Behemoth Rhapsody, Part 1

According to paleontologist Dr. Warren Callaway a species of super-sized “Behemoths” lived during the last ice age. Somehow they survived the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event that killed the dinosaurs. Or maybe, he speculated, they were the catalyst for the extinction event.  

The Behemoths trampled the earth with primal impunity and possessed abilities only seen in mythology. They flew in the air, spit ice and fire and inspired all sorts of Toho-like havoc. Unlike the wimpy dinosaurs, these gigantic colossi didn’t perish—they simply went into hibernation or some other type of natural stasis.

And now they were back. After taking a nap for millions of years, they awoke to a new tumultuous era. It had been 30 years since the modern world exploded—coastal cities gone, places like Arizona almost unlivable due to rising heat, fires, massive storms, earthquakes. The recent shifts in weather patterns were like a ringing alarm clock for the Behemoths.

One by one they arose from their deep slumber—a 600-foot-tall bipedal lizard from Siberia, A pterosaur-like firebird from Brazil and an enormous kraken from the Atlantic Ocean. Within a few pages they were pounding New York City and each other. To the winner: world domination!

Even though Behemoths Rising is a short novel, the author includes lots of daikaiju battles and go-for-broke combat scenes. This is the first book in a Kaiju Overlords trilogy, so I assume there will be more thunderous world-shaking action TK.

Two comments: An elite air force squadron confronts the prehistoric creatures at every opportunity. There are big chunks of text devoted to aerial combat, but don’t expect any sort of descriptive air strategy or compelling tactical maneuvering from the pilots. This isn’t Twelve O’Clock High or The Blue Max (or even Snoopy vs. the Red Baron). “Hit the bastards with everything you’ve got,” ordered Captain Jason Bagley at one point. That’s all the strategy you get.

And lastly: I’m especially happy to see that love blooms even during a Behemoth uprising. Geologists, paleontologists and fighter jet pilots—they all deserve a little love and affection, right? After all, if you can’t find time to hook up during a world-ending disaster like this, when can you?

[Behemoths Rising / By John Grover / First Printing: November 2020 / ISBN: 9798561093319]

Ghouls Rule!

Mary Shelley invented science fiction. That’s a fact. But she also created the greatest monster of all time.

Back in 1818 when Shelley introduced her uncanny creation to the public, she couldn’t have predicted the ripple effect her novel would have. Cobbled together from romance and gothic literary traditions, Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus generated an ongoing interest in science fiction, horror and monsters that hasn’t abated in over 200 years.

In the book The Science of Women in Horror, co-authors Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence trace women’s influence in horror throughout the years. In fact, they strongly imply that women are the ultimate monsters because they are alluring and powerful predators. Women have been exploited again and again to strike fear in men’s hearts, they say.

Most female monsters are heteronormative preying easily on men who think with their dicks. But what about other women in horror? Women are not all whores, sirens or gorgons after all. What about those who exist somewhere else on the Kinsey scale?

The lesbian vampire, besides being a gothic fantasy archetype, can be used to express a fundamental male fear that female bonding will forever exclude men and threaten male supremacy.

Take Carmilla, for example. In the 1871 novel by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Countess Karnstein represents the most complete vision of the female vampire; a lesbian seductress who desires to overturn patriarchy by promoting female independence from men, and the rejection of biological reproduction.

Conversely, female werewolves offer another version of fear and loathing. They embody a kind of gendered body crossing where a woman expresses characteristics labeled both masculine and male by the dominant culture such as power, strength, rage, aggression, violence and body hair. Check out the movie Ginger Snaps (2000) for a good example of this.

Even off-screen, women have been making their mark on monsters for a long time. According to Guillermo del Toro, special effects artist Milicent Patrick designed the “number one monster suit in film history” (the awesome Creature from the Black Lagoon). Ruth Rose co-wrote the original King Kong script and contributed the last and most memorable line of dialogue: “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

Inevitably when thinking about horror movies, the gaggle of monsters from Universal Studios come to mind. The only female creature from the studio’s MonsterVerse to transcend its era is the Bride of Frankenstein. Considered by many film buffs to be better than the original movie, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is the first sequel to Frankenstein and revolves around a subplot in Mary Shelley’s novel in which the creature yearns for a suitable mate. The Bride has little screen time and is ultimately rejected by science and her intended bridegroom, but her aesthetic (including her tall, skunk-streaked hair-do) endures to this day. Inspired by Shelley, Frankenstein’s bride is the mother of all monsters.  

[The Science of Women in Horror / By Meg Hafdahl and Kelly Florence / First Printing: February 2020 / ISBN: 9781510751743]

Horny and Hungry Monsters on the Prowl

When Casey Lovitt’s mom found a wolf spider casually lounging in her living room, she quickly swept it out the front door with her broom. “People weren’t meant to live in the swamp,” she told her daughter. “This place ain’t for us. It’s for them.”

Casey and her mom had lived their entire lives at the edge of Green Swamp, North Carolina. Over the years, they’d learned to coexist with the oppressive bug population. But last season’s hurricane and subsequent flooding significantly altered the local environment. The bugs were now bigger, more plentiful and more aggressive. “They’re finally running us out,” agreed Casey. “The creatures are taking the swamp back.”

That’s bad news for Casey. She was the park manager for the Green Swamp Zip-Line Adventure and Campground, and she knew people weren’t going to visit the N.C. wetlands if they were being attacked by giant horse flies, centipedes, mosquitoes, water scorpions, ticks, fire ants and wheel bugs.

Normally, bugs were mindless eating and breeding machines. But now they were hungry and horny monsters on the prowl. Thanks to the mutated venom of a brown recluse spider, for example, Casey witnessed an unlucky bastard decompose before her very eyes. Something had to be done. Ignoring the problem only made things worse.

Trying to help, the entomology department at the local college released sterile insects into the area. It was their hope that these bugs would nip the ever-expanding population in the bud. It was a nice idea, but it was a false narrative. The mounting danger and unforeseen secret agendas turned Green Swamp into a horror show.

To keep Infested focused, author Carol Gore divided her novel into three manageable chapters. Eschewing a standard third-act finale, however, she gave her protagonist an open door to a welcomed sequel.

A supersized mosquito buzzed toward Casey’s face. She let it get close and then smashed it against her forehead. It exploded with blood that ran down her face like war paint.

She wanted the other creatures to smell the death on her. It was a warning, wrote Gore. Casey would not abandon her home in Green Swamp. She was ready to keep on fighting.

[Infested / By Carol Gore / First Printing: January 2020 / ISBN: 9781989206300]


As you’d expect, there’s a lot of witchery in this collection of short stories. There are a few werewolf tales too, of course, but the anthology is heavy with malefic magic.

In general, Rod Serling’s Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves includes an outstanding selection of stories, but it definitely doesn’t start off with a bang. In the first story, a pair of feuding witches turns a grifter into a cat. In the second story, a woman turns her husband into a dog—and later, in a twist, the husband turns his wife into a horse.

Thankfully, the quality of the stories improves dramatically once you get past these two ailuranthropy and cynanthropy contributions. For example, there’s a story about an amateur witch who screws up all her spells, another story about an elderly gentleman who serendipitously discovers he’s the high priest of a Boston coven and then there’s the story about a young man whose wife of three months is in league with the devil. The book ends with a 21-page history of witch trials from the 16th century to the 19th century.

Without a doubt the best story endorsed by Serling for this vintage 1963 collection is written by Jane Roberts. As a genre workout, “The Chestnut Beads” is simply about sorority sisters and an A-bomb explosion in New York. More than that, however, Roberts has a lot to say about a woman’s responsibility to the future. Men are the destroyers, she writes, and women are the creators. “Once more we are being asked to re-create the universe. But creation is not a kind act. It is an act of cruelty, and act of hatred against the darkness. The time has come when our hate must kill our love; when love can grow again from the rotting seeds of rage.”

And finally, beyond witches and werewolves, I’m always a sucker for stories about people who think they can outwit the devil. Except for Daniel Webster, nobody has ever done it. In “Blind Alley” by Malcolm Jameson, a wealthy gentleman pays Satan (a.k.a. “His Nibs”) to send him back to his childhood hometown 40 years earlier. He’s nostalgic for the past because “he hated modern women, the blatancy of the radio, the man in the White House and everything else.” Naturally, things go askew pretty quickly. Satan breaks his contract, collects his soul and turns up the heat. “See you in Hell, old thing,” he laughs.

[Rod Serling’s Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves / Edited by Rod Serling / First Printing:  May 1963]

To Conserve and Protect, Part 2

Fresh from their first assignment as U.S. National Park Service secret agents (see my review of Russell James’s previous novel here), Kathy West and Nathan Toland found themselves quickly dispatched to Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

After squashing a giant crab uprising off the coast of Florida, West and Toland were asked to investigate irregularities near the Kilauea Caverns of Fire. They didn’t know what types of monsters they were going to encounter, but they knew that no assignment would ever be routine for them.

That’s because West and her history lovin’ sidekick were undercover agents for a shadowy section of the National Park Service. The government wasn’t protecting state parks just because they were attractive natural wonders. Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, Jellystone—many of these areas were home to the most dangerous monsters on the planet. As Park Services secret agents, West and Toland’s mission was to keep those creatures secret and safely within park boundaries.

In Hawaii, the biggest mammal problem was usually feral pigs. Escaped from domestic stock, they had huge litters and destroyed the land as they rooted for food. They were pesky because they had no natural predators.

But at Volcanoes Natural Park, West and Toland stumbled upon something far more terrifying than a pack of wild hogs. They found 20-foot, fire-breathing Komodo dragons living in the lava tunnels created by the Kilauea volcano. These dinosaur-sized creatures were the kind of mutation that would have made Charles Darwin proud, wrote the author.

Without realizing it, the park rangers were caught in the middle of a nasty Hawaiian cultural war. One faction recognized the dragons as sacred children of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. They wanted to protect the indigenous creatures. The other faction was a bit more extreme. Their plan was to use the dragons to cleanse the islands and return the land to nature.

The leader of the extremist group was Romy Saturo Kang. With a name like that, you knew right away that he was a first-class MCU-like villain. With the help of the dragons, he was going to turn the white man’s tropical paradise into a blazing hell. “It won’t be long,” Kang promised. “Pele’s children will hatch, and the island of Hawaii will return to its wonderful natural state, with me as their king.”

Don’t worry. Kang the Conqueror’s evil plan was eventually undone. Because of West and Toland’s last-minute heroics, hundreds of dragon hatchlings were boiled in lava. Problem solved.

The park rangers saved the people of Hawaii, but at what cost? What would animal rights activists and native groups think of their endgame? Surely some kind of compromise could have been negotiated? Kang was a first-class asshole (and he got a fitting comeuppance), but the dragons of Kilauea deserved better.

[Dragons of Kilauea / By Russell James / First Printing: October 2020 / ISBN: 9781922323903]

Atomic Bats

Underground nuclear testing, giant bats and unintentional collateral damage—that’s all you need for classic monster misadventure, right? Clearly author Jack Morse thinks so. Mostly, I agree, although a curveball or a subplot might have been nice too.

One look at the cover of Giant Killer Bats of Alamogordo and you know exactly what Morse is up to. He’s trying to recreate the “Age of Atomic Monsters” in prose format. He’s not necessarily concerned with details, however. The killer bats could easily be any kind of nuclear mutant like tarantulas, ants, Gila monsters, locusts, scorpions, praying matids, anything—even an amazing colossal man. It doesn’t really matter; the subtext is always the same in these sorts of stories.

The novel begins 75 feet below the New Mexico desert during the summer of 1957. Unbeknownst to anyone in the area, the U.S. Government is actively upgrading its nuclear arsenal. “Hiroshima was nothing compared to the power at my disposal,” cackles an ambitious Army attendant. The ensuing subterranean blast infiltrates a cavern of bats and “the radioactive cloud changes their very essence forever.”

The atomic bats are now bull-sized demons with wingspans over 10 feet. With a newfound intelligence lurking behind their cold dark eyes, they start terrorizing a small nearby town.

“I dunno what we are doing to our world,” says Ray Riggs when he spots the colony of bats for the first time, “but it seems to be striking back at us with a vengeance.” Carrying torches and pitchforks, the townsfolk quickly assemble to combat the scourge. Good luck!

Giant Killer Bats of Alamogordo is a slim novel told in a simple declarative fashion. Actually, the more I think about it, it’s very similar to a Japanese light novel but without any interior illustrations. There’s not much room for nuance or subtlety here (or even a messy subplot). It’s not for everybody, I admit, but I enjoyed the story’s retro vibe and breezy pace.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the author’s semi-regular and random interjections throughout the book. Some were funny and some were odd (in a good way).

My favorite of these exclamations comes early in the story when a character is desperately trying to locate his wife at a shopping mall. Writes Morse with a wink: “For the thousandth time, Ray wishes there were an easy way to communicate with other people. Perhaps he could invent a portable phone that worked without wires. He shakes his head and dismisses the idea; there wouldn’t be much call for that type of thing, he reckons.”

[Giant Killer Bats of Alamogordo / By Jack Morse / First Printing: June 2019 / ISBN: 9781950903030]

Double Feature Monster Show

As promised, there’s a pair of monsters in Mark Cassell’s new short story digest. Both abominations were frightful, but in particular, the post-human freak from “Reanimation Channel” was insanely frightful.

Creating and describing monsters must be a lot of fun for writers. Yet I’m constantly disappointed by authors who never get 100 percent cozy with their creations. Sometimes these beautiful creatures lurk in the shadows for the entire story. Only at the very end are they revealed—and usually in the most vague and mundane way possible.

I keep thinking about the oversized mutant fish from The Host (2006). That fucker appeared early in the film and terrorized people nonstop during the day and night. As far as I’m concerned, The Host was made for people (like me) who love monsters. That’s what I’m looking for in the books I read too.

When “Reanimation Channel” begins, the monster was shocking, but still in the process of transmutation. It was a Frankenstein-like monstrosity, part-human, part-dog and part bird. “Wires and circuits wove through swollen flesh,” wrote Cassell. “Its head was a mess of what was perhaps a German shepherd fused with a bearded man. Vein-y membranous wings extended behind its torso.”

But that’s not how the patchwork chimera looked at the end of the story. In just 25 pages, the author pumped up his monster’s physical structure to an extravagant level. I don’t want to spoil the dramatic finale, but the fiend eventually morphs into an insane fusion of metal and plastic, discarded lottery tickets, K-Cup pods, Pringles cans, smartphone batteries, driftwood and machinery, pebbles and cockles, fur, feathers and flesh—not just human flesh, but that of varying species of mammal including eagles, bulls, turtles, dolphins, sharks and whales. It was, said the author, “an absolute abomination of nature.”

The monster in “Reanimation Channel” was an amazing behemoth—a testament to Cassell’s untamed imagination. As a reader, you can feel his enthusiasm on every page. As a monster fan, you never doubt his dedication to the genre.

The author kicks off his collection with an amphibious creature prowling the waters of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. “River of Nine Tails” had a bizarre mythological beast at it’s core, but the story was carefully deliberate because it contained some relevancy to the author’s personal life. As Cassell admitted upfront, his stories were about the monsters you saw. Wherever they might be.

[Monster Double Feature / By Mark Cassell / First Printing: August 2020 / ISBN: 9780993060182]

The Curse of Frankenstein

Old-timey monster movie fans already know the story: Boris Karloff wasn’t the first choice to play Frankenstein’s monster back in 1931. The folks at Universal Pictures wanted to cast Bela Lugosi, fresh from the success of his Dracula performance.

Apparently the original screen test didn’t go very well for the Hungarian-born actor. Depending on what you’ve read, Lugosi either looked like Prince Valiant or Buster Brown. Reportedly, his on-screen reveal was more laughable than scary.

Thus Boris Karloff got the iconic part—and the rest was celluloid history. Frankenstein was a big hit and kept the stately British actor rich and comfortable for the rest of his life. “My dear old monster,” Karloff said at the time. “I owe everything to him.” For Lugosi it was the beginning of a long slide into Grade Z pictures, drug addiction, unemployment and a squalid death.

Over the years, the Lugosi screen test has become a highly coveted item for movie and monster nuts. Even though it resurfaced for sale about 40 years ago in a Los Angeles trade-paper advertisement, it may no longer exist. The two-reel screener was either purposely destroyed back in 1931 or inadvertently lost over the years. We’ll never know.

In Alive!, Loren D. Estleman’s novel from 2013, Tinseltown is turned upside down when the Frankenstein clip is unexpectedly rediscovered. Naturally it stirs up interest with a sundry of Hollywood freebooters, gangsters, collectors and preservationists.

Chief among them was Valentino (no relation to Rudolph btw). His business cards identified him as a “film detective,” a romantic indulgence befitting a life on the outer edge of the motion picture industry. In reality, he was merely a consultant for UCLA’s Film Preservation Department. 

Because of one late-night phone call, Valentino found himself in the middle of a mad scramble for the 30-minute Lugosi screen test. He eventually got it, but he had to navigate all of the gorillas, dinosaurs, blobs, alien invaders and giant bugs that had crawled, slithered, stomped and swooped through the backlot of every studio, major and minor, since pictures began.

In 1943, Bela Lugosi finally had the opportunity to portray the monster that initially escaped him in a movie called Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. It must have galled him to don the square headpiece created for Karloff a dozen years after he haughtily turned down the part.

Even though he created the iconic and beloved screen image of Dracula (itself a once-in-a-lifetime role), Lugosi could never escape the shadow of Mary Shelley’s creation. “Frankenstein, always Frankenstein,” he lamented, “ever and again until the end.”

[Alive! / By Loren D. Estleman / First Printing: April 2013 / ISBN:  9780765333315]

#BLM Stop the Violence

Like a lot of monsters, Maribel Daniels wasn’t human. “Well, she was human,” corrected her younger sister Anya, “but she was also something else.” It was complicated.

According to local legend, Maribel was accosted 10 years ago by a bunch of guys. They raped her, killed her and dumped her lifeless body in Stoco Lake. At exactly the same time, a truck overturned on a nearby bridge and dumped unknown and highly toxic chemicals into the lake.

These chemicals replaced the blood in Maribel’s body and brought her back to life (sort of). As time went by, she mutated into a scaly blue fish-like monster with seaweed growing out of her skin. “Kind of like Swamp Thing,” said author Renee Miller.

Over the years, Maribel, now infamously known as the “Blood Lake Monster” (or BLM, for short), acquired a reputation with local girls for being an avenging angel. Explained one teen in a burst of exposition: “If you’ve got a guy who’s done you wrong, you can go to the lake and say a prayer to Maribel. She’ll do the rest.” In other words: the Blood Lake Monster would kill that loser boyfriend of yours dead.

Ten years later, Anya returned to the crime scene to solve her sister’s murder and stop the gendercide. She didn’t have any trouble figuring out what happened and who was involved. Figuring out Maribel’s wonky moral compass, however, gave her fits. She didn’t realize that her sister harbored a multi-monstrous agenda.

One particular scene near the end of the book sums up Maribel’s conflicting emotions thusly. When a local constable falls into the lake one morning, she darts toward him hungrily. “Her teeth sank deep into the soft skin of his belly. Blood filled the water like a red fog and swirled around her face like a caress.”

Before leaving his dead carcass to float to the bottom of the lake, Maribel plants a soft kiss on his open mouth. Said the author: “She then trailed her clawed fingers down his chest to open him up so the fish in the lake could feast.”

It’s not exactly fish sex, but it was a dramatic way for author Miller to describe her monster’s ravenous appetites. Sure, Maribel was angry. No one ever wants to be raped and killed and reborn as the She-Creature from the Black Lagoon. But she was also suffering from an unrequited ache that would haunt her for the rest of her existence. She was lonely.

[Blood Lake Monster / By Renee Miller / First Printing: July 2020 / ISBN: 9781989206508]

Nine Stories

There’s a moment in the story “Cabin 14” when an unlucky glamper comes face-to-face with a hungry saber-toothed tiger. What the hell, he thinks. Was it possible that someone was breeding prehistoric beasts in the Minnesota wilderness? And more importantly: Why?? Why would anyone want to do such a crazy thing?

Author Lucas Pederson doesn’t answer that particular question. Nor should he. All the creatures in this nine-story volume exist within acceptable (albeit extreme) boundaries. A saber-toothed cat is just one of the aberrations found in this “Nature’s Revenge” anthology.

There are also bears, insects, fish, kangaroo and komodo dragons to worry about. There’s even a story about an Australian yowie. Each permutation is horrifying in its own way, yet is bound inextricably by the laws of nature. A wasp with a wingspan of 10 feet isn’t a monster, per se. It’s just a big fucking wasp.

In “Surrogate,” the aforementioned giant wasp attacks a couple of weekend hikers from Melbourne. “It’s legs were large bending needles, like a demonic sewing machine,” writes B.D. Ramsay, “And its eyes were great, soulless portals to hell.” But that wasn’t the scariest part of the story. The real horror emerged seven days later. “I’ve become a slave, a zombie in nature’s plan,” cries the unfortunate victim.

Likewise, a trio of old friends gathers for a weekend fishing trip in “Black Eyes, Dark Water” by Dave Jeffery. The male bonding is interrupted during the group’s first outing by a nasty Northern Pike. “A big fucker,” says one of the fishermen. “At least a seven-footer.”

But, again, the “Piscean stalker” couldn’t be faulted for being an apex predator. The friends knew immediately they were being hunted by an incredible aquatic, omnipotent killing machine. They were doomed.

Aberrations ends with a happily-ever-after finale (“Haunted” by editor Chris McInally). Before the final windup, however, readers are introduced to Yowa from Mallacoota, Victoria (“Refugee” by Paul Mannering).

Yowa was “really, really weird looking,” quirky as hell and possibly not even human. In a surprising twist, she turns out to be a guardian angel-like figure straight from Australia’s bush.

The 20-page story quickly escalates from funny to odd to creepy, and contains an obligatory amount of bloodshed. It’s also a blunt comment on identity and the sanctity of indigenous culture. It’s a reminder to all of us that truth lives in nature.

[Aberrations / Edited by Chris McInally & Dane Hatchell / First Printing: August 2020 / ISBN: 9798671775839]