River of Nine Tails –
A man named Elliot is taking an off-the-grid journey to try and deal with a personal issue. He needs to get away from everything, and everyone, for a while and this part of his journey has taken him to Vietnam. More specifically; a boat trip on the Mekong Delta. Also aboard the boat is an American traveller called Brandon, and their Vietnamese guide.
You know that point in water-based horror movies where our protagonists have been attacked and their vessel is slowly sinking into the murk?
Well, that is where River of Nine Tails starts.
Something has attacked the boat. The guide is dead and these two strangers are left lost in the jungle, with something dangerous and, well, monstrous in the river.
Now, you might be thinking that as long as they stay away from the River they will be fine; but that would only lead them even deeper into the jungle. And without supplies, that’s pretty much a death sentence. So they do the sensible thing of keeping the river at a distance, but still close enough that they can see it, and try and follow it to what was going to be their destination.
The problem with that plan is that it does put them in danger of being chomped on by whatever is lurking in the depths. Something that (and I don’t consider this a spoiler as it is on the cover – which was designed by Michael Bray) looks like an alligator with a serious lamprey infestation fixed to its anatomy.
Reanimation Channel –
Scott’s neighbour Adrian is nearly always at home. Which is good for Scott because it means any deliveries that turn up at his house whilst he’s out, will be taken in by Adrian.
It’s this simple task of collecting a parcel from a neighbour, which causes events to spiral out of control. The discovery of a dead body and a mysterious online game leads to an amalgam of flesh and blood that makes the end of Akira look like a lump of clay with some Lego jammed in its surface.
To say any more, would be to give away too much. But the story went in a completely unexpected direction and what I thought was going to be similar to that of River of Nine Tails, went in its own nightmare of apocalyptic potential.
The pace, in both stories, is quick without being rushed and, as usual, Mark’s writing conveys everything perfectly. His style really shines here. The stories carry a similar theme beyond that of the obvious monster too. Both shift from a struggle for survival to an insane nightmare. The transition flowing naturally, (within the confines of the story) to conclusions that don’t feel rushed or tacked on, but are still surprising enough to be something unexpected.
That shift into nightmare; encompassing endings that are different enough from one another, still carries a similar tone of monstrous acceptance and of rebirth.
Actually, thinking more on Reanimation Channel, I take back my reference to Akira. It reminded me more of the ending to Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s lesser-known story, Roujin Z, merged with the item gathering of the video game, Katamari Damacy. Only they stopped off via an abattoir during their journey.
My only issue - and it’s one that I often have with short stories from Mark – is that it just leaves me wanting more. I know that what we don’t know adds to the mystery, but the characters and creatures are so intriguing that it left me wanting to see what happens next.
Maybe less so on the part of Reanimation Channel, the apocalyptic inevitability not really needing it, but the ending to River of Nine Tails certainly left me wanting more due to its more contained (location-wise) story.
Both of these stories have featured in other titles before this release.
River of Nine Tails was first published in: In Darkness, Delight: Creatures of the Night.
Reanimation Channel was first published in The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 4.
Both of which I ended up buying, based on how much I enjoyed these tales from Mark.
Monster Double Feature may only run at around 70 pages, but the stories are packed with enough to keep things entertaining. It’s a great book that I recommend and you can buy it now from amazon in paperback.