First published back in October of 1987, Richard Laymon’s splatterpunk novel ‘Flesh’ followed on from an already extensive list of horror novels by this very talented and productive author. The novel was awarded ‘Best Horror Novel of 1988’ by the Science Fiction Chronicle, and was later nominated alongside ‘Funland’ (1989) for the Bram Stoker Award.
In the small student-heavy US town of Clinton, the usually quiet location is disturbed when a seemingly deranged maniac purposefully attempts to run down the young student Celia Jamerson. Jamerson is injured in the attempt upon her life, but manages to survive the ordeal, which is more that can be said for the maniac whose corpse is burnt to a crisp in the ensuing inferno.
Local police officer, Jake Corey, is first on the scene. And after locating a trail of blood leading away from the wrecked vehicle, Corey becomes suspicious that another psychopathically disturbed murderer is still on the loose.
Soon enough, the whole case is blown open when Corey witnesses the usually law-abiding and most importantly 'sane' local - Ronald Smeltzer, cannibalising the recently deceased corpse of his wife. Corey is left with no choice but to take down Smeltzer in a moment of kill or be killed.
Jake Corey is convinced that these two incidents are somehow related. And before long, Celia Jamerson goes missing and her housemate Alison Sanders is caught up in the middle of all these horrific events. What soon transpires to Corey is the terrible truth that lies behind the murders. An autopsy on one of the killers and the subsequent discovery of a collection of eggs, leads to a small snake like creature that once attached to its victims nape, is then capable of controlling that person. This parasitic puppeteer can then force the empowered individual to rape, kill and consume the victims flesh.
With each death of the host, the snake-like creature moves on to a fresh body. Jake Corey must work fast to locate the current host and stop the creature before it has a chance to move on...
From the outset of the novel, Laymon has a clear mission in mind; to flood the pages with multiple episodes of gory splatter and sexual violence whenever and wherever possible. In classic Laymon fashion, the storyline feeds off a constant lustful suggestion that throbs beneath the storyline, this time towards the consumption of the very flesh of the characters.
The idea of a parasitic creature that takes over the control of its victims, ultimately leading them to acts of violence and murder, is by no means a new idea. Indeed, in the same year as the publication of this book, Jack Sholder’s sci-fi horror movie ‘The Hidden’ (1987) first hit the big screen. ‘The Hidden’ (1987) dealt with a very similar concept, which was more than likely itself born out of the ideas taken from the classic B-Movie ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ (1956).
The characterisation is well developed and nicely worked upon. Jake Corey is a highly likeable principal character, whom is easy for the reader to relate to in many circumstances. This allows for an emotional attachment (however faint) to form between the reader and the storyline via the character-to-reader bond. The young student girls within the tale are also all given the classic ‘Laymon-style’ sex appeal which just cranks up the overall splatterpunk-sleaze levels nicely.
Although the concept for the plot is somewhat unoriginal and overused, Laymon still manages to keep an energetic approach towards the developing storyline with his exaggerated and over-the-top approach to the violence and gore.
The tale shies away from any shocking twists to the storyline and instead chooses to build on the bonds between characters to deliver the sporadic but memorable punches to the tale. This is particularly apparent with the almost unavoidable developing relationship between Jake Corey and Alison Sanders.
With the end in sight, Laymon cranks up the tension as he pulls out the final stand for our manipulative little worm friend. The setting for this is utterly predictable, but still delivers the edge-of-the-seat tension that is needed to keep the storyline on track. With the ending playing away almost on auto-pilot, Laymon wraps up the tale with this simple but uninspired conclusion.
Disappointingly, Laymon leaves a number of questions in the air, such as “Where the hell did these worms come from?”, “Are there any more of them slithering around the place looking for new hosts?” and “How on earth did the eggs come about if there isn’t another snake-thing out there?”. Surprisingly, Laymon instead spends the last few pages of the tale setting down the concluding emotional states and relationship developments for our two new lovers rather than addressing this immediately obvious questions.
The tale as a whole is fast paced throughout with regular bursts of outrageous violence that will keep even the most hardened splatterpunk fan happy. Laymon avoids any sort of gritty nature to the novel and instead plays more with a ‘Romero’ style comic book approach that gives the tale a entertainingly colourful and exaggerated feel to it.
The novel runs for a total of 333 pages.
© DLS Reviews