Horror Anthology Review: Lost Films
Bottom Line Up Front: Easily one of the strongest horror anthologies of the year, Lost Films benefits from an excellent theme of technological horror and powerful storytelling from some of the best up and coming horror authors. A must read for fans of short horror and a great introduction for horror cinema fans who aren’t yet familiar with the wonders of the short horror format.
Here at Signal Horizon we love horror fiction anthologies because you get a smorgasbord of authors, all with different tones, voices, backgrounds. Particularly cool are the themed anthologies, where the authors riff off of a common idea, shared world, or motif. Recent themed anthologies that are particularly strong have been The Devil and the Deep (horrors from the sea), Lost Highways: Dark Fictions from the Road (highway horror), and of course last year’s Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (spaces between the ordinary). Anthologies like these are well on their way to succeeding or failing before any of the authors have even put pen to ink because a strong theme provides both the space to develop great stories as well as a constraint that ties them all together and makes them enjoyable as a group.
This month the new contender on the block is Lost Films, edited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle, from Perpetual Motion Publishing and holy crap does this one have a theme that is fertile ground for dark and horrific fiction. Following up on Perpetual Motion’s 2016 anthology Lost Signals, Lost Films focuses on, yeah you guessed it, lost films. Films that have fallen into obscurity, were never completed, exist only in someone’s head, or are just plain malevolent. This technological horror theme appeals not only to those of us who are horror fiction aficionados, but also to perhaps a greater audience that enjoys horror films but doesn’t read short fiction as much. After all, some really memorable movies have focused on this theme- The Ring, 8mm, V/H/S, and REC are all examples and the Lost Films anthology would be a great place for someone to start a strange and horrific journey into the world of short fiction.
The theme is obviously a big draw for this anthology, but another aspect that made me take notice of this book is that it has works from three female horror writers that are really setting the world on fire with consistent, prolific, and stellar work. Gemma Files, Kristi DeMeester, and Betty Rocksteady are all headlining in this anthology and each one knocks their particular story out of the park. Gemma Files has a incredible story entitled “The Church in the Mountains” that is both creepy and surprisingly enlightening about Canadian movies and television. Bet you never thought you would hear those two things together, right? Files has amassed not only a great deal of published short fiction, but also a significant body of work pertaining to independent and Canadian film criticism. This insight is on display here, but not in a lecturing academic way. Rather, it adds great nuance and depth to a story that is already very good and pushes it into great territory.
Kristi DeMeester’s contribution is entitled “Stag” and like some of her other work touches on the theme of coming of age in a poisonous, fundamentalist religion. “Stag” is likely her most transgressive work to date and it might not connect to all readers because of that, but I found it powerful and haunting. It is the kind of story that rolls around in your head for weeks to come, whether you want it to or not. Powerful and almost melodic prose tell the story of a family slowly breaking apart and the daughter’s decent into madness and obsession, all focused on a taxidermy stag’s head. I get the feeling that most readers will either find this particular story either a miss or a grand slam, but that is one of the great things about short fiction- authors can really swing for the fences inside of a themed anthology like they might not be able to do inside of a novel or magazine submission. I am very interested to see how others view this story as more and more people read this anthology, but I am squarely in the camp that thinks “Stag” is one of the highlights of this collection. If you are interested in more about Kristi DeMeester you can check out our review of her single author collection, Everything That’s Underneath or listen to our interview with her on our podcast, The Horror Pod Class.
Betty Rocksteady is a relatively new voice, but over the past two or three years she has really been making waves in the Weird Fiction and horror communities with both her fiction and illustrations. Here she has a grim story entitled “Elephant’s That Aren’t” which blends the weird and horror with a constant drumbeat of madness to create a very unsettling effect in the reader. Featuring a protagonist that exemplifies the tired “tortured artist” trope, Rocksteady uses brilliant and intimate prose to breathe new life into the idea and take us on a weird and ultimately frightening journey.
But wait, there’s more! I showed up for the three writers I have already mentioned, but Lost Films contains a total of 19 short stories with fantastic pen and ink illustrations fromLuke Spooner that really make the stories pop. I am proud to report that each one of the 19 stories are strong and there isn’t any filler to be found in this 350 page volume. “Lather of Flies” by Brian Evenson starts the collection and sets an incredibly high bar for the rest. Dark, paranoid, and with a clear Ligotti streak it is a great way to open and introduce the reader to the theme. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida on 8Track” represents my first exposure to Bob Pastorella’s work outside of his lively co-hosting of the excellent podcast about the horror genre This Is Horror. Bleak and weird, yet also a bit of a throwback to old school horror, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida on 8Track” is accompanied by my absolute favorite Luke Spooner illustration and references an actual event that has since become a bit of a “lost film” in and of itself. The swagger and tone of this story make me really want to check out some of Pastorella’s other work- particularly Mojo Rising which is also available from Perpetual Motion Publishing.
Two additional standouts are “Archibald Leech, the Many-Storied Man” and “The Fantastic Flying Eraser Heads,” but both for completely different reasons. “Archibald Leech” by John C. Foster starts as a kind of neo-noir tale complete with a hard and broken protagonist, a hold out pistol, and a sweet old car. Leech, which is just one of many names he has gone by, takes us on a Heart of Darkness style trip up a country road to a town where stuff has gotten bad real quick. The good news is that Foster doesn’t rely too heavily on the noir tropes and spins an absolutely wicked horror tale in a thoroughly modern vein. The bad news is you are likely to really dig this character and when you find out that he really is a “many-storied man” your desire to read more of his exploits will surely drive you to buy more work from John C. Foster. In fact, you can hear him talk a bit about his character and read an excerpt from “Archibald Leech, the Many-Storied Man” on the Outer Dark Podcast.
“The Fantastic Flying Eraser Heads” by David James Keaton is almost the exact opposite of “Archibald Leech.” Instead of Leech we get two protagonists that are career video store employees that have a long history of working at stores just before they shutter their doors. Now working at the last Blockbuster still around, their witty banter and constant drudgery give the first part of the piece a Clerks vibe- but that is quickly replaced by horror when they stumble across some capital W Weird stuff. This one is fun, but there is a turn near the end that questions the very foundations of the reader’s reality- a nice twist that creates the power in this piece and makes it one of my favorites.
The absolute standout of the collection, in my opinion, is “The Cosmic Atrocity” by Andrew Novak. The title is heavy, but the story focuses on a lost episode of The Simpsons. Sounds a bit silly, right? Novak uses that silliness and the ubiquity of The Simpsons in pop culture to secrete this truly frightening story right under your skin and past your defenses. Earlier I wrote that anthologies like this let authors swing for the fences and here Novak really does. I hesitate to divulge any more about this particular story for fear of spoiling its power, but it left with this final appeal: “Andrew Novak… write more horror. Please.”
So, if you are a short horror fiction fan this is a must have for 2018. Likewise, if you are new to the genre this would be a great entry point to get started with some of the great established and brand new authors whose works are showcased. It comes out this month, August 2018 and you can pre-order direct from Perpetual Motion Publishing. I personally recommend the trade paperback version as illustrations always benefit from a physical presence, but eBook formats are available with the illustrations included.