Review: “Candy Coated Madness,” Jeff Strand

Rating: 5 out of 5

When you really enjoy a particular writer’s work, a single-author anthology can be a lot of fun! Candy Coated Madness, by Jeff Strand, is a ridiculously funny collection of short horror stories.

First, make sure you actually read the introduction. I sometimes skip these, but in this case I really would have missed something funny if I had.

“Virtual Reality Kill Zone” allows a person to safely experience killing a person. But it seems awfully real. “Ivan’s Night Out” features a killer who wants to challenge himself to kill others without turning into a werewolf. “Giant Mutant Cockroaches In the Old West Vs. Zombies” is rather quick, but definitely funny. “Outpouring” is one of my favorites here–what do you do when you think there’s a mini-apocalypse going on? “Green Suits” is a great example of one of Strand’s talents: absolutely, positively hysterical dialogue, and the places it can take you. Even when talking about a bank robbery. “Hostile” is another favorite: Harry signed up to kill someone, but Adam thinks he was too boring about it.

“The Great Stone Face Vs. the Gargoyles” is a story about Buster Keaton. The story posits the idea that Keaton just naturally has strange and fortunate things happen to him, so he hires camera crews to follow him around, then edits the footage into money-making movies. “Beware! The! Beverage!” is a hysterical story about an energy drink that has Martian blood as the secret ingredient. It really showcases Strand’s talent for dialogue again. “Gave Up the Ghost” is a hilarious tale of what happens when a writer is desperate to get back the massive novel he has on his hard drive after his computer croaks.

I love “December Birthday,” in which Farley keeps getting presents marked “Christmas and Birthday.” And his friends are always too busy with family to come celebrate his birthday. (I totally relate to that. Three people in my family all have birthdays within a week of Christmas, including me, and including one that’s on Christmas day.)

“Smashing Jacks” is a quick, entertaining consequences story when some very naughty kids go around smashing people’s jack-o-lanterns. “The Fraud” is a creepy look at the possible consequences when a girl plays insane in order to get out of going to jail for killing someone. In “Rotten Eggs,” Rhonda suffers the consequences of carrying a prank on her younger siblings too far. “Good Deeds” involves the unexpected consequences of a song written about a good deed. (Consequences in general make for great horror stories, don’t they?)

It was time to squeeze the lemon of Christmas spirit over the halibut of their loneliness.

“Lab Experiment Turf War” is seriously silly, and fairly entertaining. The creations of Dr. Baleful and Dr. Awry fight over territory–and other issues. Lab experiments combined with soap opera-level shenanigans! Another story, “No Tomato,” is a very satisfying story of someone being a jerk toward restaurant employees. “Clyde the Necrophile” is a great look at the idea of, what if everyone believes you did something that you didn’t do? Might you not want to try the thing you didn’t do as long as everyone thinks you did it anyway? “Don’t Make Fun of the Haunted House” is short and sweet and delivers on the promise of its title. “Pointy Canes” may be one of the most ridiculous (real OR fictional) Christmas spree killings ever. You just kind of have to be amazed that any author could come up with it.

Dismemberment shows up a few times. There’s “Awakening,” in which we meet the Downtown Dixonville Dismemberer. And “Dismemberment Fraud,” in which someone wants to sue a filmmaker for making dismemberment seem so easy. There’s also a werewolf killing people in “My Werewolf Neighbor.” Trevor is absolutely convinced that his neighbor Jerry is turning into a werewolf and killing people on the full moon, but no one believes him.

Two that were just a little too randomly weird for me were “Captain Pistachio’s Charming Rampage” and “The Last Thing You Want To Be.” I was also mostly perplexed by “Parody,” in which a man who likes writing parodies of 80s songs is determined to reach his audience. But then, when someone writes a bunch of stories this strange, most readers are bound to find a few that don’t strike them quite right!

Content note for suicide, gore, self-harm, and general mayhem.

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