As promised, in what no doubt seems a life time ago, here is part 2 of our little series on Robert Bloch I’m going to try to avoid any serious SPOILERS for these stories, but that’s always a risk. Proceed with caution.
Oh, and that story I mentioned the last time we spoke of Bloch? The one with the vocabulary changing sentence? It’s not among the stories listed here.
Or is it?
That Hellbound Train
A man makes a pact with the Devil in order to keep the happiest moment in his life forever. If he can’t pick one, he’s guaranteed a ticket on that hell bound train.
This is one of those stories. You know the ones. The stories you sort of have to mention when discussing an author. One of the ones that needs to be read.
Now I like “Deal With the Devil” stories. Can’t quite say why, exactly. May it’s because they tend to have a little sting in the tail.
This one, though…. Not one of my favorites. Strikes me as a bit unfair, in a way. Your mileage might vary on this, of course.
A better one of Bloch’s “Deal With the Devil” stories is Picture. A man tries to trick the Devil into arraigning a one night stand with a girl he had the hots for back in the day. The Devil, no one’s fool, gets a little wicked with him. Nasty fun for the whole family.
I think hunting down both stories would be well worth the time of any fan of Speculative fiction.
The story of a middle age man, his mother, and the terrible secret between them that even they aren’t quite aware of.
Another one of those stories. Small confession here: I’ve never read Psycho. Tried. Just couldn’t get through it. I saw the movie1 and that… That kind of ruins the thing.
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper
A man seeks out the legendary murderer in the modern times.
This isn’t just one of those stories. You can’t call yourself well versed in Horror without reading this tale. It’s a pinnacle, a standard set. Sort of like Poe’s Cask of Amontillado or Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu.2
Speaking of Old Providence, let’s speak a moment about Bloch’s mentor, so as to discuss this piece without dread spoilers.
I’m a big Lovecraft fan. Have been since I first read his stuff. But the one hard and true fact is that he wasn’t always the best writer. He strove hard for that single effect Poe was big on, and sometimes it showed in a major way. Especially towards the end, where he had a habit of slipping into italics for emphasis right at the end.
When Lovecraft was at his best was when he was… casual. Take, for instance, the aforementioned Call of Cthulhu. You take the basics, from the cult of evil foreigners to the Kaiju3 waiting at the end, and it doesn’t sound like anything more than a hundred other Horror tales of the day.
What sets it is telling detail. For example, when readers reach Cthulhu’s island home of R’lyeh, Lovecraft gives them a place of horror. Sentences like the following paint images of horror:
The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled.
With that, Lovecraft tosses out casually little asides like this:
Parker slipped as the other three were plunging frenziedly over endless vistas of green-crusted rock to the boat, and Johansen swears he was swallowed up by an angle of masonry which shouldn’t have been there; an angle which was acute, but behaved as if it were obtuse.
You read stuff like that, you don’t wonder when Lovecraft’s characters go insane with fright.
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper is also full of telling details. Like so many Lovecraft’s stories, it talks about an old evil inflicting itself upon the world. It builds and builds, until what would be a innocuous request becomes the culmination of terror. Had Bloch put away typewriter and written no more, he would be known for this one work. And as well he should.
And all without ending his story in breathless italics! Imagine that.
An old man seeks to regain his possession from a group of child thieves known as the Yougoslaves.
I shouldn’t like this one as well as I do. It cheats a bit towards the end, I think. And yet Bloch pulls it off.
But, then again, it could be the main character who does it. Even before we find out just who he is…
Sweets to the Sweet
A father’s casual cruelty towards his daughter comes back to haunt him.
You’ll forgive me if I won’t explain just why this story follows the previous one. There is a definite connection between the two, if you look, but you have to take into consideration movies more that stories or the works of Bloch.
Oh yes, movies. I mentioned in the previous part that Bloch did a few turns in screenwriting. Among them were several excellent anthology films. One of which, The House That Dripped Blood. I haven’t seen that flick in years, since the first run of the Son of Svengoolie, in fact. Why wouldn’t I? It had the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) in it! How cool is that?
Years later, as I was searching horror anthologies and lo! I found Sweets to the Sweet. I recognized it as a tale from …That Drips Blood and went right to it. Fairly excited to do so, in fact. This would be my first Robert Bloch story, even. Another name from the List! (Don’t ask.)
I can’t tell you if the movie is a perfect adaption of the short story; it’s been far too long. I seem to recall it being very, very close. Except in one important regard: the ending. I won’t give anything away, save the movie doesn’t have as much bite as it source.
All on a Golden Afternoon
A psychiatrist struggles to save a starlet from a flimflam man selling a gateway into dreams.
I can’t see ending a listing of Robert Bloch’s stories without listing this one. It’s a nice, gentle story, and if you have to just one Bloch story, make it this one. I promise the only surprises here are pleasent.
And well deserved.
2 Can someone explain to me why I can spell Cthulhu and Yog Soggoth without looking either name up, but I have to look up Amontillado every damn time? A-mon-till-ado. Gads how hard is that?