Book: Necro Files: Two Decades of Extreme Horror
Editor: Cheryl Mullenax
Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, extreme horror
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This anthology contains some really rough content, content so extreme that one of the stories bypassed Ed Lee’s “The Dritiphilist” as the most disgusting piece of fiction I have ever read.
Availability: Published in 2011 by Comet Press, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Woo, boy, this is going to be a bumpy review. As I mention above, this extreme horror collection has a story that tops Ed Lee’s “The Dritiphilist” as the most disgusting, horrible, nasty, upsetting piece of fiction I have ever read. But unlike Lee’s story, this story is well-written, which, oddly enough, very nearly rendered it unreadable. When the worst is presented using the drek writing Lee employed, you can get through it because bad writing can render the nastiest subject cartoonish. Bad writing is a buffer, because bad writing makes you focus on the terrible style or inept usage. You don’t get a buffer in this repellent little story. You get the whole of the horror and disgust right in your face.
I’m going to discuss these stories in the order in which they appear in the collection. Given the number of big names attached to this book, I was expecting quite a bit more in terms of stellar content. There were a few stories I thought worth reading but, for the most part, the writing in the collection was mediocre. It happens. These are older stories that have appeared elsewhere and perhaps they just haven’t held up well. But whatever the reason, it’s never a good thing when someone who reads as closely as I do doesn’t remember so many stories in an anthology a month after reading it.
But that amorphous “I find the stories mediocre” aside, there were two concrete problems in this collection. First, there is no overarching theme in this collection other than extreme horror. Not a problem in and of itself, but in a book that has only extreme horror uniting the stories, when several of the stories take place in fringe sex clubs, there has been a breakdown in the editorial selection process because several stories that take place in a fringe sex club makes it seem as if the central theme in this book is bad or grotesque sex in thoroughly unlikely and generally unsexy settings (to paraphrase the awesome Dave Attell, air fresheners are the unsung heroes of the sex club). So that was a bit much, all the strange sex in sex clubs in one collection that supposedly had no unifying element other than extremity of content.
The second problem is difficult for me because I am not a woman who interrogates texts from a feminist perspective unless the book demands such treatment. For example, feminism came up hard in the discussion of the Norway shooter’s manifesto because the document was riddled with anti-feminist, anti-woman (and anti-human, really) assertions. When I read horror or raunch, I read it with a completely different eye than when I read political texts. But in this collection, there were so many times when the writing annoyed me deeply as a reader with two X chromosomes. Were I someone like, say, Requires Hate, this would, in fact, be another 8,000 word diatribe on why some of these stories are an affront to God and woman (actually, this clocked in at almost 5,000 words, so be warned that I will mock mercilessly anyone foolish enough to invoke tl;dr on this, of all sites). So while I will keep myself in check (to an extent), please know that as a woman who pretty much can handle a lot, there had to be lot of really shitty, woman-hating, misogynist, nice-guy stories for me to comment upon it. I can’t even imagine how the average man with any self-respect could read some of this and not want to burp with embarrassment.
I sometimes wonder if I am too light on egregious misogyny when it comes up. Maybe I’ve gotten used to it? If that is the case then what I encountered in this collection had to have been all the more egregious if I found myself disgusted.
The collection begins with “Meathouse Man” by George R.R. Martin. This is a “nice-guy” story. It is an excruciating “nice-guy” story. I don’t even begin to understand the mechanics involved but this story revolves around men who can control the minds of what sounds like non-rotting puppet zombies – humans who have some sort of chip in them that allows them to be controlled and a really good handler could control many of them at once, using them to do various jobs. Trager, the hero of this pathetic story, falls in love with Josie, but alas when he declares himself she is not interested. He then falls in love with Laurel. His love for Laurel is IMPORTANT because he no longer needs to have sad sex with skull-chipped zombies whose bodies he could control the way he controls the other dead meat puppets. Yay for Trager, he can have sex without resorting to a form of passive prostitution with human husks who cannot consent and have no will yet can clean his pipes six ways to Sunday because he controls them with his brain. But sad Trager, Laurel leaves him for his best friend in a particularly bitchy manner that makes absolutely no sense but is totally a good look at the fickle, wily, yet victim-like mentality of women. So Laurel splits and after loving and losing out a whole two stinking times, Trager retreats back to brain controlled zombie puppet sex toys and these musings happen:
Her name does not matter. Her looks are not important. All that matters is that she was. That Trager tried again, that he forced himself in and made himself believe and didn’t give up. He tried.
Yep, nothing matters about women except that they are there, y’all. Poor sad, Trager. It gets worse.
The words were the same.
How many times can you speak them, Trager wondered, speak them and believe them, like you believe them the first time you said them? Once? Twice? Three times, maybe? Or a hundred? And the people who say it is a hundred times, are they really so much better at loving? Or only at fooling themselves? Aren’t they really people who long ago abandoned the dream, who use its name for something else?
TWICE! THIS MAN LOVED AND LOST TWICE! And actually since Josie could not have cared less (though she was kind to him), he really only loved and lost once. This sort of entitled attitude of “WAH, the womens don’t love me the two times I actually tried. I don’t even care about them, I just need a hole that isn’t a puppet sex zombie and also I am so deep because I believe in the dream of love, love, lurve!”
This ridiculous story ends with this line:
Of all the bright cruel lies they tell you, the cruelest is the one called love.
It may seem like I am being hard on poor Trager, who fucks sex puppet zombies whom he can control and had one girlfriend leave him, but I pray that Martin wrote this when he was 19 and had no idea that one dates, one finds a potential mate, one dates some more and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that when it doesn’t, one does not have to descend into back-patting, self-congratualtory deepness as one contemplates how it is women are just mean and destroy noble images of love with their utter perfidy. This also goes for women who pull this stuff on men, lest I get the usual cries of misandry. And far be it from me to say that creating a gross story around such teenaged-nice-guy-bullshit was an unwelcome degradation to a genre of horror that many find it hard to take seriously in the first place. (check out the comments for this entry – there is a pretty good discussion about this story that offer different and valid counterpoints contrary to mine and are worth considering)
Well, not moving very far. Next story is “Night They Missed the Horror Show” by Joe R. Lansdale. Dead dog, a tiresome use of racial epithets that were probably common for the time in which the story is set but still wore thin, and not enough people died, as in almost everyone died but everyone sucked so much that didn’t do it for me. Lots of people have recommended Lansdale to me and I will still read more of him, in the fullness of time, but this story hit almost every hate button I have. All that was missing was the rape of a house cat.
“Diary” by Ronald Kelly was probably fresh when it was written over 30 years ago and it’s not a terrible story but I checked out when the killer remembered pushing a straight pin through a pet song bird’s eye. So it could be I just couldn’t take it but it could also be that the rest of the content was not strong enough for me to remember anything but the horrible bit. But I can also say that the diary of a reprobate killer as he recounts his deeds and awaits his just punishment is hackneyed these days. So there’s that.
Next is the story that is the roughest content I have read in a long while. I can take a lot of horrible stuff in my world. I’m to the point I can even take animal abuse if it’s presented in a manner that is not gratuitous. I still think we can all say that your friend Anita has read some shit and can hold her own. “Abed” by Elizabeth Massie is the single most horrifying piece of fiction I have ever read. I am sure someday someone will top this story but for now, it is the piece to beat in terms of sheer disgust and horror. I will not quote any of it but here’s a quick synopsis: a young, recently married woman is kept locked in a room by her mother-in-law. The zombie apocalypse has come and the MIL wants grandchildren, but her son has become a zombie. There is forced heterosexual and lesbian sex, and zombie sex, all for procreation you see, and the details will never leave me. This is the story that is the price of admission for my readers. Gorehounds and those who just need to see how much they can take before they need to call their sponsor will want to read this story.
“I Am He That Liveth and Was Dead… & Have the Keys of Hell & Death” by Randy Chandler and t. Winter-Damon was one of the stories I simply do not remember. Sorry. I could reread and I would consider it if this was an otherwise stellar collection but I have a life to live, such that it is. If you read this collection and have an opinion on this piece, by all means share.
“Xipe” by Edward Lee, surprisingly, was not the worst story in this collection, despite the following:
The elevator hummed. Smith felt dreamy. “What hospital is this?”
“San Cristobal de la Gras, Meester Smeeth,” said the blurred doctor. “We are taking you to where you will be safe.”
Great, Smith mused. More Mexicans.
So, you know, there’s that but the writing did not suck the air out of my lungs in terms of sheer crappiness of word choice and words he just made up. I also had put a moratorium on discussing Lee in depth for a few years or so, so I’m letting this go. So should you.
“Bait” by Ray Garton is one of the better stories in the collection and it is made of sheer horror. Because of my experience in cat rescue, I unfortunately knew where this one was going. I’d never heard of such things happening with children and that makes it all the nastier. Well-written, believable dialogue from the characters, even the children, and some really sickening horror. I cannot even discuss the plot without giving the entire thing away but when you know where this is headed, you will cringe, but Garton’s storytelling skills will keep you reading even as the bile rises at the back of your throat.
“Painfreak” by Gerard Houarner seemed utterly pointless to me. Lisa dumped Tony after initiating him into a life of weird sex at sex clubs, sex clubs as unfocused as the theme of this book. He stalks Lisa to a club called, wait for it, Painfreak. I can’t tell if the club was dedicated to gothic sensibilities, gang bangs, bondage, or snuff. Just know that you don’t give two craps about Tony’s plight, that the story did not age well at all, which assumes it was on the mark in 1994, and that this is one of several stories that takes place in a SEX CLUB, so outre, right?
“Lover Doll” by Wayne Allen Sallee was an unfocused mess, which, if I come to think about it, may be the theme of this book. Necro Files: Two Decades of Unfocused Messes. Anyway, the narrator and his friend Celly were born in 1959 with severe birth defects. Don’t remember what ails the protagonist, but Celly has a parasitic twin, its head and legs coming out from her torso in disturbing ways. This story was beyond upsetting because it involved a level of exploitation that in no way helped the story. The protagonist spent years with Celly in schools and (SPOILER ALERT) when she becomes involved in a degrading sex trade, the protagonist exploits her himself. Yes, the author puts the horrible exploitation of his drugged friend in italics so maybe it was a dream and maybe it wasn’t, but after you read it, you won’t care. You will just be angry that you read this terrible story. What really did me in was the fact that the protagonist not only assaulted his drugged out friend, but he also assaulted the non-sentient but still living head attached to her. I could quote passages and probably should to make my case but Mr. Oddbooks would be able to get a no-fault divorce in seven US states and Puerto Rico if I did. No sense tempting fate.
“The Spirit Wolves” by Charlee Jacob was another story that did not resonate with me enough to remember it but in a way that is a good thing. When I read This Symbiotic Fascination it was a mess, with plot holes, stupid imagery (lunar wine, anyone) and bad characterization. To go from that level of disgust for her writing to simply not caring enough about the story to remember it is a decent enough progression. One of the regular readers here likes Jacob and I can see reading more of her work if the trend is from horrible to middling. Plus she’s a Texan and she has cats. I sort of owe it to her since she is part of the Sisterhood of Too Many Cats.
I absolutely hated “Godflesh” by Brian Hodge. It was one of those stories filled with misogyny and questionable characterizations. And while I guess acrotomophilia was shocking and unheard of in 1995, it’s not so much now. The sexual desire for stumps, by the way, is not why I found this story so objectionable. Oh, and it features a secret sex club that meets in an old church. Yeah…
“Godflesh” features Ellen/Elle, a bookstore clerk and open-minded sex freak who, at the extremely advanced age of 35, is aging gracefully. But her coworker, Jude, who is much older, must be shamed for her facelifts. In fact, she is mocked several times in this short story for wanting to alter her face for her vanity while Elle (she drops the “n” when she goes to the extraordinary number of sex clubs that populate her city) decides to cut off her limbs for some higher purpose. Facelift bad, surgically becoming a stump good. Makes perfect sense, right. Jude and Ellen leave work one night and see a man in a wheelchair masturbating openly in the street. Facelifted Jude the prude is appalled but sexually liberated and far smarter Elle watches the display as a “Mona Lisa smile brushed her lips.”
But let’s discuss some passages. Jude is excoriated for having a facelift but Elle engages in all kinds of body mods including the removal of limbs and in the logic of this story, it’s supposed to make sense. Then there’s this realistic description of Elle:
She was almost tall, not quite. Her raven hair, when unbound, contrasted with her pale luminous skin and ripe lips in delicious nocturnal severity. She had a twenty-three-inch waist but could corset it down to eighteen. Men and women alike loved to wrap their hands around it, or nuzzle over smooth tight curves on their way to the drenched heat between her thighs.
A 23-inch waist is half an inch smaller than a size zero. More to the point, if Elle had corset trained her waist to the point that she could reduce a 23-inch waist by five inches, it’s suspect that the author doesn’t discuss the impact such continual tight lacing would have on her rib cage and hip bones. In other words, the male author seems to have no idea how tiny a 23-inch waist is in and of itself. Women that thin are not going to have that much in the way of curves and the results of so much tight lacing would show on their bodies. And yes, this entire passage read like a description yanked from a Victorian bodice ripper, and yes, as that last line should indicate, this page ended in a sex scene so bad your grandmother would have rolled her eyes. The phrases “musky dew,” “petaled cleft,” “feverish clits,” and worse are used.
Then we have this. The old man in the wheelchair who was yanking one out in the street came into the shop and flirted with Elle as they talked about their favorite Marquis de Sade novels, and at the end of the conversation, Elle, sexy, intelligent, mysterious Elle, feels the following sums her up:
Ellen’s laughter was soft, low, throaty, half-pleasure and half-challenge. Chocolate and sex. This man may have had no legs, but he most definitely had her number.
Get her chocolate if you want her to cut off her legs and join your sex cult. Bitches like chocolate!
Next is Every Last Drop by John Everson, which verged into cookie cutter misogyny with the caricature “bitch wife” but salvaged itself by being somewhat inventive and interesting. Basic guy who can’t get any from the bitch wife mentioned above seeks strange comfort when she leaves town. I won’t go into much detail but this story, written in 1998, has some serious body horror that resonates still. There was also what I think was an unintentional allusion to anonymous sex, reminiscent of darkened stalls and glory holes. It’s also a serviceable twist on vampirism.
“Blind in the House of the Headsman” by Mehitobel Wilson was a deeply upsetting vignette about abuse. Well-written and horrifying and deeply saddening, I can intellectually admit this was a good story but I never want to read it again.
“An Experiment in Human Nature” by Monica J. O’Rourke was one of the better stories in this collection. Three rich young men, each dreadful by varying degrees, conduct a truly foul experiment on a financially impoverished and misfit classmate. What happens in the experiment is foul beyond belief – gorehounds will want to read this story – and there is a satisfying moral dimension to keep it from being just some unholy romp. I have the same love/hate relationship with O’Rourke that I have with Wrath James White. When they are on the mark, they are some of the best extreme horror writers working. When they are off, they stink a’plenty. Luckily this story is an example of when O’Rourke is on the mark.
“The Burgers of Calais” by Graham Masterson was the best story in the collection. It wasn’t the grossest or most horrible, though it was pretty foul in places. It was simply the most readable. In this piece, a fat chef and restaurant inspector is down on his luck, on the run from Louisiana. His car breaks down in Maine and he has to get a job to pay for repairs. He ends up flipping burgers and runs across a mystery he and a woman who is strangely sweet on him work to solve. He is self-referentially fat, clever and is an unabashed foodie. Had he made fewer jokes at his own expense, this would have been a perfect story. I also just wanted to die when a black woman was referred to as “sassy.” Bleah. Still, as it is with its flaws, Masterson achieves a perfect balance between jokes and horror, a tension he maintains until the end. He has a finesse to his writing that is largely absent from this collection, an ability to tell a foul story without alienating the reader.
“Ecstasy” by Nancy Kilpatrick was another story that failed to resonate with me. Sorry.
“Pop Star in the Ugly Bar” by Bentley Little made me sick. Seriously. I felt nauseated in parts because even had the intro not made it clear this story is about the physical and sexual torture, rape and murder of Madonna, written in 1992, it would have been clear just in reading. You see, the denizens of the Ugly Bar resented that Madonna wasn’t as hard core as they were and they wanted to take her down a peg. How dare she have a sexual persona! How dare she slum in their bar (WITH A SEX CLUB/TORTURE CHAMBER IN THE BACK)? I don’t mind a good torture story. I don’t mind revenge stories. But in this piece Madonna is graphically harmed, including having her teeth knocked out so one of the rapists can enjoy fucking her blood-filled mouth, just because some hard core bad asses took exception to her. This isn’t one of Jack Ketchum’s lonely characters getting revenge on those who killed his dog, or his inbred homages to Sawney Bean who act out because they are atavistic throwbacks. This is woman hatred so foully reproduced that I need to avoid Little’s works for a long time after reading this. This is revenge stroke porn, which often centers around raping and defiling (and in this case all that plus murdering) successful, famous women, especially women who have any sort of sexuality to their persona. I recall reading better-written stories of this ilk on Usenet in 1993. I cannot imagine why this piece of shit was seen fit to anthologize.
“The Sooner They Learn” by Wrath James White is an interesting, violent and gory retelling of the Boogey Man myth. Not his best work but certainly not his worst, this story is a violent romp with a strange morality, which can be problematic because White has a tendency to hold forth and lecture when he enters into moral realms. In this story, he keeps that tendency in check and tells a nicely gross, physically violent story about personal and societal madness.
“Addict” by J.F. Gonzalez filled me with existential despair but at least it didn’t feature an actual sex club. It had that going for it, at least. This was originally published in 2006 but it seemed strangely anachronistic. A man, whose addiction to pornography has followed the slippery slope path warned about by Ted Bundy as he took James Dobson for a wild ride, finds himself desperate to purchase necrophilia porn. He misses his chance and is hooked up with the man who beat him to purchasing the magazine he desperately wanted (it cost $1500, y’all). The story has a TWIST that ends in another TWIST and I was just filled with ennui when I finished. Not even the gore helped this piece. I will, however, admit that Gonzalez had the bad luck to come at the end of a shitty collection, so perhaps a better place in the anthology would have helped.
Still, Gonzalez’s writing included visual puzzlers like this one:
Carl was a huge fat man; he looked like a crowd of fat people squeezed into a tight suit.
A crowd of people, eh? So, like, he had several heads and a bunch of arms and legs? Fat people don’t look like crowds of people. They just look like large people.
Oh but wait! I almost forgot! There’s a reason that the protagonist, Dennis, ends up wanting to jerk off to images of maggoty old women leaving gore on cocks as they are defiled after death! His fat wife (who presumably did not have several heads and many sets of arms and legs like Carl) drove him to it!
Carrie lolled on the bed, her hair up in curlers. Dennis tried not to look at her; she’d grown increasingly flabby in the past five years. Her ass was a mile wide, the cellulite on her thighs quivered like Jell-O. Dennis tried to get his wife to accompany him to the gym, but she showed no interest. “I’ve got an early morning and late afternoon meeting tomorrow,” he said, flipping through the channels, “so I won’t be home till late. That okay with you?”
“Fine with me,” Carrie said, finishing her nails. “What’s on Channel Two?”
And that’s the way things went every night. It was the way things had been for fifteen years. The minute they began to have kids, their sex life took a nosedive. And to compensate, Dennis began to relieve his outlet through other means. Pornography.
Sigh… One cannot relieve one’s outlet. Porn is an outlet and you can relieve lust with your outlet, but you cannot relieve the outlet. Back on point: Dennis is a degenerate asshole. He really is. And dumb to boot, which I will get to in a minute. There was no need for him to have an excuse to engage in his foul hobby because he is a disgusting human being. But no, that he is a repellent piece of shit cannot be the reason! His fat wife must have driven him to it! His fat lazy wife who bore his children and works a job and doesn’t nag him once is the reason because she has flabby thighs! How could we all have been so dumb as to think this man’s porn addiction was borne from his own vacant soul? This was so extraneous to the story that it is painful to wonder why it is that Gonzalez saw fit to include it.
I do not know when this story was written, but since it was initially published in 2006 it is strange that several major flaws were not addressed before it went to print. You see Dennis gets fired from his job because he cannot stop looking at the hardest porn he can find online, even while at work. Even if he has the laziest sysadmins on the planet working for his company, someone would eventually see what he was doing. Dennis was on a slow downslide. He was not a ravening porn fiend who could not control himself. He was not so far into the depths of addiction he could not see the end result of watching hardcore porn at work. Additionally, because he was still organized in his addiction, he had options. He was a man of enough means to spend $1500 on a porn mag with the sort of content that any pervert with a couple of hours could have found online for free. He could have afforded a separate laptop he could then set up so no one could see it, running DVDs. Or he could have used a tunneling protocol to prevent IT from seeing what he was doing. It also asks he question as to why a man with enough web savvy to find porn so nasty one report of it was enough to get him fired would get hung up on a specific magazine to the point that Dennis did. Again, he had options and was not displaying the symptoms of obsession that the protagonist in Every Last Drop. This really was a stupid, insulting story.
So here we are. Another Comet Press anthology that was a large waste of time and filled with enough misogyny it made a woman with no small experience in vile literature and with an even hand toward social justice recoil. The handful of good stories do nothing to outweigh the bad ones, and this anthology suffered because the editor allowed in too many stories with similar plot lines in similar settings. Do not recommend and if you ignore me and buy this book, skip to Massie, Garton, Masterson, White and O’Rourke and ignore the rest.