The year is 1992, and two grocery stores are locked in a rivalry for customers’ wallets. In one corner is Freshway; this is a perfectly normal shop, albeit one with considerable intrigue going on between the staff. Kyle is dating co-worker Mila, but as the latter is a chaste Christian, he is also holding an affair with “teen slut cashier” Stephanie. Elderly Ruby also has her eyes on Stephanie, but for different reasons: she wants to act as a mother figure to the young girl. Running the scene is store manager Todd Brown, who has a Napoleon complex and enjoys pushing around his employees, particularly the douchy janitor Fenton; he contrasts with Booker, the easy-going assistant manager.
Even at their most colourful, however, the staff of Freshway can hardly compare to their rivals at Devil’s Food. Here, we are introduced to a staff that includes Gore, collector of real death videos; deli cutter Eve, who models herself ipon Elizabeth Bathory; Marcel, a meat-cutter with a vampire aesthetic; and Laila, a giggling girl with a fondness for entrails. Calling the shots are metalhead store manager Desmond Payne and the gaunt regional manager, Alaric:
Alaric looked like most anyone in a regional managerial position–palllid skin, withering expression, appropriately soulless eyes. The black cowl might be uncharacteristic, but appropriate attire for him, and strangely formal with the nametag pinned to his breast.
Continue reading “The Night Stockers by Kristopher Triana and Ryan Harding (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”
The Maddening is the third book in Carver Pike’s Diablo Snuff series, or the fifth if we also count the side-stories Passion & Pain and Slaughter Box (and there is little reason not to do so, particularly given that the author advises us to read all four prior books before starting The Maddening).
The novel opens at a town in Mexico where partygoers on spring break are surrounded by vice and temptation. One character, Devin, goes to see an erotic circus performance with a friend; here, he encounters sexy tightrope-walker Secreta. He soon faces more than just a conflict between his Mormon faith and the town’s fleshpots, however. When the lights go out, the killings begin: the circus was organised by Diablo Snuff, a secretive and powerful organisation whose atrocities blend sex and homicide, and Secreta is just one of their lethal agents.
Secreta’s adventures in Mexico turn out to be just the first of several vignettes that open The Maddening. The next chapters play with a topic that has long haunted the horror genre: the exact relationship between fictional violence and real-life atrocities.
Continue reading “The Maddening: Diablo Snuff 3 by Carver Pike (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”
The year is 1978, and sisters Tammy and Terri Wilcox are on a road trip with their parents: these are “a dad who was so cheap that the only reason one of them existed is that he tried to reuse one of his old condoms” and “a mother who would reply to being told that she apologized too much with, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way!’” While Terri is left alone in the car, her resentment at various different people (her school bullies, her abusive father, the two drunken jerks currently in front of the vehicle) prompts her to throw a tantrum. In her rage she accidentally dislodges the handbrake, and the car rolls backwards into a truck – with Tammy caught between the two.
Terri survives the incident that killed her sister but retains scars both internal and external. Five years later, the parents of the now-teenage Terri decide to send her to wheelchair camp, but any hope she has of escaping bullies is soon quashed: one of the first people she meets on her trip is bus driver Leonard Randell, who previously got in trouble with mistreating a disabled child and now contents himself with verbal than physical abuse. Then, after the group finally arrives at wheelchair camp, they find that a murderer has joined them…
Continue reading “Don’t Go to Wheelchair Camp by David Irons (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”
Trench Mouth opens with a series of vignettes in which various characters – partygoers on a beach, the crew of a submarine, the population of a cruise liner – get too close to the sea and end up as meals for enormous, deadly creatures. Something has made the ocean angry, but what…?
We get an inkling of the answer when the action switches to an undersea research facility headed by Dr. Margot Yale. Things seem innocuous enough at first, as Yale’s colleagues Hobbs and Rafaelia squabble over what names to give the environment and sea life that they are monitoring. Hobbs, a dyed-in-the-wool geek who inherited the tastes of his parents (his name is short for “Hobbit”), has “fluent in Elvish” on his CV and comes up with names like “orc-shark” and “balrog-squid” for new species. Punkish, octopus-tattooed Rafaelia, meanwhile, favours names like “dat-boi shrimp” and “Squidward”. Another of Yale’s colleagues, Vance, is interested less in the local fauna and more in the human volunteers who also inhabit the facility, and his nickname for them is uncompromising: ”guinea pigs.”
Continue reading “Trench Mouth by Christine Morgan (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”
It was inevitable that the wendigo theme would turn up in the Death’s Head Press Splatter Western series: when an entire line of books is based on gross-out horror in the old West, what could be a more natural fit than a Native American legend of cannibalism? Kristopher Rufty rises to the task with The Devoured and the Dead, the twelfth Splatter Western, which serves its readers a wendigo-sized banquet of human flesh.
Protagonist Billy Coburn narrates a story of winter 1884, a time from his childhood childhood as seen from a weary adult perspective. The narrative opens with eleven-year-old Billy and his family – parents Claire and Abe, and sixteen-year-old sister Lenora – traipsing through North Carolina. Accompanying them are three other clans: the Shumakers, the mistrusted McCrays, and a Native American family comprising tracker Ahote, his wife Chenona and their baby.
The party sets up camp in a stretch of forbidding wilderness that, according to Chenona, is haunted by evil spirits. Here, their horses start to die or disappear; Billy’s father sets off with Ahote in search of the missing animals, only for both men to vanish themselves, having presumably met their deaths. A blizzard breaks out, and the travellers are stranded with little in the way of food.
Continue reading “The Devoured and the Dead by Kristopher Rufty (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”
This is a novel divided into four parts, the first of which introduces the principal characters. Robert Sinclair is a young retail worker whose social life has collapsed: he and his girlfriend have broken up; his friends have left for college; his manager Mike is obnoxious; and, gravest of all, his mother is terminally ill. He has, however, at least found a new friend in an elderly man named Josef Lazerowitz. As the two bond, Robert learns that his new acquaintance is a Holocaust survivor.
The plot thread concerning Josef is where the story’s supernatural aspect comes into play. We learn that Josef survived not only the Holocaust but also colon cancer, his health having suddenly cleared up in a seeming miracle. Since then his cancer has returned with as much abruptness (a plot point established in a graphic scene in which Josef defecates blood). In an effort to prolong his life, Josef adopts a dog – and kills it in a sacrificial rite.
When Robert meets up with the newly-rejuvenated Josef, the old man has decided to reveal all of his secrets. This leads into the second and third parts of the novel, which comprise Josef’s life story, with the tone making a dramatic shift in the process. Gone are the background of retail grind and hints of demonic activity, replaced with a story of the Holocaust.
Continue reading “Left to You by Daniel J. Volpe (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”
Anyone who follows the Splatterpunk Awards will have come to expect a certain stable of writers to turn up year after year: a band of rough-and-ready, small-press horror authors generally neglected by big publishers and big awards alike. With Body Shocks, however, we have an anomaly. This is an anthology assembled by Hugo/Stoker/World Fantasy Award-winning editor Ellen Datlow and featuring a line-up of genre heavyweights – the kind with prominent publishing credits and assortments of shiny trophies. In fact, the book even includes a story that won a 2010 Nebula Award. Also involved are some horror talents involved with the early days of splatterpunk. So, allow us to see what happens when the respectable and disreputable areas of SF/F/H comingle…
As the title suggests, various forms of bodily violation are the foremost theme. Kaaron Warren’s “A Positive” is a twisted family saga narrated by a man who was forced to give blood to his father. “A True Friend” by Brian Evenson is a short but impactful depiction of fratricide. Priya Sharma’s “Fabulous Beasts” is centred on a girl whose affinity for snakes helps her to survive her abusive circumstances. “I’m Always Here” by Richard Christian Matheson is the story of an Elvis and Priscilla-like duo named Baby and Daddy; when Daddy ails, Baby resorts to desperate measures to sustain him.
Continue reading “Body Shocks, ed. Ellen Datlow (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”
Its title a cute double-meaning, this anthology gathers together thirteen horror stories that are all, in one way or another, themed around baking. One – “Next Best Baker” by Jeff Strand – was also a finalist for Best Short Story. But what of the other twelve…?
Some of the stories treat the baked goods themselves as the sources of horror, with various questionable morsels issuing from ovens. In “My Lil’ Cupcake” by Lee Franklin, a gross and slobbish fisherman eats a cupcake made by his wife before a round of angling. This morsel has unforeseen effects: he has to deal with painful bodily functions at one end and bizarre hallucinatory visions at the other, in what turns out to be the start of a shaggy dog story involving a love triangle. In “Just a Local Thing” by Kenzie Jennings, a preteen girl visiting Florida with her parents is delighted to find a novelty bakery selling a cake shaped like an alligator eating a naked man – and markedly less delighted when she later sees the real thing. Daniel Volpe’s “Of Dough and Cinnamon” starts as a Last House on the Left-esque story about a Jewish baker, his daughter and a gang of rapists, and for much of its run it is a solid execution of an overfamiliar premise. Then comes a fantastical twist ending that makes novel use of both the story’s cultural backdrop and the motif of baking…
Continue reading “Baker’s Dozen, ed. Candace Nola (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”
While some of the anthologies on the Splatterpunk Awards ballot are bulked out with large numbers of stories, Between a Spider’s Eyes offers a selection of tales that are comparatively few in number (there being eight in all, hence the title) but quite substantial in length.
The opening piece is “Carla’s Conundrum” by Aron Beauregard, about a woman who copes with personal loss by using a pair of puppets as alter egos; the story becomes an oddball character study as we see her behaviour through the eyes of various different members of her social circle, before arriving in a visceral climax. Elizabeth Bedlam’s “Poached Eggs” is similar in that it likewise brings to life a rather thin narrative through well-drawn characters. This time the protagonists are a meth-addled couple, Ron and Crystal, the latter of whom develops a strange rash after scraping her back on the wall of a public lavatory. Not a large amount happens here – until the twist ending, the plot consists largely of the rash growing worse while the characters try without success to diagnose it. Yet the story works thanks to a portrayal of the couple’s low-life existence that is as textured and as toe-curling as the growth on Crystal’s back.
Continue reading “Between a Spider’s Eyes, ed. River Dixon (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”
Bludgeon Tools is an anthology with a straightforward premise: all of the stories involve violence inflicted by household tools. So, how did the assembled authors interpret their brief…?
In “To the Devil his Due” Sam Richard offers a tightly-packed slasher narrative in which the killer is a grown man who wears a child’s devil costume and, of course, uses tools as murder weapons. Brian Keene comes through with “Delivery”, a brief story about a delivery man handing a package to a resident who turns out to be a murderer – with further twists in store as someone else turns up on the scene. Taking no prisoners is “Jesus of Jim Beam” by Anton Cancre; the narrator here is a shock-rock singer who, tired of his lot in life, starts murdering his audience. The protagonist’s desolate worldview comes through as strongly as the brutal violence.
Continue reading “Bludgeon Tools, ed. K. Trap Jones (2022 Splatterpunk Awards)”