Edited By Brian James Freeman, and Richard Chizmar (Hydra; 2014)
The inaugural volume of an e-book anthology series edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar, who run the popular horror magazine Cemetery Dance. That explains the caliber of talent they assembled for this five story volume, which is impressive, and quite eclectic.
The magnificently unnerving “Weeds” by Stephen King kicks things off. Initially published back in 1976, it’s long been one of King’s scarcest works, so its inclusion here is most welcome. “Weeds” formed the basis of the “Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” segment of CREEPSHOW, but deserves to be experienced in its original, much darker form. Loosely inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “Colour Out of Space,” it focuses on a backwoods hick undergoing macabre changes after a meteor crashes near his home. As the title promises, those changes involve unearthly weeds, which Jordy finds growing out of his body, and which are spread by water…
Next is “The Price You Pay” by the prolific fantasy novelist Kelley Armstrong. About a young woman forced to face up to a past crime, it’s written in simple kid book vernacular, yet contains some reasonably potent grotesquerie, and overall registers as a so-so exercise in upscale sadism.
The impressive “Magic Eyes” is by the veteran mystery scribe Bill Pronzini. It takes the form of a recollection by a Southern California psychopath, drafted in noisy, temperamental prose that memorably conveys its protagonist’s disturbed mindset and unreliable nature. He attempts throughout to convince us he’s not the murderer he’s cracked up to be, and that demonic forces are responsible for his predicament–forces that are apparently loose in the insane asylum where the guy is currently interred.
“Murder in Chains” by Simon Clark concerns a photographer who awakens to find himself attached to a lunatic via linked collars. How the photographer deals with this predicament, which comes to involve several other chained-up prisoners, makes for gripping (if implausible and distractingly SAW-like) reading.
Finally there’s “The Watched” by Ramsey Campbell, a powerful account of nightmarish apprehension that’s fully up to Campbell’s usual high standards. Particularly notable is the highly atmospheric evocation of some of the uglier stretches of Liverpool–as viewed through the eyes of a haunted twelve-year-old–and the genuinely unnerving, near-hallucinatory descriptions that only Ramsey Campbell can pull off (example: “he saw an extra elongated smear at the height where he would have expected the eyes of a face to be, as if they had been squashed blindly against the glass and drawn along it”).
Final verdict: an effective anthology with two standout entries (the King and Campbell offerings) that by themselves are well worth the $2.99 asking price. Plus, at 73 pages, nobody can say it’s too long.