Learn the truth behind the mask of Hollywood in these 10 bizarre tales of dreams and dream weavers, movies and movie-makers, by some of the most respected fantasy writers of our time.
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By K.G. Orphanides on 25-03-15
A patchy selection of short fiction
I'm a great fan of short horror and weird fiction, of themed collections, and of many of the authors included in Hollywood Fantasies, but this collection of dark, movie-themed fiction is rather weak in places.
There most notable stand-out is the last story in the collection, "Dead Image" by David Morrell, which makes great use of fact and myth surrounding James Dean's legend to build an entirely new story that avoids the most predictable tropes and resolves in way that's both moving and chilling.
Opening tale "The Never-Ending Western Movie" by Robert Sheckley, written in 1976, is strong on atmosphere and posits a neatly dystopian concept in which western movies have become a kind of lethal reality TV.
"One For the Horrors" by David Schow is a regular in cinematic story collections, but while it appeals to my inner film buff, the sweetly romantic conclusion isn't entirely to my taste.
Harlan Ellison's "Laugh Track" and Robert Bloch's "The Movie People" both take a sideways look at the way the dead live on in recordings, with Bloch's being the stronger of the two and Ellison's being the wittier, although neither is exactly the best its author has to offer.
"Werewind" by Michael Reeves is chock-full of the atmosphere of early-80s Hollywood, and is extremely well read, but suffers from an ending that feels anti-climactic after the story's long and menacing build-up.
The collection's token golden-age SF stories, "Reality Unlimited" by Robert Silverberg and "The Movie Makers" by Henry Slesar, both show their age. Both are interesting in their ideas about where film technology would go but neither really satisfied. Slesar's story is probably the stronger of the two, but suffers from a damp squib of an ending, while Silverberg's tale is more vignette than fully-fledged story.
Ed Gorman's "Gunslinger" and John Jakes's "The Man Who Wanted To Be In The Movies" are among the shortest stories in the collection, which is arguably a good thing. Jakes's "be careful what you wish for" story is a relatively early example of modern-feeling urban fantasy, but its characters are (deliberately?) cringe-inducing and its twist ending is built on a weak pun. Meanwhile "Gunslinger", sitting towards the end of the book, is more thriller than horror and doesn't fit the overall tone of the collection.
If you're a fan of both film history and dark fiction, Hollywood Fantasies may still be worth your time, but "Dead Image" is the only really outstanding story here. While there are a few other entertaining entries, they're outweighed by the amount of filler.
The narration is of generally high quality, although Harlan Ellison's expressive reading of his own work may be something of an acquired taste - I'm a fan, but he's not the right narrator to choose if you want to drift off to sleep.