Graham's Reviews > The Mammoth Book of Terror

The Mammoth Book of Terror by Stephen Jones
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Mar 24, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: anthology, horror
Read in April, 2003 , read count: 1

I think Stephen Jones’s huge collections of themed horror stories sum up the best of modern short fiction. The Mammoth Book of Terror is no exception. Although this expansive anthology is more generally themed than others in the series, I found a common theme in the quality of the writing, the freshness of the storylines and the general enjoyment to be had from each and every tale.

THE LAST ILLUSION is a spellbinding opening to the collection, and a fine introduction to the intelligent works of Clive Barker. This novella is a gruesome cross between H. P. Lovecraft and Raymond Chandler, full of weird demons and ferocious imagination. I loved it.

BUNNY DIDN’T TELL US is one of David J. Schow’s better efforts. Some extremely dark humour enlivens the story of a couple of graverobbers tasked with an unpleasant job. I found it highly engaging, as is Dennis Etchison’s THE LATE SHIFT, an eerie, paranoid thriller full of subtle hints and clues building up to a monstrous mystery.

Another highlight is Hugh B. Cave’s MURGUNSTRUMM, an epic novella that marks the epitome of the 1930s pulp movement. An all-too-believable hero faces down a clan of vampires in a story filled with twists, surprises and fantastically written action. Suspenseful and atmospheric, I’ve never encountered anything like this before.

Of course, there will be more minor tales amid the stand-outs. Lisa Tuttle’s THE HORSE LORD uses the old chestnut of an ancient patch of cursed land, and is slightly repetitive to boot. I didn’t find it frightening in the least. Karl Edward Wagner’s THE RIVER OF NIGHT’S DREAMING makes use of the classic work of weird fiction, THE KING IN YELLOW, but diverts from traditional thrills to focus on sadism and sexual behaviour. I found it unpleasant rather than scary.

Well-established authors contribute some superior efforts. R. Chetwynd-Hayes is a bit of a hit or miss writer, but THE JUMPITY-JIM is one of his best efforts: a deeply unpleasant supernatural outing not dissimilar to the Graham Masterton novel, THE MANITOU. Ramsey Campbell’s OUT OF COPYRIGHT, a tale of revenge from beyond the grave against an evil publisher, of all things, is prosaic, chilling and delightful.

Still the good tales come. Basil Copper’s AMBER PRINT takes that old German silent classic, THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI, and weaves an uneasy, nightmarish tale around it without ever resorting to bloodshed. Brian Lumley’s THE HOUSE OF THE TEMPLE is a wonderful Lovecraftian effort about a hideous being living in the depths a pond. Robert Bloch’s THE YOUGOSLAVES might well be my very favourite of that author’s impressive body of work: witty and surprising, with a real level of danger that it’s rare to find in pulp fiction.

David Campton goes for another old pulp standby, the evil plant, in FIRSTBORN, adding an unpleasant sexual angle to the otherwise well-written hijinks. THE BLACK DRAMA, by Manly Wade Wellman, is a slow-paced exercise in creeping fear and mounting terror featuring his ‘psychic detective’, Judge Pursuivant. I loved it to bits. Less so the obtuse Charles L. Grant, whose CRYSTAL, about a cursed painting, is as flimsy and opaque as the other stories of his I’ve encountered. And the less said about F. Paul Wilson’s absolutely sickening BUCKETS, covering the topic of abortion, the better!

I first read THE SATYR’S HEAD in an old ‘70s anthology and I was delighted to see it included here. It’s perverted and repulsive, taboo breaking and hard to read at times, and must have been at the cutting edge of ‘70s horror fiction, because it still packs a punch even now. David A. Riley doesn’t disappoint with this story of a homosexual incubus.

JUNK, Stephen Laws’s junkyard-set horror, is rather predictable, but I liked it all the same. It plays a lot like Stephen King, except with a British angle to the style and writing. The setting is fresh, too. The last story in this mammoth collection is PIG’S DINNER, by novelist Graham Masterton. It offers grisly, gruesome gore and nothing else, and is written purely to test the strength of the reader’s stomach. Yuck.
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