The Morgow Rises (UK: Sphere, 1982)
Tagline: "Myth...or living nightmare?"
Let's get right to it and talk covers. This one is
absolutely excellent. Who wouldn't have thrown down a
few bucks (or quid) for this baby back in the day? Well,
realistically lots of people, but we don't know them and
we don't want to meet them. They're not our kind. For
us, who revel in good pulp horror, this cover fucking
kills. Pretty woman being devoured by monstrous
subterranean worm, lots of bubbling blood and
worm-slime...hell, what's not to like? Peter Tremayne
wrote quite a few pulpy potboilers back in the horror boom of the 1980's and
helmed at least one anthology that I know of. These days he writes murder
mysteries with Catholic backgrounds...but let's get back to when he was relevant.
At least for us...not that the whole Catholicism thing isn't freaking creepy enough
on its own.
Like a lot of the horror he wrote, Tremayne dug deep into Celtic history and
Cornish tradition for this one. The Morgow or Morgawr is sort of a Cornish sea
serpent that has been reported off and on for years. It's considered to be sort of a
cryptid animal like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. Apparently, it also has some
historical folklore wound around it and this is what Tremayne draws off of for the
novel. Okay. Enough background. Our story is set in the Cornish fishing village of
Bosbradoe which the author paints very effectively with great atmosphere, local
superstition, and eccentric characters. My favorite is the local witch woman,
Mother Polruan, who is somewhat feared by the locals for her omens and
portents. Anyway, on to Henry Archibold Penvose. He's a quaint elderly eccentric
who thinks the old Tom Wheal tin mine can still produce ore, even though
everyone else thinks he's cracked. In his spare time--he's a retiree, he has
nothing but spare time--he likes to go down into the old shafts and search out the
hidden mother lode, remembering the good times and prosperity Tom Wheal
brought to the village before the tin played out. An old man exploring abandoned
mine shafts alone...sounds like trouble, doesn't it? It is. For the old mines
connected up with a series of undersea caverns and something comes out of
one...sadly, Tremayne won't show us what it is.
That's one strike against you, Pete.
Enter Claire Penvose, Henry's niece. She's popped down to Cornwall for a visit
and, after a bit of car trouble, has a run-in with Mother Polruan who warns her to
stay away from the village lest evil befall her. She manages to hitch a ride with
dashing, handsome thriller writer Bill Neville and our love interest has been firmly
cemented in place. Claire discovers that her uncle is missing. Bill finds out that a
couple of fisherman out laying lobster traps have disappeared. The locals
assume, from the wreckage, that their boat got smashed up against the rocks. Of
course, we know better, don't we? A local fisherman, Jack Treneglos, and his
crew sight a weird whirlpool near Trevian Rocks--which is quite near to old Tom
Wheal, the galleries beneath leading out to the sea--and reports it to a
disbelieving Coast Guard. Meanwhile, Jack's nephew, Johnny, out fishing off the
rocks with a handline sights the Morgow: a black, monstrous thing like a gigantic
slug rising from the sea. In the local pub, Johnny tells Uncle Jack and his father
what he saw. They don't believe him...at least, not at first. The Reverend
Pencarrow happens to be on hand and he shares the history of the Morgow.
Soon enough, old tales are making the rounds--sightings and awful things pulled
up by fishermen in nets. While this transpires, Claire goes exploring the shafts of
Tom Wheal with Bill, the local constable, and a mining inspector. They find
nothing. They go back in and this time they find human remains. The mining
inspector gets devoured. But we never get to see that either.
Two strikes, Pete.
Well, no point in going on with this blow-by-blow. A ship gets destroyed at sea by
the Morgow, worm-things begin entering people's cellars. The RAF begins nosing
around with Geiger counters. This draws in environmental activist Tom Fergus
and his super-sexy assistant, Sheila Fahy. We learn there is a cover-up. The
government has been dumping nuclear waste into the mines which has mutated
marine worms. There is no Morgow, alas, just mutant worms. This is the point in
the book where a kind of fun old-fashioned horror tale turns into a leaking
cauldron of worm-slime and Tremayne proves himself no more imaginative than
most nasty writers. The worms burst free of the mine and lay waste to the
countryside in the finest 1950's B-movie fashion. The RAF must send in
fighter-bombers to handle the menace. And, oh yes, the luscious Sheila Fahy
(that's her on the cover, I'm guessing) gets eaten...but doesn't enjoy it a bit and
neither do we, because we don't get to see it.
Strike three, Pete...yer OUTTA here!
Pros: Great atmosphere, cool mine scenes, nice set-up. I was all pumped up for
a cryptid/sea monster type of tale. I was relishing it.
Cons: Just mutant worms. What a let down. Zero on the Ghastly, Gruesome,
and Gor-ifying scale. I expected more with that cover. Disappointing.
Overall: Good possibilities completely wasted. Tremayne did a pretty good job,
but it could have been better if he had thrown around some blood and guts. If
Guy Smith did this, we would have gotten our fill of screaming victims being
sucked down slimy worm maws and bodies being bitten in half...alas, Pete wasn't
into that. It seems like two-thirds through the book he got bored and ended it as
quick as he could. The book just...ends with no narrative tension or real threat.
Again, had he stuck to the Morgow/cryptid thing, a local monster out of folklore, it
would have been much more satisfying. Not a bad book. Worth a look. Just don't
expect what you see on the cover.
Three bloody skulls out of five.
For our next Guilty Pleasure we go camping with:
"18 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror!"