My passion for nutzoid horror fiction is hardly a secret. Mind you, I can certainly appreciate a subtle and well written horror story, but really: who doesn’t enjoy a walk on the wild side?
The following are among the nuttiest books I know, being one and all certifiably batshit. Another element these ten novels have in common is the simple fact that, frankly, none are particularly good. I suppose that would make these books “guilty pleasures,” yet I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about loving them.
Such fare is of course widely accepted in the film world (where it tends to be categorized as “Cult” or “So Bad it’s Good”), but not so much in literary circles, horror or otherwise. That’s too bad, as I contend that a bookshelf with no room for novels like the ten outlined below ain’t much of a bookshelf!
THE DEVIL’S POPESS By JEHAN SYLVIUS, PIERRE DE RUYSNES (1931) This novella was initially published in French back in 1931, and credited to two pseudonymous scribes. It’s likely the apotheosis of the “yellow peril” potboilers of the time, describing how the entire world is decimated by an army under the command of the androgynous Archimagess, the “Mistress of Asia.” Archimagess is controlled by none other than Satan himself, and on his orders establishes her headquarters in a luxurious Parisian palace packed with castrated slaves and a lesbian lover named Nadia. Archimagess’ outrages include a Satanic banquet in which women are ripped apart and their decapitated heads juggled, and also the crucifixion of the pope. Her reign, it seems, is destined to go unchallenged…until the world is threatened by two colliding stars, leading to mass orgies, cannibalism and an apocalyptic meteor shower. Well written this book isn’t, being trashy and exploitive in the extreme (I haven’t even gone into Nadia’s torture death or a climactic leper rape). It is entertaining, however, and hard to beat for subversive fun taken clear over the top.
THE “F” CERTIFICATE By DAVID GURNEY (1968) This astounding late-sixties artifact is an unabashedly conservative-minded CLOCKWORK ORANGE-ish account of England in the “near future,” overrun by homicidal freaks called Drummers who dress like ballerinas. Staunchly pro-censorship, the book pins this deteriorating society’s ills on over-permissive laws and a slimeball moviemaker intent on exhibiting a film that shows people having (gasp!) sex. The main action concerns the tough guy hero’s valiant attempts at reigning in the slimeball and preventing the offending film from polluting the minds of God-fearing Brits. What makes the book so much fun is the pseudonymous author’s near-hysterical Puritanism and oft-bizarre imaginings (such as the futuristic boom boxes that emit psychedelic visions), although it’s also racist, sexist, xenophobic and unintentionally hilarious through and through. I’m guessing David Gurney probably wasn’t too thrilled about sexually explicit seventies cinema like DEEP THROAT and IN THE REALM OF SENSES, which in 1968 were on the immediate horizon.
A VERY SHORT WALK By LAWRENCE HOLMES (1970) This forgotten counterculture relic is the literary equivalent of those outrageously self-indulgent cinematic crocs that proliferated in the late sixties and early seventies. A VERY SHORT WALK wants very much to be a “with it” sensation a la NAKED LUNCH or LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, but ends up a poorly written, incoherent mess. It takes the form of a memoir by a severely disgruntled male fetus, who as the book opens is stuck inside the womb of a shrewish bitch who wants to kill him. The fetus survives, however, and kills his twin sister by pinching off her umbilical cord. Once he’s born the fetus immediately grows into a twenty year old stud, and as such moves into a hippie pad where he embarks on a rape and killing spree. No, the book is never terribly shocking, grotesque or politically radical, although the author was clearly trying very hard for all those things.
THE POWER AND THE PAIN By CHARLES PLATT (1971) The second entry in Charles Platt’s seventies-era violent porn trilogy (of sorts) that began with THE GAS and concluded with SWEET EVIL. THE POWER AND THE PAIN is the least of the three, being a hastily written trifle (note the abundance of one-sentence paragraphs and run-on sex scenes), although it excels in manic invention. It’s the story of Quinn, a troubled rock star lured to an isolated enclosure in the Swiss Alps called the Clinic. There reside a myriad of drugged individuals sporting various pervy surgical enhancements: multiple penises and/or vaginas, nipple-less breasts, penises in place of tongues, vaginas in place of belly buttons, fur-covered cocks, transparent skin, etc. All play a part in the book’s most unforgettable sequence, which sees Quinn tossed headfirst into a mass orgy featuring surgically modified freaks of every imaginable persuasion. Eventually Quinn meets the ringleader of the Clinic, a sanctimonious old fart who resents Quinn’s “egotistic, self-centered” existence, which apparently “undermines the moral fiber of society.” This character, FYI, was apparently inspired by the renowned anti-porn crusader Charles Keating Jr, to whom the novel is sarcastically dedicated.
THE SAVAGE WOMEN By MIKE CURTIS (1976) An outrageous chunk of seventies-sploitation that must be read to be believed. Certainly the front cover tagline gives a good idea of the book’s sordid nature: “Fanatical Feminists Used Sex to Lure Men to Their Death.” Said feminists are a band of deluded NYC lesbians who dub themselves the Women’s Guerilla Movement, controlled by an albino gay man who detests heterosexual males. The hero is a tough Dirty Harry-esque cop who’s not above roughing up suspects and using his own girlfriend (who expresses her love by begging him to “Let me do you”) as bait for the WGM. In the meantime one of the murderesses forms her own man-hating splinter group called the Rapists’ Vengeance League, and the madness spreads to ordinary ladies: “The city housed plenty of bitter, angry women. Given encouragement, they could easily turn into a pack of snarling female animals.” A depraved artifact from a time when exploitation really meant something!
EAT THEM ALIVE By PIERCE NACE (1977) Who the Hell is Pierce Nace? Based on the appropriately titled EAT THEM ALIVE, his/her only book, he/she had a definite penchant for excessive gore and misogynistic sleaze. It takes place on a deserted tropical island, where a nut named Dyke(!) is planning revenge on a gang of punks who castrated and left him for dead years earlier. Luckily enough, a bunch of giant preying mantises are released from the bowels of the Earth by a catastrophic earthquake, providing Dyke with an ideal means of revenge. Every chapter contains a jaw-dropping outrage, from a lovingly described mid-book dismemberment of a woman (which lasts a full three pages!) to Dyke’s enthusiastic mutilation of one of his enemies, after which he offers the morsels to his mantis companions. Obviously any book about giant preying mantises has its own irrefutable set of requirements, and it’s safe to say that EAT THEM ALIVE fulfills them all.
DRACULA IN LOVE By JOHN SHIRLEY (1979) I know many of you feel THE VAMPIRE TAPES by Arabella Randolphe was the looniest vampire novel of the seventies, but DRACULA IN LOVE gets my vote. It was the first novel written by John Shirley (even though it was his second to be published), drafted when the author was just nineteen. Shirley’s inexperience is evident in the severely haphazard narrative involving a modest San Francisco dweller who discovers to his horror that he’s the son of the one and only Dracula. The guy is contacted by Lucifer, in the form of a shlub named Bill, who wants Drac’s son to bring down the old man. As for the latter, he’s in the midst of rebranding himself as a rapist bearing a snake penis with eyes and fangs, and is eventually devoured by a giant vagina. Very much a forerunner of the splatterpunk movement (as was the author’s later CELLARS), this novel contains enough ahead-of-its-time grue to fill a dozen Clive Barker fantasies, and also a wealth of surreal weirdness. For all its faults DRACULA IN LOVE really should have made a far greater impression than it did.
THE NURSERY By WILLIAM W. JOHNSTONE (1983) Readers in the mood for trashy fiction could certainly do worse than the Zebra published horror novels of William W. Johnstone, this one in particular. It can be read as the literary equivalent of the Christian scare films of Ron Ormond with its consistently sleazy set-pieces matched by equally consistent sermonizing to remind us we shouldn’t be enjoying the lovingly described mayhem–which includes none-too-devout descriptions of rape, incest, anal sex, torture and mass slaughter. This novel also stands as something of a reality check for those who pine for the days of pre-internet publishing, when the industry gate-keepers allegedly kept a lid on crappy writing. I guess those gate keepers were asleep on the job when it came to THE NURSERY! It involves Mike, a hunky ‘Nam vet who discovers his conservative Louisiana hometown has been taken over by emissaries of the Big D. Mike subsequently demonstrates his Godliness by indiscriminately massacring his oppressors, be they Satanic emissaries or brainwashed innocents. The ending, rest assured, is a happy one, although Johnstone isn’t above concluding the book with a sentence that could be a slasher movie tagline: “And where are your children this evening?”
ORGY OF THE BLOOD PARASITES By JACK YEOVIL (1994) Those of you desiring subtlety and refinement, take heed: you won’t find those things here! ORGY OF THE BLOOD PARASITES was of course the working title of David Cronenberg’s debut film SHIVERS, about parasites that turn people into sex-mad loons. That’s essentially the premise of this book, written by Britain’s Kim Newman under his Jack Yeovil pseudonym. The setting is a university campus housing an infected lab rabbit that’s inevitably loosed upon the student population. Being the canny writer he is, Newman/Yeovil is careful to layer his horrors: it takes until around the halfway point, when a guy gets his torn-off genitals jammed down his throat, for the craziness to really kick in. Much of the remainder of the novel is a joyride of surreal transformations, perverted sex and rampant brutality. This is a tale of extremes, obviously, that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve–in addition to Cronenberg, those influences include the John Carpenter’s THE THING and THE EVIL DEAD, whereas the final chapters read like a Troma movie in ink.
INVASION OF THE MUTANOIDS By STEPHEN ROMANO (1997) The first novel by Stephen Romano, and easily the most over-the-top alien invasion splatter-thon I’ve ever encountered. That Romano had a talent for visceral prose is evident throughout, even if that talent was just as evidently in its embryonic stages. The insanely complex (and only semi-coherent) plot involves an invasion by shape-shifting extraterrestrial “mutanoids” and a trigger-happy escaped con named Ozzy, who’s transformed by a rival alien force into a partial cyborg and sent to an alternate universe Earth to halt the mutanoid invasion. That, keep in mind, is a highly abbreviated summary of a frequently confusing and top-heavy narrative. Storytelling clearly wasn’t among the young Stephen Romano’s strong points, although he excelled in kinetic descriptions of flesh ripping, mutation and cybernetic surrealism, which are all-but continuous–and also a bit monotonous in their unvarying top-of-the-voice tone. The book, it must be said, is beautifully designed, and contains a wealth of nifty black-and-white illustrations by James Keating that nicely compliment a book that is, like every other entry herein, completely and irrefutably nutzoid.