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Peter Haining – The Unspeakable People

Posted by demonik on September 5, 2007

Peter Haining (ed.) – The Unspeakable People: Twenty of the World’s most Horrible Stories” (Leslie Frewin, 1969).

The Unspeakable People

Forward – August Derleth
Introduction – Peter Haining

M. G. Lewis – The Monk
Edgar Allan Poe – The Raven
Henry Spicer – The Bird Woman
R. H. Benson – My Own Tale
Henry S. Whitehead – Williamson
Wallace West – A Thing of Beauty
H. P. Lovecraft – The Outsider
C. M. Eddy – The Loved Dead
Captain George Eliot – The Copper Bowl
Robert Bloch – The Feast In The Abbey
John Wyndham – The Cathedral Crypt
Henry Kuttner – The Graveyard Rats
Theodore Sturgeon – Bianca’s Hand
C. S. Forester – The Head And The Feet
Jane Rice – The Idol of The Flies
Richard Hughes – A Night At A Cottage
Ray Bradbury – The Shape Of things
Tennessee Williams – The Black Masseur
Dennis Wheatley – The Coffin
Laurence James – Mercy

Horror is very much in the eye of the beholder, I guess, and to say I’m mystified at some of the selections is an understatement. There are indeed a fair number of ghastly tales on offer, but I’d say the corresponding Pan Horror #10 required a far stronger stomach.

Among the more deserving entries in a “most horrible” selection, I doubt too many people would argue with the inclusion of Henry Kuttner’s gruesome The Graveyard Rats,  Robert Bloch’s downright nasty The Feast In The Abbey or Laurence James’ first sale. C. M. Eddy’s The Loved Dead – a necrophiliacs progress, no less – probably deserves a look-in, purely on the strength of its uncomfortable subject matter and the fact that the protagonist is drawn as a sympathetic character, while Captain George Eliot’s Chinese torture outing , The Copper Bowl (familiar from the first Pan Horror collection), still packs a punch. The Cathedral Crypt sees a couple witness the incarceration of a Nun who’s broken her vows, when they’re accidentally locked in for the night, and Mercy is the heartwarming story of a badly injured man, trapped in his car after a smash and passing in and out of delirium. A well-meaning (but disturbed) young boy decides to help him …

I’m not usual keen on the practice of lifting chapters from novels and presenting them as stand-alone stories, but the burial alive from Wheatley’s The Ka of Gifford Hillary works surprisingly well, although it’s just plain sacrilege to extract a racy episode from Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, a novel which quite simply has to be read in its entirety or not at all.

As to the rest, well, given the subtitle, the R.H. Benson, Richard Hughes and Henry Spicer stories quite simply don’t belong, and however much a work of genius Poe’s The Raven may be, I’d have settled for seeing it replaced by, say, The Black Cat or Berenice, if only to keep the collection flowing.

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