What We Do Is Secret : serial killer flicks

Thought I'd specialize this time 'round. Nothing but serial killer biopics. Enjoy! (And if you do, feel a little uncomfortable with yourself!)

(C, 2002) Movies about famous serial killers are like adaptations of Frankenstein or Dracula: the audience already knows the story, so it's all about how well the story is re-told. In this case, that's pretty well, with a nicely underplayed performance by Jeremy Renner as Dahmer. He's a mild-mannered guy who works in a chocolate factory all day and cruises for men he can take home at night. He drugs them, has sex with them while they're unconscious, and drills holes in their heads to try to turn them into zombie sex slaves. The film alternates between Dahmer's present day (dealing with a victim and another potential victim who he spends a lot of time talking to) and his past, where he argued with his father and kills his first victim. The film is restrained and surprisingly nonsensationalistic, not just an exploitation film. Given the subject matter, they can afford to underplay it. They even overdo that a little, so the killing almost gets forgotten. There's very little gore, but the acting is pretty impressive.

The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer (C, 1993) Effectively creepy dramatization of the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer, not shying away from but not fully relying on the gory details. The guy playing Dahmer (Carl Crew) is a lot bigger and beefier than the real Dahmer and therefore more imposing, and he plays Dahmer as a brooding, malevolent, emotional obsessive motivated by his desire to keep and control his gay lovers by murdering them so they won't be able to leave him. He's basically building a harem of ghosts, keeping skulls to cuddle. He killed several while living with his grandmother, managing to dismember and dispose of their rotting carcasses without her catching on (though she does complain about the stench). Finally he does move into his own apartment (where all his neighbors are soon complaining about stenches) and is soon arrested for drugging a minor. While on probation he kills more, tries to turn some into sex-slave zombies by injecting acid into their brains, and cooks others into meatloaf which he serves to future victims. Others he dissolves in acid (while alive!). He keeps luring guys home on the premise of paying them to take nude pictures, then drugging and killing them, sometimes making morbid phone calls to taunt the parents of his victims. This film came out before Dahmer was killed in prison so it's not "complete" but mostly sticks to the facts, and is disturbing due to its melancholy morbidity. There's some splatter, but it's kept mostly suggested. Still, knowing this film doesn't stray far from fact, it's pretty lurid. It's low budget and that shows, but it's effective and worth looking for.

Just came out on DVD, which you should buy, but you can also watch it online if you're willing to settle for that:

Ed Gein
(C, 2000) aka In The Light of the Moon. Steve Railsback (who’s most famous for his eerie portrayal of Manson in the Helter Skelter TV movie) plays yet another major psycho as he portrays creepy necrophile/cannibal Ed Gein, whose crimes horrified his Wisconsin farm community and inspired Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deranged, Three on a Meathook, this film, and who knows what else. Mother-fixated Ed goes crazy and starts robbing graves and murdering women after his repressive religious fanatic mother (Carrie Snodgress) dies. His neighbors (a few of whom even know he has shrunken heads hanging on his bedroom door) just think Ed’s a bit odd or has a weird sense of humor, and even let him babysit their kids. In actuality he’s a schizophrenic and getting worse, and the film does an admirable job of capturing the dreamlike world he lives in and the way his fantasy life intrudes on reality. Ed suffers from loneliness and reads a lot of unsavory material about death and Nazis and head-hunters and it gives him ideas, and before you know it he’s dancing around in a suit made of women’s skin. The movie’s fairly accurate to the facts and re-creates some of the grisly murder scenes in detail, yet doesn’t come across as exploitative. Railsback manages to be very creepy and yet somewhat sympathetic, showing Gein’s tortured nature.

Also on DVD, but for the quality-unconscious cheapskates there's the online version:

Gacy (C, 2003) Dramatization of the crimes of John Wayne Gacy, who's mostly depicted here as a businessman with a big sanitation problem. There's a horrible stench coming from his crawlspace and bugs and maggots are all over, and people come to look at it, amazingly not catching on that he has a lot of bodies buried down there, the remains of young men he's hired for maintenance work, then abducted, sexually abused, and murdered. Even as people start getting wise to the weird goings-on at the Gacy place, he’s still trying to find more space to bury victims. It’s fairly well-made and has some creepiness, but unfortunately not enough, and it gets tedious, especially since the production’s not exactly a high-class affair. You’d expect more sensationalism, but this is pretty tame. The acting is impressive, though.

Ted Bundy
(C, 2002) Low-budget horror/biopic depicts notorious serial killer Bundy as a sociopathic preppy peckerneck who's exploiting a girlfriend for sex and school money while he goes around shoplifting and jerking off outside girls' windows and beating up women and stealing their purses. By day he works at a counseling hotline, and plans to become a governor (as a Republican, o' course - they'd probably still vote for him). He also starts hitting women with crowbars after luring them to his car wearing a fake arm cast and asking for help, or by posing as a cop. He rapes and kills them (and then sometimes rapes them again). His girlfriend never catches on that he's a psycho, even while he plays disturbing, hateful games with her. The countryside's soon littered with corpses and Ted's having a high ol' time until the cops catch up to him. Then he manages to escape, gets recaptured, then escapes again and attacks a whole sorority house before getting caught yet again. There's no real gore (although special effects whiz Tom Savini does have a cameo) but plenty of disturbing behavior as a gleeful Ted goes about his sick business. Better than you think it'd be.

Again, available online, or DVD...


What's the name of this song, Mister Johnny Two-Bags?

I dunno, but the second verse is the same as the first...

(That post title's from the Social Distortion Live in Orange County DVD, just in case it sounds familiar and is gonna drive you crazy or somethin')

Anyway, I'm gonna go with the same premise I did last week and say you bought two grab-bags o' them horror books, and, you lucky dog, this is what was in the second one. You got some finds this week... lotsa good old-school stuff. Man, I miss foil-embossed covers. O' course, if these foolish e-book-suckin' brats have their way, we may all be missing any kind of cover at all pretty soon, since tenth-rate book art's just another thing those lousy devices are fooling the public into settling for. Borders closed down this week. Another 11,000 people out of work, and another option taken away from the public. Be sure to thank some short-sighted Kindle/Nook-totin' asshole for that if you see one.

Anyway, forget them, we've got bags of the good stuff to go through here...

- Brad Strickland (Onyx, 1988)
A '50's Georgia town is turned into a hell when a demonic man comes along and re-opens its old movie theater. Pretty soon the whole town is being taken over by evil forces and people are in danger of losing their souls as they have visions of vengeful dead and are tempted into Hell. Kind of reminiscent of (and likely inspired by) Stephen King's It, but it's still well-done, with interesting '50's atmosphere and some effectively-creepy horror scenes. There's not as much about movies as it'd lead you to believe, however.

The Curse of Quintana Roo - Matt Gardner (Popular Library, 1972)
The chief charm of this pulp horror novel is that it's one of those Frankenstein Horror Series books that we all drooled over in the back of Famous Monsters. This means it's already magic before you even read it, so if it's actually got any entertainment merit, that's a bonus. An archaeological expedition to an ancient Mayan pyramid awakens the hell-fiend Rahu -- a ten-foot tall humanoid beast who wants to breed with a professor's daughter. He's also helped by some zombies he resurrects. Not badly written at all (it's strange that Gardner narrates this under his own name), but you don't get a lot of action until the last fifteen pages or so -- the rest is a needlessly-long buildup. Still, all I expected from it was a cheap pulp read, old-school style, and in that it delivered okay.

Ghoul Lover - Robert Tralins (Popular Library - 1972)
One of the Frankenstein Horror series from the pulp days of the 70's, this is a decently-written horror tale from the mad doctor school. A medical genius, Dr. Karl Von Cosel, learns the secrets of bringing back the dead. Unfortunately he hasn't quite gotten all the kinks worked out, and the living dead are often insane or keep rotting away. He practices a little on his helper, Otto, trying to get everything just right so he can marry his soulmate, a girl named Elena who he met before she was born (in astral projection) and whom he'll really get to hook up with after she's dead from tuberculosis. The novel spans several decades and locations as Von Cosel moves from Germany to Australia to a swamp in New Orleans and then to the backwoods of Key West. Plenty of creepy stuff and not badly done at all -- grade A pulp horror.

For more in-depth examination of the whole Frankenstein Horror series, check out The Groovy Age of Horror, who did a good job with 'em.

The Cross of Frankenstein - Robert J. Myers (Pocket, 1976)
Decent follow-up to the Mary Shelly classic, happening a few decades after the close of the original. An illegitimate son of Frankenstein is approached by agents of The Monster to mix an artificial blood for him, because he's been badly injured by a gunshot. The young Frankenstein mixes the blood under duress and finds his father's creation presiding over a cult, which he leads in sex orgies (the monster's been graced with monster-sized equipment). When the Monster rapes Frankenstein's lady, things get personal. Not bad, preserves the dignity of the original (while adding a lot more sex), but reads more like an adventure novel than horror. Myers followed this up with another, Slave of Frankenstein.

Katie - Michael McDowell (Avon, 1982)
Riveting suspense that was apparently McDowell's take on "What if Charles Dickens had written something really vicious?" In the years following the Civil War, a poverty-stricken girl named Philomela Drax has amazing runs of both good and bad fortune as she comes into money (always the result of a tragedy) and then has it stolen from her, repeatedly. All the while, she and the Slapes -- a family of extremely violent degenerates who kill all Philo's friends and rob her -- track each other through New York and Philadelphia. A lot of the coincidences and twists of fate are pretty far-fetched -- just like in a Dickens-type novel -- but that’s part of the fun. And the violence is intense and nasty -- a McDowell trademark. Very good. It’s a crime that this man’s work is out of print. Even e-book versions would be better than nothing (although not by much, since e-books are shit). Somebody really needs to get on the ball here and collect McDowell’s work in some hardback omnibus editions. I nominate him for Library of America treatment. He’s that good.

The Walking - Bentley Little (Signet, 2000)
Certain people die and, for some reason, keep walking. At first their corpses pace around their homes, but then they begin walking to a lake that covers the sunken town of Wolf Creek, a town that had been deeded to witches by the government but then flooded by a dam. One of the walking dead is the father of private investigator Miles Huerdeen, and Miles decides to find out what vengeful evil is behind this reanimation and to see if it can be stopped. The novel starts out well, but becomes more mundane and unbelievable as it goes along, and the ending is rather weak. Little is never at his best when he tries to pile too much horror into a plot -- what’s supposed to be an armageddon tends to come across as a chaos of unexplained, motiveless activity that gets lost in a jumble. But, that’s just how I react to it; some people may be able to suspend their disbelief further. Overall I still think there are no bad Bentley Little books (well, ’cept maybe The Return), because this is certainly well-written and has some good ideas; it just doesn’t grab me with its originality the way some of his books have, and I sense a formula encroaching. Still, it’s worth checking out.

Strange Seed - T. M. Wright (Playboy Press, 1978)
Strange horror that is creepy despite - or possibly because of - the fact that it doesn’t make much sense. A newlywed couple move into a dilapidated farmhouse so they can live off the land, but soon weird children -- who seem to be plants -- are invading their lives and making them go crazy. The pace is slow and Wright’s prose obscures a lot of what’s actually going on -- almost everything is just implied -- but apparently the kids are evil and eat some people and (maybe?) impregnate the wife. It’s not completely satisfying because of the obscurity and murk, but it does have some nightmarish moments and even spawned a few sequels, Nursery Tale, Children of the Island, and People of the Dark.

For a more in-depth review of this book, check out Too Much Horror Fiction, and Phantom of Pulp. Good info on those blogs, as always.

The Keep - F. Paul Wilson (Berkley, 1982)
Something in a Rumanian keep is killing off the Nazis who are occupying it during World War II. Desperate for help, they bring in a crippled Jewish professor and his daughter, and discover that the keep is housing an evil, which at first seems to be a vampire but is something far worse, and if it is not stopped then the world will be damned. Very well-written horror with some extremely creepy scenes and a convincing aura of menace throughout. I wasn’t expecting much from this after being bored by the film adaptation, but it’s one of the most important horror novels of the 80’s. Spawned so many follow-ups that I haven’t even collected them all yet -- The Tomb, The Touch, Reborn, Reprisal, Nightworld.

Escardy Gap - Peter Crowther and James Lovegrove (Tor, 1996)
A desperate - desperate!!! - attempt at being a cross between Stephen King and Ray Bradbury, this novel melds the worst traits of each author into an overlong muck of Norman Rockwell cliches. The writers have a very annoying tendency to make a “style” of re-stating everything three or four times. For example, they wouldn’t say “book” - they’d say “a collection of pages, made of paragraphs, paragraphs of sentences, sentences of words, words of letters” - etc. No one lives in a house -- they live in a home, a dwelling, a domicile, a residence... you get the idea. Sometimes it’s as much thesaurus as it is novel. It sounds like someone trying to re-write Bradbury’s (vastly over-rated) Something Wicked This Way Comes using what they think would be Stephen King’s bag of literary tricks. You will soon want to scream, to shriek, to utter a sound of outrage and exasperation! Once you get past the self-conscious artificiality and gimmicks of the prose, the story itself is full of inventively sick stuff, and is non-stop action-packed... maybe a little too action packed. There are so many people getting wound around trees, blended with cars, eaten by vaginas, turned to ash, given tumors, rotted alive, and other far-fetched atrocities that it’s hard to keep track or give a damn. It’s a sincere attempt, and partially successful, but tedium sets in nonetheless, because I never cared about any of the characters and thought the monsters were too “fantasy” for me. But then I never liked Something Wicked This Way Comes, either, because Bradbury’s sentimentality was so overbearing in that one that it made me feel like I’d been force-fed syrup. There’s also a part of this that’s a total lift from Hodgson’s House on the Borderland. Not all bad... but gets awful damn close in parts, like when they overindulge in playing with alliteration, changing words with an aplomb heretofore seen only in schizophrenics. A frustrating book, because there’s lots of good imagination woven into someone else’s plot and too much clumsy, self-indulgent wordplay.

The Night Man - K. W. Jeter (Onyx, 1989)
Faster-paced-than-usual Jeter horror about a poor little kid named Steven who gets dumped on by everybody. His alcoholic mom screams at him, his slut sister hates him, and all the total assholes on the high-school football team beat the hell out of him. Nobody ever takes up for him... until a mysterious, always-silhouetted man in a black car shows up and starts doing a Jack the Ripper act on all of Steven’s enemies, even though Steven is more horrified by what his “defender” is doing than by his abusers. But he can’t make the guy stop. Well-written as usual, and full of some incredible mean-spiritedness. There are no positive characters here; even Steven is pretty much of an ungrateful, sulking brat. A juvenile hall guard comes closes to being a nice guy, but even he comes across as pretty bitter. And Jeter seems to have a real hatred for high-school jocks; they all come across as criminal bastards. I never liked ‘em, either, but, wow. Still, it’s refreshing to read a book with a bunch of angry creeps now and then, so, I liked this.

The Face that Must Die - Ramsey Campbell (Tor, 1985)
This Campbell novel is infamous for being disturbing and gory, but I think some people are just overly sensitive, because it is a disturbing book, but it’s not hardcore enough to damage you. A psychotic named Horridge goes out killing people with a razor because he’s afraid that the world is full of homosexuals. He suspects everyone of either being gay, or implying that he’s gay, so he ends up committing a string of killings, first because he thinks one gay man is a killer, and then because he thinks he has to cover up so witnesses won’t implicate him. It’s a more compelling and readable work than most of Campbell’s novels, and the violence is effective, although not particularly extreme. The novel disturbs because it spends so much time inside the head of an insane, bigoted, arrogant, thoroughly-unlikable main character. The only person you’re really invited to identify with is a homophobic murderer, and that’s a bit much to handle for more sensitive readers. The book also contains a very personal autobiographical essay from Campbell about his late mother’s bouts with insanity... it’s as disturbing and compelling as the fiction and is worth the price of the book all by itself, even though it’s only about 20 pages.

Wire Mesh Mothers
- Elisabeth Massie (Leisure, 2001)
I liked Massie’s earlier Sineater, so I knew this would be good... but I didn’t know it would blow me out of the water! The story is the kind of no-holds-barred violence that Richard Laymon always came up with (and I love Laymon so that’s a big compliment) but the writing is even better and there is more depth. Troubled schoolteacher Kate McDolen has a little breakdown at work because the kids in her class are such mean little shits, so she decides to quit and make a difference by kidnapping an abused little girl named Mistie, so she can take her somewhere safe. But this ill-fated plan turns into a torturous nightmare when they get stuck with Tony, a misogynistic young girl who’s on the run from a convenience store robbery that turned into murder. The kidnapper becomes the kidnapped as Tony demands that Kate drive her to Texas, and since Tony is a teacher-hating psychopath, she does everything she can to make Kate miserable. Massie knows no limits to the amount of suffering she’ll put her characters through, and keeps the violence realistic to make it even more shocking. Amidst all this dark nihilism (it’s horror, but not traditional horror -- there’s no supernatural stuff) there are some feminist statements, comments on the effects of child abuse, and discussions of what it is to be a mother... and what it’s not. But Massie deadpans it and doesn’t preach, making it all the more powerful. I’m jealous of the whole thing.

The Traveling Vampire Show - Richard Laymon (Leisure, 2001)
Laymon’s last book to come out stateside before he died is firmly in the Laymon tradition -- it’s great and you’re not gonna be able to put it down, unless it rattles you so hard you’re afraid to pick it back up (which almost happened to one friend of mine who read it). As is the case with most Laymon, it takes place in a 24-hour span and is filled with maybe a little too much “puberty” (no disrespect to the dead, especially an author I love this much, but Laymon was horny as a 12-year-old who just discovered jerking off) and plenty of gore. Three kids in the late 50’s/ early 60’s decide to visit a traveling vampire show that comes to their town, and if they’re lucky they’ll live to regret it. And that’s basically it, other than that this is kind of Laymon’s version of something like Stephen King’s “The Body.” It ain’t exactly art, but you’d have a tough time finding a better page-turner... unless maybe you went to another Laymon novel, since the man had a powerful gift for creating those. And that’s a good thing. Hardcore stuff here, it’ll smack you in the mouth and leave you stunned.

The Woman Next Door - T. M. Wright (Tor, 1981)
A woman who’s stuck in a wheelchair because of some violence incurred as a toddler at the hands of a psychotic babysitter moves into a house next door to a woman named Marilyn... who’s pretty psychotic, too. Marilyn’s having troubles with her husband and son and is getting more angry and dangerous and crazy. A bit too flowery prose-wise but knows when to chuck the poetry and get nasty, this is decent psychological horror and well worth seeking out.

Hunted Beyond Reason - Richard Matheson (Forge, 2002)
Matheson takes two classic plots -- Deliverance and “The Most Dangerous Game” - and manages to fuse them perfectly into something new, despite the fact that both those plots have already been imitated countless times. Two guys, Bob and Doug (not McKenzie), go on a backpacking trip. Bob’s a sensitive, wimpy writer fella who knows nothing about the woods, while Doug is a macho actor who’s a complete expert. Unfortunately for Bob, Doug is also a fiendishly-demented psycho who plans all sorts of horrible things for Bob once they get deep in the woods. Matheson milks a suspenseful situation for even more suspense, and it’s scary and brilliant, marred only by a bunch of metaphysics-ex-machina and “spiritual belief” bullshit (Bob ends up reacting so unrealistically and pacifistically in the face of the profound evil done to him that it costs him some reader sympathy and compromises some of the otherwise gritty and stark reality of the book), but even though that is a fairly big flaw, at least it’s a flaw in a gem; this is definitely worth a read, and I blazed through it in one sitting, despite it being 300 pages.

Hope that was fun. And now for my customary plug (for my silly-ass Twitter account full of comedy-jokes and bad ideas) and a couple of new plugs I'm happy to pass on - Psychotronica Redux is baaaaaaack! I was missing that blog and am twelve kinds of glad to see it re-starting. And it's proprietor - and all-around good guy and personal friend of mine (I got to see some of this bad art in person, and it's feckin' glory-ass, ya'll) - has added another blog, Unpopular Culture. Ye are beseeched to check 'em out and make 'em part of your blogging diet. They're delicious, nutritious and, unlike my Twitter account, probably won't give anyone a grisly case of the devil-farts.

So "devil-farts" won't be the closing image you have to carry with you 'til next time, here's a wholesome photo of a way-too-happy cutiepie with a shotgun.


Dog Expresses Preference for Johnny Marr by Attacking Morrissey

So, it's been reported in the press that Morrissey was bitten on the hand + arm by a dog... [full story here]

I've always been an animal lover, but I've never wanted to kiss a dog more than I do right now... And I liked the Smiths better, too, Lassie!


big grab bag of horror books

This week I'm taking the premise that you bought a bag of random horror novels at some used book store, and here's what you get. Like most grab bags, most of what's in there isn't going to be too great, but there are a few redemptively-good titles that make the whole thing worth it.

The grab-bag idea's basically just a way to make a bunch of random horror novel reviews seem more neato-er. I was writing shorter capsule reviews back then so there's not a lot of detail here (not that I have tons now - I'm kind of a capsule-reviewer anyway) so I tried to make up for that by giving you a lot of 'em. If nothing else, there are cover scans to look at, which is always fun.

And if that doesn't tickle your fancy, take your fancy over to my Twitter page and I'll tickle it and maybe do other profane and unspeakable things to it.


Black Easter - James Blish (Dell, 1968)
Black magic novel that does display a true working knowledge of magical rituals. A black magician is contracted to cast spells for an arms dealer, raising demons to cause the deaths of enemies, raising a succubus (which later turns into an incubus to recycle the semen she's absorbed!) and finally the raising of the major demons in Hell, just so they can be unleashed on the Earth for a night of mayhem. They invoke Armageddon in the form of a global nuclear war, and when they try to banish them back to hell, you get one of the greatest endings I've ever read in a book. Seriously, it's killing me not to tell you what happens, and I have to admire Blish's audacity at doing it. This book was a surprise for me, because I mostly knew Blish as the author of Star Trek novelizations when I was a kid. I didn't know he had this in 'im.

The Neighborhood - S. K. Epperson (Leisure, 1996)
Entertaining horror novel about the demented crime spree of everybody's least favorite neighbor, the guy down the street with all the exotic birds and the big tumor in his brain. He does all manner of nice things, like breaking his wife's arms and legs and keeping her in the spider-filled basement with the neighbor he's keeping chained up. And it kinda goes from there... Keeps moving and doesn't get dull, so so what if it'll never be looked on as another The Shining? Decent and worth picking up.

Drawn to the Grave
- Mary Ann Mitchell (Leisure, 1992)
This guy Carl has this magical Incubus-like power -- he preserves his life by making women die for him. He draws a detailed sketch of a lady friend and then buries it, and he gets healthy while the woman begins to rot while alive. So he beings seducing Megan (this really idiotic girl) while his last significant other dwells in the dark cottage across the lake, fighting off hungry rats and trying to keep her skin from sloughing off as she plots vengeance. Weird, sick horror while plenty of morbid gore... which, of course, means its recommended.

The House on the Borderland -William Hope Hodgson (Carroll & Graf, originally 1908)
Two guys find a manuscript in the ruins of a crumbling old house that overlooks a pit, and when they read it they learn of an old curmudgeon who had to fight off attacks from luminous swine-people who crawled out of the pit and tried to break into his house. While looking for them he discovered a vast black abyss under the cellars of his house. Then time goes wacky so days pass in minutes and he watches our sun die and the earth freeze and decay and get sucked back into the center of infinity, and the book pretty much crashes and burns during this all-but-unreadable stretch that seems to go on forever (and which was but a brief preview of the kind of stuff Hodgson would later write in The Night Land). But the first half of the book is worth it, even if the sci-fi elements (like all sci-fi elements if'n you're askin' me) are about as fun as reading a book on quantum physics. It's kind of like watching Night of the Living Dead except the last reel has been switched out with a documentary on Stephen Hawking. A major influence on H. P. Lovecraft's work.

Who Killed James Dean? - Warrne Newton Beath (Tor, 1995)
Who cares? ;) A guy researching a book on the fanaticism of James Dean freaks (they're almost as warped as Trekkies) learns that James Dean's death may have been part of a witchcraft cult's plot to create a new God-figure... and they'll kill to keep it going. This book's okay if you're really intrigued by James Dean. I'm not, but I still bought the book because I thought a possible Dean-zombie was in such poor taste that I had to read it. But, eh, I learned some stuff about him, and it might come in handy when watching Jeopardy or something. Cool for Dean freaks, relatively painless for anyone else.

Water Rites - Guy N. Smith (Zebra, 1997)
Puns in the title of a book are often a bad sign. An author slipping and having a deafmute character hear things in chapter two is another bad sign. But the worst sign of all is when you realize that the scary monster in a horror novel is going to be... a mermaid. A freakin' mermaid. Remember all those nights you spent cowering under your blankets, trembling because you thought a mermaid was going to get you? You don't? That's because you never spent any nights like that! Nobody did! England's premier horror hack really drops that ball on this one, which is really saying something considering that the book series this guy is most famous for are the killer crab novels, like Crabs on the Rampage. I can see the sequel to this one, Mermaids on the Rampage. Kill me first. Night Tide this ain't. Nice cover art, though, from the last days of Zebra books, when their covers started to get decent even if the content didn't.

Excavation -Steve Ransic Tem (Avon, 1987)
Damn near unreadable first novel by the most overrated horror writer since Charles L. fucking Grant. The idea is killer -- an archaeologist goes to excavate the site of his old house, in which his family died in a massive flood -- and that's why I was disappointed to the point of anger that the book was such weak, drippy gack. Sentimentality is a bad quality in a writer, and pretentiousness is another, and both bad traits go skipping merrily hand in hand through this shambled, overlong mess that makes me wonder if they guy even has any idea what's scary. I mean, a reincarnated bear running around? Sheesh. And the "woman with her hair on fire" comes across as completely laughable instead of scary. Reading this was a tedious chore -- it has no flow, no sense of clarity, no characters you can give half a damn about because they're all such simpering wimps. I was forced to skim the last 80 pages or so because I really and truly felt like I was being tortured mentally trying to read this thing. It was excruciating. Too bad, because, like I said, the idea had a lot of promise, especially since I love "archaeological” horror plots. One or two nice lines, but other than that, overblown bilge for masochists only.

The Mark of Lucifer - Edith Pinero Green (Dell, 1974)
Don’tcha hate when they try passing off a murder mystery as a horror novel? This woman named Edith thinks she’s possessed and when a dead girl is found in a neighboring apartment, she tries to figure out whodunnit to ward off her supposed possession. She gets help from a fake occultist. Not scary and not even all that sensical. Somewhat entertaining, but still bad.

Hungry Eyes -- Barry Hoffman (Leisure, 1998)
A lot of respected authors (Peter Straub, Poppy Z. Brite, William F. Nolan, etc.) heaped high praise on this serial killer novel, declaring that they couldn’t put it down. Well, they must’ve been paying up for stuff Hoffman published for them in his Gauntlet ‘zine, because “couldn’t put it down,” hell, I could hardly pick it up. A girl who was victimized by a pervert becomes a Dexter-type serial killer who preys on victimizers, and her reporter friend doesn’t know if she should turn her in or not. The killings aren’t frightening, the killer doesn’t seem very threatening, and it’s just another damn serial killer novel, and a boring one at that. And it was the start of a proposed four-book series? I think only three got written. No loss. Hoffman's probably a nice guy and all, but that praise has to be coming because of who he is rather than for what he wrote.

A Small Dark Place
- Martin Schenk (Ballantine, 1997)
When a small town family becomes homeless, they decide to trap one of their children in a deep hole in the ground in order to tap into some o’ that good ol’ American sympathy (remember baby Jessica?). Tragedy is profitable, don’tchaknow? But their daughter Andromeda spends too much time among some weird white roots and changes. Then she returns years later to avenge herself on all of those who profited from her misery and terror. Fairly typical supernatural-vengeance tale but with few cares. The end’s a little creepy. Overall, an entertaining-enough way to pass the time, but nothing special.

The Rootworker - Glenda Dumas (Holloway House, 1983)
After a somewhat-creepy beginning involving a figure walking across a foggy field, this turns into utter tripe. A young black woman and her white fiance get possessed and haunted by “haints” when they visit her parents and creepy old aunt in Potts Lake. Cliche-ridden, with the scary stuff more hilarious than anything else, and lots of naive “give your soul to Jesus” simplistic platitude-ing. There’s also an annoying tendency to overuse exclamation points, so it looks like the characters are idiotically shouting at each other in the middle of plain ol’ conversations. Aside from the unintentional comic relief, this is a typical Satanic-cult novel that’s only interest comes from its obscurity.

Forbidden Objects
- Maggie Davis (Tor, 1986)
Boring and confusing horror about a possible voodoo curse laid on the narrator (“Frankie” Jefferson - a crippled woman with clairvoyant powers) and her silly, irresponsible brother Julian. The curse seems to stem from the spirit of a dead slave (who happened to be versed in obeah) named Lazarus. And everything else is lost in a haze of weird prose... some of which is very good, other than the fact that it doesn’t tell the story. The narrative just doesn’t move, and when it does, it’s often unclear what’s actually happening. Obvious talent, but effort lost to pretension.

Ash Wednesday - Chet Williamson (Tor, 1987)
Largely unappreciated horror novel about the town of Merridale, where the images of the dead return -- glowing, bluish transparent forms, like holograms of people who died. No one knows why they’re there, and they don’t do anything -- they don’t move, speak, or even take up space, but they awaken the guilty feelings and fears of mortality in Merridale’s residents. A lot of people disliked this because it’s not especially scary, since the ghosts don’t do anything, but it’s a somber, well-written meditation on life’s relationship to death. They don’t all have to be screamfests...

The Prey - Robert Arthur Smith (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1977)
Years ago a friend and I were looking through his book collection and I saw that he had a copy of this book, too. He told me it was full of mutilation, and I was intrigued. Years later I finally read it and I see what he meant, but didn’t find it as excessive as he did, and considered any gore a good thing. This werewolf novel purports to be a “found” manuscript, detailing the 1825 adventures of a young Austrian named Morivania. Morivania learns that his father is under the influence of the leader of an evil werewolf cult, and after his father dies, the werewolves hunt Morivania because they think he has the secret of some immortality elixir. Morivania sets out to Paris, gets in some French Revolution trouble, meets new friends, and battles werewolves. The book is well-written (in an archaic style, like old gothics) but is a little overlong. Morivania has too much to distract him and it’s easy to get tired of the endless cliffhangers. But, despite that, this is one of the best werewolf novels around, with a convincing gothic writing style and a fast pace... maybe even too fast. The first half of the book maintained a darker tone, but later it becomes too much like a Doc Savage novel or something, with Morivania and his colorful team of werewolf hunters (including a clockwork robot woman) getting in tight scrapes and fighting their way out. That kinda killed the mood for me, but it’s still a decent read, and I’m surprised it’s so obscure.


In Crazy News This Week...

Might as well start out the week with some extremely weird news:

[from icv2.com] (click for full story)
Archie Comics Files Suit Against Co-CEO

Archie Comics Publications has filed suit against Co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit accusing her of storming into a meeting and yelling “Penis, penis, penis, penis.” She supposedly repeated the “penis” outburst again, adding pertinently, “My balls hurt.”




Guess what I found on top of my car today?

I believe those wasps are a rare breed known as charliesheenis kardashianus.

Oh well, I guess it's better than the time I found three of my neighbors fuckin' on my lawnmower...

(Click the picture to enlarge it. The picture, I mean...)


Suave, Sophisticated... AND TWICE AS DEADLY!

The title comes from the back cover of our book-of-the-week, which is first on our list. I've devoted a little more coverage to it than usual because the frickin' thing cracked me up so bad.

The Hitman #1: Chicago Deathwinds - Norman Winski (Pinnacle 1984)
This one's pretty hard to believe, and while it's more than badassed enough, I had to laugh at it a lot. Basically a Batman/The Spider type of guy, Dirk Spencer is a millionaire playboy who was a hero in Vietnam and is pretty bored with civilian life. So, when a couple of corrupt security officers murder some of his friends he goes for revenge and -- just for the hell of it and on a whim -- decides that when that vengeance quest is over he'll become a vigilante assassin called The Hitman and take on all the world's bad guys. It's just that simple!

Origin dispensed with in a short paragraph on page eleven and then, boom, The Hitman is in action. After settling his score he decides that a candidate for governor of Illinois is too right-wing and needs assassinating. Basically this candidate just spouts the exact same garbage that Rush Limbaugh spews on a daily basis, so the decidedly-left-leaning Dirk decides he's a fascist threat to America and needs his head blown off! Now, it's no big secret that I think people like Rush are dirtbags of major magnitude and aren't doing the country a bit of good, but killing people off just because they spew idiotic politics is more than a bit fucking CRAZY, no? Turns out the candidate also has a bunch of armed guards called The Death Squad, a venomous female sidekick ala Ann Coulter ('cept pretty), uses threats and intimidation, and kidnaps and tortures a lady reporter who was going to expose him (and who, in one of those convenient action-novel plot twists, also happens to be the only woman Dirk ever truly loved!)... but Dirk learns all of that only after he's decided to assassinate the guy.

Anyway, Dirk tries to keep his identity as The Hitman a big secret, but he uses his personal Lamborghini (we're told there are only seven of that model in the world) on his missions, plus the helicopter that stays parked on the roof of his building! He's apparently better at planning hits than he is at understanding what "low profile" means.

The action scenes are good but far-fetched (a drive-by from an airplane, using an Uzi as a sniper rifle?) and the descriptions of Dirk's chiseled manliness and skill with women are laid on a bit thick (I could easily picture Dolph Lundgren as Dirk), and it becomes comical. Some of the dialogue is hilarious. Here, read this and fall in love:

"Who the hell are you?" Sax barked, trying to fake bravery but doing a poor job of it.

"I'm the bearer of death, punk. Retribution in the flesh. What the law can't do -- I can. And I pronounce you guilty of murder and sentence you to die -- tonight, here!"

Then he forces the two bad guys to beat the hell out each other at gunpoint ("'Kick! Punch! Club!' the Hitman commanded, his blood coursing through his veins with the fulfillment of revenge"), shoots them both, plants drugs on them, blows their car up with a rocket launcher, apparently out of spite and because when you brought along a rocket launcher, you want to use it. Then the newspaper reports that they killed each other in a fight over drugs. Guess the authorities just shrugged off the matter of the rocket-blasted car. Spontaneous annihilation, I reckon.

Also priceless is the moment when The Hitman cuts an evil woman he's previously slept with in half with a burst of Uzi fire and as she's dying, she uses her final breath to say, "You were the best I ever had!" And Dirk's girlfriend (who the evil woman was whipping and trying to force to give her cunnilingus just seconds before) turns to him and says, tearfully, "She loved you, Dirk." To which he heroically replies, "Too bad. There's no room in my life for love." And then the rescued girlfriend, who's been raped and sodomized for about a week, can't wait to escape so she can have sex with our hero.

It's goofy as hell but it's well-paced and involving, with plentiful and solid action scenes, making it one of the most entertaining books I've read lately... probably because of the goofiness rather than in spite of it. I ended up reading the whole thing in an afternoon when I'd just planned on a chapter or two.

Now, about the cover... I'm sorry, but that's freakin' hilarious. Look at those actors striking poses! That's the calmest-looking just-punched-in-the-face guy I've ever seen, and the woman behind them looks irritated that they're blocking our view of her. I've added a scan of the second volume just to see if ya'll agree with me that they probably intended to have that bad-idea, less-than-macho beret on him as a series thing, but had second thoughts and trimmed it off the cover of the first book. Doesn't his head look a little oblong... like a beret's been scissored off? I think so.

There's a preoccupation with sex in the book, and the author also wrote several sociological studies on sex. One of them is titled The Homosexual Revolt, and I had to check to make sure that wasn't a fourth Hitman novel. I think it would've been cool if they kept the beret and made The Hitman be the first gay vigilante-series hero. There oughtta be at least one, right? Oh well... we can always speculate about The Death Merchant...

John Eagle, Expeditor #1: Needles of Death
- Paul Edwards (Pyramid Books, 1973)
First in a 14 book run, this introduces John Eagle, a white man raised as an Apache, whose fighting skills and top physical condition put him almost in Captain America class. He's so badassed that a billionaire, Mr. Merlin (who lives on a volcano) hires him as a troubleshooter for worldwide crises. After extensive training, Eagle is given nifty spy gadgets such as a gas pistol that shoots darts, a bulletproof suit that takes on the color of whatever's behind him and makes him almost invisible, a miniature motorcycle with poison gas in the tires, explosive-packed shoes, and pills that fix it so he doesn't have to eat or drink for long periods of time. Then he's air-dropped into the mountains of Mongolia to rescue a tortured prisoner who can lead him to a secret Chinese laser weapon that can disintegrate fighter planes. Eagle gets help from the prisoner's beautiful sister (who he has sex with, of course -- there's always time for a little nookie even when you're expeditin') and efficiently kills loads of bad guys with the dart gun and a bow-and-arrow, before trying to blow up the laser bases. Good, old-school adventure fiction that keeps up a steady pace and is well-written enough to get you to cut it some slack on the implausibilities.

For more on this book, check out the always-essential Glorious Trash blog.

Fancy Hatch #2: The Case Deuce - Zachary Hawkes. Pinnacle, 1984.
When my uncle died last year he left me a giant collection of paperback Westerns, and a couple of these were in the boxes. I’ve always had a thing for badass women, so a female gunslinger was pretty intriguing. And since it was published by Pinnacle, I knew I had to give it a shot. Fancy Hatch is a Hannie Caulder type who’s hunting down the dirtbag who killed her fiancĂ© and shot her on her wedding day. At the opening of the book she’s almost out of money and no one will hire her to punch cows because she’s a woman (she could do the work, but they worry that having a pretty lady around would distract all the guys and cause problems), so she finds work as a bodyguard for a judge. After escaping a rape attempt and a kidnapping, Fancy catches up to her quarry in Abilene, but instead of getting him he frames her for murder. The second half of the book bogs down badly in this uninteresting trial, and some of the previous action is tame and almost quaint and dime-novel-esque (other than a beating Fancy dishes out with a gun butt, which gets pretty gory). There are some nice touches (such as some steel-reinforced gloves Fancy uses as a brass-knuckle equalizer when fist-fighting with men) and even though this is listed as an “adult Western” there’s very little sex and all of it is timid. But, it’s refreshing to see a female Western protagonist who’s not just a sex object. Not bad, not great. There were three more. I like the cover art, but the guy behind fancy sure does look a hell of a lot like George W. Bush. I included the back cover in the scan so you can see the cheezily-grinning cowboy who the more-amused-than-frightened-looking Fancy is 'bout to beat the living snot outta.

Hawker #5: Houston Attack - Carl Ramm (aka Randy James White) Dell, 1985
Tough cop turned vigilante James Hawker infiltrates a ranch that’s been using kidnapped Mexicans for slave labor. In the process of trying to stop the slavery ring Hawker discovers an even more sinister plot to enslave the entire country by putting cocaine into fast-food burgers! Kinda outlandish, but the action’s kept on a relatively-believable level as Hawker assaults the compound and gets pretty banged up in the process. Solid entry in a good series that somehow doesn’t seem to be getting read much these days, even though the author is now a pretty big deal as Randy James White.

The Deadliest Profession: The Bounty Hunter #1
- - Tiny Boyles & Hank Newer (Playboy, 1981)
Yee-haw goddamn! Ridiculous redneck action novel as 389-pound bounty hunter Tiny Ryder and his team of a silent giant named Hammer, country singer Jerry, and mascot journalist Foster go after an evil renegade Mormon cultist and his army of killers. Tiny and his team kill hundreds of people with no repercussions, survive lots of attacks with no real damage, have lots of sex because women throw themselves at them for no discernible reason, and make a lot of jokes and play pranks on each other. There’s a lot of action but it has no impact because it’s all tossed-off and never seems important or the least bit realistic. It’s like The A-Team or something. Yeah, I always hated the A-Team... Supposedly somewhat based on the adventures of real-life bounty hunter Tiny Boyles, but the truth seems stretched from here to Jupiter, given the amount of sex and violence. Far-fetchedness and a general air of slapstick comedy keeps this from being too gripping, and by the second half reading it felt like a chore. Despite the trashy allure of the covers, I’m in no hurry to read the other three in the series.

Crockett on the Loose - Brad Lang
(Leisure Books, 1975)
First in a trio of books about a “young hip long-haired” private detective is surprisingly good, a hard-boiled and realistic narrative of young P.I. Fred Crockett finding more than he bargained for when he agrees to track down a father’s missing daughter. He knows a lot of lowlifes -- drug-dealers and junkies -- who know he’s not too sympathetic to the cops... and he has a good reason not to be, since some of those cops are corrupt and making drug deals of their own. When they’re found out, people around Crockett start dying and he’s beaten, framed, and in danger of getting murdered himself. The writing and plotting is strong and confident and the book stays reality-based even if it means passing up a few chances for action scenes or foregoes making Crockett look like a super-badass. It’s definitely pulp stuff, but it’s a nice surprise to find that the quality is higher than usual. It made me glad I’d picked up the other two Crockett books The original idea was for the character to be called Keller (which would have made the title Keller on the Loose, which is clever-er), but there was already a cop series called Keller, so they made Lang change it. Worth tracking down. I included a scan of the back cover because the copy there always struck me as funny.

More about these books and an interview with Brad Lang can be found here. That's a good read... I'm glad somebody noticed this guy.

Floating Death : The Penetrator #25
- Lionel Derrick (Pinnacle, 1978)
An evil scientist tries to take over the country using germ warfare agents dispersed by weather balloons, first infecting herds of cattle with cow plagues to take control of the beef industry, then working up to releasing flue and bubonic plague germs to kill humans. Already infected, the Penetrator has to shrug off fever to blitz the headquarters and put a stop to the evil plot. Our hero takes a lot of damage in this one. There’s plenty of action but also intrigue and an intelligent plot. You can hardly go wrong with a Penetrator book.

Assignment: Carlotta Cortez
- Edward S. Aarons (Fawcett-Cold Medal, 1959)
Sam Durell espionage thriller in which the Cajun special agent has to track down and recover twenty-some loose tactical nukes, stolen by an old friend of his who’s turned traitor. The nukes are going to be used as bargaining chips to return an ousted South American dictator to power and one of the dictator’s fanatics plans to trigger one in NYC regardless of the outcome of the plan. The climax of this one is pretty intense and makes up for a bit of sluggishness on the way as Sam has to babysit a hayseed country girl. Realistic, credible, and well-written action novel, with the hero put through the wringer while saving the world.


Nasty, nasty!

Let's have a music intro, why not?

Back into horror-novel land this week, because I’m on a British-nasties kick. When you talk about British “nasties” people usually assume you’re talking about the “video nasty” horror movies that were banned in the UK in the ‘80’s, but the term also refers to a literary movement that was happening in the late 70’s/early 80’s. While Britain cracked down on movies with violent images, they weren’t nearly as harsh on what was being written in books, and writers took advantage of that. What you weren't allowed to see on the screen, they were free to splash all over the pages, and before the whole “splatterpunk” thing really caught on, British nasty-novels were pushing the envelope on levels of violence and gore (with a bit o' sex too). James Herbert started it with The Rats, a vicious little nailbomb of a novel heaved onto a market that totally wasn’t expecting it. Before the first chapter’s over with, a guy’s getting his testicles gnawed off by diseased rodents and dying really fucking hard.

“Huge teeth that were meant for his throat sank into his cheek and tore away a huge flap.

His body poured blood now as he threshed around. Once he thought he’d found the door, but something heavy leapt up onto his back and pulled him forward into the floor again.

Rats! His mind screamed the words. Rats eating me alive! God, God help me.

Flesh was ripped away from the back of his neck. He couldn’t rise now for the sheer weight of writhing, furry vermin feeding from his body, drinking his blood.

Shivers ran along his spine, to his shocked brain. The dim shadows seemed to float before him, then a redness ran across his vision. It was the redness of unbelievable pain. He couldn’t see any more -- the rats had already eaten his eyes.”

That's a grindhouse between two covers, there. And when the gore-starved public got a taste of that verboten vileness, they wanted more, and soon the market was flooding with more books about rats (with lovable titles like The Scurrying), and books about bugs, slugs, worms, germs, lizards, dogs, cats, spiders, marine life, etc. Even walking jellyfish showed up at one point (thanks, John Halkin, for not understanding limits!).

And the gore branched out beyond the animal (and plant) kingdom, spawning more splatastic horror novels, including more apocalyptic scenarios from Herbert (check out The Fog or The Dark sometime), the underrated Nick Sharman, and the notorious Shaun Hutson, who took special delight in upsetting people (his Spawn, about bloodthirsty undead abortions, is a classic of bad taste that comes at you like GG Allin, daring you not to love it and determined to make you hate yourself for it if you do).

Anyway, I’m not limiting this to just the British, because the Yanks got in on the act pretty quickly. Signet Books (one of my favorite paperback publishers ever - even seeing their little logo makes me happy) had a whole line of critters-on-the-loose books, covering just about every animal you could think of - killer flies, cats, alligators, panthers, snakes, crabs, you name it.

So, here are some reviews of British nasties and a few American critter-books. A few of the reviews are skimpy because I wrote them a long time ago when I didn’t know there’d be an internet to put ‘em on. If nothing else, enjoy the covers!

And for more info, this blog has lots of great reviews of even more books - check ‘em out! They hipped me to a few titles to hunt down. This forum was also immeasurably helpful.

The Rats - James Herbert (Signet, 1974)
Upon this gory and unrestrained rock was the James Herbert empire -- and the notorious British “nasty” movement -- built. A breed of large, aggressive, disease-spreading rats terrorize London, and Herbert spares you nothing in depicting their attacks. For a while that’s all the book is; each chapter introduces a character (which are finely drawn so you know and are concerned with them in a very short time -- Herbert’s got major skills) who is soon gnawed to death by a hoard of vermin. And no one is safe; Herbert even runs you through a heartbreaking scenario where an infant is eaten as a brave puppy desperately tries to fight off her attackers! And even if you escape being eaten alive, one bite will condemn you to an excruciating and always-fatal disease that’ll cause your body to swell until it splits. Once a few characters we've gotten to know have been turned to rat-kibble, the novel takes on a larger scope as a teacher and the police try to stop the rat invasion from destroying the country as mass carnage holds sway. The novel is heavy on bloody rat attacks, but doesn’t sacrifice characterization or suspense while ramping up the body count. And while we certainly see enough of the rats, they never lose their menace. And they’d be back in two sequels, Lair and Domain. Important as a cornerstone of a subgenre, and still one of its best examples.

Childmare - A. G. Scott (Nick Sharman) Signet, 1980
Holy shit, this is a vicious book! Food poisoning and leaded gasoline fumes combine to turn Britain's schoolchildren into an army of homicidal maniacs in this uncompromising, violent apocalyptic novel. It starts with isolated incidents -- a picked-on kid smashing his father's brains out with a cricket bat, a pedophile getting his head run over, teachers decapitated or mutilated with paper cutters -- but soon turns into a full-scale Dawn of the Dead scenario perpetrated by mindless, murdering children. Sharman's always been an underrated writer, and he's not afraid to get nasty... and what's nastier than having to murder an entire generation of a country's children before they tear you to pieces? He stealths in a few social commentary bits (the kids are verging on Clockwork Orange even before the outbreak, and the ecological advisability of poisoning the air with leaded exhaust fumes sure takes a beating) and wallops you with violence; these kids aren’t playing around (even committing rape), and stopping them requires just as much ruthlessness. Well-written, strong, brutal horror that’s a must-read for any fan of 28 Days Later or Who Can Kill A Child.

Eat Them Alive - Pierce Nace (Manor Books, 1977)
Once in a magical while you come across a horror novel that seems to be the product of a diseased mind, one whose power to shock and disturb comes not so much from the story as it does from the fact that somebody wrote the damn thing in the first place. This ridiculous gorefest is just such a book. The protagonist, a demented scumbag named Dyke Mellis, was working with a team of criminals whose modus operandi was to torture people until they turned over their money. Dyke tried to rip off his mutilation-happy buddies and they sliced him up, castrated him, and crushed his skull enough to mess up his vision and make him even crazier. He lives as a hermit on a Columbian island until an earthquake releases thousands of giant praying mantises (what such things were doing in the earth is never explained -- you're just supposed to take it as a given). Dyke learns that he likes nothing better than watching giant mantises eat people, so he catches one, names it Slayer, and domesticates it (sort of - there's only so much taming down a giant mantis is going to take). He develops a hideously stinky mantis-repellent to cover himself with so he can walk among his mantis army, which he plans to use to get revenge on his former pals. The rest of the book is devoted to long, gore-laden explanations of how mantises eat people and the joy of watching them do it. The bugs eat women (especially the breasts), children -- even infants -- and Dyke goes on and on about how delighted he feels watching it. It's so repetitive and obsessive you can almost sense the author panting while he wrote it; he writes gore like it's hardcore porn. Kills go on for pages at a time, with limbs torn off, skulls cracked open, entrails devoured, all with great ecstasy. You gotta wonder what kind of fantasies this guy had because some of these scenes are written so floridly you get a sense he was masturbating over them! Anyway, Dyke's mantis allies devour whole villages of natives before he tracks down his enemies, who are dealt with in extra-gruesome fashion. Dyke tortures them with rocks and machetes before the mantises are loosed upon them and their families. There's not a lot of plot, just scene after scene of mantises really really enjoying human flesh and Dyke getting inappropriately excited watching it. The novel seems like the work of a disturbed individual clumsily trying to get some sick personal fantasy on paper, or work through some problems with fiction... and that's the strength of it, because the writing is passable at best. A highly bizarre reading experience that's probably going to leave scars.

An Odour of Decay - Martin Jenson (New English Library, 1975)
Three sisters inherit a huge estate from an eccentric old aunt, and malevolent supernatural manifestations start up as soon as they move in. A stench like a rotting corpse keeps popping up and they can't identify the source. A very nasty mold attacks one sister's book collection... but only the volumes that deal with religion. And then each sister starts exhibiting traits of a former occupant who was an infamous pervert. One has epileptic fits and starts painting disturbed old men with erections and running sores. Another becomes obsessed with death and all its imagined glories. And the formerly-chaste (nearly frigid) sister becomes a sadistic slut with some really brutal ideas of fun. Their boyfriends struggle to figure out what's going on and if there's any way to stop it. Well-written, fast-moving, atmospheric, and dark British pseudo-nasty is patterned on traditional ghost stories but is spiced up with a few well-handled scenes of violence and some sexual depravity. Jenson shows some restraint in the details at times (it's tough to say exactly what happened in the cheese-wire incident but you do get the end result, which will make you want to curl up in a corner and tremble for a while) but delivers effective creeps. Supposedly his best novel, but I haven't read Village of Fear or An Echo On The Stairs yet. But now that I've read this one, I plan to.

Worms - James Montague (Futura, 1979)
A henpecked husband (the first-person narrator) and his complaining wife visit a small seaside village in England. The husband falls in love with the place and wants to retire there but the wife (who has all the money) will have none of that, so the husband plots her death. He doesn't really actively murder her, just lures her into an unsafe situation where she falls and dies, but he's tormented by guilt even as he enjoys his inheritance. Buying a small, dilapidated cottage, he retires but is troubled by a preoccupation with the local worm population, as well as a blackmailer he has to kill. Just when it's looking like this is going to be a noirish crime novel instead of actual horror, a nuclear plant is built nearby and causes the worms to mass up and attack by the millions. This is an odd book, a possibly-supernatural-tinged guilty-narrator-going-mad novel until the last thirty pages where the worm attacks are tagged on as an eleventh-hour attempt at turning it into a "nasty." Despite being different from what I expected for most of the page count, it was a very engrossing read, and the plague of worms was impressive even though the gore was restrained. One scene with a huge mass of worms breaking down a door just as the lights go out was highly effective and made me jealous. A very good book even though it may not be exactly what you expected.

The Black Hoarde aka The Devil's Coach-Horse - Richard Lewis. (Signet or Hamlyn, 1979)
When a plane crashes in the Swiss Alps, some beetles - samples of a very adaptive strain - crawl into the corpses of the passengers, looking for a warm place to lay eggs. When the bodies are shipped home and buried, the devil's coach-horse beetles hatch, burrow out, breed in great numbers, and start hunting humans. At first they're only attracted by people who are bleeding (which leads to a queasy-making scene in a hospital and with a newly-deflowered virgin) but then they start attacking anyone, bleeding or not. It's up to the scientists to stop them from wiping out the U.S. and Britain. Typical example of the killer-insect nasty-novels that filled the book racks back in those days, offering no real surprises but delivering the killer-insect-book goods.

Night of the Crabs - Guy N. Smith (Dell, 1976)
Uncomplicated, no-frills pulp horror that's not that bad in that even if it doesn't really deliver much in the way of goods, it doesn't take but a few hours to read. Huge-ass crabs come out of the ocean by the score and start eating people. The people have to find a way to stop them or mankind is doomed! So, they do. But not so well that it doesn't leave room for a sequel. Or, in this case, five sequels. You don't pick one of these books up expecting Steinbeck, though, so s'okay. The series included Killer Crabs, Crabs: The Human Sacrifice, Crab's Moon, The Origin of the Crabs, and Crabs on the Rampage.

The Conqueror Worms - Brian Keene (Leisure, 2006)
For some reason (refreshingly barely speculated about, much less explained) it starts raining all over the globe and never stops. The Earth becomes flooded, with only the highest points left above water. An old man named Teddy Garnett writes a narrative of it all from a mountain cabin as he waits to die, trying to survive the floods and worm attacks as long as he can. He gets visits from his friend Carl and relates descriptions of how some other survivors battled giant earthworms and sea creatures that were part of an apparent apocalypse. It's kind of a combination of Tremors, Night of the Living Dead, and Waterworld, and it works perfectly. Keene is great at apocalyptic scenarios, and he handles giant hellspawn monsters even better than he does carnivorous zombies... and that's coming from a guy who loves his zombies. The cover art is accurate, which gave me pause initially; I love worm attacks, but wasn't sure I'd like them that big. Damn if Keene didn't win me over, though; these are great monsters. And I like the fact that their presence isn't neatly explained; too many horror novels want to make things "neat," but if such situations actually happened, the victims probably wouldn't know the cause. It just is what it is and they have to deal with it. Excellent, compulsively-readable horror that's currently out of print, but you may be able to scare up a used copy, and I imagine it'll find its way back to print in some format or other (hopefully in paper form - I still hate e-books, but you should read it any way you can). It's one of my favorite Keene books, so I just don't see how it can say off the market for long. Meanwhile, Keene has been offering installments of a free sequel, Deluge, on his website. Once that's complete I'm printing that baby out (or I'll even buy it if they print it up). Go here.

The Fungus (later re-released as Death Spore) - Harry Adam Knight (Star, 1985)
British goremeister Knight has a field day destroying the entire population of Britain as a laboratory experiment designed to feed the world by increasing the growth of mushrooms gets out of hand and gives a massive growth-spurt to all forms of fungi. Soon people are dying (some exploding from within by internal yeasts, some being dissolved from the outside by athlete's foot varieties, etc.) or being taken over by growths that envelop them and turn them into monsters. A three-person team is given anti-fungal drug treatments, armed, and sent into a fuzzy toadstool-packed London to try to recover the laboratory notes so an antidote can be created before the fungus spreads to the rest of the world. Loads of nasty in-your-face gruesomeness is piled on heavily with enough plot to keep it going. As usual, Knight delivers exactly what's promised, and this is great stuff for fans of British nasties.

Worm - Harry Adam Knight (Bart, 1987)
British nasty-novel about giant intestinal parasites which are causing all sorts of gory mayhem. A woman whose sister died during an operation (which involved a worm jumping out of her guts and attacking the surgeon when he sliced her open!) hires an alcoholic detective to find out where the worm came from. He uncovers a truly evil plot and lots of gruesomeness and misery. Fast-moving and effectively sickening splatter novel that knows no bounds. Great of its type.

The Worms - Al Sarrantonio (Berkley, 1985)
Action-packed rush job about giant worms, spawned by a centuries-old curse, who rise out of a dump and kill off most of a New England town. These worms don't attack in the usual way; they sting their victims, who then swell up and become worms themselves (which is kinda stupid, and makes me wonder if this wasn't inspired by T.V. Mikels' The Worm Eaters, which would be a helluva thing to use as source material). Eventually a small band of survivors witness the worms transforming into mutant animal demons, and they try to find the talisman that will send them back to Hell. Not much plot, but almost non-stop worm attacks... which would be great except they get tiresome about the time one of the stingers narrowly miss the heroes. Sarrantonio's writing is always good, but this one feels like it was hammered out in a week and published as a first draft for some fast money, kind of a "I gotta buy a new fuel pump, so, eh, killer worm book, fuckit!" It's nothing special, but it's got a brief page count and large print, so it won't take much of your time, either.

Gila! - Les Simons (Signet, 1981)
Gore abounds in this giant-lizards-on-the-loose novel, which plays kind of like what classic 50's trash-film The Giant Gila Monster might have been like if Lucio Fulci had directed it. It's kind of silly, of course, but ya pays ya dime, ya gets to see lizard attacks. The plot is simple but engaging enough (you were expecting art?) and pretty ruthless -- not even little kids escape the hunger of the giant atomic-test-spawned predators as they attack diners, buses, and county fairs. It's up to a scientist and her Apache boyfriend to find a way to stop the bulletproof monsters before they reach Albuquerque! This book is exactly what you'd expect it to be, and for that reason, it's good. It's kinda lunkheaded, plot-wise, but it'll win you over with all the meatslappage. The writing is not strong but it's competent, and I kind of liked the twist ending, even though I did laugh at it.

The Visitor - Chauncey G. Parker III (Signet, 1981)
Unique horror novel about a man who raises the ire of a rat when he kills her babies. Soon the man and the very-determined-and-mobile rat are engaged in total war with each other, and the man's nightmare appears to have no end. The ruthless rat leaves nothing untouched in its vengeance quest; if it's not attacking him directly, it's ruining and contaminating all he owns. Great novel, and the movie made from it (Of Unknown Origin) is also well-worth checking out. I've had mouse problems before so I can relate to this, and even though it's just one rat, it's almost as disturbing as whole-plague-of-rat novels. Something different, for sure. I got this as a cut-out used book for 50 cents. Whatta bargain!

Slime - William Essex (Leisure, 1988)
A pool of killer slime, spawned by toxic waste, roams through a farm community devouring people and cattle, leaving no trace of corpses and growing in size proportionately to whatever it eats. The book is made up of endless attack after attack, which are all the same and none are the least bit scary. The slime gets really huge (who cares) and eats a bunch of cardboard characters (so what) and the townspeople fear it may take over the world (ho hum). So they kill it in a way you wouldn't believe if I told you (it involves urine). They kind of generic no-frills junk that gives horror such a bad reputation. There's not even any real gore to redeem it. Blah. Fuck it. Even the cover fails; I'm sure it's supposed to fill me with terror, but it just makes me wish I had some lime jello. Essex also turned out a book called From Below, dealing with killer leeches, and another called The Pack, which may have been about dogs. Hopefully they're better than this one...

More to come... I've been buying a lot of these things.

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