Ninth and Hell Street by Chas. BalunBy Chas. Balun (Chunkblow Press; 1989)

A short novel by the late gore movie critic/enthusiast Chas. Balun, who proves (as he did in his other fictional works BUTCHER’S PRIDE and DIRECTOR’S CUT) that he had a real gift for grue. NINTH & HELL STREET isn’t the goriest novel I’ve ever read, but it outdoes most splatterpunk fiction in sheer nastiness, packing an amazing amount of bloodletting into its 157 pages–which, I might add, could have easily stood to be doubled!

The subject is a band of Laguna Beach, CA based religiosos who take the torment and flagellation undergone by their lord and savior a bit too seriously. This results in a wave of bloody sacrifices that begin, appropriately enough, on Easter Sunday, and gradually spread out to engulf the surrounding communities.

That’s a pretty thin premise, but plotting clearly wasn’t Balun’s primary interest. It’s the red stuff that really matters here, lovingly enumerated in richly descriptive prose that’s downright pornographic in its fetishistic detail. Just check out of this description of an infant cranial bashing: “The head was cracked nearly in two and the crunchy grey, pink and white stuff continued to gush out, dropping to the floor in thick, moist piles.” Or this one describing a woman’s self-immolation: “Her eyes had melted and the gushing fluids ran from her cheeks only to be licked clean almost immediately by the voracious, unquenchable flames.” Or this one, which is pretty self-explanatory: “Ruined organs and loops of intestines were squeezed out from every possible orifice. What was once inside was now everywhere.”

Balun also finds some time for characterization, with the ex-hippie protagonist Alex being a surprisingly well-rounded individual (which makes sense, as the character was clearly patterned on the author). So too is his love interest Sarah, a devastated young woman whose sister is a victim of the bloodlust, and whose grief over the loss is well described and convincing. Alex and Sarah’s romance is also nicely detailed, so much so that the ultra-nihilistic conclusion actually has some genuine emotional impact.

Clearly Chas. Balun had a flair for fiction, and would doubtless have become a horror novelist to be reckoned with if only he’d nurtured that talent. Sadly, however, that wasn’t to be, with the too-short NINTH & HELL STREET, which should have been a warm-up for bigger and better things, winding up as Balun’s fictional magnum opus.