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The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree. And in this case, that tree is a very prolific and world-renowned ‘king’ of horror novels. But what Stephen King has thrown into the horror genre game his son, Joe Hill, author of NOS4A2, Locke & Key, and Strange Weather, has picked up and kept running with it. With Full Throttle Hill curates a collection of short stories that combine the spine-tingling suspense of a horror novel with what lies in the deepest recesses of the human mind. And of course, nothing is as it seems when it comes to Hill.
Wolves occupy the first class train car next to a businessman who uses the bones of mom-and-pop shops to be richer in ‘Wolverton Station’; drunken teenagers deface an ancient carousel ride in ‘Dark Carousel’; rich sadists hunt live beings on the other side of a Narnia-like door in ‘Faun’ — stories like these all boil down to how much would you sell your soul for? Humanity is full of disturbing characteristics, from letting our incessant hunger for one-upping your competition to filling the empty void of existence with material objects that don’t ever satisfy, which can put us on the road to our very own destruction.
Why can’t we be happy with what we have or be grateful for what’s already in front of us? It almost feels as if Hill is making a point about how low humanity has gotten. With a twist of horror, of course.
Hill dangles possibilities in front of us, luring us in with his charm because we have an urge to feel more than what we’re experiencing in the moment. With social media, we now have the attention of billions of other people in the world but if our photo doesn’t receive the most amount of ‘likes’, then we plunge into a sort of depression. We’ve become starved for attention though what it brings us is more emptiness and remains utterly meaningless. This is evident in ‘Twittering from the Circus of the Dead’, where a young girl live-tweets how her family is being massacred by zombies who pretended to be part of a circus act.
So, how do we live with ourselves? We formulate ideas and stories about our actions to justify them. In ‘All I Care About is You’, a young woman who is dissatisfied by her status in life latches onto an external object, in this case a robot, to make herself feel better about her sucky life. But the tides turn when it feeds the empty void within her, perhaps even revealing her true self. And then what? When you discover the ‘real’ you, how do you ever go back to who you were before? Especially when you’ve got blood on your hands?
Jealousy. Envy. Greed. These drive people to do things they normally wouldn’t do. We’re easily swayed by suggestions of how our lives could be different, if only. In ‘The Devil on the Staircase’, Hill encapsulates all of these emotions into an experimental structure of his writings. It resembles a visual staircase going up and down, leading the reader through the inner workings of a young Italian man who wants what he can’t have, the love of his cousin. The torment of being led to hell or heaven is fascinating, and the man makes his choice to go down to hell between his killings to meet the son of the devil, who only has gifts to offer.
In the end, Hill accomplishes quite a bit with Full Throttle, leading readers through the muck of humanity. The only question that remains is, what can we do about it? And like his father, he even takes a few shots at President Trump. The most intriguing story pokes at the inner workings of the American business class, yet delivers an ending worthy of the old EC Comics Hill clearly was a fan of as a kid. Never forget he was actually in the first Creepshow movie and writes for the new anthology series on Shudder. But with King and Hill both encouraging us to take a closer look at our own dark sides and shadows, maybe there’s hope for the rest of the human family after all.