The Best of the Horror Society 2013
Edited by Carson Buckingham
2013, The Horror Society Press
350 pages, ISBN: 978-1490597683, $18.95

 

The Best of the Horror Society 2013 rounds up twenty-eight tales from contributing members, eight of which are reprints, but representative of the fine skills that the society has to draw upon. Founder Scott M. Goriscak explains the genesis of the organization in his Foreword as an effort to bring together artists of all walks to facilitate collaboration in the horror field. Editor Carson Buckingham sums up what horrifies her in the Introduction: “After you have passed from dread to terror, horror is wreckage left for you to deal with emotionally and psychologically, and sometimes physically…”

“Ceremony” by the legendary William F. Nolan is a bona fide classic (originally printed in The Year’s Best Horror, 1985) in which an unsuspecting traveler to Providence, Rhode Island is detained by a broken-down bus in a small town whose inhabitants are gearing up for a very special celebration – one in which our waylaid visitor is named Guest of Honor. Unfortunately, it literally sucks to be him.

Kevin A. Ransom proclaims that “Tendrils Never Lie”. In this tale, a latchkey kid becomes the caretaker of a strange plant. Ransom keeps it creepy in this one. Although the plot is a bit predictable, it’s not easily forgettable.

There is no shortage of stories and novels concerning Venice and the timeworn mask that will not come off the doomed wearer. That said, “The Mask” by Lisamarie Lamb is a welcome addition. It is haunting and just as beautifully written as a Venetian Waltz.

Editor, Carson Buckingham offers “Lemminaid” for thirsty readers, and it is a sweetly sour treat. This one comes across like a Rod Serling childhood-memory-gone-wrong Twilight Zone episode, but much, much darker. The surprise ending actually works its magic quite nicely.

“Central Coast” by Jason V Brock (a reprint from Brock and Nolan’s The Bleeding Edge), is a story about cursed wine – a component which recurs in a few of Brock’s stories. The plot of the story is laid out starting in the present, going to the past, and then to the future. The flavor of Southern California is really captured, from wine tasting to the characters’ involvement in the porn industry. The gruesomeness (ever stepped on an eyeball?) is all the more shocking when contrasted with the superb character development.

What is it about Wisconsin? Weldon Burge’s story, “White Hell, Wisconsin” is a thriller. There’s nothing supernatural – it’s all very natural, and creepy. A plow driver stuck in an unrelenting snowstorm is terrorized by a group of sick little bastards. Although written well before the “Polar Vortex” of early 2014, it struck a nerve as I was reading during this time of year; it will chill you to the bone. It was originally printed in Burge’s collection Broken: Stories of Damaged Psyches.

Richard Thomas’s brutal “Victimized” (a reprint from Murky Depths #15) horrifies with grit and intensity. It builds in tension perfectly as the protagonist plots and exacts her revenge. Thomas leaves nothing to the imagination and the thoughts of the main character are so real that you can nearly taste the blood and feel your heart quicken as you experience it with her.

“Normal is Relative” or so Dan Dillard would have you believe. A short entry, but still effective, about a man, his fiancée, and his brother who barges in to nearly ruin his plans for the perfect evening. At least only two of them die.

“The Horror Society’s 2013 Igor Award Winner” is emblazoned proudly above the title for Doug Lamoreux’s “The Procedure” setting high expectations for the story. Fortunately, it doesn’t disappoint. Medical horror is fun, and this one is great. One might also wonder if Lamoreux has had some bad experiences in doctor’s offices with ditzy assistants.

Shapeshifting, tequila, and desert hijinks abound in Joe McKinney’s “The Little Church of Safe Crossing”. Now we know what those border patrols are up to on Christmas day: No good! This one originally appeared in Help! Wanted: Tales of On-the-Job Terror.

When a doll shows up in a horror story, you know it has to be evil. “Madeleine” is a gift from a strange great aunt to a little girl plagued by nightmares. The aunt promises that the little doll is magical and can take away bad dreams. Julianne Snow pulls off a new take on this one, primarily by integrating repetitive dream sequences in the prose and by deftly capturing the essence of a six-year-old girl.

Christian Larsen is a fun guy. Well, you would think so from this humorously gross story about a deadly mold: “It Has Teeth”. No one will want to see anything moldy after this crazy tale.

“Masquerade” (originally printed in WATCH anthology) by Dave Jeffrey offers a surreal point of view story in which a trapped soul turned to the dark side witnesses a similar seduction of another.

Rose Blackthorn’s “Black Bird” has a great set up where a woman is stalked by a bird. Unfortunately, the payoff isn’t as good as the beginning and the plot leaves much to be desired. Blackthorn’s writing is convincing and suspenseful and perhaps other stories would be better realized.

“Adjoining Rooms” by Scott M. Goriscak is a curious entry in this book of otherwise stronger stories. The first sentence has a dreadful comparison between elevator doors and a “snail crossing a leaf”. The last sentence, “It was Dante’s Inferno,” accurately describes how a professional envisions hell: trapped having to read a never-ending stream of writing like this.

In “The Clown”, Henry Snider manages to put a different twist on the scary clown trope.

Nicholas Grabowsky brings us “The Inspiration & Horror of George & Hugh” where some horrible thing born of the lowest scum of society goes on a rampage. Unfortunately, there is a printing error in the story – the text is printed in a lighter greyish tone that doesn’t match the rest of the book. Strangely, his bio in the back of the book is in the same weird grey font.

“Moving Day” by Mark Onspaugh picks up the pace again with a fun, modern take on a poltergeist yarn.

Charles Colyott was a name unfamiliar to me, but after reading “Soft Like Her” I will be looking for more. I loved this piece. Set up as a suicide note from one-half of a conjoined twin, it is even better than it sounds. Colyott evokes just the right feeling and believability without being trite.

Abuse is a difficult subject matter. In “Black Mary”, Mercedes M. Yardley illuminates the mind of an abducted girl whose has been terribly violated and held captive for years, but she does so with a deftly delivered unreliable narrator style which is never exploitative, but still conveys the appropriate fear and confusion.

“Ellen” is the object of obsessive affection for Harold, the alter-ego of a deranged killer. Although Harold proclaims “I am not evil,” writer Lee Pletzer convinces us by the end of the story that the real protagonist is.

Ian Rogers offers “The Luminous Veil”, a freshly expressed suicide story that is a bit cold, but in a way that suits the snarky teen protagonist. It was a little long, but with excellent vocabulary and interestingly told. It was first printed in Bare Bone #11.

“Daddy” by Aaron Dries is weird. Good weird. Grown-man suckling a baby doll on his naked teat weird. A nod to The Shining and Psycho, but still original and freaky. A minor printing error (apostrophes replaced with greater-than symbols) didn’t prove too bothersome to detract from the content.

T. E. Grau tickles the reader with “Beer and Worms”. Anyone who grew up in rural American will recognize these characters. Spot on and well told fishing tale. Even though you can see the end coming from a country mile, you are rooting for it.

There are elevator rides that last longer than Robert S. Wilson’s “The Boy in the Elevator” but it is still terrifying. It’s an idea that leaves a lasting impression, something that William F. Nolan calls “the echo effect” where the reader will keep imagining what could happen next long after the reading is over.

“Weird” threw me for a loop. I thought for sure that I had read it before. I even checked the front matter of the book to see if it was a reprint. Dean M. Drinkel freaks me out, man. Loved it.

L. L. Soares starts off “Venus” with a jaded couple visiting a rundown carnival freak show and ends with all senses engaged in a delightful horror. A little bit “Little Shop of Horror” and a little bit Nolan’s “The Pool”, this one harkens back to the classics.

“Hotties” (a reprint from Unnatural Selection, 2001) by Mort Castle is a fitting end to the anthology. It is told via a clever presentation of teen Internet posts interspersed with historical accounts of arsons and bombings. It’s a fun piece of work, but it is unfortunately marred by formatting errors which seem to be rampant throughout the book. This entry’s unique format suffers greatly from the haphazard “search and replace” attempt to standardize all the texts resulting in issues like newsgroup names having extra spaces in them, a single comma underlined where no other underlines were present, and an orphaned signature at the end of a letter.

Overall, the content of this book is quite strong, but the formatting errors were rather distracting at times. One story underwent seemingly random breaks in paragraphs, even mid-sentence. And in addition to the errors already mentioned, some stories’ paragraphs had first line indents out of whack, and other sections had punctuation replaced by totally wrong characters all together.

Despite these issues, editor Buckingham delivers on her vision for the book. It is recommended reading for a cold snowy night or a warm summer day back in the woods; an enjoyable showcase of horror.

Enhanced by Zemanta

STORY: ‘The Curse of the Golden Handcuffs’ by Eliyanna Kaiser

 Old Goose has more than a few tales aimed at brainwashing little boys and girls into believing that gold can’t buy happiness. What the old bird so conveniently leaves out is that poverty gets you nothing but misery. Take Grimstubble, the leprechaun who owns my building. With him, you get the feeling that coin isn’t… Continue reading STORY: ‘The Curse of the Golden Handcuffs’ by Eliyanna Kaiser

STORY: ‘The Wampus Mask’ by Asher Elbein

  Anna O’Brien could never say how she knew that something was wrong. It was not the first time she’d woken to find the other side of the bed empty of all but tangled sheets and his musky scent; Tom often left in the earliest morning, sliding out of bed carefully so as not to… Continue reading STORY: ‘The Wampus Mask’ by Asher Elbein

STORY: ‘Sanctuary’ by E. L. Kemper

The alligator in the Tilly hat leered. As its thumb rocked back over its shoulder in an endless clockwork gesture, its eye winked, inviting one and all to the attraction which lurked just beyond its knobbed back. “You guys are kidding. This is about the cheesiest one we’ve seen so far,” Stacey said from the… Continue reading STORY: ‘Sanctuary’ by E. L. Kemper

STORY: ‘The Other White Meat’ by Paul G. Bens, Jr.

  Winters in Benison’s Pass, Kentucky, were a real bitch. They were long, frigid and boring, and the ever expanding drifts of snow made controlling a cherry-red ‘67 Mustang dangerous business, especially when you’ve only been driving for a little over a year. But tonight was February 19th, 1992, an extra special night, and Tony… Continue reading STORY: ‘The Other White Meat’ by Paul G. Bens, Jr.

Paging Henry James. . .

 

The Wide Carnivorous Sky

& Other Monstrous Geographies

By John Langan

322 pgs, Trade Paper ($20), April 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61498-054-4

Hippocampus Press

51UdYG1ON2L

 

I was prepared to hate this book. It seemed pretentious—story notes, foreword and afterword by two better-known writers (Laird Barron and Jeffery Ford), an untranslated line from Voltaire as a story tag . . . . Then I read the first story, a seemingly pointless vignette called “Kids.” I put the book down by the toilet in the master bath.

Nevertheless, having no other reading material available a few days hence, I read the novella that followed “How the Day Runes Down.” It was then that I realized I was dealing with a major stylist: Langan wrote a zombie story in the pitch-perfect voice of the stage manager of Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. Unlike some silly zombie pastiches that mock literary classics, this was the perfect voice. It also contained a reasonable critique of what’s wrong with other zombie tales. I will re-read this piece if I ever try to write another zombie story.

The third tale “Technicolor” is a riff on Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” Langan has cast the story in a lecture about Poe’s—a narrative distancing device worthy of James or Ligotti. As the professor lectures, spooky things are happening in the lecture hall, and we, the audience are slowly trapped in a horrible situation both metaphysically and physically.

Then the fourth story “The Wide Carnivorous Sky” was an excellent monster tale told with the panache of A. E. van Vogt and with the skill of characterization that reminded me of Stephen King at his best. Again I made a note to myself to re-read the tale in order to learn craft. The following novella “City of the Dog” had a series of narrative distancing devices that were worthy of Henry James. This story was inspired by Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” and “The Hound.” But the blend of exquisite telling and true blood-cuddling horror far surpasses its roots. This will be a story read for many, many years.

I’d seen and read “The Shallows” before. It was in Darrell Schweitzer’s Cthulhu’s Reign—a collection of stories about what happens after R’lyeh rises. . . After my own story in that collection this was the best. OK this was the best. Again, Langan accomplishes what Stephen King does so well—mixes truly human, well-rounded characters with disturbing Otherness. King does this in middlebrow prose, making him our Dickens. Langan does it in gorgeous prose making him our Machen.

I was beginning to understand. Langan was taking on clichés and proving that in the hands of a master any story can be made to sing. We’ve got the vampire story (“The Wide Carnivorous Sky”), the zombie story, the Poe story, and the Cthulhu Mythos piece—and then to complete the pattern “The Revel.” This is perhaps the only werewolf story I’ve ever read and totally enjoyed. This piece is both highbrow metafiction—discussing werewolf stories and their psychology and a truly suspenseful tale about a werewolf. Like “The Wide Carnivorous Sky”, this piece demands film.

I was not as taken by the last novella “Mother of Stone.” It relies heavily on the disproved theories of Marija Gimbutas, which are used to explain a hidden sculptural tradition of making cursed headless statues that make waitresses drop plates, and pregnant women lose their heads. Langan handles his female protagonist well and has spot-on narrative strategy, but I feel this story falls short of some of the excellence in the rest of the book.

It is clear that Langan is raising the bar of writerly craft in horror writing. He is taking a popular form and giving the benefit of prose techniques in recent English literature. The book left my bathroom and is now in the bookcase with the glass doors. For those of you that have been to my home—the cases in the loft library. No you can’t borrow it.

 

—Don Webb

Enhanced by Zemanta

At Fear’s Altar

By Richard Gavin

$20.00; Trade Paperback, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61498-026-1

Hippocampus Press

 

Richard Gavin is probably the best horror writer in Canada, and his fictions show some Canadian concerns. A theme we can see in the work of Gemma Files, as well as David and Brandon Cronenberg is to take a character in a loving relationship and place them in some form of extreme metamorphosis and watch the interplay between love and horror, the familiar and the unknown. Gavin is a well-known member of the Lovecraftian school—particularly the branch of Ramsey Campbell and Thomas Ligotti. His latest collection, At Fear’s Altar, will serve to further his reputation.

 

AFA Gavin

This collection of thirteen tales, most of them excellent, is a welcome addition in the Lovecraftian genre, which sadly often has merely nostalgic rehashing of themes created by the master. Of the thirteen tales, the only weak entry is the opening tale “A Gate of Nerves” which attempts to collect the remaining tales in a meta-narrative, which is not addressed later in the book. However, the strong pieces in the collection are winners. “Chapel in the Reeds” combines the basic Lovecraftian theme of seeing what man was not meant to see and couples it with fears of old age and loss of competence. Gavin completes and extends the Lovecraftian world with his tale “Faint Baying from Afar” which is a follow-up tale to Lovecraft’s “The Hound.” His invocation of the horror and wonder of Satan in “A Pallid Devil, Bearing Cypress” is a wonderful tribute to Han Heinz Ewers, a macabre writer far too often overlooked in the English speaking world (HHE had the odd distinction of being one of the favorite horror writers of H. P. Lovecraft, Aleister Crowley and Adolph Hitler). “King Him” is a tale told by an unreliable narrator, who liv

STORY: ‘Escape from Psych Class’ by Shaun Lawton

Prelude Our professor regarded us from under a wiry shock of blond hair. He gripped a clipboard in his right hand, to which were attached his notes for this lecture. His voice, though a little raspy, was underlined with a fair amount of conviction. It held most of the classroom spellbound, though I suspected at… Continue reading STORY: ‘Escape from Psych Class’ by Shaun Lawton

STORY: ‘STRANGER THAN LIFE: A POST MORTEM’ by BRUCE MEMBLATT

  Craig Watson had no idea he was going to die that day. It was just yesterday when he and his wife walked down the same street. Janice was wearing the same skirt; the black one with the pleats. Crossing Ninth Avenue, because they parked on Tenth, Craig first spotted them out of the corner… Continue reading STORY: ‘STRANGER THAN LIFE: A POST MORTEM’ by BRUCE MEMBLATT