PRIME EVIL by Douglas--Ed. Winter
Kirkus Star


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What makes great horror fiction?"" asks top horror critic Winter as he introduces this collection of 13 original stories by the biggest names in the field. We never do quite find out--although, with their overall emphasis on mood, craft, and psychological rather than visceral horror, many of these tales offer strong clues. Stephen King's lead-off ""The Night Flier"" doesn't, an energetic but anomalously crude (exultations of blood, vomit, urine) story of a ragsheet reporter tracking a vampire. Nor do the offerings by Dennis Etchison (""The Blood Kiss,"" pulp vengeance dolled up by intercutting narrative with portions of a screen treatment); Thomas Tessier (muted King-like excess in ""Food,"" as a fat woman eats until she transmutes); Peter Straub (indulgent musings in ""The Juniper Tree,"" about an abused boy grown up to be a horror novelist); or Charles L. Grant (""Spinning Tales with the Dead,"" foggy, sentimental ghostings). Two oddball tales delight as marvels of craft but provide no emotional tug: Paul Hazel's ""Having a Woman at Lunch,"" a snide, wry accounting of how three male execs handle a female interloper; and Ramsey Campbell's ""Next Time You'll Know Me,"" sizzling rantings by a mad, defeated author. Better still are Thomas Ligotti's ""Alice's Last Adventure,"" spooky fare about a children's writer haunted by her books' hero; Clive Barkers equally evocative ""Coming to Grief,"" wherein a woman returns to her hometown and faces a childhood terror; and David Morrell's long, ingenious ""Orange Is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity,"" about an art critic who finds evidence of alien horror in a French painter's canvases. Then there's ""The Great God Pan,"" M. John Harrison's powerful homage to Arthur Machen in which a terrible haunting is revealed bit-by-brooding-bit; and the two concluding stories: Whitley Strieber's ""The Pool""--his first fiction since Communion, a surging, shrill variation on that book--and Jack Cady's ""By Reason of Darkness,"" a gripping novella about veterans reuniting to combat Vietnam-spawned terrors. No classics here, but enough runners-up to count this as the best horror anthology since Dark Forces (1980) and The Cutting Edge (1986), and sure sign of a welcome renaissance in the field as its top lights turn away from gore and towards subtler, more profound horrors.

Pub Date: June 23rd, 1988
Publisher: New American Library