Wednesday, 19 September 2012

On Worms in Apples

What's worse than finding a worm in your apple? Half a worm. What's worse than finding half a worm?  One quarter of a worm. What worse than finding one quarter of a worm? No worm. What's better than finding no worm? One quarter of a worm. What's better than finding one quarter of a worm? Half a worm. So what's best to find in your apple?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)

In the not-too-distant future, a holographic putty-man equips a ship with a robotic Peter O'Toole, a suicidal space captain, a crew of expendables and a surgical vending machine, and embarks on a mission to meet the gods: gods made of putty. It's 2012's most moving depiction of the years 2089 and 2093.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Review of THE END OF THE WICKED CONTEMPLATED BY THE RIGHTEOUS by Jonathan Edwards (Amazon Digital Services, 2011)

Won’t the presence of the damned rotting in Hell spoil Heaven for the saints? To this, legendary Calvinist preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards answers emphatically, No! Taking his cue from Revelation 18:20 (“Rejoice over her thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.”), Edwards argues that the suffering of the hellish majority will not subtract from the pleasure of the heavenly minority; rather, it will—indeed it must—add to it. And so, with demonic relish, he paints the scene: monoemotive saints—capable of feeling only orgiastic joy—sing praises as they witness the judgment of Hell’s new tenants, those objects of God’s insatiable wrath. Devils rend flesh; Jesus mocks; the saints sing on. To children Edwards issues this terrible threat: “How will you bear to see your parents, who in this life had so dear an affection for you, now without any love for you, approving the sentence of condemnation, when Christ shall with indignation bid you depart, wretched, cursed creatures, into eternal burnings?” Quite simply, the choice is this: watch a never-ending snuff movie or act in it. It’s a dark vision from the mind of America’s premier purveyor of Puritan torture porn.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Review of ABERRATIONS edited by Jeremy C. Shipp (Attic Clown Press, 2011)

From a group of horror writers with an impressive set of combined credentials, this is an inexpensive—and if you’re an Amazon Prime member, free—ebook-only collection of ten original tales, each about monsters, including vengeful children, the ghosts of influenza victims, zombie hordes, a demon coughed up by a cat, a not-so-mythical mothman, and some very black and very hairy things. They’re everywhere, both in places you would expect (mountain caves, dark woods, post-apocalyptic landscapes where the limbs of fallen trees are adorned with dogs and deer) and ones you almost certainly would not (an aging aunt’s frail body, public transport). Guilt, fear, insecurity and violence call them into being. One of my favorite monsters was the one in Scott Nicholson’s “The Hounds of Love,” the story of a sociopathic boy, Dexter, and his dead dog, Turd Factory. For fun, Dexter kills and buries animals of every kind—with unexpected but not entirely unwelcome consequences. Other favorites were the baby finger-eating, blood-belching passengers in Simon Woods’ “Bus People”—whose disgusting descriptions of transmogrifying flesh brought to mind Brian Yunza’s classic movie Society—and the sinister seducer, Peter, in Lisa Tuttle’s “Bug House.” All in all a great read, but let’s hope and pray these aberrations remain in our Kindles and out of [reviewer pulled apart by baby chimps]

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Review of SUPER DINOSAUR, VOLUME 1 by Robert Kirkman and Jason Howard (Image Comics, 2011)

Super Dinosaur, Volume 1

Bought as a Christmas present for my son, I couldn’t resist reading this myself. Tapping into many boys’ love for big reptiles and even bigger battles, Super Dinosaur relates the adventures of juvenile genius Derek Dynamo, son of Doctor Dexter Dynamo, and his best friend, the anthropomorphized, weaponized Super Dinosaur (SD for short!), a relatively small, genetically engineered T-Rex who fires missiles frequently, wears gym shorts occasionally and bathes when necessary; but who, despite his bravado, is a sensitive, sometimes lonely soul. Conspiring against this team are black-bearded villain Max Maximus and his band of playfully named dino-men: Tricerachops, Breakeosaurus, Dreadasaurus and others. Conspiring against everyone is The Exile, a sinister figure with a grudge against humanity. As anticipated, the action is almost constant; onomatopoeic explosions crater the pages. The artwork is crisp, the colors bright, the detailed illustrations of SD’s robotic suits and gizmos particularly appealing, and the story touches on some pertinent political and personal concerns—ageing, dementia, bereavement, environmental damage, nuclear war—in a way younger readers will identify with. And it ends with an unexpected twist which will leave them eager for volume two…

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Review of TRIBESMEN by Adam Cesare (Ravenous Shadows, 2012)


Both a tribute to the cannibal exploitation films of the 1970s/80s—Cannibal Holocaust, Eaten Alive, Cannibal Ferox et al.—and a unique yarn in its own right, this novella, set mainly in an eerily quiet jungle on an unnamed Caribbean island, explores what happens when people suffer for the sake of art, when yelling “cut” is not enough to stop the carnage. The cast of characters, a group attempting to make a cheap B-movie, ranges from the loathsome—Tito Bronze, racist sleazebag and director of “blood and beaver pictures”—to the loveable—Cynthia, a timid actress who finds her courage. The story is brisk and precisely plotted. Each chapter switches to a different character’s point of view, heightening the tension and creating a very cinematic feel. And unlike a great deal of genre fiction, this doesn’t overstay its welcome; the whole thing can be read in one long sitting. Horror fans, especially, will find a lot here to please the palate: skinned corpses, maidens on stakes, anatomically twisted natives whose speech sounds like bad dubbing, a pig-head hat, good old fashioned people-eating and, most importantly, a memorably hair-raising finale that will whet their appetite for whatever dish, human or not, Cesare cooks up next.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Review of FAT RICH DOG by Stephen Beam (Jagged Books, 2012)

Penned by the prolific Stephen Beam, author of The Teddy Bear Singularity, Monster in the Tree and many others, this novella is a madcap existential adventure featuring a colorful cast of characters, including a trained serpentine assassin, Satan; Gil, a Filipino ritual-circumciser-cum-mad-scientist; and the titular character, Jake, a bio-modified dog whose amazing physiognomy belies his less than amazing life—wasted watching television, smoking, eating Velveeta nachos and vacuuming his own fur from the sofa. One day, Jake decides he wants more, and embarks on a journey of self-discovery which leads him to learn to read, piss on a religious proselytizer, accidentally acquire a pet cat and promote bizarro fiction, among other things. The outcome is genuinely surprising, yet strangely satisfying, and as a creature equally blessed and cursed with self-consciousness, Jake’s story is an allegory of our own as human beings (or bio-modified monkeys, if you will). On one level, we simply want to satisfy our physical appetites for food, sleep and sex; on another, deeper level, we need spiritual fulfillment. Through it all, we’re haunted by the specter of death. A quick, enjoyably compelling read which teaches us that, I quote, “Life is more than banging poodles or smelling asses.”

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Review of ATTIC CLOWNS by Jeremy C. Shipp (Redrum Horror, 2012)

Attic Clowns

Attic Clowns, the latest playfully macabre collection from Jeremy C. Shipp, mixes horror, sci-fi, fantasy and slapstick with generous pinches of pathos, clowns, claustrophobia and attics to make one delicious literary pie. Some of these stories are allegories about the absurdity of work. In “The Quivering Gray Fog,” a woman living in an attic attempts to piece together an apparently impossible puzzle while a legion of demons make her home below into a living hell; in “Giggles,” another woman, Joan, is cursed to entertain a clown forever, lest he become bored, break free and wreak havoc on the world. Others address the absurdity of family life. In “Blister”—one of my favorites—a melancholic narrator, Corn, looks after his mentally ailing father, who does little but sit at the dinner table reading books about the afterlife (including one in which God is a T-Rex); in “Microcircus,” a woman struggles to manage miniature versions of both herself and those she loves. A palpable sense of impending entropy pervades the whole book, which is, paradoxically, rendered in Shipp’s characteristically precise, controlled prose—easy to read, not so easy to forget.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Review of LAWSON VS. LAVALLEY by John Edward Lawson and Dustin LaValley (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2011)

Lawson vs. LaValley

A good story to page count ratio always gets my pulse racing, so when I examined this thin book’s table of contents, I nearly had a heart attack: Thirty-five stories in one hundred and twelve pages! I love collections like this precisely because of their ability to introduce readers to a wide variety of characters and place them in a range of settings, with such economy of words. Some of these tales—those starring homicidal milkmen or a murderer of axes—are absurd, as the best flash fiction often is. Others touch on sensitive personal and political issues like euthanasia and homophobia. And there are imaginary horrors—winged demons from the sinkholes, a possessed dildo, a rodent-munching vagina dentata, a vampiric gas tank—alongside all-too-real ones like terminal illness and irrational, fundamentalist mobs. The imagery utilized is always affecting, frequently grotesque. In “The Stoma Laughs Last,” a sentient stoma drools bits of bloody stool when it speaks; in “The Lightness of Being,” the slow dissection of a sacrificial victim is detailed. To read and finish this is, for fans of the short and horrible, like waking up, wide-eyed and sweaty, after a succession of satisfying nightmares.

Friday, 3 February 2012

DEFENDOR (Peter Stebbings, 2009)

A mentally disturbed road construction worker, played by Woody Harrelson, fights crime at night, disguised as “Defendor” and armed only with a jar of angry wasps, a few marbles and a highly-developed moral sensibility. He rescues a crack whore, and friendship ensues.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Review of NIGHT OF THE SQUIRRELS by Eric S. Brown

From the author of the Bigfoot War series and Last Stand in a Dead Land (among many others), these six shorts feature a zombie whale, a forest full of savage squirrels, an undead peeping tom, a vigilante lizard man, a cameo appearance from a band of murderous sasquatches, and a whole lot of blood and guts. The settings are invariably bleak, usually post-apocalyptic. The main characters are isolated and lonely, sometimes suicidal, often driven to kill in order to survive. Groups of people are not to be trusted. The endings are downbeat, and yet the whole collection manages to retain a relatively upbeat feel, due in large part to the constant action—the pace of these stories is relentless—and abundance of dry humor, with lines such as, “Perhaps the world descending into Hell was taking a greater toll on him than he thought” and “The closest of the two died quickly from an exploding head.” And I particularly like the reimagining of biblical stories and themes in “Jonah and the Dead” and “Saviour,” the latter of which stars a self-aware zombie who has a religious experience. This is immensely readable, classic creature horror. Let’s hope the real apocalypse is this much fun.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Review of PLACENTA OF LOVE by Spike Marlowe (Eraserhead Press, 2011)

Placenta of Love

Much like a feature-length, adults-only episode of Futurama, this novella is a deranged cartoon set in space. In an alternate future, the planet Venus has been transformed into a theme park catering for both big and small. On the one hand, it's a place of childhood fantasy, of laughter, light and life, where the atmosphere is made of cotton candy and every dream comes true. On the other, it’s a place of dark adult desire, of cabarets and fetishistic sex, of gruesome death and funeral pyres, where nightmares can’t be contained by sleep. This polarity is mirrored by the characters: a na├»ve, childlike pirate, Captain Carl, who uses a dildo as a finger; a worldly-wise cat, Jiji, who likes nothing more than a good spanking; an insatiable placenta, Helen, creator and destroyer. Here, the dividing line between friend and foe is indistinct. A supposed enemy may, in fact, be an ally; a lover may transform into a monster. And it’s rendered in brilliant, kaleidoscopic detail, the attention to color and texture akin to that in Carlton Mellick’s The Cannibals of Candyland, the horror as sticky and bloody and icky as Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob. A book which is a pleasure—at times, an uncomfortable one—to read, a sickly sweet, sweetly sick love story.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Review of METAMORPHOSIS BLUES by Bruce Taylor (Fantastic Planet Books, 2011)

Metamorphosis Blues

Metamorphosis Blues, the latest collection of short fiction from Bruce Taylor, has all the familiar elements fans expect: the meticulously constructed, rhythmic—indeed, almost musical—prose; dreamscapes where t-shirts can talk and the “raw stuff of space” is embodied in a man’s featureless face; arachnophilia (or phobia?). The familiar themes are here, too: the importance of childhood friendships; the ever-present threat of the past; the fine line between good and evil, where parents turn too easily into abusers and Santa is an anagram of Satan; and, most importantly, the overriding sense that the world, though sometimes dreadful, is full of wonder and magic. My favorites include “Movies,” the tale of a family theater trip that descends into surreal, comic violence; “The Ear of Ozone,” a ludicrously overblown pastiche of bad sci-fi writing which stars a malodorous alien, a semi-clad girl, and a cowboy with a one-word vocabulary; “You Can Hardly Wait,” the story of a nursing home resident, Bruce, who eagerly anticipates the apocalypse. This book makes me want to buy a telescope and watch the night sky for radioactive meteorites and cosmic death spiders. The end is nigh, and isn’t it comforting to know?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


Gurlimann's Bizarre Bazaar

Starring Evelyn Gurlimann, this comic—a blend of horror, farce, fairytale and superheroism—is divided into six short, loosely connected episodes, each one darkly mind-bending. The hero/ine, a wo/man of shifting and/or undefined gender/sexuality, more often than not resembles Charlie Chaplin with a thin pencil moustache and a wild ‘W’ of hair in place of a bowler hat. “His very presence heralds imminent disaster!” the opening page warns. Sure enough, in subsequent pages Gurlimann (accidently?) induces one man’s head to explode, another’s chin to sprout a pair of violently-kicking baby legs, etc. It’s horrifically absurd, absurdly horrific. And it’s thought-provoking stuff. “Making No Magnifisense” asks what happens when archetypal masculine heroism, in the form of meteor-shattering Magnificent Man, is confronted with the enigma of Gurlimann. “Oh, Emgee,” is a two-line dialogue about the (non)existence of God. As the episode titles suggest, Dimes loves to play with words, and the text is just as precise as the illustrations. “Something Peculiar,” a rhyming verse about Gurlimann’s stroll through Rottingwood Roads, a place littered with stiffened squirrel corpses, reminded me of Edward Gorey. Often, the lifespan of comics is short: read once, recycle. But after reading this, I flipped right back to the beginning and started again…

Monday, 23 January 2012

Review of THE CRUD MASTERS by Justin Grimbol (Eraserhead Press, 2011)

The Crud Masters

The story of two competing gangs, the elite NOLA and eponymous Crud Masters, this novella crossbreeds 1970s exploitation movies—turf wars, sordid sex, a high-tech, dystopian future in which the noble poor are pitted against the undeserving rich—with some classic, Toho-style kaiju action. I love the setting: a coastal tourist hotspot whose waters are alive with giant monsters of every mutation. And, even more, I love the array of filthy yet sympathetic characters, whose perversions and personal habits are akin to those of the characters in a Jordan Krall novel: Boogers, the anti-hero with a nasal spray addiction; Soda Can, the sexbot with a pelvic fire hose; Bovy, the girl with big breasts and an even bigger body odor; Uncle Grandpa, the stubborn old redneck who is neither an uncle nor a grandpa; Pvssy Bear, the bear with…fur. Unlike the characters, the prose is clean. It reads very smoothly, and the narrative moves swiftly, building to a satisfying and gloriously over-the-top climax (the last and largest of many, um, climaxes, I might add). A book which is a distillation of all my favorite movies into sixteen short chapters of non-stop literary bedlam, and one I’ll definitely return to in the high-tech, dystopian future awaiting us all.

AXE (Frederick R. Friedel, 1977)

Theatrical trailer for Frederick R. Friedel's 1977 horror/exploitation classic, Axe (aka Lisa, Lisa). A trio of sadistic, smartly-dressed bandits meet their match in Lisa, a girl whose daily routines include beheading chickens and feeding raw eggs to her paralyzed father. Her mop is soaked with blood, her sink full of giblets.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

THE REFLECTING SKIN (Philip Ridley, 1990)

Theatrical trailer for one of my favorite movies, The Reflecting Skin. Watch it for free on YouTube, in ten minute chunks.