Hall Of Heads: Robert Bloch
0 comment Sunday, April 6, 2014 |
"I have the heart of a young boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk."
That quote, countlessly recited and paraphrased for God knows how long, is the perfect glimpse into the ghoulishly whimsical and macabre mind of horror scribe Robert Bloch. When considering who the first "inductee" should be into the cavernous spaces of the Hall of Heads, it only took me a few moments to come up with Bloch�s name. Why? In a way the man has been an introduction to me for a lot of things; most notably, it was his (in?)famous novel Psycho that served as my first and true entrance into the realm of online horror journalism. So what would be more fitting than having this wonderful man, an individual whose talents I have admired for so long, become the first honorary gourd to win a spot amongst the dusty shelves of acclaimed horror artisans?
It was on April 5, 1917 in Chicago that Robert was born, a son of his bank cashier father and social worker mother. The young Bloch always had an interest in the fantastic, from watching the eerie images of the skull-faced Lon Chaney stalk across the screen in 1925�s The Phantom of the Opera to reading the pulpy pages of Weird Tales magazine. After relocating to Milwaukee, Robert began to correspond with H. P. Lovecraft, the top writer at the magazine whose Cthulhu Mythos tales enthralled the mind of the young Bloch. After receiving some support from Lovecraft, Robert sold his first horror stories "The Secret In The Tomb" and "The Feast In The Abbey" to the very magazine he cherished so dearly� at the fresh age of seventeen!
During the rest of the decade Bloch began writing stories full-time, taking inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe and, of course, Lovecraft. After Lovecraft passed away in 1937, Robert began to experiment with his own style of prose, even selling his first science fiction story to Amazing Stories. It was around this time that the author began adopting and perfecting that dark and smarmy sense of humor that would forever distinguish him from his peers, as seen in such tales as "The Cloak" (about a horror film actor whose disdain for his work turns into terror when a stage cape transforms him into a bona fide bloodsucker) and the Lefty Feep tales, all whimsical stories concerning a hopeless nerd who has fantastic adventures (one which includes him transforming into a chicken mutant!).
With the onset of the 40�s, Bloch�s fiction began to show signs of interest in the psychological workings of demented minds. It was in 1943 that Bloch released one of his most memorable tales "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" upon an unsuspecting public. Touching on the writer�s fascination with criminology and the legendary serial killer, the story went on to be adapted for both television and radio and is generally lauded as being one of Robert�s best works. Not to mention it packs one of the coolest twist endings ever. Throughout the following years Bloch began publishing his first novels, including The Scarf (1947), and The Kidnapper, Spiderweb, and The Will to Kill (all released in 1954!). These books were showing further signs of Bloch�s precise portrayal of damaged protagonists and the dark deeds they committed.
But it wouldn�t be until the end of the 50�s that he would follow up his mainstream novel Shooting Star (1958) with the work that would forever seal his fate as a legendary horror writer: Psycho. Published only a year prior to when Alfred Hitchcock�s film version had audiences everywhere going weeks without showers, Bloch�s novel gained him almost immediate stardom and rewarded (or cursed) him with nearly all of his future works carrying the title "The Man Who Wrote Psycho" underneath his byline. Today the book is usually outshined by the celluloid thriller, but the novel is as wholly effective, fast-paced, and engaging as it was for its first readers. In fact, I dare anyone not to feel the irresistible urge to pound through the gritty terror in one sitting!
A wonderfully candid shot of Bloch at a party.
Throughout the 60�s and 70�s, Bloch became a huge force in screen and television writing. Contributing tales of terror and vengeance to such boob tube staples as Boris Karloff�s Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (and even several episodes of the original Star Trek), Robert was able to flex his full writing powers. His filmed work didn�t bring an end to his output of novels, as seen in his releases of Firebug (1960) and The Couch (1962), both meditations on lead characters with homicidal tendencies. Robert even contributed two screenplays for lovable schlockmeister William Castle in 1964 for his films Strait-Jacket (starring Joan Crawford as a loopy axe murderess) and The Night Walker (with Barbara Stanwyck as a wife haunted by nightmares of her burned-to-death, blind husband).
Britain saw a huge Bloch boom during this time, starting with the Amicus film The Skull (1965) which was adapted from the writer�s shuddery yarn "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade." What followed was a collaboration between Robert and the film company that lead to the production of some of their most well-known macabre movies, including the stand-alone frightfests The Psychopath (1967) and The Deadly Bees (1968) as well as the anthologies The House That Dripped Blood (1970), Asylum (1972), and Torture Garden (1968), all containing tales based on Bloch�s works.
He also penned the memorable TV films The Cat Creature (1973) and The Dead Don�t Die (1975) for director Curtis Harrington along with the homicide happy novels Night World (1972) and American Gothic (1974, inspired by the murders of America�s first noted serial killer H. H. Holmes). With everything from feline demons that feasted on human heads to bizarre tailors involved in human resurrection, this was a highly prolific (and horrific!) time for Mr. Bloch.
The sensational scribe was still going strong in the 1980�s, following up his creepy classic with two sequels: Psycho II (1982) and Psycho House (1990), both books following the bloody aftermath of Norman Bates� original spree of madness. He returned to his allure for that famous London slasher again when he wrote Night of the Ripper in 1984, offering up his own solution to the crimes amidst a fictional setting of death and debauchery. Lori (1989), by comparison, was a somewhat softer spook tale, with the book�s female protagonist losing a sense of her identity upon the destruction of her entire family and home.
Shortly after the publication of Once Around the Bloch in 1993 (cheekily subtitled as An Unauthorized Autobiography), Robert passed away on September 24th, 1994 as a result of cancer. A master of the weird tale and the grim pun, Bloch was an artist whose influence can still be felt, his wit and charm forever sealed in the yellowing pages of his great paperbacks. He might have given the world a psycho, but the man himself was nothing short of a genius and a gentleman.

Welcome, Robert Bloch, to the Hall of Heads!

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