Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and fellow horror lovers, to this month’s Carry on Screaming post. Each month I’ll be reviewing a vintage British horror novels and reflecting on what was happening in both the horror genre and the news in the UK at the time. You can read previous posts in the series by clicking on the ‘Carry on Screaming‘ category.
The ruined castle in the Highlands is a blatant tourist trap, its dungeons stuffed with fake horrors. The Werewolf, the Cannibal, the Torturer, the Executioner, the Vampire … all are worked by electricity for cheap thrills. At first. But real evil has lurked for centuries beneath the vaults. Now the Laird of Benahee, Satan’s undead henchman, rises to take his revenge, using tricks to inflict ultimate horror in all its forms. And in this domain of the damned even death is not the end …
Title: Bloodshow | Author: Guy N Smith | Publisher: Arrow Books | Pub. Year: 1987 | Pages: 208 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: Self-purchased | Starred Review: Hell, no
God only knows why I keep doing this to myself. This is the third Guy N Smith book I’ve reviewed for Carry on Screaming and it’s probably the worst. The first Crabs book was bad but kind of fun, the second was less entertaining but at least had giant crabs. If you’ve ever read Smith, then you know what you’re going to get from his books. He is, at least, dependable. Dependably bad. What he isn’t is a particularly good horror writer. Or a good writer full stop.
‘Bloodshow’ is no exception. It plays very much like an episode of Scooby Doo, only with more gore and less wit and intelligence. A newly married couple, the groom a horror fan, spend their honeymoon in a remote Scottish hotel attached to a castle with a dark past. The venue is horror-themed, with grisly waxworks with dotted about it. Naturally, before too long people start dying horribly and it appears that the waxworks are responsible.
I’m not sure I could tell you the answer to the mystery of how the murders are happening. By the time it was revealed I’d lost whatever interest in the plot I might have had at the start. The setup is hokey, the characters are paper thin and the writing is weak. Obviously, the normal rules of literary criticism shouldn’t really apply to a book like this. No-one is going to pick it up expecting great literature, but there were so many other writers in the 80s who did this kind of pulp horror so much better than Smith that it’s hard to see how he managed to make a career for himself. I suspect the answer is simply endurance. He has written a lot of books (getting on for 100 if my count is correct) and the combination of the 80s horror revival and the ease of publishing in the modern world means he is still has books coming out in 2020.
To be fair to him, and to ‘Bloodshow’, the horror scenes are okay in a cheap and nasty kind of a way. The plot allows Smith to include a variety of monsters – vampire, werewolf, cannibal, torturer – and he makes the most of them, mixing up the gore as he goes along. The problem is that it never really feels like he’s enjoying himself. Compared to someone like Shaun Huston who usually seems to be either having a blast or getting some serious shit off his chest, Smith’s books too often feel like they were written to make a quick buck.
I’m adopting a slightly different rating system for my Carry on Screaming review, because, let’s face it, vintage horror novels are about more than just the quality of the actual book.
Book: 2 out of 5
Cover: 3 out of 5 – not that well executed (much like the book), bur effective in a lurid sort of a way. The scene depicted is actually in the book as well, which isn’t always the case.
Nastiness: 3 out of 5 – it may be badly written, but there is definitely gore to be found in B’loodshow’
Sauciness: 2 out of 5 – Given that this is a Guy N Smith book featuring newlyweds, there is surprisingly little sex.
Cover promise vs delivery: 4 out of 5 – A good match, the scene on the cover is in the book, and both are sleazy and not that good.
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 14/25
What else happened in 1987?
1987 featured two events in UK news that I remember very well: the Hungerford massacre and the King’s Cross fire. The former saw a gunman kill 14 people and injure 16 more in an attack in a small town. It was a random act of violence that really shook the nation and led to even tighter gun controls over here. There has, I believe, been only 1 subsequent mass shooting in the UK (in Dunblane in Scotland in 1996). By comparison there have been 55 in the USA so far this year.
The Kings Cross fire saw an inferno engulf King’s Cross underground station in London. My Dad, on his evening commute, was passing through the station as it started was reasonably lucky to make it home that night. This being in the time before mobile phones, we had a long anxious wait at home before he managed to find a payphone and let us know he was okay.
It was a good year for British horror movies, with Clive Barker’s excellent ‘Hellraiser’ coming out. Some other favourites of mine were also released, including Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Near Dark’. Dario Argento’s ‘Opera’ ,Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead 2’ and Peter Jackson’s ‘Bad Taste’. Argento aside, it seems to have been a year for great early horror movies from directors who went on to have great success with much worse films.
It was a bit of an uninspiring year for horror fiction. King, Koontz and Herbert all had books out as they surfed the waves of their own success. Disappointingly, despite the success of ‘Hellraiser’, it was the year that Barker started moving away from horror with the publication of his first fantasy novel ‘Weaveworld’.
Next up, a book from a writer we haven’t covered yet ‘Oktober’ by Stephen Gallagher.