So I found Mr. Cesare via SplatterPunk ‘Zine #5 (sold out – nag the editor for reprints). His short story there, ‘So Bad’, is currently sitting at the top of my very short list for best short horror story of 2014. Then I picked up his novella ‘The First One You Expect’ (reviewed elsewhere on this site – not by me) and thoroughly enjoyed that also. So I decided to check out his novel length work. He’d mentioned on his blog that ‘The Summer Job’ was selling a lot less than his other books, despite in his opinion being of similar quality, and asked people to give it a go and let him know their thoughts.
There are some tropes in horror that when you look at them just seem silly, the hero always being handsome, women always needing rescuing and towns that seem to be a hub for all things supernatural. You would think that in this day in age of communication everyone and their uncle would know that something was afoot in these towns, an quickly clear out.
The people of Matlock, the town at the centre of these seven stories seem oblivious to the secret and not so secret dark underbelly of its city walls. Which to be honest is a good thing as these seven rather splendid stories would be have to pack up their troubles in and old kit bag and find somewhere else to live.
Stuck On You is a collection of short stories and novellas by Jasper Bark.
Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Yes, these are dark tales. In them, gruesome and grotesque things frequently happen to people. Some will make you question the limits of human endurance. Some will make you question what you had for lunch, or kill your appetite stone dead. My experience of extreme horror writing is fairly limited, but if there’s stuff that’s hugely more extreme than these tales, I’m certainly not in any hurry to read them.
A heart-warming tale of Christmas cheer, how love and friendship can conquer all and what the true spirit of the season is. Set against a backdrop of a turbulent era, in which plucky little elves stand up for what they believe in and forge a new destiny for themselves...
Okay, it's nothing like that at all. What it is, is smutty, violent, disgusting, full of bad language, even worse sex, characters with no redeeming qualities and more bad jokes than you can shake a stick covered in poo at. It also happens to be very, very funny.
Adam Millard's Christmas tale takes us to a Santa's Workshop that's filled with disgruntled elves who are one step up from slave labour. Santa himself is a grumpy old lush, who spends his days lording it over his 'staff' and being completely oblivious to the infidelities of his ex-stripper wife, Jessica. Things take a turn for the worse (hard as that is to believe) when someone starts kidnapping elves to turn them into some sort of Human Santapede (or Inhuman, or (In)Human). It's down to top elf Finklefoot, to investigate and try to put a halt to the evil-doings...
Getting humour in fiction right, especially this kind of humour, is very difficult and it's a testament to Millard that he manages it with aplomb. Sure, the book isn't going to win the Booker Prize, or even change your life (though it might give you a few weird dreams), but who gives a shit about those things? What it will do (obviously depending on your sense of humour) is make you laugh at the sheer inappropriateness of it. But this is no foul, offensive story for the sake of it. It's actually closer in spirit to the works of Terry Pratchett or, more closely, Robert Rankin (albeit far, far more debauched than either of these fellows). It's full of wry asides, knowing jokes and lots and lots of bad (and therefore, very good) puns. And it's all done with a firm feeling of joy and delight.
The story is pretty short, too and rattles along with glee. Often, the humour in these things becomes a bit wearisome but due to the brevity of it, it never outstays its vile welcome. While there was the occasional joke that made me groan (in a good-natured way), invariably, I laughed (yes, out loud) at least once in each chapter.
If you have a mad sense of humour (if you like stuff like The League Of Gentlemen, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Monty Python and so on), you might just get a kick out of this. Be warned though, it does contain foul language and the act of stitching on person's mouth to another's arsehole...
However, it would be fantastic if we could get this noticed beyond the horror community, even if for its perceived notoriety. So, come on, partake of the Christmas spirit and buy a copy. Let's see if we can propel it to best-selling status. Get that cover on the local news, at least...
Santa Claus is coming to town...at least, that was the plan, but now his elves have started going missing, kidnapped by some insidious figure in a black cloak, and despite the magic swirling about the place, the toys aren't going to put themselves together. So begins a terrifying game of cat and mouse as Kris Kringle searches The Land of Christmas for his abducted minions, unaware that he is to play an integral part in his foe's plans.
Krampus is pissed at Santa after lending him his snowblower and never getting it back. His punishment? To build aHuman Santapede long enough to stretch around The Land of Christmas, and at its helm, the jolly fat man himself. Can Santa - aided by his best foreman, Finklefoot - get his elves back, defeat Krampus, and save Christmas before it is too late, or will Krampus succeed in creating the ghastliest single-file organism the North Pole has ever seen?
Ho-Ho-Holy Shit, things are about to get messy...
Earlier in the year, I was fortunate enough to acquire a copy of Stephen Volk’s book Whitstable, published by Spectral Press. The story, concerning the profound emotional crisis that Peter Cushing experienced after his wife’s death, was one of the most moving stories I have read this year – Mr Volk managed to invoke the spirit of Mr Cushing so deftly, and the desperation of his circumstances so clearly, that the result was both mesmerising and deeply melancholy, without ever becoming maudlin. As a result, I was very excited to see what would come next. When I heard the project was to be a telling of Alfred Hitchcock’s childhood, and in particular a re-telling of the (possibly apocryphal) childhood incident where his father bribed a policeman to lock him in prison overnight (to ‘scare him straight’, one must suppose) I was excited, but also a little nervous. Mr. Hitchcock is a very different proposition to Mr. Cushing – aloof, even cold, possibly misanthropic, definitely all around a more prickly and less likable character than the essentially decent, quintessentially English gentleman portrayed in Whitstable. Additionally, the story takes place in Hitchcock’s childhood. What could this man possibly have been like as a boy? How might the shadow of the man he would become be reconciled with a child’s character? Didn’t the whole exercise run the risk of lapsing either into cod pop psychology, or reference laden foreshadowing in the place of an actual story?
I needn’t have worried. Mr. Volk handles all these potential pitfalls with the kind of skill and sure footedness I am coming to expect from his writing. His prose style is direct and uncluttered, but he nonetheless manages to skilfully, even poetically, invoke the bygone age of pre-war London, and the aspiring working class/lower middle class background the young Fred grew up in. His father’s grocer’s shop, the Catholic school he attends, his bedroom – all are expertly conjured out of the past and brought into our imaginations. The sense of place and time are meticulously rendered, whilst never feeling ‘researched’ or overly pedantic. In this, the primary perspective of young Fred is a canny, if not brilliant choice – through that slightly dreamlike quality of a child’s perspective, the world of Leytonstone is given a quality that is at once sharply rendered and yet ethereal, slightly dislocated.
That fact that the child is Alfred Hitchock adds another layer, of course. Even at this tender age, it’s clear that ‘Fred’ is a most untypical child. Fiercely observant and intelligent, but also shy and awkward, in many ways the quintessential outsider, his mind becomes the perfect filter for the foreign country of the past, even as it drives forward the narrative. Similarly, the child’s perspective of a night spent in a cell is both heart-breaking and terrifying, not least because young Fred, whilst clearly badly frightened, is nonetheless removed from much of the histrionics or more obvious sentiment which one might normally expect a child to feel. Because of this, the tension and horror of the situation is exacerbated rather than mollified or lessened, and this entire section of Leytonstone is a tour-de-force of tension and fear, even edging onto gothic horror, all while rooted far too uncomfortably in reality.
The plot of the story is similarly surprisingly meaty, given the constraints of working with such a prominently historical figure. That this book manages to contain both heart-stopping twists and a genuine sense of suspense and tension for much of it length is a staggering achievement, and again testament to the extraordinary writing talents of Mr. Volk.
That said, the reason the book felt so special to me was for that wonderful invocation of the time, the place, and this singular child. Hitchcock buffs will no doubt revel in the ghost of future movies that haunt the text throughout (and rightly so), but I think the greatest strength of this book is that I genuinely believe you could know almost nothing of Hitchcock’s work, and this would still stand as a powerful, gripping, and amazingly evocative narrative – one that will stay with you long after the pages have all been turned.
It’s a huge achievement. I cannot wait to see what Mr. Volk does next.
I like this time of year, it's the perfect time to curl up in front of a warm fire with a nice glass of Talisker in one hand and good book in the other. Benedict Ashforth's Abbott's Keep takes its inspiration from the classic quiet horror story. Rather than relying on gross out moments and jump scares, the book relies on chilling atmosphere and a slow sense of dread to get grab the readers attention.
A stand alone graphic novel written by Jeff Mariotte and illustrated by the increasingly prolific Daniele Serra, this might, at first glance, appear to stray into standard horror fare. A group of impossibly good looking young adults appear lost in a barren land and are being pursued and attacked by some unknown entity. At first, I thought I'd jumped too far ahead in the story as you are dropped right into this scene, but as I read, it all becomes clear (or as clear as the writer allows).
A stray thought that has been rattling its way around my mind for a little while now can probably best be summed up by the following proposition: It’s possible that the only difference between a horror movie and an action movie is the presence (or absence) of a ‘hero’ archetype. Remove John McClain and his actions from Die Hard, for instance, and you are left with a really scary story about cold blooded mass murder and theft. Con Air without Nick Cage, Lethal Weapon without Danny Glover, Raiders without Indy... OK, that last one might be a bad example But you get the point.