Shawn's Reviews > The Year's Best Horror Stories Series IV

The Year's Best Horror Stories Series IV by Gerald W. Page
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Nov 11, 2008

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Read in January, 2009

This is the first of the Gerald Page edited YEAR'S BEST HORROR, taking over from Richard Davis and featuring "the Year's Best Horror" stories for 1974-1975 (the orig. publication dates make it unclear - more on that later). Mr. Page did the next 3 before turning it over the Karl Edward Wagner in 1980.

So, Horror circa 1974-1975? I have to admit, I'm intrigued by the period. Unfortunately, there's only one real winner in the entire batch, at least to my taste, with a couple of strong runners-up. What's striking here is the high level of dark fantasy, with the occasional funny horror and lashings of pulp. There are also some real head-scratchers like "And Don't Forget The One Red Rose" by Avram Davidson which is an excellent story but isn't anything like what you'd call horror unless you're applying that to the bright, witty little conte cruels of Roald Dahl mixed with some light "dark fantasy". And the long-winded-to-little-effect "A Question Of Guilt" by Hal Clement is supposedly a horror story because it posits a scientific origin for the myth of vampires, having to do with a couple trying to cure hemophilia in ancient Rome. Really! Not bad (I'd argue its overwritten, whatever the genre) but this should be in some science-fantasy collection. There's also an essay by E. Hoffmann Price about the then-brewing "Lovecraft controversy" attending two biographies being published. It all seems kind of silly now.

Blazing, cartoony, lurid pulp surges forth from Joe Pumilia's "Forever Stand The Stones", a story consisting of everything Robert Bloch did with Jack The Ripper crossed with Robert E. Howard and a Dr. Strange comic book of the era. It's not very good dark fantasy but it is fun in that kinda comic-booky way. "The House On Stillcroft Street" by Joseph Payne Brennan is a low-key, quirky slice of New England-iana developed on the resurgent old trope of engulfment. Okay but tepid, a higher grade of pulp. "Something Had To Be Done" by David Drake is an military monster story and "The Black Captain" by H. Warner Munn is a solid cut of a "weird tale" with all the fat pared away to nothing (the main character being accursed by some slithering monstrosity from an Aztec temple is treated as a short revelation near the climax). It's kind of neat in an experimental pulp way. Fritz Leiber's "The Glove" is just okay, a slasher/detective/psychological/ghost story story.

"Cottage Tenant" by Frank Belknap Long is Lovecraftian (that most overused of adjectives amongst horror fans) without containing a single Lovecraft reference, just a horror from the surf, a figure looming in the shadows, the smell of brine and rotting fish, an inquisitive child and Jungian psychology. It is an interesting oddity, although the start was confusing and the end a bit too pulpy. "The Recrudescence of Geoffrey Marvell" is a humorous pastiche of Germanic fairy tales by G.N. Gabbard. Enjoyable. "The Man With The Aura" by R.A. Lafferty is a little bit Richard Matheson dryness combined with some science fiction.

"White Wolf Calling" by C.L. Grant (I assume Charles L. Grant) is, in my opinion, a confusing mess of a story, but wins points for including a realistic family scenario. Arthur Byron Cover's "Lifeguard" does an excellent job of capturing a specific place and, more importantly, time (70's college stoner stuck a home for the summer) and even has an interesting germ of an idea but never illuminates the mechanics of the threat. It should have been longer, and I'd like to check out Cover's Autumn Angels someday. "No Way Home" by Brian Lumley is a little overwrought in getting around to its parallel worlds scenario (and only so much can be gotten away with "...I read science fiction as well") but the ending is nicely creepy, leaving a feeling akin to the ending of Stephen King's "The Mist".

The great story, the find of 1974-1975, is Ramsey Campbell's amazing "The Christmas Present" which is just a solid piece of inventive horror combining creepy turns of thought with terse, painterly prose and solid character stuff. Great atmosphere as well, this needs to be reprinted soon. A reading of it was supposedly broadcast on the BBC in 1969 (which again brings into sight the problems of a "year's best horror" comp. Wagner was much stricter, I believe, about making it "that *particular* year' horror").

So that's what you get. Let's see what Volume 5 offers, shall we?
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