Monday, February 16, 2015

Reviews for the Week of February 16, 2015

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

THE BELL WITCH by John F.D. Taff (2013 Books of the Dead Press / 266 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Something about phrases like “based on actual events” in anything with a modern setting … hauntings, possessions, other such ‘paranormal activities … rarely fill me with confidence. Yet, give me the same thing with a historical setting, where decades or centuries have had a while to build up the legend-making and mystique, and I’m all for it.

Maybe it’s the weight of time, the enduring power of folklore and just what hangs on to linger in the psyche of successive generations. The ones that are good, gripping, and compelling are the ones that hang around. Or maybe I’m just a history geek. Either way. The Bell Witch, a fictionalized account of a American ghost story, hits the right notes of tradition and nostalgia.

That said, my being a history geek DID give me a few stumbles here and there on this one, mostly in terms of what’s described as frontier life in the 1820s but depicted as being rather more modern and comfortable. Plus some too-modernish dialogue and attitude nitpicks (use of “okay,” for instance, is one of my peeves).

I was, however, able to overlook those issues in favor of an engrossing, intriguing tale with classic elements – sin, shame, secrets, redemption, revenge.

At the center of it is the Bell family, reasonably prosperous landowners. If patriarch Jack has a temper, and a reputation with certain other local ladies … if his wife Lucy and eldest son John have been able to turn a blind eye to their suspicions … if there are rumors among the slaves … well, it’s no one else’s concern, is it?

Except that strange things begin happening at the Bell homestead. Things that the doctor can’t explain. Nor can the learned schoolmaster, or the reverend. Before long, everybody knows about the maladies daughter Betsy is suffering, and the way objects move or get broken, and the sounds.

Before long, the presence, or spirit, or whatever is begins to speak up. She wants to be called the Witch, she causes exotic items to materialize, she gives visions of what she says is the future, resists all efforts to get rid of her, and is pretty blatant about her intention to punish and destroy Jack Bell.

With some predictable elements and some nice surprises, and the Witch presented as a full character both sympathetic and menacing, it’s a change of pace from the usual, and well worth a look.

-Christine Morgan

HEAVEN, HELL, OR HOUSTON by Thom Erb (2014 Severed Press / 167 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Former marine and current Texas Ranger Jay McCutcheon may have just lost his job. As he speeds back to Houston to deal with his wife, he rescues a runaway teenaged girl at a truck stop and decides to further help her out.

Elsewhere, Mexican gang banger Isandro escapes the jail cell McCutcheon put him in. He's back with his old crew, partying and heading a mindless killing spree. And as fate would have it, he comes face to face with McCutcheon at a roadside diner. Chaos ensues.

Oh, there's also one other little problem: it seems terrorist attacks on all major American cities have gone down at the same time of Isandro's escape, and whatever was in those bombs is causing the dead to come back to life (don't roll your eyes. Stay with me for a second...)

Erb's debut novel reads like Tarantino directing a zombie film, but the zombies in this author's apocalypse play second fiddle to the crime drama that drives the story. McCutcheon is a booze-fueled antihero dealing with his demons while trying to do the right thing as his young side kick Stacy Jo provides just the right amount of blooming badassness to compliment his antics. Here's a duo with a promising future despite it being the beginning of the end.

I'm looking forward to the promised sequel, and hoping we get some answers (such as why this "apocalypse" is happening in 1985). But either way, Erb has me hooked with this fun, brutal, and fast-paced tale even those tired of the undead can appreciate.

-Nick Cato

OCTOBER DREAMS II edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish (2015 Cemetery Dance / 400 pp / trade hardcover, limited editions to be released later in 2015)

Why isn’t it Halloween again yet? Yeah I know I know other months other holidays etc. and Halloween is only supposed to be apportioned a small segment of the calendar. Fortunately, for those of us who do sort of a weird variation of end-movie Scrooge and keep it in our hearts all the year, there are books like this to help.

October Dreams II: A Celebration of Halloween, is a wonderful mingling of fiction and non from some of the top names in the genre. Several are essays on the prompting theme of “My Favorite Halloween Memory,” and oh wow did those hit close to home!

Maybe part of it’s a generational thing. I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, as were many of the contributors. Reading their essays overwhelmed me with nostalgia and poignant lament. THIS is the way Halloween WAS, for us, back then. Before the internet. Before seatbelt laws and helmet laws and helicopter parents (we grew up to become them, which is creepy when you think about it).

But yeah, wow, the memories. Those cheap plastic costumes with the stupid elastic-band masks … the kind of peanut-butter-flavored taffy chews in orange and black twists of wax paper … being that one weird kid into monster movies … except, don’t you have to wonder, how many of us there were, hiding it from each other? A lot more, I now suspect, than we ever imagined.

The essays will, if you were an American kid of that certain age, take you back. If you’re of a later generation, hey, maybe it’ll help you understand us old fogeys. Or, you can just point and laugh and eyeroll, the way my own daughter does when we watch “I <3 the 70s/80s.”

Speaking of stuff to watch on TV, Lisa Morton is a triple-threat in this book, because not only does she contribute a great story and an essay, but a comprehensive write-up on the history of Halloween in television.

And the stories, oh, the stories! A Ray Bradbury, obviously – and to whom the book’s rightly dedicated. A Dean Koontz I somehow had never read before. John Skipp. Gemma Files. Whitley Striber. Robert Bloch. The lineup of all-stars just goes on and on.

When I saw that one of the tales was from horror-master Robert McCammon, I confess I was a little extra nervous; an earlier Halloween story of his results in recurring nightmares whenever I read it. Not that I was going to let that stop me, of course, and I’m glad. “Strange Candy” is a thing of subtler, deeper, quieter fright … the kind of fright also tinged with weird awe and beauty.

Is it peculiar to say that I could see this book having a place in high school or college courses? Literature, folklore, sociology, cultural studies, psych … it’s all here. So much to enjoy, so much to make you think and reflect.

-Christine Morgan

CRACKED SKY by Ben Eads (2015 Omnium Gatherum / 99 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Eads' novella is a powerful tale of two parents, Stephen and Shelley, dealing with the death of their young daughter. Killed in a car accident, we learn there was more behind things than a mere tragedy. And when Stephen begins to get signals that his daughter may still be alive (albeit in another dimension), he comes up with a plan to rescue her.

The author does a great job showing the parent's grief, especially with Stephen. The first half of the story reminded me of early Gary Braunbeck, then the second delves into some serious dark fantasy and even bizarro territory (despite NOT being a bizarro novella). Good stuff even if a bit familiar.

-Nick Cato

WZMB by Andre Duza (2014 Deadite Press / 290 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Bringing you the end of the world, live on the airwaves!

Martin Stone, radio talk-jock, is in his studio, in the middle of his show, when it begins. At first, he and everybody else think it must be a hoax – the call-ins, the videos, the reports of sudden attacks, savage bites, the dead getting back up to continue the rampage.

Yep, it’s the zombie apocalypse. In the blink of an eye, society’s gone mad, disintegrating into chaos. People scatter, trying to find their loved ones, trying to escape, trying to survive.

Skip ahead a few months, and the Martin Stone Show is back on the air … courtesy of the patronage of the Brand Compound, one of the strongest remaining fortified settlements. Martin may be popular with his listeners, but his outspoken attitude doesn’t win him a lot of friends with the higher-ups in the compound. Their broadcast goes out to other scattered enclaves and groups of survivors, delivering vital news and updates along with their regular programming.

Well, okay, the regular programming may have changed some from the old days. They still get their callers and kooks, but their interviews are with security guards, doctors, specialists. “Closest Call” is a popular segment, in which guests relate their – you guessed it, closest calls, most harrowing encounters, etc.

And, as is often the case in these kinds of books, no matter how strong and secure a compound against the legions of zombies is … something’s always going to give, something’s going to go wrong. There are other factions: crazies and saboteurs, religious fanatics, looters, scum, and just plain ol’ bad guys. Not all of them are on the outside, either.

The appearances of the characters, as is fitting for radio, is pretty much left to the reader’s imagination, as inspired by their speech. I know I formed vivid images in my mind of Martin, Raven, Larry, Ted, Dave, and the others.

The story’s told in the form of radio show transcripts, descriptions of clips, eyewitness accounts, and so on. It’s a clever, condensed, effective style that works well. You might not think so, especially when it gets to the high-action scenes and dramatic finale, but it does. Really well.

-Christine Morgan

SS DEATH SIMULATION by Michael Faun (2014 Dynatox Ministries / 105 pp / paperback)

Show of hands here: how many of you either rented (during the VHS days) or traveled to the seedy side of town to see films with titles such as SS HELL CAMP or ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS? Well, even if you didn't, I DID and am thrilled about this new series of "Nazisploitation" novellas from Dynatox Ministries. The first by Michael Faun is everything fans of this genre could hope for.

It's 1942 in Sweden. A local Mortician learns a woman named Signhild may be harboring SS members for a potential invasion from Germany. She's also the headmistriss of a brothel that caters to the SS, but little does Signhild know that her two latest sex workers are in cahoots with the Mortician and his small band of rebels.

SS DEATH SIMULATION is a violent, campy, and at times terrifying look into the perversions of the SS. This homage to the Nazisploitation films of yesteryear also stands on its own as a nasty yet entertaining slab of b-movie madness. An exciting, fun ride for those with the stomach for it.

-Nick Cato


BLOKE'S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR (Issue 10 / 56 pp / magazine-sized print and pdf edition available / find issues here: TOMB OF TERROR)

This independent horror comic brings the classic EERIE and CREEPY style of storytelling back to the masses. The 10th issue is the first I've read and I'll surely be catching up on what I've missed.

Presented here are 5 tales of old-school comic fun, including the scifi horror hybrid PARASITE (that reminded me of a classic Wally Wood), a second scifi horror, followed by my favorite of the issue, ONE BOY'S QUEST that's highlighted by some great artwork courtesy of Juan Carlos Abraldes Rendo. You can't go wrong with some underwater terror, and BENEATH THE SURFACE brings the goods and again brings the great Wally Wood to mind. Capping things off is COPYCAT, a futuristic tale of mankind's progress and one woman's unique way of fighting cancer. Fun, spirited stuff from authors Jason "The Bloke" Crawley and Mike Hoffman, along with a host of artists. Check 'em out.

-Nick Cato


COMING EVENTUALLY (this sucker's HUGE!):

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Reviews for the Week of February 2, 2015

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

BLACK MELT by Indy McDaniel (2013 CreateSpace / 194 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In terms of snappy patter and witty banter, I was familiar with the screwball caper and screwball comedy … I’d not previously encountered this level of screwball horror. Not slapstick horror-comedy like Evil Dead, but really icky, nasty-bad-dark stuff. With snappy patter and witty banter.

What a combo! And it works! The characters deliver dialogue in a way that is both believable (because it doesn’t feel like created characters in a book) and not (because we all WISH we could be that sassy and clever in real life!). I found myself enjoying that and would have read a whole book of it even without the smut and gore.

But ohhhh is there smut and gore. Lots of both. Lots of graphic, very graphic both. The story opens with our protagonist, Madison, walking in on her cheating husband … and her sister. Her reaction is a perfectly reasonable tirade of swearing, followed by a perfectly reasonable bout of rebound revenge nookie.

My only criticism of the sex scenes isn’t even a criticism, more of an observation; sometimes, you can just kinda tell when it’s a female-POV written by a guy. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. I noticed it, though, and figured it was worth a mention.

Anyway! Skip ahead a few years. A meteorite has been recovered, carrying what appears to be some sort of extraterrestrial fungus. Madison, a noted mycologist, is part of the small, elite team chosen to study this incredible find. It does mean being shut away in a secure lab deep below ground, with nobody but her teammates for company.

Well, her teammates, and her friend with the rechargeable batteries. The close quarters and security monitors don’t allow for a lot of privacy; even if they did, Madison is, uh, noisy. She soon strikes up a special relationship with another of the team, as well … one that takes a nightmarish turn as some problems develop with their test samples.

They discover the fungus from the meteorite is far from dead, far from inert. It’s very lively. Fast. Hungry. It has a terrible, voracious, contaminating effect. As long as they can keep it quarantined in the subterranean lab, the world might be safe … but to do that means they’re unable to leave, or send for help from outside.

This is a squishy, gooshy, squelchy story about ravenous appetites of many descriptions. The writing is great fun, both talented and skillful. I know a lot of writers who’d be tempted to sneer it off because it began as a NaNo … but it was a NaNo from a couple years ago and has been given the proper finishing treatments and touches. This is how it should be done. This is an author to watch.

-Christine Morgan


DOLL FACE by Tim Curran (to be released 3/15 by DarkFuse / 264 pp / eBook)

A group of friends are driving home after a night of partying and find themselves in a small town named 'Stokes.' The place seems to be deserted, and worse, they can't find their way back to the main highway. As they look for a way out, our six friends are about to come face to face with a supernatural force that will test their mental and physical endurance in ways they never dreamed of...

At first they are confronted by what seems to be human dolls/mannequins, crudely stitched together and, after one nasty incident, they learn the dolls have hybrid flesh/mechanical innards. And when they find themselves split up, they encounter creatures also comprised of doll and human parts, one of which turns out to be among the most wicked creatures to come down the pike in ages.

The strongest character here is Ramona, who decides to follow a siren sound to an industrial complex that's apparently creating Stokes' monstrosities. Once there, she comes closer to understanding what they're up against, and eventually meets up with Lex, another one who followed the siren and they're now faced with battling the mastermind behind the cyberflesh evil that has entrapped them.

DOLL FACE is like an extreme episode of THE TWLIGHT ZONE. It begins with a familiar but spooky set up then quickly shifts into the violent madness Curran has become known for (what becomes of poor Chazz had me squinting worse than chalk being dragged across a black board). I think some of the second half could have been trimmed a bit, but overall this is a satisfying read that blends horror, cyberpunk (or steampunk, I'm not sure!), and good old fashioned scares into a hearty brew that will have fans racing to the final chapter.

-Nick Cato

MADNESS ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS edited by James Lowder (2014 Chaosium / 288 pp / trade paperback)

If there’s a hierarchy to the realm of Lovecraftian fic, I’m not sure where I’d stand, but I know when I recognize the names of some real heavy-hitters. Ken Hite, Robin Laws, Christopher Golden, Lucien Soulban and Cody Goodfellow are only some of those whose work appears in this classy book edited by James Lowder.

And speaking of classy, is there anything more evocative of class, of the golden age of the good old days of high-end travel and prestige, not to mention mystery and intrigue, than the fabled Orient Express? What a central setting to serve as a theme for any anthology; giving it an eldritch twist only enhances the experience!

A train might seem like a limitation; there’s only so much to do with the same route, right? Wrong. Each of these tales bring something different. Some are set during the glorious heyday of the Orient Express, others in later days when nostalgia comes up against the inevitable decay of time, still others transcend or step out of time altogether.

One of my stand-out favorites of the set is James L. Sutter’s “The God Beneath the Mountain,” which is set before the train ever makes its maiden voyage. After all, the tracks must be laid, tunnels must be hewn and blasted from the rock. It’s hard work, grueling, expensive, frightening and dangerous. Even more frightening and dangerous, as one young doctor is about to find out, than anyone ever imagined.

“Stained Windows,” by Joshua Alan Doetsch, is my other top fave (it was a close battle). It’s both nightmarish and dreamlike, a journey of true madness, brilliantly written and the best possible close to the book to make for maximum lingering unreality and can’t-stop-thinking-about-it effect.

I’ve sometimes had trouble getting into the writing style of Kenneth Hite, but in this one, I found his “La Musique de l’Ennui” surprisingly readable, refreshing, and fun. Besides, it takes a few affectionate jabs at the whole fandom phenom, and I can never resist a clever punny title.

A couple of other mentions before I end up listing the whole table of contents: “A Finger’s Worth of Coal,” by Richard Dansky, appealing to my interests in more-ancient-than-ancient history, time, horror, and destiny … as well as my fondness for really spectacular description. And Christopher Golden’s “Bound For Home,” in which Houdini attempts an escape more daring than even he’d bargained for.

The sixteen stories contained in this book are, let’s face it, pretty much riding in the first class cars. As one would have every reason to expect, from authors of this caliber. Well worth a look, and well worth a place on any Mythos afficionado’s shelf.

-Christine Morgan

WHAT ROUGH BEAST by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge (2015 White Noise Press / 26 pp / limited edition chapbook)

The latest slick-looking chapbook from White Noise Press is a Western werewolf tale that (I'm assuming) takes place in the early 1900s. Deputy Tom Morton puts together a posse to find his wife when the stagecoach she's on goes missing. Among his crew are two strangers who help in ways Tom could've never imagined, especially when the wolves attack.

While I found the story here okay (werewolf fans will probably like it more than non wolfites, and it is exciting for such a short tale), WNP's presentation is once again to-die-for and includes different stocks of paper, beautiful artwork from Keith Minnion, and signatures from the authors and artist. Book collectors take note as this one's a real beauty.

-Nick Cato

CUPID IN BONDAGE by Wrath James White (2014 Deadite Press / 132 pp / trade paperback)

So, I’ve heard that a certain big online book retailer has some objections to listing this book because of the cover. Even with particular naughty bits blocked out, it’s, uh, quite a cover. Which we aren’t supposed to judge books by, but, in this case, it might be a safe bet … I mean whoa … this is some graphic smutkink goresmut kinkgore above and beyond.

The dedication, though, is the ultimate priceless touch. Simplicity itself, simplicity and beauty, a classic, so wonderfully wrong and wonderfully right, one can’t help but be amazed.

Much the same can be said for many of the artful turns of phrase found throughout. A few words here, and I didn’t think my soul would ever stop screaming. A different few words there, and the artistry is stunning. Yet a different set of words, and the room around you will just about melt from the hotness.

The intro, “Coming out Kinky,” is a maybe-TMI must-read, serving both as a warning of what you’re getting yourself into, and a stark, insightful, honest glimpse into the author’s life. Into parts of his life and soul and self where most of us might never be brave enough to turn an introspective eye.

Then there’s a whole lot of spanking. And bondage. And cutting. And blood, as well as bodily fluids of every other sort.

A couple of the stories were almost too extreme even for me – in fiction, that is; in real life I am a total squicky wuss who bruises at the drop of a hat, so, the lifestyle and world within them is WAY beyond my comfort zone. I almost had to stop reading more than once; with “Razor Blade F*** Toy,” I probably should have because halfway through was too much but by then horrified fascination and compulsion would not let me look away, and it still kept going further and further beyond all sane endurance.

But this is by no means mere torture porn, not shock for shock’s sake and gratuitous grossness. The psychology of domination and submission is not just revealed but dissected (for that matter, so are several of the characters). Religion, faith, need and belief are examined as well, along with control, power, death, sex, escape, and freedom.

In prose and in poetry, and in detail that is the very meaning of excruciating and exquisite, Cupid in Bondage brings 124 pages of pleasure and pain, terror and turn-on. Your bottom may not be paddled sore and bright red by the time you’re done, but your mind probably will be.

-Christine Morgan


Monday, January 19, 2015

Reviews for the Week of January 19, 2015

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

SECRET THINGS by Stacey Longo (2013 Books and Boos Press / 170 pp / trade paperback)

This collection of 13 tales (8 presented here for the first time) deals with secrets that can sometimes have fatal consequences, and along with chills you'll find some finely-blended in humor.

The opening title tale is a short and sweet revenge yarn with a neat twist ending. 'Good Night, Francine,' shows what can happen to a snobby old woman, while 'Time to Let Go' is a solid, quiet ghost story about lost love.

'Cliffhanger' is not recommended for those afraid of heights (::raises hand::) and 'Josephine' features another elderly protagonist as she contemplates a former crush. I keep saying I'm sick of zombie stories, but 'Love Stinks' brings the laughs along with the grue. One of my faves of the collection.

SECRET THINGS is then interrupted by 'Interlude: a Tale That Failed,' a neat little rib-tickler that leads us into 'Trapped,' yet another one featuring an elderly woman who finds herself in a desperate situation during a major blizzard. 'Max Elliott, Exterminator' shows us what a zombie hunter does now that the apocalypse has ended, then we get into my favorite of the collection, 'People Person,' about a young woman who can't seem to fit in anywhere ... even on a sparsely populated, isolated island. It's like a mix of THE WICKER MAN and EATING RAOUL...

'Mother's Day' is another undead-fueled caper featuring a very stubborn antagonist, then 'Denny's Dilemma' is a heartbreaker about a relationship that could have been. Longo wraps things up with 'Woman Scorned,' where a cheating boyfriend is dealt with in a clever manner.

A couple of stories in SECRET THINGS might not be considered "horror," but the author keeps everything dark and mysterious. Even when something feels a bit familiar (such as in 'Mother's Day,') Longo manages to pull an ace at the last minute and give things her own angle. Good stuff.

-Nick Cato

CRADLE OF THE DEAD / DARK WAVES by Roger Jackson / Simon Kearns (2014 Blood Bound Books / 244 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m old enough and hoarder enough to actually still own several of those ancient twofer paperbacks, the kind with two stories in and you’d turn the book over. Being asked if I was interested in reviewing a modern take on that, you can believe I wasted no time saying yes.

Now, you might wonder if this would get tricky, given ebooks and all. Would I have to upend my screen? Read upside down? As it happens, no. And, bonus, it removes any angst over which way to shelve it!

What it does mean is two quick, pulpy-fun reads in one! They share a similar overall theme of places with bad and/or haunted histories – an abandoned asylum in CRADLE OF THE DEAD, and a quaint old inn in DARK WAVES – and the ways the evils of the past can reach out for revenge.

I initially thought, based on title alone, that DARK WAVES would turn out to be one of those oceanic horror stories, with adrift lifeboats, sharks, starvation, etc. Instead, I got The Dawlish Inn, and since I’m a history geek with a particular fondness for the British Isles, hey, that was even better! I lingered, reading and re-reading the descriptions and details of the inn, far longer than any normal person probably would have done.

The inn, of course, is believed to be haunted. The protagonist is not exactly a ghost-hunter, but a scientific acoustic engineer – those waves? sound waves, durr – who’s been studying the physical effects certain vibrations can have. By disrupting those, he’s ended more than a few ‘hauntings.’ He expects that his new assignment to check out this inn will be no different.

(also, the chocolate? brilliant, love it; a legit psychopharmalogical explanation for post-Dementor treatment!)

CRADLE OF THE DEAD takes the abandoned-asylum setting but doesn’t toss in urban explorers or anybody digging into whatever atrocities went on there … it’s a handy, isolated place for a local crime boss to bring the people he needs to deal with. There’s even a potter’s field for body disposal.

Of course, when the crime boss decides one of his own men has to be eliminated, that poor guy already has a good idea of what’s waiting for him. But, little do any of them know that Alderville Asylum has been harboring its own other secrets, and the time has come for those secrets to be revealed. Soon, the chase is on, as would-be victims try to escape their captors, and the captors themselves are beset by worse threats.

Each book alone is a worthy, enjoyable read. Together as a package deal, you definitely won’t be going wrong.

-Christine Morgan

SPLATTERPUNK #6  (edited by Jack Bantry)

SPLATTERPUNK is a fairly new ‘zine published in the UK.  It’s not fancy – it’s just plain printer paper stapled together, like so many ‘zines back in the “old days” before the Internet. But make no mistake – this publication packs a nasty punch.

Issue #6 boasts stories by some great writers – James Newman, Bracken MacLeod, Ryan Harding, and Kit Power, to name a few. There are also columns and book reviews.

The stories are nasty, disgusting, and offensive. I loved them all. Ryan Harding’s “Threesome” had a few gruesome twists, and had a wonderful nod to the delightfully horrific 80s movie Re-Animator. Bracken MacLeod’s “The Texas Chainsaw Breakfast Club OR I Don’t Like Mondays” is an obvious tribute to The Breakfast Club, and it works perfectly. James Newman’s “Big Girls Help Their Mommy” is disturbing, but as a mom myself, sad as well. Great story.

“Fuck Shock” by Brendan Vidito and “Lifeline” by Kit Power are both stories that will make the reader’s skin crawl – and both have consequences in regards to sex, either having it or thinking about it. But which character gets it worse?

The columns are fun to read. From Kit Power writing about extreme horror as a squeamish fan, James Newman giving a list of non-horror movies with unsettling moments, to John Boden’s journey as a horror fan from childhood to now, all are interesting and well-written.

The editor, Jack Bantry, gives a list of his favorite splatterpunk novels throughout the years, which should inspire readers to check them out.

I hope this ‘zine grows – it deserves a wide audience. It’s encouraging that there are already six issues, and I don’t see any signs of it folding. The small press is tough, so check this ‘zine out. Buy it, and tell your friends!

This issue was dedicated to the memory of J.F. Gonzalez, a wonderful horror writer who recently left us way too soon.

More info here: Splatterpunk

-Sheri White

THE BONEYARD by Keith Minnion (2014 Bad Moon Books / 354 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In Minnion's novel THE BONE WORMS, Detective Fran Lomax is investigating a series of unusual and gruesome murders in the Philadelphia area. Mutilated bodies are being discovered with their bones missing, and the corpses are left with precision-quality scars that suggest a master serial killer is at work. But the more Lomax digs in, the stranger the case becomes.

On the other side of town, two senior citizens (who have been friends since they were children) share an apartment, one protecting the other from a bizarre situation they shared back in the early 1920's. Like the victims Lomax is dealing with, each of these men are physically scarred, and each one knows who (or what) is responsible for the recent rash of murders.

Minnion's blend of supernatural horror and police procedural is packed with suspense, gut-wrenching violence, and good, old-school horror that will keep fans glued to the pages. As a bonus, the short story on which the novel was based, UP IN THE BONEYARD, is included. With cover and interior artwork by Steven Gilberts, THE BONEYARD is a slick package that's highly recommended.

-Nick Cato

FLOPPY SHOES APOCALYPSE edited by Alex S. Johnson and John Ledger (2014 JEA Wetworks / 232 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

“A Clown Horror Anthology” is what it says, and yes indeed that’s what you get. Clowns. Yeesh. I mean really, think about it, loads of people are scared of spiders or snakes, too … but you don’t generally have them at your birthday party, featured prominently in toys and nursery d├ęcor, or cavorting down Main Street in a parade.

There’s a strong tendency to blame Stephen King for it. Exhibit A: Pennywise; case closed. Except, no, we’re shooting the messenger there. King didn’t create or cause the phobia; with Pennywise, he tapped into what was already there. Same with that awful cymbal monkey. I was scared of those long before I read his story.

But, I digress. I am not writing an intro for this book. Nor do I need to, because it’s already got one, a bang-up good one by Magan “Lovey” Rodriguez. Who is – prepare yourselves – one of them. An actual clown. The introduction delivers such an entertaining slice of history with psychological and literary overviews that I for one would read an entire book on the subject. I learned some stuff! I was intrigued enough to want to go learn more stuff! In the intro to a clown horror anthology! Maybe it’s just me, but I found that pretty cool.

And then there are the stories, seventeen of them, beginning with a bouncy little poem. Mary Genevieve Fortier’s “Every Nine and Twenty” has such a catchy rhyme and rhythm that you could easily imagine it being chanted at skip-rope, if you like your skip-rope rhymes featuring blood, blades, eyeballs and entrails.

Many of the stories share some common elements – beyond, y’know, that of clowns, which is a given. There are greasepaint serial killers, characters with memories of horrible things done to them as kids by clowns, evil traveling carnivals, circuses of the damned, and so on.

But there are also were-clowns … clown cults … clown contagions … some truly disturbing cotton candy scenes (and balloon animals, oh, the balloon animals!) … kinky clown sex … hellish/clownish future dystopias …

One of my personal standout pieces is Aaron Besson’s “Fool Moon,” a terrific and original noir piece in which a couple of Mimetown detectives are on the trail of a murderer. It’s got the whole cop-drama aspect, a weird sort of Roger Rabbit vibe in places, and tons of cleverness with the pantomime and attention to detail.

Some of the splashiest, gooshiest scenes appear in “Under the Clown Moon,” by Jim Goforth; I had a bit of trouble suspending my disbelief over the actual moon part – TA to an astronomy professor in college, I had earth-moon-sun diagrams embedded in my brain – but the chaotic goresplat made for tons of fun.

So. If you are already disturbed by clowns, this book offers plenty to make you shiver and flinch … if you are not already disturbed by clowns, quite possibly you will be by the time you’re done. You’ll smell the popcorn and hear the calliope music, so step right up, ladies and gents, step right up! Ringside seats for the first of what will be a whole three-ring circus!

-Christine Morgan


Monday, January 5, 2015

Reviews for the Week of January 5, 2015

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

THE MARIONNETTISTE OF VERSAILLES AND OTHER ODDITIES by Adam Millard (2014 Crowded Quarantine Publications / 218 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook

I confess, I picked up this collection on a whim without realizing it was by the same author responsible for the holly-jolly-bomination of THE HUMAN SANTAPEDE … my delight and surge of anticipatory confidence upon making that connection was substantial.

And it was not in vain. While the stories herein do not go for the same all-out outrageousness, they are all gorgeously written and contain several gem-like moments of description and artful turns of phrase. If a few of them do turn out the way you might expect, they do so with smooth style. The ones that don’t, the ones that throw in some twists, are creepy-good fun.

With 25 such well-done stories to choose from, I found it harder than usual to single out only a few favorites. “Lythalia Calling” is definitely high among them, though. It’s a beautiful piece about a man who sees a strange girl dancing in his garden midnight after midnight, and what happens when he finally decides to approach.

“Hair” is one with the above-mentioned twist ending; it’ll keep you guessing and second-guessing, even though you’re sure you know, right up to the finish. So is “What’s She Got That I Haven’t?” in which a two-timer thinks he can get away with hosting both ladies at the same party.

“Bug Boy” is compellingly nasty, sickening but somehow hard to look away from. And “Sparrows” would have been right at home in my Teeming Terrors anthology; I loved the vivid, visual, visceral scenes of fluttering, pecking carnage.

“7:17 From Suicide Station” is, itself, a lot like the train in the story … a building tension like gathering steam and speed on its inexorable one-way course. By contrast, “Nyogtha of the Northern Line” is another kind of train story altogether, part Barker and part Lovecraft but ultimately something else altogether.

In “Food of Love,” the relationship between a devoted husband and his bedridden wife conveys the oddest, most unsettling overlap of sentimentality and revulsion. Try and say, “Awww!” and “Eeww!” at the same time. Not easy. But this one invokes it.

The stories here range from history and mystery to sci-fi and otherworldly, a nice mix of something for everyone … provided ‘everyone’ is maybe a little morbid or bent … then again, well, aren’t we?

-Christine Morgan

PLAGUE OF DARKNESS by Daniel G. Keohane (2014 Other Road Press / 252 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Gem Davidson's new neighbors live in a house that was once a church called Saint Gerard's. It had been closed down by an Episcopal bishop eight months earlier, its altar removed in a "deconsecration" service. While not religious, Gem wonders how a church could be taken away so easily, and wonders what the inside now looks like.

But when Gem and a few others (including Saint Gerard's former pastor) visit the new home of Bill and Seyha Watts, they find themselves surrounded by an invading darkness so deep they're unable to leave ... until they begin to confront ghosts from each of their pasts. But even when they begin to reveal their secrets, the darkness grows, causing them to question whether or not they may already be in hell...

Keohane's latest religious-themed thriller will make those afraid of the dark squirm in their seats, as he makes darkness (both literal and figurative) as creepy as Lucy Taylor made the abscence of sound in her classic short story 'The Silence Between the Screams.'

PLAGUE OF DARKNESS is easily Keohane's best novel to date. It's a solid, intelligent horror novel that will have you thinking long after you finish it.

-Nick Cato

THE FINAL WINTER by Iain Rob Wright (2014 SalGad Publishing Group / 252 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

There are so many, many ways our world can end … and Wright seems to be having a lot of fun working his way through the list. And since I can’t get enough of that kind of thing, I’m happy to keep right on reading along.

The culprit this time is the cold, a global deep-freeze in which it just suddenly starts snowing. Everywhere. Never mind climate or season or any of it; just cue the inexplicable blizzards! It’s The Day After Tomorrow but bigger, taking over both hemispheres. Though, in this story, the larger scope of the rest of the world is pretty well left to fend for itself off-screen.

The focus stays up-close and personal on a struggling English neighborhood. With the roads closed, the power out, and the phones not working, those stranded at their shops seek refuge at the local pub along with the bartender and her regulars, and the odd jovial stranger passing through.

It is not the most convivial gathering right from the start. Even if these were all folks who enjoyed each other’s company under normal circumstances, well, these are anything but normal. Tensions pile higher as the snowdrifts do. Personalities clash. Secrets and resentments fester. Backstories unfold in skillfully-handled twists and layers. They’re running low on fuel for the fireplace, not to mention food. The beer is going frozen solid.

As if all that’s not recipe enough for trouble on its own, the weirdness leaps to new levels. Some survivors come in with tales of seeing bizarre, deadly figures in the storm. Eerie flames appear to dance atop the snow. Hallucinations, they’d like to think; delusions brought on by the stress and the extreme cold.

Until a mangled, bloody body comes crashing through the window with an ominous message carved into its flesh, and the people trapped in the pub realize they are rapidly running out of time. Survival might not be an option, let alone salvation.

A chilling read in more than one way, perhaps best enjoyed while bundled up in comfy jammies by a cozy fire, with a nice big mug of something warm.

-Christine Morgan

SLUSH by Glenn Rolfe (2014 Alien Agenda Publishing / 115 pp / eBook)

This is a collection of twelve short horror stories by a relative newcomer in the genre. From gross to somewhat poignant, there is something for everyone who is a fan of horror fiction. And while many of the stories are predictable, they are written well enough for even a jaded reader to enjoy.

The first story, ‘Skull of Snakes,’ is a cursed-object tale, but the characters make the reader care about what happens to them. It’s the summer of 1989 in a small town, and a group of friends are hanging out at the train tracks when one of them finds a coin. Soon after, tragedy befalls them, and they try to find out the coin’s history and what is happening to them. 

‘The Curse’ reminded me a bit of the film THE CRAFT, with teen girls who are wronged and plan revenge. It’s a little far-fetched, but still a fun read.

‘Something Lost’ is a sweet, tear jerker tribute to the author’s father, lost at too young an age. Sad, but also moving and sweet.

Anybody who has had severe acne will feel both sympathy and horror for the title character in ‘Henry.’ While seeing a dermatologist would have been Henry’s best bet, he takes care of the problem in his own twisted way.

The rest of the stories are enjoyable, some disturbing and twisted, but nothing wrong with that! If you’re looking for a new author in horror, Glenn Rolfe is a good one to check out.

-Sheri White

SWEET STORY by Carlton Mellick III (2014 Eraserhead Press / 120 pp / trade paperback)

The author’s introduction warns that, despite the innocuous title and charming cover, this is not a children’s book. Do believe him, and how! SWEET STORY takes a simple wish, generous in spirit, and extrapolates it into a cataclysmic nightmare extinction event.

Things start off idyllic enough, at least for little Sally. She’s a happy girl, maybe a bit spoiled by her whimsical daddy, maybe a bit neglected by her aloof mother and ignored by her totally-goth-and-stuff teen sister … but she’s got dollies with the secret abilities to move and talk .. and she loves nothing more than to chase after rainbows.

One of these days, she’s sure, she’ll find the end of a rainbow, which is where magic happens and wishes are granted. When that day comes, she’s even willing to follow it into the blurry, sad part of town, and to put up with the obnoxious lazy fat boy from next door tagging along (though she’s very much not thrilled with the wish that HE makes).

The poverty and despair she found in the blurry part of town makes Sally all the more determined to do something nice. So, when her chance comes, she wishes for something she thinks will delight everyone – that it will rain candy! What could possibly be bad about that?

At first, she’s not sure it worked. Days go by without any rain at all. But then, strange clouds appear in the sky, and the next thing she knows, candy comes raining down. People are loving it! Dancing and cheering, scrambling to scoop it up from the streets like kids at the world’s biggest pinata party –

Except, well, it does rain kind of hard. You think hailstones are bad? And there are limits to the amount of candy anybody can eat before feeling sick; even four-year-olds given free rein on a Halloween trick-or-treat bucket are going to have their fill sooner or later. Not to mention the widespread panic, ecological effects, and societal collapse that soon follow.

This one goes to some dark, very dark places. However insidiously sinister and creepy you may have considered Willie Wonka (original book and Gene Wilder film versions), it’s not got much on this beautiful black-humor twist on ruining innocence and destroying dreams.

-Christine Morgan

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reviews for the Week of December 15, 2014

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

JAZZ AGE CTHULHU by Jennifer Brozek, A.D. Cahill,  and Orrin Grey (2015 Innsmouth Free Press / 109 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The intro to this snazzy little number mentions the odd comparative rarity of the novella these days, which is a shame because some things should never go out of style. Books like this give good reasons why, three good reasons from three fine writers.

“Dreams of a Thousand Young” by Jennifer Brozek kicks it off strong, as a very proper British heiress living abroad in Assam wakes to find a strange man in her room. Dead. Bloody. And herself naked, with suspicious bruises but no memory of the preceding events. What follows is a delicate balancing act of trying to preserve her reputation while uncovering the truth. As the mystery unravels, she finds herself drawn into a conspiracy of cults, sex, murder and dark magic.

Next up is Orrin Grey’s “The Lesser Keys,” shifting the scene to a hoppin’ and happenin’ roadhouse outside of Kansas City. A Chicago club owner has sent an envoy to try and recruit the band, but the envoy suspects it’s going to be a lot more challenging than just making the better monetary offer. Meanwhile, a young lady searching for her missing brother finds the trail leads to the same roadhouse, and that whatever weirdness is going on there is about to hit its peak.

“Pomptina Sum” by A.D. Cahill wraps things up with a trip to Italy, as a grifter assumes a new identity to try his luck finding patrons among the wealthy of a quaint little island. He soon discovers that he not only has competition, but that the island and its inhabitants are not at all what they seem. Forget maintaining his cover; he’ll be lucky to escape with his life … not to mention his sanity and soul.

All three are gripping, well-done reads. Besides, I enjoy themed anthologies, I enjoy Lovecraftian tales, and I enjoy the era in question … that’s three MORE reasons. If that’s not enough, well then, I don’t know what else to tell ya.

-Christine Morgan

GHOST CHANT by Gina Ranalli (2014 Grindhouse Press / 90  pp / trade paperback)

Despite having a new boyfriend, Cherie Drew is still mourning the death of her husband. She's also having issues with a little girl named Maggie who lives across the street. It seems Maggie likes to play in her yard and doesn't respond when Cherie tries to talk to her. One night while alone in the house, Cherie even finds Maggie hanging out in her basement, and events begin to snowball that Cherie could've never forseen.

A spooky study of a woman dealing with grief and inner demons, of dark family secrets and paranoia, GHOST CHANT is a quick, intense, and satisfying journey into human darkness that I consumed in one sitting.

-Nick Cato

CRIPPLE WOLF by Jeff Burk (2011 Eraserhead Press / 152 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A bit late to the party on this one, as I piceked it up at the most recent BizarroCon in my ongoing effort to complete my library. An impossible goal, perhaps, but a worthy one I’m enjoying for its own sake. Jeff Burk’s energy and enthusiasm comes across in everything he does, so his writing is no different.

This collection of tales is just fun throughout, swirling weirdness and horror and humor into unexpected (and sometimes inappropriate, even better!) combinations.

For instance, cherished holiday cartoon/carol memories will be forever tarnished by “Frosty and the Full Monty,” in which a certain happy jolly soul ends up down on his luck and having to resort to desperate measures. Pure as the driven snow? Not so much, anymore.

Or witness the title story, which seems simultaneously shocking in its political incorrect offensiveness, but also … well … a good point really, something to think about … what WOULD happen if a paraplegic contracted lycanthropy? On a transoceanic red-eye flight during the full moon? With a planeful of fetishists, kinksters and punks?

I particularly got a kick out of “Cook For Your Life,” a dystopian futuristic take on cooking competition shows. It’s Iron Chef meets Battle Royale, with some clowns and robots and gorillas thrown in. Chefs aren’t just in it for prize money and bragging rights; grim fates await those who get eliminated each round! And as entertaining as the story itself is, you will NOT want to miss the commercial breaks!

The others in this book include the disturbing “House of Cats” (of all the things to choose as construction materials!), the funny-as-hell but also strangely touching “Punk Rock Nursing Home” (it could happen!), “Just Another Day in the Park” for a bit of surreal philosophizing, and “Adrift With Space Badgers” for (what else?) maddened and destructive badgers in space!

-Christine Morgan


Monday, December 8, 2014

Reviews for the Week of December 8, 2014

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

SINNERS CIRCLE by Karina Sims (2014 Dark Hall Press  / 147 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

With the holidays just around the corner you might want to stop reading this now and look elsewhere. If you’re searching for happy puppy dog kisses and stuffed animals you might want to go that-a-way as well. But, if you’re sticking around for the blood and guts party and just happen to be in the market for a gruesome, witty debut horror novel with enough rough sex for days, then you just may happen to be in the right place.

SINNERS CIRCLE by Karina Sims is a great and innovative read. It's packed with the right amount of raw materials, brutality, pornography, and dry humor for all of your extreme horror and dark fiction needs. Sims somehow manages to create a book that borders and blurs the lines of psychological and personal horror to the point where it’s easy to forget you’re reading a debut novel in the first place. This one will pull you in and make sure you stick around for a while. At one point I felt like I was holding a literary equivalent to the film Hostel, but with slightly more emotion and a lot more girl on girl action than found in the opening scenes of the flick.  

Sadistic serial killers, porn shops, drug use, violence, this book has it all. This is a great and brutal addition to the world of Horror and Dark Fiction from a new voice. I think it’d be safe to say to watch out for this one folks! Especially during the dark hours at night.

-Jon R. Meyers

IN THE END, ONLY DARKNESS by Monica O’Rourke (2014 Deadite Press / 232 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know, I am always astounded at athletes who will take some brutal hit, some agony-of-defeat type of spill, but pop back up and go on with it, never mind the jagged jutting bone ends and trailing strings of gristle hanging out of their wounds. I cannot believe any sane person would willingly subject themselves to such punishment … the drive to compete, to win, to stay in the game, can only go SO far, folks, really, c’mon.

Then I get a new Monica O’Rourke book and I find myself doing the psychic equivalent of the same damn thing.

Again. Over and over. I never learn. I even, in some sick masochistic way, enjoy the torture. It’s torn ligaments, and dislocated joints of the mind. Plus, I think I pulled whatever muscles control flinching and cringing.

She is vicious. Wrath James White’s intro to this collection warns you. He is a hundred percent correct on all points, from her razor-like precision of prose to the wicked little smiling gleam in her eyes. This is some next-level (bleep) right here.

Do NOT be fooled because it starts off with a couple of poems! Do NOT be one of those people who dismisses poems as frou-frou. They are powerful, effective, and somehow all the creepier because of the spareness of form.

But, if it’s denser, detailed narrative you crave, you’ll find plenty of that too (and might regret it!) Several of these stories will have you crossing your legs or pressing your knees together, no matter what your personal anatomy. “Jasmine and Garlic,” “Asha” and “Attainable Beauty” for the ladies, “Oral Mohel,” “Someone’s Sister” and “An Experiment in Human Nature” for the gents … equal opportunity screaming horror for the fun-bits.

There’s zombies, and babies, and zombie babies … child abuse and cannibalism … freaky fetishes, haunted revenge, hells on earth … just all kinds of evil goodness guaranteed to reduce the strongest spirit to a whimpering wreck.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall resume my usual post-Monica posture of rocking back and forth in the corner ...

-Christine Morgan


OASIS OF THE DAMNED by Greg F. Gifune (to be released 12/9/14 by DarkFuse / 76 pp / eBook)

Former soldiers Owens and Richter find themselves in the Sahara desert. Both became lost during post-military jobs, and are now unable to find a way out of their isolated location.The only thing keeping them alive in the blistering heat is an abandoned outlook post that sits over a spring. The post also has edible military rations and a seemingly endless supply of functional (but old) weapons.

And that's a good thing, because when the sun goes down, shape-shifting creatures rise from the sand, looking to devour our protagonists the same way they did Owens' crew. And the more they learn about them, the more Owens and Richter struggle...

Despite taking place in the desert, OASIS OF THE DAMNED is a claustrophobic nightmare that's as psychologically grueling as it is physically. Gifune blends modern horror with a Twilight Zone feel and delivers an irresistible novella you'll rip through in one heart-pounding sitting. Intense stuff without being overly graphic.

-Nick Cato


TWISTED by Michaelbrent Collings (to be released 12/9/14 by Amazon Digital / 319 pp / eBook)

Those Victorians … so different from us … in their day, ruffled chair skirts were invented to keep those shocking bare furniture legs from display, and the term “stuffing” was considered too vulgar for polite dinner conversation (the things one randomly picks up during holiday season cooking shows). And yet, they were into that whole death photography thing, which strikes most of us these days as morbid to say the least.

Morbid to say the least, and even downright ghoulish when it involves children. Heck, some studio baby portraits are disturbing enough anyway, let alone with dead kids! I mean, okay, on the one hand I can understand it, the use of closure, the wanting something to remember them by, but …

Yeeeesh. And this book starts off with excerpts from a fictional case study of a photographer who was not content merely to pose his unfortunately young models, but ensure their steady supply. Against that historical specter, we have an ordinary modern family, Blake and Alyssa Douglas, their son Mal, and newborn Ruthie.

An ordinary family with ordinary worries – money, job security, a life-threatening neonatal crisis, the looming violent legacy of abuse – that then has to deal with even more extraordinary ones. Like the sudden, inexplicable crawling infestation from under Mal’s bed. It sends them fleeing to temporary lodgings while their home is fumigated, only to quickly discover that the new place is … not quite right.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous house, available for rent at a bargain price, fully furnished with lovely antiques. If the grandfather clock’s ticking reverberates throughout … if the music box has a tendency to start playing for no reason … if objects disappear or reappear, or the occasional strange footstep is heard …

Well, it is only for a few days, right? And it’s not like they can afford a hotel. It’s not like they have many other options. Sure, it’s stressful; the whole situation is stressful, taking its toll on each of them. Some irritability, some personality changes, trouble sleeping, nightmares, these things happen. Nothing to get too worked up over.

Uh-huh. So they keep telling themselves, after Alyssa finds the photo album of the dead, after a courier delivers a package and then totally freaks out at something he sees. Nothing to get worked up over. So they keep telling themselves, until it’s too late.

Part ghost story and part history, part parental terrors made real and part paranormal activity, the resulting combination is all goosebump-raising nerve-squirming chills. Another solid winner from an author who’s yet to miss the mark.

-Christine Morgan