<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - REVIEW FICTIONS]]>Mon, 22 May 2017 17:51:00 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[TERROR TALES OF CORNWALL EDITED BY PAUL FINCH]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/terror-tales-of-cornwall-edited-by-paul-finchReview by Joe X Young 
The task of a reviewer is straight-forward, to appraise the material and give an honest opinion. With a novel, short story or movie there’s more of a singular focal point of whether or not the entirety of the story is any good. With anthologies and collections things are not so simple, as there are far more individual stories to assess, and I think it would be fair to believe that there’s no anthology or collection in print anywhere where every story is as good as the others. Terror Tales of Cornwall, for me at least, has three levels as there are good stories, very good stories, and excellent ones. That’s good news right? I think so. Though it’s going to be a very personal opinion as to which stories did it for me and which didn’t, this being based on my experience of Cornwall as I lived there for a dozen years or so.
I’m going to briefly cover a couple of little issues before discussing the stories. First of all is the matter of the individual story editing. I found it a little hit-and-miss, with some of the stories having a few typos/mis-spellings while other stories were flawless. It looked to me as if each writer took care of their own editing. That doesn’t detract from the book overall though, it’s just a little something I noticed.

Second issue is the abundance of ‘link pieces’, short articles interspersed between the main stories highlighting different Cornish legends. Jumping from fiction to legend and back again was something I found not only extremely interesting, but for me it strengthened the tones of the fiction, giving them a credence they may not have had were it a straight anthology of pure fiction. The articles were often fascinating, all informative, and gave the overall appearance of being extremely well researched and very well presented. It isn’t made clear who wrote those links, but it’s a damned fine job no matter who did it.

Now for the stories proper in order of appearance. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.

We Who Sing Beneath The Ground: Mark Morris.

This is a great start, a story of a teacher, a little boy and a rather unusual ‘Show and Tell’ item he brings to school one day. The boy is a bit of a cliché, but in this case he somewhat has to be in order to make sense of the general events. When he doesn’t show for class the teacher goes to his home to find him, and finds significantly more than she had bargained for. I liked the simplicity of the story and wasn’t expecting the unusual item to be what it actually was and that’s a very pleasant surprise.

In The Light of St Ives: Ray Cluley.

For those unfamiliar with St Ives, or indeed Cornwall as a whole, it’s a bright and sunny place in general, but it goes deeper than that as there’s something about the quality of light which appears unlike any other place I’ve been in Britain, or indeed out of it. It’s a clarity which appeals to artists, and St Ives is one of many places in Cornwall where painters accumulate to make the most of the natural beauty and the exceptional light. The artist in this story, Clare, moves to a studio/cottage in St Ives as a painting retreat to perfect her craft, but things take a turn for the bizarre, culminating in a fire and her subsequent hospitalisation. Her sister Emily visits from up country and tries to make sense of what has happened as it appeared that her sister went crazy and started the fire. All is not as it seems, and as the reality of the situation unfolds the story actually gets surreal. It’s a good story, well told, but I think it was taking me to very unfamiliar places.

Trouble at Botathan: Reggie Oliver.

For me the trouble isn’t merely at Botathan, it’s with making sense of this story. Perhaps I am missing something as I couldn’t really make out much of what it was about in amongst the interminable references to notable works of others and allusions to cultural superiority. Maybe it’s excellent and I’m just not smart enough to figure it all out, but it also appears that this story, unlike the previous ones, has nothing particularly Cornish about it. Sorry Mr Oliver but this one just didn’t do it for me.

Mebyon Versus Suna: John Whitbourn.

There’s a very harsh sound, that of a nail being hit squarely on the head, and this tale resonates the same way. I’ve known Cornish people of the dyed-in-the-wool breed, those who have never set foot from their native soil and have nothing good to say about anyone or anything from outside of the county (or indeed Country to their way of thinking). This is the tale of one such man, who has to move to the other side of his world, in this instance Devon, and of the consequences of taking his Cornish sensibilities with him. The idea is fun, superbly handled and smart, with extreme and extremely funny moments throughout. One of the gems in this anthology.

The Unseen: Paul Edwards.

“The Black Remote” is a horror film which appears to be a snuff movie, or is it? Lee is determined to find out no matter the cost by seeing the uncensored version. It’s a good story even though it reminded me of the Nicolas Cage film 8mm in places and had an ending which was somewhat obvious from early on. The Cornish connection is tenuous; I was thinking that the anthology would be based upon particularly Cornish themes, yet this story could have been set anywhere in the British Isles or indeed much of the Western world, as there’s nothing other than a few Cornish locations to fit the remit. Still, an enjoyable story.

Dragon Path: Jacqueline Simpson.

Mick Trelawney tells tales of Celtic legends; of Ley-Lines, Druids and of great ancient magic, but his friends don’t really care, until one fateful day on Bodmin Moor when they discover the cost of taunting him. A story as Cornish as pasties and every bit as delicious.

The Old Traditions are Best: Paul Finch.

A totally Cornish tale of the ‘Obby Oss’, it’s an ancient tradition and a weird one at that, and Paul Finch succeeds in bringing it to a modern audience in a practical and atmospheric way with a smattering of dark humour.

The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things: Mark Valentine.

Sancreed and what lies in wait in the dimensions beyond there is the cornerstone of this fine tale of Tarot cards and Triple Headed Kings. I found this to be a beautifully simple and relaxing story which really feels like the more mystical Cornwall I know.

His Anger was Kindled: Kate Farrell.

David Densham has a job to do; he has to inform Reverend Luke Prideaux that his under-performing Church is no longer valid and that the Parish Council has plans to redevelop the site. What follows is a bizarre fight for life in one of the stranger stories in this anthology. It begins in a staid even mundane fashion before hitting us with rage and inventiveness in a truly original story.

Four Windows and a Door: D P Watt.

This is a beauty. I’ve been on the same boat trip in this story and saw similar things as described. It’s the story of a little girl, a derelict house and a tragic mystery, more than that I can’t say without giving stuff away. It’s a creepy gem of a story and one of the highlights of the anthology.

Claws: Steve Jordan.

When I reached this story title I was expecting some kind of Cornish sea-monster, but oh boy was I wrong. For me this is the stand-out story of the bunch because it pushed every one of my buttons. It’s setting is an amusement arcade in Newquay. I’ve spent way too much time (and money) in Newquay’s arcades and Steve Jordan captured the essence of them as if he was a local. The characters, location and details are trapped in amber from my time there and the horror is interwoven with such humour that I laughed out loud in places whilst being suitably horrified in others. It’s not trying to be big and clever but achieves both. Loved it.

A Beast by Any Other Name: Adrian Cole.

The Beast of Bodmin is on the prowl, but not everything is as it seems as murder, greed and Cornish tin mines get an outing in this strong tale from Adrian Cole. When I started reading this one I had a fair idea of the direction it was going in, but once again in this anthology I was wrong. I like that.

Moon Blood-Red, Tide Turning: Mark Samuels.

The Minack Theatre is partly the backdrop for this strange tale of an aspiring actress and a rather unusual performance. By this point in the anthology I had been thoroughly entertained with a variety of vastly different stories, the majority of which have a distinct Cornish-ness about them, but this one was another of those in which the location wasn’t important. I was ultimately left thinking that there was an opportunity to tell a bigger story here which was overlooked during descriptions of largely irrelevant things.

The Memory of Stone: Sarah Singleton.

This is a gorgeous study of obsession, destruction and madness, with a touch of the supernatural. Nothing more to say.

Shelter From The Storm: Ian Hunter.

Billy, Murray and Juggs are three Explorer Scouts who have got lost whilst trying to get to Port Isaac. The weather and failing light are against them, but they have tents, supplies and extra beer so they just need to find somewhere to pitch the tents where the wind won’t slam them around. The ruins of an old church provide a better prospect for shelter, until they find out what’s under it in this enjoyable yarn from Mr Hunter.

Losing Its Identity: Thana Niveau.

Miranda is in her seventies, she lives in Porthkellis and loves going to the cove known as ‘Lost Moon’, much to the annoyance of her daughter who is worried about her mother’s failing health and mental capacity and the ever more treacherous route to the cove. Their relationship is as rocky as the Cornish coastline, which is in every bit as much danger from constant erosion. Out beyond Lost Moon is a pathway, one which takes Miranda to a very different Porthkellis to the one she grew up in. A multi-layered story of love and loss brings this fine anthology to a fitting end.

Although there are a couple of stories in this anthology which didn’t quite do it for me I have to admit that even their overall quality is good, I just preferred the others. I have no problem recommending this to anyone whether they are interested in Cornish legends or otherwise. A cracking anthology.

Cornwall, England’s most scenic county: windswept moors, rugged cliffs and wild, foaming seas. But smugglers and wreckers once haunted its hidden coves, mermaid myths abound, pixie lore lingers, henges signal a pagan past, and fanged beasts stalk the ancient, overgrown lanes …

The serpent woman of Pengersick

The screaming demon of Land’s End

The nightmare masquerade at Padstow

The feathered horror of Mawnan

The terrible voice at St. Agnes

The ritual slaughter at Crantock

The hoof-footed fetch of Bodmin Moor

Chilling tales by Mark Morris, Ray Cluley, Reggie Oliver, Sarah Singleton, Mark Samuels, Thana Niveau and other award-winning masters and mistresses of the macabre.
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<![CDATA[THE BODY HORROR BOOK]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 14:12:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/the-body-horror-book
There’s much to be said on the subject of body horror, that flesh-rending subgenre of fiction which turns our own meat against us and cranks the squick factor up to 11. Curious, then, that it’s taken this long for a publisher to release a non-fiction compendium studying it.

Funded on Kickstarter (with portions of the money raised also going to Epilepsy Action Australia), The Body Horror Book is clearly something of a passion project for Australian author Claire Fitzpatrick and her newly founded Oscillate Wildly Press. It brings together essays by nearly two dozen writers—including both established names from the Aussie horror scene and relative newcomers—with engaging albeit mixed results.


In her introduction, Fitzprack writes “This book is something to be dipped in, sipped on, rather than gulped in a single sitting. Some essays are larger than others, some personal, others academic. Some essays required detailed attention, others are more conversational. Some essays rely entirely on existing political knowledge, others are meant to be feasted on, devoured, to teach, sculpt, and retain an impression or idea in your mind.” These comments accurately sum up The Body Horror Book’s greatest strengths, but also its greatest weaknesses.

To wit, there’s a tremendous diversity of perspectives on display here, with essays touching on the genre as it’s expressed in everything from classic literature and musical theater to “horrorcore” hip-hop and Reptilian conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, the bulk of the material here is dedicated to the silver screen. Hardly a surprise, as that’s arguably where body horror is most visible and intensely felt. All the usual suspects make appearances--AlienThe ThingHellraiser, practically everything David Cronenberg’s ever done—but there are also some less expected yet much appreciated cameos—Brian Yuzna’s Society, Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, Marina de Van’s In My Skin.

When The Body Horror Book is on the ball, it’s invigorating. Kirsten Imani Kasai’s essay, “Eat, Drink, and Be Wary: Autosarcophagy and Autoerotism in Body Horror Cinema,” draws parallels between female self-mutilation, plastic surgery, and self-cannibalism, then recontextualizes them as assertions of feminist agency. Meanwhile, J.J Roye’s “Insertion and Transformation” asks why body horror strikes such a resonant chord with audiences in the first place, and investigates how viewers disassociate those underlying terrors from the necessary physical processes they experience in so-called “normal” life.

Ciaran Bruder’s “’It Wants to Become Like Us!’ The Dialogue of Adaptation and its Embodiments in the Body Horror Genre Through Literature and Film” is a lengthy and ambitious comparative survey of the various methods used in disparatemediums to effectively convey body horror messages. It touches on not only film theory and production history, but psychoanalysis and sociopolitical critique as well. Kaaron Warren’s “Personal Confessions” proves particularly interesting in that it’s not about interpreting the work of another creator but is instead a self-reflective meditation of the manifestations of sex, self-image, death, and disease in her own fiction.

The thing is, The Body Horror Book isn’t always on the ball. Cameron Trost’s “Hall of Mirrors: Politics Reflected in Horror” pays only lip-service to the “body” part of “body horror,” instead choosing to be a broad overview of political themes throughout the horror genre in its entirety. Similarly, Benjamin Orchard’s “The Singing Freaks of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim” briefly mentions the trope of deformity-as-metaphor in stage musicals like The Phantom of the Opera, but doesn’t expand on the idea beyond a mere two sentences. Still other essays do even less than that.

This inconsistency extends to essay formatting as well. It’s a minor gripe, but while some articles end with the requisite list of references, others embed their references within the body of the text, and still others don’t include references at all. Very few adhere to any professional style guidelines, at least in the prerelease ebook copy provided for this review. Take it with a grain of salt; considering there’s still placeholder text present on the acknowledgements page at the time of this writing, it’s likely—or so one hopes—that there will be some differences in the final product.

Regardless, the fact that The Body Horror Book casts its net so wide might be a problem for some readers. Those looking specifically for thoughtful analysis will be put off by articles more anecdotal than academic, while those looking for personal narratives with an emotional core will find the drier textbook-type material an absolute slog. Certainly the project could have benefited from the enforcement of a standardized essay format, a separation of the essays into different sections (with the academic articles segregated from the more casual ones), and the application of greater scrutiny in the final vetting process so as to keep the focus on content explicitly relevant to body horror.

Nevertheless, what it lack in cohesiveness it makes up for in variety. For all the flaws, there’s still more good here than bad. Those without a dog in the academic-vs-casual fight will find plenty of quality insights to ruminate on. Hell, even those essays whose connections to body horror appear shaky at best are still worth reading on their own merits. The equal opportunity approach ensures there’s something for everyone, and even the stuffiest analysis is unlikely to leave any reader feeling in over their heads.

Fascinating and accessible, The Body Horror Book is a strikingly diverse exploration of horror that is interested not simply in getting under your skin, but also in finding out just what you’ve got hiding under there.
 
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<![CDATA[The Imaginary Voyages of Edgar Allan Poe By McPherson. Czerniawski. Messi. Della Verde and Hartman.]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 11:43:07 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/the-imaginary-voyages-of-edgar-allan-poe-by-mcpherson-czerniawski-messi-della-verde-and-hartmanReview by Joe X Young

 
It’s a good idea. Take a renowned Victorian author of horrific fantasy and make him the central character in a fantasy comic-book. Plenty of scope for some amazing storylines, or so you would reasonably think, though in this case it’s hard to tell from the first issue the sort of direction it is going to take. What I am reviewing is actually the first comic in a 12 part run, which although I may raise criticism for not reviewing the run in its entirety it’s actually like reviewing the first chapter of a book to see if it’s worth carrying on with on the basis of that introduction. This is where things are a little problematic. The storyline is quite straight forward in that Poe falls asleep and continues to fall, this time into a nightmare in which he is accompanied by a giant talking rat in a waistcoat. The rat in question becomes Poo’s guide (No, that’s NOT a typo) through the nightmare scenario in which many fantastical things happen. I won’t say too much about the story as basically I can’t. Reason being that it’ll give spoilers, and also that I only have the first issue so cannot say what it’s like in entirety, but based on the first issue I have a feeling that it could be at the very least a fun journey worth following.

Whilst the story remains to develop, the same cannot be said about the artwork. Rendered in a cartoonish style it fits the story perfectly. Excellent cartooning and skilful inks make it a pleasure to look at. The characters have a stylish simplicity with each personality clearly defined and each panel is used to maximum effect. It’s all in all a very good start to what I can only assume would be a fun adventure.
 
Picture
Chapter I: Falling Down

Edgar Allan Poe has lost everyone he ever loved and now he is losing his mind. Haunted by his dead wife and his literary failures, the poet tumbles into a fantastic world created by his genius...and his madness.

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<![CDATA[THE BOY ON THE BRIDGE BY M R CAREY]]>Mon, 15 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/the-boy-on-the-bridge-by-m-r-careyReview by Tony Jones 
“A surprise return to the world of ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’”
In 2014 M R Carey (who also writes under Mike Carey) released ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ which was a surprise word of mouth hit in both the horror world and beyond, a film followed last year. The 2014 novel was both a clever and original riff on the apocalyptic zombie story and I can’t say I ever expected a follow-up…… However, ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ isn’t really a sequel and the events take place round about the same time as the earlier novel.  So you could easily read this novel without having read the other, but the problem is this new book is simply not in the same class as its predecessor.
One wonders whether Carey really fancied this book or whether publisher pushed for it? Whichever the answer is, it lacks the originality, freshness and pacing of the original. Equally important, it does not substantially develop the story that much. The premise is a re-tread: a group of scientists and military personal are looking for the cure to ‘Cordyceps’ (the zombie type infection which has destroyed humanity). They did this in the previous book by venturing into the ruined cities in a tank like scientific laboratory and they do the same sort of thing here, except this time they head to Scotland.
 
So the plot of ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ was deeply disappointing, it was also pretty pedestrian. It was far too easy to make comparisons to the earlier novel, with everything paling in comparison here. The group of scientists and military personal who head to Scotland looking for samples were a pretty dull bunch and I really didn’t care too much what happened to any of them. This just wasn’t the case in ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ where the character’s sucked me in and their deaths meant something.
 
In this novel he zombie type creatures are known as ‘Hungries’ and they don’t especially have a huge role in this book. When they are not feeding they go into a dormant state where they stand stock-still until they smell or sense their next meal. Samrina Khan is the top scientist on the expedition, and probably the most interesting character, as she carries out experiments to find a cure. Eventually they discover on a new strand of ‘Hungry’ which seem to have retained certain humanistic characteristics. If you’ve read ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ you’ll be familiar with these types of ‘hungry children’ and they featured in most of the better scenes in this novel.
 
The bottom line was that ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ lacked a powerful central character like ‘Melanie’ from the previous book. Melanie was a terrific character. A little girl who did not initially know she was a Hungry and helped the scientists survive. She was a one-in-a-million character and ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ really lacks her presence. Carey tries to compensate by giving us ‘Simon Greaves’ in this new book, a young man, who although he has no scientific training is a genius with science, but is also somewhere on the Autism spectrum. We find out it was he who created the blocker which disguises the smell of humans to the Hungries and he has been involved in other scientific advances. Like Melanie, he ventures out on his own, has a strong connection with Samrina Khan, however, ultimately as characters go he was pretty unengaging. And characters on the autistic spectrum have been done to death in recent years…..
 
If you’re a fan of ‘Girl with all the Gifts’ by all means give this a try, although Carey writes a beautiful and literary sentence a return to this world really deserved something better than this. Perhaps a straight sequel might have worked better? Having said that it does have a truly terrific epilogue which fans of the earlier book will love. So if you do start it, make sure you finish it.
 
Some books work best as standalone novels, maybe ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ should have been one. Since that book came out in 2014 Carey then wrote a terrific ghost story called ‘Fellside’ which I also reviewed for GNoH and was brimming with good ideas and great writing so he certainly is not a one trick pony. So I hope for his next book he returns with something completely new.
 
Tony Jones

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Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.
The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

In The Boy on the Bridge M. R. Carey returns to the world of The Girl With All the Gifts, the phenomenal word-of-mouth bestseller which is now a critically acclaimed film starring Sennia Nanua, Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine.

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<![CDATA[THE MADNESS OF DR. CALIGARI EDITED BY JOSEPH S. PULVER SR.]]>Sun, 14 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/the-madness-of-dr-caligari-edited-by-joseph-s-pulver-srReview by William Tea 
You don’t need little ol’ me to tell you The Madness of Dr. Caligari is a top-notch anthology, do you? As of this writing, it’s been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, for starters. Besides that, it’s got Joe Pulver’s name on it, and that damn near says it all.

Besides being a gifted weird fiction writer himself, Pulver is one hell of an anthologist, most notably putting together such attention-grabbing compilations as the Robert W. Chambers tribute A Season in Carcosa and the Thomas Ligotti tribute The Grimscribe’s Puppets. The subject at the heart of his latest anthology? Robert Wiene’s 1920 German Expressionist silent film masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, of course.

Through a shadowy, angular aesthetic, the film tells the story of a somnambulist driven to murder by the machinations of a carnival hypnotist. Or maybe it tells the story of a delusional asylum inmate who envisions himself a valiant hero opposing the dastardly plots of his scheming doctor. Or maybe…


It’s no wonder that a film as deeply layered and abstruse as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari would provide fertile ground for storytellers to find inspiration.

The rightfully legendary Ramsey Campbell sets the stage with “The Words Between,” in which an elderly retiree taking a college film course struggles to write a paper on Wiene’s movie, while elusive thoughts erode his peace of mind and the world around him distorts at the edge of his vision. A straightforward tale of slow-burn psychosis marred only by a few hokey, half-hearted jabs at “oversensitive” university culture, it’s a nice primer for the rest of the anthology, touching on themes of obsession, confusion, exhaustion, and irreality.

Next, Damien Angelica Walters tackles the terror of lost identity with “Take a Walk in the Night, My Love,” which sees a woman sleepwalking through memories that may not be her own. This one seethes with sadness and sensate sensuality. Rhys Hughes’ “Confessions of a Medicated Lurker,” meanwhile, gibbers madly. Apropos, as its narrator is a physician driven even crazier than his patients by the geometric eccentricities of his village’s architecture. All his evil acts pale in comparison, though, to the real-life atrocity that is conversion therapy, as viciously critiqued in Robert Levy’s simply titled “Conversion,” a timely, stomach-churning update to Caligari’s motifs of abusive power and forced conformity. Cruel as it is, the story proves a highlight.

The titular locale of Maura McHugh’s “A Rebellious House” is no less than the interior of the human mind, transformed into a battleground as a catatonic woman silently resists the increasingly theatrical treatments her doctor devises. Seeming to take inspiration not just from Caligari, but also from the Georges Méliès silent film A Trip to the Moon and H.P. Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter stories, David Nickle’s “The Long Dream” introduces us to a man who swears his true home is on the lunar surface, and that the world his therapists try to convince him is real is anything but.

Wedged in between the high-concept horror of both Nickle’s tale and the Richard Gavin story to come, Janice Lee’s “Eyes Looking” is a short and simple exploration of guilt, with an asylum inmate gradually crumbling under the weight of an infinity of accumulated regrets. Following it, the impact of Gavin’s “Breathing Black Angles” is even more intense. It’s a mythic narrative set in a totalitarian, misogynistic near-future wherein the halls of a madhouse become the last refuge for sanity in an insane world. A prescient piece for our current alt-right era, it makes excellent use of Caligari’s otherwise underutilized political subtext. Another highlight.

Misogyny resurfaces as a theme in the subsequent “Somnambule” by S.P. Miskowski. Despite its quirky structure—like Wiene’s film, this one is a story inside of a story inside of a story—Miskowski’s tale, about a harried housewife trying to appease her abusive husband by visiting a hypnotist to help her quit smoking, proves effective. It strings you along with many smaller real-world evils before delivering a genuine gutpunch of an ending.

Nathan Carson’s “The Projection Booth” brings a welcome change of pace, introducing the psychedelic influence of Dr. Caligari 3000, the in-name-only 1989 “sequel” from notorious surrealist/pornographer Rinse Dream. The celluloid-thin barrier between reality and fantasy burns away when a lovelorn stoner starts tripping balls during a screening of the film at his local funeral home-cum-arthouse cinema. After the credits roll, he’s forced to face the sins that cost him the love of his life. Yet another anthology highlight, “The Projection Booth” sizzles with charisma and color.

Two fairy tales follow, one dressed in the robes of science fiction, the other in more traditional fantasy garb. First, in “The Mayor of Ephemera,” Jeffrey Thomas imagines a time when technology has progressed to such a degree that mankind can meet all of its needs, even life-sustaining ones, without the slightest conscious effort, and so retreats into an endless dream-filled slumber. Until, that is, one person does what no one else has: He wakes up. Then, in Nadia Bulkin’s “Et Spiritus Sancti” an executed traitor’s failed bid for the crown leaves a kingdom squabbling over who else might be a conspirator, as the traitor manipulates his enemies from beyond the grave. Both tales stretch the Caligari connection thin, but they’re nonetheless enjoyable on their own merits.

Returning to a decidedly more grounded setting—1940s California—Orrin Grey’s “Blackstone: A Hollywood Gothic” is a pulpy spookshow chiller about a pair of screenwriters investigating murders on the set of a Poverty Row b-movie. With his usual dry sense of humor, Grey delivers something that has been sorely missing from this largely grim anthology. That is, he delivers a sense of fun. Doing that, while also exploring some interesting parallels between the mythology of Caligari and traditional Haitian zombie folklore, makes “Blackstone” another highlight.

Sticking with the subject of show business, Reggie Oliver’s “The Ballet of Dr. Caligari” centers around a struggling composer commissioned to write new music for an aloof and enigmatic choreographer obsessed with a comatose ballerina. Meticulously paced and peopled with vivid characters, this one builds up an engaging sense of mystery only to wind up slightly deflated by a rushed ending.

A bit more consistent is “Bellmer’s Bride, or the Game of the Doll,” by Cody Goodfellow. Its beginning is as harsh as its climax is twisted. It features an SS lieutenant pursuing a mesmerist who once helped encode subliminal messages into WWII propaganda—all the better to turn the Hitler Youth into frenzied killing machines. An erotic grotesquerie that fully exploits the sadomasochistic overtones of Nazi iconography, not to mention the enduring legend of the so-called “Borghild Project,” this psychosexual/sociopolitical story of war both without and within stands tall as a definite highlight.

It’s a hard act to follow, but Michael Griffin holds his own with “The Insomniac Who Slept Forever,” a haunting, grief-wracked tale about a restless man willing to undergo experimental therapy to help him sleep, only to find the realm of his dreams equally as vast and lonely as the wasteland of his waking life. Keeping the focus on the inner mind, Paul Tremblay’s “Further Questions for the Somnambulist” walls readers up in the dimly lit chambers of a slumbering fortune-teller’s skull. Minimalist use of text and unorthodox formatting puts us in the eye of a cyclone of whispers, a rambling litany of anxieties that finally boils down to the one question we all want to ask, and the one answer we don’t want to hear. Tremblay packs alot of punch into a very small package with this one.

Next we shift from understated mortal dread to dense, Kafkaesque bizarro. Michael Cisco’s “The Righteousness of Conical Men” is a noir detective story set in an alternate reality where life is a movie and jagged, geometric cities are run by editors and therapists, and where the murder of an outlaw hypnotist sends a former patient in search of answers. Outré as that may be, it is Molly Tanzer’s “That Nature Which Peers Out in Sleep” which proves the anthology’s most surprising inclusion. It’s not horror, sci-fi, fantasy, bizarro, or weird fiction. It’s not sullen or nihilistic. Instead, it’s upbeat and charming. An earnest, touching, sex-positive love story about two misfits who bond over mutual interests: film theory, Greek food, and kinky sex. Another highlight to add to the list.

For Daniel Mills’ “A Sleeping Life,” it’s not so much the story that demands your attention, but the craft in its telling. Elevated by a fragmentary structure and rich, beautiful imagery, this is a poignant account of a young somnambulist who sleepwalks through most of his life, catching only brief glimpses of the world around him as he is manipulated by a conga line of unscrupulous souls.

The same kind of unscrupulous souls see an opportunity and take it, no matter what the cost, in John Langan’s “To See, To Be Seen.” Set against the all-too-relatable backdrop of the subprime mortgage crisis, it sees a crew of movers cleaning out a repossessed house, only to find a huge collection of vintage movie props, one of which just so happens to be Caligari’s cabinet. For one of them, stepping into the cabinet means peering into a whole other world, but as terrifying as the creatures who dwell there are, it’s hard to top man’s own inhumanity to man.

Finally, Gemma Files’ “Caligarism” brings the anthology to a close with a face-melting flourish. Pulver, it seems, has saved the best for last. Files weaves Caligari’s real-life production history, as well as various critics’ interpretations of the film, into a delirious, existential narrative that pits three women—a student writing a thesis on the film, her roommate, and her roommate’s psychiatrist—against each other, and against the very fabric of reality. 

Calling “Caligarism” a highlight would be underselling it. It’s a highlight among highlights. Outside Wiene’s cinematic progenitor, this might just be the definitive Caligari story. Indeed, Files’ story seems dead-set on encompassing the entirety of the movie’s themes in just a few pages, drawing from damn near every other angles from which the subject has already been approached, before then bringing the whole lot together under one roof. The “roof” in this case? A harrowing inquiry into not just “what is real? But into what “real” even is. 

While there is a bit of repetition throughout The Madness of Dr. Caligari—we’ve got enough diabolical doctors and paranoid patients here to fill every last office and cell of Arkham Sanitarium twice over—the stories in this book stand as a testament to the power of Wiene’s silent film classic, the versatility of its vision, and the innumerable great authors currently giving life to the genre fiction community. If nothing else, The Madness of Dr. Caligari stands as proof of what I said at the start of this review: Pulver knows how to put together one crackerjack anthology.

I’m already rubbing my hands together in anticipation of the next one.
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22 of today's top weird fictioneers have been challenged for these tales, inspired by the 1920 uber classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. In this kaleidoscopic selection of stories everything is to be questioned: is all authority merely abuse? Are we all hypnotized all the time? Asleep and dreaming? Is psychotherapy,merely sadism? Do our memories lie? Who are we, really? What is real; what is magick; what is delusion? What is love?... and how  could we ever know the difference? Joe Pulver (award-winning editor of The Grimscribe's Puppets, Cassilda's Song, A Season in Carcosa and others) presents us with these unsettling thoughts and images,in tales which will by turns disturb, frighten, enlighten, perhaps even disgust readers-- but will surely never lull you into ceasing to look over your shoulder to see who-- or what, is creeping up behind... and to wonder 

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<![CDATA[BABY POWDER AND OTHER TERRIFYING SUBSTANCES BY JOHN C. FOSTER]]>Wed, 10 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/baby-powder-and-other-terrifying-substance-by-john-c-fosterREVIEW BY JOHN BODEN 
 
John Foster has been cutting a swath through the horror genre for the last few years, beginning with his wildly macabre noir-revenge-amnesia tale, Dead Men.  I didn't get to read the critically-acclaimed Mister White so when I was asked if I would review his collection, I jumped at the chance.

The opening tale was one I am quite familiar with, having been one of the initial "Yes" votes when we accepted it over at Shock Totem years ago,  in it we venture by train on a journey to Detroit by way of some passes that are otherworldly and full of monsters. "Burial Suit" concerns a the son of a man killed by mobster's and the supernatural and violent revenge exacted. "Talk To Leo" gives us a troubled man who does not speak and his ventriloquist's dummy who maybe says too much. 

"The Willing" is one of my favorites, in a bleak future where we have been invaded and seemingly driven back to caves by aliens, a group of rag-tag soldiers craft a plan to call up an ancient evil, a dark and hungry god to conquer the invaders. This one is mad as hell.

In "Meat" a group of smugglers crash land on a planet where there are no other forms of life save for trees. Trees that hunger for flesh and thirst for blood.  "Girl Six" involves an interrogation of a man possibly involved in  the deaths of a trawler crew. But what happens as the questions fly and the answers wrestle them to the concrete floor is a wild and psychotropic miasma of surreal/governmental conspiracy is exhilarating. "Red" is one of the wildest alien invasion scenarios I've ever read and also one of the most brilliantly slapstick.

"Dead on Sunset Strip" gives us a group of hippies at a rock show in the tale end 60's/early 70's and when an outbreak of the living dead consumes the city (the world?) how can these stoned -free love folks possibly survive? "A Lamb To Slaughter" Is a wonderful sliver of surreal and deeply troubling horror as a man is hired to travel the country and witness executions.  We close with the title tale, 'Baby Powder" in which a couple who run a  paranormal investigation scam, meet their match in a house so haunted it has a reach of miles  and miles.
 
Foster creates believable worlds, populated with realistic characters. Even the wilder scenarios ring true given the prose he uses to render them.  With a blade that has a razor-sharp extreme side and a softer quieter weird side, he just cuts his way through.  I already knew I was a fan of his work, now I am absolutely positive of it.
 
Baby Powder is available from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing
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From the author of Dead Men and Mister White, John C. Foster continues his odyssey through the horror genre with his debut story collection. Within these pages, you will board a train to Detroit on a route littered with the darkest monstrosities the mind can imagine ("Highballing Through Gehenna"); a man avenges his father's murder in a series of violent mobster slayings ("Burial Suit"); a mute ventriloquist and his chattery dummy seek a therapist ("Talk to Leo"); future soldiers summon forth an ancient evil to battle an alien menace ("The Willing"); body smugglers crash land on a world where sinister trees feed on flesh ("Meat"); an interrogation takes a strange, psychedelic turn ("Girl Six"); a special agent investigates a potential alien invasion ("Red"); the undead infiltrate the Whiskey-A-Go-Go ("Dead on the Sunset Strip"); a man is hired by a nefarious agency to witness prison executions around the country ("A Lamb to Slaughter"); and a pair of paranormal scam artists suffer when they confront true evil ("Baby Powder").

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<![CDATA[DREAM DRESS BY  W. P. JOHNSON]]>Wed, 10 May 2017 11:06:20 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/dream-dress-by-w-p-johnsonREVIEW BY JOHN BODEN 
 
Ali is pouring her blood, sweat and tears into making a name for herself in the fashion world. She has a building reputation as one of the rising stars in the scene. her designs are doing well, but still not as well as the lauded designs of the mysterious Dream Dress company.  When Ali decides to break a few rules in order to find out the secrets behind this competitor things take a dark turn.

What begins in the heated and catty world of small scale fashion shows soon escalates into a seedy and sordid psycho-drama peopled with addicts and supernatural substances, monsters and chemistry. In less than ninety pages we get a glimpse into a strikingly contrasting world. 

If I'm honest this novelette reads a tiny bit fragmented but that might be because it is a teaser for an upcoming longer collection of stories all tied around the characters and events that happen in this story.  That isn't to say this doesn't work as a stand alone, it certainly does. In fact, I greatly enjoyed it. The only shortcoming I can cite is my lack of knowledge when it came to some of the lingo/slang used in the fashion industry. It kept pulling me out of the story a little bit, but I'd wade tight back in. 
Johnson gives us very real and flawed characters. One of the zaniest fashion villains this side of Cruella Deville and one hell of  a second act.  Really, if the collection ups the ante to the hand he's played here. I'm all in.

Dream Dress is available from Amazon.
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What is a Dream Dress? It's a dress that makes you remember what clothes can do for you, a dress that makes you feel young and beautiful again. Or, for some, it's a dress that makes you forget everything around you, no matter how terrifying.

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<![CDATA[Moriah by Daniel Mills]]>Mon, 08 May 2017 16:45:42 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/moriah-by-daniel-millsReview by Laura Mauro 
It is the summer of 1874, and nine years since the end of the American Civil War. An ex-preacher named Silas Flood sets out in search of The Yellow House - allegedly a hotbed of supernatural phenomena in the titular Vermont mountain town of Moriah.

It's a relatively simple premise, but it's the execution of it which makes Moriah the captivating, haunting book it is. A mishmash of perspectives, each with its own distinct voice, lends an almost filmic quality to the narrative; it's almost possible to sit back and imagine the story being recounted directly to the reader, and imbued with the primary emotion each narrative demands: Flood's solemn, regretful melancholy, Ambrose's confused, almost childlike sense of fear, and the jaw-clenching anger bubbling inside of Thaddeus.

A fascinating cast of characters make the story which, at its heart, is about ghosts. Not only the traditional, spiritual kind but the kind that live inside of us: Mrs. Ambler's regret, vividly recounted by the enigmatic woman herself, the powerful grief of the Bauers. The secret tragedy carried by Silas Flood himself, all of whom have come to The Yellow House ostensibly in search of spirits; the hope that they may speak, through the power of the Lynch brothers, with those they have lost. There is Ambrose Lynch, who speaks with spirits and seeks solace in a mysterious girl he calls Spring Willow, and taciturn Thaddeus Lynch, upon whose shoulders rests the fate of the Yellow House and all who reside there. And then there’s Sally, the youngest of the Lynches, whose concerns are resolutely corporeal but no less disturbing.

Moriah is a ghost story, then, but more than that, it is a story about people. It is about secrets, and how they destroy us. It's a resolutely gothic tale, with an undercurrent of distinctly American religious terror - both alien to me as a heathen Brit and compellingly horrific, especially in the context of the Lynches brutal, authoritarian father.

In his capacity as journalist, Flood sets out to investigate and report on the strange goings-on at the Yellow House. But when the dead begin to talk, it soon becomes apparent that the provenance of their voices matters far less than what they have to say.
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Silas Flood is a broken man in a broken country. Nine years have passed since the end of the American Civil War and Flood is helpless to escape its shadow.
In the summer of 1874, he is dispatched to the mountain village of Moriah, Vermont to investigate sensational claims of supernatural happenings. There the brothers Thaddeus and Ambrose Lynch are said to converse with spirits and summon the dead.
As Flood investigates the true nature of these phenomena, and the difference between the hauntings of the living and the dead, he must first come to terms with his own past and with the hold it has upon him—before he can behold the mysteries of the other side.

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<![CDATA[THE MORTUARY MONSTER BY ANDREW J. STONE]]>Thu, 04 May 2017 06:33:15 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/the-mortuary-monster-by-andrew-j-stoneREVIEW BY WILLIAM TEA 
For many of us, death is scary and shocking, even surreal.

For Gonzalo, it’s the family business.

After a lonely childhood among the caskets of his parents’ funeral home, Gonzalo, the protagonist of Andrew J. Stone’s first novella The Mortuary Monster, has become a bitter man. Unable to connect with the living, his only companions are the buried dead.

That’s not just a poetic metaphor. It’s quite literal: Gonzalo’s only friends are walking, talking, rotting corpses. Though they make their homes deep in cemetery soil, they can come and go as they please. At least, so long as their coffins aren’t sealed permanently from the other side.

The dearly departed aren’t merely Gonzalo’s friends, however. They’re lovers too. When he unexpectedly finds himself father to a baby that is half-human and half-cadaver, he becomes determined to give his son the life he himself never had, whether the boy wants it or not. 

An absurd, ghoulish riff on Neil Gaiman’s novel The Graveyard Book and Michele Soavi’s film Cemetery Man, spliced with the sly spookshow sleaze of an E.C. comic, The Mortuary Monster announces Stone’s arrival on the literary scene with a morbid flourish. An energetic, effortless read, the novel glides along at a swift pace with straightforward, occasionally eccentric prose. Though at times a bit too straightforward—such a matter-of-fact approach often keeps genuine emotion just out of arm’s reach—the rawness of Stone’s writing style is balanced out by a colorful cast of characters and the dreamlike fairy-tale atmosphere that permeates every page.

The charm of The Mortuary Monster is the charm of a bedtime story—albeit one with more graphic sex and violence than most sane parents would ever regale their young ones with—in that it feels simultaneously fresh and familiar. You instantly understand the narrative Stone is crafting here, but still find surprises in the idiosyncrasies of his vision and voice. There’s a sense of spontaneity that engages the reader throughout, keeping things unpredictable. Stone isn’t simply telling you a story, he’s inviting you to come on an expedition with him; you are discovering this world together.

Of course, this insulated “bedtime story” aesthetic is fitting given how dominant themes of both fatherhood and childhood are. While always maintaining an appreciation for the outrageous and an attitude of dry comedy, the heart of The Mortuary Monster is an inky black snarl of melancholy. All the glimmers of hope and humor are ultimately swallowed in sullen shadow as Stone ruminates on the tragedy of what it’s like not only growing up under a monstrous parent figure, but growing up into one yourself.

Combining a whole lot of doom ‘n’ gloom with a surprisingly effective atmosphere of youthful whimsy, there’s a lot here worthy of admiration for readers who enjoy bizarro fiction of a moodier, more introspective mold. A grisly, existential fable about the sins of the father, the decay of innocence, and the secret life of corpses, Andrew J. Stone’s The Mortuary Monster is definitely a promising bizarro debut.
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It’s Corpse Bride meets Eraserhead despite Gonzalo’s best efforts to live a life like Leave It to Beaver’s.

Gonzalo grew up in the cemetery under the care of his monstrous parents and in the company of decaying corpses. As a result, he only desired one thing throughout his childhood: To be normal enough to join society. But despite his attempts at running away from his family, he has never been able to leave the mortuary. 

Now, as an adult, Gonzalo manages the cemetery. His family has died yet he is still unable to leave. Then, on the night of the annual Cadaver Tea party, something impossible happens—he impregnates the corpse Fiona. 

In an attempt to normalize the cemetery before his child’s birth, Gonzalo begins to close all the coffins, forever locking the dead inside. Without the intercession of corpses like Henry, the voluntary babysitter of abused children, Lionel, the life-long explorer, Victoria, the world’s first professional deep-sea water ski champion, and Vincent, Victoria’s long-time lover and trainer, Gonzalo believes he and Fiona will be able to raise their child to join the rest of the world. 

But in the throes of terminal calcium deficiency, Fiona’s bones deteriorate to dust immediately after she gives birth. Can Gonzalo make the young Frank, his now motherless, half-corpse son, normal enough for society? Can he raise his son without becoming like his own parents? Will Gonzalo become the Mortuary Monster he has spent his whole life trying to escape?

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<![CDATA[A SOUNDLESS DAWN BY DUSTIN LAVALLEY]]>Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/review-fictions/a-soundless-dawn-by-dustin-lavalleyBy Adrian Shotbolt
 
A Soundless Dawn by Dustin LaValley is certainly quite a departure from the books we usually associate with Sinister Grin Press. ‘A Soundless Dawn’ is a collection of thoughtful flash fiction pieces, micro fiction pieces and short stories that seem somewhat autobiographical in nature, though at other times can appear completely unconnected to anything else within the book. 
I think that the cover art is an excellent representation of the kind of fiction that is on offer. The city skyline seems somewhat incomplete, indicative of some of the shorter pieces scattered throughout the book. That isn’t to say that these short pieces are devoid of value, on the contrary, LaValley’s work is simplistic and direct one minute evoking a number of familiar human emotions and deeply philosophical the next, even some of these shorter bursts of prose will have some significant impact upon you. The opening two pieces are short, but set the tone beautifully. It is simple prose, but with a haunting quality that encourages you to continue on this journey through LaValley’s thoughts and imagination.
 
Flash and micro-fiction is sometimes difficult to truly appreciate, and whilst I wouldn’t say there is very much at all in this collection I’d call “forgettable”, it’s definitely the longer pieces that held my interest. None more so than “Sand Bucket” – a story about parenthood, loss and the wonder of a child’s imagination. It is a beautiful story that tugged at the heart strings until they finally snapped on the last word, leaving me wanting to rush into the bedrooms of my two children and hold them dearly. Elsewhere, ‘The Wrestler Graves’ is a very different look at the breakdown of a relationship between two people. Here, WWE wrestler Robin Graves injures himself during a practice bout. Meanwhile, his wife, Maryanne is having an affair behind his back and feeding him pills to help keep him oblivious. Graves isn’t as doped up as people think and he hatches a plan to have his revenge. Another highlight is ‘A Comic Book’-a short/simplistic story about a boy who waits for his mother to disappear at night before diving into his comic book. The content of the comic suggests it is perhaps more suitable for older readers, hence the young boy hiding it from his mother. There is something that really resonates here, the love of reading and being lost in another time, another place, inside the pages of a story. That isn’t all there is to this brief story, for it is also about the awakening of a young boy’s sexuality, his coming-of-age into a more adult world.
 
And so, the collection continues with brief vignettes, short episodic scenes to slightly longer, more in-depth tales. A word on the final piece, ‘Sympathy or Selfishness?”, a love letter to an old friend (a pet) that really encapsulates some of the feeling that LaValley is able to project in so few words. My final thoughts are that ‘A Soundless Dawn’ is an engaging, intriguing release and a heartfelt, truthful collection of scenes and stories, one that I am sure everybody will get at least something from.
 

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Gathered within A Soundless Dawn are short stories that haunt, thrill, and grasp for the soul of humanity and challenge not only societal norms, but those that are to be expected of literature. Included are micro-short stories that further prove customs are meant to be tested to discover our own eccentricities. Whether neo-noir or transgressive, these stories are sure to enthrall.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever read a collection as wholly its own as this, nor a collection so absolutely unconnected to what’s been done before; in fact, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had the privilege to immerse myself into a book more full of the human soul than this.” –Edward Lee, from the Introduction

“Extraordinary! Hauntingly poignant.” –Thomas Ligotti, author of My Work is Not Yet Done

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