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.
When Jane Sewell returns to the Braxilian jungle to help her anthropologist father in his work, it is not the happy reunion she is expecting. She doesn’t find the thriving village she remembers. Just a pile of bones. Human bones. Picked clean. And then the ancient steamboat Galcao chugs cheerfully into sight, carrying a ghastly cargo of grisly death. And, for Jane, the horror really begins. Somewhere, out in the seething jungle, a remorseless army is on the move. And it seems as though nothing can stop its savage, merciless drive.
Title: The Ants | Author: Peter Tremayne | Publisher: Sphere | Pub. Year: 1979 | Pages: 185 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 2 out of 5 | Source: Self-purchased
Look at that cover! The promise of giant marauding ants roaming the land like Guy N Smith’s crabs, devouring any unfortunates in their way. Sadly, my friends and fellow horror fans, the cover lies. The ants are big, but big by the standards of common or garden ants, not huge freakish monsters like those in the movie ‘Them!’. They are, in fact, about an inch long. To be fair there are a lot of them, and they do swarm over people and eat them and stuff, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
What makes this even worse is that when I was looking at books to read for 1979, I could have picked ‘Lair’, James Herbert’s sequel to ‘The Rats’, or ‘Origin of the Crabs’, the third of Guy N Smith’s Crabs books. But both those choices seemed a bit redundant, as I’ve already covered previous books in their respective series. So instead I plumped for ‘The Ants’, partly because of that giant-ant-promising-cover. I’m pretty sure I’d have had more fun with the rats or crabs.
‘The Ants’ is barely a horror novel at all, it’s much more like a jungle adventure story from the 30s. It’s set in Brazil (making it the first book I’ve done for Carry on Screaming with no UK locations) and features a Lara Croft-esque English heroine, a dashing American pilot and a supporting cast of stereotyped locals. The horror is low-key to the point of being kind of dull and even the adventure scenes aren’t that great. To be fair to Peter Tremayne though, the fault might lay partly with the cover artist. Once I realised the ants weren’t giant, I found myself rushing through the book wanting it to end so I may have missed some good bits.
Tremayne is someone I’ve never read before despite the fact that he was so prolific in the horror genre in the 70s and 80s. He published Dracula and Frankenstein related novels before starting to write more original works. Many of his books have attention grabbing exclamation marks – ‘The Morgow Rises!’, ‘Snowbeast!’, ‘Swamp!’. Having read ‘The Ants’, I can’t help wondering if the over enthusiastic punctuation is there to compensate for a lack of real talent on his part. Maybe I’m being unfair, but on the basis of ‘The Ants’ he feels like a Carry on Screaming also ran.
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 – Apart from the fact that it’s a tissue of lies, I quite like the cover.
Nastiness: 2 out of 5 – Considering it’s about ants eating people the book is pretty gore free.
Sauciness: 2 out of 5 – Aside from a lusty Brazilian wench called Consuela it’s all a bit limp.
Cover promise vs delivery: 1 out of 5 – THE ANTS ARE NOT GIANT!
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 8/25
What else happened in 1979?
News-wise 1979 feels like a bit of a repeat of previous years. More strikes (including one by the gravediggers union, although that got called off), another Yorkshire Ripper murder, and the untimely death of Sid Vicious in New York. The killers of Carl Bridgewater were brought to justice and motorcycle daredevil Eddie Kidd (the low rent UK version of Evil Kenevil jumped 80 feet.
In cinema some classics made it to the screen, including Cronenberg’s ‘The Brood’, ‘The Amityville Horror and Don Coscarelli’s low budget hit ‘Phantasm’. Also released were Abel Ferrara’s ‘Driller Killer’, Gregory Goodell’s ‘Human Experiments’ and Lucio Fulci’s ‘Zombi 2’ (known as ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ in the UK). All three were banned on video in the UK 4 years later during the Video Nasties scare. Most importantly for me personally was the release of UK/US co-production ‘Alien’. Six years later it would become the first proper horror movie I saw.
In literature, aside from ‘Lair’ and ‘Origin of the Crabs’, the most notable releases were Peter Straub’s ‘Ghost Story’ and King’s ‘The Dead Zone’.
Next month we enter a new decade. Our first book from the 1980s will be John Halkin’s take of carnivorous worms, ‘Slither’ (that cover!).