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Book Review: Lullabies From Hell

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Previously on Zombos Closet of Horror:

When last we saw Iloz Zoc, Zombos, and Chef Machiavelli, they were rushing down the stairs toward the kitchen, It was there that Chef Machiavelli, in the course of preparing dinner — to his horror! — found another large hole in the pantry. What is causing these holes? Where is the exterminator that was summoned hours before? Will Glenor Glenda the maid ever make up her mind? And will Chef Machiavelli decide to roast, bake, or saute the evening meal? Stay tuned for these thrilling answers and more!

ChapTer One: The Phantoms Menacing From the 8th Dimension

"What's that watermelon doing on the windowsill?" asked Zombos, as he bounded down the stairs.

"It's resting on top of my copy of Hideshi Hino's Lullabies From Hell," I said.

Zombos stopped short and looked at me. "What is your copy of Lullabies From Hell doing on the windowsill?" he asked.

"It's resting under the watermelon," I answered.

"Oh, I see." He continued bounding down the stairs. Simple answers always worked best for Zombos.

Lullabies from hellHideshi Hino's Lullabies From Hell is an essential tankōbon in any horror-head's manga library. Mr. Hino is a queer duck, to be sure, and often incorporates much of his personal experience into his bizarre, often disturbing stories. According to an interview he gave for The Comics Journal, it was after reading Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man that he felt the need to combine horror with a sense of fairy tale. This led him to mix monstrous birth defects, other-worldly transmogrifications, and hideous characters with Japanese folktales, producing unique, creepy, and culture-transcending stories of terror.

There is a whimsical grotesqueness in Mr. Hino's artwork, as he fills his panels with people with oversized, misshapen heads staring madly at the reader with bulging, blood-shot orbs filled with large zigzagging veins. All is definitely not right in his world, as body parts, disgusting creatures, blood and corruption — both physical and psychological — splash amid more normal scenes of home, work and play.

In the opening story, A Lullaby from Hell, he introduces himself as a mangaka (manga author) who is obsessed with those terrible, unmentioned things peeking from just below the surface of normalcy. He says his fascination with horror came at an early age, nurtured by a demented mother who tormented him, a father he rarely saw, who worked at the factory right behind his house, and his abusive "horrible Yakusa" brother.

Soon, as things, both living and dead, bled into one another in his mind, he began to collect their parts in big glass jars that he would stare at and admire for hours on end. And while he stared, he dreamed of monsters and demons from hell that would, at his bidding, devour and torture people, especially those that abused him. After being humiliated and abused once too many, he discovers a unique power he has: the ability to, with his drawings, kill people. And not just kill them, but mangle them, mash them, and do very nasty things to them. All because he could will it to be so. And I bet you thought Stephen King was odd.

In the next story, Unusual FetusMy Baby, once again our horror writer is dreaming that which should not be dreamed. He imagines his soon-to-be-born son as a "grotesque lizard" thing. Well, this is a horror story after all, and often we get what we wish for, don't we? In this nasty tale of phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny gone haywire, his son is born a lizard-like thing with an unusual appetite that is not satisfied with baby formula. For a while, our horror writer uses this unfortunate event to his advantage, and successfully sells his impossible story. But fate always intervenes, and soon what is abnormal for him is normal for all.

Train of Terror begins with three children happily returning from a day trip to visit relatives. Soon their laughter turns to cries of terror as they meet the boogeyman (in this case, a demonic mountain goblin perhaps?), and their train enters a dark tunnel. Exiting the tunnel on the other side, only they remain unchanged. Their fellow passengers now have dark, mask-like expressions, and pupil-less eyes!

In the grand tradition of Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, our hapless children are alienated and hunted, with no one believing their strange accusations. One boy even suspects his parents of being different and wonders what is the thing in the large sack they are burying late one night? He is soon on the run, evading hordes of dark, pupil-less classmates and adults who want to cause him serious bodily harm. In a unique twist, we are left with a happy ending, but for how long?

Now picture if you will, Morticia Addams sitting by a nice cozy fire, cups of hot and frothy, mashed eye-of-yak spiked cocoa steaming away, and Wednesday and Pugsley curled up around her like some lamenting felines as she reads the fairytale, Zoroku's Strange Disease. Never has a children's story conveyed such purulent corruption in it's narrative and textured artwork. How wonderful!

Zoroku, the titular (hehe, I always find that word funny) hero of our story, yearns to draw colorful pictures, but the evil villagers make fun of him… and his condition. It seems that a little rash has turned to a boil, and a boil to many, and many to something much much worse. Poor Zoroku becomes covered with a "colorful purulence," and the villagers and villagers' children drive him away to solitude, deep into the forest by a strange lake. Unfortunately for him, the purulence gives off an odor that would curl paint, and his boils ooze so badly, maggots infest them in the hundreds. My, what a quaint Brothers Grimm fairytale kind of picture, don't you think? But there is a happy ending. Well, happy for a horror story kind of fairytale, that is. You simply must read it to find out.

Just as we hit the bottom step, the front doorbell rang. "Oh, bother! Now what?"

I opened the door. Steve Brown, the UPS delivery person was standing before me, smiling from ear to ear. He thrust that annoying electronic signing gadget they all carry into my face. I took it and hurriedly signed for the package.

"I suppose Pretorious let you in again," I said, handing the gadget back to him.

"Your gardener–

"Grounds keeper."

"He wasn't around. Besides, your front gate is wide open. There's an exterminator's van blocking the road though. I think I crushed some bushes when I drove across the lawn." Steve Brown took the gadget and handed over the package. It was from Fox Home Entertainment. Finally, my copies of Night Watch and the unrated The Hills Have Eyes had arrived! I was so looking forward to reviewing them.

I looked past him and saw the exterminator's van. Odd. Now where had the exterminator gotten off too? Zombos called from the kitchen.

"You have bug problems?" asked Steve Brown. "Maybe I can help."

"Thank you, but I hardly think that–" Chef Machiavelli tugged at my arm, yelling something in Italian. "I really must go. Thank you." I closed the front door and hurried to the kitchen. Zombos was standing at the door to the pantry. "Have a look, will you," he said.

"I'd rather not." I said. "The hole in your closet was enough for me. I think this job is more suited to a professional."

"Looks like you got a class 5 interdimensional rift going on here," said Steve Brown. He was pointing his gadget at the pantry door. "Yes, definitely. My tri-corder indicates a breach at the 8th dimension." He had followed us to the kitchen.

Zombos and I stared at him. Chef Machiavelli stared at us. Steve Brown looked up. "Well, when we say we ship anywhere, we do mean anywhere."

And with those words, our adventure along the 8th dimension began.

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