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Hell on Earth: The Lost Bloch. Vol. 2
Robert Bloch
Subterranean Press, 310 pages

Hell on Earth: The Lost Bloch. Vol. 2
Robert Bloch
Robert Bloch (1917-1994) is remembered primarily for his novel Psycho (1959) the source of Alfred Hitchcock's film (1960). However, much of his horror, be it psychological or occult, had a strong sense of black humour. This sense of humour runs more to the slapstick in such works as his Lefty Feep stories (1942-46, reprinted 1987) and It's All in Your Mind (1971; orig. mag. appearance: The Big Binge, 1955).

Born in Chicago, he first discovered Weird Tales and the works of H.P. Lovecraft at age 10. By 1933, now living in Milwaukee, Bloch began a correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft which lasted until the latter's death in 1937, and resulted in Bloch's use of Lovecraft as a character in one of his stories and vice-versa. Bloch's 1978 novel Strange Eons was an obvious homage to Lovecraft. Much of Bloch's early pulp tales were collected in The Opener of the Way (1945, reprinted 1976) and Mysteries of the Worm (1981). Bloch was also involved in early fandom and an SF writer's circle, the "Milwaukee Fictioneers," which included Stanley G. Weinbaum, Ralph Milne Farley, and Raymond Palmer.

His first novel The Scarf (1947), the first-person narrative of a psychotic killer, was the first of many novels in the genre. In 1953, Bloch moved his family to Weyauwega, WI, where he continued writing suspense novels. In 1959, Bloch won the Hugo for best short story for his horror tale "That Hell-Bound Train" and moved to California. There, over the years he wrote numerous short stories, scripts for TV (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Star Trek), and for suspense films (Strait-Jacket, The Night Walker, The Skull, The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood). His autobiography, Once Around the Bloch, was published in 1993, a year before his death from cancer.

ISFDB Bibliography
Robert Bloch Tribute Site
Robert Bloch Bio
Obituary from The Buffalo News
The Robert Bloch Award
Subterranean Press
MOVIE: Psycho excerpt (Quicktime and Real Player versions)
MOVIE: Straight-Jacket with *.MOV clip
E -TEXT: "I Was a Fake Fan for the FBI!"
E-TEXT: "Left at the Post"
E-TEXT : "Poe and Lovecraft"
E-TEXT: "Chips off the Old Bloch" by Dean A. Grennell
E-TEXT: "Robert Bloch" by Esther Cole
E-TEXT: "I Remember Me" by Walt Willis

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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The Lost Bloch, Vol. 2: Hell on Earth presents 4 novellas from Bloch's pre-Psycho but post-Lovecraftian era. They are down and dirty pulp literature, ranging from humorous fantasy to occult and noir horror. These stories are certainly not among the best Bloch produced during his lengthy career, but neither are they his worst [for this, see his earliest (teenage) Weird Tales stories reprinted in The Mysteries of the Worm]. What Bloch lacked in stylistic splendour (compared to his British contemporary Robert Aickman, for example) he made up in good ol' American straight-forward suspense, good humour, and sheer volume of writing. While Bloch's works aren't the sorts of things one would reread to find the intricate plotting and meaning of a Tolkien, they are very entertaining, suspenseful and fun to read.

Right after finishing Hell on Earth, I read a 1996 reprint of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast-related novella Boy in Darkness (1956), one of the creepiest and most disturbing works of horror I have read in many years. Even though I have read and enjoyed close to 20 Bloch titles over the years, my first reaction to Peake's exquisite work, in the context of this review, was to dismiss Bloch's work as that of a pulp hack. This evolved into a question of quantity over quality for Bloch vs. quality over quantity for Peake's work. With two weeks distance, I can see that it's really like comparing apples and oranges... like comparing William Morris or E.R. Eddison's works to those of contemporary fantasy writers.

So, what, I wondered, drew me to read so much of Bloch's writing? Well, with rare exceptions Bloch is a basic, solid writer who can be counted upon to write an entertaining story regardless of genre, and when you least expect it inject some levity.

The first story, "Hell on Earth," tells of how three people -- male and female researchers and a reporter -- are affected by the physical if restrained presence of Satan in their midst. While the plot has the typical lapses in logic of pulp literature, it is ultimately redeemed by addressing the question of whether having Satan physically among us would make the Earth any worse, given the foibles of humanity:

   "But what about Satan? What about the spell to send him back? Back to where -- to hell? But we could have hell here on Earth!
   And why not?
   An Earth filled with man-made war and misery. An earth filled with grasping, cheating, lying, stealing, raping, murdering, crazy humans. Filled with pestilence, disease, idiocy. Let the Lord of Evil come into his own!"
The second story "The Miracle of Ronald Weems" is the slapstick Bloch at his best. When Ronald Weems loses his dead-end job as a department store lingerie clerk, he decides to end it all by swallowing the contents of a chemistry set with a glass of grain alcohol. Instead of ending up dead on the floor he finds himself floating against the ceiling and with powers of telekinesis. He winds up defeating Ace Diamond, the criminal king-pin, getting the girl, Laura Lee the buxom aspiring actress, and dodging other loony characters such as Guilty Miltie, the thief and Dr. Clobberheimer the psychiatrist (with lines such as "Great Jung!" and "Jumping gestalt, what's the meaning of this?").

While "It's a Small World" also begins in a department store, and includes a pair of young lovers, it quickly develops into a nasty tale of black magic. Captured and miniaturized in keeping with the Dr. Cyclops (1940) tradition, the young couple are to serve as pet-playthings for the Necronomicon-owning wizard's young but reluctant apprentice. With plenty of action, the good guys (and gal) naturally prevail.

The last story, "Once a Sucker," is a noir-ish tale of psychological con-artistry with a Svengali-like character in the background pulling the strings. If this story had been published today one might think portions of it a thinly veiled reference to the rise of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology movement. While "Once a Sucker" has some good suspenseful sequences, in terms of being noir, it lacks the sense of inevitable doom and the seriously unhappy endings typical of Cornell Woolrich's Black novels of the 40s. This is, I think, largely because Bloch's work reflects his general optimistic even jovial mood.

Perhaps even more interesting than his writings is a previously unpublished excerpt from a 1990 radio interview, included as an appendix. Bloch discusses the events leading up to and following the release of Hitchcock's Psycho, his formative years, H.P. Lovecraft, Henry Kuttner, among many other subjects. This certainly gives one a great deal of insight into who Robert Bloch, the person, was and highlights how humorous and light-hearted he was.

Now you are ready to sample the horror-humour dichotomy that is Robert Bloch's writing, so pick up Hell on Earth. While you shouldn't expect to be overwhelmed with lapidary prose, know that you're in the hands of one of the most competent, varied, and prolific horror writers of the second half (and a bit of the first half) of the 20th century. The stories in Hell on Earth should also convince you that Bloch was certainly no one-trick pony, resting on his Psycho fame, but an author whose talents allowed him to continue writing successfully and in an entertaining manner through seven decades.

Contents

"From Here I Can See Four Blochs" -- David J. Schow
"Lost and Found" -- Douglas E. Winter
"Twice a Sucker" -- David J. Schow
"Slightly More than Another Hour with Robert Bloch" (Radio interview, 1990; with J. Michael Straczynski and Larry DiTillio)

"Hell on Earth" -- Robert Bloch (Weird Tales, 1942)
"The Miracle of Ronald Weems" -- Robert Bloch (Imaginative Tales, 1955)
"It's a Small World" -- Robert Bloch (Amazing Stories, 1944)
"Once a Sucker" -- Robert Bloch (Blue Book, 1952)

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.


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