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Chilling Collections That Will Never Die
By Martina Bexte, October, 2004

It's said that the best things often come in small packages and the short story exemplifies this. For your horrific edification this Halloween, here are deathless collections of super-chilling short stories ...

The pulp magazines of the 30, 40s and 50s elevated the short story to new highs and embraced many fledgling writers, allowing them to stretch their story-telling wings to exciting new levels. Weird Tales became the acknowledged leader among pulp fiction digests and dominated the industry for close to three decades. 100 Wild Little Weird Tales (edited by R. Weinberg, S. Dziemianowitz & M.H. Greenberg) is a collection of the best, brightest, and most disturbing stories ever captured between the pages of the original Weird Tales publications.

An enlightening introduction by Christopher Lee opens Realms of Darkness: Nightmarish Tales of the Supernatural and Macabre, which is filled with dozens of stories by scaremeisters like Stephen King, M. R. James & Robert Bloch. The Colour Out of Space: Tales of Cosmic Horror is not only a tribute to one of H.P. Lovecraft's best short stories, The Colour Out of Space, but the collection also showcases contemporaries of his like Henry James, Algernon Blackwood and Bram Stoker. Tales of Mystery & Terror is a must have for fans of Edgar Allan Poe. This collection of 13 of his most disquieting tales includes The Fall of the House of Usher, The Telltale Heart, The Raven, and of course, The Pit and the Pendulum.

Here's one you may or may not find at your local library - it's displayed prominently on my bookshelf, Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories that Scared Even Me. The master of psychological horror presents a short, but lively introduction to over a dozen truly rare tales. Marvin Kaye has put together many fine horror collections over the years, and Devils & Demons: A Treasury of Fiendish Tales Old & New offers exactly what the lengthy title promises. Let's not forget The Arbor House Necropolis: Voodoo! Mummy! Ghoul!, another huge compendium of dark fiction compiled by Bill Pronzini, filled with stories to 'make your flesh creep'.

Prefer a more contemporary selection of the dark and horrific? Take a look at The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 13 compiled by editor Stephen Jones. In this 13th collection, he showcases some of today's best horror and dark fantasy authors. Then there's Post Mortem: New Tales of Ghostly Horror edited by P. Olsen & D. Silva; dark horror and sometimes dark humour come alive in these visitations from the dead. If you still can't get enough, find yourself a copy of Horror - 100 Best Books (edited by Stephen Jones & Kim Newman). Leading horror writers were asked to nominate their favorites and the result is 'a fascinating and revealing collection' of novels and short story anthologies.

Saving the best for last -- Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural by Phyllis Cerf Wagner & Herbert Wise, was first published in 1944. This thousand page classic stands the test of time and remains one of the most complete horror anthologies around. A close rival and by far my personal favourite is The Dark Descent edited by David G. Hartwell; it's not only a truly stellar anthology featuring a wide range of work but also offers an insightful introduction in which Hartwell examines the history of horror fiction and why human beings feel such a need to be terrified.

Enjoy, and remember this as you curl up with one of these great collections tonight: 'before electric lights and telephones, there were only candles and, at last, gas lights, to banish the darkness. And in that darkness might lurk - who knows? Ghosts, werewolves, vampires, witches, or even the Devil himself!' (excerpted from Classic Horror Stories edited by Charles Coulombe).
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