It Came from the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers
Edited By Joshua Viola
Hex Publishers — September 2020
ISBN: 9781733917759 — Paperback — 316 pp.
Inherently as an anthology, It Came from the Multiplex embodies variety — not just in its contributors, but in the style, tone, and depth of its stories. Even when looking at their shared genre of horror or theme of 80s movie nostalgia, the fourteen offerings vary considerably in their approach to those molds. Readers are likely to approach the collection through the lens of their expectations, perhaps based on the excellent B-horror-VHS-inspired cover art, or recognition of a handful of contributing authors. Readers might interpret the variation in stories they discover, and distances from their expectations, as indicative of differing ‘quality’.
I tend to enjoy a pretty wide-range of fiction and styles, but still of course have things I don’t care for. I found It Came from the Multiplex to be rather consistent in quality. The majority of stories are good, there are a handful of excellent ones that stood out to my preferences. And there were a few that I liked less. If you are a very particular reader, and are looking for one or two ‘kinds’ of horror stories (or only particular approaches to the thematic prompt), there might be a lot less for you here to enjoy. If you are a general fan of horror short fiction, you should be satisfied with a spectrum of enjoyable reads. If, like me, you are a sucker for cult horror movies and metafiction about them on top of that general interest, you should love the hell out of a good percentage of the offerings, well exceeding the price of admission.
Before I get to comments on each of the individual stories in the collection, two additional comments about the art. Not only does the cover fit well, but stories are also accompanied by illustrations. Growing up with a horror diet of Edward Gorey art in John Bellairs’ novels and Stephen Gammell drawings in Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, spooktacular images are almost an essential element for me to really dig into a horror tale. Readers of an ebook edition of this might miss out on this, but a repeating cartoon of a creature appears in the header of each verso page. Subtle differences between them create animated tentacle waving as readers flip through the pages. While certainly not a huge deal, it is a whimsical little addition.
On to the stories!
“Alien Parasites from Outer Space” by Warren Hammond — An enjoyable lead story that immediately brought to mind plots and spirit of SF/horror B-movies in the Body Snatchers vein. Set in a drive-in theater with a group of teenagers, the story didn’t really fit into the 1980’s theme so much as the 1970’s, though my memory only really goes back to the mid to latter 80’s for experience.
“Return of the Alien Parasites from Outer Space” by Angie Hodapp — Consistent with the tendency of sequels to not be quite as good as their original offering. This directly continues the events from the first story, and the overall tone stays consistent. But, the story went into directions completely different from what I had in mind after finishing the first. The danger of a sequel, I liked my version better, even though this was technically good.
“Negative Creep” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro — After two relatively light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek entries things go more creepy with a story that we see from the start won’t go well. Through flashback we learn of a supernatural entity stalking a group of teen cinephiles. As some of them wind up dead, the survivors try to figure out what draws the force’s attraction. One of my favorite stories in the collection, this contains a host of 80s references from music to film, but also has depth beneath it all, themes on the growing culture of noise and distractions, and silence.
“Helluloid” by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore — Another story with a group of teenage characters, this time featuring a self-described necromancer who conducts a summoning ceremony in an old movie theater basement with her boyfriend and others. You can guess how things will go. Even if predictable it’s an enjoyable read.
“Rise, Ye Vermin!” by Betty Rocksteady — A welcome addition of a female voice in a collection that like the 80s skews far too much toward the male point-of-view. The villain of the story, a theater owner, actually reminds me a lot of a John Bellairs villain, but here those standing against him are a pair of employees who have been trying to keep their lesbian relationship a secret from the close-minded town. Rocksteady does shock and gore well, and this story is no exception, another standout.
“The Cronenberg Concerto” by Keith Ferrell — Another standout selection of the collection follows here, by an author who It Came from the Multiplex honors at its start with a dedication in memorial. The first of what I would characterize as disturbing horror stories in the collection, building from the previous. As the title indicates, the plot involves a fan of the body-horror films of David Cronenberg. The creepiness builds as the reader realizes what is happening here, and Ferrell accomplishes this through some of the most ‘literary’ crafting of sentences and voice in the collection.
“Creature Feature” by Gary Jonas — Imagination reins in this entry, both from the author in crafting it and within the minds of the protagonist and the readers, as one tries to guess what horrific secrets lie behind a curtain. A man is tasked with making precisely timed deliveries to a theater that appears closed to the public, yet constantly showing footage to an unknown audience. His rules: Never be late. Don’t ask too many questions. His curiosity and friendliness with the young woman working there draw him into discoveries.
“Invisible” by Mario Acevedo — As with Ferrell’s story, one that makes the reader squirm by seeing through the eyes of a disturbed character, a serial killer at a drive-in. There are several twists in this one, but despite them I could always tell where things were going. It still works in achieving its effect at bringing the horror to you.
“Screen Haunt” by Orrin Grey — A young woman writes and directs a film inspired by a missing sister. Melancholy and disturbing, it reminded me a lot of the types of stories in another movie-themed collection I read, Lost Films from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. Most of the stories in the collection don’t fit into Halloween time when I actually read this collection, but this one sure does, with the creepiness of costumes at the fore.
“The Devil’s Reel” by Sean Eads & Joshua Viola — Parents at a Baptist Church don’t want their children to be attending a lock-in movie night at the local theater where they might watch questionable material. But the new theater owner talks them into it with the wholesome movies he promises to show. Only he lies. Oppressive religion is a staple of horror, I’d even say a cliche. Here at least it is turned a bit in that they are proven right to suspect. I guess this is really a story that goes in the direction of: what if movies really are Satan trying to corrupt the youth?
“On the Rocks” by K. Nicole Davis — Two couples settle in for an outdoor summer showing of The Howling in a natural amphitheater. The sun goes down and a full moon rises for the start of the show. Then mayhem. A shorter entry that doesn’t aspire to too much, but ends with a perfect final sentence.
“Coming Attractions” by Stephen Graham Jones — Teenagers sneak into a supposedly haunted theater and end up investigating what lies behind panels in a men’s room that was remodeled when putting in urinals to replace the previous, more communal set-up. Creepy terror awaits. I usually love Jones’ work. This is good, but didn’t stand out to me compared to some of the others after one read.
“Late Sleepers” by Steve Rasnic Tem — Another big name author in horror, I’ve liked much of the short fiction I’ve read by Tem, but the one novel I’ve read I found simply okay. This one is great. Home for Thanksgiving, a college student wakes at night after being at odds with his family, now feeling not quite right, with a hazy memory. Going out for air he finds himself at the local small theater, showing weird clip montages and an independent feature for those who can’t sleep – all the way until dawn. Tem perfectly captureslate night eerieness and the paradoxical relief and discomfort that the genre can offer.
“Special Makeup” by Kevin J. Anderson — Probably the most widely recognized name among contributors to this collection, this story seemed to fit least into the overall theme – and decade. To boot, I couldn’t find anything particularly remarkable about it. An unfortunate end to the shows.
It Came from the Multiplex also features: Foreward by Bret & Jeanni Smith, Introduction by Paul Campion, Listing of Cast and Crew, and Acknowledgments. Cover by AJ Nazzaro. Story illustrations by Xander Smith and Header Art by Aaron Lovett