Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Szumskyj’


As is often observed regarding…certain activities, you can only ever have one first time, so it’s possible that I may remember the figure $183.83 for quite a while, since that’s the amount of my very first royalty check from McFarland for Richard Matheson on Screen.  Okay, I’ve gotten—and appreciated—third-party checks representing my slice of the royalties for contributing to The Man Who Collected Psychos, but this is the first time they’ve cut a check directly to me for work that is all my own.  I’d probably still be staring at it now if we hadn’t obeyed their injunction to “CASH CHECK IMMEDIATELY,” which I trust says nothing about McFarland’s finances.  🙂

No, it doesn’t seem like a lot to show for thirteen years of work, and it will barely pay for half of Renfield the rat’s visit to the vet two weeks ago, where he was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and put on antibiotics that have apparently enabled him to hang on, albeit precariously, since that time.  But because McFarland calculates royalties twice a year, which I gather is unusual, this is only a reflection of what they had sold by the end of 2010 (minus one return—bestid!).  They tell me the book has now sold at least five times as many copies in three printings, so there’s more to come, and if you’d like to check back in here in about six months, I’ll probably keep you posted.

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Joyous tidings have recently been announced for fans of both classic television and the Southern California Sorcerers (aka “The Group”), namely that the anthology series Thriller will be released on DVD in its entirety by the ever-outstanding Image Entertainment on August 31.  Thriller ran for two seasons (1960-62) on NBC, initially following the same network’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents; both shows were produced by Universal’s television arm, and Hitchcock supposedly pressured them to cancel Thriller because he thought it was too similar.  Indeed, Thriller had much in common with his show:  suspenseful stories, an instantly recognizable host in the form of Boris Karloff, and many of the same personnel (e.g., Herschel Daugherty and John Brahm, who with fifteen and eleven episodes, respectively, were its most frequent directors).

Among those personnel were several Group members, with episodes written by Richard Matheson (“The Return of Andrew Bentley”) and Charles Beaumont (“Guillotine,” based on the story by Cornell Woolrich, and “Girl with a Secret”).  By far the most active was Robert Bloch, who supplied scripts or original stories for many episodes of both shows, including some of the most memorable.  But as with the Hitchcock series and England’s Amicus Productions, which filmed Bloch’s “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” as The Skull (1965) before hiring him as a screenwriter, he was recruited for Thriller only after three episodes (“The Cheaters,” “The Hungry Glass,” and “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”) had been adapted from his work by other writers.

Never as well known as The Twilight Zone or the Hitchcock show, Thriller has its adherents, including Stephen King, who called it “probably the best horror series ever put on TV,” noting in Danse Macabre that “after a slow first thirteen weeks, [it] was able to become something more than the stock imitation of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that it was apparently meant to be…and took on a tenebrous life of its own.”  The show initially focused more on crime and mystery, and many of its early problems can be traced to uncertainty regarding its direction and the tensions between creator Hubbell Robinson and his original producer, Fletcher Markle.  The latter and his associate producer and story editor, James P. Cavanagh (a veteran of  Alfred Hitchcock Presents), were soon supplanted by two new producers, Maxwell Shane and William Frye, brought in to handle Thriller’s crime and horror episodes, respectively.

Shane, who had already adapted Woolrich’s work in Fear in the Night (1947) and Nightmare (1956), left after basing “Papa Benjamin” on another of his stories, and Frye, who produced the remaining episodes, soon gave the series a distinctive flavor by mining the pages of Weird Tales.  That famed fantasy pulp is, of course, best known for featuring the work of H.P. Lovecraft and such protégés as August Derleth and Bloch himself.  Directed by Brahm and written by the show’s most prolific contributor, Donald S. Sanford, “The Cheaters” was one of only two episodes—the other being the Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Premature Burial” —that were actually introduced with the host’s frequently quoted tagline, “As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller!”

This was to be the first of ten episodes written and/or based on works by Bloch, including William Shatner’s only two appearances, “The Hungry Glass” and Daugherty’s “The Grim Reaper”; coincidentally, Matheson scripted Shatner’s only two Twilight Zone outings, “Nick of Time” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and both writers later contributed to his best-known series, Star Trek.  Bloch adapted “The Weird Tailor” and “Waxworks” (both directed by Daugherty) from his own stories, which he later recycled in the Amicus anthology films Asylum (1972) and The House That Dripped Blood (1970).  His other Thriller episodes were “The Devil’s Ticket,” Brahm’s “A Good Imagination,” Daugherty’s “’Til Death Do Us Part,” and John Newland’s “Man of Mystery,” all based on his own work.

Newland, whose Thriller episode “Pigeons from Hell” is often called the single most frightening story ever done on television, also directed “The Return of Andrew Bentley,” which Matheson adapted from a Weird Tales story by Derleth and Mark Schorer.  Although Beaumont and fellow Group member Jerry Sohl adapted Lovecraft’s work in The Haunted Palace (1963) and Die, Monster, Die (1965), respectively, Matheson never did, despite his successful Poe films for the same studio, AIP.  “He wasn’t my kind of writer—too heavy,” he told me in an interview for Filmfax.  “Heavy stuff.  You know, he’d spend fifty pages talking about some Eldritch horror that is so horrible to describe that he can’t possibly do it, and then in the last ten pages he describes it.  I mean obviously, the man was brilliant, I just don’t care for that kind of writing….But the show Thriller, the whole thing had a Lovecraft atmosphere to it.”

For the full story of this neglected show, see Alan Warren’s This Is a Thriller: An Episode Guide, History and Analysis of the Classic 1960s Television Series, to which I am greatly indebted.  For a blow-by-blow account of Bloch’s involvement, see my contribution to Benjamin Szumskyj’s The Man Who Collected Psychos: Critical Essays on Robert Bloch, some of which I have drawn on here.  And, needless to say, you can read more about “The Return of Andrew Bentley” in Richard Matheson on Screen; all three books are, or will be, published by McFarland.

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Stanley Wiater, with whom Paul Stuve and I edited The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson, has shared the wonderful news that it has been nominated for one of the 8th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards as “Best Book of 2009.” Although Matheson hates to be pigeonholed as a horror writer (or any other kind), I know he’d be thrilled to have this revised and updated version receive some of the recognition denied the original limited edition, The Richard Matheson Companion.

I see we’re up against some stiff competition, including Michael Mallory’s Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror, which I’ve favorably reviewed here (see “Universal Exports”). And, as a contributor to Benjamin Szumskyj’s The Man Who Collected Psychos: Critical Essays on Robert Bloch, I’m in the bizarre position of competing against myself. But without taking anything away from any of the other books, ours was such a labor of love, on such a hitherto neglected subject, and—if I may say so—such a monumental piece of scholarship that I think, as a guy named Miller once said, “Attention must be paid.”

According to organizer David Colton, “The Rondo Awards are a fan-based program designed to honor the best in classic horror research, creativity and film preservation. Sponsored by the Classic Horror Film Board, the awards focus on classic horror and science fiction and especially the writers, researchers, archivists and just plain fans who try to keep those traditions alive. Winners are determined by e-mailed votes, and we routinely have 2,500-3,000 fans fill out the insanely detailed ballots. It’s become quite a genre tradition, and the Rondo Hatton busts are highly prized. Voting continues through April 3, 2010, and…this is purely a fan-based effort with no commercial affiliations.”

Anyone can vote (only once, alas—ha ha), and everything you need to know about casting your ballot is in the link below. Best of luck to ALL of the nominees…but wouldn’t it be great if McFarland could promote Richard Matheson on Screen as being “by the Rondo Award-winning co-editor of The Twilight and Other Zones”? If you see fit to vote for our book or, for that matter, Stanley’s DVD documentary series Dark Dreamers, our thanks in advance.


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…to Benjamin Szumskyj, whose Blatty book (see “Bill Collectors”) is of course called American Exorcist, rather than American Psycho.  Having contributed to his Bloch book, I must have had psychos on the brain!

And, while we’re at it, birthday wishes to longtime Cinefantastique and Femme Fatales scribe Dan Scapperotti, whose dedication to the genre is exceeded only by his hospitality and good nature.

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Our roving correspondent, Gilbert Colon (of Ferrara fame), informs me that this year will bring a flurry of activity surrounding the work of William Peter Blatty.  Bill, of course, is best known as the author of The Exorcist (1971), which he adapted for the screen and produced in 1973, and its legitimate sequel—i.e., ignoring Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), John Boorman’s reviled followup film—Legion (1983), which he adapted and directed in 1990 under the studio-imposed title of Exorcist III.  Some years ago, Gilbert and I had the honor and pleasure of conducting a career-spanning interview with Bill, partly pursuant to the introduction I wrote for Gauntlet’s limited edition of The Exorcist (now sadly sold out).

According to http://www.theninthconfiguration.com/, a website devoted to Blatty and his work, these new offerings include:

*the long-awaited publication next month of his novel Dimiter by the Forge imprint of Tor Books (which also publishes Richard Matheson and is now a part of my erstwhile employer, St. Martin’s Press);

*another novel, Crazy, which Bill describes as “a total romp,” and says is due in September-October;

*a one-volume edition, published on June 1, that will contain both his original novel Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane (1966) and the version he later rewrote (and filmed in 1980) as The Ninth Configuration (1978), plus an essay by Mark Kermode;

*a one-volume edition of The Exorcist and Legion, plus a Blatty interview by Brian Freeman, published by Cemetery Dance, which released his novel Elsewhere last year.

Gilbert and I discussed most of these projects with Bill in our own interview, although a lot of our material ended up on the cutting-room floor when it was published in Filmfax.  However, Cinema Retro has expressed some interest in running the uncut version on its site, so watch this space for further details.  And, for those of you with a scholarly bent, check out editor Benjamin Szumskyj’s American Exorcist: Critical Essays on William Peter Blatty (McFarland, 2008).  I have yet to see that book myself, but I contributed to Benjamin’s subsequent volume The Man Who Collected Psychos: Critical Essays on Robert Bloch (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-4208-9).

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