A quick review of Halloween Carnival, a quintet of October tales released by Cemetery Dance this week:
In the volume’s lead-off piece (and lone reprint), “Strange Candy,” Robert R. McCammon concocts a treat with a much different flavor than his other autumnal–and more overtly horrific–narratives (“He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door”; They Thirst; Usher’s Passing). An odd, unwrapped, hand-shaped confection found in a child’s trick-or-treat bag is not quite the sinister item it first seems in this short, bittersweet, and affecting story.
Kevin Lucia’s “The Rage of Achilles, or When Mockingbirds Sing” offers a unique take on traditional Halloween tale-telling in this twisty story that moves in and out of a church confessional on the night of the 31st. With its allusive title, small-town setting, and depiction of family anguish, this one reminds me of Gary Braunbeck’s work, alongside which Lucia’s here does not pale.
“Demon Air” by John Little unfortunately never quite gets off the ground. This slight story starts from a bizarre premise–an airline flight is supernaturally skyjacked by hellfiends bent on Halloween hijinks–and builds to a limp climax.
October-holiday authority Lisa Morton sojourns south of the border in “La Hacienda de Los Muertos.” While its conclusion is a fairly standard one, the tale establishes a creepy atmosphere throughout, and features some fearful scenes involving the ghostly legend La Llorona.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the volume is its concluding novella, “#MakeHalloweenScaryAgain” by Mark Allan Gunnells. A small-time horror writer is haunted by his grousing Facebook post when an apparent psychopath in his own hometown answers the cri de scare with a late-October terror campaign (that includes the publicized threat to invade an undecorated home and slaughter its unspirited inhabitants on Halloween night). Gunnells excels here in his depiction of the resultant panic that grips the community; a large cast of characters also heightens the mystery concerning the identity of the killer masked as a murderous scarecrow.
Cemetery Dance plans to publish a new volume in the series every Tuesday this month, and my goal is to follow along with reviews of each story collection. In the meantime, be sure to check out this first act of Halloween Carnival, which is well worth the price of admission.