Last time round I gave a rundown of the rise and fall of EC’s horror comics and indeed, the company themselves. Here I’ll give you six of the best of EC’s horror stories. I won’t just limit myself to the three main horror titles, Vault of Horror, Tales From the Crypt and Haunt of Fear, but I’ll also include stories which are clearly horror from their other books, mainly Shock SuspenStories.
It is a story from Shock SuspenStories I kick off with…
6) The Small Assassin: Shock SuspenStories # 7
Ray Bradbury is rightfully considered one of the greatest writers of science fiction and dark fantasy, but he also verged often into horror, with stories where children were directly at threat or indeed, were the threat. This story adapted by Al Feldstien and artist George Evans (one of EC’s unsung artistic talents) is a tale of a woman Alice, who after having her first child, starts to think that baby is trying to kill her.
Alice’s husband David thinks nothing of it, and indeed, for most of the story we’re built up to think that Alice is suffering from a mental illness, until the story takes a turn and becomes something utterly creepy. If it’d been produced 30 years later (the story was published by EC in 1953) this would be something David Cronenberg or David Lynch would touch. It’s a story that confronts a fear of babies (an actual condition called paedophobia) as well as a woman’s postnatal depression head on in a story where there’s no zombies, ghouls or monsters. Just a baby in its cot…
5) Tain’t The Meat… It’s the Humanity!: Tales From the Crypt #32
Most of EC’s horror output was written by Al Feldstein and this twisted little story is an example of one of EC’s, and Feldstein’s stock plots. Someone would be in a position of some authority in normally a small town, or a village. They’d do something enormously stupid that’d end up with people dying and they’d end up by the end of the story suffering a horrible fate themselves. What raises Tain’t The Meat… It’s the Humanity! above many other stories like this is the art of Jack Davis who tells the tale of a butcher who does something hugely stupid that ends up with him paying the price and suffering a gorily ironic fate.
4) The Handler: Tales From the Crypt #36
Another Ray Bradbury adaptation. EC adapted a lot of his work, but this is amazingly gruesome thanks to the art of ‘Ghastly’ Graham Ingels, an artist who is in my mind the wellspring from where all good horror comics artists spawn from. This one of the tale of Mr. Benedict, an undertaker disliked by his local community who in itself is full of pretty dreadful people. Benedict plays ironic tricks on the corpses who eventually come back from the grave to enact a terrible revenge. Ingels elevate a fairly average Bradbury story into something that drips off the page.
3) Horror We? How’s Bayou?: Haunt of Fear #17
More Graham Ingels. More corpses; more decomposing corpses. Deranged killers. More horror that drips from ever single panel. This is one of the best stories Ingels drew as well as having some hand in writing with assistance from Feldstein that deals with a serial killer in the Bayou who ends up suffering an ironic, and twisted fate at the hands of his victims who are now zombies out for revenge..
2) Let the Punishment Fit the Crime: Vault of Horror #33
One thing was clear upon the recent death of Jack Davis: the medium of comics had lost its last great genius from the Golden Age who could flit easily from comedy to western to romance to war and of course, to horror with ease. There wasn’t a genre in comics that Davis couldn’t do, but in this story – probably his best (but not the most important or influential, that’s coming next) – we have a story about a group of children in a small town who are asking adults about how the jury system works, how the trial system work and what crimes are worthy of the death penalty. Any idea that the kids are doing this for civic reasons are lost by the end of the story and its twist.
EC as you can probably gather did a lot of stories where children were the perpetrators of evil. That was because their readers were kids who utterly lapped it up, but adults didn’t get the symbiotic relationship between EC and their readers, not to mention they failed to grasp that these stories were in their own ways helping educate kids as to what was wrong.
However, EC was at it’s best telling morality plays of adults doing wrong and being punished for it, and my top EC story is the king of such stories.
1) Foul Play: Haunt of Fear #19
If there’s a single story that damned EC Comics in the eyes of the American senate hearings in the 1950’s its Foul Play by Al Feldstein and Jack Davis. Telling the story of a baseball player Jerry, who while trying to grab a run has an opposing player, Herbie Satten, run at him with his spikes high which rake down his leg. Then during the course of the game, Jerry becomes sick and dies. It turns out Jerry was murdered by Herbie who wanted to take out the other team’s star player. Jerry’s team-mates rather than go to the police decide to inflict justice their way, which this being an EC horror story, is wonderfully gory.
The problem was as fun as this story is it stood out like a sore thumb to those wanting to attack EC. It helped doom the company even though it’s got a moral message; well, sort of moral message. Regular readers knew the routine, they knew this was outrageous black comedy but the likes of Fredric Wertham either didn’t know or care, which helped drive a stake through EC’s heart.
For five years EC Comics produced hundreds of horror stories that reshaped how horror developed afterwards. That’s an amazing achievement and this list is only my personal recommendations. I strongly suggest having a look through those hundreds of stories and seeing what would make up your personal favourites.