Along Comes Scary (Rock & Roll Nightmares ‘60s Edition)
Edited by Staci Layne Wilson
Excessive Nuance (2021)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
Writer and editor Staci Layne Wilson has created an ambitious new series: three horror story collections revolving around the theme of rock & roll, one set in each of the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s. Along Comes Scary—riffing off the iconic song “Along Comes Mary”—is the first of these collections, and as the title would suggest, contains ten stories set in the 1960s. About half are written or co-written by Wilson, the rest by a scattering of other authors. I can’t detail each of the stories here, but let me go into a few of my favorites.
As can be expected, the idea of a Faustian bargain—here, the exchange of one’s soul for wealth, fame, and the ability to wow fans and attract groupies—is a relatively common one, but it’s not overdone. For example, in Wilson’s “Chain, Chain, Chainsaw,” Marvin is a rhythm guitarist in a duo with a young woman named Melody; Marvin’s job also involves finding virginal sacrifices for Melody until he turns the table in a shockingly funny and public kind of way. Similarly, in another of Wilson’s stories, “Eye Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” a musician named Iris has sold her soul to Satan and must take people’s eyes on his behalf. Unsurprisingly, the concept of the 27 Club—the age at which all too many rockers died, including Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison—pops up in Marco Mannone’s “Hell-A Woman,” which involves a washed-up music critic slated to be the next sacrifice by a rocker who has made a deal with the devil. Really excellent characterization here.
Call it what you will—fate, destiny, or doom—but that’s another common thread throughout the collection. Jeff Strand’s “Do You Believe in Tragic?” follows an archetypal pair of high school sweethearts, Tommy and Susie, who are doomed to have a tragic love story when Tommy leaves a pregnant Susie behind when he dies in a drag race, and then Susie must find a new love, again and again. In “California Screamin’” by Renee Mallett, Winston is an aging rocker, sent to a supposedly haunted hotel by his con artist agent, and there meets his fate. In “It’s My Party, and I’ll Die if I Want To” by Darren Gordon Smith and Staci Layne Wilson, Gabe and Anna were next-door neighbors growing up, but lost touch as they got older. Now, as an adult, Gabe is a would-be interviewer/rock journalist who returns to Anna’s old home, which is being rented by a rock band and encounters Anna again but things are…different this time around.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that many of these stories mix over-the-top supernatural horror with humor. That’s very much appreciated, and excellent for interspersing with some of the unrelentingly bleak horror that many of us read. Certainly nothing wrong with horror that takes itself seriously—I would describe most of my favorite literature that way—but it’s nice to read some stories that don’t take themselves too seriously sometimes, and there’s plenty of that to be found in Along Comes Scary. This was a fun collection. Recommended.