Edited by Victor Heck

DarkTales Publications / 170 pages / 1st edition (July 1, 1999)

ISBN: 0967202906

It seems so soon to impose another LD rating, but — darn it! — The Psycho Ward earned it, fair and square. This is one for all the squeamish out there. For gore and torture, I must slap an NC-17 on this first volume of The Asylum series. That done, let’s get on to the good stuff.

If you like your horror dark and disturbing, The Psycho Ward is going to be a book after your own heart (and the inmates will be wanting a piece of it, too). These short stories and poems offer a taste of the best of the new blood infusing the genre. This is a perfect book to use to smack the next “expert” who says horror is a dead form — just the right heft and flexibility.

Let’s go straight to the most unnerving tale in the book — one of the most disturbing ever, really. From editor Victor Heck comes the story of a textbook look at the birth and growth of a serial killer. Remember how neat and sterile textbooks are, because “It’s a Texture Thing” is as far from that description as you could imagine. You may wish you were back in that pristine environment when you see how Stewart goes about satisfying his curiosity about what is powering the living things around him. You’ll never allow tin snips in your toolbox again.

For one of those short, sharp jabs to the kidneys, Steve Savile starts the collection off with a nasty glimpse into the depths of madness with “Memories In Glass.” Like the best dark realism, the scare is in the plausibility. No matter how repulsive and sick the deed, chances are someone has performed it. Someone like Julie, in the uncomfortably realistic “Jewels,” by Brett A. Savory.

It isn’t called The Psycho Ward for nothing. In many of the selections it is difficult to be certain of what is reality and what is delusion. Does the nightmarish clinic in “Child Jar” exist anywhere but in the mind of the tormented woman? Who or what is Nix in the unnerving “The Machinery of the Night”? Whether you find the answer or not, you just hope he never finds you. This chiller from Douglas Clegg should be remembered when nomination time rolls around. Keep an eye out for Sephera Giron, too — if not for the intense “Release,” then for her next creation.

Like the terrors that fill the minds of the inmates, the “good parts” of The Psycho Ward are too many to name individually. Stalkers, sociopaths, psychos, a twisted poet — every aspect of madness is taken out, examined, and preserved for future study and for posterity.

When you look at the world around you and wonder what is going on, here are some clues for you. It will horrify and shock the sound of mind. For those who have ever doubted their own sanity, it may be just a bit too close.