First published back in April of 1987, British horror author Shaun Hutson’s novel ‘Deathday’ was originally released under the pseudonym Robert Neville – the well-known name of the principal protagonist from Richard Matheson’s classic ‘I Am Legend’ (1954). Although the author is himself British, the American edition includes an additional chapter (although not much more than a paragraph’s worth) than the British version.
It all began because of what took place some four-hundred years ago. The woman was reluctant to give up the secrets of the golden amulet. That is until the torture got too much for her. And with the powers vested in her torturers by the use of the searing hot poker, the woman divulges the evil power that the amulet contains, especially when in the hands of its one true master – Mathias.
It’s now the present time and local council workers Ray Mackenzie and Steve Pike are trying to dig up a stubborn tree stump from the village of Medford’s local cemetery. The labour is hard; the large tree stump’s roots buried deep into the earth. But after a considerable effort, the two workers manage to uproot the stump, uncovering a huge slug slithering over a rotten old coffin.
Appalled by the grotesquely enlarged slug, Mackenzie sets to the dog-sized gastropod with his axe. After removing the slug, the two break into the coffin to find the rotten remains of an ancient corpse; a scream frozen on the skeleton’s crumbling face. However, around the neck of the skeleton rests a strange gold medallion, emblazed with the inscription ‘Mortis Diei’. Grabbing for the amulet, Mackenzie’s hand is subjected to an excruciating heat, burning the flesh of his outstretched hand. However, upon reclaiming the dropped trophy merely moments later, Mackenzie finds that it is now freezing cold.
That night, Mackenzie is at home feeling tired and pained by the persistent headache that has been escalating since he first held the golden amulet. His wife, June Mackenzie, is making matters worse, and so the worn out labourer decides upon an early night. But when June turns in for the night, Ray Mackenzie is waiting for her, his eyes torn out, but his violent intent still obvious to the terrified woman. Ray Mackenzie is quick to attack, and in a frenzy of violence kills both his wife and young daughter, Michelle; ripping out their eyes before the onslaught is over.
The following morning and the Mackenzie’s neighbour, Maureen Bayliss is getting concerned about her neighbours. It’s not like June Mackenzie to leave her curtains drawn so late. And so Maureen persuades her husband, Jack, to go over to the property and find out if everything is okay. But upon enquiring on the Mackenzie’s, the tired nightshift worker is confronted with the stomach-churning discovery of Ray Mackenzie’s blood frenzy.
Medford’s local police officer, Vic Hayes, is soon at the scene of the two murders. After witnessing the stomach-churning carnage, Hayes calls in twenty-two-year-old inspector Tom Lambert to assist with the investigation. Medford has never seen such acts of violence before. And Lambert is worried. The vicious mutilation that was acted out on the two victims shows that they are dealing with a very disturbed individual. After all, what sort of maniac would rip out someone’s eyes?
But these are just the first of many savage acts that the small hamlet of Medford will see. Something evil has been unearthed. A power that has lain dormant since the sixteenth century. An unholy force that will corrupt all those who come into contact with it. And now the ancient master of the Black Arts known as Mathias has been woken and is spreading his evil influence within the quaint hamlet of Medford. And now the dead no longer stay dead...
‘Deathday’ is certainly a rollercoaster of a read. It’s got more ups and downs and weird deviations from the plot than you can shake a particularly shakeable stick at. To be honest, the events that take place and the resulting reaction from the police force are nothing short of absolute lunacy. Pretty much the only aspect of the book that’s even remotely believable is that Shaun Hutson wrote it. The plot is absolute madness. The characters are paper-thin and make the most outrageous decisions. It’s quite simply an absolute masterpiece of how far you can stretch the definition of the word ‘fiction’ before it becomes pure nonsense.
That’s not to say that it’s not a heck of an enjoyable read. For it’s completely outrageous (and good god do I mean ‘outrageous’) storyline, the tale is an absolute blast to read from start to end. The general idea behind the tale is more Guy N Smith than a Guy N Smith novel is. From this little acorn of an idea, Hutson has created a magnificently warped version of reality, where people can go missing without anyone batting an eyelid, Latin is now a massively complex cipher that can mystify the investigating officers for days on end, and a heavy arsenal of modern day weaponry is handed out to any police officer who believe that the dead are coming back to life. Oh yes, it’s one hell of a ludicrous horror romp.
Characterisation is nothing more than a lost cause. The numerous characters that Hutson throws into this bizarre concoction of ideas are either just badly sketched out fodder for our splatterpunk needs, or they’re hapless idiots wondering what the hell is going on and more or less just getting in the way of things.
The violence and gore that Hutson throws around with almost reckless abandonment is what really makes the novel the (let’s be honest) mediocre success that it is. Basically, everything is pushed into the far reaches of excess. The laughable madness of the storyline, the levels of excessive violence and bloodshed, the numerous (and I really do mean numerous) sex scenes, the colourful oddness of the characters – it’s all so utterly over-the-top. It’s like getting a really bad horror novel and ramming its literary veins full of heroin in order to magnify and distort everything about it, until it’s actually an enjoyable read purely because of the lunacy of it all.
The tale does manage to maintain a solid and constantly escalating pace, that not only keeps the reader totally enwrapped in the tale (although not down to any great wordsmanship), but also drives the storyline onwards to the final finale with little else needed to keep it on track. There’s really no depth or intriguing layers to the story to speak of. It has a singular over-the-top horror plot, and just powers along at full pelt, slicing and dicing victims as it goes until the madness pretty much self-implodes.
As much as this sounds like good-old-fashioned mindless fun, I just can’t make the novel out to be anything more than just a laughable piece of bad horror fiction. A novel that only manages to be enjoyable by its unbelievably outrageous nature. And whatever you do, please don’t go into the novel expecting anything else.
The novel runs for a total of 384 pages.
© DLS Reviews