Tales from the Crust: An Anthology of Pizza Horror
Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing | Release Date: August 27, 2019 | Pages: 339
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pizza horror. There’s a subgenre I bet you didn’t know existed! And maybe it didn’t, not until David James Keaton and Max Booth III willed it into being with their collaboration in editing the twenty-six stories, plus and intro and afterword that take a deep dive into their own realms of pizza horror, for Tales from the Crust. Either way, pizza horror is a thing now — the genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back, to the point that several other magazines and anthologies open for submission have, hilariously, had to make note that they are not accepting pizza horror stories.
One might reasonably wonder just how much variety there could be in such a singularly defined subgenre, but Tales from the Crust has a surprising amount of elasticity to it. Granted, the idea itself is a bit cheesy, but there’s also plenty of meat on these stories (hey, see what I did there?!). We get stories about a delivery boy stalking a favorite customer, a couple of eerie cults, some cosmic horror, a frat boy hazing gone awry, a creature feature, a post-apocalyptic narrative, and even a horror riff on the old porno staple of a woman answering the door naked and needing a bit more sausage than her pizza pie can provide. Some of these stories are tasty little Totino’s pizza roll-sized offerings, while others offer up a hearty California Pizza Kitchen-style variety.
Keaton, co-editor and brainchild behind this deep dish anthology, and Steve Gillies get the ball rolling right off the bat in their brief introduction. If you’re not the type to read a book’s introduction, well, first of all, shame on you! You can make up for that bad habit here, because you absolutely have to read this introduction in order to understand the flavor of this anthology and prepare yourself for what’s to come. It’s a really funny intro, with Keaton talking about everything from how awful pizza in California is to all the crap he and Booth had to deal with during their submissions period. It’s funny stuff! …until it isn’t. The humor stops when Keaton shares a letter he received from Steve Gillies and it gets very, very creepy... If you want to know what, exactly, pizza horror can be, you have to read this intro. It is hands-down the best introduction I’ve ever read.
Cody Goodfellow launches the antho proper in style with “The Vegan Wendigo,” and Jessica McHugh delivers a fun one about a frat boy hazing that goes terribly, and absolutely justifiably, wrong in “When the Moon Hits Your Eye.” Craig Wallwork’s “Rosemary and Time” is an early standout, though, involving a locked room mystery, a hired killer, the secrets hidden in a homemade pizza pie, and physics. How have I not heard of Wallwork and what the hell else has he written, cause I need more! This is an awesome introduction to his work and the type of story that instantly put him on my watch list.
If you at all found yourself craving a pizza during your own reading of Tales from the Crust, Michael Paul Gonzalez is likely to strangle that urge to death in the womb. His story, “Upper Crust,” is, hands-down, the most repulsive and disgusting story in the whole of Tales from the Crust. It’s is freaking gross, and I found myself reaching for a barf bag more than once. I loved it! This one stars...well, I won’t ruin the surprise, but some readers will love it and others will protest and want to burn this book. It involves an initiate to a secret society and an unholy Edward Lee-like conglomeration of pizza recipes. Fair warning: do not read this story while you eat!
As I said earlier, there’s a surprising amount of elasticity to this anthology but I have to applaud Tim Lieder and Joshua Chaplinsky in particular for delivering two of the most out-of-the-box ideas here. Lieder presents his fictional story, “Introduction to ‘Let’s Kill the Pizza Guy’: The Love Poems of Yael Friedman Concerning Hadassah Herz,” as a scholarly examination of the most popular of Yael Friedman’s creative non-fiction poems and her affair with Hadassah Herz, which saw the murder of three delivery boys. It’s a neat story with a really unique presentation, tonally reminiscent of Marisha Pessl’s Night Film and the documentarian accounts in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. If you liked those books, odds are you’ll dig Lieder’s work here. Chaplinsky, meanwhile, forgoes your typical narrative structure and instead serves up an actual freaking menu for the horror-inspired Cenobio Pizzeria, which serves up pies like The Kreuger and The Stuff. “Enter a new realm of culinary indulgence. We have such sights to show you.” This was a quick and creative detour away from your typical story and is a nice little palette cleanser.
James Newman and Desmond Reddick deliver one heck of a romp in “30 Minutes or Less...or Else!” Delivery man Keegan tries to beat the clock on his pizza delivery only to end up kidnapped by cultists! This is a wicked bit of fun that reminded me a bit of Newman’s and Adam Howe’s Scapegoat, one of the most flat-out entertaining books I read last year. I had a lot of fun with this one, and it felt like a bit of a spiritual successor to that particular novel, so definitely a good time here. Also highly entertaining was Matthew Bartlett’s “The Black Cheese,” about a new microwavable pizza that looks and smells funny, but tastes absolutely incredible. The people who eat it are changed forever! I’ll leave it up to you read it and find out how, though.
Keaton and Booth close out the anthology with their post-apocalyptic “Pizza Party Friday!” The last two men on earth are on a quest to make one last perfect pizza before they die of radiation poisoning. It’s a pretty straight-forward plot and humorous, too, but the authors do a nice job giving the story a little twist, crinkling things a bit further with their non-linear narrative structure. Good stuff!
Nathan Rabin’s Afterword is absolutely not to be missed. Again, like the introduction, if you skip it you’re missing out one hell of a story. Rather than deliver a straight-forward afterword extolling the virtues of pizza cuisine and how great all these authors are, Rabin tells us about the true history of “The Violent and Ugly Death of the Noid.” Those of us who were around in the 80s will recall The Noid as Domino’s villainous mascot who tried to stop delivery drivers from getting orders delivered in thirty minutes or less. What you may not know is that the Noid was based on a real-life and very controversial pitchman who roamed the streets murdering delivery boys (and eventually delivery girls, dogs, and children). OK, so none of this actually based on a true story, but it is an interesting comic book-like what if?, and Rabin goes all in, creating a real, albeit fictitious, Noid that is equal parts The Joker and The Punisher, engaged in a war on pizza delivery drivers. It’s a brutal and hilarious story recounting the topography of one’s man rise and fall in the criminal empire of pizza delivery. If you remember the Noid from way back when and thought it needed way more Scarface, Rabin’s got you covered.
Interestingly enough, there’s actually another story in Tales from the Crust partly inspired by the Noid. Rather than Avoid the Noid, Tony McMillen’s “Elude the Snood,” is actually based on a real-life event involving a mentally ill man taking a pizza shop hostage in retaliation for the chain’s advertisements, which he viewed as a personal attack on him. It’s a really interesting story, both the sad real-life incident and McMillen’s fictional account which takes things a bit further as he leans hard into the Illuminati-like conspiracy theory that leads Drederick Fitzgerald Snood to take some rather aggressive steps to halt Dicey Slice’s ad campaign.
As I said earlier, Tales from the Crust has a surprising amount of elasticity, but also a fair share of originality. With nearly thirty stories, once all is said and done, there’s plenty to chew on here and a wide array of tropes to suit any particular taste. As with any anthology, I liked some stories better than others, although I don’t believe there’s any I would single out here as being bad. It’s pizza horror, man! C’mon! You know that old line about pizza being like sex? Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty damn good. Whether you like thin crust or deep dish, there’s plenty of saucy deliciousness to consume here. Go grab a slice and dig in!