Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke – Eric LaRocca

I joined twitter to network with other book nerds and find out about cool horror novels. When the people I follow post about non book stuff, I often want to make fun of them. Dorks. If I follow you on twitter and you’re reading this, it’s probably you I’m talking about. Dial it back a notch, you little geek. To the people who just exclusively post about sick books, thank you.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke – Eric LaRocca
Weirdpunk Books – 2021


A while back, I saw somebody tweet about this book. I usually ignore stuff about new releases, but this cover grabbed me. I actually clicked on the link for a closer look. I saw somebody else post about the book soon thereafter. It popped up again a little while later. There seemed to be a lot of hype building around this one, and my curiosity got the better of me. I decided to read it.

This is the story of two women who start a relationship over the internet in the early 2000s. Theirs is not a sexual relationship, and it would be a stretch to describe it as romantic. It’s a kind of consensual master/slave type thing. Zoe, the master, gets Agnes, the slave, to do some pretty messed up stuff, and Agnes doesn’t really make things any better. She seems like a real idiot to be honest.

I don’t want to give any more details away in case you read this, but it does get quite gross. This isn’t the kind of horror novel I’d recommend to my mom.

The story is presented through emails and chat logs, and this format reminded me of the interactions I used to have online during the early 2000s. My familiarity with internet perverts probably lessened the effect of the book for me. Aside from a note at the very beginning of the text that states that one of the characters is now dead, there’s nothing here that proves the characters are actually doing the things they say they’re doing. If I were to dig through my old MSN chat logs, I am sure I would find stuff equally as fucked up. Seriously, can you remember 2000s era internet? A/S/L?

The story was entertaining, but I found it a bit hard to believe that Agnes would accept the terms of the relationship so quickly. We’re talking lifelong dedication after a few days of chatting and a bit of money. I suppose I find it hard to imagine what life was like for a lonely lesbian 20 years ago. It was probably tough, but I doubt many of them were as desperate as this. There are a lot of sickos out there though. Who knows?

This is a very short book; it felt more like a short story than a novella to me, but I enjoyed it while I was reading it. I’d consider reading more LaRocca in the future.

Scatology – Sea Caummisar

Everybody wants to be the best, but there’s about 8 billion people in the world now, and doing anything better than all of those people is pretty damn tough. At the same time, given the amount of people that we’re competing against, it’s also an achievement to be the worst at something.

When I saw the cover of this book, I knew I was looking at an absolute. I am entirely confident in saying that this splatterpunk novella has the worst cover of any book in existence. Now splatterpunk is an “extreme” genre, and I’ve included splatterpunk books before with suitably outrageous covers that were designed to revolt, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. It’s not just the idea behind this cover that’s awful; the execution is also comically inept. The original cover is so gross that I’m only going to embed an edited version in this post. This is a classy blog after all.

Original image here. (You might not even notice the difference.)

Yes. The actual cover of this book is a photograph of some shit and piss in a toilet bowl. It’s clearly a real photograph. There has been no photoshopping or trying to make it look arty or anything. Somebody used their phone to take a picture of their poo before they wiped their bum, and the picture ended up on the cover of a book. The title of the book is presented in the most childish looking typeface imaginable, and the text is all brown.

I did a reverse image search on the cover, and I could not find the original photograph without the text. I didn’t look super hard, but the lack of a match suggests that the image was not the result of a google search. It seems more likely that it was actually taken for the cover of the book. Did the mysterious Sea Caummisar take a picture of her own turds for the cover of her book? As gross as that seems, I would have more respect for a person who would do that than I would for a person who would get somebody else to do it for them.

Ok, I’ve talked enough about the book’s shitty cover. What about the book itself?

I actually have mixed feelings about it.

I try not to be judgemental about what happens between two consenting adults, but poo eating is really fucking gross. I don’t like thinking about it. I mean, obviously, it’s really, really funny that people do it, but I only ever want to think of it in terms of humour. Reading about people getting off to poo made me feel a bit sick. At one point near the beginning of the book when the protagonist is rubbing poo over a prostitute’s tits, I started to wonder if this was actually just shit-porn that had been mistakenly labelled horror. I was grossed out, so I took a break and came back to it a few hours later.

I’m glad I did because the next part of the book was actually really funny. The story is about Luke, a scat fetishist who meets a prostitute who lets him rub shit on her. He is jealous of her junky boyfriend, so he kidnaps him to get him out of the picture. While strung out and tied up in the back of Luke’s car, the junky boyfriend shits his britches. When Luke notices, he gets a huge boner, and a lot of the rest of the book consists of Luke wondering if getting off on “man crap” makes him gay. I laughed whenever this came up, and it came up quite a bit. The very blunt use of language made it all the funnier:

“Luke enjoyed the smell of the man’s messed pants and removed them for his own keeping.”

“After telling himself that enjoying a man’s poo didn’t make him gay, he raised the pants to his nose and inhaled a deep whiff.”

“It [a corpse’s mouth] wasn’t warm or wet, but the thought of her poo breath caused him to instantly blow his load down her throat”

Like I said, I think that people eating poo is really gross, but I also think it’s the root of all good comedy. I had a hearty chuckle at these and many other lines in this book. I’m laughing as I write this. “messed pants”…classic!

The book itself is gross-out trash, but it made me laugh quite a few times. Sea Caummisar has written a lot of books, and she publishes them herself as far as I can tell. The cover of this book sucks, but this is a DIY release. The ineptitude is part of the charm. I don’t like reviewing new books because I’m always afraid that the author will see what I’ve written and feel disheartened. Sea Caummisar, if you read this review and think I’m a dickhead, you’re right. I am a dickhead, but I got a good laugh out of your book, and I sincerely hope you continue to write horror. I was in no way disappointed by this book, and I am glad I read it. Here’s a link to Sea’s books on Amazon for anyone who’s interested.

The Light at the End – John Skipp and Craig Spector

The Light at the End – John Skipp and Craig Spector
Bantam – 1986


Last Thursday, I was sitting in bed after a stressful day’s work, trying to read a dense Thomas Ligotti story. I read the first paragraph about 3 times then gave up. I like Ligotti, but he’s not easy reading. I needed something a little less demanding. I flicked through my kindle and settled on The Light at the End by John Skipp and Craig Spector. Part of the reason I chose this one was that I thought it was a short novel, maybe 180 pages. Also, I knew that this book is often heralded as the first splatterpunk novel. The splatterpunk I’ve read has all been pretty straight forward, so this seemed like a good choice.

First off, it’s not short. Paper copies of this book run to almost 400 pages. I was a bit annoyed when I realised this, but I was already invested, so I plowed through.

Otherwise, this was pretty much what I expected; vampires in New York. There’s lots of violence and dated/cringey pop culture references. (There’s a section in which one of the characters paraphrases a scene in The Shining.) I think that I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I had been younger when I was reading it.

Also, while I’m sure that the authors did not intend this book to be homophobic, there’s something about the nonchalant way that the characters make fun of their gay friend that will probably rub a lot of modern readers the wrong way. The guy who is getting made fun of is one of the good guys, and everyone actually likes him, but he is repeatedly called a faggot by his coworkers. He’s not integral to the plot and clearly only included for comic relief, and this made the playful abuse he suffers a bit uncomfortable to read. This book was written in the 80s though, and it ultimately depicts the gay characters as likeable, useful members of society, so I don’t think it’s time to retroactively cancel Skipp and Spector.

So, yes. This book reads like it was written for 1980s teenagers. It’s a bit dumb and quite dated. However, I think I already mentioned that I only read this because I needed something easy to digest before bed, and I have to admit, this did the trick. It’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I had previously read Skipp and Spector’s The Scream, and I reckon that The Light at the End is actually a better book. Yeah, there’s still too many characters, but this one has a more focused story line. I’m not going to rush out to read more Skipp and Spector collaborations, but I’m definitely not going to write off the ones I already have on my shelf/kindle.

Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe
Penguin Classics – 2015


Although most of Thomas Ligotti’s fiction has already appeared on this blog, I only recently read his two first, and probably most famous, short story collections. Songs of a Dead Dreamer was originally published in 1985, and Grimscribe: His Lives and Works came out in 1991, but they were first packaged together, along with some stuff from Noctuary and Teatro Grottesco, as The Nightmare Factory in 1996. It wasn’t until after True Detective made Ligotti a household name that Penguin decided to reissue his first two collections under their Penguin Classics series. I believe Ligotti is one of only 10 authors to live to see their books published as a Penguin Classic. This is definitely more high-brow than a lot of the crap I write about on here.

I’ve written about Ligotti so many times here that I don’t have too much to say about the writing here. I suppose I learned that Ligotti didn’t start propounding his pessimistic outlook on life at a late stage in his career. It was there from the beginning.

“the revelation that nothing ever known has ended in glory; that all which ends does so in exhaustion, in confusion and debris.”

Vastarien

Again, I was impressed with the nightmarish quality imbued in Ligotti’s prose The word nightmare is often used as a synonym for scary or unpleasant, but these stories actually possess a bizarre dream-like quality. Obvious details are omitted, and stuff that shouldn’t become weird becomes very weird. It’s unnerving and disorientating, and I love it.

“To see the world drown in oceans of agony is the only vision which now brings me any relief from my madness”

Masquerade of a Dead Sword

While I waited a week or so after finishing Songs of a Dead Dreamer to move on to Grimscribe, this felt like one long book to me. I can’t really think of way to distinguish the tone or quality of the two collections. I think I enjoyed the stories in Grimscribe more, but I’m almost certain that this was due to the fact that by the time I started on the Grimscribe tales, I had figured out that I had been reading the book wrong. Let me explain. I love Ligotti’s fiction, but I have to be in a fairly specific mood to really enjoy his writing. It’s dense and at times tedious, and reading some of these stories at night just made me want to fall asleep. As I started on Grimscribe, I worked out a system where I would read Ligotti on my lunch break at work and then read a trashy splatterpunk novel before bedtime. It was perfect.

I definitely prefered the more straight forward stories collected here. Vastarien, Dr. Locrian’s Asylum, The Last Feast of Harlequin, The Night School and The Coccoons were some of my favourites, but there were plenty of others that I really, really liked. Ligotti is one of the few authors whose books I have read more than once, and I’m sure the stories in this collection will stand multiple readings too. I feel like I might enjoy some of them even more a second time around. I’ll tell you what; in a few years, I’ll go back and read through both Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe more carefully and write more in depth posts about them then.

The last time I saw my friends before Covid hit, I was chatting to one of my buddies about Ligotti’s books and he told me that he had recently acquired “the one with Drake on the cover”. Given the likeness, I am surprised nobody has done this before:



The Published Works of Robert Marasco

Burnt Offerings
Delacorte Press – 1973

Robert Marasco is best remembered for this horror novel. I enjoyed it. It’s about a family who get a deal on a summer home. The only catch is that it’s a vampire house. It’s not a house full of vampires; it is a vampire. I found the book very easy to read. I felt like I figured out what was going on a bit too early though, and there weren’t really any surprises. Reading through it, I became convinced that this had a big influence on Stephen King’s The Shining. (It has a whole big thing about the father losing his mind and turning violent against the family.) Turns out that King is indeed a big fan of the book.

This book is influential and pretty easy to read. Burnt Offerings not absolutely amazing, but it was good enough to convince me to read more Marasco.

Child’s Play
Samuel French, Inc. – 1970

Child’s Play, originally titled The Dark, was written several years before Burnt Offerings. No, it doesn’t feature a doll named Chucky. It is the only play of Marasco’s that was ever produced. (He finished writing another one called Our Sally before he died, but the script has never been published as far as I can tell.) Child’s Play was well received though, and a movie version was made in 1972. Marasco was a teacher at the time he wrote this, and it shows.

The students of an all boys Catholic school start committing acts of brutal violence against each other. The consensus online seems to be that this violence is being caused by demonic possession, but this is never explicitly confirmed in the play. One boy is crucified in the school’s chapel and a teacher gets a sudden desire to self harm, so there might well be something satanic going on. I guess different productions of the play can give more or less emphasis to the potentially supernatural element here.

While all this is happening, two of the teachers are getting on eachother’s nerves. One is a strict, unpleasant man. The other is an amiable fellow who is loved by the students. This rivalry is what the play is really about, and if the supernatural element were to be replaced with drugs or gang conflict or some more typical school problem, the play could remain largely the same.

Reading a play isn’t ideal, but I can imagine Child’s Play working really well as a performance. It was fine.

Parlor Games
Delacorte Press – 1979

This isn’t a horror novel. I guess it’s a thriller. I enjoyed it up until the end. I think Marasco was a pretty good writer, but I’m not sure about his books. He tells his stories well, but the stories are kinda dumb. As with Burnt Offerings, I felt like he gave away the big secret of the plot way too early.

I don’t think the above review is going to convince anyone to read the book, so I might as well summarize the plot for you. This is the story of a man who kills his girlfriends so he can have sex with his sister. Now that you know that, do you really want to read it?

I went all in on Marasco and read everything that he had published. I wasn’t really blown away with any of his books, but looking back, I have to admit that I enjoyed them all when I was reading them even if they don’t hold up to serious analysis. If you’re stuck for something to read, you could do a lot worse than one of Marasco’s novels. Not bad. Not great. Satisfactorily entertaining

Martin Thomas’s The Hand of Cain

The Hand of Cain – Martin Thomas
Magnum Books – 1967 (Originally published 1966)

When I see “An Occult Masterpiece” with a severed hand on its cover on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee, I buy that shit.

I’m just going to summarize this one as I don’t have much to say about it. It is pretty much exactly what I expected.

Matthew, a triplet, has a thing for his brother Alan’s fiancee. He gets into a fight with Alan and kills him. Their dad, Virgil, sees the murder taking place, but covers it up as he is a famous surgeon and doesn’t want the scandal of a murder to harm his reputation. He is so unemotional and practical in the moments after he sees one of his sons killing the other that I almost gave up on the book. I was soon glad I didn’t.

A few weeks later, Timothy, the good remaining triplet, is involved in a tragic accident and gets his hands chopped off. His dad drives him home from the scene of the accident and prepares to operate. When Matthew, the bad triplet, gets home, his dad drugs him, chops off his hands and then sews them onto the good son. I almost cheered at this part. Sick!

Matthew is pretty bummed out that his dad cut off his hands, but if he says or does anything about it, his dad will out him as a murderer.

One night, he is moping around a nightclub when he meets an Indian dwarf who offers to curse his family for £200. After smoking a “reefer” with Swami Barham Lal Sivasan. Matthew passes out and wakes up in his car wondering if it was all a dream.

Soon thereafter, Timothy rapes and murders his dead brother Alan’s old girlfriend, the one Matthew liked. After killing her, he smashes her head with a rock. Then he kills a drunk man for puking on him. Then he kills a child for scratching his car. Are his brother’s transplanted hands to blame or is it the curse? Timothy soon gets sloppy and Matthew sees him dumping one of the bodies.

When the Swami comes to Matthew to demand payment, Matthew decides to blackmail Timothy to get the money. He takes glee in the idea that Timothy will be paying for his own doom. Timothy, who has since raped and killed another girl, doesn’t want to pay up, so the brothers get into a fight. Matthew uses a broken glass to turn Tim’s face into a pile of mush while Tim is choking him to death. One again, Virgil walks in to see one of his sons dying at the hands of his brother. He’s pretty pissed off at this point, so he gets an ax and uses it to chop off his remaining child’s hands. After Tim has his hands chopped off for the second time, he bleeds to death beside the brother he just strangled.

Grim.

I have absolutely no regrets about buying and reading this book. It was old fashioned in some regards. Women exist here solely to be preyed upon, and Indians exist to collect bus fares or curse people. It was definitely a bit nastier and exploitative than I expected, absolute trash really but definitely worth the 3 dollars I paid for it.

Robert Bloch’s Psycho Novels

I’m planning on doing a post on Robert Bloch’s Cthulhu Mythos stories, but I thought it would be a disgrace to write about this guy without having first read his most famous work.

When I was in my early 20s, I worked in a carpark in a big shopping centre in Ireland. The first time that the shops opened on Stephen’s day (That’s “Boxing Day” for all you protestants out there.), I was lucky enough to bag the opening shift in the carpark control room. This was only 12-13 years ago, but the shops being open so soon after Christmas was a big deal at the time. I didn’t object to working on the 26th on religious grounds, but working in retail during the holiday season and seeing how awful people are when they’re shopping would make anyone believe that we all need a few days away from the shops after the 24th. I thought the mall should have remained closed, but I wasn’t in a position to turn down a shift. I went to bed on Christmas night at about 1am and had to wake up 2 hours later to get to work. When I arrived, there was already a crowd of lowlife scum queuing to get in. After the initial rush of opening the place up, myself and the Polish lad I was working with were left with a few hours with very little to do. We looked through the hard-drive on the office computer for a movie. (The night shift boys had loads on there.) I can’t remember our choices, but I know we settled on a torrented file of Hitchcock’s Psycho. There were 16 to 20 screens in front of us to watch the security cameras throughout the mall, the movie only taking up one. I remember the infamous Psycho theme playing while my eyes wandered between images of Janet Leigh being butchered and the zomboid shoppers milling about the mall with their Christmas dinners still unshat in their tummies. It was a truly horrifying experience.

Psycho
Simon & Schuster – 1959

I had first seen Psycho when I was a kid, and even before seeing it I knew the basic story from references in the Simpsons and other stuff. It’s one of those stories that I assume everyone knows. When I started reading the book, I found it hard to imagine what it would be like to go into this story without knowing the main plot twist. I reckon it would probably make the book a whole lot more shocking. At this point though, I reckon there are as many people who don’t know what Norman Bates is as there are people who don’t know that Dracula is a vampire.

As far as I can remember, the book is pretty similar to the film. The only thing that really surprised me was the undercurrents of sexuality and sexual violence that run through the book. I mean, I knew that this stuff was in there, I had just forgotten how much of a pervert Bates is.

Psycho 2
Whispers Press – 1982

Psycho 2 is terrible. It’s written as some kind of ironic parody/commentary on slasher movies. It was boring, uninspired rubbish. I find it hard to understand how anybody reading the sequel to the mother of all slashers would want to read a half-hearted critique of the genre it inspired. Psycho 2 reads like it’s trying to show how it is more distinguished and intelligent than all of the books/movies about knife wielding perverts that followed it.

The writing is boring, clunky and extremely predictable. I guessed where it was going to go by the end of the first few chapters. Bloch can’t resist using the exact same trick he uses in the first one.

This book would have been way better if Bloch tried to emulate the types of movies he is trying to critique. Psycho 2 sucks.

Psycho House
Tor – 1990

Psycho 2 was so terrible that I decided against reading Psycho 3 or Psycho House or whatever it’s called. Shortly after making this decision, I found myself in work with nothing to read except an ebook version of the 3 Psycho novels. I reluctantly started Psycho 3. I finished it a few hours later. It was so crap that I couldn’t bring myself to do anything other than skim through it very quickly. Norman Bates dies early on in the second novel, and he has absolutely no role in this book. At one point a demonologist character appears, but his only function in the book is to distract the reader from what’s really going on. There is no supernatural element at play here. There is also no psycho in this novel. The murders that occur are committed by a person who is not suffering from any form of mental illness. This is an absolutely shitty murder mystery novel.

I only found out after reading Psycho 3 that it is considered Bloch’s worst novel. This is a relief, as I have been planning to read more of his stuff. Psycho is a decent novel. It’s quick and nasty, even if you already know the story. If I owned physical copies of Psycho 2 and Psycho 3, I would tear out the pages and use them to blow my nose. Despite their names, the sequels to the original Psycho movie are entirely different to the sequels to the novel. I briefly considered watching them, but I decided to dress up in my mom’s clothes instead.

My Adventures in Sleep Paralysis

I’ve experienced hypnopompic sleep paralysis a few times. At a simple level, hypnopompic sleep paralysis is when you wake up and can’t move your body because part of your brain thinks you’re still dreaming. It’s remarkably unpleasant. I usually come out of it screaming. Not being able to move is bad enough, but sleep paralysis can also cause hallucinations. These hallucinations are believed to be the source of many accounts of alien abduction and other supernatural events. Victims often see a figure approaching them when they are in this state. Sometimes this figure climbs on top of them. The experiences of victims are scarily similar, and there are those who believe that the figures that appear during sleep paralysis are not hallucinations.

Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781)

As far as I remember, I have only hallucinated during sleep paralysis once. It happened a few years ago. I woke up from a nightmare and couldn’t move. Then I felt something approaching.

It was fucking terrifying. Honestly, even thinking about it creeps me out. Directly after it happened, I was not in a state where I could go back to sleep, so I took out my phone and wrote down what I experienced. Here is what I wrote:

In abandoned house (like the show houses I was in when a teenager. This one is situated in {my apartment complex} towards the back near playground.) I’m there to teach a class because the lad from {my old job} broke the tv in somebody’s apartment by trying to open the secret entrance into somebody else’s apartment. He got trapped in the ground and smashed their TV. I tried to get glass of water but it starts moving by itself – water is being splashed about – I think it’s a kid playing and try to grab the water but it moves to other side of room splashing by itself. Start to realise something awful is occurring. Then one kid holds a lighter to curtain hanging over bannister from upstairs. It’s a white curtain. I try to drag it down to put it out. I’m not really the teacher anymore. (I have short hair and glasses.) The curtain is smoking then bursts to flames. Not coming down fast enough. Starts burning quickly but we know we can’t put it out. (How do we know this? Just an evil feeling that is giving me serious goosebumps to recall.) We try to get out because we realise there is something bad in the house, not just the fire. Trapped at the door. Panic. Realise it’s a dream.
Awake in Mam’s house sleeping on couch. Try to scream to get attention. But can’t. Mild grunting “ahhhh”s. Trapped in body. Can move one arm terribly slowly. Mam coming downstairs and opening door. Head looks in. Trying to scream to get her attention. That’s not mam. Realise 100% that I’m asleep but can’t wake myself up. Only feeble moans. It’s approaching. This is not real and I know it but I can’t wake up. It’s terrible, black, slinking, demonic.
Awake in a cold sweat screaming loudly. On couch alone. Demon’s head is the lamp. Very scared. Write this. Still scared. Did {my wife} hear me scream? Afraid to get up in case demon is here. Those chills again. Terrified.

The actual dream part (the green bit) is typical of my dreams, full of non sequiturs and mixing up different parts of my life. The burning curtain is interesting; I nearly died in a fire in an abandoned house when I was teenager. I’m sure that’s where this image is from. The thing about the hair and glasses dates the events in the dream to a decade before they were dreamt. (I had laser eye surgery in my early twenties.) Also when I “wake up” the first time, I find myself in my mam’s house in Ireland. I left Ireland 7 or 8 years before the dream. Somehow though, towards the end of the visitation, I am back in my own house. The thing that I had seen approaching me was actually just the Ikea lamp in the corner of my sitting room. That part surprises me. It suggests that my eyes were open when I was experiencing the visitation.

I knew what sleep paralysis was before I had this experience, and I believe I knew that that’s what it was when I was experiencing it. Knowing did not make it any less terrifying. If you have had similar experiences, I am sure you will agree. They are absolutely awful.

Dark Intrusions: An Investigation into the Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis Experiences
Louis Proud
Anomalist Books – 2009

When I saw a book titled Dark Intrusions: An Investigation into the Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis Experiences, I was intrigued. I’m fairly skeptical of the paranormal, but my own experiences with sleep paralysis have been so unpleasant that I thought that a book about similar experiences might be very frightening.

The first few chapters, the parts where the author describes his own experiences, are alright.

The second, and far longer part of the book, covers how the entities people encounter during sleep paralysis are actually from the astral realm. The author seems to believe that dreams are visits to the astral realm. Sleep paralysis quickly becomes a blanket term for any kind of paranormal experience. There’s a bunch of discussion of paranormal events that happen when people are entirely awake and in the presence of others.

Honestly, this book was such a bunch of bullshit that I couldn’t finish it. I tried skimming through, but it was unbearable. After reading one quarter, I skipped to the chapter on Whitley Strieber, but after maybe 2 sentences of that, I gave up completely. I wasn’t sure whether to even discuss this book here, but it gave me a good excuse to share my own visitation story, so here you go.

Sleep paralysis is terrifying, but Dark Intrusions is shit.

Spawn – Shaun Hutson

Sometimes a cover is so good that you have to read the book.

Spawn – Shaun Hutson
Leisure Books – 1988 (First published 1983)

I read Chainsaw Terror last year, and I knew that Shaun Hutson isn’t really known for writing hi-brow literature, but I have to admit, I was appalled at this book.

I generally like to know as little as possible about a book before I read it, and so aside from knowing that this book would probably include a mean baby, I had no idea what it was actually about. I’m going to provide a summary next, so if you’re like me, you might want to read the novel before continuing with this post. If, however, you have a sense of decency, you might be better off with my brief synopsis.

Harold Pierce, a badly traumatised and developmentally challenged burn victim gets a job in a hospital. He is assigned the role of loading the hospital’s aborted fetuses into a furnace. The fetuses remind Harold of his baby brother who died in a fire that he started, and so instead of burning them he sneaks them out of the hospital and buries them. This is gross-out horror, but so far the story is merely tragic. The whole aborted fetuses motif is immediately repugnant, but there’s no malice at play so far. Harold is damaged; he’s not evil.

Then there’s a big storm. A bolt of lightning knocks down a powerline right beside where the fetuses are buried, and the electricity from the lightning and the power cables is sent directly into the shallow grave. The electricity burns the earth and grass around the grave, but it somehow manages to bring the fetuses back to life. It also gives them psychic powers and a thirst for blood.

Yep.

Honestly, I was actually impressed with the plot. Hutson clearly did not give a shit. “Hmmmm, I need some way to reanimate these rotten abortions so they can kill a bunch of people… Voodoo? Nah, too ethnic… Scientific experiment gone wrong? Far too complicated… Fuck it. A bolt of lightning. That’ll do.”

Oh, and there’s a serial killer on the loose too. You spend the whole novel wondering how he’s going to fit in with the vampire abortions, but they barely interact. I reckon the murderer bit was only included so that Hutson could have some gory scenes at the beginning of the book. The killer is also a victim of neglect and child abuse.

I’ve read plenty of repugnant splatterpunk horror fiction, but this one is distasteful in a special way. Some gross-out horror is tough to get through because the authors seem like they’re trying hard to be super offensive, but Spawn is such a puerile mess that at times I got the sense that Hutson might not have even realised he was being offensive. Writing fiction about abortions seems like a hazardous venture for any writer, and I can’t imagine any sensible adult with any kind of stance on the abortion debate actually wanting to read a novel about aborted fetuses. Couple this with the fact that the two main characters are disfigured, developmentally challenged, traumatized victims of abuse. The whole thing is in very poor taste. The saving grace of the book is that there is clearly no message to it. Hutson is not trying to force his views on anyone.

Unfortunately though, the book is actually pretty fuckin’ shit. I found myself skimming large chunks of it. The characters are so flat that I wasn’t able to give a damn about them, and the suspenseful scenes were formulaic and uninteresting. The book is 288 pages long, and I reckon a good third of it could have been edited out

All that being said, I was entertained by this piece of deplorable, degenerate trash, and I am entirely certain that I will read more of Shaun Hutson’s work in the future. I know he wrote a sequel to this just a few years ago, but I probably won’t bother with that one.

Another great cover. W.H. Allen, 1983

Joe R. Lansdale’s God of the Razor (The Nightrunners, Blood and Shadows…)

A friend of mine recently suggested that I read Joe R. Lansdale’s The Nightrunners. I had been planning to read Lansdale’s The Drive-In books for a while, but I have been holding off because there is 3 of them, and that seems like a big commitment. The Nightrunners looked like a short, standalone text, and the name was familiar. I started that evening. I am now a Follower of the Razor.

The Nightrunners – Joe R. Lansdale
Tor – 1989 (First published 1987)


This book is nasty. It’s about a gang of horribly messed up teenagers trying to kill their teacher. They’re spurred on by the God of the Razor, a particularly unpleasant interdimensional entity who likes seeing people bleed.

The only other Lansdale I’d read before this was his story in the first Splatterpunks anthology, and I’m pretty sure that this novel far exceeds that tale in terms of graphic violence. This book contains multiple scenes of sadistic torture and sexual assault. It’s fucking good though. It’s a hard one to put down once you’ve started. Reading the car chase towards the end of the book is just as exciting as watching it on a cinema screen would be.

There’s one bit in here that describes the evil teenagers as “high on fire, blood and hate”. When I came across this phrase, I thought it might have been where that band High on Fire got their name. It’s not though. Apparently the band name comes from some crappy Electric Light Orchestra song. Yuck. If Matt Pike had any decency, he’d go back in time, read this book and then name his band High on Fire for the right reason.

While I was reading The Nightrunners, I started to wonder if there was a film version. It really seems like it should be a movie. This hasn’t happened yet, but Lansdale, along with his friend Neal Barrett, Jr., have written the screenplay. I read this too. It’s pretty much the same as the novel, but here the God of the Razor seems far less likely to be a hallucination.

In 2007, Subterranean Press put out The God of the Razor, an anthology of Lansdale’s Nightrunners/God of the Razor stories. It includes:

The Nightrunners
God of the Razor
Not from Detroit
King of Shadows
The Shaggy House
Incident On and Off a Mountain Road
Janet Finds the Razor 

This book is long sold out and hard to find, but I was able to track down its contents in other sources. The most comprehensive of these was Crossroad Press’s 2012 release, Written with a Razor. This book includes the screenplay version of The Nightrunners, God of the Razor, King of Shadows and Janet Finds the Razor. I found the remaining tales online and in different anthologies.

The Lord of the Razor, The Shaggy House and Not from Detroit are short stories that are basically rewritten and extended scenes from The Nightrunners. Neither The Shaggy House nor Not from Detroit actually feature the God of the Razor in any form. (It is for this reason that I didn’t bother reading Lansdale’s Something Lumber This Way Comes, a rewriting of The Shaggy House for children. I’ll do so with my kids when they’re a little older.) These stories were fine. You’ll have to forgive me for not being super excited. I read these tales, the novel they were taken from and its screenplay in the course of a week. Maybe space them out if you’re going to do the same.

King of Shadows is the highlight of both collections. It’s an original story (original here meaning “not based on a scene from The Nightrunners“), and very nasty. A family adopts a kid whose da murdered his ma and then killed himself. Guess what happens next.

Janet Finds the Razor is short. It was written specifically for The God of the Razor collection. I have no complaints about it.

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road is an excellent story, but apart from being super gory, I don’t know what it has to do with the God of the Razor. Maybe it was included because it’s one of Lansdale’s better known tales. It’s not included in Written with a Razor.

In 1996 Lansdale wrote a story called ‘Subway Jack’ for a Batman Anthology. This story is not included in either of the above collections, but in the introduction to King of Shadows in Written with a Razor, Lansdale notes that his other favourite God of the Razor story couldn’t be published there. I assume Subway Jack has to be the one he’s talking about. There was probably some licensing issue because of the Batman characters. I really liked this story. It quotes background sources on the God that aren’t available elsewhere. Also, this story is a crossover between ultra violent horror fiction and Batman. Hell yeah.

While the Batman/Lord of the Razor crossover takes the form of a short story, Lansdale actually wrote a 4 four part comic series about the Lord of the Razor called Blood and Shadows. I don’t read many comics, and I was delighted to give these a go. This is a weird series that starts off Detective Noir, turns into a Western and ends as hellish post-apocalyptic fantasy. It gives a bit of background about where the God of the Razor comes from. It seems as though the metal in his razor originally came to Earth on a meteor and was forged into a blade by an Apache Tribe. This seems to contradict the information in Followers of the Razor (a fictional book mentioned in Subway Jack and Blood and Shadows) in which author David Webb claims, “Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, was originally from the same dimension as the God of the Razor, and that it belonged to him. He [Webb] claims that this is the sword that got broken and made into a razor.” How could the razor come from the Apache and the Britons? The first known mention of King Arthur is from 829, a good while before there was any trade between America and Europe. Is there more than one magical blade that can call up the God of the Razor? But look at his name! He’s not Razor God or God of Razors; he’s God of THE Razor. What the Hell is going on? Probably something to do with his interdimensionality.

The only God of the Razor stuff that I didn’t read was Joe R. Lansdale’s Lords of the Razor. This is an anthology of God of the Razor stories by other authors. I’d like to read it, but it’s out of print and super expensive. It doesn’t contain any Lansdale stuff that isn’t available elsewhere though, so I’m not too upset that I couldn’t get my hands on it. Still though, if anyone has a copy that they want me to have, I’ll gladly review it here.

The Nightrunners turned into more of a commitment than I was expecting, but the novel, the screenplay, the stories and the comic series were all highly enjoyable. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lansdale’s books in the future.

The God of the Razor drawn by Mark A. Nelson