Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The House of Secrets #106

Halloween 2019 Post-A-Day 29
The House of Secrets #106

The crème in the middle

Assistant Editor – E. Nelsoen Birdwell
Editor – Joe Orland
March 1973

I personally never saw much of the Silver Age first series of House of Mystery. Not certain I would have been much impressed with it, to tell the truth. The title ran for ten years, from 1956 to 1966, but seemed to bend more toward mystical superhero shorts than horror anthology. Featuring bits showcasing modern-dress sorcerer Mark Merlin, the dual (and dueling) personality super-villain Eclipso, and Prince Ra-Man the Mind-Master, the title bears little resemblance to the book I grew up fondly afraid of.

What’s that you say? Me, the son of an Elder God AFRAID of something? Oh, most certainly!

Because you see that second series that began in August of 1969 bedeviled me to no end. I only had a couple of issues, but they were on the spinner racks when I visited the store every other weekend. With their covers by Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, and Michael Kaluta the books were as instantly iconic as they were terrifying in aspect. And the insides proved the proof was in the pudding, so to speak. Tales that tickled the hairs on the back of your neck…at least for a lad of slim years.

Series two took off with issue 81 introducing an actual edifice called the Senator Sanderson House, which had been built only from Kentucky materials and only pure blood Kentuckians could live there. A new owner attempted to move it out of state and for his trouble the haunted house drove him off a cliff, where it is now perched for eternity. It sits across a graveyard from another structure, the House of Mystery and 81 also introduced caretaker Able who acted as story guide. His brother Cain would often visit as he was caretaker of the House of Mystery.

The biblical allusions in their names were often played upon, with Able remarking that the last time they did anything together he wound up with an enormous headache.

With storyteller in place, House of Secrets would belt out horrifying anthology tales that got my young imagination stirred up. For many EC horror represents their touchstone, their introduction to the genre. For me it was House of Secrets and House of Mystery. Some covers evoked such emotion in my young mind that I couldn’t bear to pick them up. Thus I retreated to the safer super-hero fare of Marvel. Those issues I did buy were read cover-to-cover though, multiple times.

So, it was a no-brainer to include this issue in our Halloween rundown and its placement near the end should tell you something. I try to save the “good” stuff for when we get nearer Halloween. I would rather end October providing you with a few “treats” and no “tricks”. One day the Crapbox may fail me in that regard, but I see enough new horror inbound that I have faith that it won’t.

For the moment, let’s all be eleven years old again. Let’s let the cover image (from no story in the actual book) terrify us with its possible implications, allowing our own imaginations to run wild with the multitude of possibilities of what is occurring. Gaze upon that haunted scene of ghouls descending upon that poor man and wonder what they will be doing next to the woman who has discovered them. And once you are in that state of belief and thrilling terror, we will open the book to see what is inside…

"The Curse of Harappa”

Story – Maxene Fabe
Art – Ruben Yandoc w/introduction page by Bernie Wrightson
Colorist – unknown
Letterer– unknow w/introduction page by Ben Oda

Bernie provides a slim single page of art to this issue, but it is a doosey as Cain sits on a moldering couch next to the centerpiece of our first story, the titiular (and tit-tacular!) girl from Harappa.

One turn of the page later and we encounter our victim, er…hero. Frank O’Conner has a thing against superstition, going out of his way to confront others beliefs about the mystical. Basically he gets in people’s faces about it.

But all that is about to change when he meets this turbaned individual who “invites him to see a village where real superstition rages, the village of Harappa. There it is said that a beautiful girl is held captive for she is the bride of death. Frank has heard this superstition, that anyone who courts the bride of death will dig his own grave. With that the stranger departs leaving Frank to find his own way to Harappa.

Which of course he does, even with his newly minted “death smell.” Once there he sees the girl, who the local monks call a statue. He attempts to “unveil” her, which starts and altercation. 

As the momks gong for backup, Frank pulls off her veil and is seized by the urge to sexually harass her. A kiss without consent is not good manners, fair reader. And with that, Frank rushes out of Harappa leaving the “statue” behind. He seeks out the stranger who first told him about Harappa, but now the man doesn’t recognize Frank, nor has he any memory about his wild story.

Which doesn’t bother Frank that much because he sees the woman from Harappa wandering through the market and he is seized by the desire to chase after her. Once he reaches her, he vows to marry her even though she admonishes him with oaths that no living man might possess her and that she will be the death of him.

That’s just pillow talk though, and Frank marries her right away.

Wedded bliss is not to be, as the girl from Harappa has a way of making every man feel like Frank feels. All these come-hither looks lead Frank to proclaim that he will lock her away, but the girl has to have these attentions, thrives on them to be exact. And she’s willful enough to brush Frank aside to get them.

Frank becomes so filled with jealousy that he grabs a giant knife and takes off after her. He finds her in the embrace of another man. He is too far gone and confronts the pair. Boiling over with rage he kills them both, plunging the knife in them over and over.

Seeing what he has done brings him back to his senses a bit. Frank realizes he will have to bury them if he is get away with his crime of passion, so he begins digging…Unfortunately, just as he has dug a hole too deep to easily climb out of, the pair appear by its side resurrected and whole. Frank falls on his own shovel, is gravely (ha! Pun!) injured, and dies as the man predicted: after having dug his own grave. 

And the girl goes back to Harappa to away her next non-believer.

Great art and a good story. Love the layout in this piece and the colors are still bright and vibrant. What’s next? (rubs hands in glee)

"The Island of No Return”

Story – John Albano
Art – Alex Nino
Colorist – unknown
Letterer– unknow

Now we move on to this twisted bit of logic called The Island of No Return. We are presented with a mystery by a dead man. The dead man was captain of a yacht who five days ago went missing with a millionaire, his wife and two of their friends. The captain is the only one who came back, giving this detective and this newspaper man an unsolved riddle.

And that riddle’s destination is this unmapped island where the five-some washed up. Once temporary shelter was erected, they bedded down for the evening. From there the captain’s tale goes into nightmare territory.

The detective thinks the rest of the story is the ravings of a deranged mind. That the island doesn’t exist and the captain’s story a product of having clung to piece of driftwood too long trying to make it back to civilization. The newspaperman decides to see for himself and charters a plane. He hasn’t shared the story with the pilot, so he does at this point.

The kicker being that millionaire Craxton and his wife were actually vampires and they had opted to drain their friends and the captain since they were all shipwrecked. Only the captain escaped out to sea.

Sure enough the pair soon finds the island and the shelters, and while reporter Walker goes off to find his story, the pilot waits on the shoreline. 

Its there that he notices the that there are plenty of dead fish washed up on the beach. And each fish has been completely drained of blood.

With that discovery he gets nervous and takes off to find Walker. But what he comes across…

…is the passengers of the boat, now all four of them hideous vampires. Not only that, but they have Walker pinned down while they take turns at sucking his blood. The vampires see the pilot, but allow him to return to his plane in hopes that his story will draw even more curious victims to the island. However, what the Craxtons don’t know and our narrator shares with us, is that the island will soon be used for target practice…for a nuclear bomb.

This one…I had some problems with. It breaks a lot of the vampire myths in that they can be out during the day. As well, it would seem that being on a continent full of people would be better than suffering through months of drinking fish blood and waiting for a curiosity seeker to fall into their grasp. The planning behind their staying seems a bit messed up. However, the idea of radioactive vampires is unsettling. I, in no way, believe that an indirect bomb blast would kill them.

Still, the art is fantastic.

"This Will Kill You”

Story – Jack Oleck
Art – Alfredo Alcala
Colorist – unknown
Letterer– Alfredo Alcala

We wrap this issue up with this very nice bow of a story. It starts here, as Charley races from the graveyard having seen what appears to be two ghosts. The specters in question happen to be two acquaintances of his, Dolly and Pete, the town’s practical jokers. Charley is their favorite target.

Don’t believe me, just watch as Dolly lays it on thick when they beat him back into town from the graveyard. Charley is the town mortician, and he’s a good soul if a mite superstitious. As for Pete and Dolly, they both seem a touch crueler, especially playing with poor Charley’s affections for their own amusements. Wonder if this will be a tale of just desserts?

If it doesn’t at least we will have a dinner meal with Pete and Dolly as they watch a new arrival at Charley’s mortuary. Of course this sets Pete’s wheels a’spinning and next thing you know he has roped Dolly into a plot to scare Charley to death. It begins with Pete dropping some specific hits around Charley about old man Hanley.

Specifically that Hanley might be a vampire. After laying this trap, he meets back up with Dolly so she can apply some makeup and a fright wig, making him appear like Hanley. The payoff will be watching Charley run away in fright as Pete dressed as Hanley pops up out of the coffin looking like the living dead. The thought of which has the couple rolling on the ground, it is so wicked.

And putting their plan into action, Pete takes the corpse’s place and then begins making loud noises while Dolly hides nearby. Before too long Charley is alerted and rushes down to find Pete/Hanely getting out of his coffin. However, unlike the way the couple envisioned it, Charley doesn’t run, but instead forces Pete back down into the coffin.

And seeing Dolly is there too, Charley strives to protect her the only way one could from a rampaging vampire…

…and this particular joke ends in tragedy, at the pointed end of a stake hammered straight through Pete’s very living heart.

We end with one practical joker dead and the other driven quite mad for their part in his demise. Nicely done.

Thus we end our visit to House of Secrets. Sad it was so brief, but the door there is always open…if you dare brave to cross the graveyard that makes up its grounds.

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