Monday 2 May 2022

Old School Horror 9: Tendrils, by Simon Ian Childer

The ninth, 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.

This time around, I'm looking at a novel that relishes being 'sick'...
cover scan of my copy - published in 1986 by Grafton Books


It started when a Hertfordshire drilling team struck something funny underground - a space where there should not have been a space.  'Hairs' where there should have been rock.

Then, suddenly, people were dying - eaten away by mysterious acid which gushed out of the ground.

But that wasn't the end of it.  Soon dozens of people were being killed.  Their insides were being dissolved, digested and sucked out until only the skin remained.

From across the boundless wastes of space - millions of years ago, the primitive black TENDRILS had made their way to Earth.  Now they were awake and looking for food - looking for meat to digest.  For the human race, it was to be a close encounter of a truly horrifying kind...

When a drilling company accidentally strikes an alien creature buried deep within the earth it responds by spewing acidic gunk that kills drillers and site protestors alike.  Nobody knows what the thing is and when it moves away, ever closer to London, it leaves a trail of destruction in its wake, reducing people and animals to brittle husks.  The only person who understands the gravity of the situation is a professor who lost his wife to the creature and, teaming up with a young reporter, he tries to stop more death.

Written by John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle (the SIC pseudonym is an in-joke, Brosnan also wrote as Harry Adam Knight - HAK), this slice of Brit horror from 1986 is an almost perfect example of paperback horror from that era.  Told with wit and pace, this has a lot of echoes with 50s horror pulp (you can almost imagine Hammer having a field day with it), with plenty of sex and gore thrown in. 

Using London and the Home Counties as key locations really grounds it and the little vignettes of the victims amp up the suspense and terror but, really, it’s the mayhem that makes this.  Gory, gruesome, funny and occasionally unpleasant (Robin the reporter has something very nasty happen), this races to a thunderous climax and then tops it off with a wonderfully downbeat ending.  

If you like 80s paperback horror, as I do, you’ll likely love it.  If you don’t then, well, I feel sorry for you.

* * *
John Raymond Brosnan was born in Perth, Western Australia on 7th October 1947.  He moved to Sydney in the late 60s and became active in local SF fandom, then traveled with fellow fans to London in 1970, where he settled.  Remaining active in fandom, he began writing non-fiction on SF, fantasy and horror films, most notably in Science Fiction Monthly and Starburst (where I first became aware of him - I wrote about the magazine here and here).  He was also a novelist and wrote science fiction and fantasy under his own name, before branching out into horror (and comics, with 2000AD), utilising several pseudonyms on the way.

* As Harry Adam Knight he wrote Carnosaur (1984) on his own and Slimer (1983), The Fungus (1985), Death Spore (1990) and Bedlam (1992) in collaboration with Leroy Kettle.
* As James Blackstone (in collaboration with John Baxter), he wrote Torched (1986).
* As Simon Ian Childer, he wrote Tendrils (1986) and Worm (1987, with Leroy Kettle).  Worm was published in the US as by Harry Adam Knight.

I haven’t read his sci-fi work, but his horror books fit the times perfectly and their streak of dark humour is reflected in the pseudonyms he chose, with Childer (SIC) and Knight (HAK) reflecting the material.  The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction described Brosnan’s horror work as the “written equivalents of exploitation movies…slightly self-mocking but quite exciting as SF horror.”  In his wonderful piece Torching John BrosnanDavid Langford mentions amusingly that Harry Adam Knight “was praised as "The New Stephen King" in a Starburst movie column whose authorship I shall not reveal)”.

Also a respected film writer and critic, Brosnan wrote James Bond in the Cinema (1972), Movie Magic: The Story of Special Effects in the Cinema (1974), The Horror People (1976), Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction (1978, with a foreword by Harry Harrison), James Bond: For Your 007 Eyes Only (1981, with Tony Crawley - himself a Starburst writer too), The Dirty Movie Book (1988, with Leroy Kettle), The Primal Screen: A History of Science Fiction Film (1991), Hollywood Babble On (1998), Lights, Camera, Magic! (1998), Scream: The Unofficial Guide To The Scream Trilogy (2000) and The Hannibal Lecter Story (2001)

He also wrote most of the film entries for The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979), edited by Peter Nicholls and John Clute.

Some of his books were filmed, the first being Carnosaur in 1993, from Roger Corman’s Concord Pictures.  Beyond Bedlam (also known as Nightscare) was made in 1994 by Vadim Jean and based on Bedlam (notable only, apparently, for being Liz Hurley’s first starring role).  Proteus (1995) was based on Slimer and directed by make-up effects genius Bob Keen but its disappointing box office meant a sequel - which Brosnan wrote the screenplay for - was never produced.

Sadly, Brosnan battled both depression and alcohol abuse for many years.  He died of acute pancreatitis and his death was reported on 11th April 2005 (after friends became alarmed at his absence over Easter), though it might have been several days earlier.

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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