|Posted by Mark Cantrell on April 20, 2012 at 8:15 PM|
Woodhead presents an
unholy trinity of gruesome
Mark Cantrell reviews Death Throes, three gory and disturbing tales of horror by Indie author Ian Woodhead, released in this compendium of digital novels
THREE into one really do go, then. Death Throes brings together a trio of Ian Woodhead’s horror novels to present a gruesome and gut-wrenching compendium of monstrosity that leaves the reader whimpering for more.
The three novels – Third Sight, Spores, and Shades of Green – have no inherent connection, other than their birth in the surreal twists of the author’s mind, but they all tell a story that demonstrates there is more to Woodhead then zombies. The hungry undead were, of course, where he first stood out in the crowded arena of Indie horror writing, but this unholy trinity provide ample evidence that he is no ‘one-trope wonder’.
For all that the books in Death Throes differ – from each other as much as from the author’s zombie titles – they remain quintessentially Woodhead novels. Each oozes with the attributes of personality and style he has made his own. Among them an exuberance for gore that, whilst not for the faint-hearted is never out of place, never a substitute for the mechanics of plot, personality and psychological tension. The gore isn’t there – well not entirely there – for gore’s sake, but as the essential lubricant that keeps the wheels of horror turning.
Character is another Woodhead signature; his tend to be rough and ready types, denizens of the dubious side of life, seedy and violent, morally ambiguous, and every bit the kind of people you ought to recoil from, but the warts and all depiction of them as human beings, endears them to the reader. Well, it’s essential if you’re going to be drawn into the story and care what happens. Even those of a more respectable profile have their idiosyncrasies, shall we say, as the author delves deep into the shifting grey fog of the human condition.
Of the three, Third Sight is perhaps the most gruesome, but also the cleverest, if I can put it in those terms without inadvertently detracting from its twisted siblings, because it involves some serious psychological entanglements and mind games. This one really isn’t for the faint hearted.
Something demonic and nasty has latched onto Adrian and it’s going to kill everyone he knows and cares about unless he can figure out how to kill it first. If he fails, then not only is his girlfriend dead meat – he’ll be left to take the blame.
Adrian is no angel himself. A middle class boy with a taste for the bad-boy life, he’s chosen to work in a dead end job in a retail goods store, and hangs out with a rough crowd. He thinks he’s tough enough to handle anything, until the demon comes crashing into his life. The thing isn’t just killing his friends and acquaintances, it wants him to see the gory details, and steadily it draws him onto a horrifying high-stakes mind-game.
In Spores, the Earth has become infested with an alien spore that has wiped out those over the age of 40 and mutated many more into horrible beasties with an interest in human flesh.
The last survivors have gathered in a Government shelter somewhere buried under Leeds, but everything has broken down and they’re on their own. That is until a small company of soldiers arrive, survivors from the main shelter in London. Maddened and traumatised by the battle to escape the capital, they are only interested in grabbing what they can to survive (such as the young women).
With the creatures becoming smarter as they grow in number, and with the few remaining survivors in the city hunted down, it’s only a matter of time before they smash their way into the shelter. For those trapped inside, it’s hard to know which threat is worse – the beasts outside, or the soldiers they believed would protect them.
As for Shades of Green, something nasty lurks under the woods and it’s about to break out and smother the town and its inhabitants in other-worldly life. The thing itself has no ill intent; it’s just out of place and out of time, an alien and ancient terraforming machine crashed and forgotten, but an act of human cruelty has set the artefact to work with disastrous effect.
The town becomes smothered in alien plant-life. Nothing like terrestrial flora, it takes an active interest in taking down animal prey. In the sky and the soil, and all around, Earthly life is subsumed and transformed into alien fauna, while the people become demonic-looking things determined to track down and finish off the last remaining humans.
All of it is rooted in a crime that spilled blood in the tunnels of the derelict machine, energising it to life, and if the survivors want to prevent the entire Earth becoming transformed into something deadly and alien, they have to rediscover the machine and figure out how to switch it off – but to do that, they have to come to terms with and resolve a crime that has itself lain hidden and poisoned the town for too many years.
In their own way, the three novels vividly demonstrate the author’s imagination, not just for telling stories, but also in setting up macabre scenarios and dropping his characters into some pretty lurid action. Death Throes is a lip-smacking compilation of the grim and the gruesome, the dark and the deep, the malady of the maddening.
All told, there’s something delightfully old school about Woodhead’s work, but he’s not dredging through the graveyards of yesteryear’s horror to revive the bygone dead; these tales are fresh and modern, a living continuity informed by the masters of the past, but without being overwhelmed by it. Unpretentious and unashamed, this is horror as it ought to be, hooded and scowling and waiting to mug you in the dark alleys of the mind.
4 February 2012
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