Another one of the reviews I did for the old Whispers of Wickedness website, all of which are currently archived on The Future Fire website.
As I’ve mentioned before, some of these reviews were a little bit out there, but this was the one where I finally jumped the shark (Hammerhead!). Someday I’d like to revisit this method, only with real “panellists” who have all read the book and hold differing opinions. It could be fun.
NB: I haven’t bothered to include any links, as it’s a) too time consuming and b) many of the sites referenced are now dead and/or missing, but if you want to check something out then visit The Future Fire archive where the links, if still live, are in place.
Back in October 2007 BBC2 scheduled a dedicated horror issue of their programme Newsnight Review. For reasons that have never been made public, the programme was not broadcast, but here at Whispers we have been fortunate enough to get our hands on a transcript of the panel discussion.
Peter: Good evening and welcome to the latest edition of New Fright Review. My guests tonight are feminist academic turned bestselling author Inane O’Deer; former Page 3 Girl turned bestselling author Syria; the popular social pundit now turned bestselling author Professor Aubrey Jacks and the former serial killer, cleared on a legal technicality and now turned bestselling author, Miles Mulroon. My name is Peter Tennant and I’m a writer, but as I’ve never killed anyone or got my boobies out in the national press, nobody watching this will have the faintest idea who I am. Such is the cult of celebrity in these end days.
Miles: Oy mate, just hang on a minute now…
Peter: Yes, Miles?
Miles: That would be ‘alleged’ former serial killer. Nothing was ever proved. It’s all the fault of that Thomas Harris guy. Youz ‘ave fava beans and Chianti in your fridge nowadays and everyone thinks yer ‘ave to be a frickin’ cannibal.
Peter: Sorry Miles.
Miles: Just stick to the facts, and if they can’t prove it then it ain’t a fact, capische?
Peter: Okay, well the first item on our agenda tonight is the latest book from Garry Charles, Hammerhead: A Summer of Massacre, which is the novelisation of a forthcoming film. It tells the story of four teenagers on break from university who inadvertently wander into the killing ground of a cannibal. Edward Craven lives in an isolated cottage in the woods that surround the abandoned village of Blackwood on three sides, and was known to its former inhabitants as the Hammerhead from his habit of crushing his victims’ skulls with a hammer. The book wears its cinematic influences lightly, with various tropes of the teen slasher genre occurring, such as the teens out to get killed off one by one and the final twist, while in the opening scenes it clearly references such predecessors as Forest of the Damned.
Inane, would you like to start the ball rolling?
Inane: Well there isn’t really that much of a ball to roll, is there? It’s just the usual misogynistic trash, with women being killed or abused left, right and centre, written by some macho Stephen King wannabe for the amusement of inadequate teenagers who’ll regard themselves as big and grown-up for reading something they probably think is transgressive, but really they’re just sad, immature little horror wankers. Even the ones in their fifties (looking at Peter).
Aubrey (agitated): I don’t see how you can sit there and come out with rubbish like that, Inane. Yes, there are women killed and abused in the book, but there are plenty of men suffering a similar fate. Edward Craven is an equal opportunity sadist and killer. It’s ridiculous to categorise the book as misogynistic. Have you even read it?
Inane (defensive): I read the back cover.
Aubrey (aghast): That’s incredible. How can you sit there and pass judgement on a man’s work when all you’ve done is look at the back cover?
Inane (snooty): Well if I’m at a restaurant and they serve something that’s badly undercooked, I can tell from the first mouthful. I don’t have to clean the plate. And in any case, it’s based on a teen slasher film, they tell us that, and everybody knows that teen slasher films are misogynistic trash. No self respecting woman would watch or read such nonsense.
Aubrey (smug): Now that’s where you’re quite wrong. If you’d read Carol Clover’s study of the teen slasher genre you’d know that, not only are there more men than women killed in teen slashers, their deaths on average are more protracted, the last person standing is invariably a woman and something like 54% of the audience is female.
Inane (sniffing): Carol Clover is an Auntie Tom. And besides, it was an American study, and everyone knows Americans aren’t as rigorous as they should be when it comes to scientific method.
Syria: Well I’m a woman and I thought it was a great little book. Garry Charles can ghost write for me any day. Not that I have a ghost writer or anything. Just saying, that if I did.
Inane: Don’t worry dear. Anyone who read your last book would know it wasn’t ghost written.
Syria (angry): Shut up, you old trout. You’re just jealous cause it sold three times as many copies as yours.
Inane: Yes, dear. But people actually read mine. They only looked at the pictures in yours.
Peter: Perhaps we could get back to discussing Hammerhead. You’ve touched on the violence in the book, and I think it’s fair to say that it’s not for the squeamish. What we get here is a pure schlock, with the blood poured on by the five gallon bucket full. There’s a lot of messy stuff, with graphic descriptions of violence and degradation that repel but at the same time have an almost cartoon quality to them.
Miles: Yeah, well, what were yer expecting? This isn’t a church social. It’s a book about a ruthless serial killer. Yer gotta ‘ave some wet work. Stands to reason.
Aubrey: That’s very true Miles. There was nothing gratuitous about the violence, no matter how horrific. It was all to the end of wracking up the tension and fitted perfectly with the character of the killer, his modus operandi.
Peter: Yes Miles, what did you think of the character of the serial killer, Edward Craven?
Miles (bristling): Ere now, why are yer asking me about a ruddy serial killer? Are yer inferring something? Cause if yer are I ain’t gonna have it.
Peter: No, I’m not inferring anything. I just asked you because I asked Inane first, and you’re sitting next to her.
Miles: Okay then, apology accepted. Now about yer ‘ammerhead, I reckon Garry Charles hits the nail right on the head, if you’ll excuse the pun. Nail, head, ‘ammerhead. Geddit? He’s well hard, is old Ed Craven, won’t take crap from no-one. He makes that Leatherhead and Jason Whorehouse look like patsies. But Garry Charles knows stuff, see. He don’t leave it at that, he don’t let yer ‘ammerhead be just another monster, a killing machine. He shows us how he got to be that way, how his daddy turned him while he was a young un. It’s like that Lurkin fella said, yer parents fuck you up.
Miles: Beg pardon.
Aubrey: The poet who wrote, ‘Your parents fuck you up, They don’t mean to but they do’ was Philip Larkin.
Miles: Lurkin, is what I said. Are youz extricating the Michael about the way I talk? Cuz if yer are…
Aubrey (flustered): No, no, not at all.
Peter: I have to agree with Miles about the character of Edward Craven, the Hammerhead. He’s a fierce and remorseless monster, somebody who just won’t stop coming until he’s dead, but he’s not simply a cipher, like many other horror film icons. Garry Charles gives him a personality, lets us into his mind, makes him three-dimensional, with appetites most of us can relate to, if not the way in which he expresses them. He is even, it might be argued, a sympathetic character, someone who just wants to be loved, and we can pity him for seeing this need as a weakness. And Charles also provides a convincing back story, giving us an insight into the monster’s childhood and psychology, showing how he came to be this way.
Miles (leaning in close to Aubrey): See, Peter over there, he agrees with me. He’s a man who knows what he’s talking about.
Peter: Another thing that I thought was a nice touch, was having all the characters named after Horror writers, so that we get Curt Hutson, Josh Lebbon, Judy Barker etc. Nothing important in itself, but something for Horror fans to pick up on and bring a smile to their faces.
Aubrey (preening): Now that’s where I think you’re being a little disingenuous Peter, if you’ll forgive me for saying so. Ask yourself, what happens with all these people? Well, they end up being horribly murdered by Edward Craven, the one character who is named after a film director. So it seems to me that what Garry Charles is really saying is that cinema is destroying Horror fiction. And, he’s being doubly subversive, by wrapping this nugget up in a book that is ostensibly an adaptation of a film.
Peter: Erm, afraid I don’t know how to respond to that Aubrey. I think you’re stretching things a bit.
Aubrey (shaking his head): Not at all. Not at all. In fact I did wonder if, by having all these people killed, Charles was in fact working out his personal animosity at writers he feels are somehow more successful than he is and in that scenario then he would himself be the Hammerhead.
Miles: What a load of crap. Youz academics don’t half talk some cobblers.
Peter: So Syria, what did you think of the writing?
Syria: Well yeah, I liked it. I liked it a lot, but I felt it was a bit uneven, you know.
Peter: Uneven? Could you expand on that for us?
Syria (puzzled): Expand on that? How’d you mean?
Peter: What do you mean exactly when you say the writing was uneven?
Syria: Oh, well, there were long sentences and there were short sentences, big words and little words. Uneven, see?
Inane (groaning): Oh God, somebody give me an ice pick and I’ll lobotomise myself.
Miles: Needles are better.
Miles: For a lobotomy. Needles are much better Yer just slip it in at the side of the eye and push. Yer average ice pick has too blunt a point. It’s meant for chipping as well as stabbing. Now if youz were going to cut somebody’s balls off, an ice pick…
Peter: Yes, that’s very interesting Miles. But could we just stick with Hammerhead by Garry Charles.
Miles: Yeah, okay. Keep youz hair on. I was just telling the lady a thing or two. Educating her, like.
Peter: I thought Hammerhead was a complete change of pace for Charles, after the broader scope of his Heaven’s Falling diptych. This latest book is more minimalist, a grim and gritty fight for personal survival, and I’d say that the language reflected that, with a greater attention to minutiae and descriptive material that brought to life the pure evil of this monstrous killer, nothing overly sophisticated, but fast paced and with a real narrative drive, which is just what you need for this sort of story and…
Syria: Heaven’s Falling? Did Garry Charles write those books? They were a bit of all right, were those books.
Miles: Too right. The dog’s bollocks, those books. Don’t you go calling them dippy, sunshine, or we’ll be going outside. Sandy, this hooker, sorry, lady of the night, I used to know, she said I was just like Damien, he could’ve based the character on me.
Syria (animated): Ha! What a coincidence! My boyfriend reckoned I was the spitting image of Lucy. Here, do you reckon if they make a film of the book we should try out for those roles?
Inane (sighing): More misogynistic claptrap. God’s a man, the hero is a man and Buddha is a man, but the devil is a woman. Why can’t people see through this stuff?
Aubrey: Ah yes, Heaven’s Falling. Now those books had something to cut your critical teeth on. A plot that takes in all of creation, with God and the Devil as bit players, like a horror version of Milton’s classic Paradise Lost and yet uniquely its own…
Peter: HAMMERHEAD!!! What the hell is the matter with you people? We’re supposed to be talking about Hammerhead!
Miles (to Syria): Quite a temper yer man has got on him, dontya think? And they say I’m a psycho. Ask me this guy could lose it at any moment.
Syria (pouting): I was scared. Just a little.
Miles (putting his arm round Syria’s shoulders, while staring intently at her cleavage): Now dahlin’, don’t youz worry yer pretty head about a thing. Yer Uncle Miles is here. E’ll take care of yer.
Inane (muttering to herself): Testosterone.
Aubrey: I was only trying to put Hammerhead into context with the rest of the author’s oeuvre. There’s no need to blow a gasket Peter. This discussion isn’t just about you.
Peter: Yes, well, getting back to the point, if I had one serious reservation about the book it was to do with the setting. One of the characters remarks that it’s hard to believe this is happening in the UK, that it would seem more like an American thing, and although the comment is glossed over, I share some of that incredulity. For instance, Craven at one point mentions that he stocked his larder with a party of schoolchildren. Now it’s very hard to believe that the police wouldn’t pull out all the stops in such circumstances, that people from the area familiar with the Hammerhead wouldn’t pass on information, that the predator would be able to stay below the radar.
Miles (smiling): Now that’s exactly where yer wrong, Mr Smarty-pants, Mr Think I Know Everything. Garry Charles has got it bang to rights. The fuzz couldn’t find their own arses without someone draws them a map. What would ‘appen is the media would cover it all up, or worse still they’d stitch somebody up for the crime, like wot they did with me, or me old mucker Big Ron, whoz currently residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure for a triple homicide he never dun, and never youz mind what them CCTV cameras saw and what the DNA evidence woz, coz all that stuff can be faked.
Peter: Yes, well thank you for that Miles. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about that, but we can all agree that Hammerhead by Garry Charles is a fast paced and entertaining read, one that’s worth a few hours of any Horror fan’s time.
Inane: No, we’re not all agreed. You’re ignoring me because I’m a woman. My opinion doesn’t count.
Aubrey: No Inane, we’re ignoring you because you’re an ass and haven’t read the book, so have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the discussion.
Peter: Now the next item on our agenda is the DVD release of the film Waxworks.
Syria: That’s the one with Paris in. I auditioned for that, but my agent said they gave the part to Paris cause more people wanted to see her get killed. Hard to believe. I’d have made a much better corpse.
Hammerhead: A Summer of Massacre by Garry Charles. Paperback, 128pp, £7.99. Available from various online outlets including amazon.co.uk.