Originally published 2016-06-29: Explore the darkest reaches of the human imagination with The Best of Cemetery Dance Volume 1
The allure of horror fiction is almost universal.
I have a love/hate relationship with horror. I have been a fan of horror since I was a young child… Well, I’m not sure that’s true. I was fascinated by horror in a way only very young children can be.
I checked out every horror VHS in the local video store (I know, I’m dating myself) until they switched to DVD, then I checked out all of those. I kept renting those horror movies, from the very corniest to the most obscenely gruesome.
I also read everything I could get my hands on from the first time I laid eyes on a monster story.
I devoured horror. I bathed in the scent of fear.
I loved it.
Of course, there was always part of me that hated some of the horror tropes. Sex = death, nudity bordering on the pornographic, rape for the sake of shock, and all the dumb, screaming bimbos you can shake a stick at. Not my bag.
None of those, however, are present in The Best of Cemetery Dance Volume 1, for which I am amazingly grateful.
From the World Fantasy Award-winning pages of Cemetery Dance – the premier horror magazine in the field – comes The Best of Cemetery Dance. This incomparable anthology showcases the best short fiction from the magazine’s first 25 issues, featuring the greatest names to ever set pen to paper and let the nightmares come out.
Jack Ketchum, Gary A. Braunbeck, Augustine Funnell, Douglas Clegg, Dominick Cancilla, Ed Gorman, Norman Partridge, Steven Bevan, Stephen Mark Rainey, Tom Elliott, Ray Garton, Peter Crowther, Brian Hodge, Jack Pavey, John Maclay, Gary Raisor, Graham Masterton, David B. Silva, David L. Duggins, David Niall Wilson, Kim Antieau, Adam Corbin Fusco, and Stephen King.
This anthology starts off with a bang.
Stephen King’s Chattery Teeth was everything I could expect from the Master of Horror. It’s a slow burn of a story, like he’s known for, that starts out with a salesman at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.
The Box by Jack Ketchum follows well. During the holidays, parents are often overwhelmed with buying gifts and getting everywhere they need to go with kids in tow. The father in this story finds out that sometimes you meet people along the way that will change your life forever.
Farming was part of more than one story in this anthology. The Pig Man by Augustine Funnell starts the trend through the eyes of a child whose family is irreparably changed with the arrival of a new hand on the farm.
The ending of R.C. Matheson’s Mobius threw me. It’s one you have to read through to the end to really understand, and even then, you might want to read it again.
Douglas Clegg takes us back to the farm with The Rendering Man as a young woman remembers her troubling past when she runs into a man she hasn’t seen since she was a child.
Weight by Dominick Cancilla reads like something I might have written myself. It takes place in a dystopian version of our own future in which weight gain is treated with suspicion bordering on blind panic.
The hardest story in this anthology to read was Jack Ketchum’s The Rifle. As the parent of two young children and a former single parent, I don’t take it lightly when young children are put in danger in fiction. The single mother in this story must do the right thing by her son – even if it seems wrong to everyone else.
Rustle by Peter Crowther was a spooky but intriguing tale about a man who thinks he is plagued by faceless creatures that live behind a door to another dimension.
Jack Pavey’s The Rabbit starts out sounding like one story, drifts into another, then comes crashing back into the original with a sick sense of finality. It’s a lighthearted tale of two bachelors bookended by the kind of unspeakable horror that happens too often in the real world.
The Right Thing by Gary Raisor ended on a note I didn’t expect. “Two boys, one large, the other small” spend the day sneaking into places they shouldn’t be. Childhood fears are coupled with psychological scars as one learns the truth about the other.
The second hardest story for me to read was Nancy Holder’s Crash Cart. A young medical intern faces death, disillusionment, and the dark, slippery inside of his own soul in a hospital setting.
As an avid reader and writer, I got a kick out of Lucy Taylor’s Wall of Words. It’s dark, true, but also has a kind of poetry that brings something lighthearted to it.
Saviour by Gary A. Braunbeck and Great Expectations by Kim Antieau had a similar feel of desperation, longing, and pain. Though the characters have little in common besides a shared poverty, they seemed to melt together in my mind. Alan of Saviour is a selfless man, and Dollie of Great Expectations is reduced nearly to a lizard brain, but the similarities of their mindsets are too close not to mention. They help bring an amazing anthology to a close.
The Best of Cemetery Dance Volume 1 gets four of five stars for giving me exactly what I was hoping for in a horror collection. Gore, violence, revulsion, redemption, evil… it was all there. If you like any of the authors, or the horror genre, you’ll love this anthology.
This is book #15 on my quest to #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.