Killer Flies (US: Signet Books, 1983)
Tagline: "First they feasted on farm animals. Then
they found humans..."
All right, not a great cover but a pretty good cover for
an American creepy crawler book. Nice menacing flies
with screaming faces reflected in their eyes. I’ve seen
worse and so have you. You gotta love the title,
though. Nice and direct, no flitting around and that’s
exactly the sort of thing we look for in a book like this.
It appears that the Signet US edition is the only
version of this one. I haven’t been able to find any
equivalent British edition—too bad, I’m sure the cover would have been
wonderfully gruesome. Oh well. As to Mark Kendall…can’t seem to find out
anything about him. A flash in the pan? A pseudonym? Regardless, when I
stumbled across thisone I knew it was for me. I mean…Killer Flies for
godsake. What more could you ask for?
Well, let’s find out.
In Moscon, New Mexico, a swarm of genetically-enhanced killer flies are on
the loose. They were developed originally to combat fruit flies that were
devastating California’s fruit crops…but, of course, like all products of genetic
engineering in horror novels, the road to hell is paved with good (or not-so
good) intentions. One of the first victims is little Pammy Quinn. Her mother,
Sherry, vows revenge:
“I want answers and I want them now! Nothing kills my child. I’ll find them if it
takes the rest of my life!”
By this point, I was hooked. Any book with mutant flies and such unrealistic,
melodramatic dialogue just has to be entertaining. Sherry, in her quest for
answers, runs up against the stone wall of Sheriff Padilla and the coroner.
She suspects a cover-up. Meanwhile, at a highway truck stop, the flies attack:
“He screamed, his hands clawing at his eyes, as the flies thrust their sucking
proboscises into the sensitive tissues…”
Which seems almost desirable compared to what they do to another trucker:
“Pete Balcour opened his mouth, crying for his wife. And the flies entered.
They filled the warm cavity with their foul wriggling bodies and attacked the
soft, pink flesh of his gums and tongue. With a moist gurgling he choked on
the living mass…”
Gaaahhhh. What a way to go. This attack segment ends with one of the best
lines I’ve ever encountered in a pulp horror critter novel:
“(the flies) clothing him in a writhing black suit of death.”
If I were to start writing one of these nasties, I would use that for a title: THE
WRITHING BLACK SUIT OF DEATH. It sounds like a chapter heading from
an old shudder pulp like Terror Tales or Dime Mystery. Anyway, Sherry now
discovers that the investigation of her daughter’s death has been sealed so
she turns to Kathy Littlebird, a journalist, who says she will help her find
things out. By this point, Sherry is more determined than ever to find out what’
s going on. Her daughter’s death seems almost trivial. Thank God, she’s not
alone out at the ranch—there’s hired hand Hutch Engels, who cried over
Pammy’s corpse, the first time since his daddy was done-in by a crazed
bronco. Tugs at the heart strings, don’t it? Sherry, needing some diversion,
finds herself watching him in the barn:
“…the play of muscles in his bronzed back as he threw open the hood of the
machine and reached with one grease-stained hand deep into the engine…”
The metaphor in that one is more than a little obvious. By now, it seems
possible that “Mark Kendall” just might be woman writing under a pen name.
Well, they get together and before the steamy act (right out of a woman’s
erotic or “wet panty” novel) consummates, we’re treated to more awful
“ ’Hutch, shut up. Don’t talk. Love me.’ ”
“ ’Hutch,’ she cried, arching passionately against him. ‘I need you! I want you!’ ”
Yeah, I think by this far in the novel we know quite a bit about “Mark Kendall”.
I’m not trying to be sexist, but men just don’t right lines like that. That’s pure
Harlequin ranch romance fantasy. And that’s what makes Killer Flies so
unflinchingly bad: it’s like a cheap erotic bodice-ripper with the flies thrown in
as an afterthought when the author couldn’t sell it. Regardless, we push on.
Now that Sherry got some comforting from Hutch, it’s back to business. The
flies are still raising hell. Sherry, Hutch, another rancher, and Dr. Robert
Fonseca (the dapper GQ type who engineered the flies) try to get the
governor to stop his plan on spraying the flies because it will mutate them,
but he won’t listen. Then there’s a slaughter at an open-air opera and the
flies kill the governor’s family at a picnic. Sherry, Hutch, and Dr. Bob find a
gigantic mutant fly that threatens her after she walls and is at its mercy:
“A nightmare was descending. Great bent and hairy legs with filth clinging to
the fibrous hairs shivered above her, and above that worked a great sucking
proboscis. Nausea and terror rose in her throat as Sherry pictured that
instrument of death driving deep into her vulnerable body.”
Something that intrigues Sherry more than just a little, methinks. She gets in
a few more sex scenes with Hutch and gives the author a chance to work on
his/her dialogue again. When Hutch and Sherry are about to do it, Sherry
“ ‘Love me! Love me hard and now!’ ”
Well, the novel goes on to explain the fight with the flies—the governor’s on
board now—and Sherry getting on with Hutch right before she gets it on with
Dr. Bob. By this point, we’re out of characters or Sherry would have been
lovin’ on them, too.
Pros: This thing is hilarious. The writing is generally sloppy and shallow. The
characters are melodramatic and unrealistic. The flies are pretty cool.
Cons: Depends on your point of view. If you think bad is good, get this one. If
you bad is just bad, skip it.
Overall: Worth picking up for a laugh. Even Kendall’s bio is something out of
a romance novel. It claims he’s a cultural anthropologist, a crack shot, an
expert horseman, and that he flew medical supplies in during the Nigerian
Civil War (under heavy fire, I bet).
Our next Guilty Pleasure:
“It fed on terror…and blood!”