Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and fellow horror lovers, to the final Carry on Screaming post. If this is your first visit, where have you been?! I’ve been reviewing vintage British horror novels, starting in 1973 and finishing with this one in 2000. You can read previous posts in the series by clicking on the ‘Carry on Screaming‘ category.
Amongst towering mountains of trash in the backstreets of Lima, three young boys are trying to raise an ancient demon. They don’t think their incantation has worked; but that night a teenage drugrunner is gunned down across their makeshift altar. As his killers walk away, his body stirs. Not because it still contains a spark of life. But because something is stirring beneath it…
Port Callao. The MV Lysicrates, a three-quarter-mile long supertanker, is being loaded with hundreds of tonnes of trash. Watching from the bridge, in a bleary state of hungover gloom, is second-in-command Matthew Cotton; more interesting is the arrival of a young American student who has missed the boat she should have been on.
They should have paid more attention to the trash.
Title: The Ancient | Author: Muriel Gray | Publisher: HarperCollins | Pub. Year: 2000 | Pages: 207 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: Self-purchased | Starred Review: Yes
The author of ‘The Ancient’ Muriel Gray was a journalist and broadcaster before she was a horror author. Back in the 1980s (long before the publication of her first novel, ‘The Trickster’ in 1994), I thought she was the absolute coolest. She first came to prominence as a presenter on the Uber-trendy TV music show ‘The Tube’, which ended up getting taken off the air after Gray’s fellow host Jools Holland dropped the f-bomb on live TV in the middle of the afternoon. My favourite Gray programme was ‘The Media Show’, which I watched religiously in my teens. Author and film critic Anne Billson, whose 1993 novel ‘Suckers’ I reviewed here, also appeared on it.
‘The Ancient’ was Gray’s third and last (for now, at least) novel and garnered a favourable blurb from Stephen King (although, let’s be honest, that’s never been hard). It falls squarely into one my favourite sub-genres: Monster in a confined space. This time the monster is an Ancient Incan deity and the confined space is a cargo ship.
The story is populated with a great cast: a kickass heroine who wouldn’t be out of place in a James Cameron movie, a drunk sea captain in need of redemption, and a cowardly, scheming human villain who causes almost as many problems as the monster. Along the way are some great scary scenes, a tonne of gore, enough action to keep things satisfying, and a smattering of humour.
Gray also throws in just the right mount of technical detail about life on a cargo ship (enough that you feel like you’ve learned something but not so much it gets boring). All of the above makes for a really entertaining horror novel. It’s not distinctively British, like some of the books I’ve reviewed for Carry on Screaming, but it is a great read, with a B-movie vibe that’s infectious. It certainly makes me keen to read Gray’s other two novels (I had a paperback copy of her first ‘The Trickster’ for years but never quite got to it).
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 – Certainly not a CoS classic, it’s a tad dull.
Nastiness: 3 out of 5 – It’s all quite good natured and fun, but the blood definitely flow freely and the gore is great.
Sauciness: 3 out of 5 – A little bit of raunch, but no more than that.
Cover promise vs delivery: 3 out of 5 – The cover has a big boat…
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 15/25
What else happened in 2000?
The year 2000 was nothing like I imagined it would be when I read the comic ‘2000 AD’ as a child and teenager. It was, in fact, a pretty dull year. The Queen Mother celebrated her 100th birthday, serial killer Harold Shipman was jailed, and it was the wettest year in the UK since records began. Ken Livingston became the first elected mayor of London and gangster Reggie Kray died of cancer. The year also saw the launch of the first tram service in the UK since the 1950s and the opening of the Tate Modern museum and the Millennium Bridge. The bridge was closed again a few weeks after opening because it swayed too much. My wife and I were lucky enough to go on it before the closure and I can confirm it was more like a fairground attraction than a conventional bridge.
2000 saw more big budget, but forgettable movies churned out by Hollywood – ‘Final Destination’, ‘The Hollow Man’, ‘What Lies Beneath’, ‘The Cell’. More interesting, to me at least, were some of the low budget and international releases. Jan Svankmajer’s weird animation got an outing in ‘Little Otik’, ‘Battle Royale’ introduced a wider western audience to Japanese ultra-violence and ‘Ginger Snaps’ provided an interesting new take on lycanthropes.
Fittingly, as this is the last ‘Carry on Screaming’ review, it was another really bad year for horror fiction. ‘The House of Leaves’ by Mark Z Danielewski came out, and that’s about as noteworthy as things get. This gives me renewed confidence that I’ve chosen the right point to stop.
That’s all, folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed this rambling voyage through 3 decades of British horror. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading and reviewing the books.