The Rewind or Die series published by Unnerving are books after my own heart. Inspired by the rows of gaudy, gory and glorious horror VHS covers of the 1970s and 1980s, these books aim to be the literary equivalent of the video nasty and the lurid horror classics of the era. So, with my expectations set accordingly, I picked up a copy of The Midnight Exhibit Volume 2, featuring shorts by Kaaron Warren, Jessica McHugh and Declan Burnett and what I read was not at all what I was expecting.
As with all good horror anthologies of the era, The Midnight Exhibit Volume 2 has a fun wraparound story that ties these three shorts together, featuring a group of teens stumbling upon a mysterious video cassette. It is the stories they watch which are relayed to us, starting with Kaaron Warren’s “The History Thief”.
Rather than a pulpy horror pastiche of ’80s excess, “The History Thief” is a quiet, introspective story about a man who dies alone in his apartment. He has shied away from people his whole life and, as a result, his body is not found for some time, leaving his ghostly form to roam freely until he is put to rest. To elaborate further would spoil the story, which was a unique and interesting twist of the well-worn trope of ghosts and hauntings. The story was beautifully written and had a strange, dreamlike quality to it, told from the perspective of an engaging, albeit socially awkward main character. “The History Thief” has more in common with A24s 2017 movie A Ghost Story than it does with any video nasty I have ever seen and a tough act to follow for the next two stories.
Jessica McHugh’s “Bone-Dry” continued the trend by presenting a very different, very personal story that was perhaps my favorite of the book. Kurt is a troubled young man, and a recovering alcoholic, who has recently moved to a new town for a fresh start and to escape a traumatic event from his past. He meets a young doctor while out jogging and their chance encounter and the subsequent relationship evolves in unexpected ways when they discover what they believe to be human remains out on an isolated mountain. This short had such an intriguing set up and was so expertly paced that while the ending was hinted at early on, it was constantly going in directions I did not expect and kept me guessing until the final page.
The final story, “Lake People” was perhaps the closest to matching my expectations of the three shorts, as it opens with a group of rowdy drunken teens, and builds to a Texas Chainsaw Massacre style reveal, with some truly disturbing imagery. The story adopts a show don’t tell approach and is very character-driven, which worked very well and resulted in a memorable final chapter in a very strong book.
Each story in The Midnight Exhibit Volume 2 was memorable in its own unique way, and each deviated from the grindhouse style I thought the book was going to deliver, but each story will keep you guessing and get under your skin, resulting in a strong collection with a fun ’80s style wraparound for the classic horror anthology feel.