Book review: Nightmares Unhinged

Nightmares Unhinged: Twenty Tales of TerrorNightmares Unhinged: Twenty Tales of Terror by Joshua Viola
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Warning: There be spoilers ahead, so if you want to be surprised(ish) while reading, you may want to skip this review.

Nightmares Unhinged is not a bad collection of horror stories but it’s not an outstanding one, either. It contains few surprises and while some of the stories are fun, a good portion of them are filled with nasty, unlikable protagonists who usually get their comeuppance. If that’s your thing you may enjoy these stories more than I did.

Here’s a one or two-sentence review of all twenty:

“The Brollachan” – A shapeless monster of legend takes over a girl while her grandmother rends the English language apart with the world’s greatest Scottish accent, lovingly depicted in phonetic detail. At least you don’t end up hating all of the characters, d’ye no ken?

“Fangs” – Vampire vs. dentist. The more cruel and clever one wins. Sorry, vampire!

“The Chair” – Homage to Lovecraft featuring, yes, a chair. It levitates so that’s weird.

“The Man Who Killed Texas” – Proving that family is not always the best thing in the aftermath of a global pandemic. A sad tale told well.

“Scarecrows” – Kids and evil scarecrows. There, I just rewrote the story in four words.

“Zou Gou” – Mean aliens conquer the Earth and conduct mean experiments. Twist ending! (But not really.)

“Needles” – A PSA for why junkies should not get pregnant. No one here is likable and the life lesson seems to be “don’t sleep with weird monster men.”

“The Projectionists” – Creepy old man runs the projector for Grandma’s two-screen movie theater. Grandson gets curious, skin unravels like unspooling film (that’s a metaphor. Actually, it’s not, his skin really unravels).

“The Wolf’s Paw” – Vampire vs. Werewolf. This time the vampire wins.

“Danniker’s Coffin” – The end of the family line comes to terms with his inability to carry on the tradition of coffin-making and his own mortality, neatly combining the two. A nice break from vampires vs fill-in-the-blank.

“Deep Woods” – a gory prequel (sequel?) of sorts to Friday the 13th. Everyone is unlikable but everyone dies, so it kind of balances out.

“Diamond Widow” – not-so-clever jewel thief and creepy guy picks up a jewel-making woman who turns the tables on him by turning him into a diamond. Not through magic, through some sort of crushing machine. Seriously.

“The Camera” – Unlikable couple hiking in the woods. Staged sex, shootings and revenge. Why did I read this?

“Lost Balls” – Troll vs golfers. The troll wins. Balls–the kind men have between their legs–figure prominently in the story.

“Bathroom Break” – Creep has an affair, decides to end it when his office co-worker turns out to be a little too goth for his liking (velvet drapes and black sheets, oh my), ends affair by snapping her neck in a washroom at staff Christmas party but the joke’s on him because she shambles back to the party naked, holding out his wedding ring while his wife looks on. Because being goth means you come back to life as a zombie or something.

“Marginal Ha’nts” – Genuinely fun story about a new ghost who aspires to be the best ghost he can be.

“Delicioso” – Would-be psycho killer tries to pick up latest victim but–twist!–she’s also a psycho killer and is a better one than he. You may have guessed but neither character is likable.

“The Librarian” – Funny, albeit somewhat corny tale of a strange librarian, his new and unsuspecting assistant and an even stranger regular customer. I won’t spoil this one even if you may see what’s coming. It’s hammy but it works.

“Gurgle, Gurgle” – In which half the text is in italics because the author is constantly dropping in Spanish words. A nephew inadvertently discovers the genie lamp of his uncle and along with his friend makes a few wishes with monkey’s paw-like consequences. A light if predictable story. Warning: contains giant exploding penis.

“Taking the Dare” – Neighborhood kids think the creepy man living on their street is the local serial killer. And he is! Lots of stabbing and chasing. The protagonist gets “flashes” from making contact with people, ala Johnny Smith. In a longer story this might have been more significant, but here it’s simply the device to get the plot rolling. Promises more than it delivers.

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