Review: ‘Dark Screams Volume One’ edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

e_chizmar01Random House chose wisely in selecting Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar to edit their new horror anthology series, Dark Screams. Chizmar, as many of you who regularly stop by October Country already know, is the founder of Cemetery Dance, one of the horror genre’s premier publishers, and Freeman is an integral part of that self-same company. Their work with Cemetery Dance has put Chizmar and Freeman squarely in the path of the genre’s biggest names and brightest up-and-coming talents. Who better to put together a lineup of stories that will educate readers new to horror on its vast potential, while still appealing to those who’ve waded deep into the genre’s depths?

To be honest, this first volume of stories is likely going to appeal more to those who don’t already have a bookshelf full of the scary stuff. Experienced horror readers may find that these stories tread some overly familiar paths in terms of the twists and surprises they have in store. On the other hand, Dark Screams Volume One could serve as a fantastic gateway drug to introduce those who aren’t overly familiar with dark fiction to that which they have been missing.

Who better to kick off a new horror anthology than Stephen King? “Weeds” is a story many people will be familiar with thanks to the movie Creepshow, which used this story as the basis for the segment “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill.” You know the one – it features King as a cartoonish buffoon who falls afoul of a meteor that lands on his farmland. But few will have read this version – it’s never been included in one of King’s short story collections. The movie version sticks fairly close to the original prose, although poor Jordy is not quite as inept as King portrayed him in the movie. It’s definitely reminiscent of King’s Night Shift-era work, and would have been right at home in that collection.

“The Price You Pay” by Kelley Armstrong reunites two old friends, Kara and Ingrid, who share a troubled past. Ingrid’s devotion to Kara has proved uncomfortably strong in the past, and Kara has found herself in a number of difficult situations as a result. When Ingrid shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Kara decides it’s time to take a stand. The story twists in on itself from there, and you’ll probably make at least one wrong assumption about where things are headed before all is said and done.

Bill Pronzini’s “Magic Eyes” features as unreliable narrator as you’re likely to find: Edward James Tolliver, currently residing in an asylum after murdering his wife. Tolliver is keeping a journal at the encouragement of his therapist, and Pronzini structures Tolliver’s entries so that we get a real sense of the hopelessness and paranoia closing in on the man. Tolliver believes that something invaded and possessed his wife, and that was what he was trying to kill – and whatever that entity was, he believes something similar has followed him into the institution. Is he crazy, or is he right? Pronzini does a great job of keeping both his characters and his readers off-balance throughout the story.

“Murder in Chains” by Simon Clark is the most brutal offering here, a visceral tale that provides plenty in the way of action but little in the way of answers. A man wakes up in a subterranean tunnel, and he’s chained by the neck to another man. His chain-mate wakes up in a nasty mood, and begins brutally murdering people who have been chained to the walls of the tunnel. From that simple, unsettling premise Clark spins a violent and unpleasant tale that’s probably going to divide readers right down the middle because of its ambiguity.

Ramsey Campbell wraps the volume of tales up with “The Watched,” a quiet tale that’s surreal and unsettling. A young boy, Jimmy, is recruited by a former policeman to keep an eye on the neighbors. Jimmy is afraid to spy, and he’s afraid not to, and even when the cop is involved in an accident the young boy can find no relief. Although the policeman couldn’t still be at their meeting spot, something is there…and as Jimmy watches, that something seems to be moving closer.

This is a solid collection of quick reads, a nice selection of appetizers that represent the horror genre and many of its incarnations well.

Review: ‘Fangoria: Cover to Cover’ edited by Anthony Timpone

This is the cover of the advance reading copy - not sure if it's the final design.

The first issue of Fangoria I ever bought was issue number six. It was dated June of 1980, and it was the one year anniversary issue of the magazine. I bought it because it had C-3PO and R2-D2 on the cover, posing in one of Hoth’s ice caves from The Empire Strikes Back. Back then, I was all about Star Wars and anything related to it.

I don’t remember when I noticed the other picture, the last one in the little filmstrip that ran down the left side of the cover. It was a shocking juxtaposition with the bright gold, blue and white of the Empire photo. It was of a man with an arrow sticking out of his eye, his face nearly obscured by bright red blood. The photo was from the original Friday the 13th; the man was an early victim in a franchise I would soon come to revere and enjoy as much as George Lucas’s space opera.

When I look back at the table of contents of that issue, I see so much of what would eventually come to shape my reading and viewing habits in the years ahead: Stephen King, Tom Savini, Rob Bottin, George Romero, Hammer Studios, and so much more. I was fascinated by the articles and the photos, the little peeks into the wonders that were out there, waiting to be discovered. I don’t know how many times I read that issue; I do know that the cover didn’t survive, but I still have the rest of it. I have all my issues of Fangoria – not every issue they have published, but the majority of them, and one day I hope to track down the rest.

Fangoria is important to me, and flipping through the pages of Cemetery Dance’s new, oversized treasury of its covers, Fangoria: Cover to Cover, was a complete joy. Looking through the book took me back to the times when the unholy trinity of Freddy, Jason and Michael dominated the horror world (and the Fango cover slot), with their ol’ pal Leatherface not far behind. I marveled at some of the bold choices they made – like the skinless corpse (from Hellraiser, if I’m not mistaken) on the cover of #53, or the entrails oozing from the television set (Videodrome) on #25. Severed heads, people with hacksaws digging into their throats, melting vampires – all of this, and more, tucked away on magazine stands in grocery stores and drug stores, right up there with Time and Southern Living. There are 330 covers represented in the book, going from the first issue to the one released in February of 2014, and it’s an amazing thing to see them all grouped together.

The one that started it all for me.

The one that started it all for me.

However, Fangoria: Cover to Cover isn’t just pretty pictures. There’s a foreward by Bruce Campbell, talking about how Fangoria‘s early coverage helped the original Evil Dead succeed; an introduction by current Fango editor Chris Alexander, sharing his excitement over living out a life-long dream by helming the magazine; and an introduction by W.R. Mohalley, the man responsible for designing each and every Fango cover since #27. It’s Mohalley’s work we’re really celebrating here, and I’m so happy that Cemetery Dance gave the man some space to talk about his work. It’s brief, but gives a really nice overview of how far things have come for Mohalley and for the craft he practices.

Anthony Timpone, who served as Fangoria‘s editor for a huge chunk of its run, also chimes in with an issue-by-issue look at the magazine, providing brief overviews of what’s in each, and little peeks at some of the decisions that were made in putting those issues together. This is my only disappointment in the book. Don’t get me wrong, this section is great, but it’s more like a tease – I would love to see Timpone write a book about the behind-the-scenes workings of Fangoria. It’s clear from what he writes here that is enthusiasm for the magazine is unwavering, and I can only imagine the kind of stories he has to tell. Maybe one day….

Fangoria: Cover to Cover is an amazing chronicle of a magazine that not only covers the horror genre, but became (and remains) an integral part of it. It wasn’t long after devouring the book that I had to dig out my boxes of back issues and explore them at length. Long-time Fango readers and horror fans who pick this up will find themselves on a nostalgia high. As for new horror fans looking for a peek at the genre’s rich history – well, this is a damn fine place to start.

Cemetery Dance announces SIX new Stephen King special editions

CarrieNewSubtitle this As My Wallet Gently Weeps.

This past weekend – Saturday, April 5, to be exact – marked the 40th anniversary of the publication of Stephen King’s debut novel Carrie. Without turning this whole post into an essay on that alone, let me just say that it was a huge anniversary for me personally. King’s work is what got me into reading, and then into writing. It’s why nearly all of my “real” jobs have involved writing in some way; it’s why I write short stories and why I’m writing a novel; it’s why October Country exists today. So, yeah, the guy’s work is important to me.

I can’t think of another writer that got a better running start on a career than King. Carrie, then ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Night Shift and The Stand? A solid debut, two bonafide classics, the scariest vampire novel I’ve ever read, and a group of note-perfect horror shorts? Yeah, I’d say that’s a decent beginning. While there are other classics and favorites littered throughout King’s bibliography, it’s hard to top that opening salvo.

Cemetery Dance recognizes this as something to be celebrated. This specialty press has long been associated with King, producing beautiful special editions of a number of his works, including From A Buick 8, IT, Full Dark No Stars and many others. Now they’re turning their attention to his earliest works, beginning with the five books listed above and then skipping ahead a bit to include Pet Sematary.

First up, naturally, is Carrie, which is already available for preorder. You can read all the details at Cemetery Dance’s site, but I’ll helpfully point out the new introduction by King and the afterword by the author’s wife Tabitha King (who famously rescued the book’s first pages from a trashcan). If you’re gonna order one, you might want to hurry – these things tend to sell out quick.

I’d love to get ‘em all, but the one I absolutely plan 100% on ordering is Pet Sematary. That’s the one that started the journey for me, and I was bummed when I missed out on PS Publishing’s 30th Anniversary edition of it last year. I don’t plan to miss out again.

Book Review: ‘The Dark Man’ by Stephen King and Glenn Chadbourne

king08limitedIt’s a bold experiment: take an obscure, surreal poem, allow a talented but outside-of-the-mainstream artist to illustrate in black and white, and released it as an oddly-sized and unusually-shaped hardcover book. In other words, it’s a project that most publishers wouldn’t touch.

But Cemetery Dance isn’t most publishers. And, let’s be honest, when the name you’re going to plaster all over the cover is Stephen King, well, go ahead and change “bold experiment” to “unqualified success.”

And that’s what The Dark Man is, by the way: an unqualified success. The limited and lettered editions sold out within two hours of the book’s announcement. The trade edition hardcover will be hitting mailboxes and bookstores in the next week or so. And creatively, the book is firing on all cylinders.

The poem-that-became-a-book, “The Dark Man,” is nothing less than the birth of Randall Flagg, arguably King’s greatest villainous creation. King wrote it in college as a way of documenting a recurring image he had of a hitchhiker in jeans and a denim jacket. King imagined the man had been places, had seen – and done – terrible things, and his musings on the subject spilled out in a short poem scribbled on the back of a placemat.

The poem itself is told from The Dark Man’s point-of-view, and it’s an effectively chilling piece of work. The world he describes is not unlike most King settings, a place where mundane sights like all-night filling stations and wheat fields exist beneath an ominous “savage sickle moon,” and where sits “a gutted columned house leeched with vines.” It’s strong imagery, and it’s easy to see how aspects of the character bled over into King’s later work.

But where The Dark Man really comes to life is in the marriage of King’s text to Glenn Chadbourne’s stark, brutal imagery. Thumbing through the book you can almost feel a cold October wind coming off the pages, and you can almost smell the desperation and fear permeating the desolate, broken landscape. Chadbourne’s distinctive style has graced a number of King/Cemetery Dance projects, but never has it felt like a more perfect fit than it does here. The drawings are dense, packed with details that seem to shift and flow of their own accord so that each time you study the pages you see something else.

It may not be for everybody, but a book like this is sure to please adventurous readers looking for new insight into one of King’s most well-known creations. The Dark Man is a moody leap of faith by the creators and the publisher that pays off handsomely in the end.

While the lettered and limited editions of The Dark Man are sold out, trade hardcovers are still available from the publisher.

Short Story Review: “A Child’s Problem” by Reggie Oliver

“A Child’s Problem” Reggie Oliver
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012

HorrorsReggie Oliver’s tale of a precocious young boy’s summer adventure reads like a Hammer movie with the gore reined in. What it lacks in blood and guts (“lacks,” perhaps, being the incorrect word, as the story doesn’t need the grue) it makes up in a rich atmosphere and measured, assured storytelling.

“A Child’s Problem” is one of the longest stories in A Book of Horrors, and to boil down its plot to a sentence or two would do it disservice. So I’ll give you the setup: young George is sent to live with his uncle, Augustus, on a sprawling countryside estate. The boy is more than a little bratty, and unafraid to flaunt his status in front of strangers and servants alike, but he’s also intelligent and insatiably curious. Augustus recognizes this and sends the boy off solving riddles about the estate to keep him busy, never suspecting what the boy might be able to uncover.

Oliver is a playwright, and you can feel those stylistic instincts at work in the story’s deliberate pace. It’s not all atmosphere – there are moments of pure horror punctuating the quieter beats – but it is that sense of place that Oliver is most successful at conjuring. “A Child’s Problem” takes time to warm up, but it’s time well invested.

More reviews from A Book of Horrors

*A little background on Short Story Reviews, and why I’m doing them this way*

Cemetery Dance announces new Stephen King hardcover, ‘The Dark Man’

king08limitedCemetery Dance has been teasing something big the last couple of weeks, saying only that “something dark” was coming.

Well, it’s here.

The publisher announced today a new collaboration between Stephen King and artist Glenn Chadbourne, the black-and-white specialist who has worked on a number of King projects for CD, including their Secretary of Dreams books. This latest venture is the first hardcover publication of King’s poem “The Dark Man,” a piece the author wrote in college about a character who would later come to figure prominently in much of his work. We’re talking, of course, about The Walkin’ Dude, Randall Flagg.

There are a number of editions on the way (and quickly, as CD’s website has at least the trade version listed for a July release), ranging from a $25 bookstore edition all the way to a deluxe signed edition that will run you a cool $1,750. All the details and ordering instructions can be found at the links above.

Between this and yesterday’s Joyland news, it’s been a big – and expensive – couple of days for King collectors. The good news for the average fan (such as your humble host) is that these new works will also be available in affordable additions that may not have all the bells and whistles, but will have the most important part – the story. As these books hit the shelves, please feel free to let us know which editions you grab and what you think of them.

Short Story Review: “The Man in the Ditch” by Lisa Tuttle

“The Man in the Ditch” by Lisa Tuttle
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012

Horrors“The Man in the Ditch” is a tense and unsettling contribution from veteran genre author Lisa Tuttle. It starts with a simple yet disturbing image: a dead body by the side of the road. Or, at least, that’s what Linzi thinks she saw. She can’t convince her husband J.D. to turn around, but the idea of it – and the fact that she saw it so close to the land where the couple is about to build a new home – shakes Linzi to her core and throws a pall over the whole day.

Linzi’s refusal to let the idea go is just another wedge in what appears to be a somewhat shaky marriage. There’s a dark secret between Linzi and J.D., a single misguided act that resulted in a large gap in their marriage. It leaves Linzi on an island, and Tuttle takes a nearly sadistic glee in ratcheting up that sense of isolation throughout the story. In her marriage, in her new home out in the country, in her inability to conceive, and in her absolute belief that something dreadful is haunting her, Linzi is alone at every turn.

This is the kind of horror story that finds true fear in the details, the subtle moments, that quiet pause before the big explosion. It’s the kind of story that stays with you. It’s the kind of story that makes collections like this so damn good.

More reviews from A Book of Horrors

*A little background on Short Story Reviews, and why I’m doing them this way*