Worm (UK: Grafton, 1987)
Tagline: "Something horrible is crawling out of your worst
Well, to start with, it would be hard to imagine a cover that
could be much more intriguing than this one: a giant worm
emerging from a tunnel about to lunch (we hope) on this
somewhat stiffly-posed man. This image combined with that
killer tagline is the stuff pulp horror dreams are made of. And
especially when penned by Simon Ian Childrer, yet another
pseudonym of the great John Brosnan who is already known to us here in Horror's
Guilty Pleasures for giving us The Fungus, an absolute feast of creepy-crawly
unpleasantness. Brosnan wrote The Fungus as Harry Adam Knight (HAK)and Worm
as Simon Ian Childer (SIC). An inside joke, no doubt, and one we can all appreciate.
The only question remaining, of course, is whether Worm is truly sick, so let's dive
right into this one and see if we get any blood on us.
Our story opens with one of the most powerful set pieces in the novel and one that
grabbed me and would not let me go. An attractive, yet horribly emaciated, blonde
woman arrives at Middlesex Hospital with a grotesquely swollen belly, complaining
of abdominal pains right before collapsing into an ungainly heap. Enter Richard
Pryce-Jones, a somewhat arrogant staff surgeon. The woman is taken to the
operating room for an exploratory procedure to find out just what's in her belly (of
course, you and I have already figured that out, haven't we?). Pryce-Jones is delving
about in her abdominal cavity when something bites into his hand--a three-foot
worm. Jumping about with the worm attached, the scrub nurse comes to his rescue:
"Pryce-Jones stopped his frantic waving of the thing, enabling the nurse to grab hold
of it near its bulbous head. Then she stabbed it with the scalpel. Clear fluid spurted
out of the worm as it writhed with disturbing strength within her grasp."
Childer has great fun with this part and we do, too. Not only is it gruesome, but
darkly comedic as our surgeon dances about trying to shake the worm free, realizing
that his future career as perhaps England's greatest surgeon has now come to an
end. He survives and stomps the parasite to a pool of slime. Oh...what about the
patient? She dies.
The set-up. As usual, spoilers abound so be warned.
The unfortunate blonde woman's sister, Olivia, launches her own investigation with
the help of a boozy P.I. named Edward Causey, a somewhat smarmy character who
makes his office in a booth at a Chinese restaurant (you gotta love this guy). Along
with an attractive pathologist named Joyce Winters, Causey begins to put the pieces
together. Apparently, Olivia's sister--Laura--a one-time fashion model with a taste for
the wild life was being treated for anorexia at a private clinic in Highgate run by a
shadowy medico named Dr. Shayaz. All roads lead to the clinic and soon enough,
our boozy private eye manages to get the truth from Shayaz. He has genetically
altered a variety of parasitic worms--roundworms, hookworms etc.--for a black
gangster called Rashad. Rashad, you see, knows his secret: Shayaz was formerly
Libya's top microbiologist in charge of biological weapons, something that would no
doubt land him in a British prison. Rashad hates the English. During the Mau Mau
uprising in Kenya, Rashad's father was executed by British forces and he vowed
revenge on England. Trained as a terrorist by the Libyans and backed by Gaddafi's
money, he is using Shayaz to develop worm eggs he can release into the London
water system that will infect the entire population. Rashad himself is infected by
parasitic worms and saw the British colonial system in Kenya as a parasite eating
into his country. The worm infection he suffers has left him in pain and quite
impotent. He enslaves British women and forces them to make porn movies for
Middle Eastern business men. Through the course of a slim 189 pages, we discover
there is a giant worm in the sewers; Dr. Winters becomes the victim of Rashad's
sexual enslavement; Olivia is infected...and then Causey comes to the rescue to
take care of business. But does he? For at the very end we learn that Causey's
daughter from a former marriage --the only thing he truly cares about--pays the
ultimate price for his intervention in Rashad's schemes.
Pros: A very imaginative plot, interesting characters, some cool worm scenes, plenty
of sleeze if that's your thing.
Cons: Several. Childers had a good idea here but with only 189 pages to work with,
the horror of the worms themselves was put on the back burner to advance the
numerous organized crime, political, and terrorism subplots and, in the process, the
novel bogs down, seeming to trip over its somewhat unwieldy plot elements. After all
that Causey suffered through, you think he's going to get a break, but the murder of
his daughter proves otherwise. The downbeat ending was...well, a downer.
Overall: I really wanted to like this one, but it misses the mark again and again.
Ghastly, Gruesome, and Gor-ifying? In places, but unfortunately we never get
enough of the worms. Nice plot, good characters, but we never learn very much
about them. Causey's daughter is just an extra that steps in midpoint through the
novel, then shows up at the end to be murdered. We know very little of their
relationship so it never really clicks. This would have been much better if Childers
would have concentrated on what was on the cover of the book.
Three Bloody Skulls out of Five.
Our next Guilty Pleasure:
"Turn on the tap...and die of terror!"