Creepers by Robert CraigBy Robert Craig (Signet; 1982)

This fitfully trashy paperback original is viewed by many as a forerunner of the splatterpunk movement. Its gritty urban setting certainly sets it apart from most early-1980s horror fiction (and makes it something of a companion-piece to John Shirley’s CELLARS, which appeared the same year), although in truth CREEPERS isn’t nearly as subversive as its reputation suggests. Most of the book’s famed splatter, in fact, is confined to the final 30 pages.

As for the rest of the book, it’s surprisingly dull. Resolutely slow moving and talk heavy, the story focuses on the efforts of New York City transit policeman Frank Corelli to alert his superiors to the suspicion that subhuman “Creepers” are loose underground, preying on innocent subway patrons. This idea is given credence by the testimony of Louise Hill, whose young daughter, it seems, was abducted by the Creepers. Frank and Louise team up and (of course) briefly halt their respective quests for some sappy romance. There’s also Willie, a gangbanger who becomes another of Frank’s allies in his crusade to convince the authorities that monsters are loose in the subways, a suspicion the higher-ups steadfastly refuse to entertain.

It isn’t until a subway full of civilians are massacred that action is taken against the Creepers. Said action takes the form of a mass slaughter that occurs, unfortunately enough, just as Frank, Louise and Willy descend into the sewers to take on the Creepers themselves. Another unfortunate effect of the slaughter is that the surviving Creeper population is forced upward to prey upon the aboveground citizens of NYC–a situation rendered all the more perilous by the fact that the Creepers are infected with an extremely contagious form of rabies…

There are some good ideas here, but CREEPERS is definitely a should-have-been-better novel. The writing is street-smart but never as much as it could have been (although its portrayal of early-eighties NYC is not without a definite rancid nostalgia), while the Creepers’ climactic rampage is lessened by the extremely rushed and perfunctory prose of the final pages.