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.
The Devils of D-Day by Graham Masterton
ARMY OF EVIL…
At the bridge of Le Vey in July 1944, thirteen black tanks smashed through the German lines in an unstoppable, all-destroying fury ride. Leaving hundreds of Hitler’s soldiers horribly dead.
Thirty-five years later, Dan McCook visited that area of Normandy on an investigation of the battle site. There he found a rusting tank by the roadside that was perfectly sealed, upon its turret a protective crucifix. Sceptical, he dared open it, releasing upon himself and the innocents who had helped him an unimaginable horror that led back to that black day in 1944. And re-opened the ages-old physical battle between the world and Evil Incarnate…
From today’s master of the occult thriller, here is a riveting, mega-chill novel of modern-day demonism. THE DEVILS OF D-DAY IS ABOUT A NEW SATANIC KIND OF WAR.
Title: The Devils of D-Day | Author: Graham Masterton | Publisher: Sphere | Pub. Year: 1978 | Pages: 180 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 4 out of 5 | Source: Self-purchased
Britain in the 1970s was still obsessed with the Second World War. In some ways that might seem surprising, as the 70s doesn’t feel that long ago to me, but it’s worth remembering that 1978 is a fair bit closer to 1945 than it is 2019. As a kid I had teachers who fought in the war, and representations of it and its aftereffects proliferated in British popular culture at the time. Even something as modern feeling as ‘The Rats’ is set in a London still scarred by bomb sites.
‘The Devils of D-Day’ is the first book at I’ve looked at for Carry on Screaming that tackles the war head on. Later in the month I’ll be reviewing James Herbert’s ‘The Spear’ which adopts the ‘the Nazis used occult forces’ trope. Graham Masterton’s book takes a slightly different approach – this time it’s the Allies who are summoning demons.
The book has a contemporary setting – Normandy in the 1970s. Its hero is Dan McCook, an American cartographer who is in France to map D-Day battlefields for a book. He discovers the abandoned wreck of an American tank, sealed up and with a metal crucifix welded to it. Through conversations with the locals he learns that it was one of 13 such tanks used in the D-Day landings by the allies, each driven by a demon imprisoned inside it. The demon in this tank is, of course, still there, and it whispers to Dan from its prison, begging him to free it.
What follows is a creepy tale of the occult that is more akin to the demonic possession sub-genre that was so popular in the 1970s, than the war novel the cover promises. The demon is genuinely unsettling, and the violence is imaginatively horrific. We see characters vomit maggots, an old woman skewered by every blade in her house, and more. As in Blatty’s ‘The Exorcist’, the language the monster uses is often as disturbing as the physical atrocities it commits. Masterton gives it a convincingly persuasive personality. It’s charming one minute and obscenely threatening the next.
The concept of the military using demons might seem silly, but by focussing on the present day rather than the historical events, Masterton makes it work. He also weaves in some effective commentary about how normal rules sometimes go out the window in times of war. Parallels are drawn between the evil that has been unleashed and the atomic bomb, the result being a horror novel that is a little more thoughtful than many.
It’s an enjoyable book. Ingeniously nasty, gripping and satisfying. McCook is a believable hero, but the demon is the star of the show – memorably evil and decidedly chilling.
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: 4 out of 5
Cover: 2 out of 5 – I’m not a huge fan of the cover of my edition, which looks more like an album cover for an also ran heavy metal band than anything else.
Nastiness: 4 out of 5 – Whilst it doesn’t have the volume of atrocities of some of the other books I’ve reviewed, the moments of horror it does have are very effective.
Sauciness: 2 out of 5 – There’s a bit of romance between McCook and a French farm girl, but it’s pretty tame.
Cover promise vs delivery: 1 out of 5 – The cover suggests tank battles with huge demons. There are none.
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 13/25
What else happened in 1978?
1978 wasn’t a massively eventful year in the UK, although it did pave the way for the election of Margaret Thatcher. The Labour government were falling out of favour unemployment and inflation were both high – the latter running at a now unimaginable 8.3%.
The Yorkshire Ripper killings continued and in September the body of murdered paperboy Carl Bridgewater was found. I remember clearly that case being on the news, my first real exposure as a kid to the idea that children could be murdered.
’78 was a great year for horror movies, with ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Halloween’, ‘Piranha’ and ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ all released, along with curios like ‘Blue Sunshine’ and ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’. It was also the year that the British movie ‘The Medusa Touch’, starring Richard Burton, came out. This is the first horror movie I remember seeing on TV (it’s pretty tame!). Other UK horrors from the year were ‘The Legacy’ and ‘The Uncanny’.
In literature, King’s ‘Night Shift’ was published as well as the excellent ‘Falling Angel’ by William Hjortsberg (later filmed as ‘Angel Heart’. Aside from ‘The Spear’ and ‘The Devils of D-Day’, a long awaited novelisation of the movie ‘The Wicker Man’ came out.
This month you get 3 (THREE!) Carry on Screaming posts. Next week tune in for my thoughts on ‘The Spear’