Sunday, November 20, 2016

Reviews for the Week of November 21, 2016

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. We're serious. Read it. Or you will be confused as to why we haven't answered your email / FB message / tweet. Seriously. READ IT. Thank you...

CREEPING WAVES by Matthew M. Bartlett (2016 Muzzleland Press / 272 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Continuing the same vibe he created in GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION (2014) and THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS (2015), Bartlett brings us back to the mysterious town of Leeds, revealing more of it's dark history and mysterious residents.

For those not in the know, a radio station (WXXT) lures people to Leeds with its strange broadcasts. And once there, hapless visitors are confronted with everything from devil worshippers to flying leeches to a woman who sells the most unusual of books. The short chapters in CREEPING WAVES latently introduce us to some of the town's more infamous figures and historical events, and several are nothing short of terrifying. And while Bartlett uses some dark humor at times, there's a real sinister feel to everything, even when we think he's going for an all-out laugh.

Among my favorites here are 'Baal Protects the King (Part 1)', where a young priest discovers Leeds' ancient evil; 'The Egg,' in which a new chicken farmer brings an unusual egg into his home and the violent affects it has on his family; 'Rangel,' where a man, continually haunted by the disappearance of his younger sister, returns to Leeds after moving to the west coast: this one really got under my skin. Finally, 'The Massachusetts State Trooper' is a prime example of the author's bizarre style of horror, unsettling and as eerie as it gets.

With glimpses into Leeds' personal ads, haunting phone calls, and the sense that nothing is at it seems, CREEPING WAVES is another excellent entry in Bartlett's growing occult series. Well written, scary, and completely absorbing, you'll surely be weary of turning your radio dial down to the lower numbers.

-Nick Cato

SIX SCARY STORIES edited by Stephen King (2016 Cemetery Dance Publications / 200 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

When you ask Stephen King to judge a competition, ask him to select a winner from the six best stories narrowed down by experienced literary types, from a field of hundreds of submissions ... when you say, okay, Steve, here's our top six, now you pick ONE ...

Well, we're talking Stephen-freakin'-KING here, people. He did what they wanted, he picked one, but he also deemed the other five just too damn good to leave behind. And, being a guy with a certain degree of influence, certain connections, certain heft, he was readily able to find a publisher willing to take on the task.

I'm glad he did, because they really are pretty good. The book itself is a slim, sleek, lovely thing, which is available both in trade paperback and luxurious hardcover. The introduction offers a tantalizing glimpse behind some industry scenes as to how the competition and end result came about.

As for the stories themselves, well, in the introduction, Mr. King makes a point of mentioning how he doesn't want to say too much about them, give too much away. So, I won't either, but will try to provide a teensy teaser for each:

'Wild Swimming' by Elodie Harper, the winning tale, opens the book and is told in the form of a series of emails from a young woman whose adventuresome sport/hobby brings her to a lake perhaps best left undisturbed.

In 'Eau-de-Eric,' by Manuela Saragosa, a widowed mother isn't sure what to do about her daughter's attachment to a disturbing new stuffed animal.

'The Spots' by Paul Bassett Davies, provides an interesting examination of duty, loyalty, blindness, cognitive dissonance, and perception.

'The Unpicking' by Michael Button was my personal favorite of the bunch, a nasty-chilling little take on what toys get up to while the household sleeps.

'La Mort De L'Amant' by Stuart Johnstone, has a rustic, tragic feel with unsettling undertones and better-unanswered questions that linger long after the story's done.

'The Bear Trap' by Neil Hudson finishes things off with the grim tale of a kid left on his own to look after the place until his father returns, though it's sure been a long time.

-Christine Morgan

THE NIGHT PARADE by Ronnald Malfi (2016 Kensington Press / 384 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

THE NIGHT PARADE takes us to the end of times on a hot pursuit, doomsday kind of ride alongside David and his unique daughter, Ellie. They’ve got six hundred bucks, a change of clothes, and a handgun in a duffel bag in the backseat, not to mention what may be the only key left to saving the world. At first it seems like David has kidnapped his daughter and is on the run from her Mom, but if you stick with it a little bit longer, there are much stranger things going on.

There is a nasty virus spreading, Wander’s Folly. Although, a cheesy name for such a dreadful virus, one causing a worldwide epidemic, it definitely isn’t something to mess around with. It has already killed all the birds. And nobody knows exactly how the Folly is spread. We only know that one doesn’t want to catch it because it makes it's recipients go mad, a disease of the mind, a constant state of nightmarish hallucinations so real that you believe them, not to mention it's accompanied by terrible headaches, nosebleeds, and once infected you are entirely unable to decipher dream from reality.

We eventually find out David didn’t kidnap his daughter. He’s just a loving dad in fear of the government taking her away from him like they did his wife. Ellie, too, finds this out after overhearing it on the news at a diner by accident, her Mom is dead, but something doesn’t add up. On the news they said it was a suicide and they (David and Ellie) are now on the most wanted list for questioning. Innocent fugitives on the run. But, why you ask? They didn’t kill her. And David knows for a fact that she didn’t commit suicide. It’s all just part of a big cover up. The doctors drained her and made her weak during extensive testing. A simple blood test resulted in her demise and the fact that she was immune to the Folly. She may have been the only key on this planet to cure it. After she passes we discover Ellie has the same rare blood as her mom. The doctors, feds, and hazmat suits won’t stop for anything until they catch them. Ellie also discovers around this time that she has new found superpowers. She can heal and control people’s emotions, pulling out the bad and replacing it with good. She has had her powers ever since she can remember and they’re getting stronger by the minute. Will David be able to keep his daughter safe from the powers that be and their extreme medical testing before he too gets sick and dies from the Folly like the rest of the world?

I guess you’ll have to read it for yourself and find out.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any fans of Horror and Science Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

ISLAND RED by Matt Serafini (2016 Severed Press / 222 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I picked this one up with the idea it'd be your basic summer vacation gorefest creature feature, nightmares in paradise as something ravenous from the deep chows down on an endless buffet of bikini-babes and stubborn tourists who paid too much to listen to advice about avoiding the beach.

The way the book starts off, with a young couple going for a sexy moonlight swim despite a grim warning from the grizzled one-eyed old-timer, certainly supports that anticipated narrative ... you just know an aquatic terror is about to show up ...

Which it does, in the form of a large frilled shark, but by the time the shark makes the scene, our sexy young couple are already dead. Burnt and blackened, char-broiled, sizzling crispy critters. And the shark, who'd only been doing the natural thing of investigating a potential free cooked meal, finds itself a sudden victim, the unwilling but helpless host to a far more malevolent entity.

So, as if the basic primal fear of being eaten by sea monsters isn't enough, it gets worse. Several other basic primal fears are added to the mix -- infection, possession, parasitic takeover, loss of control. Not to mention being isolated on a remote island (with a hurricane bearing down, of course), the confusion and panic, trapped desperation, and not-unjustified paranoia brought on by a huge circling dead-black warship.

All this, plus the human drama elements, as the enforcer for a ruthless crime boss has been given one last chance, and a divorced dad tries to rebuild his relationship with his teenage son, and a missing young woman's secrets threaten to expose several sleazy truths.

And there I'd been, expecting a simple SyFy formulaic chomp-o-rama ... to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement, because not only did ISLAND RED give me a wild action-thriller-mystery ride, it also proved to be damn well written. A little choppy in places, maybe, with some abrupt transitions and some elements left unexplained or lost in the shuffle, but with that much going on, at such a cranked-up pace, it's easy to forgive.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC (Issue No. 54)

This issue's fiction is comprised of three novelettes and one short story, kicking off with Steven J. Dines' 'Perspective,' which uses various points of view to tell the tale of Emily, a woman who has lost her sight as a result of stress that became too much for her in light of dealing with a stalker. The sections told from the person who raped Emily when she was a teenager are especially unsettling, and Dines does a fine job making us feel both Emily's blindness and her husband David's growing frustration as he deals with her handicap both mentally and physically.

Julie C. Day's 'A Pinhole of Light' is quite a unique ghost story: In an attempt to speak with his late wife, photographer Geir discovers a way to communicate with the dead by developing photographs on his skin (trust me, it sounds out there but it works). Geir's system comes at a price, which not only leaves him completely drained, but bothers his young daughter Jenny, who is busy painting a mural on her bedroom wall with her uncle Peter. She hopes it will take her father's mind off his wife and inspire him to abandon his occult practice. The shortest tale of the issue, yet the most epic in scope.

In Ralph Robert Moore's 'Not Everything Has a Name,' A tall man named Ben meets Tommy and Sheila at a bar, and after a game of pool, he winds up taking Sheila home with him. Ben's a bit older than her, and also a widower. Moore gives this the feel of a classic noir story, but at the halfway point nothing is as it seems and the conclusion will surely surprise most readers.

I'm not one for werewolf stories, but Malcolm Devlin's 'Dogsbody' is a fresh look at them. Gil, who had been part of a group who were infected with a lyncanthropic virus, became a werewolf for only a few hours. But it has changed his life in ways far worse than the physical transformation. Devlin's tale focuses more on the aftermath of Gil's incident and offers much thought into the nature of mankind itself. While all four stories this issue are excellent, this was easily my favorite.

Opening non fiction columns by Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker will get your blood flowing (especially Volk's piece on violence in the genre), and Peter Tennant delivers an insightful interview with Damien Angelica Walters after his usual barrage of book reviews, this time focusing on Lovecraftian anthologies. Gary Couzen's dvd/blu-ray reviews cap the issue, and as much as I follow the genre I had no idea the classic giallo film 'The Bloodstained Butterfly' had been released from Arrow Films. Thanks, Gary, for helping to shrink my wallet!

You're still not reading BLACK STATIC? Correct that right here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato


Monday, November 7, 2016

Reviews for the Week of November 7, 2016

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

ANGEL OF THE ABYSS by Ed Kurtz (2014 Dark Fuse / 322 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Technically, the noir era was more 1930s/1940s, and this book is set during the early 1920s and modern day, but something about it feels steeped in noir throughout. It's brooding and sensuous, dark and fraught, turbulent, forbidden, laden with cold-smoldering intrigue.

Plot-wise, it's about a silent film, a movie called Angel of the Abyss, its subject matter taboo and controversial even as it's being made. For lovely young actress, Grace Baron, it might be her big break. For director Jack Parson, it's a chance to make a statement. For others in the industry, it could mean trouble.

Fast-forward nearly a hundred years, and Angel of the Abyss has become long-lost and semi-legendary, all but unknown except to the most dedicated experts and aficionados. Rising star Grace Baron vanished under suspicious circumstances, one of those enduring Hollywood mysteries to this day.

When film restorer Graham gets a call out of the blue from the nice ladies of the Silent Film Appreciation Society, who've found a surviving reel and want him to work on it, he can't resist the chance. Nor can his wayward devil-may-care buddy Jake resist tagging along.

Of course, there are still people who don't want the movie to be restored, people who will go to any lengths to keep it lost. Even (dramatic music) murrrr-der. Graham and Jake learn that the hard way, but by then they are in too deep to just walk away.

The historical segments are particularly handled with a beautiful believability and skill, a time-travel experience through Prohibition and other issues of the time. I found it an engrossing, hypnotic, fascinating read.

-Christine Morgan

THE WINTER TREE by Alison Littlewood (2016 White Noise Press / 24 pp / limited edition chapbook)

"Whatever is the matter?" she said.
"Nothing my dear," I replied, unfortunately at that moment removing my hand to reveal the pale grey kid of my glove crimsoned with a drop of blood.

Littlewood's turn of the century (sort of) ghost story is a haunting look at a man who believes he has married the wrong woman. We're not sure if protagonist Arthur Geddes is slowly losing his mind due to his recent revelation or if he's being hit with a wave of guilt in the wake of his mother's passing. Either way, THE WINTER TREE is a quick and satisfying read that asks us to draw our own conclusions.

As always, White Noise Press delivers an absolutely beautiful book collectors will want, highlighted by Keith Minnion's artwork and snazzy end papers.

Grab one here while you still can: The Winter Tree

-Nick Cato

LARRY by Adam Millard (2014 Crowded Quarantine Publications / 242 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Everything I've read by Adam Millard has been an absolute delight, a real kick in the head, witty and hilarious, winking-sly fun. In this one, he takes on the slasher genre, to terrific effect.

Thirty-some years ago, when the whole concept of crazed killers butchering horny teenagers was just starting out, a guy with a pig mask and a hatchet carved his way through Camp Diamond Creek. His bloody reign of terror only ended when one final girl sprung all these new rules on him, and left him to burn to death.

Well, presumably. We all know how that goes. Pigface survived, but retired. Hung up his mask and his ax. He's been living with his crone of a mother ever since, both of them getting older and older and more and more infirm. Now Pigface, a.k.a. Larry, is feeling the urge for a last killing spree before he's too decrepit.

It just so happens that a new group of horny teenagers is about to descend on the camp. Which hasn't aged well either, but still offers plenty of opportunities for underage drinking and romantic romps ... and various creatively messy ends.

No stone is left unturned in terms of homages. Tropes are troped, stereotypes are played with. A must-read of epic hilarity, while taking on our society's very real fears of aging and the struggle of trying to keep up with the times.

-Christine Morgan


STARR CREEK by Nathan Carson (to be released 11/15/16 by Lazy Fascist Press / trade paperback)

Just lately, with nostalgia running high, anything set in the 1980s is going to draw inevitable comparisons to STRANGER THINGS, so I might as well get it out of my system. STARR CREEK is like STRANGER THINGS all grown up and wack out of its mind on drugs.

It's rural 1980s Oregon rolled in LSD, a cavalcade of weirdness that opens with a dog-food-eating contest and escalates so rapidly that by the time you get to the really out-there stuff, you kind of just have to take it in stride.

Let me tell you, though, there's a lot of out-there stuff, and it's pretty brain-bending to say the least. The bit with the dog food (which I'd had the, uh, let's go with 'pleasure' of hearing the author read from on a couple of occasions) is a gorge-clenching piece of work to be sure, and it's only the warm-up; it's one of the most normal parts of the whole book.

Fittingly enough, the kibble competition features a guy called Puppy, whose family tends toward the casual when it comes to names, as well as things like, oh, say, schooling, hygiene, the law, and incest taboos. Puppy's not popular, and he's also not someone to cross. But, even Puppy isn't ready for the convergence of events headed Starr Creek's way.

Packed to the rafters with tripping teens, backwoods rednecks, biker gangs, hippie communes, meddling kids, and kooky cultists of various description ... a meander down a psychedelic memory lane of Dungeons and Dragons, heavy metal music, classic arcade games and television ... with nods and winks at everything from Lovecraft to E.T. ... yeah, STARR CREEK will take you places, whether you were an 80's kid or not!

-Christine Morgan


CEMETERY DANCE (Issue #74/75)

Headed by incredible cover art courtesy of Vincent Chong, this double-sized Joe Hill special issue is packed to the gills with great fiction and feature articles.

After an excerpt from Hill's novel THE FIREMAN, we're treated to an all-new novella titled SNAPSHOT, 1988 (also by Joe Hill), about a man recalling his younger days as an overweight nerd who spent much time with his elderly nanny, then helped her in his teen years as she became the target of a strange man whose Polaroid camera robs people of their memory. Powerful stuff and part of a forthcoming 4-novella collection.

As for the rest of this issue's fiction offerings:

-THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT by Lisa Morton: A best selling author meets a rich family she wrote about. She falls in love with one of their sons and discovers an ancient family curse. Creepy, classic styled horror.

-MATTER by Josh Malerman: A young boy roots for his aunt, who is convinced she has found a way to walk through walls. Brief yet effective.

-BAD LUCK by K.S. Clay: Crazed man enters veterinarian's office requesting his cat be euthanized. Not due to illness, but a curse. A tight little suspense yarn.

 -SEED by Erinn L. Kemper: A social worker is recruited by a most unusual family.

-AUTOPHAGY by Ray Garton: An all too real political/social commentary ... with monsters. One of the best of the issue.

-THE BLUE HOUSE by Bruce McAllister: A mysterious house and a young girl who hangs around it provide life changing events for a young summer ranch hand.  A beautifully told ghost story.

-THE LAZARUS EFFECT by JG Faherty: Twin God-fearing brothers head a group of survivors during a zombie plague. A fresh, religious take on a tired subgenre.

-INDIA BLUE by Glen Hirschberg: A young San Bernadino man is hired to work the PA for a new cricket league at an old sports arena. A cricket legend known as The Destroyer is among the small crowd of spectators in Hirschberg's wonderfully weird entry. This would make one hell of a midnight movie.

-EYES LIKE POISONED WELLS by Ian Rogers: A private investigator is hired by a rich man to locate a rare missing sword that has been stolen from his estate. But the PI becomes the target of his employer's rage. A well done creature feature.

Among the non fiction features:

-A nice interview and history of Joe Hill's fiction by Bev Vincent and Peter Crowther.

-Thomas Monteleone with another great column, this time even extra ballsy (if you can believe that!) as he explains his distaste over the new WFC award.

-Michael Marano looks at 3 recent blockbuster films and gives his two cents on why he believes they're stroke jobs.

-Mark Sieber on how NOT to sell books at a horror convention.

-An excellent interview with publisher Paul Goblirsch of Thunderstorm Books.

-Bev Vincent, Richard Chizmar, and Stewart O'Nan revisit King's PET SEMATARY.

-Plenty of book reviews including two feature-length reviews by Bev Vincent.

I wouldn't mind every issue of CD being a double issue so long as it holds the same quality as this one, that's as beautiful to look at as it is to read. Seriously...this thing's a real gem for any horror fan's shelf.

Grab your copy here (in 2nd printing trade edition or limited signed hardcover): Cemetery Dance Issue 74/74

-Nick Cato