Polish Extreme (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

52852716._SX318_SY475_Polish Extreme is an anthology of horror stories originating in Poland – or, at least, themed around Poland. The book opens with Tomasz Czarny’s “Can of Coke” in which Meg, a busty Goth girl, works at a delicatessen and puts up with the unwanted attention of her lecherous boss Sloan. As unpleasant as Sloan typically is, when Meg walks in on him indulging a drug habit, he soon manages to take a turn for the worse. In terms of storytelling aesthetics, rather than subject matter, this is the oddest entry in the anthology. Its plot hinges on an awkward turn of phrase (which may well have sounded more natural in Polish) and it lacks any structure of the sort that is conventional in English-language horror: there is nothing that can really be termed a surprise twist, for example, no revenge to follow the rape. It is primarily a character study in grossness that grows until it reaches a brutal climax.

Next comes “Vomit Your Soul” by Lukasz Rasecki, the monologue of a man who kidnaps and tortures to death members of heavy metal subcultures. After a graphic description of his latest victim (a seventeen-year-old grindcore guitarist) the narrator divulges his motivations, revealing that he is a religious moralist who sees himself as punishing sinners. The character portrait is thick with irony: the torturer tolerates music that glorifies Satan, on the grounds that doing so implies a belief in God, but despises metal that glorifies death and nihilism; he disdains cruelty to animals, but sews them inside his victims; and he shows an in-depth, almost fanboyish knowledge of the bands he loathes (the author is himself a metal musician). The ultimate irony is that he has become a figure worthy of the death metal songs that he so despises.

The third story in Polish Extreme is Tomasz Siwiec’s short, surreal “Pussy Plant”. In this tale a pervert who buys women’s used underwear online ends up stumbling across an even weirder purchase: a pubic hair which, when planted in soil and watered, grows into a flower with a vagina. This is followed with a story by Karolina “Mangusta” Kaczkowska entitled “Mother’s Milk”. Here, a man who looks at his missing brother’s computer and finds various forms of depraved pornography, some of it illegal. He then finds out where the videos originated – and is confronted with apocalyptic Lovecraftian weirdness.

The anthology is wrapped up with a story by Edward Lee, who – as his author bio informs us – “is an American horror novelist who very much loves Poland, and he visits there as often as possible.” Fittingly entitled “An American Tourist in Poland”, the story in question is longer than all of the others put together; indeed, it comprises about two thirds of the anthology.

The main character is a man named Foster Morley who travels to Poland in the hopes of satiating his sexual appetites at the local fleshpots, only to run into unexpected and increasingly unnerving events. Checking his laptop, he finds that someone has inserted an SD card containing gigabytes’ worth of snuff films (shades of the previous story). These turn out to have been produced by a circle of Bosnian devil-worshippers – and Morley is in their sights to be another victim. “An American Tourist in Poland” is an example of Edward Lee’s gift for combining an erudite storytelling style – the narrative features plenty of intriguing asides about the history and culture of its Polish backdrop – with relentlessly sleazy subject matter.

English-language extreme horror is a small pool, something reflected in the relatively limited set of authors represented at the Splatterpunk Awards each year, so Polish Extreme is a welcome effort to build new bridges. Its main disappointment is that, with just five stories – only four of which are from Poland – it is over so very soon.

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