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  • Still plugging away at the YEAR’S BEST HORROR STORIES, and each seems to be getting longer than the one prior. But not better. As he combed through numerous sources (including many zines with extremely limited distribution, many of which I actually collected) to select what he deemed to be “the best,” Karl Edward Wagner was really stretching the boundaries of the horror story. In both style and format. And in the process (in my opinion), speeding up the entropy of this series.

    From YBHS #17, I liked "Works of Art" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, "She's a Young Thing and Cannot Leave Her Mother" by Harlan Ellison, "What Dreams May Come" by Brad Strickland, "Regression" by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, "Souvenirs from a Damnation" by Don Webb (an instance in which the unusual format - unfolding a story around descriptions of random items that lead up to a diabolical ceremony - is ingenious), and "Nobody's Perfect" by Thomas F. Monteleone (almost a perfect story but with something akin to a deus ex machina ending). Honorable mention goes to "Recrudescence" by Leonard Carpenter. This book features more poetry (this time by Robert Frazier) and stories about Screamin' Lord Sutch and Sawney Beane (that's the aforementioned Ellison), plus a lot of terrible stuff by the usual suspects (you know the names) and a few newbies giving those a run for their money, like M. John Harrison (with a WTF tale possibly even worse than his "Egnaro"), Nicholas Royle and Wayne Allen Sallee (offering a meta chronicle that incorporates his previous three stories published in YBHS, albeit this go-round with an actual plot).

    From YBHS #18, the Good: "Meeting the Author" (one of the half-dozen or so RC works I’ve liked), "Buckets" by F. Paul Wilson (I’d already encountered this potentially polarizing story in OCTOBER DREAMS), "Mr. Sandman" by Scott D. Yost, “On the Dark Road” by Ian McDowell, “Nights in the City” by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, and “The Motivation” by David Langford (this one really got under my skin). Honorable mention goes to "Renaissance" by A. F. Kidd. Many were Bad, but the Truly Egregious were from t. Winter-Damon, W. H. Pugmire (taking over the top spot for shortest tale in the series at less than a page), M. John Harrison (another indescribable outing, culled from an anthology on tarot cards!), and Wayne Allen Sallee (who returns to his usual theme, the pointless documenting of a violent incident). There were back-to-back stories about scary clergymen (one supernatural, one not), plus three poems, one that marks the second appearance here by Sallee. Finally, David J. Schow's "Jerry's Kids Meet Wormboy" (which I had previously encountered in the zombie collection BOOK OF THE DEAD) captures the trophy for best title in the series, although what it promises doesn’t quite match what it offers up (MDA children were nowhere to be found). I suppose it’s accurate to accuse Schow of employing relentlessly and gruesomely purple prose when he writes. Yet what makes this story’s inclusion (and others lately) particularly weird is that something so gleefully gross contradicts what Wagner keeps claiming in his intros this series is supposed to be the antidote for, namely “mindless special-effects junkfood with exploding heads, eviscerated victims, and rotting zombies,” as well as “stalk-and-slash splatterfilms.”

    Anyway, two more down, only four more YBHS to go.
    VHS will never die!

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      • Great cover that!
        VHS will never die!

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        • I finished up the last of the novels I had bought years ago thanks to the Too Much Horror Fiction blog’s predecessor. And if I made a mistake thinking I had acquired horror books with the last group, man did I fuck up with these!

          (Note: I actually did locate that website I keep alluding to. It’s called The Groovy Age of Horror and was run by Curt Purcell. It started in 2005 covering vintage horror paperbacks, but by the time its last posting appeared in 2018, it seemed to be mainly concentrating on fumetti, of the deliciously lurid variety. Here’s the link, in case anyone is interested: https://groovyageofhorror.blogspot.com/)

          The most significant example of a “whoops, my bad” was the 1974 LOVERS & EXORCISTS by Wesley Simon York (a pseudonym for Kin Platt). Clueless dope that I am, it took me several pages before I realized this story of an aspiring Hollywood actress getting sexually molested by the ghost of a famous dead actress after moving into her house is actually porn! And prude that I am, I only skimmed through the rest of it. Not that I mind having a bit of sex mixed in with my horror, but I’m not quite as big a fan of only a bit of horror mixed in with my sex. (Awkwardly phrased, sorry.) The early clue should have been the description of a man’s John Thomas as a “cock,” which is normally reserved for adult literature and film. Amusingly, the publisher of this one, Brandon Books, is also responsible for the title I most recall reading about on that old website (https://groovyageofhorror.blogspot.c...y-swenson.html), which (as described by Purcell) seemed to be more horror, but I’m now wondering if the opposite is true. By the way, the one good thing about owning L&E is that at least it’s rare, enough to have an asking price of $150 on Amazon!

          THE NATURE OF WITCHES (1964) by Joan Sanders promoted itself as a ROSEMARY'S BABY inspired work (at first I thought it was gonna be like CONJURE WIFE). “Demonic...makes belief in witches possible,” declares the front cover blurb. But what it turned out to be was merely a melodramatic saga of an American teaching at a Swedish (research?) institute waxing politically and philosophically with some of the locals as he cheats on his wife, who has remained back home in (in Ohio, I believe) and who he and his new compadres speculate may be a witch. This one would have benefitted from some over-the-top depravity, at least to spice the happenings up a bit.

          And finally, easily the cream of this crop is THE GUARDIANS #2: DARK WAYS TO DEATH (1968) by Peter Saxon (another pseudonym, this time one used by several different authors). Its tale of an elite team formed to fight against attempts by the “Left Hand Path” to gain power over the world using nefarious, occult means reminded me of THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, but I liked it even more. I may try to collect the others in the series (apparently there were six of them).

          If I do pursue used horror books again, going forward I will make sure to employ PAPERBACKS FROM HELL as my guide, so that I can be more confident about what I’m getting!
          VHS will never die!

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          • I love Paperbacks from Hell.

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            • I'm reading HARD TO HANDLE by the drummer of The Black Crowes.
              "The popcorn you're eating has been pissed in. Film at 11".

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              • I'm reading Stephen Davis' (Hammer of the Gods) Duran Duran book, "Please Please Tell Me Now". I'm about 4 chapters in and it's so riddled with inaccuracies about everything, not just the band, not to mention horrible writing style (he said, acknowledging his run-on sentence) that I can not believe it got published.

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                • I took a break from YBHS and decided to go back and reread another anthology I’ve had for years called FREAK SHOW (1992), which has a very different format than the Peter Haining collection I wrote about a while back. It’s basically a novel but comprising chapters by several Horror Writers of America members. The basic framework was concocted by F. Paul Wilson, as his prologue introduces us to some people with a variety of birth defects that make them very unusual freaks, such as wings, the ability to read minds, etc. As the circus they are part of tours the country, the chapters take place in locations familiar to the authors writing them. Although there is continuity in succeeding chapters, each is a profile of one or more of the “freaks” as they search for a hidden “Piece” from a device that was disassembled decades before in order to prevent its destructive power from being used. Wilson also contributes the interchapters that focus mostly on one particular “gifted” performer with tentacles for arms, and his increasingly intimate relationship with the woman who is his trapeze partner. Pretty amazing that it all holds together. However, the denouement, also provided by Wilson, felt drab, somewhat anti-climactic, and even a bit rushed to me.

                  Just for fun, I also pulled down off the “to-read shelf” (which I should call “to-read bookcase” since there are unread things on multiple shelves) a couple from THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF series: THE FUNNIEST CARTOONS OF ALL TIME and BEST HORROR COMICS (come to think of it, I really have a lot of comic book-themed stuff there). Nearly all of the cartoons in the former are from the defunct British weekly Punch. There’s an abundance of politically incorrect content that no one would dare publish anywhere now. I laughed quite a lot. ’Nuff said about that one.

                  The more interesting of the two is the latter, edited by Peter Normanton. I was inspired to grab it by the recent previewing on this forum of a possible compilation for the short-lived Web of Horror (including the unpublished 4th edition). Of course, the use of superlatives in the title for these or any other offerings is always hyperbolic (YBHS, anyone?), and Normanton is upfront in his intro that he is leaving out the DC stuff (House of Mystery, etc.) and beloved Warren publications I grew up on, as well as EC and Marvel. He states it’s because all those have had their own collections, but I suspect licensing might have played a big part in his decision.

                  Anyway, each chapter covers a couple of decades. The stuff from the 40‘s/50’s was a little on the moldy side, but there were some standouts, too. And some of the ones that perhaps started off a tad mundane would feature a final panel with a twist that felt like O. Henry just slapped you upside yo’ head. Case in point, the explanation for why a young girl transforms into some kind of demonic cat creature, from “The Thing that Walked at Night”: “He never knew and I could never tell him that you are my real daughter, Joan...that you were born as the atom bomb fell while I was a prisoner of war in Hiroshima!” Wha-huh?!

                  Without anything from the Warren publications, the 60‘s/70’s was only okay, livened up occasionally with a couple from Web of Horror and some Skywald offerings. I really enjoyed 80’s/90’s - at least the early parts - but that’s not a shock, as I am a fan of Bruce Jones. (In my opinion, this whole chapter could have been filled with his comics.) And the chapter on the new millennium product didn’t enthrall this old reader (‘cause, you know...old).

                  One of the problems with the book is false advertising: a blurb on the cover claims there are “over 50” comics in here, when there are only 48. (The cover shown on Amazon boasts 60 comics, so maybe that’s for a foreign edition?) But the main issue with this are the poor reproductions. I know many of the comics were originally in color; in this book, all are black-and-white. Maybe the folks who assembled this think that such a conversion doesn’t affect the quality of the works, but it definitely does. Still, despite my reservations, I give this a thumbs up!

                  Finally, I’ve begun perusing XEROX FEROX, jumping around the different chapters to read about zines I used to collect. (I was surprised I didn’t see Bob Sargent’s Videooze in here.) Not sure when I’ll finish it, but I’ll keep coming back to the tome on occasion. Kind o’ the way I have the Ellen Datlow-edited THE YEAR'S BEST FANTASY & HORROR #17 (misnamed in an earlier posting of mine), which it feels like I’ve been reading for about 17 years!
                  VHS will never die!

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                  • Originally posted by Mark Tolch View Post
                    I'm reading Stephen Davis' (Hammer of the Gods) Duran Duran book, "Please Please Tell Me Now". I'm about 4 chapters in and it's so riddled with inaccuracies about everything, not just the band, not to mention horrible writing style (he said, acknowledging his run-on sentence) that I can not believe it got published.
                    That reminds me I have John Taylor's In the Pleasure Groove in hardcover in a box, and that i really should read that and the rest of that epic remainder haul from almost a decade ago.

                    Or I need to get off my ass and find epubs of them all.

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                      • Originally posted by Darcy Parker View Post

                        That reminds me I have John Taylor's In the Pleasure Groove in hardcover in a box, and that i really should read that and the rest of that epic remainder haul from almost a decade ago.

                        Or I need to get off my ass and find epubs of them all.
                        John's book is brought up a fair bit in this one, likely because he doesn't shy away from airing dirty laundry in this book.

                        Anyway, Davis' book is garbage and not worth checking out.

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                        • Originally posted by Mark Tolch View Post

                          John's book is brought up a fair bit in this one, likely because he doesn't shy away from airing dirty laundry in this book.

                          Anyway, Davis' book is garbage and not worth checking out.
                          Good to know!

                          One day I went into Chapters and got In The Pleasure Groove and Strange Things Happen by Stuart Copeland of The Police, both in hardcover for $3.99 each brand new off the clearance tables. I gotta read both.

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                          • Originally posted by Darcy Parker View Post

                            Good to know!

                            One day I went into Chapters and got In The Pleasure Groove and Strange Things Happen by Stuart Copeland of The Police, both in hardcover for $3.99 each brand new off the clearance tables. I gotta read both.
                            That's a good score. I used to love checking the clearance tables at Chapters.

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                            • Originally posted by Mark Tolch View Post

                              That's a good score. I used to love checking the clearance tables at Chapters.
                              It was either that same trip, or a different one that I got the screenplay for Aliens for $2.99 as a trade paperback, too.

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                              • Originally posted by Marshall Crist View Post
                                HELL CITY HELL #1 (1998) appears to be the only comic published by Los Angeles' Diablo Musica. It seems that they are/were primarily a record label, and while surprisingly the story does not reference the label's roster or songs, the back cover promises a multi-media experience which is likely a tie-in album of various artists. I would characterize this as a variation on SIN CITY, with exotic dancers and on-stage self-immolation. Not as good as it sounds, due in part to bland (if technically competent) artwork. In color.
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                                I knew i had this floating around here somewhere. Finally stumbled into it while looking for something totally unrelated.

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