Hail to the King!

Towards the end of last year, I wrote a long post about the work of Stephen King. I had read nothing but King for a few weeks prior to writing that, and so I decided to give him a break for a while. He has been showing up in the news recently due to his hilarious behaviour on twitter and for the record breaking new trailer for It, and so I decided to indulge myself with a smattering of his marvelous brand of trashy horror fiction.

it stephen kingIt – 1986

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time. I remember being thoroughly creeped out by the video box of the 1990 movie version when I was a kid but being a little disappointed when I actually got to sit down and watch It. With the new movie coming out in September, I decided that I had better read the book now so that I can act cool and knowledgeable to anyone who mentions it to me in the coming months.

In some ways, It is a brilliant novel. The characters are great, the scary bits are very scary, and the transitions between past and present are really well executed. I also have personal reasons for enjoying the story of a gang of losers getting into rock fights with bullies, building hideouts in the woods, and breaking into abandoned houses. I was a little older than the characters in the book when I went a very similar, although significantly less supernatural, set of adventures myself.

Several scenes in the book involve the kids breaking into an abandoned house only to meet It in different ghoulish forms. When I was 18, my friends and I broke into an abandoned house and went rummaging through the cellar. When we were down there, we saw a strange light glimmering on the wall by the stairs. This was rather frightening as it was well after dark, and that set of stairs was our only escape route. We grabbed what we could from the debris on the ground (a stick, a rope, a rusty grill…) and prepared to do battle with whatever it was that was coming down the stairs.

We waited in silence for several minutes, but nothing moved and the light eventually went away. Afterwards, as we sat on some chairs that we had fashioned from old breezeblocks, we came up with a story to explain the peculiar glare. It had been the ghost of the former resident of the house, an old woman who was none too pleased with our presence in her home. We wrote a song about it that began:

In the hoose (sic), the times we had.
Our antiques (sic) made the Granny mad.
Her toilet, it was brown and crappy;
in the bin, her vaginal nappy.

shitty toilet
Her toilet was indeed both brown and crappy.

Anyways, there are several genuinely creepy scenes and ideas in here, but It is a very long book, and in truth, it’s a little incohesive. By 1986, Stephen King was the most popular novelist in the world. He could have written complete rubbish, had it published and sold a million copies. I’m not saying that this is rubbish, but I reckon it could have done with a bit of editing. Some bits aren’t really unnecessary to the lengthy plot, and some crucial plot elements (It‘s origin, the Turtle, how some adults can see Pennywise) are given scant explanation. This doesn’t detract too much from the book however; when a novel’s opening scene depicts a clown dragging a small child into a sewer to eat him, one aught to adjust their expectations accordingly. Don’t question the plot’s coherence; just turn your brain off and enjoy the trashy horror goodness.

When reviewing an extremely popular work, I try not to repeat information or ideas that will be available from thousands of other blogs and websites, but I will say that the infamous sex scene towards the end of this novel was damn weird.

I tried to rewatch the old movie version right after finishing the novel, but it’s very long and aside from Tim Curry, the acting is awful. I lasted about 20 minutes before watching a best-bits compilation on youtube. I will definitely be going to see the new version when it comes out.

 

cycle of the werewolf stephen kingCycle of the Werewolf – 1983

This story is packaged as an illustrated novel, but in reality, it’s shorter than some of King’s short stories. It’s about a werewolf on the loose in a small town. There’s nothing in here that you wouldn’t expect from the title and cover of the book. It’s not an unpleasant read, but I don’t think anyone would say that this is King at his finest. I read it on my commute to work one day.

 

carrie stephen kingCarrie – 1974

 King’s first novel, Carrie, is also one of his best. I started it one morning last week and had finished it by that afternoon. Obviously, this is a very popular work, one that has spawned 3-4 movie versions, and I was familiar with the plot before reading it, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely.

This is nowhere near as ambitious as a novel like It, but I reckon Carrie is actually the better book. The reader quickly comes to understand Carrie’s plight and to lust for her revenge, but this book also encourages its readers to consider how they treat the Carries in their own lives. It’s a simple formula, but it’s entertaining and effective.

 

I love Stephen King, but I’ll probably leave him alone for another few months. He’ll doubtlessly appear on this blog again. Oh, and sorry for the recent lack of posts; there should be a few new ones popping up fairly soon.

The Divine Rite of King

When I as a kid, my parents would sometimes take me to the videoshop after mass on a Sunday and we’d rent two cassettes: a cartoon for the kids and a movie for my parents. As I got a little older, I found myself drawn to the wall over by the sales counter. This was where the horror films were stacked. I distinctly remember being fascinated by the video boxes of Return of the Living Dead III, Ghoulies, and The Howling II. There was one similarity shared by several of the other boxes; it was a man’s name, Stephen King. I remember the mildly titillating feeling of dread that came from looking at the boxes of Children of the Corn, Tommyknockers, It and Graveyard Shift. The covers made these movies look horribly disturbing. I mean, these looked like the kind of films that were supposed to make you mentally sick if you watched them. But underneath my revulsion there was an intense curiosity. I wanted to see those films badly.

My parents had seen a few of the better movies that had been made from King’s work. I remembering pestering them for every plot detail of the Shining  and Misery.  It was probably soon after that that my mam allowed me to read The Moving Finger, a short story from Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It was a bit like the Goosebumps books that I absolutely adored at the time, but this was for grownups. I thought Stephen King was super cool.

I’m the eldest of my siblings, and my parents were a bit stricter with me than they were with my sisters. When one of my teachers told my parents that students should spend 3 hours studying every day, my mam took that to heart. I was never locked in  room or anything, but I was expected to spend several hours a day on my schoolwork. It wasn’t worth fighting over, so I just stayed in the front room of our house by myself, pretending to study for a few hours every day. I can’t remember/don’t want to admit how I spent all of those hours, but there was a bookshelf in that room, and sometimes reading novels seemed like a better idea than reading textbooks. There were only four books on that shelf that looked remotely appealing, and I got through all of them. ‘What books were they?’, I hear you say. They were Roddy Doyle’s excellent Barrytown Trilogy and Bag of Bones by Stephen King.

bagofbonesBag of Bones (1998)
I read this about 15 years ago and can’t remember much about it. I believe I enjoyed it at the time. Anything beat studying.

theshiningThe Shining (1977)
I read this one a little over 5 years ago, and I absolutely loved it. At one point, I actually had to put the book down to take a breather and calm myself (I believe it was right after Danny went into room 237). I had seen Kubrick’s film several times before reading the book, and I reckon it’s better to do the film/book combo in that order.

nightmaresanddreamscapesNightmares & Dreamscapes (1993)
While my first experience with this short story collection was probably 20 years ago, I only got around to reading it cover to cover in 2014. (Well, I’ve never technically read it cover to cover to be honest; I read it in my old office job from a pdf file saved in my google drive). Some stories were great. My favourites were Popsy, Crouch End (a pastiche of Lovecraft), and Night Flier, the movie version of which is laughably bad. Dedication is weird and gross but definitely worth a read. I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think it was quite as good as King’s earlier short story collections.

nightshiftNight Shift (1978)
In October, I took a seasonal job in a powder factory. The work required a lot of standing still, and I was allowed to do it with headphones in. I decided to download some audiobooks to get me through the long dusty days, but I was fairly disappointed in the selection offered by illegal fire-sharing sites. Also, choosing the right audiobook to listen to at work is tricky; the book needs to be interesting enough to keep your mind occupied, but it also has to be light enough that you don’t have to take notes to keep up with the plot. My problems were all solved when I found a big torrent of Stephen King’s audiobooks. His writing is very straightforward, and it takes barely any effort to soak it in. Also, his short stories are about vampires, aliens, mutant rats, and men that turn into slime. If that doesn’t sound enticing to you, get the fuck off my blog and go listen to your Coldplay cds, you stupid fucking barrel of shit.
This is the first collection of short fiction that King published, and some of the stories are  great. Children of the Corn is maybe my favourite. The written text is so much better than the utterly shit movie version that came out in 1984. Graveyard Shift and The Mangler were both great too, but I haven’t watched their movie adaptations. One for the road and Jerusalem’s Lot both expand on the material from Salem’s Lot (reviewed below), and Night Surf is a brief glance at the idea that would become The Stand (also reviewed below). Not everything in here is brilliant, but I really like the fact that King is willing to take any silly idea that comes into his head and turn it into a story. The man has a brilliant imagination.

skeletoncrewSkeleton Crew (1985)
I think I stole a copy of this book from my Granddad’s house when I was 21. I remember taking it to France with me and reading most of The Mist on a plane. Frank Darabont’s version of the Mist is one of my favourite movies and one of the few times that I think a film improved on the book. I read another few stories after that, but lost the book soon thereafter. I started going through the remaining tales as soon as I finished Night Shift last month, and this one picks up right where that one left off.
Survivor Type is fantastic. I laughed heartily as I listened to it. I guessed what was going to happen only a little bit into the story, but I didn’t think King would have the guts to write a story like that. I was wrong. Stephen King definitely has the guts to write a story like that. This collection was thoroughly enjoyable.

4pastFour Past Midnight (1990)
I had found that Stephen King’s fiction was the perfect way to pass the time in work, but I had run out of short story collections. I read that Four Past Midnight was a collection of novellas, but I had never actually seen a physical copy of the book before I started listening to it.  It turns out that some of these “novellas” are longer than some of King’s most celebrated novels. Why were they released in a collection rather than individually? I reckon it was something to do with the fact they’re not exactly his most brilliant work.

The Langoliers
This is a weird one. It’s about a plane that flies into another dimension. The audiobook version is narrated by Willem Dafoe, and I really enjoyed it, but in retrospect, it doesn’t make much sense at all.
Secret Window, Secret Garden
This, in my opinion, was the worst story in this collection. The twist ending is apparent from the very beginning.
The Library Policeman
This was my favourite. It’s weird as fuck.
“Come with me, Ssson. I’m the Library Polissse Man”
The Sun Dog
A boy’s camera offers a glimpse into another reality. It’s an interesting concept I guess, entertaining enough.

I enjoyed Four Past Midnight, but I really doubt anyone would ever have heard of it if it wasn’t written by Mr. King. It would not be a good starting point for anyone interested in sampling his works.

salemslotSalem’s Lot (1975)
About 8 years ago, I stayed up late two nights in a row to watch the 1979 movie version of Salem’s Lot. I was unimpressed. I decided to give the book a chance right after finishing Four Past Midnight. I’m really glad that I did; it’s a very entertaining vampire story set in modern America. I’d strongly recommend that you read it if you haven’t.

thestandThe Stand: Complete and Uncut (1990)
By the time I started on the Stand, I had read/listened to nothing other than Stephen King books for almost two months. I’ll be honest, that was probably a bad idea. At 1153 pages, the uncut version of the Stand is King’s longest book. I never got bored when I was reading it; it is very entertaining, but towards the end, I started to really look forward to reading other books.

King takes his time setting the story up, but it all winds down fairly quickly. There’s three books in the stand. The first ends the world with a super plague, the second details how the two factions of survivors organize themselves, and the final book describes the conflict (or lack thereof) between the two groups. The concept is cool, but the pacing is silly. Given the overall plot of the book, the section on the plague wiping out most of humanity is too long. For the first few hundred pages, the Stand is a fairly straightforward disaster novel that describes a calamity that is in no way unrealistic. Then, after 99.6% of human beings have been wiped out, we find out that the survivors have been left with mild telepathic abilities, and the book quickly turns into a religious parable about the forces of good and evil. It’s already already very, very long, but I felt a bit cheated when the conflict that the previous 1100 pages had been leading to was literally prevented by the hand of God. I mean, come on Stephen; you could have got another 5000+ pages if the two sides had actually gone to war! I wouldn’t be surprised if the Stand had originally been even more epic in its scope and that King only realized that he wouldn’t be able all fit everything into one book after he had already written 700 pages. He has acknowledged that The Lord of the Rings was an inspiration for this work, but King’s fellowship only sets out for their Mordor (Las Vegas) in the third book of the Stand. If he had really used Tolkien’s trilogy as a model, the Stand would probably have lasted 5000-6000 pages.

The religious undertones of the book also irked me a little. I thought Randall Flag was fucking cool, and I definitely would have joined his side. Also, while several of King’s works feature a “Magical Negro”, Mother Abigail serves as a particularly cringeworthy example of this trope. King is definitely not a racist, but some of his writing depicts a slightly dated worldview.

All that being said, the Stand is filled with cool characters and awesome scenes, and I enjoyed reading it. Stephen King has acknowledged that he considers his work to be trash (good trash specifically), and I, for one, am not above reading trash. I fucking love trash, and I loved Trash.

I’ve enjoyed every Stephen King book that I’ve read, but right now, I am looking forward to reading something else. I didn’t know if I was going to review his books on this blog when I started binging on him in October, but the more that I think about it, the more I think that he deserves to be here. If you like horror, you’ve already read this guy. His books are spooky, gross, and seriously entertaining. I’m going to give it a few months, but I’ll definitely be reading more Stephen King in the future. Aside from his fiction, he also seems like a cool guy; he hates Donald Trump and he’s into AC/DC.

kingStephen King, I salute you!

A Feast of Blood

coverVarney the Vampyre – James Malcolm Rymer (or maybe Thomas Preskett Prest)
Wordsworth Books – 2010 (Originally serialized from 1845-1847)

I haven’t posted much in the last month because I have been spending my time slogging through this immensely long book. At 1166 pages of very small print, this is undoubtedly the longest novel I have ever read. ‘Novel’ however, maybe isn’t quite the right word to describe this tome; it’s a series of different stories about the eponymous hero that were originally serialised in pamphlet form over the course of several years. Think of it like this: if Stoker’s Dracula can be turned into 2 hour movie, Varney would take a 5 season TV show to do it justice. Just as the book is long, this review is fairly hefty too, so pour yourself a cup of blood before you sit down to read it. If you haven’t read the book, you might want to skip over the sections in red. I say this not because those sections contain devastating spoilers (they don’t), but because they deal with issues that are so perplexing that they may scare you away from ever reading the book.
battyLook at the girth of this thing! It may be thicker than 4 of the other books in this series put together, but it was no more expensive. (Note: Varney is actually not the kind of vampire that can turn into a bat)

The writing is of a pretty decent standard, although there is quite a lot of recapitulation. This may have been included to keep readers up to date with the story if they had missed the last edition (kinda like the Victorian version of “Previously on the X-Files…), but I have read elsewhere that the author was paid by the word, so maybe it was just to take up space. Either way, coherence doesn’t seem to have been a priority, and throughout the tale there are characters that appear without reason and disappear without a trace. Varney himself has several suggested back stories that conflict with the account of his life that he gives at the end of the book, but more on that later. Also, with the exception of Varney himself, nearly all of the dramatis personae are interchangeable stock characters. I lost track of how many pleasant young men named Charles appear throughout the story.

 

The cover of the Wordsworth edition really blows in comparison to the original.

If you check out the librivox audiobook version (I would recommend that you alternate between a hard copy and these mp3s. Doing so allowed me to get through a few chapters every time I had to cook, tidy up or walk anywhere recently.), you’ll notice that Librivox credits Thomas Preskett Prest as the author instead of James Malcolm Rymer. It seems that nobody really knows who wrote the book. Prest took the credit for more than 100 years, but research that I have read ABOUT suggests that the writing style is actually closer to Rymer’s other writings than Prest’s. Also, minor publishing discrepancies in the text correspond to  Rymer’s bankruptcy, suggesting that he was in fact the author. That being said, Rymer and Prest are known to have worked for the same publisher and are believed to have collaborated on other works, so it’s not unlikely that they both contributed to this one. (Apparently Rymer was less than 4 foot tall.)

varneysucksDrinking her blood, straight from the tit.

The book is split into 3 volumes of roughly 400 pages each. (This division seems to have been based on the length of the book rather than by the contents of the volumes.) This edition ends with Chapter 220, but if you were to count the amount of chapters that the book contains, you would notice that there are actually 237. How could this be? Well, Chapters 41-43 don’t exist, Chapter 171 is followed by Chapter 162, and Chapters 195, 210, 197, 118, and 199 appear in that order. These mistakes have been faithfully carried over from the original pamphlets. (The chapter numbering in the audiobook version has been corrected. This was a little frustrating as I went back and forth between that and the text, although if it had retained the original numbers, the playlist of mp3 files would have been completely shagged.) Also, each chapter has a short title, but the titles rarely refer to anything that actually happens within that chapter. The chapter might be titled; “The events in the Parson’s office”, and it would be about a pair of young lovers having a picnic by the seaside. Arbitrary volume and chapter numbers aside, the book can be divided into 11 distinct stories. The first of which takes up the entire first half of the book while the 4th is less than 20 pages. 

hammeredThis poor chap was mistaken for a vampyre. He’s fucked now.

The first section, the events at Bannerworth Hall, is by far the longest and most enjoyable part of the book. The characters here, although they could be lifted directly out of 100 other Victorian novels, at least get to be part of the story for long enough that the reader remembers them. These characters play a smaller role in the second section of the book, and they are only mentioned 2-3 times in the final 400 pages. Their story is never satisfactorily cleared up, and I kept hoping that they would pop up or that the events that were occurring would somehow end up explaining what had happened to them. It seems that the initial followers of the story may have felt the same way;  in one of the final episodes, the author takes pains to clarify that the Bannerworths have all died. I wouldn’t be surprised if this brief allusion served as a response to those readers who had inquired if the Bannerworths were ever going to make a comeback. These loveable characters, we are pleased to find out, have not met with an unsavory end though; it’s just that the events towards the end of the book take place at a much later period of time. As we are soon to see, this epic tale takes place over the course of several centuries.

Here’s a few questions I have regarding the trials and tribulations of the Bannerworth family.

Is Varney the man in the portrait?
There is a portrait in Flora’s bedroom of Runnagate Bannerworth, an ancestor of the family. When the family realises that the vampyre looks exactly like the man in the portrait, they go to exhume Runnagate’s corpse from their family tomb. By the time they get to the tomb,  not only has Runnagate’s name has mysteriously changed to Marmaduke, but his corpse has also disappeared. This is particularly confusing because Marmaduke Bannerworth is also the name of Flora’s father, a confirmed associate of Varney’s. (Plus, one of the initial explanations of Varney’s vampyrism is that he was a suicide victim. Flora’s father also committed suicide. Could Varney be her father? Probably not, but why the similarities?)

Runnagate is said to be 90 years dead, and Marmaduke’s coffin reveals that he was buried in 1640, thereby dating the events at Bannerworth Hall to 1730. Varney is a vampyre though, so these dates don’t really exclude the possibility that he is the man in the portrait. Indeed the fact that Runnagate/Marmaduke’s corpse is not in the coffin suggest very strongly that Varney is their ancestor.

Varney later admits that he is a distant relation of the Bannerworths and that he was also a friend of their father. He claims that he had seen the portrait when he was friends with their father and deliberately tried to look like it in order to scare the family. This explanation however, does not account for the missing corpse from the tomb.

Much later on, in a different episode, Varney explains that he became a vampyre after crossing Oliver Cromwell after the death of Charles 1st. (This means that he didn’t become a vampyre until at least 1649, almost a decade after the death of Runnagate/Marmaduke Bannerworth.) He also explains that at this time he was living in London and known as Mortimer. (This is also bizarre as Varney is later to be hung by a different nasty man named Mortimer.)

In the 225th chapter (Chapter 208 in the book) Varney claims that he remembers “being hunted through the streets of London in the reign of Henry the Fourth.” Henry the 4th died of leprosy in 1413, meaning that if Varney is telling the truth, he was at least 235 years old when he became a vampyre. There is a gap of 1000 pages between the accounts of Runnagate’s portait and Mortimer’s contretemps with Cromwell, so we can forgive the author for a discrepancy of 9 years, but Varney’s account of being chased during the 1400s is placed only 12 pages apart from his encounter with Cromwell.

By his own account, Varney is not the man in the portait in Flora’s bedroom, but do we really believe him? All of his origin stories can’t be true, and he’s never exactly made out to be a particularly honest individual. While he explained that he had deliberately tried to make himself look like Runnagate/Marmaduke Bannerworth, he never explained where the body of said individual was or how it escaped from its coffin. Also, it should be remembered that Runnagate/Marmaduke’s coffin not only contained no corpse, but neither did it contain any signs of ever containing a decomposing body. If Varney is not Runnagate/Marmaduke, Runnagate/Marmaduke is still likely to be a vampyre.

varney-red
What happens to George Bannerworth?
He appears as the weakling younger brother in the first few chapters of the book, but soon disappears, never to be mentioned again. We are given enough information about his timidity to presume that this will be an issue for him at some stage, but he never gets a chance to shine. Lil bitch.

What happens to Dr. Chillingsworth?
The last we hear from him, he goes to London in search of Varney. We know that something happens to him afterwards that convinces him of the existence of vampyres. A note written by him appears in one of the final chapters of the book explaining so, the appearance of which left me with a genuine feeling of excitement. Varney does end up in London for a while in one of the later episodes; did they meet there? I had a theory that Chillingsworth was the mysterious stranger who follows Varney to Anderbury and gets murdered in the ice-pit, but he actually appears elsewhere afterwards, so it can’t have been him.

Who the fuck was the Hungarian Nobleman and what did he want?
Just as Varney starts to warm to the Bannerworths, a strange Hungarian nobleman shows up in the village in search of him. We find out that he is willing to pay a high price to find Varney, but he himself becomes suspected of being a vampyre and gets run out of town before Varney is found. There is no explanation given as to why he is looking for Varney, and no more is said about him after he is chased from the town. In one of the final episodes, Varney attends a vampyre initiation ceremony with several of his kin. One asks if he knew the Bannerworths, and he responds; “I did. You came to see me, I think, at an inn.” That is the extent of the conversation that appears 475 pages after the last mention of this character. Ahhh, sweet closure at last!

Who the shitting fuck was murdered in the ice-pit?
Towards the end of the first episode, Varney disappears. (The transition between the first and second episode is the only transition between episodes that carries over characters.) Soon thereafter, two strangers show up in a town a few miles distant from Bannerworth Hall. One of them, we know, has to be Varney, but the identity of the other is never made clear.

I think it was the Hungarian Nobleman. He’s the only character from the first section that’s unaccounted for. He had been confirmed as a vampyre and fled for safety without having achieved his goal of speaking to Varney. We know that he had been looking for Varney, but we were not sure of his motives. When Dr. Chillingsworth is mugged, we are inclined to give Varney the benefit of the doubt as he has seemingly made his peace with the Bannerworths, but if it wasn’t Varney, it has to have been the Hungarian Nobleman; he’s the only other bad guy alive at this stage! When it turns out that both of the mysterious strangers are vampyres, it only makes sense that one of them is the Hungarian.

However, when these two vamps meet near the end of the book, not a word is said about the fact that one of them has stabbed the other in the throat and thrown his corpse into an ice-pit. In fairness though, after the victim of this crime was revived by the moon, he snuck into the murderer’s bedroom and stole his jewels. Maybe they just decided to let bygones be bygones… Who knows? 

What happened to the Quaker whom Admiral Bell kicked up the hole?
Perhaps the greatest mystery of all. This storyline gets a considerable build up, but it’s never resolved.

booBleh!

There are, of course, plenty of other plot holes in the remainder of the book, but the cast of characters and plotlines in the later episodes are not nearly as memorable or complicated. Most of the episodes follow the formula of Varney trying to marry a beautiful young woman only to be foiled right before the marriage ceremony. (There are at least 4 chapter titles that include the phrase ‘the wedding morning’.) The middle episodes start to feel cartoonish in their repetitiveness, but the final two episodes end the book on a slightly more existential note. The penultimate episode has Varney playing the role of a hero rather than a villain, but the lack of satisfaction he receives from acting so convinces him to kill himself. His suicide attempt is thwarted by a pair of altruistic brothers, and when he is brought back to life, he gets super pissed off. He decides that if he can’t feel happiness that he will make sure that those around him don’t feel it either, and he gives what is perhaps the finest villainous speech that I have ever read. I’m going to include it here in its entirety, because unfortunately, I doubt that many people will actually make it far enough into the book to get to enjoy this exquisite piece of misanthropic bile:

“Since death is denied to me, I will henceforward shake off all human sympathies. Since I am compelled to be that which I am, I will not be that and likewise suffer all the pangs of doing deeds at which a better nature that was within me revolted. No, I will from this time be the bane of all that is good and great and beautiful. If I am forced to wander upon the earth, a thing to be abhorred and accursed among men, I will perform my mission to the very letter as well as the spirit, and henceforth adieu all regrets, adieu all feeling — all memory of goodness — of charity to human nature, for I will be a dread and a desolation! Since blood is to be my only sustenance, and since death is denied to me, I will have abundance of it — I will revel in it, and no spark of human pity shall find a home in this once racked and tortured bosom. Fate, I thee defy!”

Holy fuck, that is pure heavy metal.

varney-wakesVarney arises!

Whether or not Varney is actually a vampyre isn’t determined until you’re well into the story, and the first 750 pages of the book contain only 2 short instances of vampyric activity. Things get bloodier in the second half as the stories come to focus on Varney and his exploits. He oscillates between being a decent lad and a murderous villain, so much so that I was genuinely surprised at the violent acts he would sometimes suddenly commit. Although the latter episodes are definitely more gory, far more people are stabbed or shot than are drained of their blood; this is more of an adventure novel than a horror story. That being said, there are a few chapters set in moonlit churchyards and charnel houses to which you can stroke your Gothic boner. So much of what we have come to expect from a vampyre story comes directly from this book, and you’ll find a million other reviews discussing how it’s the source of many of our modern ‘Vampire tropes’. Why then, does everyone give that credit to Dracula? Well, Dracula is much scarier, Bram Stoker took all of the best bits from Varney, twisted them around a bit, and shaped them into a far superior book.

diebitchAnd fucking stay dead!

Montague Summers described Varney the Vampyre as being “far ghostlier than” and “a very serious rival to” Dracula. The book was out of print when he wrote that though, so that might have just been him trying to be the cool guy who liked the less popular work. I definitely wouldn’t go as far as Monty in this case, but I did really enjoy this book. I mean, it’s deeply flawed, but if you take it for what it is, i.e., complete trash, it’s d_____d enjoyable. It’s exceedingly obvious that the author/authors were making it up as they went along, and a lot of it doesn’t stand up to scrutinous examination, but if you like stories about graveyards, ghouls, chivalrous gentlemen, foul mouthed sailors, bloody murders,  and heaving bosoms, this will entertain you greatly. I fucking loved it, and it has me looking forward to reading more of the Penny Dreadfuls that have come out in the Wordsworth Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural series. I have Wagner the Werewolf by Reynolds on my shelf, and I know they have also put out The String of Pearls, the other work by Rymer and Prest.

 

7 Footprints to Satan – A. Merritt

20160105_214024
Orbit/Futura – 1974

About a year ago, I was in a second-hand book-store when I came across a little black book titled 7 Footprints to Satan. It looked fucking deadly, but it was 30 dollars and I thought that was a bit much to spend on a book I hadn’t heard of. I came home and found a copy online for less than a tenner. The seller provided no image, and I presumed the cover would be the same as the one I had seen in the shop. Can you can imagine my absolute joy when the package arrived and I first saw the above cover?

Look at that thing! It’s some kind of snakey, arachnid alien holding some jewels, a bloody heart, and a hot drink. Book covers do not get much better than that! Now a person who has not read it might presume that the entity on the cover is the Satan referred to in the title of the book, but a person who has read it will have absolutely no fucking idea of what that thing is supposed to be. I doubt that the artist who drew the spiderbaby had actually read the book. Unfortunately, the story didn’t quite live up to the cover, but the cover lives up to itself even after having finished the story. Just looking at it now makes me want to read the book again even though I know how little they have to do with each other. Take a moment there to scroll back up and really soak that image in. Fucking deadly.

So, the book starts off with a lad being kidnapped by a bunch of weirdos who manage to convince the police that he’s a mental patient. They take him to a mansion owned by a chap who claims he is Satan, and that’s where the fun begins. Satan runs a weird culty mafia thing, and he forces his followers to gamble with him on his 7 footprints game. Like all good cult leaders, Satan is a massively tall freak with an enormous head who can’t be killed by bullets. He knows everything about everyone, and he has a seemingly infinite amount of power and wealth. It’s never made definitively clear whether or not he’s really the Devil, but every time that you think that he’s actually just a fat Chinese drug dealer who picked a cool name for himself, something weird happens that suggests he at least has some connection with the archfiend. It wouldn’t be accurate to describe this as supernatural horror, but it does feature individuals with superhuman strength,  doppelgängers, and even telepathy.

It also features plenty of casual racism, but this seems to have been a trend in early 20th century horror. I’m sure that there were plenty of racist authors outside of the horror genre in that era, but I think that the ways in which race is presented within the texts written to frighten people is quite telling of the real fears of the readers of the day. (Maybe some day I’ll write a blog post, if not a master’s dissertation, on that topic.) Some of the stuff in here is pretty rough; there’s a passage that reads:
There was a Hebraic delegation of a half-dozen on their way home to the Bronx, a belated stenographer who at once began operations with a lipstick, three rabbit-faced young ‘sheiks’, an Italian woman with four restless children, a dignified old gentleman who viewed their movements with suspicion, a dumb-looking black…
Pretty good right? Within the space of a single sentence he’s managed to be nasty about three different ethnicities. At another stage, he refers to a black guy as an ‘ape-faced monstrosity’, and at the point when Satan admits to having killed his daughters, the protagonist has an Ah-Hah! moment and explains that Satan must be Chinese. Oh! and there’s also a scene featuring the most offensive stereotype of all! In the second chapter, Officer Mooney appears. He’s a New York cop with a ridiculous Irish accent that is made visible in the text; “Sure,lad. Ye’re in no danger, I’m tellin ye. Would ye want a taxi, Doctor?’ (Admittedly, that accent is entirely accurate.) The thing is though, that I wouldn’t even call this is a racist book; it would be more accurate to call it a book with some racist parts, and that’s actually worse when you think about it. The racist parts don’t add anything to the story. I’m not saying that it would be excusable if the racism were a motivational force in the plot, but that would at least give an understanding of the author’s purpose. As it stands, it looks like Merritt was just throwing his bigotry in for a laugh. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t pay for a book that contained that kind of nastiness if I thought the author was going to get any of my money, but my copy is second-hand and the author died 70+ years ago.

I read this in two sittings, and I had a dream about being stuck in Satan’s mansion after reading it. It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it. Merritt wrote some other books with equally cool titles, and I doubt that this is the last book of his that will appear on this blog.

 

 

 

 

Image of the Beast + Blown – Philip José Farmer

Playboy Paperbacks – 1981 image of beast

Snuff films, sleazy detectives, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, intergalactic rivalries and Gilles de Rais; what more could you ask for? How about a dash of ultra-perverted hardcore pornography?

That will suit me nicely.

This novel is trash, you never get the impression that it’s anything but trash, but reading it will convince you that trash can be absolutely glorious. I loved this book. It is exactly the kind of thing that I enjoy reading. It’s based on a perverse sex murder and the whole story has a really seedy atmosphere. It’s full of bizarre characters, weird sex and supernatural violence. There was no chance of this book giving me anything but extreme enjoyment. There’s never any clear explanation given of the antagonists’ motivation but that doesn’t matter. Evil is doing evil because it’s evil. Fuck an explanation.

My version of Image of the Beast also includes the novel’s sequel; Blown. Blown is both more science-fictiony, and less grim than Image. It’s still very nasty and odd though, and I think it probably contains more weird sex acts too. It offers an explanation of some of the events in Image, but personally I didn’t find this explanation to be completely satisfactory. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed by any element of this book being too far-fetched, indeed it is in the sheer ridiculousness of these tales that their glory lies, but I felt that the intergalactic explanation in Blown seemed a little absurd in relation to the events it was explaining.

Let me use an analogy to describe this book. It’s like a pizza topped with all of my favourite toppings. Each ingredient is delicious in itself and complements most of the other ingredients on the pizza; but unavoidably, some of the combinations taste kinda weird.

Another minor critique is that this book contains bizarre amounts of geographical detail. It must mention every street name in Southern California.

It has some minor flaws, but ultimately, this is a delicious pizza of a book that I would strongly recommend. 8/10.