Childbirth is always a disorienting, dangerous, and painful experience. As beautiful and fulfilling as it also might be, it remains those things. It should come as no surprise that Todd Love’s Birth focuses heavily on those first three things. It’s a horror story, after all. What else did you expect? Nora’s labor begins early, while she’s alone at home and unprepared. Bleeding, experiencing pain like she’s never known, and horrified that something’s gone wrong, it’s a relief when the professionals arrive and spirit her away to the hospital. Unfortunately, trained professionals can only do so much. Nora’s fear that something might be wrong is well-founded and has something to do with the donor material she utilized. Once again, Todd Love takes the rug by its frayed edge to not only yank with all his might and pull it out from under us, but also leave us sprawling on the floor, wondering what the hell just happened.
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Judith Sonnet takes a hammer and chisel to our sensibilities and good taste with her collection, Something Akin To Revulsion: Six Extreme Short Stories. There is nothing safe, nothing sacrosanct, and nothing off-limits within these pages–and that’s how it should be. It was my pleasure to be one of the first to experience LOLCOW, the story that starts this particular collection. Judith’s rendition of this grotesque and graphic tale was the winning performance of the 2022 KillerCon Gross-Out Contest, and with good reason. Plumbing the depths of the internet for hilarious, perverse, and captivating content might provide more stimulation than one is prepared to experience. But like the narrator of LOLCOW, we can’t help ourselves as we return to the trough. Liquid Sick suitably tackles the TERF epidemic, showcasing for readers that those people spend too much time spewing excrement and too little time on empathy. Judith’s own trans experience influences and informs this narrative, and she does an excellent job of providing both amusement and poignant social commentary. Also, apropos of nothing…fecal emesis has always fascinated me. Sonnet’s next story, Rehearsal, provides a grim and unrelenting glimpse into the hours before a school shooting transpires. Kids who did nothing wrong find themselves prey to the whims of cruel and maladjusted classmates with pizza cutters to grind. Body-Crunch takes us to the dimly lit, poorly constructed ring of a backyard wrestling match that goes horrifically wrong. It’s not every day one almost feels bad for a pedophile, but it’s hard not to feel some faint stirring of sympathy as everything comes crashing down–and spilling out. In Coke-Nail, a group of bored, slacker teenagers decide they know where they might be able to score some cocaine. The deal doesn’t work out as planned, but one of them still manages to reach a state sort of like snowblindness. Finally, we have Something Akin To Revulsion, wherein some truly awful preadolescent girls decide they’re going to play a prank on the dumpy, less popular girl in their class. The conclusion might have you in stitches, though, so it’s worth sitting through the horror. Sonnet’s collection is as gripping as it is bleak and nihilistic, and it’s got those traits in spades. Her story notes clarify the inspiration and motivation behind each of the inclusions, and it’s always a pleasure to spend a little time getting to know the author after finishing something that’s hollowed you out like this collection is sure to do.
In Cerberus Exploitation: A Grindhouse Triple Feature, Patrick C. Harrison III, Mike Ennenbach, and Chris Miller nail the storytelling aesthetic of grindhouse exploitation cinema with a Troma flair. It’s particularly appropriate that I mention Troma since this book begins with an introduction provided by none other than Lloyd Kaufman. Like proper triple-feature experiences, the book contains trailers, film credits (with dream casting choices from the authors), and everything a fan could hope for…aside from the popcorn. Electro-Satan Comes To Wolfe City introduces us to a group of kids hoping to enjoy a summer camping trip, only to have everything disrupted by mutant hillbillies. Ennenbach’s contribution to this collection gets the reader/listener’s attention almost immediately with a musical performance that should have anyone in stitches. From there, it’s a barrage of violence, humor, and all the splattery goodness fans of the genre adore. Patrick C Harrison III then hits us with his twisted take on the women in prison genre with Vampire Nuns Behind Bars. Replete with lesbianism, sadism/torture, scientific experimentation, rebel uprisings/prison riots, and–of course–vampires. Terrible things are taking place at this women’s prison, where political dissidents and troublemakers–and a handful of nuns–are swept under the rug and channeled into one of two secret chambers where horrors await. When a prison break’s attempted, the balancing act that kept the facility functional gets disrupted hugely, and the halls and cell blocks become a slaughterhouse. And finally, we arrive at Chris Miller’s Sons of Thunder, focused on a military recovery mission in the dystopian Hellscape outside of the “safely” bubbled cities owned and operated by corporations. Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13 come together, producing a malformed and grim, action-packed adventure. Mutants, terrorists, and doomsday cultists stand in the way of an elite team and one man bent on revenge at any cost. There’s no point in trying to describe the escapades these authors have assembled. It’s something one just has to experience for themself…and I recommend doing so as soon as possible. Daniel Caravetta’s narration is spot-on, capturing the lunacy and low-budget mayhem of grindhouse cinema in a way only a fan of the films could manage.
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.
Ferocious is a perfect blend of witty dialogue, quirky characters, and nightmarish horror. But what else could we expect from Jeff Strand? When Mia’s parents die in an accident, it’s up to her reclusive, misanthropic uncle Rusty to step up and care for his baby niece. He’s in no way equipped to take on the role of parent, and it’s nothing he ever expected of his life, but he’s determined to do the best job he can. Surprisingly enough, he manages to do a fine job, home-schooling Mia and teaching her his woodworking trade as they live a life of quiet solitude in the forest. He may not have believed it possible at first, but Rusty managed to raise her almost to adulthood, and he’s proud of how she’s grown up. Just as Rusty begins to question whether he’s shortchanged Mia by raising her in such isolation, their world is shattered by wildlife gone mad. Squirrels, birds, deer, wolves, bears, and other creatures have become aggressive and determined to kill Rusty and Mia–but the aggression isn’t the hardest part to comprehend, it’s the fact that they’re all dead. Strand drags us at breakneck speed through a sequence of events that would be horrible under the best of circumstances; but miles into the woods without any hope of salvation nearby, these are far from optimal conditions. Scott Thomas’s narration captures the wry wit of the two protagonists even as they grow increasingly exhausted and violated as the narrative progresses. The quality of the narration never took away from this being a Jeff Strand story, and that’s something to be proud of.
The Damned Ones picks up the threads left behind by The Damned Place 26 years after the horrific conclusion in the forest outside of Winnsboro, TX. The four children have grown up and gone their separate ways, largely relegating the memories of that fateful–and fatal–day to their nightmares. And while they’ve mostly forced themselves to forget what happened, believing it to be a thing of the past, The Glutton has not forgotten, and neither has Jake Reese, still trapped in the dying world where Jim Dalton had left him. When a woman disappears, and her distraught mother calls the police, it’s Chief Jim Dalton who answers the call. Signs of violence point toward something awful happening in the woman’s apartment, and it’s only the first of many terrible disappearances to plague Winnsboro, all having something to do with Norman Reese, Jake’s younger brother. No less mad, and driven by religious fervor and the pressure of a tumor in his brain, Norman might be precisely what The Glutton needs to force his way into our world. Jim, Honey, Ryan, and Freddie must come together again to face the monster they hoped they’d left in another world before our world becomes a desolate and dying place as well. Chris Miller raises the stakes and ramps up the violence for his follow-up to The Damned Place, pulling no punches as he lays out the welcome mat for The Glutton to join us in rural Texas. Mysterious disappearances and secrets from the past have managed to fester long enough that the abscess on the edge of our universe has no choice but to burst and fill our world with its infected burden. Daniel Caravetta again provides excellent narration for the audiobook, following the children seamlessly into adulthood and bringing their deeply embedded trauma to life. Norman’s harsh and nasal shrieking dialogue was exceptional, and stood out as a high point in the narration.
Skipp and Spector captured the zeitgeist of the late 1980s in an unflinchingly visceral and gritty tale of worlds colliding in a catastrophic and terrifying nightmare brought to life. Heavy metal, Christian fundamentalism, and the horrors of a war most people wanted to forget–though it was less than two decades in the rearview–combine to create a tense and dizzying descent into the depths of Hell. But Hell isn’t content to remain in the depths. The Scream is the fictional band the Christian right believed all heavy metal acts to be, sinister occultists using the devotion of their fans to bring Hell on Earth. Fronted by the beautiful and mysterious Tara, the band pushes the limits of technology, performance art, and irreligious symbolism. But there’s more going on than performative evil, and it all has something to do with a presence at work during the Vietnam war. Jake Hamer, Vietnam veteran and frontman of the Jacob Hamer Band, is no stranger to pushing limits and pushing buttons. He’s developed an extreme dislike for the brand of Christian fundamentalism promoted by the likes of Pastor Daniel Furniss, and that sentiment goes both ways. As conservative voices in the political world seek to stifle and curtail the free expression of artists like Jake Hamer, these two men find themselves on opposite sides of a battle neither of them knows is coming, with stakes that they couldn’t imagine. Skipp and Spector’s novel hits the ground running with a barrage of violence and insanity that sets the stage for the nightmares still to come. Packed with as much social commentary as violence, the authors force readers to confront some unpleasant truths, the most striking of those being the light shone on the performative nature of evangelical Christianity being not so different from the performative Satanism of heavy metal artists of the time.
Thomas KS Wake deftly combines cosmic horror, folk horror, and kaiju with environmental consciousness in a captivating tale with The Buried King. Raymond, an unscrupulous building developer visits the site of an out-of-the-way vacation resort that should have never existed, at least not where it’s been erected. Unfortunately, his arrival coincides with the consequences of his predatory and deceptive business practices coming to fruition, and it’s a price we all have to pay. Beneath the construction, buried for centuries, a malevolent force of nature awakens. As those tasked with containing the monster give up hope and give in to righteous anger, the results will be catastrophic and undeniable. Nature will take its revenge. Reaching the final page of this story inevitably causes the reader to immediately hope that Wake is working on a follow-up to this title. The disaster porn addict within us wants nothing more than to see just how far the devastation will go and how long humanity will manage to survive.
This title was released as part of the Emerge series, focused on providing a platform for emerging authors. This was brought to us by a partnership between D&T Publishing and Godless. You can obtain a copy of this story by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app on your mobile device. The link is below:
In The Death List, Thomas R. Clark takes the baton carried by John Skipp and Craig Spector through the 1980s and runs with it as if he’s being pursued by some entity from one of their novels. Rock ‘n’ roll and exquisitely perverse horror come together with Clark’s guidance and wry humor to produce a thrilling experience from the shocking beginning through the blood-soaked conclusion. Ronnie Dark had it all, but those years were behind him, and it was beginning to look like he was about to lose everything. Bitter and driven by cruel impulses, Ronnie sets his mind on a path he’s sure will display all of his spite and condemnation of those he perceives as having wronged him. Unfortunately, Ronnie’s plans didn’t factor in the previous resident of his mansion making his way back home. Patrick Dermotty, nurtured on a diet of television game shows and influenced by the dark goddess who inspired the graphic and horrifying murders that earned him the title of the Balloon Boy Killer, has escaped from the institution where he’s been all but catatonic for the previous three decades. Dermotty’s bloody, violent rampage is far from over, and he’s on a collision course with Ronnie Dark, a man with nothing left to lose. The Death List is heavy metal Halloween, with one of the eeriest and most unsettling killers ever described on page or screen. The narration provided by Cheryl May is spectacular, especially her delivery of Dermotty’s unnerving dialogue following his escape from the asylum. She captures the creep factor of Clark’s novella and brings it to an awful but entertaining life.
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The Damned Place could be considered the spiritual successor to Stephen King’s IT, transported into the 1990s from the 1960s of King’s pivotal masterpiece. Coming of age tales are a familiar substrate upon which horror authors can build a significant sense of dread and high stakes, relatable terror–after all, we were all children once upon a time, complete with imaginations and an unflappable sense of our own invulnerability. Some attempts are more successful than others, and Chris Miller’s foray into the subgenre is massively successful. Deep in the woods is a dilapidated house with a history so unspeakably awful that almost no one in the nearby town of Winnsboro remembers it exists. When a group of friends stumbles across the house, they unwittingly draw the attention of a monstrous, hungry creature hoping to slip through the border between worlds and into ours. It’s in this place that they also discover their world is more magical and unreal than they’d have ever expected. Miller provides readers with an unflinching, uncensored glimpse of a world populated by bullies, tragedy, and alien beings. With gritty, grimy realism, Miller drags us into the story he’s crafted, forcing us to bear witness to extreme depravity and cosmic horror in equal measure. Gone is the infamous underage sewer orgy of King’s novel, but don’t worry because Miller manages to add plenty of discomforting and unsettling elements to his book. But it’s not all about the terror, The Damned Place is also about the strength of friendship and the courage found in the face of impossible conditions. Daniel Caravetta’s narration captures the accents and speech patterns of the characters in a way that makes them jump off the page for the audiobook edition of Miller’s novel.