Book Review: Together In Terror, You and Us

We Live Inside You by Jeremy Robert Johnson

Short Story Collection Published by Swallowdown Press, 2011

Review by Michael Bryant

Author Jeremy Robert Johnson spins his yarns in a deeply introspective tone, with an unorthodox creative style that finds the soft spot in your imagination and buries the ice pick.  We Live Inside You is an anthology of short stories that are not all classic horror or weird fiction, but carry a strand of darkness and morbidity throughout.

Genocidal Buddhist monks who chant viral incantations deliver a firm and somewhat unnerving handshake as we are introduced to Mr. Johnson’s style in the opening story “The Oarsmen”. “When Susurrus Stirs” brings the reader into Johnson’s curio-phobic relationship with parasites where an apparent symbiotic relationship turns gruesome with a vulgar metamorphosis. “The Gravity of Benham Falls” is a classic ghost story that provides, as the author describes it, “…a mid-read break from all the surrounding intrafamilial homicide.”jrj-entry

“A Flood of Harriers” starts with a roadside confrontation on an Indian reservation and descends into psychedelic madness centering around the apocalyptic vision of Wokova, and “Laws of Virulence” brings us back to the parasitic horror at the center of Johnson’s mind with insidious arthropods whose hosts gaze trance-like with seaweed eyes.

The collection concludes with a bonus section; four stories including a different version of “Persistence Hunting”, which appears in the earlier part of the anthology in a more trimmed, edited form, that is one of non-weird tales but a tragic one. Also included is a review of The Mars Volta’s Album “The Bedlam in Goliath”, formatted as a supernatural story centering around the band’s encounter with a ouija board and their musical attempts to exorcise the dark forces that plague them.

Among the several stories that are not weird fiction in the collection I found “Trigger Variation” to be true horror in its rawest form, exploring the self-inflicted demons within. This story in particular stuck with me, and I still find myself drifting back to it and chewing it over. I enjoy stories that make you think, and this anthology is a buffet of food for thought.

While this collection is worth the read, it does have a couple of duds. I found “Consumerism” to fall absolutely flat, and while “States of Glass” is well written with a good story, I found myself becoming bored and began skimming to the end. However, taste varies. The author’s notes at the end provide the personal touch that always adds icing to the literary cake.

If you’re looking for writing that veers from the beaten path and isn’t afraid to experiment, We Live Inside You provides horror that shoots away from the traditional format, featuring monsters both human and otherwise. Check it out in e-format and print, and if you like what you read you can find more at jeremyrobertjohnson.com.

 4 / 5 Soul Devouring Parasites

Film Review: The Pineal (Phallus?) Gland’s Revenge

From Beyond (1986) directed by Stuart Gordon

Starring Jeffrey Combs, Ken Foree, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel

 Most horror film aficionados love Re-Animator, the first of Stuart Gordon’s many H.P. Lovecraft story adaptations for the big screen. Its follow up, From Beyond, is a lesser-known film, but in many ways superior to the original.

Both films have a lot in common. First and foremost is the performance of Jeffrey Combs, who plays (in both films) a scientist crossing over into unethical and unnatural research. In Re-Animator he is arguably the villain as well as one of the main protagonists; it’s his out-of-control research that invites the terror and splatter that follows. In From Beyond, however, his character is Crawford Tillinghast, now a resident at a psychiatric hospital following his research with his mentor, Dr. Pretorius (a wickedly delightful Ted Sorel).

Crawford wants nothing to do with the house in which they conducted their research; he fears most of all the resonator machine on the top floor, which, when activated, stimulates the pineal gland (or the third eye of mysticism), allowing human beings to see and be seen by creatures in parallel worlds. He claims the activation of the machine drove Pretorius mad and ultimately led to his death at the hands of some monstrous, unspeakable creature.

The opportunity to study Crawford’s apparent psychosis is too much to resist for Dr. Katherine McMichaels (the lovely Barbara Crampton), who arranges for his release on the condition that he accompany her to the house and show her the resonator. They are accompanied by a no-nonsense policeman (Ken Foree, who is the only one making relatively good decisions in the film), and spend several days at the site of the strange research.

Capture

The plot is predictable in its pacing, but the set pieces involving the resonator, human mutation, and sexual deviancy are anything but. The film, while quite funny at times, shocks with its unnerving, gross-out special effects. Fans of Re-Animator, Videodrome, or The Thing’s practical creature effects and body horror will squirm in disgusted delight. Everyone else will be suitably horrified.

The mushroom-trip visuals of the film, quick pacing, and outstanding practical creature and mutation effects, all make this a visual and aural treat for horror fans. From Beyond is an overlooked classic that pushes the limits of the visual medium of cinema—it’s a dark nightmare of absurdism, a grim portrait of humankind’s place in the cosmos, and quite simply the most fun you’ll have with some beers, popcorn, and a couple of friends on a Friday night.

My only real complaint about the film is the sexual bondage motif—it felt shocking for shocking’s sake, meant more to titillate than horrify. If you’re not much of a Puritan, it probably won’t bother you.

All in all, From Beyond is a superior film to Re-Animator, but both are in the same ballpark of greatness in the horror genre. Stuart Gordon doesn’t accurately adapt Lovecraft’s stories, but he does try to capture some of the tone of hopelessness and horror intrinsic in the writer’s work. If you enjoy the film, consider reading the original story here, which is much shorter, but provides plenty of tiny glimpses into a realm of madness and unholy un-life.

5/5 Phallic Snake Brain Glands (You’ll See What I Mean)

Flash Fiction: A Ship in Darkness

“A Ship in Darkness” by Robin Wyatt Dunn

I record the ship’s message, known only to me. It has no words; it is a ship made of wood in dark ocean without light. Broken, sinking, dying.

Like me. I understand its message.

It is a tomb.

It’s so quiet.

So exquisite and beautiful.

What else could be my life, now, but this?

I am its natural message. The last resident of an experiment that did not achieve its desired result, indeed, it did not achieve any result.

All are now fled. Only me, and the last floating wreckage.

A dead love affair. A ruined nation. A presage of dawn, seen, but only in the mind, light within the mind’s eye, brighter than any made by sun . . .

What were we experimenting with? What weren’t we experimenting with? Time. Authority. Emotion. Apocalypse. Human response to apocalypse. Mind-reading. Mental control. Degrees of sanity, and its sharing. Degrees of insanity. Correlations between the DSM 4 and our own sea-bound habits, methods of calculating our sexual frustrations, our food-related habits as the storerooms were methodically exhausted of food, our increasingly stubborn refusal to contact the mainland . . .

My own mind control ray . . .

Well a mind control ray is not so unique. We all developed one out here. It’s nothing so dramatic. All chess-players know of it. All teenage girls. It’s just that it can be toyed with, and there’s no point to doing so, really . . . like growing a 40 foot cock: what are you going to do with it?

Elephantiasis of the mental gonads.

Still, I say it was a success. Because of what I see now: beauty.

Why is destruction so beautiful? Chaos is a kind of order, yes. Violence a kind of love. All romance is at least in part a story of war, if only a war within.

And so the destruction of our ship, my livelihood, my relationship, my career and now my body is at the deepest level a love affair, of one mammal, and one ocean, and one decrepit boat, a boat glowing with meaning . . .

The shades of black, moonless, rise over me like demons, like executioners.

Ocean water seasalt, the potion fills my mouth and nose.

I spit it out, grinning.

My name is Orlando. But the name means nothing. It is my body that has meaning. Cold and afraid, delirious. Some final sanctuary of land, of land-flesh. Land flesh which is only sea-flesh, temporarily contained.

The last fire has sputtered out. I am alone in the rich ash, on the last floating deck.

There isn’t even a radio. In the distance I can see a helicopter, coming this way . . .

I must dive so they do not see me. But in a moment.

You see, I am healed. How is destruction healing? How is murder healing? It shouldn’t be but it is so. Nature forgives us so much . . . forgives us anything . . . everything . . .

The sea is my religion.

I am to be eaten by sharks.

***

Robin Wyatt Dunn was born in Wyoming during the Carter Administration. He lives in Los Angeles. His vital statistics, as well as a list of his books and publications, can be found at http://www.robindunn.com.

His most recent novel, Fighting Down Into the Kingdom of Dreams, is available in print and e-book formats.

Film Review: Abide With the Pit

Jug Face directed by Chad Crawford Kinkle

Review by Michael Bryant

Ever wonder if there’s really a God in Heaven?  Tired of your prayers going unanswered?  Can’t afford health insurance? Well brother, pull up a chair, pour yerself a glass a’shine, and let me tell you the Good News of the Pit! 

Jug Face is the feature debut of writer and director Chad Crawford Kinkle, and delivers a steady stream of terror and despair. The film is centered around an isolated and impoverished backwoods community that worships a being dwelling within a potter’s clay pit. In exchange for the occasional human sacrifice, chosen through the subconscious making of a person’s image on a “jug face” by the potter Dawai (Sean Bridgers), the Pit provides its followers with a cure for all disease and injury by washing in its blood-soaked cesspool.

There’s trouble in paradise when Ada, played by the stunning Lauren Ashley Carter, must face a difficult choice between the well-being of the community and the safety of her unborn child, who she fears may be the next sacrifice.

While this film cranks up the weird factor, it remains grounded in its characters, who are not caricatures of bloodthirsty hillbillies with a taste for anal rape, but simply people working to make the best of what meager opportunities are afforded to them. The combination of great performances, solid character development, and a strong showing in directing from Kinkle create a sense of empathy for the characters that is sadly rare in many modern horror films.    

Jug Face is a breath of originality in a genre overrun by tired cliches and gore-saturated slaughter fests. Kinkle is a director from whom to expect great things from in future, and I will certainly be looking out for his next film. 

 5/5 Lovecraftian Pit Monsters

Book Review: Turn the Radio Off

Gateways to Abomination by Matthew M. Bartlett

$3.99 e-book; $7.99 paperback from Amazon

Leeds, Massachusetts isn’t a place you want to visit.

You see, things have gone bad. Real bad. A mysterious radio station—WXXT—transmits polka music, distorted church broadcasts, snippets of history, and accounts of unspeakable terror. Just listening to the station—even once or twice, to something as harmless as atonal distortion or a folksy, repetitive sing-along—can have terrible effects on mind, body, and environment.

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Gateways to Abomination takes a lot of risks. While there are subtle narrative threads laced throughout the many stories, transmissions, transcripts, newspaper articles, and poetry-like accounts, the book is neither conventional nor linear. Each piece can be read on its own, but works best in full context. That said, stomaching more than a couple of stories at a time can be difficult. Not because they’re not well-written—because they are—but because of their nightmare-like prose and disturbing content. It’s a lot to absorb.

I’ve been consuming horror movies and literature for most of my life, and this book managed to punch through the walls of my jaded expectations. There is some truly horrific content here: gore, violence against children, body horror, and much more. What’s most disturbing is that these elements are used to facilitate a despairing sense of unavoidable damnation and suffering. This isn’t a horror work where you scream at the characters to make better decisions; if you’re in Leeds, and you’ve heard WXXT, you’re doomed, no matter what you do.

Each glimpse of the unspeakable—men covered in soul-sucking leeches, people turned into goats and vice versa, mysterious men in black hats, secret ceremonies in the woods—builds to something greater. An apocalypse of sorts is underway in New England, and we’ve got a worm’s eye view of the terror to come.

Don’t approach the book thinking of it as a short story collection. Consider it more a panoramic view of terror, of the approaching darkness, of evil in a small community that gradually infects and corrupts everything it touches.

Bartlett’s voice is strong, his scenes unnerving, his characters damnable and relatable. Gateways to Abomination is a happy discovery in the side alleys of independent horror. Readers interested in something that will push their buttons, something that will inspire a contagious sort of fear beyond the reading experience, would do well to pick up a copy of this book and support a truly unique and disturbing take on Satanic horror and weird fiction.

5/5 Dark Rituals