REVIEW: “Where the Hollow Tree Waits” by John Langan

Review of John Langan, “Where the Hollow Tree Waits”, Weird Horror 1 (2020): 70-73 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

For such a short story (one of the shortest in the issue), there was a lot of description — it’s pretty much all description as Martin narrates to his father, Les, a dream he’d had the night before. It wasn’t too far into the dream-recitation that I had an inkling of what was going to happen, which meant that if I was right, almost none of the description was actually necessary to read. I feel like the tension leading up to the ending in this one could have been handled a bit better, but there was a bittersweetness in the sharp, swift ending that I really loved.

REVIEW: “Lost in the Dark” by John Langan

Review of John Langan, “Lost in the Dark”, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Ten, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books, 2018): 379—422. Purchase Here. Originally published in Haunted Nights, edited by Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton (Blumhouse Book/Anchor Books), 2017. Purchase Here.  Reviewed by Rob Francis

An unusual and original story, and the longest in the anthology. A university lecturer is meeting one of his previous students (Sarah), who several years before wrote and directed a massively successful horror film (Lost in the Dark) that has since become a movie franchise. Some of the film seems to be based on true events wrapped up in an abandoned mine, cultism and the imprisonment of dark forces, but the narrator is interested in the ten-year anniversary interview Sarah did that suggests the film was originally made as a form of documentary, and subsequently expanded and fictionalised. The story here is a summary of what is known about the true events behind the film and its villain (Bad Agatha), some of the actors involved, and some details on key scenes from the film. This all sets up the meeting with Sarah effectively, when we find out the truth behind the documentary that was originally filmed when Sarah and her crew visited the abandoned mine. We are left with a mystery at the end as to what exactly happened and who really had a rapport with the spirit of Bad Agatha.

It’s a great tale to finish the anthology. All the sections of the story were effectively interwoven and the gradual reveal of what (may have) happened is deftly done throughout. There is some interesting reflection on the nature of horror stories and films, how stories and myths propagate and change over time, and the industry of horror that has developed over recent decades. At first we wonder why Sarah (and indeed some of the others) may have been so keen to develop a film based on a relatively traumatic event they experienced, but the ending hints at some explanations for this. This is a story that I am sure I will revisit many times.