Ginger Nuts of Horror
I seem to have stumbled into a tradition here - around this time last year, I read and subsequently reviewed Mr. Millard’s rather good ‘Vinyl Destination’. Here we are, one year later, and ‘Larry’ has finally made it to the top of my TBR pile, after I picked up the paperback at Edge Lit.
Bloody hell, that was fun.
I think most of all, what I’d forgotten is just how ludicrously readable Millard is. His prose just zings, that’s all - conversational, broad, and bloody funny. I found myself tearing through the pages at an incredible rate. And he is funny - often giggle-out-loud funny, and occasionally put-the-book-down-for-a-second-until-I’m-breathing-properly-again funny. The tone and style is conversational - not a million miles away from the sly editorialising of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, actually - yet also infused with a genre awareness. It’s clear that Millard loves horror, knows it inside out - and is also aware of its flaws and absurdities. With ‘Larry’, we have what amounts to a damn near surgical dissection of the inherent flaws of the slasher movie. With jokes. Many, many jokes.
And I just adored it. Millard does occasionally break character and talk directly to the audience (though rarely, and somehow without annoying me, even though that’s normally a ‘fling-the-book-across-the-room’ offence for me) but for the most part here the commentary is provided within the story itself, either from the characters or by their circumstances. There are, of course, lots of in-jokes - the names of the unlucky teenagers holidaying at ‘Diamond Creek’ campsite will raise smiles of recognition for any child of 80’s horror - but the book does not rely on these, and indeed I think this book would be accessible and amusing to anyone with even the most passing of familiarity with slasher movies.
Don’t get me wrong - there’s plenty of big, broad humor here, and it’s about as far from pretentious as it’s possible to be. But I also think this book is actually a fair bit smarter than the surface may suggest. It’s certainly funny on a number of levels, fantastically paced, and left me in a far better mood than I had been when I picked it up.
I don’t think you can fairly ask for more than that, to be honest. Lovely work.
Between 1975 and 1978, Larry 'Pigface' Travers terrorised Camp Diamond Creek, killing more than a hundred horny, stoned teens, hacking them to death with his axe (the machete was already taken by some hockey guy over in New Jersey), and making a general nuisance of himself. Life couldn't have been better for a psycho slasher. But in '78, after being outwitted by that year's 'final girl', Pigface found himself trapped (and a little bit on fire). Presumed dead, Larry Travers disappeared, but his legend lived on. It's 2014. Now living in the woods with his overbearing - and slightly antique - mother, Larry's old enough to play bingo and enjoy jigsaw puzzles without feeling guilty. But the urge to kill has returned, and Larry thinks he still has what it takes to be a homicidal lunatic. Pigface is back. Trouble is, he's not as young as he used to be...
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THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR FICTION REVIEWS
To some of us the 1980's feel as though they were just last week. It was a strange and exciting to be a teenager in the UK. It was a grim period of time, with strikes, riots, terrible jumpers and some terrible music. However, it was also an exciting time for horror fans as it saw the birth of home video. Those of you of a certain age will still remember the day you got your first VHS or Betamax video player, suddenly the world of film and TV was ripped open. We were no longer restricted to watching films at the cinema or waiting and waiting for them to appear on terrestrial television, and remember there was a time where we only had three TV channels. The home video market, for a time meant that we could watch basically whatever we wanted to, there was no such thing as film ratings for video cassettes. It was a glorious time to be a kid until the Video Nasties legislation came in and cut off our supply.
Dead Leaves by Andrew David Barker is a one man love letter to that period, set in 1983 in the Midlands of England it tells the story of three friends and their quest to get their hands on an illegal copy of The Evil Dead. A quest that will no matter what the outcome will have their lives changed in one way or another.
In August, 1999, scientist Richard Draven heads into the Congo Basin of Africa in search of an elusive species of monkey that reportedly has special regenerative powers. Draven gets the chance to see the healing properties first hand when he witnesses members of a tribe healing before his eyes. He, with the help of a guide, capture a monkey and Draven takes it back to the U.S. to perform his experiments. He wants to be the first to develop a regenerative serum for humans.
Fast forward six years and Draven’s research has been adapted by the government and human trials have begun on U.S. soldiers. The intent was to create better, faster and stronger soldiers, but things go horribly wrong. The soldiers who have undergone the serum injections are becoming more and more aggressive and as time passes, the modified soldiers begin banding together. Small armies of enhanced soldiers take up positions all over the world. Led by their leader, Joshua, the first solder to undergo the injections, the group begins trying to rid itself of humanity that Joshua says is greedy and dishonest. His perfect world is one filled with enhanced humans and he knows if anyone can make that dream a reality, it’s him and his soldiers. There seems to be no stopping the Project Apex soldiers. Their plan of world extermination quickly takes shape and the world starts falling apart.
Wild Things, is the first anthology from Black Shuck Books, edited by BSB's owner, Steve Shaw - who also provides the intro (and I think this is also Steve's first gig as editor, though I'm sure he'll correct me otherwise). The theme of the anthology is shapeshifters, various and varied stories of humans changing into some kind of animal, and as it's a slim volume - only thirteen stories housed within a lovely cover and solid book design - I'm going to give a rundown of each one.
In life as well as fiction there are no absolutes, there is no black and white, yes or no, and when it comes to war there isn’t even any real heroes or villains, all you have, are the differing viewpoints of those fighting the war, with each side adamant that they are righteous and the good guys. It all comes down to whose viewpoint is correct. War like life is just a shade of grey.
It’s one of the many themes that Simon Bestwick’s excellent return to novel writing explores. Hell’s Ditch is a brutal and unrelenting post-apocalyptic dystopian adventure novel that manages to entertain and enlighten in equal measures.
The United Kingdom is in ruins, in the aftermath of a nuclear war the country is in devastated. Those who survived face a hard life, food is scarce, shelter is at best barren and dirty, and their every move is being scrutinized and policed by a fascist military power and their shock Troops The Reapers. Fighting the good fight is an underground resistance movement, but they are ragged, battle-weary and deeply undermanned and under equipped.
However when a fabled warrior “returns from the dead” their hopes at victory are raised is the tide turning for the resistance or will Helen Damnation ( you have got to love that name) lead them to her namesake or will she lead them to redemption?
I picked up this book at Edge Lit in July of this year, but due to a TBR pile that is beginning to exert its own gravitational pull, I didn’t get around to reading it until recently, and indeed was about halfway through the novel when it won the Best Horror Novel award at The British Fantasy Society's annual awards do in October.
So I guess the crude question is, does the novel live up to the hype? And the crude answer is, fuck yes, it does.
For starters, this is a horror novel that explores some of the darkest themes of the human condition. Though it is strongly and unapologetically supernatural, the roots run deep into recognisable real-world horrors - poverty, precarious employment, the de facto loss of basic legal resources such circumstances put you under, and the all-too-real life monsters that predate on such vulnerability.
Stephanie Booth is an achingly realised character - her situation frighteningly plausible. Nevill manages to avoid the horror cliches of either the hopelessly naive and clueless victim or the archetypal Last Girl, full of piss and vinegar. Steph is smart and resourceful, but also afraid and penned in by circumstances. As her situation in the house deteriorates, I found myself increasingly frantic with anxiety for her, but never once did I feel she was acting implausibly or passively.
Having read almost 80 books so far this year, coming up with a top 5 list is – well – difficult at best. I’m constantly discovering new authors and checking out the latest releases from my favourites. After careful consideration and a lot of backspacing whilst putting this list together, here are my top 5 horror reads of 2015.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: I know Duncan Ralston. We became acquainted via Facebook, and he ended up beta reading my debut novel. The reason I asked him to do this is because I read his short story collection Gristle and Bone and was mightily impressed with his abilities as a writer. So, yes, I consider him a friend, but to be clear, I’m also a fan. Also, my standard reviewing policy applies, in that I only review books I a) finish and b) enjoy, regardless of who wrote it.
Since it is only something like five or six weeks until Christmas it seemed only right to start our round up of the novels, short stories, anthologies, novellas and basically everything else that we felt really stood out this year. These lists will hopefully give you some ideas for presents for your loved ones, or even just for yourself.
I'm going to cheat and rather than having a best of list for each category I'm just going to list what I thought were the highlights over the whole horror genre this year. A s always if anything takes your fancy please consider purchasing the items through the associated links as doing so helps to keep Ginger Nuts of Horror afloat, as all income that is generated is put back into the site via advertising and promos which helps to bring the reviews of your favourite horror makers to an even wider audience.
Last year Adam Nevill chilled us to the bone with one of the most claustrophobic horror novels of the recent times. This year Adam gave a truly chilling vision of a possible near future. Lost Girl is a masterpiece of personal horror within a world gone to hell. It is a brutal unrelenting story that will leave you feeling as bleak as the future of the world written about within its pages.
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Neil Spring, much like Adam Nevill is in my opinion an author who just gets better and better with each new publication. The Watchers is a perfect slice of X-Files type paranoia set in 1970's England with government conspiracies, Aliens, mysterious cults and isolated villages, The Watchers is an exhilarating read that brings something new and special to the table with it's unique take on the close encounters of the spooky kind.
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If you are looking for a cracking no holds barred love letter to the horror films of 1970s then you can do no better than Slaughter Beach from Ben Jones. This is a riotous mix of non stop thrills and bloody kills Slaughter Beach packs in more fun and excitement in its novella length than you could ever think possible.
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William Meikle has published many great stories this year, however after a long deliberation my pick of the year from the Meikle has to go to his novella Tormentor. A chilling ghost story that set on the Island of Skye, Meikle perfectly captures the sense of the island with a few choice passages. With the cold and bleakness of the north coat of the island perfectly mimicking the cold and bleakness of the protagonists plight. Tormentor is a prime example of how to write a truly chilling ghost story.
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I like stories with emotional depth, I prefer my horror to come from the emotions of the story's protagonists rather than from some poorly written scene of carnage and death. The Bureau of Them, Cate Gardner's beautiful tale of loss, separation and isolation is a perfect example of this, a deeply emotional story of a woman coming to terms with the death of her partner, and her frantic quest to be reunited with him, this is a power story that draws its horror from the her sense of loss and loss of control.
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Simon Kurt Unsworth's The Devil's Detective is an intriguing novel. As the title suggests it's a detective story set in Hell. Thomas Fool is one of Hell's information men, a pawn a pure bureaucratic hell, where the bodies of sinners are "born" into bodies with no sense or memory of their past lives. He must find he killer of body on the shore before all hell really does break out. Unsworth's book is a glorious mix of horror, fantasy and neo noir all set against a backdrop of a uniwue vision of hell.
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This is the story of Scott, Paul, and Mark, and the dynamics of their friendship is a thing of beauty. Their interactions with each other and the peripheral characters reads so true that you begin to wonder if this is an autobiography masquerading as fiction. They live and breath on the page, with their hopes, dreams and even their fears laid bare before us. The characters are so strong that you cannot help but be drawn to them and even be reminded of some of your own past friends.
Dead Leaves is a bittersweet coming of age story, full of emotionally charged writing that manages to present a sentimental look at a bygone age without ever becoming schmaltzy. Deeply moving and perfectly realized it cements Andrew David Barker's reputation as a top flight writer.
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Hell’s Ditch is a deeply complex novel that forces the reader to face up to many truths about the horrors of war. The grimy and dirty narrative perfectly captures the horrible nature of a resistance war of attrition. Bestwick’s descriptive passages of the ruined landscape are truly evocative the sights, smells and screams of the narrative and it’s setting will imprint in your subconscious, with images of trench warfare from World War One coming to fore with a ruined no man’s land feel to the world. It is a living and breathing landscape that serves as the perfect canvas for Bestwick to paint his wonderfully complex characters onto.
Available from Snow Books on December 1st.
Stay tuned for more entries in our round up of the year including my round up of horror films of the year Each of Ginger Nuts wonderful contributors will be providing their own list of their top reads, will there be any cross overs or will we all have a unique list?
If you happen to purchase any of these books on Amazon please scroll down to our reviews and give them a "yes" vote on the "was this review helpful" at the end of the review.
THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR REVIEWS
Age is a fairly (and bafflingly) rare subject in most works of horror. Written, cinematic or video game, they tend to primarily revolve around protagonists in states of relative youth or good health (at least, to begin with).
It's a strange thing that a genre that concerns itself primarily with dredging the unspoken dreads and disturbias of our sub-conscious fails to address or acknowledge a very genuine, overt horror that the vats majority of us are well on the way to being delivered into:
The decay of our bodies, our minds; the increasing isolation and sense of obsolescence that culture imposes on us as we become less capable of fulfilling the basic requirements of civility and humanity it proscribes. These are factors that all of us face to some greater or lesser degree, the dissolution of our sense of self as our brains physically fail perhaps one of the most pervasive and inevitable fears that besets us.