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.
From his first terrifying, bloody encounter with them Matt Parker knew they were lethal to the human race. Out of the murky sewers they suddenly attacked —snapping, biting, ripping at his flesh. After the first sensationalism had died down, the newspapers lost interest … the experts dismissed them as no more dangerous than ferrets … people started to forget.
But Matt knew different. All the time they were growing in size and numbers — and they preyed on living flesh!
For when they returned — slithering out of village ponds, swimming pools, even bath pipes — the fate of the British population was sealed.
And there was no more horrifying way to die…
Title: Slither | Author: John Halkin | Publisher: Hamlyn | Pub. Year: 1980 | Pages: 215 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 3 out of 5 | Source: Self-purchased
After the disappointment of the retro jungle adventure ‘The Ants’ last month, I’m pleased to say that August’s Carry on Screaming entry is a straight up rip off of ‘The Rats’ and therefore much more satisfying. ‘Slither’ replaces Herbert’s rodents with giant, carnivorous, aquatic worms, but aside from that there are a lot of similarities to the 1974 shocker. After last time’s giant ant confusion, I should point out that when I say giant I don’t mean ‘Dune’ or ‘Tremors’ style nasties. The worms in ‘Slither’ range from finger-sized to three feet long, but no matter what size they are they all have teeth. And eyes, which John Halkin goes on about A LOT for some reason.
Like ‘The Rats’ the book feels very contemporary. There is lots of talk of unions disrupting things, along with groups protesting against explicit content on TV – 1980 being a time when the activities of Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers and Listeners Association were at their height. There is also mention of a royal wedding, which is a bit odd as the book came out in 1980 and Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer didn’t marry until 1981.
Far more important than any of that, of course, is that the book features lots of people getting attacked by worms. In fact, the first sentence is someone getting attacked by worms. No build up, no preamble, just straight in there with the flesh eating creatures. Halkin never quite matches Herbert’s levels of creative nastiness, and in fact many of the victims just lose a finger or two rather than dying, but there are still some memorable scenes. A swimming pool full of naked party goers getting chomped, a woman is devoured by worms pouring out of the taps of her bath. In fact, in ‘Slither’ you can pretty much guarantee that if someone takes their clothes off they’ll end up as worm food.
Halkin’s hero through all of this is a TV cameraman, Matt Parker. He’s the guy who gets attacked right at the start, giving him a reason to hate the wriggly bastards. Parker believes in the threat of the worms even when no-one else does, and fights them to the bitter end. He’s similar to one of Herbert’s heroes in his straightforward determination, although the book does take a weird detour into fashion-design when he sets up a company making belts and other accessories from the iridescent skins of the monster.
All in all, ‘Slither’ is a pretty solid entry in the low rent British horror canon. It’s never as good as Herbert, but it’s often a lot of fun and I powered my way through it in a day.
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: 5 out of 5 – It’s not my favourite Halkin cover (that’s the booby one for ‘Slime’ which I’ll be sharing in a few months), but it is pretty bloody great.
Nastiness: 3 out of 5 – Some decent scenes, but it never really gets going.
Sauciness: 4 out of 5 – Lots of sex, often as a prelude to death, as is only right and proper in a cheap horror novel.
Cover promise vs delivery: 4 out of 5 – For me the cover outdoes the book, but they’re still a pretty close match.
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 19/25
What else happened in 1980?
1980 feels like a bit of a watershed news year for me, personally, as it includes many things that I remember being aware of. I turned 7 that year, and clearly was starting to tune into the world around me a little more.
Key events from a UK perspective were: the murder of John Lennon, the first demonstrations by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at Greenham Common (an RAF base where American cruise missiles were stored, and the siege of the Iranian embassy in London which ended with the SAS storming the building.
It was a weak year for British horror cinema, but did see the release of both ‘The Shining’, ‘Maniac’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ from the USA, as well as ‘Alligator’ which is a favourite of mine Meanwhile, the Italian horror boom was in full swing, with the release of ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, ‘City of the Living Dead’, ‘City of the Walking Dead’, ‘Hell of the Living Dead’ and even ‘Erotic Nights of the Living Dead.’
In literature, James Herbert released ‘The Dark’ and there were new books from Stephen King (‘Firestarter’), Peter Straub and Dean Koontz. Richard Laymon also made his debut with ‘The Cellar’.
Our second book from the 1980s will be Glenn Chandler’s tale of cannibals, ‘The Tribe’, from 1981.