Crucifixion Press Aims High With The Sci-fi/Horror Anthology 'Shoot The Devil II: Dark Matter'

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As the infamous tagline for Ridley Scott’s 1979’s classic film Alien noted, ‘In Space No One Can Hear You Scream’, and audiences ever since have been drawn to the devilish combination of science fiction and horror. Movies such as the Alien franchise (and, by extension, the Predator movies), Event Horizon, Cube, Starship Troopers, Dark City, Splice, and even Jordan Peele’s Nope have bequeathed a wealth of distinctly disturbing futurist visions, yet literary icons including H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson were mixing the two elements into hybrid concoctions decades before Xenomorphs first burst onto the silver screen.

Following in that pulp tradition and hot on the heels of their successful 2022 multi-author anthology Shoot The Devil, Crucifixion Press aims high with a sequel certain to please fans of both genres in Shoot The Devil II: Dark Matter. As with its preceding volume, the stories here share a goal of reintroducing hopefulness and two-fisted action into the oft-nihilist and navel-gazing realm of modern horror fiction, and the results provide as many thought-provoking thrills as spine-tingling chills.

When the chaplain to a deep space heavy cruiser volunteers to join the exploratory crew searching through a demon-haunted alien vessel, all Hell literally breaks loose Frank B. Luke’s superb volume opener, ‘A Ship Without A Sail’. Beginning with the fired-up concept of Judas Iscariot being a nigh-immortal ‘enforcer’ for a futuristic Catholic Church, Richard Paolinelli’s ‘In The Place Called Har-Mageddon’ sends the disgraced disciple to a human colony on Mars, where an outbreak of possession may be led by Lucifer in the guise of the planet’s corrupt bishop. Returning Shoot The Devil alum L. Jagi Lamplighter brings another historically-infused offering to the fore with her tale of a centuries-old pope imprisoned on The Red Planet who must find the guile to combat a demon in ‘Better Than Being A Leopard’.

Told from the perspective of the commander from a wolfish species called The Leen forced into an unwilling alliance with humans against a sentient, techno-organic enemy known as The Rot, Aaron Van Treeck’s gruesome ‘The Last War’ is fondly reminiscent of the aforementioned Event Horizon. Filled with the heart-pounding militant energy of James Cameron’s Aliens, T.J. Marquis’ ‘Demon Bridge’ sees a squad of elite soldiers engaging a cult of sinister clones. More cultists rear their collective heads in ‘The Cleansing of Lethe’ by N.R. LaPoint, a full-throttle action piece centering on crusaders in the far future battling The Adversary’s forces. And Declan Finn’s ‘Mark of Kane’ concludes the book with a bang when a gun-toting telepath unwittingly uncovers a demon’s plot to infest a space station.

The table of contents assembled by editor Eric Postma for Shoot The Devil II is uniformly stronger than that of its predecessor. There’s more adventure, intensity and scares to be had and, appropriate for a book with science fiction influences, vaster intellectual scope. When they work, the ideas at play exhibit top-tier inventiveness; true to its intent as a showcase of faith-based genre entertainment, religion plays an integral part in every offering, and while some may consider the fusion of advanced science and spirituality the ideological equivalent of oil and water, the authors handle the union with an ingenuity that defies any potential audience doubtfulness. Plenty of word-length leg room allows each writer to stretch their creative muscles, and the ensuing tales are delightfully meaty as a result.

If the collection has a drawback, it’s that a sameness exists to most of Dark Matter. The theme, though broadly defined, in execution becomes increasingly monotonous; for all its testosterone-fueled military sci-fi antics, several contributions exhibit virtually identical plots: a group of soldiers/astronauts/researchers encounter some form of infernal activity (more than one author utilizes the Biblical demon Legion as their chosen antagonist, natch) on a distant planet/ship/space station and must exorcise the evil. Even this repetition, however, is a minor complaint. Taken individually, there’s not an unsatisfying entry in the bunch, and as such four tales stand above the rest in terms of sheer storytelling skill.

Shades of Scott’s original Alien lurk in the shadows of Michael Gallagher’s creepy-crawly ‘And Hell Followed With Them’; when a sleazy entrepreneur launches a private cruise liner to a faraway star system, two lone astronauts must combat the nefarious creature inhabiting his body in one of the gloriously goriest climaxes to grace the printed page in some while.

Borrowing its title from an H.P. Lovecraft story and the paranoid claustrophobia of John Carpenter’s The Thing, Stephen G. Johnson’s tension-soaked ‘From Beyond’ features a hellacious battle between the men at an isolated planetary outpost and a seemingly indestructible extraterrestrial enemy. James Pyles’ Dune-like ‘The Heavens Declare His Glory’ is a supremely suspenseful survival yarn set on a backwater desert world, where a young starship Marine inadvertently becomes embroiled in a mysterious prophecy when he intervenes on the behalf of a pregnant alien running from the law.

Yet without question, the crown jewel in Dark Matter is undoubtedly Trevor Denning’s ‘Daughters of Men’; when hard-boiled L.A. gumshoe Raymond Pike and his partner are hired to locate a missing Tinseltown actress, it leads them down a rabbit hole involving Old Time Hollywood, secret Nazi experiments, flying saucers, the Black Dahlia murder, Area 51, Nephilim, Satan, and the real truth behind the Roswell incident. Successful precisely for its singular thematic approach, Denning seamlessly weaves his disparate plot threads into a cohesive narrative quilt styled with such flair and flawless ‘40’s retro-pulp adventure noir cool it handily puts the latter-day Indiana Jones films to shame.

In the end, those interested in horror, science fiction and spirituality alike will find common ground within these pages. Featuring robust characters and non-stop fisticuffs, gunplay, and copious amounts of carnage, the cinematic style and entertaining escapades in Shoot The Devil II: Dark Matter earn it an impressive 4 (Out of 5) on my Fang Scale. If space is the final frontier, where will we go to shoot the devil next? Wherever it may be, my plasma rifle is locked and loaded. Bring it, Beelzebub!

4.0 / 5.0