What Hell May Come

WHAT HELL MAY COME by Rex Hurst (Crystal Lake Publishing, June 12 2020 release date) 286 pages, paperback. ISBN # 978 1646693092. Kindle edition ASIN # B088XFMLP3. There’s an author’s note preceding the prologue wherein writer Rex Hurst refers to the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s and the conspiracy theories back then of devil cults… Continue reading What Hell May Come

The Girl In The Video

THE GIRL IN THE VIDEO by Michael David Wilson (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, April 28, 2020) Paperback, 100 pages. ISBN # 978-1-943720-43-9 THE GIRL IN THE VIDEO is an edge of the seat thriller, very cinematic in tone.  This fast-paced, fluid novella transports readers on a journey of heightened apprehension and paranoia. While Michael David… Continue reading The Girl In The Video

Book Review: SCAVENGER SUMMER by Steven Saville

SCAVENGER SUMMER by Steven Savile (Horrific Tales Publishing, April 16, 2020) Hardcover, 128 pages.  ISBN-10: 1910283258 ISBN-13: 978-1910283257  Kindle edition ASIN # B0838K7FCS It’s the summer of 1986, and a pleasant family vacation that promised beach-combing, swimming and skinny dippy, amusement arcades, and first loves delivers something unexpected and dreadful. I love a good opening… Continue reading Book Review: SCAVENGER SUMMER by Steven Saville

Comics Review: Money Shot

Volume 1 trade paperback.

MONEY SHOT Volume 1 by Tim Seeley, writer and Rebekah Isaacs, artist. (Vault Comics, April 2020) Trade paperback, 160 pages. ISBN # 1939424607 / 9781939424600.        If you’re offended by explicit material, don’t pick this one up. Mature, adult readers only.      The blurb on the back cover tells a lot, but… Continue reading Comics Review: Money Shot

Review: Arterial Bloom

horror short stories

     ARTERIAL BLOOM edited by Mercedes M. Yardley (Crystal Lake Publishing, March 22, 2020)  Paperback, 232 pages. ISBN #1646693108 / 9781646693108   When I want to read an above average anthology of short stories, Crystal Lake Publishing rarely disappoints. ARTERIAL BLOOM is no exception.     I was equally pleased to see that ARTERIAL BLOOM… Continue reading Review: Arterial Bloom

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HER INFERNAL DESCENT #1 of 5 (Aftershock Comics, April 18 2018 release date) Writers:  Lonnie Nadler & Zac Thompson.  Artist:  Kyle Charles.  Colorist:  Dee Cunniffe.  Letterer:  Ryan Ferrier.  Rating: 12+

       Writers Nadler and Thompson will guide us though a detailed journey into Hell in the pages of the HER INFERNAL DESCENT mini-series, using Dante’s Inferno as criterion. That’s both ambitious and bold!

     Dante’s Inferno is the opening part of 14th Century epic poem The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.  It details the journey of Dante through hell with the ancient Roman poet Virgil as guide.  Dante explores the nine concentric circles of torment (as alluded to on Issue #1’s cover) that comprise the depths of Hell. 

 Co-writer Lonnie Nadler expanded on the concept during an earlier interview on the Comics Crusaders website:  “We really took a deep dive into Dante’s work and thought about how we could make this hellish landscape of sin relevant in a world where traditional, biblical sins have become commonplace.”  The interview goes on to hint at some of the things they intend to incorporate in their modern update of Dante’s Inferno: social media, online dating, sexuality, politics, religion, and self-gratification to name just a few. Seems to me to be very appropriate stand-ins for the original nine circles (Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery). It will be interesting to see how these fit in and compare. 

Issue #1 begins by introducing us to the main character, an elderly woman (not identified by name) distraught over the unexplained loss of her family. She struggles to cope and continue on with her life. Her lonely home reflects her mood: dead plants on a table cluttered by mail, papers, unfinished novels, notebooks, and cards of condolence. The kitchen is a total mess, littered with half-eaten meals and unwashed dishes.  The front room is nearly filled to capacity with moving boxes. The art, perfectly detailed in nine-panel pages, tells us all we need to know with very few captions.  She’s lost without her family. 

     As she climbs the ladder into an attic full of memories, we get a glimpse of the images going through her mind. Apparently, she’s missing a husband, twin boys, and an infant. Her husband appears to be middle-aged, much younger than she appears.  Has their absence aged her that quickly?  And what is the vision of the witch from The Wizard of Oz doing inside her thoughts?

Waiting for her in the attic is the ghost of English Romantic period poet and artist William Blake (Songs of Innocence), who speaks only in rhymes and makes her an offer: journey through Hell’s nine circles and be re-united with her family. It doesn’t take long before she accepts, a doorway materializes, and she and Blake step through it. 

  Strange colors and sights outline their forward progress, with odd twisted homes that appear inspired by graphic artist M.C. Escher and three-dimensional pathways. The woman comments upon the weird, surreal surroundings and Blake responds: “Dear, this is merely the beginning. The walls between worlds are now thinning.”

   So begins a long journey to the first circle, Limbo, including a boat ride with a grim and grumpy Charon, Death’s ferryman of legend. But not before the woman sees a vision of a van backing out of a driveway with a family inside (that vaguely resembles her own) and traveling off into the distance before she can catch up to them.  (Is this hinting at the event that led to their absence, a possible auto accident or catastrophe they encountered?) 

Limbo is inhabited by the souls of ancient philosophers and authors (Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Poe, Shakespeare, Milton).  Perhaps their vanity has kept them frozen in place there as they pepper the woman with questions, wondering if their works are still being studied. The woman with no name loses Blake along the way and comes face to face with Judge K  as the book ends.

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 RATING SYSTEM

STORY: Ambitious, captivating, and erudite. Above average in its theme and scope. I’m just having a little trouble completely empathizing with the main character. Perhaps a name and a clear idea of how she lost her family will help to bolster that. 2.5 POINTS

ART: Great layouts by Charles. The use of nine panel pages followed by five panoramic panel pages allows the story to show, not tell, what a surreal setting this occurs in. Facial expressions are very revealing on all the characters. The colors and choices of hues by Cunniffe help create the otherworldly atmosphere.  2.5 POINTS

COVER: Pull the reader in and give a great indication of what the contents hold in store.  2 POINTS

READ AGAIN? You need more than one reading to catch all the pop culture characters references dropped into the story.  Jimi Hendrix shows up in Limbo, quoting an appropriate line from Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower.  1 POINT.

RECOMMEND? Absolutely.  I think this is only going to get better. We can always use more literary writers in comics to join the elite company of Moore, Gaiman, Milligan, Carey and others.  1 POINT.

TOTAL RATING: 9 POINTS. As near perfect as it gets. Don’t pass it up. 

THE FINAL RECONCILIATION by Todd Keisling (Crystal Lake Publishing, release date February 03, 2017. Digital only formats)

Author Todd Keisling has created a horrific composition in THE FINAL RECONCILIATION, combining heavy metal music and horror mythos for a compelling configuration of a novella. It’s a quick-paced and captivating read that craftily builds tension right up to the final bloodbath.

Remove your Mask!

A progressive metal band from Southeastern Kentucky parlays a successful EP release into a two-record contract with a major music label. Outside forces, in the guise of an entrancing ethereal groupie, exert a subliminal influence on the creation of their first (and final) album. Their new music has the ability to effect a trance-like state among both performers and audience, and opens a doorway into an otherworldly realm. These events are foreshadowed early in the novella, and will come as no surprise to readers. Still, the final resolution is even more intense due to the power of the narrative and the suggestions that have been introduced along the way.

Keisling’s primary characters, the four members of the rock band The Yellow Kings, are convincing and realistic. In a question and answer video on You Tube, Keisling reveals that he is not a musician and does not have a background in rock music, aside from being a listener and fan. He acknowledged being influenced by the music of Opeth, Alice In Chains, and Tool in imagining the sound of The Yellow Kings. His characters are fully realized. Knowledgable music fans and readers will easily empathize with them, especially lead guitarist Aiden Cross, who serves as narrator of the story.

The novella is preceded by liner notes from The Yellow King’s unreleased album, The Final Reconciliation. Chapter titles correspond to the Track Listings of the album. The fourth chapter, entitled Track 4: The Usurper’s Ascent, also represents the point at which listeners of the sole live performance of the album begin to fall under the supernatural influence of the music.

Just before The Yellow Kings sign a major contract, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Johnny Leifthauser meets an alluring gypsy vixen and falls under her spell. The other band members are introduced to Camilla Bierce, who soon becomes their groupie and accompanies them to Los Angeles. During a night of drunken exotic debauchery at Camilla’s loft, she seduces all the band members and influences the future direction of their music. Her loft houses an otherworldly collection of art, artifacts and other supernatural curios, none more disturbing than the life-size statue of Hastur, a misshapen Elder God.

The story begins thirty years after the final appearance of The Yellow Kings. A news reporter arrives at a nursing home where lead guitarist Aiden Cross, the sole surviving member, tells for the first time of the events that led up to the studio recordings which culminated in the fatal concert.

Keisling was inspired by The King In Yellow, an 1895 story collection by Robert W. Chambers that also influenced the writing of H. P. Lovecraft. He pulls elements and themes from Chambers’ work, especially The Yellow Sign short story, and weaves them into THE FINAL RECONCILIATION. All the stories in Chambers’ collection include references to The King In Yellow, a play in book form which induces madness in those who read it.

Keisling takes many of Chambers’ concepts, including the mysterious city of Carcosa, the Yellow Sign, strange hooded figures on an eerie shore, and modifies and enhances them for even greater effect. The hooded figures hide behind pale whitened masks, under which coffin worms thrive. The description of Hyades, now a music club, the inhabitants of Carcosa, and the acolytes of Hastur are visualized in good and grisly detail. Camilla, Keisling’s deceitful muse, is named after a character in Chambers’ dangerous play.
Author Keisling also manages to include the scenes of sexuality and bloody, brutal violence through suggestion and summary rather than elaborate graphic descriptions. Yet, they will still remain vivid in the readers’ minds due to his narrative skills.

It’s an impressive story, and is scheduled to be included in a forthcoming anthology from Crystal Lake Publishing.

DISCLOSURE: A digital copy of this novella was provided by the publisher, with the hope of an honest and unbiased review.

WASTELAND GODS By Jonathan Woodrow. Horrific Tales Publishing. 362 pages. Trade Paperback edition, published February 29, 2016. $12.99.   ISBN-13: 9781910283103.

Disclosure: A digital copy of WASTELAND GODS was provided at no charge, with the hope of an honest unbiased review.

WASTELAND GODS entertains and engages the reader on multiple levels. It’s a character study of the effects of extreme grief and mourning on a solitary man, who soon becomes estranged from his family and lets his despondency take him in new and frightening directions.

It’s also a murder mystery as the main character, Billy, travels some unsavory roads in search of the brutal killer of his son. Nearly driven to mental breakdown by the intrusion onto his personal computer of the snuff video of his son’s death and taunting by the killer, Billy seeks to numb his consciousness with daily consumption of alcohol. And, in the latter part of the novel it becomes a story of redemption and transformation.

The savage murder of Billy’s son leads to a coincidental encounter with an otherworldly stranger, the mysterious Dr. Verity, who enlists him as her assistant in the Wastelands. The Wastelands occupy another plane of reality (or unreality), a vast barren landscape of sand, dirt and landfill detritus. Once the proper subject is identified (they kind of pop into the landscape), Billy has to perform the one task that Dr. Verity cannot do, that of cleansing before Verity executes the ending. These are supposedly extremely evil characters, whose cruel tendencies have been identified at an early age so that Verity and Billy can stop them before their damage is done. Verity extends a carrot to Billy to entice him to cooperate – – she may be able to help put him on the trail of his son’s killer.

Not everything is explained or reasons given. Both Billy and the reader have to accept some things on faith. The who, what, when, and why are part of the mystery and one of the story elements that kept us reading. Is the Wastelands part of another dimension? Is it an interpretation of Limbo, Purgatory, or even Hell? Is it all in Billy’s gin-soaked brain? Perhaps a visualization and symbol of his grief and self-loathing?

The sad state of Billy and his relationship with Dr. Verity engaged our attention, much more so than the opening of the story which was very jarring and disturbing. There are extreme scenes of brutality in several places of the novel. However, they are essential to the story and not splatter for splatter’s sake. It’s Billy’s agonizing journey into the depths and his attempts at recovery that will hook readers. Woodrow is a skilled writer and illustrates Billy’s circumstances so well that we feel sorry for him, and want to reach out and help find the answers. But we can’t. We can only keep reading.

Billy’s daily ritual of drinking at home, then drinking at the local bar while hoping to meet Verity again, coupled with a lack of acknowledgement and communication with his spouse, leads to separation. He turns to his aunt for comfort, and seeks a release for his pent-up feelings through painting. He later finds a new purpose in a small town that his investigations lead him to. It seems he may be off the wagon and ready to begin a new life. But his transformation is interrupted by the interference of Dr. Verity.

Midway through the novel, Woodrow introduces some themes that seem more appropriate to a science-fiction novel. However, he mixes them in with the horror for a clever and complicated blend of the two. The reader gets just enough detail to understand and accept it, but a full explanation is not provided. Rather than take the reader out of the story, it engages even further. We wanted to unravel the puzzle and kept reading.

Things come to a head quickly in the latter part of the novel, with an unexpected ending that disappointed at first. Billy has a decision to make as a final resolution, and it may not be the one that readers were expecting. After finishing the novel and trying to think about it from Billy’s point of view it then made perfect sense. As a final way to differentiate his work from others in the genre, Woodrow wraps it up with a positive message of hope rather than the standard downward spiral horror tropes.

Hopefully, Woodrow is not finished with the Wasteland. It’s a rich setting, ripe for further stories and a hope that the intriguing Dr. Verity will also return. Recommended.

THE DEEP by Nick Cutter (Pocket Books /Simon & Shuster) 502 pages.  Paperback, August 2015.  $9.99 ISBN #978-1-4767-1774-6

Here’s what the Goodreads summary reveals about THE DEEP:

From the acclaimed author of The Troop—which Stephen King raved ‘scared the hell out of me and I couldn’t put it down.…old-school horror at its best’ comes this utterly terrifying novel where The Abyss meets The Shining.

A strange plague called the ’Gets is decimating humanity on a global scale. It causes people to forget—small things at first, like where they left their keys…then the not-so-small things like how to drive, or the letters of the alphabet. Then their bodies forget how to function involuntarily…and there is no cure. But now, far below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, deep in the Marianas Trench, an heretofore unknown substance hailed as “ambrosia” has been discovered—a universal healer, from initial reports. It may just be the key to a universal cure. In order to study this phenomenon, a special research lab, the Trieste, has been built eight miles under the sea’s surface. But now the station is incommunicado, and it’s up to a brave few to descend through the lightless fathoms in hopes of unraveling the mysteries lurking at those crushing depths…and perhaps to encounter an evil blacker than anything one could possibly imagine.”

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I finished reading THE DEEP in bed just before midnight on November 8 as the Presidential elections were wrapping up. Not wishing to watch any more television news accounts of the voting, I went to bed shortly before 11 p.m. I didn’t have a warm feeling about the results. I wanted get a good night’s sleep rather than worry about the election. The rest of my family had also retired for the evening, and it seemed like a good quiet time to finish the book.

I wasn’t as disturbed by the ending of THE DEEP as I thought I might be. As I read through the last third of the book I had a sense where things were going, so I wasn’t surprised. The ending was satisfying but very ominous and dark.
A constant presence in the book is the sense of extreme claustrophobia, detailed in all it’s excruciating agony by the skillful pen of Nick Cutter. I got a personal preview of that as I read the last page in my bed, put the book down, and turned off the lights. Surrounded by blackness, I closed my eyes and managed to fall sleep.

After waking, I learned of the shocking election results. I did not anticipate this outcome. I’m afraid it’s an indication of the temperament of our nation. It feels like I’m still engaged with the ending of THE DEEP. Ominous. Dark. I feel the walls moving in.
I still choose hope over hate. I’m hoping that a man who’s words can be so divisive can also become a changed man whose words can bring people together, to work together and accomplish something positive.
I didn’t mean to write a political commentary here. But, the connection between book and reality was so strange and ironic that I felt it relevant to mention. Let’s turn our attention back to THE DEEP, a book that has earned over 1,000 reviews on Goodreads. Reader opinions are mixed, as you might expect from a horror novel as relentless, tenacious and malicious as this.
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Nick Cutter is definitely a new voice in horror fiction, and one to keep an eye on. I’m certainly going to explore THE TROOP, his earlier novel as well as his other works. Nick Cutter is a pseudonym used by Canadian author Craig Davidson to separate his horror fiction from his conventional literary fiction. His horror fiction seems to be out-selling his other works, which is good for horror fans. There should be more to come. Before Nick Cutter, he also wrote two horror novels under the pseudonym of Patrick Lestewka.
The blurbs on the back cover of the paperback, as well as the summary at Goodreads and other sites can be a little misleading. A reader might think that the ‘Gets is the primary conflict of the book. It’s just the mechanism that Cutter uses to set up the real conflict — which occurs in the pitch black atmosphere that surrounds and applies pressure to the research station in the depths of the deep, deep sea.

The ‘Gets is a marvelous construction, a destructive cocktail of several diseases including Alzheimers, Parkinsons, measles and the bubonic plague. It’s a bit disappointing that Cutter didn’t see fit to add some more scenes about the outbreak and some of the consequences. Other writers might have devoted half a novel or more on this. Cutter obviously had a larger and more complex threat envisioned for this novel.
When we first hear of it in the early chapters, the virus is already widespread and gaining ground everyday. There is one extremely graphic and horrifying scene where Luke Nelson, the main character, tries to assist a victim.

A virus of this magnitude commands the attention of health organizations and governments across the globe, willing to spend the money and resources to find an effective means to eradicate it, or worse case scenario, contain it. The discovery of “Ambrosia”, a mystery substance from the depths of the ocean that might protect its host from the ‘Gets, prompts the quick outlay of millions to erect the Trieste, a research station eight miles below the water’s surface to harvest and study Ambrosia in the deepest, darkest and coldest depths of the Mariana Trench.

Among the three scientists confined to that research station is the brilliant Clayton Nelson, the estranged older brother of Luke. One of those scientists fled the station, only to return to the surface in a mutilated state of death. Government agents soon contact Luke, when the research station loses communication with the surface. The last message received was a request for his assistance. Soon after, Luke is transported to the Hesperus, the massive ship that serves as the surface command center for the Trieste, being prepared for descent in a two-person sub to reach the undersea station and investigate.

Along the way the reader learns of Luke’s personal descent into despondency that occurred long before these events. Luke is trying to reconstruct his life after the mysterious disappearance of his young son and the subsequent break-up of his marriage. He and brother Clayton have sibling issues of incompatibility, perhaps brought on by a horrific childhood together suffering the torments of a dominating and character-destructive mother. Confinement to the research station will soon cause these memories to come to the surface again, as Luke recalls all his childhood and adult fears in waking nightmares where the lines between reality and dreams blur and fuse together.
He does reach the station, courtesy of the capable navigation of Alice “Al” Sykes, a brave athletic Navy lieutenant who provides shuttle service between the depths and the surface. What they find are the two scientists working independently and secretive, along with two Labrador Retrievers, plus some mice and bees, all destined for experimentation with Ambrosia.

When some mishaps cause conditions at the research station to imperil sustained survival, neither scientist can be persuaded to leave. Clayton is obsessed with studying the substance while the other scientist, Dr. Toy, has seemingly gone mad and locked himself in.
All this time in confinement, surrounded by darkness and icy, highly pressurized water takes its toll on the inhabitants. Nightmares and waking visions constantly play with their sense of reality. Cutter details the impact of such a claustrophobic setting for maximum impact. Each character is not only fully realized but each also experiences their own personal form of madness. Are all these visions, one more horrific than the next, just in their heads or are they real? Are there really miniature black holes opening up all over the ship, or are the inhabitants experiencing a shared hallucination?

Is Ambrosia a ruse, designed to provide a vehicle for something much worse than the ‘Gets to invade the surface world? Or is it a universal cure for not only the ‘Gets, but other debilitating diseases as well? Trick, or treat?
Once we become immersed in the depths of this book, Cutter does not stop bringing the horrific visions, one after the other, each more gruesomely described. Cutter excels at depictions of body horror and mutilation.

It’s not hard for readers to feel the fear of these characters as they try to overcome the challenges and find a way to leave. Cutter makes you care, even when you may have to let go. At least, the ending provides a release.
THE DEEP is not flawless. It does drag in passages, and some readers may grow weary of the numerous flashbacks. However, the best parts are so engaging and creative that Cutter deserves the attention he is currently receiving.