BOOK REVIEW: Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 1
– By Dave Dubrow
Taking the title of Comet Press’s anthology Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 1 at face value rather than a product of the editors’ preferences is a disquieting proposition, but we’ll go with it. There’s a great deal to be learned about the horror genre as it stands today from this collection, some of it good, some of it dismaying.
The three stories written by women all involve female protagonists making male characters helpless and doing unspeakable things to them. Lilith Morgan’s What You Wish For adds a supernatural element to advance this motif, when a young man meets an apparently innocent young woman on the New York subway, and sexual hijinks with knives and blood ensue. Exposed by Monica J O’Rourke tells the story of a woman torturing a kidnapper of young girls. Clare de Lune’s Hungry for Control takes us to the zombie apocalypse, where a bisexual woman finds (and ties up) the abusive cop she had been sleeping with before zombies destroyed civilization. That these three stories share the same theme is not accidental, but it must be left to the reader to draw any conclusions.
Masculinity, femininity, and sexual politics are addressed by some of the other authors in the collection. In Kristopher Triana’s Dead End, a serial killer of women is called a misogynist, as though such a label is at least as bad as killing women and leaving their bodies in the desert. Jorge Palacios’s Bath Salt Fetus judges Puerto Rico as “a hellhole seething with Catholic guilt, a judgmental attitude, and unfiltered sexism.” In it, a young woman’s self-aborted baby turns into the late punk rocker GG Allin: someone tough, strong, and who takes no shit (in fact, he eats some). The same GG Allin transmogrifies into a suburban husband and father in MP Johnson’s Bored With Brutality, but it’s an uneasy transformation, made more so when Allin’s true nature must emerge to deal with an external threat. There are, it seems, no more recently dead degenerates to resurrect as male power figures. In furtherance of this masculinity deficit, the hapless, foolish protagonist Gordy in Pete Kahle’s Where the Sun Don’t Shine is described as, “the typical American white male,” a disparaging description meant to tell you everything you need to know, and not just about Gordy.
Issues of faith also get a workout. The Behrg’s Reborn involves an ineffectual Catholic priest unable to deal with true evil entering his church. Jason Parent’s Eleanor also involves an ineffectual Catholic priest, along with said priest’s unusual and grotesque ward. Both of these priests do like the ladies, however, a welcome departure from today’s brave, shocking, and hackneyed portrayals of Catholic clergy as homosexual pedophiles. To round out the trinity, so to speak, Scott Emerson’s The Most Important Miracle posits a bizarre form of worship and a disturbing, if delicious god to be sacrificed.
The stand-outs in the collection include Michael Paul Gonzalez’s Worth the Having, where disturbing, generational bargains are struck; and Adam Howe’s Cleanup on Aisle 3, a hilarious (and sickening) story of a convenience store stickup. Adam Cesare’s Readings off the Charts is a fun piece that keeps you guessing, though it’s a bit less hardcore compared to the other stories. Blackbird Lullaby by George Cotronis shows us the unfortunate members of a club you don’t want to be part of, and Tony Knighton’s The Scavengers deals with mercenaries, natives, and a terrible tribal revenge.
In just about every short story collection you’ll encounter there are going to be stories you like, some you don’t, and others you skip through. Pleasantly, in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 1, the highs elevate the anthology far more than the lows drag it down. There’s imagery in here to turn even the most seasoned stomach (heh). Horror, as a genre, isn’t what it used to be, and whether you embrace the change or not, I’m sure you’ll find at least a few stories in this anthology worthy of your attention.