Boris Karloff Thriller #1

What better way to market a horror comic than to have it "hosted" by the one and only Boris Karloff, Frankenstein's monster himself? This book may have been a little late to cash in on that conceit, coming out in 1960, but it's still a great idea. If anyone can surpass the iconic status of the Crypt Keeper it's Karloff. Unfortunately the first story in this anthology book doesn't live up t the promise of a group of horror stories presented by arguably the biggest name in classic horror. Gleam of Evil is about Kay, who works in a circus training big cats. She's in love with an acrobat, but she has a problem. The problem is a cat, but not one of the big ones that she works with. This cat is from Egypt and has the evil eye. This is demonstrated by the fact that Kay finds the cat sitting in front of a dead fish. The fish is in the bowl, so the only obvious conclusion is that the cat killed it with it's evil eye. The previous owner of the cat died after getting rid of the cat. The acrobat proposes marriage and then falls during his act. This prompts Kay to find the cat a new home. She decides to tell the cat, who shows up while Kay is working with her favorite big cat. The big cat lunges, but kills the little cat instead of Kay. Everyone lives happily ever after, except the cat who everyone is glad died because it happened to be present when a woman and a couple of fish died. Granted, they didn't have much space to unfold this story, but everyone seemed to take the huge leap that this cat was killing people with it's evil power so readily.

The second story is a little better.  The Crystal Ball is about Cambert and Houdon, two men in Paris just after World War II. Though they had collaborated with the Nazis, Cambert now uses his crystal ball to find other collaborators and turn them in to the police. He also uses it to find a safe full of Nazi loot, which the thief Houdon is able to open. Houdon turns in Cambert as a collaborator so he can take the treasure for himself. But he soon spends all the money and has to take up his trade again. The problem is every time he tries to pull a job he sees Cambert's shadow. Then he finds out that the things he has stolen are all worthless. Cambert finally makes a full appearance after Houdon has succeeded in stealing some pearls. Cambert talks Houdon into hiding the pearls in some bottles of wine. The police show up and arrest Houdon for a murder that happened during a holdup. Houdon says he is innocent because he was busy stealing the pearls during the holdup. When he tries to show the police the evidence of his innocence he finds that the pearls are gone. In court Houdon discovers that Cambert has been dead. Cut to two months later and the police have discovered that the pearls had dissolved in the wine and Houdon was innocent after all. Unfortunately it's too late for Houdon who has already been executed or the murder.

In The Man Who Vanished we meet David Lang, a 19th century Tennessee farmer. We don't meet him for long though, as he vanishes right in front of his neighbor's eyes. People search but he can't be found. The grass turns yellow in the spot where he disappeared, and his voice is heard calling for help but he is never seen again. That's it, no resolution and no explanation. This seems like just the beginning of a story, but obviously they had a couple of pages that needed filled.

The Green Monkey sees Max run into an old man who knows his name. The man says he is Max's friend Marty, but Max says the man is much too old to be his buddy. Marty tells Max his story. Max had taken up with pirates in the Pacific. While they were hiding from a patrol they came on an old ruined temple. Marty went looking for treasure, but all he found was a jade monkey. He took it even after his fellow pirates warned him not to. Soon he was seeing a green monkey on his back and he began rapidly aging. He tried getting rid of the statue, but it kept coming back and Marty kept getting older. Max doesn't believe Marty's story and follows him to the flophouse where he is staying. He intends to rob the old man, but all he finds is the jade monkey. He takes the statue, and the next day Marty has become younger again and Max is now old and stooped and sees a green monkey on his back.

In A Haunted Honeymoon newlyweds Ted and Jane go to a castle to celebrate their honeymoon. The cabbie who is taking them mentions that everyone who stays there loves it, except for honeymooners. When they arrive they find that the servants have all left when they found out that the guests would be newlyweds. They find a painting of a couple, and then they start hearing noises. They find messes made in the bedroom and the kitchen, and then the ghost of the man in the painting shows up. He tells them they have to learn to get along or their marriage is doomed, just like his was. The ghostly wife then shows up to berate him. The ghosts continue to be slightly annoying which is too much for Jane who wants to leave. Ted won't hear of it and insists he is staying. The male ghost sits and watches them as they go to bed. Jane still wants to leave but says she'll do as her husband says. The ghosts disappear and Ted declares it's because the new couple has stopped arguing and agreed. The ghosts disappear into their painting saying the quarrel is over and so is their job. The moral is supposed to be that married couples need to discuss and compromise, but it comes off more as the woman should just do whatever her husband wants and things will be fine. This story is definitely a relic of it's time.

The vengeance of the Frigorifique is quite frankly one of the dumbest stories I've ever read. In 1884 the Frigorifique is struck by another ship by accident. Before she goes down the crew is able to escape to the ship that struck her. As the other ship tries to make it's way to land it barely avoids another collision, and the crew recognizes the ramming ship as the Frigorifique. Later the ship they thought was sunk appears again, ramming the other ship and forcing everyone to get in lifeboats. The crew ponders whether the ship was stuck sailing in circles or if it came for revenge. So I had to wonder, were they also just going in circles? Didn't they see the ship sink? Obviously this is here just to pad out the book.

Past and Present Danger is a variation on a classic ghost story. Beth is on vacation to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but she can't get a room. She checks her bag at a hotel until she can find a room. Then she meets Peter who says he can find a room for her. He takes her to his house and introduces her to his mother, who says they have a room available. Beth says she will go get her bag, and Peter offers to go with her. They stop for crullers and coffee and Beth asks Peter why he is playing with matches. He goes a little psycho, and Beth suggests they go get her bag. Peter walks her in front of a rushing fire engine. The crowd says she was hit and must be dead, but it turns out she just fainted. When she's explaining to the cop what happened he tells her that the room she rented is in an empty house. As he takes her to the house he explains that the man who lived there was a fire bug who set it on fire. The house didn't burn, but the smoke killed him and his mother. Beth and the cop arrive to find her bag waiting for her out front.

The Hand in the Wall tells of Horace and Sidney. Sidney owns an antique store and an old house, but has no head for business. His cousin Horace helps him run the place. Horace convinces Sidney to keep all their profits in a suitcase in the basement. Sidney is plagued by a recurring nightmare where he hears scratching at the wall and hears Horace calling for help. It turns out the nightmares are just Horace trying to drive Sidney insane. He plans to get Sidney taken to an institution so he can make off with all the money for himself. When Sidney has a breakdown his plan seems to be coming together, but Horace hits a road bump when he accidentally locks himself in the basement while getting the money. This begs two questions. Wouldn't it have been easier for Horace to just buy the store and make himself rich, rather than work for Sidney all this time? And why does the basement door lock from the outside? Anyway Sidney of course doesn't have the nightmares in the hospital and is released. Once he's home he finds that Horace has closed the store and disappeared. That night the nightmare returns, so Sidney investigates. He finds Horace locked in the basement, having gone completely mad from isolation.

Nightmare Scoop recounts the legend of newsman Ed Sampson. It was 1883, and Sampson was bored. He typed a story about an exploding volcano and left it on his desk. Someone mistook it for an actual story and it was printed on the front page. When the story couldn't be confirmed Ed admitted it was a dream he had. He was fired, even though it apparently was not his fault. But then the world learned about Krakatoa, the biggest volcanic eruption in modern history. It turns out the explosion of the volcano happened as Ed was typing his story. Apparently this is an actual urban legend that many have taken as true. It seems doubtful to me, as the events seem to take place over a longer period of time than seems reasonable for people to become aware of a natural disaster that affected the entire world.

Into the Blue isn't really even a story. It tells about a group of planes that go missing off the coast of Florida. A search plane also goes missing. No evidence is ever found, and a group of military men discuss how it's not possible. The end. It only takes up a page and is quite obviously filler. This seems like something that would have been more at home in Ripley's Believe It or Not, along with the last story. It also seems they could have gone with fewer stories and fleshed them out more.

The Plague of Gornau is about a witch hunter who convicts witches based on whether or not his black cat likes them. Of course Lupin the witch hunter is a fraud, convicting people so he can take their property as his fee. Rohan the alchemist calls him out in front of the duke. Lupin decides to accuse Rohan, who backs down. Lupin can't accept his easy victory though. He demands Rohan make gold for him. Of course this is impossible, so Rohan escapes. The boat he is fleeing on sinks and he dies. Lupin sends out spies to find Rohan so he can learn how to make gold. A gypsy gives him an old Egyptian spell for making runaway slaves return. Rohan's ghost appears at the door and gets Lupin to admit everything he did. The duke comes out and tells Lupin that he set this all up to get him to confess. He hired actors to play the gypsy and Rohan's ghost. (I know gypsy isn't an accepted word these days, but I'm using the word they used in the comic.) Just then some soldiers come in with the actor who was to play Rohan's ghost, saying they found him sleeping in another part of the castle. Lupin and the duke realize the real ghost of Rohan had appeared after all.

The book ends with a couple more one pagers. The Dream tells about a girl who dreams that her fiance didn't die in the war two years earlier as everyone thought, but has been trapped in an old castle. No one believes her, so she looks on her own and finds him. He had survived the two years on wind and cheese that was stored in the castle basement he was trapped in. The Tracks tells about some animal tracks found in Florida in 1948 that no one could identify or explain. The creature that made them would have been 3 tons. The picture with the "story" clearly shows it as a dinosaur. I was hoping for more suspense fiction and less pseudo Ripley's legends in this, but it is just the first issue. Hopefully the book will get it's footing in later issues. I know Karloff wasn't personally involved with the book, but it seems a waste to use his name for this lackluster grouping of tales and tall tales.




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