For every major release in horror fiction, there are dozens that fall through the cracks. The e-book distribution model cuts both ways––while it’s easier to access small- and self-published novels than ever before, the big cheese publishers still seem to be benefiting more than anybody. Part of it may be due to the overall low quality of self-published horror fiction, but there are undeniably a few winners out there. You just have to dig a bit. Not every book gets table space at Barnes and Noble.
Beyond the break you’ll find a fistful of capsule reviews of small press offerings, including Zombie Cat, Video Night, Ted’s Score, and the second edition of Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide. I know that many B-D readers aren’t the type to shy away from indie horror in any form––be it book, comic, video game, or movie. So if you’ve read any good small press horror this year, drop a note in the comments. I’ve received several excellent horror fiction recommendations from our readers in the past, and I’m always looking for more.
For parents looking to introduce their little ones to the world of zombie lore, this 32-page picture book might be just the ticket. When Tiddles the cat is attacked by an infected field mouse, owner Jake is forced to adapt to the changes in his feline friend. The simple story is good for a few smirks, but Straker’s pleasantly grotesque illustrations are what sets this one apart. A solid Christmas present for your gramma who got into The Walking Dead out of nowhere.
3.5 out of 5 Skulls
More of a gory supernatural thriller than a horror novel, Video Night channels the “latchkey kids” of the 80s as two teenage buddies try to arrange a “video night” with a couple of single ladies…on the same evening a host of alien parasites take over the local townsfolk. With punchy dialogue and crackerjack visuals, Cesare’s second novel is a breezy pleasure, but his decision to give his monsters dialogue and personality drains away any potential tension. Call it “the Freddy Krueger problem”. Still, horror nerds looking to relive the magic of VHS-powered movie nights could certainly do worse than this monster mash.
3 out of 5 Skulls
The first few chapters of Ted’s Score hint at another bleak torture porn entry, but Coughlin, the screenwriter of 2007’s Lake Dead, is smarter than that. Instead of sticking with the mundane details of survival horror tradition, he cranks his plot through a Habitrail of riveting twists that make the pages fly by. When Ted, an aging serial killer, crosses paths with a pretty blond teenager, a collision course is set for the upcoming Spring Formal. But like Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, the plot of Ted’s Score is powered by the unforgiving inevitability of coincidence, and its greatest strength lies in its unpredictability. In his own dark, twisted way, Coughlin reminds us that under the right circumstances, anyone is capable of murder.
4 out of 5 Skulls
Oh man, do you guys remember 2008? It was a halcyon time when American pop culture was so smothered in zombies, you couldn’t throw a dismembered arm without hitting some form of entertainment based on the living dead. That’s also the year Glenn Kay published the first edition of Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide, possibly presuming (like the rest of us) that we were approaching the beginning of the end of zombie oversaturation. I guess not much has changed. Due to the dozens of zombified cash-ins that have been released since 2008, Kay has been compelled to release a Second Edition of his zombie movie encyclopedia a mere four years later.
With the exception of a few omissions, Zombie Movies covers the vast majority of zombie films released since 1932’s White Zombie, most with a simple capsule review. Kay is a knowledgeable writer with a dry sense of humor, and while he offers some genuinely keen observations regarding the evolution of the subgenre, some readers will vehemently disagree with his individual ratings. (He lavishes praise on 1980’s The Fog while taking a desecrating dump all over 1989’s Pet Sematary). It’s also worth noting that the book is printed in black-and-white, a serious disappointment when you consider the number of posters, photos, and lobby cards included. Luckily, Kay was savvy enough to include an 18-page color spread, which serves as a redemption of sorts. While it’s not perfect, Zombie Movies is superior to most of the “zombie encyclopedias” currently on the market, and a straight-up necessity for the zombie superfans among us.
4 out of 5 Skulls