Cosmos Wildside, 2001, 173 pages, C$20.00 tpb, ISBN 1-58715-336-X
Horror novels got you down? Can’t stomach yet another exotic supernatural threat to humankind? Won’t stand the dour pretentiousness of King wannabes? Trust David Langford and John Grant to churn out the most awfully hilarious parody of the entire splatter-shock sub-genre and make you like it!
There is no cover plot description for Guts and you won’t need one as long as you know cheap horror novels: If, say, you see a horror novel named The Rats, does it take a rocket surgeon to figure out what’s the big concept of the book? In fact, when half the novel on these particular shelves are named The [Something], do you need a plot description other than the classic “[Something], which you thought was harmless and maybe even useful, turns out to have an evil mind of its own and start killing just about everyone in the world”?
I don’t think so. Hence the previous spoileriffic “spoiler-free” paragraph.
But onward; suffice to say that Langford and Grant have delivered the ultimate horror novel parody. It combines elements of bad SF, awful writing and wickedly sharp satire for what may very well be an unforgettable reading experience. Silly characters (including clueless scientists, cheap bimbos, broad stereotypes and a journalist who just won’t die) are nice, but it’s the consciously over-the-top nature of the writing that makes Guts such a success. I haven’t yet been disappointed by a Langford book yet and Guts is no exception: If you’re a fan of horror and British comedy (and especially British horror that cries out for comedy), this is the book for you.
“Warning: Offensive Content!” says the brown-bagged cover, and it’s not kidding. Sensible minds and weak stomachs may be best-served by avoiding this book forever. Langford and Grant pull no punches in serving funny horror on a dripping plate of blood and gore. Perhaps the best scene of the book comes along in Chapter Five, which includes the single best parody ever written of those interminable that-guy-should-be-dead knock-down drag-out brains-hanging-out fights between protagonist and unspeakable horror. It’s as bloody disgusting as it’s compulsively hilarious, and that’s exactly the kind of effect Guts is looking for. It’s so over the top that it’s impossible to mistake for anything but self-conscious satire. If you think that DEAD ALIVE and the EVIL DEAD series were a bit on the wussy side, Guts is what you’re looking for.
Unfortunately, like most humour novels, it’s not lacking in weak moments. The novel is front-charged with good stuff; the latter sequences leading to the explosive ending (involving a sentient cheese, though that’s already saying too much) are a bit of a let-down. Not all plot-lines are equally compelling; I was a bit underwhelmed by the neo-Nazi segments myself. (Don’t worry; this is a perfectly understandable statement in the context of the book.)
Published by small-scale house Cosmos Wildside, you can bet that Guts won’t be available at your local chain bookstore anytime soon. If the idea of a splattery horror parody appeals to you, if you’re already familiar with Langford’s typically dry British wit, if you love self-conscious take-offs of bad fiction, you can probably figure out if Guts is likely to appeal to you. It’s a wonderful take-off on a sub-genre that has long deserved some humorous disgrace, and a savvy comment on the tools of lazy horror writers. That it’s unbelievably funny is just a bonus.
Somewhere, an owl hoots (for you).