Tag Archives: Reviews

CD Story Review #5: “Leg Man”

Richard Chizmar founded Cemetery Dance Magazine in 1988. It’s still in production today (now managed by author/ editor Brian James Freeman) & is considered one of the best horror mags of all time, having published and even discovered many of the genre’s most famous and successful authors. This blog series is my attempt to read, review, and research every story CD has ever printed. As of Issue #70 (Sept. 2013), there are more than 500.

STORY: “Leg Man” 

AUTHOR: Chris B. Lecher

CD APPEARANCE: Issue #1 (Dec. 1988: Vol. 1, Iss. 1), story 5 of 12 

PLOT:  A gruesome story told in 4 parts…

1) Slash is a taking a break from his band’s set in an alley. He meets a girl there. She is shirtless beneath her jacket. She seduces him easily. As he suckles her breasts, her breasts suddenly seize his tongue and slash the inside of his mouth “like a frenzied piranha”.

YIKES LOOK AT THIS

GRUESOME PIC

2) Izzy, another band member, comes out just in time to watch Slash flounder with his shredded mouth before bleeding to death.

3) Time has passed and Izzy is still having nightmares and the band is seeing hard times. Many of his dreams feature a “girl-thing” that Izzy knows isn’t human but is responsible for Slash’s death. Then another band-mate, Axl, comes in and tries to convince him to have a good time with the two girls he brought back. Izzy declines and almost falls back to sleep when one of the girls (who he hasn’t yet even seen) whispers “Night, Izzy.”

4) After successfully falling back to sleep, Izzy wakes to hear chewing sounds and Axl moaning. He thinks it’s the sounds of sex and goes once again back to sleep. The next time when he wakes he hears what is clearly “hungry lapping sounds” and understands the girl-thing that killed Slash is now in his home and has already killed Axl. Izzy charges into the room and, after a brief fight, throws the girl-thing out the window. But she gets up from the bone-breaking two-story drop, and Izzy prepares for her return by stopping the kitchen sink, turning on the faucets, and plugging in one of his guitar amps. When she enters he tells her he’s “Not much of a tit man,” and then electrocutes her. After checking Axl’s body, Izzy’s girlfriend (who slept through the whole ordeal), comes out to see the carnage. She hugs him affectionately, but when her breasts graze Izzy’s shirt, he swears he feels them move.

REVIEW: 4 out of 5 stars.

CD BLURB ON LECHER

As a reader I was grossed out by this one, nearly to the point of not enjoying it. Nearly. While Lacher’s abilities as an author are solid, the unbridled gore of this piece is simply not to my liking. In my experience there are three kinds of horror… Supernatural, Psychological, and Blood & Gore. Naturally we all have our favorites & naturally many stories overlap & use 2 or all 3 of these. This story is almost entirely Blood & Gore and as a fan of the overall genre, I wish Lecher had explained more about the background of the creature he invented rather than just the actions she takes or her physical… uh… abilities. Since my personal preference is low for Blood & Gore, I’d actually give this just 3 stars. But to be fair I gave it 4 because Lecher tells his story well. It’s smooth & to the point without overburdening the reader, which is a marked improvement over many of the other (earlier & yet-to-be-reviewed) stories in this early issue. I can’t go as high as 5 stars, though, because the story is nevertheless simple and Lecher’s characters (the human ones at least) are little more than stereotypes plus his sentence structure is, again, very basic.

As a writer I am reminded that a single great image can be powerful to my readers. Despite my personal distaste for it, the vision of a woman’s breasts having an open cavity and shark-like teeth is not one I am likely to forget soon. And the scene that describes her using that pseudo ‘mouth’ to pleasure her victim… let’s just say there are some things you can’t un-see. Which is exactly my point. Lecher nailed this element of the horror genre, and for that I applaud him.

To sum up, I don’t prefer Lecher’s style but I respect his basic talent. If gore & grue is your thing, you’ll love this one. If not, save yourself a few nightmares & pass.

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CD Story Review #4: “Forever Angels”

THIS BLOG EXPLAINED: Richard Chizmar founded Cemetery Dance Magazine in 1988. It’s still in production today (now managed by author/ editor Brian James Freeman) & it’s considered one of the best horror mags of all time, having published and even discovered many of the genre’s most famous and successful authors. This blog series is my attempt to read, review, and research every story CD has ever printed. As of Issue #72 (January 2015), there are 540. I clearly have a long way to go.

STORY: “Forever Angels”

AUTHOR: Ronald Kelly

CD APPEARANCE: Issue #1 (Dec. 1988: Vol. 1, Iss. 1), story 4 of 12

PLOT (spoilers!): Deanna Hudson is a second-grader who learns there is a whole section of a local cemetery for children. When the other kids show it to her, they tease her by claiming that on stormy nights the corpses of the dead children crawl out of their graves and head towards the nearest house, which is Deanna’s of course. Though she’s too smart to fall for their lies, she is nevertheless creeped out by the children’s cemetery. When some of the older boys hide in the bushes and rustle the branches just as it starts to rain, poor Deanna loses her nerve and runs home in tears.

In the next scene we get a flashback from several years before when Deanna’s grandfather had passed away. Upon getting lost among the many mourning rooms of the funeral home, she comes across a tiny coffin and inside it the body of an infant boy clutching a plastic rattle. With her back turned as she leaves the room, she thinks she hears the sound of a shaking rattle. Remembering that day now, Deanna has a nightmare where she looks out her bedroom window and sees hairless, childrens’ heads bobbing and moving through the field of tall grass between her own house and the cemetery next door.

Some time passes and Deanna is part of the community’s annual effort to clean up and maintain the cemetery. While trying to enjoy a small picnic with her parents and baby brother Timothy, a drunken, old Cherokee man named Redhawk arrives and rants about sacred lands and the community’s desecration of the ancient Indian burial mounds. Deanna’s parents ignore her pleas to leave.

That night poor Deanna has another nightmare where Redhawk (now sober and respectable in his chief’s full headdress) leads his entire tribe in a ritual at the children’s section of the cemetery. But when an earthquake starts to rumble and split the ground apart, Deanna has to escape to a tree where she finds Timothy already looking down at her from the topmost branches. The dream-brother has an ashen face and reaches to her with “cold, little hands.” As Deanna falls from the tree, she wakes from her dream drenched in sweat. Attempting to calm herself with a midnight glass of water, she hears a sound coming from the back yard. She opens the door and finds a single pink bootie on her back stoop. When her mother finds her minutes later, Mrs. Hudson calms her daughter and prepares a bottle of milk for her infant son. However when they goes upstairs to feed him, baby Timothy is found dead in his crib.

In the days after, Deanna cried and screamed and begged for her parents not to bury Timothy in the children’s cemetery, but of course they do. In the story’s final scene, Deanna is a full-blown insomniac who lays awake every night with her back to the window where she believes her dead brother watches and coos at her as he pays his nightly visit. And every morning another toy is found missing from his crib.

REVIEW: 4 of 5 Stars. This story is as complex as it is creepy. Deanna’s character goes through all five stages of grief and the subtle connection of the dead boy at the funeral home to Timothy (both infant boys/ both shown in those too-tiny baby blue caskets/ both clutching favored toys) is very nicely done. And despite a handful of minor errors (‘century’ instead of ‘country’, ‘orthought’ instead of ‘or thought’, ‘her’ instead of ‘here’, a double set of quotation marks to begin one piece of dialogue), there are a number of truly great similes, which never fail to impress me when they are done right. My favorites are: “Small, hairless heads bobbed through the tall grass and honeysuckle like dolphins cresting the waves of a stormy sea. The pale, hairless heads of a dozen lifeless babies,” “A full moon was out, highlighting the tiny [tomb]stones, making them look like bleached teeth sprouting from earthen gums,” and “The clouds boiled like the depths of a dark cauldron, lightning jabbing downward, gaunt fingers of blue fire upon the horizon.”
As a reader I really liked this one and I would have given it 5 stars if not for the errors and the slight bit of predictability in the ending. Otherwise it was a fine read. Kelly writes his sentences with good form and his plotline with a natural arc. From beginning to end I was entertained, and well after the fact I have found myself pondering those bobbing bald heads through the field of grass, the myriad of toys (instead of flowers) placed around the children’s tombstones, and the final image of Deanna lying awake with her back turned to her pale-faced baby brother at the window. If I had to describe my emotional state, I’d use ‘Haunted’, and that’s just fine by me.
As a writer, I’m struck most of all by Kelly’s use of figurative language. There are a dozen examples beyond the similes I already mentioned. My appreciation is not in how entertaining each phrase is, but in how each adds to the overall story. When I came across them I could not help think, “Wow, this guy really nailed that one,” or “Damn this guy is good,” and I think that’s the point. A couple of truly well-written sentences in just the right spots really can have the effect of making me see an author as a whole step better than those that came before him. I’m making a mental note to pay more attention to my own choice of words in the future. It’s not that every paragraph has to have unforgettable turns of phrase, but I am coming to believe that a great story should have two or three real winners. These are the kinds of things that help a story stick in the minds of readers, and they’re always worth the additional effort.

CD Story Review #3: “The Double”

Richard Chizmar founded Cemetery Dance Magazine in 1988. It’s still in production today & is considered one of the best horror mags of all time, having published and even discovered some of the genre’s most famous and successful authors. Naturally, getting published in CD is one of the top items on my bucket list. This blog series is my attempt to read, review, and research every story CD has ever printed.

STORY: “The Double”

AUTHOR: Steve Rasnic Tem

CD APPEARANCE: Issue #1 (Dec. 1988: Vol. 1, Iss. 1), story 3 of 12

PLOT (spoilers!): A mother and father appear to be playing with their son before bedtime, however the inclusion of the words “poking” and “slapping” make it clear their affections are actually abusive. They even pick him up and drop him on his head. They do this all while almost chanting the words, “Our son. Our only son.”

Meanwhile, the son observes their faces and reflects that this has all happened before.

When the mother and father leave, the son builds a crude doll from clothes, and takes the time to draw his own face on it and even constructs fingers, toes, and- wait for it- a penis out of peanuts left behind in a bowl. Looking at his finished product, he notices “with disinterest” that the face lacks a nose.

When the parents return, they see the doll, abuse it till it literally falls to pieces, and do a “merry dance” over the body while repeating their “our only son” mantra. The son, meanwhile, watches from afar and appreciates that these kicks and smashes don’t hurt.

REVIEW: 4 of 5 stars. This story is very odd, very hard to explain, and very short (less than 300 words in total). Because of its inherent ambiguity I teetered on giving it only 3 stars. After all, when it comes to grading on a numerical scale, it’s easier for a story to have clear flaws and merits to justify my decision. However I also appreciate and respect gut instinct, and this story also has one other major descriptor: it’s creepy as shit. I believe Chizmar nailed the decision to publish this one. I now have the difficult task of trying to explain why.

Despite the haziness of what actually happens, Rasnic Tem’s story leaves us thinking, interpreting, and shivering as we go over and over this one after the reading is done. The primary questions one has are the following…

1)      How could the parents mistake a doll for their son? Is it really a doll? Has it always been a doll? Is the son even real? Are the parents even human?

2)      Does the son make a new double every night? Is so, how long has this been going on? If not, how long has he been suffering alone?

3)      Why did Rasnic Tem include the detail about the doll’s lack of a nose? What significance does a noseless face have to an abused child? In a piece this short, it certainly was not included on a whim.

4)      Why did Rasnic Tem specify that peanuts were used to construct the doll’s various appendages? Again, in a piece this short, it must mean something, right?

One thing that is clear is that the son is the victim of abuse, and that one of the doll’s appendages is a penis implies it’s not just physical but sexual. What isn’t clear is how he deals with it. Readers might assume it’s a straightforward (realistic) piece about a kid making a double to stand in for his own abused self, but of course in a straightforward piece the parents wouldn’t fall for that.

This implies there is something else- perhaps even something supernatural- going on. Maybe the son died long ago & is now haunting the parents in their dreams. Maybe the parents are some kind of monsters that can’t tell the difference between a real boy and a doll. Maybe the boy has a power that makes his doll look real to his parents. Rasnic Tem doesn’t provide enough clues for us to know for sure what the answer is, but I don’t think that’s the point. The point, I think, is for the reader to fill in the rest on his/her own.

My own interpretation is that it is a straightforward story, only it’s the son who is the one misinterpreting what’s going on. As someone who has done LOTS of research on abuse and recovery for my novels, one thing I can tell you is that the human mind is capable of amazing things, and I think the doll is how this boy’s damaged mind has found a way to deal with his situation. To be honest, I’m not even sure there is a doll (perhaps he only imagines making it), but if there is I’m pretty sure he’s only projecting that his parents turn so quickly to abuse it instead of him.

As a reader, I’m thoroughly entertained yet slightly annoyed by this story. I love how it continues to stick with me, but I’m frustrated that Rasnic Tem didn’t give me enough info to know the whole story. Despite my initial hesitation to give it as high as 4 stars, the truth is this ambiguity is the reason I can’t give it 5.

As a writer, I am reminded about the power and importance of not saying too much. Readers like to use their own imagination, after all, so leaving a story with an open ending (though perhaps not quite as open as this one) can, of course, be very entertaining.

CD Story Review #2: “A Breathe of Fresh Air’

Richard Chizmar founded Cemetery Dance Magazine in 1988. It’s still in production today & is considered one of the best horror mags of all time, having published and even discovered some of the genre’s most famous and successful author. Getting published in CD is one of the top five items on my bucket list. This blog series is my attempt to read, review, and research every story CD has ever printed.

STORY: “A Breathe of Fresh Air”

AUTHOR: Edgar F. Tatro

CD APPEARANCE: Issue #1 (December 1988, Volume 1, Issue 1), story 2 of 12


PLOT (spoilers):

Benji Drummond is in jail in Smalltown, USA. (Not literally. I’m waxing poetic). He’s scheduled to get out in a few days but for weeks has been complaining about the smell and heat of the place. Sheriff Olsen knows it’s bad. He even requested an air quality report to pacify Benji’s constant whining (and hacking up black stuff all over the walls) that has been making everyone else miserable. When screams come from his cell the morning of his release, the sheriff finds his cellmate beaten near death, Benji gone, and the air vent ripped open like a piece of cardboard.

A captain arrives and assumes Benji escaped out the open cell door when the sheriff attended to the wounded man. But the sheriff insists his back was never turned. Yet the mystery remains. The only other exit- the vent- is too small & high on the wall for Benji to have used. Later, the air quality report explain everything. It cites high levels of carbon dioxide, poor circulation, and the presence of bat feces. The sheriff reads from the report that is was specifically Desmodus Rufus, and dramatically reveals this is the scientific name for a vampire bat.

The story ends in a lone separate paragraph with “the former Benji Drummond” hanging upside down inside the ventilation shaft of a day care nursery. There is a pile of fresh feces underneath him.

REVIEW: 3 of 5 stars. Ok, first thing’s first. A typo in the friggin title!? Are you kidding me?! I swear I thought the story would somehow answer why it’s spelled ‘breathe’ instead of ‘breath’, but guess what… no dice. It’s an actual typo. I know every author makes mistakes, and I know my own list of words-learned-wrong has its embarrassments, but Tatro is described in the author blurb as a “veteran high school English teacher”, and his list of publishing accomplishments suggests he’d been at the game for a while. Yet the fault should not lie on the author alone. Chizmar was the lone editor in this issue, and while I must remind myself that he was in his early twenties at this point and certainly subject to the fallacies of the young, one cannot help but ask if he or Tatro had access to a dictionary.

The story, however, was decent, if not a tad on the predictable side. Tatro drops the detail of the air quality report and Benji’s physical state early and often enough that we know something is up. And while we suspect it’ll be something like what it turns out to be, the ending paragraph pushing the story to a darker level was a nice touch.

But the misspelling & the predictability did not prevent this from earning 4 stars. There are 2 other significant flaws. Chief among them is how the pacing of the story is moving along a pleasant clip but slows to a crawl when the captain comes in. A full third of the story is spent on this unimportant character yammering to Sheriff Olsen about how and when Benji Drummond escaped. All the same content could have been just as easily shared through the unnamed officer who had already been in an earlier scene or in the least written in 2 or 3 paragraphs instead of a full page. It’s pretty clear Tatro was providing a source of superiority and a reason to doubt Sheriff Olsen’s competence, however this point is unrelated to the primary plot and serves no real purpose.

The other big flaw was that when the sheriff proclaims the sample had feces in it, the captain asks, “Feces? What’s feces?” at which Sheriff Olsen explains, “You’re captain, huh? Feces is crap, excrement, number two!” I get the fact that Tatro is showing us the captain is the incompetent one, but I can’t help shake the feeling that he inserted it not to develop a character but to define a word he was concerned his readers would not know. Perhaps he was right, and perhaps not. But the word is by no means outside of the standard lexicon of English, and I felt it was an unnecessary dumbing down of the readers’ intellect.

CD Story Review #1: “Body Perfect”

Richard Chizmar founded Cemetery Dance Magazine in 1988. It is still in production today & is considered one of the best horror mags of all time, having published and even discovered some of the genre’s most famous and successful author. Getting published in CD is one of the top five items on my bucket list. This blog series is my attempt to read, review, and research every story CD has ever printed.

STORY: “Body Perfect”
AUTHOR: William C. Rasmussen
CD APPEARANCE: Issue #1 (Dec. 1988: Vol. 1, Iss. 1), story 1 of 12

PLOT (spoilers!): Martin Murry is a college kid who comes across a poster featuring a stunningly beautiful blonde beach babe. He is so impressed with her that he not only buys the poster and eagerly hangs it above his dorm room bed, he also then spends the next few hours staring at it, seemingly mesmerized. He feels she is utterly perfect but for one detail… he only wishes she had blue eyes like his.

It turns out the poster- or perhaps its the beach babe herself- has the ability to not just mesmerize young, lustful men, but entrap them. When Martin’s roommate, Jim, comes home later that night, he finds Martin is not there, though there is a new poster of a gorgeous blonde beach babe draped across Martin’s bed. When Jim looks closer, he sees she has beautiful blue eyes. He does not see that one of the young men in the poster’s background bears a striking resemblance to Martin Murry.

REVIEW: 2 of 5 stars. This story is extremely simple and, even worse, predictable. In a word, it’s lame. The collection of other young men in the poster’s background and the implication that the beach babe took either Martin’s secret suggestion to have blue eyes or- a creepier notion- took his own actual eyes- were both nice touches. The story itself is told relatively well.

However as a reader of lots of horror I honestly got very little entertainment out of this one, and as a writer I learned only that times have certainly changed concerning what constitutes good writing. In fact, my first impression upon finishing it was, “THIS is the premiere story of the premiere issue of my beloved Cemetery Dance!??”

But then I remembered that back then CD was unknown. Mr. Chizmar would have had very few submissions and therefore very few choices for publication and, strictly speaking this one wasn’t actually BAD, just… as I said before… lame by today’s standards.

It did get me thinking, though, about how this journey through the pages of the hallowed Cemetery Dance will change and grow and evolve. I have no doubt there will be certain stories that will stand out as both memorable and truly influential to reader and editor alike… perhaps even to the genre itself. I look forward to coming across them.

As for Rasmussen’s “Body Perfect”, however, you can safely pass. You aren’t missing much.

PS: I own all but two issues of CD magazine… #s 6 (Fall 1990, V.2 I.4) & 7 (Winter 1991, V.3 I.1). I am offering a cash reward to anyone who can help me find them & complete my collection. 🙂