Last week I gave you an introduction to Cemetery Dance Magazine.
This week, I get to start sharing what’s inside. While there are loads of Horror-related goodies between any CD covers including interviews, articles, & reviews of their own, this blog is going to concentrate on the fiction.
As a reminder, each post I’m going to give you 2 reviews: 1 from an old issue, and 1 from a new one. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a change in trending over time.
THE OLD: “Body Perfect”
The author blurb provided by CD in front of Rasmussen’s story.
AUTHOR: William C. Rasmussen
Cemetery Dance, Issue #1
APPEARANCE: CD Issue #1 (Dec. 1988), story 1 of 12
PLOT, (with spoilers!): Martin Murry is a college kid who comes across a poster featuring a stunningly beautiful blonde beach babe. He is so impressed with her that he not only buys the poster and eagerly hangs it above his dorm room bed, he also spend the next few hours staring at it, seemingly mesmerized. He feels she is utterly perfect but for one detail… he only wishes she had blue eyes like his. He barely notices the throng of goggle-eyed young men in the background of the poster. As he falls deeper and deeper into her gorgeous embrace, he soon falls asleep. The poster then rustles against the wall & slips from its scotch-taped bonds and flutters down to land directly over Martin’s sleeping form. When his roommate comes home the next morning, Martin is gone and a new poster featuring a gorgeous beach babe with blue eyes is on his bed. The roommate begins to stare, fixated. He doesn’t notice that one of the young men in the background looks exactly like Martin.
The illustration provided by Cemetery Dance to accompany Rasmussen’s story. (She’s not exactly as… attractive… as described in the story. But I promise, Chizmar DOES hire better artists in the future).
MY GRADE: C+
MY REVIEW: Rasmussen’s story is very short and very simple. But it’s also very predictable. The collection of other young men in the poster’s background & the implication that the beach babe either modified her eye color to match Martin’s desires, or (a far creepier notion) perhaps even took his own actual eyes were both nice touches. The story itself is told relatively well considering how short it is.
As a reader of lots of horror, however, this was no doubt a disappointment. My first impression was “THIS is the premier story of the premier issue of Cemetery Dance?!?!” The word ‘lame’ does come to mind while describing it, but that would honestly be far too harsh. I need to remember this was published in 1988 and Richard Chizmar (the CD Editor-In-Chief) undoubtedly had a limited number of submissions to choose from. After all, Cemetery Dance wasn’t the household name in Horror back then that it is today. Still, Rasmussen had been noted for being published in numerous magazines already by then, and I would have expected something a little more… fulfilling. Overall, I enjoyed it for what it was: A simple, straightforward tale of some kind of demonic possession.
It did get me thinking, though, about how this journey through the pages of the hallowed Cemetery Dance will change and grow and evolve. I have no doubt there will be certain stories that will stand out both as memorable tales AND influential to readers & Chizmar alike… perhaps even to the genre itself. I look forward to coming across them.
As for Rasmussen’s “Body Perfect”, however, you can safely pass. You aren’t missing much.
THE NEW: “A Devil Inside”
AUTHOR: Gerard Houarner
Cemetery Dance, Issue #73
APPEARANCE: CD Issue #73 (March 2016), story 1 of 5
PLOT (with spoilers!): An unnamed narrator is in love with his woman, Marita, but is convinced there is a devil inside him who says it loves Marita too. This devil has been there all his life.
Time passes & Marita becomes pregnant. She thinks their son will be just like his father.
More time passes. The narrator hears the devil in his son’s colic wails & everyday life struggles. His parents assure him it gets better. Marita asks why he loves her. He says she’s his angel but thinks it’s because she banishes his devil. When he asks her the same question, she doesn’t answer.
He dives into work, bringing ire from his family & neglects his son. Marita knows something is wrong, that he is perhaps a danger to them all, yet she chooses to trust him nevertheless.
His company is in trouble so the roles he & Marita have had til now switch. Fatherhood & a lost sense of value sends him into depression. When his sister dies, he misses the funeral. When Marita plans family outings & dinner guests, he barely remembers conversation. He decides the devil inside him belongs there.
One night he finds himself over his son’s crib with a knife in hand. Marita is there too, pointing a gun at him and screaming. She asks what he’s doing. He says he wants to see if their son has a devil inside him. She pleads for him to drop the knife. The devil inside him speaks again, insisting she’s going to kill him because that’s what angels do: they kill devils. He moves toward their son, saying she’ll have to make a choice. He reaches the knife down, bringing it to his son’s throat. He watches his son’s little hand grasp the blade. She fires. He falls, relief washing over him. She chose right AND he feels the devil leaving him. But it goes into her, and their last eye contact is one of love. His final act before death is to look to his son, whose eyes indicate his own devil had just entered him as well.
MY GRADE: A
The illustration provided by Cemetery Dance to accompany Houarner’s story. Just look at that detail! (I told you they got better). [Image is split left & right across 2 pages]
MY REVIEW: This story was powerful. That’s the word that keeps coming to me. Yes, the action was light. Yes, the ending was somewhat predictable. But the constant interior monologue coupled with the years-long passage of time creates a connection between reader & character. The words ‘depression’, ‘insanity’, ‘suicide’, and ‘murder’ never appear in the story, yet we are constantly thinking about all of them. Perhaps best of all, the devil itself is never clarified as either an actual demonic possession nor an insane man’s internal metaphor for his struggles. Better still, it doesn’t matter which it is. They come to the same thing.
The most compelling element of Houarner’s story is his language. It is often eoloquent: “It [the devil] lived in the space between heartbeats, in the eclipse of an eyeblink, in flesh numbed by shrapnel,” and sometimes almost surreal: “She was an angel, different from the one inside him. The thing possessed her all the way through, and it hadn’t fallen. Not yet. She lived in light.”
The real beauty of the story, then, isn’t the events that take place but the build up TO those events. Houarner’s ability to set the stage is so believable and so delicate that when the inevitable occurs, we are still rocked with the shock of it. Not because it genuinely surprises us, but because the character’s pain has by then become our own.
Overall, this is a beautiful story with a horrible outcome… the very example of what good Horror should be. I shall eagerly look forward to more of Houarner’s work.
Cemetery Dance has undoubtedly gone through a huge transformation over its 27 years of publication. The stark contrast between these two stories at the opposite ends of its existence is probably going to be a common thread: One is guttural, simple, and indicative of the Gore & Grue which was the mainstay of Horror at the time… the other is subtle, complex, and a shining example of the Psychological Horror which modern fans look for. I expect my future reviews will see a lot more of this, though I have no doubt there will be numerous exceptions to that rule as well.
I look forward to them all.
Agree or disagree with any of this?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
-K. Edwin Fritz