Saturday, November 3, 2012

MORE Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery

Before we totally put the Halloween season and our focus on old horror comics to rest for now, there's one more issue of Gold Key's Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery that I'd like to spotlight here.  Its an issue from the last year of the title's run, #91, and features a nicely eerie painted cover with the wonderfully ominous tagline "Mr. Monster wants a playmate--to destroy!"
The accompanying story, entitled simply"Mr. Monster", which leads off the issue, is probably the best story in the four issues of this series that I dug out of the clearance boxes at Half-Price Books.  That's not to say, however, that its actually good, merely that it rises ever so slightly above the book's usual low standard.  
The story begins with young Billy Harrison requesting a new doll for his upcoming birthday because he claims that his beloved clown doll, Corky, is lonely and needs a friend.  The next day his father encounters a Geppetto look-alike street vendor selling hand-made dolls and purchases an ape doll wearing a tuxedo and top hat and carrying a cane that the old man calls Mr. Monster.  As Billy's dad is heading off, Geppetto tells him that "If you want my doll to live for your child, your child must love him."  Dad brushes him off with a brusque "Sure! Thanks a lot, pal!" and hurries to get the hell away from the creepy old coot.
By the way, I find it interesting that, even though the protagonist of the story is a boy, the unnamed writer makes no apology for referring to Corky and Mr. Monster as "dolls."
Sure enough, when he is presented with the new doll, Billy instantly falls in love with it.  Mr. Monster soon repays that love by using his "magic cane" to destroy Billy's train set, much to Billy's delight.  His parents dismiss Billy's claim that it was the doll who caused the destruction, at least until they hear him breaking up Billy's toy lighthouse while the kid is staying over at a friend's house.  The next day, after Billy arrives home, Mom, who'd earlier expressed some uneasiness over Mr. Monster's life-like appearance, catches the animated ape doll in the act of whacking on poor old Corky with his "magic cane."  This assault causes Billy's love for Mr. Monster to turn instantly to loathing, as he tells the doll that "I never want to see you again!" The withdrawal of Billy's affection causes Mr. Monster to revert to a harmless, lifeless toy, which Mr. and Mrs. Harrison lock up in a trunk in their attic.  "However," Karloff intones in the last panel, "you can bet the Harrisons do peek into the trunk every once in a while just to be sure!"
Though it ultimately fails completely to be even remotely disturbing, "Mr. Monster" at least has the potential within it to be scary.  After all, the premise of a child's toy come to murderous life has provided fodder for several successful spooky stories over the years.  I seem to remember an episode of The Twilight Zone in which a killer clown doll menaces Telly Savalas.  Then, of course, there's the entire Child's Play franchise.   "Mr. Monster", however, fails to invoke any terror at all since, in the end, it is only other toys that feel the sting of the toy ape's magic cane, and not Billy himself or his somewhat clueless parents.  Mr. Monster himself never looks as menacing in the actual story as he does in the cover painting. 
If "Mr. Monster", as I said above, manages to infinitesimally transcend Tales of Mystery's somewhat degraded definition of horror, the remaining stories in the issue, on the other hand, fail to clear even that low bar.  Honestly, they're really barely worth mentioning, but I'll give you a quick rundown of each nonetheless.
"A Drop of Water" tells the story of young boy who, while looking through his microscope, discovers a microscopic creature resembling some sort of demonic frog in, what else, a drop of water.  Foolishly, little Jimmy decides to experiment with various chemicals from his chemistry set in an attempt to make the creature grow.  Succeeding beyond his wildest expections, he dumps the immense monster into a local lake, giving rise to legends of a Lock Ness type monster living there.
You know, I've often lamented that my synopses of stories on this blog tend to make them sound worse than they actually are, but in the case of "A Drop of Water", the story is so lame that I really think the opposite is true this time.
"Dial-A-Monster" attempts to play on fears of technological advancement in an era when the 8-track tape was the state of the art in recording technology by a freak accident caused by a storm in turn cause a giant energy monster to emerge from a fax machine,  here referred to a "telecopier,"  instead of the intended message.  However, once the message the creature is attempting to convey is deciphered, it simply fades away. 
Finally, "Tit for Tat" has an old lady conjuring up demons to intimidate her feline hating landlord after he threatens to have her many cats hauled away to an animal shelter.  Once again, that brief description might make make the story sound better than it actually is, but in reality its the weakest tale in a mostly pretty weak issue.
Still in all, I suppose that for "Mr. Monster" alone, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #91 is at least worth the twenty five cents that I paid for it.

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