First published back in May of 1981, Leslie Shepard’s anthology ‘The Dracula Book Of Great Horror Stories’ followed on from the author and founder of the ‘Bram Stoker Society’ previous anthology ‘The Dracula Book Of Great Vampire Stories’ (1977).

The book begins with a nine page introduction by the anthology’s complier and editor, Leslie Shepard.  Here Shepard details the early roots of horror, the very first appearances f horror in Gothic romance novels, and how the genre quickly grew with an increasing vigour.  Following this Shepard goes through each of the short stories within the collection, offering a couple of paragraphs on each by way of a brief introduction and hopefully whetting the reader’s appetite for the tales to come.  

Captain Murderer - Charles Dickens – 6 pages
Captain Murderer’s mission was matrimony and the gratification of his cannibal appetite for tender brides.  And he had perfected the art of his cannibalistic murder.  One requirement was that he always ensured that  his brides were able to make a pie-crust before their marriage.  Because he liked his meat in a pie.  And so, after chopping up his wife, he was able to make the most mouth-watering of tender meat pies.  However his appetite for young female flesh eventually saw him marrying and consuming a pair of twins.  A cocky mistake that spells the end for his hungry campaign of murder...

First published within the journal ‘All The Year Round’ back in September of 1860, Dickens’ short is supposedly a recollection of a tale that was told to him by a nurse when he was a sick six-year-old boy.  As such, the story still reads like a classic fairy-tale, in a similar style to those by the Brothers Grimm.  And it doesn’t hold back on the bloodcurdling horror – utilising a cannibalistic Captain whose appetite for young human flesh sees him taking victim after victim until a twins’ sister manages to take her final revenge.  A truly magnificent piece of colourful horror that would scare the bejesus out of any young child.

The Pit And The Pendulum - Edgar Allan Poe - 18 Pages
Following his trial during the Spanish Inquisition, the prisoner is cast into a pitch black cell where he is to await his long drawn-out fate.  Exploring his prison by touch and hearing alone, he discovers that in the very centre of the cell, the stone floor suddenly drops away into the horrifying depths of a deep well.  However, the real tortures begin with the gradual decent of a vast pendulum sporting a viciously sharp blade at its end.  A pendulum which slowly lowers towards the prone body of the prisoner.  With his sanity on the verge of collapse, there seems no escape from the evil tortures…

First published back in 1843, ‘The Pit And The Pendulum’ is perhaps the most well-known and highly-revered of US author Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work.  And to be fair, it is an absolute masterpiece of haunting claustrophobia and nail-biting tension.  The complete and utter darkness that consumes a vast proportion of the story is masterfully brought to the surface by our narrating prisoner.  The picture of absolute darkness, the rats, the damp and the slowly descending pendulum make for a truly harrowing sensory experience that is portrayed in such crystal clarity for the reader.  This is horror at its finest.

The Haunted And The Hunters, Or The House And The Brain - Lord Lytton
- 40 Pages
When his friend declared that he’d discovered a haunted house in the midst of London, his curiosity quickly got the better of him.  The conversation begins with how, six weeks ago, his friend and his friend’s wife were out looking for an apartment when they came across one advertised on Oxford Street – a residency that they snapped up immediately.  However, their tenancy only lasted three days before they both decided to flee the property.  And following their departure, the couple learned that their stay there was in fact longer than any other tenant had managed.  And now, since their short time in the house, a woman had taken up residence there.  A woman who would soon be found dead there.  They say the devil strangled her.  Now consumed with curiosity, he decides to examine the house for himself.  The desperate owner, only too willingly offers the property up for a night-time stay for them both.  A night in the house that has scared everyone off...

First published back in 1859, British author and playwright, Lord Lytton’s short ‘The Haunted And The Hunters, Or The House And The Brain’ is a typically atmospheric and character-driven early horror short that tells its story through the eyes of our curious narrator.  The plot itself is a typically standard horror premise; that of a haunted house which has a reputation that would scare off almost anyone.  However, once the real meat of the story starts to get underway, Lytton weaves a strange and eerie tale, that gradually gathers speed; with twists and turns and strange revelations bringing about an eventful and imaginative tale that plays as much with horror as it does with mystery.  And to be fair – it’s a damn enjoyable read.

The Inn - Guy De Maupassant - 16 Pages
At the foot of the glaciers, located in the rock-bound gorges which indent the snow-clad ranges of the High Alps, a quaint little timber guest house, named The Schwarenbach Inn can be found.  An isolated cabin that has become a refuge for travellers attempting the passage of the Gemmi.  And it’s here that following the Hauser family’s departure from the inn, that the young Swiss guide, Ulrich Kunsi, stays behind with his friend, Gaspard Hari, for four or five of the long winter months.  However, within mere days of being left on their own, they find a snowfall has gradually encased the inn.  After that they barely venture outside the dwelling, with Gaspard only occasionally going out with his gun to hunt chamois.  And it’s during one such hunting expedition that Ulrich decides to go out looking for his friend.  But after a lengthy search, he realises he can’t find him.  And as the hours turn into days without sight nor sound of his friend, Ulrich becomes increasingly concerned with the man’s fate.  And it’s then, as hope for Gaspard’s survival is dwindling, that a presence begins to make itself known from the other side of the cabin door...

First published in the author’s native language back in 1890, French writer Guy De Maupassant’s short was later translated into English in 1929.  And the short is one of the author’s very finest.  Lending a great deal from the suggestive supernatural atmospheric nature of an Algernon Blackwood tale, Maupassant has managed to produce a story of claustrophobia, isolation, eerie suspense and nerve-jangling tension.  The scene is quite quickly set, and from here Maupassant spends almost no time in having Gaspard go missing in the snow covered landscape the surrounds the isolated inn.  And it’s once Gaspard has gone missing that the undercurrent of tension starts to come into play.  And it ends with a magnificently cold signoff that is perfectly in fitting with the story.

The Dancing Partner - Jerome K. Jerome - 10 Pages
In the small town of Furtwangen in the Black Forest there lived a highly respected mechanical toy-maker named Nicholaus Geibel.  A man who could make the most amazing and ingenious mechanical toys that the world had ever seen.  And so, one day as he listened to the his daughter, Olga, who amongst some other women were complaining about all of the men’s poor dancing abilities at the second birthday party for Doctor Follen’s baby, Geibel came up with an idea.  Jovially the women were suggesting a clockwork dancing man would make the perfect solution.  A suggestion that Geibel took seriously.  And so for a couple of weeks he was hidden away in his factory.  Then after a month had passed, another celebratory ball was to take place.  And it’s at this ball where in walks Geibel and a friend.  The ‘friend’ being Lieutenant Fritz – Geibel’s clockwork dancing man.  A dancing man who could dance all night long...

First published back in 1893, British author Jerome K. Jerome’s short is a quick slice of light-hearted horror fun that plays with a delightfully camp idea of a robot dancing man that goes out of control.  Indeed, that really is pretty much the entire sum of this incredibly short tale, with most of the story given over to laying down the reasoning behind the toy-maker inventing such a mechanical man.  For its time, the short was undoubtedly very creative; however the simplicity behind the story hasn’t really stood up to the test of time.  But for a handful of pages, it’s nevertheless worth a few minutes of anyone’s time.

The Cone - H. G. Wells - 14 Pages
When the industrialist, Horrocks, learns that his wife has been having an affair with a man named Raut, he offers to show the man some particularly fine effects of moonlight and smoke and the contrasts of flame and shadow at the big ironworks where he works.  And so, whilst the two men are making their way to the Jeddah Company Blast Furnaces, Horrocks grips the others arm with such force that it turns his skin black and blue.  And then at a railway crossing, Horrocks appears to hold Raut in the way of an oncoming train.  But it’s at the ironworks where the real danger begins.  It’s here, above the vast cone in the furnace’s chimney, that Horrocks shows his true motivation for taking Raut to the site.  However, vengeance can be a tough fight to taken on...

British author, H.G. Wells’ short ‘The Cone’, is a grimy and gritty tale that deals with a powerfully emotive portrayal of vengeance upon a man who has been carrying on with an affair with this industrialist’s wife.  And the resulting fight and downcast conclusion speaks volumes for the utter bitterness that passion can cause in a man who has been deeply hurt.  And it’s with these surprisingly thick wedges of harsh emotion that the short really comes into its own.  There’s no pandering around the edges here – Wells goes in with fists flying and a burning rage in his eye.  And until the final breathtaking ending, the short manages to keep the anger, frustration and utter regret alive with more passion that you would have thought possible in so few pages.

The Monkey's Paw - W. W. Jacobs - 14 Pages
Upon returning from his time serving in India, Sergeant-Major Morris visits his friends, the White family.  And it is whilst he is visiting that he tells the three of them about the dried up monkey’s paw that he has brought back with him from India.  A paw that is said to have had a spell put on it by an old fakir.  A spell to show that fate ruled people’s lives and those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow.  A spell that would grant three separate men three wishes.  And the Sergeant-Major, who was the second man to have the paw in his possession, had already had his three wishes.  However, knowing the paw as more of a curse than a blessing, Morris attempts to incinerate it on the fire.  However, Mr White, yearning for the power from three wishes, snatches the paw up before it can burn and so declares his first wish to the paw...

First published back in September of 1902 within ‘The Lady Of The Barge’ (1902), British author William Jacobs’ classic short story ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ has since become an incredibly well-known story, predominantly due to the various adaptations and parodies that have been made over the years on the radio and television etc.  And to be fair, the short is an absolute cracker.  Yeah, so it’s a moral tale, with quite a clichéd message behind it.  But it works, and its brutal response to the three wishes is what gives the short such welly.  Quivering with as much dark irony as an episode from ‘The Twilight Zone’, the tale gets right into the meat of the matter within a few quick pages, and then it’s just a spiralling descent of bitter misfortune, until the equally depressing conclusion ends the misery of the story.

Caterpillars - E. F. Benson - 12 Pages
It all happened in the Villa Cascana where he once stayed.  An old Italian mansion that had only recently been pulled down.  And so now he felt he could finally speak of the horrors that he encountered under the roof of the mansion.  Of waking in the night and after leaving his room, finding a bed crawling with faintly luminous squirming caterpillars, each one of a foot or more in length.  Instead of sucker-feet as would be found on ordinary caterpillars, these giant ones sported rows of pincers like crabs.  And it was as the caterpillars began to drop off the bed and move towards him, that he fled from the empty room in absolute terror.  But the next morning, in the light of the day, he convinced himself that the caterpillars must have been part of a nightmare.  He convinced himself until his friend Arthur Inglis presents a small pill-box containing one of the caterpillars.  A caterpillar that he dubs Cancer Inglisensis...

First published within ‘The Room In The Tower’ (1912), British horror author E.F. Benson’s short ‘Caterpillars’ introduced the use of creatures (in this case caterpillars) to deliver the wallop of the horror element.  Exaggerated and mutated into a nightmarish vision, these grotesque giant caterpillars are at the heart of the tale’s impactful horror.  And Benson has made these beastly caterpillars so much of a nightmarish sight that his unnamed narrator even questions whether what he had seen could ever be reality.  From this weird and creepy backdrop, Benson whips up a storm of terrifying madness that culminates in a bitter and depressingly bleak conclusion.  This really is a masterclass in how to bring nightmares to life.

The Judge's House - Bram Stoker - 22 Pages
In order to help him concentrate on his studies, the bright young student, Malcolm Malcolmson, decides to escape from his normal surroundings and travels out to the small market town of Benchurch where he decides to rent out an old rambling house.  There he hopes to totally absorb himself in his studies within the absolute solitude afforded by these new surroundings.  However, after signing for the rent for his short stay in the house, he learns of an “absurd prejudice” that the locals have with the house they know as the Judge’s House.  But it’s not until he has moved in that he begins to notice the disturbances ruining his study time.  The sound of rats scurrying about the house, and most notably, on a great old high-backed carved oak chair beside the fireplace sat one particularly enormous rat, glaring at him with baleful eyes.  A rat that kept returning to the same spot.  And as the hours pass by, Malcolm finds that the house was far from the perfect setting for some peace and quiet...

First published back in December of 1891, Bram Stoker’s eerie short ‘The Judge’s House’ utilised the classic ‘haunted house’ concept; incorporating some particularly menacing rats and a creepy phantom Judge who’d once inhabited the property.  Although the short is somewhat slow-paced to start with, once the student is in the property the eerier atmosphere and disturbing presence of the rats soon gets the real teeth of the tale underway.  The tale’s idea of a student looking for somewhere quiet and isolated to study was later reused by Algernon Blackwood in his short ‘A Haunted Island’ (1899).  However, although the two shorts start out with a similar premise, the tales soon set off down very different routes – Blackwood delivering a hefty punch of horror whereas Stoker’s story is far less intense.  However, Stoker’s short does end on a thoroughly sombre note that concludes the tale in a hauntingly fitting way.

The Voice In The Night - William Hope Hodgson - 16 Pages
In the dead of night in the Northern Pacific, from out of the pitch black darkness afforded by the expansive sea around them, a small boat approaches the schooner in which Will and George we on board.  Keeping its distance, the occupant aboard the small rowboat requests that no light be shone on him, and pleads for food for him and his fiancée who he has left behind on a nearby island.  George decides to give the man a box of provisions which they duly float over to him.  Soon, after the man receives the box he rows away, back to his lady on the island.  However, it’s not long before he’s back again, and having talked with his fiancée, has decided that it is best that he tells the charitable men of the fate that had befallen him and his fiancée.  A spiralling sequence of misfortune that saw them abandoned by the crew aboard the ship, the Albatross.  And then after escaping on a raft which they had constructed, he tells them how they found another abandoned ship which had been covered in a strange fungus-like growth.  A ship which they stayed on board for several days – which proved to be long enough for the fungus to find them.  And soon enough they’re flesh was succumbing to the strange fungus that was gradually taking over their lives...

First published back in November of 1907, British author William Hope Hodgson’s short ‘The Voice In The Night’ has since seen numerous adaptations over the years.  And rightly so – the short is an incredible piece of creeping horror – displaying imagination and a masterful skill at setting an atmosphere with very little in the way of visual representation.  Indeed, the main part of the tale is told by the man aboard the small rowboat – structured as a tale within a tale.  And good god does this strange man’s story chill the bones of the reader.  It’s haunting and strange, and escalates the sinister horror that’s lurking behind each word the man speaks.  One of the highlights of the anthology – this is a classic piece of haunting, Lovercraftian-esque horror.

Count Magnus - M. R. James - 16 Pages
In the summer of 1863, Mr Wraxall set out for Sweden to gather material for a travel book.  Whilst out on his travels, Wraxall learned of an interesting family named the De la Gardie who he duly visits.  Nearby to the family’s manor house, Wraxall notices a family mausoleum which he learns is where the Magnus de la Gardie, otherwise known as Count Magnus, was laid to rest.  However, as much as he tries, Wraxall is unable to gain entry to the mausoleum.  Wishing to learn further information regarding the Count, Wraxall speaks with the innkeeper where he is staying.  The man duly tells him what he has heard about the Count.  A cruel man who once embarked upon a Black Pilgrimage to Chorazin in which it is said that he brought something back with him.  Something that should not be allowed to exist under God’s watchful eye.  Something dark and evil…

First published back in 1931, British author M R James’ short ‘Count Magnus’ is an eerie mystery that pulls together suggestions of the black arts with a ungodly horror lurking in the depths of a mausoleum.  Written as if the story was extracted from pages that were written by our protagonist during his travels in Sweden – the tale is a strange unearthing of something that becomes increasingly sinister as the tale picks up momentum.  Interestingly, much of the story is delivered by word of mouth, but when the premise for the tale has finally been firmly established, James moves straight in with the spiraling horror that will eventually bring the tale to a delightfully dark conclusion.  James’ depiction of Count Magnus comes across as a sort of Aleister Crowley character – immersing him in the Black Arts and creating a truly unnerving premise surrounding the beast he supposedly brought back with him.  Not exactly pumped up with energy, but nevertheless a dark and creepy tale of ungodly horror.

The Festival - H. P. Lovecraft - 12 Pages
With the Christmas festivities upon him, the idea of exploring a link back to his heritage in the forgotten town of Kingsport in Massachusetts drew a great amount of interest for him.  And so, after travelling some distance, he arrived at the ancient sea town where he hoped to witness the secret festival that was held there once every century.  His first port of call was to visit his relatives’ house, whereupon he was greeted by a strange looking man who was clearly hiding his true face for some unknown reason.  And it’s whilst he was waiting in the house for the festival to commence, that our inquisitive tourist began to peruse a Latin translation of the Necronomicon which he found in the premises.  And then, at the strike of eleven, he was led out of the house and off with the festival’s procession – where he would witness strange, haunting and ungodly beasts that will push his sanity to the very limits.  It is a night which he will forever wish he had never experienced...

First published within the January 1925 issue of ‘Weird Tales’ magazine, Lovecraft’s short ‘The Festival’ is certainly a creepy little read.  The tale begins with a particularly ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ (1936) type of setting, with Kingsport displaying an unnerving and altogether eerie atmosphere for our narrator to arrive within.  As is so often the case with Lovecraft’s shorts, the tale is written in the first-person-perspective of an unnamed narrator, pulling the reader into the storyline as if they themselves were the one witnessing and experiencing these horrific sights.  Lovecraft’s imagination runs absolute riot as he pushes the storyline on to some more weird and twisted Cthulhu madness, with the festival procession turning to something out of a nightmare.  The short concludes well, with a stab-in-the chest of an open-ending ending.  It terrifies…and it does it so damn well.

The Travelling Grave - L. P. Hartley - 24 Pages
Hugh Curtis was somewhat apprehensive when the eccentric Dick Munt extended an invitation for him to spend a Sunday at his house in the Lowlands where he would be holding a small weekend-party.  Fellow invitee, Valentine Ostrop, eventually manages to persuade Hugh to attend.  And so the two of them travel down to their host’s house together.  Upon arriving they meet with fellow guest, Tony Bettisher, and the three of them begin discussing their host’s eccentricities.  However, it’s Munt’s collection that really pushes the boundaries of oddness.  Munt has been collecting coffins, and his latest acquisition, which he brought back from his recent trip abroad, is a travelling grave.  A strange contraption that can move in any direction, and upon locating its victim, can bury them in less than three minutes.  Having shown off the strange machine, Munt decides that they should all play a game of hide-and-seek for when his final guest, Franklin, arrives.  A game that eventually ends is ghoulish tragedy...

First published back in 1910, British author L.P. Hartley’s short is a wickedly black comedy, laced with camp humour along with a decidedly morbid edge.  Indeed, our hapless protagonist is flung into a truly awkward environment, having to contend with the bizarre nature of his host.  And, with the unveiling of the utterly-wacky travelling grave that Munt has recently acquired, the oddness of the whole situation gets even more surreal.  From here the tongue-in-cheek comedy of the short takes over; with the game of hide-and-seek culminating in a wickedly dark conclusion that ends the story with a reasonably witty conclusion.

The Wendigo - Algernon Blackwood - 47 Pages
Dr Cathcart and his nephew Simpson are hunting in the Canadian wilderness in search of moose, accompanied by a pair of local guides, Hank and Defago, and a Native American cook.  However the moose are proving to be quite the elusive target, and so the group decide to split up, with one party going East, whilst the other goes West.  But a powerful Indian Spirit is rumoured to inhabit the grounds to the East.  Nevertheless, the Simpson is persistent, and so he and his guide Dedago push on, determined to track and kill a moose before the day is out.  But the legends of the spirit are far from mere superstition.  The Wendigo is real.  It roams the woodlands and takes away whoever it encounters.  The hunters have now become the hunted...

Blackwood does away with the usual cannibalism aspect of the Wendigo in favour of a more subtle psychological approach.  Indeed, he utilises the idea that whoever sees the Wendigo, will then become the Wendigo.  He based this approach, he claims, on an actual incident in a lonely valley while he lived in Canada. He has worked many such details of the Native American legend into the story: the Wendigo stalks hunters in the forest, eats moss, can be heard crashing through the trees, has a terrifying voice, and is closely associated with insanity.  In keeping so closely with the legend, Blackwood has renewed the myths surrounding the prowling spirit, bringing a new and ferocious life to an age old legend.  The atmosphere, rising tension and panic, along with the breathtaking finale makes this an absolutely phenomenal piece of short horror fiction.

The collection runs for a total of 288 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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