Monday, November 28, 2011

Horror Express (1972): “Part ape, part man, it lived two million years ago!”

Horror Express is one of those sad orphan films of the public domain, just a little more recent than most.  I watched it via, which I’ve previously mentioned.

Manchuria, 1906:  A scientific expedition led by Professor Saxton (Christopher Lee in an excellent fur hat and mustache) discovers a frozen/fossilized corpse in a cave, perhaps a missing link.  Returning to Shanghai, Saxton comes across fellow researcher and rival Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing), and they book compartments on the Trans-Siberian Railway.  Even before the train leaves, the death of a thief who tries to get at Saxton’s specimen (now residing in a large crate), and the mutterings of a deranged Russian priest (Alberto de Mendoza) suggest the corpse isn’t as dead as it seems.

Soon, as the dark-eyed priest continues to make dire pronouncements, the corpse, a mummy-like creature with straggly hair, escapes the crate and sneaks around the train, leaving a trail of white-eyed, bloody-faced corpses.  “This brain has been drained,” says Dr. Wells, conducting an skull-sawing autopsy on one of the victims.

It transpires that the creature uses its glowing red eye to suck the consciousness out of its victims, and eventually it is tracked down and shot.  The passengers grow complacent, but the evil isn’t finished with them.  An ancient alien parasite, it seemingly cannot be stopped. To demonstrate just how old the thing is, there’s a very silly scene where Lee and Cushing use a microscope to view unconvincing prehistoric images stored in the creature’s eyeball.

I would have guessed Horror Express was a Hammer production, but it was actually Spanish, shot in Spain (Spanish title: Pánico en el Transiberiano) and directed by Eugenio Martin.  Lee and Cushing work well together as always, and some of the supporting cast, particularly de Mendoza, are also good.  Telly Savalas hams it up in the last third of the film as the Cossack Captain Kazan.  Despite the low budget, the settings are agreeably exotic.  The train speeds through snowy Siberian forests while dastardly doings occur in the claustrophobic, rattling compartments.  The soundtrack is pleasantly eerie, with fuzzy guitars and haunting whistles. 

The somewhat atypical setting and plot, along with the presence of Lee and Cushing, put Horror Express a small step above mediocrity.    

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Them: Best of the Giant Bug Movies

A shell-shocked little girl wandering through the New Mexico desert.  A mangled, deserted travel trailer.  An eerie piping from the desert wastes (“must have been the wind… it’s pretty freakish in these parts”).  A devastated general store in the midst of a sandstorm, the electric light bobbing wildly in the wind.  So begins the classic 1950s monster movie Them!, one of the best of the genre and certainly the best of the giant insect sub-genre.

The film starts out slow and sinister, as grizzled police Sergeant Peterson (James Whitmore) and fresh-faced FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) try to solve a string of disappearances and murders.  The lonely desert, with tumbleweeds, blowing sand, and howling wind, is used to great effect.  Soon, the doctors Medford, a father and daughter team of myrmecologists from the Department of Agriculture join the team, having identified a mysterious footprint as that of an oversized ant.  As the senior Dr. Medford, the great character actor Edmund Gwenn (who was in his late seventies when the movie was shot) injects a great deal of energy and humor to the film.  As his daughter, Joan Weldon gives a rather bland performance, perhaps aided by the fact that no romance really develops – it’s all about the ants.  Still, most of the acting is quite decent.     

The special effects, using enormous ant puppets, are surprisingly effective, and the first appearance of a giant ant, looming monstrously over a sand dune, is thrilling.  Much of the film is action-packed, with an arsenal of machine guns, flamethrowers, bazookas, and grenade launchers being deployed to combat the red (ant) menace.  Soldiers descend into creepy, dark ant nests in scenes reminiscent of the Alien films.  The pacing slows a little too much in the middle, but picks up again as the ants begin to spread across the country.  The finale is tense, claustrophobic, and, naturally, chock full of ants.      

It turns out the ants have mutated as a result of radiation from the first atomic bomb test.  As Dr. Medford gravely states, “When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door into a new world.”  Nuclear-age warning, communist allegory, or simply a good science fiction horror story, Them! is a must see.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Art of Zdzisław Beksiński: “Photographing Dreams”

Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński (1929-2005) created abstract and surreal art in a variety of media, but he’s best known for the fantastic, sometimes disturbing paintings he produced in the 1970s and 1980s.  

Skeletons, corpses, sinister shadowy figures, dark landscapes, and looming cliffs and buildings abound. 

Speaking of these paintings in particular, Beksiński said, “I wish to paint in such a manner as if I were photographing dreams.”  In some cases, he seems to have succeeded.    

Beksiński moved on to digital art in the 1990s, and was murdered in 2005.  There are a few online galleries of his work here and here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The 2nd Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories

My copy of the second Fontana collection of ghost stories arrived from an Amazon Marketplace seller with a mysterious black sticky spot on the back cover, in which were lovingly nestled several long, coarse hairs.  It was one of the more disgusting things I’ve found on a used book.

Robert Aickman’s introduction to the collection rambles and entertains as usual:  “Some people hope there are ghosts.  Some people hope there are not.  Most people, I suspect, manage to combine both of these aspirations, hoping and dreading at the same time.”

The opening story, Playing with Fire, is by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and deals with a séance where the apparition is much more novel than the usual deceased relative.

Man-Size in Marble, by Edith Nesbit (best known for her early 1900s children’s books) conveys sadness and loss along with horror, as a young couple moves into a country cottage near a haunted church.

Robert Hichens’ How Love Came to Professor Guildea is frequently anthologized, and deserves to be.  Aickman dubs it “one of the best ghost stories ever written”.  It concerns a cold man of science and his downfall as an intangible thing creeps into his life and his home, a thing which is first heard via Guildea’s parrot imitating it:

“The voice was sickly and disagreeable, a cooing, and at the same time, querulous voice… a loathsome voice”.
While the owner of the voice only wants to love Guildea, the professor will have none of it.

The Demon Lover, by Elizabeth Bowen, is a short, tautly constructed piece dealing with the return of a woman’s former lover, thought lost in war.

A.V. Laider, by writer and caricaturist Sir Max Beerbohm, involves palmistry.  It has one sharp scene of macabre tension, but tends to ramble for the most part. 

Poe’s The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, with its “liquid mass of…loathsome putridity” (maybe that’s what was on the back cover of this volume) seems to have appeared in innumerable anthologies.

As much as I enjoy Lord Dunsany, the science fiction Our Distant Cousins (one of his Jorkens tales) is neither a ghost story nor great.  Aickman calls it a “superb allegory” in his introduction, but I can’t agree.

Aickman’s contribution, The Inner Room, is centered on a large and gloomy dollhouse and its inhabitants.  I think it’s one of his better stories; it showcases his talent for producing unsettling work that sticks with the reader due to ambiguity and sheer strangeness.

The cover illustration for this second volume of The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories is taken from a scene in Perceval Landon’s Thurnley Abbey –it portrays a mustached gent who at first glance I mistook for Hitler, crouching in fear as an apparition glides past.  This tale is effective and has the most tangible ghost of any in the collection.

Nightmare Jack, by John Metcalfe, is one of the lowlights here.  It’s a pulp magazine-ish story of stolen rubies and supernatural revenge, mostly told in dialect which is a little obnoxious to read. 

Ambrose Bierce’s The Damned Thing might be even more over-anthologized than Poe’s tale.  It’s always worth a read for those who enjoy Bierce’s bitter humor. 

Finally, Edith Wharton delivers with Afterward, which has a nice premise:

“That there’s a ghost, but nobody knows it’s a ghost?”
“Well – not till afterward, at any rate.”
“Till afterward?”
“Not till long afterward.”

For me, this second Fontana collection wasn’t as enjoyable as the first.  I’d read many of the stories elsewhere, and there were a few less than stellar selections.  Still, it does contain some excellent tales of terror. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fevre Dream: George R.R. Martin's Vampire Novel

George R.R. Martin's Fevre Dream: Signature EditionAs previously mentioned I like what I’ve read of George R.R. Martin, for the most part.  I was excited to add Fevre Dream to the list.

First published in 1982 and widely available again since the success of A Song of Ice and Fire, Fevre Dream combines vampires and 1850’s Mississippi River paddlewheelers.  Gruff riverboat captain Abner Marsh is given an offer he can’t refuse:  the cash to build and captain a massive new sidewheeler, which he christens Fevre Dream.  The only downside is his investor and co-captain, the mysteriously pale and nocturnal Joshua York.  York makes odd demands and invites a host of similarly-nocturnal friends on board the ship, testing Marsh’s patience and provoking his curiosity.  As Marsh digs deeper, he begins to realize that as sinister as York may   be, there are even more sinister forces stirring on the Lower Mississippi.  

Fevre Dream Martin did his historical research for Fevre Dream’s Mississippi River setting (or at least read Life on the Mississippi).  The rivers, the towns, and the steamships are given enough detail to come alive and make the book something of a historical novel.  Unfortunately, much of the story stays in sluggish, shallow waters.  The vampires aren’t very interesting, and the stakes for defeating them aren’t very high.  The novel progresses slowly yet jerkily, with a long and unnecessary digression into York’s back story and a thirteen-year timeout between acts.  There are a few nice action-packed moments, but tension isn’t maintained and frights are few to none; the whole thing just kind of drifts downstream.     

Fevre Dream isn’t terrible by any means, but it is quite lackluster compared to most of what I’ve read from Martin.  I found myself wishing that the vampires would just go away so Captain Marsh could get on with his riverboating adventures, and thinking that the novel would have been just as good, or better, with natural villains instead of supernatural ones.      

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

James Lewicki: He made American Folklore Creepy

James Lewicki (1917-1979) illustrated many magazine covers and books for LIFE and others, mostly in the 50’s and 60’s.  I encountered him as a small child reading the LIFE Treasury of American Folklore (1961).  The Treasury stemmed from a series in LIFE Magazine, “The Folklore of America”, conceived and illustrated by Lewicki, which appeared in 1959-1960.

From the first full-page illustration of the “Sea of Darkness”, with gigantic sea monsters and blood-red waves, I was hooked.
The Sea of Darkness
 Some of the other illustrations were nice too…
A well-endowed mermaid lures Pascagoula Indians away from Jesus
…but I was fascinated by the lurid, scary images Lewicki produced.  Many of the people (and animals) seemed to be crazed and bloodthirsty, with staring eyes and overly-red mouths.  Even many of the illustrations for non-spooky tales were themselves spooky. 
The (Zombie?) Angel of Hadley
The images burned into my brain, and for a while there were some pages I had to skip past, but I kept going back to the Treasury again and again.  I recently flipped through the book 20-some years later, and there they were.  They’d been lurking there all those years…   
Bras Coupé
Sedna's amputated fingers become marine mammals
Ghost Pirates of Manhattan
Loup-Garou Attack!
The one illustration that really gave me the willies was the witch woman on pages 172-173, spinning off her skin.  Good story, too:  “As he watched, she spun her entire skin off her body as easy as the shucks off an ear of corn.  When it was all off, she was revealed as an enormous, tawny-yellow cat.  She took the skin and chucked it under the bed.  “Lay there, skin,” she told it, “with that fool husband of mine snoring in the bed until I come back.  I’m goin to have me some fun.””
The Witch Woman
Someone else, probably scarred for life by these images like me, even went about creating a life-size model of the witch woman.

The Treasury itself has a wide range of stories from 1492 to World War II, including a number of unusual ones.  But, needless to say, the illustrations were the most memorable part for me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Lurking Horror: Infocom's Lovecraftian Text Adventure Game

Infocom produced classic text adventure games, starting with Zork in 1980, and running the gamut from detective stories (Deadline) to pirate romance (Plundered Hearts); some games (e.g. Trinity, A Mind Forever Voyaging) were strikingly unique and unclassifiable.  Back in 1987, strange aeons ago in computer game time, Infocom released The Lurking Horror, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired text adventure game. Written by Infocom cofounder Dave Lebling, The Lurking Horror was the very first Lovecraftian computer game. 

There aren’t any overt Cthulhu Mythos references in The Lurking Horror (although the name “Lovecraft” is dropped), but the style is there.  The story takes place at G.U.E. Tech, an MIT clone down to the steam tunnels (an early site of urban exploration).  You take the role of a student trying to finish a term paper for “The Classics in the Modern Idiom” during a blizzard (“You wonder, yet again, why a technical school requires you to endure this sort of stuff.”).  The campus is almost deserted and the file containing the paper has been corrupted by Department of Alchemy files which are bizarre, to say the least, including “woodcut illustrations which are queasily disturbing”.  They seem to reference sacrifices and summoning, and before you know it, you have a dream about an ichor-dripping thing with palps.  As you traverse the deserted buildings, the storm worsens and you begin to realize that, well, a lurking horror (as opposed to a  Lurking Fear) lurks on campus.

Most of Infocom’s games concentrated on puzzles, and some were quite difficult.  There are a number of these in The Lurking Horror, and, like the rest of the Infocom games, they’re made more difficult by the game’s limited vocabulary – players are forced to spend a lot of time trying to express themselves using words the game understands.  Lebling did a nice job evoking the dark, deserted, snowed-in campus – there aren’t a lot of horrific thrills, but mostly, playing the game will give you a cold, oppressive feeling. 

To make up for forcing you to use your imagination (and as copy protection), Infocom games tended to come with a lot of extras in the box; The Lurking Horror included a little rubber centipede-thing, among others.
 The Lurking Horror is now classed as abandonware.  If you really want to peer into computer gaming history and see a blue screen telling you “I don’t know the word “X” again and again as you figure out the commands, you can download it at Abandonia, or even play it online.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Joshua Hoffine's "Fears of Childhood"

I just discovered horror photographer Joshua Hoffine thanks to a random post on an imageboard of some of his "Fears of Childhood" series, including the one above (my favorite).  Striking, to say the least. 

 Hoffine, whose website is here, frequently uses friends and family, particularly his daughters, as models.  He also maintains a blog, which is very interesting for a behind-the-scenes look at how he goes about creating his horrific images.
Hoffine's photography has been featured in Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria, among others.

Monday, July 18, 2011

George R.R. Martin Writes Horror, Too

Photo by David Shankbone
I tend to pick up anthologies randomly at used bookstores instead of actively seeking them out.  Naturally, they can be a mixed bag, but anthologies have introduced me to a number of authors I really like.  For instance, I started George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series relatively recently, not because it had been recommended or because I’d seen the HBO series, but because I’d read a really enjoyable Martin story in an anthology.  It was “The Monkey Treatment” in Masters of Darkness II. 

In “The Monkey Treatment”, first published in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, Martin introduces us to Kenny, an obese compulsive over-eater.  Martin lovingly describes Kenny’s disorder in a way that makes the reader never want to eat again, before moving on to the real fun, as Kenny meets a formerly obese friend, who is now svelte, though haggard.  His friend introduces him to a new diet, the monkey treatment, administered in a back-alley “clinic”:

“…a high-pitched chittering sounded suddenly from behind him, sharp and rapid as fire from a machine gun.  Then another voice took it up, then a third, and suddenly the dark was alive with the terrible hammering noise.  Kenny put his hands over his ears and staggered through the curtain, but just as he emerged he felt something brush the back of his neck, something warm and hairy.”

Things go rapidly downhill for Kenny now that he has a monkey on his back.  Martin states that he wanted to write a story that was “genuinely funny and genuinely horrifying”, and he succeeded.  It was a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula awards.  

In his note about the story, he also compares the marketing of fiction to selling ice cream, everything in a separate tub:  “…I’ve always been the sort who gets scoops of two or even three different flavors on my sugar cones.”  That’s what I like about Martin: he’s able to blend genres unexpectedly and inject a lot of novelty into his writing.

“The Monkey Treatment” led me to the entertaining science fiction novel Hunter’s Run (which Martin co-wrote with Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham), some of the Wild Cards series (which I found overwhelmingly dull, even Martin’s contributions), and finally to A Song of Ice and Fire, which was highly enjoyable until A Feast for Crows.  Fevre Dream (vampires and 1850’s Mississippi paddlewheelers), and his werewolf novella “The Skin Trade” are next on my list.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Fontana Book of [mostly] Great Ghost Stories, Volume I

In his allusion-rich introduction to the first Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, Robert Aickman states that “there are only about thirty or forty first-class ghost stories”.  The long-running Fontana series published several hundred, and most were at least pretty good.  Aickman, who edited the first eight volumes of the series (1964-1972) before turning over the reins to R. Chetwynd-Hayes, suggests that many of the best are from the early Twentieth Century, “The pre-1914 Eden with the snake only just stirring”.  Indeed, almost half of the stories in this volume are from before the First World War.  

The Travelling Grave, by L.P. Hartley, is a unique, bizarre tale of a deadly contraption perambulating around an English country house.

The Ghost Ship, by Richard Middleton, cozily describes the effect of a ghostly pirate ship running aground in a turnip field adjacent to an already-haunted village.

Squire Toby’s Will is one of J.S. LeFanu’s classic chillers, involving a family squabble that continues after death.

William Hope Hodgson’s The Voice in the Night is an overwrought tale of fungus among us.

Three Miles Up, by Elizabeth Jane Howard, concerns the explorations of two young men on a canal boat.  Three Miles Up originally appeared in the Howard/Aickman collaboration We Are for the Dark, and it is so Aickman-esque I have a feeling that writing it was a very close collaboration indeed.  Aickman himself was ambiguous about this, as quoted here. I haven't read the rest of Howard's stories from We Are for the Dark, but this blogger has.

D.H. Lawrence’s The Rocking-Horse Winner is memorable and sad, a cautionary tale about the pursuit of riches.

The Wendigo, by Algernon Blackwood, is a story I first read as a kid, and the cry, “Oh, oh!  My burning feet of fire!” has always stuck with me.  Rereading this tale of a Canadian woods-spirit was a great reminder of Blackwood’s mastery of the horror and mystery of wild places.

The Crown Derby Plate, by Marjorie Bowen, is a succinct and creepy tale of mistaken identity, but one of the less memorable stories in this collection.

As he did in six of his eight Fontana collections, Aickman includes one of his own, The Trains, first published in We Are for the Dark.  It concerns two young hikers who come upon a house by an isolated but busy rail line.  Despite my great enjoyment of Aickman, I have to admit that The Trains is not one of my favorites.  It has its moments.

The Old Nurse’s Story, by Mrs. (Elizabeth) Gaskell, is the most old-fashioned ghost story in the collection (not surprisingly, since it was originally published in 1852).  It contains nothing unexpected, but it satisfies.

The collection finishes with Seaton’s Aunt, by Walter de la Mare, in which the titular character exerts a malign influence on her young nephew and the reader is never quite sure if the supernatural is involved.  De la Mare makes you wish poor Seaton would just get haunted by ghosts instead of being haunted by his aunt’s psychological torture.

Nitpickers, of which I am usually one, may remark that not all of the works in the collection are strictly ghost stories, but all in all, the first Fontana Collection of Great Ghost Stories does provide a number of great stories, and some good ones.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ramsey Campbell's The Influence

I read The Influence (1988) in yet another Tor edition with a great keyhole cover (recently I’ve had to resist an urge to collect books with keyhole covers – someone must do it).

In The Influence, young Rowan’s great-aunt Queenie dies, but doesn’t want to stay that way.  It appears she might be trying to use the little girl as a gateway back to the land of the living.  Queenie’s a well-realized character, a believably poisonous influence on others in life and beyond.  Can Rowan be saved from her malice?

Like most of Campbell’s work, The Influence is set around Liverpool, but the city doesn’t play a major role.  Instead, Queenie’s house, nearby Wales, and the routes between them are the locations.  As always, Campbell provides us with a lot of geographical details, so entwined with the story that the places are almost like characters themselves.

Campbell is skilled at providing his protagonists with mundane stresses along with the supernatural ones; Rowan’s dad is an underemployed electrician, there’s marital strife, and Rowan was a “mistake” who worries about burdening her parents.

Despite the familiar elements, The Influence strays a little from Campbell’s usual style; it has more of a traditional, almost old-fashioned feel to it.  The most memorable part of the story is Rowan’s solitary trip back from Wales to Queenie’s house after a series of traumatic events.  Campbell makes it lonely, bleak, and menacing.  The novel loses steam later on, but overall The Influence is an enjoyable chiller.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ghost Music: Probably not a good introduction to Graham Masterton

Ghost MusicI know I’ve read some of Graham Masterton's short stories; I just can’t remember which, where, or when.  I do know that Ghost Music is the first of his novels I’ve read, and it probably wasn't a good place to start.

Ghost Music’s protagonist, Gideon Lake, is a successful composer of advertising jingles, who moves into a Greenwich Village apartment and begins an affair with the mysterious Kate, his downstairs neighbor.  She has a crass and menacing real estate agent husband, Victor, is consistently described as cold and bony, shatters glass with her screams when she climaxes, and continually dodges Gideon’s questions.  Nonetheless, he’s infatuated; Masterton tells us this, but he doesn’t show us – there’s an odd lack of real emotion in the relationship. 

It’s hardly a spoiler to say that Kate’s a ghost, since Masterton makes it abundantly clear to the reader; this makes the reader want to smack the dull and unquestioning Gideon for having no clue until Ghost Music’s finale.  As Kate sends him tickets and keys to the houses of her friends in Stockholm, London, and Venice, Gideon very slowly begins to realize that he has a “resonance” that allows him to see dead people.  But what are they trying to tell him? And how are Kate and Victor involved?

Much like Gideon and Kate’s relationship, the whole novel seems lacking in emotion, hastily tacked together for the sake of convenience.  There’s nothing of the lyrical infatuation of, say, Richard Adams’ The Girl in the Swing, and there’s nothing to raise the short hairs on the back of your neck, either.  The dialogue is mostly flat and unconvincing, and, like Ramsey Campbell in The Grin of the Dark, Masterton seems to have trouble making his American characters sound American – Britishisms sneak in (Gideon repeatedly refers to his “beezer” after getting punched in the nose).  Add a stereotypical gangster henchman who says “dollface” sixty years too late, Gideon’s lovingly clichéd description of Kate’s “dew-soaked lily petals”, and a hastily tacked-on bit about shady organ transplants before the disappointed ending, and the whole thing ends up seeming weak and a little silly. 

Despite this disappointment, it’s too early to give up on Graham Masterton; he's a prolific writer and perhaps Ghost Music just wasn't his best effort.  I need to check out some of his earlier novels like The Manitou and see if they have more to offer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Anthology Review: The Museum of Horrors

The Museum of HorrorsAnthologies are a great way to discover writers.  As a youngster, I expanded my horror horizons by reading Marvin Kaye anthologies like Devils & Demons, encountering for the first time a whole host of great writers from W.W. Jacobs to Tanith Lee.  Kaye did have the unfortunate habit of adding a lot of stories by his friends, and sometimes by himself, which were of lesser quality.  As a rule, though, it’s rare to find an anthology with strong stories throughout (except for The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, which was just about perfect).

I recently read The Museum of Horrors, which is no exception to the usual unevenness.  It’s an eclectic 18-story collection edited by Dennis Etchison, who received a World Fantasy Award for his efforts.  At first I assumed the anthology had the theme suggested by the title, especially with the Joyce Carol Oates opener “The Museum of Dr. Moses”, in which the titular character, a retired coroner, shows off his museum of medical specimens to his wary stepdaughter.  I’m not a huge fan of Oates, and found this story too lengthy for what it was.  Only one other story, Charles L. Grant’s forgettable “Whose Ghosts These Are” really touches on the theme, although S.P. Somtow’s exotic, genre-transcending “The Bird Catcher” sort of brushes against it.  It might have been a constricting theme anyway.

Highlights from The Museum of Horrors include a solid Ramsey Campbell contribution, “Worse than Bones”, about a particularly nasty ghost who communicates via notes in the margins of a book of ghost stories.  Tom Piccirilli’s “Those Vanished I Recognize” is memorable and dreamlike, and Conrad Williams’ “Imbroglio” is the tale of a serial killer’s depredations from a young boy’s perspective.  Another serial killer tale, “Hammerhead”, comes from the late Richard Laymon; it’s enjoyable if your tastes run towards the graphic and nasty.  Robert Devereaux’s Judas story, “Apologia”, isn’t horror, but it is well-written and entertaining.

Some of the other stories, like Susan Fry’s “The Impressionists in Winter” are horror and well-written, but not very memorable.  Gordon Linzner’s “Author, Author” is clichéd, and Peter Atkins’ “King of Outer Space” seems out of place.  Melanie Tem’s fantasy “Piano Bar Blues” is lackluster.

The biggest disappointment, however, comes from Peter Straub.  For unknown reasons (although perhaps to display Straub’s name prominently on the cover), Etchison included a near 50-page fragment by Straub called “Perdido”.  A tale of a fantastic mountain resort, it is only a fragment, and a boring one at that.  Straub sees fit to end it with a note about how he dreamed the story and then never had time to finish it, putting it in a binder.  It should have stayed there, as it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. 

Straub’s fragment and some of the complete stories make The Museum of Horrors a little more uneven than most anthologies, but the highlights make it worth a look.