The Damnation Game – Clive Barker

The Damnation Game

Putnam – 1987 (Originally published 1985)
I had been meaning to read The Damnation Game for years, but I kept putting it off. While some of Clive Barker’s books are extremely long, the ones I had read were fairly unpleasant affairs (in the best way possible), and I didn’t feel ready for 370 pages of Barker’s nightmares.

While this novel is lengthy, it took me less than 4 days to finish. I couldn’t put the thing down. It was really, really good.

I’m not entirely convinced the plot made a whole lot of sense, but the writing and characters were so intriguing that it works as a novel. The basic premise is that Marty Strauss, a prisoner gets let out of jail early so he can work as a security guard for a reclusive millionaire. It seems too good to be true, but then Strauss finds out that the millionaire is being hunted by a lad who can resurrect the dead and bring peoples’ nightmares to life. I won’t give out any more plot details, but I will say that I don’t think the mysteries at work in the story are ever fully solved. Maybe they are and I’m too stupid to have figured them out.

The violence is as grisly as anything in The Books of Blood, and the tone of the book is pitch fucking black. You know that part in 1984 where O’Brien describes the vision of the future as a boot stomping on a human face forever? It’s surely one of the most profoundly bleak statements in all of literature. Well, at one point in The Damnation Game, Barker defines the “definitive human portrait” in a manner equally as bleak and slightly more disgusting. I was going to quote it here, but I think it’s better that you read the book for yourself.

I’ve been told that this is the only straight horror novel Barker has written. I don’t know if I’ll enjoy his later fantasy stuff as much, but I’ll probably give it a go. (I wasn’t super impressed with Cabal a few years ago.) I feel like this novel, The Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart are all thematically and stylistically similar, but the formula and execution is so good that each one should be mandatory reading. Clive Barker is fucking cool.

Duncan Ralston’s WOOM

Woom – Duncan Ralston
Shadow Work – 2016


When I was reading about Matthew Stokoes Cows a few days ago, I came across a comparison to this book. I had downloaded an audiobook version of WOOM a few months back, and seeing that it was very short, I decided to give it a go.

A weird lad invites a prostitute to a hotel room and tells her gross stories while he tries to stretch out her vagina. Some of the stories are pretty nasty, but nothing in here really surprised me. This is the second book in a row that I’ve finished that contains a scene where somebody kills themselves by a self-administered abortion. I assumed that the narrator was working himself up to some horrible climax where he would do something really nasty to the woman he is talking to, and I was quite disappointed to find that my assumption was entirely correct.

This book proudly claims to be extreme horror on the cover. I understand that extreme horror often contains rape scenes. Detailed descriptions of fictional rapes don’t really bother me, but I am sometimes bothered by how rape is used in transgressive fiction. This book, while well written and plotted out, is essentially the story of a man raping a prostitute. He rapes her in a particularly unpleasant manner, but the specifics of his actions didn’t disappoint me. It was the fact that the whole book is essentially just a lead up to a rape.

Again, I don’t mind authors using rape in their stories. There’s loads of ways that rape could be used in an extreme horror story. Using it as the punchline seems lazy.

Some might say that the horrible ending to the book is to make some profound statement on the unpleasantness of existence. Let’s Go Play at The Adams’ uses rape to effectively convey this message. I don’t think that WOOM is operating on that level though. It’s not that sophisticated. One of the chapters in here is about an exploding bumhole.

I actually did enjoy reading the book, and I think Ralston is a capable writer. The plotting here is quite impressive. I just really disliked the ending. I’d be willing to give Ralston another go.

Shoved Down Your Throat and Shat Out Your Arse – Matthew Stokoe’s Cows

Cows – Matthew Stokoe
Creation Books – 1998

Happy Halloween! Here is one of the least Halloweeny horror novels I have ever read. I had this book on my to-read list for several years before getting around to it. I don’t really remember where or how I first heard of it, but I must have read a summary of it years ago because when I started it, I recognized some plot elements. That being said, I was actually quite unprepared for the extremity of this book. I really didn’t know it was going to be so gross.

It’s about a dude who lives with his abusive mother and crippled dog. This guy gets a job in a slaughterhouse, and everything goes to Hell. I enjoyed the first few chapters. The nastiness is so extreme from the beginning that it’s difficult to absorb. I know that the world is filled with sickos and abusive parents, but the book starts off so unpleasant that nothing ever feels real. The beginning feels nightmarish, but when the violence ramps up, the whole thing starts to feel silly.

The point at which I stopped enjoying the book was when the workers in the slaughterhouse ganged up and started fucking the wounds on a cow they were killing. This scene reminded me of pictures my friends and I would draw in business studies classes when we were 15. Pretty soon after this scene, the cows start to talk and I lost interest. I did finish the book, but I didn’t enjoy much of the last half.

There is few drawn out poo-eating scenes in here. One of these made me feel a bit ill. I’ve read more books about poo-eaters in 2021 than any sensible person should.

When I was done with the book, I googled it and discovered that Cows is a widely blogged about novel. I read a few reviews, and it turns out that a lot of people talk a whole lot of rubbish about this book. It’s not really thought provoking or insightful. It’s puerile crap about a pair of poo-eaters. When it comes to artistic statements about slaughterhouses and shitty arses, there’s only one that matters:

Wrath James White’s Porno for Psychos

Like Porno for Psychos – Wrath James White
Deadite Press – 2011

It was this time last year that I read Wrath James White’s Skinzz. I was a little underwhelmed by that book, but I was willing to give the author another go. Something about the beginning of a new school year makes me want to read brutally violent splatterpunk horror, so I decided to read Like Porno for Psychos.

This collection of short stories features an alien prostitute, a weredog, a pregnant ghoul and a woman who gets off on the idea of being savaged by lions. All of the stories are extremely violent and gory, but there’s a certain sense of morality that runs throughout the book. Rapists and racists don’t fare well in these tales. There’s one story about a girl with body dysmorphia that is both horrendously violent and devastatingly sad. Wrath James White writes some pretty messed up stories, but I got the sense that he’s not a piece of shit human being.

At 100 pages, this book was too short to really blow me away, but I was entertained the whole time I was reading it. If you’re the type of person who would even consider reading a book with this title and cover, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I don’t think this is the last Wrath James White book I’ll be reading.

Charles Platt’s The Gas

The Gas – Charles Platt
Savoy Books – 1980 (Originally published 1970)

A poisonous gas that drives people insane wafts around England leaving the country in chaos. Yes, this book has the exact same plot as James Herbert’s The Fog. When I read The Fog last year, I was surprised by how extreme some of the scenes were, but that book barely compares to the lurid chaos of The Gas. The gas in The Fog makes people violent, but the gas in The Gas makes them horny and violent.

The first two chapters read like regular porn. A guy picks up a hitchhiker with big boobs and proceeds to ride her. In chapter 3, a policeman wanks off his dog. By the end of the book, the reader is covered in shit, piss, vomit, blood and animal remains.

The Gas is an exercise in extremity, an author seeing how far he can push things. I’ve read other books that may outdo it in certain respects, but you get to a point where a few extra turds or rape scenes don’t really make a difference. I’ve previously discussed how I’m not hugely interested in reading books by authors who are solely trying to push the envelope, but The Gas was first published in 1970. Authors today can self publish pretty much anything. Getting this kind of filth printed 50 years ago seems far more impressive.

Actually, when a new edition of The Gas was put out in 1980, 3000 copies were seized from the publishers by the British government. Something about this makes it a very alluring text. That cover too… Irresistible.

The Gas was recently republished by Centipede Press as part of their Vintage Horrors series. I think it’s generally classified as sci-fi because of its author’s later works, but the violence is so extreme here that describing it as “horror” isn’t much of a stretch. The edition I read contained a foreword from Phillip José Farmer. The only book I’ve read by Farmer was also a work of erotic sci-fi horror.

The Gas is an extreme and horrifying book with an interesting publication history, but it’s a curiosity rather than a great novel. Give it a read though; you might as well.

Scatology – Sea Caummisar

Everybody wants to be the best, but there’s about 8 billion people in the world now, and doing anything better than all of those people is pretty damn tough. At the same time, given the amount of people that we’re competing against, it’s also an achievement to be the worst at something.

When I saw the cover of this book, I knew I was looking at an absolute. I am entirely confident in saying that this splatterpunk novella has the worst cover of any book in existence. Now splatterpunk is an “extreme” genre, and I’ve included splatterpunk books before with suitably outrageous covers that were designed to revolt, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. It’s not just the idea behind this cover that’s awful; the execution is also comically inept. The original cover is so gross that I’m only going to embed an edited version in this post. This is a classy blog after all.

Original image here. (You might not even notice the difference.)

Yes. The actual cover of this book is a photograph of some shit and piss in a toilet bowl. It’s clearly a real photograph. There has been no photoshopping or trying to make it look arty or anything. Somebody used their phone to take a picture of their poo before they wiped their bum, and the picture ended up on the cover of a book. The title of the book is presented in the most childish looking typeface imaginable, and the text is all brown.

I did a reverse image search on the cover, and I could not find the original photograph without the text. I didn’t look super hard, but the lack of a match suggests that the image was not the result of a google search. It seems more likely that it was actually taken for the cover of the book. Did the mysterious Sea Caummisar take a picture of her own turds for the cover of her book? As gross as that seems, I would have more respect for a person who would do that than I would for a person who would get somebody else to do it for them.

Ok, I’ve talked enough about the book’s shitty cover. What about the book itself?

I actually have mixed feelings about it.

I try not to be judgemental about what happens between two consenting adults, but poo eating is really fucking gross. I don’t like thinking about it. I mean, obviously, it’s really, really funny that people do it, but I only ever want to think of it in terms of humour. Reading about people getting off to poo made me feel a bit sick. At one point near the beginning of the book when the protagonist is rubbing poo over a prostitute’s tits, I started to wonder if this was actually just shit-porn that had been mistakenly labelled horror. I was grossed out, so I took a break and came back to it a few hours later.

I’m glad I did because the next part of the book was actually really funny. The story is about Luke, a scat fetishist who meets a prostitute who lets him rub shit on her. He is jealous of her junky boyfriend, so he kidnaps him to get him out of the picture. While strung out and tied up in the back of Luke’s car, the junky boyfriend shits his britches. When Luke notices, he gets a huge boner, and a lot of the rest of the book consists of Luke wondering if getting off on “man crap” makes him gay. I laughed whenever this came up, and it came up quite a bit. The very blunt use of language made it all the funnier:

“Luke enjoyed the smell of the man’s messed pants and removed them for his own keeping.”

“After telling himself that enjoying a man’s poo didn’t make him gay, he raised the pants to his nose and inhaled a deep whiff.”

“It [a corpse’s mouth] wasn’t warm or wet, but the thought of her poo breath caused him to instantly blow his load down her throat”

Like I said, I think that people eating poo is really gross, but I also think it’s the root of all good comedy. I had a hearty chuckle at these and many other lines in this book. I’m laughing as I write this. “messed pants”…classic!

The book itself is gross-out trash, but it made me laugh quite a few times. Sea Caummisar has written a lot of books, and she publishes them herself as far as I can tell. The cover of this book sucks, but this is a DIY release. The ineptitude is part of the charm. I don’t like reviewing new books because I’m always afraid that the author will see what I’ve written and feel disheartened. Sea Caummisar, if you read this review and think I’m a dickhead, you’re right. I am a dickhead, but I got a good laugh out of your book, and I sincerely hope you continue to write horror. I was in no way disappointed by this book, and I am glad I read it. Here’s a link to Sea’s books on Amazon for anyone who’s interested.

The Light at the End – John Skipp and Craig Spector

The Light at the End – John Skipp and Craig Spector
Bantam – 1986


Last Thursday, I was sitting in bed after a stressful day’s work, trying to read a dense Thomas Ligotti story. I read the first paragraph about 3 times then gave up. I like Ligotti, but he’s not easy reading. I needed something a little less demanding. I flicked through my kindle and settled on The Light at the End by John Skipp and Craig Spector. Part of the reason I chose this one was that I thought it was a short novel, maybe 180 pages. Also, I knew that this book is often heralded as the first splatterpunk novel. The splatterpunk I’ve read has all been pretty straight forward, so this seemed like a good choice.

First off, it’s not short. Paper copies of this book run to almost 400 pages. I was a bit annoyed when I realised this, but I was already invested, so I plowed through.

Otherwise, this was pretty much what I expected; vampires in New York. There’s lots of violence and dated/cringey pop culture references. (There’s a section in which one of the characters paraphrases a scene in The Shining.) I think that I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I had been younger when I was reading it.

Also, while I’m sure that the authors did not intend this book to be homophobic, there’s something about the nonchalant way that the characters make fun of their gay friend that will probably rub a lot of modern readers the wrong way. The guy who is getting made fun of is one of the good guys, and everyone actually likes him, but he is repeatedly called a faggot by his coworkers. He’s not integral to the plot and clearly only included for comic relief, and this made the playful abuse he suffers a bit uncomfortable to read. This book was written in the 80s though, and it ultimately depicts the gay characters as likeable, useful members of society, so I don’t think it’s time to retroactively cancel Skipp and Spector.

So, yes. This book reads like it was written for 1980s teenagers. It’s a bit dumb and quite dated. However, I think I already mentioned that I only read this because I needed something easy to digest before bed, and I have to admit, this did the trick. It’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I had previously read Skipp and Spector’s The Scream, and I reckon that The Light at the End is actually a better book. Yeah, there’s still too many characters, but this one has a more focused story line. I’m not going to rush out to read more Skipp and Spector collaborations, but I’m definitely not going to write off the ones I already have on my shelf/kindle.

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

Joe R. Lansdale’s God of the Razor (The Nightrunners, Blood and Shadows…)

A friend of mine recently suggested that I read Joe R. Lansdale’s The Nightrunners. I had been planning to read Lansdale’s The Drive-In books for a while, but I have been holding off because there is 3 of them, and that seems like a big commitment. The Nightrunners looked like a short, standalone text, and the name was familiar. I started that evening. I am now a Follower of the Razor.

The Nightrunners – Joe R. Lansdale
Tor – 1989 (First published 1987)


This book is nasty. It’s about a gang of horribly messed up teenagers trying to kill their teacher. They’re spurred on by the God of the Razor, a particularly unpleasant interdimensional entity who likes seeing people bleed.

The only other Lansdale I’d read before this was his story in the first Splatterpunks anthology, and I’m pretty sure that this novel far exceeds that tale in terms of graphic violence. This book contains multiple scenes of sadistic torture and sexual assault. It’s fucking good though. It’s a hard one to put down once you’ve started. Reading the car chase towards the end of the book is just as exciting as watching it on a cinema screen would be.

There’s one bit in here that describes the evil teenagers as “high on fire, blood and hate”. When I came across this phrase, I thought it might have been where that band High on Fire got their name. It’s not though. Apparently the band name comes from some crappy Electric Light Orchestra song. Yuck. If Matt Pike had any decency, he’d go back in time, read this book and then name his band High on Fire for the right reason.

While I was reading The Nightrunners, I started to wonder if there was a film version. It really seems like it should be a movie. This hasn’t happened yet, but Lansdale, along with his friend Neal Barrett, Jr., have written the screenplay. I read this too. It’s pretty much the same as the novel, but here the God of the Razor seems far less likely to be a hallucination.

In 2007, Subterranean Press put out The God of the Razor, an anthology of Lansdale’s Nightrunners/God of the Razor stories. It includes:

The Nightrunners
God of the Razor
Not from Detroit
King of Shadows
The Shaggy House
Incident On and Off a Mountain Road
Janet Finds the Razor 

This book is long sold out and hard to find, but I was able to track down its contents in other sources. The most comprehensive of these was Crossroad Press’s 2012 release, Written with a Razor. This book includes the screenplay version of The Nightrunners, God of the Razor, King of Shadows and Janet Finds the Razor. I found the remaining tales online and in different anthologies.

The Lord of the Razor, The Shaggy House and Not from Detroit are short stories that are basically rewritten and extended scenes from The Nightrunners. Neither The Shaggy House nor Not from Detroit actually feature the God of the Razor in any form. (It is for this reason that I didn’t bother reading Lansdale’s Something Lumber This Way Comes, a rewriting of The Shaggy House for children. I’ll do so with my kids when they’re a little older.) These stories were fine. You’ll have to forgive me for not being super excited. I read these tales, the novel they were taken from and its screenplay in the course of a week. Maybe space them out if you’re going to do the same.

King of Shadows is the highlight of both collections. It’s an original story (original here meaning “not based on a scene from The Nightrunners“), and very nasty. A family adopts a kid whose da murdered his ma and then killed himself. Guess what happens next.

Janet Finds the Razor is short. It was written specifically for The God of the Razor collection. I have no complaints about it.

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road is an excellent story, but apart from being super gory, I don’t know what it has to do with the God of the Razor. Maybe it was included because it’s one of Lansdale’s better known tales. It’s not included in Written with a Razor.

In 1996 Lansdale wrote a story called ‘Subway Jack’ for a Batman Anthology. This story is not included in either of the above collections, but in the introduction to King of Shadows in Written with a Razor, Lansdale notes that his other favourite God of the Razor story couldn’t be published there. I assume Subway Jack has to be the one he’s talking about. There was probably some licensing issue because of the Batman characters. I really liked this story. It quotes background sources on the God that aren’t available elsewhere. Also, this story is a crossover between ultra violent horror fiction and Batman. Hell yeah.

While the Batman/Lord of the Razor crossover takes the form of a short story, Lansdale actually wrote a 4 four part comic series about the Lord of the Razor called Blood and Shadows. I don’t read many comics, and I was delighted to give these a go. This is a weird series that starts off Detective Noir, turns into a Western and ends as hellish post-apocalyptic fantasy. It gives a bit of background about where the God of the Razor comes from. It seems as though the metal in his razor originally came to Earth on a meteor and was forged into a blade by an Apache Tribe. This seems to contradict the information in Followers of the Razor (a fictional book mentioned in Subway Jack and Blood and Shadows) in which author David Webb claims, “Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, was originally from the same dimension as the God of the Razor, and that it belonged to him. He [Webb] claims that this is the sword that got broken and made into a razor.” How could the razor come from the Apache and the Britons? The first known mention of King Arthur is from 829, a good while before there was any trade between America and Europe. Is there more than one magical blade that can call up the God of the Razor? But look at his name! He’s not Razor God or God of Razors; he’s God of THE Razor. What the Hell is going on? Probably something to do with his interdimensionality.

The only God of the Razor stuff that I didn’t read was Joe R. Lansdale’s Lords of the Razor. This is an anthology of God of the Razor stories by other authors. I’d like to read it, but it’s out of print and super expensive. It doesn’t contain any Lansdale stuff that isn’t available elsewhere though, so I’m not too upset that I couldn’t get my hands on it. Still though, if anyone has a copy that they want me to have, I’ll gladly review it here.

The Nightrunners turned into more of a commitment than I was expecting, but the novel, the screenplay, the stories and the comic series were all highly enjoyable. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lansdale’s books in the future.

The God of the Razor drawn by Mark A. Nelson

Dystopia – Richard Christian Matheson

The first time I came across Richard Christian Matheson, I liked him. The second time, I did not like him. The guy is known as one of the splatterpunks, and last year, I did a megapost on his dad’s books, so I thought I’d better take a closer look at his output. RCM has written novels, but he is most famous for his stripped down short stories. His most popular collection of stories is 1987’s Scars and Other Distinguishing Marks. I was originally going to read this one, but I opted instead for a collection called Dystopia from 2000. This collection contains all the author’s fiction that had been published by that point, including everything in Scars.

Dystopia – Richard Christian Matheson
Crossroads Press – 2011 (Originally published 2000)


Honestly, choosing the longer collection was probably a mistake on my part. Matheson is a talented writer, and some of the stories in Dystopia are great. The problem is that some (maybe even lots) of the stories are not really great. The most notable factor of Matheson’s writing is his precision; many of these tales are told in less than 3 pages. This is really cool when it works, but there’s many, many stories (60ish) in this collection, and they’re not all masterpieces. I usually read a few in each sitting, and the brevity and quantity made even the good ones a bit forgettable. I appreciate complete collections of author’s works, but I would have been far better off with a shorter “Best of” collection of this author’s works. Dystopia is more than 400 pages. I reckon a slim 180 page greatest hits would have been far more impressive.

It has been pointed out to me that I often avoid discussing specific stories when reviewing short fiction anthologies. The nature of the stories in this collection makes it even less appealing to get into specifics. Fortunately, as is so often the case, Will Errickson over at Too Much Horror Fiction blog reviewed Matheson’s short fiction more articulately and in more detail than I ever could. Check out his review here.

Kinda crappy post this week… sorry. Life has been pretty hectic recently, and I haven’t had much time to blog. I had to go through my draft posts folder to find something to polish up for my Sunday deadline. I wrote the above a long, long time ago. I was actually planning to read RCM’s novel, Created By and including my thoughts on that in this post, but after putting it off for half a year, I have decided not to bother. Life is too short to read everything. I gave this dude a chance, and while he was clearly a capable writer, I currently have no desire to read more of his stuff. If anyone has read this novel and is convinced I would enjoy it, let me know and I’ll reconsider.

I have a few big posts coming up in the next few weeks, so check back soon.