Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Tenth Pan Book of Horror Stories (1969)




I was unsure quite how to succinctly describe the cover of Pan10, until I came across on the internet it described perfectly as “Baldie with Insect Tonsure”.  

I imagine it could be intended to represent one of the “walking corpses, hideously decomposed” seen by the protagonist during his Magical Mystery Trip in the story of that name.

But more likely, I would guess, the cover illustrations to the volumes were now being produced independent of the content.

                                                       ~

THE ACID TEST
By Chris Murray

After losing her boyfriend to night-club singer Marie, Paula (with her “Sicilian background”), decides to ensure no man will ever look at her rival again. 

A revenge tale of the “Hell hath no fury…” type.  The punishment to be meted out is certainly pretty horrific, even if anyone with O grade chemistry could pick holes in the science. 

Unfortunately, the story is spoiled by two dimensional characters, wooden dialogue and the contrived manner by which the intended victim saves herself.

But I guess, as Bertie’s series was about to leave the Swinging Sixties and enter the Savage Seventies, this was the type of writing which he knew would help shift units


SOMETHING IN THE CELLAR
By A.G.J. Rough

Since discovering his sexually rampant wife Stella in bed with his business partner, Charlie is understandably reluctant to let her out of his sight.  But when he has to go abroad on business for a few weeks, he devises “the modern man’s answer to the chastity belt”: walling her up in his cellar with food and drink to last a month.

However, a serious car accident means it is over a year before Charlie is well enough to return home.  But there is a shock in store for him down in the cellar.

This is better.  Whereas the previous tale was just silly, Something in the Cellar is both silly and entertaining.  Stella steals the show, a resourceful, self-confident woman who runs rings around her dolt of a husband. 

Not that Charlie is without imagination.  He did dream up the cellar business after all, and it is his over-active imagination which eventually does for him.   


RINGING TONE
By John Christopher

Captain J. F. Hall (retd.) is an ex-army officer who gets his kicks telephoning single women and talking dirty to them.  Generally they hang-up pretty swiftly, but when one wants to chat Hall finds himself on less sure footing.

An odd tale of a phone pest who gets more than he bargained for from one of his intended victims.  Not really a horror story at all, but one of sexual repression and its manifestations.  Rather unusually for a PBoHS entry, the yarn does end on a surprisingly optimistic note.


THE NECKLACE
By Dulcie Gray

Bernard is a little chap with learning difficulties.  But he enjoys making necklaces out of beads.  And eyes.

A recurring theme in the Pantheon is a disturbed child who does for his parents.  This is one of the more readable examples of the type, thanks to Ms Gray not taking things too seriously, and employing a deft narrative touch of which Martin Waddell would have undoubtedly approved.


SELF-EMPLOYED
By Walter Winward

Fred is in a dead-end job, and stuck in an unhappy marriage to promiscuous Mary.  His finding his wife in flagrante as they say, and the subsequent divorce, kick-starts Fred into choosing a new career.  One which, by some whopping coincidence, brings him into contact with his former spouse for one last time.

Whilst ploughing through the litany of Fred’s domestic disharmonies, we are intended to pick up clues about and ruminate over what his new job actually entails.  But upon reaching the revelation, us seasoned Pan readers will realise we have been led down a path already trodden by Martin Waddell’s The Treat in Pan5.


SUPPER WITH MARTHA
By Rosemary Timperley

After discovering her husband has been having an affair, Martha puts her anatomical knowledge and culinary skills to good use, to teach the lovers a lesson.

Yet another Affair of the Heart revenge yarn – that makes four out of the opening six entries to Pan10.  Was Bertie somehow hoping to stem the inexorable encroachment of the permissive society by frightening us all into fidelity? 


PUNISHMENT BY PROXY
By James Connelly

Bob and Grant are oil company executives jetting out to the Gulf to negotiate “oil concessions” with the Sheikh of Kahrain.  Along for the ride is Bob’s younger sister Tina.

At the end of their first full day the men are introduced to the Sheikh’s “garden of pets” - a collection of beautiful young girls, all imprisoned because a friend or family member has in some way offended the Sheikh.  Bob and Grant are each invited to choose one of the women as a bedtime companion.  But there is a dark side to this apparently remarkable show of hospitality.

There has long been a fascination within Western society over harems, and just what exactly goes on inside them.  This story is probably a result of just such an obsession on the part of the author, with the garden of pets theme taking an unhealthy interest just a step further.

One could probably dismiss this tale as racist twaddle, were it not for some of the human rights abuse stories which come out of that part of the world even in these supposedly slightly more enlightened times.

But for all that, as a horror story it works remarkable well, leaving the really repulsive conclusion to the reader’s imagination.


THE END OF THE LINE
By Frances Stephens

A mentally ill woman attempts to make sense of her current situation.

A rather rambling streams-of-consciousness monologue from an obviously dotty woman, which hints at infanticide.  At the end, however, we are left wondering just what the whole thing was all about.


THE FAT THING
By Martin Waddell

The eponymous creature is some large amoeboid entity which with the aid of corsets, a rubber suit and mask and an overcoat, can assume a vaguely human form.  In this guise it emerges from its home in the sewers and goes hunting for food – specifically overweight individuals who happen to share their name with nursery rhyme characters!

With such a précis, we can only be in the playful hands of Martin Waddell, who clearly had great fun writing this enjoyable piece of nonsense.

The structure of the tale takes the form of three sections each relating the gruesome death, and subsequent consumption, of a nursery rhyme character: Old Mother Hubbard, Little Bo Peep and Little Jack Horner.  With, at the end, the slightly preposterous assertion that the story had been written by The Fat Thing and sent to Bertie for publication.

But the narrative, such as it is, is almost irrelevant, as this one is naught but a vehicle for Waddell’s’ mischievous gross-out prose.  I feel I could forgive anyone anything who could come up with a line like:

(The Fat Thing was) “somewhere in the central London sewage system, cleverly disguised as central London sewage”.


THE FLATMATE
By B. Lynn Barber

Days after moving into a new flat Laura discovers Tom, a previous tenant, had committed suicide just weeks earlier.  Her initial curiosity regarding the death develops into a dangerous obsession.

The Flatmate takes the form of a diary kept by Laura, as she incrementally drifts from mild Bridget Jones scatterbrainedness to full blown basket case in a matter of three weeks.  The author succeeds in making the transition appear almost seamless, but when Laura reaches a stage where she can write “Tom and I live here alone, unvisited”, we can be sure whatever else is in the post, it is not a happy ending. 

The question we are left to ponder at the yarn’s conclusion, is whether Laura was already an unstable woman with murderous tendencies, or was naught but a tool used by Tom’s ghost to gain revenge up on the individual who had spurned him.  You pays your money and you makes your choice, I suppose.

One passage in the text which does jar though is where Laura, attempting to come up with reasons why the flat is so readily available, arrives as “Coloured neighbours”.  Which I suppose is an uncomfortable insight into the concerns of a different time.


THE SKI-LIFT
By Diana Buttenshaw

Werner and Klaus are friends, but are also both suitors for the affections of the beautiful Brigitte.  Their mutual distrust is such that they even co-ordinate their skiing holidays in order that the other cannot steal a march on his rival.  

So, when they learn Brigitte has turned up at the ski-resort with a handsome distant cousin, the two men race to reach her.  The quickest route is by ski-lift, but as that is about to close for the night, both choose to clamber up a pylon onto the still-moving chairs.

Bad move.

The first thing which strikes the reader of this one is that the author was either a skier, or undertook an inordinate amount of research - for she peppers her prose with a plethora of what can only be described as ski-isms.

Her name Diane Buttenshaw would tend to suggest and English or American author, but some of the dialogue is so wooden, it has the feel of a tale translated into English from another language.  At one point when complaining about the number of learners on the slopes, Werner comes out with “One can never get a good free run…If one goes through them at all fast, the instructors curse one”.

Buttenshaw does attempt to infuse the rivals with individual characters but unfortunately fails and, ultimately, they are both such equally stubborn fools as to be completely interchangeable.  I did however like the way the object of their desires is only ever mentioned as a third person, never appearing in the action.  Brigitte’s distant presence reflecting her unattainability for both Werner and Klaus. 


MAGICAL MYSTERY TRIP
By C.A. Cooper

A youth awakes one morning to find his bedroom apparently knee-deep in blood.  But why does his mother fail to mention the fact when she brings him a cup of tea?  Or indeed seem to notice any of the other weird things which have begun to go on in his life?

The title of this one does give the game away a bit here; clearly a play on the Beatles' song title.  And given the insertion of the line from "I am The Walrus" into the mouth of one of the youth’s hallucinations, it is perhaps no coincidence the friend who spiked the youth’s coffee is called John.  

The narrative does give the reader a degree of insight into how an acid-induced paranoia may manifest itself, but beyond that it is a fairly insubstantial offering.     


PUSSY CAT, PUSSY CAT
By Frances Stephens

Lorna’s husband is working abroad so she has been left quite literally holding the baby, as well as their nine-year old son.  So she could well do without the additional hassle of caring for a stray cat, but relents at her son’s insistence.

However, she subsequently kicks the moggy out when it is found poking around the baby’s crib.  But the cat has unfinished business.

After a flurry of belligerent cat stories early in the collection (The Squaw, The Black Cat, The Yellow Cat), Bertie made us wait until Pan10 to present us with another.  But although the feline is described as “evil” and “diabolic”, there is actually little real evidence that it has done more than what was required to prepare a nest for its own litter.


LONG SILENCE, OLD MAN
By David Lewis

Manello is a successful film director, and is making a journey into the remote (Mexican?) desert to introduce his new bride to his father.  But there is bad blood between the two men.

There are all manner of psycho-sexual shenanigans going on here with, if I read things correctly, Manello unable to consummate his marriage due to a latent inferiority complex caused by his father bullying him as a child.  Witness his brushing away his wife's caresses both in the car and later in their bedroom, and also her words “Was it because of last night?”

Consequently Manello would appear to have decided the only way to break the log-jam, as it were, is for him to debase his father in front of the new bride.  In a manner similar to a humiliation meted out to him by his father in front of a girlfriend ten years earlier. 

The success or otherwise of the process is never made absolutely clear, although the author’s description of the shotgun exploding “like some massive orgasm” would suggest perhaps so.

Even so, it does suggest some really rather dysfunctional husband/wife relationship is in store for the couple.


TERROR OF TWO HUNDRED BELOW
By William Sinclair

A panic-stricken young woman accosts a stranger in the street pleading he hide her from “Them”.  He takes her to his flat where, over a coffee she pours out a lengthy tale of professional jealousy, kidnap, sexual abuse and some rather unethical medical experimentation. 

Unfortunately she has not quite succeeded in throwing off her pursuers, and they come a-knocking when the man has left to phone the police on her behalf.

If one ignores the rape reference, the plot of this one reads a bit like a Perils of Pauline series.  And it is about as credible with Sinclair cramming all manner of nonsense into the plot line.  Not least the fact that the girl, upon reaching what she regards as safety, rather than immediately contacting the Police proceeds to spend half and hour or so relating her adventures in minute detail to her rescuer.

I do appreciate that this nested story forms the bulk of the text, but presented in the way it is just appears silly.  But then again no more so than the plane-hijacking business or the wonky-science of cryostorage plans.

Our heroine has her moments, but is generally such a feckless fool we almost feel like slamming her into the freezer ourselves.


THE CURE
By Dorothy K. Haynes

An impoverished man has been hung for theft – stealing to buy “medicine and dainties” for his backward son.  His body is still hanging from the gibbet when the neighbours come a-calling reminding his widow of the belief that the touch from a hanged man can cure.  So reluctantly, the woman makes her way to the gibbet with her son, and half the village-folk in tow.

As with her other two PBoHS entries Haynes concocts an enticing mixture of rural squalor and primitive superstition.  With this story however, all is not relentlessly dark, and by the end a ray of light may just be glimpsed through the grim, grey gloom


IMAGE OF THE DAMNED
By Alex Hamilton

Found guilty of rape and due to hang, the Honourable James Beresford, gambler, philanderer and all round cad, persuades the creator of wax tableaux to smuggle him out of prison, leaving a wax effigy to be executed in his place.

The plot-line to this story truly is as preposterous as my single sentence summary makes it seem.  But in many ways that does not matter, for what we have here is effectively a re-write of The Picture of Dorian Gray with Hamilton, as homage rather than in parody I feel, replicating Wilde’s unique style reasonably well.

Thus we have lengthy florid, often verbose passages interspersed with some delightfully risqué jokes:

“He would gamble thousands…on the colour of a beauty’s underpinnings.  It was while resolving a bet of this last kind that he gambled on the absence of the lady’s husband and, while he won the first part of the bet, he lost the second.”

and

“She was pleased as I worked to enquire if my mind dwelt always on the ‘straight line to posterity’.  And in the same spirit I answered I was able to find much joy in the contemplation of the perfect curve of the posterior.”


and

“the greatest erotic capacity that the Hon James could muster was a direct consequence of his laying a wager.  Then only could he guarantee his ante”


In the end, for all his élan, Beresford’s final gamble fails to pay off, but it could be said “Image” is all about a triumph of style over substance.


A SHARP LOSS OF WEIGHT
By Norman P. Kaufman

Released after serving thirteen years in prison for a crime he did not commit, our unnamed narrator obtains a gun and makes his way to the home of the Morrie – the individual who not only had actually committed the deed, but had succeeded in framing the narrator.

But arriving at the address to deliver retribution, he discovers someone else has beaten him to it.

I have stated earlier that there have been a number of tales in the Pantheon which feel as though a nasty death or fate was dreamed up first, then a narrative added on later – stories written backwards, I have described them.  This is one such, and a particularly sloppily plotted example.

I would suggest to serve just thirteen years for rape and murder does appear to me to be really rather lenient.  And given the narrator had clearly not been hung upon being convicted, one has to assume the tale to be set in mid-1960s at the earliest.  This being so, thirty shillings does seem a pitiably small amount to pay to obtain a no-questions-asked firearm.

The middle-aged woman’s story holds no water; she has succeeded in keeping Morrie prisoner in his own home for almost 13 years, with none of his friends or family becoming suspicious, whilst finding sufficient cash for her needs just lying about the house??

And given she clearly has made punishing Morrie (the rest of) her life’s work, she has a rather cavalier attitude to her own security: happily taking this stranger to see the fruits of her labours.

I could go on.  And on.  And on.


AN EXPERIMENT IN CHOICE
By Desmond Stewart

A young man awakes to find himself atop the rim of a tall circular chimney-type structure, with no apparent way down.  He finds a note informing him he is a subject in an experiment to ascertain if individuals in such a situation will decide jump towards the ground hundreds of feet below, or choose to leap into the darkness of the chimney stack itself.

After an hour of pondering, in order to chivy along the decision making process, a steel blade begins to rise from beneath his feet.

There is certainly a touch of the Josef K about the poor unfortunate subject of what appears an utterly pointless and unnecessarily cruel experiment.  Those unknown individuals who are conducting proceedings have certainly gone to a lot of trouble to set up the conditions of their experiment.  And that I feel somehow enhances the hopelessness of the situation: as the whole kaboodle could only have been designed by The Authorities.

Quite how things were intended to plan out we can have no idea, but I would like to believe that irrespective of whether individuals chose to jump into or over the edge of the chimney they were somehow saved.  But that our poor unfortunate ended up, through his failure to timeously make any choice, enduring the only outcome which would prove fatal.

Quite what the moral of the story is I am unsure.  Perhaps, if you are caught betwixt a rock and a hard place better make your choice swiftly otherwise the options may be taken away from you?

Were it me, I should opt for down inside the chimney every time.


THE EVIL ONE
By Robert Duncan

Evie meets Luke at a party, and accompanies him back to his flat where they have sex.  So far, so normal. 

But whilst he is asleep she is rather alarmed to note Luke does not have feet but hooves.  From this she concludes she has just been seduced by “Satan incarnate”, so decides her most appropriate course of action is to stick a kitchen knife into his heart.

After doing so, she discovers not only has the corpse’s feet returned to human form, but she is now the proud possessor of her own pair of perfectly formed hooves.

I may well be well wide of the mark here, but I feel this story is all about psychosexual guilt.  Evie is a virgin before meeting Luke, and if not betrothed to then is certainly in a relationship with a chap called Alan.  After succumbing to her desires she embarks upon a major guilt trip, convincing herself none of it was her fault and that, quite literally, by The Devil she was tempted.   

Her self-deception is such that it leads to the hooves hallucination, with the unfortunate outcome for the sleeping Luke.  Cue second guilt trip after realising Luke was just an ordinary lad after all, and deciding if there is anyone evil in the room it must be she. 

So ultimately no satanic goings on here at all, just an everyday tale of a sexually frustrated woman murdering an attractive man as punishment for taking her virginity.  


MARMALADE WINE
By Joan Aiken

Small-time journalist and aspiring poet Blacker whilst out on a woodland stroll comes across a remote cottage, the weekend retreat of famous surgeon Sir Francis Deeking.  Whilst over-indulging in Deeking's hospitality (and potent marmalade wine), Blacker spins a tale of having vague clairvoyant powers, which he may occasionally use to good effect at the races or on the stock-market.

Deeking, slightly financially embarrassed following his heath-imposed early retirement, decides Blacker would be a useful chap to have around so takes steps (ha-ha) to ensure he cannot leave.

A welcome return to the Pantheon for the inestimable Joan Aiken, she having, of course, opened Pan1 with Jugged Hare, a decade earlier.  And the similarities go beyond the vaguely culinary title, with both stories featuring some unfortunate encountering an unbalanced, yet functional, individual in secluded woodland.

Aiken’s prose is never less than immensely readable, although I am not ashamed to admit to on two occasions (with “Tartarus” and “Threnody”) having to resort to an online dictionary to help me out.  

She opens the story by painting a picture of a veritable Eden; scattering anemones, hazels and dog’s-mercury throughout the scenery, as well as throwing the almost obligatory cuckoo.  But the jarring sight of a dead male pheasant in all its courting regalia foreshadows the encounter to come.

Of course, the journalist has no gift of foresight; otherwise he would have turned tail and fled as soon as he saw the “small, secretive flint cottage”.  And once this fact finally becomes apparent to the unhinged Sir Francis, one can only imagine Blacker will be losing rather more than just his feet.


MONKEY BUSINESS
By John Arthur

A loud (aren’t they all in fiction) American tourist has hired an English guide to show him around Singapore during a whistle-stop three-day visit.  Bored with the conventional sights, he slips his guide an extra fifty dollars to encourage him to “arrange something special”.

This something special happens to be attending the ritual consuming of the brains of a living monkey.  But, perhaps rather inevitably, the American finds himself having a decidedly more active part in proceedings than he would like.

Wow!  What a way to close a collection.  From its humble beginnings where it reads not unlike some Paul Theroux travelogue, Monkey Business builds to a quite unforgettably brutal climax. 

And although Arthur paints the tourist as some naive not-too-distant descendant of the brash American in Bram Stoker’s The Squaw, and instils him with some really rather unsavoury habits (his first night in Singapore he hires a local prostitute to see for himself if it is “true what they say about the Chinese”), we nevertheless find ourselves feeling rather sorry for the dolt out of his depth.

For reasons I cannot quite fathom though, I found I was rather disappointed in the guide to find he was part of the diners’ circle.  But this failed to detract from what is a powerfully shocking story.    

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