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The title of Mr. Hitchcock's collection of stories by twenty-five authors suggests contents too gruesome, off-beat, or sexy for TV screens. The producers and the PTA's, Hitchcock implies, stand in his way. But, although one hates to imply that TV exercises much discrimination or taste, many of the stories could easily have been rejected simply because they were not good.
Mr. Hitchcock calls them all chilling. Several are. But too many remain simply unpleasant, falling far short of anything original and bizarre; too many seem stale or trite rather than shocking or even pleasantly uncomfortable.
Yet some of the tales are genuinely clever and sharp, and nearly all are polished--even if the New Yorkeresque polish occasionally creates glib effects. Nevertheless, the styles are usually at least as effective as the contents. The bright opening sentences, for instance, nearly all dig directly into the black heart of whatever is the matter: Being a murderer myself ..."
However, with the exception of such proven masters of the sharply written, razor-edged tale as John Collier, Roald Dahl, and Saki, few of Hitchcock's authors can both write well and create an intriguing situation or plot. The book's first few selections are rather dull cases in point, and make an unfortunate beginning for an anthology. The editor's idea of arranging authors in reverse alphabetical order is perhaps commendably simple, but hardly functional for anyone who reads more than one story at a time. In this case the arrangement leads to a most uninviting first fifty pages.
Luckily there are redeeming graces later in the collection. The few splendidly worked-out bits of the macabre, however, are too often marred by overexplicit final comments on them. Situations whose full explanations have already been slyly suggested are left with less impact by authors afraid to lead the reader to finish the thought. Overexplaining away the power of a haunting ending is a drawback in, among others, Philip MacDonald, who tediously overends his tale of a brutal murderer's being saved by murder. Perhaps TV would always demand a soothing or at least carefully explicit ending; books do not.
Often, of course, Hitchcock realizes this. Occasional implicit grotesqueness along with the horrible images, the examples of practicable black magic, and the demonstrations that crime does pay after all clearly take advantage of what books can do and screens cannot--or can, but do not.
One can admire "Love Comes To Miss Lucy," "Sridni Vashtar," and "A Jungle Graduate" more than the average piece in the collection simply because of their ideas: a seeming love affair that takes an unusual turn, a child who wishes and imagines a murder that comes true, and a quiet story of turnabout. "The Waxwork" deserves less praise for its idea (a night in a waxwork chamber of horrors), but a great deal for its ending, which is led up to gently and tidily. "The Lady On The Grey," an echo of Circe, is a minor but still notable example by a skillful author, John Collier, who is one of the most reliably bizarre writers alive.
As a whole, Hitchcock's casketful of stories is a routine job. Many tales are stale: a few are fine. One doubts whether he actually submitted them all for TV shows, but he obviously likes to collect odd and uncomfortable stories. Whether he should be encouraged to publish them is debatable; collections should not always be made public. One of the charming characters in his book, for instance, collects throats.
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