(2022) Darrell Buxton (editor), BHF Independently Published, £8.00, pbk, 348pp, ISBN: 979-8-351-99302-7
Remember the Pan Books of Horror stories edited by Herbert Van Thal? They were my introduction to horror in my youth, starting out anthologising classics from Poe, Lovecraft, Le Fanu, etc. Later issues in the 30 book run included newer authors but generally moved to brutal revenge stories rather than exploring the full range of psychological dread and Gothic classics.
These anthology horror books also had marvellously garish cover art, with human skulls with spiders in the eye sockets, etc.
Now the BHF (British Horror Films) has largely revised the look and style of the series, though with new authors in themed editions. They are currently up to number 'Ate', which deals with cannibalism. Yes, they really do spell Eight ‘Ate’ for this one.
The main book in the series I have read is Number Seven, dealing with rogue animal creature features set over the whole UK, with demonic wasps in Skegness, and flesh eating bedbugs in Stockport.
Darrell’s own contribution, 'Killer', pitches a serial killer into a duel to the death with a shark.
Tony Earshaw’s ‘Bloodlington Pier’ has the most per page carnage when the kraken surfaces and destroy a seaside town in truly spectacular fashion. Ian Taylor adds episodes III and IV to his ongoing ‘Flash McGrath’ saga, a John Constantine – Hellblazer style series of tales about an agent of Satan, (McGrath) who tends to want to save souls rather than sending them to Hell. In these chapters, Satan turns the entire animal kingdom on his employee to teach him a lesson. McGrath even finds that he can’t trust a cow.
In ‘Neither’ Jez Conolly bi-passes the pattern for what animals are going to kill who with what degree of ferocity in favour of having a sinister and rather amorous pet of unknown species, kept by publicans in the cellar of their bar in Nythe. This is a great play on the dog-owner who thinks their pet is adorable even though their guests would rather it never came near them slavering, licking, etc.
Ken Shinn has a great deal of fun with his rather horror-free yarn, ‘The Pernicious Plot of Professor Pelham’, wherein a deranged scientist obsessed with the letter ‘P’ unleashes poodles, Pekinese, puppies and other dogs starting with his favourite letter on the unsuspecting public until the Quatermass-like Benjamin Fourmile sets out to stop him.
Urmston, Manchester, features in the very odd Wayne Mook contribution, ‘The Seal of the Cabbage Whites’, where butterflies are the villains (the seal being among several seal statues that used to stand in the town).
Stephen Lang’s ‘Kill Kill Wood’ has unexpected guest stars in that the troubles caused by chipmunks is first spotted on a 1978 episode of Blue Peter, featuring presenter John Noakes.
The range and scope in the tales is what makes the collection(s) work very well. You really never know what is coming next and some writers go really left-field to keep the reader guessing.
Some of the stories are simply descriptions of various critters going on the rampage, killing people in viscerally detailed set pieces, with no explanation of why the animals have gone on the rampage or any resolution to the stories. The better stories have the humans figuring out why nature has turned on us and / or having at least a fighting chance of surviving. In ‘The Earwigs of Wigan Casino’ by Christopher Tighe, when a gang of mods find their reunion gig disturbed by an invasion of killer earwigs, they use their Doc Martins and stomp dance moves to crunch their way out of the crisis, pitching earwigs against earworm music.
In the most surreal and political yarn, ‘Seaside Massacre’ by Jason D Brawn a family of holiday makers find themselves trapped in a parallel World ‘Farrage-On-Sea’ where Nigel Farrage is venerated with a promenade statue until giant crabs right out of a Guy N Smith novel of the 1970s turn up to help rid the town of its racists - if only.
Volume nine in this book series promises to move stories to an international setting.
The stories inevitably vary in quality as with any anthology but the hits outnumber the near-misses a great deal. Darrell Buxton does a great job editing (he has had charge of most of the volumes to date). Many of the thirty stories are appropriately illustrated too, by various artists. Another nice touch is the mock 1970’s pricing, with the back cover price declared as 45p and 50p as the Van Thal titles sold for, though the BHF books actually currently retail at £8 each.
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