Friday, September 7, 2018

Coming in 2019: Paperbacks from Hell Reprint Line from Valancourt Books!

Great news: at first it was just a secret dream among a few die-hard paperback horror fanatics, now it's a reality! In August, specialty publisher Valancourt Books announced that they would be launching a series of reprint vintage horror paperback titles, all of which have been featured in the Stoker Award-winning Paperbacks from Hell (Quirk Books, 2017), by Grady Hendrix and me (you may have heard of it!). They've asked Grady and me to choose the titles and write introductions, and Valancourt hopes to be able to use original cover art when possible.

It's beautiful!

Since virtually every book discussed in PfH is out of print and often going for expensive collector prices online, Valancourt Books hit on the excellent idea of reprinting some in quality trade paperback editions. Thanks to Quirk Books for agreeing to this amazing deal. Offering obscure and long-sought-after books anew to an eager reading public seems like the right thing to do! I'm thrilled to be part of this horrific venture.

Planned publication is early 2019, with maybe half a dozen titles at first, starting with Elizabeth Engstrom's 1985 collection of two novellas, When Darkness Loves Us, published in paperback by Tor in 1986 with a fantastic Jill Bauman cover illustration. Also featuring in the line will be Bari Woods's The Tribe and T. Chris Martindale's Nightblood. More titles to come, of course, and Grady and I are hot on the heels of potential reprint horrors. Tracking down authors or their estates and sorting the tangle of copyright is no mean feat but Valancourt is doing a stellar job of it. And don't forget: over the past several years Valancourt has already reprinted many of the books you've read about here on this blog and in PfH.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Spirit by Thomas Page (1977): You Drive Me Ape You Big Gorilla

Bigfoot was big news throughout the 1970s, thanks to that infamous Patterson footage of the late 1960s. Stomping across the pop cultural landscape and metal-and-asphalt playgrounds of the decade, he showed up on TV ("Bigfoot and Wildboy"! "In Search of..."! "The Six Million Dollar Man"!) and in some cheapie movies I recall older relatives and brothers of friends going to see. Even the commercials and specials on TV terrified me. Amongst the drugstore spinner racks that held our precious horror paperbacks readers could also find "non-fiction" on Sasquatch, and the covers offer that same fine vintage frisson.

But Bigfoot was dead and gone by the '80s—I was just too old for 1987's Harry and the Hendersons—and although he's back in a big way today, I can't say I have any interest in him. So it was with some measure of "meh" that I approached The Spirit, a 1977 novel actually published in hardcover (scroll down for cover). Ballantine released the paperback edition in 1978 with a moody George Ziel cover, as he does so well, and I was sort of expecting an adventure-romance tinged with creature horror. Author Thomas Page (b. 1942, Washington DC) wrote a few other genre paperbacks in the day that I've seen here and there over the years but I know nothing about him. I do know he can spin a yarn and mix in some solid suspense and a few snatches of 'Squatch destruction.

There is something I think distasteful about implying Bigfoot is dangerous to humans, I've always felt, but now I see he is generally part of the "eco-horror" moment of that era, when the natural world has simply had enough of humans trashing it for big bucks and fights back by any means necessary. Bigfoot simply does not respond well to ski resorts in his 'hood! Page's novel, despite the slavering back-cover copy and its swooning-romance cover, is more tasteful than those pulp implications, as its specific horror elements are minimal and there is no romantic element whatsoever, which is a shame because two characters meet cute and I could've done with some sexy Seventies sex action.

1977 US hardcover, Rawson Associates
Easily the most accurate cover art

Still, I do think Spirit is a rewarding little read for those who dig the 'foot, as it has some terrific action setpieces and opens with a harrowing helicopter crash, characters and dialogue aren't a lot more than stock but serve adequate purpose for the story. Page isn't too shabby at mixing in Native American lore either, adding a dash of the hallucinating Vietnam vet and the vision quest, and has some fun theorizing on the anthropological origins of the creature (genetic deformity? cross-species banging?), thanks to our manly-man protagonist's visits to a primate specialist. Bigfoot sightings aren't overdone and have a bit of subtlety about them—She had materialized from the forest, as massive as a mountain and light as a wraith—but definitely convey the creatures' power and might. There's even sad note of irony at the end.

1979 Hamlyn UK paperback

But only dum-dum Lester, who works in the ski lodge kitchen and knows what he saw that one eerie night even though everyone thinks he made it up and he tries to recant even though he really wants to make some money off it on the Johnny Carson show, truly knows what's up with the 'Squatch:

Somebody once said on a late-night TV show that people were afraid of the full moon because thousands of years ago the earth was covered with different types of humans who came out then. These humans lived in the woods with saber-toothed tigers and snakes and dinosaurs and mastodons, and got along great with them because they all ate the same thing: other humans.

Berkley Books, 1977, rare collectible 
Er, no thanks, I'm good

Friday, August 10, 2018

Won't Forget to Put Roses on Your Grave: The Gloomy Gothics of Victor Banis

The esteemed Jeffrey Catherine Jones painted this, one of my favorite-ever covers, of a delightfully ghoulish lass writhing upon a coffin attended to by fluttering batwings. I mean, I think it is just spectacular. My expectations weren't high for the actual novel, but even so they were dashed as I began to read, for The Vampire Women (Popular Library, 1973) is a dreary rip-off of the original opening chapters of Dracula, right down to its epistolary narrative. Victor Samuels—or should I say "Victor Samuels" for reasons that will become clear in a moment—has produced a work of pure pulp hackery. Updated to 1969, it's the tale of a man, a woman, and her younger sister traveling to Castle Drakula. Yes, Drakula, so see, as their guide through the Carpathians informs them, it's not the same Dracula as from the books and movies! Whew, glad we cleared that up.

I tried to approach the story as a cheap Dracula flick, a lesser Hammer or a Naschy or something, but even that didn't work thanks to "Samuels"'s simplistic prose and bone-headed journal entries:

What was the name of the castle again?
Drakula. Do you know of it?
I recognize that name. It's been used in books and movies. Not very pleasant ones.... He was a werewolf or something like that.

It is those silly legends about that Wallachian—Drakula, I think the name was. I gather he was the subject of some books and movies. I never had time for things like that.

We can't afford to get mixed up with Count Drakula and his government or his politics.

Carolyn giggled. "I'm going to marry Count Drakula," she chirped. She looked cocky and defiant.

1976 German edition

Of course I trudged and skimmed most of the way through to the obvious climax—"Get back, Drakula!" I warned as I snatched up the stake at my feet—groaning the whole way. Then I looked up the author and quickly found it is the pseudonym of a writer named Victor J. Banis, and o my friends, lots of fun stuff came my way. Born in 1937 in Pennsylvania, Banis is considered the father of gay pulp fiction. That's a pretty big deal, and as I read about Banis and his illustrious history in the pulp trade, I learned he also wrote many Gothic romances of the late '60s and early '70s under other various pen names (he even wrote some of the perennial Executioner men's adventure series!). In interviews Banis has no illusions about the quality of some of his output—he was simply a working writer, but his subject matter had never been explored in mass market before. Fascinating! I live for these jaunts down forgotten paperback history...

Banis, 1973

I've found a handful of glorious paperback covers for his books from that long-ago era; I think you'll recognize a Hector Garrido cover down there too...

Saturday, July 28, 2018

She Wakes and A Cold Blue Light: Recent '80s Horror Reads

Hola amigos, I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I've been real busy here. Been buying paperbacks like crazy, in and out of town, and have even had time to read a few. Unfortunately nothing has blown me away, a real bummer, but here are two brief reviews of the titles I've finished this summer.

While at first I was kind of digging She Wakes, the late Jack Ketchum's novel from 1989 published by Berkley Books, as it neared its end I realized I'd long lost any sense of enjoyment. Pretentious and mean-spirited, Ketchum seems to be floundering a bit in this rather overlooked title in his oeuvre. A supernatural story set in a well-depicted Greece, the She of the title is of course an ancient scary goddess ravenous for sex and death in the guise of vacation fling. You know how it goes. Characterization is dull and hollow, prose is Hemingway lite, and scares and/or creepiness marginal. The unrelenting conviction that made Girl Next Door and Off Season such horror powerhouses is missing.

I do like the at times despairing tone of Ketchum's style—He felt a moment of impotent fury. These were all good people. They didn't deserve this. None of them did—because it gets at my understanding of horror: that terrible things happen to good people for no reason. I mean, that's life, right? I'm not crazy about horror in which awful people get a dreadful comeuppance; that seems a cheap satisfaction. And while zombies and gore and flesh-eating appear in the last quarter of the story (a few sex scenes are written pretty well too in a sort of erotic horror manner), they produce no horrific frisson; no, it's just there, and it did nothing whatsoever for me. Lots of time drawing characters together for what promises to be a doozy of climax, but it is dead on arrival, muted, overwrought, even distasteful in an ugly way.

Apparently Ketchum wanted to try his hand at a "Stephen King style" work instead of his usual non-supernatural fare, but She Wakes is NOTHING like a King work, so I don't know what he (or the publisher?) was thinking. The combo of Ketchum's clipped, existential sentences and malevolent mythology, intriguing at first, adds up to nothing. I'm not surprised Ketchum gained genre fame only years later; his style, affect, and approach were pretty much the opposite of what was going on in horror writing at the time (although I suppose it bears the vaguest similarities to Simmons's Song of Kali). Despite a few interesting tidbits scattered throughout—his evocation of the Greek landscape and its people is admirable, but I mean come on, it's no Colossus of Maroussi!—She Wakes is a real miss.

In late summer of last year, three men and two women came to Aubrey House, each seeking something intensely personal. Five separate houses, if you will, all of them haunted.

1983's Charter Books original A Cold Blue Light, by fantasy writing team Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin, is a title I searched for awhile; I'm not sure exactly why. I think I liked the vibe the title and cover had, implying a chilly tale of atmospheric hauntings ("beckoning horror," anyone?). Another riff on Haunting of Hill House, you got your investigators all up in what was a summer rental for backstory folks who went mad. Back-cover copy really sells it:

Psychically speaking, it's a whole new equation. Good, Evil, God, Heaven or hell—I doubt that any of those words have much relevance in Aubrey House.

Didn't know anything about the authors, looked them up, they don't write at all the kinds of fiction I pay attention to. Which is ironic because Cold Blue is engagingly written, smart, insightful, sharp and observant—a party scene early in the story promised a bright, modern '80s novel of witty banter, solid characterization, believable motivation, paranormal skepticism, metaphysical ramblings (last two things not my favorite but I'll make an exception if there's some real creepiness to be had)—but there are absolutely no scares whatsoever until maaaybe the final couple pages. Cold Blue was a solid read otherwise, yet I can't recommend it as any kind of horror fiction. The authors were simply going through generic motions for commercial reasons. There's a sequel, I might buy it for completist reasons only.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

RIP Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

The inconceivable has happened: we now live in a world without Harlan Ellison. It is not exaggeration on my part when I tell you that he was perhaps the most important writer for me, an author whose words and ideas were apocalyptic when I began reading him in the mid-1980s (thanks to Stephen King's Danse Macabre, which I believe is where many fans of my generation first learned about him). My library includes more books, both in paperback and hardcover, by him than by any other writer (and I'm still searching for various editions).

I can still recall the excitement with which I read his classic collections Strange WineDeathbird Stories, and No Doors, No Windows these many years later. And of course it wasn't just the stories! No, it was the introductory essays and think pieces and forewords and such that really opened up my head, that put me in touch with a righteous anger and passion that I had never encountered before. Harlan Ellison pulled back the curtain on the writer's life and duty and I had never seen those workings before. I will never be able to thank him for that.

Below is an old blog-post of mine from 2007 that only scratches the surface of how I feel about Harlan.

Since the death of Tom Snyder several weeks ago, I got to thinking again about "the irascible science fiction writer Harlan Ellison," who Snyder interviewed famously many times over the years. One of my most favoritest writers ever of all time, I was introduced to Ellison's writing when I was around 14 or 15, when I borrowed Strange Wine from the local library after reading about Harlan in Stephen King's Danse Macabre. And in those many years since, I've amassed nearly 30 copies of his books, most all of which are long out of print but can be found through diligence and patience scouring used bookstores. 

Deathbird Stories, a collection of his early ’70s works, is one I had not read in some time. It's essential Ellison. It contains some of his tightest, most controlled works: moody and enigmatic, laced with an existential dread while displaying an unnerving knack for an ugly, yet appropriate, climax, like a crack of the whip—or a snap in the neck. The collection is subtitled “A Pantheon of Modern Gods,” which is the height of irony—is there anything less modern than a god? That’s exactly the point: people are still desperate to worship, to prostate themselves before some imagined superior power or any strange artifact that can somehow impart meaning upon this random and unexplainable life.

And Ellison, despite his compassion for such poor souls, spares none in these moral fables. "I am a religious man," states the melancholic protagonist of "Corpse." "One would think that would count for something. Apparently it does not." Then there's the gut-wrenching "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs," in which Ellison recreates the chilling murder of Kitty Genovese as an act of sacrifice to a new and terrifying god. "The Deathbird," the final story, is an emotionally exhausting reimagining of the origin of evil—in the form of a multiple-choice final exam.

I can still remember the first time I read these stories, a hot summer in 1988 sitting in the stifling office of the gas station I worked at, filling my head with Ellison’s rants and ravings and obscure references that didn’t make me feel stupid or inferior—no, it was exciting, it made me feel like I had a lot to learn, and I had better get caught up fast. As he states in the intro, “As the God of Time so aptly put it, It’s later than you think.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Horror Fiction Help XIX

Can you help ID these forgotten horror novels and stories? Thanks in advance!

1. I think it's from the 1980s and it takes place in the country. A young boy begins to receive body parts in the mail and I think the killer ends up being the town doctor? Towards the end, one of the boy's family members goes on a shooting spree and kills most of his family. Maybe there was a grim reaper on the cover?

2. Published between 1980-1983, featured a “butcher cleaver” on the cover that I think is smashing through glass or a window or something. Found!

3. The best description I can give of it is that its set in a semi modern urban environment, a western city, not dystopian of any kind. It follows a couple characters, and the discovery of a creature that follows a victim based on a gifted object, secretly containing a foul smelling scrap of fabric. Its slowly understood that this item and the ‘curse’ of death via this creature can only be passed on by gifting the object to another person and thereby transferring the way the creature tracks you down. Its a pale hunched creature, (I always imagined it looking much like the urban legend of The Rake that circulates the internet every so often, but not inspired by it as I read this novel far before I knew of the legend) and comes for you while you’re asleep, and you are seemingly unable to escape it. The characters discover that the creature travels through the sewers, and is very old and has been around the area for a while. After finding an entrance to the sewer through a cupboard in a house they discover the bodies of all the creatures victims hanging from the ceiling in the creatures lair/home rotting and they realize this is where the scrap of fabric came from.

4. It was a white or cream colored paperback on the slim side and I remember the copy on the front maybe said “more terrifying than Psycho” (definitely something relating it to Psycho)-it looked 60s and like it was definitely written to cash in on the Psycho hype. The picture, I THINK, was almost like a big drawing of a cracked egg with something unidentifiable and ominous seeping out-very odd because it didn’t seem to relate to the plot. I think the lettering was in black or red. The plot centered on a teen (or slightly younger) girl who, in some way, “wasn’t quite right.” I think she was described (unfortunately) as being “slow” in some way, but there was the suggestion that there was more of a calculating mind hidden behind the mask. I remember a sinister and possibly alcoholic mother, and the story began with the girl’s new tutor showing up, a college coed (I think). She was replacing the odd girl’s previous tutor who I think was a college guy (possibly the boyfriend of the new tutor?) and also was mysteriously missing (I bet you can see where this is going). I didn’t get further than about 10 pages in, so don't know much more, but I get the sense I put it down just before a series of people are dispatched in suspicious ways-clearly in some way by this underestimated kid (I remember thinking the plot really paralleled Psycho, with the girl being like a seemingly harmless Norman Bates type, and the story starting with the missing person in her orbit).

5. A book that I owned during the late nineties/early 2000s (I'm thinking 2000s more than the 90's) that was about a woman's husband was murdered in a way where he was badly burned and after , looked like a ' monster '. The woman had bad dreams every night about him and she stopped dressing in ' sexy ' clothing after his death and only wore baggy clothes and his shirts. The villains in the story were an older woman that was a case worker / social worker (?) who liked torturing her female clients and a younger man (he may have been a gang member?). They were in a Satanic cult and had a mother and son type of friendship. I remember clearly one scene where the older woman ties up a young woman in the kitchen and fixes the ice maker to keep dumping ice on her. The pair kidnap the widowed woman for their sacrifice and raising demons (or) the Devil in a mall. The murdered husband , back from the dead, goes to rescue his wife and heads through the sleazy parts of the city / town where he meets a young woman who is blind or a prostitute or both. She falls in love with him but he won't have sex with her because he still loves his wife.

6. It was about a couple struggling to have a child who move to a small town (American setting I think) with a doctor with some unusually high success treatment for conception via IVF methods.The lady becomes pregnant but notices the others Kids turn out weird and disturbing. really violent etc, I remember it was incredibly gratuitous in its violence, gore etc. Other things i vaguely remember are there where lots of twins as a result of the experiments in it and I seem to remember one of the messed up kids killing a crow or eating it or something, and an evil doctor and a monster of sorts providing the sperm.

7. I'm looking for a book that was released maybe 20 years ago. I actually never read it; I didn't have the money to buy it and then when I did I could never remember the title. Anyway, the only things I remember is that it was a horror novel that took place after something snuffed out the sun - everything was in perpetual blackness; and I feel like maybe the author was some sort of martial arts expert. (It's not Lansdale's Drive-In!)

8. A teenage boy dies in an accident, wakes to find his brain and eyes have been removed. Part of his brain gets put into a computer and given to another kid. The computer makes kid suspicious, so he takes it apart and discovers the chunk of brain inside. Slutty teenage girl gets abducted and raped by some pink tentacle machines hooked up to a blue alien dude. Other girls are there and pregnant. Bluish hybrid people run the "prison" and are children of the alien and abducted girls. I swear the cover of the book was a white on black drawing of a house that was screaming or looking angry, with swirls around it. Found!

9. From what I remember it had an eyeball in a Petri dish or something like that on the front cover, the cover was red, it was a collection of short stories, can’t remember if it was adult or teen, doubt it was goosebumps though.. one of the stories was about an old recluse who lives in a shack that was surrounded by thorns, then the recluse disappeared, some kids spurred on by this old legend, decide to visit the shack, but one by one the meet an untimely end in the Thorns. I remember something about spiders that bore the resemblance to the old hermit as well, they may have contributed to the kids' deaths.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Rockabye Baby by Stephen Gresham (1984): I Just Met a Nurse That I Could Go For

With its distressing yet utterly striking cover image, you'd probably think there was no way the novel Rockabye Baby (Zebra, Nov 1984) could live up to it. Aaaand... you'd be right. Prolific '80s author Stephen Gresham penned a solid handful of paperbacks for the infamous Zebra line of horror fiction and this is the first I've read. Gresham's writing is a touch better than his Zebra fellows, but that's about all: I found Rockabye to be interesting only in fits and starts, was not taken with its young protagonist, a towheaded boy named—wait for it—Prince, and while the psycho dude depicted on the cover features in the story, he doesn't quite feature enough. He was the most readable character, a nutjob with real psychosexual identity concerns.

Sorry, Judy Packett, but I must respectfully disagree

There's the out-of-town cop trying to solve the children murders, the country occult old lady and young girl, Aunt Evvie and Nandina, living in the woods who possess supernatural powers that Prince attempts to learn and master to find the killer's identity, various other kids from Prince's class—I really am done with kids in my horror fiction—and then there is Maris Macready, our cover model. What a piece of work he is. He calls his female identity, in a classy, literate horror reference, "the Bloofer Lady." No one will be surprised that Macready has a shelf crammed with

dolls, an array that would please any little girl. But these dolls had been given a different sort of attention from the apprentice mothering common to little girls. These dolls were naked. As a result, peering down into the box was like peering down into flesh-colored water—a pool of arms, legs, heads, and torsos. And each had been marked with a black felt-tip pen. Their anatomies were strewn with black circles, arrows, doodlings and a few indecipherable words...

This is on page 27. Without a doubt I had images of a deranged Joe Spinell in the role, so I was psyched at this early point. If only Gresham had drilled down on this perversity. If only. Instead, he doubles down on a gloomy coming-of-age story as Prince learns about "darkness" from Aunt Evvie and Nandina. Their phonetic Southern dialect is a constant distraction. Yeah, I definitely wanted more of dude on the cover (by Lisa Falkenstern, perhaps?), and more of the "Macready family of monsters" as it's put. Alas.

Frankly, I gave up more than halfway through, skimmed through the last part and found nothing of import to note. The first chapters were intriguing; I was relieved that Gresham could write. His sense of place and setting isn't too bad, and I appreciated his attempt at melding a vague Southern Gothic vibe with dark fantasy as well as the exploitative child-killer angle. Gresham adds some depth to the story when Prince's beloved father discovers he has cancer. But there remains an earnest, amateur vibe that I think one finds in a lot of Zebra books, a vibe I find hard to forgive and after awhile, harder to read. When I can hardly bother to pick up the book I'm ostensibly reading, going several days without any desire to find out what's happening to the characters, putting it in my jacket pocket to read on the bus and then not actually reading it, I know it's time to shelve the book. Bye-bye, Baby, bye-bye. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

New Terrors, edited by Ramsey Campbell (1980): There's a Place for You In Between the Sheets

Throughout the 1980s paperback horror boom, there was no shortage of horror anthologies. Sure, prior decades had seen their share of tomes of short horror fiction, but often they were mixed with tales of science fiction, fantasy, and crime. The American paperback original edition of New Terrors (Pocket Books, October 1982), showcased writers of various genres right there on the cover. As the '80s wore on this practice was seen less and less and horror anthologies began to feature solely horror writers. For the most part, horror anthos were a treat, even if they were uneven; useful for voracious readers to sample writers they were unfamiliar with, to see what short sharp shocks they could deliver, to learn in a bite-size morsel who might be worth reading an entire novel by and who might be best to avoid.

Pan Books UK, 1980

The American edition doesn't include all the stories as the 1980 original from across the pond, but it does have an utterly delightful cover. Lisa Falkenstern, illustrator extraordinaire, painted vivid portraits of the macabre that have become icons of the era. Sure, okay, the lovely wrapped in bedsheets doesn't exactly align with what's going on between the covers (heh) but who cares? Did anyone ever try to return a book because what was depicted on the cover never actually occurred inside?

As an author Ramsey Campbell is one of the modern horror greats, that hardly needs to be stated, and he is no slouch as an editor either. For New Terrors he's chosen short works of various styles and themes, but which are wrought with fine instruments, presented with an artist's care, then deployed just so for maximum horror impact. The authors wield scalpels, not sledgehammers. The caliber of imagination at work here and the general quality of the prose in its service is impeccable. There is no jokiness, no ill-timed humor, very little grue. The writers strive for elevated implication rather than spell-it-out twists. For the most part the writers succeed at this distinctive style of quieter horror—indeed, many if not most stories have a Campbellian quality to them.

Aickman (1914-1981) 

New Terrors reveals its high pedigree from the first. It begins with one of Robert Aickman's inimitable stories, "The Stains," and it is the longest tale here at nearly 60 pages. Stephen is a middle-aged widower who visits his brother at his small parish in the British moors, where Stephen goes on long lonesome walks. He meets a young woman collecting lichen-covered rocks for her father; Stephen's brother is an amateur expert on the topic but she seems unimpressed, and knows her illiterate father won't care either. This is Aickman's version of "meet cute." He entices the girl to meet him the next day, and they do, exploring an abandoned primitive country home which contains an old mattress in a small room upstairs, where:

...every night the moon shone across their bed and their bodies in wide streaks, oddly angled. "You are like a long, sweet parsnip," Stephen said. "Succulent but really rather tough." "I know nothing at all," she said. "I only know you." The mark below her shoulder stood out darkly, but, God be praised, in isolation. What did the rapidly deteriorating state of the walls and appurtenances matter by comparison with that?  

Allusive, symbolic, literary, lightly weird: yep, this is vintage Aickman, and it won the 1981 British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction. I appreciated its mild earthy eroticism, the "stains" that creep up on Stephen and slooowly subsume him. Give yourself some time to savor this mature master.

Wellman (1903-1986) 

"Yare" by Manly Wade Wellman is written in his own country grammar, which I can enjoy in doses very small. But Wellman's pen is sure and fine as he characterizes well rough-hewn working men with good trustworthy hunting dogs and backwoods superstitions that turn out to not be superstitions at all. One man has been summoned: "Hark at me good. It ain't no fox that we come out here tonight to have the dogs run." A tale of rural dark fantasy, it's good, but I think it would would have been more at home in Stuart David Schiff's Whispers anthologies.

One of Steve Rasnic's earliest stories, "City Fishing," has two men and their two young sons going out on a fishing trip. Simple. Except they had to physically restrain the mothers:  Jimmy overhears his mom: "You can't take them!"... then there was a struggle as his dad and Bill's dad started forcing the women to the bedrooms. Bill's mother was especially squirmy, and Bill's father was slapping her hard across the face to make her stop. His own mother was a bit quieter, especially after Bill's mother got hurt, but she still cried. Yikes. The travelogue that follows grows more surreal as the men drive into a city that grows more and more decrepit but buildings begin to appear hung down from the sky on wires. Is this an initiation rite of toxic masculinity? Perhaps; its weirdness stands on its own.

Lee (1947-2015) 

Filled with graceful contours and female perception, the late Tanith Lee's "A Room with a Vie" (that's not a misspelling) has no mythic dark fantasy, but an English country vacation home, a rented room, a former tenant now deceased, and Caroline, who must get away. But escape from one's past and personal problems is impossible in horror, and her "hallucinations of fecundity" will bring the room to life. "Oh, Christ, please die," she said. Her lucid prose, even when depicting impossibilities, as well as a tinge of black humor at the climax, make Lee's story a standout.

"Tissue" by a young Marc Laidlaw has some unsettling imagery of the flesh as you might guess by its title, and it works beautifully. Macabre, insane family issues come to the fore when a young man brings his girlfriend to meet his father after the death of his mother. Dad's idea of family? "One optimally functioning individual organism." Laidlaw gets literally under the skin with some startling imagery and ideas, assisted by certain Campbellian touches. Another high point.

Shaw (1931-1996) 

Bob Shaw was a beloved Irish science fiction writer. His "Love Me Tender" reads like a '40s crime story with an escaped convict named Massick on the lam, trudging through muddy forest, following train tracks, a city boy in a prehistoric landscape. He comes upon a shack and an old man drinking whiskey, sorting dead butterflies for the university nearby, talking about mimics and lookalikes. When Massick gets a look inside the shack's sole locked door, he's eager... but of course all that stuff about lookalikes wasn't idle chatter, and the common noir trope of femme fatale becomes all too literal. Good stuff, great payoff.

Another science fiction author offers another very good story: "Kevin Malone" by the highly-regarded Gene Wolfe. A couple in dire straits answer an ad for free living arrangements in exchange for "minimal services." Oh my god, seriously people?! Do not do this ever. Though brief, in his stately, sophisticated prose Wolfe's literate story bewitches: I felt that pricking at the neck that comes when one reads Poe alone at night.

Reed (1932-2017) 

"Chicken Soup" is about Harry, who loved being sick, and thus develops a rather unhealthy relationship between Harry and his mother. Another writer known for SF as well as mystery, Kit Reed, in addition to be a revered professor and who died last fall, ventures into domestic Shirley Jackson territory, with perhaps a hint of Harlan Ellison's 1976 darkly comic story of Jewish guilt, "Mom." Like all happy couples they had their fights which lasted only an hour or two and cleared the air nicely. Reed wraps it all up in traditional horror manner. Not bad. Neither "The Pursuer" by James Wade nor "The Spot" by Dennis Etchison and Mark Johnson rose higher than "that was okay" for me: the former is a rescue from 1951, an "urban horror" not unlike Beaumont or Matheson; the latter is, as Campbell even notes "more allegorical than most of the tales in this book," make that "too allegorical for its own good."

Wilder (1930-2002) 

New Zealand SF/F author Cherry Wilder contributes "The Gingerbread House," which has some familiar touches but a couple fresh notes. Amanda visits her brother Douglas, newly divorced and cranky as hell, living in a German cottage owned by a madwoman now in a sanitarium. Together they face ugly secrets about themselves: he may have killed a child in a hit-and-run, she suffers from anorexia (a rare acknowledgement of the disease in that day).

"You must stop running away." 
"So must you," he said, with a reassuring touch of the old self-righteousness. "Yes," she said, "yes, I promise. I'll eat... I'll put on ten pounds, twelve. Only we must leave this house... this is a rotten place. It plays tricks." 
His eyes swiveled nervously in the direction of the cupboard. 
"You may be right," he whispered.

Wagner (1945-1994)

".220 Swift" is one of Karl Edward Wagner's long, major works. It's a sweaty, claustrophobic tale of two men heading into a cavern in a North Carolina hillside, inspired by, as Wagner put it, "archaeological curiosa." Solid dialogue, solid grounding in reality, solid everything, it has all the components that made Wagner a legend in his lifetime. While I could do without passages about guns and ammo (it's the title), I realize this is something Wagner knew intimately. And Campbell's own contribution "The Fit" also hit my horror sweet spot; it also features everything that makes Campbell great. Rather alienated young man spends holidays with his aunt who is a dress-maker. She runs afoul of local crone named Fanny Cave (I kept imagining her in her cottage, her long limbs folded up like a spider's in hiding) who lives down by the water. Notes of uncomfortable sexual tension and inanimate dress dummies and clothing that take on sinister agency appear—Eventually I managed to sleep, only to dream that dresses were waddling limblessly through the doorway of my room, towards the bed. Add a shuddery finish and you've got a maybe a precursor to his classic The Face That Must Die

New Terrors ends on a celebrity note, and Stephen King's name looks great on the cover, but wow has this one always been one of my least favorites by the man. I first encountered "Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game" in Skeleton Crew, when it was published some years after first appearing here, and in that collection it was rewritten for whatever reason and to whatever effect. Either version is a lesser work. One creepy image can't make up for these characters' drunken, tiresome, pointless antics. "This is his strangest story," Campbell notes, sure, but it offers little else.

Taken as a whole, New Terrors does feature some terrific writing, effectively horrific scenarios, and a couple first-rate stories, but today, some weeks after reading it, I'm hard-pressed recalling specifics about the lesser stories. Strong works from Aickman, Lee, Laidlaw, Wolfe, Wilder, Wagner, and Campbell; okay ones from the others and a couple "why bother?" equal around a 75 or 80% competency rate, so like a C+ or B if we're grading. However that Falkenstern cover is an A+ on its own merits, I think you'll agree!