(Editor’s note: DOUBLE FEATURE is a column where I read at least two horror books per month in 2020 and review them for my website.)
January’s DOUBLE FEATURE: Survivor by the late J.F. Gonzalez and Creature by Hunter Shea.
The plot of Survivor is about a female lawyer who’s kidnapped by a group of sick, perverted men. Their purpose is to videotape her rape and murder and sell it as a snuff film to an underground buyer. The rapes and murders are extremely graphic. I read the 2011 Deadite Press Author’s Preferred Edition. The original was released in 2004, the year before the first Hostel film. I mention that movie because the tone of the book and the film are similar: twisted men torturing ordinary people. However, Survivor reminded me mostly of the rape-revenge movie I Spit on Your Grave. Survivor is a tough read because it goes where most mainstream horror — and readers — fear to tread. It goes beyond the darkness of the human soul into depravity.
I read Survivor for the same reason I read The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, because the book is considered by many to be a modern horror classic, particularly in the extreme horror subgenre. While The Girl Next Door is still the most devastating horror novel I’ve ever read, Survivor earns its reputation. I’m not telling any secrets here. Like The Girl Next Door, Survivor is not a fun read and is not for the faint of heart. There are gut-wrenching scenes of taboo sexual violence that are difficult to stomach. However, I was surprised by the epic level of suspense in the second half of the book and the emotional impact that the epilogue had on me, which elevated Survivor to classic status.
Author Hunter Shea is the master of cryptozoological horror, and his 2018 novel Creature sets the table for another of his Bigfoot creature features, but oh how the table turns. Creature is the best book I’ve read by Shea, and that says a lot because his other novels have been as action-packed, fast-paced, and fun as most horror I’ve read. Creature, though, forgoes the fun and instead focuses on the fear … the fear of pain and the fear of watching someone you love suffer from it.
Creature feels personal as Shea uses a slow-burn approach to detail the relationship between a resilient married couple dealing with the chronic health problems of a wife seemingly on the verge of dying at any moment. In a desperate attempt to bring his wife joy and perhaps healing, the husband surprises her with a dream vacation at a lakeside cottage in Maine. The dream, though, transforms into a nightmare. By the time the creature arrives, Shea’s writing has you so invested in the couple’s survival that the twist during the final act packs a powerful one-two punch. First, stunning you and then breaking your heart.
February’s DOUBLE FEATURE: Bottled by Stephanie Ellis and Kill Hill Carnage by Tim Meyer.
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