Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
Review: Hollow House by Greg Chapman
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Saturday, July 21, 2018Retro Review: Venom by John Tigges
Nita Galforth wanted nothing more than to be happy with the man she loved. But any thoughts of a peaceful future would have to wait until she could forget the insidious thing that had been done to her in the past. Her memories were cloudy, but as she slept, horrifying nightmares crowded her mind -- images of frenzied natives writhing to the music of an ancient ceremony, of a little girl stripped and tied to an altar, and of a huge king cobra, its fangs dripping with venom, poised to strike....
A few years ago, I got into a spot of bother with someone regarding my opinion of a horror anthology from the 70s, in that I found the stories cliched and a tad hockey. However, I was aware that we're talking about stories from well over thirty years ago. A tired, overdone trope may have been a novel idea back then, but having seen the same thing done to death over the years, my jaded editor eyes just wanted to get through the damn thing.
Additionally, with changes in the political and cultural climate (and these changes seem to come faster and faster these days) some older books, in particular the pulpier end of the spectrum, are creatures of their time. If one of these books were presented to a publisher now, my money would be on a very quick rejection. Obviously, back in the day, these were the books filling shelves.
For example, today's offering is Venom by John Tigges.
I do volunteer work at a residential home, and they always have a box of books near the door for a gold coin donation. I always carry some change for this box, as often you can find some quality retro horror. And with the interest spurred from Paperbacks from Hell of late, those amazingly garish cover just catch the eye something special. Look at that cover above. How could I not buy it?
Worth mentioning that I'll only feel I've 'made it' as an author when I have some fancy embossing on a cover. Even the trail of venom trickling down her cheeks is embossed! Nice touch, Leisure from the 80s.
Yes, the 80s. This was released in 1988. The year I was seven. The year my cousin and I lied in the videoshop in order to grab a copy of Killer Klowns From Outer Space ("My dad told us to come get it for him." HOW DID THAT WORK?!). While many a classic emerged from the period (which I still like to think of the heyday of horror...but rose-tinted glasses much? I was a terrified child at the time) many movies and books were cheap and cheerful romps. Venom definitely falls into this category. But it's flaws scream from the page, and again, this may be due to the period in which it was written, and the way popular novels have changed overtime. It feels unfair to drag it over the coals in 2018...but...
First up, breasts. Breasts are part of the world. They were there in the 80s, they're here now. However, there is a time and place for them to appear in a novel. Should you have a woman in your book, whether she turns into a snake or not, she has breasts. Therefore, those breasts will be in every chapter, they are, after all, attached. What we don't need is a reference to those breasts at least once in every chapter. The character has a shower, and she examines her breasts. She lies down, and notices how her breasts moved. Nipples stiffen at every available opportunity. I never thought I'd get sick of breasts, but it eventually happened. Breasts.
Next up. Indian characters being described as greasy. Again, like the breasts, this happens quite a bit. Every time a character shakes hands with an Indian, they go to wipe their hand on their clothing, expecting it to come away greasy/slimy. This jumped out at me as a bit...odd. Wouldn't float nowadays!
A few mad coincidences abound too. Such as an expert and former member of the snake cult that worships this particular snake spirit showing up just as snake-woman shenanigans begin. Every male character seems to be an expert in everything. People showing up just in the nick of time.
I'm dwelling on the negatives too much, so let's swing it around. The antagonist is a ruddy big king cobra. How many times have a wittered on about needing a strong villain? Well this has a ruddy big king cobra, and that works. So simple, yet so threatening. We don't need motivation, or deep psychological trauma, etc. Just a ruddy big king cobra sneaking about and biting people. The author clearly had a hoot writing the snake chapters, with a particular stand out scene of a Mexican stand off between man and snake. Plus cobras standing upright with that hood, looking you in the eye, a single bite enough to finish you... Yeah, I enjoyed the snakes scenes.
There's also the requisite background snake knowledge throughout the book, as the partner of snake-woman is a biologist, whose expertise is...snakes...king cobras to be exact. Am I going to have to go back and add this to happy coincidence paragraph? Anyway, fun facts of cobras are sprinkled throughout and never get too much or dump enough info to retract from the plot.
Have to mention the ending. It was mounting nicely, yet I had that awful feeling, knowing that the book ended on the next page. Was this going to be a JAWS ending scenario? Even worse, was this going to be a Koontz ending scenario?
Yes. Yes it was. I also think it was pinched from American Werewolf in London. That's right. I don't shy away from controversial opinion.
So should you buy this? Yes, I think you should actually. I don't think you can get this digitally, only 2nd hand paperback. Which is excellent! Kindle screens would never do this cover justice. Run your fingers over the embossed title, the sexy braille of 80s horror.
It's a wonderful example of 80s pulp horror, warts and all, and deserves to be read in its original format, with yellowed pages and a Leisure paperback order form still in the back.
I give it three breasts out of five.