October 25, 2015

Five Alive: a review of "Dark Screams: Volume Five" edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

Dark Screams: Volume Five
edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar
Hydra (2015)
103 pages
Available at Amazon.com

This fifth and, until things change, final volume in the Dark Screams series goes right into the trippy territory with Mick Garris "Everything You've Always Wanted." Trippy and gory, as we see a director who was a one hit wonder in the horror film biz lured to a horror convention for a last taste of adoration from his cultish fans.  The story felt kind of humdrum at first, but it ups the creepy factor page by page, especially when our protagonist crosses paths with an alluring young woman who loves his work and the two head back to his hotel room. Hoo boy, this one is not for the weak-stomached, but regardless of the gore, the story of this guy's fleeting last grasp of fame packs a punch.

Bentley Little had an offering too, with "The Playhouse," which kind of baffled me a bit with the subtext, but the visuals it conjured up as the story progressed had me captivated the whole time. I dig a story that has a neat little way to play with time and this one had it, as a realtor stuck with a new property to sell finds herself enamored by the little playhouse in the backyard, where each time she steps into it time goes faster outside than in, and her desire to return to it becomes stronger with each visit.

Kealan Patrick Burke and J. Kenner had shorter tales in this anthology, with "The Land of Sunshine" and "The One and Only," respectively.  Each one painted a good picture with the backdrops and the mood in each, but there was something in each story that I just kept butting my head against. I think it came down to not really connecting with the forlorn husband in Burke's or the carousing college kid in Kenner's.

The story that will probably wind up being my favorite of the bunch when I look back on this book later on is "Mechanical Gratitude" by Del James. It might have been the bit of nostalgia over those old muscle cars of yesteryear, or the vague callback to haunted car tales like Christine, or maybe the straight-forward storytelling that had a bang-up finish. Whatever it was exactly, it starts with a man killing his neighbor's dirtbag son one night after the fella breaks into their garage to take his Camaro for a joyride. From there it felt like it was pulling you one way, but you find out you were headed someplace else entirely. Very rewarding reading experience, I thought.

All in all, another solid outing from the Dark Screams gang. It's a mixed bag, so there is a little of everything for all kinds of horror readers, whether they want the visceral style of an early Clive Barker, or the disorienting style of a Rod Serling tale. You're no doubt gonna find something to like in this anthology series.

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