A BOTANICAL NIGHTMARE: SIX SUCCULENT TALES OF VAMPIRIC VEGETATION edited by Tom English, is an anthology of classic horror stories published by Dead Letter Press. As the subtitle suggests, each story is themed around bloodthirsty plants. With publication dates ranging from 1881 to 1919, the tales complement each other nicely. Adventure, horror, drama and romance are all masterfully displayed across these pages. “But, plants aren’t scary,” you might be saying. Read any of the offerings within, and see if your mind isn’t changed. Most of the characters in these tales start off thinking the same thing, leading them to walk unaware into mortal peril sprouting around them. If pressed, I’d choose “The Purple Terror”, “The Pavilion” and “The Sumach” as my favorites, but all are quite good. I had so much fun reading this anthology; it receives my highest possible recommendation.
1. “The Man-Eating Tree” by Phil Robinson (1881) – A man encounters a large carnivorous tree that attempts to grab and consume anything that passes into its circle of influence.
2. “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” by H.G. Wells (1894) – A man who desires more excitement in his life, believes something special will happen on the same day he ends up buying some orchids. One is exceedingly ugly and looks to be in bad shape, yet he’s intrigued by it. Claimed to have been recovered from beneath the body of the man who must have died procuring it, the hideous orchid eventually blossoms violently into life.
3. “The Story of The Grey House” by E. & H. Heron (1898) – Legendary occult detective, Flaxman Low investigates the inexplicable hanging deaths that have often occurred at The Grey House. Something sinister and unnatural seems to be at the root of these murders.
4. “The Purple Terror” by Fred M. White (1899) – Lieutenant Will Scarlett, tasked to deliver an important letter to another military official in Puerto Rico, becomes distracted by the flower a beautiful Cuban girl was wearing. He realizes it’s undocking in the field of Botany. The girl’s jealous boyfriend offers to take Scarlett and his party to the remote location in the forest where the flower blooms. Although he doesn’t trust the guide, he can’t pass up the chance at such a rare find. What follows is a fantastic weird tale of adventure and terror. This story was my favorite story in the book.
5. “The Pavilion” by E. Nesbit (1915) – Amelia is a plain girl, whose best friend Ernestine is a stunning beauty who enchants all the young men she meets. Two such men, staying at the same house as the girls, challenge each other to split the hours of the night sleeping in the creeper vine covered pavilion that has a dreadful history. Supposedly, anyone who spends the night within its confines is found dead the next day. This well written story has strong character development, increasing the fear for how things will ultimately turn out for them.
6. “The Sumach” by Ulric Daubeny (1919) – A woman becomes fascinated with a strange sumach tree whose leaves are prematurely red. Sitting between branches of the tree, she drifts off to sleep and has terrible nightmares. The explanation behind the origin of this vile tree is absolutely brilliant.
The amazing artwork for A BOTANICAL NIGHTMARE was created by Allen Koszowski.
Reviewed by Matt Cowan