Not At Night
Posted by demonik on August 15, 2007
Many thanks to Robert Weinberg for kindly granting me permission to use his cover scans.
“Not At Night” ed. Christine Campbell Thomson (Selwyn & Blount, October 1925)
” … I do not care to know how far Henry James believed in the possibility of “The Turn Of The Screw”, but his genius succeeded in creating an atmosphere of spiritual dread because he realised this was necessary to his art … It seems to me that it is exactly this lack of spirituality which so fatally flaws the vast majority of tales in a series generally known as “Not At Night”, which has now attained six volumes of similar if slightly varying titles. If there is a note of spiritual horror, whether it be vampire horror, as in ‘Four Wooden Stakes’, or Satanism, as in ‘The Devil’s Martyr’ and ‘The Witch-Baiter’, the story is raised to another plane far higher than the rather nauseating sensationalism of fiendish serums, foul experiments of lunatic surgeons, half-human plants, monstrous insects and the like.
Montague Summers, “The Supernatural Omnibus”, 1931.
Conceived (on the back of a bus) as a cheap one off anthology, this was where the popular series began. Summers’ was one of the less hostile assessments – it seems the books were pretty much loathed by the critics from the off. By no means the finest collection in the series, the debut is still enjoyable on its own terms – most notably in Roman’s enjoyable trad. vampire yarn, and Binn’s bus journey to the grave – but the best was yet to come.
Paul S. Powers – Monsters Of The Pit
Victor Roman – Four Wooden Stakes
Mortimer Levitan – The Third Thumb-Print
W. J. Stamper – Lips Of The Dead
Gerald Dean – The Devil Bed
Frank Belknap Long jr. – Death-Waters
G. Frederick Montefoire – Black Curtains
R. G. MacReady – The Plant-Thing
C. Franklin Miller – His Family
Romeo Poole – A Hand From The Deep
Greye La Spina – The Tortoise-Shell Cat
Henry W. Whitehill – The Case Of The Russian Stevedore
W. Chiswell Collins – The Leopard’s Trail
Archie Binns – The Last Trip
H. Thompson Rich – The Purple Cincture
Paul S. Power – Monsters Of The Pit: Port Said. Scott falls in love with Irene, the sheltered daughter of Prof. Denham, mad scientist and misanthrope. Denham has bred ghastly, squirming diseased bacteria to unleash on the world, and he’s also been experimenting with insects. He throws Scott into the pit where, caught in a huge web, he awaits the approach of giant spiders (their last meal was an ox). He escapes minus an arm, which Irene is obliged to hack off with an axe when one of the arachnids sinks its fangs in. It takes her three attempts.
Victor Roman – Four Wooden Stakes: Holroyd Estate, Charing. Remson Holroyd’s grandfather, father and two brothers have all died within the past five years. Prior to his death, Grand-pops had spent time in South America where he was attacked by a huge bloodsucking bat and in his will he requested that a crypt be built on the estate and his body interred therein. Narrator Jack has just solved a case that baffled “the police and two of the best detective agencies in the city”, but even he is stumped to begin with. Once he gets going, however, there’s no stopping him: “Remson, what we are up against is a vampire” he explains, after they’ve watched a shrouded figure return to the vault. “I noticed you had an old edition of the Encyclopedia on your shelf. If you bring me volume XXIV I’ll be able to explain more fully the meaning of the word.”
R. G. Macready – The Plant Thing: Dick, star reporter with The Clarion, breaks into Professor Carter’s grounds to investigate claims that he’s carrying out dreadful vivisections. In reality, the old boy is a well-meaning fellow and the missing sheep & co. are being fed to his pride and joy, a 25ft carnivorous “travesty” which he believes to be the missing link between plant and animal (see also Hester Holland’s Dorner Cordainthus). Both men are attacked and almost eaten by it.
W. J. Stamper – Lips Of The Dead: “Down with Theodor! Death to Black Oscar!” Port Au Prince, Haiti. When the corrupt leaders decapitate the people’s champion, Papillon, his severed head warns: “To-morrow, Theodor, to-morrow.”
The following day the mob storm the palace. Black Oscar is – disappointingly – merely shot dead, but Theodor is dragged by a horse and then crucified.
G. Frederick Montefiore – Black Curtains: “I want to paint something different … something that will wake them up! Gruesome, perhaps, But with a touch of pathos and the ever necessary feminine interest!” So Victor Stapleton meditates, projecting the designs in his head onto the black curtains which separate his room from his neighbours … and is startled to life when a hand parts them from the other side. It belongs to Mr. Fland, the miser. Victor has never seen him before, although he’s certainly aware of the old man’s beautiful grand-daughter.
Mr. Fland is reputed to have killed all his relatives, although he seems friendly enough when he invites the young artist into his room. Once Victor accompanies through the curtains however, he’s back on barking form. “Gold! Hidden gold! and – it’s yours! If you can find it!”
Victor reluctantly searches the room high and low, revealing new horrors as he goes until finally …
H. Thompson Rich – The Purple Cincture: April 8th – My flaming foot dropped off tonight, seared at the ankle by the purple cincture, and I flung it outside the cave. I wonder. Perhaps I may yet live to return to the world. Ah, I will be avenged for this!
The narrator finds a headless skeleton in a fissure in a rock. Beside it, a mouldering journal explaining how it came to be that way…
A gloriously over the top study of obsessive jealousy, misplaced blame and a spectacular and hideously protracted death by ‘germ poison’ via a rare purple and orange-banded spider.
Henry W. Whitehill – The Case Of The Russian Stevedore: “You were a beast and I made you a man!”
Some years earlier, Dr. August Dinwoodie performed an operation on the ‘Russian’ known to the world as Abe Goril. Goril is a mis-shapen, hideous travesty of a man, but he’s sought after as a dock-hand on account of his prodigious strength. So far, the terrified surgeon has stayed one step ahead of him, but his luck is about to run out …
Mortimer Levitan – The Third Thumb-Print: “My system enables you to tell whether a man is a criminal merely by measuring and classifying his thumb-print.”
Prof. Sanders has spent the past twenty years working on a fool-proof method for identifying murderers. Hateful of press-intrusion, his single confidante throughout has been young Guy Steel. Steel gives him five random thumb-prints and asks him to spot the murderer. One of them is Sanders’ own and it denounces him as a killer in waiting. Steel picks the wrong moment to confess that he’s a journalist …
Archie Binns – The Last Trip: “I would have died long ago if it hadn’t been for her. I was blown up and shot to pieces … they brought back what was left of me, and put me away. I waited my chance until tonight, when I came to find you!”
The late bus from Pacific Street to Lewis. Butler is first irked then increasingly terrified as the journey proceeds in sombre silence, save for the mantra “Driver, I want to get off here” when one of the passengers wants to disembark. Eventually, there is only one man left, who pulls a gun, introduces himself as Death and says he wants to go to Woodland Cemetery.
Essentially a precursor of Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors‘ framing story, this would have made for a great EC strip.
C. Franklin Miller – His Family: ” … for sheer horror none of the famous tragedies of history can equal the warped affection which forms the basis of the incident I am about to narrate.”
Upper Congo, 1890. Brent, a member of a scientific party, goes to investigate a case of tent-robbing and finds himself at a hovel where the emaciated Colonel Warner of Kentucky (aka, ‘the mad colonel’) resides with his wife and daughter. Warner tells his story of how they have been persecuted by a ‘maniac’ named Andrew Lang and his men. One of their number surprises Warner as he is entertaining his guest and a fight to the death ensues. Brent gets to meet the family. What little is left of them.
Gerald Dean – The Devil Bed:
BLOODE WARM AND RED
ON HIS HANDS THATTE CARVED THIS BED
BLOODE SHALL BE SHED
BY HIM WHO HEREON RESTS HIS HEAD
Those who’ve slept in the carved monstrosity tend to have embarked on murder sprees shortly afterward (the record number of kills by one man is nine). Antique collector Harry Ware isn’t to be taken in by this superstitious mumbo jumbo and decides to grab some sleep in the devil bed on the night before it’s to be donated to a museum.
Romeo Poole – A Hand From The Deep: Simon Glaze is the only survivor of a fire at Dr. Whitby’s place, an institution which has been the subject of several disturbing rumours. Glaze lost an arm in an accident and Whitby treated him with one of his serums free of charge. There are side effects. Glaze forever wants to take a bath and curls up in a ball whenever he feels threatened. “He is now coming more and more every day to resemble a gigantic shellfish, in both body and mind …” Yes, Glaze is fast mutating into … a human lobster!
W. Chiswell Collins – The Leopard’s Trail: Duala, West African Bush. Chisholm and Hodgins, searching for Nazi gold buries at Dead Creek, are betrayed into the clutches of the Leopard Society. The Leopards’ specialty is cutting the pancreas from their still-living victim and draining him of blood.
There is a footnote to the effect that the cult are not of fictitious origin and Collins cites a number of ritualistic murders attributed to them prior to 1916.
Frank Belknap Long – Death Waters: ” … the mass of seething corruption rolled down the hill until it reached the level rocky lake shore, and then it oozed obnoxiously towards us.”
Honduras. Byrne, a New York businessman, bullies and cajoles a huge black boatman into sampling a mouthful of the filthy lake water. The native retaliates by galvanizing a teeming mass of assorted snakes against him.
Greye La Spina – The Tortoise-Shell Cat: In her youth Mammy Jinny had loved a fellow slave who was falsely accused of theft and banished by their master. Mammy knew that there had been no theft and the missing jewelery had been given to a girl by the master’s son, but he laughed in her face when she begged him to confess.
To avenge herself, Manny uses voodoo to transform the transgressor’s innocent young daughter, Vida de Monserreau, into a yellow and black striped cat. Unwittingly, Vida girl goes on a crime spree at the Pine Valley Academy Of Young Ladies, nightly pilfering the other girls’ trinkets.