Comet Press’s latest venture, issue #1 of the magazine Red Room, is very much like a cocktail party: you meet a number of interesting people, some of whom you might’ve heard of before; you eat a few hors d’oeuvres, some of which you like more than others; and you go home after a couple hours, hoping you get invited again. Despite the title and description, Red Room isn’t terribly heavy or challenging, and yet it’s still a lot of fun.
The horror stories range from the mildly amusing to the thought-provoking. Nick Manzolillo’s Phantom Video Stream makes it to the latter category, though it doesn’t go quite as far as one would like in a magazine of “extreme horror.” Are You Crazy? by Tim Waggoner uses the 2nd-person present perspective to bring the scares, which is a bit gimmicky, but works until it doesn’t. Larry Hinkle’s Meat Cute is a flash fiction piece that you might find funny. Josh Scott Wilson’s Sick Jokes lives up to its title and more, particularly if you’ve got a hard-on for the wealthy.
Those of you who believe that there are more than two genders, as well as anyone who views The Handmaid’s Tale as a cautionary tale of America’s terrible slide into a repressive, misogynistic theocracy, will appreciate Randy Chandler’s interview with Meg Elison, who has a story in Red Room titled The Middle Child.
For dark crime fans, there’s Tom Barlow’s disturbing, hilarious Selfie, which is arguably the best story in the magazine. David James Keaton’s The Flowery feels like a long wind-up to a slow pitch. Megan’s Law by Jack Ketchum is the story that stays with you long after you put the magazine down to get some fresh air.
The interview with Gil Valle, the so-called Cannibal Cop, is a disquieting piece that tells a tale of injustice and biased journalism; if you’re not a little bit upset after reading it, there’s probably something wrong with you. Of course, if you’re reading Red Room, let alone reviews of Red Room, you’re likely a little bit off anyway. There’s also an excerpt of Valle’s first novel, A Gathering of Evil.
Other non-fiction pieces include Duane Bradley’s article To Deprave & Corrupt, which one-sidedly describes the arrival of extreme horror in VHS form to England in the 1980’s, and efforts to suppress it. Ben Arzate reviews Ken Greenhall’s 1977 novel Hell Hound, which put the book on my must-read list right there and then. For movie reviews, Patrick King takes a closer look at the independent horror film A Dark Song (yup, gonna have to see that one). Barfly Bob’s Highballs and Lowballs describes drinks that you’d have to be nuts to want to be in the same bar with, let alone pour down your gullet. Brian J. McCarthy, who I assume is being paid by the comma, takes a satirical trip to Comet Press’s nonexistent west coast office in The Rogue Report, with bizarre results.
Across the board, Red Room is a fine piece of work, a welcome addition to the horror/dark crime genre. I doubt it’s a coincidence that the bound fellow on the cover resembles Comet’s Randy Chandler, and if it is him, I pray they let him down for issue #2.