Sunday, December 8, 2019

Reviews for the Week of December 9, 2019

NOTE: Please see bottom of main blog page for submission info. If you're on your cell phone switch to "Desktop View" or you probably won't be able to see it. If this is the case, break out the laptop, baby...

SLASHVIVOR by Stephen Kozeniewski and Stevie Kopas (2017 Sinister Grin Press / 296 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Not sure how I hadn’t reviewed this one yet, since I know I read it a while ago! At any rate, buckle up, keep your assorted limbs inside the vehicle, and hold on tight, because here we go … it’s time for post-apocalyptic America’s favorite game show, TRY NOT TO DIE!!!

Remember THE RUNNING MAN? Not the novella, which still would make a neat flick on its own, but the movie adaptation with Arnie? The big televised obstacle course deathtrap arena with over-the-top pro-wrestler-style maniacs trying to hack up condemned prisoner contestants as a smarmy host commentates?

Start with that … only, replace the condemned prisoners with ‘randomly’ selected citizens … stick the arena in a giant caged dome with a live studio audience … and instead of pro-wrestler-style maniacs, it’s a roster of the most fiendish and brutal serial killers in the world.

The world which, by the way, is a blasted hellscape of destruction with cyborgs and nuclear mutants and repurposed homicidal animatrons, so, that roster includes far more than your classic slashers … but those are quite well-represented too. Especially the debonair cannibal, the gifted experimental surgeon … you get the idea.

Most people are thrilled to be Selected, a moment-of-fame televised death preferable to their ongoing dismal existence. Dawn, a scrappy young scavenger and thief from the wastelands, feels differently. But the powerful Producers don’t take no for an answer, and as the game gets underway, Dawn finds herself a reluctant celebrity.

As if the situation wasn’t already all-around bad enough, this particular episode of Try Not To Die is in for some nasty surprises even the Producers haven’t anticipated. The body counts and splatter factor will go off the charts, not to mention the ratings … if there’s anyone left alive to care.

A wild, gory, riotous ride, packed with great hate-to-love-’em and love-to-hate-’em characters throughout. Forget THE HUNGER GAMES; here, the odds are NEVER gonna be in your favor.

-Christine Morgan

THE MONSTROUS FEMININE: DARK TALES OF DANGEROUS WOMEN edited by Cin Ferguson and Broos Campbell (2019 Scary Dairy Press / trade paperback & eBook)

Anyone who doesn’t know by now that women can so write horror has either been living under a rock or playing willfully ignorant. That argument should be over. But, since it still does keep cropping up from time to time, here’s another stellar example of female writers showcasing their dark and deadly sides.

I was particularly pleased to notice how many of the names among the contributors were new to me; more proof (not that it was needed) that there’s plenty of us out there, more and gaining momentum all the time.

These fourteen stories examine many different sides of what it means to be (or identify as) a woman, from the expectations inflicted by society to what we take upon ourselves. The creative, the destructive, the protective, the passionate, the vengeful, the loving … it’s all in here, because it’s all in each of us.

You’ll find female-focused tales herein of familial obligation that may make you think twice about your next holiday gathering … of professional obligations keeping a doctor on the job well above and beyond the call of duty … of ancient relics and ancestral secrets.

You’ll share the daily eternal struggles of dealing with boys-will-be-boys, workplace harassment, body image, that time of the month, and finding confidence in sexual empowerment. You’ll witness uncanny transformations from the Stepford-esque to the Jekyll-and-Hyde.

If you’re a gal-type, you’ll have plenty to relate to, strongly resonating with life experiences. If you’re a guy-type, and tempted to skip this book because it might make you feel guilty or uncomfortable or left out, well, really, ask yourself, isn’t that all the more reason to read it?

-Christine Morgan

CLUB CLOUD AND QUEEN by Victor O’Neil (2019 Omnium Gatherum / 321 / trade paperback & eBook)

Based on the cover, I thought I was in for a rockabilly rodeo of a weird western. What I got was something with, admittedly, a few weird western elements, but overall was altogether wilder, weirder, epic, mythic, and full-tilt bizarre.

Were I to blurb it (*innocent look*), I would go with something like this: “Joseph Campbell himself couldn’t have imagined the classic hero’s journey as depraved as this … a cosmic, dystopia, hedonistic Narnia with shades of the Matrix and the wild West … monstrously good … will turn your brain into a balloon animal!”

Trying to explain this book would be a monumentally complex undertaking that’d still fall far short of encompassing the sheer mind-warpingness. If you insist on some sort of summary, there’s this guy named Jed (an unreliable narrator in an unreliable reality to begin with) who appears to live in a struggling post-fall society, or maybe it’s all in his head. Then a snake comes out of a ceiling fan and suddenly Jed’s being wet-nursed by an angel when a Burt Reynolds lookalike rolls up in a muscle car …

Wait. Let’s try that again. You know how, in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, those four kids cross over into a different world and become royalty? Kind of like that, only, instead of fauns and talking lions, there’s super-drugs and wild orgies …

Or, how about this … if instead of discovering he was a wizard, Harry Potter found out he and his siblings were powerful godlings, their mother a decadent wicked fourth-dimensional queen slowly becoming a monster …

See? See what I mean? It defies summarizing. Just read it. Read it and see for yourself. Do be warned, though, there’s a lot of, ahem, adult content (wasn’t kidding about using ‘hedonistic’ and ‘depraved’ in that blurb!) Tell you this; I fully expect to see it on the Wonderland Awards ballot next year.

-Christine Morgan

INTO BONES LIKE OIL by Kaaron Warren (2019 Meerkat Press / 90 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

While mourning the deaths of her two young daughters, Dora finds herself at a sea-side boarding house, which happens to be haunted by the spirits of those killed during a nearby shipwreck. But the "hauntings" here aren't your standard genre tropes, and to say more about them would do this gripping novella a major disservice.

The owners of the Inn try to persuade Dora to do something that could potentially set her mind back or even destroy it, and her recovery, as it is, is continually challenged by odd situations and hints of the supernatural that we're never quite sure aren't just figments of Dora's imagination and fears.

Like her previous novel TIDE OF STONE, Warren again employs some fantastic atmosphere and keeps the reader guessing as to what's actually going on inside our protagonist's head. I've said before Warren's style reminds me a bit of the late, great T.M. Wright, but with this latest novella she continues to carve out a quiet-horror path that's all her own and uniquely frightening.

-Nick Cato

LUCIFER SAM by Leo Darke (2019 Grinning Skull Press / 290 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Heavy metal and horror are like chocolate and peanut-butter! They don’t just go together, they belong together! And every now and then, along comes something right up there with not merely a Reese’s, but a Reese’s Halloween pumpkin. Something like this book, for instance.

Our narrator, Kirk, is front man for a band called Lucifer Sam, rife with their own struggles, drama, and personality conflicts. Except, the story he’s telling isn’t so much Lucifer Sam’s story as the story of how Lucifer Sam got swept up in a bigger, far stranger, deadlier one. The story of the hugely popular and successful band Cat O’ Nine Tails, and what happened after their mysterious disappearance … and even more mysterious return …

With Bermuda-Triangle shades of Lost and other such thrillers, Cat O’ Nine’s plane vanishes without a trace, only to reappear in the same spot, six months later. There’s no accounting for the missing time, no explanation, no answers given. All anyone knows is, they were gone and now they’re back. And planning an album and big show.

They seem different, though. It isn’t just the way they look younger and fitter. Their behavior is different. Flat-affect, unsettling, devoid of emotion even toward their loved ones. As if they’re changed somehow. A change that also shows in their music. Those listening to the early demos of their new stuff react in crazed, violent, self-destructive ways.

Kirk was never much of a fan of their work, but when his obsessed girlfriend starts showing the signs, he takes it upon himself to try and find out the truth. Even if it means convincing the other guys in Lucifer Sam to help, and even if it means tracking down an aging former rocker with his own ties to Cat O’ Nine Tails.

And maybe you only meant to eat one Reese’s Halloween pumpkin, but before you know it, you’ve gone through the whole bag of chocolatey peanut-buttery goodness, and should feel bad about it, but probably won’t!

-Christine Morgan

TO WALLOW IN ASH & SORROWS by Sam Richard (2019 Nihilism Revised / 165 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Extra, extra. Read all about it. I found a new author that you’re going to want to read and will probably be all about it. First things first, two words: Sam Richard. If that doesn’t ring a bell, you may already know him as the mastermind, owner, and operator behind a couple of already unique and compelling mashups of Weird Fiction, Horror, and Bizarro Fiction style punk rock tribute anthologies put out through his press, Weirdpunk Books. With a literary tribute to David Cronenberg in THE NEW FLESH, The Misfits in HYRBID MOMENTS, and another zombie punk rock spectacular titled ZOMBIE PUNKS FUCK OFF, his eclectic barrage of loud and zany literature has already begun to make some noise in the not so distant past. But, after reading this debut collection, I discovered something even better, the man and his writing himself. Let’s all say it out loud together again: Sam Richard, whose writing is not only unique within itself but strong enough to standout in a world of already great and fantastic micro and small press authors of the weird. His writing is brutally honest in this unforgiving and relentless sort of punk rock, weird fiction, horror kind of way. Often thought-provoking and deep, often with a unique blend of looming sadness, impending doom, and hopeless dread. I loved every word on every turn of the page.

There’s a lot to take in on this one, folks. You might want to do yourself a favor and read it slowly, let the words soak in, or you may take on more than you can chew, or in this case spit out and regurgitate slow into the mouths of corpse like birds with skeletal wings. Yes, it’s that heavy. The words are sincere amidst the dark, and often beautifully dreadful imagery abounds. For example, the author kicks things off in this collection with a story that’s almost indirectly written very closely to home titled ‘To Wallow in Ash,’ a tale about a widow who takes the ashes of his deceased wife and mixes them in with the ink of a new tattoo, before realizing that she and the time they had were more powerful than ever, and to consume their memories together was simply not enough by form of permanent ink, so the narrator begins to consume her ashes in more conventional and lasting ways… think, by physically ingesting them. To hold and to preserve within, to digest and to take part of her again to not only feel but to also hold onto that eternal love they shared together. Like I said, there’s some super powerful stuff going on here, folks! Am I right? 

It only keeps getting better the more you read into it. Please do yourself a favor and pick this one up. Make sure you read the introduction first to see what this book is really all about. I randomly picked this one up one day when the cover caught my eye and I literally could not put it down after I started reading it. It's that good!

-Jon R. Meyers

#HORRIBLE by KJ Moore (2019 Blood Bound Books / 101 pp / eBook)

The introduction warns that these “are not nice stories.” It warns of possible shock, offense, and transgression. There’s a system of hashtags, including spoilers and potential triggers. Some may seem silly – ‘poorly loaded dishwasher,’ ‘cheese not used as intended,’ ‘mechanical bull’ – but then, if you’ve ever lived with someone who LOADS THE DISHWASHER WRONG …

Ahem. Sorry. Got me with that one, I guess. Anyway. Yes. Each story has its hashtags and warning labels listed. While that may seem sensationalistic and gimmicky, well, so what? Besides, some of these? Oh yes, they are warranted. Are they ever!

Body horror stuff. Genitals. Scissors. Pedophilia. Abortion. Dead animals. Rape. Remember the “not nice stories” thing? NOT JOKING. Some seriously dark, awful, uncomfortable, cringeworthy content here. Stuff that will curdle the soul and sicken the stomach.

We’re talking stuff that … let’s just say, I enjoy extreme horror, but even I was thinking, okay, the title has it right. Horrible. People are horrible, the asteroid can’t eradicate us soon enough, what the hell is WRONG with us, I hope the meerkats or octopi or whatever takes over next does a better job, because really, WTF, humanity.

This, by the way, was all still just leading up to the last story in the book. Which is called “Tasteless,” for very good reason. Which has a hashtag advising the reader to skip it. Which would have been the right idea, but I didn’t.

Which, if you’re at all familiar with a certain controversial performance at a certain convention, and were traumatized by the content, um, yeah … this involves a similar atrocity. Heed the warnings. For the sake of your sanity, heed the warnings.

-Christine Morgan

ZOMBIE PUNKS FUCK OFF by Sam Richard (2018 CLASH Books / 160 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When people say punk is dead, they probably didn’t mean it quite like this. Same for people saying zombies have gone mainstream. Here, gathered in a fun and fast-reading little paperback, are fourteen stories flipping the finger to all those people, combining zombies and punk in diverse, wild ways.

The book also serves as a memorial to Mo Richard, the editor’s wife, a dear lady who was taken from us suddenly and far too soon. If it seems ironic or tacky for a bunch of zombie stories, well, how punk is that? Sam Richard, in the intro, even suggests she would have wanted it that way. His own contribution, concluding the book on an emotional note, is a definite punch in the feels.

The stories themselves, like zombies, also rise to the occasion. Featuring the talents of big-name bizarros such as Danger Slater, David W. Barbee, Emma Johnson, and Brendan Vidito, it’s packed with gigs, guts, grodiness, and attitude.

On a nitpickier note, I do wish a little more care had been taken with the edits and proofreading. Love the folks at CLASH but this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed that issue. Everything else looks great, the cover unabashedly trashy, the layout sharp, all that good stuff.

Particular shout-out to Madison McSweeney’s “Re-Made,” my personal favorite of the lot, which takes jabs at the arrogant idiocy of conversion therapy. Troubled teen? Send them to punk camp! Turn them into productive, wholesome members of society! Or, hey, into zombies; six of one, half a dozen of the other!

-Christine Morgan

UNTIL THE SUN by Chandler Morrison (2019 Death’s Head Press / 293 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know how, in certain Olympic events like gymnastics, diving, or skating, the judges will factor the difficulty of the routine into their scoring? So, doing well at something easier is good but doing well at something really challenging is better? As soon as I started reading this book and saw Morrison was attempting the difficulty setting of “second person present tense,” I knew the bar was set high. Ballsy. Ambitious. Pushing it for a relatively young and new writer?

Heh. He freakin’ NAILED it. All tens. Across the board. And stuck the landing like WHOA. Flawless performance. Give him the gold. Give him the awards. Everyone else can just pack it in for this year. This guy’s got mad talent and mad skills.

As for the actual book, I should mention, this is not ‘that’ book, the one embroiled in a genre-shaking controversy. This is what the South Park goth kids wished Twilight had been. THIS is the perfect almost-YA (I say ‘almost’ because there’s a LOT of sex and a lot of violence) vampire book … and more … and then some.

Laden with references to lore both classic and modern – oh I saw that haunted Plymouth in there, don’t think I’d miss it! – the story starts off with a disaffected youth whose foster parents are butchered by a trio of blood-drinkers. When they invite him to come meet their Sire and possibly join them, he figures why not, and goes along for the ride.

What follows is a thoroughly riveting, thrilling, dark, twisted adventure of backstories, secrets, and all-around can’t-put-it-down brilliance. Skillfully interwoven, character-rich, utterly believable.

Found myself thinking as I read, not only is he already way better than I was at that age (literally half mine, for the record), he’s already way better than I am NOW. If he keeps it up, which I have no doubts he will, he’ll blow the rest of us out of the water within a few years. It’d be easy to be grouchy about that, but I for one am delighted. Future of the genre’s in damn good hands, folks!

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, November 24, 2019

Reviews for the Week of November 25, 2019

NOTE: Please see bottom of main blog page for submission info. You might not be able to see it if you're on your cell phone. Select "Desktop View" or break out your laptop, baby...

THE KING OF THE WOOD by J. Edwin Buja (2019 Haverhill Press / 320 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook)

After Tom Bender notices a man tied to a tree in his backyard, and is questioned about it by the local sheriff, he's brought into a magical world that has existed right under his nose. Unbeknown to him and his friends, he has caught the eye of the title King, who is apprehensive about losing his followers as well as his position. And so begins the first installment in Buja's series which blends fantasy and horror and a wonderful dose of the good 'ol weird.

As people go missing from Tom's town, birds are now communicating with him, a garden he tends has began to grow out of control, and the whole world seems to be on some kind of apocalyptic shift … and as if this wasn't enough, we're introduced to a corrupt evangelist and an unusual cult, while occasionally visiting one of the more charismatic mechanics to come down the pike in ages. The entire cast here are very well drawn, and you'll eagerly read on to see what's happening to even the smallest player.

Buja has me impatiently awaiting the second novel, as several mysteries arise during the already strange proceedings, and the little glimpses we're given of The King of the Wood keeps him cleverly shrouded for what's to come. An addictive page-turner full of mystery, magic, and a seriously disturbing cult that will have horror and dark fantasy fans yearning for more.

-Nick Cato

SCREECHERS by Kevin Kennedy & Christina Bergling (2019 Amazon Digital / 88 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

For a post-apocalyptic wasteland where mutant animals are constantly on the hunt and the scattered remnants of humanity eke out bare-bones survival, this is a surprising and delightful heart-warming tale of family and the bonds of affection. Like if the team who made Ice Age did an animated Fallout movie.

I mean, yes, packs of hairless wolf-monsters biting peoples’ heads off … “clicker” style crab-scorpion-lobster things all pinchers and stingers … cities as radioactive hellhole ruins … freaky toxic plants … nuclear lightning strikes ... and of course the titular “screechers” … but go with me, here.

Oh, and what’s a screecher, you might wonder? I did too, since we’re never really given a complete taxonomy. From the descriptions of their scale-armored hides, muscular bodies, claws and teeth, and ability to rise up on hind legs or go on all fours, the image that formed in my head was somewhere around ‘anthropomorphic pangolin;’ make of that what you will.

Anyway, so, there’s this screecher who’s lost his whole family and thinks he’s alone in the world and sets off, not knowing that a hatchling survived and is following along, hoping to prove its little self to the adult. Along the way, the little one encounters and befriends a trio of humans, helping them fend off dangers, touching on the boy-and-his-dog trope for added emotional impact.

We don’t get a bunch of backstory about what happened to the world, and we don’t need it. By now, we all know that basic drill, so it’s easy to slide right on in without info dumps or explanations. The bit about names, though, I thought was a particularly nice touch. Maybe the combination of ‘awww’ sweetness with sheer bloody rip-em-up carnage won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it and am hoping for more!

-Christine Morgan

THEY COME AT NIGHT by Nick Clausen (2019 Amazon Digital / 101 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I got this one as a PDF without seeing the cover, so, going solely by the title, I was thinking vampires at first. Which is not to say I’m disappointed it turned out to be something different; far from it! The menace here, as the cover actually does show, emerges from the sea rather than the grave.

The book itself is ten years old and was originally in Danish, so this is its English-translation ebook debut. There are a few places in the language, word use, and references where it shows, but only a few, and in a way that adds to rather than detracts from, giving it a refreshingly unique tone.

Group of teens, sneaking off to island vacation cottage for a fun party weekend, the one guy with a crush on his friend’s hot sister, the reclusive locals with quirky customs and cryptic warnings … the beach, the beers, the bikini … the weird happenings at night … footprints in the wet sand, clumps of seaweed, scratches at the window … no phone service, car troubles …

This right here is a ready-made horror movie, hitting all the right buttons, familiar but done well enough to stay entertaining and fun. I read it all in one sitting and enjoyed every page.

-Christine Morgan

NETHERKIND by Greg Chapman (2019 Omnium Gatherum / 240 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Opening strong with a gory combination of cannibalistic cravings, tormented I’m-a-monster self-loathing, and really icky skin-sloughing parts-rotting peel-your-flesh-off body horror, the initial impression here is that we’re dealing with some sort of a ghoul.

Not that the character, Thomas, knows what he is. He only knows his urge, his irresistible hunger, what happens to him if he neglects to feed, and the gradual physical changes that occur when he does. He thinks he’s the only one of his kind, isolated and alone.

When new neighbor Stephanie moves in and wants to be far more than friendly, Thomas isn’t sure how to handle it. Could he have a shot at a normal life? Short answer: nope. She’s not what she seems, and he’s soon torn between loathing and obsession.

He also discovers he was wrong about being alone. There are more monsters in the city and under it, a literal underworld of warring factions, and he’s suddenly plunged into their midst. Not that anybody will tell him what’s going on or answer his questions, keeping him and the reader in the baffled frustrating I-know-something-you-don’t fog for a long time.

That’s when the story veers off into big sweeping Game of Thrones epic-supernatural-fantasy territory, with kings and prophecies and god-visions, political schemings, betrayals, leading up to the final massive battle. Which is fine and well and all, but I personally would’ve preferred more of the modern/surface stuff.

The writing’s very good, the characters are entertaining, the descriptions (especially of the splattery visceral carnage and earlier flesh-peely body horror) are great. I may’ve had a few minor nits and quibbles here and there, but overall, a differently imagined, highly entertaining read.

-Christine Morgan

THE HALF-FREAKS by Nicole Cushing (2019 Grimscribe Press / 89 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Cushing's latest novella features the author herself being harassed (I guess that's safe to say) by one of her own creations, an everyday guy named Harry Meyers, who is busy planning funeral services for his mother as the sky literally starts falling down. Yep...this here is as weird as it gets, but in the hands of Cushing we're never "ass-confused" and the bizarre goings-on are a treat for those who love their horror on the strange side.

While Harry has some unappetizing fetishes and habits, Cushing paints him as a latently humorous guy who just wants what's his, even if he has to threaten Cushing herself with some of her past bad ass characters. While I'm a hard sell on any meta-type story, here it's done in a way that doesn't insult the reader, and in fact gives fans a deeper love of the author's work and creative process.

As with her latest novel A SICK GRAY LAUGH, I'm enjoying the dark humor rearing its head in Cushing's work, and this short but sweet blast of meta-insanity is a fine addition to her growing catalog.

-Nick Cato

UNAMERICA by Cody Goodfellow (2019 King Shot Press / 448 pp / trade paperback)

It’s sometimes hard to categorize Cody Goodfellow’s works as ‘fiction,’ when they’re often presenting all-too-plausible cutting observations and social commentary on current events, and a wickedly harsh but accurate portrayal of the state of the world as we know it.

UNAMERICA does that, with no holds barred. Okay, maybe it seems far-fetched to think some shady government/corporate organization supervises a secret underground city-sized detention center enclave where human lives are cheap and disposable … but … c’mon … would it really surprise anyone?

Upon arrival (usually involuntary!), you get a bar code and access to resources, but you’re also being monitored. Being used for market research and product testing. Being experimented on in dozens of ways: physically, psychologically, pharmaceutically, you name it. They’re tracking what you eat, drink, watch, whatever. They’re releasing viruses to see what happens. They’re harvesting organs. They’re monitoring trends and behaviors.

Populated by prisoners, addicts, drug lords, gangs, derelicts, religious fanatics, renegades, and consumers of every possible type, this subterranean Skinner box is not so much a melting pot as it is a powder keg and a pressure cooker. Racism, sexism, violence, crime, substance abuse, desperation, divisiveness, power, fear, arrogance, control, and excess run rampant.

Into all this ventures a guy calling himself Nolan Hatch, looking to do some drug-lording and product testing of his own, courtesy of a rare strain of psychedelic mushroom. He claims he wants to help people, enlighten them, awaken them, free them. Even the best intentions, however, can go awry … and Hatch’s certainly do.

Although clearly meant to be satire, although written to highlight that sense of over-the-top extremism, the ongoing state of real-world affairs makes it a little hard to read this book for pleasure or entertainment. It’s well done to the point of squirming too-true discomfort, and a few years from now we’ll probably be holding it up as an example the way we are doing today with 1984.

-Christine Morgan

THE NIGHT IT GOT OUT by Patrick James Ryan (2015 Black Bed Sheet Books / 220 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

If you took Dean Koontz’s book WATCHERS, cut out all the parts with the superdog, and focus on the genetically engineered Outsider/monster secret military project angle … but amped the brutality and violence to goresplat levels, add some Laymonesque beasty-rapey stuff, turn it loose on an unsuspecting town, and throw in tough-talking tough-guy types trying to hunt it down … the results might look quite a bit like this.

Okay, there’s icky content; there’s kids and pets being savaged along with the adult body count. Okay, most of the female characters are passive victims at best and a lot of the tough-guy tough-talk seems overdone on the dickswinging. Okay, it’s a lot more ‘tell’ than ‘show’ and could have used more editorial fine-tuning, but …

But, clearly, the author was having a blast, and that comes through on every page. Fun with words, self-referential in-jokes, just a brashly gross and gleeful wild ride throughout. And, for that, I can overlook many of the aforementioned issues. Enthusiasm and fun go a long way with me.

Which is a good thing, because I have several more by him on the list, including one that’s referenced in this story. Stay tuned!

-Christine Morgan

I'M NOT EVEN SUPPOSED TO BE HERE TODAY by Brian Asman (2019 Eraserhead Press / 88 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I guess I should mention up front that I barely know who Kevin Smith is and have never seen any of his movies, so, many of the finer points of this book were likely lost on me. Still, it didn’t stop me from getting right into the story, following along just fine, and enjoying the read!

Scot is a surfer dude who works at an electronics store, installing car speakers and sound systems when not ducking out to catch a few waves. He also fought a demon once before, but, y’know, these things happen. He’s just not expecting it to happen AGAIN.

He’s also not expecting to get a call from his boss, informing him that his idol Kevin Smith is currently at his very place of employment to spruce up his ride. Preparing to rush right over, he just needs to pop into the Fasmart for a cool refreshing Slushpuppy first. He’s in such a good mood he even offers to buy a Gatorade for the homeless guy outside.

Trouble is, by the time Scot gets back to the parking lot, the homeless guy is having a seizure. The convenience store clerk is no help, nor are the skater kids who only video the episode with their phones. To make matters worse, the gibberish spewing from the guy’s mouth suddenly isn’t gibberish at all, but a language sounding all too familiar.

It’s an incantation, boiling the blacktop and bringing up a ferocious denizen of Hell to tempt and torment the handful of trapped survivors. And Scot is their only hope!

-Christine Morgan

THE DEAD WAKE by Ellie Douglas (2017 Amazon Digital / 196 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This collection knows what it is and embraces the schlock whole-heartedly; all you have to do is skim the table of contents to see that. With sections called “Space Zombies” and “Oh Sh*t! Zombies!” and “Pimp My Body,” among others, there’s no room for pretension.

The writing may not be the most polished, the language a little on the rough side, but the author seemed to be having a good time, particularly with the splattery stuff. Lots of fun descriptions of carnage, plus some fiendishly gory artwork.

The stories span eras from the dusty Old West to the farflung starfaring future to the 1930s on the Alaskan tundra. More familiar modern settings include a nursing home, a big-city subway, a playboy’s mansion, the ever-popular shopping mall, a maternity ward, a fat camp, and a cruise ship.

Overall, could use some more editorial TLC, maybe a few historical and reality checks, but it’s okay.

-Christine Morgan


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.

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-Nick Cato