Spawn – Shaun Hutson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep.

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

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

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

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

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

Another great cover. W.H. Allen, 1983