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Bruce Markusen’s Remembers Alfred Hitchcock’s 1961 Book Haunted Houseful

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It’s almost exactly two years to the day that I began writing for the Dark Universe. In my very first article, I described how I first became a fan of horror. It started with two books that my parents purchased for me in 1972: Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful and Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery. From there, I became interested in the Saturday night showcase, Chiller Theater, which featured vintage horror movies from the 1930s through the 1960s. And just like that, I was fully converted into horror “freakdom.” Proudly, I’ve never, with the exception of a couple of brief interludes, turned away from my love of ghosts, ghouls, and horror.

The first horror book that my parents gave me deserves further exploration. Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful was first published 11 years earlier, back in 1961. But for me, it seemed like a new publication, if only because much of the material was so new and enthralling to me. Almost immediately, I began to plow through the short stories that Hitchcock’s editorial team assembled—short stories about ghosts and haunted houses from famous authors like Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Conan Doyle. I loved those stories, in part because they were relatively short and managed to hold my seven-year-old brain to the proper level of attention.

As much as I enjoyed the stories, I truly became enamored with the book’s illustrations. The blue-tinged drawings that marked some of the book’s pages were the creation of an English artist named Fred Banbery, who was better known for his artwork in the Paddington Bear series. With these images of ghosts, witches, and creepy houses set in remote locations, Banbery gave Haunted Houseful a second dimension. Even after reading the stories, I returned to those drawings again and again.

The fun of Haunted Houseful began before I even reached the first story. The eye-catching cover of the book featured a large Victorian house, somewhat reminiscent of the mansion owned by the Addams Family, with one strange exception: the presence of an oversized head that had somehow grown out of the side porch of the mansion. That oversized and misplaced head was supposed to represent Hitchcock himself. Though I had not seen any of his films by that time, I knew very well Hitchcock’s reputation for writing about mystery, murder, and the macabre.

As well-done and creative as I found the cover, the inside of the book held greater fascinations. Opening the book for the first time, I was stunned by the artwork that appeared on the inside front cover. It was a collage of iconic ghostly images, featuring just about everything that I could have imagined: a gnarled tree with skeletal hands coming out of the base, a large ghost with claw-like hands, a water creature covered in seaweed, a large bat with incredible fangs, a flying witch, and an enormous eye peeking out from the upper right corner of the page. All of these monstrosities surrounded a young boy wearing a straw hat. Right from the inside cover, Haunted Houseful had taken hold of me completely.

Haunted Houseful Inside Cover 1

The barrage of imagery would continue with the book’s first story, called “Let’s Haunt A House,” written by comic book and pulp author Manly Wade Wellman. The protagonists are a Boy Scout troop, the Wolf Patrol, which has decided to camp out deep in the dark woods. One of the boys, named “Sherlock” Hamilton, is the son of the local police chief. He dares some of the other boys to challenge the others to investigate a nearby haunted house, known as “Creep Castle.” Although the abandoned house has a reputation for ghostly occurrences, the boy has rigged the structure with his own set of fake haunts, just to make sure that his friends are duly frightened. But it seems like the house may have its own occupant, who might indeed be a ghost or an actual person.

The first full-page Banbery image, appearing on page 5 of the book, shows one of the boys being chased by a figure in a white hooded cloak, made to look like a ghostly figure. It seems pretty obvious that the “ghost” here is a fake – especially given the presence of what appear to be two human legs not covered by the white cloak – but when you’re a 10-year old boy in the midst of the woods on a dark night, it’s better to run first and ask questions later. I mean, it might still be a ghost or a ghoul chasing after you. So why take a chance? Run for your life!

Haunted Houseful Lets Haunt A House

The second story, titled “The Wastwych Secret,” features several illustrations, including an interesting drawing right on the title page. It shows a boy who appears to be drenched in swampy water, standing next to a gnarled and twisted tree. The image gives us a small taste of what we can find in “The Wastwych Secret,” written in 1935 by British author Constance Savery. Set in the mid-1800s, the tale centers on three children who are visited by an older girl; she proceeds to tell them that their grandmother is actually witch. Not believing the story, the oldest child follows the grandmother out onto the marshy land and soon discovers that there is indeed witch activity a flight.

My favorite drawing for this story shows the young girl who has dared to step out onto the marshes at night. Well-dressed in clothing that is reminiscent of the Victorian Era, she has a wide-eyed, almost demonic look and can be seen pointing overhead at the witch, whose shadow-like form is so large that it nearly obliterates the full moon. The surroundings are also quite disturbing, from the hand-like tree and the lonely house in the background to the creepy abandoned toys in the foreground. And then there are those marshes, so desolate and so endless that they almost have an ocean-like quality to them.

Haunted Houseful Wastwych Secret

At the age of seven, I doubt that I could have crossed those marshes at night.

The next story in the book, titled “Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons,” takes a more comedic approach in tone. It’s written by Walter R. Brooks, better known for his creation of the “Mister Ed” character. Brooks presents us with young Jimmy Crandall, who becomes curious about his aunt’s house, which was once owned by his grandfather but is now is haunted. One day, while she is running some errands in town, Jimmy takes her keys and investigates the house, hoping to prove that it is not haunted, so that it can be rented out to paying occupants. To Jimmy’s surprise, he discovers that the house has a haunting presence, but the ghost is hardly frightening. To the contrary, it is the ghost who actually seems scared of little Jimmy.

Appropriately, Banbery has drawn a more light-hearted image to complement the story. The drawing shows the ghost and Jimmy having a peaceful conversation at the bottom of a dark staircase. The ghost takes on a Casper-like appearance, implying that it is friendly and amiable, and not at all interested in frightening anyone.

Haunted Houseful Jimmy

Of all of the images that appear in the book, perhaps my favorite comes from the next story, a longer one called “The Mystery of Rabbit Run.” Written by American short story writer Jack Bechdolt, it’s centered on three young children who are enjoying a summer vacation at Rabbit Run, the Pennsylvania farming home of their Aunt Judith. (By a strange foreshadowing, one of the children is named John Carpenter, the same name as the director who had yet to gain fame for his work in horror.) The children will soon find themselves embroiled in a series of mysteries, including an encounter that is seen in the accompanying image.

Haunted Houseful Rabbit Run

For me, there are few things more frightening than washing dishes at night in front of a window, only to have a creepy man stare at you through the glass! And when that man looks a bit like Alfred Hitchcock, that only adds to the unwanted feelings. It was because of this drawing that I developed a small phobia about doing the dishes in front of an uncovered window. To this day, I prefer to draw the curtains in such situations.

Skipping ahead in Haunted Houseful, the next intriguing drawing can be found in the story titled, “The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall.” A 19th century tale written by writer and satirist John Kendrick Bang, this piece features a ghost that visits the residents of stately Harrowby Hall every Christmas Eve. During its brief annual visit, the ghost leaves the various rooms of the house drenched in water before disappearing. Frustrated by this watery curse and the damage caused to the house, the current descendant becomes determined to bring the ghost’s annual visits to an end.

Haunted Houseful The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall

The Banbery image, like the one in “The Mystery of Rabbit Run,” is one of the most compelling in the book. The witch-like ghost, with her skeletal hand and nearly transparent torso, seems to consist of a mix of water, seaweed, hair, and bone. As she leaves large puddles of water on the hard floor, the Hitchcockian owner of Harrowby Hall is slumped on a throne-like chair, so terrified that he appears on the verge of passing out. I love this one.

One additional Haunted Houseful image comes from a story written by Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the great detective, Sherlock Holmes. The famous story, drawn from “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is called “The Red-Headed League.” It’s about a company that advertises high-paying jobs, but only for men with red hair. The Red-Headed League then dissolves without explanation, leaving one of its workers unpaid—and leaving Holmes and Watson to investigate.

Haunted Houseful Headed League

While the story itself has nothing to do with ghosts or supernatural forces, the accompanying image is about as creepy as they come. Set in a dark room, the drawing showcases a small trap door in the middle of the floor, with a large, bony-fingered hand emerging from one of its sides. Near the top of the image, nestled between two large crates, is the face of Dr. Watson, who is apparently trying to hide from the emerging subterranean figure.

Haunted Houseful contains a host of other wonderful drawings, but these six, along with the inside cover art, are my favorites. Given the simple two-color layout, these drawings are relatively simple, but still full of detail and tinged with a sinister eeriness. Even 50 years later, I still find myself returning to these images from time to time.

For me, the pictures and words of Haunted Houseful are where a love of horror all began.


If you enjoyed this article, you can let Bruce know via his Twitter account here.

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