THE ESSENTIAL SICK STUFF
By Ronald Kelly
Published by Silver Shamrock Publishing
Available: September 28, 2020
Though a veteran of the horror genre, this collection was my first time hearing of and reading Ronald Kelly. With Silver Shamrock at his side, Kelly took two of his older collections (The Sick Stuff and More Sick Stuff) and added a third entry to the series: Even Sicker Stuff. Altogether, they make The Essential Sick Stuff, which comes in hefty with twenty-three stories (covering the last thirty years) and pictures. Things get even better when you factor in the excellent production value throughout this book. Though the cover spread is good and dark, it’s Alex McVey’s interior art that steals the layout and formatting of this mammoth. Every story comes with a related “cover,” all of which are terrifying and wonderful to see. I don’t know which would be my favorite, though “Suckers!” and “Snakehandler” are probably in the top three.
When I started this collection, I honestly thought it would quickly become a DNF for me. You see, I’m not much for graphic violence, and I am very much against children being killed in stories. Right from the start, The Essential Sick Stuff read like a madman’s disgusting fantasies on paper. “Diary” was all about shock value, and so I had to stop reading it. And “Diary” wasn’t the only story I didn’t read all the way through. I also ended up skipping “Pins and Needles” and “Exit 85,” both for involving infant/children murder. That sort of content makes me sick and deeply upset. But what’s funny is how I nearly skipped “Snakehandler” after seeing an advertisement by Silver Shamrock for the story. It was an image of the priest holding up a snake and saying something along the lines of, “Whose child is next?” Seeing as I had already been grossed out by several stories leading up to this one, I figured it would involve more kids being killed. I came THIS close to not even reading a page of it, but then I decided I would try giving it a shot as I had all the others. I’m glad I did, because it ended up being one of my favorite entries in the collection. It’s hard to say how much of my affection for it came out of my relief that no children were harmed, but either way “Snakehandler” left a lasting impression.
As I read through The Essential Sick Stuff, I jotted down notes for every story. While I’m not going to copy them all here for you – that would be quite the mess, considering the way I scrawl out my thoughts – I will go over some choice stories. “Housewarming” was the earliest story I enjoyed, and the spider thing left me on edge. “Old Hacker” had an intriguing premise and a weirdness to it I found really appealing. It’s the kind of horror that reflects science-fiction. Both “Consumption” and “The Thing at the Side of the Road” were fun creature features that left me uneasy. “Cell Number Nine” was really cool, but people with arachnophobia definitely need to watch out! This story could easily be expanded into a novel, one that I would love to read. The same could be said for “Suckers!” and “Devourer,” both of which came out at the top of my list. I also found the third selection of this book – Even Sicker Stuff – to be the strongest with consistently enjoyable stories, like “Traps,” “The Nipples in Dad’s Toolbox,” and “Quetzalcoatl’s Revenge” (what an ending!).
Basically, this was a book that grew on me as it went along. There were stories (as mentioned) that I ended up having to abandon, but I made it through twenty of the twenty-three without running away. I’m just not much for excessively graphic violence, as I’ve previously stated – it’s not my favoured style of horror, is what it comes down to. Nevertheless, I was constantly impressed by Kelly’s writing and dark imagination, enough so that I really do recommend this collection to any fan of the genre (especially if you love your blood and gore).
Highlights: Very well written, darkly amusing imagination, haunting and horrific
Shadows: Child death, some very disturbing content
For fans of . . . graphic violence, murder, blood and gore, torture, creepy crawlers
Takeaway: The Essential Sick Stuff is exactly what it promises: a collection of violent and disturbing stories that will give you nightmares for weeks to come.
Would I read this author again? Yes