CD Review: Dreams in the Witch House

Brown Jenkin has always creeped me out more than any of the betentacled, rugose, crinoid, or even squamose eldritch monstrosities that feature in Lovecraft’s other stories. It’s not Brown Jenkin’s rattiness that disturbs me, but his little human face and tiny human hands and feet, and his nasty way of chittering. Not to mention the gruesome death of the protagonist at the end of this story.

Dreams in the Witch House scrapbookThe first time I played this CD, it was during an evening hour with the light slowly fading as the sun went down. The Calico Horrors Part 2 and 3 were having one of their wrestling matches, so the sounds of squeaks and soft, furry thumps in the shadowy recesses beneath the living- room furniture, plus the occasional skitter of little claws on the floorboards augmented my listening experience of this audio drama about a malignant, mathematical witch and her rat-like familiar.

The Lovecraft story is online at

The Dark Adventure Radio Theatre’s version of Dreams in the Witch House is narrated from the point of view of a character who barely features in Lovecraft’s tale, a young man named Frank Elwood (Sean Branney). He’s the only other Miskatonic University student who has a room in the same ancient Arkham house as the hapless Walter Gilman (Andrew Leman); the other inhabitants of the house are all immigrants, mostly Poles. After the horrific events of the original story have concluded, Elwood goes to see a priest–not for confession, but for guidance and some spiritual comfort in light of the terrifying things he’s witnessed. He tells Father Ivanicki about his friendship with Gilman, beginning with the day of their meeting and ending with Gilman’s ugly death.

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DVD Review: The Dunwich Horror

In some ways, this is a rather silly film as well as a loose adaptation of the original short story, but I can’t be too hard on it. It was, after all, my childhood introduction to the works of H.P. Lovecraft; if I hadn’t watched this movie and noted that it had some unusual elements that I hadn’t seen in other horror movies, and then seen the same title on the spine of a library book a few years later, who knows where I’d be today?

This was on television more than once in the early ’70s, and for years I was under the impression that it was one of those scary made-for-TV movies that aired during that time period and traumatized so many of my generation with images of little goblins dragging Kim Darby into the chimney or a Zuni fetish doll chasing Karen Black. Now that I see it on DVD, I realize that it was an AIP theatrical release. It’s actually one of the early examples of sexed-up Lovecraft–see also Dagon and From Beyond. The bowdlerized version I grew up with didn’t have visions of naked orgies, nor did the tentacled horror locked up on the top floor strip the clothes off one of its victims.

Wilbur Whately's idea of a dateWhat we did see, even on ’70s television, was that Wilbur Whately gets a girlfriend so he can try to repeat his mother’s experience with human / Old One hybrids.

This version of The Dunwich Horror begins with a prologue at the Whately house, which is much larger, fancier, and in better condition than the dilapidated farmhouse of Lovecraft’s story. When we get a better look around the place later on, we can observe that the interior has the same sort of decayed opulence as the Usher house… and will meet with a similar fate.

Old Man Whately (Sam Jaffe), who bears a staff with a Thunderbird-looking symbol atop it, stands with two albino women at the bedside of his heavily pregnant daughter Lavinia, who is not an albino. Lavinia writhes and moans to indicate the pains of labor–but after binge-watching all 5 series of Call the Midwife, I find it a tad unconvincing. Her father helps her up off the bed.

Cut to the animated credits, which impressed me very powerfully in childhood. A couple of robed figures in silhouette make a perilous journey through an ever-shifting landscape of trees and towers and jagged rocks.

Giant in the opening creditsAt one point, the hill they’re climbing up becomes a giant demon who devours them–but then the giant’s hand morphs into a snake’s head and the travelers emerge on its forked tongue, so no harm done. Eventually, they reach their destination, a large stone table, and one of the pair, who turns out to be a woman, lies down and gives birth.

It only now occurs to me that this is a symbolic representation of the Whatelys’ journey to the old stone temple where Wilbur was born. At least, I assume it’s symbolic and not what the Massachusetts coastline is actually like.

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CD Review: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

“From a private hospital for the insane near Providence, Rhode Island, there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person. He bore the name of Charles Dexter Ward and was placed under restraint most reluctantly by the grieving father who had watched his aberration grow from a mere eccentricity to a dark mania involving both a possibility of murderous tendencies and a profound and peculiar change in the apparent contents of his mind. Doctors confessed themselves quite baffled by his case, since it presented oddities of a general physiological as well as psychological character.”

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
H.P. Lovecraft

When I began to prepare for writing this review, I was surprised to discover that I don’t actually have a copy of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward in any of the Lovecraft anthologies on my shelves. It’s been a long time since I read it, and had to hunt it up online to refresh my memory.

There are at least two rather loose film adaptations of this story–two that I’ve seen, anyway:

  • The Resurrected/Shatterbrain, starring Chris Saradon and John Terry, which places events in a modern-day film-noirish setting with stop-animation monsters.
  • The Poe’d-up Haunted Palace, starring Vincent Price and Debra Paget in a Victorian gothic version with putty-faced mutants roaming the misty streets of Arkham.

In both films, Ward is a much more mature man than the character in Lovecraft’s tale.

Photograph of Charles Dexter Ward with his ancestor Joseph Curwen's portraitThe novella, written in 1927 but not published until after Lovecraft’s death, presents a case study of a young man in his teens and early twenties, currently in an asylum.

Charles Dexter Ward’s descent into madness is said to have begun with his interest in a distant ancestor, one Joseph Curwen, who dabbled in alchemy and necromancy.

Charles identified strongly with Curwen, whom he resembled closely. As his obsession increased, his own studies into the occult deepened. He repeated  Curwen’s experiments and, after coming of age, he took up with mysterious companions who aided him in his secret work. His youthful appearance changed to that of an older man; his style of speech became more archaic, his handwriting changed too, and his knowledge of the modern world vanished while he seemed more in touch with 18th-century New England.

After The Thing on the Doorstep and The Shadow out of Time, you might be thinking that this is another Lovecraft story about body-swapping and that Charles has been possessed by the spirit of Curwen… but that’s not what’s happens this time.

The story is online at

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Revisiting the Dark Shadows movies

Old BarnabasA little while ago, I came to the conclusion that I’d watched House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows too early in my viewing of the television series; I decided that I’d watch them again after I’d finished the show to see if I understood how they fit into the overall story better.

With that purpose in mind, I Netflixed both this past weekend. I also took the opportunity to get some screencaps to dress my old reviews up.

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Dark Shadows: The Very End

We’ve seen the last of Barnabas Collins, Julia Hoffman, and the Collins family of the 1960s/70s.

Back in 1840, Desmond Collins tears down the transdimensional stairway built by his cousin Quentin. He tells his fiancee Leticia Faye what Barnabas told him about the room in Collinwood’s east wing that intersects with an alternate reality, then they go upstairs to take a peek into the room.

Desmond and Leticia watch as the alt-Flora and alt-Julia discover the body of Lamar Trask on the carpet. The two alt-ladies have no idea who this person could be, but assume that he must have been stabbed by Flora’s mad husband, Justin; Justin is “the problem” alluded to earlier, the reason these Collinses lock their bedroom doors at night.

Flora and Julia quickly dispose of Lamar’s body by taking it out to the woods and burying it.

The focus now shifts to the alternate Collinses. We’ve seen the last of Desmond, Leticia, and the 1840s Collins family too. The final episodes of Dark Shadows play out in the other reality with a bunch of people we barely know.

The Lottery (not by Shirley Jackson)

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CD Review: The Thing on the Doorstep

The latest thrilling episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society just arrived in the mail this past week. It’s The Thing on the Doorstep, a Lovecraft short story of a peculiar marriage between two students of the occult that involves possession and leads to a contest of wills. A visit from a grotesque and stunted creature in a trenchcoat brings horrifying news about which one triumphed in the end.

There aren’t that many women characters of note in Lovecraft’s works: Lavinia Whately in The Dunwich Horror, poor Mrs. Gardner in The Colour Out of Space, the witch Keziah Mason in Dreams in the Witch House, and the villain of our current piece, Asenath Waite–although I’m not sure this last one actually counts.

Miskatonic Student ID for Asenath WaiteAsenath was the daughter of the reputed wizard Ephraim Waite, who died babbling in an asylum, and an unseen mother, one of those fishy Innsmouth people. She was also a formidable scholar of arcane knowledge  herself, a powerful hypnotist even in her schoolgirl days, and a leading figure among the decadent set at Miskatonic University in the late 1920s.

Asenath’s marriage to Edward Pickman Derby came as great surprise to friends of both. The two seemed a strangely mismatched pair. Edward was more than 15 years older than Asenath, but boyish even at 40; Asenath appeared the elder while still in her early 20s.  Edward was a former child prodigy, a writer of fantasy poetry, dabbler in occult practices, but overprotected by his parents, weak-willed, and unprepared to manage life as a adult alone. His wife, with her greater powers of concentration, dominated him from the very beginning and brought him deeper into the dark arts than he wished to go.

Strangest of all, the two sometimes seemed to switch places, with Edward showing a surprising new and forceful personality as he drove off on mysterious errands for days at a time while Asenath was glimpsed by neighbors sitting forlornly at home.

The text of the H.P. Lovecraft’s short story is online at
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Dark Shadows: Leaving 1840

And leaving behind Dark Shadows in the 1970s too…

I stopped the last time with Daphne and Quentin finding themselves in that alternate reality that intersects with an empty room in the abandoned east wing of Collinwood.

They don’t stay there very long–only a few minutes, enough to witness Catherine accepting Morgan’s proposal and hear the alt-Samantha’s advice that the couple live somewhere else once they’re married. Alt-Samantha takes care of someone named Justin, who apparently isn’t able to talk but the family hopes will speak again someday. Then the alt-Daphne comes in, and Quentin and Daphne are suddenly back in the empty room in their own reality.

What’s amusing about this is when Daphne tries to explain to Quentin what’s just happened, repeating what Professor Stokes told her about “parallel time”. And Quentin responds, “Yes, of course! The Weitzman Principle!” Because a man who builds transdimensional staircases would immediately grasp these complicated concepts.  “But that was only a theory…” He’s read about the possibility of alternate universes and is fascinated at being in one, however briefly.

Desmond and Quentin face executionOnce he’s back in his own Collinwood, however, he’s in danger of being recaptured and executed.

Gerard has been following the comings and goings of Daphne, her sister Joanna, and Dr. Julia Hoffman (who is going by “Julia Collins” in this time period) to the warehouse by the docks,  where Quentin and his wounded cousin Desmond have been hiding since they escaped from jail. Julia has patched up Desmond and says that he’ll able to travel soon. Quentin wants Daphne to come with them.

But Gerard has other plans. He puts a spell on Daphne so that she accepts his proposal and the wedding ceremony is performed right away in the drawing room. When Quentin hears about this, he falls into the trap set for him and rushes back to Collinwood to put a stop to it. He’s too late. Gerard and Daphne are married.  She’s free of the spell once she’s his wife; she knows that Gerard is really the warlock Judah Zachary, but she’s helpless to do anything about it.

Lamar Trask was waiting for Quentin behind the drawing-room door with a gun.  Not only is Quentin taken back to jail, but the police get Desmond too.

Poor Desmond never had a trial, but since he’s been consorting with a convicted warlock, the judges decide summarily that he must also be guilty.  Both men will be executed the next day.

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Dark Shadows: Daphne Discovers the Alternate Dimension

In the aftermath of his elder brother Quentin being found guilty of witchcraft and the family estate subsequently coming under the control of Gerard Stiles, Gabriel Collins seethes with resentment. Gerard, who is the real warlock around here, set Quentin up–but Gabriel doesn’t know that. He only knows that he hates Gerard almost as much as he hates Quentin.

Gabriel pretends he’s unable to leave his wheelchair, but he can walk well enough when he’s up to something. Increasingly jealous of his wife Edith’s relationship with Gerard and outraged at her constant insults to him about her preference for the other man, he waits until he is alone with her at Collinwood. He leaves his chair and sneaks around the house to jump out and strangle her.

Edith dead? Continuity problem: If Edith is dead in 1840, then she can’t be  the Granny Collins we saw on on her deathbed in 1897. Then who is? It’s not Samantha, Quentin’s wife, and there don’t seem to be any other options among the present female Collinses.

There have been other apparent discrepancies lately. Do the writers just not care about matching up their timelines as the show heads toward its final episodes?

Gabriel conceals his wife’s body in the abandoned east wing (since the house was only built in the 1790s, I begin to wonder if the east wing was ever occupied). The governess Daphne, wandering upstairs, makes her way into the empty corridors in that part of the house and eventually stumbles on that room that intersects with an alternate dimension.

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Dark Shadows: Warlocks and Witchcraft Trials

In 1840, Gerard Stiles, possessed by the warlock Judah Zachary, wants revenge against the Collins family since a Collins was among the judges who condemned Zachary 150 years earlier. He’s setting up Quentin Collins to be accused, convicted, and beheaded for witchcraft, just as Zachary was himself executed.

Desmond chokingTo start with, Gerard throttles Quentin’s cousin and best friend, Desmond, using Desmond’s cravat and one of those voodoo dolls so popular with the Dark Shadows witch community.

Gerard leaves the “strangled” doll on the trans-dimensional stairway that Quentin is constructing in his basement workshop / laboratory at Collinwood. Quentin displayed  the stairs to his supposed friend earlier and tried to explain his theories about the mutable properties of time and space–ideas which would sound more like magic than science to people who aren’t Time Lords.

Lamar Trask finds the voodoo doll on the stairs in time to untie the knot and save Desmond from choking to death, but the location makes him highly suspicious that Quentin’s work is satanic.

Lamar has also been extremely suspicious of Barnabas since the girl they were both in love with, Roxanne Drew, became a vampire, but whether he believes that Barnabas is a vampire himself or allied in witchcraft with Quentin fluctuates. Lamar’s the kind of guy who thinks that anybody he doesn’t like simply must be evil.

Quentin shows off his transdimenstional stairway To pile up the evidence against Quentin, Gerard has made a neighboring farmer’s cattle die; after the neighbor blames the Collinses, he is stalked and threatened in the woods.

Quentin’s wife Samantha’s and the vampiric Roxanne’s brother Randall is also attacked and killed in the woods. A note left beside Randall’s body bears the same circle-and-cross symbol as Quentin’s signet ring. Since Quentin is the one who stumbles over the body, he’s arrested for the murder.

When it comes to the inquest, Quentin is cleared of this murder charge, but it seems that the great state of Maine still has laws against witchcraft on its books as late as 1840. Lamar brings his accusations to the court and instead of laughing in his face and sending this looney on his way, the judge has Quentin bound over to be tried as a warlock.

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DVD Review: Horror Express

I recently mentioned this as one of my favorite movies. Since I wrote a brief review of it a long time ago, I thought this would be a good time to drag that out, revise and extend it a bit, and repost it.

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing disapprove I love Horror Express more than is reasonable. It stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but it’s not a Hammer film. Hell, it isn’t even Amicus or Tigon.

It was produced by a Spanish studio with a little help from Granada TV, and filmed in Spain; beyond Cushing, Lee, and Telly Savalas, there are few actors in the cast whose first language is English. The whole thing was filmed without audio, and the actors’ voices dubbed in afterwards.  Fortunately, the three stars have dubbed their own voices–it would be too weird if they sounded like someone else.

The story begins in China in 1906. Professor Saxton (Lee) is leading an expedition for the Royal Geological Society, when he discovers an apeman frozen in ice—he calls it a “fossil” even though there’s plenty of flesh left on those very old bones. He intends to cart this important find back to England on a trans-Siberian express train.

A rival scientist, Dr. Wells (Cushing) happens to be at the Shanghai train station at the same time (according to the signs around the station and dialog, it’s Shanghai; the caption at the beginning of the scene says it’s Peking). When Wells learns that Saxton’s discovered something remarkable, he’s eager to get a peek at it, but Saxton has the crate securely fastened shut with big chains and a padlock.

The big, padlocked crate draws attention from other people as well. A thief tries to pick the lock to see it there’s anything worth stealing inside, but he winds up lying dead on the station platform with his eyes glazed and white, as if he were blind. After this incident, a Rasputiny monk declares the contents of the box evil; he demonstrates it by failing to draw a cross on it. Saxton sneeringly dismisses this as a trick using some kind of special chalk or hypnosis. I think that the monk just didn’t press down hard enough.
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