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!

 

A History of Chainsaw Terror (Come the Night) by Nick Blake (Shaun Hutson)

I have spent the last few months obsessing over the infamous Chainsaw Terror, but finding a copy seemed impossible. A few weeks ago, I read a review that made doing so significantly easier. There’s quite a few reviews of this novel online already, but I am far more interested in the story behind this book than the story in it. In this post, I want to present the most comprehensive account of the publishing of Chainsaw Terror/Come the Night to date.

chainsaw terror come the night nick blake hutson

In 1984, Shaun Hutson agreed to write a novelisation of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Star, his publishing company failed to get the novelisation rights for the movie, but they encouraged Shaun to write a chainsaw novel anyways. Who doesn’t love a bit of chainsaw violence?

Shaun spent a few weeks (either 15 or 20 days) writing a manuscript titled Chainsaw Terror. A week after sending it in to his publisher, he got a call telling him that parts of it had to be cut out. The extent of these cuts varies depending on Shaun Hutson’s mood. He has claimed it was 20 pages, 25 pages and 30 pages during different interviews.

Apparently Bookwise, the biggest book retailer in England, had banned the book from their stores because of the word ‘chainsaw’ in the title. (By Hutson’s own account, other retailers, including W.H. Smith did not have a problem with the book’s title, but Hutson later claimed that the novel was “banned outright.”) The cut manuscript was retitled and all future copies were published as Come the Night.

Ok, so the small number of copies of the first printing of book that were originally sent to and sold by non-Bookwise vendors were titled Chainsaw Terror, and these are the ones that we see going for 300+ dollars on ebay today. The reason that copies of Chainsaw Terror go for so much money is that the people buying them believe that they include the 20-30 pages that were cut from the original manuscript.

But Chainsaw Terror and Come the Night are the same book. Yes, they are the exact same. Come the Night is not shorter, and it’s not less graphic. It’s literally the exact same. (Somebody made this claim on a forum in 2017, but Olly C’s review confirmed it with certainty.) All of those people who review their copy of Chainsaw Terror online and gloat smugly about how weak Come the Night must be compared to the sheer brutality of Chainsaw Terror are fools.

So who is responsible for all of the confusion over the different editions of this book? I’m pretty sure it’s Shaun Hutson. I’ve already pointed to a few instances where he has contradicted himself on elements of  the story, but most confusing of all is the following quote which is currently found on Hutson’s own website:

“…CHAINSAW TERROR and COME THE NIGHT are both the same book. CHAINSAW TERROR was originally published in the US but was banned over here by W.H. Smith because it had ‘chainsaw’ in the title. It was then re-released (heavily cut) as ‘Come The Night’. Actually, make that very heavily cut…”

Ok, so the first sentence and the last sentence of that quote directly contradict each other. Which part are we supposed to believe Shaun? Not only that, but in this quote, Hutson is claiming that it was W.H. Smith that banned the book while he has elsewhere stated that “W.H. Smith who were more conservative in their views [than Bookwise] didn’t have a problem with CHAINSAW TERROR even though they’d later go on to ban my own novel DEADHEAD in 1994.”

According to Hutson, the cuts were demanded just days after he submitted the original manuscript, but while Chainsaw Terror came out in March 1984, Come the Night was only published in December 1985, almost two years later. If Hutson’s claim that “It [Chainsaw Terror] was then re-released (heavily cut) as ‘Come The Night'” was true, this would mean that there are three different versions of the story: the original manuscript, the cut version (Chainsaw Terror) and the cut-cut version (Come the Night). But if Come the Night is a “very heavily cut” re-release of Chainsaw Terror, how is it that every known copy of both books is 173 pages long? Hutson’s claims are full of holes.

I don’t know how deliberate it was, but I can’t help but think that the author has consciously obfuscated the publication details of Chainsaw Terror to add to its infamy. In pointing this out, I want to clarify that I have nothing but respect for Hutson if this is truly the case. Nothing gets my juices flowing better than the mystique of a banned and unattainable horror novel. I’d do the same thing if I was in that position.

I pieced together the above account from different interviews and reviews, and while I’m sure it’s not completely accurate, I think it’s at least the most complete version of the story of the publication of Chainsaw Terror online. (Hutson’s contradictory accounts make it very difficult to suss out who was actually responsible for the title change and where the copies of Chainsaw Terror in circulation were actually sold – was it W.H. Smiths or the United States?) If anyone has any further information on either of these books, I’d be happy to know about it. Shaun Hutson, baby, give me a call and let’s talk.

hutson come the night abduction visitation
Just to clarify another point; while paperback versions of Chainsaw Terror and Come the Night are both fairly scarce at this stage, the entire text of Come the Night (and hence Chainsaw Terror) was rereleased as part of a collection of three novels by Hutson that is still widely available. I bought a copy for less than two dollars a few weeks ago. There was also a French edition called La Tronconneuse de l’Horreur put out in 1985. I actually bought a copy of this before I knew that Come the Night was the same as the published version of Chainsaw Terror. I had planned to learn French rather than paying 300 quid for a copy of the English version, but I don’t have to any more. I don’t regret my purchase though, as I think the cover of this version is the single greatest cover art in the history of horror fiction.

La Tronçonneuse de l'Horreur - nick blakeI can verify that the text is the same as the English version. It’s cut too. Still though, look at that cover!

Ok, as for the actual plot of Chainsaw Terror… It’s pretty much what you’d expect: an incel cuts up a bunch of prostitutes with a chainsaw. It shames me to say this, but I thought it was quite enjoyable. Everything is pushed a few steps further than is sensible. There’s some nice touches – whenever somebody is cut up, they always seem to shit or piss themselves. Also, the chainsaw maniac has the weird (yet admittedly sensible) habit of taking off all of his clothes before he dismembers his victims.

There is one part of the book where the killer is about to ram a drill into a prostitute’s eyeball where the text cuts off with an ellipsis. When the next paragraph starts, she is dead. I assume this is the scene of one of the infamous cuts. There’s also a tense scene where the killer is left alone with two small children. Nothing happens, but in a later interview, Hutson mentioned that “Killing kids in print is always a tricky area” directly after mentioning the ban on Chainsaw Terror, leading me to believe that the that the killer may have returned to those kids in the original manuscript. Hutson has also mentioned the omission of a scene involving chainsaw rape, but the published versions do actually contain a scene that I thought suggested as much. In truth, none of these omitted scenes would have made a huge difference to the final product. As it stands, the published manuscript is plenty violent and gross. (There are rumours of a pdf copy of the uncut manuscript of Chainsaw Terror that was being sent around the internet years ago, but I doubt we’ll ever see it again.)

In conclusion then, finding a copy of Chainsaw Terror is actually pretty easy despite all the nonsense that has been written about it online. The omnibus containing two other Hutson novels is the way to go my friends – you don’t need to spend 300 dollars. As of today, the 2nd of February 2020, there are more than 50 copies available online for less than 20 dollars, many costing less than half that. The book is enjoyable in a very direct, horrible way too, and I recommend you check it out if you’re at all into violent, mindless horror novels.

severed head decapitated by chainsaw

Oh, and if elusive and weird paperback horror is your thing, make sure you check back here soon. I’ll be posting a review of The Voice of the Clown, a real rarity, by the end of the month.

 

The Splatterpunks Anthologies: Extreme Horror and Over the Edge

splatterpunks extreme horror over the edge sammon.jpg
Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror – Paul M. Sammon (Ed.)
Xanadu – 1990

The first Splatterpunks anthology was published in 1990. It’s a collection of extremely violent stories, most of which had previously been published elsewhere. Some of the stories are quite enjoyable and some are fairly shit. The most remarkable feature of this collection is the editor’s attempt to delineate Splatterpunk as a separate entity from regular horror fiction.

Every review I have read of this collection has commented on the fact that most of the authors included herein reject the splatterpunk label. Sammon himself acknowledges this fact several times throughout his introductory notes. Let’s face it. Splatterpunk was never a revolutionary literary movement; it was a label created by David Schow to describe a small group of his writer friends who were writing gory stories. The authors in this anthology repeatedly refuse the splatterpunk label because it’s too limiting, and they feel that it would only apply to a small portion of their output. If we’re calling writers Splatterpunks because they’ve written a couple of gross-out stories, surely Stephen King fits the bill too. His story Survivor Type is easily as extreme as most of the stuff in this anthology. (My point is not that King should be included here; it’s that the editor’s posturing is ridiculous. In the next anthology he goes on to claim that Bret Easton Ellis, a writer who is parodied in this collection, is actually a Splatterpunk too.)

The book includes a lengthy epilogue that I was unable to finish. Paul Sammon’s attempts to make Splatterpunk seem like a really important cultural phenomenon were genuinely embarrassing to read. I was going to include a quote from the introduction here, but after rereading the first few lines of it, I found myself cringing too hard to continue. He literally compares his authors to Burroughs, De Sade and Baudelaire in the second sentence of this book. Some stories in here were decent, but I had forgotten most of them only two weeks after finishing the collection.

 
Splatterpunks: Over the Edge – Paul M. Sammon (Ed.)
Tor – 1995

The second Splatterpunks collection came out 5 years later, and this book is far, far worse than its predecessor. Actually, I really liked some of the stories in here, but there’s way more in this one, and some of them are absolute shit.

The really dislikeable part of this one wasn’t the awful stories or even Paul Sammon’s embarrassing introductions; it was the non-fiction pieces. Aside from Sammon’s bullshit, the only non-fiction piece in the first collection was an essay on ultra violent films. I watched most of the movies it mentions when I was a teenager, so I actually quite enjoyed reading this piece. Although it was about movies, it didn’t feel hugely out of place in a collection of ultra-violent stories. There’s an article in Spatterpunks II by Martin Amis on the movies of Brian De Palma. Martin Amis is not a horror author, and while De Palma has done a few horror films, those aren’t the movies being discussed in the essay. Sure, some of De Palma’s movies are violent, but they don’t compare to the other stuff in these collections. There is absolutely no reason for this essay to be in this collection other than having a famous author’s name on its cover. Fuck off Martin Amis.

There’s also an interview in here with Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan. My favourite pastime is reading about Satanic occult orders, but I skipped this section after about 2 pages. It was excruciating. Not only does LaVey come across as an embarrassing dildo, but the interview is performed by Jim Goad. Jim Goad, for those of you who don’t know, is just about the edgiest edge-lord in town. He beats women and believes that white people are oppressed. He also published a magazine in the 90s that included pages of rape jokes. When it was first published in this same magazine, the LaVey interview was followed with an interview with David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Together, LaVey and Goad are unbearable. Again, this piece has absolutely nothing to do with horror, and can only have been included because Sammon saw it as edgy and in-your-face. (There’s also a particulary embarrassing “rant” from Goad’s wife. I actually felt sorry her after reading it. Total loser.)

And I think this edginess is the big problem with these collections. Times have changed in the last 30 years, and being edgy isn’t cool any more. Pushing the boundaries of taste isn’t a difficult task, and today’s teenagers throw about the phrase ‘edgelord’ with derision. These kids have grown up with the internet. By the time was I was finished school, I had seen video footage of executions, extreme S&M and tonnes of stuff that’s worse than the stories in this book. (Can you guys remember rotten.com?)  I don’t think it’s possible to make literary gore as shocking as what kids see on their phones every day. Brutal violence is fine and dandy when it’s used for effect, but it’s rarely interesting when it’s presented as the main attraction.

A lot of this crap is boring and predictable. Think about it:

How can you make a murder more offensive? Hmmmm, make the victim more innocent and vulnerable. Who are the most innocent and vulnerable members of society? Well, women are certainly more vulnerable than men, and there’s plenty of women dying in these books, but children are more vulnerable than women! Oh wait, one of these stories is about a child dying in a car accident. Yeah, but babies are more innocent than children. Sammon’s got you covered fam; one of these stories features a baby being sexually abused. Ok, hang on! Fetuses! Fetuses are even more vulnerable than babies! They’re the most innocent and vulnerable of all! But no author would ever have the balls to write about somebody killing fetuses, would they? Actually, yeah. quite a few of these stories involve people killing fetuses. A lot of Splatterpunk seems to involve this kind of punching down, and as I am no longer 13 years old, I have no interest in this kind of crap. I far prefer gore, brutality and violence when it’s directed at somebody who deserves it.

Also, just to amp up the cringe factor, Paul Sammon filled the last few pages of this book with a list of bands that he likes. I did the same thing with my homework journal when I was 15.

All this being said, there were some great stories in the second collection. Gorman Bechard’s Pig was deadly, and I quite liked the weird ones by Petoud and Koja. There are a few duds in here for sure, but just as it was with the first collection, this book would be far more enjoyable if it was just a collection of stories with no bullshit in between. Give me gore and brutality, but don’t try to make it seem clever when it isn’t.

Flesh – Richard Laymon

flesh - richard laymon.jpgFlesh – Richard Laymon
Tor Books – 1988

A few months ago, I found a bunch of Richard Laymon books in my favourite second hand book store. I had heard of him, but I wasn’t sure which of his books were worth checking out. I bought this one because it had a cool cover. After reading Flesh, I deeply regret not buying all of the Laymon books that were there.

A gross slug thing burrows into people’s flesh, attaches itself to the back of their skull and then takes control of their body. The plot of this novel is remarkably similar to Brain Damage (one of my favourite movies, also released in 1988) and a later episode of the X-Files. The slug like beasty of this novel is special though, as this one only takes control of humans so that it can satiate its need for human flesh. It turns its victims into cannibals.

Let me put that another way. The monster in this book eats through people’s flesh so that it can use their bodies to eat through other people’s flesh.

The central premise of this book doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t even realise that until I started writing this review. It’s such a cool idea for a book. There were, however, a few other issues that were more difficult to swallow. Most of the characters in Flesh are either exceptionally stupid or remarkably intelligent. The victims make absolutely terrible, terrible choices, but the police officers on the case are able to deduce the exact nature of their bizarre adversary after examining one of its victims. They immediately figure out that they’re dealing with a with a psycho-parasitic worm with a lust for human flesh. Finally, the women in this book have such sensitive nipples that I can’t imagine how they go about their daily lives. Every time a woman does anything in this book, her nipples’ reaction is mentioned, whether she be taking a shower, greeting a friend, or enjoying a pleasant summer breeze.

Despite these issues, I found this book to be immensely entertaining. It is absolutely full of gore, a real bloodbath. The writing is decent too. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not Faulkner, but it’s not bad. Laymon tells a good story. Flesh is 400 pages long, but I read it in only a few days. I advise you all to hunt down a copy too.