With a name like that, you’d expect a wild carnival romp through Hell, right? Well shit, that’s exactly what you get with this gory novella from Unnerving Magazine’s REWIND OR DIE series.
Jumping from 1989 to 2019, Cirque Berserk paints the picture of an infamous carnival, one that’s known for its bloody legends more than the entertainment. In 2019, an ill fated group of seniors break into the abandoned carnival to see if the rumors of murder and mayhem were true. Once inside, they encounter the root cause of all the turmoil Cirque Berserk has caused years after its lights went out.
Guess took horror tropes and completely spun them on their heads. In this story, you end up cheering for the bad guys (not because of the merchandising!), who are probably the most sympathetic crew of villains in horror. The black girl is the leader and isn’t standing on the sidelines for anyone. All the so-called normies are kind of jerks and get what’s coming to them. The red herrings aren’t existent due to the sly twists the author strategically injects in the plot line. Like most horror-carnivals, this one sounds way too good to be true and I wish it was a real thing! The descriptions of the rides and the different themes throughout the park truly do make it come to life. The amount of violence and viscera is great; Guess could have dug a little deeper in terms of graphic content if she wanted to. The inclusion of 80’s nostalgia and music was actually very welcomed, despite the resurgence of 80’s inspired horror in the genre, simply because the timeline aspect of the story made it completely appropriate. The obvious fondness for it in the writing also made it feel special to the reader.
It’s a short read, clocking in somewhere after 2 hours or so. It’s also fast paced and though the characters are mainly teenagers, adults will have no trouble connecting to the banter or themes. The swirl of bloodshed and heartsick romance is a nice side dish for the terror and trauma of domestic violence that the characters bond over. It’s powerful stuff served in an upbeat, sadistic (but somehow sweet!?) horror story.
Recommended for fans of carnival horror, occult, & 1980s babies.
You can read Cirque Berserk by Jessica Guess by clicking here.