A while back, I got Robin Ince to autograph my copy of Dead Funny: Horror Stories by Comedians. He started telling me about Alan Moore and ghosts, for reasons I couldn’t fathom until he got to the end of the whirlwind of information and gave me the cornerstone: “Because we’re doing another one.” It took me a beat to realize he meant a second volume of Dead Funny. Yes, another compendium of horror stories by your favorite British comedians (…and Alan Moore)!
Robin Ince and Johnny Mains are back as editors of Dead Funny Encore: More Horror Stories by Comedians. Horror stories by comedians? That can’t possibly be very scary, can it? Well, it does run the gamut from writing prompts from your ninth grade Intro to Creative Writing course to haunting tales that you will be shocked to find have been lurking in the minds of your favorite joke-makers. A few volume 1 writers, including Stewart Lee and Rufus Hound, are back with new stories, but mostly it is a new roster of talent, including Jason Manford, Isy Suttie, Alice Lowe, and Josie Long.
Jason Manford’s haunted house tale reads like someone who’s seen every scary movie to come out in the last couple decades. With customary creepy little girl and furniture flying around the room, Manford is faithful to the sub-genre and does not deviate. Alan Moore’s ghost story also has a conventional beginning: a skeptic visits a medium, but this is not the cliche tale of a skeptic whose mind is changed upon the appearance of an apparition. Instead, the medium is the narrator, and he has the strongest narrative voice in the whole book. Josie Long’s ghost story, despite being called “A Ghost Story,” is not a ghost story. It is a love story with some ghosts in it. It is one of my favorites in the whole book. Not only are we introduced to beautiful ideas from beyond the grave, such as that a ghost can haunt concepts like songs rather than just physical items, places, and people; but also the story is heart-achingly tragic. Finally, Clare Ferguson Walker draws up the most realistic ghost story in the volume, one that puts at the foreground the emotions that a grieving child goes through upon the death of her mother, as well as the evolving relationship with her father and having to deal with everyday life like bullies at school. The fact that she’s being followed around by the ghost of her dead mother is just by the way.
Manford and Walker aren’t the only comedians who have chosen to write about children. In fact, children and parenthood are a theme in about half of the stories in the book. Kiri Pritchard-McLean gives us a careful-what-you-wish-for spooky tale about a boogy man in “The Man Made of Worms.” Alice Lowe’s “Paedo” also has a boogy man of sorts that comes out of the wardrobe, but this one is structured with a stroke of genius. It’s actually a science fiction story taken down a dark road I haven’t seen sci-fi wander down before. While her first story in the book, “Carnival,” is a bit too silly, the second one, which ends the book, feels like it was written by a completely different person. Though a risky subject to tackle in a book by comedians, the story succeeds through wording and rhythm, making for a properly terrifying yarn.
There are three stories about parenting, each sourced from a different perspective. Robin Ince brilliantly depicts the way in which time slows down when your child goes missing at the park. As someone who has experienced fifteen minutes at the beach searching for a child stretch into what feels like hours, this story rang particularly true to me, and I think it can be interpreted in more than one way. (I say that because my husband and I disagreed on what we thought happened.) Then there’s Elis James’ perspective of a divorced father who will do anything to win over his daughter on the one night a week that he sees her. With no supernatural elements in effect, it is this desperation that is the real antagonist. Finally, there’s “Harry” by John Robertson. This story is the “Possum” of the book. You’ll remember that in the last volume, Matthew Holness wrote a story called “Possum” that was so unique and terrifying, other monsters in the book paled in comparison. Robertson’s Harry monster is like this, and it’s described in such a way that it will upset you both on a gory level and also on a level of a parental undertone. The most truly horrific, shiver-inducing story in the book.
In an episode of Book Shambles podcast, Rufus Hound recounts the time he watched Inside No. 9 on TV, went to bed, and dreamt about vampires. He woke up, wrote the dream down, and tried to give it to Reece Shearsmith for an episode of Inside No. 9. Shearsmith politely declined, likely on the basis that the show is a vehicle for he and Steve Pemberton, the writers. However, Hound’s creepy tale, filled with lots of twists and turns, sees the light of day (however unhealthy that may be for the characters in it) as the first story in this volume. One of the lengthier additions to the book, it seems rooted in classic vampire literature, perhaps Nosferatu. It concerns vampires, wannabe vampires, and a very old urn. Toby Hadoke’s story, too, includes an old item with powers. His is a magic effigy: “The Mahog is the link between beast and man.”
Almost in the same vein, both Andrew O’Neill’s and Stewart Lee’s stories involve prophesies about the coming of a great beast. O’Neill’s, in which the writer is also the main character, takes a more traditional approach of calling forth the beast via ancient languages scrawled in a church basement. Lee’s turns toward the myth of evil music that summons a portal between the world of the living and the world of the dead. This is not a surprise given Lee’s interest in music, which you’ll be familiar with if you’ve heard him on the radio or read his novel The Perfect Fool. You may remember I’d dubbed Lee’s contribution to the first Dead Funny volume as the best of the collection. Here, both O’Neill’s and Lee’s stories are excellent.
Finally, we have some no-nonsense, no-paranormal, good old fashion murders. Natalie Haynes’ benefits from paranoia that creeps into her characters’ marriage. Isy Suttie’s and James Acaster’s both seem to have taken the “Write a list story” prompt. Luckily, they’re both grade A writers. Suttie’s subtlety is appreciated. She doesn’t treat the reader like they’re stupid. Acaster writes to-do lists written by both the murderer and the victim. The juxtaposition of the two letters as well as the juxtaposition of what was planned and what actually happened make for a story that is both unsettling and funny.
JAIME POND IS THE EDITOR OF ANGLONERD. SHE LIVES AND WORKS IN NYC. FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER.