Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reviews for the Week of January 16, 2017

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

TRIPLICITY: THE TERROR PROJECT BOOK 1 by Stacey Longo, Tony Tremblay, and Rob Smales (2016 Books and Boos Press / 274 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This collection of novellas features three very different stories and each one is worth your time.

In BRANDO AND BAD CHOICES by Stacy Longo, a selfish, sexually promiscuous woman finds herself in hell, but it's nothing like she'd imagined. The real torture is the boredom, and she meets an old high school friend who thinks they're being given a chance at redemption. But Stella's true fate arrives after meeting up with one of her nephews, when she is given a final chance to do right by him. As serious as the subject matter is, Longo sprinkles this with some well timed humor, but nothing that cheapens the chills.

STEEL by Tony Tremblay is an action-packed apocalyptic tale where all the adults have succumbed to a mysterious phenomena but a small group of teenagers survive in a shelter. They're threatened each night by lethal acid rain and during the day by a couple of bizarre creatures. Led by a strong girl named Steel, they eventually learn what has caused the end to come, and in a brutal showdown, her friend Fleet must make some difficult decisions. A violent, strange, and satisfying take on the end times theme.

Rob Smales' THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT is told through a lengthy email message, which actually describes events that went down over several years. A couple raising their newborn twin sons face some strange and spooky situations in the days leading to Christmas. Randy and his wife Beth become convinced someone (or something) is sneaking into their home at night and watching not only them but their twins as they sleep. Yeah, this one really gets the goosebumps going and had the feel of a classic-styled horror tale.

Three solid, satisfying novellas with a bonus end section where each author explains what inspired their story. Definitely check it out.

-Nick Cato

ALMOST INSENTIENT, ALMOST DIVINE by D.P. Watt (2016 Undertow Publications / 244 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

My first impression upon opening the envelope was “damn, this is a beautiful book!” For presentation alone, artistry and production value and design, it had major points in its favor before I even began to read.

Then I began to read, and found the contents to be equally, if not more, artistic and stunning. Now, I do review a lot of (and I say this with affection) schlock, grossness, nastiness, and trash … but I can also very much appreciate the literary delicacies, the fine and intricate examples of the craft. That’s what you get in ‘almost insentient, almost divine.’

The writing simultaneously has an old-fashioned feel and a modern freshness. It’s clean and clear and gorgeous, the kind of thing that in another author’s hands might come off as cloying or pretentious but here is satin-smooth. I read with equal parts fascination and admiration, with touches of “ooh I wish I’d done that” envy.

The stories themselves span several eras, with subtle undertones and interconnections particularly in the form of a disturbing puppet-figure. Some are hauntingly poetic, some the kind of nightmares in which you can’t say for sure just what was the scary part but the overall effect is deeply chilling.

I am not a fan of the term ‘literary horror,’ and calling it ‘highbrow horror’ seems even worse. But this is the kind of horror I could see someone really elegant and classy – my idol Dame Maggie, for instance – enjoying with her tea.

So, yes, top kudos to d.p. watt and everyone at Undertow for putting together a truly exquisite, breathtaking piece of work.

-Christine Morgan

ODD MAN OUT by James Newman (2016 Bloodshot Books / 150 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

After his church votes to ban the Boy Scouts when it's learned they no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation, Dennis thinks back to an incident he was involved with in 1989, which is where the bulk of this story takes place.

At the Black Mountain Camp for Boys, Dennis was reunited with his childhood friend Wesley who now happens to be gay. Once his secret is out, even the most laid back of the boys at the camp begin to show their dark side, and Dennis is forced into a situation nightmares are made of.

While quite violent at times, ODD MAN OUT's power lies in its ability to reveal the brutal nature of mankind, of intolerance, and of a mob mentality. As in some of his past stories, the author gives a fresh look at the nature of religion and forces the reader to confront their own ideas and prejudices.

Newman's latest novella is perhaps his most intense yet, and easily his most important. Don't miss it.

-Nick Cato

SCAVENGERS by Rich Hawkins (2016 Amazon Digital / 85 pp / eBook)

A weekend getaway with some people your wife knows from work … her bosses, in fact, with their toddler in tow … isn’t exactly Ray’s idea of a good time. He doesn’t know them. As a part-time store stocker and struggling novelist, he doesn’t have much in common with their more professional lifestyle.

As a couple who’ve been facing fertility struggles, being around someone else’s kids isn’t the most comfortable scenario, either. Not that little Molly is all THAT bad, but then, it turns out little Molly isn’t the one they’ll have to worry about.

The first sign of trouble is an abandoned car slewed across the road, and what bursts from the woods when Ray and Tim go to investigate. Ray’s no sooner found a lost toy in a puddle when the attack comes.

Needless to say, the vacation doesn’t exactly happen as planned. It’s death and carnage, a village with a secret, an adrenaline rush with a few sharp surprises, twists and turns and shocks along the way.

-Christine Morgan

DARK REACHES by Shaun Meeks (2016 CreateSpace / 372 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

One of the stories in this collection I’d seen before in an anthology and managed to successfully block from my traumatized memory until I spotted my own words from the review in the front ‘Praise For’ section.

Then it all came crashing back in full flinchworthy squicking eeeeeeek. You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I wussily gloss over mentioning “Taut” this time around. Eeeeek. The hooks.

Moving on! Please. Moving on. So! Other stories! Of which, there are many … and as promised in the title, they reach to some pretty dark places. There’s a lot of death here, and a lot of undeath, and a few different flavors of the end of the world.

I found “Dreams of a Dead Man” extra-enjoyable because way long ago, my first pro sale was a zombie story called “Dawn of the Living-Impaired” about zombie rights and social activism; this could have been the same world, from another, grimmer, more tragic point of view.

But if you prefer your zombies nastier, you can find the full horror of war in “The Soldier,” and the depths of human perversion and depravity in “Body Bag.”

“Give Me Convenience” is a fun, gory little romp, a bloodbath disaster in microcosm … while “The Cleansing” presents the repercussions of a full-scale breakdown of civilization. 

“Mommy’s Little Demon” turns out to be far from the wry twist on Rosemary’s Baby I expected, and “Family Lessons” is its own kind of agonizing.

And those are only a few of the offerings. You’ll also get a story from the author’s “Dillon, the Monster Dick” detective series, and possibly even a bonus icky surprise lurking like the post-credits scene at the movies.

-Christine Morgan

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top Ten Books of 2016 (Volume 2)

Our second TOP TEN list comes from staff writer Nick Cato, who adds, "I only read 37 books this year, which is less than half of my usual annual amount. But out of that batch these were my faves..."

10) CREEPING WAVES by Matthew M. Bartlett: Continuing the same vibe he created in GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION (2014) and THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS (2015), Bartlett brings us back to the mysterious town of Leeds, revealing more of it's dark history and mysterious residents. With glimpses into Leeds' personal ads, haunting phone calls, and the sense that nothing is at it seems, CREEPING WAVES is another excellent entry in Bartlett's growing occult series. Well written, scary, and completely absorbing, you'll surely be weary of turning your radio dial down to the lower numbers.

9) THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES by Tony Tremblay: Having read a couple of Tremblay's stories in anthologies, I was looking forward to his first collection, and the wait was well worth it. These 13 tales bring the chills in unique ways, and there are several surprises. This here's the real deal: serious horror and noir (with a touch of humor) that will surely win the author some new readers. Kudos to the brief introductions for each story.

8) SUBMERGED by Thomas F. Monteleone: A fast-paced action adventure/thriller with just enough Lovecraftian goodness to give it a horrific edge. While I hate to use a played out term such as "compulsive page-turner," there's really no other way to describe this as the close of each chapter forces you to read on. An all-around great read from one of the best in the business.

7) GORGONAEON by Jordan Krall: Like his FALSE MAGIC KINGDOM series, GORGONAEON is a dazzling, surreal, nightmarish head trip. Characters and events come in and out like a hazy daydream, and as things are eventually uncovered the author delivers some serious chills. Weird fiction just doesn't get any better than this.

6) RETURN OF THE OLD ONES: APOCALYPTIC LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR edited by Brian M. Sammons: I'm as tired of the "Lovecraftian" subgenre as I am of zombies, but editor Sammons has assembled a fantastic collection here, sectioned into three eras (before, during, and after the Old Ones return). One of the finest anthologies of the year regardless of your feeling toward the HPL Mythos trend. A great blend of veteran and newer authors.

5) BLISTER by Jeff Strand: Easily my favorite Strand novel since his 2006 thriller PRESSURE, this quirky creeper dealing with a man on a forced vacation who meets a hideously disfigured girl is as charming as it is bizarre. Wow. First time I ever referred to a horror novel as charming, but, hey...

4) THE SADIST'S BIBLE by Nicole Cushing: After blowing my mind last year with her incredible novel MR. SUICIDE, Cushing's follow up novella is every bit as disturbing, thought provoking, and eerie as you'd expect. Excellent.

3) STRANDED by Bracken Macleod: Arguably the scariest read of the year, MacLeod's arctic chiller brings both THE THING and SURVIVE! to mind yet has plenty of weird tricks up its sleeve. A genuine page turner highlighted by some spectacular prose.

2) A LONG DECEMBER by Richard Chizmar: Question: How many collections of this size (35 tales) can feature so many consistently solid stories? Answer: very few. A fantastic career-spanning door-stopper of a book you'll surely be revisiting.

1) THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS by Jason Arnopp: A perfect blend of horror and humor, paranormal and possession, with guest appearances from real life film directors and footnotes from the protagonist's brother, at times this feels like serious non fiction. Arnopp's novel was the most difficult for me to put down this year. So. Damn. Good.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Top Ten Books of 2016

Our first TOP TEN list this year comes from staff writer Jon R. Meyers. Here are his favorites from 2016:

10) WITCHING HOUR THEATRE by Jonathan Janz. I finished this one up just in time to make my top ten list of the year! This is a great book for not only fans of Horror Fiction, but of Horror Cinema as well. You get the best of both worlds in this little bloody gem of a horror book.

9) HOLLOW HOUSE by Greg Chapman. A dark and compelling modern day take on the classic haunted house tale. This book takes character driven storytelling to an all new level and then sells its soul to Satan for gas money.

8) CRAWLERS by Ray Garton. A digital re-release of a limited edition print long gone on the market until this year. Garton is an excellent and powerful storyteller, this time a tale about killer flowers planted by the government that roam around like giant spiders and wreak havoc on the small town of Mt. Crag.   

7) THE NIGHT CYCLIST by Stephen Graham Jones. A strange and obscure cycling duo of death that manages to pack a mean literary punch alongside a sack of chef knives. 

6) THE FISHERMAN by John Langan. This is a super dark, slow burning Literary Horror novel that bleeds magical darkness from all turns of the page. What’s to be expected inside? Black Magic, giant snakes, monsters, a mysterious lady corpse, an eerie man with giant hooks, and legend upon legend as the true story unfolds like an old fishing tale passed on from one fisherman to the next.

5) NOCTUIDAE by Scott Nicolay. In your face giant, flying beast with bubbles and beautiful multidimensional time travel that has the power to alter time and space, leaving the characters left to ponder life’s shallow existence in more ways than one. A truly powerful novella.

4) LAKE LURKERS by M.P. Johnson. The extremely talented and versatile author takes us on a hard hitting, fast bullet flying, heavy metal guitar slinging, action-packed adventure of our lives, while Tess plans for the biggest, baddest, and not to mention most expensive rager of all-time, as she puts an end to the blazing madness lurking from the lake across the street. This book was a lot of fun, you guys.

3) COMPANIONS IN RUIN by Mark Allan Gunnells. This is a must-read Horror Collection for any fan of Horror and Dark Fiction alike. Gunnells can craft a horrific tale alongside the best of them.

2) ECSTATIC INFERNO by Autumn Christian. Although this was released late last year from Fungasm Press, I didn’t get around to reading it until the beginning of the first of this year. Autumn Christian is a dark and highly creative magic machine that I would personally love to get to know better sometime. She manages to not only stay true to herself but to her fiction and art as well, leaving the reader stumped as to what exactly is going through her dark and twisted mind as she is writing such beautiful and equally tragic subject matter. The author shows us this sort of dependability time and time again with her innovative stories. Genuine creativity and originality can be found on every page in this dark and stellar collection.

1) ALTAR by Phillip Fracassi. Altar is an absolutely great and fantastic character driven tale of impending doom published by Dunhams Manor Press. Although the overall book is rather short, it is crafted and written so well it manages to deliver an unexpected depth. The characters are realistic to the point you can feel their own thoughts and emotions as they push the subtle story further into the deep end. We're instantly drawn into the lives of a family’s summer getaway to a community swimming pool located in the middle of a suburban hell, an aside from throwing on a blood red sheer terror soaked bikini that’s so dark it’s black. You may want to think twice before taking a dip and getting wet while having a little too much fun in the sun, because there is something much deeper, much darker lingering beneath the surface of it all.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Reviews for the Week of December 5, 2016

Note: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.


MONSTRUMFUHRER by Ed Erdelac (to be released 1/24/17 by Comet Press / 388 pp / eBook)

World War II Franken-Nazis? JA BITTE and YES PLEASE. I was all grabby hands all over this one, and I went in thinking I'd get something like the Dead Snow movies, all crazy fight scenes with tanks and machine guns and roaring unkillable monsters.

Now, there is some of that, no worries ... but the actuality proves MUCH deeper, MUCH more profound, a wrenching and tragic look at the horrors of war, tortured dynamics of father-and-son relationships, race and ideology, pride, belief, ambition, survival, philosophy, brotherhood, the very nature of humanity and life, and the darkest insights into our collective psyches.

Ed Erdelac once again proves a master of historical fiction, as well as seamlessly blending literature into reality. Suppose the events in Frankenstein had actually happened? The experiment, the Creature, the final doomed Arctic confrontation? And suppose that Victor Frankenstein's journal eventually made its way into the wrong hands? Into the worst possible hands? Into Josef Mengele's hands?

The story itself is told from the point of view of Jotham, a young Jewish boy hiding out with his twin brother in the attic of a sympathetic neighbor ... where he discovers the very letters written by the ship captain of the polar expedition who met Frankenstein in the far north. The boys, caught and taken to Auschwitz, are placed in a special barracks where studies are being done upon twins. Studies led by Mengele.

Jotham's intelligence and facility with languages brings him to the doctor's personal attention, and he's chosen to become the doctor's errand boy. That the two of them, with their unique knowledge of and interest in the Frankenstein lore, should cross paths ... well, it's a coincidence so staggering it's only excusable because the characters themselves end up remarking upon and marveling at it.

Their goals, however, are very different. Mengele wants to create the unstoppable super-army, Jotham wants revenge and to end the Nazi threat. But, for each, the path to success seems to be finding out whether or not the original Creature -- a century and a half later -- might still be alive. If so, can the Creature be found? Persuaded to take sides?

The answer to at least one of those questions is 'yes,' but at what cost? How far, literally as well as figuratively, will Jotham go?

MONSTRUMFUHRER is not the feel-good read of the year by any means. It forces confrontation with many of the most uncomfortable topics there are, blurs the lines of good and evil, presses a chilling touch to several nerves, thrums with dark symbolism, and is just altogether a jaw-droppingly outstanding piece of work.

-Christine Morgan

REUNION by Dan Foley (2016 Grinning Skull Press / 264 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Ryan Lowell receives an invitation to attend his 50th high school reunion to be held in October of 2014. He hasn't been back to his small home town in years, and the invitation sparks memories of why.

REUNION flashes back to 1956 when Ryan and his best friend Bran confronted a deadly creature that lived in their local swimming area, and also to 1939, when police officer Dave Longo dealt with the same creature's parent. He had help defeating it then, but in 1956 he ends up going after it on his own.

Foley mainly shifts between the two decades, and while the 2014 segments are brief, everything builds up nicely to Ryan's inevitable battle with yet another creature, which we learn is an American Indian legend known as an "Oniare," a snake like, 10-foot long reptilian beast with rows of jagged teeth and skinny arms that end in razor sharp claws. It seems this intelligent creature is driven to find hosts for its offspring, and nothing works better than human bodies...

This is a well written, fast paced read (I blasted through it in one sitting), and a fine bet for fans of the underwater monster subgenre. Those looking for surprises may be a bit disappointed, as REUNION is a straight-ahead, no-frills monster mash. But Foley's characters are engaging enough to make the familiar story interesting, and the creature itself is a creepy, slick blend of ANACONDA and ALIEN. One funeral scene in 1956 is genuinely heartbreaking, and helps us to cheer on Ryan's final confrontation in the modern day.

For monster fanatics, and also a great beach read next summer. Just make sure you don't sit too close to the shore line...

-Nick Cato

HOLLOW HOUSE by Greg Chapman (2016 Omnium Gatherum / 226 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is the first book I’ve read by the author and it won’t be the last. HOLLOW HOUSE packs a rather dark punch with a very different take on the classic haunted house tale. It is innovative, hip, fresh, new and modern in all the right ways. Chapman truly is an excellent storyteller and writer. He tackles a rather hard obstacle here by utilizing a mass character-driven concept that takes his story to an all new level. I believe there is somewhere around fifteen well-constructed characters complete with their own stories, centering their focus around one large story. The author does an exceptional job with these characters, too. They are well thought out and believable. They are loveable, hateable, fun, heroic, dark, suicidal, and demented. We get an honest and true feel for each and every one of them.

The tale immediately takes us to the strange house at the corner of Willow Street. There’s a putrid scent coming from the old gothic style home and it has the entire street fearing for their lives and worked up in quite a tizzy. The Kemper House, built by Eric Kemper in 1886 is truly one of a kind (or is it?) with as much character and surprise as one might imagine from an abandoned house rumored to be haunted. And where is that smell coming from and why? Does anybody even live there anymore? That’s what Ben Traynor, a neighboring reporter from the local gazette wants to know, going at dangerous measures to figure out the mystery, not to mention type up another award winning front page article. But, the cops? They can’t quite seem to figure it all out either. All we know is there’s a body inside. There’s no signs of forced entry, and, the victim (deceased and unidentifiable) appears to have sliced his own body up beyond recognition. The only statement on record is that the crime is just as heinous as it is horrific, and they’re looking into signs of the occult and foul play.

The story keeps you on the edge of your seat as the plot thickens and more bodies disappear. There are ghosts, demons, a strange cult, and even the beast himself in this one. Pay attention. The killer may be a lot closer than you think.

Recommended for fans of Horror, Dark, and Weird Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

BONESPIN SLIPSPACE by Leo X. Robertson (2016 Psychedelic Horror Press / 70pp / trade paperback)

So, a book arrives unexpectedly in my mailbox. I knew nothing of it or its author; I had no idea what it was about or what I was in for. Psychedelic cover, from Psychedelic Horror Press. All things considered, that sure did set the stage.

The title -- BONESPIN SLIPSPACE -- may upon first glance seem incomprehensible, even nonsensical. Yet, sneakily, insidiously, the title is a perfect description. The interior illustrations, stark black/white/grey and bold shapes, initially give the impression of almost coloring-book simplicity, but upon closer inspection prove both creepy and surreal.

What's it about? Y'know, that's hard to say, and even if I somehow could say, I don't think I would. I get the idea it's different for everyone, the way a funhouse hall of mirrors is different for everyone, reflecting back what you take in with you.

The nearest I can attempt to explain it is ... imagine if the Marquis de Sade threw a party at Hotel California, in Hell.

When Ollie invites his friends Rudy and Tammy to this exclusive event at mysterious Blackburn Manor, he does so with the best of intentions, even though he should know as well as anybody how things go ... the sex, the torture, the depravity. But even Ollie has no idea what ultimate fate is in store for them ...whether it's a fate worse than death or not is impossible to determine, but it is certainly a fate weirder than death.

Forget mind-bending ... this is a mind-twisting read, this is a mind-corkscrew, this is mind-macrame, unraveling and re-knotting with greater complexity at every turn of the page.

-Christine Morgan

CRAWLERS by Ray Garton (2016 RGB Publishing / 100pp / eBook)

This book was originally published in 2006 by Cemetery Dance Publications as a signed Limited Edition Hardcover and since then has been out of print. So, I was super excited to hear that it was just recently re-released as an eBook so I could finally check it out for myself. It was definitely worth the wait. This book is awesome!

Think of some of those old black and white B-Rated Horror flicks. Or, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Mosquito (one of my favorites), maybe even Mars Attacks! for example. But, instead of killer tomatoes, annoying squawking aliens, and giant blood sucking proboscis’, picture a test run on potential world domination, global takeover by evil black suits, a government conspiracy disguised as a meteor shower, said suits spraying mystery fog onto your front lawn, to wake up and find a bunch of strange flowers everywhere. It’s the talk of the town. They are literally everywhere. Flowers that kill, that is! They eventually pop off their stems and turn into vicious brain suckers, attaching onto the forehead of its victims before tapping into their brain piece and controlling them to congregate and do terrible things together.

The small town of Mt. Crag has never seen such a sight for sore eyes. Thank goodness the country folks there keep enough guns and ammunition on hand to put up a good fight. But, is it enough for the killer flowers crawling around their town? Is the world doomed once and for all? I guess you’ll have to read it for yourself and find out. Garton keeps his prose short, sweet, and straight to the point in this one, making it a true page turner and a doomsday masterpiece that has enough power to withstand the hands of time.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers


BODY ART by Kristopher Triana (to be released 12/15/16 by Blood Bound Books / 207 pp / eBook)

And here I thought, silly me, I'd be getting a story about tattoos, maybe piercings ... wow, was I ever wrong! At least I caught on quick; hard not to when the first sentence of the prologue is a guy stitching corpse-parts together in a quest for perfect beauty.

This is way more. This goes far further. Then further still. Then, right when you're sure it's reached the absolute limit, the door gets kicked off the hinges because baby you ain't seen nothin' yet. Soon, a little Frankensteinian patchwork necrophilia seems mild by comparison.

We are talking serious hardcore extreme messed-up-to-the-max stuff here. The mortician piecing together his ideal woman will eventually discover his art has gone beyond taking on a life of its own. A filmmaker recruits a famed but aging porn queen for his underground fetish film, with no idea what they're really getting themselves into. Even the neighbors who sneak over for a peek get drawn into the maelstrom of unholy perversity.

Not much is off-limits. About every sex act you can imagine (and several nobody ever should!) make their appearance within these pages, as well as acts of torture, mutilation, cannibalism, dismemberment, defilement, humiliation, bloodlust, and sheer monstrous inhumanity.

So, being warped as I am, I enjoyed it greatly even if I was doing my patented flinch-and-squick routine most of the time. Definitely going to look for more from this author, who's definitely poised for a place alongside the likes of Wrath James White and Monica J. O'Rourke.

-Christine Morgan

MANIA by Lucas Magnum (2016 Doom Kitten Press / 103 pp / eBook)

The notion of a cursed book is nothing new ... and we've had our lore of unlucky theatrical productions (Scottish Play, anyone?) ... evil video tapes ... curses on the production set or later smiting the cast and crew of films ... but a cursed script, the very script/screenplay itself, makes for an interesting twist-take on the subject.

The only other thing close I can think of offhand is of course "The King in Yellow," in its mysterious and maddening vague oblique strangeness, while the story-behind-the-story of Mania is more direct. A Hollywood legend of an anonymous screenplay, itself telling the tragic tale of a nameless murdered actress, but it's never been successfully filmed. Previous attempts all ended badly, with breakdowns and deaths.

Now, though, cult/indie director William Ward has gotten his hands on the script. He thinks it might help him escape the long shadow of his movie-mogul father's legacy, make his own mark. He feels a connection to the main character and wants to see the movie finally made.

He also doesn't believe in curses. They never do, do they? Not until it's too late. The first few incidents get passed off as coincidence, nobody wants to talk about the weird experiences they've had. Once Ward DOES believe, his only hope is to find a way to break the curse before it claims him and his leading lady as its next victims.

A solid, fun, and engaging read ... which, ironically enough, would make a neat movie ...

-Christine Morgan

CONTROL by Ed Kurtz (2013 Nightscape Press / 308 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Lulled by THE FORTY-TWO's gritty starkness and the lush noir decadence of ANGLE OF THE ABYSS (see earlier reviews), I moved on to the next in my stack of Ed Kurtz books without initially realizing this one didn't have anything to do with movie-making, movie-houses, or the ephemeral dreams of the silver screen.

BUGS IT'S BUGS OH MY GOD *squicky bugdance* eew eew creepycrawly all the bugs! Except, wait, it's more than bugs. It's bugs and fungus, it's infestation, it's those weird rain forest zombified ants and stuff you read about, from the fuming fecund jungles where people shouldn't go.

But people do go, and people bring things back. Things for which other people, who should know better, might pay lots and lots of money. Everybody needs a hobby, after all. Leon's hobby is collecting bugs. Scorpions, millipedes, spiders. Sorry to be specist; I know there are differences between insects and arachnids and all that, but bugs is bugs is bugs.

Leon's latest acquisition, unbeknownst to him, includes a special bonus: a freaky green spore-thing that does what freaky green spore-things do. It grows, it spreads, it contaminates, it eventually kills all the little multi-legged creepycrawlies with which it makes contact.

The effect it has on Leon himself, however, proves unusual. He discovers he can bend the will of others, force them to obey his every command. To a guy who's a loner and a loser and an outcast, this sudden power is a twisted dream come true. The job he hates, everyone who's bullied him, the girls he's never dared talk to ... well, all that's about to change.

Probably it's weird of me, but I was relieved when the story moved away from the bug stuff to the human atrocity stuff, though I was still in for a few squicky bug-related shocks along the way, eew eew eew. The human atrocities are no slouches in the flinch department either, let me assure you, and several characters memorably demonstrate that we're often enough the real monsters even without any fungal spore-thing assists.

-Christine Morgan


THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW wishes you a happy holiday season and a GREAT new year. See you in early 2017!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Reviews for the Week of November 21, 2016

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. We're serious. Read it. Or you will be confused as to why we haven't answered your email / FB message / tweet. Seriously. READ IT. Thank you...

CREEPING WAVES by Matthew M. Bartlett (2016 Muzzleland Press / 272 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Continuing the same vibe he created in GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION (2014) and THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS (2015), Bartlett brings us back to the mysterious town of Leeds, revealing more of it's dark history and mysterious residents.

For those not in the know, a radio station (WXXT) lures people to Leeds with its strange broadcasts. And once there, hapless visitors are confronted with everything from devil worshippers to flying leeches to a woman who sells the most unusual of books. The short chapters in CREEPING WAVES latently introduce us to some of the town's more infamous figures and historical events, and several are nothing short of terrifying. And while Bartlett uses some dark humor at times, there's a real sinister feel to everything, even when we think he's going for an all-out laugh.

Among my favorites here are 'Baal Protects the King (Part 1)', where a young priest discovers Leeds' ancient evil; 'The Egg,' in which a new chicken farmer brings an unusual egg into his home and the violent affects it has on his family; 'Rangel,' where a man, continually haunted by the disappearance of his younger sister, returns to Leeds after moving to the west coast: this one really got under my skin. Finally, 'The Massachusetts State Trooper' is a prime example of the author's bizarre style of horror, unsettling and as eerie as it gets.

With glimpses into Leeds' personal ads, haunting phone calls, and the sense that nothing is at it seems, CREEPING WAVES is another excellent entry in Bartlett's growing occult series. Well written, scary, and completely absorbing, you'll surely be weary of turning your radio dial down to the lower numbers.

-Nick Cato

SIX SCARY STORIES edited by Stephen King (2016 Cemetery Dance Publications / 200 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

When you ask Stephen King to judge a competition, ask him to select a winner from the six best stories narrowed down by experienced literary types, from a field of hundreds of submissions ... when you say, okay, Steve, here's our top six, now you pick ONE ...

Well, we're talking Stephen-freakin'-KING here, people. He did what they wanted, he picked one, but he also deemed the other five just too damn good to leave behind. And, being a guy with a certain degree of influence, certain connections, certain heft, he was readily able to find a publisher willing to take on the task.

I'm glad he did, because they really are pretty good. The book itself is a slim, sleek, lovely thing, which is available both in trade paperback and luxurious hardcover. The introduction offers a tantalizing glimpse behind some industry scenes as to how the competition and end result came about.

As for the stories themselves, well, in the introduction, Mr. King makes a point of mentioning how he doesn't want to say too much about them, give too much away. So, I won't either, but will try to provide a teensy teaser for each:

'Wild Swimming' by Elodie Harper, the winning tale, opens the book and is told in the form of a series of emails from a young woman whose adventuresome sport/hobby brings her to a lake perhaps best left undisturbed.

In 'Eau-de-Eric,' by Manuela Saragosa, a widowed mother isn't sure what to do about her daughter's attachment to a disturbing new stuffed animal.

'The Spots' by Paul Bassett Davies, provides an interesting examination of duty, loyalty, blindness, cognitive dissonance, and perception.

'The Unpicking' by Michael Button was my personal favorite of the bunch, a nasty-chilling little take on what toys get up to while the household sleeps.

'La Mort De L'Amant' by Stuart Johnstone, has a rustic, tragic feel with unsettling undertones and better-unanswered questions that linger long after the story's done.

'The Bear Trap' by Neil Hudson finishes things off with the grim tale of a kid left on his own to look after the place until his father returns, though it's sure been a long time.

-Christine Morgan

THE NIGHT PARADE by Ronnald Malfi (2016 Kensington Press / 384 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

THE NIGHT PARADE takes us to the end of times on a hot pursuit, doomsday kind of ride alongside David and his unique daughter, Ellie. They’ve got six hundred bucks, a change of clothes, and a handgun in a duffel bag in the backseat, not to mention what may be the only key left to saving the world. At first it seems like David has kidnapped his daughter and is on the run from her Mom, but if you stick with it a little bit longer, there are much stranger things going on.

There is a nasty virus spreading, Wander’s Folly. Although, a cheesy name for such a dreadful virus, one causing a worldwide epidemic, it definitely isn’t something to mess around with. It has already killed all the birds. And nobody knows exactly how the Folly is spread. We only know that one doesn’t want to catch it because it makes it's recipients go mad, a disease of the mind, a constant state of nightmarish hallucinations so real that you believe them, not to mention it's accompanied by terrible headaches, nosebleeds, and once infected you are entirely unable to decipher dream from reality.

We eventually find out David didn’t kidnap his daughter. He’s just a loving dad in fear of the government taking her away from him like they did his wife. Ellie, too, finds this out after overhearing it on the news at a diner by accident, her Mom is dead, but something doesn’t add up. On the news they said it was a suicide and they (David and Ellie) are now on the most wanted list for questioning. Innocent fugitives on the run. But, why you ask? They didn’t kill her. And David knows for a fact that she didn’t commit suicide. It’s all just part of a big cover up. The doctors drained her and made her weak during extensive testing. A simple blood test resulted in her demise and the fact that she was immune to the Folly. She may have been the only key on this planet to cure it. After she passes we discover Ellie has the same rare blood as her mom. The doctors, feds, and hazmat suits won’t stop for anything until they catch them. Ellie also discovers around this time that she has new found superpowers. She can heal and control people’s emotions, pulling out the bad and replacing it with good. She has had her powers ever since she can remember and they’re getting stronger by the minute. Will David be able to keep his daughter safe from the powers that be and their extreme medical testing before he too gets sick and dies from the Folly like the rest of the world?

I guess you’ll have to read it for yourself and find out.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any fans of Horror and Science Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

ISLAND RED by Matt Serafini (2016 Severed Press / 222 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I picked this one up with the idea it'd be your basic summer vacation gorefest creature feature, nightmares in paradise as something ravenous from the deep chows down on an endless buffet of bikini-babes and stubborn tourists who paid too much to listen to advice about avoiding the beach.

The way the book starts off, with a young couple going for a sexy moonlight swim despite a grim warning from the grizzled one-eyed old-timer, certainly supports that anticipated narrative ... you just know an aquatic terror is about to show up ...

Which it does, in the form of a large frilled shark, but by the time the shark makes the scene, our sexy young couple are already dead. Burnt and blackened, char-broiled, sizzling crispy critters. And the shark, who'd only been doing the natural thing of investigating a potential free cooked meal, finds itself a sudden victim, the unwilling but helpless host to a far more malevolent entity.

So, as if the basic primal fear of being eaten by sea monsters isn't enough, it gets worse. Several other basic primal fears are added to the mix -- infection, possession, parasitic takeover, loss of control. Not to mention being isolated on a remote island (with a hurricane bearing down, of course), the confusion and panic, trapped desperation, and not-unjustified paranoia brought on by a huge circling dead-black warship.

All this, plus the human drama elements, as the enforcer for a ruthless crime boss has been given one last chance, and a divorced dad tries to rebuild his relationship with his teenage son, and a missing young woman's secrets threaten to expose several sleazy truths.

And there I'd been, expecting a simple SyFy formulaic chomp-o-rama ... to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement, because not only did ISLAND RED give me a wild action-thriller-mystery ride, it also proved to be damn well written. A little choppy in places, maybe, with some abrupt transitions and some elements left unexplained or lost in the shuffle, but with that much going on, at such a cranked-up pace, it's easy to forgive.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC (Issue No. 54)

This issue's fiction is comprised of three novelettes and one short story, kicking off with Steven J. Dines' 'Perspective,' which uses various points of view to tell the tale of Emily, a woman who has lost her sight as a result of stress that became too much for her in light of dealing with a stalker. The sections told from the person who raped Emily when she was a teenager are especially unsettling, and Dines does a fine job making us feel both Emily's blindness and her husband David's growing frustration as he deals with her handicap both mentally and physically.

Julie C. Day's 'A Pinhole of Light' is quite a unique ghost story: In an attempt to speak with his late wife, photographer Geir discovers a way to communicate with the dead by developing photographs on his skin (trust me, it sounds out there but it works). Geir's system comes at a price, which not only leaves him completely drained, but bothers his young daughter Jenny, who is busy painting a mural on her bedroom wall with her uncle Peter. She hopes it will take her father's mind off his wife and inspire him to abandon his occult practice. The shortest tale of the issue, yet the most epic in scope.

In Ralph Robert Moore's 'Not Everything Has a Name,' A tall man named Ben meets Tommy and Sheila at a bar, and after a game of pool, he winds up taking Sheila home with him. Ben's a bit older than her, and also a widower. Moore gives this the feel of a classic noir story, but at the halfway point nothing is as it seems and the conclusion will surely surprise most readers.

I'm not one for werewolf stories, but Malcolm Devlin's 'Dogsbody' is a fresh look at them. Gil, who had been part of a group who were infected with a lyncanthropic virus, became a werewolf for only a few hours. But it has changed his life in ways far worse than the physical transformation. Devlin's tale focuses more on the aftermath of Gil's incident and offers much thought into the nature of mankind itself. While all four stories this issue are excellent, this was easily my favorite.

Opening non fiction columns by Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker will get your blood flowing (especially Volk's piece on violence in the genre), and Peter Tennant delivers an insightful interview with Damien Angelica Walters after his usual barrage of book reviews, this time focusing on Lovecraftian anthologies. Gary Couzen's dvd/blu-ray reviews cap the issue, and as much as I follow the genre I had no idea the classic giallo film 'The Bloodstained Butterfly' had been released from Arrow Films. Thanks, Gary, for helping to shrink my wallet!

You're still not reading BLACK STATIC? Correct that right here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato


Monday, November 7, 2016

Reviews for the Week of November 7, 2016

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

ANGEL OF THE ABYSS by Ed Kurtz (2014 Dark Fuse / 322 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Technically, the noir era was more 1930s/1940s, and this book is set during the early 1920s and modern day, but something about it feels steeped in noir throughout. It's brooding and sensuous, dark and fraught, turbulent, forbidden, laden with cold-smoldering intrigue.

Plot-wise, it's about a silent film, a movie called Angel of the Abyss, its subject matter taboo and controversial even as it's being made. For lovely young actress, Grace Baron, it might be her big break. For director Jack Parson, it's a chance to make a statement. For others in the industry, it could mean trouble.

Fast-forward nearly a hundred years, and Angel of the Abyss has become long-lost and semi-legendary, all but unknown except to the most dedicated experts and aficionados. Rising star Grace Baron vanished under suspicious circumstances, one of those enduring Hollywood mysteries to this day.

When film restorer Graham gets a call out of the blue from the nice ladies of the Silent Film Appreciation Society, who've found a surviving reel and want him to work on it, he can't resist the chance. Nor can his wayward devil-may-care buddy Jake resist tagging along.

Of course, there are still people who don't want the movie to be restored, people who will go to any lengths to keep it lost. Even (dramatic music) murrrr-der. Graham and Jake learn that the hard way, but by then they are in too deep to just walk away.

The historical segments are particularly handled with a beautiful believability and skill, a time-travel experience through Prohibition and other issues of the time. I found it an engrossing, hypnotic, fascinating read.

-Christine Morgan

THE WINTER TREE by Alison Littlewood (2016 White Noise Press / 24 pp / limited edition chapbook)

"Whatever is the matter?" she said.
"Nothing my dear," I replied, unfortunately at that moment removing my hand to reveal the pale grey kid of my glove crimsoned with a drop of blood.

Littlewood's turn of the century (sort of) ghost story is a haunting look at a man who believes he has married the wrong woman. We're not sure if protagonist Arthur Geddes is slowly losing his mind due to his recent revelation or if he's being hit with a wave of guilt in the wake of his mother's passing. Either way, THE WINTER TREE is a quick and satisfying read that asks us to draw our own conclusions.

As always, White Noise Press delivers an absolutely beautiful book collectors will want, highlighted by Keith Minnion's artwork and snazzy end papers.

Grab one here while you still can: The Winter Tree

-Nick Cato

LARRY by Adam Millard (2014 Crowded Quarantine Publications / 242 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Everything I've read by Adam Millard has been an absolute delight, a real kick in the head, witty and hilarious, winking-sly fun. In this one, he takes on the slasher genre, to terrific effect.

Thirty-some years ago, when the whole concept of crazed killers butchering horny teenagers was just starting out, a guy with a pig mask and a hatchet carved his way through Camp Diamond Creek. His bloody reign of terror only ended when one final girl sprung all these new rules on him, and left him to burn to death.

Well, presumably. We all know how that goes. Pigface survived, but retired. Hung up his mask and his ax. He's been living with his crone of a mother ever since, both of them getting older and older and more and more infirm. Now Pigface, a.k.a. Larry, is feeling the urge for a last killing spree before he's too decrepit.

It just so happens that a new group of horny teenagers is about to descend on the camp. Which hasn't aged well either, but still offers plenty of opportunities for underage drinking and romantic romps ... and various creatively messy ends.

No stone is left unturned in terms of homages. Tropes are troped, stereotypes are played with. A must-read of epic hilarity, while taking on our society's very real fears of aging and the struggle of trying to keep up with the times.

-Christine Morgan


STARR CREEK by Nathan Carson (to be released 11/15/16 by Lazy Fascist Press / trade paperback)

Just lately, with nostalgia running high, anything set in the 1980s is going to draw inevitable comparisons to STRANGER THINGS, so I might as well get it out of my system. STARR CREEK is like STRANGER THINGS all grown up and wack out of its mind on drugs.

It's rural 1980s Oregon rolled in LSD, a cavalcade of weirdness that opens with a dog-food-eating contest and escalates so rapidly that by the time you get to the really out-there stuff, you kind of just have to take it in stride.

Let me tell you, though, there's a lot of out-there stuff, and it's pretty brain-bending to say the least. The bit with the dog food (which I'd had the, uh, let's go with 'pleasure' of hearing the author read from on a couple of occasions) is a gorge-clenching piece of work to be sure, and it's only the warm-up; it's one of the most normal parts of the whole book.

Fittingly enough, the kibble competition features a guy called Puppy, whose family tends toward the casual when it comes to names, as well as things like, oh, say, schooling, hygiene, the law, and incest taboos. Puppy's not popular, and he's also not someone to cross. But, even Puppy isn't ready for the convergence of events headed Starr Creek's way.

Packed to the rafters with tripping teens, backwoods rednecks, biker gangs, hippie communes, meddling kids, and kooky cultists of various description ... a meander down a psychedelic memory lane of Dungeons and Dragons, heavy metal music, classic arcade games and television ... with nods and winks at everything from Lovecraft to E.T. ... yeah, STARR CREEK will take you places, whether you were an 80's kid or not!

-Christine Morgan


CEMETERY DANCE (Issue #74/75)

Headed by incredible cover art courtesy of Vincent Chong, this double-sized Joe Hill special issue is packed to the gills with great fiction and feature articles.

After an excerpt from Hill's novel THE FIREMAN, we're treated to an all-new novella titled SNAPSHOT, 1988 (also by Joe Hill), about a man recalling his younger days as an overweight nerd who spent much time with his elderly nanny, then helped her in his teen years as she became the target of a strange man whose Polaroid camera robs people of their memory. Powerful stuff and part of a forthcoming 4-novella collection.

As for the rest of this issue's fiction offerings:

-THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT by Lisa Morton: A best selling author meets a rich family she wrote about. She falls in love with one of their sons and discovers an ancient family curse. Creepy, classic styled horror.

-MATTER by Josh Malerman: A young boy roots for his aunt, who is convinced she has found a way to walk through walls. Brief yet effective.

-BAD LUCK by K.S. Clay: Crazed man enters veterinarian's office requesting his cat be euthanized. Not due to illness, but a curse. A tight little suspense yarn.

 -SEED by Erinn L. Kemper: A social worker is recruited by a most unusual family.

-AUTOPHAGY by Ray Garton: An all too real political/social commentary ... with monsters. One of the best of the issue.

-THE BLUE HOUSE by Bruce McAllister: A mysterious house and a young girl who hangs around it provide life changing events for a young summer ranch hand.  A beautifully told ghost story.

-THE LAZARUS EFFECT by JG Faherty: Twin God-fearing brothers head a group of survivors during a zombie plague. A fresh, religious take on a tired subgenre.

-INDIA BLUE by Glen Hirschberg: A young San Bernadino man is hired to work the PA for a new cricket league at an old sports arena. A cricket legend known as The Destroyer is among the small crowd of spectators in Hirschberg's wonderfully weird entry. This would make one hell of a midnight movie.

-EYES LIKE POISONED WELLS by Ian Rogers: A private investigator is hired by a rich man to locate a rare missing sword that has been stolen from his estate. But the PI becomes the target of his employer's rage. A well done creature feature.

Among the non fiction features:

-A nice interview and history of Joe Hill's fiction by Bev Vincent and Peter Crowther.

-Thomas Monteleone with another great column, this time even extra ballsy (if you can believe that!) as he explains his distaste over the new WFC award.

-Michael Marano looks at 3 recent blockbuster films and gives his two cents on why he believes they're stroke jobs.

-Mark Sieber on how NOT to sell books at a horror convention.

-An excellent interview with publisher Paul Goblirsch of Thunderstorm Books.

-Bev Vincent, Richard Chizmar, and Stewart O'Nan revisit King's PET SEMATARY.

-Plenty of book reviews including two feature-length reviews by Bev Vincent.

I wouldn't mind every issue of CD being a double issue so long as it holds the same quality as this one, that's as beautiful to look at as it is to read. Seriously...this thing's a real gem for any horror fan's shelf.

Grab your copy here (in 2nd printing trade edition or limited signed hardcover): Cemetery Dance Issue 74/74

-Nick Cato