Duncan Ralston’s WOOM

Woom – Duncan Ralston
Shadow Work – 2016


When I was reading about Matthew Stokoes Cows a few days ago, I came across a comparison to this book. I had downloaded an audiobook version of WOOM a few months back, and seeing that it was very short, I decided to give it a go.

A weird lad invites a prostitute to a hotel room and tells her gross stories while he tries to stretch out her vagina. Some of the stories are pretty nasty, but nothing in here really surprised me. This is the second book in a row that I’ve finished that contains a scene where somebody kills themselves by a self-administered abortion. I assumed that the narrator was working himself up to some horrible climax where he would do something really nasty to the woman he is talking to, and I was quite disappointed to find that my assumption was entirely correct.

This book proudly claims to be extreme horror on the cover. I understand that extreme horror often contains rape scenes. Detailed descriptions of fictional rapes don’t really bother me, but I am sometimes bothered by how rape is used in transgressive fiction. This book, while well written and plotted out, is essentially the story of a man raping a prostitute. He rapes her in a particularly unpleasant manner, but the specifics of his actions didn’t disappoint me. It was the fact that the whole book is essentially just a lead up to a rape.

Again, I don’t mind authors using rape in their stories. There’s loads of ways that rape could be used in an extreme horror story. Using it as the punchline seems lazy.

Some might say that the horrible ending to the book is to make some profound statement on the unpleasantness of existence. Let’s Go Play at The Adams’ uses rape to effectively convey this message. I don’t think that WOOM is operating on that level though. It’s not that sophisticated. One of the chapters in here is about an exploding bumhole.

I actually did enjoy reading the book, and I think Ralston is a capable writer. The plotting here is quite impressive. I just really disliked the ending. I’d be willing to give Ralston another go.

The Ingoldsby Legends – A Review in the Spirit of the Work

The Ingoldbsy Legends – Richard Harris Barham
J.M. Dent & Co – 1898 (Originally published 1840)

Waded through some poems in The Ingoldsby Legends before dinnertime, & that was punishment enough.

T.E.D. Klein, The Ceremonies

Ted Klein wrote a novel called The Ceremonies
that mentions some other horror ficciones
(that’s Spanish for stories), and I, being me,
decided to seek out these tales with great glee,
for Klein’s a respected horror critic and author,
and taking his recommendations I oughta.
I’d already read Stoker and  Machen and Poe,
but some of the books in there I didn’t know,
so I set out to find them, though it might be a slog,
and vowed to review each of them on my blog.

Now Klein’s protagonist reads these dark tales
but encountering one, he verily fails
to finish, for it is too boring by far,
so he picks up instead a book about stars.
I promised myself I’d succeed where he failed,
so I opened the book and I slowly inhaled
to ready myself for some archaic prose
about witches and jackdaws and old spooky ghosts,
but soon my face puckered like I’d sucked on a lime,
for The Ingoldsby Legends is written in rhyme.

It popularized supernatural tales,
but to provide any frightening scenes it quite fails.
I pushed to get through it,  made several tries,
but this kind of writing, I truly despise;
it’s boring and British and repulsively twee.
It might feature spirits, but it isn’t for me.

Let this be a lesson, learn from my mistake,
and leave Ingoldsby’s Legends alone, for God’s sake.
Use your copy for toilet paper, don’t you think twice,
and please listen closely to these words of advice:
When writing ghost stories and tales (and reviews),
poetry isn’t the form you should use.

Shoved Down Your Throat and Shat Out Your Arse – Matthew Stokoe’s Cows

Cows – Matthew Stokoe
Creation Books – 1998

Happy Halloween! Here is one of the least Halloweeny horror novels I have ever read. I had this book on my to-read list for several years before getting around to it. I don’t really remember where or how I first heard of it, but I must have read a summary of it years ago because when I started it, I recognized some plot elements. That being said, I was actually quite unprepared for the extremity of this book. I really didn’t know it was going to be so gross.

It’s about a dude who lives with his abusive mother and crippled dog. This guy gets a job in a slaughterhouse, and everything goes to Hell. I enjoyed the first few chapters. The nastiness is so extreme from the beginning that it’s difficult to absorb. I know that the world is filled with sickos and abusive parents, but the book starts off so unpleasant that nothing ever feels real. The beginning feels nightmarish, but when the violence ramps up, the whole thing starts to feel silly.

The point at which I stopped enjoying the book was when the workers in the slaughterhouse ganged up and started fucking the wounds on a cow they were killing. This scene reminded me of pictures my friends and I would draw in business studies classes when we were 15. Pretty soon after this scene, the cows start to talk and I lost interest. I did finish the book, but I didn’t enjoy much of the last half.

There is few drawn out poo-eating scenes in here. One of these made me feel a bit ill. I’ve read more books about poo-eaters in 2021 than any sensible person should.

When I was done with the book, I googled it and discovered that Cows is a widely blogged about novel. I read a few reviews, and it turns out that a lot of people talk a whole lot of rubbish about this book. It’s not really though provoking or insightful. It’s puerile crap about a pair of poo-eaters. When it come to artistic statements about slaughterhouses and shitty arses, there’s only one that matters:

Fun Halloween Book Recommendations

I’m a big fan of horror fiction. A quick browse through this blog will show you that I don’t really limit myself to any specific subgenres. Halloween and horror are inextricable, but I feel like certain types of horror are more Halloweeny than others. It’s just my personal opinion, but I feel like Halloweeny horror should contain an element of fun. The following is not a list of the scariest books I’ve read. It’s a list of horror novels that both trick and treat, books that will make excellent reading while you’re stuffing your face with the candy that you didn’t give out on the evening of the 31st. These are my recommendations for a good Halloween read.

Al Sarrantonio has written several books about Halloween, but I haven’t read those yet. I read 4 of his other books last year, and Moonbane and The Worms were the most enjoyable. They’re quick, fun reads, perfect for Halloween. One is about werewolves, and the other is about… worms. Even thinking about these makes me want to read more Sarrantonio.

I’m going to take it for granted that my readers are all familiar with H.P. Lovecraft. I read quite a lot of the extended Cthulu Mythos over the last 2 years, and aside from Howard’s own stories, I think my favourite Lovecraftian pastiche is Frank Belknap Long’s The Horror from the Hills. You wouldn’t need to be big into Lovecraft to enjoy this on its own either. It’s imaginative, exciting and a lot of fun. I’m pairing this with T.E.D. Klein’s Dark Gods as that contains a short story called ‘The Black Man with a Horn’ that features Long as its protagonist and parralels The Horror from the Hills in interesting ways. The other stories in Dark Gods are top notch horror writing. So, so good. (Klein’s The Ceremonies is phenomenal too, but it’s set in summer, so doesn’t really fit in with these Halloweeny vibes.)

I read quite a few Joe R. Lansdale books this year, and my favourite was definitely The Nightrunners. This is a horrible, violent story, but Lansdale’s style of writing is so easy to read that the book feels like fun. Lansdale’s The Drive-In books are fun too, but not quite spooky enough to recommend here.

These William W. Johnstone novels are not good books, but the horror elements at play within these novels are so over the top that I found them rather enjoyable. These are definitely “Paperbacks from Hell”, and if you’re into ridiculous horror B-movies, you might enjoy these. They’re utterly mental though. Seriously. Imagine an x-rated episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark directed by a Ted Nugent who’s high on crack and you might get an idea of what these books are like.

I know he’s an obvious choice, but let’s be real. Stephen King. You understand. I reckon Salem’s Lot and his short stories would be the best for this time of year. It’s probably that I’ve been conditioned to think this since childhood, but Stephen King’s fiction is exactly the kind of thing that I want to read at Halloween. Gross, creepy fun. Perfect.

Ray Bradbury is another obvious choice. His books are less trashy than the others I’m discussing here, but they definitely have the fun element that is key to good Halloween fiction. Something Wicked This Way Comes is an all round awesome book, and it’s set at Halloween. His most famous collection of short horror fiction is called The October Country. These two books are absolutely mandatory Halloween reading. He also wrote a kids book called The Halloween Tree. Bradbury is great.

I’m not going to recommend Dracula or Frankenstein here for a couple of reasons. You already know they exist, but both are also quite serious books. Varney the Vampire, which predates Dracula by about 50 years, is not a serious book. It was serialized over the course of two years, and it’s absolute trash. Characters disappear and turn into different people, the chapters are out of order, and it’s so long that it contradicts itself on several plot points. Despite all this, I found it very enjoyable. It’s bloody long though, so you’d better get started soon if you want to finish by Halloween

Pretty much anything by Harry Adam Knight/Simon Ian Childer would be great for Halloween. Both Harry and Simon were pseudonyms used by John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle. The books they wrote together under these names are trashy, gross out horror novels that are supremely entertaining. I absolutely loved these books. Slimer and Worm were my favourites. Classic stuff.

Michael Slade’s Ghoul is a horror novel with a Lovecraftian tinge about a murderous hard rock band that lives under a graveyard. It’s pure trash. I loved it. I read Brian Keene’s Ghoul last year too. It’s also about a creep that lives under a graveyard, and it too would make for some fine reading on a chilly October’s eve.

A few years ago, I chose my October reading based on the amount of pumpkins the books had on their covers. This was an awful idea. (The only decent book I’ve read with a pumpkin on the cover was the original Halloween novelisation.) Pumpkins are good, but they’re not enough. A good Halloween novel should be fun to read. The books listed in this post are easily digestible, super entertaining horror fiction that do a good job of encapsulating the fun and fear that make an enjoyable Halloween. Hopefully this post will help some indecisive readers find something juicy for All Hallow’s Eve. If you have any recommendations on exciting horror fiction, please leave a comment and let me know.

The Squirming Menace… Maggots – Edward Jarvis

Maggots – Edward Jarvis
Arrow – 1986

Imagine that you’re on holidays somewhere far away from where you live. The locals speak the same language as you in this place, but you are a tourist here and know nothing about local events and politics. You’re bored, so you turn on the TV, but the only thing on is a satirical sketch show about current events in the town you’re staying in. Not only are you unfamiliar with the targets of the satire, but the brand of humour is bizarre and doesn’t make you laugh.

Pretty annoying right? I mean, you might watch out of curiousity for a few minutes, but you’ll probably turn it off pretty quickly and have a wank instead.

Now imagine the exact same scenario, but with every sketch in the show ending with the characters being attacked and devoured by a swarm of bloodthirsty maggots.

That would be the television equivalent of this book.

I have read many awful horror novels, but Edward Jarvis’s Maggots was shockingly bad. I was genuinely surprised at how something so awful could get published. Sometimes you read a book and decide quickly that the story is bad or the writing is poor, but you can usually tell what the writer is going for, even if they never get there. Maggots is different. It’s such a mess that I honestly don’t know what Edward Jarvis was trying to do with it.

The story is very stupid. Maggots start coming out of the ground and eating people. Some of the maggots are regular size, some of them are bigger than dogs, some are so small that they form a fine mist in the air, and at least one is bigger than a bus. There’s a guy who likes exploring caves who sees some. He has some dealings with an American politician who is running for president. There’s also a teacher who uses karate to beat up his students. The maggot problem gets worse and worse. Maggots invade a sports stadium. A maggot volcano erupts. The maggots come because people use oil. People start eating the maggots. Other people start maggot hunting groups. The world’s leading politicians agree to try to kill the maggots by playing loud noise at them through a speaker.

Maybe the story is more coherent than that, but I doubt it. In truth, I wasn’t able to give this book a thorough reading. I skimmed large chunks after the first 50 pages. The writing here is utterly tortuous. It goes between lengthy scientific descriptions of the Earth’s crust to boring political satire. I assume it’s satire of British politics of the mid 1980s, but it was totally over my head. When you’re telling a story, there’s certain unexciting parts that have to be included for the sake of coherency, but Jarvis takes these bits and draws them out as much as possible. When I buy a book with a maggoty face on the cover, I want maggoty faces to take up a good chunk of the story. There are some nasty bits in here, but they take up maybe 8 or 9 pages of the total 235.

The book features characters from all over the world, and dis bleddy awtaw cawnt bleddy ‘elp wroyten ow deh accence phawneticlay. It’s fucking unbearable. I know that there’s a market for “so bad it’s good” horror out there, but this isn’t good at all. This is “so bad it’s actually really awful and difficult to read” horror. I wanted to give up at so many points, but I struggled through.

Honestly, this book reads like it was written by an alien or a computer or something that has a basic understanding of what a story should contain but absolutely no understanding of why people like stories. As I read through it, I actually wondered if Edward Jarvis wasn’t some genius post modernist who had created this book as a statement on… something I don’t understand. Maggots is actually so radically awful, that it’s difficult to believe that its author was simply incompetent.

Fortunately for everyone, this book is very hard to find. Copies sell for insane amounts considering how terrible it is. This is obviously due to the cover. Scroll up there and look at it again. A festering, maggot-eaten head. Quality.

Wrath James White’s Porno for Psychos

Like Porno for Psychos – Wrath James White
Deadite Press – 2011

It was this time last year that I read Wrath James White’s Skinzz. I was a little underwhelmed by that book, but I was willing to give the author another go. Something about the beginning of a new school year makes me want to read brutally violent splatterpunk horror, so I decided to read Like Porno for Psychos.

This collection of short stories features an alien prostitute, a weredog, a pregnant ghoul and a woman who gets off on the idea of being savaged by lions. All of the stories are extremely violent and gory, but there’s a certain sense of morality that runs throughout the book. Rapists and racists don’t fare well in these tales. There’s one story about a girl with body dysmorphia that is both horrendously violent and devastatingly sad. Wrath James White writes some pretty messed up stories, but I got the sense that he’s not a piece of shit human being.

At 100 pages, this book was too short to really blow me away, but I was entertained the whole time I was reading it. If you’re the type of person who would even consider reading a book with this title and cover, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I don’t think this is the last Wrath James White book I’ll be reading.

Freaks and Con-Artists – William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley – William Lindsay Gresham
Rinehart and Company – 1946

Most of the books I’ve read over the past few years have been horror novels. I generally read 1 non-horror book every month, but I don’t discuss those here. When I started reading Nightmare Alley, I didn’t intend on reviewing it, but after finishing it, I needed to set some thoughts down. This is now one of my favourite novels

In most horror novels, there is good and evil. Sometimes the evil is triumphant, but the books are about vampires or slime creatures, and the reader knows that these don’t exist, so it’s easy to put the books down and not let them interfere with how you see the real world.

Nightmare Alley doesn’t feature vampires or slime creatures, but every page of it screams that human beings are deeply flawed creatures. Everyone is out for themselves. There are no bonds between people that are sacred or permanent. Existence is a competitive, futile nightmare.

This is a novel about Stanton Carlisle. He’s a magician in a carnival freak show. Throughout the novel, he manipulates whoever he can to get ahead. After a while, he becomes a succesful spiritualist and runs his own Church. The freaks and the occulty stuff Stanton peddles are probably enough to warrant this book’s inclusion on this site, but the bleak outlook guaranteed it.

“In a patch of silver the Rev. Carlisle stopped and raised his face to the full moon, where it hung desolately, agonizingly bright – a dead thing watching the dying earth.”

The opening chapter is a conversation between the protagonist and the leader of the freak show about where to find a geek. (A geek, for those who don’t know, is a man who bites the head off chickens.) The boss explains that geeks aren’t found. They’re made. The explanation he provides is brutal and poignant.

I’m sure that countless edgy writers of bizarro and horror fiction have set stories in freakshows. (Remember that classic X-Files episode?) A freakshow presents so many opportunities for weirdness, but Gresham never cashes in on this. The freaks here are real people, and they’re just as willing to walk all over others as anyone else in the novel, maybe even moreso due to their experiences. There wasn’t a single moment in the book that wasn’t entirely believable.

This was a great one. Most of the stuff I review on this blog is shit compared to this book. There’s a new movie version coming out later this year, but don’t wait for that. Read this book now.

Children of the Black Sabbath – Anne Hébert

Children of the Black Sabbath – Anne Hébert
Crown Publishers – 1977
(Originally published as Les Enfants du Sabbat in 1975)

This book is about a daughter of Satan who becomes a nun and wreaks havoc in her convent. The title sounds like a heavy metal tribute act. Anne Hébert is a respected author, but she wrote in French, and there’s very few reviews of the English translation of this book. Also, it was recently reissued by Centipede Press, one of the coolest publishers out there. I had to read this.

At first I wasn’t sure if Sister Julie, the protagonist, was actually possessed or if she was just mental. The Devil is here though. There is real wickedness at play, and some very nasty things occur. Sister Julie is from a long line of witches, and without spoiling the story, I will say that she performs a pretty blasphemous miracle by the end of the book.

Hébert was an award winning French Canadian author. There’s unannounced perspective changes and flashbacks in here, and you have to pay attention when you’re reading it. (This isn’t a problem though. There’s plenty going on to hold your attention.) Even though it’s a translation, this book felt more literary than a lot of the horror fiction I review here.

The cover of this 1978 edition is pretty nice.

I’m not really sure what the message of the book is. I might be biased, but I thought the head nun and priest of the convent come across as more dislikable than the daughter of Satan who is working towards their ruin. Sister Julie is not a standard hero figure though. The source of her powers seems to be the incestuous rape and neglect she suffered as a child. The suffering she has endures makes it hard not to want to see her succeed in her endevours, but she also lashes out at people who don’t deserve it. The book doesn’t seem to come firmly down on the side of god or Satan.

This was atmospheric, tense, dark fiction. You should read it.

Charles Platt’s The Gas

The Gas – Charles Platt
Savoy Books – 1980 (Originally published 1970)

A poisonous gas that drives people insane wafts around England leaving the country in chaos. Yes, this book has the exact same plot as James Herbert’s The Fog. When I read The Fog last year, I was surprised by how extreme some of the scenes were, but that book barely compares to the lurid chaos of The Gas. The gas in The Fog makes people violent, but the gas in The Gas makes them horny and violent.

The first two chapters read like regular porn. A guy picks up a hitchhiker with big boobs and proceeds to ride her. In chapter 3, a policeman wanks off his dog. By the end of the book, the reader is covered in shit, piss, vomit, blood and animal remains.

The Gas is an exercise in extremity, an author seeing how far he can push things. I’ve read other books that may outdo it in certain respects, but you get to a point where a few extra turds or rape scenes don’t really make a difference. I’ve previously discussed how I’m not hugely interested in reading books by authors who are solely trying to push the envelope, but The Gas was first published in 1970. Authors today can self publish pretty much anything. Getting this kind of filth printed 50 years ago seems far more impressive.

Actually, when a new edition of The Gas was put out in 1980, 3000 copies were seized from the publishers by the British government. Something about this makes it a very alluring text. That cover too… Irresistible.

The Gas was recently republished by Centipede Press as part of their Vintage Horrors series. I think it’s generally classified as sci-fi because of its author’s later works, but the violence is so extreme here that describing it as “horror” isn’t much of a stretch. The edition I read contained a foreword from Phillip José Farmer. The only book I’ve read by Farmer was also a work of erotic sci-fi horror.

The Gas is an extreme and horrifying book with an interesting publication history, but it’s a curiosity rather than a great novel. Give it a read though; you might as well.

Joe R. Lansdale’s The Drive In Series

The Drive In: A B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas
Bantam Spectra Books – 1988

This book was on my to-read list for years, but it’s been in print the whole time, and I kept putting it off. I recently finished an extremely awful horror novel, and I needed something quick and enjoyable to cleanse my palate. Having read Lansdale’s God of the Razor stuff earlier this year, I knew that The Drive In was just what I needed.

A few thousand unfortunates get trapped in a drive in movie theatre. People putrefy into puddles, others melt into each other and things rapidly descend into a maelstrom of cannibalism. Oh, and there’s weird alien gods too. A few years ago, I read a couple of bizarro fiction novels. This is very much that kind of thing. I suppose it’s violent enough to be classified as horror, but it’s also very mental. Nothing is explained, and the novel is better for that.

Honestly, I breezed through this one so quickly that I have nothing else to say. It was enjoyable. I liked it. I am happy to read the other books in the series.

The Drive In 2: Not just one of them Sequels
Spectra – 1989

Honestly, I didn’t like this one. It takes up the story where the last book left it off. The gang go on a road trip through Drive In country. I lost interest about halfway through, but it was short enough so that it didn’t seem like a chore to finish. The writing is entertaining (Lansdale loves a simile.), but the story gets so ridiculous that I found it hard to care about what was going to happen next. It left me with very little enthusiasm to read part three.

The Drive in 3: The Bus Tour
Subterranean Press – 2005

My expectations for this book were pretty low, and I ended up enjoying it more than its predecessor. The second novel took the story so far from the original Drive In that the third novel in the series had no choice but to go further afield again. While the first novel found its cast of characters trapped at a drive in movie theatre, the third novel sees them trapped in a giant, semi-robotic catfish. This is a silly book, but it’s also very easy to read.

Personally, I thought The Drive In was pretty good, but I found its sequels a bit too zany for my tastes. There’s an omnibus edition available if you’re interested. I reckon I’ll wait a while and then give Lansdale’s short stories a go.