Horror Does A Body Good In The Ghoulish Books Anthology 'Bound In Flesh'

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Transformation is a staple theme of horror. Whether it be the man-to-beast metamorphosis of a lycanthrope, Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde, or the grisly decay of a rotting zombie, the genre thrives on physical change. In film and on the printed page, the human body—nude and/or dead—has become the oft-fetishized narrative centerpiece; ‘90’s splatterpunk provocateur Poppy Z. Brite, Japanese writer/director Shinya Tsukamoto of Tetsuo: The Iron Man fame, and celebrated Canadian auteur David Cronenberg have all built careers upon augmenting flesh in any number of ghastly ways.

It’s in that same vein that the Ghoulish Books multi-author fiction collection Bound In Flesh is presented. Subtitled An Anthology of Trans Body Horror, editor Lor Gislason has masterfully assembled thirteen disturbing tales centered on bodily transformation with startling, evocative, and eye-opening results.

The tome begins with the protagonist in LC Von Hessen’s claustrophobic ‘Wormspace’ seeking out an enigmatic physician capable of turning him into a fully-functional, man-sized worm. A hiker stumbling upon a teenager’s decomposing remains unearths videos depicting both the youth’s gender-transition and the sinister balloon-holding entity responsible for his death in ‘The Haunting of Aiden Finch’ by Theo Hendrie. A futuristic penitentiary is the setting for Derek Des Agnes’ ‘Coming Out’, about a prisoner who evolves into something far beyond human after he discovers a cache of mysterious mushrooms while recuperating in the medical bay.

A youth misled to believe they’re a monster is the central figure in Winter Holmes’ ‘Mama Is A Butcher’, a tragic tale of innocence, friendship, lies and loss. An artisan who builds artificial bodies as vessels for transferring souls of the dead attempts to place their own essence into a custom-made creation with disastrous results in ‘Fall Apart’ by gaast. Joe Koch’s ‘A Scream Lights Up The Sky’ sees a couple make a desperate last stand against the bizarre mutant creatures the rest of humanity has degenerated into, while the scientist who discovers the titular digits in Layne Van Renberg’s ‘Long Fingers’ learns the new lifeform is a cellular extension of her own DNA. And all is not it seems between a newlywed and her abusive husband in Amanda M. Blake’s ingeniously structured ‘Show Me’, which keeps readers guessing about the true nature of its narrator’s identity until the very end.

Editor Gislason is no stranger to body horror, having published the superb 2022 DarkLit Press novel, Inside Out, which detailed the societal ramifications of a disease that reduces the afflicted to piles of semi-sentient goo; with Bound In Flesh Gislason has made certain every chosen story fulfills the promise of its collective premise, and the imagination each writer displays is exciting, engrossing, and at times deeply unsettling. Not content to rehash run-of-the-mill bloodsuckers or masked slashers, these are innovative offerings designed to do what horror should: shock, incite and stimulate thought. And while every entry has merit, five contributors rise above their peers.

Told from a disquieting second-person perspective, Charles-Elizabeth Boyle’s ‘Lady Davelina’s Last Pet’ chronicles the painful shape-shifting inflicted upon a captive for the recreational whims of their kidnapper. After a practitioner of chaos magic inadvertently buys a dead fertility god’s totem at a garage sale, it causes phalluses to erupt from anyone who touches it in Hailey Piper’s bemusing ‘In The Garden Of Horn, The Naked Magic Thrives’. A woman curious about the origins of the latest cosmetic fad discovers a terrifying truth in Bitter Karella’s grotesquely erotic ‘A Brief History of the Santa Carcossa Archipelago’. And a boorish bigot meets his match in the ghost of a 12-year-old trans girl haunting his new home in Lillian Boyd’s hilarious ‘Man of the House’.

The champion of Bound In Flesh, however, is none other than the volume’s concluding installment, ‘Looking For The Big Death’ by Taliesin Neith. When a woman’s suicide attempt is foiled after she unexpectedly resurrects in the morgue, she gains the ability to regenerate from any death and later finds her perfect partner in a budding murderer who’s urge to kill compliments her willingness to die, over and over again. Neith’s striking concept is buttressed by the unflinching description of the main character’s every dying bodily sensation and, coupled with the dark, awkward, and pointedly sadomasochistic relationship that develops between killer and victim, serves to make this the book’s standout achievement.

While not for the faint of heart, with its variety and visionary talent, Bound In Flesh can and will transform a reader’s conception of what constitutes modern horror, and for that reason I feel compelled to grant it the full 5 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. This may be the best fear-fiction anthology I’ve read thus far this year.

5.0 / 5.0