Brewtality, ed. K. Trap Jones (2021 Splatterpunk Awards)

BrewtalityBrewtality is an anthology of horror stories about alcohol. While the theme may seem a little confined, the assembled authors have interpreted the brief in a number of different ways. Most obviously, we have the tales about magic beverages of one sort or another. “Confessions of a Drunk Asshole” by Robert Essig involves a homebrew with truth serum-like properties, which the central character (who has just murdered his adulterous wife) uses to track down his romantic rival. Dev Jarrett’s “Infinity Bottle” also has a magic beverage being used for purposes of revenge, with even more gruesome results – although we do not learn the motive of the character responsible until the very end.

Magic drinks are not always used as agents of punishment, however, as the stories’ protagonists sometimes seek out these mysterious beverages for themselves, even if it takes great lengths to do so. Bob Macumber’s “Something to Warm the Spirit” is about an ageing man who makes a Faustian pact in exchange for a drink that restores his lost virility and allows him to live out his macho fantasies. Meanwhile, “The Drinking-Horn” by Christine Morgan is the story of Ullvik the Bottomless, a drink-loving Viking who embarks on a quest for the mythical horn that not even Thor himself could drain.

Then we have C. M. Saunders’ drily-humoured “Grower”, in which the magic drink has no real rhyme or reason to it whatsoever. The main character orders a craft beer and finds a human tooth inside; his disgust turns to intrigue when, over time, the tooth starts to grow into a complete human head – and carries on growing from there.

In a few of the stories, the nature of the drink is not particularly important to the plot; it merely provides either a prop or – via bars and nightclubs – a setting. “Blooze” by Armand Rosamilia” is another story of Faustian pacts, its main character a nightclub musician who made a deal with the Devil that comes with two conditions: one, that he can perform only when drunk; and two, that the joints hosting him pay high prices for the honour. In “Aesthetic IPA” by Jeremy Thompson, three men who live for drink, drugs, sex and media gore meet a gorgeous horror actress, who leads them to a joint where their hedonistic desires are pushed to the limit. Ryan Harding’s “Choked Up” has a man go looking for his pregnant partner and finds that her disappearance is related to his drunk-driving habits. The story reaches a horrific scene involving rice wine.

With drinking houses as recurring settings, it should go without saying that Brewtality has its share of stories structured as man-walks-into-a-bar jokes. Jeff Strand’s “Pink Passion” has a tough guy walking into a bar and getting grief for his effete choice of beverage, while “Braineaters in the Mist” by Stephen Kozeniewski is a droll tale that opens with a zombie walking into a bar.

One of the odder stories in the collection is “You Know Who You Sound Like?” by John Wayne Comunale. Here, a man finds that his drink problem has made it harder to fit into his suit – which is made of human skin, a la Buffalo Bill. The story consists mainly of the protagonist describing the process and sensations of squeezing into his macabre costume, before reaching a twist ending.

Strange stuff, but Brewtality is at its best when being decidedly strange. Some of its most memorable entries are not only about alcohol, but appear to have been written in a state of inebriation (and presumably edited sober, as per the famous advice often misattributed to Hemingway).

In “Whiskey to the Wound” by Rachel Nussbaum a group of friends have been given the gift of immortality by the Northern Lights – although the protagonist doesn’t realise this until he survives having his kidney stolen by organ thieves. While the whole plot is thrown together, it works by virtue of being written in a drunken haze to match the state of its inebriated characters. “Vodou Children of Dennis Alan” by Dustin LaValley and Edward Lee is similarly hazy but also more bloodthirsty, its story following a killer as he uses dark magic to preserve the life of his wife by murdering sex workers. The anthology collapses into all-out hallucination with Gerard Houarner’s “Mister Fuckit”, about a man (the eponymous Mister Fuckit) who enlivens parties by killing people. The excited, presumably drunk narrator describes the bizarre transformations surrounding Fuckit as though they are all par for the course at these sorts of parties.

The obvious way to round up a review of Brewtality is with some remark like “drink up, there’s plenty to enjoy” or “watch out, there’s a hell of a kick” or something along those lines. A more straightforward way to conclude is by stating that this is a thoroughly worthwhile anthology that takes a not-entirely-obvious theme and works a successful set of horror stories out of it. Its best entries not only recreate the feel of a drunken blur, but craft fictional landscapes out of it.

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