Tuesday 1 September 2015

Old School Horrors 2: The Medusa Horror, by Drew Lamark (and more...)

The second, in an occasional thread, of blog posts celebrating those cheesy, sleazy old-school pulp paperbacks from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  Yes, we’re not talking great art here but these books have their place - for better or worse - in the genre and I think they deserve to be remembered.

Futura Publications 1983 - cover scan of my copy

A party of carefree, fun-seeking treasure hunters set off to find a sunken vessel off the Cornish coast.  Hot sun, gourmet food and - perhaps - a fortune from beneath the waves awaits them.

Moving remorselessly towards them is a ghastly swell of venemous jellyfish.  They exude aggression - and their sting is deadly.  Ensnarled in their slime is a horrible assortment of malevolent creatures intent on destruction.

The excitement of the hunt quickly turns to panic.  And the goal becomes: survival.

A party of treasure hunters set off to find a sunken vessel off the Cornish coast and, in order to keep their find a secret, tell no-one. But “moving remorselessly towards them is a ghastly swell of venomous jellyfish and enslared in their slime is a horrible assortment of malevolent creatures intent on destruction”.

Published in 1983, this is briskly told, with bare bones characterisation (the younger female characters are more defined by looks than anything else) though it does work hard, making a genuine threat of the shoal of poisonous jellyfish that might - or might not - be sentient. However, everything seems to unravel in the last act, with five characters perishing within two chapters, a completely gratuitious sex scene that just serves to put the reader off a character they’d previously supported and the climax relying on someone who opened the novel, but then disappeared for the bulk of it. Lamark (actually Andre Launay) also has a problem with his monster, in that it can’t move of its own accord and gets less scary as the tale goes on.

Having said all that, this does what it’s supposed to for the most part - it’s quick (only 206 pages), has enough characterisation to make you care and enough jolts and gore to make the reader cringe and smile. So for all its downsides (and what’s the last paragraph all about?), as an early 80s British horror exploitation paperback, it does deliver. If you like old school sleazy horror, this’ll work for you - if you don’t, forget it. For the record, I really rather enjoyed it.

The Futura cover shown above was used on the 1983 publication.  Interestingly, the woman also features in the poster for the 1981 shocker "Nightmares In A Damaged Brain".  I wonder if someone at Futura thought that nobody would notice, if they cut out and photocopied the head?

(as it happens, I bought the book because I loved the title and thought the cover looked cool and it wasn't until a couple of years later that I saw poster for the film)

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And whilst we're on the subject, here's another...
Star, 1983 - cover scan of my copy

Eighteen storeys of glass and copper gleam in the early morning light. 

Then, windows shatter and eight gnarled human forms are hurled into the air, plummeting to the London street below. 

Fear has taken a room at the Palace Plaza Hotel. Guests, bellhops, management - everyone can feel its ghastly power.... but no one can escape it... and live...... 

staying in a Hotel will never be the same again. 

“Fear has taken a suite at The Palace Plaza. What has unleased this force, so fearful, so destructive? And now it is free, how can it ever be contained?” Very much a book of thirds, this could have been a cracking novel about a haunted, newly built hotel (“a new kind of haunting” as the cover has it) and for the first part, it seems as though it will be.

Natalie Weir is 24, a dynamic PR who goes to work for the new hotel at Hyde Park Gate and things are looking good - she’s assertive, in control, independent. We then meet Donald, a failed composer and musician who whines constantly, fails to kill himself, almost gets stabbed to death by his blind fiancee and then Natalie falls for him. At this point - the second third - the book seems to shift POV and we lose Natalie for a while which is a shame, as her character is a lot better than his. The last third, where stupid scheme builds up on preposterous situation (Natalie’s intended kills himself on their wedding day, shocking her mother into a fatal heart attack and our heroine is a hairs-breadth away from shrugging her shoulders and saying “oh well”), throws everything into the mix, including some gore vignettes that are gruesome fun but out-of-keeping with the rest of the book and we then have the final reveal which, while it’s logical to the plot, just isn’t big enough to sustain the story.

I really wanted to like this but as it stands, the first third apart, it’s a wasted opportunity.

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André Joseph Launay was a novelist, essayist, screenwriter, dramatist and humourist, who was born in London (to French parents) in 1930 and died in 2013.  He wrote in English and used various pseudonyms, including André Launay, Drew Launay, Andrew Laurance and Drew Lamark.

In all, he wrote 56 books.  His fiction ranged from family drama, thrillers, horror and erotic humour, whilst his non-fiction encompassed luxury foods, antiques, history and travel.  Married twice, he had four children (his son Nick produced the INXS album “Shabooh Shoobah”) and lived in Spain where he wrote full-time.

A website is maintained by his daughter Melissa Launay, a successful artist and can be found at this link.

For a few years now, I've been collecting old 70s and 80s paperbacks (mostly horror), picking them up cheaply in secondhand bookshops and at car boot sales and slowly building a collection.  My friend (and fellow collector) Johnny Mains once told me that charity shops sometimes pulp old books like this because the market for them is so small - I understand why but I think it's terrible.  We might not be talking great art here but on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis (too much cheese isn't good for anyone's diet), I'm going to review these "old-school" horrors (and perhaps include some bonus material, if I can find it).

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