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:
The Grind House continues the descent into madness that is Pike’s Diablo Snuff series of books. If you’ve read A Foreign Evil and Passion & Pain, you’ll have some idea what to expect while still finding yourself surprised around every twist and turn captured by the author’s impressive imagination. While the previous two installments focused heavily on monstrous cruelty and torture inflicted by agents of the malevolent organization known as Diablo Snuff, this book leans heavily on things that can’t be perceived as anything other than the supernatural. The visions of demonic entities–post-climax–in A Foreign Evil could easily be dismissed as little more than the feverish hallucinations of a man who went through hell. It’s far more challenging to similarly write off shared visions of inhuman horrors and other aspects of the tale unfolding within The Grind House. Of course, we all knew these things were real–in the context of the story–but it hits home much harder in this book than the previous immersions into the world of Diablo Snuff. Fans of the previous two stories in the Diablo Snuff series will be happy to encounter some familiar characters at different points in this novel. I know I certainly was. In this book, as in the previous two, Pike’s history as a writer of dark romance and erotica comes to the forefront in a big way, weaving together heavily eroticized encounters with sheer, unrelenting lunacy. It takes a certain undefined skill to seamlessly blend graphic, sensual intimacy with a bewildering, undercurrent of horror, but it’s a skill Pike has in spades. It’s The Shining on MDMA. If Shirley Jackson had channeled Marquis de Sade when writing The Haunting, we might be coming close to what you’ll find within these pages. This isn’t necessarily to suggest The Grind House is a haunted house tale, but in a sense, it most certainly is. If a place can absorb the evil of those within its walls–or beneath its foundations, The Grand Georgina most certainly has. Tobias (T.K. Tantrum) is in for far more than he or his assistant anticipated when he was signed up to attend the writers retreat at The Grand Georgina. He hoped to write the masterpiece that had eluded him so far in his modestly successful career, but he finds himself drawn into real-life peril that rivals anything he could have written. As the abominations of both past and present are revealed, the insidious trap Tobias finds himself within may be something from which even madness provides no escape. As prurience gives way to panic, it may already be too late for any to escape the clutches of Diablo Snuff.
Matthew Weber’s Bobcats succeeds as a coming-of-age horror tale not altogether unlike Ketchum’s Hide and Seek and King’s IT. In fact, if one were to mix those two books together with a dash of the King novella, The Body, and just a smidge of Deliverance for flavor–as well as a touch of Friday the 13th–one might have a good starting point for the story that Weber’s put together. Joey and his four compatriots in the Bobcats–a small fraternal outdoors troop not altogether unlike BSA–plan to hike The Gauntlet, a trail that weaves through the wilderness of Black Oak Mountain. The adventure is the boys’ plan to honor the legacy of Joey’s father, the foundation of The Bobcats, who recently died of cancer. More than that, it’s a rite of passage into manhood for the five adolescent boys. As a powerful thunderstorm rolls into the area, the expedition becomes true to its name, becoming more a gauntlet than it already might have been. Sadly, nature is only the beginning of the challenges the boys face. Black Oak Mountain is home to more than the expected wildlife, and for the Bobcats, it’s one of the inhabitants of that dark forest that changes their lives forever. The Cleaver soon has the five boys in his sights, and no amount of preparation and survival training could have adequately qualified the Bobcats to deal with an inhuman monster who makes his living slaughtering people for money with his cruel, handcrafted blades. Weber does not shy away from the harsh reality of precisely how an encounter like this would turn out. Bobcats is not a feel-good story with a tidy, cheerful ending replete with plot armor and reliance on suspension of disbelief. To learn how it ends–or whom it ends–you’ll have to read it for yourself. Matthew Weber deserves additional points for hinting at a history of mysterious occurrences on and near Black Oak Mountain without delving into them and erasing the mystery. It seems like a sequel could be in order, as there’s plenty more to fear in the night than solely The Cleaver.
Wilburn and Rosamilia together weave a disorienting tale. The individual narrative threads that make up Room 138 are as difficult to follow and keep straight for the reader as they are for our confused, terrified, and often paranoid protagonist, Hank Smith. It’s hard to blame Hank for feeling paranoid, though. Waking up in a recently vacated hotel/motel room in a new year and a new city from where you’d gone to sleep would do that to a person. Just trying to imagine that life, where the month and date on the calendar keeps marching forward, while the year dances around to a tune you can’t quite hear…it’s enough to give someone a headache. With no recollection of who he really is, no concept of how long he’s been doing this same thing, and without the foggiest notion of why he’s even doing it…Hank keeps searching for abstract clues that he hopes will lead him to the next Room 138 and some illumination for the regions of his memory that remain in shadows. If that sounds confusing to you, you’re in precisely the right state of mind to begin reading Room 138. It’s a book that is equal parts a thriller, a science fiction fantasy, and a feverish, internalized mystery…but it’s so much more than those individual components. It’s probably a good time to climb aboard and allow Mr. Train to guide you down the rails at breakneck speeds until the view beyond the window becomes nothing more than a peculiar blur of familiar objects twisted into alien shapes. Maybe you’ll be the next in line to join Hank and Savannah on their mission to save the world, one day at a time.
A Foreign Evil is the perfect novella for those who enjoyed movies like Hostel and Turistas, but felt like it was missing some much-needed smut and just a smidge of the sheer brutality of Survivor by J.F. Gonzalez. This is definitely a book written for those of us who are sick enough to actively peer into the darkness while unspeakable horrors take place in the shadows…willing the light to shine just a little bit brighter and knowing we might regret it if we get our wish. I have no doubt that I will be wanting to read the rest of the books that are connected to the organization introduced here, Diablo Snuff…because, like many of you, I just can’t help myself.
Carver Pike’s Grad Night is a novel I would love to see become a part of the curriculum in college programs for educators all over America. This book takes us into the final days of the graduating class of DS High, as experienced through a couple of the educators. This is a nightmare vision of a high school. DS High is a place where the vile, underachieving children of mobsters can become class president. A school where students are filmed with cell phones while having sex in the back of an empty classroom. Essentially, if you imagine all the worst stories you’ve heard of juvenile delinquent behavior all across the country and condense it all into one senior class, you’ve got a good handle on the sort of children Charlie, Lauren, and the other teachers are working with. It’s a difficult thing to remain an idealist under circumstances like these, one who believes in the better angels of human nature, but Charlie manages to do so throughout most of this novel. Having known a lot of high school teachers throughout my life (my mother being one), I have to say that there are plenty of people just like him in the hallways and classrooms across America, actively struggling to avoid becoming cynical and disengaged while being routinely buffeted by criticism and dismissal from students, parents, and administrators. This is not the place for idealists. DS High is worse than the average high school, putting it mildly, and it’s only been getting more so since James Bender showed up. The worst and most cruel students of the graduating class flock to the silent and sinister boy, whose features are always hidden beneath a hood, and the most awful elements of their natures are amplified with his presence there. Things only seem to be going downhill as numerous students appear to be engrossed in a smutty, violent novel that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, a novel titled The Maddening. When teachers and other staff are invited to join the soon-to-be-former students at a grad night party, their surprised pleasure rapidly becomes terror as the student body seeks to redress grievances in a way no one could have prepared for. Avoiding spoilers with this one is a challenge, but it’s necessary as well. You have to experience it for yourself.