Supernatural, Fontana 1977, (Robert Muller)

As part of their Gothic season the BBC are repeating their 1977 supernatural drama series tonight, imaginatively titled Supernatural.

A series of independent stories linked by a wonderful premise, in the style of the Amicus portmanteau films. The premise here is a Victorian club called The Club of the Damned, to gain entry a prospective member must tell the members a terrifying tale. If it is not considered scary enough then not only is the prospective refused membership but he is put to death.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sadly the whole thing is rather mediocre, poor direction, stilted dialogue and those very mannered performances that the BBC thought was the way everyone acted who existed before the 20th century.

As was the fashion in the 1970s they published a novelisation (although, as it’s not a novel in the common sense of the word, perhaps a short-storyisation would be a better description?)

Published in 1977 by Fontana, the seven stories are adapted from Robert Muller’s screenplay by a selection of authors, including the prolific Rosemary Timperley who had many stories in the Pan horror anthologies.

Anyway, I pulled the book off my shelf when I saw the tv series was being repeated, it usually lurks in the arse-end of my collection. Here’s the cover, showing the wonderful Billie Whitelaw, who was married to the writer Robert Muller:

supernatural

Told in the Dark – A Book of Uncanny Stories, Pan 1950 (ed. Herbert van Thal)

told in the dark cover

 

 

If you’re visiting this blog then it’s odds on that you already know about the Pan Books of Horror Stories, of course you do – we all know them, we all love them. They’re the cornerstone of the horror anthology world.

What do you mean, you don’t?

Ok then, they were a series of horror anthologies which ran between 1959 and 1989 edited by the great Herbert van Thal from the first edition in 1959 until his death in 1983. Clarence Paget took over the helm for the last few stragglers until they were put to rest on their 30th issue due to a general lack of interest, drop in quality and, let’s face it, short stories (especially horror short stories) just weren’t very fashionable any more.

It seems fitting to start the blog with Pan’s forerunner of the series. Told in the Dark – A Book of Uncanny Stories was published in 1950 and was created by Pan’s expert on Victorian literature and editor of their ‘English Novelists’ series, the same Herbert van Thal.

The cover illustration is by Hungarian born Val Biro who sadly died earlier this year.

And while we’re on the subject of illustrations and Pan books, y’know the Pan logo? The silhouetted Pan playing his pipe (in the image above)? That was designed by Mervyn Peake of Gormenghast fame, that was.

The contents are mostly Victorian and Edwardian classics and it’s perhaps easy to think of the selection as quite safe choices, they were all used again and again in various anthologies over the next couple of decades, but you have to remember that we’re still in the relatively early days of the paperback book here so they would have been quite new to most readers.

 

Contents

  • Mrs. Molesworth – The Shadow In The Moonlight
  • Phyllis Bentley – Beckermonds
  • Elizabeth Braddon – The Mystery At Fernwood
  • E. F. Benson – The Thing In The Hall
  • Wilkie Collins – The Dead hand
  • Marjorie Bowen – The Prescription
  • Catherine Crowe – The Italian’s Story
  • Ann Bridge – The Accident
  • Charles Dickens – The Signal-man
  • Mrs. Riddell – Old Mrs. Jones
  • Sir Hugh Walpole – The Silver Mask