The Nursery and Toy Cemetery – William W. Johnstone’s Insane Horror Novels

the nursery william wThe Nursery – William W. Johnstone
Zebra Books – 1983

“a Satan who is obsessed by anal sex” – this is part of the description of The Nursery given in Paperbacks from Hell. Well, after reading that, there was no way in Hell that I wasn’t going to track down this book. Fortunately, it completely lived up to the hype. This is perhaps the most insane horror novel I’ve ever read. The cover and title are fairly misleading. There is a nursery in the story, but it’s not super important to the plot. This book is more about violence, sex and Satanism… oh and vampires.

The Nursery is a tricky one to find though. At this stage, nearly all of William W. Johnstone’s horror novels have been released as e-books, but The Nursery has not yet been given this treatment. (I’ve ended up with two copies. If you wanna trade me something good, message me.) This shit is truly mental, but it’s damn entertaining. There’s another, more thorough, review of this book on Glorious Trash if you want more details before reading it

I wrote the above paragraphs about The Nursery roughly a year ago. After finishing that book, I had a hard time picking up another novel by Johnstone. While I did actually enjoy The Nursery, it’s a very intense novel, and reading it was a hectic experience.

Looking back at those paragraphs, I am amused to see that I described The Nursery as “perhaps the most insane horror novel I’ve ever read”. I finished reading Toy Cemetery a few weeks back, and I can say with certainty that it is definitely the most insane horror novel I’ve ever read.

toy cemetery - william wToy Cemetery – William W. Johnstone
Zebra Books – 1987

Toy Cemetery is essentially the same novel as The Nursery except this one has the added attraction of two armies of living toys. Yes, this is another novel about a Vietnam veteran returning to his home town only to find it overrun by Satanists. There’s more incest in this one, but it’s also extremely violent. There was one scene that starts off with a man taking his new girlfriend on vacation; after a few paragraphs, he is crushing her skull with the heel of his boot. Another noteworthy feature of this one is the fact that every single female character is evil. Honestly, there’s so many insane parts of this novel that I don’t feel capable of properly explaining how mental it is. By the end of the book, the honest,  honorable, Christian protagonist is stabbing his family to death in garbage dump. Grady Hendrix wrote an excellent review of this one a few years ago. I read his review right after finishing the novel, and actually being forced to think about what had happened in this novel after reading it was a very funny experience. Any attempt to summarize the events in this book will fall short of expressing how truly bizarre it is. It’s ridiculously flawed, misogynistic, and non-nonsensical, but I absolutely loved it.

 

It might take me a while, but I intend to read all of Johnstone’s horror novels. The phrase “Paperbacks from Hell” is now used to describe horror novels from the 70s, 80s and 90s, but I don’t think I’ve read any books that live up to that title as well as Johnstone’s. These are x-rated Goosebump books for weirdos. They’re brilliant (in an awful way). You need to check them out.

Satanism – Brother Nero’s Guide to Life

satanism brother neroSatanism: A Beginner’s Guide to the Religious Worship of Satan and his Demons
Brother Nero
Devil’s Mark Publishing – 2010

This is a book about being a Satanist. This isn’t the friendly, progressive, atheistic Satanism that’s in vogue these days though. No, the author of this book, Brother Nero, is an actual Devil worshipper. He believes that the Devil and demons are real and that you can talk to them. This book is an explanation of his Satanic belief system.

Brother Nemo basically believes that Christians have got things the wrong way around and that the Devil is the good guy and that God is the bad guy. He accepts much of what the Bible describes as accurate, but he questions how biblical stories are interpreted. Most of his ideas are fairly similar to Christianity though, and he’s a proud “traditionalist.” He thinks abortion is wrong because you shouldn’t kill any being that contains the blood of Satan. He claims a real satanist wouldn’t get an abortion even if she had been raped because it’s not the child’s fault the mom got raped. Fuck. I can’t imagine Christians or Satanists wanting this loser on their side.

At one point he gets really mad with people who hide their satanism from their employers. If you feel comfortable sharing your religious beliefs with your employer, that’s great, but I’m sure most adults will be able to come up with several perfectly sensible reasons for keeping that information private.

Nero continues this rant with these tasty little paragraphs:

words of a dumb satanist
He later argues that gay marriage is ok, so I don’t even think this guy is genuinely homophobic. He’s just really naive. He must lead a remarkably sheltered life. Come on Nemo, you really don’t understand why people might hide the fact that they’re gay? I guess they’re just not as brave as twelve year old you.

The reason I downloaded this book was because I saw it referred to as “Satanism for Parents” somewhere, and while I have no interest in being a Satanic parent, I thought this sounded like a laugh. There’s actually only one chapter in here specifically for parents, but holy shit, it is spectacular. The author admits that he doesn’t have any kids (no surprises there), but he presents himself as an authority on the subject anyways. He encourages homeschooling kids and teaching tarot cards when they are learning their ABCs. His complete and obvious cluelessness about the mental development of children is actually comforting –  it’s a relief to think that this guy probably hasn’t spent much time around kids.

There follows a chapter about why teenage satanists should always make sure they have a responsible adult, like the author, in their satanic covens. Each teenage coven should have an adult, like Nero, so that he can guide them on their satanic journeys. A previous chapter of this book included instructions on writing pacts in your own blood, so God knows what kind of guidance the author would give in person. In this section, he acknowledges that parents will probably worry about their kids hanging out with an older dude because the media will have convinced these parents that satanists are paedophiles. The author is so blind that he doesn’t realise that most parents would be far more afraid of an adult who writes books about wanting to hang around with kids than a satanist who minds their own business. This is one of several instances in this book of the author showing a complete lack of common sense.

Oh, one last thing from the parenting section: Nemo claims that adoption is ok, but it’s better if the kid’s biological parents are satanic because their satanic blood means the kid will more likely be psychic. It’s at this point in the book that the author mentions that he believes that there is actually a Satanic race and that it would be good to keep the bloodline pure. Holy shit.

dirtAnother gem

Eventually, the writing became too much for me. This ‘book’ is just a collection of rants from a bitter, lonely weirdo. It reads like a stupid, unlikable teenager’s journal. It’s genuinely embarrassing. You’d feel sorry for the guy if he didn’t come across as such an obnoxious, arrogant cunt. At around the halfway mark, I decided I was just going to skim the rest of this awful nonsense. What I saw made me glad of my decision.

Towards the end of the book, there’s a chapter on sacrificing animals. The author claims that animal sacrifice is ok because people used to do it in the past, and the gods are the same now as they were then, so it’s still appropriate. He also points out that animals are from the wild anyways, so they’re used to brutality. I closed the book after he started describing how he kills small animals.

I like reading violent, gory, creepy books about horrible freaks, but this isn’t a novel. These are the beliefs of a lad who thinks that teenagers should want to hang out with him so that he can teach them about the correct way to cut themselves and sacrifice small animals. Brother Nemo spends a lot of time on the internet, and he is doubtlessly going to google his name and see this post at some stage, so I’ll end it with a little message for him:

Get psychiatric help bro. You’re not well.

August Derleth’s Cthulhu Mythos Fiction

After finishing up my recent series of posts on Lovecraft, I started to feel a giant shoggoth shaped hole in my life. I’ve read and then reread Lovecraft’s stories twice within the last few years, and as much I enjoy them, I reckon I should wait a while before going over them again. Fortunately, the Cthulhu Mythos did not die with Lovecraft, and there’s lots of Yog-Sothothery left to be read. Many, many horror writers have done their best to emulate Lovecraft’s style and expand the mythos he created. I’m planning to do a few posts on this stuff to see how it measures up to Lovecraft’s own writing.

From what I have read, August Derleth seems to have had more of an influence on Lovecraft’s mythos than anyone other than H.P. himself. After Lovecraft died in poverty and obscurity, two of his friends, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, became determined to get a collection of their pal’s tales published. When they failed to find a publisher, they made their own, Arkham House. If it wasn’t for Derleth, it’s possible that Lovecraft would be practically unheard of today.

On top of being a publisher, Derleth was also prolific writer. He wrote many stories that borrowed characters, places and books from the works of Lovecraft. Lovecraft did this himself. His tales often referenced monsters and books from his other stories, but there was never any real attempt to make these things fit together. (Nyarlathotep, for example, pops up everywhere but often in different roles/guises.) Derleth set about to work these different elements into a cohesive framework. He is credited with creating the term “Cthulhu Mythos”.

With this in mind, I decided that Derleth would be the first of Cthulhu’s Disciples to be featured in this series of posts. Here are 4 of his books of Lovecraftian fiction.

 

lovecraft derleth watchers timeThe Watchers out of Time
Carroll and Graf – 1996 (Originally published in 1974)

Wait, you said this post was about Derleth! That book looks like it’s by Lovecraft himself! Well, yeah, that cover is a disgrace. It’s common knowledge that Derleth wrote 99% of these stories, occasionally borrowing a phrase from the notes that Lovecraft left when he died. Other publishers were cheeky enough to list Lovecraft with Derleth on their covers of this collection, but this one brazenly lies. This contains the following tales:

  • The Ancestor
  • The Dark Brotherhood 
  • The Fisherman of Falcon Point 
  • The Gable Window 
  • The Horror from the Middle Span  
  • Innsmouth Clay
  • The Lamp of Alhazred
  • The Peabody Heritage
  • The Shadow in the Attic
  • The Shadow Out of Space
  • The Shuttered Room
  • The Survivor
  • The Watchers Out of Time
  • Wentworth’s Day
  • Witches’ Hollow

In truth, this isn’t great. Half of the stories in here are about descendants of the Whately family who inherit houses in Dunwich, only to find that their grandfathers were evil wizards. The houses all bear terrible secrets. Some of the other tales are very obvious Lovecraft rip offs. Every time I’d sit down and read one, I’d think, “Oh yeah, I remember this bit.” Some of it’s blatant too; ‘The Watchers out of Time’ is only a variation on Lovecraft’s ‘The Shadow out of Time’.

These are Lovecraft knock-offs, and none of them reach the quality of Lovecraft’s best work. That being said, I personally enjoy Lovecraft’s middle tier stuff, and some of these tales aren’t far from that. ‘The Dark Brotherhood’, perhaps the most original tale in the collection, was pretty good. I liked ‘Witches Hollow’ and ‘The Horror from Middle Span’ too. This collection is not essential reading, but if you read it over a few weeks it’s not a horrible experience.

 

derleth lurker threshold

The Lurker on the Threshold
Arkham House – 1945

(The original Arkham House editions of The Watchers out of Time included this novel, but later publishers omitted it and printed it separately.)

See my complaint in the above review of The Watchers out of Time? The part where I said that a bunch of these stories were about lads inheriting houses in Dunwich and then moving in and discovering their grandfather was a wizard? I swear, I wrote that before starting this novel. This is basically the exact same as those stories except it’s far longer and more repetitive. There’s a part at the end where an anthropologist reels out a huge explanation of the relationships between the of the different Elder Gods and Great Old Ones that is kind of interesting, but otherwise this was horribly dull. There’s sections in here that were actually written by Lovecraft, but again, this is Derleth’s story. It’s dumb to have Lovecraft’s name above his on the cover. I was looking forward to finishing this pretty soon after getting started. It made me not want to read anything else by Derleth.

Also, the name of this tale and the entity in it are very similar to Lytton’s ‘Dweller of the Threshold’ from Zanoni. I wonder if that was intentional.

 

derleth mask of cthulhu
The Mask of Cthulhu

Arkham House 1958

At least half of the stories in this collection are about lads who inherit houses in Dunwich/Arkham/Innsmouth and then discover that the previous owner (usually one of their distant relatives) was a devotee of the Cthulhu cult.

  • The Return of Hastur
  • The Whippoorwills in the Hills
  • Something in the Wood
  • The Sandwin Compact
  • The House in the Valley
  • The Seal of R’lyeh

I honestly don’t know if this collection is any worse than The Watchers out of Time, but the stories in here are so similar to the ones in that already remarkably repetitive collection that I gained little to no enjoyment from reading this book. These tales are so dull that I actually started to wonder if I any longer had an interest in Lovecraftian horror.

In these stories Derleth pushes to organise different entities and elements of Lovecraft’s tales into his cohesive mythos. He distinguishes between the benevolent Elder Gods and the malevolent Great Old Ones like Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath and Nyarlehotep. Derleth is reverting to pre-Lovecraftian good vs. evil horror. For me, a huge part of the appeal of Lovecraft’s monsters is their utter disinterest in morality, and the the binary structure of Derleth’s system makes his villains here a little too similar to Dennis Wheatleyesque black magicians, doers of evil for evil’s sake. There’s a time and a place for that kind of thing, but it isn’t in Lovecraftian horror.  Derleth also classifies the great Old Ones by their elemental force. (The three I mentioned above are linked with water, earth and air respectively.) This is dumb. I want crawling fucking chaos, not a god damned overgrown pokemon.

 

derleth trail of cthulhu
The Trail of Cthulhu

Arkham House – 1962

After finishing The Mask of Cthulhu, I was loath to begin another book by Derleth, especially one with a similar title to that piece of crap. Fortunately, The Trail of Cthulhu turned out to be a significantly more enjoyable book.

This is a collection of 5 short stories that combine to form a novel. They’re about a collection of men who come into contact with Laban Shrewsbury, an eyeless academic who needs their skills in hunting down the mighty Cthulhu. These stories were written over the course of 8 years, and they weren’t compiled until almost 20 years after the first one was published. In each tale, Derleth has to lay out the background information for his readers. All of these stories contain very similar passages explaining the conflict between the Elder gods and the Great Old Ones, the separate Lovecraftian deities, and the forbidden books. While I have already complained about repetition in Derleth’s other books, it was far easier to stomach here. Remember that these stories were originally published years apart. A bit of a reminder would have been necessary for the original readers, and I’m glad the stories weren’t edited or abridged for this collection. Also, these 5 tales have almost identical plot structures, but this isn’t as annoying as the similar plots in Derleth’s other books.  The tales in The Trail of Cthulhu form a cohesive whole. They are part of a series. A certain amount of repetition in a series makes sense. The repetition in the other books is annoying because it makes it seem like Derleth only had one idea.

These are the stories:

  • The House on Curwen Street 
  • The Watcher from the Sky
  • The Gorge Beyond Salapunco
  • The Keeper of the Key
  • The Black Island

This is not a great book. I wouldn’t even say it’s a good book. It’s horribly overwritten, and I had to force myself to get through it. All that being said, this is Derleth’s best book of Lovecraftian fiction.

 

Throughout this post, I tried to refer to Derleth’s work as Lovecraftian fiction rather than Lovecraftian horror because at no point during the 1000 or so pages I read by him was I afraid or even remotely creeped out. These stories have none of what made Lovecraft great. When I was slogging through these books, I kept wishing I was reading ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’ or ‘The Whisperer in the Darkness’ instead. Honestly, even the best of Derleth was pretty boring. Derleth wrote a lot, and he might have written other books of Lovecraftian fiction. If he did, I don’t want to read them, but I probably would if they weren’t too hard to track down.

 

August DerlethThe man himself

I have been very critical of Derleth’s writing, but I want to acknowledge that I have been comparing him to one of the most important horror authors of all time. (It’s hard not to do so when you’re looking at work that Derleth tried to pass off as having come from Lovecraft.) While his fiction may have been second rate, fans of modern horror owe a lot to this man for bringing Lovecraft’s work to a far bigger audience. August Derleth, I salute you.

I’m hoping that the other authors of Lovecraftian horror are going to be better than this crap. I’m considering looking at either Robert E. Howard or Robert Bloch next. I was going to do Clark Ashton Smith, but I realised as I was writing this post that I actually did a post on his Cthulhu mythos stories a few years back. I seemed to have a real bee in my bonnet about the poor quality of the physical book when I was writing that post though, so maybe I’ll do a more level headed post on Klarkash-ton’s Cthulhu mythos tales soon.

Paperback Horror Classics by Ken Greenhall

Right now, paperback horror is all I can stomach reading, so I decided to check out Ken Greenhall’s stuff as I had heard he was one of the best. All three of these books were originally published under Greenhall’s ‘Jessica Hamilton’ pseudonym, and Valancourt reissued all three under the author’s real name in 2017.

 

hell hound - greenhall

Hell Hound – Originally published 1977

This is the story of an evil dog. The dog is bad by himself, but halfway through the book, he gets adopted by a teenage Nazi.  I had read some glowing reviews of Greenhall’s work before reading this book, and I had pretty high expectations. It was certainly well written and entertaining, but large chunks of the narration are presented from the dog’s perspective. I know it’s stupid, but there was a little part of my brain that had a problem accepting this, even for the sake of a horror story. Whenever the dog would start to speak, I started to think of the scene in Derek Jarman’s movie about Wittgenstein where the philosopher explains the linguistic limitations of dogs. This was a fine horror novel though. It kept me entertained for an afternoon in quarantine.

 

ken greenhall elizabeth

Elizabeth – Originally published 1976

This one was quite creepy. Elizabeth is the story of a teenage girl who starts to see a woman in the mirrors around her house. The woman starts telling her what to do, and pretty soon, her family members start dying. The general consensus on Ken Greenhall is that he is a terribly underrated and forgotten writer, and this book convinced me of that. This is an extremely well written novel. The characters are super interesting, and there’s an impressive amount of atmosphere. There are also quite a few paragraphs throughout that require rereading, not because they’re complicated, but because they’re brilliant. I started this one afternoon and stayed up late that night to finish it. After reading it, I felt uncomfortable walking around my apartment with the lights off. This is a great horror novel, and I reckon it’s the best of Greenhall’s books.

 

ken greenhall childgrave

Childgrave – Originally published 1982

The title of this book put me off. Call me a wuss, but I don’t want to read about dead or dying children. When I started reading about a father and his 4 year old daughter, I felt uncomfortable and anxious. (I have a little girl, and it was hard to read this without picturing us as the characters.) This anxiety faded as I got further into the novel; the narrative voice is very self aware and quite funny, and this makes it seem unlikely that the protagonist will allow anything truly awful to happen. By the halfway point of the book, Childgrave feels like a comic, well-written, paranormal love story.

It’s not though. It gets very, very dark at the end. Grady Hendrix claims that stylistically Greenhall “was a direct heir to Shirley Jackson”. I don’t think Jackson’s influence on Greenhall was limited to style. Without giving too much away, I can say that the ending of Childgrave is only a few steps removed from one of Jackson’s most famous tales.

I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I found the last few chapters of the book hard to stomach. They didn’t feel believable. The narrator makes a choice that seems completely unrealistic and out of character. He comes across as mildly unhinged throughout the book, but the choice he makes near the end violates human nature. It’s not believable. The whole book leads up to this choice too, and I found it hard to enjoy the rest of the story after that point.

Childgrave is the longest of the three novels by Greenhall that I read, and I can say that I probably enjoyed reading the first 5/6ths of this one more than the others. The characters are good, the plot is interesting and the writing is great. Unfortunately, I thought the ending made the whole book feel a bit dumb. I’m sure lots of Greenhall fans will disagree, but I’d bet the ones that do don’t have kids of their own. Come on, he wouldn’t do that! No way.

 

Greenhall wrote a few other books, but these were the ones that Valancourt chose to reissue, so I assume they’re the best. I enjoyed them, and I agree that Greenhall deserves more recognition as a writer. These are objectively better books than some of the tripe I’ve been reviewing recently.

The Hazards of Genetic Experimentation: Harry Adam Knight’s Slimer, Carnosaur and The Fungus

Since the start of the lockdown, I have been ripping through thrashy horror novels. Here are three by Harry Adam Knight. Harry Adam Knight was a pseudonym used by a pair of authors, John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle. These three books were written within 3 years of each other, and each one of them is about a genetic experiment gone wrong. I’ve been really into this kind of stuff recently. Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to teach myself how to cope in situations where an inhuman force is decimating a completely unprepared civilization. I don’t know.

 

slimer harry adam knightSlimer
Star Books – 1983

6 young adventurers get stuck on an abandoned oil rig turned science laboratory with a genetically modified nightmare.

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. The premise is ludicrous and the characters are dumb, but the setting is so effective that it makes this a really enjoyable read. The idea of an abandoned oil rig, hundreds of miles from civilization is perfect for a horror novel. There’s a real sense of mystery that creeps out of the emptiness. (I was reading over this paragraph before publishing this post, and I remembered an episode of the X-Files that was set on an oil-rig. I’m just reading over the plot synopsis of that episode now and I’m surprised by the similarities with this book. It was Vienen, the 18th episode of season 8 (2001), if anyone is interested in writing a compare and contrast essay.)

Once things get going in Slimer, they head in the direction you’d expect, but by that stage I was enjoying the atmosphere and the drama between the characters. I read this book over two days, and I spent the entire first half of the second of those days looking forward to sitting down and finishing it. There’s no denying that this is trashy horror, but I had a good time with it.

 

carnosaur harry adam knight
Carnosaur
Tor – 1993 (Originally published 1984)

Usually I wait a while between books by one author. I waited 3 days after finishing Slimer to begin Carnosaur. (Although technically, this is a different Harry Adam Knight to the author of the other two books in this post as this one was actually written by John Brosnan by himself.) I don’t regret rushing into Carnosaur. It was lots of fun too.

A rich lad genetically engineers dinosaurs into existence. Sounds familiar? Well, this was actually written 6 years before Jurassic Park, and Carnosaur is set in a rural village in England rather than a remote island. Oh, and this has a lot more people getting eaten.

This was not a particularly clever or subtle book, but it had a shit-ton of dinosaurs and shotguns. If that doesn’t sound good to you, you’re probably a wimp.

 

the fungus harry adam knight
The Fungus
Valancourt Books – 2018 (Orginally published 1985)

Genetically modified fungus destroys Great Britain. Hell yes.

One of the main characters in this novel is a violent English soldier who was stationed in Belfast in the early 1980s. This created an uncomfortable tension for me. I really, really wanted him to die horribly.

This is another book that delivers what it promises, lots and lots of minging fungus. Enough said.

 

At one stage, these books were fairly difficult to track down for a reasonable price, but both Slimer and The Fungus were reissued by Valancourt Books a couple of years ago. Carnosaur was made into a movie in the early 90s, and I assume the movie company has the rights to the novel or something as it hasn’t been republished. I read the movie tie-in rerelease on openlibrary. The cover of this version is wretched, but it beats paying $60+ for an original copy.

I don’t know how much my current living conditions had to do with it, but I really enjoyed all three of these books. They’re not groundbreaking high-literature, but they were a lot of fun to read. Brosnan and Kettle collaborated on some other books under a different name, and I’ll read those if I ever find cheap copies.

 

 

Slither – Edward Lee

edward lee slitherSlither – Edward Lee
Leisure Books – 2006

I recently finished John Halkin’s Slither, and it instilled me with a ravenous hunger for books called Slither about killer worms. One simply wasn’t enough. Luckily for me, I’ve had another Slither waiting on my shelf for the past few years. I remember buying this and thinking it looked pretty gross. I knew of Lee’s reputation, and the blurb on the back sounds sickening.

Yep. This was a nasty one. Since the coronavirus lockdown started a little over a month ago, this is the 8th novel I’ve read about mutant infestations. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but I don’t think it was a coincidence either. I’m sure a psychoanalyst would be able to explain my current fascination with genetically modified insects and why reading about them commiting acts of repulsive violence seems preferable to monitoring the rising death rate of the pandemic. While I’ve enjoyed these books, I think I’m going to give this kind of stuff a break for a while. Lee’s book seems to be a good one to end with. This was by far the most disgusting out of all of them, and it was also a lot of fun to read.

The only other book I’ve read by Lee is The Bighead, an infamously disgusting work of splattergore. That book has such a reputation that I expected Slither to be less gross. Surely Edward Lee isn’t that gross all the time? Well, here he is. In John Halkin’s Slither books, a creepy crawly will occasionally chew through an eyeball. In Lee’s Slither, masses of worms are constantly spilling into and out of every human orifice. Oh, and Lee’s worms don’t just eat humans. These worms also mutate humans, lay their eggs in humans, and secrete a chemical that turns humans’ insides to liquid.

This book was fucking gross.

I did really enjoy it though. The characters are fun, and there’s a great plot twist. I had a lot of fun reading this. It’s definitely not for the squeamish though. Seriously. Blech!

 

Slither, Slime and Squelch: John Halkin’s Slither Series

The titles and covers of the books in John Halkin’s Slither series are ridiculous, so ridiculous that I had to read them. I’ve seen people write these books off for seeming too silly, but I thought they were actually pretty entertaining. In truth, they’re not really a series. The events in these books make no reference to the events in the others. They’re more a trilogy of thematically, structurally and onomatopoeically similar books.

 

halkin slitherSlither – 1980

When I started reading Slither, I didn’t have high hopes. I presumed it was going to be an exercise in scraping the bottom of the barrel, one of those awful novels I can only bare to skim. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it. I mean, it didn’t win John Halkin the Nobel Prize for literature, but it kept me entertained for a few hours. This is the story of a TV cameraman during a killer worm attack on England.

Halkin doesn’t waste much time describing the origin of the worms or their motives. He spends more time describing the protagonist’s complicated relationship with his wife. The plot is ludicrous, but the characters are believable, and when I finished this one, I wasn’t dreading the other books in the series.

 

halkin slimeSlime – 1984

Although I had enjoyed Slither, I didn’t really feel any great desire to immediately pick up Slime, the next entry in the series. I’m off work at the moment though, so after about 2 weeks and 7 other novels, I got going on it.

There’s not much to say about this one.

It’s basically the same novel as Slither. Both are about English lads who work in television. Both protagonists are going through severe marital problems. Both books feature plagues of new breeds of water animals with a hunger for human flesh, and both books end with the protagonists having to put themselves in an extremely dangerous situation to save the person they love most.

For the first part of the book, I was rolling my eyes at the similarities with its predecessor, but by the end, I was reading along happily. I can’t say this book was clever, or even original, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.

 

halkin squelchSquelch – 1985

When I started on Squelch, the final book in the series, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. I didn’t get any either. A struggling TV director ends up as part of England’s first line of defense against a plague of killer caterpillars while also having an affair with her sister’s husband. The biggest difference with this one is that the ending is a little less dramatic than the other two books. It is, however, just as ludicrous. I reckon Squelch is my favourite title for a horror novel ever.  Every time the word squelch appeared in the book, I felt like cheering.

While these books, especially the latter two, are strikingly unoriginal, I got the sense that Halkin was probably capable of a lot more. The depth of characterization on display here is surprising, and although the plots are almost identical, if you space the books out, this doesn’t really make them any less enjoyable. Let’s just remember that these books are titled Slither, Slime and Squelch. If you were writing a series with those titles, would you try to reinvent the wheel? These are competent novels for what they are, and if you are the kind of person who would even consider reading a book called Squelch, you won’t be disappointed. There are a few grossout moments in each book that literally had me squirming.

While reading these books and noticing their similarities, I began to think about the author.  His protagonists are a cameraman, an actor and a director, so I assumed that Halkin himself must have worked in TV. In a comment on Too Much Horror Fiction’s post about these books, horror author Ramsey Campbell confirmed my suspicions, stating that “Halkin was the pseudonym of someone quite high up in BBC arts production in the early eighties.” Also, all three of Halkin’s protagonists are having serious relationship problems and a bunch of affairs. I wonder if Halkin was inspired by his personal experiences here too.

While the plot structure of all 3 novels is the essentially the same, the originality of each book stems from the author’s choice of flesh hungry animals. I was also impressed by his creative ways of getting rid of these slimy anatognists. For those of you who are too cowardly to actually read these books, I’ll just mention how they end for your amusement. Spoilers ahead, skip to the next paragraph if you’re planning on reading these books: The giant water worms are stopped when the queen worms (that may have come from outer space) are bombed to death after most of the worms have been turned into designer belts. The jellyfish are killed by scientists pumping the oceans full of the polio virus. The herds of genetically modified caterpillars are thinned when the government imports thousands of caterpillar-eating lizards from Africa and then dumps them into the English country side.

Halkin wrote another creepy-crawly book called Blood Worm. I don’t feel the need to read it immediately, but I’ll probably get around to it at some stage. These books are unadulterated trash, but when the city where I live is in lockdown because of a dangerously contagious virus, trashy horror novels are just what I need.

 

The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales – Thomas Ligotti

frankenstein ligottiThe Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales 
Thomas Ligotti
Subterranean Press – 2014 (Originally published 1994)

My daughter recently got a book called Little Red Reading Hood. It’s about a little girl who changes the endings of stories that she’s not quite satisfied with.

“You don’t like an ending?” Red Reading Hood said.
“Then change it, arrange it again in your head.
Just switch it and stitch it up some other way.”
The Wolf nodded slowly and whispered, “OK.”

It seems to me that Thomas Ligotti must have encountered this Little Red Reading Hood character in the early 90s and followed her directions when composing the pieces in The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales. This is basically a collection of alternate or extended endings to a bunch of classic horror stories.

The books getting the Ligotti treatment here are The Island or Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, The Turn of the Screw, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, along with several tales by Poe and Lovecraft. Two movies are also revised, House of Wax and The Wolfman. There are another 4 stories in here that I was not able to source.

  • The Unnatural Persecution, by a Vampire, of Mr. Jacob J.
  • The Superb Companion of André de V., Anti-Pygmalion
  • The Ever-Vigilant Guardians of Secluded Estates
  • The Scream: from 1800 to the Present

Ligotti seems to refer to these as ‘once-told tales’ in his introduction, so I assume they are entirely of his own creation. If I’m wrong and anyone knows what stories/books/movies these tales originate from, please let me know.

The writing and tone here is pretty much what you’d expect. Ligotti makes these classics of horror more painful and horrifying. It’s quite a ghoulish undertaking when you think about it.

The first piece in this collection is an additional scene for The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells. This was the only book that Ligotti uses that I hadn’t read, so right after finishing with Ligotti, I started on Moreau. Fucking Hell, it was awesome. I was aware of the general premise, but I thought it was going to be a quaint little science fiction novel. It’s pure horror, a nightmare of a book. After reading Wells’ book, I reread Ligotti’s, and I can confirm that the stories in the latter are better if you’ve read the source material. I quite enjoyed witnessing some of my favourite characters from my favourite books being revived by one of my favourite authors.

Physical copies of this book are extremely rare, and it’s a very short work, only about 50 pages. I read an ebook version in about half an hour, and while I enjoyed it, the experience certainly wasn’t worth the 600 dollars that a physical copy would cost. This is an interesting curiosity, and while entirely enjoyable in itself, it’s simply not long enough to stand up to Ligotti’s other collections. If you’re a fan of Ligotti and horror in general, buy the ebook and put on a pot of coffee. You’re in for a treat.

I’m still waiting for a special occasion to start reading Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, but I finally finished the last season of The X-Files recently, and I am planning on reading Ligotti’s screenplay for the episode that was never made in the hopes that it will temporarily fill the X shaped void in my now miserable life.

The First Wave of Valancourt’s Paperbacks from Hell

Last year, Valancourt books teamed up with Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson to reissue some of the better books featured in Paperbacks From Hell. After reading Paperbacks from Hell, I made a list of the books featured therein that I thought sounded cool and tried to hunt them down. Some of the books I read were amazing, but some were utter shit. In truth, I wasn’t super excited when the Valancourt reissues series was announced. My experience with “Paperbacks from Hell” had been pretty varied, and none of the books in Valancourt’s series had the Devil or a guitar on the cover. However, soon after the series was announced, I bought a cheap copy of The Tribe in a used bookstore. I read it soon thereafter and was so impressed that I knew I’d have to read the rest of these books.

 

 

the reaping bernard taylorThe Reaping – Bernard Taylor
Originally published 1980

This was a very entertaining novel. The writing is excellent, and I found it difficult to put down once I got a few chapters in. The sense of mystery that Taylor develops is awesome, and my only complaint about the book is that it’s too short. I reckon you’re better off not knowing anything about this one, so I won’t give any plot details. I will recommend that you pick it up if you get the chance. Valancourt have put out a few more books by Taylor, and I am looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

 

whendarknesslovesus valancourt

When Darkness Loves Us – Elizabeth Engstrom
Originally published 1985

Woah, I wasn’t expecting this. Don’t let the doll on the cover of this fool you. This is kick in the bollocks horror.

This is actually a collection of two novellas. The first one, When Darkness Loves Us, is about a woman who gets trapped in a cave. A few months ago, I read an utterly awful novel about a bunch of kids getting stuck in a cave, and this story puts that one to shame. This is twisted horror. Engstrom doesn’t rely on a spooky monster to frighten her reader; she uses the frailty and shortcomings of humanity.

The next story, Beauty is…, was a little harder to get into for me. The protagonist is a victim of brain damage, and I didn’t want to read about anything bad happening to her. Again, I don’t want to give away details here, but I will say that this turned out far darker than I had expected.

This was a good collection. Engstrom’s horror is unsettling, but I enjoyed the ride.

 

the nest douglas

The Nest – Gregory A. Douglas
Originally published 1980

The Nest was incredible. Excluding Cujo, the only ‘animal attacks’ horror novel I had read before this was the underwhelming yet ludicrous Fleshbait. My complaint with that novel was that it never went far enough, always shying away from a potentially gory good bit. I can only say the opposite of The Nest. There were a few scenes here where things probably went too far, gloriously grisly scenes of visceral carnage. This book had me squirming every time I sat down with it. Cockroaches are fucking gross at the best of times, and they are particularly frightening after developing a taste for human meat. I consumed this one in audiobook format, and each night I would sit up alone listening to it with all the lights off. This was an excellent way of making myself feel uncomfortable. I thoroughly recommend this book.

 

the spirit thomas page

The Spirit – Thomas Page
Originally Published 1977

I got around to The Spirit last, and this was a bit unfortunate. Of the series, this is the one I enjoyed least. It’s about a killer sasquatch, and unfortunately I had only finished reading Jack Kewaunee’s Psychic Sasquatch book a few days before picking this up. I was well and truly sick of Sasquatches before I even started this one. It’s nowhere near the worst horror novel I’ve ever read, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the others in this series.

 

the tribe bari wood valancourt

The Tribe – Bari Wood
Originally published 1981

I actually reviewed The Tribe for a different post last year. It was great. I loved it.

 

This post covers only the first wave of this series, but by now Valancourt have put out a second wave and a bonus title. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this awesome collection. You may have noticed that I’ve been reviewing a lot of books from Valancourt recently. This publisher specializes in underappreciated horror novels, and they have been doing some pretty spectacular promotional offers recently. If you’re reading this blog, you’ll probably be impressed with their catalogue. Go buy some books from them and support this awesome publisher.

The Goblin Universe – Ted Holiday

the goblin universe ted holidayThe Goblin Universe – Ted Holiday
Llewellyn Publications – 1986

The Goblin Universe is a very serious work of non-fiction. It was written in the late 70s, but remained unpublished during the author’s lifetime as he was apparently unsatisfied with it. He supposedly rewrote the entire thing and ended up with a very different final product that seems to have gone unpublished. After Ted Holiday’s death in 1977, his friend Colin Wilson convinced Holiday’s mother to allow him to publish the original Goblin Universe manuscript.

The above information comes from Wilson’s lengthy introduction to this book. I’ve seen several instances of Wilson being listed as the co-author for this one, but while there is definitely a similarity between Holiday’s conclusions and what I’ve read of Wilson’s own ideas, I reckon that the central text here is actually Holiday’s work. Wilson is too critical in his introduction for me to believe that he had much input into the central text. He acknowledges that “The Goblin Universe would never convert a single sceptic; in fact, it would probably make him more certain than ever that ‘the occult’ is a farrago of self-deception and muddled thinking.” This acknowledgement follows a paragraph in which Wilson claims that Holiday’s attempt to show that Gilles De Rais was reincarnated as Edward Paisnel “convinces no one – even the believers.” Wilson poopooing the work that he is introducing will come as no surprise to long time readers of this blog. He was even harsher in his introduction to Roberts and Gilbertson’s insanely paranoid Dark Gods. (I actually first heard of The Goblin Universe in Colin Wilson’s introduction to Dark Gods. His description therein of the Exorcism of Loch Ness that is recounted in Holiday’s book ensured that I would track the latter down. More on Dark Gods later.)

ted holday omand exorcising loch nessTed Holiday and Rev. Donald Omand performing an Exorcism of Loch Ness

So what the Hell is the Goblin Universe? I read this book fairly attentively, but I still don’t really know. It pisses me off when writers don’t explain their technical jargon, and Holiday completely fails to clarify the meaning of what is presumably the most important idea in his book. The phrase is exclusively used in very vague, confusing ways. I went through the book after reading it, and tried to note every time that the author uses the phrase “the Goblin Universe.” I have listed these instances here in an attempt to clarify his meaning:

Holiday claims that the ambiguity over the fact that photons can be observed as particles and as waves “is the very essence of the Goblin Universe”

“If we try to probe a little deeper into the mystery of being, we find ourselves in the Goblin Universe along with Alice having tea with mad hares in top hats. It is all great fun, but what does it mean?”

“The Goblin universe is the place in the play where the actor switches one mask for another”

“The Goblin Universe is a hall of distorting mirrors into which we are born with yelling protest.”

“The Hall of mirrors… is simply the external aspect of the Goblin Universe.”

“The Goblin Universe is a hydrogen bomb. Admit the truth about one thing and you will end up facing the truth about a thousand more, and your existing system blows up.”

“The Goblin Universe… will not be ignored.”

“medics [who] deny the Goblin Universe will never comprehend people like Graham Young.”
(Graham Young was a mass murderer who poisoned his family members. Holiday later claims that Young was possessed by a demon from a Nazi concentration camp.)

“To comprehend the Goblin Universe, we need a modified science of physics.”

“One or two of the real masters see everything, and they know how the Goblin Universe really functions.”

If I missed any instances of the phrase, I assure you, they were no more elucidating than the above.

According to Holiday, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, mermaids, satyrs, the Surrey Puma and all sorts of cryptids are real, but they probably don’t exist in the same way that we do. If they were simple creatures of flesh and blood, we would surely have caught some during the act of sexual intercourse. Holiday suggests that these cryptids are actually semi-physical entities that have been placed here by intelligences far greater than our own. The reason for this placement is unclear; these creatures may be appearing to us to send us a message, but they might also just be appearing to confuse us or shock us into a reaction. The superior intelligences that are sending these appearances to us are probably aliens, or at least what we think of as aliens, the creatures that travel in UFOs.  (Years ago they would have been considered fairies.) This can be proven by the fact that many cryptid sightings are preceded by UFO sightings in the same area. Oh, but some of the cryptids, particularly the ones that look like extinct creatures might just be ghosts.

vegetable manThis picture (presumably from another text) is included at the end of Holiday’s book with little context. A vegetable man.

Holiday goes on to claim that natural selection as the driving force of evolution is wrong. We actually evolve according to the desires of a mysterious yet intelligent force. This intelligent force may or may not be the same entity/group of entities that is causing the cryptids to appear. Holiday claims that our scientific method is incapable of describing these forces and must thus be torn down and rebuilt. Holiday accepts the reality of reincarnation, possession, astral projection, precognition and even the possibility of willing a human automaton into existence. Any new scientific method must be open enough to account for these phenomena.

I’ve come across ideas similar to these before, and I want to take a moment to discuss Holiday’s place in this kind of literature. In the introduction to this work, Wilson references the work of John A. Keel, Erich Von Däniken, Pauwels and Bergier, and T.C. Lethbridge, all authors whose work has already appeared on this blog, but in truth, Wilson’s own book, The Occult, was one of the first I read that used this kind of thinking. Holiday personally asked Wilson for comments on his work, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he was writing in the same tradition. Just as Wilson’s work seems to have influenced Holiday’s, Holiday’s ideas seem to have had a major effect on Dark Gods by Anthony Roberts and Geoff Gilbertson. Holiday introduces the idea that a higher intelligence is causing cryptids to appear, and Roberts and Gilberston responded by affirming that this higher intelligence is malevolent.

This sequence is odd. Although The Goblin Universe was written several years before Dark Gods, it was actually published 6 years later. The influence might be explained by the authors’ mutual friendships with Wilson. Perhaps he had given them his copy of Holiday’s manuscript. (They probably would have asked to see it after reading about it in his introduction.) One of Holiday’s earlier books is also referenced in Dark Gods too, so either Roberts or Gilbertson knew of him already. I feel confident in saying that his ideas led on to theirs.

There’s lots of mental parts in this book. The author admits to having heard voices in his head. He claims that ghosts mostly appear in September because certain cosmic rays are shining parallel with Earth’s orbit rather than perpendicular to it. He believes that Uri Gellar is a real deal psychic, and he spends a chapter describing an exorcism at Loch Ness. Oh, and he also includes a ridiculous appendix on spirit photography written by our old friend Dr. Hans Holzer. There’s too much going on for the book to be coherent, even Wilson admits as much, but the general loopiness of the whole thing was entertaining.

I love this stuff.