Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts: Stories
By Orrin Grey
Introduction by John Langan
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
A strange figure looming in the darkness across the street. Decadent revelers inside a decrepit hotel. A dead author obsessed with modern culture’s obsession with Jack the Ripper, his wrists slashed in a grisly suicide. The grotesque mingle with the banal in Orrin Grey’s Painted Monsters and Other Strange Beasts: Stories. The volume brings together short stories previously published in other anthologies. Reading Grey’s personal notes after each story provided a peek into his creative process and inspirations.
Grey is a master of the horror short story, setting the scene with just the right amount of menace. If noir is about ordinary folks getting caught up in bad decisions, horror is about ordinary folks encountering something wrong. The wrongness can take many forms: supernatural, monstrous, or human. Something in the established order of things has gone awry. What makes reading Painted Monsters so enjoyable is Grey’s gift for imbuing an otherwise normal atmosphere with an amorphous dread. Things seem to occur just out of frame. A character catches a strange figure in the corner of his eye. “The White Prince” is a fractured fairytale, full of slime and lust. “Remains,” told through a Cockney narrator, tells the story of Victorian grave robbers working for a university medical researcher. Other stories include Ripperologists – obsessive researchers dedicated to the mythology of Jack the Ripper – and a libertine wastrel throwing his last big theme party before retirement.
My only real quibble was Grey’s over-reliance on dream sequences. It seemed like the phrase, “And then I had a dream …” occurred in every story. For all the innovation and grisly subject matter, these dream sequences made the short stories feel formulaic. It would have been nice to shake up the format a little. Since they occurred with such regularity, it ruined the unpredictable nature inherent within the horror genre. I don’t want to know what happens next. At a certain point, the dream sequences were telegraphing. But this shouldn’t push you away from Painted Monsters. Grey has the power and the talent to harness that primordial urge, that primitive desire to be shocked and horrified. He plumbs the depths of human depravity. It is easy to become jaded reading horror. Grey provides more than cheap thrills and jump scares. His stories reach for something more, a dark nightmarish gore we try to hide from the world. Orrin Grey has potential for really great work. He taps the vein that fed the work of Clive Barker and Jim Thompson.
Out of 10/8.5, higher for horror junkies.