Containing 31 tales ranging from the 4-page 'Final Departure' by Gahan Wilson to the novella-length 'Pelican Cay' by David Case, 'Dark Terrors 5' is one of the larger and better collections you'll find presenting a diverse and high quality batch of horror stories and related tales. Its contributors range from major names like Peter Straub, Graham Masterton and Brian Stableford through relatively obscure writers such as James Van Pelt and Eric Brown.
Not everything in the collection would usually be classified as horror, and a couple would be pressed to meet even a broad definition. "Dark Terrors 5" presents a very wide range of material, and appears to be assembled on the belief (and this was a good decision, in my mind) that most horror readers aren't going to mind a few tales in a collection this size that lean much more heavily in the direction of mystery, fantasy, or such fields. Most of the 31 stories here fall more definitively in horror territory, although a few might be considered crossovers with another 'genre'. I like this arrangement very much. Personally, when I go into a book of short stories, I like to have the doors open pretty wide as to what I might get in each tale. Like if you have a book called "The Vampire Collection" or whatever, then no matter how great all the stories they've assembled are, the anthology is probably going to have a hard time after the first four or five stories getting each piece to differentiate itself when read back-to-back; not to mention that if you've got a story with a revelation that vampires are what the story is actually about, and it only comes in the last couple of pages, then that element of surprise is pretty much non-existant in a closely themed collection.
With "Dark Terrors 5" you really don't know what you're getting as you start each story - it could develop into a ghost story with heavy comedic overtones, it could turn into a dark thriller-ish tale with no 'supernatural' element at all, it could be a really monsterous, gory tale. It deserves credit for sheer diversity alone.
But no matter how diverse a collection is, it's going to matter little if it's a diverse batch of stories that are all weak. Fortunately, this book is packed with quality tales and a good number of true gems. Among the standouts are 'The Handover' by Michael Marshall Smith, 'Valentia' by Caitlin R. Kiernan, 'Savannah Is Six' by James Van Pelt and 'The Proposal' by Nicolas Royle. I hesitate to describe the stories too much, because one thing a lot of them have in common is that much of the appeal is in uncovering each story's focus as you go on; for a lot of these, too much advance description would threaten to take away some of that appeal. There are a few things I can get into without being too specific.
For those who love the old-style supernatural writings of the 1800s and early 1900s, the kind of stuff you find in books like "Classic Edwardian And Victorian Ghost Stories" and "The Dracula Book Of Great Horror Stories", and are thinking that they don't write those kind of tales any more, you've got to make it a point to check out 'The Proposal'. It's writen in a modern style compared to the way Dickins or Poe wrote, but it's got that same feel that was in so many of the greats from decades past. 'Final Departure' is, as is evident from the first paragraph onward, deep in science fiction territory, and is a tale that's wide open for interpretation. There are at least two possible ways of reading the meaning of this one, one of which I may never have gotten if it hadn't been published in a horror book. 'The Abortionists Horse' by Tanith Lee is deeply disturbing, and very bold for the current climate, in that it actually depicts abortion as something other than the greatest invention in human history; a really frightening and thought-provoking story with searing visual imagery coming to mind as it unfolds. I don't think it gives away too much to say that this one also packs quite a bit of social commentary/social obversation into its small running length, including the ongoing habits of hobophobia and of discriminatroy stigmas involving so-called 'illegitimate' children.
'Valentia' is worth reading for the innovative, extremely unusual writing style alone, let alone the story it's telling, glimpses of what appears to be a much larger tale beyond the events recounted directly. 'The Geezers' by Peter Straub and 'Now Day Was Fled As The Worm Had Wished' by Brian Hodge are both original and unusual pieces, both different from anything else in here and adding to the overall breadth of the collection.
Admittedly, not every story in here was something I'm extremely enthusiastic over. There were about a half-dozen I didn't care for too much, and some of them were way down there. In the last twelve years or so, there are a grand total of two short stories I've started reading and decided against finishing - one of them is in here. Mick Garris's story, whose title I don't think I can print here, was, well, pretty out there, and not in a good way. It's not that the title offended me (it didn't), it's just the story - the first couple pages I read and the pages that I skimmed - well it takes the 'gross-out satire/nihilism' kind of thing to a whole different realm; I'm not really fond of this type of story. Garris has done a lot of movies I've enjoyed, and when more of his short stories turn up in other collections I'm sure I'll read them and perhaps even find some vastly more to my liking. Of all the stories I fully read as opposed to hurriedly skimming, 'Alicia' by Melanie Tem was my least favorite. Well written I guess, but it just didn't click with me. I've read other stuff by Tem and enjoyed it a lot more than this one. I guess in most multi-author collections one's going to get a few stories that aren't to their liking; others might really like the ones I wasn't enthusiastic over.
For myself, the pieces by Kiernan, Smith, Hodge, and the others I've mentioned, and stories like 'Changes' by C. Bruce Hunter and 'Beauregard' by Eric Brown, are easily sufficient to justify a four-star rating. I really think anyone who likes horror or the supernatural will find quite a few stories in this collection they'll be glad to read.