When I first heard about Beyond Reform, and the authors involved in the book, I knew it was something I had to read. This need became more pronounced when Brian Keene announced the nominees for the Splatterpunk Awards at KillerCon Austin 2022. As a nominee myself, in the same category, I felt a compulsion to dive into the nominated works from my competitors/colleagues/friends. They’re not mutually exclusive categorizations. Upon reading Beyond Reform, I felt confident that it would be the title that blew the rest of us out of the water. As it turns out, I was correct, and I was waiting to post this review until after I’d confirmed my assessment. Beauregard, Athan, and Bark capture the theme of Beyond Reform in essentially every conceivable sense. The stories are grim, fatalistic, captivating, sometimes amusing, and often horrifying in their portrayal of the worst aspects of human nature. Aron Beauregard kicks it all off with the title story, Beyond Reform. Hoping to score some quick cash and have some fun along the way, Marcus finds himself the focus of a couple’s revenge. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, Marcus has made enemies of more than just the two of them, and even the best-laid plans fall apart sometimes. Beauregard pulls no punches and dares the reader to flinch as he ups the ante with each new roll of the dice. Midnight Glory by Jasper Bark introduces us to a dysfunctional couple with a seemingly unlimited capacity to hurt one another and a similar capacity to sustain the damage. The source of this seemingly supernatural horror is rooted in a gift that turned out to be a bit more than bargained for and a punishment a long time coming. Bark’s grotesque and graphic sexual imagery was almost gag-inducing, and that’s something to be proud of. Jon Athan hits us next with Tortured Until Proven Innocent, a tale of a vile sexual predator who appears to be getting his comeuppance at the hands of distraught parents. In Athan’s work, as in real life, the stories don’t always have a happy ending, and he doesn’t shy away from hammering that point home with painful clarity. The Martini Club is Beauregard’s second addition to the collection, and its focus on desperate, lonely women obsessed with rehabilitation and sexual fantasies oriented around a convicted serial killer is a thriller, for sure. As it turns out, not all of the women in The Martini Club have the same sort of fantasies in mind when they finally have the object of their obsessions at hand. Athan’s Dead But Alive introduces us to a funeral director with a dark and perverse secret that knows no limits, just as the man knows no shame. The disgusting, depraved, and uncompromising delivery from Athan only makes the conclusion to the tale all the more satisfying. And finally, Jasper Bark concludes the volume with A Most Chemical Wedding, the most unique of the tales included in Beyond Reform. While it is indeed a tale of revenge like much of what came before it, it’s one with numerous twists and wry humor in the mix. Spirituality, alchemy, and a voice that breaks the fourth wall with obvious pleasure make Bark’s second inclusion a fun and fascinating way to wrap everything up. As you can probably tell, I’m quite a fan of this title. I’ve heard it said there’s no shame in losing to the best, and the three authors involved in this project showcased why they are some of the best at what they do.
The Professor has previously deconstructed, distilled, and devastated classic literary prose with his magnificent and monstrous homages to some of the great writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This time he’s set his sights on something far more primal…a well-loved fixture of North American cryptozoology…Bigfoot. Two campers amid passionate playtime in their tent are interrupted by a startling roar that incapacitates them in preparation for the monster coming their way. Cruel and sadistic, the creature takes pleasure in torturing his prey as he builds up to a climax of cyclopean proportions, and The Professor keeps us right there, in the center of the action without relenting or taking any more pity than the beast itself does with its prey. Envisioning the sasquatch as a carnal clamoring colossus, The Professor joins the ranks of those–like Lucas Milliron–who transform the beast from the friendly, secretive forest dweller of Harry and the Hendersons into a vile, sexually aggressive predator. A cautionary tale about the risks associated with camping, and especially against having sex while doing so, Spunk of the Sasquatch paints a revolting portrait of the elusive beast. By the time his rumbling roar is resonating within your bones, it’s already too late. Just remember, all he wants is a little head. Naturally, The Professor includes an audio edition of this thrilling tale. I recommend settling in as the man himself caresses your ears with the vile and visceral details conveyed through his voice.
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Kherson is as poignant as it is painful to read, and it is a distressingly raw narrative. Regina Watts pulls no punches and provides the reader with no reprieve. The depths of human cruelty and depravity are on grim display without any consideration for the reader because that’s the point. One Ukrainian woman’s search for food in a devastated city becomes a nightmare as a group of Russian soldiers decide that only Nazis would oppose them–and where Nazis are concerned, all bets are off. Much like with her previous story, Cleared Away, Watts is showcasing the horrors of war that often get overlooked as body counts and large-scale atrocities steal our attention from the individual cruelties. Cultures around the world already victimize women under normal circumstances, but in war, anything goes. The horrors in this story are all too common wherever there is war. If you think it’s something distant and perpetrated only by monsters from foreign lands, you’re missing a whole lot of what American forces did during World War II and Vietnam. Monstrous acts happen when people convince themselves that they’re the “good guys” no matter what they do. Of course, it doesn’t help that there are people who will eagerly place themselves in positions to be the “good guys” in situations like these. What’s happening in this story isn’t unique to Ukraine, but it’s happening now, and that immediacy means we can do something about it. Regina Watts has graciously provided us with an opportunity to help, and buying a copy of Kherson–even if you don’t read it–will guarantee that money gets to outreach for the victims of the conflict.
The Filthy Marauders are heading down to Delacroix for fun and debauchery. They’re looking for the sort of antics the filthiest and most depraved motorcycle club in existence would be seeking out because that’s precisely what The Filthy Marauders are. As Spunk leads the rest of his crew down the highway, he’s excited about the annual Hilljack Games in Durr City, but when they arrive, the city is unnervingly empty and silent. Something is off, but nothing could prepare them for their run-in with The Cunty Scoundrels or the discovery that they’d attended the Hilljack Games the year before. Not only had they been too wasted to remember it, but they hadn’t made any friends in the process. The Hilljack Games aren’t in the cards for Spunk and the other Filthy Marauders this year. On this trip to Delacroix, they’ll need to survive The Dirty Rooster Fuck-Off! Easy Rider meets Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas as Bob Freville takes his readers on a ride they’ll never forget. Prepare for absurdity, violence that approaches the cartoonishly pornographic, and the most thrillingly horrific set of challenges ever met by man or beast. Delacroix County is Freville’s answer to Burroughs’ Interzone, a place where anything can happen, and one never knows who to trust…or what they might be ingesting. The two additional stories Freville includes are no less perverse than our main course, though unrelated to the trials and tribulations of The Filthy Marauders. Stuffing tells us the story of the most dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinner. As Cooter and Nana find that revenge is a dish best served hot and sloppy, the orphanage will never be the same again. Of course, The Pink Sock probably needs little introduction. Savannah lives in a world where everyone aspires to be the biggest slut, but she can’t bring herself to tolerate a certain fluid. All seems hopeless until Savannah discovers a hidden talent.
When the National Health Service rejects a trans femme her request to have a vaginoplasty performed, Daphne’s state of mind takes one hell of a hit. Already prone to self-harm and taking her frustrations out on herself, this blow might be the last straw. But what happens if the offending penis doesn’t want to go without a fight? What follows is both heartbreaking and ridiculously gruesome, as one might expect from the pairing of Simon McHardy and Sean Hawker. In true McHardy and Hawker fashion, these two provide a graphic and absurdly over-the-top argument in favor of gender reassignment surgeries being more readily available to those suffering from gender dysphoria. Of course, this is not for the squeamish. As strange as it might seem, I almost think this should be recommended to anyone with transgender friends or family, or those hoping to understand why it’s important to treat transgender health concerns (both mental and physiological) as seriously as any others.
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Duncan Ralston’s Woom is a masterpiece of an anthology tale with the most seamlessly incorporated framing story I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It’s like Campfire Tales if that movie had been X-rated and situated in a run-down, no-tell motel room. While Woom works as a single, longer-form piece of literature, it’s also a series of vignettes that flows together surprisingly well. As Angel and Shyla share their respective stories, the content becomes progressively more unsettling and vile. That shouldn’t bother you, though. It’s what you checked in for, after all. When Angel checked in to Room 6 at The Lonely Motel and requested a big girl from the escort service, he expected disappointment. It’s what he’d experienced previously, both in life and in his previous attempts to find the right woman for the objective he has in mind. When Shyla arrives at the door, it seems like Angel might have found just the woman he’s been looking for. As the night progresses, and he opens up to her as she opens up for him, it becomes increasingly likely that Shyla will be uniquely suited to provide Angel with what he needs. Mental illness, childhood and adult trauma, sexual fetishes, graphic violence, and a desperate need for redemption and rebirth swirl together into a perversely entertaining book. Woom is a story that dares the reader to continue reading, the whole time knowing that things are only going to get worse but that the way out is through. What follows might be a spoiler, but I’m not sure I’d consider it one. While it’s obvious from the outset that Angel was telling stories from his own life, I don’t think that was meant to be a surprise to the reader, so I feel comfortable commenting on that without worrying that it’s too much of a spoiler. I suspect Shayla might have been the only person taken aback by that revelation. She wasn’t the brightest character, after all.
The release of Kristopher Triana’s And the Devil Cried is one of those examples of strangely serendipitous timing. It serves as an odd juxtaposition with Stephen King’s Billy Summers. Both stories are about men who became involved with organized crime after committing a murder during their youth and enlisting with the military. That is, of course, where the similarities end, as the characters themselves couldn’t be more different. Triana excels in crafting unlikeable characters. His true skill is in developing these characters who manage to be entirely captivating precisely because of how unlikeable they are. Jackie is a prime example of that. Committing his first murder at the age of 17 for no better reason than greed and bitterness over the good fortune of the victim, Jackie never strives to be a better person. After his time in the Army, Jackie never adjusts to civilian life, and he gets arrested for an attempted armed robbery. The story picks up as he’s being released and reacquainting himself with bad people he met while on the inside. As the story unfolds, you find yourself wishing he’d never been released, but there wouldn’t be much of a book if that were the case. Misogynistic, abusive, sexist, violent, bigoted, and fundamentally heartless, there’s not much about Jackie that resembles a human being, and that’s what makes him an excellent protagonist for this particular story. While this isn’t one of Triana’s extreme horror or splatterpunk tales, he brings those sensibilities to the pulp crime genre with a character so devoid of decency that he’s almost a caricature of what one might expect a hardened criminal to be. There are components of this story that are difficult to read. I’d suggest those are notably Jackie’s treatment of homosexuals in prison and his unabashed fixation on young girls, but it’s worth sticking it out to the end. Triana showcases a talent for writing hardboiled pulp crime that transcends the genre conventions. It’s a little bit Scarface, a little bit The Godfather, and all Triana. While it’s not my favorite of his books, it’s well worth reading and it displays a side of Triana as an author that I’d never witnessed previously. It’s encouraging to see him stepping outside of his comfort zone and exploring new ground, and that makes me curious about what he’ll have in store for us next.
The story begins with tightropes and titties, as Perry and his best friend, Devin, enjoy a vacation in a small Mexican town alongside college students from all over America–and the rest of the world. Their enjoyment doesn’t last long, as Diablo Snuff has plans for the revelers, at least the ones they find attractive enough to press-gang into the same sort of service Kong and Nick “Lucky” Luciano were providing in Passion & Pain. If you haven’t read Passion & Pain, hopefully, you’ve read A Foreign Evil, The Grind House, and Slaughter Box. You should still have some idea what I’m talking about if you’ve at least read those three. Personally, I recommend going back and reading both Passion & Pain and Grad Night as well, because they all come together in the pages of The Maddening. It’s wrong to say this story begins with tightropes and titties. It all begins in the pages of A Foreign Evil when Michael drunkenly follows a beautiful woman to a push-button hotel for a night of carnal pleasures that swiftly devolves into a nightmare of unearthly evil and sinister conspiracies. You’ve come all this way, though, so you know all about that. The journey here left its mark on you, I imagine. The Maddening is Carver Pike’s conclusion to the Diablo Snuff series, and this man knows how to end things with a bang. The best way I can think of to describe the events taking place in this novel is to suggest that it’s John Carpenter’s In The Mouth of Madness meets The Purge while managing to be both more horrific and graphic than either of those movies. If that doesn’t sell you on diving into this book, I honestly don’t know why you’d be reading my reviews in the first place. You might not be my target audience, in which case you’re almost definitely not the target audience for Pike’s Diablo Snuff books. The movies were bad enough, allowing incarnations of evil creatures on the screen to infiltrate our world, stalking and murdering the viewers unfortunate enough to witness even small portions of each film. The release of the novels written by the authors who disappeared from The Grand Georgina signals the next stage of the Diablo Snuff master plan as the madness spreads throughout society, irrespective of nation or culture. This plague of lawlessness and insanity is amplified with the release of The Maddening, the book Tobias desperately hoped he could keep from distribution. None of these things are fast or dramatic enough in dismantling society and sewing chaos, and that’s where the app comes into play. Across the world, psychopaths and damaged people compete with one another to commit the most creative and devastating horrors, racking up more money with each rape and murder. Against this horrific backdrop, the members of Psalm 71 must make their way to the heart of the evil that is Diablo Snuff, saving as many innocent lives as they can along the way. Knowing this is the final volume in the Diablo Snuff series, it should come as no surprise that the tale culminates in a battle between the forces of good and evil that crosses the border separating our world from unearthly planes of existence. This is a spiritual clash that would make Frank Peretti envious. If you’re unfamiliar with Frank Peretti’s Christian horror novels, you might be missing out because some of them are surprisingly good; but they’re nowhere near as good as what Pike has laid out for us in the pages of The Maddening. This book is punctuated with set pieces of such depravity and cruel imagination that the reader can’t help but wonder at the apparent limitless creativity brought to the table by Carver Pike where horror is concerned. At its core, this is a story of hope, though. The Maddening–as with the Diablo Snuff series as a whole–is about facing a terrifying evil and refusing to flinch. It’s about standing ground and fighting, even when the easiest solution would be to turn away or to give in. Knowing that you may not survive, that those you love and who stand by your side may fall as well, but persisting in doing what you know must be done; that is the core of it all. In that respect, as in all others, Carver Pike has succeeded in crafting a masterpiece with this book.