Kootulu is King of Hell: A Review of Cthulhu Fhtagn! edited by Ross E. Lockhart

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Weird Tales Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
Published by Word Horde

Available Here

If you’re like me, you’re burned out on Lovecraft.

That’s not to say that I don’t still read him at least once a year. Or that I’m suddenly too-cool-for-school when someone says “Lovecraftian fiction.” I discovered Lovecraft sometime early on in college, and thought I was the only one tracking the man’s bizarre work, which resonated with me in a way that few “old” works could.

That was naïve of me. Lovecraft and his legacy are now bigger than ever, which is, of course, a double-edged sword. I liked Cthulhu before it was cool, and all of that. But I am increasingly skeptical of the words “Cthulhu”, “weird tales,” and “Lovecraftian”, and no longer drawn in by those signifiers as I once was.

It’s with that disclaimer that I’m glad I gave Cthulhu Fhtagn! a chance. Word Horde (and its editor, Ross E. Lockhart) have an iron-clad reputation for quality, and they didn’t disappoint with this offering, well-worn territory or no. The stories here are all befitting the impressive roster, and you’ll find more than a few that you’ll like, and probably just as many as you’ll love. Many of the stories are classically Lovecraftian (in the best possible sense), and a few take those ideas, or parallel those ideas, and have some fun in the process.

This is a big book, with very diverse offerings. Yes, people discover Strange Things or Places and meet Terrible Fates, Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors find purchase in bizarre and clever science fiction venues, and poetic, dreamlike terrors haunt these many pages. There’s even some grotesque body horror, political posturing and allegory (your mileage may vary), fantasy, and meta-narratives here, some directly referencing the characters and motifs of Lovecraft, others content to chart their own paths.

My favorite stories were those that didn’t take themselves too seriously, and had more than a little fun with the ideas (and maybe even the character) of the Old Man himself.

“The Lurker in the Shadows” by Nathan Carson tackles two towering figures of pop horror—Lovecraft himself, and Stephen King—and imagines what if Lovecraft had found health, wealth, and literary success in life long enough to mentor and meet the young would-be [K]ing. It’s a story that is both a love letter to the work of both men, while still a clever and sinister weird tale in its own right.

“The Insectivore” by Orrin Grey is less a Lovecraftian pastiche and more a Bradburyian one, with all the trappings of youthful innocence crashing against the walls of reality.

“Aerkheim’s Horror” by Christine Morgan is an anachronistic Viking adventure saga gone wrong, with lots of fighting and blood and guts to keep up the pace.

“Love Will Save You” by Cameron Pierce is a haunting, disturbing, maybe even symbolic tale about floating orbs and lusts of the heart.

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“Assemblage Point” by Scott R. Jones is a wicked, delightful little meta-story, which simultaneously mocks and embraces weird horror tropes. In the hands of a lesser writer, the concept could have slipped into condescension. Instead, the story is creepy and memorable.

Then there’s the final story, “Don’t Make Me Assume My Ultimate Form” by Laird Barron. I can’t say as I understood what, exactly, it was all about—but it was a fun read, and full of wild imagery: a Charlie’s Angels-style super team of assassins, ex-cons, and martial arts experts, a malignant entity inside of a doll, psychic powers, and overcoming childhood trauma.

The best story—in this reader’s opinion—is “The Curse of the Old Ones” by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington. It’s funny, bizarre, and a page-turner. It features some very, very beloved figures of mid-century horror cinema dealing with our favorite occult terrors. It’s written with the pacing and flourish of a Hammer Studios or William Castle film. I had a smile on my face pretty much the whole time I was reading it. Kootulu is King of Hell!

So are you tired of Lovecraftian fiction? No? Then buy this book. Yes? Get this book anyway. These are all Lovecraftian stories, then, even if more than a few of them, this many generations hence, have moved well past the tropes and conventions the Old Man developed. This book shows us some of the best that pastiche, tribute, and evolution of the Lovecraftian Weird Tale can offer.

Food for Thought: a Review of Nothing Is Strange by Mike Russell

Review by: R. L. Jones

Published by Strange Books (UK)

Mike Russell’s Nothing Is Strange is a series of 20 one-shots of varying degrees of eeriness, but all with a distinct surreal feel. The book’s tone, and some of the stories, reminded me of episodes of Dark Mirror, though not as dark or disturbing. It’s a quick read and can be comfortably read at night without worry of fright. No, these stories left me more pensive than disturbed or scared. I enjoyed some of the subtle and clever twists the stories took, presenting themes on humanity, society, and the individual, one utilizing a giant flesh-and-bone creature in the sky known as the Living Crown.

Russell’s writing is simple and effective; he’s not weighed down with extraneous detail or description of the nothing1characters or places. The characters are named, the setting stated, and the story commences, sometimes the reader is the character of the story as Russell uses second person for some of the stories. I found this simplistic style refreshing, as it allows the reader to supply the detail and characterization making the reader personalize each story as they go along. The structure of the book flows well from one story to the next, though none are connected. I found myself pausing between chapters to reflect on each story and the food for thought it presented.

Overall, this collection of stories is a fun wander down the strange side alleys of Russell’s imagination that leaves a lingering taste of the surreal. You may even find yourself noticing some residual strangeness in your own life.

To Hell and Back: A Review of The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

Review by Billy Lyons

Published by St. Martin’s Press

Available Here

One day way back in the eighties (when I was in high school and dinosaurs roamed the earth), a friend gave me a copy of Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart. To hear him tell it, Barker was the best supernatural writer since Henry James. I doubted if such a thing was even remotely possible, but took the book anyway and promised my friend that I’d give it a try. My decision was greatly influenced by the fact that my favorite writer, Stephen King, had recently proclaimed Barker to be “the future of horror”.

The Hellbound Heart introduced the world to a brutal order of demons known as The Cenobites, and their most notorious adept, The Hell Priest (aka Pinhead). The novella spawned a hit movie along with several less-successful sequels. Its theme was a familiar one to horror fans: there is an invisible world surrounding our own, one filled with demons and devils who wait patiently for someone ignorant (or stupid) enough to pull aside the veil and allow them in to work their bloody mischief.

After reading The Hellbound Heart my feelings were mixed. While there was no doubt that Barker was one of the most innovative horror writers of the late Twentieth Century, it seemed to me that he was trying too hard, and that the brutally graphic violence and in-your-face sexuality found in The Hellbound Heart greatly overshadowed its characters, plot, and pretty much everything else. And while I have no problem with graphic violence or sex in what I read or watch, I tend to lose interest quickly if it’s merely gratuitous. As a result, I never read more than two or three of Barker’s novels. I greatly admired his creativity, but his writing just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Fast forward twenty-nine years. I’m a lot older, hopefully a little wiser, and browsing the New Arrival section of my library looking for a good book. I’m not having any luck and am just about ready to give up and go home when I see The Scarlet Gospels, Barker’s first novel since 2001, way down on the bottom shelf.

My first instinct is to pass it up, but I’m desperate for something to read, so I take it off the shelf, and just like thirty years ago, I’m persuaded to take it home on the strength of its reviews. On the book jacket are high praises from Stephen King and Peter Straub (two thirds of my own personal Horror Writing Trinity, minus Richard Matheson). Could it be possible that Barker’s writing might have matured in the thirty or so years since I’d last read him?

The answer is a resounding yes.

The Scarlet Gospels is the conclusion to the story introduced in The Hellbound Heart and features hard-boiled paranormal PI Harry D’Amour, one of Barker’s most memorable and likeable characters (D’Amour is also featured in The Last Illusion and Everville). The story begins with D’Amour in New Orleans, working what he believes to be a routine case, when he crosses paths with The Hell Priest.

It seems that Harry’s body of work, which often involves battling demons and other infernal forces, has given him a certain degree of infamy in Hell. It is for this reason that The Hell Priest seeks out D’Amour and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. He wants D’Amour to become his Witness, and chronicle his upcoming revolt against Hell’s established powers.

D’Amour refuses. This leads The Hell Priest to capture Harry’s most beloved friend and mentor, Norma Paine, and drag her into Hell, knowing that D’Amour will be forced to follow him into the Abyss in hopes of rescuing her. Harry capitulates, and along with a ragtag band of his closest friends, descends into Hell to settle the score with The Hell Priest once and for all. Along the way he comes face to face with all the considerable horrors that Hell has to offer and must fight to save not only his life, but his very soul.

The main reason why I enjoyed The Scarlet Gospels so much in comparison to Barker’s previous works is that his writing has matured to the point where he describes the grotesqueries of Hell in a more reasoned manner. It was almost as if I was reading a kinder, gentler Clive Barker.

But even though Barker’s writing has matured, be assured that it hasn’t mellowed. Not in the least. It is a book about Hell, after all. The uncompromising, unrelenting violence and gore so familiar to Barker’s fans is just as prevalent as in his earlier pieces (this is definitely not a book you want to read on your lunch hour), but is presented in a more subdued manner, one that goes with the flow of the story instead of smacking the reader squarely in the face. To me, at least, this is a major improvement, and kept me turning the pages well into the night.

Another reason why The Scarlet Gospels is such a good read is Barker’s considerable writing skill. Even though he’s never been what you would call a slouch in the writing department, in The Scarlet Gospels the writing is impeccable. So tight that you could flip a silver dollar off the pages, so clean that you could perform surgery. If at some point in my life I am able to write half as well as Barker does in his latest novel, I can die a happy man.

The Scarlet Gospels is perhaps the culmination of the story Barker has been trying to tell throughout his career. Every page is replete with the savage, yet almost serene, pain and sorrow that is so characteristic of his unique vision of Hell and its denizens.

It is also a novel I was surprised to enjoy much more than I expected. Even more astonishing to me is the fact that for the first time in almost three decades, I find myself looking forward to see what Barker does next.

So, if like me, you find yourself scouring the library shelves searching for a good read (and have the stomach for it), give The Scarlet Gospels a try.

It really is one Hell of a good book.

Doomed We Voyage Across, and Into, the Sixth Ocean: A Review of The Sea of Ash by Scott Thomas

Review by Michael Bryant

Through the narrow lens of time, we the living view what is perceived as reality, a universe of energy and matter with unbreakable laws governing its expansion and development. Everything is accounted for and measurable. Substance is finite, nothing is created or destroyed; all is merely changing form. All matter has a knowable mass and density.

The dead know better. They know of the overlaps. The points on the continuum where universes collide, where volume exceeds the measured limits of its container, where matter and energy cease to change form and vanish from the cosmos, and substances unyielding to Newtonian laws seep through. And they know of the sixth ocean. An ocean yet unborn which walks the Earth in unassuming form, and will drown this world in a flood of unreality.

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The Sea of Ash by Scott Thomas combines imaginative genius with a faux-classical prose style, producing an effect of eldritch atmosphere in a compelling and engaging narrative. A former educator-turned-rare book collector gives his account of journeying in the footsteps of Doctor Albert Pond, whose posthumously-published journal has become a valued collector’s item for the supernaturally inclined. A pilgrimage of history turns to a hideous adventure as our narrator finds himself pitted against the same celestial menace that Dr. Pond faced before his abrupt disappearance. With his life (and possibly the world) at stake, he must consult with phantasmal powers to battle the forces of the sixth ocean.

A deep tale of cosmic terror, The Sea of Ash balances the ghoulishly macabre with a whimsical playfulness as we are treated to scenes that are both deeply horrifying and awkwardly humorous. Incorporating elements of metaphysical science, body horror, investigative occultism, with a sprinkling of architecture porn, Thomas wraps his epic through the aeons in the ambience of necromantic New England.

My only complaint would be that I absolutely flew through this book and was done with it too soon, but the defining trait of a great storyteller is leaving the audience wanting more.

A haunting story sure to delight the discerning weird fiction fan, The Sea of Ash is published by The Lovecraft eZine, and is currently available for purchase on their website.

5/5 Trilobite-Shaped Teeth

Little Dixie’s Callin’ You Home – A Review of Phantasmagoria Blues by Mer Whinery

Published by Literati Press; Book Available for Order Here

Review by Matthew M. Bartlett

Crows know death.

It’s almost like they can smell it. Something in their nerves gets a hum going. The hive mind melts together and the murder starts to form in the sky, swirling in sooty spirals…

– Mer Whinery, “The Little Red Tent at the Edge of the Woods”

I’m as provincial as they come. Give me New England, with its dense woods, its diffident baristas, its progressive bumper stickers, its snooty colleges, its coffeehouses and even, God help us all, its Vermont hippies. I don’t even mind the cold.

The South? It might as well be another planet. In the early 90s, I took a trip to Florida. Along the way I stopped somewhere in Georgia and found an ancient, leaning, and unpainted ramshackle house, whose owners sold hot dogs out of their kitchen window. The dog I got was the most unnatural, terrifying shade of pink I’ve ever encountered. I ate it anyway.

I think it changed me, and not for the better.

But you know what? I really like Mer Whinery’s dark and haunted South. I’d pay good money to take in an exploitation flick at the Red Hand movie theater. To spend a sticky night in the Tarantula Arms Motel in the staticky blue glow of a television with a dangling antenna. To put on a lighted helmet and trespass at Bloody Ben’s Pit. C’mon, readers, meet me at The Git’N Split. We’ll get some Dr. Peppers and drive around the dark, weird towns of Coffin Mills and Black Knot. (Note to self: ask the author if I can get a subscription to the Black Knot Daily Redeemer.)

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Phantasmagoria Blues, the second collection from Oklahoma horror writer Mer Whinery, consists of seven stories that explore the haunted shadows of Oklahoma and Texas, and the damned and damaged souls that dwell in those shadows. Whinery deftly inhabits and breathes life into a bereft husband and father, a lovelorn teenage girl with a very unhealthy crush, a scummy projectionist, and a broken, cigarette-chewing repo man obsessed with a creepy photograph he finds in a dank old house.

The collection starts off ambitiously with “The Loved Ones,” a post-monster-invasion science fiction tale of a man who has lost his wife and two kids, and the replacements with whom—with which—he’s provided. It starts off by dispensing in a few paragraphs with its premise, but the info dump quickly pivots into a compulsively readable and tense story with a well-executed twist that some might have predicted—though I didn’t. Whinery won me over quickly.

The centerpiece of the collection, a-darker-than-dark little masterpiece, is “The Projectionist,” whose protagonist, the deeply unpleasant Newt McAlester, after suffering a grievous injury via a malfunctioning movie projector, is given a sketchy new assignment: He must arrive at the theater at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings, sequester himself in the booth, run the projector without peeking at the film and, especially, never, ever look down at the audience below. He must wear earplugs. He must stay until precisely 7 a.m., and not a moment before. And he has to keep the whole thing a secret.

The narrative starts off fairly predictably—of course McAlester’s curiosity gets the better of him—but it spins off into such grotesque and ornery insanity I felt myself grinning in admiration. And what an ending! Here Whinery proves himself an audacious storyteller with a flair for the grotesque.

I also really dug “Hungry Boy,” despite Whinery’s abject disclaimer that precedes the tale, in which he says his goal was to write “whiney-ass bullshit—like ‘Twilight.’” I haven’t read Twilight, but this story, told from the point of view of a precocious teenage girl, is smart, emotionally real, funny, and, of course, violent and grotesque. I went in not expecting much and emerged from the other end impressed.

Most of the stories in Phantasmagoria Blues were similarly surprising, similarly good, compulsively readable, and well-executed. I always kind of inwardly crumple when I encounter a zombie story, and Whinery as much as notes in his preamble to “Dead Folks” that there’s not much new to be explored in that tattered, groaning corner of the genre. I read “Dead Folks” and found little to object to, but also little to cause it to stand out. Otherwise, “The Red Tent at the Edge of the Woods” is effective and eerie, with shades of S.P. Miskowski. “Memento Mori” is a terrific tale of a lost man who finds a women who may or may not be the subject of an ancient photograph of the Posed and Photographed Dead. “The 10th Life” is a buried-treasure story with an aspect that I—an admirer of cats—particularly enjoyed.

I recommend Phantasmagoria Blues as a refreshing take on Southern horror by a writer with a unique and strong voice. It’s well written, enjoyable, dark, and nasty. If I have any minor complaints, they’re about the form, not the content. The margins aren’t right-justified—a peeve of mine—and I found the sans-serif font distracting. It’s a choice far better suited to onscreen reading. I found a smattering of minor grammatical errors and the occasional typo as well. The content, though, is more than sufficiently strong to outweigh the aesthetical issues.

I’m going to pick up a copy of Whinery’s previous collection, and I await the chance to make a return trip to his next work—to his corpse-riddled and gore-soaked savage South.

Four blackened fingers out of five

Matthew M. Bartlett is the author of Gateways to Abomination, The Witch-Cult in Western Massachusetts, the forthcoming Rangel from Dim Shores, and Creeping Waves (due out late 2015) from Muzzleland Press. His short stories have appeared in Faed, Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond, Wicked Tales, and High Strange Horror. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife Katie and their cats Phoebe, Nigel, Peach Pie, and Larry. You can visit his blog at www.matthewmbartlett.com.

Book Review: In Search Of and Others by Will Ludwigsen

Published by Lethe Press

Available Here

In Search of and Others by Will Ludwigsen is a collection of weird fiction that flirts with the fantastic, using absurdism, gothic settings, ghosts, and meta-narratives to communicate complex themes of family, past, emotional damage, and so much more. What is special about this collection is that it rarely—if ever—dips into maudlin sentimentality. The stories collected here are romantic, yes. But they feel authentic.

Ludwigsen’s voice—whether expressed through the third person, or through the perspective of one of his many compelling narrators—never comes across as saccarine or phony. In the hands of a lesser writer, the plots and conceits of many of these stories would come across as emotionally cheap. Instead, Ludwidsen wields his words to strike at the heart of melancholy, of regret, of wisdom borne from pain—and yes, even of hope.

This is not a horror collection per se. I would categorize it more as weird or fantasy fiction. Elements of the supernatural (or the bizarre) are present in most of his stories, whether implied or explicit. Whether the protagonist is a sentient house, a possibly-deceased (or possibly not-) mental institution doctor, a young boy on a camping trip with Charles Fort, a girl studying dream time, a person stuck in a well forced to witness a bizarre puppet show over and over again, or even you—yes, you—the stories ring with haunting, emotional truth.

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This is a collection that flirts with romantic ideas, but isn’t afraid to show us the harsh underpinnings of human existence and moral frailty. Some stories are easier to interpret than others, sure, as a few are puzzlingly obtuse and scant on explanation and exposition alike. But reading all of these stories through a literal lens would be a mistake. It’s better to coast on the prose’s dream-like river, with its ebbs and flows of mood, theme, and bizarre (if ultimately relateable) pathos.

Each story should be read in a single sitting—and then left to percolate in the reader’s mind. Drink them in like cups of robust tea, and let the ideas and characters and images seep. If this all sounds a little abstract and a little flightly, well—Ludwidsen’s style is a bit infectious, but rarely pretentious.

In Search of and Others is deep, compelling, and fantastic—in both senses of the word.

High Strange Horror Reviewed on The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast

The guys over at The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast reviewed our latest book, HIGH STRANGE HORROR… And loved it! They even give shout outs to a few writers, including Charles Martin for “So You’ve Lost Your Edge, Now What?”, Toni Nicolino for “The Dead Wait”, Doctor Gaines for “The Pirate-Ghost of Hole 19″… and me for my story about weaponized breakfast cereal, “Frosty Pyramid Treats”.

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The podcast is a quality show – I listened to their entire back catalog when I was deployed to Kuwait and I had to drive around the base at night… Very spooky stuff. Great music, great dramatic readings, and fun but insightful analysis of horror literature, especially that of H.P. Lovecraft.

Give the show a listen – it’s about a Robert E. Howard story. You can’t go wrong with this one!

Fate, Damnation, and The Secret Electricity: A Review of Revival by Stephen King

Review by Billy Lyons

“Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” is a phrase meant to be taken quite literally in Stephen King’s brilliant, yet disturbing, 2014 novel Revival.  Man or woman, young or old, hero or villain, sinner or saint; we’re all damned.

Revival tells the story of Jamie Morton, and how his life is shaped by an on-again, off-again relationship with the Reverend Charles Jacobs. Jamie first meets Jacobs a few days after his sixth birthday when Jacobs, the new minister of the local Methodist church, stops by to introduce himself. The two quickly become fast friends.

Jamie first learns of the reverend’s fascination with electricity when Jacobs heals Jamie’s deaf brother with a strange electronic contraption of his own creation. He gives God all the glory for the miracle, but the awed tone in his voice as he describes the mystery behind the machine suggests that it’s very likely the good reverend’s devotion has switched to something besides Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

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Everything changes for both Jamie and Jacobs when a tragic automobile accident takes the life of Jacob’s wife and son. Shortly after their funeral, a bitter Jacob returns to the pulpit and delivers what will forever be known as The Terrible Sermon, in which he renounces his faith and suggests that if his congregation wants to believe in something real they should turn to the infinite power of electricity. He is summarily fired and quietly leaves town for parts unknown.

After The Terrible Sermon, Jamie throws his faith to the wind as well. From here, we follow these characters through a winding path of mystery surrounding the true power behind Jacob’s new faith.

Revival is perhaps King’s most terrifying work to date, mainly due to the insidious nature of the horror found between its covers. At first, readers will find the story similar to much of King’s writing, chock full of themes of redemption, youth’s inherent innocence, and love. This comfortable familiarity only serves to suck the reader into a false sense of security, so much so that when the hammer finally drops, he or she is completely unprepared for the sheer terror that is the last thirty pages of the book.

If there is one criticism of Revival, it is that its protagonist Jamie Morton is achingly similar to those found in other King novels. Once could very easily take Jamie Morton and replace him with Dan Torrance from Doctor Sleep, Edgar Freemantle from Duma Key, or Dale Barbara from Under the Dome and no one would know the difference. The idea of the beleaguered, worn-down, genuinely nice guy who must find redemption by fighting his way out of some supernaturally-fueled existential crisis is starting to wear a little thin.

Even so, the writing is brilliant, the story captivates from beginning to end, and King proves yet again that he can scare the living hell out of his readers any time he takes a notion. Revival is a masterpiece of supernatural fiction, one that further cements King’s reputation as one of the greatest writers of our generation.

Still, there’s a tiny part of me that wishes I’d never read it. This is especially true late at night, when I lay in bed unable to sleep because I can’t stop thinking about those last thirty pages.

When this happens, I often think back to the prayer of my youth, the one that contains the words: If I should die before I wake. And if I should, where would I find myself?  In Heaven, Hell, or, if Revival is to be believed, “the land beyond death, a place full of insane colors, mad geometry, and bottomless chasms where the Great Ones live their endless, alien lives, and think their endless, malevolent thoughts”?

Billy Lyons started reading at age three and fell in love with weird tales soon after. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in psychology from The Citadel and George Mason University, respectively. His influences include H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Peter Straub, and Stephen King. His story “Black-Eyed Children, Blue-Eyed Child” appears in High Strange HorrorHe is seeking a publisher for his debut novel, The Junkie Vampires, which he loosely describes as True Blood meets Trainspotting. Billy lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia with his brother and their two cats. 

Book Review: Giallo Fantastique

Edited by Ross E. Lockhart

Published by Word Horde

Review by Mer Whinery

Picture it:

1984.

Three thirteen year-old boys in a shadowed living room, huddled around a flickering television set gorging themselves on block-cheese nachos, all hopped up on a case of Mountain Dew. On the screen, a beautiful young woman is admiring herself in a mirror. Suddenly, a wall of dissonant music overpowers the scene; a pair of demonic eyes appear outside her window. The stage is set for ultimate terror.

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This was my first exposure to the genre of film known as giallo. The movie was Dario Argento’s Suspiria. It was broadcast into my best friend’s living room courtesy of a hacked satellite dish.  For the uninitiated, “giallo” is the Italian word for yellow, and is a genre of film trapped somewhere between murder mystery and slasher horror, often served with a side helping of supernatural gravy and kinky sex. It eschews coherence and logical plot in favor of style and shock, leaning far into the realm of the surreal. Giallo often features storytelling through melodramatic music and overwrought imagery. After Suspiria came others. Argento’s Deep Red, Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve, Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling, and even films shot outside of Italy such as England’s Don’t Look Now, directed by Nicholas Roeg. These movies had a profound impact on me both as a writer and a lover of cinema.

Giallo Fantastique, the new collection of short fiction compiled and edited by Ross E. Lockhart, attempts to capture the feel and tone of those films and transfer them to the written word. However, this collection also seeks to marry the giallo with a French genre of fiction called fantastique. Fantastique is a variety of fiction with blatant supernatural overtones, more closely related to weird fiction than any other categorization. The results are mixed, but ultimately satisfying, with a few tales that skirt tantalizingly close to brilliance.

Most of the tales entombed within Giallo Fantastique lean more toward the fantastique than giallo. Mixing the two is not as easy as it sounds. Many of the stories get bogged down in shock for the sake of shock, and an over-reliance on the surreal, which is not uncommon for a giallo. However, since the goal of the collection is an attempt to merge the two genres together, a stronger balance needs to be struck. The majority of the stories are well written and a few are very clever, but only a handful really set themselves apart from the dark flock. But oh, what a handful of darkly delicious doozies are they!

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My favorite selection would have to be the enigmatic, and oh-so-gialloesquely named “The Strange Vice of ZLA-313” by MP Johnson. Johnson totally nails the spirit of the giallo but adds his own twist, setting the mayhem in the future. It’s fantastique, sci-fi, and horror all rolled into one delightful, sexy, and creepy chimichanga. Here is a writer who understands the genre and elevates it to new and exciting heights. I would have loved it to be longer.

“Sensoria” by Anya Martin is a little less far-reaching, but no less compelling. A cocktail of weird fiction ala Lovecraft and Argento-ish psychedelia, it sits with the reader long after the final page has turned. Out of all of the tales within Giallo Fantastique, “Sensoria” is the most cinematic, practically begging to be lensed by David Lynch.

High marks go to Michael Kazepis’s “Minerva,” a straight-up balls-to-the-wall giallo, and Orrin Grey’s “The Red Church,” a creepy little number which digs deep into the hallowed territory of Robert W. Chambers. Brian Keene’s “Exit Strategies” rounds out the collection as a chilling exposé of the secret occult history of the U.S. Transportation system that, honestly, doesn’t really lock into either the giallo or fantastique genre yet, somehow, fits perfectly into the collection. It’s a wonderful closing number.

Enough cannot be said about the excellent introduction by editor Ross E. Lockhart. The man knows his stuff, and his thoughtful and thankfully entertaining explanation of the entangled genres at play here makes sense of what is presented. Lockhart’s introduction makes the book much easier to digest and appreciate, especially for readers who may not be as familiar with Italian cinema.

4/5 Geysers of Fake-Looking Blood

Mer Whinery is the author of The Little Dixie Horror Show and  Phantasmagoria Blues, which is available for pre-order here. His short story “The Projectionist” also appears in our latest anthology, High Strange Horror, available now.

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