THE GHOULS: BOOK TWO
The Stories Behind Classic Horror Films
The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Beast With Five Fingers by W. F. Harvey
The Fog Horn by Ray Bradbury
The Fly by George Langelaan
Viy by Nikolai Gogol
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
The Colour Out Of Space by H. P. Lovecraft
The Skull Of The Marquis De Sade by Robert Bloch
The Oblong Box by Edgar Allan Poe
In the first volume of The Ghouls editor Peter Haining collected short stories that inspired horror films from the 1890s to the 1940s. This second paperback involves more familiar films, from 1945 to 1970, the idea being a sequential look at the history of horror films. Published in hardback in 1971, I bought them as paperbacks in 1974.
Here's the remaining nine stories and the films they inspired...
THE BODY SNATCHER
THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS
Based on The Beast With Five Fingers (1928) by W. F. Harvey.
The studio wanted this to be a comedy as much as a horror thriller, watering down the film's original dramatic intent. The film lurches between romantic comedy and gothic horror, at its most potent in the hallucinatory death scene - a disorientating, lurching camera and distorted music made all the more intense by Max (King Kong) Steiner's soundtrack.
The story was plundered by many other films, especially a great episode in Dr Terror's House of Horrors, with Christopher Lee being terrorised. The central uncertainty of whether Lorre's character is imagining the roving hand was also exploited in Oliver Stone's horror The Hand (1981). But the first 'nod' was the most popular - the character of 'Thing' which made itself so handy around The Addams Family TV household (1964).
While this was included in William K Everson's Classics of the Horror Film, The Beast With Five Fingers has never been released on DVD, but it's out there somewhere, maybe hiding in your bookcase...
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS
The success of this movie, and particularly the idea of a radioactively reactivated dinosaur, directly inspired Japanese producers to make the first Godzilla (1954).
Based on The Fly (1957) by George Langelaan.
VIY: SPIRIT OF EVIL
For the introduction to this story, Haining enthuses over Black Sunday (The Mask of Satan), Mario Bava's celebrated Italian horror. It's a must-see for horror fans, for Barbara Steele's haunted performance, the stunning monochrome photographic effects and an example of how much more violent European cinema was in comparison to the UK or US in 1960.
INCIDENT AT OWL CREEK
(1962, France, La rivière du hibou)
Based on An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge (1890) by Ambrose Bierce.
MONSTER OF TERROR
(1965, UK/USA, also called DIE, MONSTER, DIE!)
Based on The Color Out Of Space (1927) by H. P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft's nameless shapeless horrors lurch into the realm of sci-fi here with a meteor crash-landing on an old estate in the fictional New England city of Arkham. For once there's a scientific reason for the horror, radiation from space causing extensive mutations in plant and animal alike... The escalating scale of the problem depicted in this early hybrid of sci-fi and horror is ripe for a more faithful adaption.
The movie mostly retreats from showing these horrors and falls back on rather dated gothic chills (a shadowy mansion, walking around at night with candlesticks). But the deteriorating characters and the glimpses of mutation lurking in the shadows make for fascinating monsters in this classic horror setting rather than the bright light of the irradiated deserts of American nuclear sci-fi (Tarantula, Them!).
Boris Karloff is joined by Nick Adams (Invasion of the Astro-Monsters) looking like a tough guy detective and Suzan Farmer (Dracula - Prince of Darkness) as the damsel in distress. How she keeps up with the latest fashions in the middle of nowhere isn't explained.
Director Daniel Haller was obviously a Lovecraft enthusiast, he'd been production designer on Corman's The Haunted Palace and soon directed The Dunwich Horror for the psychedelic era.
My full review of Die, Monster, Die is here.
Based on The Skull Of The Marquis De Sade (1945) by Robert Bloch.
Bloch's short stories are as impressive as his novels. Here he realistically described an obsessive collector of occult curiosities. Like in 'The Man Who Collected Poe' (expertly adapted in Torture Garden) you can tell that the details about Poe and De Sade were all accurate. Bloch presents a pair of ghastly characters, the collector and his favourite 'dealer', as they bargain over the actual skull of the man who 'invented' sadism.
Their relationship remains in the film, but the characters are softened, particularly Peter Cushing as Maitland (a popular name for characters in Amicus horror films). Cushing makes him sympathetic by being academically engrossed in the occult, rather than morbid and unhealthily interested.
After seeing so many scary black-and-white photos for The Skull, when I finally saw it I was surprised that it was not only in colour, but also 2.35 widescreen. The Skull recently debuted on DVD and has just been released on blu-ray as a double-bill with The Man Who Could Cheat Death, with which it has nothing in common except country of origin.
THE OBLONG BOX
Based on The Oblong Box (1844) by Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe's tale is a mystery set aboard an ocean liner, another of his pioneering sleuth stories. A passenger is trying to solve the sleeping arrangements of his neighbours onboard and why they have a huge box in one compartment. It takes a disaster to answer his questions...
But the film has nothing to do with the tight little story, apart from using the title and featuring a large box in a completely different way. Instead it starts in colonial Africa, following two brothers back to their estate in England. One is hideously disfigured, forcibly kept in a locked room and going stir-crazy. This rich foundation for horror dissipated by tedious discussions interrupted by short outbursts of unconvincing violence.
The confusing multitude of characters takes time to pay off, though many excellent actors are in the cast. It's disappointing that Christopher Lee and Vincent Price share so little time onscreen together. Fun that Price appears here again with Rupert Davies and Hilary Dwyer, both from Witchfinder General. Shocking to see Dwyer genially playing Price's wife.
But The Oblong Box is a poor example of 'classic horror' for The Ghouls to close with.
Collecting the inspirations for horror movies into volumes of stories was a great idea that sadly didn't catch on, or was too costly to pursue. Usually a single famous short story is enough to carry a collection of less interesting fiction, justifying eye-catching movie photos on the front cover.
While it's often impossible to condense and represent a novel when adapting it into a movie, short stories can just as easily provide the basis for a script. They make for interesting comparisons, but like I've said, finding specific old short fiction isn't easy.
Good stories, however brief, used to become instantly popular by appearing in high-circulation newspapers and magazines. Movie-makers would snap the rights up because the public were already interested in the story. Hitchcock had his people scouring for new stories for his movies and TV shows. But currently short fiction is a rarity in modern publishing, meaning scriptwriters have to find their inspiration elsewhere.
You can read the first review of this collection here - The Phantom of the Opera, The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Magician and more in The Ghouls: Book One.
The superior cover art for both paperbacks was painted by John Holmes. For volume 2 of the 1974 Orbit paperback (at top) he combined a skull, a fly and a female vampire into a single striking vision. More of his gruesome and surreal cover art can be viewed here on British pulp horror fiction site The Vault of Evil. (A big thank you to Johnny Mains, of Noose and Gibbet Publishing for the info.)