Book Review: Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror edited by Ellen Datlow

NOTE: This review was originally published at High Fever Books in April 2020. That website has been closed, so I am republishing it here.

Publisher: Anchor

Release Date: June 2nd, 2020

Pages: 480 pages

Horror fiction (as a genre) owes a lot to cinema. This relationship is often mutually beneficial, though not always. As literature informed the early days of terror on the silver screen, the evolutions and trends of on-screen horror raised and informed the writers that toil away in its fertile soil. With Ellen Datlow’s newest anthology Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror, I think we can see true evidence of that. The language and images within this book capture some of those terrors in their own unique fashion.

I enjoyed every story in the collection. I think that some are stronger than others, but as I always state in my anthology reviews, this is to be expected. I’ve captured some thoughts on individual stories here, but know that Ellen Datlow has once again assembled a marvelous TOC.

We start the anthology off with Dale Bailey’s Das Gesicht. It’s a poignant remembrance of the early days of the film industry, which makes a lot of sense considering this book’s subject matter. I love that the horror on display here isn’t overtly supernatural; the mistakes and pain we create during our short lives are horrific enough.

Kelley Armstrong (Drunk Physics) next gives us a modern ghost tale that uses the complications of the Youtube age to great effect. This is a relatable character piece that has some memorable twists on the way to its conclusion. Nothing ground-breaking, but I enjoyed this contemporary tale quite a bit.

I also enjoyed the multi-layered madness of both Insanity Among Penguins (Brian Hodge) and Altered Beast, Altered Me (John Langan). I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the devastating Folie À Deux, Or the Ticking Hourglass written by Usman T. Malik. This story is about the horrific melding of memory and trauma; the fears we have as children that we must now witness as adults. Like many of the stories in Final Cuts, this one focuses on the vile actions of a murderer. This is a powerful and vengeful piece, and may very well be the stand-out of the collection.

Nathan Ballingrud’s Scream Queen and Gemma Files’ story Cut Frame offer up compelling views of women in the world of film. Each story is about the horrors these women have to endure and the wild harm that comes from vile (men) people. Hungry Girls also plays in this same realm, told with Cassandra Khaw’s lyrical style. This is where we see the major theme crop up for this book: the horrors that Hollywood can inflict on women. Most of the aforementioned stories (including Garth Nix’s pulp-tastic Many Mouths to Make a Meal) have overt variations on this. In the age of the Me-Too Movement, this anthology comes at the right time. Bravo and yes.

For those of us that love to watch cinema and fiction mix, Final Cuts is a treat. It’s a timely work that truly brings something for everyone.

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