Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Creatures of the Night: The Universal Horrors of Charles L. Grant

Moonlight over a lonely town. Swirling fog. Whispering shadows. Footsteps in the forest. A voice from the darkness. A movement seen from the corner of your eye. A slowly spreading stain of red.

New Jersey-born writer and editor Charles L. Grant (1942–2006) championed these hallmark details of old-fashioned horror tales, even in spite of their simplicity, their overuse, indeed, their corniness, because he knew in the right hands such subtle details would build up to an overall mood of dis-ease and weirdness. Evoking fear of the unknown, not the graphic revelation of a psychopath with a gore-flecked axe or an unimaginable, insane Lovecraftian nightmare, is what a truly successful horror writer (or, for that matter, filmmaker) should do. And especially during the 1980s, when he published dozens of titles through Tor Books’ horror line, Grant did precisely that.

Grant was a prolific, well-respected, and award-winning horror novelist, short story writer, lecturer, and editor throughout the late 1970s until his death in 2006. He was perhaps the most vocal progenitor of what came to be known as “quiet horror.” In cinematic terms, Grant had more in common with the horror film classics of Val Lewton and Roman Polanski than he did with the writings of Stephen King or Clive Barker: suggestion, suggestion, suggestion, that was Grant's motto.

Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Richard Aickman, and Shirley Jackson were forebears; Ramsey Campbell, T.E.D. Klein, T.M. Wright, and Dennis Etchison fellow travelers. Many of the writers that appeared in Grant’s long-running horror anthology series Shadows (1978—1991) also belonged to this sub-subgenre. These were tales, like Grant’s own, of subtle chills, crafted prose, and (sometimes overly) hushed climaxes that might leave readers looking for stronger stuff a bit perplexed. But when quiet horror worked (which was quite often) you felt a satisfactory bit of frisson knowing you were in the hands of a master teller of terror tales.

Shhhh... Lewton's The Seventh Victim (1943), w/ Kim Hunter

Like many horror writers of the ’70s and ’80s, Grant had grown up in the 1940s and ’50s and therefore was a great lover of the classic monster movies from Universal Studios, whose stars have become legend. The (then) lesser-known works of producer Val Lewton also made a huge impression on Grant, and in an 1990 interview with Stanley Wiater in the book Dark Dreamers, he expressed his admiration for Lewton’s style of light and dark, sound and shadow, with only mere hints of madness and violence... and all the more frightening for that.

In 1981 Grant spoke with specialty publisher Donald M. Grant (no relation), ruefully noting that the classic monsters like Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolfman had become objects of fun and affection (and breakfast cereal) rather than the figures of terror they had been intended. As a lark, the two Grants decided to produce new novels featuring the iconic creatures, although still in a 19th century setting.

Original Donald M. Grant hardcover editions

All three take place in Grant’s own fictional Connecticut town of Oxrun Station—the setting for about a dozen of his novels and many of his short stories—these books “would be blatantly old-fashioned. No so-called new ground would be broken. No new insights. No new creatures,” according to Grant. Setting out to recreate the moonlit mood, graveyard ambience, and cinematic stylings of those old monster movies, Grant delivered three short (all around 150 pages) novels for those hardcore fans of black-and-white horror.

The first title, issued in hardcover in 1982, was The Soft Whisper of the Dead. In the late '80s they were republished in mass-market paperback editions from Berkley Books. Here you see the October 1987 reprint featuring a kinda-sorta Dracula (one presumes Universal wouldn’t allow the use of Lugosi’s image) in classic pose. In the intro Grant also expresses a fondness for Hammer horror, so I threw on a mix of James Bernard’s Dracula scores as I began reading (I often read with background music playing; soundtracks for films like Silence of the Lambs, Cat People, Sorcerer, The Thing, and Crash make for uber-creepy ambience).

Like lots of Hammer horrors, you get upper-crust polite society and regular folks and then the help, and does Count Brastov like the help! Pity the poor. Anyway this night creature wants Oxrun Station all to himself, along with the help of Goth gal-pal Saundra Chambers, who can get him invited into all the best parties. Lots of description of weather and damp stone and a black wolf prowling about, some bloody fang-action, couple drained bodies turning up, lots of Brastov’s speaking imperiously and a chilly climax make Soft Whisper more a novel of “classic terror” than the other way ’round.

The next volume followed only a month or two later. Although we see Chaney’s Wolf Man about to pounce on the cover of The Dark Cry of the Moon, the werewolf that appears in the novel is actually a white-furred creature of much greater viciousness than we remember from the 1944 movie. I’m not a great fan of werewolf fiction (I prefer something like Whitley Strieber’s wonderful Wolfen) because the appeal of them lies in seeing the transformation. The emerging snout and sprouting hair and teeth becoming fangs simply don’t have the same gasp-inducing awe in cold print, but Grant does a nice brief bit of attempting it:
A baying while the figure began to writhe without moving, began to shimmer without reflecting, began to transform itself from shadow black to a deadly flat white. The baying, the howling, a frenzied call of demonic triumph.
Last is The Long Dark Night of the Grave, and here we get the Mummy. Mummy fiction, huh, I dunno. The Mummy was never really all that scary, was he? Perhaps it’s his implacable sense of vengeance and not his speed that’s supposed to terrify; he won’t stop, not ever, like an undead Anton Chigurh, I suppose. There’s no reasoning, there’s nothing behind those shadowed sunken eye sockets (remember the ancient Egyptians took out the brain through the nasal cavity). This mummy goes after unscrupulous Oxrun Station fellows dealing in Egyptian artifacts, creeping up on them and then when they turn around he’s got ’em by the throat. Never saw it coming. Well, maybe a shadow and a scent of sawdust and spice...

Overall, these three novels are very light, very minor entries in Grant’s Oxrun Station series; maybe imagine scary 1940s flicks never made. I think it’s obvious he wrote them more to satisfy his own nostalgia than anything else, a vanity project. His other fiction is more astute and focuses on modern fears than these simple, sincere, cobwebby tales. They certainly won’t appeal to readers who like their horror cheap and nasty; I felt they were quieter even than "quiet horror," and there's lots of meandering in plot, dialogue, and action. Grant should have concentrated more on the beloved Universal monsters rather than the relationships between people you can hardly keep track of. The scattered moments of goosebumps are rare, all too few and far between.

Those looking for Grant in top form would be best served by his Shadows anthologies and his own short fiction—collected in A Glow of Candles and Tales from the Nightside (both 1981). While nicely written and offering some mild, Halloween-y spookiness and old-timey charm, Charles L. Grant’s Universal novels are probably more collectible for their illustrated covers (artist unknown, alas) than for what’s between them.

(This post originally appeared in slightly altered form as part of "The Summer of Sleaze" on the Tor.com website)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Adult Books, I Don't Understand

Hello! Some scandalous cover art here, for two different editions of the same novel, Succubus. The original edition is below, Lolita-esque model, pub'd 1970 by Dell Books. Above is a later '70s reprint under a pseudonym - Irving A. Greenfield just not the most tantalizing of author names - complete with reference to the almighty Exorcist. I'm gonna side with the dark-fantasy, Heavy Metal-esque reprint from Manor Books under the silly pseudonym Campo Verde cover over the adult-bookstore vibe of the one below. Although with those bare nipples I'm gonna guess Verde's version wouldn't have been on Woolworth's racks either. But still - great work, 1970s cover art designers!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I'll Let You Be in My Dream if I Can Be in Yours: The Erotic Horrors of Thomas Tessier

I was fortunate enough to discover the horror novels of Thomas Tessier (b. Waterbury, CT in 1947) back in 1989, when I began working in a used bookstore just out of high school. Horror junkie that I was, my favorite authors were still limited to King, Lovecraft, Barker, Campbell, and a few of the splatterpunks. So I was grooving on the fact that I had access to all the beat-up old paperbacks in our horror section; it was time to branch out.  At the time of course I was an aspiring horror writer myself, so I wanted to know who else was out there and what else had been done, and read the writers I'd only heard of who were horror masters.

Tessier's name was unknown to me, however. Maybe it was the Ramsey Campbell blurb on the cover of Finishing Touches (originally published in 1986, Pocket Books paperback from 1987), or maybe it was the promise of illicit thrills in those ribbon-bewrapped, ruby-tipped female hands that drew me to the book and take it home (why, I could take home any book I wanted!). Impressed by it, I then read a couple of his other books—The Fates, Shockwaves—and rather enjoyed them all, but when I began this blog, I realized I couldn’t recall anything about them! Weird. Time for a reread...

Rereads can be tricky things, especially when a quarter century has passed between. Readers change, mature, move on, give up, crave more challenging (or less challenging, whichever) literature. What was once revelatory at age 18 seems obvious and banal at 35. The opposite, happily, was true with Finishing Touches. I couldn’t believe how I’d forgotten the powerful dark undercurrent of eroticism that propelled it. Perhaps it was because it evinced a maturity I was unfamiliar with on first read, a sense of obsession I couldn’t quite grasp yet.  So many horror writers utilize the scary power and mystery and thrill of sex to snag undiscriminating readers, or they think publishers are more likely to buy a book with graphic or tawdry sex than one without. Whichever it is, few horror writers have written novels which so successfully fuse our erotic lives and our nightmare lives.

And I don’t mean to sound crass but to put it another way, Tessier writes like he’s actually had adult sexual relations with another adult, rather than the usual juvenile T n’ A that was so prevalent in horror of the day. Now sure that kind of approach can be good for a laugh or an easing of tension, but when in Tessier’s more literate, more intimate approach (he began his career as a poet), he illustrates how sex and horror entwined can create fiction of a most disturbing kind.

I'll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours. This clever little line from an old Bob Dylan song sounds innocuous and playful enough, but in  Finishing Touches, it takes on a dreadful, terrifying enormity. American Thomas Sutherland, just out of medical school, idle and alone, visiting London for six months before deciding what the rest of his life will be. He casually meets an older, odd little cosmetic surgeon drinking alone in a pub. Roger Nordhagen invites him out for nights of carousing in which Sutherland gets to see a London of elite establishments, the likes of which tourists never see. One such place fulfills dark fantasies, a playpen for the pampered few.

But these dark fantasies will pale and recede once Sutherland meets Nordhagen’s assistant, Lina Ravachol. All alabaster features and raven-black hair, confidence and mystery, she soon has Sutherland willingly in her thrall. Sutherland is astonished that she desires him sexually, and their acrobatic, fantasy-driven trysts make him forget all about his past American life. Step by step Sutherland descends, all too believably; he seems a willing participant. How could he not be? Eventually Lina and Sutherland forge an unimpeachable bond in a moment of orchestrated horror, of sex and death, with an unwitting young woman (orchestrated, that is, by Nordhagen and Lina herself). Sutherland is now complicit, his darkest fantasies made flesh and blood, and Nordhagen can reveal himself as a modern Marquis de Sade.

Espousing a philosophy of cruelty, its necessity and ineluctability, the good doctor now shows Sutherland his life’s work, deep beneath his London offices, his medical talents have reached their fullest and most depraved potential. And it is obvious he wishes the young American and Lina to continue his mad work after his death from drink. Sutherland dares to ask, why?
 “Why, why, why.” Nordhagen’s face brightened with interest. “You might as well ask why the Mayan civilization collapsed, why Kennedy rode in an open limousine in Dallas, why we came down out of the trees. What is why? There is no why; there is only now, and this, this now.”  

Told in first person in a clear strong voice by a man who slowly comes to face the fact that he can plumb depths of moral—and sexual—insanity, but remain psychologically intact and even thrive, Sutherland is well aware of his descent. “There was a malignancy in me I could not explain away,” he states clearly. An exploration of men and women and the madnesses and obsessions they can succumb to and embrace, and even, perhaps facing extinction, use to forge meaning in the teeth of raw dumb nature, Finishing Touches resembles no other horror novel I’ve read. And even at the end Tom and Lina (whose namesake she seems to aspire to) desire to be a part of that nature, “instead of trying to steer it ourselves, we would have to learn to let it go its own way. Death and terror will follow, like leaves falling out of trees.”

Rapture followed in 1987; the story of a cool, calm sociopath, Tessier’s prose and conviction rivet the reader to the page. While Rapture isn’t as decadent or perverse as Finishing Touches, eros plays a large motivating factor in the disintegrating mind of Jeff Lisker’s growing obsession with an old high school friend (platonic, however), Georgianne. Both are now in their thirties and living successful lives on opposite coasts. When Jeff’s father dies he goes home for the funeral and tracks down Georgianne, in full stalker mode. He follows her from her home and pretends to “accidentally” bump into her as she runs errands. Soon he’s having dinner with her and her husband Sean, whose sarcasm, condescension, and impatience simmer barely below the surface (or is that just Jeff’s insecurity?). Jeff also meets Bonnie, their brilliant teenage daughter just out of high school—Bonnie, who looks not unlike Georgianne 20-odd years ago. Jeff’s fantasies kick into gear...

In one moment, Jeff decides he will simply take Georgianne from Sean. That’s all there is to it. No matter how. Georgianne will fall into his arms, and Bonnie would come after.

 Sean was on the way out; he just didn’t know it yet. And why not? Why the fuck not? “Take her,” he said aloud. “I’ll just take her!” And as he said this over and over again, he fell in love with the words, what they meant and the sheer beautiful sound of them. He seemed to be completing a sentence he’d begun to form during some previous incarnation. 

Tessier is also adept at the psychological study. His great trick in Rapture is that he so slowly guides us into Jeff’s mind, its rationalizations and inventions, its almost charming delusions, its grandiose planning and seeming lack of guile, that we don’t quite realize just how crazy he is—and when we do, his plan still makes perfectly logical sense. It’s why the book is so readable: it’s all easily believable, since the characters and situations feel so real. In writer of lesser skills, a couple of twists in Rapture would seem forced; Tessier makes them seem like destiny.

He had treated the whole thing like a problem at work... you let it simmer in the depths of your brain, and sooner or later the answer will come to the surface. It was, he reckoned, an essentially creative process.... He belonged to the select handful of individuals who had the courage, imagination, and sheer will to create their own destinies.  

One step follows another, problems arise and are dispatched, all leading deeper and deeper into a conflagration of desire and death. “Desire” is key as well, as Tessier understands and presents sex not as exploitation, but as human nature. Jeff’s sex life, as well as his fantasies, are on full view in Rapture, and in this, we truly see his self-absorption. Women are to be dominated, to play along with his every whim, they are to pretend; they are not real in and of themselves. When the novel opens, he’s having sex with a woman young enough to still be living with her parents (“You won’t tell your parents?” “Not if you come back.” “You got me.”). Jeff’s almost willfully letting himself be blackmailed, but we know it’s only a game he’s playing... and the reader is even a bit sympathetic, which is the scariest thing of all.

I own most of Tessier’s novels now and look forward to reading them all, although I’m not sure if they can top the darkened sexual nature of Finishing Touches and Rapture (to a lesser extent, his 1979 novel The Nightwalker also has a twisted sexual element). Tessier doesn’t simply toss in a peep-show of naked flesh willy-nilly; his horrors spring from honest exploration of our erotic impulses. His precise, sinuous prose, his empathic sense of human failure and delusion, and his effortless ability to pinpoint and expose the secret self that drives and even dooms us all make Thomas Tessier a horror writer that will satisfy the discerning horror fan.

(This post originally appeared in slightly altered form as part of "The Summer of Sleaze" on the Tor.com website)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer of Sleaze in Oxrun Station

Today my latest post in the Summer of Sleaze series is up at Tor.com! This week I write about three novels by Charles L. Grant that feature the classic Universal monsters, all terrorizing Grant's own fictional town, Oxrun Station. Hope you like it!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Robert M. Price Born Today, 1954

Lovecraft scholar and editor Robert M. Price has contributed much to the study and appreciation of weird fiction both vintage and modern. With his fanzine in 1981, Crypt of Cthulhu, Price featured fiction from all the familiar names associated with the Lovecraftian circle, as well as nonfiction and reviews by himself and fellow writers. His background was in theology, so his approach to the Mythos was thorough and perceptive. Price kept Crypt going for 20 years, and you can get later issues from Necronomicon Press.

Dig these hand-drawn covers for Crypt! Really love the aesthetic, I daresay ol' HPL, amateur journalist that he was, would've too. You can find a lot of the articles included in these online, which I highly recommend reading, especially his early Stephen King reviews.
In the early-mid 1990s Price began editing Mythos anthologies for the RPG publisher Chaosium, and below are a few of the trade paperback anthologies, each which expanded on a particular entity or town in the Mythos. These titles  seemed ubiquitous while I was working in a chain bookstore then, but I never read any though. What am I missing?


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

In a Dark Country, Red Dreams Stay with You: The Horrors of Dennis Etchison

Dennis Etchison (born Stockton CA, 1943) didn’t set out to be a horror writer. While Etchison has been referred to as a writer of “dark fantasy” or of “quiet horror,” in an interview with journalist Stanley Wiater in Dark Dreamers (1990), the author states that he found himself in the horror genre “sort of by accident.” Etchison began writing and publishing science fiction stories in the 1960s, but as the short genre fiction market changed he found his work gained more acceptance in the burgeoning horror fiction field of the 1970s.

With his bleak, pessimistic, often quite violent tales of people drifting through a modern world of lost highways and all-night convenience stores, mistaken identities and secret sociopaths, how could Etchison have ended up anywhere but the horror shelves? His enigmatic yet striking stories gained plaudits from Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, and Karl Edward Wagner, and were published in two paperback collections by Berkley Books, 1984’s The Dark Country and 1987’s Red Dreams (both originally put out by specialty horror publisher Scream/Press several years prior, both with inimitable J.K. Potter covers).

By the end of the 1980s Etchison had become a highly regarded editor as well, gathering brilliant and blisteringly horrific tales of all styles and voices from his most talented peers for the anthologies Cutting Edge (1986), Masters of Darkness (3 vols., 1986–1991), and MetaHorror (1992). If all that weren’t enough, under his pseudonym Jack Martin (a character with that name appears in many of his tales) he wrote novelizations for films by both John Carpenter and David Cronenberg! Let’s face it: Etchison may not have grown up wanting to be a horror writer per se, but he certainly knows his way around the oft-maligned genre. In his introduction to Cutting Edge, he gives a shorthand lesson in the failures of genre fiction during the modern era: Tolkien, Heinlein, and Lovecraft impersonators who refused to engage with the fracturing contemporary world around them. None of that for Etchison.

Like Stephen King, Etchison had many of his short works appear in low-rent 1970s men’s magazines, as well as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and various horror anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant, Stuart David Schiff, and Kirby McCauley. These are the stories you’ll find in The Dark Country and Red Dreams. As one might have guessed, his horror stories could also be classified as “soft” science fiction (as he noted to Wiater) as well as crime/noir fiction. Anyone who’s read widely in these fields will know that those genre lines overlap and blur . His paperbacks may have been marketed as modern horror—witness the blurbs and taglines on them, all “blood-curdling” and “master of the macabre” and so on—but Etchison took all those influences and crafted his own particular type of dark, speculative fiction.

What’s truly important, and why Etchison should still be read today, is that his stories are crafted with a true writer’s care; he infuses his work with a literary sensibility, not a pulp one. As someone who loves horror fiction but doesn’t only read horror fiction, I find this quite refreshing. He can be bloody and violent, he can be quiet and intimate, he can be challenging and oblique, but he always uses his own unique template. Etchison’s not afraid to utilize a sort of experimental style to delineate the crumbling psyche of a doomed character. Occasionally his allusive prose and his sleight-of-hand skill at misdirection can mitigate the impact of some stories, so I find a careful approach to him works best. Etchison shows; he does not tell. His work stands out from other ’80s horror because of that; that first rule of writing is often the first one jettisoned by horror writers.

Etchison often sets his fictions in the desert highways and late-night byways of his home state; he knows well this empty land and the darknesses therein. Etchison is very good at writing scenes of shocking violence, but his fiction doesn’t rely on them, as so many horror writers do. There is much psychological violence, distress, dismay, a sense of things being not quite right, of a person not quite at home, wandering lost along a dark highway—and then meeting someone, or something, at the end of the night...

Of his two major collections, I am most partial to The Dark Country. While Red Dreams has its dark gems, the stories in the earlier collection seem darker, meaner, both more graphic and more effectively subtle. “The Late Shift,” one of his most lauded and original works which was first published in Kirby McCauley’s seminal anthology Dark Forces (1980), reveals a sinister source for those poor souls working the graveyard shift in 7-11s and gas stations and diners. Poor souls indeed.

The icy merciless horrors of “Calling All Monsters,” “The Dead Line,” and “The Machine Demands a Sacrifice,” which form what Ramsey Campbell calls in his introduction “the transplant trilogy... one of the most chilling achievements in contemporary horror.” Blurring SF and horror in a vaguely Ellisonian manner, Etchison offhandedly imagines a future (?) of living bodies at the service of some (mad) science, evoking specifically Dr. Moreau’s House of Pain. The sentence “This morning I put ground glass in my wife’s eyes,” begins “The Dead Line,” its no-nonsense, amoral tone invoking the hardboiled writers of the 1930s. More please!

“It Only Comes out at Night,” like its generic title, is a traditional horror piece, as is “Today’s Special,” but each is tightly written, offering horror fans the poisonous confections they love. The frigid vengeance of “We Have All Been Here Before” and especially “The Pitch” is quite satisfyingly nasty. Along with his talent for straightforward storytelling, Etchison has a skill for diversion, letting the reader think a story going’s one way when—record scratch—it goes somewhere else entirely. To wit: “Daughter of the Golden West,” which begins as a Bradbury-esque fantasy of three college-age men (the collection is dedicated to Bradbury) and ends with a revelation of one of California’s greatest tragedies. It’s a gruesome delight.

The title story won the 1982 British Fantasy Award and the World Fantasy Award for best short fiction. Nothing SF or noir or supernatural about this piece at all; it reads more like an autobiographical piece of an inadvertently nightmarish vacation. Jack Martin’s friends callously and drunkenly exploit locals at a Mexican beach resort, then he’s forced to face a fate dealt at random. This is not the kind of story you expect to find in a book with the little “horror” label on its spine, but does that even matter? It’s spectacular, mature and disturbing about everyday matters that can spiral out of control.

While The Dark Country is where the gruesome edge of Etchison’s blade resides, Red Dreams is its quieter sibling, but no less unsettling or insightful for that. The late great Karl Edward Wagner, in his intro, opines that Etchison’s nightmarish fiction is one made of loneliness, “of an individual adrift in a society beyond his control, beyond his comprehension, in which only sheeplike acceptance and robotlike nonawareness permit survival.” Ya got that right, K-Dub!

These are stories for grown-ups, their fears of age and insignificance—like the protagonist of “The Chair,” who attends his 20-year high school reunion and is called again and again by the wrong name, every time different, till one person gets it all too right. The father in “Wet Season” has faced a parent’s worst nightmare but then... it gets worse. “Drop City,” while overlong, is a noir/horror mash-up, slowly—perhaps too slowly—building to an impressionistic finale. A man wanders into a bar and discovers his life might not be anything he can remember. If the readers pays close attention, the ending will seem eerily familiar. "The Smell of Death" has a physician-heal-thyself angle inside its early '70s disaster SF setting; male/female relationships are in Etchison's spotlight (a common practice in his work) in "On the Pike," which has a young couple checking out the freakshow tent at a dilapidated carnival, one of them egging the performers on and on...

The thematically ambitious “Not from Around Here” finds Etchison in a quiet Phildickian mode as he slowly introduces us to a near-future and a religious cult whose texts provide perfect insight and pleasure. A lifelong movie fan, Etchison’s future world includes movies never made save in a film geek’s fevered imagination, works like, “Carpenter’s El Diablo, De Palma’s The Grassy Knoll, Cronenberg’s Cities of the Red Night, Spielberg’s Talking in the Dark...”  (That’s rich, Etchison having Spielberg make a movie called “Talking in the Dark,” since that’s one of Etchison’s best horror stories!). I found it rather too leisurely in the telling, taking a long detour before getting to the real meat of the tale, but I dug the litany of classic movie actresses names that operate as a sort of exorcism for the protagonist, an acceptance as the promises of the cult are kept.

That "Talking in the Dark," the opening story, is probably the most horror-genre typical story in Red Dreams. A fan gets to meet his favorite horror writer! You know how writers hate being asked the utterly banal question “Where do you get your ideas?” (“Poughkeepsie” is Harlan Ellison’s eternal answer)? Here Etchison answers it. Sure, the inspiration’s real life; writers are regular people too. Except when they’re not. The blackly comic and bloodily conclusive scene sinks its teeth in.

Another favorite is “White Moon Rising,” a murder-on-coed-campus (shades of King’s “Strawberry Spring”) that fragments character POV as it climaxes. It originally appeared in Whispers, and was a standout of realistic horror amidst the dark fantasy included in that landmark anthology. But more than a handful of the stories in this collection are like stylized little writer's exercises, with the use of second-person narration, vague hints at interpersonal trauma, and existential-y questions of life and facing death; this is why Red Dreams had less of an impact on me than Dark Country. Still, both books should be in the serious horror fan's collection.

The fiction of Dennis Etchison insinuates and intimates, brimming with allusions that seem to go right up to the point of comprehension and then dissipate, leaving your imagination tingling, realizing that fully facing his horrors might leave you wishing you hadn’t. Intelligent yet jittery with fearsome anxiety, horrific without clichéd stupidities, the stories found in Red Dreams and especially in The Dark Country will reward 21st century horror readers and remind them that the 1980s were a boom for the genre, as it was breaking away from its pulp past and pointing the way to a petrifying—and wholly unavoidable—future.
(This post originally appeared in slightly altered form as part of "The Summer of Sleaze" on the Tor.com website)