The 1992 Weird Vampire Tales anthology is the only collection of stories derived from the famed pulp magazine Weird Tales to limit itself to a single subject. The slim paperbacks Worlds of Weird and Weird Tales had merely offered a hodgepodge of stories, as did the thick hardcover Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies. Setting itself a different kind of challenge, Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors selected one great story from each year of the magazine’s classic run (1923 – 1954), while Weird Tales: A Selection in Facsimile offered the reader actual Xeroxed pages from “The Unique Magazine.” The Best of Weird Tales: 1923 limited itself to that first year only, and Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror also included stories from the magazine’s present-day incarnation. But Weird Vampire Tales, as I say, is the only one to concern itself with a single TYPE of story: the vampire tale. (And for those of you who may have been sleeping in an entombed coffin for the past 90 years, let me briefly state that Weird Tales was one of the most important magazines of the pulp era; a publication that, over the course of its 279 issues, jump-started the careers of such legendary authors as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson and so many others.) But this volume is also unique in that it does not limit itself to stories that originally appeared in Weird Tales, but also gives us stories of the bloodsucking undead from no fewer than 10 other pulp magazines from 1931 – 1956, including John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction, Unknown Worlds, Fantastic Universe and Orbit. Selected by editors Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz and Martin H. Greenberg, the result is a collection of 30 of the finest and most entertaining stories that any reader could wish for on this ghoulish subject.
The first half of the 442-page affair is dedicated to the 17 vampiric stories from Weird Tales, while the second half is given over to the other publications. The stories themselves, however, can be divided into those dealing with the traditional vampire of myth (a day-shunning, bloodsucking, nonreflecting, garlic-averse, “crucifixaphobic” male) and those treating of the less traditional. Those in the more common, uh, vein include “The Man Who Cast No Shadow” by Seabury Quinn (just one of 93 Jules de Grandin stories that Quinn, Weird Tales‘s most frequent contributor, placed therein), the beautifully written “A Rendezvous in Averoigne” by Clark Ashton Smith, “Vampire Village” by Edmond “The World Wrecker” Hamilton, the wonderfully grisly and pulpy “Isle of the Undead” by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, the classic “I, The Vampire” by Henry Kuttner, and “Return of the Undead” by Frank Belknap Long and Otis Adelbert Kline. There are also stories dealing with traditional vampires of the female persuasion, including Bassett Morgan’s “The Wolf Woman” (which takes place in the wilds of Alaska), Everil Worrell’s “The Canal,” “Placide’s Wife” (set in the Louisiana bayous) by Kirk Mashburn, the remarkably creepy and atmospheric “Revelations in Black” by Carl Jacobi, “Stragella” (set aboard a derelict ship on the high seas) by Hugh B. Cave, and Arthur J. Burks’ “Murder Brides.” Several of the stories pertaining to the traditional vampire of myth are leavened by a pleasing dose of humor, as in Robert Bloch‘s “The Cloak” (reworked by screenwriter Bloch as one of the segments in the 1970 Amicus horror film “The House That Dripped Blood”) and August Derleth’s comedy of manners “Who Shall I Say Is Calling?” Other stories dealing with your garden-variety necknosher are set in a sci-fi milieu, such as A.E. van Vogt’s loopy “Asylum” (at 44 pages, the longest story in the collection), “And Not Quite Human” by Joe L. Hensley, and “Place of Meeting” by Charles Beaumont.
And then there are those nontraditional vampires, or vampires that might take the reader by surprise. In Raymond Whetstone’s “The Thirsty Dead,” our vampire is a little old man; in Greye La Spina’s “The Antimacassar,” it is a little girl; while in Manly Wade Wellman‘s “When it Was Moonlight,” it is a particularly nasty old woman, who is done in by no less a figure than Edgar Allan Poe himself! And then we have the Medusa-like soulsucker from C.L. Moore‘s classic short story “Shambleau,” and the mutant who drains the emotions of those he encounters in C.M. Kornbluth’s “The Mindworm.” Oh… and I would be remiss if I failed to mention two of my very favorites in this generous collection: Robert E. Howard‘s “The Horror From the Mound,” which deftly combines Western action with grisly terror, and “Share Alike” by Jerome Bixby and Joe E. Dean, which shows us what it might be like to share a lifeboat with a vampire! As you can see, despite the limitation of subject matter, things never grow dull or repetitive in this wide-ranging overview of one of horror’s most popular creatures.
It would seem that vampires have never been more popular than they are today, be it in print, television or cinema, and I have a feeling that this volume of pulp-era tales might come as a real eye-opener for all the “Twihards” out there, whose basic conception of the vampire might be some hunky, sparkly dreamboy. But as this wonderfully diverse collection demonstrates, the vampire comes in all shapes and sizes, and the dreams that he/she/it inspires are usually bad ones. Simply stated, this is one helluva collection!