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Friday, August 18, 2023

Review: New Religon

A strange electronic voice. A missing girl. Chaos erupting in the streets. Metamorphosis. A man who wants to be a moth, tells you what you want to hear. Random violence spreads. After the disappearance of her daughter a grieving mother starts working at an escort agency. A girl she works with goes on a killing spree and is killed in the process. Then she gets that girl’s client, the client she was with last before she went on her rampage. He is a strange man, cancer ravaging his vocal cords so he uses an electronic voice box. He is obsessed with the metamorphoses of moths. He is a photographer of body parts. He also seems to be a harbinger of doom. Those he interacts with and studies change, becoming passively violent, like murderous somnambulists. 

New Religion, a new Japanese film directed by Keishi Kondo, is draped in the abstraction of Under the Skin and the creeping dread of Kairo. It could be a sci-fi film, or just as easily a film about a supernatural entity. New Religion follows in the arthouse/elevated new wave of horror filmmaking. Quiet, abstract, mysterious. There are no answers, and a logic crafted in nightmare. A cold unnerving electronic score compliments the cold sterile cinematography. The themes of New Religion whisper themselves, intangible and elusive. The main antagonist is an unknown, his aims secret. What dark agenda is he following? What bizarre goal is he driving towards? Dive deep into the nebulous signals and hints of New Religion, and welcome a new important voice to modern horror filmmaking.

Friday, June 30, 2023

A Brief Reading List: The Different Eras of the Horror Genre

        A brief reading list for those interested in the history of the horror genre in literature. The time periods and the overviews are meant as a quick tutorial on the authors and the stories of that time. Nothing is set in stone and art and culture are fluid. So let this serve as a brief guided tour that is meant to inspire more deep dives into horror as literature.

1890-1925 Decadence and Innovation

This era of horror, in some circles seen as the golden age of horror literature, was the foundation of what would later be referred to as the horror genre. Horror has always been present in our literature. Since at least as early as the classic Greek plays to Shakespeare and Dante. But as a genre, it was not seen as a separate thing until around this time. Its roots are the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Gothic writers like Horace Walpole and Matthew Lewis, and also a huge influence came from the Decadent writers from France such as Jean Lorrain and Octave Mirbeau. From these writers was drawn a darker sensibility. A preference for decay and doom. A willingness to push boundaries and the reader's comfort level. This was new fertile ground. The area was clear for innovation, and the horror genre was not yet a thing, so these writers were free to explore the themes and ideas in their stories. A subtle shadow can also be felt in these works, with the coming of the first world war on the horizon. 

The Yellow Sign - Robert W. Chambers (1895)

The Novel of the Black Seal - Arthur Machen (1895)

The Spider - Hanns Heinz Ewers (1908)

The Room in the Tower - E. F. Benson (1912)

Fumes - Stefan Grabinski (1913)

1925-1965 War and Darkness

These works came from readers who grew up with the “golden age” of horror. This is the era that shaped and defined horror as a literary genre. With the foundations of the genre firmly in place, these writers sought to refine and go further with what horror can do. Also over these works can be felt the fallout of two world wars. A pessimism and a breakdown of trust in the established morality of civilization lurk in the pages of these works. 

The Caterpillar - Edogawa Ranpo (1929)

The Shadow over Innsmouth - H.P. Lovecraft (1936)

Skeleton - Ray Bradbury (1945)

Bianca’s Hands - Theodore Sturgeon (1947)

Pillar of Salt - Shirley Jackson (1948)

1965-2000 Genre and Change

This era sees the horror genre become mainstream. With a well-set tradition of horror in literature and film, these writers grew up with horror as a viable literary choice. In these works, we see an exploration of a more liberal society. Sexual themes are discussed openly, and gender and race struggles are examined. Authors felt free to be more challenging with their work. Both subtlety and explicitness were taken to new levels. The oblique and the nebulous were championed alongside sexual themes and the rise of body horror.  

The Cellars - Ramsey Campbell (1967)

Ravissante - Robert Aickman (1968)

The Nighthawk - Dennis Etchison (1978)

Replacements - Lisa Tuttle (1992)

The Bungalow House - Thomas Ligotti (1995)

2000-2035 New Realities and Anxieties 

In a sense, you can call this era the post-horror era. Now authors are trying to subvert the traditions and tropes of the established horror genre. The history and expectations of horror as a genre are seen more and more as an obstacle to innovation. Also, this era is dealing with the sudden invasion of technology into everyone's personal lives. The ever-present shadow of the internet and social media has led to a distorted and unclear view of what constitutes reality. In this new era, our interpersonal relationships with others have irrevocably changed. We are both almost competently alienated from others while in a neverending connection with literally everyone all at once. So in this era, subversion and anxieties about technology and reality are at the forefront of the horror genre. This can only be an incomplete list since we are just beginning this era, and the future of horror is both unknown and exciting. Horror as a genre has thrived since its beginnings and is a vital and important part of our culture and literature.

The Animal Aspect of the Movement - Adam Golaski (2008)

The Road of Pins - Caitlin Kiernan (2013)

My World Has No Memories - Mark Samuels (2014)

Born Stillborn - Brian Evenson (2015)

Mare’s Nest - Richard Gavin (2016)

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Review: Nineteen Claws and a Black Bird

From Agustina Bazterrica, the author of the new classic Tender is the Flesh, comes her new short story collection, Nineteen Claws and a Black Bird. At turns playfully experimental and at times seeking to refine classic genre tropes, this book succeeds in fulfilling the promise of Tender is the Flesh. Taking inspiration from such masters of the short story as Jackson, Ligotti, Tuttle, and Borges, this is a heady stew of delirium and darkness. Nineteen Claws and a Black Bird is continuing the trend of new translations of amazing foreign horror, introducing English-speaking countries to all kinds of new and innovative writing. From Valancourt’s steady streams of translations of essential collections like Swedish Cults and The Black Maybe, to other collections getting critical acclaim like Bora Chung's Cursed Bunny, we are seeing a golden era of translations of the cutting edge of horror and dark literature. There are clear influences on this new era of world horror, from cinema, you can see the influence of films like Anti-Christ, Under the Skin, and Kairo. The long shadow of masters of horror literature such as Ramsey Campbell, Robert Aickman, and H.P. Lovecraft is also felt. But make no mistake, these new works are speaking on our new realities and are saying things that are so needed right now. I feel we are seeing the start of a new era of horror literature.

Agustina’s work is poetic and lush. It is a delight to read her prose. And the gorgeousness of her work only makes the deep dark hole you find yourself in at the end of one of her stories even more unsettling. Her work recalls the intense subjective tales of Borges, where instead of his making the everyday and normal into something divine or otherworldly, Agustina makes the everyday malignant and corrupting. The use of confusion and mystery, and the undertone of a sinister darkness or malignant influence is one of the macabre pleasures to be found in her writing. 

Tender is the Flesh was a book that reveled in the corrupt nature of humanity. We devour each other both physically and emotionally. The things we mistake for tenderness and love are actually hunger and lust. Social constructs hide the animalistic nature of ourselves. Now with Nineteen Claws and a Black Bird, her new collection of short stories, Agustina has not brightened her view of humanity, instead, she goes further, and explores the darkness in all its facets. From mind-bending surrealist tales to inner explorations of a diseased human psyche, each story in this collection is varied and unique. Her palette is wide and the places she brings the reader are different maps, outlining the wounds inflicted on her characters. Her examinations of human cruelty recall Jackson, and her revealing the corrupting darkness that lies at the heart of humanity recalls Ligotti. But in terms of prose style and practice, she recalls Borges and Calvino. The reader is left confused yet fascinated at the end of one of her stories. And the mystery calls us to go further.

The first story in the book, A Light, Swift, and Monsterous Sound, absolutely makes a statement as the first tale and is one of those rare stories that can be said to be something only the author could have written. Unique and mind-bending, there is really nothing else like this tale. I also really loved Roberto, a surreal tale of genitals, strange physiologies, and what may lay hidden underneath our clothes. When I reached her story Elena-Marie Sandoz in the collection is when I was convinced this collection was a masterpiece. A bleak tale of identity in crises, this one stands alongside such masters as Ligotti and Borges with its oroborosian logic. And the final tale in the collection, The Solitary Ones, reads like a classic of horror fiction, probably the most straightforward horror tale in the collection, but in a collection this weird and experimental, the more traditional stance this tale takes reads seems challenging, especially coming at the end of the stories. 

Agustina Bazterrica is a groundbreaking new voice in literature. Her novel Tender is the Flesh deserves to be seen as one of the all-time great dystopian novels, and her collection Nineteen Claws and a Black Bird deserves to be recognized as one of the great horror collections of our time. Essential, innovative, deeply personal, and stunningly poetic. Nineteen Claws and a Black Bird is a must-read. The comparisons I have made to her work and Ligotti, Borges, Orwell, and Jackson are deserved. With only two books of hers in English translation, she has already cemented her place among the very best of literature. More, more...

Monday, May 22, 2023

Review: Caitlin Kiernan's Metamorphosis A


    In life, there are two kinds of places. The places of everyday life. The apartment. The workplace. The hospital. The marketplace. These are the locations of normal reality. Where our everyday dramas and tragedies take place in the light. Careers and relationships. Social standings and money making. But then there is another place. A dark place of occulted knowledge. In the unseen places. Tunnels, lakes, ocean floors, old houses, and dark planets. Places where things creep, decay, survive, desire, and most of all… change. This is the country of madmen and poets. And from this place is where Caitlín Kiernan whispers their stories.

    Caitlín Kiernan is one of the premier writers of fiction working today. Their work includes collections like The Ammonite Violin and Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart and novels like The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl. Their work is a blend of the weird, sci-fi, erotica, and horror genres. Their work explores the strange existence of creatures of flesh and bone living in a world where change and perversion is the norm. In their work, the dark touch is desired not feared.

    This world is a bleak place to live. The sun is too bright and our time is limited. Kiernan’s characters know this all too well. They are wounded, sad, and disenfranchised. And any salvation is better than the slow rot we have to us. In most horror, something invades our happy homes. Something seeks to destroy or subvert the status quo and the monstrous is a horrible thing that can happen even to the innocent. In Kiernan’s work, everyday life is a horrible thing. And we can only wish that there are “dark powers” to find.

    In their story “Metamorphosis A,” we find a woman waiting for her lover to return to their apartment. There has been some kind of intrusion upon the world by an alien force. A creature has arisen that lives deep in the earth that offers change to any who come to her. And her lover has gone down to receive that change. Seeking a dark salvation, she comes home bearing a mark of penetration that marks her as a recipient of the dark gift from the “being” and a cylinder containing a transforming disease, which you need to be marked to be able to have the disease affect you.

     "Your bare feet are black with soot or dirt or whatever filth you’ve tracked back up from the deep places below the city. There are long scrapes on your legs, like maybe you ran into a patch of brambles along the way. And then I notice the welt beneath your chin, flesh gone puffy and purple and already turning necrotic. I might think it was only a bad spider bite, if I didn’t know the better. If I didn’t know about the stingers and the venom, the kiss of Athena to switch off your immune system. To make you receptive to what’s still to come."

    These are horrors of watching your loved ones change and the loss of being left behind. And as with all journeys, the outcome is uncertain. Her lover has decided to accept a chance to become something… other. And the main character was scared to go with her and is scared of what is going to happen. One significant hurdle facing doctors is the apparent willingness of many people to be infected, despite these horrific consequences. Her lover lies on their bed and opens the canister and begins the change. The narrator passes out. Dreams of the dark places fill her head. An underground sea and a disease-birthing mother. And they do their dark work on her lover.

     "How many countless generations were conceived while I slept in my chair and dreamed of that black lake? How many were born and nurtured deep within the hive of you and how many billions must have done their determined, busy work and perished when their time was done?"

    The nature of this change is mysterious. But the desperation of the unhappy is not. Thomas Ligotti said in his story “Vastarien,” “The only value of this world lay in its power – at certain times – to suggest another world.” Anything would be better than this world of rain and rot. We only wish dread Cthulhu lay dreaming under the sea. Mystery and darkness comfort us. In a sequence that reads like Sacher-Masoch, author of Venus in Furs, writing a remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing, the lover is changed into a tentacled horror seething and writhing in their bed.

    "And I’m on my knees then, as if I’d worship what they have made of you, as you must have worshipped in those secret underground temples, offering your grace of this change, praying to shed your furtive prayers and supplications to ancient bacterial gods for the unwanted and unyielding humanity."

    The universe is ruled by chaos and breakdown. And these are the only gods who answer. These are the only gods who are in plain sight. And the only salvation is a dark one.

Friday, April 14, 2023

The Desire for Dark Powers

I think for a lot of us, it could be safe to say… life is oftentimes pretty miserable. We head to jobs we hate to pay for bills we would rather not pay. We search for love and get crushed beneath the wheels of desire. We eat, we sleep, and we watch our bodies break down. For some of us, we wish there was more. More fantasy, more magic, more to desire, more to indulge in. The dark paths tempt us. Sex and sin are preferred over working yourself to death. We wish we could sell ourselves to the dark powers. If Satan really existed, Cthulhu, whatever, we would pledge ourselves to their teachings. The Earth is so banal and full of drudgery and toil. Whatever moments of pleasure and magic are too fast and fleeting. The blackest of gods, the most sinister of evil, would provide our lives with a source of enchantment, of magic. And to be clear, when we speak of dark gods and evil, we are talking about an escape from day-to-day life. Real-life evil is what we are escaping from. The evils of miserable men and petty humanity. We seek an elevation from the mundane. To sign one's name in a book of blood, to convort with slimy tentacled creatures from the sunless depths of the ocean, to rut and writhe in the dark soil with horned gods, and to offer up one’s body to extraterrestrial doppelgangers, we would give anything to be able to live such magic. 

When we talk about the horror genre you hear a couple different explanations for why people gravitate to it. Everything from a fun rollercoaster ride being scared to horror providing a sense of awe or a sense of something larger than oneself. But one I don’t see talked about nearly enough is the desire for dark powers to really exist and the attraction that horror has for an escape from the banal. I find this longing most clearly articulated in works such as Robert Egger’s film The Witch, Caitlin Kiernan’s short fiction, Thomas Ligotti’s short fiction, and Tim Lucas’s novel Throat Sprockets. We will explore the longing to escape life and what happens when you find your desire. These works act as a celebration of getting lost in the dark, of a sinister sensuality, of an escape through the monstrous and the perverted. 

In Ligotti’s work, in his nightmare towns, creeping unseen managers, malignant puppets, and art exhibitions of the icy bleakness of things, he shows that horror literature and its enchantments, even at its most disturbing, are still more desired than this crumby banal life of decay and disappointment. Ligotti’s work is full of an all-encompassing pessimism. But yet, there is an enjoyment in the defiling of what we see as the things that make life worth living. Ligotti attacks all our pretenses of bodily integrity, our notions of achievement and upward mobility, and our conception of self-identity. But his prose and his method of attack are almost erotic, the sentences alluring and the choice of words intoxicating. Ligotti’s work is this kind of private exploration of the anxieties and desires that Ligotti has shared through his brilliant prose. The crooked small towns and plagues of nightmarish organisms provide an escape from the horrors of existence. 


     One of the great novels of obsession and dark desire is Tim Lucas’s Throat Sprockets: The hope, the wanted allure of maybe catching some unknown film halfway through on late-night television, or picking up some random DVD from the video store because of some intriguing cover art, and finding a life-changing experience unfold before you is examined here. One of those midnight movies that seem made just for you, showing you the world as you had thought only you see it. The images, the sound design, and the characters become like a second dream life. And your waking thoughts keep returning to the unspooling film, permanently playing in your dreams. Pornos, horror films, noir, whatever it may be, are all viewed best late at night by yourself. A celebration of obsession. Sitting by yourself at the local movie theater, you get to get away from your day-to-day life and escape into a wholly different world. The shock of seeing something you maybe didn’t mean to expose yourself to, and finding the experience delicious. Or seeing your most secret thoughts explored on the big screen. You have finally found someone who understands your innermost desires. In Throat Sprockets the erotic potential of bare necks, piercing the skin, and bloodletting is loveling exalted. You go to work and try your best to keep your head above water, but deep down you have this secret life, of secret passions and desires. And sometimes you find something, a film or maybe a novel, that understands what you crave, and helps you sate those hungers. 

Caitlin Kiernan is one of the modern masters of the dark and weird tale. In many stories, Kiernan illustrates characters who long for the unknown, no matter what the risk. Whatever it be in Metamorphosis A where a woman is fated to watch as her girlfriend is lured into the underground dark to take benediction from some subterranean plague goddess, or Houses Under the Sea, where a man watches his lover, a head of a bizarre oceanic cult, called down with her followers into the subterranean depths of the ocean, to strange and inhuman things awaiting them. Kiernan’s fiction sometimes shows the lover watching as the loved one follows a dark path toward self-destruction and a kind of painful liberation. Sometimes Kiernan's fiction shows the narrator longing for an abysmal transcendence they can't seem to find. The interplay between what dark path you must take to save yourself, and what selfsame path leads to your self-destruction is a major trope of Kiernan’s fiction. 

In The Witch, the dark powers come for a young girl named Thomasin. After all else has failed her. Her family. Her religion. Satan comes and lifts her from the dirt and gives her new life and new purpose. Thomasin grew up in colonial New England living in a stifling home ruled by religion and work. In The Witch, Thomasin watches as her life is destroyed and all lay in ruin, yet she is offered a new path, a left-hand path that leads into a beautiful darkness. Tomasin was both accused and shamed by her family, overlooked and undervalued by those who were her loved ones. But one comes from the dark, Satan, who sees her worth and her value. He presents her with a book. With a space for her to sign her name in blood. 

There is a kind of person, a group of people that I include myself in, that I call horror obsessives. These are people who live and die for the art of horror. And not horror in a traditional sense but in an expanded sense, in art house films, poetry, essays, art, music, etc. Wherever one finds their fix. It exemplifies a certain kind of mindset. A certain way of looking at the world. It goes beyond mere fandom into a philosophy of living. A never-ending search for fragile beauty, for certain flowers that can only bloom at night. Horror speaks of a certain longing, for magic that life rarely provides. Where one finds fantasy to be a lie, where realism just depresses, there is a literature, a cinema, waiting for those who are lost and broken. Horror speaks to those who have no safe home. And understands the desire for darkness and corruption. 

Saturday, April 1, 2023

H.P. Lovecraft and his Subterranean Desires

The writer of erotica and H.P. Lovecraft share very similar methods and goals. Both have a favored scene or scenario they return to again and again. For this essay, we shall examine Lovecraft's many stories focused on subterranean locations. Cemeteries, dark tunnels built by no human hand, and cavernous swamps, are all places that feature strongly in Lovecraft’s work. For Lovecraft, the underground places are not just places where things rot and decay, but places where secret knowledge may be found. A kind of hideous revelation awaits those who plunge down into the lightless depths. Lovecraft repeatedly proclaims his love for a civil culture, the culture of gentlemen, of a society dedicated to learning and the humanities, of politeness and distance. Yet his writing reveals a seething undercurrent to his personality. One obsessed with bodily decay, with the infinite mutations of the physical form, of landscapes of disease and abnormalities. A wonderland of plague pits and decomposing corpses, Lovecraft describes them as a pornographer would describe an orgy of young nubile vixens. Lovecraft kept returning and returning to the lightless abysses of the earth beneath our feet. Graveyards, grottos, underground lakes, and sacred chambers bring Lovecraft returning again and again. The Statement of Randolph Carter, The Rats in the Walls, The Festival, The Hound, The Horror at Red Hook, and others all fetishistically return to the sunless depths.

Some of Lovecraft’s more harsh critics describe Lovecraft’s writing as overwrought and too adjective filled. But when Lovecraft enters these abysmal depths, he enters into a kind of ecstasy, shown through language, a literary delirium of nightmare and panic. Why did Lovecraft enter into these states when describing inhuman abominations and bleak landscapes of bones and rot? These places to him were…erotic. He would return again and again to the fetishized place of secret inner pleasure. His narrators all plead how such knowledge of such places must be withheld, how just knowing about these whispered secrets was enough to damn a person who looked too deep into the mysteries. His characters flee in horror from half-human creatures and alien shapes barely seen in the shadows. But the secret here, the final mystery of all of Lovecraft’s mysteries, is that he desires the darkness, the nightmare, the other, to penetrate him to the core. He plays a game with the reader, and with himself. To protest at the awfulness of it all, all the while taking one more peek closer, one more touch of the strange, one more visit into the unutterable realms of derangement. 

In The Shadow over Innsmouth, the narrator after fleeing for most of the tale actually becomes one of the half-human half-fish hybrids. In The Haunter of the Dark, Robert Blake keeps returning to the ancient church and, against all reason, seems to desire to want to be absorbed by the shadowy presence in the steeple. And The Music of Erich Zann haunts the dreams and inner life of the student whose life forever changed after he first heard the mad viol player in the dark of night, the student finds himself trying to discover his way back to the music and the viol player. This desire for a cherished doom is hinted at, not in every story, but in enough that it colors his entire oeuvre. This desire seems to be not a conscious problem Lovecraft is trying to work out, but it does seem to… reveal itself in his work and maybe is a secret he has not come to terms with, It is in his more interesting work, where the evil is not to be banished, it is realized that it is a desired thing, something to transform the banality of life with, to allow yourself to be corrupted by, to be forever altered, that Lovecraft is at his best and his work is most revealing. 

Black-clad men and women in leather, whips and shackles, the smell of sweat and semen. These are the archetypal images of the pornographer. In Lovecraft, the dream imagery is extremely worked out and personal to him. Strange flesh quivering in the shadows, figures wearing masks resembling human faces to hide the unknown horror beneath, landscapes of bone both human and inhuman, underground lakes that have never seen the sun surrounded by fungal shores lined with lichen and slime. These are the dreamlands Lovecraft fantasies in. A kind of charnel paradise he escapes to in his dreams. Or maybe a uterine fantasy? The underground as womb? A birthing ground of horror? The horrors of the body and of the crowds terrify him. So in his dreams he perverts the body and the crowds, he corrupts and disfigures them. The once familiar body becomes a monstrous other, unknowable and alien. The crowd becomes an infestation, overtaking and altering landscapes into their own image. Everything familiar is put at a distance and made strange. Your body, your home, and your loved ones, all become alien and sinister. Lovecraft recreates the universe in his own image of self-disgust and panic. In a sense, Lovecraft sees himself as alien, as abhorrent, his characters are not fleeing from some menace from beyond space, they are fleeing from themselves. There is this really interesting interplay between sadism and masochism in his works. In some of his stories, he favors the unutterable monstrosity, in some he favors the weak-willed victim. Both are roles Lovecraft relishes playing in his perverse psychodramas of horror and the other.

Why do Lovecraft’s characters return again and again to the abysmal darkness? Why tease out the eons cursed abominations, flee for safety, only to retreat back, playing a kind of game with them? Why does Lovecraft himself obsessively return to the rotten earth riddled with wormholes and fetid underground swamps of his literary world? The same reason de Sade returns to the hidden chateau's where one can hear the cracks of whips in the air and the screams of young maidens. The same reason Sacher-Masoch returns to the bottom of his mistress's heel. The same reason Bataille returns to kisses that taste of rat and his dying goddesses. But both horror and the erotic, are not meant to be explained. They are meant to be cherished, to be enjoyed, in secrecy, in darkness. So let us end this essay by saying for those who enjoy Lovecraft's work, Ligotti's work, Campbell's work, Tuttle's work, I would recommend trying your hand at Mirbeau's The Torture Garden, Reage's The Story of O, or Robbe-Grillet's A Sentimental Novel, and see if you don't find a similar pleasure in their darknesses.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Review: The Black Maybe by Attila Veres

Continuing our focus on Valancourt Press and their line of international horror literature, we now come to Attila Veres’s The Black Maybe: Liminal Tales. Another collection that sprung from the success of the first volume of Valancourt’s Book of World Horror Stories and the brilliant tale from Veres that was contained within, The Time Remaining. Valancourt has been releasing some major collections making their English language debut, and The Black Maybe is deserving of being called a major event. 

In The Black Maybe there is a mix of some genuinely creepy horror tales and stories that lean into more dark fantasy. His stories mix this chilly folkish rural feeling with a hint of post-Soviet occupation paranoia. His prose is crisp and elegant. His characters are fleshed out and believable. And his horrors are the kind that doesn't go away at the coming of dawn. His stories take place in this kind of dark eastern European country of horrors. A land of strange growths in the fields and lurking shadows in the corners of your bedroom. For his characters, a kind of dark knowledge awaits to be discovered, or relearned, by them. There is a realization of the hidden traumas the character was overlooking. Things will not turn out how you think they will. You don’t realize the pain and the darkness hidden by your seemingly happy life. And all these hidden traumas erupt into the character's reality, disrupting their lives and corrupting them forever. 

I do confess a bias towards a more realistic form of horror than the more fantastic/fantasy forms of horror fiction. And this collection seems to be split about half and half between realism and fantasy. And what I mean by these terms is in realistic horror, the story takes place in a world we identify as our own, and something infiltrates or contaminates the protagonist's reality, whereas horror in a more fantasy vein takes place in a world that is not ours and follows rules that are not the rules that govern our day to day world. I do feel his realistic horror is his strongest ( and don’t let me misrepresent these tales, even his realist works end up in some very strange places indeed ) but for lovers of more abstract or fantastic horror, this book is very much for you. His horror fantasy tales are gorgeous and surreal and are at the forefront of such work being done today. A mix of folk horror and fantasy, these are strange stories that have few relatives in English horror literature but are deeply rooted in central and eastern European fantastic literature. I would say his realistic horror does show some influence of Campbell and Ligotti, both of whom also drew influence from eastern European literature. 

The story that wowed readers in the Valancourt Book of World Horror is The Time Remaining. And it remains just as strong on a reread. The Time Remaining is a tale of creeping dread with a whiplash kind of ending. A mom gaslighting her child into believing his dolls are dying, with the intention of getting her kid to get rid of such silly toys so he can grow up to be a more mature young man. So the young boy starts seeing his dolls actually becoming sick and falling apart. He tries his best to fix them, becoming an expert in doll surgery. Yet his mother has more revelations in store for him. In the Snow, Sleeping is a tale about a couple that goes on a vacation, meaning to get some rest and enjoy each other's company. What happens is a descent into pure nightmare. Fears of commitment and intimacy follow them on their vacation, and outside forces come to show the true blackened heart of their relationship. To Bite a Dog may be his best work. It's the work that is most restrained, and it may be his most idea-driven. Something, or someone, is attacking dogs at the local park. And a man strangely comes to suspect his lover may have some kind of knowledge of what is happening. And again here we have a strange kind of revelation in store for the main character. To Bite a Dog is a very unique tale, a story that raises some interesting questions and has really fascinating character dynamics

The second half of the book falls more into a dark fantasy direction. Strange beings and weird small-town rituals, these stories are like perverted fairy tales. Here his prose is sharp, characters realistic, in contrast to the dive into delirium and strange realities these tales take the reader on. Post-soviet era towns, dark impenetrable forests, a feeling of underlying paranoia, and a seething nightmare world found to be hiding behind what we complacently call the normal world. In stories like Return to the Midnight School and The Black Maybe, something rotten has taken root in the soil. A past that can not be hidden in the closet. Something that infects life. The corruption has not gone away, it has just been hidden, waiting to erupt. He draws on strange myths and the darker side of classic fantasy tales, yet has a very modern writing style and purpose to his fiction. Here his characters dwell in this place of diseased fantasies, a kind of putrid never-never land.

The Black Maybe and its author Attila Veres bring an exciting new voice to the horror field. Seeing both the homegrown horrors of his native country and the subtle influence of western horror literature makes for a fascinating read. He shows new paths for horror to take while furthering the tradition of horror in literature. This is a remarkable achievement and another example of the great work Valancourt is doing in bringing these important and remarkable non-English works to an English-speaking audience.