First Edition

The Unexpurgated Edition

First published back in 1981 (although copyrighted 1980), Jack Ketchum’s debut novel ‘Off Season’ was the first book in the ‘Dead River’ trilogy and delivered a brutal horror story doused in violence and over-the-top gore. The tale was loosely based upon the legend of Sawney Bean and his clan of Scottish cannibals, and would be one to further the rise of the splatterpunk subgenre, despite a number of US outlets refusing to stock the book.

The novel has since been recognised as an important addition to the world of horror literature, as well as setting Ketchum’s flag in the ground for being one of the most uncompromising of the rising wave of extreme horror authors.

Due to the cult success of the novel, in 1999 Overlook Connection Press released ‘Off Season: The Unexpurgated Edition’ which included the Ketchum’s original version of the novel (well…the version that followed an initial round of edits by Ballantine Books). This was the first time Ketchum’s originally intended version of the novel was published.

Later in 2017 Cemetery Dance published a 35th Anniversary Edition of the novel, which included the same unexpurgated version, as well as a new short story based in the Off Season universe, a new afterword from the author, and the novelette ‘Winter Child’.

The novel was later followed by the sequel ‘Offspring’ (1991) and then ‘The Woman’ (2010).

This review if of Connection Press’ ‘Off Season: The Unexpurgated Edition’ (1999).

DLS Synopsis:
The deadline for the book Carla was editing was drawing closer by the day. She knew the best way for her to get it done, was to lock herself away somewhere, where there would be no distractions and she could concentrate on the task at hand. By distractions, she largely meant Jim.

So she’d rented a cabin in Dead River, Maine, where she hoped to get the peace and quiet she was after. When in season, Dead River is a tourist hotspot for long coastal walks, and ventures out into the woodlands. When off season, Dead River is however, very different. It’s a quiet and isolated place. Although, for the first couple of nights, Carla had invited her sister and her partner, along with her ex and his new girlfriend, and of course, Jim. So at least Carla would have company at the start of her getaway.

However, what Carla had hoped would be a relaxing weekend spent with good company, would turn into one of absolute horror. For lurking in the shadows of the nearby caves is a family of incestuous cannibals. A pack of inbred men, women, and viciously feral children, thirsty for flesh and blood. And they’d spotted Carla and her friends at the cabin.

All of a sudden the group are slung into a world of unbelievable violence, as they’re subjected to a vicious assault on their cabin. Nowhere is safe. The group are gradually being picked off, one by one.  And its not long before they realise that theyre being hunted for their meat.

As the night drawers in along the quiet coast of Maine, they will  be fighting for their lives.

The woods will run red will their blood…

DLS Review:
Ketchum’s ‘Off Season’ is one of those highly-revered tales which crops up time and again during conversations about splatterpunk and extreme horror. Where ‘The Rats’ (1974) had put Herbert at the forefront of splatterpunk with his over-the-top platter of blood-soaked horror, over the other side of the pond, Ketchum was doing the same with this monstrously violent masterpiece.

This is a novel that’s drenched in some of the nastiest, grisliest violence and gore. We’re talking cannibals ripping people apart and taking sadistic pleasure in the torture of the group. Flesh and blood being consumed alongside rape and bouts of lurid incest. Oh yes, it’s all in there in vividly graphic detail.

However, it’s not just the extremity of the piece that makes this novel such a brutal read. It’s also in the way Ketchum will kill off a character without a seconds thought. There’s no second guessing which character will be next, or when and how each one might succumb to the inbred cannibals’ onslaught. Literally, you’ll think you know who might, just maybe, make it through this bloodbath, and you’ll be completely fucking wrong.

The sheer unpredictability and savagery of the novel ramps up the sheer bombardment of unrelenting horror like you wouldn’t believe. No one’s safe. Each chapter, another one of the group will probably be ripped apart before your eyes. And that’s if they’re lucky. The unlucky ones find themselves raped and tortured before their bodies finally succumb to the horrific wounds they’ve suffered.

This all happens over the course of one hellishly long night. Each chapter time stamps where we are along the course of the night. And as the minutes turn into hours, the horror just escalates and escalates.

Ketchum utilises a roaming character perspective throughout the novel, which allows the reader to bear witness to the horrors through the eyes of each of the group, as well as two state troopers brought into the mix, as well as some of the cannibals themselves.

All of this is delivered within a narrative that seems to unashamedly borrow off a select few iconic horror pieces – most notably George Romero’s ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ (1968). From a plot perspective, just swap the flesh-hungry zombies for a pack of savage cannibals, ramp up the violence by several thousand degrees, and then have the characters play out the resulting onslaught in and around the isolated cabin.

On top of that, the novel’s pretty much the deformed offspring of ‘Deliverance’ (1972) and ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (1977). Furthermore, interestingly, in the same year as Ketchum unleashed ‘Off Season’, fellow horror author Richard Laymon released his novel ‘The Woods Are Dark’ (1981), which delivered a similar plot with a cannibalistic tribe of inbreds lurking in the woods.

Being set over just one hellishly long night, the novel itself isn’t overly long. We’re talking a little over a couple of hundred pages for the unexpurgated hardback version. However, within this page count, Ketchum manages to cram in so much unrelenting violence and gore that you’ll feel like you can barely come up for air. You see, from the minute the cannibal fuckers first attack, literally from that point onwards, it’s non-stop. There’s no letting up. No respite from the atrocities. It’s just horror after horror after motherfucking horror.

And holy shit does Ketchum unleash all hell when he gets going. Trust me, the savagery exhibited upon these near-defenceless young holidaymakers is so brutal, so extreme, so harrowingly dark and twisted, that it feels like the words themselves are attacking you.

This is brutality unleashed. Human suffering and unrelenting, unashamed, extreme violence. Absolute classic splatterpunk that is truly worthy of all the praise it continues to receive.

The novel runs for a total of 203 pages.

Connection Press’ ‘Off Season: The Unexpurgated Edition’ (1999) also includes a superb 7 page foreword from author Douglas E. Winter as well as a 7 page afterword from Ketchum himself.

© DLS Reviews


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