Castle of Horror is back with a brand new anthology just in time for our favorite season! Castle of Horror Anthology Volume 4: Women Running from Houses is a multi-author collection of gothic horror stories, hence the incredibly apt and sometimes literal title. The whole collection really nails the atmosphere and dreary tone of traditional gothic horror despite being written with much more modern sensibilities (and often settings), which is an easy plus in my book. It’s refreshing to engage with the tropes and the foreboding feeling of the subgenre while dispensing with the obfuscating language and overly flowery prose that often goes along with modern attempts to revive gothic storytelling. It would be strange to review a collection like this as a whole without mentioning individual stories, so instead of a traditional review, I’m going to highlight a few of the stories which stood out to me the most in a bulleted list. That doesn’t mean the stories I leave out are worse, just that I only have so much space and there are sixteen (!) stories here, all with very different voices and styles:
- Two Storey Carnivore – Jim Towns: A metastory with a dash of literalism, this one starts and ends with, you guessed it, a woman running from a house. It’s different and immediately catches your attention.
- The House on Foulness – John Ohno: formatted as a series of letters, this story reminded me of The Lighthouse in its effective use of isolation and some abrupt gory imagery. It’s more traditional than some of the other entries, but probably my favorite of the period pieces.
- The Fantasie Impromptu – In Churl Yo: The first of the sci-fi stories in the collection. There’s something particularly haunting about finding signs of life on a barren world, and it only gets more peculiar as the protagonist journeys to the surface. The far future allows for a lot of nontraditional but still entirely appropriate imagery, and it’s used here to great effect.
- Usher Down: Part 1 – Jason Henderson: Impossible space is a personal favorite concept, and this use of the long sunk House of Usher is a fun entry into a new serial that may develop a dark urban fantasy edge. I want to read more.
- The Ghosts of Glenmirror – Scott Pearson: Another sci-fi entry, but this time more along the lines of a Black Mirror episode. There’s a good women in STEM message and the story’s innovative conceit lets us play with gothic ideas on two axes.
- A Poor Man’s Roses – Alethea Kontis: Probably my favorite of the book, this story blends far future sci-fi worldbuilding with the gothic “woman in peril” seamlessly. The author has a strong voice and uses an inner monologue which may not be for everybody, but it was definitely a high point for me. The conclusion is especially impressive, as advanced technology allows for some grandiose imagery which would otherwise feel forced or hand wave-y were it not for the subtle aforementioned worldbuilding.
And that’s only six– there’s a lot to explore in Women Running from Houses, from Lovecraft himself to phantom origin stories and all manner (manor?) of haunted estates. While I prefer the stories which stray from the subgenre norms, there are plenty of period pieces for traditionalists as well. There are a few stories that could have taken more risks and distinguished themselves more, but everything here is competently written at the very least. Check this one out for some fun doom and gloom!
8 out of 10 Haunted Mansions