Friday, 19 November 2010

The Power of Three – 1st installment

After much painful navel-gazing, I’ve decided that constantly promoting myself on here, even if it is MY blog, is a little self-indulgent, and doesn’t do justice to my many rivals in the horror field, both past and present. So each Friday afternoon from now on (or most Friday afternoons, workload permitting), I thought I’d treat you all – and myself – by posting reviews of three great horror stories that have caught my attention over the years. I’ve kept a careful list of these tales, which I constantly update, so all I need to do at the end of each week is dip into it thrice – but folk should be warned; the list alone is over 90 pages long, so there’s an awful lot to choose from.

There’ll be no rhyme or reason to my selections. With so much material to hand, it would be tediously time-consuming trying to find themes and comparisons each week, so I’ve taken the easy option – I will literally pull out each Friday’s choices on the roll of a dice. There’ll be absolutely no connection between any of the stories I choose to talk about, except that they all came out of the hat on the same day. Unfortunately, each review will need to be fairly brief (as per the ultra concise but always appetising short story outlines that you see on the excellent ‘Vault of Evil’), and I’m still not sure at this point whether it would be wise to include spoilers. Most likely, I’ll continue to follow the ‘Vault of Evil’ model by attempting in a few short lines to capture the flavour of the story in question and only hint at the horrors to come. I won’t bother to rate these tales on a best-out-of-five or best-out-of-ten type basis. Suffice to say that if they’re on my list already it’s because I really, really like them.

So here we go. It’s only a bit of fun, but if it helps pass a Friday afternoon tea-break, it’s got to be worth it. My choices this week are:

When The World Goes Quiet by Simon Kurt Unsworth

A guy and his girl hold out in their north of England flat, while, outside, the dead walk.

It may not sound hugely original, but there isn’t a word wasted in this exquisite study of what it would actually mean to have survived the first zombie onslaught and then be stuck in the desolate hereafter. But the really good news – at least from my POV – is that Skuns doesn’t skimp on the fear factor for the sake of soppy post-Apocalypse ponderings, and yet it’s what you don’t see in this tautly written terror tale, rather than what you do see, that frightens the most.

First published in Unsworth’s Ash-Tree collection, LOST PLACES, 2010.

The Drain by Stephen Gallagher

A bunch of Lancashire urchins, up to no good, find themselves in a derelict drainage system – and guess what? It isn’t long before they realise they aren’t alone.

Another of those masterly Gallagher chillers that flawlessly captures the time and place in which it is set. This was unputdownable reading for me, not just because it’s edge-of-the-seat scary, but because there was a time when I was a Lancashire urchin, myself, as, I suspect, was Mr. Gallagher. But as usual with Steve, the mundane combines with the monstrous to create perfect horror symmetry, and the backdrop of the industrial north, with all its grot and grime, and its deceptively non-supernatural atmosphere, adds to it immensely. A classic.

First published in FANTASY TALES 4, 1990 (as far as I’m aware – though I’m quite happy to be corrected; in fact, I make no claim to be a horror scholar, so readers should feel free to correct me about any dates or details of first publication, etc).

The Horror-Horn by E.F. Benson

A mountaineer is pursued through the Alpine forests by something less than human.

A bit of a slight tale compared to the other two this week, but Benson conjures up a delicious sense of fear as his hapless hero struggles through a snowy landscape which, while it doesn’t figure very often in horror fiction today, certainly seemed to do it for our Edwardian forebears given the number of times it was utilised. Not Benson’s cleverest perhaps – in fact it isn’t wrapped up completely to my satisfaction – but a fun ride while it lasts, and a genuinely spooky if unexplained monster.

First appeared in HUTCHINSON’S MAGAZINE, 1922.

1 comment:

  1. Simon Kurt Unsworth's story is one of the best zombie-related stories that I have ever read, with its understated tone of pathos & loss amidst great horror. "Lost Places" itself is a classic collection which should be treasured by lovers of supernatural horror. Recommended for buying:
    For those willing to read "The Horror Horn":
    For those willing to read "The Drain":