“. . . diversity is what makes Crucified Dreams so interesting: it’s like a self-sufficient ecosystem of horror in which new ‘breeds’ create themselves on every page.”
Strictly speaking, the definition of the horror genre is one of the most widely disputed. What truly makes a book scary? What will send chills down the reader’s spine? One writer’s guts-and-gore fest won’t appeal to another’s psychological horror cravings. And let’s not forget about the audience that demands zombies and tales of the undead sans comedic effect. In a word, the umbrella term horror comprises too many things to mean one thing.
Enter Crucified Dreams, an alleged collection of urban horror edited by writer and anthologist Joe R. Lansdale. Comprised of reprinted short stories by legends (such as Stephen King) and relative newcomers alike, Crucified Dreams is editor Lansdale’s attempt to define horror as he sees fit.
The stories range from the visceral to the psychological, from the tangible to the supernatural. For example, Harlan Ellison’s stunning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” (which opens the anthology) provides both psychological and graphic visual representation of what is the popularly perceived horror genre (murder, dark beings, etc.).
Norman Partridge’s strange western-esque “The Mohave Two-Step” isn’t so much horror as it is highly strange and borderline surrealist. And the various crime stories sprinkled liberally through the volume don’t seek so much to scare the audience, as they do to provide a gritty sort of context that filters through the page and into the real world.
Standout stories include the aforementioned Ellison tale, “The Evening The Morning and the Night” by the late Octavia Butler, and “The Quickening” by Michael Bishop.
And what makes each of these stories special? Quite simply, the single element that makes anthologies like this one so tricky to pinpoint in the first place: each author’s own personal brand of horror. While Ellison prefers to stick with the most basic interpretation of “urban horror,” Butler expands her horizons into something more akin to a zombie-style epidemic (which, admittedly, would be most dangerous in a city setting), and Bishop’s hapless main character falls into a Tower-of-Babel-like situation with nothing but his wits to guide him.
Interestingly enough, although each of these stories has its own unique flavor and style, they’re all connected by the elements that make up the foundation of any horror story: isolation, deprivation, panic, and pain.
Operating within a wide spectrum of definition, Crucified Dreams allows authors to explore their own personal writing style, while adhering loosely to the genre. Readers need to keep in mind that this “loose” adherence is what defines the anthology: that, arguably, no two stories share the same specific genre or sub-genre. At the same time, this very diversity is what makes Crucified Dreams so interesting: it’s like a self-sufficient ecosystem of horror in which new “breeds” create themselves on every page.
Ultimately, Crucified Dreams isn’t necessarily a volume of “urban horror” because its stories aren’t as scary as much as they are thought-provoking and engaging. And honestly, the truly striking stories in this anthology are a bit scarce.
Nevertheless, Crucified Dreams is an enjoyable foray into the seedy underbelly of city life, providing some thoughtful material for the reader who’s willing to pick and choose among its offerings.