Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Edward Lee, Brian Keene and Carlton Mellick III - book review (3 in 1!)

My favorite adjective is "cacodemoniacal" - 3 in 1 Fright Zone Halloween countdown horror novel review!

I'm breaking format today (it's my blog, fuck you) to review not one, not two, but THREE new(ish) horror/splatterpunk novels perfect for reading next to a roaring fire, half rack of PBR and a plastic jack o lantern full of double dipped Nerds. It had been a little while since I'd checked in on the amazing and magical world of splatterpunk horror fiction, so, with October approaching I poked around on the web
and picked up a few novels which I was able to burn through on a plane ride last weekend and share my oh so important opinions with you (note to readers: you get some seriously sour looks from people
if they read over your shoulder at all when you have a Ed Lee book open on your lap on an airplane). Quick side note though, I'm not going to go into the detail that
I often do, because all three books are worth checking out and I don't want to ruin the fun with horrible halloween spoilers, so hit up your local library's splatterpunk section to check these terrible tomes out today, and do not fear gentle reader, today's reviews are SPOILER FREE!!!

First off we have the king of the second wave of splatterpunk's latest offering in the form of Edward Lee's "The Innswich Horror" ($9.95, Deadite Press, TPB size small press book, got it from Of course Ed Lee is one of my all time favorite horror authors, and his earlier works like "The Bighead" and "The Ushers" will always be uber-classics of twisted psycho-sexual splatter that pushed the horror fiction genre (and splatterpunk specifically) to horrible new highs (lows?) as far as I'm concerned, which is why it pains me to admit that over the past few years his mass market paperback works have gotten a wee bit derivative and toned down. Often, they have seemed to be sort of rushed and half hearted, recycling ideas from his earlier works, as well as plot twists and some times, strangely, entire word for word passages. Don't get me wrong because there are highly enjoyable moments in stuff like "Monstrosity" and "City Infernal" but the last few books of his I read such as "The Black Train", "Golem" and "Flesh Gothic" actually felt as if he was ripping off and watering down ideas from his classics. While they were still
good reads, and from any other author I'd be more than content with those books, but Lee set the bar so high with the first batch of books I read from him that it was just a bit of a let down to see some wheel spinning going on. That's why I'm glad to say this is not the case at all with "The Innswich Horror".

The first of Edward Lee's new "Lovecraft cycle" of books, drawing inspiration from the master seems to have kicked his story telling back into high gear, because
"Innswich Horror" is fresher, leaner and meaner than anything I've read from him in quite some time. The story, which takes place shortly before the start of
World War II, centers around one Foster Morley, who is possibly the worlds first fanboy, a rich and fairly square uber-Lovecraft freak who is on a cross country trip to visit places that HPL had visited during his life for inspiration, throwing around money, spouting purple prose and constantly re-reading classic editions of his favorite Lovecraft works. The often used "Lovecraft wasn't fiction, it was a warning!" plot device is here, but before you roll your eyes, let me say that Lee manages to put his own original and fresh feeling twist on that idea (almost like he's making fun of lesser authors using that tired idea over and over), and the clash of Lovecraft style old tyme cosmic and
watery horror with Lee's twisted sex freak, porn and snuff obsessed characters that Morley enounters (yes, you get the requisite hot chick fucking a brain dead quadraplegic at some point) is original, entertaining and more than once laugh out loud funny (well, maybe not for your mom, but for me). Once the horror fully kicks in and the fairly well set up mystery starts to unravel the rather short (under 200 pages) book really starts to cook, and a few of the ending twists I definitely didn't
see coming. The ending is great in classic over the top Lee fashion, and wraps things up nicely in a old school horror 70s horror flick kind of way. If, like me, you've been waiting for Edward Lee to start firing on all cylinders again, this is one to pick up. Let's hope the rest of his "Lovecraft cycle" continues to be this caliber. I'll be along for the ride for sure.

8.5 out of 10 fucking Oscars (extra half an Oscar for the use of my favorite adjective, "cacodemoniacal". I need to work that into my day to day speech with clients at work).

Next up we have the pick of the litter with Brian Keene's AWESOME (and hilariously titled) 2006 novel "The Conqueror Worms" ($6.99, Leisure mass market paperback, get it at any book store chain). While not technically a splatterpunk author,
Keene is definitely not one to skimp on the gore, and this book definitely brings the horror goods full force. The hilarious title, goofy cover art and possibly wonky concept (giant earth worms destroy the earth) had kept this book in my "to read" pile for a few years now, but had also kept me from actually picking it up. I finally cracked it open a few days ago and let me tell you boils and ghouls, am I ever glad I did. This is one hum-dinger of post apocalypse end of the world giant monster story that will keep you reading way past your bed time. It's a shame that the post apocalypse book club I used to belong to went belly up, because this would have been a perfect choice. If you are into that genre at all, make this the next book your read fo-sho.

I'm a big fan of Keene's first novel, that I think every horror fiction freak has read by now as it was at the forefront of the zombie craze from a few years ago, his very original and well written undead apocalypse tale "The Rising" (and it's highly enjoyable sequel "City Of The Dead"), but for some reason I hadn't read anything else by him yet, but I will definitely
be amending that grievous error. I enjoyed "The Conqueror Worms" more than either of those aforementioned books by far, even though they were both great reads.

Up front, the basis of the story is this - one day it starts raining and doesn't stop... ever. The world slowly (and muddily) ends as the oceans rise, but that's just the start of things as horrors from deep below start to show up everywhere in a Plasmatic's style giant worm apocalypse (well, giant maggots, giant worms, whatever....). Huge night crawlers start to invade the main characters rural farm town as he holes up in his house, but that's just where things start to get bad for him.

I can imagine that it must of been hard for the author and publishers to not say more than that and as I read the book I was glad they did, and I'm not going to either, but that really is just the tip of the iceberg. The story is WAY more than that, and as it focuses on several different groups of survivors, you sort of get two novels in one that end up tying together for the grand finale, which is really cool and well paced, but the journey to that big ending is what the book is really about. Like I said, I don't want to spoil it, because the out-of-the-blue surprises are part of what I loved about this read, but you get all kinds of
crazy shit, from Lovecraftian weirdness and spooky sea tales, evil post apoc scavenger cults, bizarre zombies (maybe?), crazy assed monster... actually I'm gonna stop, but trust me, there's some great out of the blue monster moments in this one that will stoke you out if you love your classic pulpy horror fiction even half as much as I do.

Another thing that makes this such a page burner is that, a lot like Stephen King's early/classic work, Keene has a real knack for writing funny, realistic, everyday joe kind of characters that read as real people. A huge part of why King's early short stories as well as books like "Salem's Lot", "The Shining" and "The Stand" work so well is because once you buy into the characters - they're real people. So, not only do you actually care about what happens to them when the shit starts hitting the fan, but it also makes it a lot easier to swallow
the over the top and semi-redonkulos horror concepts that get thrown at their protagonists. This makes is fun because you can have some really crazy and/or classic horror stuff happening, but if feels like it's going on in our world, and not in a make believe movie universe. The two main story tellers in "The Conqueror Worms" (one a retired WWII vet and the other a early 30s slacker who worked at a video store before the "end") both just ring true, so when the "gruesome stuffs" start getting thrown at you, it makes it seem real, almost like if it was happening to you, and it makes you actually relate to the stress that these characters are going through. The first POV character, the elderly and likable Teddy Garnett is so relate-able, that his constant nic-fits for
some Kodiak started to actually make me want a smoke or a chew (something I haven't done in over 10 years). When he makes some poor choices at points later in the book, instead of rolling your eyes with that "why the fuck is she going in the basement/oh no white girl, don't go down there!" thing that usually happens, instead you feel like you might very well have done the same exact thing. In short, Keene is a slick writer who, like classic horror authors Robert R McCammon, Stephen King and Clive Barker, can make you actually give a fuck about his characters, something that, for as much horror as I have read over the years (trust me, it's a lot) doesn't really happen that often.

Also, I'm curious to see if anyone else reads this book, let me know if the middle section "story" gave you some for real creeps. I can't remember the last time I got such a fun, heeby jeeby vibe from something that, if I summarized here, would seem really ridiculous and not scary at all. Great writing, great read.

9.5 out of 10 fucking post Apoc Oscars

Bringing up the tail end of this menage a trois Halloween horror review is Portland resident Carlton Mellick III's brilliantly titled bizarro-horror splatterpunk-fest "Apeshit". Never having read anything by Mr. Mellick before, I have to admit that I ordered this one just because of the title. Happily, it has no problem living up to the expectations you would have from a book called "Apeshit". This is some twisted shit right here my friends!

Billing itself on the back cover and press releases as "Friday the 13th meets Visitor Q", the basic premise is the slasher movie cliche of a bunch of drunk, stoned, horny and party ready college/late high school age friends going to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend get away. As they approach, the back road becomes littered with dead animals... an over abundance of roadkill should warn us horror fans to turn back even quicker than a crazy old guy waving an eyeball around, but they of course drive on by, and once they reach the cabin, the fun of course begins.

A parody of both splatterpunk cliches and 80s horror at the same time, this book is so fucking our there that it teeters on the fence of being unreadably ridiculous, but it somehow never falls over into the cow pasture of boring offensive for offensive sake. I totally enjoyed myself (and laughed out loud) the whole way through this short (under 200 pages) read. The mixture of extreme splatterpunk gore, beyond (so beyond!) twisted sex and downright despicable and deviant characters is so constant, unrelenting and orbiting a light year out from wherever "over the top" normally is that I think I would put this into the must read catagory for horror hounds who want to be on the
constant edge of the most extreme shit around. The cool thing is that in the midst of all of the insanely twisted (and offensive) shit/blood/gore/sex going on here, it never felt like stupid torture porn bullshit and somehow kept a funny and cool classic slasher and zombie movie/horror story vibe. I know that I'm really splitting hairs and probably being a hypocrite when I say I hate torture porn/Saw/Human Centipede type stuff but then I recommend twisted splatterpunk reads like this, but there's a classic horror vibe and fun that just is missing from that stuff that is all over the place in this book and kept me reading and laughing instead of rolling my eyes and moving on to another read.

I'm not going to go too much into the plot, since the "been there/done that" set up of the teens in a cabin is part of what makes the book work, but as crazy and ridiculous as it gets, it does have an ending that explains things (sort of) and ties it up, and I enjoyed this tightly moving book the whole way through. If you get offended easily (or even not so easily) than this is DEFINITELY not a horror novel for you, but if you laughed your way through Takashi Miike's banned "Masters of Horror" episode and loved Ed Lee's "Mr Torso" or Jack Ketchum's "Off Season" and you want to see where the edge of splatterpunk and bizarro twisted horror/sex fiction is as of 2010, than this is the book for you!

end score for "Apeshit" - 8 out of 10 fucking Oscars.

Alright folks, that's all for today. I'll be back to continue the countdown to Halloween with another horror floppy selection from the actual comic book long boxes tomorrow,
but for now make like Levar Burton and go into your local library with a visor over your eyes demanding that they get a bunch of sleazy splatterpunk books that throw around the "C" word like it's nothing and have poorly drawn monsters on the covers! See ya' next time!

now playing -
Nasty Savage - "Indulgence" LP
Pretty Maids - "Future World" LP (thanks Rob!)
Terror Squad - "Chaosdragon Rising" (why oh why is this not on vinyl?)
Ghost - "Opus Eponymous" (I can not wait for this vinyl to come out!!!)
Goblin - "The Cherry Five" LP
Nunslaughter/Blood Sick - split picture 7 inch


Blogger Dennis Dread said...

I've been dropping "C bombs" like it's fucking Hiroshima over here!

12:12 PM  

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