Thursday, 26 April 2012

Mammoth Book of Body Horror

The Mammoth Book of Body Horror
Edited by Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan
Reviewed by Jenny Barber

With a name like Mammoth Book of Body Horror, you can reasonably expect a high proportion of gruesome to be contained within - and yes, there is, but where this anthology really excels is the variety of horror tales presented - from classics by Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft to more modern fare from the likes of David Moody, Michael Marshall Smith and Nancy A. Collins.

While some of the stories were a bit of a trial to read - John Campbell's Who Goes There runs to an insane length and Lovecraft's Herbert West - Reanimator would also have benefited from getting to the point a lot quicker - for the main, the collected stories make for a compelling read, ranging from out and out gross to fascinating dark satire.

The Body Politic by Clive Barker delivers a concept that is both creepy and just a bit clever. It tells the tale of what happens when hands develop independent thinking and stage a revolution against their body oppressors. The thought of all those hands scuttling around is likely to stick with you long after you've finished reading and Barker's delivery manages to make you side with the hands against the unpleasant protagonist.

In Fruiting Bodies by Brian Lumley we've got an enjoyably creepy story where an exotic kind of dry rot has overtaken the remains of a village abandoned due to cliff erosion.  While the tentacles of fungus that work their way into everything, including the remains of the graveyard, would be more than enough to feed nightmares, it's their interaction with the last living inhabitants - one man and his dog - that really hammer home the horror of it all. Where this story really scores is in its easy readable style that is reminiscent of classic King stories and it keeps your interest with relateable characters in a setting rife with possibilities.

Hitting the classics is The Fly by George Langelaan which is quite an intriguing yarn that was also the basis for the films of the same name. (Which I didn't know beforehand.)  The basis of the tale, therefore, should need little introduction - take one mad scientist fiddling about with teleportation, add in the unfortunate results of extra test subjects sneaking into the teleport process and merging on rematerialisation with the aforementioned scientist, and you've got a recipe for a classic mutation story.  All of which is fine enough but with such a pompous narrator opening things up the story runs the risk of crashing to a halt quite early.  Luckily, this isn't his story, as once the narration moves to the mad scientist's wife and her version of events, things pick up beautifully.

Butterfly by Axelle Carolyn is a bit of a mood piece - a short reflective story about a coma victim's transformation which has a definite aww factor to it while Tis the Season to be Jelly by Richard Matheson took me a moment or two to get into the hang of the slang but it's got a fun ending with a killer last line.

One of the stories I've definitely read before is The Look by Christopher Fowler, which first saw the light in the Urban Gothic anthology from Telos Publishing.  It hasn’t lost any of its appeal since then. In it you get a quite fascinating and very disturbing commentary on the modelling industry as you follow a couple of wannabes sneaking in to see a fashion designer in the hopes of the protagonist being picked to be the star model for the coming year. Except it's her friend who gets picked instead and the current star model decides to enlighten the protag as to just what nastiness her friend is going to be in for. 

Whether you're new to the horror genre or not as well read as you'd like to be, this is definitely a good anthology to dip into as it has a good balance of classic reprints and shiny new stories that showcase a wide range of horror styles and authors. Cracking stuff.

Find out more about the editors on their websites here - Marie O'Regan & Paul Kane.

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