Edited by Herbert van Thal
236 pages, Pan Books
Review by Pat Black
1967. Deep breath.
The summer of love unfolds. The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground release their debut albums. Four unknowns from Liverpool release an obscure record called Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It sinks without trace.
The space race continues – although both the Americans and the Soviets lose servicemen in tragic accidents. Protests continue across the world as the United States steps up its bid to win the Vietnam War. Israel shows them how it’s done in the Six Day War. Elvis and Priscilla Presley are married. In London, the world’s first cash machine is installed, and homosexuality is decriminalised.
Charles Manson is released from Terminal Island jail in Los Angeles and heads for San Francisco.
At the movies, The Jungle Book, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?, Valley of the Dolls, In The Heat of the Night, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate are all massive box office hits, while Clint Eastwood squints at A Fistful of Dollars. On TV, The Fugitive reaches its thrilling conclusion, just as The Prisoner makes its debut.
Muhammad Ali refuses to be drafted into the US army. In football, Scotland wallop reigning world champions England 3-2 at Wembley. And on May 25th, Celtic become the first British team to win the European Cup, defeating Inter Milan 2-1 in Lisbon.
Those were the days, my friend.
And the Pans rolled on. So does my lonely quest to collect and read them all. Here’s my thoughts on the eighth edition, first published in that incredible year.
Your Yucky Cover: Head. In. Hat. Box.
Many people think it’s a bucket. But look closely – it’s a hat box. There’s a lid laid alongside it. So the artist even factored in a surprise for some unfortunate soul. There’s a ginger man’s head in the box; he is staring straight ahead, not in any obvious distress. He might be waiting for a notice board to change at a train station. He has a hipster beard, 50 years ahead of his time, though about five feet short of his body. He looks like one of my mates, which makes it even funnier. Sorry, I mean more horrifying. It’s not the most gruesome in the Pan covers pantheon – there is not a drop of blood, and the head looks almost serene - but I think it’s the best.
We start with “The Assassin”, by Raymond Williams. This is a period piece in which an 11th century duke is holed up in a castle – and some lad is on a quest to kill him. There’s a woman involved, so things are going to get messy. They get particularly messy at the end, as the poor boy with the knife is shown the sometimes brutal consequences of having a crush on the wrong person. A hunk-a hunk-a burnin’ love.
John D Keefauver’s “The Most Precious” is a mood piece, involving broken teeth, blood and dentistry. I don’t have much to say about it. Herbert van Thal was sometimes minded to put in an arty piece as a riposte to his critics, perhaps the literary equivalent of a cat showing its bottom. It’s not my scene.
W Baker-Evans’ “The Children” was classic Pan. It features a typical middle class Englishman on holiday. He strays well off the beaten track, out in some woods. He is approached by some children, who seem friendly enough…
Van Thal pens an introduction to one of the big hitters, next – Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man”. The classic tale sees the poor lump in the title having his grim destiny inked on his body by a witch. One of Uncle Ray’s best – and it’s clear that van Thal loved it.
AGJ Rough’s two-page “Playtime” was a very tight, horrifying piece of work, looking at an imaginative child processing a prosaic horror.
Maurice Sandoz’s “The Tsantsa” touched on themes addressed in Frances Larsen’s excellent Severed – the craze for collecting shrunken heads among rich white people. This one sees a man looking for an unusual present at the request of his horrible girlfriend – a white, blond head, preferably from a child.
“The Bean-Nighe” by Dorothy Haynes placed me on home ground with its examination of Scottish folklore and mythology. It played with second sight, and reminded me of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Drovers” as a girl meets a witchy apparition whose appearance foretells death in her house. But whose death is it anyway? The girl is told to find out by her mother – but she has to look lively. To ask the Bean-Nighe a question means you have to outrun her, and if you don’t…
What is it about Scots and the second sight? We’re so uptight about it. We dangle it in front of you, then snatch it away. “You want a sweetie? Well, you can’t have it - it’s bad for you.” But what use is information if you don’t use it? Why place it out there if it’s not useful? Even the malice makes no sense. It’s so uptight. Still, it makes for a fine idea in a story, and this is a wonderful, lyrical tale.
Raymond Harvey’s “The Tunnel” sees a hard-working man on the railways given an unexpected night off. He’s happily married when we meet him – so of course when he gets home his wife is having it off with his best friend. He could have gone crazy. He could have cracked some skulls. But he doesn’t. He has a job on the railways. And he puts a timetable together.
Bruce Lowery’s “The Growth” sees a doctor tackling a tumour which appears to be engulfing a poor patient. But is there more to it than cancer? And when is it going to stop?
“Lover’s Leap” by Frank Quinton sees two brothers reunited – but it seems that one did the dirty on the other by stealing his wife. The cuckoo accepts an offer of a drink, and, poor bugger, suspects absolutely nothing.
Basil Copper is one of the most respected names in the Pan canon. And “Janissaries of Emilion” is a fantastic title, with the ring of poetry to it. The story sees a man plagued by a series of dreams involving pursuit by some Saracen types, and heads towards an inevitably grisly confusion. It’s fine work, but not one of Copper’s best. The concept and conclusion seemed all too obvious the minute the mysterious warriors with swords appear in pursuit of the man in the dream world.
Raymond Williams’ second story, “The Coffin Makers”, was a fine morality play in which a grave robber is made to pay for his crimes, horribly, after his fellow coffin maker recognises the new ring on his finger.
“Sad Road To The Sea” by Gerald Kersh was extraordinary – tracing the sad, desperate path of a luckless man who could have avoided the fate outlined for him had he just taken one sidestep here, or accepted an offer of help there. It resembled bitter, true life misfortune, and it was a cut above most other stories in this book.
Dulcie Gray’s “The Brindle Bull Terrier” was a right nasty piece of work, where a harsh boarding house mistress is pitted against a spirited girl who opposes her strict regime. In a chilling ring of truth, the dragon lady has a favourite in the house – the girl’s little brother, whom the dragon lady dotes upon and coerces into a murderous plot. This was grim human nature, true horror.
AGJ Rough weighs in with another two-page shocker, “Sugar and Spice”, in which the kind of kid who pulls the legs off spiders… well. You won’t have to wait long to find out.
Rene Morris’ “The Computer” takes us to a future where death is decreed by machines, as the ultimate arbiter of justice. Foolproof, of course - what could go wrong?
Pan regular Martin Waddell’s “Suddenly – After A Good Supper” was a real grim-fest. Premature burial? Yeah, we’ve seen that before. Stuck in a family vault? Okay, that’s unusual. No-one around for miles to help? Keep going… In the coffin above your recently deceased granny? Now, how on earth would you sustain yourself before rescue?
Walter Winward’s “The Benefactor” was truly grim, and it’ll set your teeth on edge in these post-Savile days. A bloated guy who is clearly up to no good weasels his way into the confidences of an orphanage to take a young girl out as a treat. This would have played on fears then, as now, that he’s a pervert – and he is. But not quite the pervert you suspect. His true purpose is masked until the final scene.
Horrible. But it says “Pan Book of Horror Stories” at the top, after all.
Charles Braunstone’s “Suitable Applicant” sees two beautiful young women answer a too-good-to-be-true job advert to keep a famous surgeon company in his lonely old house, staffed only by a homunculus butler. It’s heading for trouble, and it gets there.
Priscilla Marron’s “How Dead You Look, And Yet How Sweetly You Sing” had a more interesting title than contents – a sort of off-beat weird two-page waste of time, which rounds off an excellent collection on a needlessly absurd note. It must have seemed avant-garde at the time. I guess it was the sixties.