Dead Funny: Horror Stories by Comedians edited by Robin Ince & Johnny Mains
Genre: Horror Anthology
Publisher: Salt Publishing
Release date: October 2014
Source: Finished copy from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A healthy dose of horror from famous British comedians, and a unique collection, but only moderately successful, in this reader’s opinion.
So, under normal circumstances, stand-up comedy and I don’t get along very well. It’s too bad, because I have some genuine comedians in my family (and by genuine, I mean they get paid to stand up and say funny things!) My sense of humor often clashes with those around me. My husband, for example, tends to enjoy telling me jokes, most of them pretty terrible. Hence my disdain of canned humor. So why am I telling you all this? I guess to explain my reaction to Dead Funny, a new short story collection from the respectable and always interesting UK publisher, Salt Publishing, whose books I’ve enjoyed immensely.
Co-editor Robin Ince says in his Introduction, “… remember that the goriest deaths will have been created while the writer was imagining their worst heckler. Interrupt at a comedy club at your peril, now you know you what goes on in the minds of the stand-up.” I was very curious to read a collection of fiction written by comedians, because while I may not always enjoy stand-up comedy, I do love humor in my fiction. Glancing through the list of contributors, it didn’t surprise me that I only recognized one name, Charlie Higson. After all, I’m an American who doesn’t really follow comedy in the first place.
This collection is quite varied, both in subject matter and skill level, and I was surprised to discover that when comedians sit down to pen horror stories, the results aren’t necessarily funny. Some of them are very well written, but others read like comedy routines instead of short stories. Out of the sixteen stories in this collection, I really enjoyed five of them, I liked six others, I was frankly baffled by or did not like the writing of four of them, and downright HATED one story. (And I don’t think I’ve ever said I’ve hated something on this blog before!) So quite the mixed bag.
Here are the five stories that I thought were well-crafted and creepy and yes, had some black humor as well:
The Patient by Mitch Benn
A man whose wife and daughter were killed in a car accident abducts the man responsible and tortures him in his basement. A twist near the end was a nice surprise and made this one of my favorites.
Possum by Matthew Holness
This story was crazy and sick, but I thought it was really well done. A disturbed man who makes puppets tries to destroy one of them, but the puppet doesn’t go down quietly. I’m not sure I completely understood this story. The man goes back to his childhood home and tries to get his father (?) to help him destroy the puppet. It was just weird. But in a good way!
For Roger by Katy Brand
This was my favorite of the bunch. It had a fantastic Twilight Zone vibe to it. A man discovers a hidden diary in his attic, but strangely, the diary appears to predict the future. This story shows us that knowing what will happen in the future is not necessarily a good thing.
Anthemoessa by Phill Jupitus
In some versions of mythology, Anthemoessa was the island home of the Sirens. In this story, a man (again with all the male characters!) who is trying to climb the corporate ladder, gets caught up in the siren song of two mysterious women, and unfortunately for him, follows them. This story was very well written and also very funny. This was the vibe I was expecting from all the stories in this collection.
Filthy Night by Charlie Higson
Another funny story that I really enjoyed! An aging horror actor visits the home of one of his fans, to see his movie memorabilia collection. I loved the surprise twist at the end (although I didn’t care for the punchy comedy “last line”). More humor than horror, but still very good.
I have to mention the story that set my teeth on edge, the one I didn’t like at all. It was called Dog by Reece Shearsmith. The writing was pretty good, and Shearsmith certainly has the talent to give us a gut-wrenching story. But unfortunately, it was about a psychopath who kills dogs, and since I’m a dog person, I just couldn’t stomach it. Perhaps the author meant to elicit such a response, and if that was his intention, then bravo!
So while the concept of having comedians write short horror stories was certainly a good idea, this collection only manages to sort of pull it off. But as Johnny Mains says in his Foreword, “It’s an experiment in terror. Not all of the stories will make you laugh. Some of them might make you vomit or be scared to go outdoors after 6 p.m.” Johnny, I believe you hit the nail on the head.
Big thanks to Salt Publishing for supplying a review copy.
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