Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: Head Cases by Scott Nicholson

Head Cases by Scott Nicholson
Genre: Horror/Thriller

Summary: A Collection of nine horror/thriller stories involving - as the title suggests- head cases. People whose minds and lives have been consumed by fear.

Review: I was offered a copy of this book by the author and having to read this on my computer took longer than I thought due to me not being at home much (plus being sick..meh)!
It is a collection of short stories, so it was really easy and fast to read. I finished it in the span of a couple of hours and I have to say that the stories had a lasting impact on me.
Even though I have watched a lot of horror movies and even read Chthulu-related horror stories by Lovecraft etc (granted maybe younger than I would be able to fully understand them because my older brother dared me to), I didn't think I could be scared by them, but I found these stories to be chilling and creepy.

The book starts with the story "Fear Goggles" in which Elvin Meister finally decides to visit "The Eye Doctor" disturbed by the hideous images he sees in the mirror and all around him instead of the "real" images. Confusing reality with imagination of the nightmarish kind, he needs help and he believes the Doctor can give it to him. But not everything is what it seems.

I liked the whole "conspiracy" feel to this story. From the minute Elvin visits the doctor's office, he encounters bizzare persons - especially a man- that seem to have somehow agreed to "chose" to see what is normal...
I liked the idea, it was quite original and it vaguely reminded me of "The Matrix", with the red and blue pill. Not that it was similar, just a feeling I got!

Then, the story "Beggar's Velvet" was immensely creepy. A woman afraid of dust might be something common,but you should think again, because it wasn't about the germs. She literally believed that dust could assume an actual physical body that meant to cause her harm.
If you think you can categorize it as silly, I dare you to read the story and not get the chills!
The description was flawless and evocative and the sense of dread permeating it, really took a hold of me.
I also, thought it was brilliant how the author associated it with a "real-life" trauma, giving us a sense of how the whole thing was set in motion.

The third story, "The White House", was written by John Everson and it made me shiver at how scary it was. Given the start I was expecting something along the lines of "Hansel and Gretel", but this was so much darker. The old lady recounting the story of the infamous, creepy White House to a little girl - a friend of her nieces- was a brilliant start and even though it seemed harmless, the level of unease associated with what she said and what you were expecting, made this a great read.
What can I say? It gives the term "White", a whole new meaning I certainly wasn't expecting!

The fourth story, entitled "Heal Thyself" , follows Jackson, a young man in therapy because he feels lost, fragmented and broken. Mr Edelhart, his therapist, uses a radical form of therapy in the form of deep retrograde hypnosis -if that is the correct term.
That is, he hypnotizes Jackson and gets him back to his previous lives, focusing mostly on his life as Dell Bedford, a plantation owner. It is the era of the abolition of slavery, though not on his side yet. He is a wealthy racist who totally abuses and maltreats his slaves not only for profit - pressuring them to work past exhaustion- but also for his own enjoyment, as he is a masochist...
However, this is not all that he is and the story did a marvelous job at exploring this.

The fifth story, "Metabolism", was not what I expected. It wasn't about your typical anorexic and phobic girl. She had taken her phobia one step further, believing that the "City" was a living entity looming over her, manipulating and controlling people and only if she was paper-thin could she escape and become almost invisible. The descriptions of the city through her eyes as snakes and hideous creatures was marvelous and really added a chilling factor to the story.
I think this was a story that felt the less paranormal to me and more about the extent of fear a disturbed person can achieve.

The Sixth story, "Letters and Lies", was a surprise. It's about a mailman who isn't getting the appreciation and respect he deserves (or thinks he doesn't) and has started to resent life, his wife and colleagues for the routine that his life has fallen into. The power he develops was a fantastic one. He could hear the text of the letters he was delivering by the voices of the people sending them.
How cool is that? I thought, but when he kept hearing about death, loss, misery and heartache in his head, I thought twice about it.
It literally drove him mad... It was a pretty original and riveting story!

The seventh story, "The Weight of Silence", was pretty straightforward, or so I thought. At first, I was expecting it to have some sort of supernatural element but there wasn't and there was no need for there to be.
A young couple lost their infant girl from SIDS and the woman is still plagued with sorrow and guilt. She keeps entering the nursery hoping for the baby to be there and she keeps the "intercom"? device open so that she may hear the coos and all the sounds her baby used to make. Her husband tries to make her get over it, unsuccessfully...
Towards the end I figured out what had happened, but I was wrong about the who! It was a brilliant story.

The eighth story entitled "Wee Robbie" by William Meikle, was the one reminding me the most of the "Chthulu- related stories I had read as a child. The description of creatures whose names cannot be uttered and whose faces/forms cannot be described. The unspeakable terror and the horror wrapping around your heart forcing your lungs to stop working... it was all there. The unexplained, yet undeniable pull towards a place although it is dark enough to forewarn you of its malevolence...
It was also difficult to discern whether what the main protagonist was seeing was the figment of his imagination or an invasion attempt from some sinister otherwordly creature and I liked it that way!

The last story, "Do You Know Me Yet?", was the most fun for me. It wasn't exactly scary, at least not to me, and I kept chuckling while reading it. The protagonist of this story, addressing the reader directly starts explaining how he is the one having the initial idea for several popular books, which are not named by author or title but are pretty easy to guess, and all the authors who became popular through actually writing them down and getting published stole them from him.
Although he never actually writes down any of his ideas, he claims to have whole stories and plots in his head and when "uninteresting, dull" things started getting published, it was because he had stopped "having thoughts" so that no one could steal them.

Notable Description/Scene:
The hand scrabbled along the side of the mattress. It clutched the blankets and began dragging the body that wore it from the vague ether Cynthia closed her eyes, tight like she had as a small child, so tight the tears pressed out. She trembled, her sobs in rhythm with the horrible rasping of the beggar's breath.
She could feel it looming over her now, its legs formed, the transition from dust back to flesh complete. Cynthia held her breath, the last trick. Maybe if she could hold her breath forever . . .

Verdict: Very enjoyable collection of stories. Creepy, intelligent and gripping. Any horror fan will literally devour them. I haven't read real "horror" in a while and this made me realize I miss it! XD
They are an intelligent set of stories, not what one could describe as "mindless fun".
They are not sloppy, fragmented or taking the easy way out (like leaving things unexplained). On the contrary, they made you think and appreciate (for the ones lacking a supernatural, paranormal element) what a person must go through in order to develop these phobias and hallucinations. Or were they not hallucinations? :P

Rating: I think a 4 star rating is in order here. Horror fans will adore this and those who just want a taste of horror on their Ereader or desktop are in for a treat.

Find Scott Nicholson:
Site // Blog // Goodreads // Twitter // Facebook

Purchase Head Cases: Amazon // Smashwords //

~ Kelly ~


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