It’s been a long time since I first read The Woods Are Dark. I was a teenager at the time. This version of the story is vastly different from the one I remember, but that’s probably because this is a different version of the narrative from the version I’d been exposed to back then. Forty years after it was published, it doesn’t hold up as well as some of Laymon’s other material, but it was still fun to listen to the audiobook edition and reacquaint myself with the story. Two groups of people stumble across the hideous secrets hidden away in the forests near the seemingly quaint town of Barlow, and their lives will never be the same again if they manage to escape. Neala and Sherri stop at the diner after a harrowing experience on the road, only to find the patrons are planning to serve up something off the menu. Lander, Ruth, their daughter, Cordelia, and her boyfriend, Ben, stop for the night at what they anticipate will be a peaceful set of cabins, but they soon discover they’ll never have a peaceful night of sleep again. Facing off against the murderous, inbred, cannibal Krulls, the two groups of victims and an unlikely ally find themselves in a life or death struggle in the woods. But the Krulls aren’t the only things lurking in the darkness, as there’s something even the monsters fear out there. None of this is pleasant or fun. This is not that kind of story, and Laymon was not that kind of author. This short tale contains graphic depictions of violence of all kinds, cannibalism, dismemberment, murder, rape, and pretty much every awful thing a reader might expect to find. Lander’s story is particularly awful and disturbing, showcasing an educated, well-read man descending into madness and depravity in no time at all. The trauma of the experience, the loss of loved ones, and the constant state of terror hardly seem sufficient to explain how one transforms from man to beast in such record time. This descent isn’t something unfamiliar to those who’ve read more of the author’s material. Laymon–as in much of his work–wanted to hint, not too subtly, that our pretense of civilization is more tenuous than we often fool ourselves into believing it to be. So, while it may be unrealistic and a bit absurd, it’s important to note that this is fiction, and Lander’s transformation is meant to be an extreme example, a caricature in a sense, of how primitive and bestial we are just beneath the surface. There’s a brief, passing reference in the narrative to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (the basis for Apocalypse Now), and there are some intentional similarities to be found in The Woods Are Dark. Laymon knew exactly what he was doing when he crafted this story. The narration of the audiobook, performed by Bob Dunsworth, was not the best I’ve heard. Dunsworth has the voice of a radio DJ, with clear, articulate, annunciation, but there’s little more that I can say about him. He managed to make the characters distinct enough that nothing got confused or jumbled along the way, but his delivery was lacking in several ways.
We first meet Fiona, a single mother doing what she can to provide for her daughter. As the story unfolds, we learn just how far she’ll go to do precisely that, and to make the world just a little bit safer for her child. Wesley is a depraved piece of work. Killstreme introduces us to a man who can’t get off without viewing snuff pornography–or what he believes to be snuff, since there’s some positively hyperreal productions out there. His wife has been neglected as he’s lost all interest in her, instead focusing all of his attention on the dark web where he spends far too much time and money. When he receives a questionnaire from a contact online, he’s thrilled to discover he might be able to take his obsession to the next level. Wesley has an opportunity to star in his own snuff film. Will he have his dreams fulfilled or will Wesley discover that some offers are far too good to be true? Rayne Havok handily subverts the misogyny that goes hand-in-hand with the sort of people who want to see women hurt and murdered. In the end, even as a man, I can’t pretend there was a single aspect of this story that wasn’t deeply satisfying. The graphic sexual violence is something one should expect when reading anything by Rayne Havok, but this is particularly extreme and so well described as to almost feel real. I’m sure this story won’t be for everyone, but it most certainly is for me.
You can obtain this terrific little tale by going to http://www.godless.com or by using the Godless app on your favorite mobile device. Unfortunately, Amazon has determined this title should be banned twice now. The link is below:
It begins in 2005, with the unforeseen devastation of a college student’s head in the back of a Japanese classroom. Split down the center, with a sudden burst of blood and gore, the other students don’t have a chance to react before tentacles begin emerging from the space now present between the two halves of the boy’s head. This horrific experience is the first of the anomalies on record. With that graphic, visually potent scene, Henk Wester drags the reader into his unfolding novella, The Cosmic Anomaly. If you don’t consider that a tantalizing first glimpse of the world he’s preparing to show us, I don’t know what else you’d be looking for. Wester provides the reader with a brief overview of the succeeding years, as anomalies become increasingly common, ranging from the simply peculiar to the utterly horrific before introducing us to Anton, Irma, Bernie, and the other Splenmalies creators. A South African YouTube channel focused on exploration and exploitation of anomalies, the Splendmalies crew exclusively provides their massive viewership with fraudulent cases, banking on the–largely American and European–subscribers knowing little to nothing about what’s going on in Africa. That is until Bernie decides they need to go big or go home. By venturing into De Aar, a town abandoned by the residents who managed to survive the high rate and destructive level of anomalous activity there, Bernie sees nothing but dollar signs and fame in their futures. As the story races toward its gripping conclusion, Wester displays great imagination and dedication to bringing the conditions in De Aar to surreal, terrible life. Hellraiser meets Silent Hill is perhaps the best way I can conceive of describing what the reader is in for, and that only provides the bare minimum of preparation. As Henk Wester introduces us to his native South Africa in a form that, thankfully, should never exist, we realize just how much smaller the world has gotten over recent decades. College students and young adults are the same worldwide, or so it would seem–that is to say, stupid and short-sighted.
This title will be available through Godless on September 30th, before presumably becoming available through other channels a short while thereafter. You can obtain a copy for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app on your smart phone, tablet, or eReader of choice. The link for this title is below:
Clarke doesn’t exactly tell us how the games begin, skipping forward to the tail end of Jesus announcing the list of dead, with only 72 surviving terrorists in the battle royale. Before we join back up with the ANTs, we spend a little while with Al-Queefa, learning through violent bloodshed what it means to have a Wild Card introduced to the game. When we finally rejoin the Anti Terrorists, we learn a little bit about Scat’s life story before discovering new horrors amidst the roving bands of terrorists. Impatient for his sweet release, will Jesus keep ratcheting up the danger as he struggles to avoid becoming nothing but cum? Matthew Clarke follows up his first installment with this exciting and amusing continuation of his Second Cumming series. It’ll be nice to see where all of this is leading.
You can pick up this excellent bizarro series for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app. The link is below:
Trench Mouth begins with a series of vignettes. It begins with human intrusion into the ocean depths upsetting a balance that existed in an alien world on our own planet, drawing a cruel and vicious attention to our existence–our delicious flavor–and ultimately to the surface waters where unsuspecting prey is in abundance. It begins with eight people who have nothing left to lose signing up for a chance to become something more, something new, something better than they are. In the dark depths of the ocean, where Fathom-5 illuminates a tiny patch of ocean floor just beyond a seemingly bottomless trench that carves down into the crust of the Earth, experiments are being conducted. Will Dr. Yale and her colleagues advance the next stage of human evolution, preparing us to venture into a massive new realm largely off limits until now? Will monsters, both man-made and ancient, tear everything apart before we even have a chance to find out for ourselves? We know how it begins. I guess you’ll have to read past the beginning to discover how it ends for yourself. It’s appropriate to talk about how it all begins, because Trench Mouth feels like a beginning, the origin story of some larger tale that might unfold over years to come. I, for one, would gladly join Christine Morgan in the depths again if she chooses to tell us more of this world she’s created. Reminiscent of my favorite underwater science fiction/horror novel, Starfish by Peter Watts (the beginning of his Rifters series), Morgan has done something fantastic with Trench Mouth in telling a story that stands up next to a novel written by a man with a Ph.D and a long history of working as a marine biologist. Nothing feels out of place or poorly researched within these pages, and it makes the whole experience feel that much more immersive. Perhaps my favorite element is the Morgan makes the denizens of the deep feel like fleshed out characters in and of themselves, by sharing perspectives that are at once alien and strangely familiar.
You can obtain this book for yourself wherever books are sold. I will include a couple of links below:
The Final Girl Support Group is Grady Hendrix’s addition to the meta-slasher subgenre of literature. In some ways, this book succeeds in breaking new ground and adding a unique voice and commentary, though I couldn’t help but find the overall story disappointing. While I found the writing/narrative style of The Last Final Girl jarring and occasionally disruptive to my enjoyment, I would recommend either that or My Heart Is a Chainsaw, both by Stephen Graham Jones, over The Final Girl Support Group. If you’ve already read and enjoyed those two books, there’s no harm in checking this one out. The best element of this novel is the commentary on slasher fiction provided by the author. Hendrix infuses the narrative with critiques on the latent misogyny involved in slasher films, the unhealthy obsession with serial killers, violence in society, and the psychological effects of trauma. Shared via the unreliable narration of Lynette Tarkington, the survivor of the Silent Night Slayings (think Silent Night, Deadly Night), the narrative leads us along in a stuttering, stumbling adventure. We experience a world where alternate versions of the slasher flicks that defined–and redefined–the genre were based on real people and events. The survivors of these massacres make up the titular Final Girl Support Group; Adrienne (Friday the 13th), Marilyn (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Dani (Halloween), Heather (A Nightmare On Elm Street), and Julia (Scream). After Adrienne’s murder and an attempt on Julia and Lynette’s life, Lynette finds herself unable to remain in the false safety and security of her life of isolation, obsession, and paranoia. She was never as safe as she believed herself to be, and she’s convinced that her sister final girls are in danger as well. But will anyone listen to her? Is there a conspiracy to slaughter all of the final girls, or is Lynette jumping at shadows that exist only in her traumatized mind? Will the truth be revealed before it’s too late? The twists are nothing readers won’t see coming, whether by design or not. Readers will find themselves wanting to shout at the pages–or along with the audiobook–the same way viewers shout at the screen, screaming for Lynette to put the pieces together correctly as we helplessly watch her fumble and chase red herrings. The audiobook was narrated by Adrienne King, the final girl from Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. There perhaps couldn’t have been a better choice of narrator, as one of the first final girls of film history and someone who experienced real-life horror in response to that role. King brings Lynette to life in a way no other narrator probably could as well as successfully tackling the voices of the supporting characters.
Donna Latham’s You Should Have Let Me In is a short flash fiction piece, so I’ll keep my review short as well. It starts with a knocking at the door and a sinister presence demanding entry, but it’s not the front door the stranger is seeking to access. Taking a page from I Know What You Did Last Summer, Latham provides her cruel, gruesome take on when an accident becomes something worse.
This short fiction title was only available by signing up for the D&T Publishing newsletter. You can do so by going to the following site:
Vera Harlow is a sweet lady, compassionate and kind. While she has certain quirks and residual coping mechanisms associated with a childhood stifled by unhealthy surroundings brought about by mental illness, she has managed to not only thrive, but to transform her trauma responses into strengths. The time we spend getting to know Vera, delving into her tragic backstory and the wholesome life she and her husband have built for themselves, ultimately makes everything else in this book all the more awful. Going door-to-door, selling a new carpet cleaner with effectiveness only someone who prizes cleanliness could manage, Vera has built up a tidy sum. With a new child on the way, she has a limited interval before she has to stop venturing out like she has been. It’s her final day of sales when she decides to venture down the dead-end road to the ramshackle house where the titular Slob resides. Why do we call him The Slob? It’s an excellent question, one Beauregard spends almost three full pages answering, as he describes the man in vivid and repulsive detail. As with Vera, as the keys turn in the locks that secure the front door of The Slob’s home, we’re trapped and plagued with an increasingly uneasy feeling that will prove to be all too prescient. The filth and madness of Vera’s early life prepared her for a great deal, but nothing could prepare anyone for being trapped with The Slob. Beauregard’s vividly detailed and gripping narrative is a masterpiece of transformative pain and horror that will make you want to scrub your walls and floors until everything is spotless, but after reading The Slob, you will probably never feel clean again.
A friend of mine brought a Kickstarter campaign to my attention months ago. Upon checking it out, I absolutely had to get on board. It was to be a graphic novel showcasing a variety of Texas-based comic and literary talents in an anthology setting. Since a lot of my favorite indie authors and small presses are based out of Texas there was no way I wasn’t going to support this campaign. My digital edition of Texas Horror arrived just a few days ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We begin this anthology with Kitchen Witches: Origin of the Ramen Witch, brought to us by Halo Toons. A late-night visit to a convenience store becomes something unexpected as a cup of ramen in the microwave behaves in a way that defies any conceivable safety precautions. Aerobicide: Blockbuster night, written by David Doub with art by Terry Parr, takes on a harrowing adventure that arises from a simple attempt to return some videotapes. You’ll find references to horror video rental royalty throughout this brief but entertaining escapade. Demons In the Darkness: Part 1, written by David Doub, with letters by Daniel Chan and art by Dominic Racho, tells the story of a group of outcasts getting together for a night of tabletop role-playing after a rough day in school. As the story unfolds, an in-game ritual to purge some of the negativity from the real lives of the players might turn out to have some real-life consequences. The Texas Horror Writers Showcase brings us flash fiction from some of my favorite writers in the industry today. John Balitsberger shares a tale of the famed Goatman’s Bridge and the sacrifices people will make to unlock secret knowledge. Lucas Mangum tells us the story of a camping trip gone terribly wrong in a story of beautiful flowers and mental illness. Wile E. Young brings us back to the world of Salem Covington (of The Magpie Coffin) from a different perspective. And finally, Max Booth III brings us a strange tale of gardening and family that will leave you wondering “What the fuck,” just as much as the father in his story. Luna Vino, written by Mike Howlett and drawn by Howard Kelley, takes us to a manor where, no matter how unexpected the night might turn out, losing one’s favorite wine might be the worst thing that could happen. Finally, Mask It or Casket, written by David Doub with art by Miguel Angel Hernandez, shares a poignant tale of the current pandemic. In this violent clash of ideological perspectives taken to extremes, it’s difficult to consider even one’s own side correct, though it’s hard not to sympathize with the antagonist’s frustration. All in all, this is a great sampler of the fantastic horror-themed art coming out of Texas. It’s certainly added some names to the list of creators I’ll want to keep an eye on.
Though the campaign for this project has been over for a while, readers might be interested in some additional details. I’ll include the link to the Kickstarter below:
Jason Hawks puts his career as a professional comedian on hold to return home to Cincinnati after learning his high school sweetheart, Andrea, stripping under the name Porcelain, publicly murdered multiple patrons before shooting herself. Reconnecting with old friends he similarly hadn’t spoken with in 12 years, Jason struggles to discover an explanation for the horrific act Andrea committed. Haunted by disjointed memories and terrifying hallucinations, Jason forces himself and two of his old friends to relive the events of the final night they’d all been together more than a decade before. Piecing together the pieces of what happened when six freshly graduated young adults had lost control and experienced something both carnal and terrifying, a mystery begins to unravel that threatens both sanity and the world as they know it. Nate Southard shares a compelling and disquieting tale with this title. Friendships are rekindled and snuffed out on the page as the author drags us through a tangled mess of erotica and supernatural horror that tiptoes the line separating us from unstoppable, madness-inducing cosmic horror. Fans of Stephen King’s IT will feel a certain sense of familiarity with this narrative of adults coming together and unhappily reliving a hardly self-aware sexual awakening they experienced at a much younger age. Unlike the uncomfortable scene described in King’s novel, in Porcelain, at least these characters were adults–though barely–when they intimately came together in a dark, terrifying place. More terrifying than anything else for me, the core horror of this story is derived from the loss of control. Propelled by an insatiable desire for gratification, characters fight to restrain themselves and to fend off the debasement as increasingly louder voices within are urging them to give in. The almost vampiric presence at the heart of the horror is unsettling in its ability to overwhelm the individual’s better judgment and will to fight. The corrupting nature of the evil as its influence appears to spread from the original location in the abandoned factory makes for a truly disturbing concept, executed superbly by Southard.