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