Edited By BILL BREEDLOVE (Dark Arts Books; 2007)

A terrific anthology, attractively packaged and running an economical 151 pagers (so no one can accuse it of being too long!).  Best of all, it features four interesting Chicago-based authors at the top of their collective game: Martin Mundt, John Everson, Bill Breedlove and Jay Bonansinga.  Prior to reading this book the only one of those writers I knew of was Bonansinga, but I was glad to make the acquaintance of the others.

The format is similar to the popular DARK VISIONS anthology series: each author delivers three stories grouped together.  All the pieces have a strong trace of black humor mixed with the horror, and all work smashingly well for the most part.

Martin Mundt, whose other works include the short story collections THE CRAWLING ABATTOIR and THE DARK UNDERBELLY OF HYMNS, starts things out with “A Perfect Plan”, “The Cure” and “Babies is Smart”.  The first story is a hysterically sick look at mass murder, with a nut killing his wife after she reveals she’s pregnant, and then, to cover up the crime, offing the entire population of a small town.  Turns out Mundt is just getting warmed up: he goes all out in “Babies is Smart”, a sick, sick account of a white trash man’s bloody encounter with an apparently malevolent infant that’s about the most offensive thing I’ve ever read.  In other words, I highly recommend it.

John Everson is the author of three novels and just as many short story collections, and provides solid EC comics-inspired fun in his tales “The White Room” and “Swallowing the Pill”, about, respectively, an old house harboring unsavory secrets and a buttoned-down man losing his inhibitions.  But as with Mundt, Everson’s best tale is saved for last: it’s “Pumpkin Head”, apparently one of his most popular stories, having been reprinted numerous times.  It’s easy to see why, as the tale is a veritable classic of perversity, amply demonstrating why it’s NOT a good idea to stick one’s dick into a pumpkin (especially when an unearthly creature is trapped inside!).

Short story specialist and screenwriter Bill Breedlove follows with “The Lost Collection”, in which a boy obsessed with collecting serial killer figurines gets a bit more than he bargained for when he meets an apparently like-minded kid.  “Free to Good Home” features an asshole collecting specimens for an animal research facility and getting his just desserts.  Once again, though, the best comes last.  “Drowning in the Sea of Love” is about a naïve young woman who answers a modeling ad only to find herself at the mercy of a bunch of porno movie-making scumbags…although neither she nor they have any idea of what’s in store in the completely batshit climax, which had me laughing out loud.

Jay Bonansinga closes the collection out.  I recall being mighty impressed by Bonansinga’s early novels THE BLACK MARIAH and SICK, but for some reason lost track of his work in the ensuing years.  I was glad to experience his prose once again, in three richly imaginative, eminently readable stories.

“Animal Rites” features a psychotic hunter tortured in an entirely appropo fashion, while “Stash” is a darkly humorous look at a guy whose job it is to break into people’s homes and get rid of their porno stashes–but he correctly senses something a little off about his latest client (“Stash”, FYI, has been made into a feature film written and directed by Bonansinga, which from what I’ve seen looks like a must-see).  For his last tale, “Deal Memo”, Bonansinga delivers out-and-out comedy in the form of a purported deal memo between Mel Gibson and Satan (“also known as Beelzebub, Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, or the Walt Disney Corporation”) to make a sequel to THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST entitled PASSION TWO: UNDEAD AND MAD AS HELL, complete with complex (and hilarious) media tie-ins.  A hoot!

Those in the mood for well-written, unpredictable, richly comic horror are strongly advised to give this book a try…and place an order for Dark Arts’ follow-up volume WAITING FOR OCTOBER, which is even better.