The Comfort Zone and Other Safe Spaces by Tom Over (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

TomoverCollectionFull disclosure: I appeared alongside Tom Over in The Bumper Book of British Bizarro, which includes two of the stories reprinted in this collection.

The Comfort Zone and Other Safe Spaces is represented twice on the Splatterpunk Award ballot, as one of its stories – “Phylum” – is up for Best Short Story. So, let us take a look at the rest of the book…

The collection opens with the decidedly quirky “Tunnels”, in which man swallows a heirloom pendant to prevent it from being stolen by muggers. After passing through his digestive system, the once-chipped pendant emerges in immaculate condition; his inspires him to begin experimenting with the effects of his gut on various other heirlooms. Next is “The Wetness”, which opens with a graphic description of a man’s nocturnal emission; as the narative unfolds, we learn that the protagonist is followed seemingly wherever he goes by a mysterious gooey puddle. What begins as a story of bodily-function gross-out turns into a ghost story of love, loss, suspicion, frustration and a very strange fetish.

These first two stories turn out to be a representative introduction to the collection as a whole. Tom Over shows that he is never in a hurry: his tales tend to feature an understated oddness that gradually builds as the narrative unfolds. Often his stories will conclude with a twist that replaces one form of strangeness with another, more striking variety which still occupies the same mundane setting. In “The Portable Hum” a humorous anecdote about the narrator receiving accidental telephone calls from their father takes a darker turn when the protagonist ends up listening in on something inexplicable. “The Happiest Thought”, which has a similar ambience to Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”, depicts a family home that becomes the location of bizarre spatial distortions: a large whirlpool appears in a plugged bathtub; the staircase starts to grow and contract; and new areas open up, so large that members of the family start going missing.

Continue readingThe Comfort Zone and Other Safe Spaces by Tom Over (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)”

Visceral: Collected Flesh by Christine Morgan and Patrick C. Harrison III (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

VisceralVisceral: Collected Flesh consists of eight stories – four by Christine Morgan and four by Patrick C. Harrison III – all themed around bodily violation or transformation of one sort or another. One of Harrison’s entries, “Full Moon Shindig”, is up for Best Short Story; that leaves us with seven more to dip into…

The collection opens with “Going Green”, which is set in a futuristic world where seemingly everybody has at least one cybernetic implant. The main character is a young woman named Zeaa who has taken extreme measures to ensure that her existence is environmentally friendly. We never learn exactly what she has pulled off until the very end of the story; before then, the main focus is on the everyday hassles caused by the new technology. Men now have a spectrum of new ways to harass women, while women have developed a number of new methods of self-defence from “bitch shields” to an online pervert directory called DixDox. There must surely be a term for this flavour of cyberpunk – cyberdouche, perhaps?

Continue readingVisceral: Collected Flesh by Christine Morgan and Patrick C. Harrison III (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)”

Werewolf Wednesday: The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter (1590)

Peter Stubbe

No survey of werewolf history would be complete without discussing The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter”, a 1590 text that was (so the front matter claims) “Truly translated out of the high Dutch, according to the copy printed in Collin, brought over into England by George Bores ordinary post, the 11th day of this present month of June 1590, who did both see and hear the same.” An online copy can be read here.

After some pious opening remarks upon the evil of those who stray from God, the document introduces us to its chief personage:

In the towns of Cperadt and Bedbur near Collin in high Germany, there was continually brought up and nourished one Stubbe Peeter, who from his youth was greatly inclined to evil and the practicing of wicked arts even from twelve years of age till twenty, and so forwards till his dying day, insomuch that surfeiting in the damnable desire of magic, necromancy, and sorcery, acquainting himself with many infernal spirits and fiends, insomuch tat forgetting the God that made him, and that Savior that shed his blood man man’s redemption: In the end, careless of salvation gave both soul and body to the Devil for ever, for small carnal pleasure in this life, that he might be famous and spoken of on earth, though he lost heaven thereby.

We are told that Stubbe Peeter was motivated by malice rather than greed. Instead of riches, this sorcerer asked the Devil for the ability to turn into a ferocious beast, and his wish was granted by a magic girdle:

The Devil, who saw him a fit instrument to perform mischief as a wicked fiend pleased with the desire of wrong and destruction, gave unto him a girdle which, being put around him, he was straight transformed into the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like unto brands of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body and mighty paws. And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appear in his former shape, according to the proportion of a man, as if he had never been changed.

Continue reading “Werewolf Wednesday: The Damnable Life and Death of Stubbe Peeter (1590)”

Midnight Widows Reviewed at Daredevils & Warriors

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Daredevils & Warriors has become the latest blog to review Midnight Widows, the comic series I’m writing. Here’s what reviewer Alister has to say about the first two issues:

The book has a webcomic feel with a cartoonish and manga influenced art style. This serves to lighten the horror element and whilst there are plenty of jugular veins being tapped it is not too graphic. Overall the area most heavily explored is the fetishistic side of vampirism. The three vampire ladies don’t all adhere to vampire or human body shape clichés and have sexy times with various handsome humans and each other.

Midnight Widows doesn’t take itself too seriously and should appeal to the webcomic crowd as well as the Whitby visiting goth contingent. The pace of the book is good and it doesn’t waste too much time with exposition. When death, immortality and sex are your themes coming up with compelling imagery is not a problem and boredom is not something that will trouble the reader.

For more on Midnight Widows, and details on how to obtain the first two issues of the comic, take a look at the official page

Sentinel Issue 8

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The good people at Sentinel sent me a preview copy of their comic’s eighth issue. For those unaware, Sentinel is an independent title that revives a format once common in the UK, marked by a higher page count than a typical US comic issue by a smaller number of panels per page, theoretically amounting to roughly the same amount of story on the whole.

But while the format is British, the subject matter of issue 8 is distinctly US-influenced: the issue is given over to a series of short stories about superheroes.

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I recently mentioned that I’m not especially keen on superhero anthology comics, as the genre’s formula tends to become too obvious when used as the basis of one short story after the other. Sentinel‘s superhero issue finds a neat way of avoiding this pitfall: each story is ultimately revealed to be a work of fiction (a comic, film or even card game) existing in the world of the next story. This allows the comic to pull the rug out from under the reader at unexpected moments, and helps to keep up the pace.

Continue readingSentinel Issue 8″

The Slob by Aron Beauregard (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

SlobNovellaThe Slob has a premise that can be summarised in a single succinct line: a door-to-door saleswoman ends up in the house of a cannibal-rapist-necrophile and must figure out a means of escaping. Not exactly a groundbreaking concept for an extreme horror story; even the title recalls Rex Miller’s seminal 1987 splatterpunk novel Slob. But such a pat summary does little justice to just how engagingly twisted this book is.

The story takes a while to get going: discounting the in medias res opening chapter, protagonist Vera Harlow does not wind up in the clutches of The Slob until more than a third of the way through the slim volume. The chapters leading up to this point are put to good use, however. What could have been mere padding becomes a narrative that takes pains to set Vera up as the polar opposite of the uber-slovenly villain, with particular emphasis on her preoccupation with cleanliness

We learn that this trait began during her childhood when she visited a friend and realised the squalor of her own home (“There were places they could sit in their house… Piles of clothing that would never be worn didn’t comprise whole rooms… No dead or dying mice emitting shrill cries of agony, twitching in insensitive traps”); her troubled upbringing, sharing a family with a war-traumatised father and a sister with untreated bipolar disorder (“We were just entering the 70s and mental health and its myriad of deficiencies were still mostly a mystery”); the personal trauma of cleaning up the aftermath of her sister’s gunshot suicide (“I felt queasy looking at the mashup of tissue strewn about; there was even still one of Lisa’s eyeballs surrounded by meaty slop and wedged inside the partially cracked heating vent”).

Continue readingThe Slob by Aron Beauregard (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)”

Great Moments in Gender Bending

I’ve been reading Harriet Salisbury’s book The War on Our Doorstep: London’s East End and how the Blitz Changed it Forever, and came across this anecdote from one Lucy Collard (born 1915) which I present for your delectation…


On one occasion, we had a party and my brother’s dare was to dress up as a woman and we had a very vinegary-type lady next door who was a very large lady who had a very tiny meek husband. She was bout three times the size of this poor little man, Mr Prager — and my brother’s forfeit was to dress up as a woman, put a pillow underneath the dress and go and knock and ask for Mr Prager and sat what was he going to do about his forthcoming baby.

So Arthur came and knocked and Mrs Prager came to the door and it must have been about eleven o’clock at night and she said ‘What do you want?’ and then there was something about ‘we were in bed’. And Arthur put on a very high-pitched voice and said, ‘I don’t know about you being in bed — what’s he going to do about the baby?’ And they never had any children, and she said, ‘What bloody baby?’ He said, ‘Well, what do you mean, can’t you see that I’m expecting a baby, and it’s your Ernie’s, it’s your Ernie’s baby.’ She said, ‘Not my Ernie, he wouldn’t do anything like that.’ My mother was in the back bedroom, saying, ‘No, he wouldn’t dare!’

Of course, we were absolutely in hysterics, trying hard not to make any noise. And then she called, ‘Ernie! Come down here!’ And she set about poor Ernie. of course, when that happened, my mother said, ‘Oh no, we can’t have that’ and she came out and said, ‘Oh, they’re only playing forfeits’ — and then, of course, Mrs Prager walloped Arthur. After that, I don’t think she ever spoke to us again.

Continue reading “Great Moments in Gender Bending”

Werewolf Wednesday: Elliott O’Donnell on How to Become a Werewolf (1912)

This week I’m returning to Elliott O’Donnell’s 1912 book Werwolves, which previously provided the account of Estonia’s luminous lycanthrope. In the fourth chapter, O’Donnell discusses how a person might become a werewolf; once again, his seeming inability to actually cite his sources gives the general impression that he’s just making things up on the fly, but his book nonetheless has interest as a stage in the development of werewolf literature.

O’Donnell lists a few alleged methods of obtaining lycanthropy: “by eating a wolf’s brains, by drinking water out of a wolf’s footprints, or by drinking out of a stream from which three or more wolves have been seen to drink”. These sound to me as though they may be genie folkloric concepts, although I have yet to find earlier attestations to them (the detail about footprints turns up in a number of later publications). O’Donnell, meanwhile, is unimpressed: “but as most of the stories I have heard of werwolfery acquired in this way are of a wild and improbable nature, I think there is little to be learned from the modus operandi they advocate.” Given the fanciful nature of the stories he chose to include, this really does raise questions about the ones he rejected.

O’Donnell notes that “in some people lycanthropy is hereditary”, possibly drawing upon the theme of the cursed werewolf family found sometimes in nineteenth-century literature, “and when it is not hereditary it may be acquired through the performance of certain of the rites ordained by Black Magic.” The author states that these rites “vary according to locality” before outlining what he apparently considers to be a typical werewolf ritual.

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Red Station by Kenzie Jennings (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

redStationA stagecoach journeys through a desert in the American West carrying passengers from varied walks of life. They include Montgomery Pickering, a medical doctor; Leeartus “Lee” Shurchell, a gunman; a woman named Patience Wilkson and her husband Finch Henry; and foremost of all, Clyde Northway. Clad in a striking red dress, Clyde gets tongues wagging with talk about her engagement to one Commodore Darrow – a man who, despite not being present on the stagecoach, somehow looms large in the narrative. The coach’s route is known to be dangerous: travellers have gone missing there, their fates something of a mystery as the area has no readily evident places for bandits to hide.

Eventually, the stagecoach reaches the home of the Adlers, a family of German extraction. The passengers disembark to shelter in the Adlers’ household away from a storm outside – and, in the process, learn the hard way just what happened to those people who went missing. The Adlers are killers, although their motives extend beyond greed and into something rather more perverse…

Like Christine Morgan’s The Night Silver River Run Red, Kenzie Jennings’ Red Station belongs to the Death’s Head Press Splatter Western series. The pace is slower this time; indeed, for its early stretches Red Station is notable for both a lack of splatter and a general lack of Western. The setting is the old American West, granted, but the story has little to do with the obvious iconography of the Western genre.

Continue readingRed Station by Kenzie Jennings (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)”