Some time ago I discovered the amazing books the publishing house Alma Clásicos Ilustrados was editing along with illustrations and I started buying them. This anthology is one of those 24 books that they have already launched.
The book is composed of 17 horror stories by different authors, among which the names of Bécquer, Lovecraft or Poe stand out. In addition, for this edition, Sebastián Cabrol has made an illustration by chapter.
The edition is stunning. It has some beautiful covers in hardcover, illustrated guards, a book marker made of cloth and 17 illustrations in black, white and red.
The Elixir of Life by Honoré de Balzac
A rich and selfish young man doesn’t fulfil his father’s last will, but he keeps the bottle with the elixir that he had created. Believing he has found a way to avoid death, he lives with excess and arrogance until on his deathbed he asks his own son what his father asked him.
A story with clear gore touches that inevitably reminds Dorian Gray that. When a person believes himself immortal, neglects the virtues of the soul in pursuit of the vices of the body.
The Mountain of Souls by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer
This is my favourite horror story. I read it for the first time when I was in elementary school and since then nothing has ever shocked me that much. After this one I sat and read all the legends of Bécquer. Although none came to equal The Mountain of Souls.
A terrifying legend shrinks the hearts of all those who live near the mountain of the souls, but Beatriz doesn’t believe it and abuses the love that her cousin feels for her to make him go to the mountain on Hollows Eve. That night the dead rise from their tombs and go to visit her.
The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce
A man has died mysteriously and his body is found completely mutilated. None of the eyewitnesses are able to say what has happened. This man left a diary with brief and delirious notes where one can guess the details of his death.
It has the components that I like the most in horror stories. Something happens but you don’t know what, there is an unknown entity, supernatural and lethal, there are deaths.
It also has a subtle black humour, so that you can understand me, the first part is called “You don’t always eat what is on the table” and when you read it you discover that what was on the table was the fresh corpse of a man.
Lot No. 249 by Arthur Conan Doyle
I suppose – and I hope – that you know Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his famous stories of Sherlock Holmes; for apparently he is not only the best representative of detective stories, but he also has a golden hand for terror.
The story takes place in a university college in Oxford in which a series of mysterious assassination attempts follow each other. Abercrombie Smith, a prominent medical student, investigates the issue and is involved in a dangerous plot of magic and Egyptian necromancy. He decides to resolve this strange case personally even though his life is at stake.
Doyle’s pen takes you into this horror story, which still the essence of a detective story. He is able to take you through it as if you were another character, as if you were investigating with Smith and running his own risk. Undoubtedly one of the stories that I liked the most, had me on fire from beginning to end.
August Heat by William Fryer Harvey
On a hot August morning the artist James Clarence carries out what he considers his best work: a sketch in which a thick man is seen in court. After that he goes for a walk and loses the notion of time and space and, when he realizes he is in an unknown place in front of the door of a marble carver. There he discovers the same man he drawn that morning which has just carved a gravestone with his own obituary.
It is a short story with a terrifyingly open ending.
The Thing on the Roof by Robert E. Howard
A man searches strongly for the original version of Von Junzt’s Black Book because in later versions, translations and adaptations modify the content. He believes that the book hides the key to finding a treasure. When he gets what he was looking for he leaves for the treasure. However, he never read the complete text and finds out too late that there is no gold and that the book warns that there is no one should disturb what sleeps.
It is a story with clearly Lovecraftian influences, I would have liked to know a little more about the expedition and the nooks and crannies of the pyramid.
An Episode of Cathedral History by M. R. James
A curious horror story that begins with a “Once upon a time …” and that is narrated by a man who tells the story that a sacristan told his friend.
Years ago the new dean of the cathedral insisted on transforming it so that it fit in the Gothic style and, for that, he ordered it to be undone almost completely. In this process they found a mysterious sepulchre with no name nor date. Shortly after the appearance of the tomb they begin to hear cries in the cathedral and people begin to die. Little did they know what was inside, but the only inscription visible in the sarcophagus was IBI CUBAVIT LAMIA.
The Mark of the Beast by Rudyard Kipling
A curious story that arises from the imprudence of a drunk man. It’s the last night of the year and, at the end of the party, a couple of gentlemen have to escort their companion home because he is too drunk to ride his horse. On the way they pass through a Hindu temple and the drunkard desecrates the statue in the middle of a collective prayer. The monks take revenge by leaving him at the mercy of the silver man and his two friends have to strive to the point of madness to get him out of such a mess.
The pagan gods are of stone and bronze and any attempt to treat them differently will receive fair punishment.
The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft
A young anthropologist discovers in a box a series of notes, letters and clippings that his uncle had gathered in life, all together with a sculpture of a strange figure between man, octopus and dragon.
He ends up feeling curious about the whole affair and, moved by scepticism at first and then by curiosity, decides to investigate further into the matter. Discover the existence of a sinister arcane cult, of octopus idol figurines, as well as several curious stories told by cultured and honest people.
With all this he knows that Cthulhu, the high priest of the Ancient Gods, is alive and awaits the time to regain his reign on Earth.
Death is a tempting idea, thinking about the horrors that are to come.
The Horla by Guy de Maupassant
A really chilling story written as a diary and loaded with metaphysical reflections. In it, the main character recounts the strange events that he lives in his home and that cease when he goes on a trip as well as how it gets worst each day. He feels that his body doesn’t belong to him, that he no longer has willpower and that there’s someone else who controls him at his whim. But instead of resigning and standing idly by, he decides to fight.
One of the stories that I have enjoyed the most. It questions the certainty we have of being at the top of the food chain.
The Spectrum of Oliver by Charles Nodier
I don’t know if the title is the correct one since I couldn’t find it in English.
In this story we have a ghost with a little touch of tenderness. When he dies he goes to see his beloved childhood friend to help him avenge his death and to protect and guide him through his life.
It highlights the bonds of true friendship, which don’t break after death and make friends help each other even when there seems to be no hope.
What was it? by Fitz James O’Brien
The news of a haunted house in one of the best areas of the city catches the attention of an innkeeper and her daring guests and, all together, they move to check to what extent the rumours are true. After months of scepticism and disbelief in which nothing unusual happens, one of the guests is attacked by an invisible being but, to the surprise of everyone (including the reader), he manages to catch that “ghost”.
The horror of having something you cannot see in your hands is palpable in this story; after all, if that being exists, there could be hundreds more. An original story with a touch of cruelty.
The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
What happens when you hypnotize a man on his deathbed? Is it possible to carry out this experiment without taking into account the physical state of the subject? Can a man die while hypnotized? Does the trance break after death or id death stopped thanks to hypnotism? All these questions bother the protagonist and he intends to answer them with his friend Valdemar, who is dying of tuberculosis. The result of this experiment may not be what he expected and that terror will pursue him for the rest of his days.
I suppose that if you’ve ever read Poe you may already know this story. And if not, it’s not my favorited, but it’s still highly recommended. A story of terror in which there are no ghosts or entities and terror underlies a somewhat more psychological point.
The Decapitated Chicken by Horacio Quiroga
A young married couple puts their happiness on begetting a child but, one after another, the four suffer tremors and fevers at an early age that leaves them completely “idiots” (textual words), without ability to ration, without intelligence, without instinct, without anything. The young parents suffer for it and their relationship suffers but they engender a beautiful healthy girl who saves them from misery. The children, abandoned and neglected, see a servant slaughter a chicken and that awakens in them a primary instinct that is governed by their blood thirst.
This is a chilling story in which monsters are not supernatural beings, but human beings. We create them, feed them and then we are surprised by the result.
The Open Window by Saki (H. H. Munro)
A short and shocking story whose terror underlies in the power of human suggestion. It is enough that someone tells a terrifying story so that the reality of the listener is affected by fantastic and unthinkable facts.
I can’t tell you much more about this story because, as I said, it’s very short and everything else would be a spoiler.
The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson is such a versatile writer. It is curious that many people know his works but few relate them to the same person. He is the author of books as different as Treasure Island or The Curious Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Well apart from such novels, he also devoted himself to writing horror stories.
This story deals with the life of two medical students, advantaged and assistants of the professor, who are in charge of collecting and preparing the corpses for the dissection classroom. The problem begins when Fettes realizes where those corpses come from and decides to get up to his neck in the matter. What happens with the dreadful secret that unites them when, years later, those two men meet again?
The Squaw by Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker is probably one of the worst-treated writers in literature. Everyone knows what is considered his masterpiece, but few know about the rest of his novels and stories. Given Dracula’s fame, I can’t understand why.
This story is nourished by the terror of knowing what is going to happen and not being able to do anything to avoid it nor to stop reading. It keeps you hooked even though it’s predictable and I think that’s the scariest thing.
A newly married couple goes with their traveling friend, n american, to a castle in Nuremberg. There, after a small accident, the American angers a cat who pursues him with a thirst for revenge. I won’t say more, but the story ends with an iron maiden.
I must admit that the cruelty to the animals in this story is something that I haven’t enjoy at all, I’m with the cat in this story.
The Eyes by Edith Wharton
I must confess that I am not sure that I’ve fully understood this story. If anyone has read it or thinks about doing it, I would appreciate it if we could comment on it.
A group of men meets at night in the house of their host Culwin. One night they decide to tell their own experiences with ghosts and the paranormal and Culwin tells the story of a pair of red eyes that visited him at night in his youth. The reason why those eyes appear to him, who they belong to and what they mean are things that he doesn’t know and that seem to be revealed at the end of the story.