Bookshots: 'Dark Screams Volume Two' edited by Richard Chizmar and Brian James Freeman
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Dark Screams, Volume Two
Who Wrote It?
Robert R. McCammon, Norman Prentiss, Shawntelle Madison, Graham Masterton and Richard Christian Matheson. This is the second in a new anthology series edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar of Cemetery Dance and published by Hydra.
Plot in a Box:
Five tales that "scale new heights of horror, suspense and grimmest fantasy." No theme here, just dark stories from writers and editors who know their business. The first and last entries by Robert McCammon and R.C. Matheson, respectively, are reprints, while the other three stories are originals.
Invent a new title for this book:
Monsters, Demons, Psychos, Ghosts, and Rock Bands
Read this if you liked:
Dark Screams Volume One and Cemetery Dance magazine, obviously.
Meet the book's lead(s):
R.C. Matheson's story focuses on a 60s/70s proto-punk, proto-experimental rock band called Whatever, particularly the singer-songwriter duo Greg Magurk and Rikki Tutt. They're described as the "American Beatles."
Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:
A long-haired James Franco as Magurk and Ryan Gosling with a beard as Tutt.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
The stories in this collection take place in: a small Georgia town (no); a small airport with a floundering airline (who wants to live in an airport?); a crumbling, corpse-infested mansion (a fixer-upper, so maybe); London (absolutely, just leave out the haunted, inter-dimensional gateways hidden inside wardrobes); and L.A. (why not?).
What was your favorite sentence?
I love this one from Robert McCammon's "The Deep End":
Steam rose from the glistening concrete around the pool and, in the silence between the patter of raindrops with his windows rolled down and the moody smell of August's last hours inside the car, he thought he could hear ghostly music from that bandstand, there under the red canopy where he himself had danced as a kid in the late fifties.
Dark Screams Volume Two is the anthology equivalent of a sequel that tops its predecessor. It's The Dark Knight compared to Batman Begins. From Robert McCammon's classic and visceral "The Deep End," Norman Prentiss's "Interval," featuring a refreshingly original supernatural monster, Shawntelle Madison's unnerving and bleak "If These Walls Could Talk," Graham Masterton's fantasy and nostalgia-tinged "The Night Hider," to Richard Christian Matheson's beautifully-written "Whatever"—which is almost not a horror story at all, except that it seethes with an ineffable creepiness—overall there is solid work on display here.
As stated above, the first and last pieces are reprints and are thus accessible elsewhere, while the three other stories are published here for the first time. "If These Walls Could Talk" is the highlight among them, a slow-burning mystery narrative with a complicated, frustrating-in-a-good-way denouement. Madison's definitely strutting her stuff here. Prentiss's "Interval" not only offers readers a great nemesis, but it examines the complex nature of grief as a necessary process of healing and a dangerous soul-sucker if taken too far. Only Masterton's "The Night Hider" drops below the quality line, not so much for its narrative or writing, but rather its one-dimensional female protagonist, who behaves like a stereotypical damsel in distress, reliant on her boyfriend to save her and handle her rather unusual ghost problem. As there is no pointed social commentary a la Rosemary's Baby present here (showing a boxed-in woman as a means of critiquing it), Masterton's character is ultimately incapable of taking control over her own story.
Problems with "The Night Hider" aside, the inclusion of McCammon and Matheson's respective works—both of which utilize an eerie, Twilight Zone-like feel—and the two other original pieces make Dark Screams Volume Two a worthwhile read and a great entry to this series. If this upward trend in quality continues, we are sure to see amazing things in the volumes to come.
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