It’s easy to forget sometimes that horror fiction can be fun. It’s understandable, of course; after all, horror is the genre charged with examining the dark corners. It’s the vehicle by which we take a look at how bad things can get, and how we as human beings react. Do we fight back? Are we victimized? Scarred for life? Doesn’t sound like fun, does it?
Horror movies often mine the lighter side of the dark side. Maybe one of the soon-to-be-victims of a serial killer is a real cut-up (so to speak). Maybe the scares come with a wink-and-a-nudge, like in Tremors or Evil Dead II. Maybe it’s a comedy with horrific elements, like Ghostbusters. Maybe it’s something that’s just so damn cool you can’t help but grin through the goosebumps. There are tons of examples of this to choose from in horror cinema, but fun horror fiction, whether it’s a scary story played for laughs or just a balls-to-the-wall piece of writing that’s infused with the fun the author had constructing it, is a little harder to come by. Thanks, then, are due to Kasey Lansdale and Subterranean Press for bringing us a collection of horror fiction that’s fun to read. They call it Impossible Monsters.
Let me be clear: this is not the wink-and-a-nudge kind of fun, it’s not slapstick comedy, and it’s not fiction making fun of horror. This is the kind of pure joy that comes with collecting a group of master craftsmen and craftswomen, stripping away all the rules and conventions, and watching them create things that are new and fresh. The authors of these stories – and there are big names here, people like Neil Gaiman and Chet Williamson and David J. Schow and Kasey Lansdale’s father, Joe R. Lansdale – are either coming up with new riffs on tried-and-true horror formulas or chucking them altogether and presenting stuff that’s completely unheard of.
Gaiman, for example, presents what feels like a classic bedtime spook story (he calls it “Click-Clack the Rattlebag,” which just sounds spooky as hell, doesn’t it?), but twists it in on itself so that you’re second-, third- and fourth-guessing yourself by the end of its scant length. Sookie Stackhouse creator Charlaine Harris lays the vampires aside for a tense, engrossing werewolf tale with a cool twist of its own. And Al Sarrantonio joins in on the fun with a horror story that starts out with a group of young couples staying at a remote cabin on a remote lake before veering off into uncharted waters.
Impossible Monsters does stray into bleaker territory a time or two, as if to remind you that Lansdale and company aren’t playing around. Williamson’s “Detritus” is particularly disturbing, as a young poet retreats to a hotel room to try and reignite his muse. Instead, he begins a rapid descent into a grotesque form of madness that finds him meditating on scabs, skin flakes, bodily fluids and boogers, an obsession that manifests itself in a truly disgusting manner. You’ll never sleep soundly in a hotel room again. It should also be mentioned that “Detritus” has an ending that’s unrelentingly grim, capped off with a last line that made me laugh out loud.
I should also mention that Impossible Monsters is refreshingly lean. Clocking in at 200 pages, it leaves you completely satisfied while simultaneously wishing Impossible Monsters II would appear, like, right now.
Lansdale’s done a great job. The authors have delivered some great stories. All you’ve got to do is pick it up and hang on tight. Highly recommended.