The Fear by Richard Harland
Harland’s The Fear is another of my favorites from this collection. It borrows elements of traditional horror fiction and utilizes the current “found footage” motif to craft a taught story. An Australian fan club of Australian horror director Lucas Roe uncovers footage of an unfinished early film and decides to find out more about as a summer project. What they find out isn’t quite what they expect and is slightly more than they bargained for. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of The Fear is how easily Harland manages to convey a sense of the fictional film that is so central to the story. Partly this is a result of found footage films that have cropped up over the last few years and part of it is how perfectly he captures the rapt attention and voracious zeal with which his characters take to the film. That immediate attraction to a film, that sense of wonder and terror and elation that a good horror movie evokes is difficult to evoke at the best of times and Harland’s ability to so readily capture the emotional high of that experience helps sell the story. The Fear is a story about the journey, it never explains anything in detail and is not cheapened by that fact. A story that is the very definition of chilling The Fear has a well-deserved place in this anthology.
Til the Morning Comes by Stephen Graham Jones
Jones’ story is yet another that features children front and center. Something about this story didn’t quite feel right for me. It is ambiguous in a sense, but that isn’t something that usually bothers me with horror. Perhaps I’m just not sure where the threat is coming from in the story. I will say that the way that threat is introduced accurately captures the contagious nature of fear in children. How one small thing can so radically and completely change the way the world looks particularly when you are young and conveys how that shift in perception can persist even into adulthood. An interesting and well told story that worked for me on some levels.
Shomer by Glen Hirshberg
The title of the story refers to the Jewish bereavement custom in which a deceased body not immediately buried must be watched over by a relative. Hirshberg’s story is a mediation on grief and life and love. The horror has less to do with the supernatural elements that occur but rather deal more with the emotions and relationships between the living and the deceased. This was an interesting story with only light touches of horror.
Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside by Christopher Fowler
Another story with children at the forefront (perhaps the most frightening monsters of all: teenagers) Fowler’s crafts a very strong setting. He deftly sketches a dilapidated and failing seaside resort town within a scant few pages. It is a place that seems to have a sort of strange magnetism; drawing people to itself and unwilling to let them go. Much like in Til the Morning Comes there is a sort of regrettable ambiguity here that left me feeling somewhat confused by the stories conclusion. This is an entertaining story buoyed by its strong sense of place and some creepy characters but with a twist ending that comes bizarrely out of nowhere.
The Obscure Bird by Nicholas Royle
This is one of the more fascinating and original stories. Indeed I had no idea how it was going to end at all. I don’t want to spoil things too much and Royle does an excellent job at providing slight misdirection in order to keep readers guess as to what comes next. Once the climax hit (we’re talking paragraphs from where the story ends) I was pretty sure I knew where things were going but that foreknowledge did little to lessen the sick twist at the story’s end.
Transfiguration by Richard Christian Matheson
I’m a big fan of arctic settings in horror fiction so I was all in the minute I started reading Transfiguration. The protagonist is a Ice Trucker and I was pleasantly surprised to realize this might be the only time I’ve seen that profession employed in fiction. Matheson does an excellent job a blending reality and delusion. He carefully obscures the truth given the isolation and tension the protagonist faces. The protagonist’s belief is so strong that it is difficult not to believe as well and even as the truth behind his actions is revealed you are still left wondering, at least a tiny part of me was, what was true and was delusion.
The Days of Flaming Motorcycles by Catherynne M. Valente
While there has been a seeming overabundance of zombie stories of late Catherynne M. Valente manages to provide a rather unique take on the walking dead. Much like Stephen King’s work in Cell or George Romero’s in Land of the Dead Valente’s story involves undead whose behavior falls outside the expectations of the reader defying the conventional zombie mythology we have all come to know. The horror here isn’t so much what has already happened but rather the mystery of what is to come. Valente’s variation on zombies feels less forced than either Romero or King. The organic feel of these new zombies is primarily a result of Valente’s ability to create a strong connection between our narrator, her environment, and what remains of her father. The Days of Flaming Motorcycles evidences a palpable sense of sadness and an overarching sense of unease that makes up for any outright terror.
The Folding Man by Joe R. Landsdale
The Folding Man is pure horror pulp at its best. A couple of kids joy riding around Halloween engage in some tomfoolery only be pursued by a horrific monster. Landsdale easily riffs on a familiar trope borrowed from countless horror films of the 70s and 80s. Its twisted monsters and anything goes flare recalled films like Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. Like that film its off-the-wall crazy is firmly contained within a vaguely outlined setting hinting at a preconceived mythology just beneath the surface. Landsdale easily crafts a strong sense of place and history amongst his characters. While not necessarily new there is a certain comfort in the familiarity of The Folding Man and fans of horror and short fiction can find little to dislike in its near perfect structure and pacing.
Just Another Desert Night with Blood by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
I should probably read this story again. Its crafted somewhere between poetry and prose and I’m not ashamed to admit that it may have gone straight over my head. It certainly is unique amongst the stories in this collection.
A Black and White Sky by Tanith Lee
A Black and White Sky is an expertly crafted though ultimately disappointing story that will draw many comparisons to Hitchock’s The Birds. While an unceasing exodus of birds is an unsettling notion I still found it rather difficult really get into as a primary focus for the story. Lee crafts a well drawn slice of British country town but the firm setting locale doesn’t quite pay off in terms of atmosphere and chills.
At Night, When the Demons Come by Ray Clulely
Another post-apocalyptic story about a world overrun by demons that plays nicely alongside the earlier Lesser Demons. Cluley’s story has the benefit of allowing for a deeper reading that can be looked at as dealing with the repression of femininity or female sexuality. It can also be read as a simply an interesting take on a post-apocalyptic story. At Night, When the Demons Come really did little for me in terms of atmosphere focusing more on crafting a surprising human tale of horror instead of crafting a sense of outright dread a fear. An interesting story but not up to some of the best in this collection.
The Revel by John Langan
Another story with a somewhat experimental structure. To be honest I wasn’t really a fan. It feels more like an exercise in horror writing than actual horror story. It does manage to encapsulate the elements of horror fiction and film fairly accurately. Burried beneath the obtuse structure of the story is a familiar story with characters that manage to feel interesting even if the way their perspectives are introduced is a bit odd. I do wonder if the story, if told straight, would have been more interesting. This meta-fictional story feels very out of place in this collection.