To be honest, I chose to read this book because it’s only 166 pages long. It’s not good.
Some lizards on a nuclear testing site get big and start rampaging through New Mexico, eating everybody in their path. A reptile-expert from the local college is brought out to assess the situation. She falls in love with an ex-colleague, and they have a lot of sex. The lizards really go nuts at a fair, and the authorities’ first attempts to kill them fail. Eventually the scientist comes up with a way to kill them, and everything looks like it’s going to work out until the last page of the novel.
There are some gory scenes, but nothing memorable. Two of the characters are frequently banging eachother, but the reader is never invited to share the experience. One of the shaggers is a Native American, and although the inclusion of a mixed race couple might have seemed progressive in 1981, the interactions between this couple would not fly today. I think at one point the woman tells the man to go back to his wigwam.
This was one of the most predictable, unimaginative books I have ever read. It felt like reading a practice run for a novel, like it was written just so the author could get a feel for sticking 150+ pages of words together. This was Kathryn Ptacek’s first novel, so maybe her others are better. It’s not surprising she used a pseudonym for this one. The plot here is on autopilot, and the only surprising thing about this book is that it found a publisher. It really seems like anyone with enough time to type out a manuscript could have had a book published in the 80s
I’m not a huge fan of animal horror, and this book did nothing to change my opinion. It was pretty shit, but I didn’t absolutely hate it.
I read The Festering, my first Guy N. Smith novel, a few weeks ago, and I greatly enjoyed it. I picked it because of its cover, and I decided that the next of Smith’s books I would read would be one of his more esteemed works. I chose The Slime Beast as I knew that the illustrious Centipede Press had reissued this one in a fine hardback edition.
A cranky professor takes his assistant and niece out to a muddy beach to look for treasure. During an excavation, they uncover a sleeping monster that smells so vile that they puke all over each other. Later that night, the monster comes alive and starts to kill people.
The plot doesn’t really make sense. The characters don’t act like people at all. They decide to sleep in an abandoned shack for several nights in a row when there is a bloodthirsty monster on the prowl. There’s reasons given for their behaviour, but none of them hold up. Mr. Smith clearly didn’t give much of a shit for plotting. He just wanted to get to the slimy bits. This was a relief to be honest.
This is not a good book, but I found it very entertaining. I liked the emphasis on the monster’s stink. Every time he shows up, his rotten stench makes people throw up. There’s not much else to say about this book. It’s 144 pages of pure garbage. It’s pretty great though. I wholeheartedly recommend that you find a copy and read it immediately.
This book starts off with a man smashing his wife’s face in with a fire poker after he gets home from work. In fairness, he only does so in self defense, and a local police officer lets him out of jail after the cop’s daughter turns up dead at the site of another brutal murder. The first half of the book deals with these lads slowly figuring out that the town of Broughton is plagued with a virus that is turning its women into crazed savages with an insatiable lust for men’s blood.
It was the second book in a row that I read that featured a woman name Arlene suddenly going mad and trying to murder her husband. When I started it, I wasn’t expecting it to be any good, but I ended up really liking it. My biggest complaint was that it feels as if the author was going for that Stephen King thing of making the town itself the protagonist. The problem is that Blood Fever is only 188 pages, less than half the length of Salem’s Lot. There’s too many characters and not enough character development to make them distinguishable. Aside from that, the writing is decent. I mean, this is trash, but its fast paced and interesting enough. I was a bit surprised to see on goodreads that this is Shelley Hyde’s only novel. I was not surprised when some further research showed that Shelley Hyde was actually a pseudonym of Kit Reed, an award winning author of some 30 novels.
Really, it’s baffling that this book doesn’t have more of a cult following. It features a group of feminists who lose their minds, take over a ranch and brutally murder any men who come within sniffing distance. Seriously. How has this masterpiece remained in obscurity for so long? Blood Fever should be mandatory reading for all university students taking gender studies classes.
I liked this book a lot. You should track a copy down and read it.
I’m sure menopause is uncomfortable for a lot of women, but Arlene has it worse than most. There’s a lump growing on her spine, and it’s making life very uncomfortable. When it’s x-rayed, her doctors are horrified to see a bone structure developing inside it.
Written in 1987, Mark Manley’s Throwback is a hugely enjoyable work of trashy horror. It’s fast paced, competently written, and it features a gang of dog-fucking punk-rockers attempting to rape a woman with a giant bloodthirsty rat growing out of her back. Seriously, what else could you ask for?
Yes, when Arlene’s hideous boil finally pops, the head, arms and torso of a giant carniverous rodent emerge and begin to subsume Arlene’s body and soul. Arlene is what her backwoods ancestors called a ‘Throwback’. Her DNA contains patterns from a far earlier form of life, and those strains are becoming dominant. Arlene somehow maintains a psychic link with her daughter, Sharon, and Sharon has to do her best to end her mom’s killing spree.
I don’t know what else to say about this one. That’s the beauty of this kind of book though. You’re not supposed to have much to say. It makes promise on the cover and delivers in the text. It was a lot of fun. If you’re not already looking for a copy after reading this review, I doubt we have much in common. This is pure trash, but it’s exactly the kind of book that I want to read right now. Short, weird and gross. Perfect.
Guy N. Smith wrote a lot of books, and I wasn’t sure of which one to read first. I didn’t want to commit to any of his series to begin with, so I looked at his standalone novels. I chose 1989’s The Festering as my starting point as it had the mingingest cover. I can honestly say that this novel is now one of my favourite books ever.
A couple move to the English countryside to escape urban life. Their plumbing is dodgy, so they have well dug in their garden. Unfortunately, an ancient, diseased corpse was buried there, and the lads who dig the well end up contracting the disease.
This disease causes you to grow disgusting boils all over and to leak stinking pus and slime from every orifice. It also increases sexual and aggressive urges. Those who get sick end up going on violent rampages and end up as a rancid puddle of noisome muck.
“it was surely a demented diseased stranger, some cancerous monstrosity bent on a final depravity before whatever was eating away his body claimed him for its own.”
I loved this book. It was really horrible.
It was written in 1989, and it’s hard not to think that the AIDS crisis had something to do with the plot. The Festering Death is directly compared to AIDS twice within the text. This seems rather insensitive now, but I think everyone reading this book in 2022 will understand how uncertainty about the symptoms and contagiousness of a disease can be used as an effective means to create tension. Also, the symptoms of the disease in the book are nothing like those of AIDS.
I also know that it’s not really fair to judge an author based on the tendencies of their characters, but the misogyny on display in this book is hard ignore. The men throw out phrases like “fucking little whore”, “poxy cow”, “poxy bitch” and my personal favourite, “a filthy slag offering her body for a pittance on a street corner.” This is real classy stuff.
“sores that pulsed even after life had deserted the wretched body, spreading and feeding on the dead flesh with revolting rapidity and cancerous lust.”
I liked the simplicity of the horror at work here. The focus is on how pus filled boils are really gross. This focus is utterly relentless. The boils are disgusting, and they smell really awful. Seriously, the horrible scummy slime inside these weeping sores is both vile and rancid. Ewwww, stink!
The Festering is as trashy as they come, but it was exactly what I needed. I shall be reading more Guy N. Smith in the future.
Kenneth Rayner Johnson was an occult scholar, an alchemist, and a writer of trashy horror paperbacks. Despite the fact that he was obviously a super interesting individual, there’s barely any information about him online. The search for this information is hugely complicated by the fact that there are several authors called Ken Johnson who write about occulty/Biblical stuff and a different Kenneth R. Johnson who is an expert on science-fiction pornography. Goodreads is currently attributing half of Kenneth Rayner Johnson’s books to these other authors. I have spent the last 6 months piecing together as much accurate information about this lad as I could find, and I am excited to share these findings with the world. Kenneth Rayner Johnson worked as a journalist in the 60s. He lived most of his life in the UK, but spent some time in Canada (I wish I knew where!) Most of his books were published in the late 70s/early 80s. These books are a curious mix of B-movie novelisations, bizarre works of occultism and paperback horror novels. I did not manage to read all of his books, but I got through the important ones.
Let’s start with the novels.
The Succubus NEL 1980
First published in 1977, The Succubus, as far as I can know, was Johnson’s first original novel. I only figured out that it was largely based on a true story when I was halfway through it. In the 70s, an American woman kidnapped a Mormon, chained him to her bed and repeatedly raped him. When the story hit the news, it sent the media into a frenzy of sensationalism. This actually happened, and there’s even a critically acclaimed documentary movie about it.
Kenneth Rayner Johnson took the story of “The Manacled Mormon” and threw in a rapist demon. It’s an entertaining read, but I felt very let down by the ending.
The book starts at the court case. Candice Maltman is found not guilty by reason of insanity and is sentenced to a stay in a fancy madhouse. She is very clearly still in love with Troy Valens, the dude she raped. Troy runs out of the courtroom and straight to his friends house. When he goes to bed that night, he is visited by a ghostly woman who gives him a good ride. She comes back for a shag every night after this. At first he thinks she is just a crazy sex fiend, but then he realises she’s a ghost or something. As this is happening, Candice is acting very strangely at the mental asylum. Her brainwaves are all over the place, and it seems like she’s asleep when she’s awake and awake when she’s asleep.
This part of the book was really enjoyable. There was lots of sex and supernatural suspense. It is hinted that Candice had made some forays into occultism before abducting Troy, and I was assuming that she had summoned some kind of demon that was helping her astrally rape him or something. This would have been great. Unfortunately this is not what’s actually happening.
Next paragraph contains spoilers. Skip it if you’re planning to read the book.
Actually, the evil spirit that is raping is actually the demon Lillith. The idiot who previously lived in the apartment where Troy is staying had summoned her years ago and never banished her. He was never able to see her because the numerical value of the letters in his name are different to the numerical values of the letters in “Lillith”. Troy and Lillith’s numerical values are the same so he can see her. Somehow, and this is absolutely never explained, Lillith has also been hiding in Candice’s body, even though she is miles away in a mental hospital and has never entered the room that Lillith has been trapped in for years. Fucking stupid. It doesn’t make any sense. The whole time you’re waiting for some kind of explanation for the initial kidnapping, but that part is purely incidental to the succubus stuff. This is a book about a man who gets raped by two entirely separate females that eventually become the same female for absolutely no reason.
Kenneth Rayner Johnson was pretty heavily into the occult as far as I can tell, and he references plenty of books that I’ve reviewed on here. Seabrook, Summers, Sinistrari, Maple… but well researched as he may be, I am not sure about the veracity of some of his claims.
There is one part where Johnson claims that Saint Aloysius Gonzaga masturbated himself to death. I love reading about Saints and Popes who have done messed up stuff, and I had to check this out. I’m pretty sure that Ken just made this one up. He references Butler’s Lives of the Saints as his source for this information, but I checked a couple of editions of that book and neither mentioned death by wanking. They actually claim that Saint Gonzaga died of a disease he contracted while tending to sick people. He is believed (by some) to have lived his entire life without committing a mortal sin, and he’s known for his devotion to chastity. I’m always down to trash Christianity, and I think it’s hilarious if Kenneth Rayner Johnson was being deliberately offensive here, but I am also very, very intrigued. Are there any other sources that claim that Saint Gonzaga died from wanking? I can’t find any online, so I asked the experts. I still haven’t gotten a response.
Like I said, I really enjoyed most of this book. It’s just the ending that’s absolutely shit and stupid.
The Homunculus NEL – 1982
I have wanted to read this novel ever since coming across it while working on my lengthy post about Aleister Crowley’s attempt to make a homunculus. There’s not much info about Johnson’s The Homunculus online, but the cover is a thing of beauty. Look at it there. Fantastic.
There’s a weird cult called Supra Obscurans in London, and it’s led by a 9 year old homunculus with a massive cock. He plans to take over the world by impregnating a bunch of English women with his demon spawn. Things are going well for this lil’ pipsqueak until he kidnaps the girlfriend of a hologram scientist.
The story for this one was pure shit, and the characters were flat and uninteresting. The Homunculus is not a good novel.
I’ve read a quite a bit about creating a homunculus, and Kenneth Rayner Johnson obviously did too. Aside from the cover, the coolest thing about this book is the fact that the author clearly had a serious interest in the occult. Each chapter begins with a quote, and while most of these are from Nostradamus or The Bible, there were some from Crowley’s Book of the Law, Maugham’s The Magician and Kenneth Grant’s The Magical Revival (apparently Grant and Johnson were buddies). Johnson also repeatedly references Paracelsus. Reading through these bits made me feel like a knowledgeable wizard, but they didn’t save the book from being shit.
The novel ends on Glastonbury Tor, the place where Anthony Roberts would mysteriously die 7 years after its publication. I mention this because I believe I read something about a link between Johnson and Roberts a long time ago, but I can’t remember where I read it. They would have been working in the same circles at roughly the same time, so they may well have known each other.
Johnson apparently intended to release a third “Satanic” novel, but this never happened. His next and final major work of fiction was quite different.
The Cheshire Cat Dell – 1983
Allison, a photographer, dumps her rockstar boyfriend when she’s 8 months pregnant and moves to some small town in Wales for a bit of a holiday before the baby is born. The manager of the hotel she’s staying is the leader of a Theosophist cult, and most of the people staying at the hotel are mothers and daughters who belong to this cult.
One of the guys who helps take care of this gang of little girls is an epileptic named Trevor Lewis. He makes friends with Allison. The only other guest at the hotel is a professor who is often seen arguing with the hotel manager.
It turns out that the entire neighbourhood is haunted by the ghost of Lewis Carroll, the guy who wrote Alice in Wonderland. Despite what some of his naïve fans claim, Lewis Carroll was undoubtedly a dodgy paedophile in real life, and I was a bit apprehensive that a fictional portrayal of him would try to make him out to be a good person. This book does no such thing. He’s not just a paedophile here; he’s also a psychopath. He’s the creepiest paedophile ghost with a speech impediment since Stephen King’s Library Policeman.
I actually really enjoyed reading this book, but I only finished it 10 minutes before writing this, and there’s so many things about it that didn’t make sense. There’s the whole spiritualism/theosophy thing going on, and while the haunting part kinda fits in with that, Charles “the paedophile” Dodgson doesn’t really come across as a Mahatma or Master of Wisdom here. The Cheshire Cat, which briefly appears a couple of times, is also referred to as a Guardian at the Threshold. It’s implied that some of the creatures from Alice in Wonderland are coming to life, but that side of things is never fleshed out.
There’s another part where Allison stumbles across a house with a pair of ugly women and a screaming baby in a cottage in the woods. This seemed like that scene with the Duchess and the pig from Alice in Wonderland, but it doesn’t add anything to the story apart from confusion.
Perhaps the most confusing part of the book is the Trevor Lewis character. A big deal is made out of the fact that this guy has epilepsy, and this is something that the real Lewis Carroll suffered from. Look at his name too. I think there’s even a part where it’s suggested that Trevor has a mild stutter, just like Lewis Carroll. I kept expecting him to be Carroll’s great-grandson or maybe possessed by Carroll or something.
I really liked the fact that this book attempts to sully Lewis Carroll’s reputation. The pacing is good too. Lots of stuff happens in these 330 pages. Aside from that, this book is quite ridiculous. It doesn’t make much sense at all.
The only other original fiction written by Johnson that I know of was a short story called ‘Pelican’ that was included in the Summer 1995 edition of Terminal Frights magazine. I have not been able to find a copy of this. Please contact me if you have one or if you know of any other fiction written by Johnson.
Before writing his own original novels, Johnson wrote 3 novelisations. The first of these was for a 1973 Italian movie called The Last Snows of Spring. It’s about a neglected 10 year old kid who dies of leukemia. The tagline of the book reads “Daddy, there’s so little time.” There is a 0% chance of me ever reading this book. Jesus Christ. As far as I can tell, the book came out 2 years after the movie. Johnson also did a novelisation of Blue Sunshine (1977), a horror movie about LSD that turns people in murderers. I didn’t feel any great desire to track this one down.
In fact, the only novelisation by Johnson that I bothered with was Zoltan, Hound of Dracula from 1977. It actually seems to be the best known of all Johnson’s books. There was 3 separate editions of this book, all with different names. (It also goes by Dracula’s Dog and just Hounds of Dracula.) It’s about Dracula’s dog, so I had to read it.
All three editions of this novel contain text that reads “now a motion picture” on their covers. This would suggest that the movie was based on the book, but that’s not true. Both the movie and the novel were based on Frank Ray Perilli’s screenplay. It seems as though film companys thought it would help novel sales if people believed the book was so good a movie was made of it. (The same trick was also performed on the covers of Johnson’s other novelisations.)
This book is a piece of crap to be honest, but I enjoyed it well enough. It’s short, and too silly to get upset over. Some Romanian soliders unearth the Dracula family’s tomb, but they burn all of the vampires inside except for the servant vampire and his dog. These two loyal servants are left in an awkard position: they no longer have a master as all the Dracula family are gone.
Or are they?
No. It turns out that Dracula’s great-great-great-great-grandson moved to America and changed his name to Drake. The vampire and vampire dog head across the Atlantic to find him. When they arrive, they discover that their future master (who is not a vampire) is camping with his family. They really want this guy to tell them what to do, so they try to make him a vampire too. Their plans are complicated when a Romanian military officer comes over and tells Drake about the trouble he is in. The way in which the American man accepts the fact that an evil dog is trying to make him a vampire is pretty funny. He doesn’t get surprised or ask any questions. It seems like a perfectly natural course of events for him.
I finished the book in one sitting, and I was reasonably entertained. I thought about watching the movie version for comparison’s sake, but after skimming through it I decided not to. I don’t mind wasting 3 hours of my time reading through an awful novel, but I will be damned if I waste an hour and a half on a shitty movie. (This always happens to me. I should probably watch the movies before reading the novelisations in future.)
Part of what makes Johnson such an alluring person is that he was not just a fiction writer. He also published several peculiar books on occult phenomenon.
In 1975 a mysterious book called The Zarkon Principle appeared. It was written by a myterious weirdo named Zarkon, and it presented information about ancient aliens and predictions for the future. I haven’t read the book, but from what I have read about it, it seems that most of its predictions did not come true. It seems pretty similar to some other books that I have read, that whole fantastic-realism movement that I can’t stomach anymore.
In 1996, a new version of The Zarkon Principle was put out by Creation Books. It was retitled Armageddon 2000. This book confirmed that Zarkon was actually Kenneth Rayner Johnson.
Armageddon 2000 claimed that the world was dying and would definitely die soon.
It also claimed that ancient civilisations knew a lot and had very surprising technology. Many of these civilisations had stories featuring gods travelling in eggs. These eggmen were probably aliens who came to earth. Ancient religious texts say we come from clay. We probably do; ever hear of primordial soup? Who told us these clay stories? Aliens.
I could not bring myself to finish this book. Like the original Zarkon book, this one is full of predictions. Now, 26 years after it was published, few of these predicitons have come true.
Johnson published The Ancient Magic of the Pyramids in 1977. He also edited Robert Scrutton’s pair of 1979 books on the lost conintent of Atland (The Other Atlantis and Secrets of Lost Atland) and Scrutton’s 1982 The Message of the Masters. These all seem like pseudo-sciencey nonsense, so I didn’t try to track any of them down.
TheFulcanelliPhenomenon Spearman – 1980
Of all Johnsons books, this is probably the most sought after. I think it’s a pretty important book in the field of Fulcanelli research, and despite my disdain for alchemy, I was mildly intrigued.
As far as I know, nobody has ever turned lead into gold, and alchemy’s greatest achievement was when Paracelcus made a goblin in a pooey bottle. Fulcanelli was some French dude who wrote two books about the alchemical symbolism inherent in gothic architecture. He is best known for appearing in Pauwel and Bergier’s very stupid Morning of the Magicians. There’s a bunch of stupid stories about this lad. Apparently he went missing for 30 years and then showed up looking younger than he did when he was last seen. He also took one of his students to a magic castle in Spain where they travelled back in time and Fulcanelli changed his gender overnight. Nobody really knows who this lad was, and I, for one, don’t care. Johnson’s book is half the history of alchemy, half the legend of Fulcanelli. The author is clearly very passionate about this stuff, but this wasn’t enough to keep me interested, and I ended up skimming huge sections of this book.
My favourite thing about this book was the helpful list of Johnson’s other books included before the text. I tried contacting the people mentioned in the thank-you section here to see if I could track Johnson down, but none of the people on facebook with the same names as his thanks-yous responded.
Creation Books planned to release an updated version of The Fucanelli Phenomenon called The Immortal in 1996, but from what I can tell, it was never actually published.
According to Greenmantle magazine, Johnson also ghost wrote the autobiography of Lady Dowding, a wealthy theosophist, and animal rights activist. There are two autobiographies of Dowding, Beauty: Not the Beast An Autobiography (1980) and The Psychic Life of Muriel, Lady Dowding: An Autobiography (1982), but these might well be the same book with different titles. I can’t pretend I have any interest in reading them in any case.
Aside from these books, Johnson wrote articles for several occult magazines including The Hermetic Journal, Rapid Eye, and Greenmantle. He also contributed articles to the legendary encyclopedia of occultism, Man, Myth and Magic and other occult themed collections. He worked as a journalist from the 60s, so I’m sure there’s lot more of his writing out there. In Zoltan he introduces a chapter with a quote from an interview he did with Christopher Lee. I’d love to read that one!
In truth, none of Johnson’s books were good enough to cement his reputation as an amazing writer. The novels I read were all enjoyable at points, but they were all pretty silly too. His non-fiction is outdated, and I found it unbearable to read. Regardless of this, I still think Kenneth Rayner Johnson was a pretty cool guy. I spent a lot time trying to track him down while I was working on this post, but after emailing an old publisher of his, I discovered that Ken Johnson died of cancer in 2011. Once I knew he was dead, I googled his obituary and found an article about him in an old edition of Greenmantle. That article provided me with some of the biographical details I’ve included here and the only picture of Mr. Johnson on the internet:
Imagine that you’re on holidays somewhere far away from where you live. The locals speak the same language as you in this place, but you are a tourist here and know nothing about local events and politics. You’re bored, so you turn on the TV, but the only thing on is a satirical sketch show about current events in the town you’re staying in. Not only are you unfamiliar with the targets of the satire, but the brand of humour is bizarre and doesn’t make you laugh.
Pretty annoying right? I mean, you might watch out of curiousity for a few minutes, but you’ll probably turn it off pretty quickly and have a wank instead.
Now imagine the exact same scenario, but with every sketch in the show ending with the characters being attacked and devoured by a swarm of bloodthirsty maggots.
That would be the television equivalent of this book.
I have read many awful horror novels, but Edward Jarvis’s Maggots was shockingly bad. I was genuinely surprised at how something so awful could get published. Sometimes you read a book and decide quickly that the story is bad or the writing is poor, but you can usually tell what the writer is going for, even if they never get there. Maggots is different. It’s such a mess that I honestly don’t know what Edward Jarvis was trying to do with it.
The story is very stupid. Maggots start coming out of the ground and eating people. Some of the maggots are regular size, some of them are bigger than dogs, some are so small that they form a fine mist in the air, and at least one is bigger than a bus. There’s a guy who likes exploring caves who sees some. He has some dealings with an American politician who is running for president. There’s also a teacher who uses karate to beat up his students. The maggot problem gets worse and worse. Maggots invade a sports stadium. A maggot volcano erupts. The maggots come because people use oil. People start eating the maggots. Other people start maggot hunting groups. The world’s leading politicians agree to try to kill the maggots by playing loud noise at them through a speaker.
Maybe the story is more coherent than that, but I doubt it. In truth, I wasn’t able to give this book a thorough reading. I skimmed large chunks after the first 50 pages. The writing here is utterly tortuous. It goes between lengthy scientific descriptions of the Earth’s crust to boring political satire. I assume it’s satire of British politics of the mid 1980s, but it was totally over my head. When you’re telling a story, there’s certain unexciting parts that have to be included for the sake of coherency, but Jarvis takes these bits and draws them out as much as possible. When I buy a book with a maggoty face on the cover, I want maggoty faces to take up a good chunk of the story. There are some nasty bits in here, but they take up maybe 8 or 9 pages of the total 235.
The book features characters from all over the world, and dis bleddy awtaw cawnt bleddy ‘elp wroyten ow deh accence phawneticlay. It’s fucking unbearable. I know that there’s a market for “so bad it’s good” horror out there, but this isn’t good at all. This is “so bad it’s actually really awful and difficult to read” horror. I wanted to give up at so many points, but I struggled through.
Honestly, this book reads like it was written by an alien or a computer or something that has a basic understanding of what a story should contain but absolutely no understanding of why people like stories. As I read through it, I actually wondered if Edward Jarvis wasn’t some genius post modernist who had created this book as a statement on… something I don’t understand. Maggots is actually so radically awful, that it’s difficult to believe that its author was simply incompetent.
Fortunately for everyone, this book is very hard to find. Copies sell for insane amounts considering how terrible it is. This is obviously due to the cover. Scroll up there and look at it again. A festering, maggot-eaten head. Quality.
The Drive In: A B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas Bantam Spectra Books – 1988
This book was on my to-read list for years, but it’s been in print the whole time, and I kept putting it off. I recently finished an extremely awful horror novel, and I needed something quick and enjoyable to cleanse my palate. Having read Lansdale’s God of the Razor stuff earlier this year, I knew that The Drive In was just what I needed.
A few thousand unfortunates get trapped in a drive in movie theatre. People putrefy into puddles, others melt into each other and things rapidly descend into a maelstrom of cannibalism. Oh, and there’s weird alien gods too. A few years ago, I read a couple of bizarro fiction novels. This is very much that kind of thing. I suppose it’s violent enough to be classified as horror, but it’s also very mental. Nothing is explained, and the novel is better for that.
I breezed through this one so quickly that I have nothing else to say. It was enjoyable. I liked it. I am happy to read the other books in the series.
The Drive In 2: Not just one of them Sequels Spectra – 1989
Honestly, I didn’t like this one. It takes up the story where the last book left it off. The gang go on a road trip through Drive In country. I lost interest about halfway through, but it was short enough so that it didn’t seem like a chore to finish. The writing is entertaining (Lansdale loves a simile.), but the story gets so ridiculous that I found it hard to care about what was going to happen next. It left me with very little enthusiasm to read part three.
The Drive in 3: The Bus Tour Subterranean Press – 2005
My expectations for this book were pretty low, and I ended up enjoying it more than its predecessor. The second novel took the story so far from the original Drive In that the third novel in the series had no choice but to go further afield again. While the first novel found its cast of characters trapped at a drive in movie theatre, the third novel sees them trapped in a giant, semi-robotic catfish. This is a silly book, but it’s also very easy to read.
Personally, I thought The Drive In was pretty good, but I found its sequels a bit too zany for my tastes. There’s an omnibus edition available if you’re interested. I reckon I’ll wait a while and then give Lansdale’s short stories a go.
I remember coming across these in Paperbacks from Hell and immediately writing them off because 7 books seemed like a big commitment and an initial search showed them to be fairly scarce. I took a closer look a few months later and realised I’d have to read them.
Like many of the books featured in Paperbacks from Hell, these titles are very tricky to track down, but these particular books were already scarce when PFH came out. These are erotic novels, and they feature a specific kink. I found a link on Will Errickson’s blog, and it might have something to do with why these books are so hard to find. This webpage is a list of JR Parz’s favourite erotic mind control novels, and it has been online for well over 20 years. The Martin books have been listed at the top of it since it was first posted. Erotic mind control seems like a fairly specific kink, and I’d imagine that the erotic mind control online community is pretty closely knit. Yep, I would be willing to bet that more of the copies of Martin’s books still in existence are sitting shelves of mind control perverts than on the shelves of regular horror fans.
There’s a paragraph on these books in Paperbacks From Hell and an essay inSatanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s about how Martin’s novels reflect the early 1980’s fear of Satanism, but neither of these sources offer any information on Russell W. Martin, the mysterious pervert who wrote these strange books. The internet isn’t much better. The only online source on Martin I could find was his ISFDB page. That page says he was born in 1933 and that his full name is Russell White Martin, but it also says he cowrote a book about space and drew some pictures for a 1992 science fiction novel called A Fire Upon the Deep. I got hold of both of these books, and I can confirm that the space book was written by a different Russ Martin, and the art in A Fire Upon the Deep was created by Elissa Mitchell. I don’t know if we can believe the other information from ISFDB either.
The only reliable information I could find on Martin is on the inside cover of my copy of Chains. Chains is the UK version of Rhea. This information is not included in the Playboy edition of Rhea, published one year later.
In Paperbacks from Hell, Grady Hendrix claims that Martin wrote 7 novels about the Satanic Organization, but that’s not true, and anyone who has read these books will understand why (details below). Also, Alison Natasi omits Rhea and Candy Sterling from the bibliography to her essay. This might be because one was written in the 70s and the other doesn’t quite fit in with the theme of the essay, but it might also be because Candy Sterling is almost impossible to get hold of. Apart from JR Parz, I am not convinced that I know of anyone who has actually read all 7 of these books.
Hard to find, rarely read, trashy novels about horny Satanists? Hell yes.
Due to the relative scarcity of these books, I am providing summaries of each. If you’re actually planning on reading these, maybe skip to the last 2 paragraphs and then come back once you’re done. (I wrote these reviews as I was reading the books, so I end up answering some of the questions I ask later on in the post.)
A girl born in the 1700s spends her birthday money on a mysterious old book called Liber de Malo from the back of a merchant’s van. She is a gifted child, and at 5 years of age uses her schooling in Latin to summon a demon. Once she hits puberty, she starts using demons to help her gain complete sexual subordination from anyone she fancies. She does this for about 200 years and then meets Phillip Stafford, a wealthy movie executive.
She gains control over this Phillip guy, but things start to get really nasty once his wife finds out. Philip hires a private detective to figure out Rhea’s game, and it’s through his sleuthing that many of the details of Rhea’s past lives are revealed. The chapters are not in chronological order, and each one offers the perspective of a different character. I was very impressed with how well the plot was crafted. This is sexy, satanic horror fiction, but Russ Martin put some serious work into organising this story.
This isn’t porn though, even if it was published by Playboy. The characters have lots of sex, but there’s barely any graphic sex scenes. The most lurid scene appears towards the end of the novel, and it is anything but sexy.
Parts of the book are scary too. Rhea is proper bad. She’s not just mean and selfish. She’s evil.
Honestly, I was really surprised by how much I liked this one. I don’t know why it hasn’t been reissued since 1980. It felt like a proper gothic novel.
The Desecration of Susan Browning Playboy Paperbacks – 1981
An up-and-coming film maker rescues a woman named Wanda Carmichael from getting raped. Turns out that Wanda’s in league with the devil, and she decides she wants the lad who saved her, so she puts a mind control spell on him. Susan, his wife, isn’t too pleased, so one of Wanda’s associates puts a love spell on her too. Both Susan and her husband are drawn towards people they absolutely hate by an insurmountable force of evil. Susan finds some reprieve when she meets Al Crabbe, a handsome priest who stows her away in a convent, but even he can’t stop the Devil’s powers. The novel ends with a mass gathering of Devil worshippers gathering for a Satanic baptism. Instead of being anointed with holy water, the baby, and probably Antichrist, is anointed with blood from a fresh castration wound. Fr. Crabbe sneaks into this ritual, and although he doesn’t manage to save Susan, he does wreck the party and make off with the baby. The novel ends with Fr. Crabbe looking at the baby and questioning his faith.
The Desecration of Susan Browning wasn’t as impressive a novel as Rhea in terms of plotting but it was still an enjoyable read. There’s less exposition here. While Rhea told the story of how the titular character fell in league with the devil, there’s not as much backstory to Wanda Carmichael. We don’t find out exactly how she has gotten to where she is today. While Rhea felt like a gothic mystery, The Desecration of Susan Browning is more of a thriller.
One of the few things we do find out about the novel’s antagonist is that she is a trans woman. This trashy horror novel was written in 1981, so this isn’t dealt with in particularly a sensitive manner.
There’s also a scene where a Satanist refers to Jesus as a “suckass”. LOL.
The Devil and Lisa Black Playboy Press – 1982
I’ve seen this described as both a sequel and prequel to Susan Browning, but I think the more appropriate way to describe this book would be as an appendix to its predecessor. Lisa Black is a minor character in The Desecration of Susan Browning. She’s an informant who has had a curse put on her that makes her think she’s hideously ugly. She’s an intriguing character, and if I hadn’t known she that she was going to show up again in a different book, I would have wondered why Martin introduced her.
About half of The Devil and Lisa Black is taken up with Lisa’s backstory. It’s pretty much what I’ve come to expect at this point. A beautiful young girl is bewitched and drawn into a circle of horny Satanists.
The other half of this book deals with Al Crabbe (the priest from the last book). He has abandoned the priesthood and is still looking after the baby he kidnapped from the Satanists (the baby whose high ranking Satanist mom was designated male at birth). Al’s luck takes a turn for the better, and he very quickly ends up with a high paying job, a nice house and several attractive sex slaves, one of whom is Lisa Black. Things get a bit weird for him after he starts seeing the ghosts of Susan Browning. I didn’t expect a happy ending from this one, and I didn’t get one.
It’s a bit of an odd book. The two strands share one character, but Lisa doesn’t really do much in the Al Crabbe part of the story. I mentioned above that I was impressed with how Martin strung the different threads of Rhea together into a cohesive whole and that I thought The Desecration of Susan Browning fell a little short of its predecessor. After reading The Devil and Lisa Black, I think that Russ Martin may have originally intended the the Lisa Black parts of this novel to be part of The Desecration of Susan Browning. They all take place before the events in that book, and they would make her inclusion there more understandable. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Martin’s publisher had convinced him to cut that stuff out and put it into another novel. I reckon the Al Crabbe stuff here was added on to fill up space.
While this is definitely the worst novel so far, it might also have been the sexiest. I’m pretty sure there’s more boobs in this one anyways. It also contains the greatest line in sleaze fiction history:
This is the first of Martin’s books to be published by Tor.
While the 3 previous books featured relatively small cabals of Satanists, the Satanists in The Possession of Jessica Young are part of an international network referred to as The Organization. The Organization aims to bring about the reign of Satan on Earth. One of the highest ranking members in the Organization is a guy called Stephen Abbott. Part of his job is seeking out psychics who may somehow obstruct the Organization. The exact nature of how these psychics will do this is never really addressed.
Jessica Young is young and beautiful. She’s also the most powerful psychic the Organization have ever come across. She can kill people without touching them. At first Stephen Abbott does the ol’ mind control spell on her and gets her to kill her own family. Unfortunately for Abbott, her powers are so strong that she breaks the spell herself. Abbott is left with little choice but to lobotomise her. The lobotomy scene is pretty degrading and gross.
This book felt distinctly more mean spirited than its predecessors. This is less a novel about dashed hopes. It’s more a novel about suffering. Jessica has already killed her family by the time the book begins, and we’ve already come to understand that Martin’s books end in a worse place than where they began. Sure, the bad guys are Satanists and Jessica is psychic, but the occultism that kept Rhea exciting is entirely gone. This felt more like a book written for dudes who like the idea of having complete control over a woman. There’s a slight reprieve of misery at the very end of the book, but it doesn’t make up for what’s happened.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just reading through these too quickly and I’m getting a bit tired of them, but I didn’t really enjoy this one very much.
The Obsession of Sally Wing Tor – 1983/1988*
This is a direct sequel to The Possession of Jessica Young. Half the book won’t make sense unless you’ve read that book beforehand.
The plot is a bit of a mess at this stage.
Jessica Young was lobotomised at the end of the last novel, but her soul fled into her sisters body and took over. Her sister is obsessed by Stephen Abbott (the main man from the Organization), so this is tricky business. If Jessica gives her sister any control over her own body, she will turn themself in for a chance to see her loverboy. Half the novel tells the story of Jessica trying to gain access to Stephen Abbott, but when she gets close enough to kill him, she changes her mind and has a brief affair with him.
The other half of the novel is about a former child prostitute named Sally Wing. The Organization turns her into a vampire, and she kills a bunch of children. After she kills a child that the Organization had turned into an adult, the Organization loses its patience and has Sally raped and murdered. The Sally Wing part of the story has absolutely no overlap with the Jessica young part.
Sally feeds on fear rather than blood, and there’s one part where she does a really good job at scaring a little girl that I did not enjoy reading.
I was pretty surprised with how this one ended. There’s no revenge, but Jessica Young is not dead or evil yet.
*(I’m not sure about the publication date of the second version pictured above. Will Errickson and ISFDB say it’s from 1988, but my copy says first edition on the inside cover. This is extra confusing as it also lists The Education of Jennifer Parrish in the “Other titles by this author” section. That book wasn’t published until 1984 though… Probably just an error.)
The Education of Jennifer Parrish Tor – 1984*
*(This cover is from 1988. I don’t know if there was ever a different cover for this one. There were alternate covers for the other 2 Tor novels.)
Like The Obsession of Sally Wing, this book has two almost entirely separate storylines. This is the third book dealing with the saga of Jessica Young and Stephen Abbott. It also introduces a brand new scenario and cast of characters.
Jennifer Parrish, a teenager, tries to kill a rapist, so she’s forced into a military-style boarding school that’s owned by the Satanic Organization. Why would Satanists run a school? Well, when a high ranking Satanist gets old, they visit the school, pick out an attractive student and then forcibly trade bodies with them. The procedure doesn’t initially work on Jennifer because she’s a virgin, but the Organization figures out a way to remedy this.
Stephen Abbott’s failure to subdue Jessica Young by the end of the previous book has got him in big trouble with the Organization. He is told that if he doesn’t get her under his control, he will be obsessed by a sadistic woman that he hates. He manages to have sex with Jessica at least once more, but despite his pleas, she runs away and allows him to become obsessed.
Jennifer Parrish dies, but she only took up half a book. Jessica Young escapes, and her tormentor from the first book in this trilogy is in a far worse position than her. Martin doesn’t tell us where Jessica is going to go or what she’s going to do next, and Abbott is obsessed, but Jessica has the power to cancel an obsession, so although the ending to this book is tidier than its predecessors, it does not rule out a continuation of the story. Unfortunately, no further books in this series were ever published.
The Resurrection of Candy Sterling Playboy Press – 1982
This is by far the hardest Russ Martin novel to find. Some of the others go for ridiculous prices, but I have never even seen a copy of this for sale online. I left it till last because I taught it was written last, but it turns out that this was actually published 2 months after The Devil and Lisa Black. This was Martin’s last novel on Playboy Press, and this publisher shut down shortly after it was released, so there were probably fewer copies of this printed than the others.
If you are reading Martin’ books due to an interest in Satanism in literature, you can skip this one. This deals with a cult, but nothing Satanic. Let me tell you, it’s easier to stomach sadism if the perpetrator is supposed to be a worshipper of evil. Having normal people perform acts of brutal sexual violence makes it much nastier.
Candy Sterling is a stupid prostitute. I don’t mean to imply that prostitutes are stupid. Candy is both a prostitute and an imbecile. She joins a cult led by a mysterious figure known as “The Prophet”. This Prophet guy convinces rich people to give him all their money and then spend the rest of their lives working on his farm or, if they are beautiful teenage girls, working in his mansion.
This is where the commonality with Martin’s other books shines through. The Prophet has absolute control over his followers. They will do anything he tells them to. Candy is mugged while in his service, but she refuses to give his money to the mugger even after he brutally assaults her. The mugger is so impressed with her fortitude that he joins the cult himself. (His reasoning here is never fully explained.)
Soon enough, Candy and her mugger are married and given the special job of murdering apostates of the cult. It quickly becomes apparent that Candy is the more unstable of the two when she tortures a family of rape victims to death. She later leads her husband back to the the scene of this murder and then shoots him in the head while he is performing cunnilingus on her.
Honestly, if sexual violence isn’t your thing, avoid this book. It was surprisingly extreme.
Having read Martin’s other novels, there’s something disquieting about the focus on brainwashing and power relations in here. You don’t write 7 erotic novels heavily featuring the same kind of kink if you’re not into that kink yourself. But Candy Sterling is not the kind of story you should be wanking too. This is a grim read, and the sincerity of the eroticism made me feel a bit dirty. Even JR Parz gave this one a negative review.
Ok, so if you haven’t been paying attention, let me sum up the sequence of these books. Rhea and The Resurrection of Candy Sterling are standalone texts. The Desecration of Susan Browning and The Devil and Lisa Black are a pair. The Possession of Jessica Young, The Obsession of Sandy Wing, and The Education of Jennifer Parrish are the first three books in an unfinished series.
These are novels about Satanists and black magicians, but most of the occult rituals occur behind closed doors. The Satanism on display is of the trashy horror novel variety. The essay in Satanic Panic about these novels is probably a better place to look if you want some commentary on how they reflect the social values of when they were written. I read them for enjoyment, and they got the job done. Rhea was definitely the best; if you’re going to read any of them, make it that one. The others are varying degrees of ok, definitely not worth the prices that some sellers are asking for them.
Phew, I think this might be the longest post I’ve written. I hope it was entertaining/elucidating. If anyone has any information about Russ Martin, please leave a comment or email me.
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.
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.