Tag Archives: Gallows Press

Rockin’ and a-Shockin’

This weekend is the yearly Rock and Shock event out in Worcester, MA. Like last year I’ll be sharing a booth with Tom and Billie from Sideshow Press/Gallows Press. We’ll also be sharing space with author and owner of T.R.O. Publishing, Robert J. Duperre, and artist Jesse Young, who did the excellent cover art and illustrations for our edition of James Newman’s The Wicked.

There will also be some lesser-known celebrities in attendance, such as Jack Ketchum, Jason Mewes, Dee Snider, Robert Patrick, Michael Rooker, Kane Hodder, William Forsythe, and some dude name Robert Eggland…or something like that.

The convention runs from 5 PM Friday till 5 PM Sunday. So stop by, say hello, buy some books. It should be a great time.

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Shades of Lovecraft

Shades of Lovecraft collects eight tales that are competent and thoughtful tributes to one of the genres founding fathers, heavy on influence and tentacles.

We begin with “Dead City.” After a flood, a town resident refuses to evacuate with most of the populace, he bonds with a strange old man as they realize this flood is merely a doorway to bigger, beastlier things.

“Ensnared” finds the crew of a fishing vessel in haunted waters, hauling in a catch they would have done better to have cut loose.

“The Shimmering” is a wonderful old-school adventure into the more science fiction side of Lovecraftian tributes. A man is the sole heir of his missing uncle’s estate. Upon moving in he makes odd discoveries through reading the volumes in the library. Then he notices bizarre lights in the woods, and upon exploring them finds that there are things much stranger than the lights out there.

All the stories in this collection are strong and well-written. But as it is with a lot of Lovecraft’s original work, they can get a little tedious. Rather, they don’t all resonate. The stories that left an impression, I singled out above; and while I didn’t mention the rest, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them.

With Shades of Lovecraft, Paul Melniczek delivers a lovingly rendered homage to one of the true masters of modern horror literature. Recommended.

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From the Murky Depth

After the Mississippi river floods leaves a majority of southern Missouri underwater, good ol’ boy David Miller sets out by boat to see if he can “be of any help” to the neighboring communities. After making his way through flooded fields and soggy streets, he finds himself in the odd little burg of Clayton.

Consisting of strange shacks built on stilts and a boardwalk all above the flood line, it’s like the residents of Clayton knew the flood was coming. David shores up and pays a visit to the town, but the pale and unfriendly denizens, with their glossy fish eyes and strange postures, unsettle him and he leaves.

It’s then that he encounters a couple who fill him in on the town’s ungodly history and their diabolical plan to bring about something this world has never seen—and will never survive.

In From the Murky Depths, Brett Williams offers up a squirming sliver of modern Lovecraftian goodness. Well written and smooth, this novella is a fun, quick read.

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The Smell of Cherries

The Smell of Cherries, by Jeffrey Goddin, is a short collection of horror tales. The ideas within are great, but they all seem to suffer from the same malady: They could have used some extra fleshing out.

Starting off with the titular tale, “The Smell Of Cherries,” we have the time-tested “new security guard on the night beat seeing weird shit” plot, mixed with a bit of the “government experiment gone wrong” trope. It ends abruptly and with little luster.

“Year of the Serpent” finds a truck driver reconnecting with an old buddy and his new girlfriend…who reminds him of a past lover. One long dead.

The third story and my favorite of the bunch is “Night Shoot.” A pair of cops respond to the report of a body being found down by the docks. They find a lot of strange things that don’t quite add up and soon wish they had ignored the call. Even though this story is a bit of a mess—plot points are flirted with and then not ever really expanded on—the vagueness sort of works. It’s more like an episode of a cheesy horror-anthology series than a story.

“The Pacific Club” is the final and strongest story in the book. A nice mystery, but one that reads a little too compacted.

As I said at the start, I think the main issue with this collection would be the cramped feel of the stories; they all hint to larger aspirations that went unrealized.

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Hacks

The Serial Killer trope is a hard one to crack. I mean, we’ve all seen hundreds of movies that have had hundreds of imitators…it’s like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. With Hacks, Brian Knight delivers a gore-drenched love letter to the “stalker in the woods” corner or our horror estate. While not going above and beyond with originality, it makes up for it with strong characters and detailed plotting.

A fine young talent receives an invite to a prestigious retreat for writers. He is ecstatic and eager to attend, not only to hobnob with the elite of his field but to get away from the soon-to-be ex-wife and her unabashed bitchiness.

Once there, the body count starts to rise.

As I mentioned earlier, the plot is fairly cookie-cutter stuff. Where Knight shines is with his rich character portrayals—most of which are based on actual writers I would wager. The writing is strong and the pacing excellent.

Writing is about entertaining the reader. If you can do that, you can’t ask for more. Knight does that with Hacks, and he does it well.

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Bleeding the Vein

I had no idea what to expect with Bleeding the Vein. The back cover synopsis was cryptic and the artwork strange. I was also unfamiliar with author T.G. Arsenault.

So I shrugged and dove in.

Eddie Townsend used to be a Naval Officer who fell for a Filipino stripper on his first tour of duty. In exchange for sex, Eddie is drawn into an ever escalating quid-pro-quo, with her demands growing more and more bizarre. When he finally makes the discovery that this woman isn’t even human, he has to kill her.

Now, Eddie Townsend is an alcoholic and shambling joke in his home town, spoken of in hushed tones or behind cupped palms.

A vile stench begins to waft about the village. A smell of death and rot. Then strange things happen to the pregnant ladies of Shadow Creek. Things Eddie recognizes. Things Eddie thought couldn’t happen. Not again, anyway.

Arsenault delivers a truly original take on the “evil in a small town” trope, giving us a fresh creature to skulk in our nightmares. I’m not going to spoil it by giving it’s name or origins, but I was compelled to Google it after completion.

Bleeding the Vein is a good old-fashioned horror novel. A small town, its people, and an evil monster. Classic!

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Progeny

After reading Erik Williams’ chapbook, The Reverend’s Powder, I was sold. His lean prose and vicious brutality made me smile and wince at the same time. So when Gallows Press sent me a box of books to review, and I saw his name among them, his was the first to be read.

Progeny concerns sort-of-private detective Frank Baldwin, who does stuff for money. Not handjobs in the bus-station men’s room kind of stuff. He finds people and things for a fee. When he’s hired by a man to locate his missing daughter, a pop megastar, and return her to him for $100,000, it seems too good to be true.

Baldwin uses his familiarity with Tijuana to his advantage but soon discovers that this case is nothing like he expected. Nothing is what it initially seems. The missing girl seems tethered to a vicious death cult, nightmares that could be prophetic, and a terrifying arachnoid god.

A clean and razor-sharp story, Progeny reminded me a lot of William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel, only in a modern setting.

If I had any qualms at all with this novel it would be that it’s too short. I wanted more. I hope to read more of Erik’s work. He definitely has the goods.

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American Gomorrah: The Money Run Omnibus

I had never heard of Sam W. Anderson or his Money Run series of stories prior to the box of Gallows Press books turning up on my stoop. Remorsefully ashamed is how I feel now upon completion, for these stories are fantastic. Is it horror? Not really. Is it straight fiction? Far fucking from it.

The stories in American Gomorrah are set on the edges of the American grid. Back roads, lost highways, bars and strip clubs, and all those seedy places we drive by and through and never give a passing nod.

Truckers ferry the damned and the doomed to destinations better unknown. Diner cooks have unique menus that include long pig and other fiendish foods. There are schizophrenics and midgets and sociopathic hypnotist preachers. Lot lizards with literal tails are all just another part of the deal.

The writing is as rich as the characters who reside here. Life is hard in the veins and arteries of the American circulatory system. The roads paved with tears and blood, sweat and spunk.

This is the real deal.

This is 21st century trash Americana noir.

This is…one of my new favorite books.

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Up Jumps the Sequel

In Michael Poore’s quirky and brilliant debut, Up Jumps the Devil, we are treated to a stunning, near biographical study of the fallen angel.

We find that John Scratch (aka Devil) is made of wood, looks like a rocker or a TV bounty hunter, smokes mice and other critters in a pipe, whips up a mean gumbo, is the unbridled object of bovine affections, and isn’t an entirely bad guy. He does not abuse his magical capabilities and trick you out of that soul of yours.

He decides Earth, more so America, is ripe for grooming into the best place to be—his Heaven. He sets out to escort it into its own, all the while scheming of a way to lure his long lost love, a fellow fallen angel named Arden, back to his side.

We read about Scratch’s exploits throughout history. Events he has touched or somewhat orchestrated, from Woodstock and the rise of Tele-Evangelism to the science of cryogenics. From early escapades with God and creation all the way up to a bargain struck with Elvis’ father. He was at the battle of Gettysburg and helped invent the Internet. He tends to dole out a fine meter of morality and self-discovery while handing you the payment for that soul.

This wonderful novel is loaded to the gills with cool pop cultural flourish and witty characters: A blues musician who has death trapped in his guitar, a man named Benjamin Franklin who seems to be onto something with his wild experiments, George Washington, Pocahontas (whom the Devil seems wary to speak of), and loads more show their faces in this ingenious book.

I could go into more detail on the wild adventures that fill this tome, but I won’t—you need to read it. Read how well written and goddamn funny it is. See the richly painted characters and oddly goofy scenarios that play out within its pages. This truly enjoyable debut is available from Ecco, which is an imprint of HarperCollins.

I have read and reviewed the work of Mark Allan Gunnells before. I count myself a fan. He has a knack for nailing realistic characters and conversation. Sequel is his love letter to 80s slasher films, and his love is bold.

Sequel begins with the original cast members of the slasher film Class of ’93, all being hired to reprise their roles for a sequel. After nearly a decade of varying degrees of sordid misadventure, none seem truly ecstatic to rekindle this fire, but they all climb aboard anyway.

From there it chugs ahead with a familiar head of steam as it follows the schematics for nearly every slasher flick ever released. Cryptic threats and gruesome murderous mayhem. Distrust and dishonesty abound. There are no real earthshaking surprises, nothing completely unexpected, just buckets of blood and campy whodunit shenanigans. What elevates this above the cheese platter it could have been is the author’s sense of fun and his always delightful characters. This is written with tongue firmly in cheek. It is a brisk and enjoyable read. One that made this fan of 80s horror pretty damn happy.

Sequel is available through Gallows Press.

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