The Brain Eaters  (UK: Hamlyn Books,
1985)

Tagline:  
"An Eruption of Death-Lust
Beyond the Bounds of Horror."


When I started Guilty Pleasures, I knew I
had to get to this one sooner or later. I
read it back in the '80's and it sort of stuck
in my head...much like the little horrors in
the book itself. The U.S. Fawcett
paperback had a pretty good cover, but nothing like this one from
good old horrible Hamlyn, which pretty nicely sums up the guts
of this novel. Man, what a face! And what a fun tagline: absolute
pulp melodrama. Sometimes I wonder who wrote those.Great
work if you can get it. Gary Brandner wrote quite a few horror
novels from the late 1970's through the 1990's (
Walkers, Floater,
Carrion),
but is best known for The Howling (1977) which was
turned into a movie by Joe Dante and spawned no less than six
sequels, though none of them seem to have much to do with his
original novel or the two novels that followed--
Return of the
Howling
and The Howling III: Echoes. The first book was once
called
'Salem's Lot with werewolves by one unflattering reviewer,
but the novels bear little if any resemblance. '
Salem's Lot is a
meaty Gothic horror manifesto on vampires spreading like germs,
a re-telling (in some ways) of
Dracula with heavy shades of I Am
Legend,
while The Howling is, essentially, a slim, fast pulp horror
novel.

But on to
The Brain Eaters. Basically, the plot concerns a species
of microscopic parasite that gets into the brain and, as you may
have guessed, begins to eat it, causing episodic psychotic
behavior in the host as they go insane with agony. The parasites
themselves are nearly microscopic, appearing as black specks in
the gray matter. Under the microscope, we learn, they appear as
tiny segmented worms with teeth that tunnel holes through the
cerebral cortex and lay eggs. Lots of eggs. A wonderfully
appalling concept. The eggs enter the host through any break in
the skin, any cut or abrasion, and go to work. And, as the eggs
hatch, the larva not only eat the brain but travel through the
bloodstream into the tiny capillaries of the face causing swelling
nodules that burst, spreading the parasites in every which
direction.
"Like a seedpod," as one of the characters point out.
And in the process, giving its victims the look of the fellow on the
cover:

"Red blotches formed on the rough skin across Hank's
cheekbones. The blotches spread across his broken nose, up to
the creased forehead, and down around his mouth. They slowly
darkened and coalesced into shiny pustules as Vic watched, his
stomach turning over. The pustules broke like ripe boils,
discharging a gooey liquid."

Yuck. At which point, of course, our character above goes on a
mad spree of violence and killing. But how did any of this come
to be? It seems a biotech company called Biotron was
experimenting with a new pesticide in its lab near Appleton,
Wisconsin. Some cannisters were switched and instead of
harmless dye began sprayed, out came the parasites in a fine
mist...right near a busy highway. As people across the country
go insane, a burned out Milwaukee journalist named Corey
Macklin sniffs out the story and with the help of a sexy Biotron
biochemist, Dena Falkner, traces it to its source. But is it too late
as the brain eaters infest the country? The fate of the world rests
in the hands of a rogue Russian biologist who has just escaped
his KGB entourage. Only he has the answer...

Pros: Brandner is a very capable writer of the Richard Laymon
school, in that he writes very slim paragraphs and keeps the ball
rolling with a minimum of description. The characters are sound,
the plot good. A very readable story.

Cons: My biggest beef with this book is that it's simply too
dry. A
story like this demands gore and bloody mayhem and therefore
fails on the Ghastly, Gruesome, and Gor-ifying scale. One other
thing I did not like is that some of the nastiest scenes in the book
were simply referred to after the fact, only told and not shown.

Overall: A good read, but far too reserved for a nasty. The cover
makes you expect things and, unfortunately, you just don't get
them.

Three bloody skulls out of five.

For our next Guilty Pleasure, a trip out to the farm:

"Where Gut-Crunching, Bone-Grinding Horror is the Only Crop."
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