Terry M. West
Pleasant Storm Entertainment
When I start to get a little weary or burnt out by reviewing titles in the Horror genre, I realise that I need to go back to my roots, back to the places in the genre that pulled me into it in the first place; the little corners and niches that I enjoy above all. There are a few, but the one that calls to the most, the loudest, the most insidiously is Weird Horror, that little place where things get strange. It’s the purview of masters of the subgenre like Jonathan Raab, Matthew M. Bartlett, Sean M. Thompson, the Orford Parish writers, and many other authors who deserve to be more widely-read and celebrated. It’s a place where conspiracy theories run rampant and become true; where Goatmen lurk in the corner of your eye, and film directors make cult movies that don’t make sense in between the static; and where the phrase ‘flag-based horror’ becomes a disturbing reality. It speaks to me at some base, fundamental level, and I’m always eager to discover new authors to add to my reading pile.
As such, I was delighted to come across author Terry M. West and his novella Transfer, which seemed exactly what I needed to read at the time: the employees of a video transfer and media store start to be haunted by a weird video clip that appears on all their computers. What at first appears to be some weird arthouse film becomes something far more sinister and dangerous as time goes on. What exactly is the nature of the ‘Green Room’ and its occupant The Screamer? The back-cover blurb sounded incredible, and it was accompanied by a brilliant piece of cover art that blends pixelated background art and font with static-y VHS-style imagery that hints at the horrors to be unleashed on the unsuspecting employers of Big Carl’s Video Transfer and Media Services.
It’s obvious from the novella’s opening that Big Carl’s is something of a laidback service, focusing on transferring VHS and Betamax tapes to digital and ensuring the original tapes don’t get chewed up by the machinery, as well as basic editing and colour correction on stuff like wedding footage. It’s skilled work but not always that complex, which allows employees Nick and Howie plenty of time to bullshit and goof around in general, sparring verbally and bemoaning life and the state of the planet in general. But during a long night shift editing old video footage, they begin to see an old .avi file that won’t go away no matter how many times they try and delete it. It’s corrupted, but the footage they can see is creepy as hell, with the rotting interior of a house or workplace, and a cast of skeletal, diseased-looking actors. At first it seems like a strange, locally-shot horror film, maybe one shot by their co-workers, but they deny all knowledge of it.
As the night shifts continue, it becomes apparent that these anonymous film clips are inherently wrong, products of some twisted reality out of sync with our own. The clips continue to delete themselves, and reject any attempt to be edited, replayed or even recorded on other equipment. The Screamer, the monster that haunts the clips, is a deeply sinister creature whose depictions are a true credit to West as a writer; it’s been a very long time since I’ve come across a creature so primal and so utterly inhuman and *wrong* in concept, and I still get chills thinking about it now, having finished the novella a few days ago. In addition, the bizarre nature of the clips and their contents lend themselves perfectly to Weird Horror as a genre; there’s something inherently unsettling about them, and West perfectly captures in writing the experience of watching an old, distorted and static-laced VHS tape or discarded piece of film. There’s also an intriguing subtext about the nature of this particular trope – the haunted videotape or film; they seem to exert an unnatural force on their viewers, ensuring that they will watch them despite the inevitable danger that will result, something that becomes akin to an addiction to Nick and Howie. It’s a fascinating idea that really needs to be explored in more detail; perhaps Mr West will do so if there happens to be a sequel or follow-up of some kind.
I won’t go into the last third of the story to avoid spoilers, but suffice to say that the terrifying weirdness continues, and nothing good comes of the two men’s obsession with the Green Room clips and the iconic Screamer. There’s a stomach-churning ending that both satisfies the reader and leaves things open for further developments, West sticking the landing in a way that so many horror authors are unable to achieve. The story itself is brilliant, aided by West’s fervently twisted imagination, as well as an excellent pair of characters in Nick and Howie. There’s a paternal relationship between bitter, fifty year old Howie and sarcastic millennial Nick, and despite the short length of Transfer, both emerge as flawed but three-dimensional and engaging characters; that in turn helps to ground the story and therefore make the inherent weirdness of the latter half of the story even more disturbing and incomprehensible. These are characters we are engaged with and care about, not two cardboard cut-outs that can be disposed of by the author without the reader caring. In addition, the Green Room and the Screamer are brilliant and imaginative creations, especially the latter; West’s integration of Edvard Munch’s most famous painting into the novella is genuinely inspired, deftly blending an iconic and unsettling 19th Century image with modern-day creepypasta and jump scare aesthetics.
Transfer is an absolutely brilliant example of Weird Horror, and I’d easily rank it up alongside genre classics like Jonathan Raab’s Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI or Farmington Correctional by Sean M. Thompson. It’s a novella that’s weird to the core – intense, unsettling, bizarre and with an overarching theme that left me deeply unsettled by the time that I had finished it. West is a hugely talented author in possession of a twisted and inventively weird imagination, and I look forward to diving into some of his other titles; if they show even a fraction of the originality and quality of Transfer then I know that I’ll be guaranteed a good read.