One of the things I love about using Twitter is the opportunity to connect with people whose work I admire, from writers to scientists to artists to actors to musicians. Those connections can then lead you to new “discoveries” that you would otherwise not have come across.
Case in point: about a month ago, while my wife was out of town, I broke out my DVD copy of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001), a delightful spoof of low-budget science fiction from the 50s, and The Lost Skeleton Returns Again (2009), its very silly sequel. Both movies, and others, were written, directed, and starred in by the all-around auteur Larry Blamire; on a whim, I checked to see if he was on Twitter, and to my delight, he is, and to my further delight, he graciously acknowledged my existence!
While following him on Twitter, I recently learned that Blamire has also written a compilation of horror stories, Tales of the Callamo Mountains (2008):
Tales of the Callamo Mountains compiles 13 previously unreleased stories of horror, focused in and around the fictional Callamo Mountain Range. Set in the turbulent time following the Civil War, the tales feature settlers, marshals, laborers, soldiers, cowboys and others who, traveling in the remote and untamed West, find themselves up against nature and forces far more diabolical.
These stories are good. I was immediately hooked once I starting reading the first of them, and could hardly put the book down until I had finished it a couple of days later. A couple of the tales are absolutely brilliant, in my opinion.
The stories fall into the relatively rare sub-genre known as “Western horror,” mixing classic Western stories and characters with supernatural horror. Possibly the first author of this genre was none other than Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan (and inspiration for this blog). In the 1930s, he wrote a slew of “Weird West” stories, such as The Horror from the Mound (1932), in which a Texas cowpunch breaks into an old burial mound and unearths something nasty. Since then, there has been a steady stream of Western horror stories in film, television, literature, and comic books, notably in some of the stories of my favorite author Laird Barron (see, for example, here).
For me, such tales are at their most powerful when they serve as a metaphor for an indifferent and unforgiving natural world. Settlers and frontiersmen traveling the Wild West had only themselves to rely on, and a single minor misstep could be fatal. (Those who grew up in the 1980s learned this lesson well from the video game Oregon Trail.)
The 13 stories of Tales of the Callamo Mountains fit this mold perfectly. All of the stories are good; I summarize some of my favorites below.
- The Line Shack. Two cattle drovers set up to spend the winter in the shadow of the Callamo Mountains, to watch the herd until the mountain passes clear. To keep his overly talkative colleague quiet, Tom Sidrow suggests that he investigate the dense tangle of dead trees and bramble in the back of their shack. But something is back there, and disturbing it leads to deadly consequences.
- The Unexpected Stop. When a late night passenger stagecoach makes an unexpected stop in a remote section of the mountains, it precipitates a nightmare of paranoia and terror.
- On Tuesday I’ll be in China. The monotony of farming is broken when an unusual flying machine passes over Enoch in the fields one day. When the machine returns, at the same time several days later, he vows to investigate further. As Enoch gets closer and closer to the machine and its occupants, he finds that it may be more — or less — than it seems.
- Tub Seven at Engel-Reis. John Box and his crew have been assigned to rehabilitate the old encrusted amalgamating pans at an abandoned mill. The process is hard work, but uneventful, until the men get to Tub Seven, overflowing with an unknown brew of toxic chemicals. Something unnatural and unspeakable has been hibernating at the bottom of Tub Seven, and it does not take kindly to being disturbed.
- The Last Thing One Sees in the Woods. Red Henry is undertaking a routine mapping assignment from the army in the desolate wilderness when he comes across an object that has no business being out there. Inside, there is something that has no business existing at all.
Blamire does a wonderful job of clashing the mundane existence of frontier folk with inconceivable supernatural horrors. His characters are reminiscent of those of Laird Barron; as I have noted previously, the working-class nature of the protagonists makes their fates even more horrifying, as they are clearly in over their heads in most cases.
Blamire absolutely shines in a lot of little details which provide incredible punch to his stories. In The Line Shack, look out for the terrible irony of a man wielding a powerful gun in a situation where he can’t use it. In The Unexpected Stop, look for what may be the best use of darkness as a palpable force and menacing character I have ever seen.
Speaking of characters, the Callamo Mountains are the only recurring character in the stories, and they are a formidable presence throughout. Many horror authors, such as the excellent W.H. Pugmire, have developed their own sinister fictional locations to serve as the backdrop for their tales, and the Callamo Mountains work well in this respect. The mountains even overtly exhibit their own personality in several stories, and it isn’t a pleasant one!
To summarize: Tales of the Callamo Mountains is a great collection of western horror stories, and well worth reading. It’s been a few years since the collection came out, but I hope Larry Blamire has a few more tales in him to share sometime!