Book Review: The Mammoth Book of Body Horror

PrintE-mail Written by Neil Buchanan

Review: The Mammoth Book of Body Horror / Edited by: Marie O Regan and Paul Kane / Publisher: Robinson / Release date: 1st March

It really doesn’t get better than this.

Here we have an anthology that squeezes the best out of body horror the way that puss can be squeezed from a necrotic wound, and all for our perverse enjoyment of this disturbing and oh so dark craft.

Each story has been exquisitely crafted by the undisputed masters of the genre. And, to be frank, it’s impossible not to like. From the poetic prose of Mary Shelley, the drug induced hysteria of Poe, the wild, paranoid ramblings of Lovecraft, to the brutal honesty of David Moody. This book will drag up feelings of dread, shock and revulsion upon its reader. Even to hardened horror fans such as ourselves, the Mammoth Book of Body Horror still manages a nasty surprise or two.

So who’s in it? Short answer: everyone. It opens with Mary Shelley’s Transformation, a tale of body swopping with a twisted dwarf-like creature destined to go wrong. Starting off with the likes of Shelley – better known as the creator of Frankenstein, as if you needed telling – reminds us where the concept of body horror has its roots. Although earlier myths and legends of bodily dismemberment abound, Shelley is one of the first to get it down in short story form. From here we’re introduced to Edger Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and from there we jump to Lovecraft’s Reanimator. The next stopping point is Who Goes There by John W. Campbell and its worth pointing out that this is the tale that inspired three films, most notably John Carpenter’s The Thing and finding it here is like running into an old friend from out of town. A real treat.

There are far too many stories to go into in much depth for the purpose of this review. Highlights include, Stephen King’s Survivor Type: how much a man is prepared to sacrifice when washed up on a desert island. The Body Politic by Clive Barker: guaranteed to ensure you will never look at your hands the same way again. Ramsey Campbell’s The Other Side dips into a surrealist horror that has the trademarks of an acid trip gone horribly wrong – or, cough, so we’re told. Brian Lumley’s Fruiting Bodies will stay with you long after the lights have gone out. Neil Gaimen injects a dark sense of humour with his short story Changes. And so the stories go, each exploring the fear of what can go wrong with our bodies: the unseen menace of a brain tumour, the creeping doom of cancer, the fear of being different, and the secret pleasure of standing out from a crowd.

The Mammoth book of Body Horror deserves a place on your bookshelf, but make sure it’s well away from kids and those of a fragile disposition.

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