Mark Kendall’s Killer Flies

Killer Flies – Mark Kendall

Signet – 1983

I knew nothing about this book when I started reading it, but if you had asked me to guess the plot, my guess would have been very accurate. Honestly, this says more about the book than my expertise.

This is a book about a swarm of genetically altered flies who turn bad and start killing everything in sight. It was so similar to Gila! by Kathryn Ptacek that I wondered if both Kendall and Ptacek had attended the same “write your own animal attacks horror novel” workshop. One book is about lizards and the other flies, but episodically they’re almost identical. When I looked through the goodreads reviews after finishing the book, I noticed that I was not the only person to notice the similarities here. Killer Flies came out two years after Gila! too, so it looks like it was the rip-off. Apparently Mark Kendall is a pseudonym for a writer called Melissa Snodgrass, and it seems like she is not hugely proud of this work.

Honestly, this was pure trash. It’s exactly as bad as it looks. In the end, the main characters, 2 men and a woman who are involved in a ridiculous love triangle, kill the flies by playing a song at them.

Apparently this was quite a difficult book to track down for a while, but it was recently republished by Encylopocalypse. I love that there are publishers getting this kind of crap back into print. It would be a great shame for a person to have to pay more than a few dollars for trash like this.

The above comments may seem quite critical, but although they are all true, I did actually quite enjoy this very silly piece of trash novel about killer flies.

The Trouble in Deacon’s Kill: Alan Ryan’s The Kill and Dead White

The Kill

Tor – 1982

I really got into this book when I was reading it, but the ending was a let down.

The novel starts off with a child being murdered in the woods near a place named Deacon’s Kill. This scene is deeply unpleasant, but it does a good job of engaging the reader. Soon after the kid dies, a young professional buys a house in “the Kill” and invites all her friends for a party. One of them goes out to pee in the woods and gets murdered. A young couple who had been at the party then start living in the farm house and making friends with the locals, but it’s not long before they realise something bad is in the woods near their house.

That’s a pretty solid set up. I was totally invested at this point. I read the first 200 pages of the book in one sitting. Unfortunately, the ending of the book happens too fast, and the explanation given for the kills in The Kill is bizarre and unsatisfying. I’m going to talk about it in the next paragraph, so maybe skip that until you’ve finished the book.

A prehistoric, invisible, almost invincible man was fossilized inside a stone until it rolled down a hill and cracked open. I’m not a geologist or historian or anything, but the last time that the Eastern part of the United States was under water was the Cambrian period, about 50 million years ago. This guy is pretty old. Also, if he doesn’t weigh enough to make a footprint, how does he exert enough force to kill people? There’s no explanation given to this extremely mysterious antagonist. It just doesn’t work.

Dead White

Tor – 1983

I had planned to include two of Ryan’s novels in this post, but I didn’t realise when I started Dead White that it is also set in Deacon’s Kill and features some of the same characters as The Kill. It’s not a sequel, but the town itself is as much a character here as in The Kill, and I would strongly recommend reading these books together. The text also references Charles L. Grant’s Oxrun Station and Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel as if they were real places. I thought that was pretty cool.

The events in Dead White take place only a little while after the events of The Kill. A big snow storm hits the town of Deacon’s Kill at the same time that a circus train full of diseased, bloodthirsty clowns arrives at the town’s abandoned railway station. This sounds silly (in the best possible way), but the writing is good enough to fill the book with suspense and atmosphere. The chapters are all fairly short too, and every time I would tell myself, “One more before bed.”, I’d end up reading 7 or 8.

I really enjoyed reading The Kill, but the ending fell flat. Dead White is just as enjoyable, but the ending here is more cohesive while remaining just as bizarre. It is a book about murderous clowns, but it predates both King’s It and Killer Klowns From Outer Space., so it doesn’t really feel like the cheesy clownsploitation horror that I’m sure we’re all sick of. I really enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be reading Ryan’s Cast a Cold Eye in the future.

Norman Bogner’s Snowman

NEL – 1979 (First Published 1978)

I started Snowman because i wanted something short. After reading the first few chapters and realising this was a novel about a team of Native Americans and Vietnam veterans hunting a yeti who attacks a ski lodge, I considered giving up. Thomas Page’s The Spirit was based on an almost identical premise, and I wasn’t a huge fan of that book.

Things picked up a bit as I kept reading. The main bigfoot hunter here is called away from a weird drug cult he has started on a Native American reservation, and he’s armed with miniature nuclear weapons. The bigfoot in question is also really, really big, and he’s half-dragon. Yes. He has heat rays and sparks come out of his mouth.

Honestly, this book was entertaining enough when I got into it, but realistically, it’s drivel. There’s a whole bunch of subplots and ideas that go absolutely nowhere. There are some cool bits, but Bogner didn’t seem to understand that these ridiculously over the top elements are the only thing that make the book enjoyable. Too much of the book is filler. Why the fuck would I want a chapter on a love interest in a book in which a peyote munching wacko melts a fire-breathing yeti’s arm off with a tiny nuclear warhead shot from a crossbow at the top of a mountain? I think Bogner should have played up the trashier elements, maybe added a some wheelies, laserbeam and guitar solos.

This book was like airplane food, unappealing at first, but tolerable after the first few bites. It also gave me diarrhea.

Barry Hammond’s Cold Front – Canada’s Rarest Horror Paperback?

Cold Front -Barry Hammond
Signet -1982

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. You have seen that cover show up on this blog before.┬áValancourt books used that artwork on their 2019 edition of Thomas Page’s The Spirit. (If you’ve seen the original artwork for that one you’ll understand why.) Two books sharing the same cover is not unheard if in the world of paperback horror, but Cold Front is an anomaly. This book is so rare that there was recently a thread on reddit about whether it still exists or not. There’s lots of rare horror paperbacks, but copies of The Voice of the Clown, Eat Them Alive, Chainsaw Terror and the Halloween novelisation are out there; they’re just really expensive. Cold Front is different. There are 5-6 known copies in existence. The rest of the scant information about this book online suggests that it is a lost classic, a surprisingly well written nightmare that has almost disappeared.

Adding to the allure is the fact that the book is supposed to be extremely Canadian. I have no proof of this, but as far as I know, Cold Front was only ever available in Canada, hence its rarity. Now I don’t know about you, but there’s little in the world that excites me more than a mysterious, rare, horror paperback, smothered in maple syrup. I had to read this one.

As I write this, there is actually a copy of Cold Front for sale on ebay for $3000. I didn’t pay quite that much, but I had to make a bunch of calls, barter with strange Canucks and then travel across the Great White North to procure a copy. The whole process took 4 months, but last week, I finally got my hands on one of the last remaining copies of this bizarre little book.

Cold Front is only 150 pages long. The first two thirds are entertaining but largely predictable. Three low-lifes kill their boss after a night of drinking. They stash his corpse and his cash box into their car and drive away into a storm. When they wake up the next morning, they find themselves broken down in the middle of nowhere and then notice that the body is missing from the trunk of their car. Concerned and cold, they walk until they find a cabin with a smoking chimney. When they enter they find a beautiful, half naked woman alone.

And that is where the predictable part of this story ends. As the tagline on the back cover says, “You might pity the girl, trapped in a snowbound cabin in the Canadian wilderness with three savage fugitives from the law. But you would be wrong.” I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that the last 50 or so pages of this book are mental. This changes from a gritty crime novel to a blood-soaked, supernatural nightmare.

I can confirm that most of the stuff you’ve read about this novel is true. Cold Front is a fast paced, well written, absolutely bonkers, horror novel. It is a great shame that more people haven’t had the chance to read it.

This book is infamously rare, but unlike some rare paperback horror novels, this one is rare (at least in part) because of its reputation as being a good book. I couldn’t help but wonder why it has not been republished. The fact that Valancourt books used its cover for another book proves that Cold Front was on their radar at some point. They confirmed this in a different thread on reddit about the book, where they stated that “The art for The Spirit was not available to use and there were no plans for Cold Front to be reissued. We purchased the rights for the Cold Front art.” How would they know that there were no plans for Cold Front to be reissued if they hadn’t looked into reissuing it at some point? It seems fairly safe to assume that Hammond turned them down.

Why would an author do this? Well, this is pure speculation, but I have a theory. Barry Hammond is still active in the world of Canadian literature. He’s currently the poetry editor for On Spec, “the Canadian magazine of the fantastic”. Canada has changed quite a lot since Cold Front was published in 1982, particularly with how people think about the experiences and representation of the Indigenous and First Peoples of Canada. One of the main characters in this book is an Indigenous Canadian and a violent alcoholic. There are another two Indigenous characters who come across no better, and none of this is contextualized by addressing the horrible shit that Indigenous people in Canada would have lived through at the time when this book was written. This wouldn’t go down well today. In fairness, Hammond has to have been a fairly young man when he wrote this, and in 1982, most Canadians supposedly didn’t know about the utterly abhorrent shit that their government was doing to First Nations peoples. Again, this is pure speculation, but if Hammond is the type of guy he seems to be (and remember, he’s the poetry editor for a literary magazine), I reckon he’s happy enough to let this book remain obscure and mysterious. If this is the case, that’s actually pretty cool (and very Canadian) of him.

There are some heinous racial slurs used at one point, but the characters in this novel are definitely the kind of guys who would use racial slurs. The swearing throughout is generally delightful. I think it’s the second chapter that opens up with the phrase, “Holy Cock!” All this profanity made the book feel a bit like a Trailer Park Boys Halloween special. I mean that in a positive way.

Cold Front is definitely of its era, but if you’re able to look past its faults, it’s very entertaining. It’s only 150 pages, so I got through it in a couple of sittings. If you ever find a copy of this bizarre Canadian masterpiece, read it immediately.

Eat Them Alive: Pierce Nace’s Insane, Blood-soaked Masterpiece

Eat Them Alive – Pierce Nace

NEL – 1979

Eat Them Alive is one of the most notorious works of horror fiction. This notoriety is due to three factors, its content, its unattainability, and the identity of its author.

“But now I’ve got something to live for – because I love watching a man being eaten by a monster! Maybe it’s a substitute for my lost virility, but I know it’s a joy I never thought I’d feel again!”

First off, this is a book about a castrated psychopath who trains an army of giant, flesh-hungry praying mantises to torture and eat his enemies alive. It is bizarrely hateful and violent. The plot sounds ridiculous, but more ridiculous still is the execution. The writing is shockingly poor. We’ve all seen things described as “so bad it’s good”, but this book takes that to another level. Eat Them Alive is so bad it’s phenomenal. The cheer childishness of the protagonist’s motivation is almost profound. He loves watching men being eaten by monsters. Seriously, he really, really loves that. This fact, like a lot of statements in this book, is repeated numerous times throughout the text. The extremely formulaic nature of the mantis attacks would get boring if the book was any longer. As it stands, there are 4 almost identical scenes of entire families being eaten alive. This book reminded me of the music of Mortician. We’re talking unflinching brutality with very little variation – songs/chapters exclusively about people being chopped up and eaten. It takes no talent to make stuff like this, but the fact that somebody sat down and put their effort into creating something so heinous is admirable in itself.

“God, I love the sight of a woman being eaten. I’m a firecracker, just watching. I’m buoyed up, halfway to the sky. But I’ll be twice as high when I see Slayer eat Pete. God, I can hardly wait!”

Affordable copies of this book have been extremely rare for several years, but it went through at least 3 printings, and there are usually plenty of copies available. The last time i checked, I found more than 30 copies for sale online, but the lowest price was about 130 dollars. It took me about 4 years of searching to find one I could afford. Paperback editions from Manor House and NEL came out in 1977. There’s a star on the Manor House cover that says “For the first time in paperback”, but I don’t think it ever came out as a hardcover. The edition I have is a “2 for 1” job that also includes Fleshbait. (I actually reviewed Fleshbait a few years ago. It doesn’t compare to Eat Them Alive.) My edition does not include a date, but Fleshbait came out in 1979, so it can’t have been earlier than that. A German translation was published in 2019, but it hasn’t been reprinted in English for a good 50 years.

LOL

Part of the allure of Eat Them Alive comes from the fact that it was written by an old lady. It seems likely that Pierce Nace was actually Evelyn Pierce Nace, a writer who dabbled in different genres and had articles printed in men’s magazines throughout the 1950s by dropping her first name. Evelyn would have been about 70 when Eat Them Alive came out. How fucking cool is that? I was doubtful at first, but there does seem to be evidence for this. She wrote more than 40 novels, and some of them were horror. She also wrote some sex manuals, and she seems like the kind of person who would have given any genre a shot. It makes sense that an author like this might have been asked to write a giant insects novel in 1977. Nace’s unfamiliarity with the animal-attacks sub-genre of horror is likely what resulted in Eat Them Alive being the most bizarre work of depravity ever published.

God, the killing of these guys is better than any of the killings I ever watched before or ever will again! I’m tall, I’m happy, I’m warm, I’m wonderful! I wish I had a hundred old enemies to murder like this!

Eat Them Alive is not a good book, but it’s a true curiousity, and I found it very enjoyable. If you have any interest in mindless, ultraviolent trash, you should try to find a copy. Some lad has actually uploaded a self made audiobook version onto youtube. I probably would have gone with this if I had known it was there.

Nick Sharman’s The Scourge

The Scourge – Nick Sharman

Hamlyn -1980

I had no idea what this book was going to be about, but that cover is sick as hell.

A private detective almost dies in a mysterious car crash, and he soon finds himself investigating a bunch of people who have been hallucinating themselves to death. It turns out they did something to anger the owner of a pharmaceutical company. This wealthy chemist makes a drug that lets him control his victims’ minds telepathically.

Maybe it was all the Russ Martin novels I read last year, but I am pretty damn sick of novels about telepathic mind control. It’s lame. If I had any idea that that’s what this book was about, I wouldn’t have read it. This would have been a far better book if it had been about a bloody eyeball.

I had a few other books by Nick Sharman lined up, but I’m in no rush to get to them now. The Scourge wasn’t absolutely terrible, but if it weren’t for that cool cover, it would be absolutely forgetable. I really don’t want to waste any more of my time discussing it. Good night.

Joyride – Stephen Crye

Joyride – Stephen Crye

Pinnacle – 1983

The fact that a book is hard to find is often enough to make me want to read it. This was the case with Joyride. I knew affordable copies are scarce, and I think I had even seen people mention it fondly. When I saw a copy the other day, I jumped at the chance to read it.

I didn’t like it.

A group of teenagers decide to party in a cemetery. Unbeknownst to them, the man who works at the graveyard is a hideously mutilated psychopath. As the teens start spreading out, he starts picking them off, dismembering one with a scythe, setting fire to another, and decapitating another with a chainsaw. Once the killing starts, there’s not many directions the story can go, and the rest of the book is rather underwhelming.

There’s a backstory given to the murderer, and while it explains his inability to regulate his saliva output, I felt like it passed over a few of the transitional stages between high-school loser and outright murderous ghoul.

This is a “slasher”, and although I hadn’t ever thought about it much before, Joyride convinced me that I don’t like slashers very much. It reminded me a little bit of David Robbin’s dreadful Hell- O-Ween. Joyride was a little bit better than that piece of shit, but the only real tension here comes from not knowing how the next teenager is going to be murdered. At least it’s short, and I was able to finish it in 2 sittings. If it had been any longer, I probably would have hated it.

Gila! – Les Simons

Gila! – Les Simons (Kathryn Ptacek)

Signet – 1981

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.

The Slime Beast – Guy N. Smith

Guy N. Smith – The Slime Beast

Harper Collins – 1989 (Originally published 1974)

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.

The Feminists’ Revenge – Shelley Hyde’s Blood Fever

Blood Fever – Shelley Hyde

Pocket Books – 1982

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.