Here are more October chills—enough to fill all thirty-one days several times over.

Year's Best Horror Stories I
Year’s Best Horror Stories I

The Year’s Best Horror Stories was a twenty-two volume annual anthology series that ran from 1971 through 1994. Its creator, Richard Davis, edited the series from 1971-1973, with Christopher Lee himself writing the introduction to 1972’s Volume II. After a few years’ pause, Gerald W. Page revived the series in 1976 and edited it until 1979. Then, the inimitable Karl Edward Wagner took over, editing The Year’s Best Horror Stories from 1980 until his death in 1994. Since then, the series has been dormant.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories was an introduction to some of the most consistently dread-inducing authors I have ever encountered. Ramsey Campbell’s work appeared a remarkable 26 times in the 22 volumes, lending some support to my (and Mr. Wagner’s) opinion that he is one of the most frightening horror author working today. Other authors who appeared multiple times were Dennis Etchison (14 stories), Charles L. Grant (12 stories), Brian Lumley (11 stories), and Wayne Allen Sallee (10 stories). Other authors who appeared often in the series were David Drake, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Tanith Lee, David J. Schow, Robert Bloch, T.E.D. Klein, Manly Wade Wellman, Kim Newman, and Lisa Tuttle.

While there is considerable overlap of authors, only one entry in The Year’s Best Horror Stories was adapted for the previously-mentioned TV series Tales from the Darkside. That was “Slippage” (1982), by Michael P. Kube-McDowell, from volume XI, about a man whose life is slowly being erased.

More than four hundred stories appeared in the series. I recall many of them, if not always clearly. But there are a few that still stand out vividly for me (and some I read over and over for fresh thrills):

The Year’s Best Horror Stories, 1971

“Prey” (1969), by Richard Matheson, which also ended up in his anthology movie Trilogy of Terror, concerns a woman hunted through her apartment by doll possessed by an ancient Zuni warrior’s spirit.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories II, 1972

“The Events at Poroth Farm” (1972), by T. E. D. Klein, an unsettling novella of love, possession, and death among the New Jersey Mennonites.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories III, 1973

“The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” (1973), by Harlan Ellison, based on the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese, makes a monster of the city and the demands of an urban life.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories IV, 1976

“Something Had to Be Done” (1975), by David Drake is absolutely one of my favorites. In it, a terminally ill Army sergeant pays a notification visit to the family of a soldier who “died in battle”, in order to tie up some loose ends. Short, sharp, and scathing.

Year's Best Horror Stories VI
Year’s Best Horror Stories VI

The Year’s Best Horror Stories VI, 1978

“At the Bottom of the Garden” (1975), by David Campton is a slightly loopy but ultimately tragic story of a woman, her daughter, and the creature that might make things right for them.

“Undertow” (1977), by Karl Edward Wagner is classic dark sword and sorcery featuring Wagner’s antihero, Kane, in a love story gone very, very wrong.

“The Horse Lord” (1977), by Lisa Tuttle, in which a family moves to a farmhouse in the country and an old, hungry god is resurrected by the children. The imagery was visceral. I refer to this story often as an example of staying power.

“Winter White” (1978), by Tanith Lee is a dark fantasy set in a barbarian kingdom. A warrior makes his own end with a magic pipe, a silent witch, and the invisible child he fathers on her.

“If Damon Comes” (1978), by Charles L. Grant, is one of his Oxrun Station stories. Grim, and, sad, and terrifying, a winter’s tale about a poor father haunted by his dead son.

“Within the Walls of Tyre” (1978), by Michael Bishop is an unconventional horror story about a woman’s private tragedy being commercially exploited by a man she thought she could trust. There are no monsters, only pain.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories IX, 1981

“Black Man with a Horn” (1980), by T.E.D. Klein, once more, is a Lovecraftian novella that takes the Cthulhu mythos very effectively to the modern day swamps of Florida.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XI, 1983

“The Show Goes On” (1982), by Ramsey Campbell is set in an abandoned movie theater, and is superbly Campbell—disorienting, suggestive, decaying, and utterly frightening.

“Mrs. Halfbooger’s Basement” (1982), by Lawrence C. Connolly concerns an old woman, the living children who torment her, and the dead children who haunt her.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XIII, 1985

“Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” (1984), by Stephen King is possibly my favorite King story. Mrs. Todd discovers a shortcut that takes her out of this world into one she likes much better.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XV, 1987

“The Yougoslaves” (1986), by Robert Bloch, in which a pack of young gypsies meet their maker in the Paris sewers.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XVII, 1989

“Fruiting Bodies” (1988), by Brian Lumley details the end of a seaside town and its last inhabitant as they are slowly devoured by the sea on one side and dry rot from the other.

The Year’s Best Horror Stories XVIII1990

“Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy” (1989), by David J. Schow is a particularly vivid gore-fest about a survivor of the Zombie Apocalypse who eats the walking dead himself, and a small time televangelist whose faith is renewed by the zombies’ resurrection.

The tone of the anthologies changed over the years, as the style of horror itself became more graphic and early, traditional creepiness gave way to more explicit shocks. What remained consistent, though, was the ability of the selected stories to make you look behind you. I have pointed out the stories that still scare me, even after all this time. I’m sure there are plenty of unmentioned others in The Year’s Best Horror Stories that will have the same effect on you.

 

 

 

“Evil has only the power that we give it. I give you nothing. I take back. Starve. Starve. Starve” (291)

Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes
Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury’s iconic October novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, taps into the sadness and longing that lurks behind what frightens us. The roots of Bradbury’s novel lie in time’s inevitable passing, and the wanting of what we imagine is lost or out of reach. Boys long to become men and men to recapture their youth. They mourn the loss of what they have loved, and wish they could avoid those losses. While it is fine and natural to dream of such things, it is monstrous to try to alter the course of time to attain them. Some will always try, though. Something Wicked This Way Comes concerns itself with the trying, and the results.

Something Wicked This Way Comes’s story line is a simple thing. A mysterious carnival arrives in a small town at the end of October, and two boys, Will and Jim, with the help of Will’s father, resist temptation and destroy the threat. Even without the plot twists used to flesh out many novels Something Wicked This Way Comes is constantly in motion due to Bradbury’s liquid style. In many ways, Bradbury conjures the effect of stream of consciousness in his narrative, blending his characters’ thoughts with his own fluid expository prose: “So there they go, Jim running slower to stay with Will, Will running faster to stay with Jim, Jim breaking two windows in a haunted house because Will’s along, Will breaking one window instead of none, because Jim’s watching. God, how we get our fingers in each other’s clay. That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other” (20).

Bradbury identifies a sense of nostalgia that can be felt for the present as much as for the past. His characters know the world will change, that they will change, that goodbyes will be said and some may be permanent. Because of this, even though Something Wicked This Way Comes  begins with its protagonists Will and Jim at a point of transition, “Both touched toward fourteen; it almost trembled in their hands. And that was the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young any more…” (4), they are still learning all these lessons, and so are not the novel’s true heart. That role is filled by Will’s father, Charles Halloway.

Charles Halloway’s experiences of having reached middle age, of having married late and become a father late, all reflect the recurring themes of regret and hope, nostalgia and immediacy. When he muses, “How men envy and often hate these warm clocks, these wives, who know they will live forever…We men turn terribly mean, because we can’t hold onto the world or ourselves or anything. We are blind to continuity, all breaks down, falls, melts, stops, rots, or runs away” (63), he names and owns the vulnerabilities Bradbury’s carnival of  “autumn people” exploit.

“For some, autumn comes early, stays through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer…Such are the autumn people. Beware of them” (204)

Cooger & Dark and their carnival of freaks and outcasts play on nostalgia and manipulate the fear of change and loss. They are autumn people, always on the edge of dying. They are used up, worn out, ready to fade away. But they can’t. They won’t. They exist to hold on to their scrap of life, even if they can never enjoy it. Their existence is “perhaps only one of a running series of attempts to foster, encourage, preserve life in what was really nothing but a mortuary junkpile, rustflakes and dying coals that no wind could blow alight again” (281)

The Dark Carnival
The Dark Carnival

The characters that fall prey to Something Wicked This Way Comes’s autumn people let their fears of change overtake them, and they end up far from where they thought the carnival magic would return them. They find that being made young again is not the same as being young. Being made older does not earn any wisdom. Courting a way to stop these changes pulls them out of time, sets them loose with no moorings and no way back. Even Mr. Cooger, full partner in the carnival, is not protected: “there was the pink shiny Halloween mask of a small pretty boy’s face, but almost as if holes were cut where the eyes of Mr. Cooger shone out, old, old, eyes as bright as sharp blue stars and the light from those stars taking a million years to get here” (90).

Jim knows the danger yet can’t help but feel the pull of what the carnival promises. Fatherless, he wants to be a man, already. Will knows the danger, too, yet can’t see past the immediate threat to their friendship: “Together?…You looking down at me, Jim, and what’d we talk about, me with my pockets full of kite-string and marbles and frog-eyes, and you with nice clean empty pockets and making fun, is that what we’d talk, and you able to run faster and ditch me—“ (133). Both are still too young to see the full implications of growing up too fast, of peeling off their boyhood before they have had time to grow into their older selves.

Charles Halloway, however, understands. His desires and experiences, earned by having lived all his days,  humanize the philosophical resolution to Something Wicked This Way Comes. Mortality only haunts us if we fear to die, and by extension if we fear to live because it can only bring us closer to the end. If we let that fear rule us, what is the point of being at all? “The father hesitated only a moment. He felt the vague pain in his chest. If I run, he thought, what will happen? Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts. And we’ve done fine tonight. Even Death can’t spoil it. So, there went the boys…and why not…follow?” (306). This, then, is Something Wicked This Way Comes’s escape from crushing nostalgia and what might have been—this full embrace of now, with all its risks and all its hope.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit… a darkside.

October brings the chills, be they weather or words. Tales From the Darkside, a spooky anthology series created by George A. Romero as an offshoot of his horror anthology film Creepshow started appropriately enough on October 29, 1983. Romero put aside his zombies long enough to write the pilot episode, titled “Trick or Treat”.  From that promising start Tales From the Darkside went on to bring its own distinctive set of chills to ninety episodes over four seasons.

Tales From the Darkside, in first-run syndication from 1983-1988, was part of a great eighties revival of horror/weird anthology TV (some others were Monsters, Tales From the Crypt, Amazing Stories, and Tales of the Unexpected). The format lent itself to clever, twisted half-hour stories made on the cheap with low-tech special effects and great enthusiasm.

Tales From the Darkside--Trick or Treat!
Tales From the Darkside–Trick or Treat!

Romero’s pilot episode, “Trick or Treat”, was a morality tale that set the tone for the series. It is about a wealthy man who lends his money in exchange for IOUs and a chance to terrify the debtors’ children. Parents will be absolved of their debt if their children can find the IOU in the man’s monstrous Halloween haunted house. Then the real demons show up, and turn the tables on him.

In addition to being the executive producer, Romero wrote three more episodes for the series. He also invested in a wide range of other talent to keep the spirits high. Notable horror and science fiction authors who contributed screenplays or had their stories adapted for Tales From the Darkside episodes include Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Michael Kube-McDowell (the Star Wars Black Fleet Crisis series), David Gerrold (“The Trouble With Tribbles”), Joseph Payne Brennan, Pamela Sargent, Frederick Pohl, Charles L. Grant, Robert Bloch (Psycho), Thomas F. Monteleone, Michael Bishop, and Clive Barker.

I watched this show religiously late on Saturday nights, scaring myself with anticipation as much as being scared by the stories. My two favorite episodes from Tales From the Darkside are:

From Season 1, “Levitation”, a moody piece based on the quietly frightening Joseph Payne Brennan story of the same name (and worth reading here). In it, a carnival demonstration of hypnotism and levitation goes terribly wrong when the magician dies in mid-act.

Tales From the Darkside--Halloween Candy
Tales From the Darkside–Halloween Candy

And from Season 2, “Halloween Candy”, a grotesque story of Halloween vengeance. A nasty old man, purposely cruel to trick-or-treaters, draws the attention of a small demon that terrorizes him until he dies of it. This is the episode I think of every year as Halloween rolls around.

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie was released in 1990. It continued the anthology tradition, and was able to ramp up the gore with better special effects. While Romero did not direct it, he contributed a screenplay based on Stephen King’s story, “The Cat From Hell”.

Talk of a series reboot has been drifting around for the past few years, but has never gained traction. The CW has most recently decided not to pursue it. A variety of cable networks are supposedly interested, but nothing has been confirmed. One can hope, or one can simply enjoy the scary treat that is the original Tales From the Darkside.

The darkside is always there, waiting for us to enter – waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!