First Edition Version

30th Anniversary Edition

First published back in November of 1991, US author Jack Ketchum’s novel ‘Offspring’ formed the sequel to ‘Off Season’ (1981) and the second book in the author’s ‘Dead River’ trilogy.

In February of 2023 (5 years after Ketchum’s sad passing), Dark Regions Press released a limited edition 30th Anniversary Edition of the book. The hardback book was limited to 500 signed and numbered copies, along with 26 lettered deluxe traycased copies. Both editions were signed by author Thomas F. Monteleone (who provided the foreword) along with the editors James R. Beach and Mike Noble (with the deluxe version also being signed by artists David Stoupakis and Tomislav Tikulin).

In 2009 a film adaptation of ‘Offspring’, directed by Andrew van den Houten, was released. The film stuck almost religiously to the book, other than the cannibal family being able to verbally communicate with each other in their own grunt-like language. A short excerpt from the film’s screenplay was included within the aforementioned Dark Regions Press 30th Anniversary Edition of the book.

The novel was later followed by the final book in the ‘Dead River’ trilogy with ‘The Woman’ (2010).

DLS Synopsis:
It had been eleven years since the horrific slaughter which had taken place in Dead River. Many of the locals may have since forgotten about the bloodsoaked hell that had occurred at the small isolated cabin, or indeed up in the mountainous cave. However, for George Peters, the nightmares of that tragic night still hung heavy in his tormented memory. Everyone else from then had either died on that night, or moved away.

For sixteen-year-old Nancy Ann David, the atrocities enacted that night were just a story told by the locals. Never in her most horrifying nightmares did she envisage being faced with such terrifying savagery at the wanton hands of cannibalistic savages.

And then it happened. The savages returned. And Nancy was faced with the true horror of this nightmare made flesh.

When Nancy’s mother returned home she found Nancy’s body lay naked on the kitchen table. Her body motionless. Pale. Her arms gone. Chopped off and drying in the sink. Two children perched on the counter by the sink. Squatting, starring at her. Their dangling arms covered in blood.

Then, when the authorities finally arrived at the house, there was nothing left but the haunting aftermath of the blood-drenched slaughter. Despite having retired from the force, George Peters is brought in to assist. After all, he was the only one left in Dead River who truly knew what those cave-dwelling predators were capable of.

Unfortunately for Peters, and the small community at Dead River, this bloodbath was not to be an isolated incident.

One of the cannibalistic family had survived that night. A young cannibal girl who, in the ten years since, had been travelling up and down the coast. Breeding. Growing her own family. And now they had returned to Dead River and lay waiting in the dark mountains close by.

The Woman had taught her family well. Despite their age, they had become strong and savage. Accustomed to the darkness. Driven by their primal urges for flesh and vengeance.

The Woman wanted blood. The Woman deserved blood. Dead River would once again provide them with the blood that was rightfully theirs…

DLS Review:
Jeez, how the fuck do you follow up on a novel like ‘Off Season’ (1981)? A tale that broke the mould, delivering some of the most brutal, unrelenting, and bleakest of nihilistic extreme horror. A novel where nothing and no one feels safe. Well, rather than produce a duplication, or a sequel that merely attempts to match the characteristics of that breathtaking debut, Ketchum instead comes at us from a different direction.

Whilst the above synopsis might sound like we’re treading the same ground, in fact, this sequel takes a very different route. No longer is the core of the story one of attempting to survive the consequences of the roll of a dice. Everything founded upon the sheer crux of a character’s luck (albeit predominantly bad luck) alone. Of desperately fighting against the impact of circumstances purely outside of one’s control. Here we instead have a brutal tale which weaves in the values of family, upbringing and the strength borne through that unity.

We see the story unfold from both sides of the coin. The victims and the predators. Both have their own roots, their family units, those they are inherently connected to through blood. And it’s essentially this that pushes them on. That drives them to keep going through it all.

From the side of the victims thrust into this unrelenting nightmare, we’re given multiple perspectives as all hell is unleashed over a singular 24-hour period (once again). We have David and Amy Halbard at their beautiful but isolated new home, tucked away in Dead River. Then we have their friend, Claire and her young eight-year-old son Luke who have come to visit the Halbard’s. The story flitters between each of these characters for a while, before the shit hits the fan like a locomotive, and their numbers diminish somewhat abruptly shall we say.

On the other side of the coin we have The Woman and her tribe…well, her offspring. These have been bred over the last decade via inbreeding and the use of a manacled, beaten down and tortured man simply dubbed The Cow. Literally a wasted away hapless slave, wading around in his own faeces, who’s been cooped up as their captive for eight years and used purely for his seed (and the sadistic entertainment of the young offspring).
In this primitive cannibal family unit, we also have a boy named First Stolen, who at the age of twelve became the father to a seven-year-old named The Girl, due to incestual breeding with The Woman. Then there’s seventeen-year-old Second Stolen, who was also conceived via the use of The Cow. After that we then have the other younger members of the family who are the result of incestual coupling. We have a six-year-old named The Boy, a young girl named Eartheater, and finally a boy named Rabbit. These latter two are clearly the product of incest and act that way (hence the descriptive names).

What’s of particular note is how we get to see the events unfold from behind their eyes too. Their primitive rituals and (on the face of it) sadistic drives. The way they’re also a family unit and through that unit, bring their own respective roles together as one. In fact, where this might at first be seen as taking away from their “scare factor” in the novel, by making them a slither more ‘human’ (for want of a better term), in actual fact it makes their drives and actions that much more terrifying.

Alongside this we also have the character of Steven Carrey who is completely a Richard Laymon-esque type of character (he instantly reminds you of Lander Dills from ‘The Woods Are Dark’ (1981)). This guy’s an absolute motherfucker of a psychopathic murder. He’s Claire’s ex-husband, who’s on his way to meet up with her and their son at the Halbard’s house. To be honest, the Steven Carrey chapters were some of the most riveting. The causal backstory that’s thrown in about his recent murder. The psychotic behaviour enacted by this slimy Manhattan lawyer upon a young hitchhiker en route to the Halbard’s. The sheer offhanded casualness of it all. So fucking Laymon, it’s amazing.

Speaking of which, Ketchum does throw in a nod or two to his fellow author pal, dropping in that the character David Halbard has designed and developed a creepy-ass computer game named ‘The Woods Are Dark’. Stuff like that will always get a smile from a horror geek (like me).

Anyway, I’ve rambled on forever, without actually reviewing the frigging novel itself! Ok, so first off this is in no way shape or form anywhere near as gruesome, gory, or as extreme as ‘Off Season’ (1981). The splatter and overall brutality of the tale has been toned down considerably. Well…maybe toned down isn’t the right description. More purposefully left to the side, instead investing more into a character-driven tale.

That’s not to say there aren’t some pretty fucking shocking moments in this tale. We literally have a dead baby sealed up in a bag, a man shackled up and raped for his seed, bodies being dismembered, victims being sadistically tortured, and of course all the other violence and savagery that comes along with a Ketchum novel of this nature. However, compared with the absolute onslaught of the first Dear River book, this sequel just doesn’t try to play on the same court. And rightly so too.

The strength in this novel is instead with the characters and more precisely their bonds with each other. It’s these links, these powerful connections through blood, or through the bond that is forged with the characters through the ordeal they face together, which makes the novel another masterpiece of brutal horror fiction.

There’s just so much to take away with this tale. So much to draw you in and keep you gripped. It’s a fitting sequel, that plays by its own rules throughout. And Ketchum absolutely nailed achieving this.

The novel runs for a total of 218 pages (which includes five of Tomislav Tikulin’s black and white illustrations within this).

Dark Regions Press - 30th Anniversary Edition

Foreword – Thomas F. Monteleone - 5 Pages
Author Thomas F. Monteleone opens up the book with a brief foreword about his thirty-year friendship with Dallas Mayr (aka Jack Ketchum) detailing how they first met at the Horror Writers Association Stoker Award in New York back in 1993. It’s a heart-felt eulogy to his late friend, and a wonderful way to begin a 30th anniversary edition.

Afterword Back To The Stew Pot: On Offspring – Jack Ketchum – 5 Pages
Before providing a reprint of the introduction/essay that first appeared in the October 1991 edition of ‘Mystery Scene Magazine’, here Ketchum gives us with a short 2-Page Author’s Note to provide a little intro to the into (if you like). The essay was also reprinted in the Overlook Connection Press 2006 deluxe hardcover edition of ‘Offspring’.

The short 3-page essay is pretty much Ketchum explaining why he penned a sequel (as he doesn’t generally go for sequels), and then a brief overview of the book’s overarching plot and themes. A kind of “this is what you get” type of thing. Something to whet a potential reader’s appetite and an interesting read with a few juicy insights of Ketchum’s thought process behind the sequel’s construction and ambition.

Offspring Script Excerpt – 7 Pages
Here we have a small 7-page excerpt from the script for Andrew van den Houten’s film adaptation of the story. The excerpt is from when Loreen Kaltsas returns home to find the cannibals in her kitchen, the babysitter slaughtered, and her baby in a bag. The script then jumps to George Peters being woken by the cops at his door and their resulting conversation.

Offspring Film Images – 3 Pages
Here we have 3-pages of black & white photographs and stills from the film, which had Ketchum on set, partly because he had a brief cameo at the beginning of the film as the local coroner.

Conversations With The Scariest Man In America – Michael D. Noble – 10 Pages
Next is a wonderful introduction to the next two interviews with Jack Ketchum that follow. The introduction was written by Michael D. Noble (who works primarily as an editor and producer for television shows and documentaries), however, he’s also a huge fan of Ketchum’s work, and through bonding during the first of the interviews (in 2009), they became good friends. This introduction explains how the interviews came about, why this is the first time the interviews have ever been printed, and really sets down a wonderfully heart-warming picture of the man that is Dallas Mayr. It’s an incredibly insightful and emotionally-charged introduction.

Two Interviews With Jack Ketchum 40 Pages
The first of the two interviews is the aforementioned lengthy 37-Page interview from May of 2009 when Noble chatted with Ketchum at Ketchum’s favourite bar – Joanne Trattoria. This interview is transcribed in its entirety, even with the drinks orders and issues with the recording included. However, it’s this raw state of the interview, giving us the very words that came from Ketchum’s mouth, how he presents himself, and the undeniably unsugared responses, that make it such a fascinating read.

In his introduction, Noble talks about this interview at length, eluding to it being an incredibly special experience. Having read the interview, I concur that it is every bit of that. From the incredibly insightful talk of his various books, to what Ketchum says about hiss mentors (most notably Robert Bloch who Ketchum sheds a few tears over during the interview), to what has motivated him in his work, and many wonderful moments from his past. Honestly, this interview is an incredible read.

The second interview was from 2017 which Noble conducted purely over email. It’s more focussed on Ketchum’s latter work, as well as his working relationship with co-author Lucky McKee. This is a fairly short interview, only spanning 3-pages, but again, insightful into the latter books as well as the short stories Ketchum has penned over the years.

Life Among The Cannibals: Reflecting on 35 Yeas of the Dead River Series – 2015 Essay – 4 Pages
To end this incredible 35th Anniversary Edition, Ketchum has penned a short afterword in which he talks briefly about ‘Off Season’ (1981), then the writing process for its sequel, and the book’s success since its release. He ends talking about the various film adaptations and the potential future for the cannibals. The afterword forms a great ending to the collection as a whole and puts a final signoff on the probable, but not definite, end to this tribe of blood-thirsty cannibals.

Including these bonus features, the Dark Regions Press - 30th Anniversary Edition of the book runs for a total of 305 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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