In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the new Word Horde anthology Eternal Frankenstein, edited by Ross E. Lockhart. As was the case with my read-a-thon of Swords v Cthulhu, I will be tackling the anthology story by story, and my reviewing method will be peppered with the cultural associations that each of these stories inspire. These will be presented with no excuse, apology or editorial justification.
Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet by Orrin Grey
Check it: Orrin Grey’s contribution to Eternal Frankenstein has its close-second-person narration talk about a kid watching a movie. Now, an outwardly rational but profoundly misinformed part of your brain may be passing these signals right about now: Gee, a story about someone just sitting there watching a movie sure sounds boring as heck!
I hear that, I do. But not without raising you The Prayer to Ninety Cats by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Haven’t read it yet? That’s fine. Help yourself. I’ll wait. Really.
Okay, now comparisons are odious, and a comparison to one of the (pretty much) undisputed champions of contemporary weird fiction may feel particularly odious indeed. But Orrin Grey is not to be thrown away — a direct translation from my native Serbian that also happens to rhyme, hooray! — especially given that his recent short-story-anthology-Kickstarter* was a runaway success, and that his prolific output has proven he’s a name to watch out for, if nothing else.
But when talking about an anthology that aims to build on the literary reputation of an undisputed — no doubts about it in this case — classic, it’s also good to point out stylistic commonalities. After all, Frankenstein is the hook here, and intertextual joy is one of the main reasons both readers and writers tune into these books in the first place.
And I have a feeling that Grey will be the last person to contradict that statement, given how this story is shamelessly seeped in enough nostalgia to make the folks behind Stranger Things blush with (neon) envy.
To those with even the slimmest knowledge of what’s being channelled here, the title announces both the premise and the vibe of the piece: it’s a ‘Tales of the Cryptkeeper’/Elvira kind of affair, where Baron von Werewolf curates a selection of creepy flicks for an impressionable and eager young audience.
(Being non-American, my own first-hand exposure to this kind of thing is slim indeed, and I was mostly made aware of it through the legacy of Ed Wood and David J. Skal’s excellent The Monster Show)
But apart from the Tim Burton/Stranger Things element of a nostalgic love-in for all the things that made these ‘vintage’ horror films special, Grey reminds us of another key aspect of Shelley’s original novel: that when it came into contact with the Hollywood machine, it spiraled into directions that Shelley could never have imagined.
So now we have Frankenstein battling an entire planet populated by malignant alien forces. Which is distinctly separate from Shelley’s pained meditation on absent fatherhood and scientific hubris. But it’s also, of course, awesome! And it’s a joy to go along with Grey’s wide-eyed narrator: expectations are tugged for both of us, and the affection the young one feels for Baron von Werewolf is oddly touching.
So much so that when a moment of genuine menace arrives, you feel it in your guts. This, despite all the metatextual trappings and the story-within-a-story nature of Grey’s tale. The gaps in the already-mysterious film being presented by the Baron here also add their own spooky spice in the background.
A love letter to vintage monster mash-ups done with affection and grace.