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Plato's Cream Pie and Other Horror Delicacies
"I've always loved the magazine," says Betancourt, who discovered pulp fiction as a teenager in New Jersey. "Many of my favorite stories originally appeared there."
Weird Tales has a circulation of 5,000, but Betancourt feels he can sell more copies. He hopes to catch eyes on newsstands by publishing delightfully lurid covers by Rowena Morrill, who is the Michelangelo of pseudo-tacky horror art and a worthy successor to Brundage.
WT's April cover is a Morrill painting of a ghostly, hollow-eyed sorcerer clad in a black gown with a chain belt that holds two drooling skulls. That's a gem, but it can't quite match Morrill's February cover, which showed a buxom blonde in a tiny red dress clasped in the tentacles of a giant octopus who is leering lasciviously.
"That was done as a book cover in the '80s, but I don't remember what was in the book," Morrill says by phone from her studio in Upstate New York. "They said, 'Come up with the most outrageous image you can, and make it in the style of pulp fiction.' I thought it was hilarious."
Betancourt loves Morrill's paintings. So does Saddam Hussein. In 2003, American soldiers found several Morrill masterpieces decorating one of Saddam's palaces.
She doesn't know how the paintings, originally done as book covers, reached Saddam but she was horrified to learn that he's a fan. She's more comfortable seeing her work in Weird Tales, although she admits, somewhat sheepishly, that she doesn't actually read the magazine.
Perhaps she should. Weird Tales is a lot of fun. The April issue contains 10 short stories and seven poems, all of them certifiably weird. In one, the employees of a British nursing home huddle around the dying, feasting on their souls at the moment of death. In another, a stranger stopping in a small German town on Christmas Eve is invited to a church service, only to learn that the congregation's offering to God is . . . him.
There's also a good old-fashioned vampire story, complete with garlic cloves and stakes through hearts and gloriously purple prose: "I stood there, with the dripping stake in my hands, with the gore of the vampire's last feast on my face and clothes."
Along with the horror, there's some humor. "The Grave of My Beloved" is a darkly comic tale about online cemeteries and their attendant problem of "cyber-necrophilia." And "Fimbuldinner: The Last Supper" -- the story in which Plato watches the food fight of the gods -- is a zippy, zany romp: "There was something menacing about her. He couldn't really put his finger on what it was, but the necklace of skulls was high on the list."
My only beef with the magazine is that there are too many words and too few pictures. Weird Tales needs more weird illustrations, weird cartoons and weird comics. If they're too hard to find, perhaps Betancourt should break up the gray pages of type with reprints of those old pulp ads, which conjure up a world as weird as almost anything in the magazine:
"French Love Secrets EXPOSED!"
"I TALKED WITH GOD (Yes, I Did -- Actually and Literally)."
"Hey Jitterbugs! . . . 40,000 hot-hose Hep Cats have joined the famous Hollywood Dance & Swing Club."
"MARRY RICH Send for FREE photos and descriptions of rich and beautiful women who wish to marry."