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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

CRYPT ORCHIDS
David J. Schow
Subterranean Press/pp. 240/$35
ISBN 0-9649890-6-9

David J. Schow is one of the few modern horrorists who can adroitly manipulate symbols of contemporary pop culture to produce superb visceral allegory. At the same time, Schow is also a classicist steeped in the non-supernatural tradition of Robert Bloch. His stories tend to be flawlessly structured narratives, that still often leave you with a postmodern open interpretation of reality. As vividly cinematic as his imagery is, he still deals with well-drawn characters in a storytelling mode. He writes multi-layered prose with keen intelligence and the acerbic wit of a sophisticated litterateur, but still retains the edge of the street hustler.

In his 1994 collection Black Leather Required, Schow displayed these abilities with stories that tended to confront the reader with the deadly effect of a forceful blow. With Crypt Orchids, Schow's new collection from Subterranean Press, the fiction is multifaceted, each face of the gem brilliantly reflective and dangerously sharp. Where Black Leather Required contused, Crypt Orchids slices incisively .

Before his death in 1994, Robert Bloch wrote an introduction for a planned Schow collection that now serves as a foreword for Crypt Orchids The title itself came from Bloch and the book is a self-confessed homage to the importance of Bloch's influence on Schow. With "The Incredible True Facts of the Case," Schow gives a well-honed interpretation of Jack the Ripper, a theme closely tied to Bloch. Three stories -- "Action," "Pick Me Up," and "Dusting the Flowers" -- all play on the serial killer theme, another noted Blochian motif. He even offers a stage adaptation of Bloch's "The Final Performance." All are worthy tributes to the Master, but each is distinct, original, and offers what, ironically, one expects in a Schow story -- the unexpected.

Two more past masters, Poe and Kafka, are evoked in "The Refrigerator"'s chilling examination of guilt and innocence.

Schow is also a screenwriter, a career that exposes an author to a whole new type of monster -- the kind that inhabits and dominates Hollywood, a place both viciously real and darkly unreal as even the most perverted can imagine. Three stories -- "Gills," "Seeing Things, "(Melodrama)" -- are grouped together as "Hollywood Triptych." They make as unholy an altar piece as you'd want to find, but also display the blessings that allow Schow to survive Hollywood's hell -- dark humor and a talent for the absurd.

Revenge is an often overplayed in modern horror, but Schow seizes the theme and uniquely twists it in two stories. He takes to the streets and wreaks vengeance on murderous drug dealers with heavy equipment in "Scoop Bites the Dust." "A Punch in the Doughnut" mixes Millennial stress with revenge.

Schow's looks at male/female relationships are two of scariest tales in the book. Gunplay goes beyond sexual metaphor in "Penetration." The two self-absorbed characters of "Jeff and Linda" are sad, frightening, and extremely real.

The collection that became Crypt Orchids was at one time titled Look Out! He's Got a Knife. Look out. David J. Schow is still armed and more dangerous than ever. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.