Friday, April 23, 2010

The 13th by John Everson

John Everson's The 13th is a rambunctious foray into ritualistic sacrifice, sexual sadism, over the top violence, and campy slasher flick horror. This ain't your run of the mill horror novel, that's for sure.

Half a century ago, Castle House Lodge was the exclusive getaway destination of the rich and famous. But for years it has stood empty, looming in the shadows of Castle Point.

Now after 25 years of silence, the doors of the one-time resort will be open again, but this time to a different type of guest. Castle House is now a private asylum for pregnant women. When people start to disappear from a neighboring small town, suspicion falls upon the asylum and it's current owner, Dr. Rockford. What exactly is a world renowned MIT geneticist doing treating insane pregnant women, and are they really crazy?

When David Shale's girlfriend goes missing, he has to team up with small town cop Christy Sorensen in order to find out exactly what is going on. As they delve deeper into the history of the house and it's current owner, they uncover a plot that will lead them to the ritualistic sacrifice of 'the 13th', a ceremony meant bring something horrible into our world.

To merely say that this book is dripping wet with sexuality and titillation would be the biggest understatement of the century. The mixture of the above mentioned plot and Everson's ability to write incredibly graphic scenes designed to stir up sexual feelings alongside intense revulsion is incredible. His narrative feels so personal and candid that he might as well be sitting in a bar with you, telling this tale in the flesh. Unfortunately the characters are a little less realistic, and ultimately of the throwaway variety. It's Everson's well championed ability to make you cringe through the power of his words that rules the day.

In an interview with Omega's Apple, Everson stated that this novel was "...inspired a lot by the Euro-horror and grindhouse films of the seventies." This is the most spot-on description of the book that can be found. The 13th feels about as dirty and nasty as something like The Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave, without going for a retro feel. This isn't the type of book that you'll feel comfortable reading in a public place. I know I wasn't, and that added all the more fun to the journey.

If you're a fan of Richard Laymon, Wrath James White, or Edward Lee, you might want to give Everson a try. He's more than capable of stepping up to the plate with those literary bad boys, and rightfully deserves a place in the higher echelon of the "extreme" horror genre.

Visit John Everson's website for updates on his new books, appearances, and to find out more about this multi-talented man.

PBH.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pressure by Jeff Strand

A few weeks ago I reviewed Jeff Strand's Dweller here on Paperback Horror. I was incredibly happy to pronounce it the best book I've read in 2010, but now I'm faced with a personal dilemma. How do I describe this book without sounding like a total fan-boy?

Alex Fletcher has gotten into a bit of trouble after his family moved to a new town and finds himself shipped off to a boarding school as punishment for his crimes. There he meets two new friends, Peter and Jeremy, and also the quiet and strange Darren Rust. There's something a little off about Darren. For one, he enjoys cutting up dead things. And he's always sitting at his desk, furiously scribbling in his notebook or disappearing from the dorm room for hours late at night. Although their friendship doesn't happen overnight, Alex and Darren soon share an evening escape from the school grounds that turns out to be the beginning of something that will make an profound impression on both their lives, and on the lives of the people Alex loves - for better or worse.

Strand takes the reader through several different time periods as Alex meets his new friends, loses contact, and is ultimately reacquianted with them. A sense of foreboding runs through the entire book as you watch Alex being put into more and more difficult situations by the obviously unstable Darren. Darren's inability to cope with his friend's reluctance to join him as a "partner in crime" really sits heavy, and totally affects the way you might feel about him as the bad guy. He almost manages to become the most sympathetic character in the novel, making him one of the most impressive villains I've read to date.

Pressure was nominated in 2008 for the Bram Stoker awards in the category of best novel, but was beat by Stephen King's Lisey's Story. I have yet to read King's book, but it really must have been something earth shattering to have beaten this. Jeff Strand has yet to disappoint and I'm anxiously awaiting his future output.

PBH.

Visit Jeff Strand's website for news on upcoming releases, and to read his painfully hilarious unused Stoker acceptance speeches, along with some hilarious (and fictitious) tales of inappropriate behaviour by Stephen King.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chainsaw Terror by Nick Blake

Chainsaw Terror, written by Shaun Hutson under the pen name Nick Blake, was published in 1984 by Star publishing. This book was originally published in the US, but was banned in the UK by W.H. Smith for the use of the word 'Chainsaw' in the title. It was published again by Star in 1985, heavily edited and under the title Come The Night.

The story revolves around Edward Briggs, who was witness to the brutal murder of his mother - by his father - who then immediately commits suicide right in front of him. Edward still lives in the same house with his sister who has become the subject of his infatuation. Edward doesn't like it when his sister goes out and wants her to stay with him forever in the cold, soundproof house...with him and his tools.

While perhaps not the most incredible piece of fiction in terms of writing style, Chainsaw Terror makes up for the areas in which it's lacking with lots of gore and nasty, brutal, disgusting kills. The campiness of this book alone makes it worth reading despite the predictable plotline. If you're a fan of slaughter-fest eighties horror a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Friday the 13th, you're sure to love this novel.

*Random bit of info: there are rumors of an uncut manuscript floating around the black market in Australia that depicts a scene involving a girl strapped to a work bench being defiled by a chainsaw. This alleged version, however, has never seen the light of day, and during email communication with Mr. Hutson he has stated that he knows of no such manuscript.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Succulent Prey by Wrath James White

Every once in a while you run into a book that just sits heavy on your psyche. As far as mass market paperback's go, I can actually count the ones that have done that to me on one hand. This book is one of them. Be warned, this book is just about as extreme as they come.

15 years ago Joseph Miles was abducted, tortured and almost killed by a pedophiliac serial murderer with the taste for human blood, but Joseph got away. He is the only survivor. Now Joseph has a problem - he is slowly turning into a serial killer. Convinced that his torturer passed a virus on to him that will eventually make him like his assailant, Joseph must find a cure before the woman he loves - the woman who is currently chained to his bed - becomes his next victim.

White's ability to write in an utterly disgusting and descriptive manner is incredible and far from common in the horror genre. The ghastly detail involved in every kill is expertly researched and truly gross and you'll be sure to feel the need for a shower after reading even only half of this book.

Thankfully, while we endure the foray into the actions of a psychopath, Succulent Prey does not just leave the reader with a rather bloody and slick mess of bodily fluid. White obviously went to great lengths to make sure that he not only succeeded in grossing out whomever was reading his book, but also in giving us a truly sympathetic killer. To think of Joseph Miles as "just a murderer" is impossible. Instead, White gave us a victim who is doing what he does in order to find a cure for his "disease".

Over all, Succulent Prey is NOT for the faint of heart. It depicts scenes of graphic torture, mutilation, and ultimately - death. If you're looking for something truly extreme, written by someone who has the chops to do so in an entertaining fashion, then this one is for you.

PBH

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Books of Blood (Vol 1) by Clive Barker

Clive Barker's Books Of Blood have, since their publication between the years of 1984 - 1986, remained the hallmark of dark fantasy and horror fiction. Upon their publication, Barker was made an overnight success, prompting Stephen King to herald him as an "important, exciting, and enormously talented writer".

Much has changed since then, but the stories contained in these books remain legendary in horror not only as a part of important/must read fiction, but in some cases film as well.

To view the complete list of stories contained in Volume One, visit Barker's Official Website. The series is available as standalone volumes, and as a two-book omnibus. Tonight, I've decided to give you a run down of some of my favorites from Book One.

Book 1 - To miss any of the stories in this book in particular would be a sin. From the very first line of The Book of Blood, we - the reader - know we're being taken on a journey to some place special. It's really a very simple line: "The Dead have highways." But it is one of the most effective ones in the history of horror. The story then follows a psychic researcher, Mary Florescu, who has hired a fake medium named Simon McNeal to investigate a supposedly haunted house. At first, he pretends to see visions, but soon thereafter the dead do start to visit him and attack carving their stories, purportedly contained in the rest of the book, into his skin.

Many more successful stories came out of this first volume including The Midnight Meat Train - which was turned into a movie in 2008, The Yattering and Jack - which shows Barker's more deviously funny side, Pig Blood Blues, and Sex, Death and Starshine, but it's the last story that truly steals the show.

As one of Barker's most fantastic stories to date, In the Hills, the Cities treats us to the ultra weird yet infinitely brutal story of two neighboring cities - Podujevo and Popolac - who tie together the bodies of the citizens of each respective city during a ritual that takes place every 10 years, in order to create two towering giants. Something goes wrong and the city of Podujevo collapses, killing thirty-eight thousand, seven hundred and sixty five residents and creating a ravine of their blood. The story follows two gay lovers - Mick and Judd - who are on a romantic weekend trip, as they find the remnants of the giant of Podujevo. What happens afterwards is something that truly has to be read in order to be believed.

Barker's ability to marry the brutal and the beautiful will never fail to enthrall even the most jaded of readers. When an author as talented as this is at the helm, one doesn't have a choice but to suspend his or her disbelief and blindly "follow the leader" into a dark and sometimes painful place within the walls of his imagination. And honestly, who could possibly be better to lead than Clive Barker?

PBH

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite

Poppy Z. Brite smashed down the walls around the goth sub-culture with this Lost Souls, her first full length novel. She also re-invigorated the vampire genre with a unique mythos that went against the grain - and against Anne Rice's romanticizing and taming of the vampires themselves.

Zillah, Molochai and Twig are a different breed of vampires. This breed is not sensitive to the sun, garlic, or even holy relics. And unlike your classic creatures of the night, they can breed with humans - but the mother always dies during childbirth.

They travelled the world in an eternally nomadic state for decades - drinking blood, causing chaos, and living hedonistic lives - but now they've come to New Orleans to visit the much older and more relaxed Christian. After a night of drunken revelry the trio take off again and he is left with the unfortunate responsibility of looking after Jesse, a young woman impregnated by Zillah. Jesse eventually succumbs to the fate of all mothers bearing vampire babies, and Christian leaves the child on someone's doorstep.

Upon discovering his true heritage fifteen years later, the boy - now named Nothing - decides to leave his adoptive life behind and search out the sounds of his favorite band, Lost Souls? (and yes, that question mark is part of the band name...), and begin his life anew.

Lost Souls? is having a hard enough time, as psychically gifted singer Ghost can tell that something bad is coming to the town of Missing Mile, North Carolina. Ghost's best friend and bandmate Steve is desperately trying to drink himself sober after breaking up with his girlfriend, Anne - who Ghost sees is looking for love that Steve cannot give.

All of these people are fated to meet in the streets of New Orleans, with an outcome that's terrifyingly brutal and beautiful all the same.

Poppy Z. Brite writes with such an elegant brutality that I find it hard not to compare her to Clive Barker. She depicts New Orleans as one of the most hauntingly beautiful cities in all of the world, and then writes a river of blood to flow steadily underneath it all. The writing is compelling, the story is dark and brooding, and the characters are incredibly memorable. Brite is not afraid to combine heterosexual eroticism with homoerotic undertones, something done by few other writers in the genre, barring the aforementioned Barker.

A truly compelling and original concept, Lost Souls is destined to be a classic within the goth subculture as well as with open minded horror fans.

PBH

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dweller by Jeff Strand

While this book won't grab you and shake you like a Jack Ketchum or Richard Laymon novel, Dweller will most definitely make a place for itself in your heart as one of the most endearing and saddest monster stories of all time.

The first time Toby met the monster, he was 8. The experience was short and terrifying, but the memory lasted forever. Monsters, Toby knew, were real, but his parents believed it to be a part of his imagination. The next time Toby met the monster, he was 15, a loner, and very unhappy. The monster would be his friend, and take care of him and keep him safe from harm. Even if that meant things were going to get a little dangerous.

Where most modern horror writers want to smack you across the face with visceral action and suspense, Jeff Strand chooses to creep into your psyche and tear at your heart from the inside. To say that this book doesn't deliver in the gore as well, would be a lie. There's plenty here for all types of horror fans, not just the gore hounds or those who like there horror from a "different" perspective. Every page offers something new and unique to the genre, and basically ensures that the reader will be taken along on an exciting journey, made to think, and entertained, all without force.

This is a very powerful book with incredible characters and an addictive story structure. It starts off incredibly strong, and doesn't relent. In my opinion, this is the best book of 2010 so far.

PBH

Monday, April 5, 2010

October Dreams Ed. by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish

I've got a long one for you this time around, brought to you by the man behind Cemetery Dance and Cemetery Dance Publications.

Centered around the most wonderful time of the year (and by that I don't mean Christmas), October Dreams is a collection of 55 short stories, essays, poems, and personal memories of Halloween by some of the genre's most impressive talents. All ranging in style, but not in subject, the stories you'll find within will not only scare you senseless, but at some points will make you laugh or even shake your head in bewilderment.

The idea here is incredible. As a horror fan, I wanted to read this book for the entire month of October but soon found that, even though it sits heavy at 648 pages, it was easy to take down in a matter of days. The story selections are superb, leaving not a single story to dislike. If I were pressed to pick favorites, they would include:

The Black Pumpkin by Dean Koontz, which tells the story of a young boy that meets an old and grizzled pumpkin carver who seems just a little off kilter. His pumpkins feature grotesque and malevolent faces, but that's not even the worst of it. His pumpkins are also black. When offered one of the pumpkins, the boy - Tommy Sutzmann - is quick to decline, but his big brother, Frank, is not. The old man warns Tommy that the pumpkin will change into something other than what it is now, and come nighttime he will find out what.

Ray Bradbury, the KING of all things Halloween, brings us the short story, Heavy Set, which is by all rights a creepy little tale about a relationship between a mother and her seemingly juvenile, yet grown up, son. It's not this story that Bradbury will ultimately chill you with, but his entry in My Favorite Halloween Memory, where he tells us of the incredibly sad loss of a dear friend and his inability to celebrate Halloween since then. Very sad, indeed.

Trumping all of the other stories is the novella length Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub. Straub's lyrical mastery is amplified ten-fold with this one, in which the narrator recounts a very long discussion with a jazz legend he will only identify as "Hat". This story spins so beautifully, and so smoothly, that it's hard to nail down exactly what it is about it that sets it apart. The rich tapestry of visuals that "Hat" weaves while telling the story of his memories of Halloween is so thick that it feels like you're sitting there in the hotel room with him. Of course, "Hat" is telling us about the last time he ever went out for Halloween and when he stopped being a little boy, and believing in little boy things. It's a coming of age story, I guess, but a dark one at that.

Other notable stories include: Boo by Richard Laymon, Gone by Jack Ketchum, The Circle by Lewis Shiner (which is so haunting a beautiful, I was surprised that I had never heard his name before), Masks by Douglas E. Winter, and Lantern Marsh by Poppy Z. Brite.

A very worthwhile read for fans of short horror stories, done by the masters of the genre.

PBH

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cover by Jack Ketchum

Most people regard horror as the retarded second cousin of "real" literature. On the other hand, most people don't know what they're talking about. There's an assumption that horror fiction, by definition, can't possibly encompass the beauty of the classics alongside its trademark brutality. Jack Ketchum proves the naysayers wrong with this one.

Cover tells the story of an Vietnam war vet named Lee who is experiencing flashbacks so fierce that he's exiled himself to the woods with his wife, son and dog. Plagued by paranoia and making a living by growing marijuana for a man named McCann, Lee soon finds himself alone in the woods, as his wife and son have left for fear of their own safety. Lee's delusions are just getting worse when McCann informs him that there is a thief on the loose in the forest, stealing from some of the other growers in the area. When a young group of campers on a weekend getaway happen upon Lee's crop he snaps into action, prepared to do anything to protect his livelihood, all while being plagued by the ghosts of his past.

Ketchum's writing style is vastly different in this novel than most fans are used to. Gone are the blunt and vicious descriptions of violence and depravity, replaced with stark realism and a hauntingly beautiful descriptiveness. Some of the scenes in this book will seduce you at the same time as they chill you to the bone. The amount of research that the author put into this piece of work is also an incredibly formidable achievement. Ketchum speaks at length about this in the introduction of the Leisure MMPB (2009) reprint of this novel.

I'm going to go on the record and state that this is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Ketchum's ability to make the reader feel sympathy for those you ought to shy away from is incredible. Throughout the novel you fear for the safety of the campers, all the while feeling sorry for the eternally cursed protagonist, Lee. It's a different brand of horror writing - one we see way too seldom in this day and age.

Highly recommended book (and author).

PBH

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Dark Sacrament by David Kiely and Christina Mckenna

I'd like to dedicate this post to my dear beautiful Granny, who passed away last night. Her sheer will and dedication makes her a legend in my memory, and has always been the example against which I measure my own. An incredibly dedicated woman, Granny had more faith in her little finger than moat people have at all. I can credit her with being one of two people who helped me construct the database of religious knowledge packed away in this big half-Irish head, and with being a person who never made me feel like an outcast for not being a believer. She will be sorely missed by many.

With the subtitle 'True Stories of Modern-Day Demon Possession and Exorcism', one might be tempted to assume that this book is a byproduct of the "Satanic Panic" era of film and literature. I can assure you that isn't even close. I can also assure you that if you've even the most remote understanding of religion (and a healthy ability to suspend disbelief) you will be terrified while reading this book. Publisher's weekly wrote on the cover: "...don't read this at home alone at night". I feel I should have listened.

The Dark Sacrament recounts 10 contemporary cases of demon possession, haunted houses, and exorcisms. It also serves to showcase the work of two living, active exorcists - Reverend William H. Lendrum and Father Ignatius McCarthy, a Cannon and a Monk respectively.

While not all 10 stories will top the most incredible things you've read in the realm of fiction, it's the fact that they're non-fiction that sets them apart from tales like The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror (which I will post about at another date). These stories are all too believable, where their fictional counterparts aren't always.

Here, I'll give you a taste of just two of them. Ready?

In The Housewife and the Demon Dubois, we're told story of a County Antrim woman named Julie, whose innocent toying with a homemade Ouija board turned her life upside down for 15 years - one of the longest cases of demonic attack in recorded history.

Mr. Gant and the Neighbor from Hell is the story of a demon that traveled with its unfortunate victims from a cruise liner to their home in a quiet town in Northwest Ireland, ending in an encounter so terrifying that the victim is transformed from a healthy, virile man into a nervous wreck.

Also included in the book are some interesting pieces of writing; The Prayer to Archangel Michael, St. Patrick's Breastplate or the Lorica of St. Patrick, and a few prayers of Exorcism.

I won't have to (read: don't want to) go any further in explanation in order for the reader to get the idea that we are not alone in this world, or so the author would have us believe. I can honestly say, though, that just the thought of this book and the stories within still gives me the chills.

Though it was an incredible read, and very scary, I won't be reading this one again for fear of becoming totally transformed by goose pimples.

PBH