Prime Evil edited by Douglas Winter, containing the following stories (1988):
The Night Flier by Stephen King: One of King’s five or six worst short pieces (and it’s a long short piece, by the way) seems to have been written solely for the central image. What a terrible, dumb, illogical story otherwise.
Having a Woman at Lunch by Paul Hazel: A weak bit of misogynistic whimsy from someone whom Winter notes has never written a horror short story before. It’s like a bad EC Comics horror short, right down to the misogyny, but at least EC could defend itself by noting the time it existed.
The Blood Kiss by Dennis Etchison: Solid bit of Hollywood weird from Etchison, though with nothing particularly scary in sight.
Coming to Grief by Clive Barker: A fairly gentle Barker piece about loss and childhood fears.
Food by Thomas Tessier: Slight but enjoyable gross-out.
The Great God Pan by M. John Harrison: Subtle and elliptical novella about the aftermath of some sort of supernatural event that’s never fully explained; the connection to the great Arthur Machen story of the same name seems to me to be so faint as to be perhaps problematic.
Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity by David Morrell: Brilliant horror piece from a writer generally known for his thrillers (and for creating John Rambo). Painting and secrets and the danger of seeing what cannot be unseen.
The Juniper Tree by Peter Straub: Disturbing tale of childhood sexual abuse could use a stronger, or at least more direct, conclusion, but still effective.
Spinning Tales with the Dead by Charles L. Grant: A representative bit of elusive, elliptical dark fantasy from Grant.
Alice’s Last Adventure by Thomas Ligotti: Great piece from Ligotti, though in some ways it reminds me more of Ramsey Campbell than Ligotti in terms of subject matter and the treatment thereof.
Next Time You’ll Know Me by Ramsey Campbell: A copy-editing mistake screws up some of the humour of the story, though it’s still a droll (though non-frightening) bit of business.
The Pool by Whitley Strieber: Blech. Terrible stuff.
By Reason of Darkness by Jack Cady : Viet Nam horror evokes Conrad and Apocalypse Now in equal measure; its effect is weakened by an overly long climax when more development of events ‘In Country’ would have been far more welcome.
Beginning in the late 1970’s, horror fiction seemed to cough up at least one attempt at a genre-defining/re-defining original anthology every decade or so. Notable entries in this accidental enterprise include Ramsey Campbell’s excellent New Terrors, Kirby McCauley’s Dark Forces, and Al Sarrantonio’s 999.
Douglas Winter seems to have been going for the same thing with Prime Evil, though it’s a much shorter anthology than any of those mentioned above. And it’s also a bit underwhelming. There are good stories included here, the best being David Morrell’s terrific novella about painting, madness, and the supernatural. In the end, though, Prime Evil is an interesting, deeply flawed snapshot of some of what horror fiction was up to in the late 1980’s. Lightly recommended.