Hellzapalooza is a unique book/anthology hybrid about a concert in the heart of Ozark country, Missouri that has hell-raising (pun intended) consequences. I have to admit, when Mark Groves, one of the authors and editors of the book contacted me for a review, I did not have high expectations. Horror fiction, like horror cinema, has a tendency to focus on quantity over quality. When I saw that the book was over 400 pages long, I couldn’t help bemoaning what I had gotten myself into. However, Hellzapalooza far exceeded my expectations. The storyline is solid, characters are well developed, and there’s plenty of gore and sex thrown in the mix to keep horror enthusiasts turning the pages.
The overarching storyline of Hellzapalooza is a classic good versus evil story, which also makes it very predictable. This is not to say that it isn’t a good story, but you will not be left shaking your head at the end thinking, “Wow, I did not see that one coming.” Part I lends itself more to character development, which makes it more intriguing but after that the story is pretty straightforward. The good guy (or girls in this case) wins, the bad guy loses, and most of the people live happily ever after. That said; some of the short stories had startling twists that made you question just what was going on. I really wanted to give this book a better rating, despite it ds predictability but what really held be back were the short stories. Some of the short stories contradicted themselves or each other. In Freshwater Dagon, Sheila and Heather become Sheila and Tonya less than half a page later. Another example involves Fiona (a main character) who is doing some fortune-telling. In one story, she is in downtown Isabella charging $25 and in another, she is on the concert grounds charging $20. I also questioned why, in The Hunt, a little boy would be calling his mother at 5:45a.m. saying that he had just been fishing all day when any small child would be in bed at that time. Full disclosure: the copy that I was given to review was not the final proof so these errors may have been caught before going to press. Furthermore, I’m not sure that the overall story was well-served by the short stories. With a couple of exceptions, the short stories were not as well written as the overall story and one was just painful-to-read bad. Although there was a purpose to them in the end, the tie-in was weak except for demonstrating that other evil things were happening in the area at the same time as the concert. The evil characters from the short stories return but you’re left wondering what happened to the not-evil characters, if they survived. Where’s Orrin from All You Need is Love, or Jason in Fertile Ground? It seems like they would tie into the story but you never hear from them again.
Now on to the good points. I really do like the general storyline. It may seem a little corny but it’s definitely original. A big name concert promoter comes from the city to build a huge arena for an obnoxious concert and bad things start happening. Not only that, but the author does a good job of weaving in events from the past, setting the stage for a deeper understanding of what is happening in the present. If you’re from a rural area, like myself, you can appreciate the reactions and attitudes of the townspeople as well as the accuracy with which the surroundings are described. The authors actually went to Theodosia and Isabella in Missouri and their knowledge of that area comes out in the book as a very well developed setting. One of the shining elements of this book is the character development. The author of the main storyline has carefully thought out these characters and they come out extremely well-rounded. I clearly saw Fiona as an angsty teenager and Edna as a craggly old woman with a soft spot. Ophie was probably my favorite and she’s dead most of the time, but as a reader, you feel like she’s alive in the story. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book despite its shortcomings. If you’re looking for a book with plenty of evil, sex, gore, and a happy ending, you don’t want to pass this up.