Toronto
3 min

Vagina dentata

Scary stories with bite

BE VERY AFRAID. Scott Treleaven is part of two strong Credit: Xtra files

What scares you? I have this recurring nightmare in which I’ve been caught shoplifting and sentenced to wear a pair of greasy overalls while I mop up urine at a leather bar. But that’s just me.



Two new anthologies of horror stories authored by queers and/or featuring queer themes offer thrill seekers some less idiosyncratic frights. Ranging from traditional ghost and vampire stories reworked as queer folklore to tales of demonic possession and madness, the splendidly creepy works collected in the spoken word CD Fears For Ears and the print anthology Queer Fear II will make your bedside table shake with dread even more than usual.



Spoken word recordings are always a hard sell. Like comedy albums, they’re usually good for one listen before being consigned to the back of the CD rack, behind all those Aqua records you’re ashamed to display. Fears For Ears, however, has more staying power, largely because the stories performed on the CD are more open-ended, more enigmatic, and thus lend themselves to repeated listens.



Among the standouts are: David Nickle’s “Manifestations,” a slow-burning tale of rural insanity, UFO sightings and gored livestock; Shirley Meier’s “The Witches Tree,” another story of farmland family necromancy – remind me to stay out of Beamsville – ancient curses and arboreal menace; and Bram Stoker- and Aurora-winner Edo van Belkom’s “The Rug,” an especially grisly updating of the old woman in the shoe nursery story.



Audiobook purists may balk at the use of sound effects and multiple voices in Fears For Ears. Traditionally, audiobooks rely on a single narrator and minimal to no effects, in order to best mimic the experience of quiet reading. Fears For Ears, however, selected and produced by Aida Memisevic, has a soundtrack, actors and a cauldron full of spooky ambient noises that make the stories seem more like radio plays than readings. At times, the music borders, unintentionally, one assumes, on Twilight Zone cheesiness and the sound effects would embarrass Count Floyd. But the stories are so unapologetically entertaining, even campy, that a more somber “literary” presentation would kill their fun-with-sharp-objects glee.



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Queer Fear II takes a markedly different approach to the horror story, seeking to ele-vate it from its lowbrow, “drugstore fiction” reputation and to give the old damsel in distress paradigm a whole new gender assignment. To wit, editor Michael Rowe has wisely collected stories by authors and artists not usually associated with horror fiction – such as comic novelist Warren Dunford, science fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson, journalist David Coffey and filmmaker Scott Treleaven – and mixed their accomplished gothic forays with stories by established horror masters such as van Belkom, Nickle and the American scare star Poppy Z Brite.



The queer focus makes QFII particularly effective for us lavender librarians, as the best horror writing always contains a wealth of realistic detail to anchor the supernatural. But ultimately, scary is scary, no matter who’s swapping spit, or blood or slimy green ooze.



I particularly liked Toronto writer Gemma Files’s “The Narrow World,” a detail-packed account of a young Asian fag’s adventures in demon-raising, Coffey’s “On Being A Fetish,” wherein dead teen and local sex fantasy Chuck gets off by having his horny spirit summoned through the Ouiji board, and Michael Thomas Ford’s “Night Of The Werepuss” (another autobiography title stolen!), a very funny addition to the lesbian werewolf canon that would make Dr Freud rethink his vagina dentata theories.



To my surprise, I didn’t find a story in QFII that I disliked. Rowe clearly has an eye for supernatural stories that rework familiar genres in both tone and sexual context, because the most exciting thing about these grim fairy tales is hardly the ostensible novelty of queer horror, a possibly redundant phrase in the first place.



Rather, it’s the writers’ overall quirkiness and relaxed attitude toward horror cannon traditions that livens up what, in lesser hands, might have been yet another collection of change-the-pronouns homo re-writes. Good writing beats – and bites and claws – identity politics every time.



FEARS FOR EARS: ANTHOLOGY OF HORROR FICTION STORIES.

Positive Living Productions. $20.

www.fearsforears.com.



QUEER FEAR II: GAY HORROR FICTION.

Edited by Michael Rowe.

Arsenal Pulp Press.

304 pages. $17.95.