Monday, April 23, 2018

Reviews for the Week of April 23, 2018

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





TEN OPEN GRAVES (???? Gryphonwood Press / page counts and formats unknown. Check gryphonwoodpress.com for more info)

I picked this up expecting an anthology of longer stories or maybe novellas, and instead found out it was a whole ten-book bundle … like ordering an assortment pack of cereal online and thinking you’ll get the individual serving boxes but instead they’re Costco-size and you got cereal for months!

This review should probably therefore be split into ten, but instead I’m just going to do it as one big ten-fer. Besides, it works, because these all mostly work together in a strange cohesion, a natural (or unnatural, as the case may be) flow.

CLOSET TREATS by Paul Cooley is a boogeyman tale with a twist, as a man struggling with lifelong mental illness tries to determine if what he sees behind the new neighborhood ice cream man’s seemingly ordinary appearance is in his head or real … and what it means for him and his family if he’s wrong … or if he’s right.

THE CRYPT OF DRACULA by Kane Gilmour seems very much like a retelling of Dracula, but it’s presented as a sequel, a history-repeats in which a craftsman is summoned to work on the restoration of the Count’s castle, much to the unease of the villagers.

ELDREN by William Meikle is one I’ve read (and, I think, reviewed) before, but it’s always nice to revisit his worlds and works, so I went ahead and re-read it and enjoyed it just as much as the first time.

STILL WATER by Justin Macumber goes deep, when coal miners uncover a slumbering ancient evil and its influence begins to spread through the town, just as a prodigal son returns to no good welcome, and ends up teaming with a paranormal researcher who’s shown up on an investigation.

REFUGE: NIGHT OF THE BLOODY SKY by Jeremy Robinson would be my top fave pick, no contest. I loved everything about the writing, the story, the characters … everything. A small town gets suddenly cut off from the rest of the world, shades of Under the Dome and such, but lean and quick, without the bloat. I was agonized at the end, and realizing it was part of a series only partly alleviated my pain.

DARK RITE by David Wood and Alan Baxter takes some of the familiar tropes of small towns with sinister secrets and shakes things up a bit, when a guy going through his dead father’s stuff uncovers links to a cult whose time is come ‘round again.

THE FLAT by Rick Chesler and Jack Douglas was the one I found most difficult to read, not because of any flaws in the writing but because the central relationship was SO painful, SO poison and toxic, so believable and awful and real. That was the true horror of the story for me, while the actual cursed/haunted elements take a backseat.

LAUGHING BO'S SHADOW by Steven Savile I am still trying to wrap my head around; it starts off with a late night car crash in which driver Declan thinks he’s killed a homeless person but there’s no evidence, goes into some ouchie hospital stuff, and suddenly we’re enmeshed in a Beggar King underworld paranormal war.

PIERCING THROUGH by R.J. Fanucci gave me the serious flinchies throughout, because I am an utter wimp and it’s all about piercings and tattoos and people suspended by hooks through their skin and the disputes and rivalries among various body-mod sects … horror enough even before the eerie and otherworldly elements start coming into play.

HUNGER by Jeremy Robinson, I got to it and was all “hey this guy again!” like a surprise bonus. The story landed solidly at second on my favorites; clearly Robinson is a writer to watch and one whose works I need to catch up on. This particular tale, of an effort to solve world hunger, does way more than touch upon GMO fears and technology outpacing us.

So yeah, ten whole books, ten fun reads; I did spot occasional typos and bloopers that should’ve been chased out, and it might’ve been nice to see some more ladies in the lineup. But all in all, a solid set of good stuff.

-Christine Morgan




GODS OF THE DARK WEB by Lucas Mangum (2018 Deadite Press / 102 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

We all know that Deadite Press publishes some of the most hardcore and extreme horror books available on the market today, right? Well, if you didn’t, you probably should. This book is definitely not an exception. With that being said, if you’re not into extreme horror and Splatterpunk, you may want to proceed with caution because the author here has written a book to hold up alongside some of the legends in the genre, and what we have here is every bit as brutal.

While at a book signing, Niles Highsmith gets a phone call from his father, who tells him his brother, Leon has gone missing. Niles packs up and leaves to get to the bottom of it, knowing his brother is an activist and has been in trouble before, but he’s never been gone and missing like this for more than a few days. We soon find out the brother has been lured to a place called Avalon Lake, a mysterious ghost town he’d found while searching the dark web. The dark web is the darkest of filth on the internet. One can search and find links containing some of the worst porn imaginable, think snuff films, think real life murder videos, think weapons, think the anarchist cookbook but with more pervasive filth lingering in an online community of black markets. This is where Mangum shows us just how low down and dirty he can get with his writing and trust me, it’s just as beautiful as it is messed up and sick and demented, not to mention there’s a Lovecraftian creature from hell constructed of wires and computer monitors. Meanwhile, these masked sycophants haunt and patrol the stomping grounds of Avalon Lake. Soon Niles is confronted with some of the same decisions his brother had to make when he logs onto the dark web. Think murder. Think torture. Think cannibalism. Will he ever make it out of this alive? I guess you’ll have to read more and find out for yourself.

Highly recommended.


-Jon R. Meyers




THE NECROPHILIAC by Gabrielle Wittkop (2011 ECW PRESS / 94 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This controversial 1972 French novella (recently translated into English by Don Bapst) is beautifully written and as disturbing as it gets, but unfortunately winds up being completely pointless.

Told in a diary format, we read the thoughts of antiques dealer Lucien, a middle-aged gent who lives alone and gets off on making love to the dead. From the first entry we’re given graphic (yet artful) descriptions of his affair with a deceased young girl. There are many entries like this with other corpses, ranging from those his age to an infant who died with its mother. This will either sicken readers or, like a car crash, cause one to read on in morbid amusement.

There’s only one slight moment of suspense when Lucien narrowly evades a gang of factory workers, but otherwise THE NECROPHILIAC is a disgusting, gruesome, artsy fartsy “classic of French literature” that has been gaining newfound popularity among the arthouse crowd and I’m assuming fans of extreme horror fiction and films since it’s 2011 translation.

I’ll take nothing away from the late Wittkop’s writing, which even under Bapst’s translation sings, but there’s no story here and the craziness gets played out by the halfway point, making Lucien’s later trip to Naples seem like a failed attempt to keep things fresh.

If you want to read the morbid journal of one crazy bastard, look no further. If you want to not hate yourself in the morning and the extreme thing isn’t yours, skip to saner ground.


-Nick Cato




DARKWALKER 1: HUNTING GROUNDS by John Urbancik  (2018 DarkFluidity / 288 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is a new edition, previously published back in 2012, and the kick-butt start of what promises to be a different take on typical urban fantasy. It’s our own world, yes … with vampires and werewolves and ghosts and other assorted creatures of the night … and since he was seventeen, Jack Harlow has been able to perceive them even when nobody else can.

They’re aware of him, too, but until now there’s been a strange sort of non-interference clause in play. He doesn’t bother them, doesn’t try to stop them from claiming their victims. All he does is watch, taking notes and recording the pertinent details later on a database he thinks no one else will ever need. And they, for the most part, have ignored him.

Lately, though, they’ve begun acknowledging him, talking to him more, seeming interested. It’s a change, an uncomfortable one, and one which is about to get much worse. Soon, whatever rare immunity he had has not only been canceled but reversed, as if a big target has been stuck to him and the entire supernatural population wants to zero in for the kill.

It’s hard to stay just a Watcher under such circumstances. Jack suddenly finds himself in the middle of things, caught in an infernal plot endangering his new love interest, and having to team up with a scrappy young vampire hunter.

The story moves briskly along, the various creatures are well-presented and intriguing and not bogged down by info-dumps (the ash-vampire, for instance, I particularly liked). I’m eager to find out what happens next in that world. Fortunately for me, the next one – Inferno – is waiting in the wings!


-Christine Morgan




STACKING DOLL by Carlton Mellick III (2018 Eraserhead Press / 138 pp / trade paperback)

Okay, I always get excited when I see a new Carlton Mellick book up for grabs. Here’s why. The stories are always well-written, bizarre, unique, and creative in their own way, with weird loveable or not so loveable and strange characters and creatures that you can actually imagine, and often the stories take place in highly imaginative settings and landscapes. So much so, that it’s normal to feel like you don’t want the book to end so that you can stay in the world that has been created. He does this time and time again, and he only seems to be getting better with each book released. 

With that being said, STACKING DOLL offers all of the above and more with another horrific love story. Benjamin is in love with a Russian Nesting Doll by the name of Ynaria. A beautiful lifelike wooden nesting doll who is a member of the Matryoshkans, meaning they have other smaller people living inside of them like those old wooden dolls everybody used to see at their grandparents’ house growing up, or, perhaps at antique and ceramic shops. Well, basically they want to get married, but this can’t happen unless he receives the notorious “blessing” from her parents, who are conventional Nesting Doll’s. They are sweaty pissed when they tell them over dinner, until the Father gives in, and says he can have their blessing and get married if they go through The Trial.

No other human on the face of the planet has endured the pain and suffering that is The Trial. The idea behind this is so that he can get to know her inner layers. This is where things start to get interesting. We have another layer who is more flexible and beautiful than her outer layer, a brother layer, a creature layer, another nastier creature layer, and an over emotional inner layer that smells worse than dead fish.

Will Benjamin ever make it through The Trial and happily marry the love of his life? I guess you’ll have to read it and find out for yourself.


-Jon R. Meyers



ONLY SHADOWS MOVE by David Martin (2015 Smashwords / eBook)

After being blown away by Martin’s fantastic story in BLACK STATIC No. 62 (see review last issue), I simply HAD to read more, and discovered he was offering a free copy of this 7 story collection from a few years ago via Smashwords.com. It may still be available here: Only Shadows Move

‘RELIC’ is the unsettling account of a mysterious astronaut corpse found half buried in the woods and the strange affects it has on the nearby town, then in ‘RETURNING’ a man arrives at his home after several years to find another family living there. A trippy piece that brings Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’ to mind.

‘SPIDERS’ is an eerie comparison of office life to the insect world most should relate to, ‘SUNDAY MORNING’ gives the fever dreams of its protagonist as he or she contemplates a better life, then in ‘THIS IS A WARNING,’ a down and out musician discovers a revelation in the voice of a young singer at a local pub.

‘ERASED’ is a flash piece of dark self contemplation before the final offering, ‘AN ENDING,’ a haunting, sort-of ghost story in which a man attempts to remember his late lover and the times they shared.

Martin’s stories feature much shadow and everyday characters who exist just on the edge of it. Reality and dreams often mesh to create surreal landscapes, that while seemingly ordinary, causes the reader to believe the supernatural is just waiting, impatiently, to be discovered.

Here is one writer I’ll gladly be following into the unknown...

-Nick Cato




BONELAND by Jeffrey Thomas (2004 Bloodletting Press / 172 pp / limited edition hardcover (pictured above), trade paperback, eBook)

I swear, I really did just intend to read a little bit while having my soup, and then get back to work. That was the plan. Honest, it was. How could I have known I’d be so instantly snared and reeled in that nothing would do but to finish the entire book at one sitting?

Wow. Going into it knowing nothing but the title, with no idea what to expect, I found myself more than pleasantly surprised. Blown away would be closer to the truth. It’s clever alt-history, deviously dark social commentary, outside influences, creeping technophobia, shades of noir, bug and body horror, and more … all rolled into one.

Johnny Board is only a kid in 1893 when people start going crazy thinking there are bugs and voices in their heads. He’s not much older when inexplicable rains of beetles and swarms of shrimplike creatures begin – weather fluke? migration? – or when one of his teachers gets afflicted by a giant tick.

Skip ahead several years and Johnny is a crime photographer, though his cameras are far from the kind we know. They’re living pillbug/trilobite things, taking in scenes through single glassy eyes, recording them on excreted cylinders.

Maybe you can understand why I was unable to stop. I had to know what this was, what was going on, what was with these living camera bug things! Why did they only photograph scenes including organic material, and why were they so fond of death, violence, and atrocity?

Because that’s what the Guests want to see, and why the Guests have been so generous sharing their bio-technological advancements. They like to watch humans be awful to each other … and humans, being what we are, prove only too happy to oblige.

Also, btw, my soup got cold, but I hardly cared.

-Christine Morgan



STIRRING THE SHEETS by Chad Lutzke (2018 Bloodshot Books / 113 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Elder funeral home worker Emmett loses his wife in a tragic auto accident. He goes about life as best he could, but his world turns upside down when a body arrives at his place of employment that looks uncannily like his ex in her younger years. But wait ... this is no NEKROMANTIK gross out. Lutzke's study of a lost man trying to deal with a new found fascination is like watching a car accident: you know you should keep moving but you just can't look away.

STIRRING THE SHEETS isn't about a necrophile per se, but more a man who goes to extreme lengths to deal with his grief. There's some tense moments, and hats off to Lutzke for setting up some standard ideas that go in uncommon directions. I like how Emmett's punk neighbor was dealt with, and the ending is solid and satisfying.

A smart, well paced entry into one of horror's darker subgenres.

-Nick Cato



MONSTERS AND ANIMALS by J.F. Gonzalez and Wrath James White (2018 Deadite Press / 214 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

SURVIVOR, by J.F. Gonzalez, is one of those books from which there’s no recovery. A real rip-your-soul-out-through-your-eyeballs kind of book. I’m normally a big re-reader, but, as with Jack Ketchum’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, one read was all I could take.

Then along comes this prequel collaboration, and I was doomed with dread because I knew I’d end up just having to read SURVIVOR again. Yet, how could I resist? Especially with the Wrath James White factor amping up the sex and depravity?

“Monsters” focuses on Melanie, whose family seems burdened with tension and secrets, most of them revolving around how Mom goes on frequent getaways, often coming back with prime cuts of meat for the freezer … and the locked room in the basement … and what happens when Melanie and her boyfriend decide to see what’s in there. Spoiler: it isn’t pork roast.

“Animals” shows us more of what Mom’s really up to on those trips, wallowing in a world of porn and torture, making snuff films, finding creative ways to dispose of the evidence. When a troubled youth (Mike Lombardo, oh my) gets caught up in the scene and his friends try to help him, the situation for all involved goes from bad to worse. We’re talking wall-to-wall carnal bloodbath here, definitely not for the squeamish or prudish.

A few other bits and pieces round out the book, including Gonzalez’s outline and notes for a project called “Mabel II,” a movie shooting schedule, and a couple of “Mabel’s Recipes” for the ambitious chef.

I believe Wrath James White and editor Brian Keene did a fine job honoring the literary legacy of a talent taken too soon. And yes, my fears proved true … now I have to re-read Survivor, and see if the intervening years of extreme horror have toughened me enough or if I’ll end up curled in the corner whimpering again.

-Christine Morgan


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