Monday, November 11, 2019

Reviews for the Week of November 11, 2019

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. If you're on your cell phone you probably won't be able to see it unless you switch to 'desktop mode,' or better yet, break out your laptop, baby...

MERCILESS by Bryan Smith (2019 Grindhouse Press / 163 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Bryan Smith has recently become one of my favorite extreme horror authors. I’ve been hooked ever since I read and watched the movie 68 KILL, which while I’m on the subject, felt as if this title could also easily become a great setting for another violent horror thriller much in the same light. Smith has a very bold, original, and unique voice, as well as an uncanny ability to tell one hell of a dark and violent and twisted tale. From his short stories to his longer works, the author victoriously manages to bring us something morbidly nice and eerily original time and time again. 

When a newlywed couple hits the road for their honeymoon things quickly take a turn for the worse. Well, maybe the better? For better or for worse? Isn’t that how these types of marital relationship things usually go? Well, whatever the case is…this couple turns their honeymoon into something much more memorable. Like a bloodbath when they kidnap a total stranger and take him to a cabin in the woods to torture him. Together. For better or for worse with this violent prenuptial agreement. Do they both have what it takes to show their undevoted love for each other? Are they even being completely honest with each other? Only time will tell when you pick this one up and read it for yourself.

With plenty of sadistic, violent twists and turns, this one is sure to have you turning those dirty, sticky, stuck together pages rather quick.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE NIGHT AND THE LAND by Matt Spencer (2019 Back Roads Carnival Books / 362 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

My suppositions and expectations bounced me all over the place going into this one. By the title, I was thinking it’d be dark fantasy, but then the first line’s about a Jeep and murders, so then I thought slasher, but then there’s hints about a hidden war so I leaned toward some kind of vamps-vs-wolves thing … and by the time I realized it wasn’t exactly any of those, I was hooked.

Story starts with Rob, whose dad has a secretive past and mysterious friends he’s worked to keep from his son, even though said past is very much a part of Rob’s own life and future. Then we skip ahead a few years to meet Sally, a runaway with her own secret-laden past, struggling to survive on the streets and stay ahead of who’s chasing her.

Now, my guess that they’d end up the classic star-crossed lovers did prove true, when their chance meeting and attraction proves curiously disturbing yet irresistible to them both. What Sally knows but Rob doesn’t is that they’re each from opposite sides of that hidden war, and should by rights be mortal enemies.

Seems like everyone else Rob runs into also knows way more about his bloodline and place in the world, not to mention the powerful potentials he’s only accidentally begun to tap. Once he and Sally have connected, everything speeds up and escalates into all sorts of violent mayhem.

In the normal scheme of things, his kind is driven to fight, destroy, and devour hers. Something’s different about her, though, and he finds himself protecting her from her own murderous (and kind of delightfully screwed-up psychotic) family.

My personal favorite character is Puttergong, a wisecracking smartass potty-mouthed impish ‘familiar’ who gets assigned to Rob but seems to have his own sometimes less-than-helpful agenda.

-Christine Morgan

THE LONG SHADOWS OF OCTOBER by Kristopher Triana (2019 Grindhouse Press / 250 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

What would you get if you combined a raunchy teen-sex-romp party movie with a haunted house ruled by a vengeful lust-fueled evil? You’d get an unforgettable NC-17 read packed with tempted virgins, tormented spirits, grisly surprises, and the ultimate showdown of female-empowered sensuality. In other words, you’d get this book!

When rebel Joe and jock Danny hatch a plan to get Joe’s little brother finally laid, they never could have predicted how it’d all end up. The offer to housesit at Snowden Manor, complete with pool and hot tub and access to the wine cellar – and for generous pay to boot! – seems way too good to be true, but you’d better believe they jump at the chance.

It IS too good to be true. Mrs. Snowden has a darker reason for hiring on some virile youths to look after the place. The time of power and sacrifice is rolling around again, and like any caring mother, she only wants the best for her dear daughter. She also prefers to be well out of town for a solid alibi.

As soon as the guys settle in, it’s open season on their hormones and desires. It’s also open season on their girlfriends, because what walks in Snowden Manor has a really nasty jealous streak and doesn’t want to share her boy-toys. It might just be up to the innocent ones to save the day … if they can.

I remain greatly impressed by how well Triana writes female characters, even and especially in the extreme horror/smut arenas. They are the real driving force here, believable and relatable, from the elderly lady to the kid sister, from the school slut to the squeaky-clean good girl. (that said, though, my absolute favorite character in the whole book was Horace!)

Didn’t I say a few reviews ago that here was a rising superstar, an author to watch? With THE LONG SHADOWS OF OCTOBER, I’m proved right once again.

-Christine Morgan

CHILOPODOPHOBIA by Paul McMahon (2019 Grinning Skull Press / 156 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

As if anyone needed another reason to not drink and drive, along comes CHILOPODOPHOBIA (say that 5 times fast!) which should be required reading for those taking their learner permit exam (or any horror fan looking for a satisfying creep-out).

Several years after causing an auto accident that claimed an innocent life, Cady (who has started his life over in another part of the country) agrees to meet his girlfriend's uncle, who happens to be her only living relative. Although he agrees to go, he's apprehensive one or both of them may question him about the accident he was miraculously not held responsible for, and tension builds as he wonders what he would say to them. And shortly after arriving at the uncle's home, Cady discovers answering questions about his past life will be the least of his worries.

While the cover art (not to mention the title) for this one had me expecting a HUMAN CENTIPEDE-type tale, McMahon goes off in a different direction and evokes the spirit of classic creepy-crawly terror films such as SQUIRM and KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, albeit with more dread than any of those types of films would be envious of.

McMahon delivers a fine blend of suspense and gross-out horror that's definitely not for the squeamish, and while McMahon's work has been featured in several anthologies, his first book has announced a rising talent who's obviously taking no prisoners.

-Nick Cato

EARWORM by Aaron Thomas Milstead (2019 Blood Bound Books / 224 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Don’t get too comfy anticipating this is going to just be about getting catchy little songs stuck in your head. Oh, no. No, no, no. This is a more literal kind of earworm. The crawls-in-gets-comfy psychic kind, moving from host to host. Think Star Trek, think The Hidden, you get the idea.

Our protagonist, ironically enough, is an exterminator who’s already having a rough time. Not only is he separated from his wife and rarely allowed to see his daughter, he’s recently been diagnosed with a terminal condition. Keeping the news to himself to avoid pity, he goes on about his business, showing up at a routine pest-control call.

But there’s nothing routine about finding a freshly-killed corpse. While checking to see if the guy’s really dead, he feels a weird little tickle by his ear but thinks nothing of it … mostly because just then the murderer comes in with a gas can, and our protagonist decides to make himself scarce without realizing he’s picked up a little hitchhiker.

Then he does start experiencing the catchy-tune kind of earworm, plus odd dreams, as his passenger attempts to establish mental contact. Soon enough, he’s getting the whole story. It turns out the relationship isn’t strictly one-sided; that whole terminal disease thing stops being a problem, for instance.

But they aren’t the only such duo around, and not all of the earworms inhabiting people are so benign. One in particular is quite old, quite evil, and all-too-close to home.

Blending life-sucks with body horror and fears of possession and loss of self, bringing a skewed sense of humor occasionally reminiscent of the works of Jeff Strand, this is a fun read that builds to a surprisingly sweet (if kinda twisted) conclusion.

-Christine Morgan

100 WORD HORRORS BOOK 3: AN ANTHOLOGY OF HORROR DRABBLES edited by Kevin J. Kennedy and Brandy Yassa (2019 Amazon Digital / 110 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

We're fresh out of spooky season, horror folks, and headed for that dreadful winter, but we’ve got ourselves another Drabble Anthology on our hands. First of all, I’d like to say I’m a big fan of these anthologies. I was excited to see there was a third installment coming out and I immediately put it on my list. This series is packed with a whole bunch of great, quick witted reads that are well-written, powerful enough to paint a very quick image in the mind, and just overall a lot of fun to read. This time around there are over a hundred 100-word stories in the Drabble mix. These books would make great bathroom readers, coffee table, tabletop decorations, you know some of those great in-your-face locations to stir up some of those more meaningful conversations to be had. Scary, spooky, violent, bloody, and thought-provoking, these little gems pack quite the horror punch.

Some of my personal favorites were ‘Hack’ by Jim Goforth, a bloody take on how much blood one will shed whilst cutting off their own foot. ‘Narrative’ by Kevin Cathy, a drab author's recent decent into the depths of hell after making a deal with the devil himself. ‘The Midnight Circus’ by Sheldon Woodbury, a shadowy caravan of horrors makes it way down dark country roads. ‘Dreams’ by Andrew Lennon, a man invaded by ghastly dark shadow figures in the twilight hours. ‘Nothing’ by Chad Lutzke: light up the incense to cover up the scent of nothingness and death. ‘Used Parts’ by Theresa Derwin, where a loved one transfers to preserve a dying sibling’s human consciousness into a foreign object whilst lying on his death bed. ‘Wooden Suit’ by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, just remember, don't move... it'll leave room for moisture and worms. ‘Machines of War’ by Ron Davis, I mean c'mon, we all know I'm a sucker for robots. Shout-out to these machines of war really quick. ‘Mine’ by Justin Hunter, because we've all thought about purchasing a soul on eBay, haven’t we? But what happens when you don't have a return policy in place. ‘Three O'clock A.M.’ by Eric J Guignard, the witching hour is upon Sam Rockland in the shape of a priest.

Check it out!

-Jon R. Meyers 

STRING OF PEARLS by Thom Carnell (2018 Macabre Ink / 242 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Following up his previous collection, Moonlight Serenades, Thom Carnell returns with some new stories written after triumphing over that insidious bane of us all, writer’s block. It’s such a joy when the words start flowing again!

Like before, some of these initially appeared in Carpe Noctem, and they display a wide range of genres and mood. First up is “Sorority,” a gritty little survivalist vignette with a girls-only stand against the zombie apocalypse … and next is a sharp turn into government agencies and demonic possession and a rather unusual weapons-toting priest.

Speaking of weapons-toting, yes, in this book we do get another installment of the adventures of Carnell’s all-around tough guy action hero Cleese! This time, it’s a tantalizing teaser Expendables-style as he and several other mercs, military types, and soldiers of fortune are whisked away on a helicopter ride to a mystery destination for hush-hush but likely life-or-death purposes.

In “On the Ice,” we get a chilling and desolate peek into the mind of Dr. Frankenstein’s unfortunate creation, while “Under Ice” is just simply breathtaking and beautiful in its descriptions.

“House Haunted” hearkens back to the fraught overwrought gothic ghost-stories of old. But then there’s the sinister and far-too-plausible righteousness and poisonous rhetoric of “Family Man,” which I found the scariest of the entire set.

The big centerpiece of the book is the lengthy “Song of the Dragon,” a sprawling Japanese fairytale/folklore adventure that reads like the novelization of an entire season of a fantasy anime. Well-written but not really my thing; I skimmed a lot of that one.

Several of the less-fanciful tales are more introspective and personal, musings on death and dying, philosophy, thought, going home, facing mortality, moving on, and seeking closure or resolution. “Prodigal Son” in particular is a difficult but potent, cathartic read.

-Christine Morgan

THE DEATH CHUTE by Ambrose Stollicker (2019 Aurelia Leo / 118 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In the arena of creepy old buildings, few can compare with the hospital or asylum. You know the type of place, with the long history, the troubled patients, lots of deaths, possible abuse or neglect or other horrible goings-on. Often voted most-likely-to-be-haunted in the yearbook. 

But with this one, it’s a little different. Rather than the derelict ruins left to gloomy decay, where intrepid urban explorers or ghost hunters might go, the former Glastenbury Mountain tuberculosis sanatorium has been spruced up and revitalized as a posh rest/care home for the elderly.

TV producer Jake Porter isn’t thinking new show when he first visits. He’s looking for a place for his ailing mother. Glastenbury seems to have it all: luxurious accommodations, attentive staff, price tag to match. It doesn’t hurt that Jake develops an attraction to the lovely and intelligent director.

So, he moves Mom in – the scenes between Jake and his mom, as she struggles with dementia, are heartbreakingly well-done, and all-too-true to anyone who’s had to deal with that terrible thief of memory and self! – despite being slightly uneasy about the place’s past and the behavior of some of the other residents (in another cuttingly deft touch, their accounts are generally disregarded as senile ramblings.)

It doesn’t take long before ‘slightly uneasy’ becomes ‘seriously unnerved,’ when Jake catches glimpses of nurses in old-timey uniforms, his mother starts talking about the little boy who visits her, and an old graveyard on the property seems to corroborate the legends. There’s even rumors of a ‘death chute,’ through which bodies could be clandestinely removed without upsetting any of the other patients or drawing too much attention.

Jake starts thinking there might be reality show fodder here after all, which doesn’t bode well for his budding romance. The vengeful spirits, meanwhile, are reaching a paranormal boiling point, and soon the living will be lucky to make it out alive.

-Christine Morgan

PART-TIME ZOMBIE by Gerald Rice (2019 Melted Brain Books / 218 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Not sure how well the title here fits the actual book; although it starts off with a mindless and inexplicable craving to eat human flesh, what follows goes way beyond and far afield from your typical ‘zombie’ tropes. By the end, we’re well into more medical-weirdness and almost cosmic-type horror, with religious/mythic overtones.

Alice is just doing her humdrum day job, shuffling paperwork for a couple of doctors who run their practice out of a little strip-mall office. Hungry, but not sure what for, she heads out to the nearby Dairy Queen, but a run-in with some tough teens turns into a fight and one thing leads to another and people get bitten and messily dissolved by spewed gastric acids and hit by a car.

Waking up in the hospital, Alice feels fine and checks herself out against medical advice. But she’s struck again by her hunger on the Uber ride home, and it doesn’t go so well for the driver. Or his car. Or Alice, who gets promptly hauled back to the hospital after what appears to be a deadly crash.

Meanwhile, Detective Lazarus (yes, that’s his name) has been called in to investigate the bizarre incidents. He’s trying to track down the mystery woman for questioning but keeps just missing her, talking to her neighbors, revisiting the hospital only to find Alice has left again, etc.

When he does catch up with her, he’s startled by her uncanny resemblance to his late wife, and that’s when the story really gets on the crazy train. Starting with how his wife was killed and partly eaten by a deer walking on its hind legs (? could have used some more info on that).

From there, the weirdness really keeps on rolling, leading to Frankensteinian levels of mad science and possible links to reincarnation and all kinds of stuff. Interesting to read, and enjoyable, if occasionally a little muddled … but yeah, didn’t seem to quite fit the title.

-Christine Morgan

IN THE MIDST OF THE SEA by Sean Padraic McCarthy (2019 Pace Press / 332 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Oh the red flags, so many red flags … I wanted to feel sorry for Diana, I really did, but dang, between her dysfunctional family and abusive husband, this was a whole red flag drill team long before we even get to the stuff about the hauntings.

Other characters KNEW it, too, and kept TRYING to tell her, and SHE knew it, but STILL … and she’d keep going back, giving another chance, doing what it’s hard not to call ‘stupid’ things that then go hideously wrong and make matters worse …

So, yeah, in terms of being written true-to-life with the trappedness and rationalizations and gaslighting and stuff, it was extremely effective. The urge to just grab her and shake her, or call the cops, or child protective, was overwhelming to the point it sometimes distracted me from the rest of the story. Very well done; flinchingly, wincingly so.

Diana’s mother, too, wow what a piece of work. Again, all too believable, horrible, controlling. The whole dynamic there gave me a creepy V.C. Andrews matriarchal secrets-and-lies vibe, with the rest of the family going along with whatever she wants to avoid her wrath.

Summary-wise, Diana and her daughter, and her new husband Ford (temper and alcohol issues, whose own family background is a mess) move into a house left to Ford by a great-aunt, on a remote island. A house that comes complete with creepy dolls, a troubling journal, and unquiet spirits.

Overall, I found it well-written modern gothic, doing a good job tracing parallels between the past and the present, but yeah, difficult and frustrating and often uncomfortable in terms of the characters.

-Christine Morgan


Monday, October 14, 2019

Reviews for the Week of October 14, 2019

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. If you're on your cell phone you probably won't see it unless you switch to "Desktop View." If not, break out the 'ol laptop...

WHITE TRASH GOTHIC PART TWO by Edward Lee (2019 Section 31 Productions / 160 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at this one months ago, and even then it felt like forever since the end of Part 1! Those of you who’ve been waiting the whole time must’ve really been suffering! But now, now, finally, the suffering is … well, I can’t very well say ‘over,’ now, can I?

Seriously, c’mon, this is an Edward Lee book. This is part of his personal Dark Tower series, interweaving threads from his various works together into one massive tapestry. One massive, hellacious, atrocious, outrageous tapestry.

We rejoin the Writer, who came to Luntville merely trying to solve the mystery of his missing memories, only to be swept up in a destiny of legendary, even Arthurian, proportions. He’s started the derelict car once belonging to Dicky Caudill, of the infamous Dicky-and-Balls duo, and is being hailed as the chosen One. He’s having vision-dreams and getting snarky messages from his own doppelganger. He’s on his way to investigate a necromancer’s estate in the company of two buxom beauties. He’s not intending to open doorways to Hell, but …

It’s got hillbillies and horrific tortures and vile acts galore. It’s got Lovecraftian elements that’d make ol’ Howie keel right over in terminal shock (not to mention scandalize and offend the scholarly purist types, which, personally, always makes me grin). There’s mucho graphic girl-on-girl action of both the sexual and combative varieties. There’s bodily fluids of every all-too-vivid description.

And, folks, there’s the Bighead. THE BIGHEAD IS BACK. Is he ever! In all his grotesque, violent glory. His encounter with a prison bus of pregnant women and their nasty guards (looking at YOU, Sergeant Harding Ryans!) is one for the ages. The Bighead even has a moment so unexpected, I actually went “d’awwww” out loud!

Written with Lee’s trademark mix of elevated erudition and crass-tastic obscenity-laden dialect, breaking the fourth wall with wicked humor, and just generally going to and beyond every extreme, it’s a deservedly awesome debut for Section 31 Productions and a vital addition to any Lee library.

Worth the wait? Oh, yes! Though now we just have to wait for Part 3 … .

-Christine Morgan

BLACK SIREN by Nikki Noir (2019 Red Rum Reviews / 45 pp / eBook)

Nikki Noir isn’t just a reviewer of the dark, sick, sexy stuff … she writes it, too! And pretty dang well, as this tasty teaser of a novella shows.

Make no mistake, we’re talking graphic content, and that’s made clear from the very first line. The story opens at a porn shoot, where model/actress Lily has her own rules about what she’ll do and how far she’ll go for how much money.

It’s not that she’s squeamish or skittish. She just has standards. A girl’s gotta get paid. Especially when she’s five grand in debt to the kind of people who don’t appreciate late payments. Running out of options, she turns to a sleazy former acquaintance who offers her an opportunity to get the money she needs. All she has to do is choke down her humiliation (and a few other things).

Lily agrees, and goes to the gig, only to find out her payment isn’t in the currency she expected. Instead of cash, she ends up in possession of a mysterious substance known as Black Siren. Presuming it’s a drug, she attempts to barter it to pay off her debt, before she realizes the effects it has and that she was never meant to get her hands on it in the first place.

Of course, it ends cliffhanger-style as a lead in to a sequel, but it’s a sequel I will certainly be ready to read, just to see what kind of danger and smutty trouble Lily gets herself into next!

-Christine Morgan

THE DAYLIGHT WILL NOT SAVE YOU by Mark Allan Gunnells (2019 Unnerving Press / 167 pp / trade paperback & eBook) 

Fasten your seatbelts, Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s about to get hella bumpy and then some up in here with a new collection by Mark Allan Gunnells. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the author has a genuine knack for the art of storytelling. Gunnells’ characters continue to invoke real-world emotions and empathy as they bleed, suffer, and penetrate their way throughout the entirety of this twenty-seven story collection. 

Some of my personal favorites were ‘The Cursed Anthology,’ as a man visits the home of a notorious horror editor by the name of Edward Finch, who was the editor of an anthology titled Modern Gothic. The contributors mysteriously began dying one after another in the order in which they appeared in the table of contents in what became to be an internet famous anthology referred to as The Cursed Anthology.  ‘Redman,’ a fantastic tale in honor of the great and fantastic Jack Ketchum. ‘A Rain of Autumn Leaves,’ a haunting tale centered around a young mother and her child as the autumn leaves continue to fall and fall and fall. Other honorable mentions; ‘Good Guys With Guns,’ ‘Dead Boy,’ ‘Perversion Therapy’ and ‘Pink Applesauce’. 

If you’re in the market to read something dark and horrific that is unique, thought-provoking, comedic at times, well-written, and genuinely overall entertaining to fulfill all of your horror needs and desires, look no further and check this one out.

-Jon R. Meyers

BODY ART: THE COLORING BOOK by Kristopher Triana and Corlen Scope (2019 IP / 77 pp / trade paperback)

Rarely has the “see inside” feature been so hilariously abbreviated … nothing about this book is safe for work, for family viewing, for public, or really for anywhere … the novel was already blow-the-doors-off graphic, and this coloring book version MORE than does it justice. Any random page is an eye-popper for sure. I hope it arrives in a discreet plain brown wrapper!

Highly realistic and VERY detailed. The stuff they showed you in health class, and even the brochures at your sex-doc’s office, got nothin’ on these pics. They illustrate excruciatingly dirty and/or painful scenes with up-close precision so as to mercilessly leave nothing to the imagination.

Now, here they are in full-page black and white, waiting for the discerning reader or artist to fill in the vivid, glorious colors. I haven’t attempted any yet, partly because I’d be sorely tempted to do a livestream Bob Ross style narration with “a happy little penis right over here” (as if I wasn’t already hellbound, that’d do it for sure), and partly because I doubt my humble skills would be up to the spectacle this deserves (I have many immensely talented artist friends to compare myself to).

Choice of medium is another concern. The humble wax crayon or colored pencil? Water colors? Pastels? Someone suggested glitter gel pens. Or Lisa Frank candy-hues? Full splat-gore-biological realism? Maybe some of each. I don’t know, but, the possibilities are endless. What I’d really love to do is get all those aforementioned artist friends together with drinks and have them each do a page.

A definite conversation piece for anyone you’d dare show it to, a keepsake to add to your collection, one fantastic X-rated must-have!

-Christine Morgan

CREEP THROAT edited by Viorika La Vae (2019 Jugular Press / 81 pp / eBook)

Anything with a subtitle of “Sex Fables for the Horny, Gloomy, and Unhinged” is going to get my attention, and I’m delighted to report that the book lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

It begins with a selection from vintage erotica cornerstone The Pearl, to show there’s a long history of this sort of thing and isn’t just something new that modern sickos came up with. Some are cosmic, some are comic. There are sexy shifters, cyberkink, and demonic dungeon-play. A sailing adventure gone nastily awry, hapless would-be occultists unleashing more than they bargained for, and more!

As a fan of pastiches and mashups, I particularly enjoyed seeing some familiar classics get affectionately spoofed – “The Wicker Dick,” for instance, is a hilarious sacrificial-virgin visit to ‘Bummerisle,’ while “LiGGGea” would make ol’ Edgar reel with shock.

With ten tales in all, this is one wicked and delightful assortment of naughtiness, packed with the sort of smut, horror, skillfully twisted writing, and clever literary mischief I love.

-Christine Morgan

NIGHTMARES IN ECSTASY by Brendan Vidito (2018 Clash Books / 157 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Thirteen disturbed and disturbing stories showcase Brendan Vidito’s depraved talent and imagination in this not-for-the-faint-of-heart collection. Starting off with some gooshy body horror in which a pair of lovers with a very intimate, literal, physical bond have to take their breakup to drastic levels; I flinched and squicked a whole lot through that, all right!

The language takes no prisoners either. Some of the titles, I can’t even include in this review without being bleeped. One called “F*** Shock,” for instance (what’s a guy to do when he’s had the best he’ll ever have and nothing else will satisfy?). Or another, a charming tale of humiliation and degradation, called “P*** Slave.”

Then there’s the unbleeped titles like “Placenta Bride,” in which a grieving widower tries to bring back his family using a forgotten pregnancy souvenir from the back of the freezer (ick on several levels!). Or the innocuous-enough-sounding “Rebound,” a lovely little romance between a man and his tapeworm (eeeew!).

For some dark forays into complex horrors, you’ll find a few longer and grimmer more serious works, including the weirdly-almost-gothic “A Feast of You,” and a harrowing quest for healing with a terrible price in “The Black Waters of Babylon.”

“Miranda,” the intriguingly written walkthrough/playthrough of a deadly video game, also deserves mention for experimental originality, doing well what so many movies have tried but done rather poorly.

One final note: as horrific as is what happens to the various human characters throughout this book, gotta say the stuff with the cat in “Stag Loop” was too much for me; if that’s one of your issues, do be warned. Aside from that, jump in, get messy, enjoy the read!

-Christine Morgan

GARDEN OF FIENDS edited by Mark Matthews (2017 Wicked Run Press / 211 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Billed as “Tales of Addiction Horror,” this anthology is not light-heartedly goofing around. These stories approach addiction in its various forms from several different angles, and while some may on the surface seem dissimilar, what they share is an emphasis on the insidious, compelling power of craving and need.

Kealan Patrick Burke starts things off with “A Wicked Thirst,” which follows a desperate alcoholic to the very limits and beyond.

Just the opening line alone to Jessica McHugh’s “The One in the Middle” is a leg-crosser for sure … anything involving injection and testicles … and it gets wilder from there!

Editor Mark Matthews chimes in with “Garden of Fiends,” about how addiction can destroy not only an individual but everyone around them.

With Johan Thorsson’s quick flash-fic “First, Bite Just a Finger,” the notion of your own hungers consuming you proves very literal.

John FD Taff also takes on alcoholism in “Last Call,” with the offer of a surefire cure that comes with terrible consequences for backsliding.

“Torment of the Fallen” by Glen Krisch ventures into somewhat more paranormal territory, as a teenager’s obsession with the uncanny leads to battling other demons.

Max Booth III, no stranger to hardcore horror, rivals Ms. McHugh for genital-related squickiness in “Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will,” a … let’s call it a cautionary tale, shall we?

Last, but unforgettably not least, “Returns,” by Jack Ketchum, is still and always will be the most heart-wrenching thing ever, all too plausible and all too hateful and horrid and true. He really was the best at quietly finding the ultimate nerve center and sliding a cold needle right into it.

Whether a substance, an activity, an emotion, or something else, whether resisting or giving in, these characters are going through what each and every one of us, in some way, may eventually have to deal with. Their stories, like it or not, are our stories as well.

-Christine Morgan

EASY MONEY: DEADLY REALITY TV BOOK 1: by Sea Caummisar (2019 Amazon Digital / 172 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I should not have enjoyed this book as much as I did … it was a lot of telling rather than showing, a lot of same-scene POV jumps, it had several editorial mistakes including wrong names for characters … all things I normally gripe about a lot. And here I am, still griping about them, but despite those flaws, it was just such a crazygrossfun read that I liked it anyway.

The premise is simple enough, and not at all far-fetched: a how-far-would-you-go reality game show where people compete in physical challenges for cash prizes. We’ve seen actual similar things on TV already; I remember one where they’d subject the contestants to cold and heat, Survivor has its share of endurance tests, Amazing Race has done firewalking, there’s always good ol’ Fear Factor, etc. But this takes the next step, involving deliberate injury and pain.

Easy Money is the brainchild of Uptown Reality Network executive producer Damon Dahmer, A guy with a name like that, it’s no surprise he turns out to have a sadistic streak. Tired of dating drama shows, and noting a ratings spike after an on-screen accident resulting in a broken arm, he pitches his new idea and gets approved for a pilot episode.

In it, two contestants bid Name-That-Tune style to see who’ll hurt themselves for the lowest amount. First challenge is staplegunning, followed by nailgunning, followed by a real gun. Live, in front of a live studio audience, no tricks, no effects, extreme close-ups of the bloody results.

The nation is aghast, but in the morbidly fascinated horrible way that demands more, more, more. Subsequent episodes raise the stakes both in terms of prizes and punishments, until we’re talking some SAW-level gruesomeness.

Meanwhile, as his beleaguered but optimistic assistant Mary is battling her own ethical issues, Damon can’t get enough, and, shall we say, starts his own private version of the Easy Money home game.

So yeah, a lot of flaws, but also a lot of fun, and I’ll be eager to see what comes next in the series.

-Christine Morgan

BLACK STATIC Issue #71 (Sep-Oct 2019 / 96 pp)

Lynda E Rucker's opening commentary comparing mankind-induced climate change with cosmic horror is perhaps as chilling as any fiction that follows, while Ralph Robert Moore delivers some solid laughs (and squints) as he compares horror film sequels (and our own lives) with going to the dentist. BLACK STATIC's opening commentaries are always a fine primer and this issue's offerings were among its best.

Opening novelette 'Dixon Parade' by Stephen Hargadon, follows a man whose wife, Nicola, has left him for someone else after 27 years of marriage. Depressed and wondering why she would do this, he becomes a workaholic to keep his mind occupied, and during his long work hours becomes haunted by something he hadn't noticed before in a painting hanging in his office. The story then becomes a journey of discovery that keeps a quiet yet haunting tone, with a weirdness factor I found irresistible.

Sarah Read's 'Diamond Saw' features a pregnant assassin who hears orders coming from her late boss/father through her unborn baby. She poses as a prostitute to get to her next hit, and a suspenseful showdown in a fancy hotel made me wish this crime/horror hybrid would develop into something longer. I think Read can even use this character for a novel. The accompanying artwork by Warwick Fraser-Coombe is perfect.

After the death of her brother David, Angie encounters a ghost (or does she?) in his apartment in Steven Sheil's 'Residue.' There's a great set up and some fine prose, but ends up feeling familiar.

Daniel Bennett delivers the weird with 'A Pressed Red Flower in the Abandoned Archive.' A man working a short term job with a Disaster Management company becomes obsessed with a file on his desk computer. It contains some strange information, so much so our protagonist becomes obsessed and is eventually fired from the job prematurely, right after his computer was taken for alleged maintenance. He becomes a hermit and sits in front of his home computer, waiting for the file to "contact" him, only having a few printed out pages to keep him sated. The strange aura this one leaves is a refreshing break from the norm.

In the closing novelette 'Open Houses' by Sean Padraic Birnie, a woman learns why she has such foggy memories of her childhood. After having film developed she found in her late father's camera, her life turns upside down and the reader is haunted along with her during her final moments before either death or insanity (I'm still deciding which way the story went). Birnie creates a strong sense of dread that easily gets the chills going...

This issue's book reviews include a look at Paul Tremblay's collection 'Growing Things' as well as an interview dealing mostly with GT's stories, and among the other titles covered, Jac Jemc's 'The Grip of It" sounds like a sure fire hit.

Gary Couzens delivers another barrage of dvd/bluray reviews, including the 5-film set 'Bloody Terror: The Shocking Cinema of Norman J. Warren (1976-1987),' which includes the fun scifi gore-fest 'Inseminoid' and the 1976 sexy Satanic shocker, 'Satan's Slave.' There's also coverage of the Arrow bluray of 'Cruising' and plenty of new and older titles we fans in the U.S. will hope arrive on our shores.

Why haven't you subscribed to this essential magazine yet? Do so right here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Reviews for the Week of September 16, 2019

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. If you're on a cell phone it may not be visible. Boot up the lap top, amigo ...


THE PALE WHITE by Chad Lutzke (to be released 9/27/19 by Crystal Lake Publishing  / 85 pp / eBook)

For the past year, Stacia has been the captive of a demented predator who keeps her locked in an attic. Along with goth girl Alex and a young mute named Kammie, they're only allowed to come down to the second floor to be used as sex toys for a host of pedophiles and other lowlifes. Alex and Kammie have been there much longer than Stacia, until one day when Alex comes up with a plan to escape their perverted pimp.

This short but powerful story is a dark coming of age tale that reminded me a bit of Jack Ketchum, but at this point Lutzke has created his own voice, and the second half of the story, while suspenseful, will leave readers hopeful and satisfied. Most of THE PALE WHITE deals with the aftermath of a tragedy, and I see many tears being shed through this journey, and what our girls go through is the fuel of every parent's worst nightmare.

Brutal, exciting, disturbing and heartbreaking, Lutzke has become a master of the horror novella form. No filler, a strong cast, and plenty to say about family relationships (both biological and chosen) makes this a must read.

-Nick Cato

DARK LANTERN OF THE SPIRIT by Max Beaven (2019 IP / 168 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Weird western cosmic horror, always fun! Buddy-cop style with recurring characters, extra points! Everything told first-person in a sort of nesting doll frame narrative with letters and such, a little confusing overall but it more or less works.

The place is Casper, Wyoming, a rough-and-dusty frontier town. The year is 1897. Transplanted New-Englander Arthur Wilson is still considered something of an outsider even after six years as a deputy sheriff. Now, with some unknown menace threatening the locals, he has to call in another outsider for help.

Scholar and occultist Benjamin Hathorne, comfortably at home in Massachusetts, may be ill-suited to venture out west, but for the sake of an old friend and a mystery to solve, he’ll do it. Even loaded up with arcane knowledge and some useful items, however, he’s not quite prepared for what’s waiting in the wilderness.

Add in gutsy ranchers, helpful natives, a winsome young lady who might be the key to unlocking Arthur’s broken heart, and the eldritch stirrings of an ancient and terrible power, and the duo have got their work more than cut out for them.

-Christine Morgan

THE CRYMOST by Dean H. Wild (2019 Blood Bound Books / 278 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

There’s just something so compelling about the small town with mysterious secrets I never get tired of, and this book provides another solid addition to the sub-genre. I picked up comfortable notes of King’s work, Castle Rock and Salem’s Lot and the one from Under the Dome in particular, that feeling the town itself is a living and ensouled entity, a character in its own story.

This time, the town in question is called Knoll, a quaint and charming peaceful little place. Some of the local families date back to its founding, enjoying their position of history and tradition, maybe a tad resistant to new things and change, but not necessarily unfriendly to newcomers.

They mostly all keep to their own business, with occasional flare-ups of petty grudges and scandals, and events like an upcoming vote involving the fate of the old mercantile are the big all-consuming news. Humble and prosaic, right?

Except then there’s the Crymost … a peculiar feature up in the hills out by the landfill … a rearing limestone ledge overlooking a drop into a deep spring-fed pool … where the people of Knoll bring their offerings. Part sacrificial cenote, part wishing well, part memorial to the dead, there’s no telling what items of strong personal meaning may end up dropped from the height.

And, now, items are reappearing. Items that have been gone for years, even decades, to the depths of the pool. A dark-suited stranger has been seen around. Inspections at the landfill turn up a problem that may bring in hosts of outsiders. Odd messages and odd occurrences lead some of the Knollfolk to realize something powerful is building, and they’re in a race against time to solve the mystery before it’s too late.

Entertaining and intriguing, with many interesting characters who often do surprisingly sensible things (and some who make entirely understandable bad choices); I particularly liked the visuals and poignant touches of the various offering items.

-Christine Morgan

THE SHADOWS BEHIND by Kristi Petersen Schoonover (2019 Books and Boos Press / 301 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Seventeen unsettling, well-written, strongly female-themed stories make up this collection. For the most part, they seem to range between the exotic to the everyday, but every now and then along comes a surprise turn toward bizarro.

For the exotic: archaeologists at a volcanic ash dig site, Egyptian antiquities extending their dangerous influence, hula hauntings and haunted Hawaiian art (hey, for me, Hawaii counts as exotic!), the addition of a rare Madagascar plant to a suburban garden, and an occult oracle in the form of a mummified fish.

For the everyday: a small-town librarian troubled by omens and visions, kid disappearances and a family with a secret, a guilty return to the ol’ swimming hole, a grieving mother no longer fitting in with her friends, a too-creepy flash piece about fearing the dark, a town overrun by kudzu.

As for the bizarre, 'Snake in the Grass' has this irresistible grabber of an opening line: "Twenty-one years after I was the first girl to get boobs in fifth grade, I woke up with a penis." I mean, whoa hello what? Then there’s the post-apocalypticy bizarro of 'Deconstructing Fireflies,' in which a farmer’s wife is concerned about her son’s interests … and 'How I Stopped Complaining and Learned to Love the Bunny,' because those plastic holiday statues aren’t disturbing enough already.

I had two tied-for-faves this time around, though maybe not so much because I enjoyed them as because I found them powerful, painful, emotionally difficult reads. One was 'Doors,' maybe because I too am getting on in years and facing the uncomfortable eventual contemplation of having to clear out the ancestral hoarder-home some day; daunting enough even without there being secret purpose to the clutter. The other, 'The Thing Inside,' is a difficult and potentially painful read, involving a couple mourning their stillborn baby, but then adds in alcoholism and jackalopes and possible insanity.

All in all, potent stuff, well-written, with characters it’s easy to empathize with even as they’re doing terrible things.

-Christine Morgan

TERMINAL by Michaelbrent Collings (2019 Written Insomnia Press / 329 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The “bunch of random people thrown together in a bad situation” is one of the most fun tropes out there to play with. It’s not knowing who people are and what they’re capable of. It’s how much to hide, how much to reveal, how much to cooperate, how far to go, how much to everyone-for-him/herself.

Usually, these work best when set in common neutral-ground or liminal in-between travel places, where anybody could be for whatever reason.

This time, it’s a small out-of-the-way bus terminal, in the dragging late hours. A few of the characters work there or are locals, but the others are unknown elements just passing through. Or so it seems at first; sometimes there are hidden connections, invisible threads linking lives.

Just imagine, there you are, waiting at the bus terminal. Waiting for your shift to end, waiting for a bus to arrive, waiting and waiting. Observing the people around you but not really interacting with them … until, suddenly, (bleep) gets real. Instead of a place for waiting, the terminal becomes a prison, a trap.

Not by any natural disaster or ordinary danger, either. Paranormal things are afoot. Ominous messages suggest the only way to get through the night is to do the ultimate vote-off. One person may live. Everyone has to decide. It’s got to be unanimous. All in favor.

Collings, always deft and adept with characters, does a fantastic teeth-gritting job of building sympathy and intrigue, suspicion and suspense, growth and change even within. Secrets are revealed, and stark nasty truths. And, for even the most decent among them, the idea of making the choice easier by eliminating the competition is a short and tempting logical leap.

Another gripping white-knuckler, I read it at one sitting, kept changing my mind who I was rooting for, and gasped aloud several times at expertly-done twists.

-Christine Morgan

THE FAITHFUL by Matt Hayward (2018 Sinister Grin Press / 269 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook)

The “small town creepy cult” is another of the most fun tropes to play with, and this time it’s Matt Hayward’s turn to bring the rustic inexplicable weird. The small town in question is Elswich, North Carolina, very much off the beaten track, where grubbiness, poverty, intolerance, abuse, and plain downright meanness are pretty much the rule of the day.

So, not the nicest of places to start with, even before factoring in disappearances and bloody sacrifices and horrible physical abnormalities. Into this charming scene arrives Jonesy, a rambling long-haired type with a guitar … needless to say, he doesn’t receive the best welcome from the locals.

He’s got a particular reason for being here, though: tracking down the ex he ran out on when she got pregnant twelve years ago. Meeting his biological son starts off difficult and goes downhill from there, until Jonesy is on the run with the kid, trying to get them both out of town before anyone’s killed.

Meanwhile, retiring comedian Leo Carmichael has just done his final show and is ready to hit the road in his new RV. After a cryptic but intriguing meeting with a disabled fan, he decides to follow up on those rumors of dreams and strange occurrences in Elswich, and finds a reception no warmer than Jonesy did.

Eager to leave, he’s nonetheless kind enough to stop to pick up a guy and his kid, and then they’re all in it together with half the town’s monstrous population hot on their heels. They soon realize the only way to escape is to turn around and confront the evil at its source, because the dark powers at work in Elswich have already marked them all.

-Christine Morgan

DAHMER'S NOT DEAD by Edward Lee and Elizabeth Steffen (2011 Necro Publications / 248 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook)

Ashamed of myself, diehard Lee fangirl that I am, that this one had slipped by me unnoticed for so long. But, with it being the book club discussion title of the month on “The Horror Show With Brian Keene” (yes, plug for the podcast; if you’re not listening, you should be, it’s excellent!), I knew I had to set things right and pronto.

Now, some might think the combination of one of the flat-out freakydeakiest and feared serial killers of our time with the no-holds-barred graphic language and singular style of Edward Lee would make for a gooshy gory graphic splatfest like none other. And some might be turned off by the idea, tempted to give this one a miss no matter how popular all those murder shows are now.

Well, let me assure you, as Lee stuff goes, especially given the subject matter here, the results are tempered and balanced (Ms Steffen’s influence, I presume) and milder than one might expect. Milder, but still, we are talking about murder and cannibalism here, so let’s not get too comfy, okay?

Our protagonist here is Helen Closs, a police captain facing maybe a few too many stereotypical struggles – career woman trying to prove herself and be taken seriously in a male-dominated field, commitment and trust issues with her boyfriend and her therapist, plus OMG she’s forty so menopause so end of sexuality and looks going downhill (though we are informed of her bra size; that’s probably Lee’s doing). I kinda wanted to smack her.

Her latest case involves Dahmer’s apparent death in prison, beaten to an unrecognizable pulp by a fellow inmate. But there are questions and concerns, discrepancies, right from the start, beginning with getting a positive ID of the body. Further complications quickly arise with new murders. A copycat, obviously … or is it? The evidence suggests otherwise. Was there a switcheroo? Did Dahmer escape and immediately start up his old tricks again?

Helen’s own part in the investigation is further complicated by the fact her boyfriend, who she’s just accused of cheating on her and thrown out, is the medical examiner in charge of the autopsy … a little extra workplace awkwardness. There’s also the media furor, especially once the killer – copycat or the real deal? – starts leaving notes, and various persons of interest turn up missing or meet convenient bad ends.

IS Dahmer dead? Read and find out!

-Christine Morgan

EXPERIMENT NINE by Eric Ian Steele (2018 Solstice Publishing / 342 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A little disconcertingly, the word “vampire” doesn’t seem to appear in this book. Not even in a “there’s no such thing as” speech by some blustering disbeliever after the exsanguinated bodies start turning up, although it’s presented in other ways as our own usual world.

Now, granted, these aren’t your traditional folklore cape-and-coffin vampires, but the blood-drinking is there, the near-immortality, the vulnerability to sunlight, the ability to create others of their own kind, the compelling mental powers, etc. But their origin here is more clinical and sinister, the results of science that turned out to work a little too well … then, of course, they get out.

The original escapees from the Tower have no memories of their former lives or selves. They go on the run, needing to feed and stay hidden, and to increase their numbers to replace those they’ve lost. Trouble is, there are only so many ways to cover up a growing string of grisly deaths and mysterious disappearances.

Detective Mike Hanlon (the name, same as a King character, admittedly kept throwing me off) is a Brooklyn cop relocated to Iowa, dealing with his difficult issues. This bizarre case gives him a goal, and he’s determined to track down the killers even as more and more bizarre evidence piles up, no matter the risks to his career and his life.

Throw in shadowy agencies trying to bring the situation back under control, a survivor/witness who’s lost his entire family, and the dark history of the doctors behind the experiments, and it’s no wonder the trails all eventually lead back to a final confrontation where it all began.

-Christine Morgan


Monday, September 2, 2019

Reviews for the Week of September 2, 2019

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. If you're on a cell phone you probably won't be able to see it. Break out the laptop, baby...

IN THE SCRAPE by James Newman and Mark Steensland (2019 Silver Shamrock Publishing / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In this engrossing novella, two young brothers live in an isolated North Carolina community with their abusive father. He has told them their mother left for California because she no longer wanted to be a mom, but neither boy is buying it and they plan to run away and find her. Jake begins stealing to afford bus tickets, and younger brother Matthew goes along with him apprehensively, until he realizes they need to get away from their dad before his beatings become fatal.

Also causing problems is neighborhood bully Caleb, who Jake eventually puts in the hospital, which leads to further complications once the brothers put their escape plan into action.

Part coming of age story, part thriller with some genuinely tense moments, IN THE SCRAPE is another solid tale from the writing team of Newman and Steensland (whose previous novella, THE SPECIAL, is currently being made into a film). I blasted through this in one manic sitting and found everything had an authentic feel, even the slight hint of the supernatural.

-Nick Cato

GHOST STORIES: CLASSIC STORIES OF HORROR AND SUSPENSE edited by Lisa Morton and Leslie Klinger (2019 Pegasus Books / 260 pp / hardcover & eBook)

Every now and then, it’s good to go back and appreciate our roots, get a better appreciation of where we are and where we came from. Especially when the subject is horror, so often undervalued and overlooked in literary circles.

Where better to begin than the classic ghost story? This volume collects seventeen of the earliest published tales, as well as opening with an example of the kind of haunting poetic ballad where the sub-genre used to mostly hang its spectral hat.

Many of these were familiar to me, even if I hadn’t read them in years. Others, somehow, I’d entirely missed, and was glad to finally catch up on. We’ve got Poe’s “Ligeia,” of course … works by M.R. James and Wilkie Collins, Dickens himself. We’ve got stories by Edith Wharton, Olivia Howard Dunbar, Georgia Wood Pangborn, Charlotte Riddell, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, further proving the shouldn’t-have-to-be-proved-anyway point that ladies have ALWAYS been doing this as long and just as well as the gents.

In fact, it’s Phelps’ “Since I Died” that takes the prize for my top pick of the book; wonderfully written, can’t believe I’d never seen it before, some fantastic use of first- and second-person perspective, fabulous descriptions, really hits home with the chilling emotional resonance.

Readers only accustomed to contemporary fast-paced hard-hitting fiction might find these oldies a bit on the slow and rambling/meandering side, but they make up for it with mood, atmosphere, stylishly beautiful turns of phrase, and artfulness the likes of which it’s rare to see these days.

The introduction, and helpful footnotes included throughout, serve to provide a more scholarly academic touch. The history of ghost stories, mediums, and the Spiritualism movement add an extra dimension, making for a satisfying educational experience as well as an entertaining one.

-Christine Morgan

I DREAM OF MIRRORS by Chris Kelso (2019 Sinister Horror Company / 158 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I tell ya, I like to think of myself as fairly smart and savvy and generally together in the brainmeats department, until along comes a book like this and I end up feeling mighty out of my depth. In a good way, though; a profound makes-you-think way. This one isn’t a casual time-passer or idle distraction.

I read it all the way through in one studious sitting, and still came out the other end wondering how much had gone whoosh right over my head. Complex and multi-layered with social satire and commentary, it may seem on the surface to be a survival struggle in a digital-era dystopia … at least, that’s how it seemed to me … but maybe not.

So, do be aware I could be getting it all entirely wrong. This is all only as I perceived it, for whatever that’s worth.

Our main character is a narrator so unreliable even he no longer knows who he is, existing as one of the few remaining ‘dark-dwellers’ not yet indoctrinated into the mindless zombie-like personality cult worshipping a charismatic new leader and slavishly serving the new world order. He’s teamed up with, and secretly fallen for, a tough young woman named Kad. They seek shelter and supplies in abandoned parts of the city, trying to avoid being taken into the fold by any new broadcasts or transmissions.

When a mistake leads to their partnership breaking, our ill-prepared protagonist is suddenly out on the streets on his own. In true and openly-acknowledged Ahab-allegory fashion, he sets out to confront the would-be messiah, only to find out that reality is even weirder than he could have suspected.

-Christine Morgan

SUSPENDED IN DUSK II edited by Simon Dewar (2018 Grey Matter Press / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Gorgeous book. Dean Samed cover, so, no wonder … sometimes that tired old adage about judging just plain doesn’t work. His art is mind-blowing in all the right ways, helping to set the perfect mood and tone for the stories gathered herein.

Those stories – of which there are seventeen – share a common general theme of ‘change,’ of the between, times and spaces and places of transition and crossing. Beyond that, they range from quiet to visceral, smoothly spanning eras, settings, and genres with masterful skill.

Masterful, and no wonder on that either! The authors included are some definite top-tier pros. Just glancing over their “about the” sections, the well-earned and well-deserved credentials, education, accolades and accomplishments are sure to impress (or intimidate, or make-one-feel-inadequate, but I digress).

Editor Simon Dewar’s foreword, and Angela Slatter’s introduction examining how we’re the only species to deliberately seek to scare ourselves on purpose (what is *wrong* with us?), also nicely help set the tone, as well as establish the professional creds of the book.

And then, let the unsettlings begin! Starting off with Karen Runge’s “Angeline,” which swiftly goes from an innocent-enough-seeming-but-also-kinda-creepy first line to decidedly creepy, to deeply creepy, to downright screaming eeks. Yow.

Next up is a terrifying tale of an all-too-real fear courtesy of Damien Angelica Walters, and if I repeat too many more times how she has yet to write anything less than amazing, she’ll probably take out a restraining order. Then Alan Baxter, whom I fully expect to have a movie or Netflix deal soon, takes on teens and the darker corners of the internet.

Plus more, so much more … poetic graveyard art, followed by a little loving cannibalism … ghost walks and terrible bargains … the trapped doom of claustrophobia … lost children, strange legacies … demon-summonings gone awry and sacrifices demanded … folklore, fairy-tales and mythology reaching into the modern world …

Yeah, this one’s another winner!

-Christine Morgan

NIGHT OF THE POSSUMS by Jacob Floyd (2018 Nightmare Press / 296 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A pivotal, formative part of my childhood was nature-run-amok creature-feature horror, thanks to a shelf of paperbacks my grandmother made my grandfather keep out in the garage. I spent a lot of time out there, reading about dogs and rats and snakes and slugs. In later years, I edited an anthology of similar tales with some less-likely critters (geckos, chihuahuas, crabs, platypuses, murderous blades of grass even!).

So, you better believe it, when a book called Night of the Possums comes along, I am totally there! Whether reviled as trash-goblin vermin, underrated as helpful bug-eaters, or simply misunderstood urban wildlife, they have one of the most divisive reputations in the animal kingdom as far as we humans are concerned.

Not so surprising, then, if they might eventually decide they’d had enough. Enough scrounging through our garbage. Enough being trapped by exterminators and targeted for roadkill. Welcome to a world where possums – or opossums, depending; the distinction is addressed in the book – are plenty pissed, and ready to serve up some payback.

Anybody who might scoff over how much damage a possum would do has clearly never cornered one in an alley or basement. In numbers? And we’re talking NUMBERS, no mere pack of possums but the full-on possum apocalypse. We’re also talking some possums that are far from ordinary in other ways. Bigger. Smarter. Purposeful.

For the people of one small town, what at first seems like random bear maulings or even a roving psycho soon proves to be far more than anyone could have bargained for. It’s a hissing, clawing, biting, screeching bloodbath fight for survival. Total B-movie schlock from start to finish, exactly as it should be.

-Christine Morgan

POP THE CLUTCH: THRILLING TALES OF ROCKABILLY, MONSTERS, AND HOT ROD HORROR edited by Eric J. Guignard (2019 Dark Moon Books / 356 pp / eBook)

Rockabilly horror stories? ROCKABILLY HORROR STORIES!!! Really, is there anything more that needs be said? I mean, I’ll say more anyway because it’s how I roll.

Maybe it was your scene, back in the day. Maybe you grew up hooked on Grease, or watched Cry Baby one too many times, or wanted to be Fonzie when you grew up. For my own fondness, I blame Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats.

However it happened, there’s just something so ridiculously 50’s Americana about it all, so over the top and outrageous, malt shops and car hops, hep cats and hot-rods, so brash, so loud, so tacky. These eighteen stories embody all of it, plus delving into the darker side where drag races and drive-ins turn deadly, but rock and roll will never die … ever … no matter what you do.

And look at this lineup! These are the total T-Birds and Pink Ladies of the genre, the cool kids in school. They got the Lansdales! Both Weston Ochse AND Yvonne Navarro! Class clown extraordinaire Jeff Strand! David-freakin-SCHOW! Lisa-freakin-MORTON! Seanan-are-you-kidding-me-MCGUIRE!!!

But, honestly, it’s simple enough – if you like rockabilly (with or without horror), you need this book. And if you don’t, well, your loss, squares and sad-sacks!

-Christine Morgan

AFTER THE CHANGE by Michael J. Moore (2019 MKM Bridge Press / 286 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

It’s not zombies, though, even if the book’s protagonists have a hard time convincing anybody else of that. As far as teenagers Wes, Cali, and Diego are concerned, the unfortunate victims of the mysterious event are just ‘changed.’

Well, not just changed. It’s a murderous infected/crazies pandemic scenario. The reader doesn’t get much in the way of explanation, which makes sense because neither do the characters. The cause, the contagion vector, none of that matters. What matters is staying sane, staying safe, and not getting killed or eaten.

With a military/mercenary group scouring the countryside for resources and recruits, and a cultish bunch with a charismatic leader holed up in a grocery store, the teens soon learn it’s not only the changed that pose a threat.

The main characters seem awfully mature for fifteen-year-olds, even under the circumstances … the supporting characters are for the most part pretty bland, and there are a few too many convenient nick-of-time or lucky saves for my taste. But it’s decently written and sound enough.

Best part for me was seeing an apocalypse-survival story set in the area north of Seattle; I used to live in Everett WA, so all those familiar locations and placenames made for an entertaining journey.

-Christine Morgan


Capturing the spirit of those late-night, low-budget, monstorama-theater creature features, hearkening back to the days when ghoulish hosts would introduce the fright night chills and thrills, this is a collection of several little stories written as homage to those.

Like their inspirational source material, these aren’t the most tightly plotted or plausible tales, nor do they have to be. They’re goofy fun, written in a way that brings them to grainy, black-and-white life … with the static of an old television set, or the film-sputteriness of a bargain matinee.

You’ve got your basic mad scientists, absent-minded professors, run-down castles, winsome beauties, intelligent inspectors, manly military men, folksy locals whose warnings go ignored, aliens and weird experiments, plucky kids with pluckier robot friends, rampant patriotic fervor, jet-packs, gloomy moonlit woods, tough teens pitting hotrods against unnatural menaces, the works.

Even for what it is, the book maybe could’ve used a little more editor-type polish, but its charm makes the flaws almost like seeing the wires holding the tin plate spaceships or the zipper down the monster’s back. Light-hearted popcorn fun. I’d watch any of these for a cheesy movie party night.

-Christine Morgan