Review: “The Cutting Room,” ed. by Ellen Datlow

Pros: Cerebral horror for film buffs
Cons: I couldn’t connect emotionally with many of the stories
Rating: 3 out of 5

Advance copy provided free by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley.
Expected publication date: 10/14/2014.


The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen is an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow that is:

…an exploration of the dark side of movies and moviemaking, with views from both sides of the lens.

It’s a bunch of short horror stories that involve films, filmmaking, or some other aspect of cinema. The stories were published in the range of 1985-2005 (apart from one first-time appearance) and there are 23 of them (including two poems). Authors include Edward Bryant, Steve Nagy, Dennis Etchison, F. Paul Wilson, A.C. Wise, Peter Straub, Ian Watson, Howard Waldrop, David Morrell, Robert Shearman, Gemma Files, Stephen J. Barringer, Gary McMahon, Nicholas Royle, Garry Kilworth, Gary A. Braunbeck, Lucy A. Snyder, Douglas E. Winter, Genevieve Valentine, Joel Lane, Stephen Graham Jones, Laird Barron, and Daphne Gottlieb. Titles range from “Tenderizer” to “Filming the Making of the Film of the Making of Fitzcarraldo“.

Normally I’d give a little intro to what I thought, give brief takes on some of the individual stories that struck me as in some way particularly good or bad, then wrap it up. Not this time, however. I’m not going to address individual stories because frankly, not many of them really stood out to me, for a handful of reasons.

There’s a certain similarity of pacing and type of voice in many of these stories that made the book feel monotonous and uninteresting. I love horror and find the anthology’s guiding concept fascinating, so this really surprised me. I had so much trouble picking the book up again after each story that it took me three days to read it, which is unusual (and only happens when a book isn’t holding my interest). There’s a preponderance of rather meta- or high-concept pieces, and while I sometimes enjoy a cerebral or meandering horror, there were too many of these stories strung one after another in here.

Some of the stories are neat but just don’t feel like horror, so they weren’t what I was looking for in this anthology. A handful were eerie or creepy, but many of the rest were just clever or interesting without the emotional frisson of horror.

I have this creeping feeling that I’m going to be told by readers who love this book that if I’d understood the pieces better, or had a better understanding of film, I’d have thought they were great. Maybe they’ll tell me I’m looking for crass scares when I ought to be getting into highly cerebral horror (I’m a fan of Thomas Ligotti so I thought I enjoyed odd, surreal horror, but these stories didn’t give me the same feeling as his). Maybe I really just didn’t get it and people with a ‘higher’ understanding of the art form will be much more impressed. In that case, hopefully my review will allow you to decide whether you fall into that camp that will probably ‘get it,’ or, like me, you’re more likely to feel confused and ‘meh’ about the whole thing.

Lest you think I’m slamming the book, I don’t think it was bad. There’s a reason I’m giving it a 3 out of 5 rather than a 2 out of 5. The stories were clever and some of them did give me that creepy vibe. Sometimes the surreality did seem to be in service to a higher goal rather than pointless or overkill. But when I review a book like this I take notes on each story, and I didn’t end up writing anything down for the majority of the stories present–I just couldn’t think of anything interesting to say about them. I’m disappointed, because the concept was a good one and I’m used to being thrilled by the anthologies Ellen Datlow edits.

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