Saturday, January 21, 2017

Whips, Chains, Bondage, and Torture-1924-1931

Very often, Weird Tales was a magazine of terror, violence, torment, and cruelty. Cover after cover--about twenty in all in the magazine's original run--show scenes of whipping, bondage, torture, and other kinds of sadism. Much of the violence and cruelty is sexual. The cat-o'-nine-tails, with its connotations of sexual and homosexual flagellation, is especially common, especially in covers from the 1930s. Why all the cruelty? Part of it, I think, can be explained by the origins of the weird tale in the work of Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote several of what are now called contes cruel, or stories of cruelty, "gruesome physical horrors" (a quote from H.P. Lovecraft), and savage and ironic twists of fate. Some of these covers are in poor taste. Others are carried out pretty well, I think, like Hugh Rankin's moody illustration for "The Inn of Terror" by Gaston Leroux (Aug. 1929). At least one, the last shown here, is a nightmare of theme and composition. Like I said, there are about twenty of these covers. I'll show them in three parts beginning with the period 1924 to 1931.

Weird Tales, March 1924. Cover story: "The Spirit Fakers of Hermannstadt" by Harry Houdini. Cover art by R.M. Mally. This is one of few images of a naked man on the cover of Weird Tales. It's also one of the few in this three-part series that does not depict some kind of torture or cruelty.

Weird Tales, October 1928. Cover story: "The Werewolf's Daughter" by H. Warner Munn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. This cover almost makes it into the category of human sacrifice and execution, but there doesn't seem to be any executing going on, despite the presence of the headsman. There's also an odd detail: a dead cat on the lower left.

Weird Tales, November 1928. Cover story: "The Mystery of Acatlan" by Rachael Marshall and Maverick Terrell. Cover art by C. C. Senf. The whipping begins.

Weird Tales, August 1929. Cover story: "The Inn of Terror" by Gaston Leroux. Cover art by Hugh Rankin.

Weird Tales, January 1930. Cover story: "The Curse of the House of Phipps" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. There were lots of redheads on the cover of Weird Tales. Curtis Senf seems to have had a special liking for them.

Weird Tales, February 1930. Cover story: "Thirsty Blades" by Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by Hugh Rankin.

Weird Tales, January 1931. Cover story: "The Lost Lady" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by C.C. Senf. This one has a reaching hand, a pistol, a green ghoul, a young, bound, and scantily clad woman, and a bald sadist with a cat-o'-nine-tails. The only thing missing is the kitchen sink.

To be continued . . .

Text and captions copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

4 comments:

  1. The title of this entry sounds to me like the name of a government agency -- The Department of Whips, Chains, Bondage, and Torture.

    I tend to think of the werewolf as entering American popular culture with the 1935 film Werewolf of London. But seeing artifacts like the October '28 Weird Tales reminds me how inaccurate that feeling is. Werewolves were a part of fantasy and horror fiction long before the thirties. I have just have had little to no exposure to any of it. I think the Doc Savage story "Brand of the Werewolf", published January 1934, is the earliest such tale I have read.
    That cover for "The Werewolf's Daughter" is very intriguing; the pile of wood at the girl's feet would suggest that she is about to be burned at the stake. But if that is the case, what is the significance of the headsman with his ax? And what's the story of the book suspended by a chain?

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  2. Mike,

    The Department of Whips, Chains, Bondage, and Torture sounds like it could be a real thing. That's the scary part.

    Like you, I had misconceptions about werewolves in popular culture. When we were kids, we watched the Universal monster movies, including The Wolfman (1941). The Wolfman model was one of my favorite Aurora models. (In one way or another, I think I identified with the Wolfman.) Anyway, from the time I was a kid, I thought of a werewolf as a creature that looks like a man and walks on his back legs. Then I started reading about the werewolf in folklore (including in a book called The Werewolf Delusion by Ian woodward [1979]), and I saw that the popular conception of the werewolf was of a man who turns into a wolf. He might be an especially large or fierce wolf, but he is still a wolf. I haven't read any werewolf fiction of the nineteenth century, but it looks like that was still case, even as the werewolf moved from folklore into the realm of popular romantic or Gothic fiction. It looks like Werewolf of London (1935) was the first movie and maybe the first depiction of any kind with a werewolf in human form, so you're onto something in thinking that that was the entry of the werewolf--the wolfman type werewolf--into American popular culture.

    I am reading a book by H. Warner Munn right now. In reading about the author, I found out that "The Werewolf's Daughter" is actually part of a series called "Tales of the Werewolf Clan." The cover is odd. Like you, I wondered about the hanging book. Now I would like to read the series.

    TH

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  3. I have read that there were a few silent werewolf films, with the earliest known being a 1913 movie called "The Werewolf." I have no idea how it depicted the creature. Apparently it is a lost film. Appropriately, it was a Universal Picture. I'd love to see this one!

    Upon further rumination, I wonder if the book Dracula could be considered at least peripherally a werewolf tale, as the vampire sometimes transmutes into a wolf.

    "Tales of the Werewolf Clan." What a great name! Makes me think of "The Howling" with its commune of lycanthropes.

    I love all of the Universal Wolfman films. Lon Chaney's performances as the tortured victim Larry Talbot are among the finest deliveries of shear pathos in all of cinema history. (I once heard from a local historian (now long gone) that Maria Ouspenskaya used to summer here in Bridgewater in the 1920s.) Outside of the Universal series, another favorite werewolf film is The Undying Monster from 1942. This 20th century Fox release, directed by John Brahm, is remarkable because it is played as a straight murder mystery. The fact that the killer is supernatural, is a werewolf, isn't revealed until the final act.
    I'm pretty sure that it was because of the Universal films that the concept of the humanoid werewolf became the familiar template -- from Werewolf of London through Curse of the Werewolf and beyond. Interestingly, during this period, the first season episode of The Adventures of Superman entitled "The Ghost Wolf" features the original idea of a person changing into an actual wolf; in this case a French Canadian loup garou. (A fun bit of trivia; this episode guest stars Jane Adams, who in House of Dracula played Nina, the hunchback lab assistant with an unrequited love for Lon Chaney's Larry Talbot, the Wolfman.)

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    Replies
    1. Mike,

      Can you send me an email message? I have a couple of things I'd like to tell you about, but I don't know what your email address is.

      Thanks.

      TH

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