There’s something simple and evocative about the words cemetery gates, isn’t there? A pair of rusted, wrought iron doorways, ready to creak open and welcome you into a world of death. Or maybe you’re a Pantera fan like me and you’re thinking of Dimebag’s noodling giving way to that crushing riff.
At The Cemetery Gates Year One has that same kind of promise in its title, bringing to mind a person on the verge of some creepy discovery, and the cover is similarly creepy, with a Stephen Gammell kind of vibe to it. But a good cover & title isn’t everything, as I found once I stepped inside the world of John Brhel and Joe Sullivan.
The collection kicks off with A Dark and Desolate Recurrence, featuring a couple trapped in their car during a blizzard, saved by a mysterious figure. This turns into a bewildering “who owns this house?” story, culminating in a clumsily-delivered ghost encounter. This suffers from don’t go upstairs syndrome where all logic is thrown out and you end up yelling at the characters for making bad decisions. The couple hear murderous noises upstairs…so decide to look for something to eat. That kind of thing. It’s a weird choice of opener, seeing as there are far stronger stories in the collection.
Only problem is, those strong stories take a good long while to materialise. With 14 stories to pick through, I found myself nitpicking more than enjoying the variety of tales on offer. Many of the stories share a fascination with time loops which gets wearying after a while, and the more varied stories veer from a sub-par Psycho imitations to a subversion of teen slasher tropes which still feels like it’s been done before.
And so it continues, with characters sharing uninteresting, everyday conversations before anything happens, over-explaining of ideas or feelings, and a general lack of scares or chills. I was ready to give up entirely but I’m not a quitter. I don’t walk out of movies and I always finish a book no matter how much I don’t want to.
Good thing I did, because some of the later stories are actually pretty good. There’s a blast of dark comedy in New Year’s Eve, What A Gas!, some Evil Dead style schlock in the fun-but-flawed The Call is Coming From Inside the House, more pitch-black humour in An Epistle From the Dead. It’s just a shame that the final story falls back into the same ponderous over-explaining of the twist that the earlier stories were guilty of.
This is a shaggy haircut of a book, desperately in need of a good trim, a bit of pampering to make it shine. As is, it’s too flat and dull to recommend, with only a few decent stories in the bunch, but this is year one. Styles change, and maybe after a few seasons have passed, there’ll be something more vibrant coming from these two author’s heads.