[Book Review] ‘Demons’ Tells 36 Tales of Evil

Now in stores from Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers is John Skipp’s hotly anticipated “Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed”, which Ryan Daley found pretty damn entertaining.

This mind-blowing anthology cracks open the lid on demonic lore, from the possessed to fallen angels and the Devil himself. The next book in Black Dog’s supernatural series, Demons presents thirty-six terrifying, tantalizing tales in which evil spirits wreak havoc on the world.

Horror legend John Skipp, editor of Zombies and Werewolves and Shapeshifters, provides fascinating insight into the history and details of demon lore, and its role in popular culture. Between the extensive resource materials and the lovingly selected stories – ranging from fantasy, horror, paranormal romance, and magic realism to full-blown Bizarro – Demons is an indispensable text, and the most fun you’ll ever have with the forces of evil. I received my copy of Demons a little over a month ago, but am only now getting around to writing this review. Why the delay? ‘Cause like editor John Skipp’s previous anthologies from publishers Black Dog & Leventhal, Demons is a fucking monster, 600 pages of devilry heavy enough to bust a vertebrae. It may have taken me literally weeks to wade through this infernal tome, but I emerged from the final page greasy and satisfied, my eyebrows only slightly singed.

In the acknowledgements, Skipp heaps generous praise on the Tim Pratt-edited Sympathy for the Devil––a similar anthology from 2010––but in comparison, Demons totally smokes its ass. Skipp states that he “vowed not to pull a single repeat from [Pratt’s] roster”, which ends up being a good thing. Frankly, Pratt’s effort was mediocre at best, which perhaps drove Skipp to venture outside the box in search of better stories. In any case, it’s the reader who reaps the rewards of Skipp’s editorial ethics, for Demons offers a particularly diverse bounty of Satan stories. Yep, there’s something here for everybody.

The anthology fires out of the gate with a fistful of classic pieces––most of which you’ve probably read before––including “The Monkey’s Paw“, “The Devil and Daniel Webster“, “The Black Cat“, and even an excerpt from The Exorcist. (Personally, I’ve never read The Exorcist, but a mere 24 pages of William Peter Blatty’s searing prose left me desperate to pick up a copy.) Next, the book moves on to more contemporary efforts, like “Hell” by the esteemed Richard Christian Matheson, and “Best Friends” by Robert R. McCammon, you know, some deep cuts from the ‘80s. The beast closes out with some brand new stuff, like the bleak humor of “Mom” by Bentley Little, and the edgy, foreboding “Our Blood in Its Blind Circuit” by J. David Osborne. Best of all, Demons introduced me to “Pilgrims to the Cathedral” by Mark Arnold (originally published in 1988’s Silver Scream), an endearing story about an old drive-in movie theater that’s been retooled for cult classics. Arnold’s somewhat nostalgic approach eventually gives way to a veritable eruption of gore that will leave horror movie geeks cheering at the page.

A few of the more experimental pieces were regrettably tedious, but overall Demons ranks as one of the best horror anthologies of 2011. Mandatory reading for the helplessly hell bound.

4/5 Skulls