Unspeakable – A New Breed Of Terror
Edited by Theresa Dillon
Blood Bound Books
August 30, 2010, 247 Pages, $14.95
Review by Darkeva
Not to be confused with the Unspeakable Horror anthology edited by Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder, Unspeakable: A New Breed of Terror is an anthology of twenty-four short stories that, according to the official description, is “filled with things that should not be. They may dwell in mountains or under water. In deep forests or windblown deserts. Perhaps they lurk in the shadows of your very own home. But regardless of origin, these ancient, nameless beasts are awake and they want you.”
An intriguing summary, no? It certainly piqued my interest. And while there are a few duds in the bunch (I have yet to come across an anthology in which I’ve enjoyed every story equally), the gems round things out nicely. But I wouldn’t characterize the monsters within as “unspeakable;” in other words, something so foul and evil that words can’t describe it. Blame it on my desensitization to violence, but it takes a lot to scare most readers these days, myself included. Monsters have to be presented creatively. It isn’t enough for a monster to be the big bad wolf – to waltz onto the page, raise his or her claws, and say, “I’m a monster. I’m evil. Be afraid. Um, boo!”
I need to feel the monster jump out at me from the page (or screen, in the case of movies, although not necessarily as 3D, just go with the metaphor for a second), that I can picture him or her so clearly and feel the threat that he or she presents so vividly that I’m convinced everything is happening to me, or to make it so compelling that I want to reach into the story and help the protagonist.
Monsters certainly come in many forms, not all of them obvious or garish. They can be child molesters, rapists, murderers, scam artists, abusive spouses, or even your creepy next door neighbour. Most horror writers (well, the good ones anyway) have chosen to move past the gross-out/gore factor in their villains and to move to subtler reflections on what constitutes evil and what makes a person take dark actions. This is the expectation that I went in with when I started reading Unspeakable. And while it didn’t completely disappoint, I was still left with a feeling of wanting something more after I finished it.
“Border Jumper” by Adam Blomquist kicks things off and introduces a guy named Patch who has caught a beast at the outset (it turns out to be a chupacabra). He and another person are planning on pitting the monster against a rabid dog until the chupacabra’s mother rushes in and kills pretty much everyone. Although well-written, if the writer took more time to develop Patch and to give us some more background, this “monster gets mad and kills everyone” story might have stood out more.
While I have previously enjoyed Natalie L. Sin’s short stories, “Stranger in the Woods” reminded me of the opening of a summer horror flick in which a group of unfortunate people get stuck in the woods and killed off before the main plot of the film starts. The writing skill is present in Sin’s story, as always, but there wasn’t any real build-up to the monsters, which made it more difficult to sympathize with the characters (especially considering that the protagonist’s married sister was having it off with the sister’s ex-boyfriend).
“Cancerous on Cat’s Paws” describes the horrors of a cancer patient, but the disease is already a monster, and I was expecting something more revelatory. Although the characterization in “Deadheads” was done skillfully, it reminded me too much of “Snakes on a Plane” except a giant squid-like creature filled the role of snakes. In “If Love Is Not Madness,” a woman’s repressed sexual desires lead her to summon a Tulpa (sort of like an incubus but with more of a wish-granting component) but the sexual violence, contrary to making me sympathize with her, made me unsympathetic and actually feeling like she got what she deserved.
For those looking for a wendigo tale, there’s “Wind Winter Wendigo,” which is set in the past (around the Civil War) and involves the delay of a man’s burial until spring, which causes huge problems in a community.
Tentacled monsters seemed to be a favorite of this antho, especially evident in the story “The Worm of the Waste,” which had some Lovecraftian overtones. Although “Orsini’s Vineyard” made me cheer initially because historical horror is rare, and good only if done right, the beginning read more like an essay that discussed Italy’s history in Reggio Calabria, and although the purpose of the vineyard is good and diabolical, the style read too much like it came from a book of fairy tales mixed with an essay. Personally I don’t have much of a taste for insect-themed horror, and although I do hate centipedes, millipedes and all creepy crawlies in general, I thought “Where they Came Out” could have been executed a bit more strongly.
Some highlights for me included “The Memory Thief” about a Dark Fae spirit called Nilsa who takes memories from a boy, Jeremy, in exchange for some form of physical pleasure, though it’s unclear what. Eventually, he starts to forget too much, and Nilsa wants more memories, so he goes after the boy’s family, and suffice it to say, things turn out disastrously. “Mato Tipila” by Jessie Marie Roberts goes with a Native American theme to describe a rock bear that comes to life and goes after the protagonist. Also a standout was David Bernstein’s “The Booglin.” I have to admit that I never thought boogers of all things could be used creatively in a horror story, but Bernstein pulls it off in a way that ensures that his monster continues its lifespan in a sick way.
“Monarch of the Seas” is a mermaid revenge tale that presents the disturbing account of a man who marries wealthy but unattractive women and gets rid of them, usually on cruises – and on their honeymoon. He has done this a few times prior to his most recent conquest, and this time, he thinks, is no different. But his new wife, Beatrice, is, shall we say, hiding a certain point of heritage that enables her to grant him his comeuppance.
In “The Acolyte,” Storm Grant introduces a guy praying to River Gods, and while I found the story dragged a bit, particularly with the rituals, and that the ending was a bit splatter porn-ish, the creative revision of the Lord’s Prayer was well done.
A jealous water spirit kills men’s wives time after time in “Forgotten Lake,” choosing the victim’s husband as the new guardian until it’s time for him to choose a new couple; probably my second favourite story next to “The Memory Thief.” In “The Robe” by Sharon M. White, a father mourns the loss of his young daughter only to learn that she’s not really dead; definitely worth the read.
Overall, the anthology is decidedly light fare that ultimately let me down in terms of the usual elements I expect from monsters – complexity, interesting or unusual motivations, and something I haven’t seen before – but there are some pearls within if you dive for them.