Friday, August 26, 2011

THE HAUNTED PLANET: Tales from the Youth of Dr. Terror

You know when you're a kid... mmmm... make that a dorky kid... strike that... a horror kid... you had a book or a movie that you couldn't stop reading or watching? My movie was Jaws. I'd watch that film until the end of the earth and probably can quote it from start to finish; even the bit parts. Well there was also a book. Yes, I read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark one, two and three, but that series wasn't it. Wasn't the Exorcist. Wasn't Night Shift although that's up there as well.

My book was The Haunted Planet written by DJ Arneson and illustrated by Tony Tallarico. What's that you say? Never heard of it or maybe never heard of these two fellas? Well DJ Arneson is just your average short fiction, kids author. According to Amazon he's written a few pieces, but mostly introduction and discussion in books like Frankenstein and White Fang. Two of this works that stand out to me although I've never actually read them are The Original Preppy Joke Book (I did not make that up) and Sometimes in the Dead of Night (at least that one's creepy sounding). So DJ might as well be DJ on Rosanne. Tony Tallarico... let's discuss Mr. Tallarico.

Mr. Tallarico aka Tony Williamson aka Tony Williamsune is an American comic book artist who worked on... oh, I don't know. Eerie, Vampirella and Creepy magazine. This is some heavy comic art for a kid of seven years old. We're talking about some of the classic horror comics outside of the EC and Marvel arena. There's not much left in the way of classic monster books. You have to go down the path of magazines until the 1980's or so unless you feel like hitting the underground and digging six feet down. I won't do you the honor of giving you a complete back story on our beloved friend Mr. Tallarico if that is in fact his real name, but see below for some of his popular work. Sure you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

But this isn't a piece about Tony or DJ (Don to his friends). This is a piece a book that cemented the concept of horror anthology as the only way to read horror literature. From the front cover with the skeletal Dracula/magician with long flowing locks and exceptionally detailed green, monster filled background to the back cover filled with a synopsis/hook this is a near perfect anthology. Yes, it's a kids book so you have to play like your between the ages of five and eleven to enjoy it to its fullest, but if you like horror as much as I do, you can probably turn back the clock to get a chill up your spine. It will only take seven stories and ninety six pages with illustrations (by Tony T!).Let's run 'em down.

"The Haunted Gull"

When a boy "accidentally" shoots a defenseless gull with an arrow, he feels utterly terrible about it. He soon finds out that the gull population of the near by shore feels the same.

There's a similar story about moths that's quite a lot better than this one in another book I picked up at the Scholastic book fair. I found the next piece will be on that one.

"The Empty Motel"

A family traveling through the countryside encounter the hotel in which they are to spend the night to find it empty. When their dog runs into the seemingly deserted motel, the family explores it... and they never leave. Bwahahaha :cough, cough, cough:

This one reminds me of the sound effects album by Disney Chills, Thrills...

"Ghost Flight"

A plan headed for vacation destinations in the Caribbean veers into the Bermuda Triangle they encounter some unexpected guest. Ghost planes hell bent on taking out the passenger plane.

Reads almost like the Twilight Zone episode The Odyssey of Flight 33 sans the dinos.

"The Bridge"

The sign next to the bridge said "Do Not Cross After Dark". When the new boy in town fails to obey the signs command, he discovers why.

Think of that wonderful Ray Bradbury story from October Country.

"The Robot's Revenge"

A man displays a robot of "his" invention to the amazement of onlookers. It performs amazing feets of strength, but what the crowd does not know is that that is no robot and this seemingly congenial man is a maniacal narcissist. See what makes the robot tick. See what happens when you fail to obey the golden rule.

Think of the Blind Alleys from Amicus's Tales from the Crypt with a twist.

"Don't Go Into the Baby's Room"

You've got the job! A babysitter comes to watch a young infant for the night. Little does she know it may be for the rest of her life.

I saw a short film recently that damn near could have been based on this short story... we'll see if it gets picked up eh?

"The House on Pearl Street"

A young man takes a short cut through the woods and ends up inside an old house. He discovers that he is unable to leave and that a giant man is trying to catch him. To what end? To add to his collection.

This is by far my favorite story. The illustrations are the creepiest. The reaction of the boy is honest and the twist is brilliant. Very much like the Raft from Creepshow II... end with one of the best lines.

I suppose by now you've figured out that these are fairly basic moral tales not unlike Grimm. They aren't overly complex, but I think they lend themselves to the lost art of campfire story horror tales. It's too easy to watch TV all night and then go into the backyard to "camp". This book would be a great seed for any young future horror enthusiast. The variety spans several modern subgenres and all though we're talking about rehash's of classic tales, they are done thoughtfully and with some powerful illustrations or at least fun illustrations.

I urge you to see out this book. I recently found it on Amazon for one penny plus $4.95 shipping. It was well worth the nostalgia trip and also to learn that my favorite childhood book also contained illustrations by one of my current favorite horror comic artists. I'd also like you to know that this tome was published in 1980 in Watermill Press in Mahwah, NJ. That's forty five minutes from my house and the year that I was born. Coincidence (let's leave it alone shall we... spooooooky).

You this wasn't the only book that I fell in love with as a kid. You grow up. You read Stephen King. You read some Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and maybe some RL Stein Fear Street. Soon there after you figure out that there's a comic book rack inside the book story full of EC reprints. It all happens so fast. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. You should take one too. Take some time to post your own childhood favorite "horror/scary" book below. I'd love to hear why we're all so creepy.

-Dr. DJ Terror


  1. Wow!! Add this to my list of "need-it"s!

  2. Had this as a kid, too. Only one I remember is the bridge story. I wonder if it's still at my parents' house...

  3. Thanks. Might Tony the Artist be at the Framingham, MAss. event next month with "Piccard" from Star Trek? for comic book signings?

  4. He does hail from Springfiled MA. Wouldn't put it past him. Do you have a web address for the event?