Variety is the spice of life. In a Feast of Frights from The Horror Zine, there is an array of distinctive flavors guaranteed to please a discerning palate. The short stories can be savored with gusto; and the interviews, poetry, essays, and art work are indeed tasty. Continuing this culinary theme, editor Jeani Rector’s compilation is to be consumed with relish. This anthology allows for many menu options, and particular favorites depend very much on one’s individual taste. The choices are many on this bill of fare, and the quality of the preparations is overall quite high. So, consider the items discussed in this review as indicative of personal preference; an example of a specific appetite.
In John Forth’s story “Skelf” there is a delicious description that enhances the atmosphere: “The structure slumped at the centre of its domain like a massive albino toad with white columns in place of arms, a half-dozen windows instead of eyes.” An effigy made of wood is imbued with animation. What ensues is eerie and haunting.
Emotional haunting takes place in “The Night Visitor” by Joe McKinney. A retired police officer is plagued by memories of a severely disturbing case. He vividly recalls the condition of a startling corpse: “Her clothes were nothing but sordid rags. Where there should have been white, smoky-colored eyes, there were black gummy pits. The body was almost skeletal, the skin of her arms and legs cracked like old dried leather. Her hands were blackened and gnarled, the fingers spindly as oak twigs. Her face was almost unrecognizable, malformed and diseased. The expression, with those black, vacant holes where the eyes should have been, was malignant.”
A trio of terrors evokes horrors relating to the young. In Chris Castle’s “The Favorites” a teacher who relies on creating fear to manipulate his pupils finds the tables turned. This well modulated yarn definitely makes the grade. “Me and My Shadow” by Sandra Crook also deals with teacher-student relations. Crook’s tale is touching as well as terrifying: a conflicted instructor finds her sympathies put to an extreme test. The narrative’s title is nicely ironic; a reference to futile grammar lessons. For a more ludicrous look at aberrant juvenile behavior, there’s “The Story of My First Kiss” by Jeff Strand. This is a variant on the shaggy dog story, since the kiss itself has very little to do with the scenario. Strand’s take on youthful maladjusted conduct, and society’s reaction to it, is hilarious.
And for the ultimate in maladjustment, there are poems by Dennis Bagwell. In “If Frankenstein’s Monster Lived Today” Bagwell extrapolates on how lawsuits, media, and the proverbial 15 minutes of fame, would play into The Creature’s assimilation into today’s world. The poet also addresses the conceit of what constitutes a vampire in the equally humorous “You’re Not a Vampire.” The difference between style and substance is succinctly pointed out in the poem.
The last piece in the collection is a short story. And it provides a fine finale for the volume. “The Bond,” written by Dean H. Wild, the assistant editor of The Horror Zine, is a terrific tale. Two brothers have an unusual dilemma when their aunts die. The elderly women were extremely close; they shared a psychic intimacy. In death, the intense connection lingers. This makes it difficult to prepare the bodies for the funeral: the deceased ladies refuse to allow the constraints of mortality to separate them. The brothers’ efforts result in actions that are wickedly morbid and macabre: “Next to him Alma’s hand flopped out from its coverlet, the knuckles brushing his pants leg. He let out a small gagging cry and whirled to face her. Her expression was dull and still, as empty as a clay pot, yet her ashen fingers creaked open.”
A Feast of Frights satiates the hunger for horror. Editor Jeani Rector has cooked up a smorgasbord of delicacies. The portions are perfectly calculated, and there is much to savor. Do partake and enjoy.