Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: THIS ISLAND EARTH: 8 FEATURES FROM THE DRIVE-IN

Author: Dale Bailey

Publisher: PS Publishing

THIS ISLAND EARTH: 8 FEATURES FROM THE DRIVE-IN

Reviewed by: Matthew Johns

Other details: Hardback £25.00

THIS ISLAND EARTH: 8 FEATURES FROM THE DRIVE-IN by Dale Bailey

Matthew Johns

This selection of otherworldly tales comes straight from 1950s America – the illustrations on the front cover, dustjacket and title page for each short story all add to the feeling of nostalgia. Featuring lavishly drawn bulbous-headed aliens, werewolves, mummies, creatures from undersea lairs and more, this collection of tales of the weird has been lovingly crafted by the author as a tribute to the sort of films that his parents might have watched at drive-through cinemas in their youth.

The titles of the tales are equally evocative – ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space’, ‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf’, ‘Night Caller from Outer Space”. The actual prose is just as good – all easy to read, and often with a little twist in the tale – these are not just for aficionados of Americana; anyone with a love of good fantasy/sci-fi will enjoy them.

The opener, ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space,’ introduces us to Ruth Sheldon. Walmart clerk, trapped in a failing marriage, mourning the death of her premature baby. Living day by day in a daze, just going through the motions, feeling nothing. Until one night at Walmart, she finds herself serving a 7-foot-tall alien. Obviously, he doesn’t have a wallet, so when the checkout supervisor realises the alien can’t pay for his basket of items, she makes Ruth void the items and the alien leaves. Ruth takes pity on him and brings him home to her trailer, introducing him to her husband, Donny, who christens the alien Gort. It transpires that Donny is a talented auto-mechanic, and when he finds out that Gort is there as his flying saucer crash-landed just outside town, he decides to fix up the saucer.

‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf’ sees a town stricken with fear as people keep getting savaged by what appears to be a werewolf. The teenagers of the town are both excited and scared in equal measure, and this one has a little twist at the end that I won’t spoil.

‘Invasion of the Saucer-Men’ features Hank, the starting fullback for the Hicksville Hawks. He and his date, Betty, are having ‘a moment’ in his car at the town’s make-out point until the school nerd Arnie interrupts with talk of little green men from Mars. Once he gets over his frustration at his ‘moment’ being interrupted, Hank and his friends investigate.

All of these are an absolute delight to read, and I consumed them avidly – loving the references and (virtual) sideways winks that the author was throwing our way, feeling like there was a tongue firmly in cheek during his creation of these stories. The last one, though, was my favourite – ‘The Ghoul Goes West’. No spooky monsters, no aliens, just some video tapes from a mysterious video store of films that couldn’t possibly exist. Films made after the stars died – ‘Something’s Got to Give’, Marilyn Monroe’s last film, was never finished as she passed away during filming. ‘The Ghoul Goes West’, starring Bela Lugosi, was filmed in 1957, the year after Bela died. Ben Clarke’s brother Denny died young, and when Ben goes to clear out his apartment in Hollywood, he finds these video cassettes (and others) and starts investigating these films that could not and should not be.

At times, Bailey’s writing seems redolent to some of Stephen King’s earlier works – describing a small-town America that you could easily imagine contains a car possessed by evil supernatural forces or a hotel populated by ghosts. All of the stories in this collection are superbly crafted and exceptionally engaging. It’s an easy book to dip in and out of and very entertaining. Whether you’re a fan of Ed Wood, Stephen King or even the early Universal Studios monster movies, or just someone who likes good fiction, I recommend this – it’s well worth a read!

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