CHRONICLES OF TERROR: THE MONTHLY HORROR ANTHOLOGY, ISSUE FOUR

(Kim Roberts/Various Writers and Artists; 80 pages; WP COMICS; 2016)

cot-xmas-1

The English people are a weird lot. They have a very dry, wicked sense of humor. They have also given us some of THE most frightening tales of horror… ever! Their views on Christmas are… let’s go with “skewed,” shall we? It goes well beyond the fact that they maintain a stubborn habit of saying “Happy” rather than “Merry” when wishing one well during the season of goodwill. Many of those views have been engrained for centuries; well before, I’m sure, the Church usurped the holy days, celebrations and traditions surrounding the winter solstice. All of this is my wholly American way of introducing you to a relatively new comic from the UK called CHRONICLES OF TERROR and, in particular, the fourth issue, a collection of Christmas themed stories sub-titled “Santa’s Twisted Tales.” Now, to be certain, all of the pieces here do not come from the minds and hands of our stalwart British friends; in point of fact, a “Creator of the Month” feature highlights Ohio comics writer and publisher of Disposable Fiction Comics, Jack Wallace.

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "Snowvenge" (written by KIM ROBERTS, art by HARALDO)

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “Snowvenge” (written by KIM ROBERTS, art by HARALDO)

Starting with the magnificent, delightfully gruesome cover image by Haraldo (like Cher, I suppose, this artistic genius only needs the one name), this book takes on every traditional concept – both religious and secular – regarding Christmas, as well as the so-called “pagan” rites and rituals of more ancient (some would say “arcane”) holy days. Haraldo’s stunning artwork is back in an imaginative take on the old “revenge is a dish best served cold” proverb; with a brilliant story and script by anthology editor, Kim Roberts, “Snowvenge” is certainly setting the bar high as an opening salvo, as it hits on all cylinders, from concept to finished art. “The Never” is a cautionary tale from the twisted brain of writer Eric Gahagan… a warning from the Anti-Santa for children everywhere about peeking at their presents. Pietro Vaughan’s hard angular lines and thick black shadows are akin to the fever-dream sets used in the brilliant, century old German expressionist horror film, THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI. Ever wonder what the Jolly Elf’s reindeer eat to keep their energy up on those long Christmas Eve journey? Paul Bradford and artist Allen Byrns paint a very vivid picture in “Reindeer: Oh, Deer – Oh, Dear.”

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "Charles 'Chucky' Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'" (written by GABE OSTLEY, art by GABE OSTLEY and CHRIS ALLEN)

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “Charles ‘Chucky’ Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol'” (written by GABE OSTLEY, art by GABE OSTLEY and CHRIS ALLEN)

Gabe Ostley’s obscenely off-kilter “Charles ‘Chucky’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” is eight pages of wildly gratuitous violence featuring the obligatory firefight between Death and Satan and his goat-minions, as well as Cthulhu, the festering corpse of the famed author of THE STORY OF THE GOBLINS WHO STOLE A SEXTON (if I’m not mistaken, he may have written some other fairly famous pieces, as well) and, of course, the totally unlikeable (anti-)hero of the story, a rooster named Cluck, appearing here as Scrooge McCluck; as Cluck is so repellant, I cannot wait for another installment of his adventures. Chris Allen’s vivid palette adds to the already surreal Hellscape. “The Ancestors” delves into some of the “pagan” beliefs and rituals that have become a part of traditional Christmas celebrations. MC Carper’s art has an old-world quality that fits Hunter Eden’s story perfectly, just as Chris Allen’s colors suit Carper’s line-work. As people of varying cultures and religions have migrated farther and farther from the homes of their fathers, the desire to break away from those familial and cultural bonds has grown, even as the need to remain grounded in those cultures and religions is instilled by the ancestral ways invariably follow (and, sometimes, haunt) the immigrant; this story follows one such tortured soul to his own inevitable conclusion. Though only three pages in length, “The Book of Eden Z: Come Gentle Christmas Angels” is… beautiful. The story is simple, elegant and sentimental; I’m not ashamed to say that it brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. What do the spirits of children who are the victims of some unexpected violence wish for on Christmas? J Christopher Greulich’s story is both heart-warming and heartbreaking and his magnificent black and white art is among the best in this volume.

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "Bad Santa" (written by KIM ROBERTS and CHRIS ALLEN, art by BRADEN HALLETT); "Unwanted Gifts" (written by JAMES JOHNSON, art by JAMES JOHNSON)

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “Bad Santa” (written by KIM ROBERTS and CHRIS ALLEN, art by BRADEN HALLETT); “Unwanted Gifts” (written by JAMES JOHNSON, art by JAMES JOHNSON)

Bad Santa,” from writers Kim Roberts and Chris Allen and artist Braden Hallett is a cautionary tale of greed and the importance of inspecting each and every package, making sure to read any and all warning notices… even hand-written ones from in-house quality-control engineers. James Johnson’s “Unwanted Gifts” holds the least appeal, story-wise, for me. I don’t know why… it has so many horror linchpins: Loving family set upon by demon spores/spirits/whatevers living in the limbs of the family’s chosen fir tree, each possession driving the inhabited family member over the edge and, as they succumb to their inhabitants, further into the world of ancient Solstice religious beliefs and secular Christmas traditions. Maybe that’s the problem: Johnson’s plot is just too chock full of thoughts and ideas and visions to be coherent enough for a numbskull like me. The blood and the guts (yards and yards of guts!) and the extreme mayhem are cool, though. A drunken stepfather, an uncaring mother and an alien monster all impact poor little Sidney as she awaits a visit from Santa Claus on “Christmas Eve,” though, maybe not in the way that you would imagine. Jojo King’s story does a fine job of exploring the young girl’s hopes and wishes, while the artwork of Alister Lee aptly relates the horror of the season. The ending is much more graphic but is still very reminiscent of this issue’s earlier “Reindeer: Oh, Deer – Oh, Dear.”

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: "The 512th Day of Christmas" (written by JACK WALLACE, art by REINALDO LAY CONTRERAS and CHRIS ALLEN

CHRONICLES OF TERROR, Issue 4: “The 512th Day of Christmas” (written by JACK WALLACE, art by REINALDO LAY CONTRERAS and CHRIS ALLEN

The remainder of this fourth issue of CHRONICLES OF TERROR is comprised of special features and pin-ups, including a killer pin-up by Gabe Ostley (with suitably bright colors from Chris Allen) called “Christmas Turkey.” As mentioned earlier, a “Creator of the Month” feature focuses on Jack Wallace, writer and co-publisher (with the by-now ubiquitous Chris Allen) at Disposable Fiction Comics, who discusses his entrance into the comics industry, working with a wide variety of artistic talents and the pitfalls of self-publishing. Following this in-depth profile is a five page preview of Wallace’s latest graphic novel, THE 512TH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, with magnificent art from Reinaldo Lay Contreras (better known as Rei Lay) and colors from… you guessed it: Chris Allen. More info about and ordering info for the book is available at Disposable Fiction Comics; plus, you can order your own copy (physical or digital) of this Yule-themed CHRONICLES OF TERROR (as well as the first three issues of the incredible anthology) here. Enjoy! And… Merry Christmas, one and all.


BLOKE’S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR, NUMBER 11

(Mike Hoffman, Jason Crawley and various writers and artists; SELF-PUBLISHED; 2014)

TOMB OF TERROR #11

I came to the Bloke’s tomb late in the game… didn’t know the throwback horror title even existed until I saw something on another site about it. After contacting co-creator (and the Bloke himself) Jason Crawley, he was kind enough to send me issues 9-11 for review. As sometimes happens, I fell behind for a variety of reasons that will only be meaningful to me and, I am finally – late to the game again – getting the chance to tell you about one of the best genre titles today, rivaling even Warren’s CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA for both storytelling and artistic excellence; the magazine-sized tome is blessed with the brilliant cover art of Mike Hoffman… sure, he ain’t Frazetta but, then, who is? The classic werewolf in mortal combat with what I’m guessing is an extra-large serpent (it has no perceptable beginning or end that I can identify) certainly sets the tone for the frights found inside.

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “PK's Family Diner” (written by ROGER MCKENZIE, art by RON MORAN)

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “PK’s Family Diner” (written by ROGER MCKENZIE, art by RON MORAN)

The first story, “The Ice Shaman,” is a tale of mysticism, enfolding the Inuit’s reverence for the essence and being of the animals they hunt for food, clothing and basic survival. When an evil spirit inhabits a member of the Inuit community, he tears their belief system to shreds but, as is often the case in such tales, revenge comes from a rather unexpected source. Mike Hoffman’s story is very much in the vein of the classic Warren Magazines style, while his artwork is reminiscent of the work of EC Comics horror legend, Jack Davis. It’s a pretty good start to a very promising issue. Former Marvel, DC and Warren scripter, Roger McKenzie submits “PK’s Family Diner” for your consideration. It’s a short story of eternal love in a post-apocalyptic world where an anniversary visit to the diner includes a very special gift from the Johnstone family. Ron Moran’s line work is an odd, though not unpleasant, amalgam of the styles of both Reed Crandall and Basil Wolverton… if you can possibly wrap your head around that concept!

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Set the Controls” (by TREVOR DENHAM)

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Set the Controls” (by TREVOR DENHAM)

Blind dates, on a scale of “just kill me… kill me now” to “a pox upon you and your family for this set up,” generally tend to fall somewhere just this side of the zombie apocalypse. And then, there’s the “Date Night” set up by one of Belinda’s friends; apprehension turns to dread of being stood up turns to a pleasurable interaction turns to fear and pain and, then… David meets the kids. A wicked – if predictable – tale of an ill-conceived hook-up, “Date Night” is written by the Bloke his own self, Jason Crawley, and illustrated by Juan Carlos Abraldes Rendo, whose work is a bit pedestrian, though serviceable. “Set the Controls” is a descendant to one of those beautifully rendered (in a Paul Neary kind of way) science-fiction space travel stories that used to crop up occasionally in the pages of Warren books, particularly EERIE. The concept and story are almost always secondary because the art is just so incredible. In this instance, story and art are by the same person, Trevor Denham, with a basic premise that has a ship from Earth heading to another (presumably uninhabited) planet with an eye toward colonization. The locals, as usual, have a little something to say on the subject. The actual story may be a mite hard to follow but – Great Googley-Moogley! – that artwork is worth the price of admission alone… by far the best in what’s really a pretty good field.

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Beware the Ripper” (by SAM ARGO)

TOMB OF TERROR #11 “Beware the Ripper” (by SAM ARGO)

The final story, Sam Argo’s “Beware the Ripper,” offers a new theory regarding the Whitechapel murders, as Constable Murdock comes face-to-face with ol’ Jack. Argo’s short piece is well illustrated and, believe it or not, features a definite sense of humorous whimsy. Aside from the 44 pages of story, there’s an update on the Bloke’s activities since the last issue, another amazing painting from Mike Hoffman on the back cover (this one featuring the Bloke) and two pin-ups from artist Nik Poliwko. This is a great jumping on point (there really isn’t a bad jumping on point, since there are no regular series) for BLOKE’S TERRIBLE TOMB OF TERROR and, after digesting this issue, you’re gonna want to check out the entire run. Crawley and Hoffman have made collecting all eleven (and counting) issues as tripping over a corpse in a foggy graveyard – they’re all available here, along with other gory goodies galore; you can also check out ComiXology, Amazon and the usual suspects for your horror fix. All issues are available in either physical or digital copies. Enjoy!


BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL

(Various Writers and Artists; 41 pages, digital; MONKEYBRAIN COMICS, 2014)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL

The goofy anthology BOO! premiered in October 2013 as a four issue limited series, featuring stories populated by the usual monsters, zombies, vampires, ghosts and ghouls in classic EC Comics horror twist ending fashion… well, more like a MAD! magazine version of its bigger, scarier EC brothers. The title returned this past Halloween, as a one-shot and, now, because that Claus dude is so scary, BOO! is back with seven new Christmas-themed tales of the ookey, hidden behind a R Crumb worthy cover by Jon Morris.

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: "Humbug" (by KELLY TINDALL); "The Case of the Curious Claus" (written by DYLAN TODD, art by MATT DIGGES and PETE TOMS)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: “Humbug” (by KELLY TINDALL); “The Case of the Curious Claus” (written by DYLAN TODD, art by MATT DIGGES and PETE TOMS)

Kelly Tindall’s “Humbug,” as the name implies, is a modern day version, a cynical update of “A Christmas Carol,” one of the most loved Christmas redemption stories of all time. The artwork’s a bit rough around the edges, but the story and the “shock” ending more than make up for any shortcomings in the art department. “The Case of the Curious Claus” is a take-off on SCOOBY DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? featuring a group of youngsters called the Creep Crew. The lighthearted script (by Dylan Todd) has an underlying message about the loneliness that many people (in this case, a young girl at a childrens home) experience during the holiday season and the predators who prey on the lonely. As one would expect, the jolly elf ain’t so jolly and… well… he ain’t so elfy either. Matthew Digges and Pete Toms team up for a passable job on the art.

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: "Up On the Housetop" (by JORDAN WITT); "Claus" (by MATT SMIGEL); "Secret Santa" (written by RJ WHITE, art by MANNING KRULL)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: “Up On the Housetop” (by JORDAN WITT); “Claus” (by MATT SMIGEL); “Secret Santa” (written by RJ WHITE, art by MANNING KRULL)

Jordan Witt’s story and art blend nicely to deliver a tale about a Bear in the woods and a young woman alone on Christmas Eve when, “Up On the Housetop,” click, click, click! Which, of course, could mean only one thing: There’s something evil up on the roof! This story is probably my favorite of the seven on display here. “Claus,” by Matt Smigel, is a weird, wonderful ode to a dark lord and a woman scorned. Smigel’s art has a tripped out, REN AND STIMPY quality that is not unappealing in its own way; the story mixes the same whacked-out kinda cartoon vibe with just the right touch of Lovecraftian lore. After reading this one, you can’t help but feel the holiday love and cheer. “Secret Santa” (story and art by RJ White and Manning Krull, respectively) takes the classic Universal Monsters and turns them on their heads. The ultimately heartwarming tale also features cameos by Jack Skellington from THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and ol’ Kris Kringle himself.

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: "The Yule Log" (written by KARLA PACHECO, art by SEAN POPPE); "Forget Me Not" (by SCOTT FAULKNER)

BOO! 2014 HOLIDAY SPECIAL: “The Yule Log” (written by KARLA PACHECO, art by SEAN POPPE); “Forget Me Not” (by SCOTT FAULKNER)

Karla Pacheco’s “The Yule Log” explores the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and how we good Christians commandeered the festival to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. The manic artwork of Sean Poppe definitely conveys the brutality and the excesses of the early church. The story is absolutely the most horrifying of the lot because… it’s history; it forces each of us to look within ourselves and not allow our zealousness (for whatever) to override the real message: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” “Forget Me Not” is a disturbing science fiction story of an all-consuming space virus. Scott Faulkner’s story is well-paced, his simple pen and ink art (embellished with cool green washes) moves the narrative along nicely. Even though the ending isn’t necessarily unexpected, it is disturbing nonetheless. Okay, after Halloween and Christmas editions of this thoroughly enjoyable anthology book, what’s next? I mean, I wouldn’t mind a Groundhog Day special… April Fool’s Day… Arbor Day… hey, who says you gotta wait for a special holiday at all? I would seriously love to see what sort of non-holiday stories these people can come up with.


COMIC BOOK FIRSTS: VAMPIRELLA

(Edited by Bill Parente; Don Glut, Forrest J Ackerman, Tom Sutton, Frank Frazetta, Billy Graham, and others; WARREN PUBLISHING; September, 1969)

Vampirella 1 cover

In 1969, the world was in flux; it seemed that every day saw some type of major change. Comic books, reflecting those changes, were trying new things just to keep pace. Warren Publishing, the home of horror anthology black and white magazine sized comics CREEPY and EERIE, decided that the sexual revolution was the perfect time and backdrop to introduce a sexy new character, an inhabitant of a planet called Draculon, where blood flows like water… in short, a planet of vampires. I was just short of my eleventh birthday when VAMPIRELLA #1 hit the magazine racks. I was big into comic books and horror stuff and… well… I mean… look at that cover! Of course, I was gonna buy the thing! But, was the rest of the world really ready for a sci-fi vampiric BARBARELLA knock-off? Again, I say, “Look at that cover!” The original series ran for 112 issues, so… yeah, I think that the world was ready for VAMPIRELLA. So, aside from the amazing Frank Frazetta painting on the cover (have I mentioned that cover?), was this thing worth my hard-earned (well, hard-begged for, actually) four bits? Uh… yeah!

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Vampirella of Draculon" written by FORREST J ACKERMAN, art by TOM SUTTON)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Vampirella of Draculon” written by FORREST J ACKERMAN, art by TOM SUTTON)

From front to back, you’ve got some fun horror/thriller/sci-fi type stories, in the same anthology fashion as CREEPY and EERIE – the title character only appears in one actual story and as hostess for the rest of the book. Editor Bill Parente joins Frank Frazetta (who contributes a pen and ink Vampirella… “Vampi” to her friends… that’s every bit as cool as his cover painting) with a welcome from our hostess: “Hi, there! Welcome to the coolest girl-meets-ghoul mag on the market!” Vampi creator (with Trina Robbins) Forrest J Ackerman writes the first tale, “Vampirella of Draculon,” which ostensibly works as an origin for the girl from Draculon. The story is rather short, as such things go – a mere seven pages. The art is provided by Tom Sutton, who’s work is… an acquired taste, to say the least. Actually, to be fair, Sutton became a favorite in the early ’70s with his work on GHOST RIDER, DOCTOR STRANGE, Morbius, the Living Vampire in VAMPIRE TALES and more at Marvel. There’s a whole lot of story and exposition in these seven pages, trying to jam (maybe) too much set-up for Vampi’s arrival on Earth in the next issue.

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Death Boat" written by DON GLUT, art by BILLY GRAHAM)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Death Boat” written by DON GLUT, art by BILLY GRAHAM)

Death Boat” is the first of five (!) stories scripted by Don Glut. It’s a vampire story with a twist, illustrated by the wildly talented Billy Graham (who had a hand in creating LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE for Marvel Comics). The “shock” ending is a little contrived, but I did mention that Billy Graham drew the thing, right? The next two tales (also by Glut and also featuring twist endings) feature two more of my all-time favorite comics artists: Reed Crandall and Neal Adams.

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Two Silver Bullets" written by DON GLUT, art by REED CRANDALL)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Two Silver Bullets” written by DON GLUT, art by REED CRANDALL)

Two Silver Bullets” is a different take on the “loupe garou” legend. The premise is set in the first panel of the story, as a Canadian trapper’s daughter is attacked by a wolf… a werewolf. Crandall’s artwork has a great woodcut style that was tailor-made for the black and white medium of Warren’s magazines. Throughout his Warren career, some of his best works were those based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. By the time VAMPIRELLA #1 hit the stands, Reed had been drawing comics for almost 30 years. That experience definitely shows through the pages of “Two Silver Bullets.”

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Goddess From the Sea" written by DON GLUT, art by NEAL ADAMS)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Goddess From the Sea” written by DON GLUT, art by NEAL ADAMS)

The breadth and power of Neal Adams’ art is certainly on display with “Goddess From the Sea,” more so as the pencil-work is unadorned by the usual India ink “finishes” that comic book readers are accustomed to seeing. The morals to this odd little mermaid story are simple: “Beauty’s only skin deep.” and “You should watch what you wish for… you may just get it!”

VAMPIRELLA #1 ("Last Act: October" written by DON GLUT, art by MIKE ROYER)

VAMPIRELLA #1 (“Last Act: October” written by DON GLUT, art by MIKE ROYER)

Before he became THE inker for Jack Kirby at DC, Mike Royer produced some very nice pages for Warren, including “Last Act: October” in this issue. It’s a tale of revenge, a witch’s curse and the supernatural powers that are unleashed on All Hallow’s Eve. There’s another trick ending here, but it actually works fairly well this time around. “Spaced Out Girls” is a rather bland science-fiction story with artwork by Tony Tallarico (though some sites I’ve visited credit penciller Bill Fraccio with Tallarico inking). The results are… interesting. Writer Nicola Cuti bookends Don Glut’s five scripts with “Room Full of Changes.” The story is strangely confusing… something about a murderous room or some such… but I’ve always liked the unique style of artist Ernie Colon. So there you have it. The stories work better than half the time and the art, for the most part, is off the chart good.

VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES VOLUME ONE utilizes the original VAMPIRELLA #1 cover painting by FRANK FRAZETTA

VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES VOLUME ONE utilizes the original VAMPIRELLA #1 cover painting by FRANK FRAZETTA

VAMPIRELLA #1 has been reprinted – in part or in whole – several times over the ensuing 45 years, the most recent as part of Dynamite Entertainment’s VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES VOLUME ONE in 2010. The huge (380 pages plus) hardcover features the first seven issues of the original Warren magazine, with additional stories by the likes of: writers Doug Moench and the legendary Gardner F Fox and artists Jeff Jones, Jack Sparling, Dan Adkins and Frank Bolle, among others. For more info on the VAMPIRELLA ARCHIVES series and other Vampi related books, check out www.dynamite.com.


LOCKER 13

(BROTHERS’ INK PRODUCTIONS/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (103 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

Locker 13 KA 15-1

LOCKER 13 is good. It’s not the “Greatest Movie Ever Made” (that would be 1985’s RUSTLER’S RHAPSODY starring Tom Berenger… don’t argue… I’m a professional… you know I’m right!) but, it starts with an interesting premise and each of the NIGHT GALLERY style vignettes builds the tension via sharp right turns (and, in some cases, a complete reversal) in the plot (plots?), keeping the viewer guessing and invested in the story (if not the occasionally seedy characters). That’s quite a feat. Add in the creepy, horror/thriller elements that – like all of the best movies of the ilk – are more implied than actually seen (very little blood and mayhem and no creepy-eyed little kids crabwalking on ceilings) and you’ve got a nifty little film. It may not break any box office (limited US release was March 28, 2014) or sales records (DVD releases exactly one month later), but it’s cult status is virtually guaranteed!

LOCKER 13 ( Jon Gries and Jason Spisak) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Jon Gries and Jason Spisak) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

The movie starts with a beautifully shot exterior scene, apparently of an Old West town. As it becomes obvious that we’re actually looking at an Old West theme park, we’re introduced to the principals: Skip, a new nightshift janitor and ex-convict (played by Jason Spisak) and Archie, his philosophical supervisor (Jon Gries). As Archie takes Skip on a tour of the park, he recounts stories regarding various items the two come across on their rounds.

LOCKER 13 ( Ricky Schroder andTatyana Ali) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Ricky Schroder andTatyana Ali) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

An old pair of boxing gloves are oddly out of place in a church pew and, when Skip asks about them, Archie’s tales begin. “Down and Out” follows a washed-up fighter (Ricky Schroder) who’s looking for one more shot at the big time. He gets his shot, leaving a path of death and destruction in his wake. Is his success (and notoriety) due to those old, borrowed gloves? The always beautiful Tatyana Ali is the girlfriend/moral compass of the story.

LOCKER 13 ( Bart Johnson andDavid Huddleston) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Bart Johnson and David Huddleston) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

Booger from the REVENGE OF THE NERDS franchise (Curtis Armstrong, who most recently has had a recurring role as the Angel, Metatron, in SUPERNATURAL) presents an acquaintance for initiation into a seemingly innocuous organization, “The Benevolent Byzantine Order of the Nobles of the Enigmatic Oracle.” Death, mayhem and blood sacrifices are all, apparently, part of the ceremony… or is it all a joke and, if so, who is the joke aimed at? The great character actor David Huddleston plays an integral role.

LOCKER 13 ( Alexander Polinsky) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 ( Alexander Polinsky) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

In an odd act of the “pay it forward” maxim, a suicidal man (Alexander Polinsky) is coached by a stranger (Jason Marsden, who also produced the fourth segment and may be best remembered for his portrayal of Nelson on FULL HOUSE) who intimates that he prefers a more spectacular ending than the boring dive from a rooftop. Everybody needs help, but what kind of help is thihs member of “The Suicide Club” offering?

LOCKER 13 (Krista Allen) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

LOCKER 13 (Krista Allen) (photo credit: ARC ENTERTAINMENT)

Have you ever wondered how those mystery writers are able to think up such believable stories? In “The Author,” a philandering husband and a contract murder make for a great mystery novel: was it the wife, the girlfriend or the private secretary? The one with the best confession goes free but, like all good murder stories, this one has a twist ending.

Another twist brings us to the final episode, “The Other Side,” in which the janitor Skip takes the lead. It all ties in with Archie’s stories about futures and probabilities and making the right decisions in your life. It may have you asking, “Can you see the real me?”

There are psychological twists and turns throughout the 103 minutes (that’s an hour and 43 minutes for those who are too lazy to do the math) of the film which is very reminiscent of Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE and previously mentioned NIGHT GALLERY series. I must admit to being suckered by a couple of the twist endings, making the edge-of-your-seat experience that much more enjoyable. A note of interest: The first three stories were actually released as short between 2007-2011 (or there-abouts) but work exceptionally well within the framework of the over-all anthology style of LOCKER 13.


GUTSHOT – WEIRD WEST STORIES

(Conrad Williams, editor; 319 pages; PS Publishing, 2011)

Gutshot

The title says it all, though the first story (“Passage” by Alan Peter Ryan) seems to be a rather traditional, if a bit gory, Western. There is, I suppose, an underlying sense of the sinister and it could be interpreted as a tale of demon possession. Maybe that makes it more of a traditional Horror story featuring cowboys and Indians. James Lovegrove’s “The Black Rider” is more straight forward with its message… even if it does blur the line regarding what is considered “Western fare.” It is a fun read, though a bit obvious.

The Alabaster Child” is a post-apocalyptic tale that hearkens back to Old West stories of gold rushes and prospectors and claim-jumpers. Just to mix things up a bit, Cat Sparks also tosses in an odd little sub-plot involving slave trade. While there’s really nothing overtly horrific about it, it definitely gets high creep-factor points from me.

The Ghost Warriors” comes from the always fertile, generally warped mind of Michael Moorcock. Maybe the most well-known story here (by, certainly, the most well-known author featured), it was originally published in Moorcock’s 1997 collection, TALES FROM THE TEXAS WOODS. Most recently, it saw print in 2007’s THE METATEMPORAL DETECTIVE, a series of 11 stories starring Sir Seaton Begg, the dimension hopping head of the British Home Office’s Metatemporal Investigation Department (got all of that?), which fits quite well within the framework of Moorcock’s career-spanning “multiverse” (including, I’m certain, the Blue Oyster Cult songs “Black Blade,” of which a similar weapon plays an integral role here, and “Veteran of the Psychic Wars”). The story here reads like a standard masked hero Western, with the Masked Buckaroo (!) on the trail of a raiding party of Apache led by a supposedly long-dead Indian legend called Pale Wolf. This is the first tale in GUTSHOT to overtly feature any weird or supernatural overtones and is, as is generally the case with anything by Michael Moorcock, a great read.

GUTSHOT (jacket art by Caniglia)

GUTSHOT (jacket art by Caniglia)

Zander Shaw’s first published work, “Blue Norther,” is as fine a piece of Old West ghost story as I’ve seen. A tale of love, revenge, redemption and – ultimately – death. As Shaw says, “As a child, the most crushing thing that I learned was that everybody dies. That my parents would one day leave me affected me profoundly, more so than the impact of my own mortality. My mother and father died within ten months of each other in 2009. I wrote this story for my five-year-old self.” His five-year-old self must have been scared to close his eyes after reading “Blue Norther.” The next offering, “In the Sand Hills,” is a “geographic” Western by Thomas Tessier. Set in modern day Nebraska, it’s kinda like a “force of nature” horror story, though in the strictest Western sense of things, it’s about a hired gun sent out to bring back the ornery galoot that stole the payroll from his boss. The term “psychological thriller” comes to mind when reading this one.

If the last story was a “geographic” Western, then Stephen Volk’s “White Butterflies” is a “philosophic” Western. Staying in modern times, the scene changes from Nebraska to a setting that just screams “Western.” I’m speaking, of course, about Kazakhstan. The modern day fortune-hunters, seeking their wealth in the form of fallen rocket parts, is most assuredly the philosophic descendants of the dreamers who traveled to the American West in search of gold and riches. The claim-jumpers are more brutal but, like the Old West, Kazakhstan is a very brutal place for dreamers.

GUTSHOT (jacket art by Caniglia)

GUTSHOT (jacket art by Caniglia)

El Camino de Rojo,” by Gary McMahon, is Clint Eastwood meets Stephen King at Satan’s desert resort. McMahon’s story feels and reads the most like a “true Western,” with its year long trek for vengeance, stopping along the way to bathe in the gore and blood… the kind that can only come from a truly dark and evil place. In a book of great stories, this one (to this point, anyway) is the centerpiece that binds them all. A masterpiece of short story telling.

A good portion of the stories in GUTSHOT seem to deal with those looking for an easy score or that big payday that’s just over the next rise. Such is the case with Joe R Lansdale’s “The Bones That Walk.” The twist here is that the protagonist of the piece knows that he’s already ruined his life for something that he wasn’t even sure ever existed. While, on the surface, Lansdale’s story appears to be the standard “hero buys a treasure map” type, it turns into something more. But that would be telling! Amanda Hemimgway comes as close to poetry as you’re likely to see in a collection like this with her piece, “Ghosts.” She says that, rather than writing a Western parody with gunslingers and vampires, she ended up “ …writing a pocket history of the West from the viewpoint of all its ghosts… “ Works for me.

Christopher Fowler’s “The Boy Thug” is, in Fowler’s own words, “an odd one.” It takes the idea of outlaw gangs to its base level, introduces a psychological angle and a cute kid to the mix, and stuns you with the ending. Fowler says that while he was having problems with the tone of his tale, he visited Northern India. “By melding the two attitudes (Wild West and the Indian frontier), the story came in one clear run without a single word change,and was one of my most satisfying writing experiences.” Likewise, it has been one of my most satisfying reading experiences. “Kiss the Wolf,” from Simon Bestwick, is another modern day yarn. A story of apocalyptic proportions, with dark riders, cannibals, witches (well, one, anyway) and… but, you should read for yourself. I don’t want to spoil the fun!

Mark Morris gets all psychological and philosophical (and maybe even a bit metaphysical) with “Waiting For the Bullet,” a story of four adventure seeking Brits in the wild and wooly United States. The story unfolds as a cross between WESTWORLD (although no robot Yul Brynners are involved) and a rock festival with a little temporal disturbance tossed in, as well. The moral of the story is, basically, the old war-time maxim of “You can’t dodge a bullet with your name on it.” Paul Meloy explores the Lakota Indian legend of the mischievous imp Iktomi and his cunning adversary, Coyote, in “Carrion Cowboy.” The story has the feel and flow of one told by the tribal elders to the youngsters as they sit around the fire, which is part of its charm and why it works better than it would in a standard Anglo writing style. SPOILER ALERT: There’s a part of the story that is strictly horror movie fare, as it explains why zombies (and other dead things) prefer the taste of flesh.

Some Kind of Light Shines From Your Face” is part Greek mythology, part Oklahoma dustbowl and Hoover shantytowns and part women’s empowerment. Gemma Files’ tale reminds us that the old gods never truly die and that legends can be true. Peter Crowther (publisher and editor of PS Publishing) and Rio Youers are a formidable tag team on the excellent “Splinters,” a story of love and loss, life and death, faith and resurrection and the healing powers of music on the tortured soul. Oh, yeah… there are zombies and a shoot-out, too. Really, though,“Splinters” is, when all is said and done, a magnificent love story.

GUTSHOT (jacket art by Caniglia)

GUTSHOT (jacket art by Caniglia)

All Our Hearts Are Ghosts” continues the sentimental vein, as Peter Atkins delivers another tale of love lost and revenge taken. Set in 1934 Los Angeles, the story is not so far removed, chronologically, from what we’ve come to know as the “Wild West.” It’s a story that offers the type of poetic justice thing that the movie industry loves. So, of course, that means that there’s a shoot-out on a dusty Main Street of a long-dead ghost town.

Sarah Langan’s “Beasts of Burden” is like an Old West version of THE OMEN… well, sort of. The child of Satan is orphaned and taken in by a farrier, a man with seemingly magical powers when it comes to caring for a horse’s feet and… soul. As the child grows, he learns the craft but is haunted by the voice of his father and the lost souls of men, women and horses. He also learns that the word “horse” has more than one meaning, especially to one such as his dear old dad.

What God Hath Wrought” is an historical piece, but only in the sense that it is set in Utah and centers around the Mormon Church (kinda). Adam Nevill uses certain points in the history of that church to move his story to its ultimate conclusion. The starting point is their exodus from Illinois in 1846 and ends at the “Great Dead Sea” in Utah, two years later. As it turns out, the Church is mere periphery to the actual focal point, a vampiric shaman called Prophet Lehi. Another great story of revenge in the Old West. Finally, we have Joel Lane’s“Those Who Remember.” Set in modern (or slightly future) times, it’s a ghost story with, again, revenge as its basis. Unfortunately, the tale falls flat for me; the premise too shaky to be very engaging. Not a great way to end this collection, but in the grand scheme of things, we’re talking about one mediocre story out of 20… that ain’t bad at all!

Conrad Williams, Editor (publicity photo)

Conrad Williams, Editor (publicity photo)

Conrad Williams, the editor of GUTSHOT, has taken an odd angle that allows the authors of these tales as much latitude as possible with a genre that is due for a grand revival. I’m not saying that this book is the salvation of Western fiction, but it sure won’t hurt the future of the genre.