Death Rattles is published by Gray Friar Press and is a collection of six stories supposedly based on a television series of the same name that aired on Channel 4 in 1984.
Ah yes – Death rattles – I remember it well… Except I don’t. As I’m sure the majority of horror fans won’t. It was massively controversial at the time (apparently), pushing the boundaries of taste as far as they would go. So controversial was it, in fact, that the tapes were destroyed…
Can’t remember that either.
Fortunately, the six authors involved in this collection did manage to catch an episode (albeit in circumstances that made the viewing experience fuzzy and hazy…) and, on the back of those memories have recreated the episodes as the stories that make up this collection.
Each story is introduced by the author’s recollections of their viewing experience. These are really entertaining – Simon Bestwick’s friend actually had copies of the series but – in a bizarre twist of fate that seems to surround every aspect of these programmes – he’s arrested and the police – yes the police! – destroy the tapes, thereby losing any real proof that the programme ever existed…
The collection has an introduction by Stephen Volk – no stranger to controversial TV drama, having managed to convince a hefty proportion of the population that his Ghostwatch was a real outside broadcast – which is again thoroughly entertaining, charting the history of the programme and its creator, Dennis Shapiro, a tale so bizarre it’s almost hard to believe…
This series was so controversial, so the introduction goes, because it showed the viewer trauma, in a gritty, social realism style. Strange then that the first story (or “Episode 1”) is Scattered Ashes by John Llewellyn Probert, a story of revenge from beyond the grave that would actually be more at home in the “Hammer House of Horror” series which everyone remembers. It’s a fairly classic gothic horror story which would hardly cause the controversy it apparently engendered at the time.
Next up is Seen and not Heard by Gary Fry. Another revenge from beyond the grave story that culminates in a scene worthy of a 1980’s video nasty. I feel the ending comes out of left field somewhat, not gelling with what’s gone on before which is actually an effective psychological chiller. We’ve all had dreams where we’ve been unable to speak, make a noise when there’s something we desperately need to tell someone and this concept is neatly turned on its head in this story where it’s the ghosts who are silent –something that adds to their menace.
Antlers by Thana Niveau is a story that starts off with the classic set up of a woman alone in a house with a weird bloke. Events turn horrible as might be expected but the way in which they develop is totally bizarre. The final images are shocking but I get the impression that this was an image Thana Niveau (sorry – Dennnis Shapiro) had in mind and that a story was clagged onto it.
The Children of Moloch by Simon Bestwick is by far the strongest story in the book and I can imagine if it was actually broadcast as a TV show the attendant controversy and outrage would be as described. It’s a hard hitting story of institutionalised abuse – and its consequences. It doesn’t pull any punches and is a “difficult” read – but an extremely powerful piece of writing.
Cow Castle by Paul Finch is the longest story in the book (presumably the original TV episodes were of varying running times) and one that I found to be a wee bit too long. It’s always difficult reading a story in which none of the characters are sympathetic and this was certainly the case here. There’s a fair bit of sexual content in here and it’s unfortunately presented in, at times, fairly gratuitous fashion. I was disappointed in it because I’d enjoyed One Monster Is Never Enough by the same author. The climax (!) of the story is a long time coming (!) but by the time it arrived I was so fed up with the characters I didn’t care what happened to them.
His Father’s Son by Gary McMahon is the last story in the book and tells of an unfaithful husband paying for his sins in the most terrible of ways. It features themes of guilt and retribution which are common to many of Gary’s stories.
It’s a strong finish to a collection I was ultimately a bit disappointed in. Whether or not Death Rattles truly did exist isn’t important (the stories mention the internet and DVDs but I guess that’s because they’re modern day “re-imaginings” of stories written in the ‘80s) – it’s a good concept for pulling together a group of tales but it’s unfortunate that I found the introductions more entertaining (and possibly more creative) than the stories themselves.