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Zippered Flesh edited by Weldon Burge

Zippered Flash cover imagePublisher: Smart Rhino
Paperback (284 pp)

Body horror is nothing new in the horror genre. For decades now, David Cronenberg has delved into our base fears about how our bodies can be altered and changed, causing pain and suffering. In the last decade or so, cinema from the Far East has been utilising this sub-genre to good effect, giving us tales of eye and even hair transplants which have come back to haunt the person who has undergone the procedure. So how exactly do you keep the idea fresh enough for an anthology of twenty tales from different authors? Fortunately, there are endless options open for interpretation with body horror and so most of these tales come across as being fresh, rather than tired re-treads of previous tropes which we’ve all seen before.

The collection kicks off (or should that be boots up?) with ‘Bootstrap – The Binds of Lasolastica’ (Michael Bailey), a more science fiction based tale which involves a man being digitally backed up and restored into a clone, due to the fact that his own body is about to wither and die. Intriguing conversations between the ‘doctor’ and patient clash against the readouts from the computer-based process, until we reach a twist which you can see coming, but is nevertheless still satisfying. ‘Idol’ (Michael Laimo) is a tale that taps right into the world of celebrity or, more specifically, celebrity look-a-likes. When pop star Crystal Rivers is horribly mangled, her number one fan and wannabe look-a-like appears to be offered an opportunity which she can’t pass up. But is she aware of exactly what she is letting herself in for?

Aliens form the thrust of ‘Unplugged’ (Adrienne Jones), wherein a special implant in their neck allows them to walk among us without being spotted. When one of the implants is damaged, one of the extra-terrestrials seeks assistance from a human, who learns very quickly that we are not alone in the universe. ‘Comfort’ (Charles Colyott) provides probably the first real unreal horror feeling in the reader, the love of one man for his mother costing him pretty much everything he holds dear, until she passes away. Unable to cope with the grief, he needs to feel safe and warm with his deceased matriarch and finds a way to bond with her again.

‘You With Me’ (Christopher Nadeau) is a very short tale which covers the issue of obsession and one man’s inability to cope with rejection. To say more would be a shame, but his process of dealing with it is quite grisly to say the least. This is followed up by a tale which almost appears to be completely out of place in this anthology, until you reach the final couple of paragraphs. ‘The Shaping’ (Scott Nicholson) is set at a sci-fi academy, where students attempt to pass the Trials and gain acceptance from the Critics, or risk being vapourised from existence.

‘Something Borrowed’ (J Gregory Smith) is a new riff on the age old tales of sibling rivalry, with a kidnapping and the most bizarre version of a ventriloquism act you’re ever likely to read. This is followed by – and remember this is a book about body enhancements/body horror – just the strangest little tale called ‘Equilibrium’ (John Shirley). It follows the exploits of a soldier who wants the family of one of the squaddies he was deployed with to know exactly what happened to their son. This is probably one of the weakest entries in the collection.

However, ‘Sawbones’ (LL Soares) gets us right back onto the horror path with aplomb. When Paolo gets an enhancement which only one backstreet doctor will commit to, he ends up with exposed bones running from his elbows to his wrists – one like a saw, the other razor sharp. He thinks nothing of killing people with them, but when what appears to be the ghost of one of his victims starts to follow him, it starts a fight to the death.

‘Whirling Machine Man’ (Aaron J French) is like a creepy ghost story, with the parents of a boy who is now incarcerated in a mental facility desperate to know what happened to their son and what caused him to be found sitting in a pool of his own excrement. The police are unable to help and so they enlist a private investigator. He soon finds out that some things are best left undiscovered, as an antagonist called The Amputator leaves more than a mark on him, both mentally and physically.

Next up is ‘Sex Object’ (Graham Masterton), which nicely covers the whole issue of addiction to cosmetic surgery. One woman is desperate to satisfy her wealthy husband’s wants and needs, and goes to extreme lengths to keep him. Disturbing doesn’t really cover the path she finds herself travelling.

‘The Sad, Not-So-Sad, Ballad of Goathead Jean, Ambivalent Devil Queen’ is the most peculiar title in the book, and is written by Michael Louis Calvillo, who sadly passed away earlier this year. It takes the idea of satanic sacrifice and twists it just enough to be a satisfyingly dark little tale.

Being a collection of body horror stories, it wouldn’t be complete without a hair transplant yarn, and that’s what we get with ‘Locks of Loathe’ (Jezzy Wolfe). A girl who suffers from aggressive alopecia finally gets a full head of hair from an unwilling donor, only to find that she starts to suffer from blackouts and finds herself in mysterious situations. It’s a story we’ve probably all heard before, but the author does enough to keep us entertained.

‘By Hook’ (Elliott Capon) takes us back into the 18th century and follows the misadventures of a pirate by the name of Captain Fear, who has fashioned himself a handy attachment which allows him to change the appendage on his missing arm into any number of tools and weapons. He finally meets his match, however, in the form of a slave, who dooms him to a fate worse than death. ‘Creeping Death’ (Armand Rosamilla) is a story which looks at how far people will go with tattoos, and just how easy it is to get addicted to them. However, it appears that the lead character’s addiction in this case may just save her life…

‘Paraphilia’ (Lisa Mannetti) takes a look at the sex fetish community and the people who sell their bodies, especially those who have lost limbs. When the market gets a little too crowded, how far will Geri take it to ensure that she gets the best paid jobs? ‘Independence Day’ (P.I. Barrington) once again takes us back in time, to the 19th century, where Dr Animus (that name sounds a bit familiar) is able to assist individuals with certain procedures, and helps one man to replace most of the body parts he is unhappy with. It’s an interesting way to look at the issue of transplant rejection as well as the old saying of always look at what you’re signing.

‘Marvin’s Angry Angel’ (Jonathan Templar) is a story about the celebrity obsession of having the latest popular procedures. Marvin isn’t a celebrity, but manages to afford  to have an angel grafted onto his shoulder. The only problem is, the reason Marvin can afford it is because the angel is second-hand and she is none too happy about finding herself on his shoulder, when she used to sit on the shoulder of a famous actress. It’s a fun tale, with the spiteful angel being more than versed in the power of suggestion.

‘Change of Heart’ (Rob M Miller) is a nice twist on the mother-in-law issues which some people appear to have. Jerry’s mum seems to have turned over a new leaf and is accepted back into the family home cautiously by his wife, Tara. But behind closed doors, Jerry’s mum hasn’t changed a bit, except in the way that she intends to run her family.

The collection is rounded off by ‘Hearing Mildred’, a bittersweet story written by the editor which ends things nicely. Harold’s wife, Mildred, passes away and so he decides to just sit and relax in his home, much to the chagrin of his offspring. But Harold’s peace and quiet is shattered when he starts to hear Mildred’s voice through his hearing aid, and she’s not happy that the housework isn’t being done.

There are some real highpoints in this collection – ‘Hearing Mildred’, ‘Marvin’s Angry Angel’ and ‘Sawbones’ in particular – and the authors have all attempted to approach the subject matter from very different and interesting angles, to ensure that it doesn’t fall into J-Horror territory. It falls short of being a classic collection, but it is worthy of being added to your ‘to read’ pile.

JD GILLAM

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