BOOK REVIEW: Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2
– By Dave Dubrow
The overarching theme of YEAR’S BEST HARDCORE HORROR VOLUME 2 is quantity over quality. This doesn’t make it a bad book, but many of its stories sacrifice plot for rote, graphic imagery. Hardcore horror, as it’s presented in this collection, isn’t dissimilar to hardcore pornography. Who cares about the pizza guy’s internal dialogue when the customer’s door opens to reveal a woman wearing nothing but heels and a smile? We just want to see them get it on. That’s YBHHV2, in large part: to Hell with the story; let’s fast forward to the gross parts.
Michael A. Arnzen’s 55 Ways I’d Prefer Not to Die is the first story in the collection, and exemplifies quantity over quality so well that I can’t believe that its placement was an accident. The story’s title says it all. Stephanie M. Wytovich’s Selected Poems from The Brothel, in the author’s own words, “takes off the patriarchal blindfold.” So it’s got that going for it. Wytovich’s second offering in the collection is On This Side of Bloodletting, and continues the theme of gross images without a story. Eric LaRocca also goes for horror vignettes with Miss_Vertebrae, a series of emails.
Wrath James White’s Ownership was an interesting setting in search of a story. If you’re a fan of verbiage like “Integrating with downflowing lacrimae,” you’ll quite like Jeremy Thompson’s The Hallowfiend Remembers. Marvin Brown’s The Field mixes American racial politics and horror for the lucky reader who appreciates that sort of thing. A Face in the Crowd by Tim Waggoner was short, but fans of the crane game will dig it. Christa Carmen’s The Girl Who Loved Bruce Campbell was unabashed Ash vs Evil Dead fanfic, which you can tell from the title.
You’ll find a bit of science fiction mingled with this volume’s horror offerings. Alexandra Renwick’s Redux does the trick, but Harold Ramis did it better. Andrew Darlington’s Coming of the Darkula, with plenty of graphic sex scenes, definitely puts the emphasis on coming. Tim Miller’s story Backne has a disgusting build-up without a satisfying conclusion. Implant by Bryan Smith is one of those brief tales that you’ll either find memorable or you won’t. And Adam Cesare shines a light on the search for internet fame in Please Subscribe (I found the hermit crab “trick” to be the most horrific part of the story).
William Grabowski’s Out Hunting for Teeth is my favorite story in the collection. If you’ve never read bizarro fiction, it’s an excellent introduction to the genre. American Gods, American Monsters by Jose Cruz delves into obsession and urban legend, making both relevant. There’s a trippy, disturbing surrealism to Stephanie Elrick’s story Mother’s Nature that you won’t soon forget.
Italy is well-represented with Paolo Di Orazio’s The Contract: horrific and hallucinatory and hard to read for all the right reasons. Alessandro Manzetti’s futuristic, bizarre Kozmic Blues keeps you hooked through the last page…literally.
Little Sister, Little Brother by Sarah L. Johnson is a little long, but combines familial love and physical intimacy in a way that makes you feel dirty for liking it. You’re a fan of Jasper Bark, right? Bark’s Bed of Crimson Joy will make you a fan, whether you want to be or not. Matthew Chabin’s disquieting Father of Dread takes themes that Robert W. Chambers made famous in The King in Yellow and updates them.
Every story in the collection includes notes from the author, which you may or may not find welcome. So what makes horror “hardcore”? Is it the blood? The pus? The screams? The body count? Or is it what the publisher says it is? However you define it, you’ll definitely find some hardcoreness in this collection. And if it’s not hardcore enough for you, let me know so I can stay far away.
Read Dave’s review of Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 1 right HERE.