Sat. Feb 29th, 2020

Read 4 Fun

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Horror in the 50s

6 min read

Image by Geordie from Pixabay

American Nightmare 2014 is a collection of fourteen short horror stories by multiple authors and edited by George Cotronis. Despite the “2014” in the title, these stories are set in the 1950s. Many of the main characters refer to their WW II experiences and how they play out in a US environment of a return to “normality” and increasing personal wealth. Changes in race relations and equal treatment for minority populations appear as story themes. Although the US undeniably was in a period of growth and peace after a long war, there was a major concern which affected many people, the Korean War, one that is also referred to. Baby boomers can wallow in nostalgia for rock and roll music that could compete and drown out the roar of big block “muscle” cars with muffler cutouts. Huge cars, almost resembling tanks by today’s standards, competed for strategic space in Drive-In Movie establishments. Where one parked was tied to the purpose of attending the Drive-In. Not all action was on the movie screen. Some vocabulary may be unfamiliar to a post Baby Boom generation. Although I am a Baby Boomer, some of these stories were a vocabulary workout for me.

Grandma Elspeth’s Enchiridion for Domestic Harmony ***** by Rachel Anding. I had no idea what an “Enchiridion was. In this less than idyllic household, Harold rules the family with an iron fist and a hair-trigger temper. It is 1956 and the unnamed narrator is a boy of between twelve and fourteen. He felt the tension in the air when father Harold demanded seafood for supper. Mom and son knew there was no seafood in the house. Mom would have to get creative with a recipe from Grandma Elspeth, not a real grandmother, but an iconic name for a very old set of instructions that could help soothe the savage beast that was Harold.

Chiaroscuro ***** by Dino Parenti. In this second story, I found another word in a title that I did not know, “Chiaroscuro.” This story bombarded me with references that I was unfamiliar with. The narrator describes a horrible scene on a battlefield. He describes a woman “If Alfred Kubin had painted The Egg and The Epidemic as a single piece, it might approach the portrait this poor wretch paints.” (p. 22). In a later scene where the narrator is visiting a gruesome crime scene, there is this description: “If Picasso had done Guernica in mauves, maroons, and scarlets, this is what the scene would almost approach.” (p. 24). The entire short story does this as the narrator shifts back and forth in time from WW II to 1958.

Bow Creek ***** by Raymond Little. Caroline and Todd were driving to a well-known parking spot for teenagers when Caroline got a bad feeling and told Todd to slow down. It was good that he did because they almost hit Caroline’s brother, Billy. This was remarkable given that Billy had died three years before. After Caroline and Todd disappeared, Jimmy began to see his hometown in an entirely different way. It became more somber and more decayed before his eyes. Colors changed. Miss Russel, a blind lady saw the town’s reality more clearly than Jimmy. How was that possible?

Glow ***** by Adrean Messmer. Thomas had always been interested in astronomy. One shooting star display deposited a small, glowing remnant that gave Thomas the ability to see and understand things that others could not. No one listened to Thomas, however. Perhaps it was his stutter that damaged his credibility. But they would listen now.

Lucy’s Lips ***** by Madeleine Swann. Lucy, also known as “Spooky” was not a pretty girl. For some reason, she was attractive to Bill. When in high school, Bill became very angry when he heard that Ted had taken her out and claimed to have been very intimate with her. The story made the rounds in school and Lucy became so upset she fled the school. Bill saw her get in a car with Mike, but Bill didn’t know what happened between Lucy and Mike, a boy whose disappearance made a further comment from him impossible. Not long after, Lucy disappeared. Bill would later see her at a carnival where she was working and what he found would spoil the carnival experience for him for many years.

Pear People from Planet 13 ***** by MP Johnson. Doctors tell us to eat more fruit. After reading this story, there is one fruit that might be stricken from your list.

Ghost Girl, Zombie Boy and the Count ***** by Chris Thorndycroft. It was Halloween and time to get creepy. Kids dressed up in scary costumes and wandered from house to house seeking treats. Not all creepy things were wandering on the streets. Mr. Lindholm stayed home, and he was very creepy. He looked forward to the visits of those who thought they were monsters. He would show them what a monster really was. Or maybe not.

The Two Monsters of Levittown ***** by T. Fox Dunham. Nazis are on the run both in Europe and South America. Surely, they would not show up attempting to hide in the United States, a principal enemy of the failed Third Reich. Christopher, a teenager living in Levittown, was not the monster. Christopher’s neighbors could not tell the difference between real and fake monsters.

Double Feature ***** by Neal Litherland. All 1949 Hudson Commodore 8s look alike. But there was a missing driver’s side mirror on the one that did not belong to Will. His father’s car was perfect and treated as a member of the family. Will was on a date at a drive-in with Cheryl. During a refreshment and bathroom break, the two were separated. Cheryl got in the correct car. Will was not as lucky.

In the Blood ***** by Mark W. Coulter. This story shows us the importance of family bloodlines and the dangers of unregulated, unsupervised experimentation with DNA.

The Black Pharaoh of Hollywood ***** by Ian Welke. This short story has two themes. One will appeal to those struggling with writer’s block. The other will appeal to those who enjoy stories about the continuing influence of Pharaohs and Egyptian mythology on modern times.

The King ***** by W. P. Johnson. Postal officials operate under strict and multiple rules. Just because a letter doesn’t have a return address is not a reason to steal or discard a citizen’s mail. Even though a person is rude and abusive to a postal officer, the official is not allowed to punish a patron by discarding or destroying a customer’s mail. Conrad Roth didn’t play by the rules. He disappeared. Henry had to cover his route and face the same quarrelsome customer. Henry decided not to play by the rules also.

A Night to Remember ***** by Tim Marquitz. Jeb had survived the war to return to his wife and child. But the wife died soon after his return and the son became estranged, especially after his marriage. One night, Jeb went to his favorite diner. Malcolm had agreed to meet him and planned to bring the kids. But Malcolm did not show up. Jeb spent longer than he planned in the diner due to rain. He wished he had left before it began to rain mice and spiders.

All the Beautiful Marilyns ***** by Max Booth III. This story begins with the idea that Marilyn Monroe is not real because the idea of beauty is in the minds of each of us. Carrying the idea further, every female can be Marilyn. Frank was looking for a Marilyn or at least one who would be his Marilyn. Frank was successful. He found his Marilyn. And then he found someone (or something) better.

This collection is listed at USD 4.99 on its Amazon page. It is not available on Kindle Unlimited.  I received it through an Amazon promotion for USD 0.99. I found only one story, Pear People from Planet 13, not interesting. That brings my rating down from five Amazon stars to a four-point-five rating.



5 thoughts on “Horror in the 50s

  1. Sounds like it’s worth reading. Are the stories enough to give nightmares? I just finished a Murakami book of short stories, nothing overtly terrorizing, more just dread and angst. If you like horror short stories, Chuck Paulaniuk’s “Haunted” is a series of stories but they are all tied together. Extreme and most fairly disturbing.

    1. I like Murakami and rely on those stories for more intellectual horror. Chuck Palahniuk can get too extreme. One of his, Make Something Up, Stories You Can’t Unread falls in that category. He has one short story on his website that he claims no one has been able to read completely through in one try. I was only able to read half way before I gave up. It was one of the cases when I began to question whether all writing about any subject should be allowed. The appeal of the short story collection I reviewed was its setting in the 50s and the excellent second story, Chiaroscuro by Dino Parenti. I will look for more writing by Parenti. Also, for horror novels with snark, Chuck Wendig.

      1. I’ve read all of Chuck’s books except Snuff (can’t get into it) and, ironically, Fight Club, which is probably his best known work. Yes, Make Something Up is extreme, but I think Haunted is even more so. Wow, didn’t know about the story on his website, may or may not check that out. Will look for Wendig. Have you read any by a fairly new author, Donald Ray Pollock? Omg he’s good.

      2. Thanks for the recommendation on Pollock. I’m going to try one of his audiobooks, Knockemstiff. I noticed his books on Amazon are expensive. I have a scribd subscription that I find useful when stuff on Amazon gets too expensive.

      3. You are welcome. That’s his first book, about a small town in Ohio, which I think he grew up in/near. Some of his characters in that book show up in others but usually in passing. Interested in hearing what you think of it.

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