March 1937 The Corroding Death, The Scorpion, April-May 1939 As always, John Pelan lays the foundation for the collection in his introduction and Gavin O’Keefe sets the scene for debauchery of the first order with his cover art.

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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