Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Holes For Faces, by Ramsey Campbell

(oversized pb; 2013: horror anthology)

From the back cover:

"Holes For Faces collects many of [Ramsey Campbell's] best tales from the first decade of this century.  An attempt to avoid a haunted house leads into worse danger.  The announcements at a railway station deal with stranger things than trains, and is that another railway station in the distance or a different kind of destination?  A childhood game becomes a source of terror, and so does a radio quiz show.  Even Christmas decorations may not be trusted, and beware of that Advent calendar!  A hotel provides amenities you mightn't welcome, and a visit to a tourist attraction attracts an uninvited follower.  A train journey may never end, unless it already has, and a visit to a hospital brings back more than memories.  A myth about a horror film has unwanted consequences.  There are angels you mightn't want to see too clearly, if that's what they are.  And you'll have to decide if it's better to stay in the dark or see what's waiting there. . . One theme runs through all the stories: youth and age."

Overall review:

This is an uneven anthology from an otherwise good author (I've read, enjoyed other works by him).  Here's why -

What I liked about it:  Campbell is good at creating Old School horror/shivery moods (think Oliver Onions and M.R. James), so most, if not all of the stories in this collection are dread-effective in tone.

I also admire how Campbell utilized recurring symbols and elements, like trains, childhood memories, familial discord, Hitchcockian intrigue, etc. to thematically link said pieces into the aforementioned mood consistency.

What I didn't like about it:  Many of the stories and characters were too long, too passive (action-wise) and too similar in structure and attitudes - almost to the point of being carbon copies of works that preceded them.  There wasn't enough variation in his framing of his tales or diversity among his characters to make each of these stories burst with distinctive vigor.  This makes Holes a sometimes interesting but often disappointing anthology.

This collection is worth checking out for a few bucks, or borrowing from the library.  If you're into the older style of horror which puts a heavy emphasis on mood, like Campbell, Onions or James, this may very well be worth picking up for more than a few dollars.

Standout stories:

1.)  "Holes For Faces": Childhood terrors, parental discord and a creepy Italian tour haunt a boy.  Excellent, dread-suffusive work.

2.)  "Getting It Wrong": An asocial, disgruntled  cineaste (Eric Edgeworth) finds himself participating in a dark, strange game show where providing wrong answers can prove agonizing. 

3.)  "The Decorations":  Sad, dark Xmas tale about a boy and his mentally unstable grandmother.

4.)  "With the Angels":  Creepy tale about two sisters - one of them a mother of three - visiting their dead grandmother's house.

5.)  "Chucky Comes to Liverpool":  An overprotective mother, obsessed with banning the Child's Play movies, brings about a real tragedy.  Interesting, different story.

6.)  "The Rounds":  Islamophobia, media distortion, conspiracy theories and Hitchcockian intrigue build as a wary, heroic man tries to stop what appears to be a terrorist attack.  Excellent, suspenseful.

7.)  "The Long Way":  An imaginative boy's fear of a spooky neighborhood plays out in a sad, sometimes terrifying manner.  Good story, marred by a forced 'end on a spooky note' finish.

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