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The Unofficial Robert Bloch Website

Biography

Page Two
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The Mad Hatters of Hollywood

Strait Jacket In the mid-sixties, Bloch and Marion divorced, having grown apart over the years. A short time later, Bloch would meet, court, and marry Eleanor Alexander. They would remain married for the rest of Bloch's life.

Although many of the great pulps had disappeared, Bloch had been successful since the late fifties in selling stories to the descendants of the pulps -- digest magazines (such as "Fantastic" and the "Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine") and men's magazines (such as "Adam" and "Swank"). Television also continued to be a viable source of income; Bloch even sold a number of stories for adaption to a Japanese television series. Bloch also wrote a series of non-fiction essays for the men's magazine "Rogue."

Bloch made contact with low-budget film auteur William Castle. Never one to miss a potential trend, Castle had been quick to mount his own psychotic killer film, Homicidal in light of Hitchcock's success with "Psycho." Bloch and Castle ultimately collaborated on two films, "Strait-Jacket" and "The Night Walker," both of which were released in 1964.

In "Strait-Jacket," Joan Crawford portrayed a woman, who, having murdered her husband and his mistress with an axe, has been committed to an insane asylum. Now, twenty years later and seemingly cured, she has been reunited with her daughter, only to become a suspect in a new series of gruesome murders. While not a great film, "Strait-Jacket" is nonetheless an effective little shocker, is well-photographed, and contains a number of harrowing sequences.

Night Walker The second Bloch-Castle collaboration, "The Night Walker," is far more uneven. "The Night Walker" is a film about a woman (played Barbara Stanwyck) haunted by strange dreams of her lost husband. Bloch's attempts at building mood in this film were ultimately defeated by the overall cheapness of the picture, and the hectic (thirteen day) shooting schedule. Interestingly, when a novelization of "The Night Walker" by another writer appeared in paperback, Bloch's name (and that of "Psycho") appeared in larger type than that of the book's author (Sidney Sheldon, a pseudonym for Michael Avallone).

As the sixties progressed, Bloch began an association with a British film production company called Amicus. Milton Subotsky adapted Bloch's story "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade" into the pedestrian Peter Cushing vehicle "The Skull" in 1965.

Psychopath Amicus hired Bloch to script several films, two of which were released in 1966. The first, "The Psychopath" was an original screenplay by Bloch, exploring (yet again) the motivations of a psychotic killer. This was followed by "The Deadly Bees" a murder mystery employing killer honeybees. Bloch's script was an adaptation of H.F. Heard's novel "A Taste for Honey." Neither film was an overwhelming critical or a commercial success.

Bloch also began providing scripts for the television series "Star Trek" in 1966. Three Bloch scripts would be ultimately produced by that program. Despite the SF setting of the series, Bloch's scripts contained themes that ran throughout his earlier weird fiction; "Catspaw" deals with witches, black cats, and sorcery; "Wolf in the Fold" is a Jack-the-Ripper story; and "What are Little Girls Made Of" addresses the blurring of the lines between humans and artificial beings.

Bloch adapted four of his early tales for the Amicus film "Torture Garden" (1968). The film's formula, a series of four short horror tales with a linking narrative, had been previously used in the Amicus production "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" (1965), written by Milton Subotsky. Whereas the stories in "Dr. Terror" were dully executed horror cliches (a werewolf, a vampire, a killer plant, a killer amputed hand, and voodoo), Bloch based the tales in his "Torture Garden" script on some of his more imaginative pulp tales (a human/android dichotomy, a haunted piano, an unseen creature (or delusion) that demands that its human host kill to provide it food, and an obsessed fan). Amicus would produce several other horror anthology films, including Bloch's superb "The House That Dripped Blood" (1970) and "Asylum" (1972).

The Star Stalker While busy with films and television during this period, Bloch was also active in the publishing world. In addition to a number of short stories and collections, he published "The Star Stalker" (1968) a sensitive mainstream novel about silent movie makers forced out of the film industry, the first part of a projected trilogy by Bloch on the workings of Hollywood. Unfortunately, the book failed to find an audience, and the trilogy idea was abandoned. This failure could be ascribed in part to the novel's packaging -- a paperback original with sexy Harold Robbins-type cover -- which failed to accurately represent the contents. Bloch wrote another mainstream novel during this period, "The Todd Dossier" (1969), a thriller about power-plays in big business, which was published under the name of Collier Young.

During this period, Bloch also published three dystopian SF novels -- "Ladies Day" and "This Crowded Earth" (1968) in a double volume, and "Sneak Preview" (1971) -- and the funny (and horribly mispackaged) fantasy "It's All in Your Mind" (1971). Except for "Ladies Day," each of these novels were either repackaged or re-worked novellas that Bloch had published in digest magazines in the mid to late fifties.

Bloch's next two novels dealt with psychopathic killers, but each had a fresh spin on the subject. In "Night-World" (1972), the killer spends most of the book off-stage, the narrative instead focusing on one of the victims. A film adaptation was planned by MGM, and a script written, but the project fell apart when MGM's fortune's soured. "American Gothic" (1974), on the other hand, is based on the exploits of turn of the century murder H.H. Holmes (Bloch's character is named "G. Gordon Gregg"), and is written in more of a gothic suspense style.

During this period, Bloch also collaborated with director Curtis Harrington on two (now seldom viewed) television films. The first, "The Cat Creature" (1973), began as a sort of an update of the Val Lewton psychological horror film Cat People. Bloch felt a straight remake of the Lewton film wouldn't work (and in his autobiography, claimed that the actual remake in 1982 proved him right). Instead, Bloch opted for a more outlandish storyline, involving mummies, cat goddesses, reincarnation, and murder. The resulting film is an entertaining, if uneven, monster movie not unlike those made by Hollywood in the thirties and forties.

The second Bloch/Harrington collaboration was the television film "The Dead Don't Die" (1975). Based on one of Bloch's pulp novellas, this film was set in the 1930s and featured a crazed Ray Millard bent on achieving world domination through the efforts of his zombie army. Again, a bit uneven, but nonetheless enjoyable, and buoyed by both an excellent cast (including Reggie Nalder, Joan Blondell, and Yvette Vickers) and a dream-like setting.

Strange Eons The latter half of the seventies saw Bloch at work at the same hard pace. In addition to the six short story collections released in the U.S. during that period, Bloch also wrote two completely different types of novels. "Strange Eons" (1978) is Bloch's homage to his friend and mentor, H.P. Lovecraft. In that novel, the protagonists slowly realize that Lovecraft's tales of god/alien-like creatures were actually warnings of an actual race of such beings, and that those beings will soon return to Earth to destroy humanity.

"There is a Serpent in Eden" (1979, later re-issued in 1981 as "The Cunning") is a 180-degree turn from "Strange Eons." "Serpent" is actually more of a mainstream novel, dealing with the diverse reactions of a group of eldery people to aging, and with the intrusion of a destructive (and youthful) force thrust into their midst. Although the book has Bloch's usual good psychological characterizations, it nonetheless failed to find a receptive audience.

At the suggestion of his agent, Bloch decided to write a sequel to "Psycho." After Bloch completed his manuscript, he sent Universal Pictures a courtesy copy for their review. According to Bloch, as a result of his original "Psycho" deal, Universal held not only all film rights connected with "Psycho" (including the right to film sequels), but also all rights to freely adapt any sequel to "Psycho" that Bloch wrote.

It may have been the way Norman Bates slips off center state early on, or the unflattering portrayals of Hollywood types, but Universal hated Bloch's book. It decided to proceed with a film sequel of its own, and commissioned a script. Once the script was complete, Universal sent a copy to Bloch with the suggestion that he abandon his novel. Bloch politely declined, and "Psycho II" (1982) was published to good sales. Universal's "Psycho" sequel (also called "Psycho II") enjoyed good box office returns, and eventually spawned two additional films and a television pilot.

In 1983, Bloch did accept a script novelization job, for the film Twilight Zone: The Movie. The following year, he turned his attentions to the definitive serial killer, Jack the Ripper. In "Night of the Ripper" (1984), Bloch presents his solution to the Ripper murders in a fictional setting. Other books followed. "Lori" (1989) is a thriller about a woman who, after the loss of her family and her childhood home, slowly discovers that she may not be who she thinks she is. "Psycho House" (1990) marks Bloch's final return to the Bates Motel, now a tourist attraction complete with knife wielding automatons. Bloch's final novel, "The Jekyll Legacy" (1991) with Andre Norton, is a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's book, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Bloch also issued several collections during this period. His last major work, however, was his autobiography, "Once Around the Bloch" (1993), a marvelous book in which Bloch recounts with spritely glee his life, career, and friends.

Robert Bloch passed away on September 23, 1994, after a long fight with cancer. He had lived a full and active life, and had influenced the careers and lives of many of SF and horror fiction's greatest authors. While he will be forever associated with "Psycho," many will always remember him as the humorous gentleman who wrote horror stories.

I haven't had so much fun since the rats ate my baby sister.

-- Robert Bloch, 1975.

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