First published back in December of 1989, ‘The Festering’ followed on from an already impressive line of pulp horror titles by this absolute master of the subgenre.
Back in medieval times, within the small village of Garth (more of a forgotten hamlet of tumbledown hovels than a village in reality), a man known as Tabor returns to the village grounds after travelling south in search of fortune. However upon arriving, the village people see that Tabor’s flesh is covered with a mass of festering sores that ooze with a foul stench of decay.
Two days later and with autumn now upon them, a Witchfinder draws into the village to perform his annual cleansing of the community. Upon learning of the state of Tabor’s return, the dying man is hung under the direction of the Witchfinder and his cancerous corpse is then buried deep within a pit in a hope to hide this festering plague for all time.
Jumping forward to the present day, Mike and Holly Mannion have recently moved to a quaint tumbledown cottage known as ‘Garth Cottage’. The couple soon discover that their newly purchased cottage, due to its somewhat isolated setting, is barely covered by the regular water supply. Learning this, they decide that they need a water-well drilled into the ground behind their property before it can become properly habitable. A team of local contractors under the management of a Frank Bennion are brought in and so the drilling soon commences.
With the exploratory drilling searching for an underground water supply, a foul stench suddenly begins to emanate from deep within the earth. The offensive smell continues to linger, and so the Mannion’s decide to call in Bill Kemp from the Environmental Health Department to test their new water supply. The initial results bring back a positive test for Salmonella and a host of other worryingly unidentified bugs.
Soon enough the local contractors begin to develop festering rashes with open sores that continuously ooze pus. Tommy Eaton is the first to become infected and as the cancerous rash develops, so a deep seated evil slowly consumes him. With his mind now totally succumbed to the festering evil that has ravaged his body, Tommy pays a visit to his girlfriend, Penny, so that she too can be consumed by this ancient evil.
Whilst this is going on, Mike Mannion is called away from Garth Cottage on business, leaving his wife Holly in the cottage with Bennion’s contractors still working on the water-well. The local plumber, Nick Paton, starts plumbing in the new water supply, although with the water likely to still be contaminated, it will be undrinkable for some time to come. Holly’s affections turn to the plumber, but amidst this developing affair, the ogrish contractor Jim Fitzpatrick also begins to make lustful advances on her. However, a pus filled boil is now developing on Fitzpatrick’s lip, and it is only a matter of time before the festering evil takes over him, ending his life and very likely those in his immediate vicinity.
All of those employed to work on the Mannion’s water-well are now developing strange boils that progress into a contagious rash, which in turn ultimately leads to a horrifically painful death. During this period the victim’s mental state turns much darker and more sadistic, whereby anyone close to the contagious individual is likely to fall victim to their lust fuelled savagings.
With Holly now developing a nasty looking boil at the base of her spine, which may well have been transmitted on to her husband, the dark evil that has been left festering deep under the grounds of the Garth Cottage is spreading fast. What is the extent of the evil that has been released from deep underground, and more importantly, how can it be stopped?...
From the very outset, Smith sets down an oppressively dark atmosphere that throbs with the contagious evil that forms the main thrust of the tale. The first glimpses of this festering plague are depicted with such a morbid desire to appal, with Smith delighting in the visceral vividness of the sufferers symptoms. Smith continues to develop upon the dark and corrupt atmosphere that overhangs the entire storyline, allowing for the unnerving qualities of the ever-present atmosphere to flourish like the cancerous boils described so vividly throughout the text.
With both of the Mannion’s participating in their own lust-fuelled affairs behind one another’s back, the reader feels somewhat submerged in deceit, without having any ‘untainted’ point of reference in which to truly latch on to. This only further helps to develop on the general tone of despairing corruption that Smith has so skilfully set down from the outset; never really setting a ‘wholesome’ or ‘honest’ base in which the reader can feel secure from.
The characterisation throughout the tale is well-developed in each and every case, even in those characters who find themselves falling victim to the festering plague early on.
The pace of the storyline is a gradual one that builds up with tension throughout the length of the tale. Barely a page goes by without some further tragedy befalling the Mannion’s and the laborious task of making their new home habitable. Combining this unrelenting misery with the constantly ominous threat overhanging the characters results in the reader clawing at each page with a need to uncover more of this evil is lurking throughout.
All in all, Smith has managed to produce a novel that breaths a constant air of putrid terror, even within the more mundane and plodding areas of the book. The tension is constantly mounting, until the full extent of the horrific evil that awaits the reader is finally unveiled. As the pace quickens, so does Smith’s desire to deliver more grotesque and gut-wrenching depictions of the flesh-devouring plague. The novel crescendos with a litany of horrific events, until the tale finally concludes to a well-delivered ending.
The storyline throughout the tale is unashamedly and outrageously over-the-top, even for that of a pulp horror novel. In this story alone, Smith proves that he truly sets the bar from which other pulp horror authors should be judged by. The novel is nothing short of a triumph to pulp horror nastiness.
The tale runs for a total of 191 pages.
© DLS Reviews