The Undead (UK: NEL, 1983)
Tagline: "Only death could live and move in that dark, still
Ah, good old Guy N. Smith. In the world of horror fiction there
is the juicy well-seasoned delicacy of filet mignon (Thomas
Ligotti), huge gluttonous slabs of pan pizza (Stephen King),
and then there are those tasty little cheeseburgers from White
Castle (Guy N. Smith). Smith's books are uniformly short, fast,
and satisfying. Like the man himself, they are unpretentious
My first taste of Smith was a wonderful, murky novel of pagan horror,
Entombed, and I have been a fan ever since, following him from book to book to
book, enjoying mutated bats, crabs, werewolves, and sucking pits. His name is
synonymous with great adrenaline-charged pulp fiction and he rarely (if ever)
Now, with that in mind, let's sample The Undead and see what GNS was up to back
in the glory days of pulp horror (1983, that is). Cool cover. Creepy looking creature.
Beneath it is a few kids with skeleton bodies (reminiscent of just about every Zebra
horror paperback cover of the 1980's). The story opens with a girl named Isobel (the
Squire's daughter) being led off into the woods by some grubby, crazy old man
known as Bemorra. Isobel is not afraid of him because he has always been her
friend, even if parents in general despised and feared the man. A posse in pursuit,
Bemorra leads her up to a black, bottomless quarry known as the Gabor Pool, from
whose dark enclosing waters no one ever escapes. As the posse--including her
father--watches, Isobel jumps in. Never is she seen again after the splash below.
Bemorra is taken into custody and hanged for the child's death, but not before
cursing his persecutors.
Two-hundred years later, Ron Halestrom moves to Gabor Wood to take up residence
in Gabor House with his wife. Right away, Marie (his wife) hears the lurid tales from
the old gossips concerning Bemorra and Gabor Pool. How Bemorra was hanged for
infanticide and the curse he muttered at the village and how, as if true to his word,
half the village burned and then was decimated by a smallpox outbreak. Maria is
haunted by the old legends, the insular nature of the locals, the oddness of the
village children who never play or sing or do anything for that matter. Ron, however,
is content. He writes crime books and the weird bucolic atmosphere (and tall tales)
are perfect grist for his mill. Marie continues to feel apprehensive. Then she takes a
walk in the woods and finds herself at Gabor Pool. The white face of a girl surfaces
and tells her that her daughter will join them in the pool and there's nothing she
(Marie) can do about it. Amanda (her daughter) returns from school. A shy, deaf girl,
Marie fears for her safety for children have a way of disappearing in Gabor Wood.
Then one night Marie awakens to a weird howling and Amanda is gone. She has
been taken off in the wood by a weird old man who looks exactly like the
descriptions of Bemorra. The girl is rescued and the locals assure the Halestrom's
that it was only a local vagrant named Beguildy, absolutely harmless. But as more
children disappear, Marie is certain that there is a diabolical force (the curse of
Bemorra) calling children into Gabor Pool as sacrifice and it has set its sights on
Amanda. But what she doesn't know is that her daughter may be the only person
who can destroy what's waiting beneath its black waters.
This is, for the most part, a quiet and traditional horror tale steeped in tradition and
country folklore. It lacks the usual punch and bloody undertaking of most of Smith's
novels, yet he does manage to throw in a few good ones now and again:
"He opened his mouth, attempted to gulp for air, writhed and tried to vomit as
something slid in between his open lips; something smooth that jerked and bit. His
hands clawed, trying to tug the adder out of his mouth, but with one swift movement it
drew itself inside, a fifteen-inch length of reptile body..."
Or as old Bemorra swings in the wind:
"By night the owls glided silently up onto Gabor Hill and pecked at the flesh of the
hanging body, leaving deep gouges where they had fed. And when dawn came the
chattering jays and magpies fought over the spoils, gouging out the eyes and ripping
the furred tongue through the open mouth..."
Yet, this is all pretty mild by the standards of GNS, yet it's a fun old-fashioned sort of
tale that makes for a quick and easy read. It moves fast and you won't get a
headache trying to figure things out. The perfect book for a lazy summer afternoon.
Pros: I found the descriptions of the Gabor Pool especially effective. The part where
the diver descends into its depths to locate a missing kid is creepy and
Cons: Nothing much. The characters are typical GNS, simple and un-fleshed for the
most part, but as such they fit perfectly into the framework of the tale.
Overall: A nice read. Not Smith's best, but a fun little horror tale all the same.
Three bloody skulls out of five.
For our next Guilty Pleasure, we take a dip:
"A hideous death lurked unseen in the river..."