LOST FILMS Book Review: The Cosmic Horror Of The Analog Era

This short story collection explores the metaphysical and metafictional through VHS tape.

By their very nature, short story compilations are a mixed bag, and that isn't meant to be pejorative against the comparable quality of any particular piece. Short stories are written in a multitude of styles and for various purposes, and the juxtaposition of a bunch of stories draws attention to those contrasts, meaning that those stories that work for any particular reader are going to vary wildly based on what the reader brings to the experience and what styles particularly speak to them. This contrast is usually mollified by bringing together stories of a particular theme, which Lost Films does through a conceit of horror through cinema's and video's impact on the real world. But as with any set of short stories, your mileage will vary with the particular entries.

For instance, I tend to prefer short stories that are centered around defined, named characters, with narrative arcs that resemble miniaturized versions of more novelistic counterparts. "A Festival of Fiends" by Brian Asman is a particularly engaging story for me in this collection, exposing a world of underground murderers who extract the final memories of their victims to create a morbid film festival. "The Fourth Wall" by Kev Harrison details a paranormal interaction between a cam girl's recording equipment and one of her client's sex dreams. "I Hate All That Is Mine" by Leigh Harlan pulls you into the story of a film that gradually changes to become more disturbing with every viewing, but the enticing mystery left unrevealed as the credits roll pushes the protagonist to repeatedly watch the atrocities held within grow worse. These are stories with strong personalities anchoring the weirdness of their plot machinations, and they provide grounding for the multitudes of horrors contained within the narrative.

A bit less tailored to my tastes are stories that feel more esoteric with their cosmic horrors. "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida On 8Track" by Bob Pastorella focuses on a videotape showing something it shouldn't in connection to an apparent suicide, with a finale that is at once baffling and disturbing. "This Cosmic Atrocity" by Andrew Novak follows a child as he continually insists that he is being stalked by The Simpsons' Krusty the Clown, despite no one but a lone doctor willing to accept that reality. "The Fabulous and Tormented Life of a Serial Extra" by Chad Stroup places the reader in the shoes of an extra who becomes fascinated with the work of a fellow extra who keeps showing up in the films he appreciates. These are stories that are more conceptual than narrative, so if you view short stories as a playground for abstract experimentation, then these will be more tailored to your interests.

There are nineteen total stories contained within Lost Films, so it's reasonable to assume that not every story contained within will be a hit for every reader. Some of the stories I didn't list here were ones I found completely forgettable, but the hits among those I did enumerate above are going to stick with me for some time. The appeal of a short story collection is expressed in the reader's relationship with the uniting theme of the works, so if you're a child of the VHS era, a cinephile with a penchant for the absurd, or just a horror junkie who really wants to find a new set of mind-bending ideas, Lost Films is going to have something to pull you in.