Sunday, March 10, 2013

Re-Vamp (2011)

Booth, Die and L.C. Hu, eds., Re-Vamp, The Mad Doctors of Literature/CreateSpace, 2011. 220 pages


Visit Re-Vamp! at Goodreads
Check out the Re-Vamp! page here

The concept behind Re-Vamp is to challenge contemporary interpretations of traditional horror creatures by hearkening back to the tales of old. The stories in Re-Vamp feature classic approaches to creatures that go bump in the night, focusing in an orderly fashion on vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies and serial killers (oh my!). The project was a labour of love for editors Die Booth and L. C. Hu, who first met by sharing their admiration of classic horror in an online chat room. Begun online, they posted their own tales and invited readers to submit theirs. This anthology collects a number of those submitted.

While I don't normally review self-published fiction I was intrigued by this project. I too enjoy classic suspense tales, horrific and otherwise. My own concern with contemporary horror is that the genre has become a marketable commodity, and anything too blatantly mainstream conforms to an unthinking pattern. Just look at how Hollywood represents the genre.

But I digress.

I must admit I am confused about the title since "revamp" essentially means to thoroughly recreate something, whereas this anthology is by its nature ignoring the genre's evolution over the last several decades, and I am wondering if the project should not have been titled "Pre-Vamp!"

Regardless of what I think, while reading these stories it was clear that the editors (and some authors) involved are familiar with classic horror tropes. While the stories here are far simpler than the works of Algernon Blackwood, Sheridan Le Fanu and company, they do evoke the more obvious elements of the founders of modern horror. Where the stories fail, aside from general length and complex sentence structure, is on a visual scale. Many stories lean toward the abstract, while some focus a little too much on the gore, from stepping on eyeballs to eyeballs hanging from sockets.

While as homage the stories work nicely and many do entertain, I wonder if these stories, which I suppose can be lumped among the pseudo sub-genre of fan fiction, are necessary. A fine writing exercise and a bit of entertainment, all genres progress amid cultural evolution; horror is often a response to contemporary anxieties, and as much as we don't like the treatment of our favourite creatures by mainstream media, as part of this (western) society we are all responsible for it. The genre will continue to progress along with audience needs and general anxieties, and hopefully there are enough of us out there to (financially) support the intelligent, often underground representations of the genre.

And I continue to digress.

The anthology, though entertaining, is uneven. My personal favourite author among the group (since most appear more than once) is co-editor L. C. Hu, while my favourite single story is "The Fourth Ape" by the other co-editor, Die Booth


VAMPIRES

Though vampires are among my least preferred sub-genre creatures, the vampirical section of Re-Vamp is one of the better ones. My favourite piece here is L.C. Hu's "Lump," whereas I could have been spared the poetry.

The Tangled Thread by Die Booth
The title refers not to Sir Walter Scott's famous rhyme from "Marmion," but to the threads that bind family across generations. A 1908 manuscript revealing the killing of an undead boy in a house once believed haunted leads to a contemporary teenager's own involvement with a vampire, and a fate linked to his genealogical past.

Beyond the Grave by Fallon Parker
Two rational men find themselves in a small isolated community just before the annual festival. While staying with the kindly old Gretchen, the neighbour girl goes missing, and our rational pair are forced to contend with creatures that exist beyond the realm of reason.

Apotropaic Proliferation by Adrian Benson
A poem. Traditional rhyming and lots of teeth. Some minor scanning problems but some fun mid-verse constructions.

Lump by L.C. Hu
Kurt and Anne carpool to and from work, and on this particular afternoon they see what they believe is a body on Route 15. They do not stop to help, but they do dial 9-1-1, and shortly after they leave the terrible dreams begin. I liked that mobile lump and Kurt's tenuous grasp on reality, but the story needs to be tightened with a good editorial vice. Plenty of promise here.

Sometimes They Do by Deirdre M. Murphy
A drabble: A story of exactly a hundred words, so we're informed.


GHOSTS
I do like a good ghost story, and ghost stories are certainly among the most versatile among suspense tales. A good grouping, this one. My favourite one here is Adrian Benson's.

Ghost of a Smile by Tammy Lee
A surprisingly good story about a little girl haunting an old house in rural Alberta. Structurally framed via an editor, a ghost story she once published, and a letter written as response.

The Twelve O'Clock Man by David Hill
Through his apartment window our narrator notices an old man in the park. A slight story, predictable but not at all bad.

Retrospectre by Die Booth
A former hippie, a remnant from the summer of love, experiences a little high with a former buddy, now ghost. I didn't care for this one.

Fragments from the Ghost Apocrypha #1 by Adrian Benson
One of the better stories in the anthology. While predictable it's nonetheless interesting, unfolds well and gives us a strong and memorable visual at its climax.

Ghostwalk by J. T. Wilson
A cynical man joins a celebrated ghost walk. Another predictable yet enjoyable story.

The Unseen by L. C. Hu
The title is twofold: unseen not just as ghost but in that our narrator is blind. Though we figure out the crux right at the start, it is nonetheless a good, satisfying read.

End of the Line by Tessa J. Brown
On a Montreal metro a woman finds herself on a speeding train with a creepy co-traveller. Classic certainly, hence predictable, but sadly not as engaging as the previous predictable tales.

Love Never Dies by Milla Galea
The idea here is that a ghost is the manifestation of one's grief. The potential implication is that the narrator has simply gone mad.


WEREWOLVES
The werewolf section is a little weak, the stories a little too similar. I understand that the transformation process is interesting to consider, but there are so many other possible approaches to a werewolf tale. My favourite here is Tessa J. Brown's "Family."

Werewolf Haiku by Claudia Glazzard
It's a haiku. It features a werewolf...

The Natural Beast by L. C. Hu
Another homage piece from Hu. This one allows a mysterious belt to transform its wearer into a wolf. Interesting idea and though it begins with a bang, it concludes with a whimper.

Dogged by Die Booth
A young couple in the early stage of their relationship rent a country cabin. They discover a wounded dog and learn that lycanthropy can spread through non-traditional means.

Once we were Gods by John Ivor Jones
More poetry.

Family by Tessa J. Brown
A man tries to warn a camper and son of the recent deadly night-time attacks on campers, whereas he, a wolf in the full moon, is the attacker. Brown's best story in the anthology. I liked the moral considerations, though they would have been more interesting if the characters weren't so extreme.

Grey and White and Red by M. Harley
Another exploration of a man becoming wolf. Over-written, I could not get engaged.


ZOMBIES
The weakest grouping in the anthology. Post-apocalyptic zombies are less traditional, I was expecting more voodoo as we've seen with the likes of H. G. Wells and other turn-of-the-century Brits. I don't really have a preferred story here.

Escape by Tessa J. Brown
Our first zombie apocalypse story finds us in the Montreal Biodome with the lone human survivor and a bunch of semi-exotic animals. The idea is better than the story; an exploration of primal nature amid the artificial jungle would have been a potentially awesome approach, but instead we have a slight sketch with an unsatisfying resolution.

Found by Die Booth
Stories of wanting to bring departed loved ones back to life are common, as in popular stories like Robert Silverberg's Nebula Award-winning "Born with the Dead" (1974), Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary (1983), and the classic W. W. Jacobs short tale, "The Monkey's Paw" (1902). Booth's "Found" makes reference to the last, from invoking the ominous paw to having family members playing chess. A powerful theme, I'm sure we'll be encountering more in the vein.

Flowers in the Snow by Tammy Lee
Turns out that zombieism is spread through spores. Remember that Star Trek episode, everyone loves each other? Not a bad concept, but not a good story. Lee's ghost story was far superior.

Mr. Zombie by L. C. Hu
Not exactly a zombie story, this little sketch narrated by an average guy sees the office worker as a kind of walking dead. Entertaining. Non-traditional.

But They Love Me by Die Booth
A rock star crowd surfs. Nothing traditional and another story I couldn't get into.


SERIAL KILLERS
A surprisingly good section. These monsters are definitely modern and I was surprised to see them included, but not having read many serial killer tales, I found this section quite fresh.

The Maggot by Michele Rimmer
Having gone to the home of a man she met at a party, a woman notices that there are maggots falling from the ceiling. Prose is good but story is anticlimactic.

The Fourth Ape by Die Booth
Sixteen year-old Charlotte is slave to an eccentric and reclusive collector. She must clean his home daily, including all of its taxidermied knick-knacks. Yes we know how it will end, but unlike most stories in the anthology this one is written with patience and care, as the author himself was aware that he was working on something worth working on. If he works on it a little more it can be quite the memorable little tale.

A Place for a Girl with Hair Slides by J. T. Wilson
A naive teen's journal entries tell of her environmentalist boyfriend from a broken home, and some school girls who have recently gone missing. I found this story more engaging than I'd expected, and I liked our unlikely heroine's voice. Unfortunately the end is to be expected and the climax reads a little too drily. The author tries to remove the emotion by having our narrator claim that she has herself been removed both via emotion and time (this entry dates several days after the incident) and it sadly falls flat. Lost of promise here, though.

All Better by L. C. Hu
A little tale of a mother and her ever-whining child. Yes it's predictable, but this little story is quite creepy.



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