New Jersey makes the second time I have explored the State of Horror series. In both of my trips, I have returned to normality, satisfied. Such as State of Horror: Illinois, New Jersey opens up with an intro from the anthology composer. In merely a few pages, the tone and theme is set for the reader, as we are reminded of some of the urban legends and horror movies produced from New Jersey. Now, with the road to horror opened for us to cruise along, we bypass the many regional nightmares that haunt the state.
Pork Roll, Egg, and Sleaze by Frank J. Elder is a fantastic opening and a throwback to New Jersey classics such as: Friday the 13th and Alice Sweet Alice. This whodunit slasher story takes place in an abandoned factory that is being explored by a group of friends. As they wander, each character is picked off by a serial killer. With this tale, Elder has accomplished a superb job of, “Just keeping it Jersey, bitch”.
American Gargoyle by Scott M. Goriscak chronicles the Jersey Devil’s life from its birth to current time. With this installment, Goriscak’s descriptive ability impressed me the most. Not since The Fly (1980’s) have I encountered scenes of metamorphosis so graphic. Also, I was pleased to see Gorisack’s smoothness, as he covered such an extensive timespan while obeying short story requirements. This tale is not for the faint of heart.
Dying Days: Charon by Armand Rosamilia is a continuation of the zombie outbreak from State of Horror: Illinois. The pacing in this story is fast and the action is high. The style in which this is written, makes it a solid pulp fiction piece.
Evacuation by C.I. Kemp is a speculative fiction piece that smothers the reader with paranoia. In this tale, Kemp provides an intriguing character study that regards a group of people who have been evacuated during an intense storm. At first, the characters find security within the storm shelter provided to them. Yet, the longer they are held in their refuge, the more their tension grows as they discover this shelter is their prison. As this slow burner progresses, we realize the fate of these evacuees will undoubtedly meet a dreadful conclusion.
Doctor Nightshade Comes to Ocean County, NJ by T. Fox Dunham is a great throwback to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Mask of Red Death. I thoroughly enjoyed the depth provided to the antagonist. By how Fox described the villain in this segment, I walked away from the story feeling like literature finally received its first true Freddy Kruegeresque boogeyman. The story’s pacing was neither slow or rushed, rather it allowed perfect timing for the reader to develop fear and dread for the protagonist. The style in which this was written made me feel like I was reading a chilling fable for adults.
Sweets for the Sweet by Margaret L. Colton is a delicately crafted psychological piece. In a prose that feels heavy with grief, we meet a widow who begins receiving messages from her dead husband. At first, I felt the messages she received were nothing more than loving reminders. However, as the tale fleshes out, we discover she is being lured to her death. Somehow, Colton goes deeper than a mere haunting. By her writing style, the story itself is like a sweet. It is presented as a final course in the entrée of life.
Under the Boardwalk by Julianne Snow is a visceral tale that holds the graphicness of an early Clive Barker and the twisted mind of Chuck Palahniuk. While paying homage to 80’s slashers, Snow provides a hearty bowl of horror soup.
Monster by Christian Jensen is a splatterpunk story about the Jersey Devil. This installment is based around a survivor who encountered the Jersey Devil during his childhood. Seeking vengeance on the creature, he dedicates his life to weightlifting, working out, and defense. When he’s ready, he returns to the spot where the Jersey Devil killed his friend for a final confrontation. I like how Jensen was able to build a strong protagonist, one who wasn’t a weakling and wasn’t afraid to battle his childhood nightmare. The style in which this is written is tangible for most people who have wanted to battle their childhood monsters.
Road Wearier by Tim Baker is an installment that works on the creep factor. I found that the pacing of the story moved smooth and its intensity increased the further it progressed.
Rudetown Road by Blaze McRob a bittersweet story between man and monster. My favorite element to this tale was the bond between human and beast shared at the end. In a book of horror, this was a great way to break up the pattern of fear and gore for the reader. McRob provides the platform for the reader to feel sympathy for the monster, such as one may have felt when reading Frankenstein or watching Legend of Boggy Creek.
A Friend of the Family by Diane Arrelle is about a woman who has the powers to heal those who have been injured. This fascinating story moves like a dark fantasy, until our protagonist is raped and murdered by her boyfriend’s friend. Yet, the tale doesn’t end there. In a fashionable twist that can only be compared to Tales from the Crypt or Tales from the Darkside, the antagonist has Hell to pay.
Red Eyes by Nathanial Gass is a story that works on the senses. The way Gass describes how the Jersey Devil is hunting its prey made me look over my shoulder a few times. Gass has a knack for creating haunting imagery and providing literary scares.
Memories of Her Are Dead by Eli Constant is perhaps one of the most frightening stories in this anthology. While paying homage to old school “Man vs. Animal” horror, this story stays new and fresh as a zoo full of animals go insane and create an unrelenting bloodbath against humanity. I have not been so excited over a tale of animal horror since reading Food of the Gods or watching movies such as: Frogs or Day of the Animals.
The Best Stories:
Pork Roll, Egg, and Sleaze
Doctor Nightshade Comes to Ocean County, NJ
Sweets for the Sweet
A Friend of the Family
Memories of Her Are Dead
The Good Stories:
Dying Days: Caron
The Okay Stories:
Under the Boardwalk
My overall experience with State of Horror: NJ was enjoyable. From a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, I would rate it an 8. The audio experience was a solid 9. Combining the two, I would consider the final outcome for stories and vocal performance combined is an 8 ½.
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Alexander S. Brown