Covering the third of Boris Karloff’s three anthologies of dark tales.

The Boris Karloff Horror Anthology, first published in 1965, is rather different from Karloff’s previous two anthologies. Tales of Terror and And the Darkness Falls were both collaborations with Karloff’s friend, the editor Edmund Speare. Both those anthologies highlighted stories that, while macabre, could mostly be considered “mainstream” or “literary” tales from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Boris Karloff Horror Anthology, on the other hand, has more of a pulp magazine feel, and features almost all stories from the mid-twentieth century (nothing earlier than 1936; Table of Contents here). The one exception is Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” which is included because John Jake’s story “The Opener of the Crypt” is a sequel to Poe’s classic tale.

Boris Karloff, Date unknown
Source: Dr. Macro’s High Quality Movie Scans

This difference raises a number of possibilities about the editorship of the anthologies:

  1. Speare had more to do with the editing of the first two anthologies than one might think.
  2. Karloff had less to do with the editing of the third anthology than one might think.
  3. Karloff’s tastes, and his thoughts on the definition of terror, had evolved in the intervening two decades.
  4. Some combination of the above.

Some evidence from which one might try to draw a conclusion: Karloff is not explicitly credited as editor on The Boris Karloff Horror Anthology (at least not on my edition), as he was with the earlier two anthologies. However, he is identified as the copyright holder, apparently of the entire book, not just the introduction. Karloff’s introduction no longer makes the distinction between terror and horror that the introduction to Tales of Terror made; he seems to treat the two terms as synonymous, and even calls the stories “horror stories” (albeit in quotes). This is interesting, because I wouldn’t call all the stories in this anthology “horror stories,” by Karloff’s previous definition of horror. In fact, a couple of them aren’t even really “terror stories.” And despite what Karloff wrote in the introduction to Joseph Conrad’s “The Brute” in And the Darkness Falls, there is no Conrad story in this anthology (it wouldn’t have gone with the other stories, anyway).

“No collection of tales that I have ever had a hand in collecting could possibly be complete without a Conrad story” — Boris Karloff, And the Darkness Falls

The key point is that if one is coming to this anthology based on expectations set by the previous two, one might be disappointed. It depends on how you feel about pulp versus mainstream fiction. I prefer the first two anthologies to this one, but I also enjoy pulp, and there are some fine stories included here.

Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and Roald Dahl’s “Man from the South” are much-anthologized, but they were still fun to reread. I immediately followed my reading of Poe’s story with Vincent Price’s wonderful recital of it, from the 1970 AIP-TV production An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe (on YouTube here; just “Amontillado” here). John Jake’s sequel to “Amontillado,” called “The Opener of the Crypt,” is not nearly as good as the original.

And of course after reading “Man from the South,” I had to watch Peter Lorre’s fun performance from the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode (part 1; part 2).

“The Thirteenth Floor” is a fun little ghost story, set in that venerable ancestor of Amazon.com: the multistory department store. “If the Bonanza hasn’t got it, it isn’t.”

“Child of the Winds” is a classic pulp adventure tale, not really my preferred reading, but not bad. The theme of strange winds continues in August Derleth’s “The Thing That Walked on the Wind,” an attempt to combine Algernon Blackwood’s themes of implacable and malevolent nature with Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos and other “cosmic horror.” Again, not my speed; I have to admit I preferred Derleth’s haunted house story in And The Darkness Falls. But “The Thing That Walked on the Wind” is an interesting fusion of two quite complementary approaches to horror/terror fiction.

A couple of non-supernatural crime stories: “Back From the Grave” by Robert Silverberg and Evan Hunter’s tale of PTSD, “The Scarlet King.” I liked “The Scarlet King” a lot; it was creepy and dark. “Back From the Grave” was rather predictable.

Theodore Sturgeon is an author I don’t read as often as I should; I don’t think I’ve ever read anything he’s written, in any genre, that I didn’t like a lot. This was my first time reading “The Graveyard Reader.” It’s lovely. I read it envisioning Peter Cushing as the title character. I’m not sure what it’s doing in a horror anthology, but I’m glad that Karloff included it.

C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Mind Worm” is an excellent example of the happy combination of science fiction and horror tropes to produce uncanny tales; I wrote about this in the context of Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires and Star Trek here. This story, along with Sturgeon’s, were worth the price of the entire anthology for me.

Robert Bloch’s Egyptian pulp adventure, “The Opener of the Way” was … overwritten, but it did have one memorably gruesome scene.

I generally find Lovecraft to be overwritten, too, but there are a few stories where his style seems more restrained than usual. One is “The Shunned House” (not in this collection); another is the story Karloff included here: “The Haunter of the Dark.” In fact, coming as it did after Bloch’s story, the first half of “The Haunter” seemed positively M.R. Jamesian. I’m being catty, but I do like this story. As with Kornbluth’s “The Mind Worm,” “The Haunter of the Dark” represents an immigrant community as a repository of pragmatic wisdom when it comes to dealing with uncanny horrors. Pleasantly non-xenophobic.

The Boris Karloff Horror Anthology was first published in the UK in 1965 by Souvenir Press; this hardcover edition features a cool cover by S. R. Boldero, pen and ink illustrations throughout, and an introduction by Boris Karloff. I have a subsequent 1975 paperback reprint from Everest Books (UK) which does not have the interior illustrations, but does have Karloff’s intro. There is a 1965 North American edition from Avon, called Boris Karloff’s Favorite Horror Stories, which does NOT include Karloff’s introduction. There is also a 1969 UK reprint with the UK title from Corgi; I don’t know if that edition includes the introduction. As of this writing, there are several copies available at Biblio.com, including a couple of copies of the Souvenir Press hardback, one at a suprisingly modest price. I also see copies at Amazon, but it’s harder to tell exactly which edition you are getting.

Note that the Biblio.com listing includes copies of the North American edition from Avon in the search results. If you want Karloff’s introduction, you want to avoid these. You can correlate the edition to the cover via the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

Overall, a nice collection of pulpy and macabre tales. I don’t love it as much as I love And The Darkness Falls, but it’s still worth checking out.

2 thoughts on “The Boris Karloff Horror Anthology

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