"Dark Screams: Volume One" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Hydra
Edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar
2014, 88 pages, Fiction
eBook released on December 9th, 2014
Without fail, whenever I review an anthology, I first explain both why I like them and what I look for when I decide whether or not to purchase a particular collection. For those who've read my reviews of anthologies in the past, I'll make this short. I enjoy reading compilations of various authors' works because many times, if the editor is worth their salt, I'm introduced to an author (or multiple authors) that I may have not have read before. I like having the opportunity to sample a writer without getting fully vested in his or her work, and if their short piece grabs me, I inevitably go onto full-length works by them. And here's the thing, while I do look at the authors' names contained in the potential purchase, I first look at the editor who put it together because if there's a rock solid editor on the cover, more often than not you are going to have a good time. Such is the case with Dark Screams: Volume One.
As there are only five stories here, I will go through each, starting with the book's opener, "Weeds" by Stephen King. If you've seen Creepshow, you already know this story. Titled "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" in that film, "Weeds" follows the character Jordy and his misadventures with a meteorite that lands on his property. While the adaptation in Creepshow is an enjoyable romp (with King himself portraying the likeable (if goofy) protagonist, the short story is even better. I've read this a few times over the years (it was first published in 1976), and it always makes me laugh.
Kelly Armstrong's "The Price You Pay" follows, and it's as brutal and sad as "Weeds" is light and amusing. The pieces bounces within time, telling the tale of Kara, her reuniting with her friend Ingrid, and the dark secrets of the pair's past. The ending is a bit predictable, but that's okay because the journey you take getting there is well worth it. It's heart-wrenching and damning and the line said by one of the characters, "...never pay more than what you owe," is a powerful one in the context of the piece. While there's really not a bad story in this anthology, "The Price You Pay" is my favorite. It's damning, haunting and beautiful all at once, and that's a tough thing to pull off, but Armstrong does it with ease.
Going from the physical brutality to a mental brutality, Bill Pronzini's "Magic Eyes" centers on Edward and the reason he's in an insane asylum. According to him, he is "not a murderer" and "NOT NOT NOT insane". Pronzini does a great job here dancing between the believable and unbelievable voice, and by the end of the story I wasn't sure if Edward was telling the truth or not. But I enjoyed his tale either way.
Simon Clark's "Murder in Chains" is a mean-spirited little piece that opens with a man attached to another man (who happens to be a goliath) by a ten-foot chain. Things quickly go from bad to worse, as he soon learns that this is a fight to the death. The action starts quick and continues throughout and its ending may have you laughing along with the author at its spiteful nature like I did.
Rounding it out is Ramsey Campbell's "The Watched". A young boy is asked by what he thinks is a policeman to keep an eye out on his neighbors, and soon you are led along with the kid down what may or may not be a rabbit hole of delusions. While it lacks many of the horror elements found in the other stories in Dark Screams, it does have a nice aspect of paranoia about it. Campbell does a great job with the protagonist, and his fears slowly start to get under your skin as well.
The first in what appears to be the start of an ongoing series, Dark Screams: Volume One has not one, but two solid editors in Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar. The two are not only authors, but Chizmar founded the fantastic Cemetery Dance Publications and Freeman is the current managing editor there. Having a shelf full of Cemetery Dance books, I can safely say these guys know their stuff. The two have put together a variety of stories that are a wonderful mixture of style and tone, from the humorous to the horrific. There's something to be found for every horror reader, and while I would have liked more bang for my buck with one more story (or at least an alternate to King's "Weeds"), its current price of $2.99 is still well worth the money as this is something you'll go back to time and again.