John Pelan, editor,
A Walk on the Darkside: Visions of Horror
(Roc, 2004)

The images on the cover/jacket design for A Walk on the Darkside: Visions of Horror contains a face with flaming eye sockets, a circular object with mystical runes, a flock of ravens and a bloody grotesque upper torso with an extruded spine that takes on the shape of a skeletal serpent. This particular choice of cover would give one the impression that this particular anthology is a ghastly collection of macabre and grisly tales. Well, the "can't judge a book" adage is all too true, especially in this case.

This book seems more like a collection of submissions for The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. (And I don't mean that in a negative way.) Each story would certainly make for an interesting episode. Some of the stories are perfectly suited for TV Guide-like blurgs/encapsulated descriptions:

"Little Miss Muffet is Dead, Baby" by Michael T. Huyuck Jr. and Michael Oliveri is a cool, fun story of a drifter sent to jail. Little does the drifter know that going to jail is easy to handle; the alien invasion that follows? Not so much. Or spend a day in the life of a blue-collar worker in Hell in "The Abandoned" by Jeffrey Thomas. It's a supernatural Sopranos when a man's identity is mistaken by a mystical Mafioso in "Shoes" by Tim Lebon and Brett Alexander Savory. Look into John Pelan's eyes for "Memories are Made of This," a hypnotic "revelation" of past sexual abuse and satanic rituals.

In "Crossroads" by Don Tumasonis, a guitar player gets into hoodoo in the Mississippi delta country. "Jikininki" by Joseph A. Ezzo has a nightly recurrence that makes a guy think he didn't marry a Japanese Cinderella ... or did he? A one-hit wonder looks through her rear window in "Whatever Happened To?" by d.g.k. goldberg. Michael Shea delivers a dark Dragnet in "Incident Report." Et cetera, et cetera.

Again, the fact that these stories could work perfectly for half-hour episodes of a horror/suspense show should be taken as a positive. A Walk on the Darkside offers plenty of enjoyment, even if some of it does get a little more grotesque and tragic than others. For instance, "Fairy Fort" by Peadar O'Guilin is a great scary spin on Irish folklore, but gets its gore on when faeries stop dancing and start dining -- on each other! (See if you can get the image of a legless Tinkerbell biting into your calf out of your head.) As for tragic, there is "Parting Jane" by Mehitobel Wilson. It's about an unloved girl whose sole purpose is to be a blood, organ and tissue donor for a chronically ill older sister. This story goes beyond horrific to truly sad.

The last and appropriately titled story, "An Ending," starts off as possibly the most horrific tale of the book (an infirm elderly couple dying from neglect), but takes a ludicrous turn that is either a brilliantly dark comedic choice or an irreparable mistake for a horror story. (It involves a goat; that's all I'll say.)

If you are looking for extreme gore and truly horrifying works of fiction, keep on looking. However, if you are a fan of (mostly) mellow horror of a subdued natue, then this anthology will suit.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

28 July 2007

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