Plasmid (UK: Star Books, 1980)
Tagline: "Pray you'll never be this scared again."
Ah, yes, we're going slumming again with another
novelization of a screenplay. Except this particular
screenplay was never produced, so all we really have is
this novelization. It'll have to be enough. Although the
cover of Plasmid lists Jo Gannon as the author, the front
matter of this one tells us that it was actually written by
someone named Robert Knight based on Jo Gannon's
screenplay. Got that now? This is a novelization based on a screenplay never
produced and even though it has Jo Gannon's name on the cover, he didn't
write it. Good. Gannon apparently did light shows for Alice Cooper and then
ended up as a producer/director for TV (Max Headroom). Not that we really care
in the least about any of that.
Let's get to it.
At the Fairfield Genetic Research Institute, a patient named Barker is going
through some sort of episode. Barker has red eyes and dead-white skin, the
result of zero pigmentation brought about by the lack of melanin. As the
doctors arrive--Forrester and Swinton--Barker goes wild and kills both of them
like some sort of enraged beast. Security guards search for him and find the
remains of Dr. Forrester:
"Baines gasped in horror as he saw the gleaming, blood-soaked entrails in the
mans midriff. It was as if a steel hand had plunged into his abdomen and torn his
Enter Paula Scott of Metropole Radio. Her boss has tipped her off that there
are rumors that the Fairfield Institute is a cover for a secret government
research project and that human beings are being used as guinea pigs. She
attends a press conference at Fairfield concerning the two murdered doctors
and the escaped patient. It is held by Dr. Fraser, a Nobel Prize winner and
head of the research unit at the institute. Fraser claims that Barker had a purely
ordinary psychotic episode and there's no more to it than that. But Paula and
the other reporters aren't biting. Fraser is condescending, evasive, and shifty.
When he's asked about Barker being a convict from Caversham Prison and
being used as a human guinea pig, Fraser loses it and claims that these
prisoners owe a debt to society. At which point, the press is informed that
everything Fraser said is off the record and may not be quoted. There's a
cover-up and Paula knows it. But how to prove it? Then she receives a call from
Dr. Julia Croxley, one of Fraser's assistants. A meeting is arranged.
Meanwhile, a guy out walking his dog runs into Barker:
"The creature was like a ghost, its ivory skin gleaming in the dark, a
mud-stained white gown hanging raggedly on its body. It was shaped like a man
but looked otherwise inhuman, its scarlet eyes glinting with uncanny hunger and
The poor guy is so terrified he has a heart attack and dies on the spot. Barker
makes a meal of his dog:
"It knelt beside the dead animal, tore a leg off the carcass and bit into it,
greedily, voraciously, like an animal devouring its prey."
Paula meets with Dr. Croxley, discovering that the murdered Dr. Forrester was
her fiancé. She's understandably angry over his death and, ignoring the Official
Secrets Act she signed, tells Paula about the recombinant DNA research going
on at Fairfield. She explains that Dr. Fraser's goal is to adapt man to all
environments, be they desert wastes, steaming jungles, the arctic, or high
altitudes via forced mutation, hence the use of plasmids which are bacterial
DNA molecules used in genetic engineering to clone, transfer, and manipulate
genes. He, in fact, by using a process called 'infectious alteration" is passing
on select genes to his guinea pigs, like Barker (who is loose on the streets in
an "infectious phase," meaning he can pass his nasty plasmids to others).
Paula wants to blow the lid off it all. Back at the institute, she and Dr. Croxley
discover that the entire file on Barker is missing. Worse, they are caught in the
act by Dr. Fraser. At which point, Croxley back pedals and claims that Paula
forced her into bringing her there.
Paula gets on the radio to broadcast the conspiracy to her listeners, but the
plug is pulled. The Home Office slapped a "D" notice on it, killing her story.
Exasperated, she tells Steve, her boss, how the mutants can infect others by
contact. Out of options, they get it on...what else could they do? Meanwhile,
twenty people have gone missing in the night and Paula learns from a Fairfield
Institute security guard that the research is still going on. The mutants now
attack with a vengeance. Fearing light, they destroy the city's power grid as
well as severing telephone lines and sabotaging traffic systems to create
chaos. They are lairing down in the darkness of the sewers, so the authorities
decide to fumigate the tunnels with nerve gas. Big mistake. The mutants run
wild, coming out of the sewers, slaughtering people and infecting them,
creating a self-generating army of monsters. Civilians are trapped at ground
zero, doused with nerve gas. Paula makes a final, desperate broadcast as the
city falls to the mutants, informing the population how their own government
put everyone at risk, first with the plasmids and then with the nerve gas to
control them...both of which have caused tremendous, shocking civilian
But will she escape? Will anyone as the mutants mass?
Pros: For a novelization of a screenplay, not too bad. The plasmid mutants are
nasty and their origin is unique. Paula is likeable. Several nice Ghastly,
Gruesome, and Gor-ifying scenes of plasmid violence.
Cons: It's a novelization. Characters, other than Paula, are one-dimensional
stock types. The entire thing plays out predictably and has a rushed feel to it.
Overall: Not too shabby. Fun pulp horror, nicely extreme in spots. There are
much worse books to while away a few hours with (and many of them are
bestsellers). Too bad the movie wasn't made.
Three bloody skulls out of five (mainly for the plasmid angle).
For our next Guilty Pleasure, be warned that:
"Now they are gathering for their foul feast of evil..."