While I am a fan of short stories, I do have to admit that I am usually less enthusiastic about themed anthologies than I am about those that do not have a theme. It just seems that a themed collection often has some stories that are a bit forced to fit them in with the theme. Still, any short story anthology is a good one so I did not hesitate to grab a copy of “The Cutting Room” to see what editor Ellen Datlow had in store with these 23 stories that are centered on those who watch and make, and possibly only live, in movies.
While the anthology has the look and feel of a collection of horror and dark stories, that is not necessarily the case. There are a fair number of horror stories in the book but there are many that are a far cry from that genre as well. I mention this upfront as it means that readers looking for horror stories may be disappointed to find that this is not a horror anthology. Datlow does not hide that fact either as it is clearly stated in her introduction. Of course, many people skip straight to the stories and may miss that part.
One of the best stories in the anthology is “She Drives Men to Crimes of Passion” by Genevieve Valentine. In this story, a struggling, would-be director discovers an aspiring actress with a hidden talent and the two make a pact with each other to help them reach the top together. Their plan works for a while until a distance begins to form between the two and their relationship comes to a messy conclusion. This is not a horror story at all but a touching work of noir that I found to be emotionally moving. I am not all that familiar with Valentine’s works but this is arguably the best story in the anthology.
“The Constantinople Archives” by Robert Shearman is another outstanding story in which filmmaking is developed in the 1400’s. The story is an alternate history story that has the feel of history as if it were written to be filmed almost as if the world was simple a set for the gods to film their favorite movies upon. The final story of the anthology, “Illimitable Dominion” by Kim Newman, is another notable work and is also another alternate history story in which an agent for a once popular chimpanzee movie star tries to find work for his client. When he encounters Roger Corman, he unintentionally sparks a slew of movies based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe even though his client fails to get the part. Both of these stories are based in fact but the artists are able to give them their own twists to make them original and intriguing.
“Dead Image” by David Morrell is the one story that rises above the rest for me. What would happen if one of the biggest movie stars ever, one who died way too young, were to come back to have a second chance at stardom? Someone would latch on to him and ride his rising star to the top. That is what happens in this disturbing tale but it is no the rise that is so disturbing but what happens when the rising star starts to show the same character defects that caused him to fall the first time. This story is not just a story about the dangers of fame but also a story that questions whether anyone can ever truly be saved from themselves.
While those are the best stories in the anthology, it is unfortunate that most of the remaining stories were just not that compelling. Even some of the bigger names in “The Cutting Room,” such as Peter Straub and Dennis Etchison fall short. F. Paul Wilson’s “Cuts” and Steve Nagy’s “The Hanged Man of Oz” both rise above the pack but are unable to save the book as a whole. I would recommend “The Cutting Room” to fans of short fiction with the caveat that there is a fair share of subpar stories in this book to go along with the above average ones. Of course, fans of short fiction already know that this is the risk that you run every time you open up an anthology so this is not too much of a surprise.
I would like to thank Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for this review copy. “The Cutting Room” is available now.