Monday, April 25, 2016

Reviews for the Week of April 25, 2016

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

THE SADIST'S BIBLE by Nicole Cushing (2016 01 Publishing / 87 pp / eBook)

Cushing (author of MR. SUICIDE, my favorite novel last year) returns with an equally as disturbing novella dealing with suppressed feelings, suicide, and a cosmic deity (themes she has and continues to handle quite well).

Ellie is tired of her religious lifestyle, which includes her devout husband. She's basically a closet lesbian who meets a younger woman in an Internet chat room. That'd be Lori, a slightly off-balanced bisexual who is looking to get away from both her mother and the demanding God who wants more than any human could ever give it.

They decide to meet up at a hotel for a night of wild sex before killing themselves. With this suicide pact to drive them, they travel to an isolated hotel, but their separate journeys are littered with different types of obstacles, and it's during this section of the story where Cushing puts her dark imagination into overdrive.

THE SADIST'S BIBLE spotlights two women who have been abused by religion and faith to different degrees, and places them on a course that's as chilling as it is mind-bending. Ellie and Lori believe suicide will end their troubles, but the God they're running from has plans far beyond either of their expectations.

Whether it's a novel or a shorter work such as this, Cushing has quickly become one of my favorite authors and THE SADIST'S BIBLE is another intense example why. Deep, intelligent, and genuinely horrific.

-Nick Cato

WIND CHILL by Patrick Rutigliano (2016 Crystal Lake Publishing / 206 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Among my many other vices, I’m always a sucker for extreme weather survival stories. Especially cold. Cold is fascinating. Nature at its most violent might be earthquakes or volcanoes or hurricanes. Cold, though, cold is different. So, you’d better believe I wasn’t going to pass up something with a freezing blue-white cover and a title like WIND CHILL.

And when said aforementioned extreme weather survival story also involves monsters or some other sort of peril? Even better! A howling, bitter, deadly terror to go along with an already precarious situation!

For teenager Emma, going on a sudden trip with her dad is far less surprise vacation and far more emergency bug-out; Dad’s been getting weirder and weirder since Mom died. Paranoid. Buying into conspiracy stuff, end-of-days societal collapse. The guns, she knew about, if perhaps not the extent of the arsenal. The cabin-turned-bunker way out in the middle of the wintry wooded nowhere, she didn’t.

Only once they’re there does she realize how truly isolated the place is. No internet, no phones, no contact with the outside world at all, and even if she could sneak the car keys, they’re snowed in and she wouldn’t know where to drive. Not fun. It’d be a bad scene even if there wasn’t something evil in the woods.

It’s an intense read, with plenty of that claustrophobic no-way-out trapped sense, Emma’s anxiety both tangible and sympathetic. I wasn’t ready for it to end as soon as it did, but that was because the rest of the book consists of bonus short stories, eight of them in all.

They are no slouches either, touching on some classic monster lore, some dark-fairy-tale-feeling pieces, some weirdness defying categorization, and what may just perhaps be a slightly discernible hint of commentary on practical effects vs. CGI.

-Christine Morgan

KRAKEN by Eric S. Brown (2016 Severed Press / 136 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

As you can tell by the cover (and in case you're not familiar with the author), KRAKEN is a classic-styled monster mash, written in a fast-paced style that won't bore those who can't deal with similar fare found on the SyFy channel.

The Desron 22 is on maneuvers with a few other military vessels when they come across a drifting cruise liner. They find only one survivor aboard, a man who claims everyone else had been attacked and killed by man-sized, squid-like creatures. And by the looks of the ship, they have no reason to doubt him.

Before long, it's a Navy vs. squid creatures action adventure, complete with some gleefully graphic kill scenes, and just when our boys think things are under control, they come ship-to-humungous-tentacles with the mythical title beast.

Brown has a knack for banging out pulp monster fiction like no one else, and here I felt like a high school student in the back of the classroom sneaking a read of something like John Halkin's SLIME (Google it!) or any number of paperback monster romps from the early 80s.

Fun stuff if a bit generic, but what else are you expecting from a novel titled KRAKEN? Get 'yer tentacles on!...

-Nick Cato

EVERY TIME WE MEET AT THE DAIRY QUEEN YOUR WHOLE FUCKING FACE EXPLODES by Carlton Mellick III (2016 Eraserhead Press / 122 pp / trade paperback)

The master of titles that make you go “okay, this I gotta see!” may have outdone himself this time … if nothing else, it’s almost twice as long as any of the Harry Potter book titles! Take that, J.K. Rowling. *And* it’s about a bullied school kid with special powers!

There, however, any resemblance to YA adventures and boy wizards comes pretty much to a screeching halt. Nobody at Hogwarts ever had a face that exploded when they got excited. And I do mean, physically exploded, in a sticky ker-splatter of blood and skin-shrapnel.

Which is what happens to Ethan’s girlfriend, Spiderweb, on their first date at Dairy Queen. He already knew she was different from other girls, what with the spiders and stuff, but the face exploding seems kind of bizarre. It’s okay, though; she’s on the bus the next day with a patchwork repair job. So they keep going out, despite the name-calling and cruel teasing of their classmates.

It’s only when their first kiss blows off part of Ethan’s face too that he starts having doubts. But by then, he’s meeting her parents, he’s at their huge fancy mansion-ish house, and her father’s patch-working ETHAN’S face back together while telling him the secrets of their family history.

After what happens with one of the bullies at school, Ethan has a drastic and immediate decision to make. Does he want to stay with Spiderweb? As in, forever, as in starting right now, leaving his whole life behind? Or does he want to break up with her, which would have its own dire consequences?

A charming tale of teenage romance with all kinds of disfigurements, malformations, blood, bugs, and gore … one of Mellick’s most bizarre yet, and also one of his best … he just keeps getting better, with no slowing down.

I find it extra cool that this book was written at a beach house writer’s retreat last year, and as I was reading it, the author was at a beach house writer’s retreat THIS year, where he no doubt wrote another complete book we can look forward to seeing soon!

-Christine Morgan

ALTAR by Phillip Fracassi (2016 Dunhams Manor Press / 54 pp / chapbook)

Phillip Fracassi’s Altar is an absolutely great and fantastic character driven tale of impending doom. Although the overall book is rather short, it is crafted and written so well it still manages to deliver an unexpected depth. The characters are just as believable as they’re realistic to the point you can feel their own thoughts and emotions as they push the subtle story further into the deep end.

We as the reader are instantly drawn into the lives of a family’s summer getaway to a community swimming pool located in the middle of a suburban hell, an aside from throwing on a blood red sheer terror soaked bikini that’s so dark it’s black. You may want to think twice before taking a dip and getting wet while having a little too much fun in the sun, because there is something much deeper, much darker lingering beneath the surface of it all.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE DEATH HOUSE by Sarah Pinborough (2015 Titan Books / 286 pp / hardcover, trade paperback & eBook)

There’s a whole generation of kids right now growing up on a steady diet of YA dystopia, and when they are ready to move on to more solid grown-up fare, here is the book to get them there.

Here is a dystopia we-the-reader don’t even see, don’t have explained to us beyond the barest of bare-bones basics. There’s no scrappy rebellion against the system, no Team ThisGuy and Team ThatGuy ‘ship wars.

In this world, kids are routinely blood-tested for some never-named disease / genetic anomaly. The ones whose results come back as ‘Defective’ are, with no warning, picked up by agents in vans and whisked away to a boarding school on an island. There, they just … wait. Every now and then, kids get sick and are taken upstairs to the sanatorium, never to be seen again.

So many questions! The symptoms of the disease seem to vary, the kids share rumors about its effects and history, but none of them know, so neither do we. The nurses and teachers, overseen by Matron, are cool and detached. Lessons are perfunctory. Socialization is pretty much left to fend for itself.

Both Narnia and Lord of the Flies are frequently mentioned by the characters throughout the course of the story, and perfectly so because elements of each figure as prominent under- and over-tones to their own situation. The various dorms are their tribes, they have their own outcasts and troublemakers and weirdos.

The protagonist, Toby, likes to skip his bedtime ‘vitamin’ to roam the big old house alone while everyone else sleeps​. But that changes for him when a new girl, Clara, has the same habit, and he has to share his private night world.

Sarah Pinborough’s writing is flawless, and in this one she’s got a mastery of mood that wraps around the psyche with dark little tendrils to burrow in and squeeze. Brilliant work, truly top-notch.

-Christine Morgan



'A Devil Inside' by Gerard Houarner is an intense study of a man dealing with a (literal) personal demon. Fans of Houarner's "Max" stories know few write psychological horror on this level, and herethe author not only shines but sets the bar quite high for this issue's fiction.

Keith Minnion's 'Down There' finds a man working with the Navy on a mission that requires the ultimate sacrifice to keep the apocalypse at bay. A creepy-as-hell thriller.

Michael Wehunt goes deep in 'The Inconsolable,' as a suicide-attempt survivor wrestles with faith and his deteriorating family. As a fan of religious-themed horror this one blew me away.

Nik Houser's 'Citizen Flame' has one of the best opening lines in recent memory: "When I told the GPS in my dashboard to go to hell, I didn't expect it to take me seriously." Ha! We're then on an insane road trip with a father racing to deliver justice to his daughter's sleazy ex-boyfriend, only to find himself in a town that just may be hell itself. A wild time that brings the late great Richard Laymon to mind.

'Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words' by Amanda C. Davis deals with Jeremy, who receives mysterious messages and delivers them to various people through what those around him believe are crank phone calls. But just as his ex is about to have him taken to the Loony Bin, she learns he's not so crazy in this slick, haunting chiller.

Among the non-fiction treats are the usual heaping of Stephen King news and reviews from Bev Vincent, Michael Marano's always insightful film reviews, another great (and very personal) M.A.F.I.A. column from Thomas F. Monteleone, and two interesting columns on the rise of horror fiction (by Christopher Fulbright) and why "extreme" horror may be just a tad played out (by Mark Sieber).

There's also an informative interview with author Ray Garton and plenty of book reviews.
An all-around great issue (especially with the fiction), although Sarah X. Dylan's cover art--while a neat concept--just didn't do it for me.

Grab a copy (or subscription) here: CEMETERY DANCE No. 73

-Nick Cato


Monday, April 11, 2016

Reviews for the Week of April 11, 2016

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


SUBMERGED by Thomas F. Monteleone (2016 Samhain Publishing / 338 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Former Navy diver Dex McCauley and his crew discover a sunken German WW2 u-boat in the Chesapeake Bay during a routine dive. But it's unlike any u-boat they've seen before, and there are no records of it ever exisiting. And when Dex discovers the captain's memoirs (and a strange object), he learns of the sinister mission the sub had been on.

As we follow Dex's present day story, the novel is split with what happened aboard the sub back in 1945. Captain Erich Bruckner runs a tight ship and has been ordered to keep his crew in the dark about their top secret mission, which includes a bombing assault over New York City. On their way to America, they are ordered to visit a top secret Nazi base under the ice in Greenland, where they discover a bizarre occurence had almost destroyed the SS's plans.

As Dex and his crew go back for a second visit to the wreck, an illuminati-like organization learns of the u-boat's discovery and are hell-bent on retrieiving whatever Dex has salvaged from the wreck. Their second dive ends with only Dex and one other diver alive and on the run...

SUBMERGED is a fast-paced action adventure/thriller with just enough Lovecraftian goodness to give it a horrific edge. While I hate to use a played out term such as "compulsive page-turner," there's really no other way to describe this as the close of each chapter forces you to read on. As I read, I felt as if I were watching a summer blockbuster, and it'd be a crime if someone didn't do their best to translate this one to the big screen (so make sure to have a big bucket of popcorn on hand before you start reading).

If you haven't read Monteleone before, this is a fine place to start. If you're a fan, you'll surely rip through this in a sitting or two.

An all-around great read from one of the best in the business.

-Nick Cato

MISTER WHITE by John C. Foster (2016 Grey Matter Press / 278 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

At times, this book gave me a crowded feeling, not in a bad way but a busy one, as if several people were conducting distinct big projects in a smallish shared space. No matter how well they got along, every now and then there’s bound to be some jostling.

In this case, instead of people it’s storylines – international spy thriller, family secrets, occult conspiracy, haunted house-ish, and stalking malevolence – and I was left with something of a reverse-gestalt impression … that the whole came out not quite up to the sum of its parts. I think I would’ve preferred a tighter focus on a few elements, to be more fully explored and resolved.

Summary-wise, Lewis Edgar is an operative for a shadowy agency which made the mistake of trying to harness and control an ancient evil force. When things inevitably go wrong, Lewis winds up on the run from enemies and former allies alike, while also trying to protect his semi-estranged family. His chase takes him across several countries and through weird supernatural encounters.

Basically, for me, I wanted more of some stuff and less of other. I was left tantalized but curious about the train and the nuns, I wanted more with Hedde and the dogs; I felt like there was a lot more going on, and I was somehow missing out on important pieces.

I did enjoy it, I found the writing top-notch, the mood nicely ominous with creeping dread, and I probably had more fun than I should’ve with putting my long-ago German classes to the test. My current plan is to let it settle a while, let it mull around in the back of my brain, and then see how a second reading goes over.

-Christine Morgan

ODD NUMBERS by Richard Chizmar / HOW THE WIND LIES by Brian James Freeman (2016 White Noise Press / 40 pp / limited edition chapbook)

The latest offering from White Noise Press contains two stories in a "flip book" style. The stories are unrelated but are both excellent.

In Richard Chizmar's 'Odd Numbers,' a man's compulsive use of numbers drives him over the edge, then in Brian James Freeman's 'How the Wind Lies,' ten families set out across America in colonial times to get away from a malevolent force, but only one survives and has to face what has been following them.

As with all WNP chapbooks, to reveal anymore about the stories would be a disservice to the reader. I think this one is sold out now but check the secondhand market. Collector's will surely cherish this beautifully designed edition.

-Nick Cato

SACRIFICING VIRGINS by John Everson (2015 Samhain Publishing / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m going to commit apophasis here by not even getting into the whole Samhain kerfuffle, except to say what a shame it is for the authors, especially when collections like this one are indicative of the kind of books we’ll have to look for elsewhere.

Because, wow, these are some excellent stories! Beautifully written, dark, evocative, spooky, sensual, each with its own unique blend of mood and emotion … disturbingly erotic, weird, powerful, mingling dread and humor … all with precise, intense effect.

There are ghost stories, murders, infestations, a guy in love with his answering machine, revenge, deadly dunk tanks, twists, kinks, and shocks. What would you do if you found a beautiful body buried on the beach? If you thought you had a chance to bring a loved one back from the dead? If you got tired of the deal you made with the devil?

This may be one of my toughest challenges yet in terms of trying to select my faves. So many of them are so good, it’d be easier to list the few I didn’t quite care as much for … but even that proved difficult when I went flipping back through the pages.

So, I’ll single out 'Green Apples, Red Nails' for particular mention, which made me literally gasp out loud not once but twice. I did NOT see that coming. Chills and goosebumps. Well done!

-Christine Morgan

THE SPECIMEN by Pete Kahle (2014 CreateSpace / 502 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When I was in college, a bunch of us went to the movies to see … uh … I can’t even remember what we went there to see! But the double-feature was some sleeper flick we’d never heard of, so we stuck around to give it a chance and find out if it was any good. It was THE HIDDEN. ‘Nuff said.

There’s just something about the whole alien symbiote thing, isn’t there? Something simultaneously fascinating and repelling, whether it’s squidgy body-taking-over evil or mutually beneficial willingness (one of my favorite characters in a superhero game was bonded with an energy-lifeform).

What you’re getting in this book is more the squidgy-evil kind, latching on with hooks and tentacles, implanting nasty little wormy larvae, subsuming the host’s will, etc. And they’ve been doing this for a long, long time … throughout human history … the flashbacks to the Viking and Aztec ages, being two of my favorite eras, I particularly loved!

And, just as they’ve always been among us, some of us have been either trying to exploit or destroy them. The struggle kicks into high gear when an urban explorer goes poking around an abandoned asylum and brings out something that’s been locked away for fifty years. Something very old, very powerful, and very unhappy about its long captivity.

This is also one of those books that has no dang business being a first novel. Are you kidding me? I mean yes, okay, the author’s done short stories and is no slouch as an editor, but whoa … so many characters, all vivid and distinct … so many storylines deftly interwoven … serious good stuff here, so, when I saw the ‘first novel’ bit in the About the Author, I was flatly gobsmacked. Never would have suspected.

I will be eagerly, and impatiently, awaiting the sequel. And now I also want to go watch THE HIDDEN again.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC Issue 51 (Mar-Apr 2016)

Martin Hanford's cover art, "Jack in the Box," continues Black Static's recent run of excellent covers, which houses this top notch issue.

The opening commentary begins with Stephen Volk on how the workings of the BBC remind him of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (!), then we get Lynda E. Rucker's take on the three anxieties horror writers face (although I can say Peter Straub--contrary to this column--is very approachable and has given me solid time at three different events). Good stuff here.

Stephen Graham Jones' novelette 'Bird Father' finds a widow (and her sons) dealing with life after a fatal car accident claims her husband. She starts dating an officer a bit too soon afterward, and the boys decide to play some twisted pranks on her using a dead bird that was seen at their father's crash site. But the officer isn't what he seems to be, and the walls of their house become a Poe-like mystery in this dazzling chiller.

An old woman babysits in the house she used to live in in Mark Morris' 'Fall Up.' Both young Heidi and babysitter Shirley have recently lost loved ones (brother and husband, respectively), and despite its short length, Morris manages to build a growing dread in both characters that culminates in a hair-raising finale. A nice twist on the haunted house story.

Gary McMahon's 'Necropolis Beach' is a pre-apocalyptic Lovecraftian tragic love story that reminded me of an early Neal Adams comic strip from EERIE magazine. Picture something like HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP with a much better (and serious) script...

An old man attempts to make amends with an old woman he stole from in Caren Gossoff's 'Spring Forward.' I enjoyed the author's prose and the tale is fine, but this melancholy drama is out of place in a horror magazine.

In 'Listen, Listen,' "Mr." Stephen Hargadon introduces us to Robert Haig, who inherits his toy-making father's fortune. But Robert's old man comes back to torment him in a unique way in this wonderfully written study of ghosts and the afterlife.

Norman Prentiss shows what happens when a slightly apprehensive English professor goes a bit off the rails in 'The Future of Literary Criticism.' Professor Lowell Fitch, after receiving a calligraphy pen as an anonymous gift at a convention, decides to re-write much of his speech for his panel the next morning. His theory on what made Poe's detective stories tick causes near scandal at the 1962 job seminar. Prentiss fills his novelette with finely timed humor, a great ending, and a clever nod to Poe (I sense a partial theme this issue).

After 50 issues, the 'Blood Spectrum' dvd/bluray reviews are taken over by Gary Couzens, who delivers a fine debut column (with an excellent look at the new bluray of 'Thundercrack.') Readers who looked forward to Tony Lee's column will not be disappointed.

Peter Tennant's 'Case Notes' looks at some DarkFuse titles, a pair of ocean/shark-themed anthologies ('Sharkpunk' sounds like a good time) and a pair of novels by Angela Slatter before getting to an interview (and more novel reviews) with author/editor Molly Tanzer.

A very satisfying issue highlighted by a nice variety of story-accompanying artwork.

Grab a copy or subscription here: Black Static

-Nick Cato