Rating: 4 out of 5
25 Gates of Hell: A Horror Anthology is described in terms of gates opening and unleashing Hell on earth, with these writers chronicling the results. This is a fairly specific theme–although there’s obviously flexibility of course–and a good handful of these stories just don’t seem to fit the theme of “Hell on earth” beyond the fact that they’re horror stories. I’m always a bit disappointed when that happens, because I pick up themed anthologies because I’m specifically looking forward to that theme. Anyway…
My favorite stories in here were written by Brian Keene, Flint Maxwell, Matthew Hollis Damon, Janine Pipe, Nicholas Catron, and Gregg Chamberlain. Among these stories you’ll find people chasing down their past through alternate realities, rushed bridge constructions that might be haunted, monsters in closets, something in need of learning one or two tricks from “The Matrix,” a VR simulation gone horribly wrong, a pair of detectives trying to hunt down a vigilante “hook man” serial killer, and an alien crash-landing. Despite how much I loved these, a couple of them don’t seem to meet the theme. But there are some great characters, chilling twists, unusual demons, and nasty pranks.
Other really good stories tell of stolen wallets with strange properties, unusual power sources, strange portals found through traversing drainage pipes, a Bluebeard-like tale (you can see everything coming a mile away, but the execution is very good), mysterious creatures haunting the Bayou, an undertaker who’s been swindled, colonizers reaching Australia, zombie-bear attacks, a man who lost his wife and daughter in a crash and finds himself at a mysterious hotel, a man who wakes up in a coffin, a serial killer who’s looking for something inside bodies, and a food fight in a school cafeteria.
Some of the things I haven’t enjoyed (mostly in my less-favorite stories, but a few of these refer to the ones I actually quite like) include one with a detail that’s necessary for the plot that makes no sense to me at all. (If you have a patient in a psych ward who killed her family, and you wanted her to start art therapy, would you begin with a room full of children? I didn’t think so.) As often happens with short horror stories, some of them really left me wanting more. A few felt like they ended just before the climax of the story, or inadequately showed what was going on (I still can’t figure out how one of them ended, and in another I just felt like I missed something essential). Some hint at background that’s frustratingly lacking. One story seems to think that characters shouting is how you show drama. Certainly no deal-breakers, and many of these are problems that show up reasonably often in short horror stories.
Oh the whole, the stories are quite good. If you’re looking to find a few new authors to follow, it’ll be a good resource!
Content note: animal death, gore, mention of sexual violence/rape.