From Traumatized to Terror Creator, the Life of Robert Bloch

Categories
Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore
Robert Bloch (1979)
Robert Bloch (1979)

His Youth and Education

Robert Albert Bloch was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 5 in 1917, to two German Jews, Raphael Bloch and Stella Loeb who, despite their Jewish heritage, had the family attend a Methodist Church. When Bloch was only eight years of age, he attended a screening of Lon Chaney Sr.’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on his own, where he was traumatized by his first horror scene—where Chaney removes his mask to reveal the Phantom’s horrific face. According to Bloch, “it scared the hell out of [him] and [he] ran all the way home to enjoy the first of about two years of recurrent nightmares.” Like many fans of horror who see their first horror flick too young, this trauma and subsequent nighttime hauntings sparked his interest in horror. He became an avid reader at eight, reading books well above his own level of schooling, as well as experimenting with pencil sketches and watercolor art. While he very much had a love for artwork, but he was diagnosed with myopia in his youth and it deterred him from pursuing it professionally.

At the age of twelve, Robert’s father lost his job at the bank and the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he grew up throughout the Great Depression. During his youth, he delighted in the Golden Age of horror films that played in the picture houses, and the magazine Weird Tales, which he scrimped and saved for each month from his allowance so as to purchase a copy of this pulp magazine. Bloch’s favorite childhood short story was one of Lovecraft’s first-person narratives about an artist whose disturbing creations lead to his disappearance, entitled “Pickman’s Model,” and he would also end up doing flattering imitations of his mentor’s style later on. When Bloch was just seventeen years old he wrote to his highly regarded idol, H.P. Lovecraft, to proclaim his admiration for the writer’s short stories. It is said that he greatly preferred Lovecraft’s particular flavor of genre—cosmic or as it’s often regarded, Lovecraftian horror—over what he was being taught in his own high school English classes.

To the unending joy of Bloch, Lovecraft wrote him back and sent him copies of earlier stories he had written and asked Robert if he himself had written any weird fiction. This is when he would be admitted into The Lovecraft Circle as well as when he began writing some of his first (of many) short stories that would be published in Weird Tales. He would be the youngest member of The Lovecraft Circle, which were a group of writers who followed H.P. Lovecraft and published their short fiction in Weird Tales—a pulp horror magazine that circulated during the Great Depression.

Career

With the early influence of Lovecraft and his cosmic horror, Bloch’s earliest short stories took place in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe. Not too long later, Bloch would begin to associate with the Milwaukee Fictioneers, a group of writer’s dedicated to pulp fiction where he began to deviate and develop his own style, instead of relying upon the Lovecraft influence. When Lovecraft died in 1937, Robert was deeply affected by the loss of his mentor, but used it as a reason to keep writing.

Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

Robert Bloch

Novels

Bloch’s first novel to be published was The Scarf (1947) and was very reminiscent of the style he had developed when he was involved with the Lovecraft circle, but also marked the beginning the development of a style he would explore later that would be considered pulp fiction. Like most other horror writers, Bloch had a certain kind of story that inspired him—for some writers it’s urban legends, supernatural monsters, or wicked folklore; but Robert’s inspiration didn’t come from folklore so much as it did true-crime serial killers from all throughout history. Jack the Ripper, Marquis de Sade, and Lizzie Borden were amongst those whom Robert created stories based on their legacies, which included short stories such as “A Toy for Juliette” and “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax….”

When Ed Gein was arrested in his home in Plainsfield, Wisconsin for the murders of two women in 1957, authorities discovered that Gein had been stealing corpses from fresh graves of local women and then using their flesh to create furniture, silverware, and clothing. Bloch only lived about thirty-five miles away from where Gein had lived, so after the discovery of this serial so close to home, he became obsessed. The idea of his next door neighbor being a monster, but going undetected even in such a small town is what he considered his largest inspiration for Norman Bates, the anti-hero of Psycho (1959). The story of Ed Gein was sensational at the time, but what really translated Bloch’s Psycho into an instant classic both in text and Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation for the big screen, was due to the psychological not-so-undertones of the story.

While Bloch had enjoyed some critical and commercial success before he produced Psycho, it wasn’t until the novel was published that his life changed forever. With Psycho and its instant success, he was approached by a Hollywood production company with an offer to purchase the rights to the film. He made a whopping $9,500 which through inflation would equate to $84,472 and some change.

The world of horror would be forever changed by Norman Bates, the sensitive mama’s boy, whose domineering mother corrupted him—which brought an interesting air to the 1960s as the field of psychoanalysis and the research of the Oedipus Complex which coincided with a crisis in contemporary American masculinity which followed the women’s movement of liberation. When Norman psychologically becomes his mother at the end of the novel it was representative of Freudian horror in the utmost of extreme cases. Psycho wasn’t Bloch’s only success and he continued on with his creative writing, winning awards and accolades for his talent.

Death

Bloch was seventy-seven when he passed away on September 23, 1994—he had long battled with cancer and it finally took him at his home in Los Angeles. Before he passed, however, he wrote what was considered an unauthorized autobiography, which was titled Once Around the Bloch (1993) and while he didn’t speak of his illness, it was clear that it was written with the realization that he was not long for this world.

Index of Sources

Advertisements

Join Us

Interview with Horror Author Ezekiel Kincaid

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers
Johnny Walker Ranger - Demon Slayer Book promo image

Tell me a bit about your background. I understand you were Pastor at one point in time?

Yes, I was in the ministry full-time for around twenty years. I served in churches across the
South in just about every position imaginable. I have three religion/theology degrees because
my passion has always been teaching and the intellectual side of things. My favorite areas of
study are supernatural and psychic phenomena, as well as the compatibility between the
Christian faith and evolution. I also enjoy philosophy. In fact, it was my faith which lead me into
horror writing. Both the Bible and horror deal with the supernatural, fear, survival, overcoming
terrible situations, and human depravity. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate
display of these themes. For me, writing horror was a natural cross over.


My decision to write horror caused big waves in my circles. Few were supportive while most
didn’t understand. The issue many have is the content of my writing. They balk at the violence
and profanity at times. I have explained over and over again that in the Bible, we see the same
thing. These issues are a part of human existence and God knows this. He meets us where we
are, and the Bible does not shy away from presenting the harsh realities of what it means to be
human. Therefore, if I as a still ordained ministers and committed to my faith, want to be faithful
to the pattern of what I understand as inspired Scripture, why should I edit my content?
This is the big issue I have with Christian fiction and why I would never write it. It’s fake and
doesn’t face the grittiness of reality like the Bible does. It sacrifices the depths and complexity of
life for some made up, stringent moral code.


I think when people found out I was writing horror, they thought it would be like Little House on
the Prairie meets Casper. They were disappointed.

You have been writing about the paranormal and horror for a while now. What is your favorite bit
of paranormal lore from your area?


I grew up in the small town of Central, just outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Anyone who
keeps up with the paranormal and haunted places knows Louisiana is a hotbed of activity. In
Central, there’s a haunted road. It goes by the name Frenchtown and was known for its
ferocious curves. Toward the end of the wooded road, it opened up a little, and ahead of you
would appear a bridge. This bridge was a once functional railroad trestle. The foreboding, rusty
structure would glare down at you, covered in satanic graffiti. Near this bridge was where most
of the paranormal activity had been reported. But it’s not just about the bridge. Rumors of a
Satanic cult in the woods near the bridge, along with a witch who lived in the last house on the
left (yes, Wes Craven would be proud) are the prominent legends which once swirled around
this trestle. It was said that if you crossed under the bridge, the cult members would kidnap you
and drag you back to their lair. In the forest behind the bridge was where the rituals took place.
Some have even reported seeing dead cats hanging from underneath the trestle.
There are also many other phenomena reported about this site, too many to list here. I am
working on an article about it and going into detail about all the paranormal activity associated
with the place.

This has been so influential on me I have based an entire series of stories around it and am
developing them into novels. The collections of shorts are called The Tetromet Chronicles and are
forthcoming through Stitched Smile Publications. I have had several of these stories published
already through other horror publishers

Have you ever experienced anything paranormal yourself?


Yes. I don’t talk about it much because one thing I have found to be true—the person who
shouts about all of their paranormal experiences all the time and say they have them every day?
They are full of crap. With that said, let me relay some of my experiences with brevity.
One experience I will never forget is casting a demon out of a woman. It wasn’t anything like
The Exorcist, but her husband had to try and hold her down. I bound the demon in Jesus’ name
and the strength left. I was able to then cast the demons out. There were only two. I can’t even
imagine how bad it would have been if there were more.


Me and my buddy were also shot at by a Satanic cult when we stumbled upon their meeting
place late one night. This was in Louisiana and we had heard about the site and went to do a
cleansing. We didn’t think anyone would be there since it was 2 a.m. on a weeknight. Boy, were
we wrong.


I have also had an intense encounter with a ghost. She is the subject of one of my other
forthcoming novels called Theodosia.


I’ve had psychic experiences of remote viewing, clairvoyance, and telekinesis.

Johnny Walker Ranger has some pretty interesting combinations within the name. Tell me a bit
about this character and what inspired you to create him?


Ah, Johnny. My first fiction novel and the character I love so much. With all the serious stuff I
just laid on everyone, there is something else you need to know about me. I love sarcasm and
socially awkward humor. I am a HUGE Bruce Campbell fan and have been for decades. I was
the guy in high school telling people they needed to watch Bruce Campbell movies. Their
response? “Who is that?”


Yeah, you horror fans feel my pain.


Johnny is a Bruce Campbell tribute. It is taking us back to the days of VHS tapes and when we
could joke about things and not get so butt-hurt and offended. But yeah, it is a nod to Bruce, but
it is its own story and Johnny is his own character.


I came up with the story at a very low point in my life. Things with ministry went bad fast
because of jealous colleagues and pissed off people who wanted me to be a puppet pastor. I
was in a transitional period of my life and I needed something to make me laugh. So, I came up
with Johnny.


And the name?

I just came up with something I thought sounded like a drunk and pissed off redneck. Johnny
will always and forever be my favorite character I have come up with because he helped me
through such a dark time in my life. Even now, when things get bad, I go back to writing Johnny.
I am almost finished with Vol.2 and I have already started an anthology of stories written by
Johnny.

As a horror writer what have been some of the biggest challenges in releasing this story?


Johnny is not for everyone. We had an editor bail because she kept getting triggered by the
story. We also had to fire a cover artist because he couldn’t come through and give us a
finished product. He got mad and went to social media and slandered me and Stitched Smile
Publications. He really focused on me because I was a pastor and am an outspoken Christian.
He went on and on for weeks and it finally died down. But still, he won’t let it go. He bought a
copy of the book and gave it a one star review on Amazon…but at least he bought the book!


What was your favorite scene in the book to write and what did you enjoy most about it?


Without a doubt, the Bootcamp chapter. It is towards the end of the book and Johnny is training
people in his church on how to kill demons. Here are some of the highlights.

The next few moments were beautiful. There’s nothing more melodic than the
sound of someone huffing when they get kicked in the nuts. As I perused the rows, I
came across a kid who looked to be about fifteen. Real nerdy looking fella; coke bottle
glasses, button up shirt, and skinny jeans. Blood gushed from his mouth, and he was
crying. I got in his face and went all-out Gunnery Sergeant Hartman on him.
“What in the fuck is this? Are those tears, private?”
He sniffed. “N-n-n-no, sir.”
“It’s not? Well shit on me and call me Commodious. Ladies and gentlemen, we
have a freak of nature here who can make it rain from his eyes. Is that rain coming from
your eyes, private?”
“N-n-n-no, sir.”
“Well then what the hell is it? It damn sure can’t be tears, ‘cause you just told me
it wasn’t. And I know for damn sure you aren’t fucking stupid enough to lie to me. So
what are they, private?”
He dried up real quick, but I kept at him.
“Listen here, el nerdo. If you are crying here, do you know what’s gonna happen
to you when you’re in war? Well, I’ll tell ya. You’re gonna piss yourself like a neutered
dog and run home to your Xbox and action figures. Now, if I catch you crying again, I
will body slam you to the ground and pee on you! Understood?”
“Y-y-y-yes, s-s-sir, D-d-demon S-slayer s-s-sir.” He sniffled a few more times
then got back into ready position.
“Good. Carry on, private.”

A few rows over, a fat dude who looked like Newman from Seinfeld raised his hand and
called for me.
“What do you want, Newman clone?”
“You can’t be serious? You really want us to electrocute each other?”
I marched double time and got in his face. “Serious? Serious?! Do you wanna know what
serious is, Newman? Serious is rescuing your pure virgin bride-to-be from becoming a sacrifice
to Satan. Serious is picking Toby brains out her hair before you make out with her. Serious is
fighting an angel cause he done pissed you off. Serious? You damn better believe I’m serious.
Ask me if I’m fucking serious again. Go ahead, Newman, I double damn dog dare you. You ever
ask me that again, I’ll shove that stun gun so far up your ass, when I turn it on, it’ll shave your
face, got it?”
Newman started to mutter.
“I can’t understand you, lard ass. Get your tongue outta the jar of Crisco and talk to me.”
“Sir, yes, sir, Demon Slayer sir.”
“Ya damn right! Now get to shocking, you pew-sitting, casserole-eating, toe-tapping
shittards!”

You must be a pretty big horror fan yourself, can you give us some movie and book recommendations?


I am. I am going avoid suggesting the big names in horror because most of us have seen the
movie or read the book. Before I give my suggestions, I will say The Exorcist and Legion by
William Peter Blatty are my favorite horror novels.


For reading I recommend the following:


Mine, by Robert McCammon. Best opening chapter of any book I have ever read.
Out Are The Lights, by Richard Laymon
Mark Of The Werewolf, by Jeffery Sackett
The Hunger Moon, by Ramsey Campbell
Night Warriors, by Graham Masterton
Hobgoblin, by John Coyne
Light Source, by Bari Wood
The Revelation, by Bentley Little

Again with movies, I will give some that are not mainstream


The Abomination, 1986
Galaxy of Terror, 1981The Nest, 1988
The Kindred, 1987
The Boogens, 1981
Witchboard, 1986
House II: The Second Story, 1987
The Beast Within, 1982
The Brain, 1988


Where can we find and stalk.. I mean follow you online?


Twitter: @EzekielKincaid
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ezekethefreak/
Website: https://ezekielkincaid.wordpress.com/


Where can we get your latest book and other works?
My books and other anthologies I have been published in can be found on Amazon.
https://www.amazon.com/s?k=ezekiel+kinciad&ref=nb_sb_noss_2
Free reading can be found on Stitched Smile’s WordPress site
https://stitchedsmilepublications.wordpress.com/
And Horror Bound
https://www.horrorbound.net/?author=5de80c37c09a8973f9c333cf

Advertisements

Join Us

Mary Shelley: How a Teenager Changed the Literary World

Categories
Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Women in Horror

Growing Up in a Literary Household

Born in London, England on August 30, 1797, as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin–Mary was the daughter of famed feminist Wollstonecraft as well as the philosopher and political writer William Godwin. Her mother Mary Wollstonecraft authored The Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, but she died shortly after Shelley was born, and consequently, they were never able to develop a relationship.

There is some warrant for seeing Mary Shelley as a reflection of her parents, for both mother and father were extraordinary. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, published the classic manifesto of sexual equality, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Her father, William Godwin, established his preeminence in radical British political thought with his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) and won a permanent place in literary history with his novel Caleb Williams (1794), often considered the first English detective novel. The toast of radical social circles, the two were bound to meet. When they did, in the summer of 1796, an immediate mutual attraction began, and they were married on 29 March 1797. On 30 August of that year Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born. Complications from her birth resulted in her mother’s death 10 September.

Shelley and her older, half-sister Fanny Imlay (a child her mother had through an affair with a soldier), were raised by Shelley’s father William Godwin until he remarried in 1801. Shelley’s stepmother brought two of her own children into the marriage and she and Godwin would later have a son together. Although she provided Shelley with a mother figure, they were never exactly fond of each other–Mary Jane Clairmont would end up sending her own two daughters away to school, but decided that Shelley had no need of a formal education. Despite Mary Shelley’s lack of a true formal education, she educated herself through her father’s own extensive library and she could often be found reading by her mother’s grave.

As a child, I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to ‘write stories’.

Mary Shelly in The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft

Her First Publication

The Godwin household was no stranger to many distinguished people of the time, their household visitors included Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth; it’s no surprise that Shelley found a creative outlet in writing, as her escape from her often overtly challenging life at home was being able to delve into her imagination through daydreaming. Her first publication was a poem called, Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or The Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris which was made official through her father’s publishing company in 1807–stunningly showing her prowess as a writer at the young age of ten.

Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or The Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris

Illustration for Shelley's Poem
Illustration for Shelley’s Poem

John Bull, from England’s happy Isle,
Too Bold to dread mischance,
Resolv’d to leave his friends awhile,
And take a peep at France.

He nothing knew of French indeed,
And deem’d it jabb’ring stuff,
For English he could write and read,
And thought it quite enough.

Shrewd John to see, and not to prate,
To foreign parts would roam,
That he their wonders might relate,
When snug again at home.

Arriv’d at Paris with his dog,
Which he for safety muzzled,
The French flock’d round him, all agog,
And much poor John was puzzled.

The rest of the poem can be found at wikisource.org, as it is a work within the public domain.
Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or, The Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris

How a Teenager Changed the Literary World

Just five years after she published her first poem, during the summer of 1812, Mary blossomed into a young woman–one who resembled her late mother far too much for her step-mother to bear. It was for this reason that Mary Jane Godwin, Shelley’s step-mother, forced her to travel to Scotland to stay with an acquaintance of her father–William Baxter and his family. It was during this stay with Baxter’s family, that she found a sort of serenity in the daily domestic lifestyle and she returned the following year to recapture the bliss she had captured the year before. The two years in Scotland may have nurtured Mary’s literary imagination, but it also further isolated her from her much-loved father.

They were my eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. I wrote then—but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered.

Preface to the single-volume, Standard Novels edition of Frankenstein in 1831

A Scandalous Affair & the Birth of a Monster

In 1814, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a poet under the tutelage of Mary’s father, but soon focused his attentions solely on Mary. She soon began a relationship with the still-married Percy Shelley; when she was nearly seventeen years old, the two ran off to England together, along with Mary’s stepsister Jane. Despite the close relationship she had with her father, Mary’s actions alienated her from them, who would go a long time before speaking to her again. The couple traveled through Europe for quite a time, struggling financially and facing the loss of their first child–a baby girl, who lived only for a few days–in 1815.

The summer of 1816, Mary and Percy were in Switzerland with Jane Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori–the story goes that the group were entertaining themselves on a tumultuously rainy day by reading ghost stories. It was this day that Lord Byron suggested that they make a game out of each creating their own horror story and see who could come up with the best one. This is how Mary began her work on what would become her most renowned novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus–so in many ways, when Mary began to write this infamous tale, she was showing off to what she considered her peers in the literary community.

Two Suicides & A Wedding

Late in 1816, Mary’s half-sister Fanny Imlay committed suicide and a short time later, Percy Shelley’s first wife also committed suicide by drowning herself. Instead of taking this time to mourn, Mary and Percy Shelley seized the opportunity to officially marry one another in December 1816. During their escapades in Europe, Mary Shelley published a travelogue entitled History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817), while continuing to work on the monster tale that she had begun in Switzerland.

When she finished her famous monster story, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, she did so anonymously in 1818. Since Percy Shelley wrote the introduction to the book, it was mistakenly believed that he was the author of the book, but as the novel continued to be a huge success, the Shelleys moved to Italy and Mary devoted herself heavily to her marriage which was rife with infidelity and heartache. Two more of the children that Mary birthed died and the only child they bore that survived to adulthood, Percy Florence Shelley, came about in 1819.

Later Years

The most devastating tragedy that affected Mary was when her husband drowned in a boating accident with a friend in the Gulf of Spezia, in 1822. She was made a widow at the young age of 24, but she continued to work diligently to support herself and her son. Despite having lived a full, scandalous and tragic life before she was even a quarter of a century old, Mary didn’t give up. After her husband died, she wrote several more novels, including Valperga (1823), as well as another science fiction tale The Last Man (1826). A devoted wife, even after her husband passed, she continued to promote his poetry to preserve his place in literary history, despite facing opposition from Percy’s father who had always disapproved of his son’s unorthodox lifestyle.

Death

Shelley continued to live until the age of 53–she passed away on February 1, 1851 from aggressive brain cancer and was buried at St. Peter’s Church in Bournemouth with the remains of her late husband’s cremated remains. Shortly after her death, her son Percy and daughter-in-law Jane had Shelley’s parents exhumed from St. Pancras Cemetery in London and had them place next to Mary Shelley within their family tomb.

Fact or Fiction?

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, but considering the traditions we maintain to this day–keeping cremated remains in urns on our mantles, as one example–what we know about what Mary did is actually not all that strange! After Percy Shelley’s remains were recovered from his boating accident, his remains were cremated–oddly enough, his heart refused to burn and it is speculated that this was due to a disease which slowly calcified his heart. Instead of burying Percy’s heart along with the rest of his cremated remains, she kept it as a valuable possession in a silken shroud and carried it with her wherever she went. It wasn’t until a year after her death that Percy’s petrified heart was found wrapped in the pages of one of his last poems Adonais. It was eventually buried in the family vault with their son, Percy Florence Shelley when he died in 1889. It was wrapped in the pages of one of his last poems, Adonais. The heart was eventually buried in the family vault with their son, Percy Florence Shelley, when he died in 1889.

Mary Shelley (2017)

Mary Shelley (2017)
Mary Shelley (2017)

With the recent trend of classical authors having their tales told, it was about damn time that Shelley got the credit she deserved. Somehow it still took well over a century and a half for Shelley to be recognized on the big screen in a biographical sense, although the movie is rife with inconsistencies comparatively with how she has been historically represented. If taken at face value, however, it is an excellent movie–we highly recommend it if you’re a fan of Shelley at all–it is not at all within the genre of horror, despite her status as the famed mother of sci-fi horror fiction.

Index of Sources

Advertisements

Join Us

Novels, Television, and Film Adaptations of Robert Bloch

Categories
Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

From the past articles in which we have discussed Robert Bloch and his creative works within the horror genre, we decided to talk a little bit about his most famous novels, especially Psycho, the film that almost overnight made Bloch a writing sensation.

The Scarf (1947)

The Scarf (1947) by Robert Bloch
The Scarf (1947) by Robert Bloch

This novel was originally published twelve years before Bloch’s most famous work, Psycho (1960) and while it was originally published without much publicity and was largely ignored for years, it along with Bloch’s other older works started to receive more notice after Hitchcock adapted Psycho to the big screen. Once Bloch’s work received such critical acclaim, his other less popular works began to gain some popularity as well. These other works tend to still be less popular and while they were all well-written, most were unfortunately as forgettable as they come. The Scarf, despite being one of Bloch’s best novels is somehow still one of his forgotten novels.

When we look at The Scarf we see a story about Daniel Morley, a man who admits to having a fetish for a certain scar he wears all the time. According to our strange narrator, Morley received this scarf as a gift from his high school English teacher; in a strange turn of events, this teacher attempted to rape Morley and whom Morley killed in alleged self-defense.

We eventually see Morley as somewhat of a wandering vagrant, one who commits small crimes to get by—and then also there’s the women he murders with.. the scarf.

Psycho (1959) by Robert Bloch
Psycho (1959) by Robert Bloch

Psycho (1959)

For those who have been, somehow, untouched by Bloch’s infamous novel Psycho (1959) this synopsis might be somewhat of a spoiler—but that doesn’t mean you can get away with not reading the book, watching the movie, or checking out the television series inspired by the original novel!

Within the story proposed by Bloch in this psychological thriller, we meet Norman Bates, a middle-aged bachelor who is mentally dominated by his mother—a puritanical, mean-spirited woman who prevents Norman from having any kind of normal life outside of taking care of her and the motel they run together in the small town of Fairville. Unfortunately, since the state relocated the highway, Norman and his mother have been struggling to maintain their business which at one point had been a fairly busy highway adjacent place for people to stop for the night.

Enter Mary Crane, an impulsive woman who, after stealing $40,000 from one of her real estate clients, is on the run from the law. Mary arrives just when Norman and his mother are in a heated argument and as the situation progresses, Mary is under the impression that Norman’s mother would benefit from a mental hospital. Norman denies that there is anything wrong with her, suggesting that, “we all go a little mad sometimes.” After finishing her dinner with Norman, Mary returns to her room having decided to return the money she stole and face the consequences so she doesn’t end up like Norman and his mother, but in an unforeseen change in circumstance, while Mary is taking a shower, a figure that looks like an old woman ambushes Mary and beheads her for her offenses.

Norman, who had passed out drunk after dinner finds Mary’s bloody corpse and is instantly convinced his mother murdered their customer—briefly considering letting his mother go to prison, he instead decides to get rid of the body and dispose of Mary’s belongings in a swamp before returning to life as usual. Mary’s fiance catches wind of her disappearance through Mary’s sister, who with the help of a private investigator hired by Mary’s employer, begin the search for her together. Arbogast, the private investigator, is eventually led to the Bates Motel where he questions Norman about Mary—Norman of course lies, telling Arbogast that Mary had only stayed for one night and left. Wanting to cover his bases, Arbogast asks to speak with Norman’s mother, but Norman refuses and by doing so, rouses Arbogast’s suspicion. The mystery continues and what awaits those searching for Mary Crane turns into a psychological thriller that goes beyond the standard criminal mind—who could have known that Norman Bates was such a pscyho?

Psycho (1960) Adaptation into Film

Immediately after publishing, Bloch was made an offer for the film rights to the book that put him on the map, it wasn’t until well after the rights were purchased that Bloch found out the person who purchased them was actually Alfred Hitchcock. We discuss more of the surrounding details in our article Robert Bloch: The Man Who Brought Us Psycho.

Psycho (1998) Remake

Bates Motel (2013-2017)

A disturbing and driving force of psychological horror, Carlton Cuse and A&E provided a reimagined version of Bloch’s original creation, having a more in-depth backstory and an interesting narrative and twist on dissociative personality disorder and how the extremes of such could result in such a violent psychological break even from someone who was at first depicted as being so docile and sweet.

Works Cited

Bloch, Robert. Psycho. Blackstone Audio, Inc., 1959.

Bloch, Robert. The Scarf. Dial Press, 1947.

Cuse, Carlton. Bates Motel, A&E, 2013.

Sergio. “THE SCARF (1947 / 1966) by Robert Bloch.” Tipping My Fedora, 13 May 2012, bloodymurder.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/the-scarf-1947-by-robert-bloch/.

Van Sant, Gus, director. Psycho, Universal Pictures, 1998.

Advertisements

Join Us

Shirley Jackson: Novels, Short Stories, and Other Works

Categories
Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

The Lottery (1948)

The Lottery is a short story that Shirley Jackson wrote in 1948—it was written within the month of its first publication. It appeared within the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker and describes a fictional account of a small town that participates in a lottery of sorts. This particular short story has often been described as “one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.”

Conceptually, two creative stories come to mind immediately after reading this story–no doubt the authors of which were inspired greatly by the Jackson original. The cult classic film The Wicker Man (1973), then later the novelization and The Hunger Games franchise both echo the idea of a ritual where the town comes together and holds what they call a lottery.

This lottery is, unfortunately, not the type that anyone hopes to win, but mirrors the dystopian attitude where the losers rejoice in the winner’s predicament. Without spoiling the entire story for anyone, let’s just say it’s most definitely worth the read (or simply listen below). What is truly interesting with this story–one that leaves the reader with a feeling of utmost terror and despair–is that Jackson apparently wrote within the confines of a single morning. The agreed-upon account of its creation is that Jackson came up with the idea for the story while she was shopping for groceries in the morning, came home, set her two-year-old daughter in her playpen to play, and had it finished before her son came home from kindergarten for lunch.

Talk about a whirlwind turn-around for something so utterly and terribly fantastic. Along with other myths that surround the creation of The Lottery, there was a time when people actually believed that the story was a factual report–this is in part due to the fact that at the time The New Yorker didn’t distinguish between fact and fiction when it came to the stories within its publications. As a result of the misunderstanding, much to the chagrin of Jackson, subscribers sent her several hundred letters that in her words could be summed up to, “bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse.” It was especially alarming to her that some of the letters were from people who wanted to know where such lotteries were being held and whether they would be allowed to watch.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

This gothic horror novel stands in the same class as those by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Bram Stoker—to the point of even being a finalist for the National Book Award in the category for best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century. While Shirley adhered more to the thrilling psychological aspects, which successfully elicited stronger emotions in her readers. It has since been adapted into two feature films, a play, radio theater, as well as a Netflix series which premiered in 2018, although considerable liberties were taken with Shirley’s original story.

Shirley’s initial idea for this particular novel came to her after she read about a real-life group of researchers from the nineteenth century who had spent time in a reportedly haunted house and then published their experiences while investigating the site. She spent quite a bit of time researching and studying floor plans of large, potentially haunted houses around the country, and also spent time reading several volumes on hauntings and ghost stories before she sketched out the grounds of Hill House, as well as the floor plan for the house itself. Suffice it to say, she took her time considering how the characters might move about the house and made sure she had a clear vision of how a haunting would play out in such a house.

Check out this trailer of the Netflix series of The Haunting of Hill House and see how this novel translated to a television series.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in 1962—just a few years before the radical social movement of the 1960s and 1970s—and served as her reaction to the movement of traditionalism that followed the Second World War. The fifties was an exceptional decade when women were transitioning from having jobs that supported the war effort while the men were overseas, to being expected to stay at home in order to support their husbands by cooking, cleaning, and rearing children.

This novel takes place in a small New England town where the remaining members of the Blackwood family stay in their ancestral home—they seem to live a peaceful, if not removed life from the rest of the town and its oppressive atmosphere. The initial perception of the people in town is one of apprehension when the main character Mary Katherine admits the anxiety she feels when having to pass the general store when the men are sitting out front. The mood of the novel changes to reflect what many literary scholars believe might have been Jackson’s own response to the changing social climate of the fifties and how stifling it would have been to be a housewife with a job. It also bears mentioning that it brings attention to the ways women had been oppressed in the past, referencing witch hunts where women would be killed for even the slightest misstep.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle echoed a lot of the same themes that were found in her profoundly popular short story The Lottery, with special emphasis on the strange and hostile townspeople who take on the type of mob mentality that allows otherwise sensible people to commit horrible acts with little to no impact on their conscience. It is said that this particular novel served as inspiration to many writers—including authors like Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates—who, after reading Shirley’s work, felt liberated in taking leaps with horror, speculative fiction, and just enough realism to create creepy atmospheres within their own novels.

Take a look at the trailer for We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2019) and let us know what you think between the differences you’ve found between it and the original novel.

Looking back on a career like Shirley’s it’s widely believed that despite the fact that raising four children is an extremely difficult task, Shirley couldn’t have been such a literary success without them—after all, her first success, The Lottery came only a few months before Shirley was set to deliver her third child. A cringe-worthy moment came when the clerk asked Shirley her occupation, when she responded that she was a writer, the clerk responded that he was going to put down the occupation of housewife instead. While it was true that being a mother was one of her jobs, Shirley was more than just a mere housewife—in fact, she was the breadwinner of the family.

Shirley Jackson happened to be both a housewife and a “talented, determined, ambitious writer in an era when it was still unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession.” The appearance of a conventional American household generated material for this sassy mother of four—who thrived on the tensions that it created between both roles. The expectations of herself, her husband, family, publishers, and readers gave life to her writing since what was normal for her was unspeakably abnormal for the time. She made this clear during the early years of her career, when she drew, “a muscular woman, looking disgruntled, [dragging] her husband off by his hair as another couple [looked] on worriedly. ‘I understand she’s trying to have both a marriage and a career,’ one says to the other.” The truth of the matter was, that Shirley’s career only really took off after she became a mother, having gained an empathetic view of developing minds and the well of imagination that she drew therein. In this respect, Shirley was not only a sensational author, she was an admirable role model for any woman who may have wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Index of Sources

Advertisements

Join Us

Signup to our newsletter