By: Rial & Boma
My wife and I offered to review literary works for Igor’s Lab when we met AC this summer on the set for a local independent horror film. Our first “assignment” involved two anthologies by Samantha Combs, Way Past Midnight and Teeth and Talons . We decided to approach the reading and reviewing apart from one another, not even trading an occasional comment, until the assignment was finished. As it turned out, it appears we took a good cop / bad cop stance without setting out to do so. I’ll use the byline Rial as the bad cop and my wife will be Boma, the good.
A Review of Way Past Midnight by Samantha Combs
If midnight be the witching hour when the portal to the underworld is opened unleashing all manner of devils and demons upon an unsuspecting world fast asleep, thenway past midnight must be the time closer to the comfort of dawn. Comfort because the approaching daylight reacquaints us with the familiar. The devils and demons are seemingly tired from their revels and seek retreat to their nether regions as mere mortals prepare to awaken.
While I felt that Samantha Combs writes effective little yarns woven from the threads of horror and supernatural fantasy, the cloth achieved is more polyester than luxurious silk. The five stories in her Way Past Midnight can easily be imagined among the pages of Tales From the Crypt . It may seem an odd phrase to ascribe to a book named for the hours before daybreak, but Way Past Midnight is not anything new under the sun.
For the first selection Night Crawlers I was reminded, both by title and introduction to the disparate principal characters, of Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks . Both have isolated people converged within an urban setting in the wee hours of the morning. We question what brought them where they are, what choices were made and why. How will they relate to each other if at all. We empathize their loneliness and perhaps even pity their lot. We can only surmise but never know for certain. Just like when Mohamed, the cabbie, picks up his inebriated fare and asks him, “Where do you live?” The drunk replies “Jush drive” but never gives a specific address. Mohamed not only makes the decision to take the man to this address which it is implied was never given but leaves his regular route as if he knew just where to go.
The concept of a psycho driving around in a rogue ambulance and nefariously picking people off city streets had already been done in a 1990 thriller film called, of all things, The Ambulance .
Kudos, however, to Ms. Combs’ use of the symbolism of puzzles which suit’s the structure of this story particularly well. Each character is a piece without much purpose until they all come together to form a grisly picture. Harlan could easily be a long lost hobby-oriented cousin of Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs or Leatherface of the Lone Star state.
Page 7 - “happed” should be “happened”
Page 11 - “shouted an address through the inch-thick partition about a mile and a half away” is awkward. It sounds like the partition is about a mile and half away. Better if:
“shouted an address about a mile and a half away through the inch-thick partition”
Page 13 - “Monty’s skin scrawled” probably should be “Monty’s skin crawled”
The next entry Wifebegone.com telegraphs the story way too early right in the title. Although Ms. Combs creation of the wicked stepmother Brenda and equally wicked stepsister Monica are deliciously evil, one knows pretty certain that they’re in for an equally delicious comeuppance. This one seems to be a retelling of Cinderella who is now ten-year old Lucas. Is it a coincidence that his last name is Foote as in where do glass slippers belong? In addition to the wicked steps there’s Uncle Jimmy as the fairy godmother. The fabled horse-drawn coach now becomes a computer equally adept at taking Cinder-boy to a better realm beyond his beleaguered reality. As in the beloved of fairy tales, they lived happily ever after…except of course for Brenda and Monica.
Next, there’s The Offering, a tale of a put-upon babysitter in charge of Ariel and Deacon, or maybe Wednesday and Pugsley, one stormy evening. Mrs. Parker, the mom, is a yuppie version of Elizabeth Bathory. Here evil is embodied in an old oak tree in the yard that requires a sacrifice in order for the mistress of the house to continue her youth and beauty. The arboreal attack is somewhat reminiscent of the one in the Evil Dead films.
Page 34 - “the sound was eerie and spooky at the same time” Is there much difference between the two?
The fourth story Killer Shoes is surprisingly, to me, the best. I did not expect to enjoy a story about shoe shopping but it turned out to be the most engaging perhaps because of its underdog-gets-revenge formula. This tale reminded me of a 1990 horror film directed by Tobe Hooper called I’m Dangerous Tonight. This film was loosely based on a novella by noir lit author Cornell Woolrich. The Woolrich novella involves a cursed Aztec ceremonial cloak that possesses one who wears it. In I’m Dangerous Tonight, actress Madchen Amick makes a killer dress out of it and becomes a remorseless killer when she wears it. The dress was red and would have gone very well with the killer shoes in this story.
Pages 47-48: “So used to his solidarity” is supposed to be “So used to his solitude”
Page 49 - “Even as her realized her red shoes” should be “Even as she realized her red shoes”
The final tale in Way Past Midnight is titled The Anglers about a couple of buddy fishermen who find a unique way to deal with “horrible bosses” syndrome. Since night crawlers, those big, fat worms used as bait, brings to mind the first story Nightcrawlers, Samantha Combs shows a nice way of bookending her anthology. Now all seemed to coalesce into a catch-of-the-day collection with humans the ones hooked in anything but catch-and-release scenarios. Perhaps even Catch-of-the-Nightwould be a more apt title for this collection.
Overall, Samantha Combs’ style is effective as short, Lights Out or Twilight Zone-ish mise-en-scenes of ordinary people who turn a corner onto a sinister parallel world. The writing is modern and economical. With a minimum of descriptive narrative and the right amount of true-to-life dialogue or mental monologue, she creates believable characters within equally believable urban/suburban settings. Although the concepts are retreads, Ms. Combs has managed to make a tasty little box of chocolates for the supernatural sweet tooth but like the real thing, too much may cause cravings for something decidedly different.
A Review of Way Past Midnight by Samantha Combs
Way Past Midnight is a collection of five supernatural short stories by Samantha Combs. Her writing style is fresh, easy to follow, and, each story draws you into the horror that is about to happen. There is a story for everyone, whether you like computers, fishing or shoes.
If these stories were published as a book they would be far too short, but downloaded onto an e-reader they are the perfect guilty pleasure read for an evening, or afternoon by the pool. It was disappointing to finish this collection because I wanted a few more stories. They were like literary potato chips! I recommend these stories if you enjoy the paranormal and a bit of twisted humor. Ms. Combs brings a fresh approach to stories reminiscent of television horror anthology series of the past.
A Review of Teeth and Talons by Samantha Combs
In the very short anthology collection Teeth and Talons -- only four stories -- the first selection is titled The Ink Man and to my thinking it readily associates with The Little Shop of Horrors. There’s the same Skid Row-like environs and inhabitants. The goings-on at Mushnik’s florist shop is now dispersed among a pawn shop, a local watering hole and Choppy’s Cut ‘n Shave. The protagonist Darryl is something of a schmuck a la Seymour. Rather than a blood-thirsty botanical anomaly we’re presented with a blood-thirsty ink art anomaly. Just as Audrey Two started out as an innocuous potted plant that grows into a blooming behemoth with a big appetite, so too the tattoo begins as visual artistry that mysteriously transmogrifies into a people eater. Once this occurs I couldn’t help being reminded also of the 1982 horror film Qor more fully Q - The Winged Serpent about a resurrected Aztec god Quetzalcoatl that terrorizes and dismembers urban citizens as it swoops down on them from the sky.
The second story is the shortest and most enjoyable of the lot if only for its very clever structure. It’s called The Robbery Countdown. I would have liked the title even more if it were Countdown to a Robbery instead. Why? The Robbery Countdown sounds like a pre-school sing-song math game. Countdown to a Robbery evokes a movie title quality associated with a 1950s era film noir. This story has film noir elements riddled throughout. There is an efficiently gritty cinema verite aspect to the design and a nihilistic fatalism that are trademarks of noir fiction. Amazingly, some stories of greater length would be hard-pressed to develop into a half-hour televised episode but The Robbery Countdown could easily be imagined as a nail-biting feature length film despite its brevity. Is Quentin Tarantino doing anything? Countdowns often equate with rockets blasting off into the heavens. This is an anti-countdown blasting down into the depths of hell. The Robbery Countdown reads like prose poetry, short but oh so sweet.
Rock and Roll All Night is third in the bunch. It’s a neat little twist on the hunter-and-prey roles among vampire hunters and their quarry. In Samantha Combs’ treatment gone are the gothic castles of Bram Stoker or misty Pacific-northwest forests of Stephenie Meyer. They are replaced by an urban rave dance club called The Hive. There are fleeting elements that remind one of past cinematic scenes such as the van-driving vamps in 1987’s Near Dark or Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie scoping out the dance floor in Ridley Scott’s The Hunger while Peter Murphy of Bauhaus intones that Bela Lugosi is dead. Good fences not only make good neighbors but, well you’ll have to read this to find out what else they‘re good for.
Not since Mel Brooks directed his 1970 The Twelve Chairs based on a Russian novel from the Twenties, or more recently, the Duplass brothers’ foray into furniture exploitation with their 2005 comedy film The Puffy Chair has the ubiquitous chair taken center stage. In Ms. Combs’ final story in this collection, simply called The Chair, this common parking space for posteriors proves life-changing and pivotal. The main character George finds the mysteriously sinister seat quite useful when dealing with a slacker roommate and an overbearing mother. This entry might give one pause when proffered a seat by a waiter in a restaurant or as a guest in someone’s house. No thanks, I think I’ll just stand.
And as it stands, Samantha Combs has put together another, albeit smaller, box of tasty morsels for those hungering for the macabre, sinister and horrific. The concepts and motifs may be familiar but just like you know what to expect when you turn over that proverbial rock ,what you find there will still cause a shiver or two.
A Review of Teeth and Talons by Samantha Combs
Teeth and Talons is a collection of short horror stories from Samantha Combs. This group of four stories makes for a quick and fun read indeed. My favorite of the bunch is The Ink Man. Reading this one, I kept visualizing it as a SyFy Channel movie. The other stories are entertaining because of their bad guys get their just desserts
plotting. Although Combs is also a writer of young adult fiction, Teeth and Talons could appeal to teenagers wanting some mild gore along with the supernatural themes.
Samantha Combs, Author
Check out all 6 of my books!