There’s a thin line between a story that’s entertaining and one that’s simply disgusting and vile. Some can walk it, some can’t. For many, it doesn’t matter. The more extreme the better. For me, it does. I’m not into a gross-out for the sake of being grossed out. I don’t like torture for the sake of torture.
Recently I saw a movie called DAZED AND CONFUSED. I grew up in those times, went to high school in the 70’s. But I really didn’t like the movie as much as people kept telling me I would. I didn’t find it as funny as something like ANIMAL HOUSE or HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE, or even WEEKEND AT BERNIES. It went overboard. I didn’t find the vandalism that cool any more (even if I was with someone once who “landscaped” a teacher’s yard with his 69 Mustang). I didn’t relate in any way to the torture and abuse of the incoming freshmen. That wasn’t part of our experience. I felt like it didn’t need to be in this movie, and wasn’t funny. Sometimes a creative work tries too hard.
I’ve been reading a lot of positive things about Carver Pike’s Diablo Snuff series, but mostly just about how much someone liked it or how sick it was. As I generally don’t like “sick,” I shied away from the series. But Carver being the generous and giving guy that he is, he featured my novel Reciprocal Evil on his YouTube show, “First Chapter Freakshow.” I figured that the absolute least I could do in return was read a couple of his books.
I am glad I did. A Foreign Evil is Book One of the Diablo Snuff series, and The Grindhouse is Book Two. I would categorize both as ‘erotic horror’ with extreme elements. But the extreme bits aren’t the focus; if they had been, I don’t think I would have enjoyed either book as much as I did. These books are about their characters. I’ve come to realize that characters are the most important thing for me in any story, not just horror. I have to care about the characters to care about the stakes. And these books do a superb job of making me care.
The first book finds its protagonist in Mexico, at a resort for a bachelor party. He’s an understated guy with depth that sets him apart from his buddies. He’s not above the good times, sex and partying, but for him, it’s not enough. So when he escapes to a little restaurant or cafe across from the casino where he is staying, it doesn’t seem odd at all. I would probably be doing the same thing.
At that cafe, he is more or less ‘picked up’ by a beautiful Latina, and their connection is immediate. The more he gets to know her, the more attracted he becomes, to the point where he can’t leave her. They can’t go to his room, because his roommate has already claimed it with a prostitute. He doesn’t have the funds to spring for another room, and they can’t go to her place because of her roommates. But she knows the perfect place: a push button. And that’s where the horror starts.
The second book begins with a spoiler for the first book, so let me skip to the main part. Tobias “T.K.” Tantrum is attending a pricey writer’s retreat at a hotel with a lot of history, the most important to him being that his idol, horror writer Melvin Morose, wrote some of his best work there and died there. But things in the hotel are not what they seem; ghosts seem to haunt the halls, and the guests are unnaturally horny and randy, for lack of a better way to put it. Tobias meets a fellow author, one who writes erotica, named Angelica, and much like the protagonist of the first book, he soon can’t imagine live without her. But his experiences seem much more frightening than the others’ experiences, including Angelica. Tobias can’t help but realize that this place is far more than just a writer’s retreat. It, and its proprietors, want something from them that they aren’t prepared to give. And he’s the only one who realizes it.
I came to care about these characters very quickly, which is the mark of an excellent book. I also became invested in the overarching story quickly: just what is Diablo Snuff? What’s the purpose? Of course, I am hooked and will have to read everything in the series. The stories are reminiscent of some of John Everson’s erotic horror novels in Carver’s use of that type of content, though a bit more graphic, and with a bit more extreme horror bits thrown in. The extreme stuff never felt gratuitous. It was necessary for the story. These are some of the better horror novels I’ve read this year, and certainly some of the most horrific. They will likely stay with me much longer than most of the other ones I’ve read, in part because I found these characters to be likable when they’re supposed to be likable. That’s a problem with a lot of horror for me; that the main characters are often as unlikable as the villains of their stories. I want someone to root for, and Carver Pike certainly gives that to his readers.
Carver Pike walked the thin line between a great story and something that achieves nothing more than shock and gross-out. And he does it with flair. It’s worth reading, even if you’re not a fan of extreme horror generally.