House Of The Hatchet

Tandem Horror & Witchcraft paperbacks 1964-1975

R. Chetwynd-Hayes – The Unbidden

Posted by demonik on August 18, 2007

R. Chetwynd-Hayes – The Unbidden (Tandem, 1971: Pyramid, 1975)

Chetwynd-Hayes - Unbidden

No One Lived There
Why Don’t You Wash? Said The Girl With £100,000 And No Relatives
Don’t Go Up Them Stairs
The Gatecrasher
A Family Welcome
Crowning Glory
The Devilet
Come To Me My Flower
The Playmate
Pussy Cat – Pussy Cat
A Penny For A Pound
The Head Of The Firm
The Treasure Hunt
The Death Of Me
Tomorrow Is Judgement Day
The House

Apologies for all the Chetwynd-Hayes overkill of late, but his work – his ‘seventies stuff for Tandem and Fontana at least – holds an almost Wheatley-esque fascination for me.

RCH came to the horror game late. He was 52 when his first collection, The Unbidden was published in 1971 and made no bones about why he turned to horror: In those days all things supernatural and ghastly sold, and once he got going he was extraordinarily prolific.

His first professional sale was The Man From The Bomb to one of Badger Books’ offshoots from the lovable Supernatural Stories,Science Fiction #21 (Oct. 1959). He followed this with a novel, The Dark Man (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1964) and his first contribution to Herbert Van Thal’s Pan Book Of Horror Stories (The Thing, 1966). Van Thal became his agent and Chetwynd-Hayes went into overdrive. Prior to The Unbidden, he contributed the brilliant Looking For Something To Suck to Fontana Horror #4 (1969) and Housebound to Aiden & Nancy Chambers’ Ghosts (Topliner, 1969. Another of those collections for the younger audience that do the job for adults). The following year it was The Monster (Fontana Horror #5) and The Bodmin Terror, again for Fontana, in Cornish Tales Of Terror which he also edited.

No One Lived There: A traveller explores a deserted house in Devon. From a half-chewed manuscript scattered about the place, he learns that It’s occupants were German, occult dabblers, entirely out of sympathy with Hitler and that they seem to have abandoned the house in a hurry when the Nazi’s came to power. On the wall hangs a swastika (the non-tilted original) and gracing the mantelpiece, a framed photograph of a man and his son with a naked beauty stood proudly between them. As the traveller tries to make sense of it all, the rats drift in. One of them, he notes, has miniature female breasts not unlike those in the photograph. Cornered in a room with the rodent army chewing down the door, he spends his final moments writing about what he’s experienced.

Why Don’t You Wash? Said The Girl With £100,000 And No Relatives: Having skillfully manipulated Judy’s pools winnings into various stocks and bonds under his own control, Gilbert Makepiece suggests a nice holiday at Waddington. Evidently, she finds the prospect of seeing an old Water Mill enthralling, so off they go. After he’s drowned her, Gilbert does a little travelling in Europe before settling into his plush Curzon Street apartment. Judy catches up with him while he’s enjoying a soak in the bath.

Despite the grating title, this isn’t one of his “I’m zany, me!” efforts, though you don’t have long to wait for one to rear its hideous head …

Don’t Go Up Them Stairs: Lionel learns that his grandfather, mother and relatives are all members of a Satanic cult who make up seriously rubbish chants and keep a ghoul in the upstairs room. When one of them dies, they are fed to the creature in return for him confining himself upstairs. Lionel, being inquisitive, has to sneak up to see this fabulous, terrible creature. And now it has sniffed fresh young flesh, mouldering corpses have lost much of their appeal.

The Gatecrasher: Edward Charlton and his trendy friends hold an impromptu seance – and summon forth the spirit of Jack the Ripper. Saucy Jack soon has total dominion over Edward and together they prowl Soho, picking up working girls to butcher back at the flat off Edgware Road. When the downstairs neighbour grows suspicious that those stains on his ceiling are maybe not the result of spilt red wine after all, its time for the pair to part company.

One of the four RCH stories filmed for the Amicus anthology From Beyond The Grave

A Family Welcome: Rivals It Came To Dinner as his goriest creation. Madelaine poisons her husband, Sir Charles Walton, with arsenic, having married him for his money in the first place. His corpse is so terrifying that the undertaker is obliged to sew shut his eyes, pad the mouth with cotton and break his legs before he can be laid to rest in the family vault (“Here ye Walton’s Sleepe – God Grant They all Lye down”). Fat chance of that …

Crowning Glory: Gore, a gigolo who specialises in parting rich old ladies from their fortunes, tries it on with the Countess Helene Landi when, after weeks of plotting, he ambushes her in St. James’ Park. She is already wise to him, but moves him into a suite at the Carlton Ritz regardless and pays him a whacking £50 a day for his services and the privilege of calling him “Chu-chu”. He suffers this, even manages to grow fond of the old girl, but there’s something … strange about her. What’s with the ridiculous wig about, for starters? Why does she go into a fury if he touches her head? And why is her maid Greselda ever ready with a cut throat razor and a medical dish?

Come To Me My Flower: Given that RCH wrote well over a hundred short stories to my limited knowledge, it was always a safe bet that he’d come up with at least one demon flower story. Bloody good one, too.

“They were really exceptional in a repulsive sort of way. Beryl counted twelve blooms altogether, but there might have been some smaller ones nestling down between the sickly green foliage. A large pink flower that towered up over its fellows had ear shaped petals, while a green one … was a mass of green wormy spikes. Then there was a vivid mauve thing with coiled petals that looked unpleasantly like a technicoloured snake. And a brown one that might well have been taken for slices of raw liver skewered on chicken bones, and a pink-edged white petal horror, that was peeping over the vase edge, like some lost eye looking for a socket to occupy.”

Beryl is ill in bed so Neil brings her a bunch of flowers to cheer her up. He didn’t have to pay for them, the old hag with the basket gave him them for nothing. Via her nightmares, Beryl learns the names of these horrors: Gangarellas, Hellthimiums and Bad Intentions. As she weakens, the evil flowers get braver until finally they are ready to launch an attack …

The Devilet: Ronald Adams, another of the author’s middle-aged, middle-class, mollified bachelor types, buys a black egg from a second-hand trader along the Portobello Road. It hatches, out pops a miniature Devil complete with horns, beard and tail, which proceeds to eat all his groceries. As the Devilet can reproduce at will, the house is soon teeming with the little miscreants and Ronald is zipping back and forth from Sainsbury’s like nobody’s business. What will happen when the shop-bought food runs out?

The Head Of The Firm: Conrad Lewis, multi-millionaire, has only days to live, so when he learns that Prof. Borman has successfully performed a head transplant on a pig, he flies out to his Swiss clinic and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Conrad’s head survives its removal, but there’s no healthy body to attach it to. When he learns of a boardroom coup that will see him ousted from the company on the preposterous grounds that he is, in effect, dead, Lewis is desperate enough to agree to Borman’s ‘half-man, half-farmyard animal’ proposal …

A Penny For A Pound: A neat variation on the psychic vampire theme.
Narcissistic long hair Craig Bramford is stalked by a ghastly, withered crone. Try as he might, he can’t avoid the old girl and, when he confides his problem to Diana, his big boobed, mini-skirted girlfriend, she vows to rid him of the “kinky old cow.” But after confronting her rival it is Diana who comes off worse, “accidentally” falling under a train at Sloane Square station.

Bramford realises that his admirer is in some way responsible and, perversely proud that somebody would be prepared to kill for him, takes her in to live with him. It transpires that, far from being a bag lady, she is the incredibly wealthy Contessa Donna Mondago and she’s been pursuing him because she wants to gift him her fortune as he’s beautiful and riches are “wasted on the old”. She neglects to tell Craig what she’ll be taking in return.

RCH dispenses with the jokes for this one’s duration and, as is so often the case when he plays it straight, comes up with a grimly effective shocker.

The Treasure Hunt: Psychiatrist Mr. Hunglebert Chiffinch assures George Hargraves that his son, Jason, to all outward appearances a moron, is actually a genius: all his brain needs is a little kick-start.

George hits on the idea of burying a wooden chest filled with sweets and 20p coins. It will be Jason’s if he can follow some simple clues as to its whereabouts. Jason soon gives up the stupid game but finally displays a fiendish ingenuity and previously unsuspected tenacity in torturing the secret out of his hapless father.

The Playmate: Initially, Richard and Pauline are delighted to acquire the old Victorian house, although she’s slightly irked that they can’t get any wallpaper to hang in the spare room which it seems, actively resists all attempts at refurbishment. And then there are the strange noises after dark.
Richard is away on business for three nights so Pauline, her nerves already frayed, takes his advice and buys a dog to keep her company. Comes the night when they witness a ghastly incident from the past and Pauline finally gets to meet the brutal, misshapen thing who is to take her as his latest playmate.

Pussycat – Pussycat: The severe Miss Chalfinch lives alone on the top floor in a room whose walls are plastered with photographs of cats, their facial expressions betraying varying degrees of hatred and fear. Her most recent feline, Erasmus, has just hit the afterlife after an altercation with a truck, but rather than displaying any sign of grief, she suddenly begins to act cordially toward young neighbour John Edwards, aspiring author, and systematically draws him into her world. The sheer conviction of the writing – he really does seem terrified of women – gives Pussycat – Pussycat a powerful bite.

The Death Of Me: For I desire to be negative. To be blotted out, to rest in the deep, deep pit of never was – never will be – must never be again.”

Stafford is dead, but he can’t move on until he can remember how he died. His widow Anne – who didn’t love him – and his burdensome aged mother, Mrs. Carruthers – who did – are currently helping Sergeant Johnson with his inquiries. Anne maintains his death was either suicide or an accident brought about by his own stupidity when he dropped the electric fire in the bath. She certainly didn’t murder him as she couldn’t muster the necessary effort to detest him that much. Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she? Bloody women! They’ll be the death of us all.

Actually, this time it’s a little more complicated than that.

Tomorrow Is Judgement Day: Speakers Corner. Joseph Roosevelt Jones, ‘Divinely appointed King of the World’ is convinced that a foul mouthed Angel has appeared to him, informing him that the world will end tomorrow. Harry Wheatland asks him back to his Park Lane flat for a beer. He thinks he knows who the “Angel” was when he was alive – a work colleague – and has reason to suspect Mr. Jones’ prophecy will come true.

The House: Anthony’s life has been a lonely, loveless drift, forever haunted by a vision of the soul mate he’s never met. When he moves into the house, he discovers the diary of Victoria Elizabeth Sinclair, and realises that this woman, born several decades before his birth, was his intended partner, just as she knew her lover had yet to be born. Gradually her presence reveals itself in one of RCH’s gentlest ghost stories.

For more comment on The Unbidden  from David Riley, Burl Veneer and others see Loughville.

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