Joseph Payne Brennan was born in Connecticut, New York in 1918. He worked at the Sterling Memorial Library of Yale University for more than 40 years and sold numerous stories to Weird Tales magazine and other publications. Some of his story collections include NINE HORRORS AND A DREAM (1958), SCREAMS AT MIDNIGHT (1963), STORIES OF DARKNESS AND DREAD (1973), and THE SHAPES OF MIDNIGHT (1980) to name a few. He wrote a great deal of poetry as well, 54 of which were collected in his book NIGHTMARE NEED (1964).
Brennan had stories adapted for both the THRILLER (1962) and TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (1984) television series.
He published his own magazine, MACABRE which ran for 23 issues from 1957-1976. He died in 1990.
Here we’re going to look at the 12 stories collected in Brennan’s THE SHAPES OF MIDNIGHT.
1- “Diary of a Werewolf” (1961) – Written as the diary of a man who becomes a sort of werewolf. He doesn’t take on the appearance of one but does begin to move and act like one, loping around on all fours as he pursues his perspective victims through the forest.
2- “The Corpse of Charlie Rull” (1959) – A hobo has a heart attack alone and falls into a marshy area that has been contaminated by toxic chemicals. He’s reanimated as a zombie that is driven by an intense hatred for the living.
3- “Canavan’s Back Yard” (1958) – A nerdy bookseller becomes obsessed with the weed-choked back lot of his bookshop which seems to be able to change its physical dimensions. When his friend comes looking for him one day, he finds the man has become lost in the back yard, and his humanity is gone. This story was sited specifically by Stephen King as one of his personal favorites.
4- “The Pavilion” (1959) – A man encounters problems when he goes to check on the spot where he buried someone he’d murdered.
5- “House of Memory” (1967) – A girl’s beloved childhood house, which had been torn down to a cellar hole, reappears out of thin air after she becomes deathly ill.
6- “The Willow Platform” (1973) – An unemployed bachelor, who’s seen as a loafer and an idiot by the locales, finds a strange ring and an old book hidden inside the cellar where a mean old hermit’s house used to exist. The book is written in Latin, which he gets help translating. He becomes obsessed with the book and builds a 20’ tall tower made of willow saplings, atop which he attempts to summon a dark entity.
7- “Who Was He?” (1969) – This strange tale is about a man in a hospital who’s recovering from heart surgery on ‘Cardiac Row’. An odd, bushy eye-browed barber keeps wordlessly trying to convince the patient to allow him to give him to give him a haircut, but he refuses. The refusals seem to irritate the barber. Several deaths occur in the surrounding rooms, all preceded by terrified screams. The bizarre mystery of the weird barber and the things he carries in his little black bag, make this story a favorite of mine.
8- “Disappearance” (1959) – The mystery of one brother’s disappearance is revealed after the death of the other.
9- “The Horror at Chilton Castle” (1963) – On a trip to Ireland, a geological researcher gets asked to join the Earl of Chilton and his son, who’s just come of age, to enter a hidden chamber inside Chilton Castle. The chamber and the hideous secret within is visited only once a generation by three people, three days after the heir has come of age. This is a great tale of horror.
10- “The Impulse to Kill” (1959) – A wealthy man gets a strong urge to kill and begins to devise a clever way to do so without suffering the consequences.
11- “The House on Hazel Street” (1961) – A down-on-his-luck man becomes obsessed with a dilapidated old house he often walks past. One day the door creaks open, and an old man beckons him inside. The old man longs for the by-gone days of his youth, while the main character begins to feel weak and tired, eventually falling asleep. When he awakens he finds that the house and the world outside its windows has changed to reflect the time of the old man’s childhood.
12- “Slime” (1953) – An underwater eruption propels a blob-like entity out of the ocean and onto a New England shoreline. Once there it begins to satisfy its ravenous hunger by feasting on the living denizens of the town.
Article by Matt Cowan