SELECTED BY DAVID VINEYARD:
ARTHUR LEO ZAGAT “Bride of the Winged Terror.” First published in Dime Mystery Magazine, November 1936, writing as Grendon Alzee. (In the same issue is “Terror Beneath the Streets,” by Arthur Leo Zagat.) Also available online and in ebook form.
“These hillbillies hate furriners worse’n poison …” ex-mountain man Fred Harris warns his private detective buddy Dick Mervale as their roadster tackles the dangerous winding roads of Buzzard Mountain where a picture in a circular has led the two to believe bank embezzler Gorham Carstairs has been hiding lo these many years.
Capturing Carstairs would not only me a big reward and much needed publicity for the low rent sleuths out of Louisville (presumably Kentucky, it is never made clear), but also the gratitude and business of the Bank Association, so they are willing to risk a great deal to capture Carstairs.
And it becomes clear how much when a bullet from a high powered rifle punches a hole in Fred’s head.
That doesn’t slow down Dick Mervale, who quickly covers up Fred’s body with rocks, spying a huge vulture as he does so, and makes his way up to the town of Winburg where he is met by armed citizens. They aren’t after Dick though. A child, a young girl has been murdered, horribly mangled by a “big black bird.”
Dick manages to get out of Winburg and reach the top of Buzzard Mountain where he plans to wait until daylight, but he spies the giant black bird, and seconds later hears a woman’s cry. Racing to her rescue he encounters a leathery black winged monster with a “human face” attacking a young woman “… her gauzy frock … ripped in the struggle…” revealing “…white satiny skin seeming to glow from some inner light and the swelling firm curves of just budding womanhood.”
And wouldn’t you know it, this is Elise Carstairs the mountain-raised daughter of the man he is after, who promptly shows up with a shotgun.
From that point on the action literally races to its conclusion, piling horror on horror until the naked Elise is in Dick’s protective arms and the mystery of the winged terror (she isn’t its bride, in fact there is no bride — she’s the monsters niece and no hint of incest appears) and why Carstairs embezzled the money in the first place is laid to rest along with Carstairs and his brother.
If you don’t recognize the basics of a typical Weird Menace story from what Robert Jonas labeled “The Shudder Pulps” in his excellent book on the subject then you likely don’t know you pulps. These were the ones with the gaudy covers of scantily clad women being tortured and murdered by looming madmen in the most suggestive way with a heroic male usually helplessly watching nearby.
A variety of pulp authors contributed to the genre, which was one step up from the Spicy genre where the sex was a bit more obvious and the nudity considerably so, including some notable names like Norvel Page, Cornell Woolrich, and Richard Sale, but the genre had its own stars, and one of them was the prolific Arthur Leo Zagat, best known for his fantasy horror Drink We Deep.
For all the nudity and strange psycho-sexual tortures out of de Sade by way of Kraft-Ebling featured on the covers and in the stories virtue prevailed as did virginity for both hero and heroine. In most cases, as here, a logical (if you can call it that) explanation was swiftly tacked on in the final paragraphs to assure the reader nothing supernatural had happened, though once in a while a whiff of sulfur and brimstone would linger.
The stories vary in quality as you might expect, from say a minor Universal Horror film to one of those independent productions with the likes of George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, or Bela Lugosi where the sets look like someone’s three bedroom house.
This one is absurd, even by the standard of the genre, but Zagat was a master of empurpled prose and swelling horrors (sounds like a bad diagnosis doesn’t it?) who could do better and did elsewhere, and this is actually quick fun to read with the caveat you don’t dare stop and think about it. If slavering mad monsters with foetid breath, reddened claws, and hideous eyes are your cuppa, this more than delivers.
They don’t write ’em like this anymore — well, they do, , but now they are themselves swollen monsters of 500 plus pages and with considerably less virtuous characters, and what logic there once was has gone the way of the pulps themselves. There is something almost innocent about the Weird Menace genre, in a slightly disturbing way, but I wouldn’t suggest you delve too deep.
Some things are better left alone.