Posted on July 20, 2009 by spikexan
12 to Midnight presents its first horror anthology, a twelve author collection centered around their well-established Pinebox, Texas setting. Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas contains an impressively wide scope of stories (and horrors) while still maintaining certain key threads and locales throughout. There are even repeated nods back to various 12 to Midnight adventures like Skinwalker.
It won’t take long for me to talk about the artwork for the anthology. Jeff Varnes cover depicts what must be an image from within the Big Thicket, one of those recurring locales in the book. It’s simplicity makes it work. Any temptation to depict a horror of some sort would have probably stalled. Also, the artwork evokes common and well-ingrained childhood fears of being alone in the woods. Inside, there are two pages of cartography by T.C. Largent. One shows a rather close look at Pinebox, Texas and the other is devoted to Golan County. I liked the county map better as it showed a clear view of the county and its highlights. The Pinebox map offered a fantastic city map, but emphasized basically two blocks of the map. I have to point out that the fine folks at 12 to Midnight already have a detailed map available on the Pinebox website (pdf download).
Diving into these stories felt like a mix between the stories I read in old comic titles like The House of Mystery and The Vault of Horror. A short set-up with a handful of characters, an environment in something Man Knows Isn’t Right, and a twisty, usually gruesome ending makes up the bulk of these short stories. They make for the perfect campfire stories.
And the stories come from so many directions! I worried that the stories would get repetitive by the final chapter; however, the twelve authors found horrific tales in usual haunts like basements (The Hanging Tree) and forests (Off Radio) and unusual ones like diners (Pie) and Guitar Hero (Guitar Zero). The varied set-ups keeps the reader craving another fix.
This anthology also reminds readers and gamers of just how much fun Small Town America can be for the horror genre. Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas gives readers neighborhood witches, Skinwalkers, crafty cultists (fishers of something), vampires with the perfect job, mutated offspring, vengeful ghosts, and much more. Some of the stories even make us of the best fright, which is something unexplained.
Pinebox, Texas is an excellent setting. It is large enough to have a body count while small enough to maintain Monophobia. College students filter into the school on a regular basis (and seem to make up the largest food source). Businesses come and go as Corporate America ignores the community (Evil doesn’t need competition) and leaves it to smaller entrepreneurs.
People on the street are friendly, but wary. They want to help, but cannot just start waving warning flags at every new face on the street. Tourism would be a thing of the past (fittingly tourists seem to be a second major food group for the monsters in Pinebox).
Earlier I said that these stories feel like the short stories in horror comics. A switch in media to something more televised would say they feel like Tales From the Darkside, Friday the 13th: the Series, or the darker elements of the Twilight Zone. These stories do not explore any particular mythos in detail. Lack of depth doesn’t mean lack of story. No, these stories are fun. They deliver a quick “boo” to someone already on edge.
In my book, that’s called entertainment.
Review by Todd Cash