Jeremy Bates may be on to something here. At first I thought the "Scariest Places" shtick seemed kind of goofy, but boy does Bates put those places toJeremy Bates may be on to something here. At first I thought the "Scariest Places" shtick seemed kind of goofy, but boy does Bates put those places to good use. In the first installment, Suicide Forest, he conjures up a palpable sense of dread, but the characters kept on doing REALLY stupid things, seemingly only in the service of generating plot twists.
The good news is that this second installment, set in the labyrinthine tunnels of the Paris catacombs, feels more authentic. Most of the characters are experienced "cataphiles" -- urban explorers well equipped for the dangers of their passion. (Plenty of batteries, proper equipment, even something like a map.) The only noob is our narrator Will, an American who has come to Paris to recover from personal tragedy. When his alluring language-practice partner Daniele invites him to take a trip underneath Paris with her cataphile buddies to investigate the source of a disturbing found video shot in the tunnels, he goes along on what becomes a nightmare for the entire group.
Again, the location does a lot of heavy lifting - dark, endless, unmapped tunnels full of bones are pretty creepy to begin with - but Bates' descriptive skills bring you on an amazing virtual tour of the Catacombs that you're unlikely to get in real life. And it's not all just bones; along with our intrepid explorers, you'll discover deeply hidden rooms full of murals, or furnished with rotting antiques, even a purported Nazi bunker. But it wouldn't be a horror story without something lurking around the next turn, in the dark. The dark is also a big star in this show.
The details of that lurking fear I'll leave to you, but I will say the plot moves along at a galloping pace, and it's hard to put down once you've started. One thing I didn't love was the way POV chapters were handled. The switch from Will's POV (the primary one) to other, less central characters' felt jarring sometimes, but I'm not sure how the full story could have been told in the way it was without them. Barring that stylistic nitpick, I really enjoyed The Catacombs; it's a quick, atmospheric and suspenseful read. 4 stars. ...more
I'd love to write a really thorough review, but that's always difficult when it comes to an anthology. Overall, the stories were of high quality, thouI'd love to write a really thorough review, but that's always difficult when it comes to an anthology. Overall, the stories were of high quality, though as is also the case with most anthologies not all of them were up my alley. I'll settle for highlighting a few stories that really worked for me.
1) Clive Barker's "Coming to Grief" may be the most gut-wrenching, yet eerily calm, portrayal of bereavement I've read. This story of a middle-aged woman coming to terms with her mother's death is profoundly unsettling because it magnifies and foreshadows (or reminds us of), our own fear and guilt around the death of a loved one. (Is it wrong if I feel nothing? If it's a relief? If there's just a hole?) Here, Barker quietly defines death as "an unknowable nothing that was the space where life used to be," and that void is the real horror. Barker was an early favorite of mine -- "Hellraiser" was my first big screen horror movie, and the next day I went looking for The Books of Blood -- but I haven't read him in a long time. Nice to know he can still deliver a gut punch, especially of the subtler emotional kind.
2) "The One You Live With" by Josh Malerman is the story of a mother's warning becoming prophecy, a story which strikes me as uncannily perceptive about what it means to hide your true face, to cope with the eerie chasms that define and separate our various masks. She tells her young daughter that " . . . the older you get, the more the split is gonna grow, breaking up the two yous, until you hardly recognize the you you are when you're out of the house and the you you are when you're not. I think it's the best thing a person can do is to try and keep those two yous as close together as they can." While her warning's effects on her daughter are less salubrious than hoped, I personally found it to be excellent advice for staying sane-ish.
3) "Picking Splinters from a Sex Slave," by Brian Kirk, feels like reading The Girl Next Door, only with punchlines. This deeply disturbing story of a man whose missing-presumed-dead daughter is returned to him after several years of horrific torture at the hands of her captor is only endurable thanks to Kirk's deft use of pitch-black humor . . . but it treads a very sick line.
Other high points are Maria Alexander's "Hey, Little Sister," a family revenge tale; Paul Tremblay's literary Mobius strip "A Haunted House is a Wheel upon Which Some are Broken"; "On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes," Damien Angelica Walters' take on the damage done in teen bullying; and "When We All Meet at the Ofrenda," Kevin Lucia's weird little tale of one man's strategy for keeping his beloved family together.
All told, a solid 4.5. Nicely done, Mr. Murano....more
Full disclosure: I spent Halloween 2006 in Doolin, and all that happened was that I got a fabulous meal (a giant bowl of mussels in wine and garlic buFull disclosure: I spent Halloween 2006 in Doolin, and all that happened was that I got a fabulous meal (a giant bowl of mussels in wine and garlic butter, so big I couldn't finish it), a festive night at the pub* and a hideous hangover which pretty much prevented me from appreciating the stunning Cliffs of Moher at all the following day.
Largely as a result of the traditional music scene, today's Doolin is more of a destination (though there are still only three pubs) than when Ryan wrote Cast a Cold Eye. However, its position on the myth- and history-haunted west coast of Ireland makes for a superbly atmospheric setting, and Alan Ryan captures the paradoxical, uncanny attraction of the region as well as any Irish writer, barring Yeats. It's a classic romantic landscape, a land of "terrible beauty," as the great poet once wrote; the alien stretches of the Burren, the sweeping Atlantic vistas, the kindly but aloof locals, relentless sea and punishing weather combine to cast a compelling melancholy, not unlike the sound of uilleann pipes. The romantic shadow of Yeats hovers over the book's title as well, as it's taken from the great poet's "Under Ben Bulben," and reads in full "Cast a cold Eye / On Life, on Death. / Horseman, pass by." Also of note, these words are Yeats' self-chosen epitaph, etched into a headstone in a tiny, ancient Sligo churchyard.
Which brings us, fittingly, back to the grave, as Cast a Cold Eye opens on a damp, chilly night in an ancient burial ground, and it closes there as well. The tale in between concerns Jack Quinlan, a popular Irish-American writer who decides that a stay in the remote west of Ireland will be a boon to both his writing and his research on a book about the Great Famine. He obtains a house in Doolin for three months, and settles in to a pleasant routine of writing in the mornings and spending convivial evenings at the local pubs listening to traditional music. But before long, Jack begins experiencing visions of piteous, gaunt phantoms -- collapsed at the roadside, wandering the Burren, and even pacing his car in the dark Irish night. Are the isolation and research into the region's tragic past playing tricks on him, or is something darker afoot? The answer lies in a silence kept by four old men and the local priest, who tries to befriend Jack, in his way.
I'll say no more, except this secret, when it comes out, may not be at all what you think. In a way Cast a Cold Eye reminds me a bit of Thomas Tryon's very scary Harvest Home, in that the story's tension arises from newcomers engaging with ancient local traditions, whether purposely or not. Compared to today's extreme horror, it likely won't shock you too much, but it packs a deeply resonant mythic punch, especially stark and pagan when set against its very Catholic milieu. Hibernophile that I am, I adored this book, entrenched as it is in the very blood of Ireland's tragic past, and filled with the uncanny magic of its singular landscape.
Five well-earned stars. And I wish I could get a poster of that awesome new Valancourt edition. Anybody know the artist?
Grady Hendrix, whose unique talent is to amuse and disturb simultaneously, does it again in his newest pop culture / horror mashup, the account of a nGrady Hendrix, whose unique talent is to amuse and disturb simultaneously, does it again in his newest pop culture / horror mashup, the account of a nasty case of possession at an American suburban high school in the totally gnarly 1980s.
You might want to read Hendrix's books in actual book form, or the experience could lose some of its zing. Like the craftily designed Horrorstör, a haunted-house story about an IKEA-ish superstore whose packaging closely resembles a catalog from an IKEA-ish superstore, My Best Friend's Exorcism has its own charming physical schtick: it looks a lot a high school yearbook from the 1980s, and every chapter is titled with a radio classic of the era. (Loaded with black humor, that "playlist" includes "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "I Think We're Alone Now" as well as the obvious but always appropriate "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine.") Having attended a suburban high school in the 80s, I'm exactly the target demo for this book . . . and I can totally vouch for the bad hair, awesome music, and rampant demonic possession.
Seriously, though. This is the story of Gretchen, a (relatively) good girl going unpleasantly wrong after a blurry night of partying in the woods. It unfolds through the eyes of her BFF since childhood, the wry and increasingly horrified Abby. Entwined with the story of Gretchen's decline into corruption, Abby shares the history of their friendship, exposes the mean-girl cliquishness of high school, and makes a buttload of sassy pop culture references. If you're old enough to get the jokes, you'll laugh a lot. (Shout out to my Gen X peeps!).
I just realized that makes MBFE sound something like "Clueless" with less "barf me out!" and more more actual barf. Its sassy tone could fool you, but this is not a YA novel; even its humor is dark and disturbing, and also nobody wants to give teenagers any encouragement to be more violently crazy than they already are. Heavy on the body horror, splattery, squirmy, and sometimes pushing the yuck meter into the red, there's implied sexual violence, casually lethal cruelty and recreational drug and alcohol use. (view spoiler)[One disconnect I had with the plot had to do with the implication that casual drug experimentation led directly to Gretchen's possession-or-whatever. Partly, it's that it feels a little judgy and not tonally right for the book, which otherwise reflects how teenagers really behave when adults aren't looking. Also, it's an uninspired choice for the moment of infestation, since pretty much every book about demonic possession asserts drug use is one of the moral weaknesses that lets them take you. Like, duh.(hide spoiler)]. If you lived through, or at least heart the 1980s, adore pop culture trivia, and can stomach Gretchen's repulsive afflictions, you'll enjoy this totally gnarly novel. 4 solid stars . . . see spoiler above if you really want to know why it's not a 5 for me. Still, waaaaaay awesome!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Dreams from the Witch House is an altogether wonderful thing. The stories contained between its beautiful covers are of uniformly high quality, and DaDreams from the Witch House is an altogether wonderful thing. The stories contained between its beautiful covers are of uniformly high quality, and Daniele Serra's illustrations alone are worth the price of the paper edition. Together, editor Lynn Jamneck and Dark Regions press have created a weird gem. Highly recommended.
Way better than you might think with a title like that. Aokigahara is such a creepy setting that the story almost writes itself. Bates does a great joWay better than you might think with a title like that. Aokigahara is such a creepy setting that the story almost writes itself. Bates does a great job of bringing that visceral fear to the page; however his characters will insist on making any number of stupid decisions to generate plot twists. Still, I'm curious enough I might read the second installment. 3.5 stars - great atmosphere, but readers, prepare for the idiot ball to be passed repeatedly....more
Don't let the gauzy image on the cover or the dreamy title fool you: the stories in Meet Me in the Middle of the Air contain moments that made this seDon't let the gauzy image on the cover or the dreamy title fool you: the stories in Meet Me in the Middle of the Air contain moments that made this seasoned horror reader squirm. The collection also takes some clever, whimsical turns. Sometimes these things happen in the same sentence. If I don't get to writing a longer review of this book, I want to say two things here:
1) I'm thrilled to find yet another amazing author to add to my library of the literary weird. 2) "The Sparrow Mumbler" really sticks with you.
Okay, three things:
3) Going on my best of 2016 list right now....more