Fixi Novo, RM19.90, ISBN 978-967-0954-03-5
Hard Core is another collection of horror stories from Megat Ishak, and while he certainly comes off as one of the more interesting local authors in that genre, this one is still on the uneven side. Each story closes with a cool black-and-white illustration by Chin Yew.
Home-Applied Brain Surgery is about, yes, brain surgery of the creepy and illegal kind done on an asshole who deserves it. This is a poor tale to open the collection, as it’s not the most original tale around, and the whole brain surgery has been done more deliciously gruesomely many times before.
Magic! is basically a stressed-out, doormat-ish magician losing it and going wild. Again, not the most original premise, and it’s a shame that the author doesn’t try to make things even a little bit different. Variations of this tale practically make the horror anthology genre back in those days, so the author should have done more to include his personal touch here instead of just serving up the same old stuff.
Our Dad’s Girlfriend is basically a darker take of the whole evil stepmother tale, this time with the children getting their revenge. While the fate of the evil girlfriend is pretty fiendish, the tale itself is loosely constructed to the point of being nothing more than an obvious plot device to make the gruesome things happen. I personally think the evil girlfriend getting the upper hand in the end would have been a more interesting twist to the story. Also, why is the irresponsible and negligent father allowed to walk away scot-free at the end of the day?
The Slasher Program is a long, clumsy, and laboriously-written tale of crazy killers going all Saw and Hostel on their victims. Just like previous stories, this one is mostly rehashed tropes with very little distinct flavor of the author’s own style and vision. Utterly forgettable.
Bibik is a dead maid gone wild story, terrorizing the family of her previous employer. This is one of the few stand-out tales in this collection, mostly because the villain is cheerfully nasty and some really nasty fun things happen here. The story could be better fleshed out, though, as there are too many unanswered questions at the end.
One Day in the Middle of the Night is the author’s Cthulhu-wannabe tale, and it’s exactly like what every other story of this nature is, with familiar tropes involving adulterous wives and their lovers thrown in for good measure. Nothing really memorable here, but it makes me chuckle a bit here and there – at least I have a reaction that isn’t indifference for once, so hurrah..
Middle Child Syndrome is about how middle children can become invisible in the sense that nobody remembers them, and one middle child is about to take revenge on a guy who stole his sweetheart from him. This is easily the most pretentious tale of the lot, as the author has the protagonist launch into eye-rolling stilted and bombastic rants that end up more unintentionally hilarious than anything else.
U-Turn has a protagonist with the same name as a character in the previous story. Is this a sequel? I’m not sure, and I don’t care. It starts out like a typical “guy picks up weird woman in a dark lane” tale, promises to take things into maudlin and even heartbreaking territory, only to then throw a preposterous twist at my face. Maybe the title of this silly story is supposed to be literal?
The Tourists is a “don’t steal crap from a creepy shop” story – again, nothing new, except for an unintentionally hilarious denouement. I don’t think that it is the author’s intention to have me laughing out loud at the last two pages of this story, though.
The Clinic has a great premise, but the execution is marred by a narrative style that is deliberately stretched out and padded to make things a little more opaque to the reader. This only makes the story drag on its heels, though. When the patient spends hours in the clinic, I feel like I’ve spent just as much time reading this story.
Cans is deliciously gross and ghastly, but it is also so underdeveloped that it is just a story that is gross and ghastly for the sake of being gross and ghastly. This is a shame, as, unlike the bulk of the stories here, this one has a far more interesting premise. It’s too bad that it ends up being even more half-baked than those less interesting stories.
The Things I Can Do to You with a Crowbar has some of the most gruesome scenes without resorting to otherworldly horror elements – simply fantastic. But this is a story that requires the protagonist to lose in order to work. By letting the protagonist win, the story enters absurd territory, especially when the protagonist seems to transform abruptly into the Terminator that keeps going despite having received all kinds of ghastly torture.
The Grim Facts of Anita Z, however, is a fantastic story – the perfect tale to close this collection. What starts out as a tattoo gone wrong story – yes, another staple plot in horror anthology – turns into a twisted yet sweet and even sensual kind of pseudo-romance story, and there are some evocative narrative that works beautifully here. It’s like the author was struck by lightning while writing this story. Normally he can dish out some awkward and stilted similes and metaphors, but here, everything works. This one is just right in so many ways.
Anyway, as I’ve said, Hard Core is an uneven collection. Many stories are filler materials, and most of them could use a little more local or Megat Ishak-ish flavor to make them stand out instead of just rehashing standard horror tropes and clichés. The last story suggests that the author can serve some amazing things if he puts his mind to it, though.