REVIEW: “Long Man” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Long Man”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 152-162 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The only thing scarier than childhood nightmares of the Long Man is finding out you’re not the only child the Long Man visited at night. For then they’re no longer merely nightmares, but something in need of an explanation.

We’re aren’t given any explanation in this story, merely carnage. I find myself disappointed; so many stories in this anthology rely on the shock value of gore to make themselves scary that they stop being scary. I would have loved to see a twist in this one to tell us more about who the Long Man is and why he is doomed to haunting mirrors.

(Originally published in Creepy Campfire Stories (for Grownups), 2015.)

REVIEW: “Fear and Grace” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Fear and Grace”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 130-149 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Violence against animals, gore.

This is one of the first stories in the anthology to feature a female main character — and she’s queer to boot — and yet strangely, it is Justine’s teenage flame Herbert, not mid-thirties Justine herself, whom this story is focused upon. This is a continual theme of the anthology, where even stories that feature women do not center them, but place them in an orbit of a man, such as the “erudite, virile Herbert” who “with one expression, with the subtlest of body language…could make you forget just about anything” (p. 132).

Just about anything, but not everything:

She was willing to entertain the notion that people who did bad things were not necessarily bad people, but no matter how hard she tried, it seemed she just could not forget some bad things (p. 133).

We are treated to Justine’s memories of what she cannot forget, and it’s not pleasant. It is gore for the sake of gore, purposeless and banal. Or perhaps there is a purpose, a warning that we can take away — people don’t change.

REVIEW: “Choo-Choo” by Mike Thorn

Review of Mike Thorn, “Choo-Choo”, Darkest Hours (Unnerving, 2017): 118-127 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Content note: Gore.

Brief summary: Two teenage boys cut curfew and wander around at night, doing drugs and trespassing on the grounds of a newly built train yard. Things end badly.

Overall, I found this story more banal than horrible.

(Originally published in Polar Borealis Magazine, 2017).

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 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.