Skin Deep feels like the answer to the unanswered question, “What if Nip/Tuck had included an absolute sociopath as a protagonist?” Lucas Milliron expertly answers that question by crafting a narrative that showcases both the depravity and evil of Mike’s character but also the vulnerability and fear that serves as the substrate of who he’s become. The random glimpses into a horrifying childhood make it almost impossible to write Mike off as a two-dimensional piece of shit caricature. However, no amount of childhood trauma and abuse can make his actions throughout the story palatable or justified, and a reader can’t help but wish for Hooper to come along. Milliron brings a different style to the Hoopiverse. He provides the reader with a frenetic, hallucinatory barrage of set pieces that manage to be simultaneously jarring and free-flowing. At no point does the reader see around the corner to what the next scene brings to the table, and that adds to the bewildering nature of this installment of the series. As someone who can’t bear to have objects in/near my eyes, there was something viscerally unsettling about different aspects of this story.
As with the other installments of Fucking Scumbags Burn In Hell, you can obtain your own copy of this story at http://www.godless.com or on the Godless app, available for both Apple and Android users. The link to the story is below:
Karen is the fourth installment of the Fucking Scumbags Burn In Hell series, initiated by Drew Stepek. This volume was thrust upon us by Lucy Leitner. She was perhaps the perfect writer for him to next incorporate into his Hoopiverse. It’s plain to see that, as soon as Stepek allowed Leitner to take the wheel, she proceeded to plow her BMW through no less than half a dozen overweight men, women, and children in a rampage from which the reader can’t turn away. Karen is…well…a Karen in every conceivable sense. If you don’t know what that means, I’m curious about how you’re reading this review from your space beneath the rock under which you’ve clearly been residing. Karen’s not someone you’d want to follow on Instagram, for sure, unless you’re looking for tone-deaf comparisons with concentration camps. That particular gag reminded me a great deal of Marjorie Taylor Greene, and I subsequently pictured Greene in the role of Karen for the rest of the story. By the time Hooper comes along, you’re practically begging to see this monster receive the comeuppance you know she’s got coming. Leitner does not disappoint!
You can find this title, as well as the other amazing contributions to the Hoopiverse, by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your Android or Apple device of choice. I’ve included the link to the Hoopiverse titles below:
The third installment of Stepek’s Fucking Scumbags Burn In Hell introduces us to the titular Poser, Sully. Through a combination of bleeding-edge technology and innate talent, Sully can hijack the bodies of the people who become his victims. Of course, he does this for a profit. We begin by witnessing as Sully thoroughly demolishes both the fortunes and the future of a pop star with a flourish that takes Britney Spears’s apparent breakdown from 2008 and amplifies it. It seems that Sully has a knack for going above and beyond the wishes of his clients, relishing in the fact that he feels no guilt nor shame for the awful things he does while he pulls the strings from within his victims. It’s with a grim sense of satisfaction that we see Hooper enter the scene, promising a whole new experience that Sully can’t refuse. Lulled into a false sense of security, Sully greedily marches into the trap as the reader smiles and waits for the other shoe to drop. As with the previous two volumes in the Fucking Scumbags Burn In Hell series, Stepek provides us with a glimpse of extreme comeuppance for another of the worst of the worst.
You can obtain your own copy of The Poser by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app for your preferred mobile device. The link to the series of shorts is below:
It was going to be challenging enough for Quinn Maybrook to adjust to the transition from Philadelphia to Kettle Springs, MO, under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately for Quinn and her father, Kettle Springs isn’t simply another small town in the rural Midwest. Kettle Springs is suffering from a terrible pressure building up just beneath the surface of the seemingly prosaic day-to-day rustic community. Cesare lets the tension build as we familiarize ourselves with the mostly quaint environment of Kettle Springs. Dedicating the first half of the novel to a character study and framing the narrative as a coming-of-age tale that we anticipate taking a darker turn makes the latter half of the book more potent. The tension gradually builds, punctuated by scenes that guarantee the reader is in for more than just a fish out of water tale long before the party in the cornfield transforms into a nightmare. While I understand that this is ostensibly a young adult novel, it never pulls punches or treats the reader like they won’t be able to handle the visceral one-two punch once the violence kicks off. At its core, Clown In a Cornfield is a story of intergenerational conflict. We’re forced to face the ever-present conflict between youth and adulthood or tradition and novelty. When we join the story, we’re an ancient god and a charismatic child away from this book going the route of Children of the Corn. Similarly, we’re government sponsorship away from the story turning into Battle Royale. As the tale evolves from coming-of-age drama into slasher horror and finally into something altogether more ominous, we’re carried along by Cesare’s masterful storytelling. This is a young adult novel that is far more suited for adult readers than the books in the Harry Potter–and not solely because Rowling is a TERF and a bigot–or The Hunger Games series. Don’t let the YA categorization push you away from a fantastic dark tale for all ages.
A Little Bit Country, the introduction to the terrific Fucking Scumbags Burn In Hell series, sets the bar high and showcases a uniquely cruel and sardonic portrait of Hell. It’s not supposed to be a fun place, after all. The important thing to remember is that these people belong there, and the torment awaiting them is one that would make Dante proud. Reading about the experience of “Country” as he finds his place in the realm of the damned, I’m forced to reconsider Jean-Paul Sartre’s assertion that “Hell is other people,” and suspect that perhaps Hell is more appropriately ourselves. There is something of No Exit in this brief, humorous tale, in that Hell is not the place we expect it to be, and it’s that subverted expectation that contains the trap waiting to spring closed and provide the torture we’ve earned. Country seems almost sympathetic at first, but I think there’s a little bit of Hooper in all of us, and the satisfaction at seeing how everything comes back around can’t be understated.
The Skid Row Slugger is an amazing follow-up to A Little Bit Country, taking more time to flesh out the newest victim than we had with Country. While the first installment reminded me of C. S. Lewis and Chuck Palahniuk, with the portrayal of Hell as a dead-end job filled with bureaucracy and confusing rules, the follow-up feels more like a Clive Barker experience. This second tale also provides a tantalizing glimpse of how devious Hooper can be. There’s nothing sympathetic or redeeming in the character of our protagonist. A racist, violent, and sexist LA cop isn’t exactly the sort of person I imagine anyone cheering for–but supporters were speaking up in favor of the former officers involved in the Rodney King case and every major incident since then. The Skid Row Slugger isn’t a story for those assholes, though. This is a tale written for those of us who feel that thrilling chill running up our spines when we witness a neo-Nazi punched on camera. It’s the fictional catharsis we need when we try to live our lives as civilized people who won’t resort to violence. Again, there’s a sense of delight in reading this story, and we owe Drew Stepek a favor for giving us this cherished sense of satisfaction.
You can find both stories, along with additional installments of the Fucking Scumbags Burn In Hell series at http://www.godless.com
A little backstory might be in order for this review. This story is built around the old Screen Gems release of Universal horror pictures in syndication to television stations in the late 1950s. With the encouragement that the stations bring in a host to introduce the “Shock” and later “Son of Shock” pictures, Screen Gems helped to platform an industry, first popularized by Vampira, the original horror host on television. There have been many others along the way, including notable icons such as Vincent Price, Joe Bob Briggs, and Elvira. Midnight Horror Show captures a nostalgic snapshot of a time that’s lost in memory, turning it into something truly sinister, and telling a fantastic tale along the way. With a series of unusual killings in the sleepy Iowa town of Dubois in 1985, Detective David Carlson finds himself thrust into the midst of an all-too-real horror show. Investigating the seemingly unrelated crimes, he encounters James West, a strange young man with a fixation on horror and heavy metal, soon to host his own horror show at a local drive-in with a dark history. James’s obsession with a former television and drive-in host, Boris Orlof, brings Detective Carlson face-to-face with secrets and terrifying truths previously buried in the past. Confronting his own forgotten memories, a file of missing person cases from twenty years before, and the very real possibility that there’s more than simple movie magic taking place behind the scenes, Detective West finds himself fighting a ticking clock to solve the unbelievable mystery and save the young man he’s grudgingly befriended before Halloween night. Midnight Horror Show is a captivating story that leaves you guessing what’s going to happen right up until the end. When you think you have a handle on what’s next, Lathrop manages to dodge your assumptions and veer off in a different direction. The narration provided by Tee Quillin is fantastic and believable as he voices the assorted characters populating the tale with seeming ease.
What do you do when your life is falling apart around you because your kinks and perversions are too shameful for loved ones to accept? What if you also have neither the motivation nor the courage to sort things out? In the case of our protagonist, you pack your bags and head for China to teach English as a second language, evading your problems while hoping to return someday with unearned closure in tow. While unsympathetic, our protagonist is relatable in more ways than is probably comfortable to admit. Geick dips into the well of our shared experiences of insecurity, loneliness, shame, and isolation to craft a character that reflects some of our least appealing traits. A night of drugs and exotic dining, characterized by increasing haziness and disorientation, leads us to a conclusion that the reader sees coming just a short while before the revelation hits home. Nosophobia should rank among the best works of short fiction to arise from the pandemic conditions of 2020/2021.
If Italian director Lucio Fulci were alive today, creating movies at 94-years-old like those he’d filmed four decades ago, this novella could be the novelization of his newest masterpiece. Southard and Mangum display a sincere and passionate love for the atmosphere, over-the-top gore, and idiosyncratically disjointed flow of Fulci’s oeuvre. That deep and abiding adoration is necessary to so accurately capture the feel of a Fulci movie with The Final Gate. The more dedicated fans will perhaps experience a sort of wavering, rippling effect in their imaginations, seeing the face of Bob from House By the Cemetery transitioning into the much older face of Robert, the caretaker of St. Luke’s Orphanage. As pleased as we are to make his acquaintance again–and to see that he’s grown into a man who found a way to help children who were orphaned just as he was–it would seem that Bob’s encounters with supernatural horrors aren’t over. After racing into the orphanage in response to a young boy’s desperate cries for help, Robert’s story comes to an end when he enters Bryce’s darkened bedroom. The rest of the book follows Brandon, Bryce’s older brother, and various other characters as Brandon desperately tries to make up for the mistakes of his earlier years. He hopes that by locating his younger brother and rescuing him from an orphanage that seems increasingly sinister, the deeper he digs into it, he’ll find a sense of fulfillment and redemption. With the assistance of Jillian, his girlfriend, and Jillian’s ex-boyfriend, Dan, Brandon faces something far more mysterious and awful than he could have anticipated. In true homage to Fulci, the authors leave you wondering who–if anyone–will survive and whether there’s any chance of a happy ending when the gates of hell are involved. Any fans of Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Mario and Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, Bruno Mattei, and the other Italian greats should immediately pick up a copy of this book in August when it releases. No other book I’ve read has so perfectly demonstrated the Italian exploitation cinema tone the way this one has.
Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Tower of Fools won’t necessarily appeal to fans of his far more popular The Witcher series. While elements of his distinctive writing style carry over to this first book of the Hussite Trilogy, the story itself is a major departure from what readers might expect. The Tower of Fools is more akin to Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (the first book of The Baroque Cycle) or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, in that it’s a dense fantasy tale firmly embedded within true European historical context. Whereas The Baroque Cycle transpired in a fictionalized version of the late 1600s to early 1700s, and Clarke’s novel took place in the 1800s, Sapkowski’s trilogy inserts itself into Eastern Europe of the 1400s. We are introduced to Reinmar of Bielawa, an unlikely and peculiar hero, as unwanted adventure is thrust upon him by virtue of Reinmar caught in the process of a different sort of thrusting–with the wife of a member of a wealthy and powerful family. On the run from vengeful aristocrats (and those working on their behalf), the inquisition (for being a magician and heretic), and sinister forces with unknown motives, Reinmar finds himself on a meandering scramble across the Eastern Europe of the late Middle Ages. Populated by an almost intimidating cast of additional characters, while not as bad as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow–a book I’ve never been able to finish–it becomes challenging at times to keep track of precisely who is who. Strange acquaintances along the way become friends, friends become enemies, and enemies become victims of the peculiar sort of charmed life Reinmar seems to live. With the familiar wit and subtle comedic writing Sapkowski brings to the narrative, we witness an extreme example of fortune favoring the fool. As Reinmar stumbles from one bit of trouble to another, dragging unfortunate allies with him as he careens from frying pan to fire and back again. Densely packed with historical events and figures of the Hussite Revolutionary period, The Tower of Fools is as much a history lesson as a tale of fantasy. Though Sapkowski’s novel incorporates elements of magic, witches/sorcerers, and supernatural beings aplenty, the narrative is so deeply fixed in a foundation of historical veracity that it all feels more textured and real than it might otherwise. Of course, those familiar with The Witcher are well aware that the author is capable of fleshing out a fictional world without the benefit of drawing the fine details from real-world history. It’s a nice touch, though, being able to explore a historical period many of us aren’t familiar with. The titular Tower of Fools–though referenced at numerous points throughout the story–makes an appearance in Chapter 26, at almost the end of the book. It could be argued that the wider world we witness in the book is the real Narrenturm, and the whole of Eastern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire makes up the real Tower of Fools. Though the story is not one that I can praise in more than peculiarly specific ways, the narration provided by Petter Kenny is spectacular. This narrator is impressive, to put it mildly. He successfully tackles various accents, dozens of characters, as well as songs and chants performed in Latin and other languages, all with a clarity and quality that almost astounded me.
I had the extreme pleasure of reading this book a few months ago. I immediately procured a copy once it was available on sale through http://www.godless.com because I sincerely believe that Baltisberger deserves all the support the indie horror community is able to provide.
Abhorrent Siren takes Baltisberger’s love of kaiju and elevates it to a new level beyond what readers had witnessed from previous titles like Blood & Mud and the epic poem, War of Dictates. This book is truly the love letter to the body horror and giant monster genres readers didn’t even know they needed. It’s all too easy to get excited watching kaiju movies while never conceiving of the desperation and terror of those in the path of whatever horrifying monstrosity is lumbering their way. All too often, we witness those tales from the perspectives of individuals at a safe distance or the larger-scale perspective of the monsters themselves. Abhorrent Siren is not one of those stories. This book is Cloverfield rather than Pacific Rim. We are not on even footing with the creature slithering its slimy way North across Texas. We are not at any sort of remove from the horrific events taking place, at least not for long. This is not to say that we aren’t provided with some perspective from those analyzing the situation and struggling to find both an explanation and a solution. Following the scientists, as they race against both the clock and the toxic mist exuded from the monstrous axolotl, to share their findings with those who might be able to do something is fascinating and rife with harrowing experiences along the way. As we receive intimate, first-hand experiences of the body horror happening at ground level in advance of the creature’s arrival, we find ourselves equally horrified and disgusted by the transformations taking place both in mind and body. As readers, we are never allowed to forget the afflicted–while malformed and misshapen in every conceivable way–were once human beings. That constant reminder that these were once people serves to make the events all the more awful. The author wasn’t satisfied simply to write a violent, breakneck-paced monster story. As with other material from Baltisberger, there are layers of subtext and social commentary laced within his viscerally poetic imagery. Embedded within what is a captivating–sometimes alarming–tale of grotesque, splattery horror, one will find a scathing meta-commentary on the opioid epidemic plaguing America. As we witness Barbara’s inability to escape the nightmare unfolding around her in her attempts to distance herself from the clinic, the commentary becomes all the more poignant. Just wait until you reach the point in the story when Barbara comes home to Owen. It’s all downhill from there in the most gloriously, gratuitously disgusting way–especially after she brings another partner back with her.