by Guy N. Smith
112 pages, Black Hill Books
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
Despite us seldom having a good word to say about his work, Guy N. Smith remains the most reviewed author on Booksquawk. So what is it about his books? Why do Pat Black and I keep going back to them time and time again? Are we gluttons for punishment or is there something else going on here?
The stories are not intelligent or particularly well-written. Characters tend to be one-dimensional and often act in such an illogical manner that you find yourself wondering whether you have accidentally skipped over a couple of pages. Sure, the vast amount of cheesy sex and graphic violence in the books might well be appealing to the adolescent reader, but as a grown man in my mid-thirties, I find Smith’s depictions of sex and death to be so toe-curlingly cringeworthy that I often promise myself I won’t go back to his books. A couple of months later, I always seem to find myself back on the Kindle store looking for my next fix of bad pulp fiction.
I suppose it is the same reason why I can quite happily watch my DVDs of “Zoltan Hound of Dracula” or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” over and over again. Feet up, brain off, shovel handfuls of popcorn into my mouth and forget about the complexities of adult life for ninety minutes or so. It’s not about avoiding the responsibilities or challenges that come with being a thirty-something with a family and a professional life to juggle - it’s more like just putting these things to one side, just for a bit, whilst I goof off with an old friend from my youth. It is escapism, pure and simple.
Guy N. Smith’s third novel, “The Slime Beast”, was originally published back in 1975. Pat Black gave it a hilarious critical mauling in a review a few years ago and there is no denying that it is a truly dreadful book. It is also ridiculously good fun. Like an over-the-top B-movie, “The Slime Beast” is a short, focused blast of sex, suspense and gore. As it can be read in one sitting, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. One look at the garish cover of the paperback (with the Slime Beast looking like a low-rent Creature from the Black Lagoon) tells the potential reader exactly what to expect. Its purpose is not to inform or educate. It isn’t going to stretch the grey matter or win any literary prizes. Books like “The Slime Beast” have one purpose - to entertain our inner-adolescent.
Forty years after Smith’s intestine-munching monster shambled from the mud, the Slime Beast is back. Published by Smith’s own Black Hill Books, “Spawn of the Slime Beast” is a sequel that no-one asked to be written, but I’m strangely glad it was.
Gavin Royle is now married to Liz, the girl he so artfully seduced in the original novel. They have a daughter called Amy who, we are informed, was conceived during one of their romantic trysts in “The Slime Beast”. To celebrate Gavin’s retirement from the British Museum, the Royle family have gone on holiday to the place where Gavin and Liz fell in love (and watched helplessly as Liz’s uncle was disemboweled and devoured by a slavering creature that emerged from the wetlands). Of course, the Royle family holiday happens to occur at the same time as the offspring of the original monster begins a bloody killing spree around East Anglia.
When Gavin and the family pay a visit to the concrete blockhouse where Amy was conceived, they discover a terrible smell that makes them all vomit profusely. Gavin has encountered this noxious stench before and begins to worry that there might be another Slime Beast at large. This scene, awash in puke, manages to encapsulate the essence of reading a Guy N. Smith novel. “Gavin staggered out into the bright sunlight. Liz and Amy were bent double spewing up their breakfasts… Then Gavin threw up. Even in the midst of his vomiting he tried to find an explanation for it all.”
Gavin knows that nobody will believe him if he tries to raise the alarm too soon. In spite of his old age, the inherent danger, and his wife and daughter begging him not to get involved, Gavin sets off to gather evidence of the existence of the new creature. He is assisted by local wildfowler Brian Bromley, a character so flimsily constructed that he goes from unwilling participant to active hero over a couple of paragraphs. There is no logic to Brian’s change of heart, it simply occurs because it is expedient for moving the plot along. Once the local police have found half a dozen disemboweled corpses floating in the Wash, Gavin and Brian are given the go-ahead to hunt the creature. Bizarrely, the police are willing to offer back-up when needed, but don’t seem willing to make use of their significant man-power and superior technology to help locate the beastie. And that’s how we end up following an old man armed with a makeshift flame-thrower and a middle-aged wildfowler with a shotgun and large bore ammunition as they spend a few chapters schlepping through the mud in pursuit of the seemingly invincible monster.
The creature itself is just as revolting as its relative in the original novel. Aside from its vomit-inducing aroma and the fact that it is dripping with mucus, the numerous depictions of the Slime Beast’s messy eating-habits are enough to put anyone off taking it out for dinner to a posh restaurant. “It rasped and grunted as it ripped its victim’s stomach open, began pulling bloodied intestines from within, rasping and grunting as it stuffed them into that vile mouth, slobbering as it fed.” Lovely, eh?
It wouldn’t be a Guy N. Smith novel without a bit of how’s-your-father but this is where “The Spawn of the Slime Beast” falls short of its predecessor. We are treated to just one solitary steamy scene in the course of the novel and it is cut short by the arrival of the titular beastie. This continues a theme that I identified in Smith’s “Crabs” novels where sexual activity is generally punished soon after with bodily dismemberment. Like the curiously prudish slasher movies of the 1980s, the moment a young couple get frisky, their odds of surviving the story plummet.
Just as in many other Guy N. Smith books, the victims of the monster are generally introduced and dispatched in the space of one chapter. They couldn’t be more obvious nosh for the Slime Beast if they were served up on a plate. The problem with this is that we don’t get a chance to know them or to empathise with them. Our response to their inevitable grisly demise is a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. When we don’t care about the people in peril, the dramatic impact of the scene is non-existent. The gory description might make us wince, but we’re not actually bothered by the death of the character.
With this multitude of faults stacked against it, you would think that reading “The Spawn of the Slime Beast” was a dreadful ordeal for me. It really wasn’t. Despite it being utterly dreadful, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not enriched my life in any way, but I don’t feel the couple of hours I spent with it have been wasted. You know what you’re getting in for when you pick up a Guy N. Smith novel. The man has made a successful career churning out books like this and his continued popularity surely attests to him doing something right. So, if you’re looking for something cerebral, something with deep characterisation and a complicated plot - move along, there is nothing to see here. However, if you are looking for a goofy pulp horror with as much schlock as shock, “The Spawn of the Slime Beast” will entertain your inner-adolescent.
Hereward L.M. Proops
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