Slugs (UK: Star Books, 1982)
Tagline: "They slime, they ooze, they kill--"
If you dig pulp horror, then Shaun Hutson needs no
Back in the '80's, he wrote quite a few of these
nasties--Spawn, Erebus, Nemesis--as well as a number of
very bloody war novels. He was one of the few writers to
survive the collapse of the horror paperback market in the
1990's by churning out a series of gritty crime and dark
espionage thrillers...all of which were filled with brutal violence
and bloodshed. He continues to do so to this day and never fails his legion of fans.
He knows what they want and he always delivers. Hutson's greatest strength has
always been that he does not flinch from his subject matter. Like your older brother
grossing you out about the dead dog he found in a ditch, Hutson takes ghoulish
pleasure in describing the most horrific and revolting atrocities and when you buy a
book to read about flesh-eating slugs...why would you want anything less?
Throughout the years there have been quite a few jokes made about this book
mainly by people who probably never read it or decided that a book about
man-eating slugs was simply beneath them. Well, let's set the record straight: this is
good pulp horror written by a guy who has turned his share of stomachs through the
years and is probably quite proud of the fact. As are we.
First off, as you can see by the cover, this baby has nothing whatsoever to do with
those cute--or not so cute--little slugs that you come across beneath a rotting log or
that invade your garden in numbers. These slugs are black and glistening, eight
inches long, and love nothing better than sucking human blood and eating human
flesh. And did I mention there are thousands of them? Hutson wastes no time and
gets down to business in the first chapter:
"...he saw that his limbs were covered by a seething black mass of the creatures, all
slipping and sliding over one another in their efforts to get at his warm flesh. They
were on his stomach too, burrowing into the skin and muscle. With a mixture of terror
and disbelief, he realized they were eating him."
And he keeps things moving with grisly speed throughout:
"Another struck at her buttocks, boring deep into the flesh and now Donna struggled
to her feet but, a third slug slid up the inside of her thigh and, to her horror, Donna felt
it boring into her crutch. She screamed with renewed ferocity as the thick black thing
forced its way into her, like some obscene bloated penis."
Tasty. But then this:
"Palmer's screams became fainter as the slugs ate their way into him, a number
burrowing up through his torn genitals, using his anus as a means of access in their
search for the soft, more succulent parts of his body."
Yeah, exceptionally gut-churning, As you've probably figured out, a new
mutant/hybrid form of slug is on the march and poor old England is once again the
buffet. It's up to public health inspector, Mike Brady (no, not that Mike Brady), a
crusty sewerman, Palmer, and museum worker/naturalist, John Foley, to set things
right. While Foley dissects the new species of slug, Brady and Foley are down below
crawling on their hands and knees through stinking sewage pipes looking for clues.
And as evidence mounts, so do the horrors. A child's pet rabbit is devoured. A pair of
young lovers are eaten from the inside out. Slugs come pouring out of sink taps and
gurgling up through toilets. A graverobber opens a casket and becomes the main
course. And if marauding slugs aren't bad enough, Foley learns that the slugs are
carrying blood flukes which get inside people and travel right to their brains, causing
cysts...and also causing episodic psychotic behavior as the flukes develop in gray
matter, something Hutson illustrates quite effectively when a mature fluke slides
from a man's nose during a business lunch (along with a hell of a lot of blood).
Finally, releasing a special poison into the sewer system, the slugs are destroyed by
Brady and Foley...at least until Breeding Ground, the sequel.
Pros: This one succeeds on just about every level with its sickening imagery and is
entirely satisfying in the three G's of Horror's Guilty Pleasures: Ghastly, Gruesome,
and Gor-ifying. You get the impression that Hutson finds slugs specially appalling as
did James Herbert with his rats. And that's a plus. The horror seems to resonate
from an intimate, private fear.
Cons: Nothing much. Would have liked to see the whole blood fluke angle more fully
developed, but other than that this one is pretty spotless.
Overall: Go grab a copy. If you avoided this one because you were too self-important
for man-eating slugs, re-think your decision. This is pulp horror in fine form. And if
you're the sort that found The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to be an exercise in
subtlety, then this one is for you!
I give this one 4½ bloody skulls out of five.
Our next Guilty Pleasure:
"An eruption of death-lust beyond the bounds of horror..."