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 novel 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.
Night of the Crabs by Guy N Smith
The Welsh coast basks in summer tranquility. Then the ‘drownings’ begin. But not until the monstrous crustaceans crawl ashore, their pincers poised for destruction, does the world understand the threat it faces. A seafood cocktail for the strongest stomachs.
Title: Night of the Crabs | Author: Guy N Smith | Publisher: New English Library | Pub. Year: 1976 | Pages: 144 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 3 out of 5 | Source: Self-purchased
Night of the Crabs review
Writing books that are really awful and yet also manage readable and fun is hard. Films can pull off the “so bad it’s good” thing much more easily because they require so little effort from the audience. Watching a cheesy b-movie and you can just let the bad acting, script and direction wash over you and appreciate the bits that make it great – the sex and the violence. In ‘Night of the Crabs’, Guy N Smith proves himself to be an extremely talented writer. The book is terrible, often laughably bad, but it’s also a blast.
I had it in my head that this was Smith’s first book, but in fact he’d already published at least 3 other horror novels by the time it came out: ‘Werewolf by Moonlight’, ‘The Slime Beast’ and ‘The Sucking Pit’. Stephen King wrote that he thought the last of those was an all time pulp horror classic title. Not book, you’ll note, just title. Whereas Smith’s previous books were something of a throwback to 50s and 60s horror cinema, ‘Night of the Crabs’ seems designed to cash in on the success of Herbert’s ‘The Rats’ with its nature on the rampage theme. The first edition even advertised it as “in the tradition of The Rats”. It’s certainly not the most blatant ‘Rats’ rip off (I’ll be reviewing ‘The Cats’ in a couple of months) but the timing of its release is pretty telling, It ended up being a hit for Smith and he wrote a number of sequels.
The plot of the book is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Giant crabs attack a seaside town in Wales and a hero teams up with the authorities to defeat them. In this case the protagonist is botanist Cliff Davenport, who gets involved when his nephew and nephew’s fiancee are mysteriously killed at sea (spoiler: it’s the crabs). The story also pulls in a mysterious military base populated with sinister spy types and throws in some love interest for Cliff in the form of Pat.
Like Herbert’s books, the plot is very linear and pretty uninspired. What the book lacks that both ‘The Rats’ and ‘The Fog’ have in abundance is true horror. The violence here is tamer and less imaginative than Herbert’s. The rats kill people in a variety of gruesome ways, whereas the crabs pretty much just bite their legs off and leave blood pumping from the ragged stumps. It’s still fun to read, but it never gets close to getting under your skin like Herbert does at his best. The massing rodents were reasonably convincing as a monster, the giant crabs (whose size is never properly explained) are just silly.
Smith tries to make up for the absence of horror by throwing in more sex, but that’s fairly tame too (or at least boringly vanilla) and often unintentionally hilarious. His habit of using character’s full names doesn’t help.
Cliff felt that thrilling sensation of his zip being pulled down, her fingers groping inside the open vent and then the coolness of the night air on his warm moistness. He gasped with pleasure. Pat Benson certainly knew what she was doing!
That particular scene ends with Cliff exclaiming “we must still keep an eye open for those crabs” which is probably one of those things you’re not supposed to say during sex.
So ‘Night of the Crabs’ is badly written, not scary, not that gory, not very sexy and deeply silly. On its own terms, though, it succeeds. It’s a throwaway pulp novel that’s easy to read, doesn’t outstay its welcome and has giant crabs in it. Giant crabs. Job done.
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: 3 out of 5
Cover: 4 out of 5 – I love this cover. It lacks gore but it’s got a huge crab on it and the font is amazing.
Nastiness: 2 out of 5 – Neither horrific nor scary, there isn’t that much violence and when it does happen it’s pretty tame.
Sauciness: 3 out of 5 – A fair amount of sauce, but it’s fairly pedestrian.
Cover promise vs delivery: 3 out of 5 – The book is never quite as much fun as the cover, but it does have lots of big crabs, so there’s that.
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 15/25
What else happened in 1976?
Does anyone actually read the news bits? I’m going to keep doing them anyway…
Compared to previous years there isn’t a great deal of notable political news, although there were more IRA bombings. More interesting in 1976 was the weather, travel and entertainment news.
The year started with a natural disaster in the UK, when a hurricane in early January killed 22 people and caused millions of pounds worth of property damage. The summer of that year saw a heatwave across Britain, which is still used as a benchmark for hot weather. This caused the worst drought in the UK since the 1720s.
In January the first commercial flight of Concorde, the Anglo-French supersonic passenger plane took place. In October, British Rail introduced the Intercity 125 high speed rail service, As a kid both of those seemed impossibly sleek and futuristic modes of transport. Neither are still in service, and neither has been replaced with anything better or that continues that 70s hubris.
In entertainment news Sid James, the comedy actor who starred in many of the ‘Carry On’ films (although funnily enough not ‘Carry on Screaming) died while performing on stage. Britain also won the Eurovision Song Contest for the 3rd time (something that now feels like an impossible dream) with Brotherhood of Man’s ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ (for non-UK/EU readers, this is a yearly musical competition known for its cheesiness).
More important than any of that, though, is the fact that this was the year that punk hit. The Damned released ‘New Rose’ in October, while the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ came out the following month. December saw the Pistols’ notoriously sweary TV appearance. As someone who came to love punk as a teenager it was an important year for me, even if I was only 3 at the time.
It was a pretty good year for horror cinema too, with ‘The Omen’, and ‘Carrie’ coming from Hollywood, as well as some noteworthy lower budget releases like ‘Bloodsucking Freaks’, and Roman Polanski’s ‘The Tenant’.
Literature didn’t fare quite so well. Stephen King didn’t have a book out at all (!), but James Herbert released ‘The Survivor and John Farris’s ‘The Fury’ came out. The year also saw the release of ‘Interview with the Vampire’, which I’m not a fan of, but which is undeniably an important work in the genre.
And Ramsey Campbell published his debut, but more on that soon…
Next time on Carry on Screaming – a bonus 1976 post! ‘The Doll Who Ate His Mother’ by Ramsey Campbell, coming in 2 weeks!
Olly joined the team in August 2018. He is our first non-American team member, and lives in the UK. He is the head of our UK team. Olly reviews both science fiction and horror books and movies for the site. He also enjoys writing articles when time allows.