Craig Wallwork is a writer with skills, an author of two novels (To Die Upon a Kiss and the much celebrated The Sound of Loneliness) as well as a short story collection (Quintessence of Dust). In April of this year, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing will be releasing his newest effort, a chapbook in the tradition of Creepshow and Tales From the Darkside, called Gory Hole: A Horror Triple Bill. Within these pages lay three intense, bloody, and darkly humorous tales that bring us to places we aren’t quite sure we want to go but can’t stop ourselves from exploring.
The first story you may have read before, but it is still a great way to start. “Revenge of the Zombie Pussy Eaters” starts fast and violent, as we watch a character stabbing a zombie with the leg of a barstool. After a first page intro of widespread blood, death, destruction, and zombies, we backtrack to the beginning of the night, where we join a group of dudes out celebrating their friend’s divorce with some drinking. After a few more bar stops, and a few more drinks, they decide to look for female accompaniment, eventually deciding the best place to meet girls would be the gay bars. Before you know it, lesbian zombies are everywhere, friends are dying, and we find ourselves trapped in a bar a la Shaun of the Dead, but in a bar in the village from Doghouse. The story is full of gore and tongue in cheek humor, as well as a taste of humanity, and also contains an inside joke of its own: all of the characters are named after Wallwork’s writerly friends (“Gordon” is fiction writer Gordon Highland, “KORPON CORP” is named after crime-writer Nik Korpon, and so on). “Revenge…” starts the collection off with a splat, and definitely sets the standard for what will follow.
In “Human Tenderloin,” the middle story in Gory Hole, we are introduced to a small group of high-class cannibals who regularly meet for a special dinner. The first person narrator is preparing the night’s feast while on the phone with his supplier, The Company, complaining that the body that was delivered was an amputee and will hardly feed his dinner party. He goes on to detail some of his recipes, explaining that they require a specific type of corpse for their fine tastes; no prostitutes or drug addicts, as they may carry disease, but religious folks (specifically “followers of Christ”) have been found to need less tenderizing. We meet each of the guests at the party and learn a bit about them. All, that is, except for the mysterious M, a secretive woman who has some kind of connection with The Company that gets her a hefty discount. The dinner parties shift from person to person, but when it’s M’s turn, things are a little bit different.
The final story in the collection, “Sicko,” is the longest of the three, taking up over half the book. I don’t want to give too much away with this one, but I will say it is my favorite of the group. A group of guys are celebrating their friends impending marriage (the opposite of the guys in the first story) with a hunting trip. When they find themselves lost on their way to the lodge, rather than sleep in the cramped van, they opt to check into a little bed and breakfast called Prospect House. Everything starts getting weird. The building is surrounded by an electric fence. A strange man wearing rubber gloves checks them in, then tells them once they’re in they can’t leave til morning. There are no televisions, the phones in the rooms aren’t even hooked up, and there is a strange sound coming from behind a door near the front desk. It’s like when the kids stop at the gas station in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or the hotel run by the little old lady in In the Mouth of Madness, giving you that feeling of impending doom. But sometimes things aren’t what they seem. Sometimes, they are worse.
Gory Hole: A Horror Triple Bill is an awesome short horror collection that takes somewhat familiar ideas and adds that “something extra” that we all love to talk about in order to make them stand out amongst their peers. One of the simple things Craig Wallwork does is add in a human side, specifically in the opening and closing stories. They aren’t all creepiness and blood and action, there are also bonding moments between friends, realistic conversations where buddies aren’t afraid to expose themselves as vulnerable, as long as they’re alone with a close friend. I think it’s these moments, the ones that make the characters stand out as real people we care about, people we know, people we root for, that push Gory Hole above the formulaic zombie and creature feature fiction that is prevalent and into a world of its own.
That’s not the only thing that sets Gory Hole apart from its contemporaries. The cover artwork by George C. Cotronis is outstanding, as are the interior pictures, one for each story, by Luke Spooner. Wallwork’s writing style is top notch, more than likely falling into that ever-vague “literary fiction” category. But don’t let that fool you; this is straight up action-filled horror tinged with dark, dark humor, just written very well. Gory Hole is another super fast read, one that you will finish in one sitting not just because it’s short, but because it’s that good. Both Craig Wallwork and Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing seem to be doing some very interesting and exciting things lately, this being just one of many, and I look forward to seeing more from both camps.