REVIEW: “The Auteur” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “The Auteur”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 98-115 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Simon, Cate, and Edwin all work in a movie rental place, and Cate — self-described “in-house horror specialist” (p. 99) — spends a lot of time rehearsing the merits and demerits of various horror movies to her co-worker Simon. None of them are what he really wants to watch: What he wants access to are the movies Cate, “world-changing auteur of pure horror” (also self-described, p. 101), makes.

It’s difficult to describe a movie in words, and even more difficult with a movie that relies so much on timing, pacing, angles, and sounds, as horror movies do. But that’s what we get in this story when Simon finally gets a chance to see one of Cate’s movies, alternating description of the movie, recounting of dialogue in the movie, and Simon’s reactions to it. In the end, this story felt much more like a clinical description of horror than actually horror itself.

(Originally published in Turn to Ash, 2016).

REVIEW: “Mired” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Mired”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 82-96 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Unlike some of the other stories in this collection, which go more for the grisly and the gory, this story opens with a nightmare scenario so parody-like it’s more amusing than horrifying: A researcher confronts a neon green blob in his closet, while the blob eats his research. (What kind of research? you might ask. Apparently Randolph is the type of pretentious guy who reads Derrida, Hegel, and Nietzsche. He is also the type of guy who when confronted with a neon green blob panics and calls a woman (whose name he doesn’t even remember correctly) to come and sort things out for him — but he’s not even got enough courage to go through with that!)

I sort of feel like I should’ve come away from this story with some great weighty reflections about man’s relationship to his work, and the weight of ideas that are never read or grappled with, or even some sort of sense of kinship to Randolph, an academic philosopher like myself; but he was never really sympathetic enough for me to be all that bothered by what ended up happening to him.

(Originally published in Double Feature Magazine 2016).

REVIEW: “Party Time” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Party Time”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 68-79 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Gory violence

This is the story of Steve. Steve is a drunken asshole with a tendency to violence, and an overdeveloped sense of possession when it comes to women. Steve is not a likeable person — this is made utterly clear from the very first paragraph. The question that kept me reading was: Does Steve have any redeeming qualities? Does he have any redemption at all?

Unfortunately, no, not really. He gets a comeuppance, but it’s not in any sort of poetic-justic way. Instead, it’s just a successively violent stream of gore.

REVIEW: “A Human Stain” by Kelly Robson

Review of Kelly Robson, “A Human Stain”, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books, 2018): 129—154. Purchase Here. Originally published at Tor.com on January 4th 2017. Read Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis.

A ‘family with a secret’ story that is well executed and unlike any I’ve come across before.

Helen is a penniless bohemian, brought to the Lambrecht family house at Meresee Lake in the Bavarian Alps by her friend Bärchen, with the intention that she can tutor Bärchen’s orphaned nephew Peter for the summer. Straight away it’s clear that things are amiss, with the servants uncommunicative and unhelpful, Peter vanishing every five minutes and the nursemaid Mimi, whom Helen immediately resolves to seduce, silent and frightened (and what the hell’s happened to her teeth?). The mystery builds to a chilling end through some very disturbing moments and lovely signposting.

Helen is an interesting, tough and level-headed protagonist so we’re rooting for her from the start. I also found it refreshing that Helen and Bärchen are both gay, so there’s no romantic element to their relationship, a simplicity that stands at odds with the mystery of the situation Helen finds herself in. All the half-truths and misdirection in the story work really well (especially on a re-read) and the ominous atmosphere created is excellent. I had quite a few questions at the end that I couldn’t satisfactorily resolve, and I really wanted to know more about the — without giving too much away — natural history of the family Helen has found herself among. Some readers will love the unknown and unknowable elements of the story but I found I wanted more, because there was such potential for mining the idea further. It’s a gripping read.

REVIEW: “Whatever Comes After Calcutta” by David Erik Nelson

Review of David Erik Nelson, “Whatever Comes After Calcutta”, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books, 2018): 107—127. Purchase Here. Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2017. Purchase Here. Reviewed by Rob Francis.

You know when you come home from work early and your wife’s in bed with a cop, and then said wife shoots you in the face with your own gun? Yeah, this is one of those stories. And it’s great. The three short opening paragraphs alone are a textbook example of how to start a short story to get maximum impact – we have action (sighting of a hanged woman, narrow escape from a car accident), location (somewhere in the sticks near Calcutta, Ohio), context (the protagonist — Lyle —isn’t thinking straight) and mystery (he doesn’t want to think about his ear, his wife, the detective or the gun he’s carrying, though we don’t yet know why). What I at first thought was going to be a simple revenge story (once we find out what happened with the detective and Lyle’s wife) then takes a sharp left into something else when he sees the ‘hanged’ woman, and all the parts roll together into a pleasingly twisted ending.

Nelson also plays with our expectations and perceptions. For example, the section with the hanging seems believable because of the community involved and the way they are characterised, yet they are validated in the end — making the story more horrific. I enjoyed the way the tale played with the idea of being hagridden, and who is doing the riding and why. My only slight disappointment was that I was rather hoping that the lack of emotion on Lyle’s part, whether through shock or a more profound mental imbalance, would allow him to change the ending, which felt a bit inevitable. But then, this is a horror story. And a thoroughly enjoyable one.

REVIEW: “The Wolf Behind the Sun” by Johann Carlisle

Review of Johann Carlisle’s, “The Wolf Behind the Sun”, The Future Fire Volume 1, 2005: Read online. Reviewed by Elliott Baye.

In this story, two camps of opposing armies are ravaged by unexpected violence when a sorcerer hunts and enchants a wolf. There’s a lot to this story, and it remains ambitious right up until the very end. Unfortunately, shifting between four perspectives is a bit too ambitious in a story this short, and I had to reread some of the passages to fully understand what was going on. It’s clear the author had a very visual and thought-out idea for this work, but by trying to include so much detail, it was a bit overwhelming.

Despite that, the writing itself was quite vivid. The wolf’s bloodlust, and the humans’ as well, was encapsulated by the gory descriptions. Though it switched too often for my personal taste, each perspective’s tone shifted appropriately. The pride of the wolf, the cockiness of the young spy, the determination of the enemy, and the destructive nature of the werewolf all felt real, and kept me on my toes. It was clear anyone was capable of anything, and I was never sure what to expect next.

Unfortunately, the descriptive nature of this story made me a little uncomfortable when the sorcerer “enchanted” the wolf. Mainly because it was sexual in nature. Upon rereading, it does suit the story, but it was definitely a shock when I first read the tale. I have to caution anyone who reads this one: if sexual content bothers you, tread carefully. Actually, the same goes for violence and gore.

I do recommend this story to those who love dark werewolf myths, worldbuilding, and characters getting their just desserts. The writing itself is worth the read; I just can’t recommend this one to the more sensitive readers.

REVIEW: “A New Kind of Drug” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “A New Kind of Drug”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 48-66 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content warning: Drug and child abuse; homophobia.

Being a teenager is complicated. Being a lonely teenager trapped between the charybdis of behavior you know is wrong and the scylla of not wanting to be alone any longer is even more complicated.

“Are you a killer?” is the question the story opens up with, asked of the narrator by one of his classmates. It’s all too easy for that question to bring up thoughts of all the high school shooting incidents that populate recent US history, from Columbine on down. The story we’re always told about them is that it is the lonely, bullied outcasts who suddenly snap, grab a gun, and kill. But more and more we’ve been learning that that “story” is not true: It is the bullies, not the bullied, who tend to act so lethally. So when an insecure and lonely teen is asked, in this story, if he is a killer, the quiet voice that runs through my head is “This isn’t how things go.”

No, the narrator (whose name we never learn), isn’t a killer. That doesn’t mean his friend doesn’t end up worse than dead. This, like many of the other stories in this anthology, is not a pleasant story.