In the early 1950s American kids didn’t know how lucky they were. Thanks to the publishing company EC Comics, headed by the visionary William Gaines, they had not one, not two, but three splendidly warped and gruesome horror comics to read, to enjoy, to be inspired by, and to be thoroughly corrupted by. This trio were Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear.
Each comic contained stories of the macabre, morbid and horrible and each had its own sepulchral host to introduce the stories – the Crypt Keeper (Tales), the Vault Keeper (Vault) and the Old Witch (Haunt). After each story had reached its grisly denouement, the host would invariably reappear and go ‘Heh, heh, heh!” and generally not show much sympathy for the story’s protagonist, who’d just been eaten, dismembered, disembowelled, strangled or drained of blood. Often populating these tales were weird and eldritch monsters and spectacularly-mouldering zombies, which were drawn with lip-smacking, finger-licking relish by great comic-book artists like Jack Davis and Graham Ingels.
Unfortunately, Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear were too good to last. Uptight and up-his-own-arse psychiatrist Dr Fredric Wertham penned two magazine articles in 1948, Horror in the Nursery and The Psychopathology of Comic Books, and then in 1954 a book called Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed that America’s unruly comic-book industry was turning the younger generation into a rabble of lawless, bloodthirsty and sexually-depraved delinquents. Despite Wertham’s loopiness – he had a particular beef with Wonder Woman, whom he believed promoted lesbianism because she was independent and powerful and didn’t need a man to cling to – his allegations struck a chord in the US Congress in those paranoid McCarthy-ite times. A new regulatory code for comics – i.e. censorship – was introduced and Gaines was forced to close his three infamous titles. Needless to say, they’ve been massively influential ever since. The work of everyone from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg has, at one time or other, shown a little of that old, nasty EC magic. And I’m sure that if I possessed a few mint-condition copies of Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror or Haunt of Fear, I could sell them on eBay and retire tomorrow on the proceeds.
A common trope in the Tales / Vault / Haunt stories was that of revenge from beyond the grave. An evil scumbag murders someone in order to claim an inheritance or settle a score. Then at a later date, the cadaver of the victim comes back to life, scrabbles its way out of the ground and goes shuffling off to find the perpetrator of the crime and punish him or her, horribly. By this point the victim looks pretty yucky. Decompositional fluids are oozing out, pieces of rotting flesh are falling off and eyeballs are dangling down. So the murderer gets a bit of a surprise when that victim turns up on his or her doorstep.
I’ve just had a short story published under the pseudonym of Jim Mountfield, which is the name I put on my stories when they fall into the ‘horror’ category. This story was partly inspired by the old EC comics and their common theme of revenge from beyond the grave. One day I asked myself a question: what crime could possibly be so vile that it’d induce me to return from the dead and wreak vengeance on the perpetrator?
After thinking about it, I identified one such atrocity. It involved music.
I imagined my funeral service. I imagined that I’d left strict instructions about the music I wanted played at the close of my funeral service – about my remains being carried away to the sound of some old blues song, for instance, or a John Barry composition, or for the sake of irony, Highway to Hell by AC/DC. But out of malice, someone ignored my instructions and played some really crap music instead. Something really naff, and crass, and nauseating.
Angels, say, by Robbie Williams. Actually, I once read somewhere that Williams’ saccharine anthem really is the song that gets played most at funerals in Great Britain. This fact makes me feel embarrassed to British.
What a horrible thought. Then the mourners would leave the church saying to one another, “Well, fancy that! I never knew he was a Robbie Williams fan!” And that’s how I’d be remembered. As a lover of Robbie f***ing Williams. Yes, I think that colossal indignity would be enough to bring me back in zombie form, seeking retribution.
(c) The Daily Telegraph
And so I had an idea for the beginning of a story. The funeral of a man who’d spent his life being a John Peel-type music obsessive is taking place. He’d owned a record collection that ran to tens of thousands of albums. And he’d asked his best friend to play a few of his very-most favourite songs at the ceremony’s end. But a spiteful relative intervenes and plays the ghastly Angels instead. And then there are consequences – supernatural consequences, and nasty ones.
This tale of revenge from beyond the grave, and good and bad music, is called The Groove; and it has just appeared in the kindle magazine Hellfire Crossroads, issue 5. It can be downloaded here: