I’ve been a lover of not particularly good horror movies since high school. It’s an attraction that very few people understand, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me that’s a major part of the appeal. While I have a few friends who are fellow B-horror nerds, I’ve always considered my affinity for bad horror movies my own small protest against societal norms. It’s not responsible, sophisticated, or even civilized to enjoy watching screaming people running full-speed from some slow moving masked killer who oddly always catches up, and so what? It’s not for anyone else to understand, and if you can understand that well congratulations, you’re in the club (gooble gobble…). It’s determined in the womb, really.
Halloween season is when the obsession kicks in full-force, and suddenly it’s not enough to watch bad horror movies, I have to read them too. I have discovered some gems around this time of year like Ryu Murakami’s Piercing, and John Saul’s Punish the Sinners. This year, I turned to a short story collection called Terrors featuring stories from Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, and others. Overall, I found the collection to be sort of enjoyable, but I’m not endorsing it. If I were grading Terrors, I’d have trouble deciding between a C+ and a B-.
In all fairness I had my hopes set really high for this one, so perhaps disappointment was inevitable. As if the front cover art of a skeleton hand floating in a sea of blood wasn’t good enough, the back cover is nothing short of brilliant. It reads as follows:
The red drink with the sickly sweet and irresistible taste.
The old witch’s potion for exacting a terrible revenge.
The enraged cuckolded husband and his sharp machete.
The quiet little girl who used to be a murderous little boy (sorry to interject, but I have been waiting for a tagline like this).
The starving surgeon with a taste for ladyfingers.
Pick one—and die
Taglines like these made me feel like I was about to enter a world of weirdness and camp, and a few stories deliver this in a big way. My complaint though, is that some of the stories aren’t horror at all. For instance I would classify “Smokie Joe” by David Drake as mystery or detective fiction, and I think it was only put in this collection because of some gruesome scenarios. Another story which definitely was not horror was “The Poor” by Steve Rasnic Tem. This was more of a dystopic parable. This matters to me because it ruins the feel of the collection, especially because these stories are so early on. Thankfully, Thomas F. Monteleone’s “Identity Crisis” was right after these two. It’s a twisted, vile, piece of rotting trash of a story (and I mean that as a supreme compliment) so I kept reading.
Other highlights (or lowlights?) of this collection were “Disturb not my Slumbering Fair” by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, “Eumenides in the Fourth-Floor Lavatory” by Orson Scott Card, and “Pumpkin Head” by Al Sarrantonio. Yarbro’s tale is a good ol’ fashioned zombie story and definitely among the most well-plotted in the collection, Card’s story is one of those rare campy horror stories that actually left me with something to think about (full disclosure, Plan 9 From Outer Space had the same effect on me so it’s possible the ideas wouldn’t be stimulating to very many other people). And friends, I have saved the best for last. “Pumpkin Head” is just about the most implausible, sickest, and weirdest story I have ever had the good fortune of discovering. I can’t believe no one has adapted it into a movie yet (for the record, there is a horror movie called Pumpkin Head, and it unfortunately has no relation to this story). This is the story that correlates to the tagline “The quiet little girl who used to be a murderous little boy.” Add physical deformity, an actual sex-change, and a disturbing elementary school storytelling scene, and you have the most beautifully vile story in the collection.
There are better bad horror books you could read this Halloween, but you could do worse than spending some time with the four best stories in the collection. Do you like reading horror this time of year? Tell me about some of your favorite Halloween reads!