The Vampire Curse

THE KISS OF DEATH

Teena Halliday, paying an extended visit to Rentlow Retreat, doesn’t want to pose for Jeremy Rentlow, a noted sculptor. There are malicious rumors that he is a vampire, which make Teena uneasy. But Jeremy persists and Teena finally gives in.

Soon after the sittings are underway, Teena begins to feel weak and tired, but Jeremy refuses to let her miss a session. Suddenly Jeremy tells his family of their engagement. Teena does not love him but she does not have the strength to protest. It is as if she has become his prisoner, with no will of her own.

Then Teena notices strange marks on her neck. She dares not ask – are they the marks of a vampire? Is Jeremy’s kiss the kiss of death?

Copyright 1971 Coronet Communications Inc. First Paperback Library Edition January 1971. Cover art Victor Kalin.

Teena Halliday’s mother, the exotic Margaretha, is getting married. Again. She has a six month honeymoon planned in South America with her handsome new beau and there is absolutely no way she can have an eighteen year old daughter in tow. So dear old mum has arranged for Teena to travel four thousand miles across the globe to go stay with distant relatives in New England, and her daughter has just four days notice to pack what she needs and leave the Mediterranean villa she has come to call home.

Teena is devastated by this bombshell, but there is a tiny ray of hope – for her father, whom she hasn’t seen in over twelve years, has written to say he will be meeting her at the airport in Boston.

However, when Teena arrives in Boston her father is nowhere to be found. Instead she is met at the airport by Rory, a family friend of the Rentlows. Rory is tall and handsome, with green eyes and ‘competent’ hands but Teena is too upset by her missing father to notice.

Arriving at Rentlow Retreat, Teena is introduced to her new ‘family’ -  the unwelcoming Aunt June and surly Uncle Charles, her niece, the slightly manic Estrella, who has a massive crush on Rory herself and who is already treating Teena like a competitor for his affections. And then there is cousin Jeremy, the mysterious sculptor – tall and dark with glittering eyes – who has attached himself to the Rentlow family in more ways than one.

Brought up in posh boarding schools in Europe, Teena is not sure what to make of this rag-taggle lot. But, stifling her qualms, she is determined to keep a bright outlook on the situation. Her father must be around here somewhere, and at least she has Scuffy, the cute friendly terrier with whom she can take for long, relaxing walks in the surrounding woods. After all, Teena tells herself as she settles in to her first night at Rentlow Retreat, how bad can things be?

The next day, an ancient mirror falls on her head and Scuffy dies of a strange wasting disease. Things go from bad to worse as Scuffy’s burial gives Jeremy the perfect excuse to show Teena his special pet cemetery at the bottom of the garden. It’s a shadowed place, eerily quiet, dotted with sculptures of the animals buried there, each marble lovingly carved by Jeremy himself…

I allowed him to lead me from statue to statue. Unwillingly, and with a peculiar pounding of my heart, I listened while he told me about each of them, and how he had sculpted them, and how the models had died and been buried.

Jeremy’s voice went on, low, husky, hypnotically gentle, giving me the names, even the biographies, of the pets he had buried there.

And then, suddenly smiling, he said, “I hope you don’t think that I’m showing off, Teena, love. I just wanted you to have a good look. As a homage to what I’ve loved, I suppose. And to see if you think all this a fitting memorial.”

I felt a sudden cold, the silence around us had become painful. But I said, “Off course it is, Jeremy. You do beautiful work.”

Oh dear. Teena is finding Rentlow Retreat a little difficult to adjust to. Her unease increases once Scuffy is buried, for that is when Jeremy turns all his glittery-eyed attention on to her, suggesting she starts to model for him. Teena has a bad feeling about this. A very bad feeling. Hastily making excuses, she does what she can to put him off, but Jeremy’s hypnotic stare and indomitable will are proving all too impossible to resist….

Overall I enjoyed The Vampire Curse – it had vampires, romance, an interesting heroine, and enough spills ‘n’ chills that kept me turning the pages. The gory stuff wouldn’t suit many of today’s readers (well, there wasn’t any gore) but I did like the creepy touches and precarious locations scattered throughout this story –there were mazes to get lost in, cliffs to fall off of and lots of crumbling architecture tumbling down on people’s heads.

Daoma Winston was born in Washington D.C November 1922. I’ve reviewed a couple of her books on this blog – The Love of Lucifer and The Devil’s Daughter and, though her writing can be a little on the light side when it comes to blood and guts horror, I love the unusual settings and macabre twists to her tales.  Four out of five stars.

The Love of Lucifer

The Letters

Ghosts of the Past

The Mysterious Stranger

Murder…

These were what Nan Sue Carollton found when she returned to the old manor house to find out why her sister Joanne had stopped writing. But Joanne was dead now – the victim of a madman, or a calculating killer? And then, as if history were repeating itself, Nan Sue realized that whatever evil had destroyed Joanne was waiting around the next corner – for her…

Written by Daoma Winston, Lancer books 1970. This edition, first Ace printing April 1976.

Born 1922 Daoma Winston is a prolific writer of gothic romances with strong occult themes and I have previously reviewed one of her books, The Devil’s Daughter HERE.

The Love of Lucifer opens with the heroine, Nan Sue, returning to her family home, the haunted Carollton Manor, after two months away working as a teacher. As she makes her journey through the twilight shrouded Maryland countryside we learn there is very little tying her to this cursed place – both her parents are dead and Carollton Manor has been taken over by Greta James, the dark haired, bony faced lover of Nan Sue’s father, who moved into the Manor soon after Nan Sue’s father had died.

Far from being put off by the rumours of the Carollton Curse, Greta and her family are delighted. Avid believers in the occult and trained as mediums, they soon throw themselves into all sorts of demonic dilly-dallying, making Nan Sue increasingly uncomfortable in her own home and eventually driving her out to find a new life for herself somewhere else.

The only reason Nan Sue is making this journey back is because she is worried about her little sister Joanne – Nan Sue’s only relative who is still being looked after by Greta James. Nan Sue has received some frightening letters from  Joanne, hinting at sinister goings on and she is afraid for her little sister’s safety.

Arriving at Carollton Manor the house seems deserted, the front door open. Following a flicker of light seen under a door at the end of the gloom-ridden hall, Nan Sue finds herself smack bang in the middle of a terrifying séance, her sister Joanne slumped at the table in a trance.

It’s a bad beginning for Nan Sue and it doesn’t get any better. A horrible murder follows which tests Nan Sue’s emotional endurance to the limits. Plagued by nightmares, she finds herself waking up in the local graveyard not knowing how she got there and witnessing all manner of awful apparitions in the middle of the night. It’s not long before she is questioning her sanity, believing herself possessed of evil spirits. Unfortunately, the one person who wants to help her is also the prime suspect for murder…

The Love of Lucifer started out really well, with some great gothic descriptions of creepy séances. The murder, occurring early on in the book, is quite shocking and well written and so sets the scene for an intriguing read. My attention did seem to wander off about half way through – not sure why, but I found it difficult to keep track of the bad guys and they didn’t seem scary enough to me, which made me question why it took so long for them to get their come-uppance.

The cover art is lovely – with a gorgeously detailed wrap around illustration – I haven’t found a name for the artist but I did find a picture of the original artwork HERE.


The Devil’s Daughter

Dead Dolly Creek would soon be just another western ghost town. Now it was still undergoing the slow and painful process of dying, the mines worked out, the young people gone away in search for a more promising future…but to Sharon Benedict it seemed as though the ghosts had already moved in. She came back to the village high in the mountains of New Mexico, the place where she had spent so many of her summer growing up days with May Daily, her mother’s oldest friend.

Dead Dolly Creek had been a happy place, then ….

But now something was haunting the village, terrorizing the few people still living there… and preparing to murder! Sharon found the old woman hiding behind locked doors, guarded by fierce dogs and nearly insane in her fright…an insanity that soon touched Sharon herself. For with her arrival, it seemed as though the evil in the village was about to be unleashed… for it was waiting for her!

Written by Daoma Winston. Published by Lancer Books 1971.

Sharon appeared to have everything -  an exciting job in Washington DC, a nice apartment and the love of a tall, blonde bloke with a firm chin called John. The she receives a letter from May, an old friend of the family whom Sharon used to vacation with as a child – something was seriously wrong at Dead Dolly Creek.

Personally, I cannot imagine anything ever working out fine in a town with a name like Dead Dolly Creek, but apparently this was once the place of many happy childhood memories for Sharon. When she returns to visit, after receiving the letter, Sharon is appalled by the change in the place. All the elder folk are dying of fright, while the younger ones seem to be under the spell of the mysterious stranger, Evangeline. Soon Sharon’s own life is in danger as she is drawn closer into a web of  intrigue and she is forced to stand up against the evil forces destroying the cursed town.

It has been a while since I’ve read The Devil’s Daughter, but I remember it being quite the page turner. I actually thought the decrepit, dusty ghost town worked really well as an alternative gothic setting to the usual dank and gloomy castle.  There was plenty of supernatural spookiness to keep things interesting too – including shapeshifting witches and mysterious unaccountable deaths. However, cat lovers beware – the cover may hint otherwise, but Dead Dolly Creek is certainly not the  kind of place to be  keeping cute fluffy kittens. Three out of five stars.


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