Review: Human Monsters: A Horror Anthology edited by Sadie Hartmann & Ashley Saywers

cover of Human MonstersHuman Monsters: A Horror Anthology edited by Sadie Hartmann & Ashley Saywers
Dark Matter INK (October 2022) 
376 pages; $19.99 paperback; $6.99 ebook
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

There’s something incredibly profound about horror anthologies. Organizers and editors decide on one bloodied but beating heart that thrums aching, booming life into stories. But it is the minds of the authors — those who conjure the devilish indulgences, the unquestioned yet morally gray, ahem, black methods of group leaders, and the deceiving nature of the desperate, and who reveal the snapping jowls of humanity — that give collections such as Human Monsters breath and mobility.

Editors Sadie Hartmann and Ashley Saywers gave the order for their horror anthology, Human Monsters: give readers monsters. The catch? No monsters bred in another realm or reawakened from death, no conduits or demons — instead, give them the killers, the betrayers, the selfish, the desperate, and worst of all, those who’ve been taught to perceive evil as normalcy, or better yet, sport.

Give them human monsters.

And god, these authors deliver.

Using a combination of invites and submissions, the Bram Stoker Award Nominee Human Monsters showcases seasoned horror writers such as Linda D. Addison, Josh Malerman, and Nat Cassidy, as well as rising stars like Cina Pelayo and Laurel Hightower, plus all-new voices.

Sam Rebelein’s ‘”7 p.m.Ceremony, Followed by Girl Scout Auction at 8″ felt horrifically and indisputably real when reading — a characteristic I found throughout the entire collection. Horror readers will appreciate the fast-paced yet creeping dread of this standout story of a murderous cult and its army of deranged children. Jordan Peele would be proud.

Andrew Cull’s “The Heartbreak Boys” is an eerie ode to Stephen King’s “The Body,” with far more vengeance bleeding through the pages. I hope Cull hounds agents with a film script of this unyielding, off-the-rails story.

And here comes the thriller queen, Caroline Kepnes. Her story “I Did a Thing” is a maddening and nerve-wracking tale about the “almost-killers” of our world — those who fantasize and daydream about blood squirting and sputtering from victims. Fans of the Tim Burton film or original Sweeney Todd production will adore this dread-soaked story. Readers will be left sweating and heart pounding, wondering if these ideations are the gory fantasies that the everyday person stumbles upon or if Kepnes’ character will take it beyond theoretical.

Next comes terror in the same vein as Ania Ahlborn’s Brother — everyday transactions turned insidious, and those who depict the human monster in one of its more dangerous forms, the evangelical, those who assure their cruelty is “God’s work.”

Belecia Rhea’s “Victim 6” was another story in Human Monsters that I particularly enjoyed. This story celebrates the nostalgia of ’90s horror with a keen and optimistic appraisal of horror today. It is devilishly clever and had me longing for the impossible collaboration of directors Wes Craven and Ti West.

There’s something for everyone in this collection. Leah Ning’s “Prototype” conjures a unique but ever-terrifying matrimony of Weird Science and Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series, Dahmer. Others in this collection lean on classic genre tropes like clowns; the victim-turned-killer; the dichotomy and hypocrisy of killers and the corrupt men who walk free; and farm horror with a flare of Adam Neville’s folk horror freight.

There wasn’t a single piece in this anthology that I didn’t rave about to friends, the authors themselves, or even on my Kindle notes.

Human Monsters is a staple piece belonging front and center on any horror lover’s shelf.

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