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Deadlier than a dive bomber, cooler than Greenland... in my mind.

"For, mark me well: if you fail, my wife will be made to become a true wife to me- by main force, and not for one fleeting hour, but every day and every night of her life, whensoever I say, in whatsoever manner I choose to express my conjugal privilege!"

As an afterthought, he added "I am by nature imaginative."

Sardonicus

One gloomy, blustery, rainy day ago, I finished finally put down Penguin Book's edition of Haunted Castles by Ray Russell (with an introduction by my huzbando and fellow Gothic acolyte Guillermo Del Toro) after three solid days of reading with a hand on my chest and an exuberant grin on my face. I adore Gothic horror because in a sense, it can be lensed as literary Théâtre du Grand Guignol; swooning, riotous exploitative tales of wild terror, scandalous intrigue and sanguineous carnality woven with the types of outrageous, sensational transgressions which were spoken about in hushed tones in polite society and in bawdy rollicks in taverns and places of ill repute.

Image from JustCollecting
Image from JustCollecting

The irresistible tipping of the moral scales assisted Gothic horror literature to become the influential creative scaffolding of many a contemporary writer; Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Joyce Carol Oates and our author today, Ray Russell, are but just a few of the storytellers who were greatly inspired by these sagas of bedeviled men and women suffering by the tenebrous hauntings of ghastly spirits, hideous family secrets and the most insidious predator of them all, their own madness.

Speaking frankly and personally, the reason why I have a massive appreciation for this type of weird fiction is that it serves as a surrogate device for my desire to live vicariously, even dangerously in a safe environment. As far back as I am able to recall, I have always adored anything dark and disturbing yet intellectually stimulating, and any opportunity to explore and have fun with these notions are heartily devoured akin to a lusty, hulking Bohemian tyrant feasting on a quivering English maiden being brought before him wearing nothing but the fragrant, naked reliquary of her own fear and unspeakable desires. Everybody has something of which they consider up their alley, a particular anodyne of personal entertainment; Gothic horror and all of its constituents is my decadent, decaying alcázar of which my heart will forever reside.

Image from MomentumBooks
Image from MomentumBooks

Although the Gothic horror genre has undergone several face-lifts to remain relevant to our changing world, the key components remain there, firm as the fear which ravishes a tender heart and that is what brings me to Haunted Castles.

Composed of but several of Russell's most prevalent writings: the infamous 'S' trilogy; Sardonicus (according to Mr. King, "perhaps the finest example of the modern Gothic ever written" which was adapted into a film by legendary schlockster William Castle), Sanguinarius (a suggestive and intimate composition regarding one Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed), and Sagittarius (my personal favourite) as well as Comet Wine, The Cage, The Vendetta and The Runaway Lovers provide a delicious sample of Russell's prose. While the uninitiated may begin reading with a sense of alienation toward the antiquity of some of the storys' settings and the core simplicity of most , I can assure you that once the pieces begin to fall together and meld like a beauteously vile mire before your very eyes, your palate will want for more of Russell's vintage.

(Side note: While I was envisioning Russell's narratives and characters, they had a very Mario Bava-esque edge to them; garish and colourful verging on incredulity yet utterly compelling and compulsive.)

While I would be loathe to give intimate details of each story away, I will settle for saying this small compendium has to be one of the finest assembled I have had the pleasure of reading in a considerably lean measure of time, so much so I could not put it down (yes, I read my copy on the toilet, don't judge me because you've most likely done the same). Penguin Books have provided admirable commitment to delivering some of the best examples of any author's work (not to mention at affordable retail prices!) and for me to pilgrimage these modernized forbidden fruits inspired from bygone depravity was a delight I so rarely experience these days.

Upon concluding my marathon, I found myself wishing several more of Russell's stories had been included in this volume, but therein lies the true beauty of this book; after devouring but some of what the author has to offer, you will find yourself wanting more of his work, and isn't that the finest testament to any artists' talent?

4/5

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