After their yacht sinks, a group of drug smugglers find safety aboard a seemingly abandoned oil rig in Harry Adam Knight's Slimer. But since this is a horror novel, you know damn well there's nothing safe about an oil rig left derelict in the middle of the North Sea, shrouded in fog and pounded by storm-churned waves. One look at M.S. Corley's gorgeous new cover for this Valancourt edition of a lost 1983 classic should help further solidify that assumption.
Valancourt, a heroic small-press publisher responsible for rescuing forgotten horror stories from the dustbins of publishing history, have outdone themselves with a pair of Knight novels to kick off October. This and The Fungus arrive just in time to satisfy Halloween reading splurges (along with a re-issue of James R. Montague's Worms), and I'm finding myself in a bit of eco-horror heaven.
Knight, a pseudonymous nom de guerre for UK authors John Brosnan and Roy Kettle, have crafted an energetic thriller rooted in scary science and influenced by horror classics like The Blob and John W. Campbells' Who Goes There (the basis for the 1951 film, The Thing from Another World, and John Carpenter's immortal 1982 classic, The Thing). Searching for the secret of immortality, a covert group of scientific researchers have created something new, something beyond their wildest dreams...something wildly monstrous.
While there's a clever bit of sci-fi shenanigans at the core of Slimer, it's merely crafty set-up to get us into the blood and guts of survival for these stranded criminals. Brosnan and Kettle avoid getting bogged down in the technicalities or plausibility of the science, but when they do slow down enough to explore the background of their story Knight presents a really nifty spin on Richard Dawkins's selfish gene theory. I also really dug the psychological aspects of their particular brand of horror here, particularly their explorations of what happens to the victims of this book's creature.
Slimer has a high body count and Knight is focused on action over characters, which makes it difficult to get too attached to anybody aboard the rig. This is a book geared primarily toward the spectacle of fun gory horror and, unfortunately, the characters are paper-thin as a result. The men are reduced to simple archetypes: Paul is the leader, Mark is the drug addict, Alex is the giant asshole. No further depth or dimension required. The female characters don’t even receive this much development, sadly, and are largely indistinguishable from one another, existing primarily to provide scenes of titillation and victimization.
The characters are really this book's biggest hurdle for me, particularly the redolent, dated whiff of 1980s misogyny, but Slimer remains a highly entertaining bit of escapist pulp. Despite the central premise being overly familiar nowadays thanks to both the prior works of horror that have clearly inspired it and those works that have since followed, such as Paul E. Cooley's The Black and Pig by Edward Lorn and Craig Saunders, Knight shows a few sparks of originality in their execution thanks to the science underpinning it all. Thirty-five years after its publication Slimer shows only a few signs of its age; it's still a spry, fast-paced work of action-packed horror.
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