Book Review #2

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Witches’ Brew”

A Compilation Curriculum of Terror

By: Shauna Onofrietti

Alfred Hitchcock, a man of many diabolical horrors, wrote a compilation novel in the 1960s featuring 13 chilling supernatural short stories.

Due to the novel containing 13 separate tales, I decided the simplest and most pleasing way to speak of this piece of literature would be to list them in order from my least favorite to my top choice, giving a small review for each story.

Before embarking into the stories of twist endings and peculiar murders, a word of caution: these reviews are not for the faint-hearted. Hitchcock’s cauldron of fright was intended to make one’s heart pound with anticipation, your spine to tingle with trepidation; and if anyone can, it’s him, the master of surprise and murder.

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A photo of the edition I possess, published 1965.

The story’s introduction is a sarcastically humorous account on how Hitchcock was ordered to write an introduction when he absolutely had no time or desire to. His exact words were, “I brindle, I object, I, ultimately, must revolt.”

13. “A Crime Worthy of Me,” by Hal Dresner

Out of every individual tale in “Witches’ Brew,” Dresner’s “A Crime Worthy of Me” took the cake as being the slowest building story. Arnold, a young man working at Bainesville Home Finance and Loan Company, has memorized his boss Mr. Cumberby’s safe combination containing over one hundred thousand dollars. With a first person narrative, Arnold diabolically attempts to create the perfect plan in order to successfully rob the bank and purchase an ideal bachelor pad while attending college.Despite inspiration from an “Investigator McGronskey” story, Arnold finds himself in a very tricky situation much to his own disbelief.

The story has an interesting concept, but I did not find myself impressed by the way Dresner executed it; I believe I would have liked it more outside of “Witches’ Brew,” as it was one of the last tales in the book and it did not fit the eerie vibe. Rather than being spooky, it was more like an over-confident robber plotting to rob his boss just so he could impress women and have an income without working.

Hitchcock has utilized Dresner’s work in other compilation novels, on top of “Witches’ Brew.”

12. “The Big Bajoor,” by Borden Deal

“The Big Bajoor” follows a woman named Vanya who feels pressured to win a big bajoor as her first year of marriage with Sandor comes to an end. It is revealed Sandor purchased Vanya for a large sum of money, as her own mother was known for working a great bajoor back in the day – the big bajoor being a plot to swindle an extensive amount of money from someone.

Vanya finds an old woman and claims she in the queen of the gypsies, therefore she has the incredible ability to bless money and cause the amount to double over time.

Similar to #13, I found this story to be out of place in “Witches’ Brew.” The short-story has a different sort of concept and an unexpected ending, but in no way did I find this story to be creepy – which is what my expectations were set on.

11.“I Had a Hunch, And…,” by Talmage Powell

A young girl named Janet finds herself looking down at her own dead body – she is a ghost. The corpse’s neck is twisted at an odd angle at the bottom of the foyer staircase, hinting toward the idea that she was murdered. She tries her best to recollect the events that took place, and realizes who the culprit is almost instantly.

Janet’s three friends Cricket, Blake and Tom enter the room and Janet realizes nobody can see her ghostly presence. Once they contact police, Janet comes to the realization that she must have justice in order to enjoy the afterlife.

The problem is, she can only direct thoughts and ideas toward people who actually believe in ghosts.

I honestly really enjoyed this story. The ghostly girl seeking justice and attempting to succeed is intriguing and definitely supernatural. My reasoning behind making it #11 is because Powell did not provide an ending that satisfied me.

10. “A Shot From a Dark Night,” by Avram Davidson

Within “A Shot From a Dark Night,” James Calvin “Jaysey” Williams is declared mayor of a fictional town and is admired by all the residents whole-heartedly. They demonstrate their dedication to him by coming together to claim that when he decides between running for state senate and county court, they will automatically vote for him.

When Williams goes to local favorite Turbyfull’s Cafe, a new man named Jemmy is working the counter, who has a very unique appearance. His face was as red as a tomato and promoted battered markings, resulting in Williams inquiring if Jemmy was someone he knew. One of William’s friends, a sheriff, informs him that Jemmy was just released from a state prison. This information brings Williams back to his own past – a past he does not want to remember.

There were a few moments in this story that I thought would lead me to a more fulfilling enjoyment, but all the plot questions were quickly answered. However, I will attest to a suspenseful confusion, meaning you’re not exactly sure what’s going on, but you will not be able to put the book down at least until the next page.

9. “Gone as By Magic,” by Richard Hardwick

“Gone as By Magic” follows Burt Webb, a man who murdered his best friend a year prior to the story taking place. It is revealed that Frank Pilcher had been more successful than Webb their whole lives, which subconsciously made him hit the breaking point.

At first, nobody questioned the concept that Pilcher ran away due to his gambling problem – nobody except his wife, Vera. When Vera informs Webb that she is absolutely broke, he comes to the conclusion that Pilcher must have been hiding money somewhere. With the business his job belonged to shutting down, Webb attempts to unearth the hidden dough.

This story starts off at a slow pace. Viewers learn why Webb murdered Pilcher, but a few pages pass where nothing particularly exhilarating happens. In all honesty, I guessed the outcome of the story before it even made it to the end. Hardwick does an excellent job as an author presenting the story, though.

8. “Please Forgive Me,” by Henry Kane

“Please Forgive Me” presents Paul Matthew, a father and police officer with a growing concern for his teenage son Billy. Billy had been listening to rock and roll music, hanging out with an older crowd, having unexplainable money that he used to purchase a vehicle and gallivants around town at all hours of the night.

Billy’s mother believes his “crazy summer” is temporary, because he is leaving to join the Army in September. His father, however, is not so sure. This leads to an investigation that he realizes he may be better off not knowing.

This piece is relatively curious. As I was reading, I felt trapped between a father not trusting his son, and a boy who had suspicious answers to questions yet showed an immense amount of respect toward his dad. For me, I really enjoy investigative stories, hence the #6 rating.

7. “Just For Kicks,” by Richard Marsten

Richard Marsten’s “Just For Kicks” witnesses the depression of Charlie Franklin, a man who never in his life had experienced pleasure from anything. He discusses his dilemma with friend Ed Bell, who makes him realize there is one thing he never tried before; murder.

This story is excellent and incredibly interesting. Readers are faced with a character who is completely and utterly emotionless, never experiencing any sort of “charge” throughout his entire life. If demented people interest you as much as they interest me, you’ll find this tale highly fascinating.

6. “The Guy That Laughs Last,” by Philip Tremont

At age sixty, main character Big Freddy is known as being a prominent criminal and elaborate practical joker. Freddy becomes smitten with a young woman named Margo, who his co-workers inform as being a strict brakeman‘s daughter.

This is a story I can’t really deliver a detailed plot summary, as it’s only a few pages long and swiftly-paced. I can attest to this story having an awesome twist and made me anticipate each line.

5. “The Gentle Miss Bluebeard,” by Nedra Tyre

Miss Mary Anne Beard is an older woman who is seemingly warm and compassionate, taking care of those who are in pain, have an illness or are just plain depressed. And, well, as a retired old lady, there is not much to do around town besides murder her fellow people.

There is just something about a killing old lady that sends chills down my spine – especially one that appears to be one of those adorable women who bakes cupcakes for their grandchildren and reads books in their spare time. The story by Tyre follows the many people “Miss Bluebeard” meets by mere coincidence whom she believes she needs to put out of misery.

4. “Premonition,” by Charles Mergendahl

“Premonition” features a woman who knows for a fact that she will be murdered by a person killing women in the area. The woman, Martha Ricker, has premonitions of events before they occur, leaving everyone around her, including her husband, to believe she were an absolute basket-case. Ricker must face her fears with caution, completely alone.

With an unexpected conclusion and suspense throughout, it is evident why Hitchcock had this as the opening piece in “Witches’ Brew.”

3. “Diet and Die,” by Wenzell Brown

“Diet and Die,” a first-person narrative, follows the narrator on a quest for love and an exquisite meal. The narrator admires the ability to be a proper chef and instantly falls in love with Yvette, a heavy-set woman whose dish he tastes at an elegant restaurant. He finds her beautiful and wants to marry her; mainly because she can cook him his favorite dishes whenever he wants.

Yvette later begins to lose weight and spend all her time working on creating her ideal appearance, therefore not having any time to waste on cooking or being friendly for that matter.

This is probably one of my favorite short-stories of all time, because it has humorous concepts providing comic relief for the dark formations happening.

2. “A Killing in the Market,” by Robert Bloch

Albert Kessler, a previous Wall Street employee, quits his job after saving three thousand dollars to pursue his desire to make investments in the market. Lon Mariner is a name he recognizes over and over again as making an excessive amount of dough in the market, and Kessler ventures to Chicago in search for the stranger.

When Kessler finally finds Mariner, the stranger disappears and nobody seems to remember him; the hotel they are both staying in does not have a record of a Lon Mariner, despite Kessler witnessing him enter a room and talk to several employees.

This tale was stimulating and engrossing, deliciously compelling. A wide range of questions enter your brain and you cannot possibly put “Witches’ Brew” down.

1. “When Buying a Fine Murder,” by Jack Ritchie

A hit man of twenty-years is sent on a mission – to kill himself. The requester does not know he is the hit man of course, and the main character Ron finds himself suspecting everyone, from the landlord who made the actual request to his beautiful wife who is not telling him something.

This story is pretty unhinged. Ritchie absorbs you in instantaneously, and you won’t regret reading this narrative, either from “Witches’ Brew” or in another piece of literature. It is an excellent tale written beautifully.

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As a whole, I would rate Hitchcock’s compilation “Witches’ Brew” a 9/10. I value his opinion, as his influence is inexpressible. Each tale is unique, hence why I went through them individually. It’s difficult finding one story and saying it demonstrates the entirety of the novel. And, you may have found short-stories to look up through their authors, or you may have decided to purchase the book yourself… for now, farewell.

“There is not terror in the bang, only in the anticipation in it.”

                                                        -Alfred Hitchcock.

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