Recently, Amazon got together six horror writers that you’ve likely heard of and tasked them with writing short stories about monsters. The collection is called “Creature Feature.” And, in anticipation of Halloween, I figured it would be fun to go over each of the books in the set individually throughout the month. Then, we’ll see which one is the best of the bunch.
We’ll be going over them in the order they’re presented, finishing with…
“Big Bad” by Chandler Baker
“Big Bad” made for an interesting end to the Creature Feature collection. It’s the only story in it that fits within any of my preconceived expectations. It’s about a werewolf. The werewolf follows normal horror werewolf rules (as opposed to paranormal werewolf rules), and the story has a lot of gore and tense moments in it.
But it’s also not just a story about werewolves. Of all of these, it’s the most emotionally complex, only somewhat matched by “The Pram,” and for similar reasons. We get a surprisingly grounded and complicated depiction of a marriage. And, more specifically, a marriage utterly dissolving from both mundane and supernatural issues. The story is basically split into two sections, one with a lot of character development, arguments, and foreshadowing, and then arrives the monster story. And I liked the werewolf stuff more, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without all that setup. “Big Bad” is not scary—but it does keep one turning pages.
That said, on the path to the well-done stuff, we get a few odd choices. A few lines that I’m not even sure of the purpose of. None of them are ever mentioned again, play back into the plot, or even seem to want to communicate anything else about the characters. There’s an allusion to a college having a statue removed. An off-hand remark that seems to be uncritically referencing a stereotype. And a single dialogue exchange that suggests one of the child characters is questioning their gender. But again, none of this reincorporates anywhere.
And going more macro with the analysis, I’m maybe just missing the whole theme of “Big Bad.” I’m not advocating for all stories to have to have a thesis statement but between this and “It Waits in the Woods,” I’m wondering if the short story length prevented these stories from reaching whatever their full potential would’ve been. Like, yes, I get the idea of turning into a werewolf being a metaphor for the simmering rage that will result in a divorce. I get the powerful horror narrative potential of one parent feeling like the “big bad” for having to be the one to discipline a child. The ending also suggests a cycle of trauma between parent and child that also demands a few moments of thought. And, going even further, there may be some feminist critiques mixed in that I missed—certainly, men underestimate other people to devastating results. But the myriad puzzle pieces are not cohesively presented enough for me to make anything approaching a conclusion. It’s a lot of ideas presented without really being strung together.
What I’m saying is the trees surpass the forest here. There are several very good scenes in “Big Bad.” One where a bigger man exploits social niceties to essentially break into a house was genuinely distressing. The inclusion of normal wolves alongside werewolves was an inspired choice. And, when the story was finally operating on all supernatural cylinders, “Big Bad” felt right out of a great thriller. But there are enough dropped plotlines and unexplored aspects to this story that I don’t blame anyone for feeling like it didn’t quite pay off all of its potential. This collection could’ve ended on a lot worse of a note, but it certainly could’ve been better.
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