Summer Under the Stars Meets Halloween in August
Because of the stress and pressure of deadlines combined with the chaos of a sudden death in the family, I’ve decided to write this review a bit in advance — about a week and a half in advance to be exact. But I’m kind of glad that I am, because while I sit here and write about spooky books, I get to watch some spooky movies that normally I only get to see once a year.
That’s because August is Summer Under the Stars month on TCM and today the featured actors are Abbott and Costello. Tonight, the primetime movies are all of their horror pictures that usually air in October — Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Actually, during this difficult time, movies have really helped provide some comfort. I’ve always taken comfort in the world of the past and the black and white of old films, but in the last week they’ve been more than the regular amount of comforting. They’ve provided a distraction and a bit of nostalgia in the midst of the realization that so much of the things that were the background of my childhood will soon be gone. My grandmother’s apartment. My grandmother’s kitchen. The dining room table where we all gathered.
But I’ll still have the memories and some of the movies I know she loved will still live on TCM and remind me of her.
A Modern Epistolary Novel…
Bob Randall’s The Fan is an epistolary novel from 1977, and that fact alone is a bit unique. For me, epistolary novels are so characteristic of the eighteenth century that finding one set in the modern age is interesting. However, that being said, the amount of correspondence included here seems nearly silly when you think that this is before the age of internet and the two-line email and all of them — other than the telegrams and internal memos — required stationary, stamps, and envelopes. Oh, the way the world was.
I particularly enjoyed how short and punchy most of the letters were — with only a few long ones dotted in. I read the book in two longer chunks, and all the time felt like I was flying through it. Though, part of what contributed to that feeling was the uncomplicated, straight-forward narrative. Sally Ross is an aging (by 1970s standards) actress who has a fan that thinks that she loves him and will stop at nothing to meet her, then be with her, and then kill her.
The letters from the fan start out innocuous and fawning but soon turn sinister and disturbing. Violence ensues and the end of the book features a twist and an abrupt finish that delivers a punch to the gut — though perhaps it would be considered a touch predictable by the contemporary readers.
…That Hasn’t Aged Well
As a note, the writing in The Fan is very much a product of its time. The book is meant to be shocking and gritty and it is, but it accomplishes this in ways that would be unacceptable to modern audiences. There are lots of passages involving homophobia, racism, and sexism. There are lots of ideas about psychology that are just plain offensive. And there are graphic descriptions of sexuality that are meant to turn your stomach. If you find any of that content upsetting or triggering, this is not a book you’ll want to read.
I should mention that most of the horrible ideas that are presented are ideas of the fan’s and are supposed to be shockingly horrible. But nonetheless there are others that are glossed over in that 1970s way that is most unpleasant. And that is definitely putting it mildly.
The Forgotten Spooky Books of the 1970s
I see that I have a bit of an unintentional theme within a theme when it comes to my reviews so far this month — that being 1970s horror/thriller novels. Perhaps it’s because when I was a teenager and looking in used bookstores for cheap spooky books, these were the ones populating the shelves. In fact, Psycho, The Amityville Horror, and The Fan were all random purchases from the same used bookstore I used to frequent when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I also remember looking at book covers and seeking out the film versions — like Audrey Rose, The Exorcist, and The Omen.
Those covers could be even more terrifying than the movies they spawned. But, of course, I think it goes without saying, the writing wasn’t exactly stellar in the grand majority of them. All the same, I enjoyed reading the ones I managed to get my hands on. I still enjoy it now — though I’m a bit choosier more than a decade later.
There’s something very unique about horror books and movies produced in that particular decade — which I suppose is why that particular style is experiencing a resurgence currently.
I’m Hoping for Normalcy Soon
By the time I write my next review, I hope that most of the routines will be as close to the normal as they will end up being. Like a new normal inside of a new normal, I guess. I plan on filling the next two weeks with lots of movies, a few plays (since the theatre in our small town has been able to re-open), and books.
I plan on reviewing Thomas Tryon’s The Other, so the theme of 1970s spooky books continues.