By Bryan Smith
Bryan Smith is no stranger to us extreme horror nerds. As a matter of fact, he should be an extreme horror legend for the Depraved trilogy alone. More recently, he wrote my favorite extreme horror novella of 2018, Kill for Satan!, which was awarded a Splatterpunk award nomination this year. Although I’ve read some of Smith’s stories before, this was my first time reading an entire collection from him.
Before I begin…a quick primer on my evaluation method for anthologies and single-author collections: I rate each story individually and then all ratings are averaged for the overall score. Lots of collections are what I call “top heavy.” Anthologies are commonly guilty of this; there are a few great stories by famous writers at the beginning, and then the quality tapers off drastically with filler stories. My rating system holds these collections accountable for comprehensive quality, from beginning to end.
The collection begins with “Dirty Rotten Hippies,” which is the only novella length story in the collection. I’ve enjoyed every novella I’ve ever read from Smith, and he continues the streak with this one. It’s a fun zombie tale with a nice gut punch (thanks Bryan) at the end. Of the next 8 stories, these were my favorites:
“Chainsaw Sex Maniacs From Mars” Just as fun as the title would suggest
“We are 138 Golden Elm” Wasn’t expecting how this one turns out”The Barrel” Maybe my favorite in the entire collection. Sort of like a Faustian version of Jack Ketchum’s “The Box”
The next 7 stories are from the ebook-only collection from Bitter Ale Press, Seven Deadly Tales of Terror. With the exception of “South County Madman,” these 7 stories are all very short. Smith notes that he was heavily influenced by EC comics for these. I’d say that they are also very Robert Bloch-ish in design. In a good way. I really liked all 7 of these, but I believe that “Highway Stop” could be my favorite.
This is a strong collection; I didn’t rate any story lower than a “C”, and the majority of the stories were in the “B” range. Honestly, I’d probably recommend either Slowly We Rot or Depraved to a Bryan Smith newbie, but for the hardcore Smith fans, this is a must read.
Review by Jason Cavallaro