Friday, April 22, 2011

Skulls in Short Dresses

Is anybody over twelve actually scared of skulls? Do you wake up screaming when a skull appears in your dreams?

Do disembodied skulls prevent you from getting on with your life?

If they do, you should pull your head in and seek professional guidance.

I can see the appeal of heads half stripped of flesh so that the skull peaks through. I can even get behind the concept of maggots meeting in the eye socket of a skull. Or an eel slithering out of a socket after it's feasted on some month old brains.

But a skull atop the body of a girl with smooth, slender thighs? Clutching a doll?

It's not scary.

It's just silly.

Rick Hautala's Nightstone (Zebra Books, '86) is a haunted house tale in which a wooden doll is featured and an old stone holds a mystery. There is a little girl (Beth) and there is death (somebody's head is going to become a skull at some point), but nothing about this cover feels enticing as horror. As erotica, perhaps. The girl is none too subtly lifting her dress to suggest what it is covering. But as she does this, you look up and see a skull. It's the polar opposite of planets lined up. One element cancels out the other.

I bought every Rick Hautala book for many years. I stopped, eventually, but I lined his publisher's pockets for a decent spell. I purchased Nightstone because it was Mr. Hautala's latest. It's a very good good. Mr. H tells a mean story and doesn't skimp on characterization or atmosphere.

As you can see, writer Rick Hautala is more than an empty skull.

 I wonder what he thought of this crazy cover? If he ever reads this, I'd love to know. I do suspect that the book might have sold well because of the cover. Might have attracted some new readers.

My scan doesn't reveal it, but the skull becomes a girl's face if you tilt it and a half girl/half skull if you tilt it further. Obviously, Zebra was enthusiastic about some new printing technology, so Nightstone was chosen to showcase it. The skull-loving editors at Zebra must have been beating their meat over this cover. It's everything they loved, but with an "exciting" new dimension. How much spunk was spilled in the art department when this came back from the printers?

I've been singing Zebra's praises for a couple of years on this blog. I love their old covers. They're silly and not terribly scary, but scary's not everything. Scary can be trumped by bizarre, "weird", and surreal. But the Nightstone cover fails for me because it's too gimmicky. The silvery skull just doesn't sit well on the little girl's shoulders.

 If you've never read anything by Mr. H., give Moondeath (Zebra, '80) a shot. It's a ripper.

A recent novella I enjoyed immensely is 'Reunion' from PS Publications.

Anyway, gotta go. Slowly. A skull's chasing me.


  1. Is the girl supposed to be 8 or 18 ?.

  2. She's got sort of a mannish build if ya ask me.

    I 'm a sucker for those lenticular/holographic gimmick covers.

  3. Yeah, that cover is pretty awkward, but that kinda gives it a creep factor.

    I don't ever really remember being frightened of skulls. I always equated them with the badass stuff, so I was intent on having them around, even in early adolescence. Even now, I have like fifteen of them tattooed on me, and never once did I say, hey, give me a skull tattoo. They just sort of happen as filler and stuff. So yeah, skulls = not scary. Skulls = badass.

  4. And Jenn = gorgeous little darlin`.

  5. Jenn -- I agree that skulls are badass symbols and only scary when still part of a living or half living body.


    d -- the covers are interesting, but this one isn't scary.

  6. Only boom I've read by Hautala was Dark Silence. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, I've been meaning to get hold of some of his other works, but I keep finding other authors to try out and get distracted. Hopefully I'll get around to reading some more soon, along with being scared and creeped out to.

  7. ...i invite you to join globalove think tank.

  8. Ah, those holographic covers! I remember lots of Hautala books back in the day, but never read any; that Zebra Books imprint really turned me off. Maybe one of these days...

  9. I've only read one Hautala book, The Mountain King, and it's my favorite Bigfoot novel. Mind you, it may be the only horror novel I've read revolving around Bigfeet...but still. :) Twas a brutal and badass read. I'll be sure to read Moondeath. Thanks once again. \m/