Friday, 1 April 2011

The Power of Three - 20th Installment

Well, it’s Friday morning again, and before you get too cheerful about that, here’s another trio of classic chillers with which to darken your first coffee break of the day.

I had an interesting email the other day from a pal who acknowledged that these stories are always drawn from a hat, but said that it might be more fun to try and find connecting threads between them each week. They’re there, he insisted – even if I don’t notice them.

I still didn’t think we could play that game. But just out of interest – and working on the basis that, if nothing else, the three stories I chose last week all came from the 1980s – I looked more closely at this week’s selections. And lo and behold, the first two stories dated from the 1970s. I almost got excited. But then the third one was first published in the 1990s. Ah well, maybe next time …

The Viaduct by Brian Lumley

Two boys dare each other to cross the old viaduct near their home by swinging hand over hand across the iron bars that run alongside it. Half way over they decide that it’s tougher than they expected. And there’s another problem. A local mentally ill man, who they tormented earlier on, is up there waiting for them.

If you offered this story today it would be seen as the embodiment of political incorrectness. But that doesn’t make it any the less an effective chiller, mainly because it’s so believable. Brian Lumley is often associated with cosmic horror concepts, usually in the Lovecraftian vein. By comparison this one is almost ‘kitchen sink’ in its simplicity. There are no supernatural elements here; there isn’t even anyone you could really call evil. It’s just a series of unfortunate events. But the air of authenticity is tangible. The story is set in Lumley’s native northeast England. You get the feeling he might even have known the central characters. Is it conceivable this thing actually happened? You certainly imagine that it could have back in the 1970s, when relics of the industrial past still scarred the landscape and youngsters could explore them unsupervised. This is one grim and ugly tale, and if it doesn’t scare you to death, nothing will.

First published in SUPERHORROR, 1976.

Disturb Not My Slumbering Fair by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo

Diedrie is a ghoul, working her way through the California graveyard system. With fresh food increasingly hard to get, she one day she applies for the job of morgue attendant. Unfortunately, another ghoul is already employed at the same facility, and he doesn’t like competition.

This one will put a smile on your face, though we’re not exactly talking comic relief. If you think ghouls don’t exist in the modern world, think again. The only difference between now and the Middle Ages is that now they have to be a bit more ingenious, and boy, is Diedrie ingenious. There is plenty of dead flesh around for someone as smart as her. When it comes to it, there is quite a bit of living flesh as well. It’s not difficult to get hold of when you can emerge from cemeteries in the dead of night looking pretty and dishevelled, and are able to convince the first concerned citizen you meet that you’ve been attacked. But the best moments are saved for the story's finale. When you can’t be killed or even hurt by mortal hand, and when being buried six foot under isn’t really a problem, there’s no limit to the tricks you can play or the tables you can turn – even on your fellow ghouls. A gory but light-hearted classic.

First published in CAUTIONARY TALES, 1978.

Office Space by Richard Lee Byers

A white-collar worker finds himself trapped in a nightmarish office building, where he has to maintain a semblance of work during the day and sleep at his desk at night. He doesn’t know who brought him here or why, but an ogre-like guard prevents him leaving. Then a female prisoner turns up with a plan to escape.

A clever little slice of ‘Hell on Earth’ horror, with no beginning, no middle and, unfortunately for its hapless hero, no end. The torturous devices to which he is subjected daily will be familiar to many readers: reams of semi-meaningless data, which he must peruse; endless phone-calls from a mindless croaking voice; and a cruel, faceless management who have a wide range of means by which they can punish you. But this isn’t just a parody of nine-til-five existence; this is a horror story with a capital H. Has the increasingly desperate office guy been kidnapped as part of some devilish plot? Has he gone insane at work? Has he died and gone to Hell? Or is it something worse – have the dozens of empty office buildings in downtown Tampa developed a fiendish life of their own and are they now seeking to fulfill themselves? The most important question is does it really matter? The answer – not much. In the end, all that matters is getting out.

First published in DANTE’S DISCIPLES (pictured), 1995.


  1. Hi Paul. Remember those old movies. 8mm I think. Cast your mind back. I played The Warlock.

  2. The Warlock ... didn't we turn people into bottles, and then break them? Or turn them into footballs, and then kick them around? Great days. But a long time ago.

  3. Yeah must be a good 35 years ago. Remember doing the wild-west style title sequence? I think it ran for longer than the actual film. What happened to that footage? It would be priceless to see it again. Are 'the humps' still there?

  4. The footage exists, but it's in a Standard 8 cine format, and I have no facility to play it back. There is a possiblity I could take all those old films to a local shop I know, where they convert it all to DVD. But I don't know which film is which, so they'd have to do them all and that would include an awful lot of old holiday movie. Don't know about the Humps - haven't been down there in decades.