First published back in September of 2017, Matt Shaw’s novella ‘The Game’ once again proved that he’s an extreme horror author who’s not afraid to push the boundaries of taste to the limit, and beyond.

DLS Synopsis:
Victoria Ballard knew it was either him or her.  If she didn’t kill him right now, cave in his skull with the hammer she gripped tightly in her hand, then she’d be the dead one.  She had no choice.  The laminated note had made that quite clear.  To proceed, one of you must die.  It was him or her.

As she moved into the next room after pulverising the man’s skull in with the hammer, Vicki had no idea she was being watched by millions.  It was all part of a show being broadcast across the world, transmitted onto the Dark Internet via private satellites.  The Game plucked unsuspecting victims from their everyday lives and forced them to complete sadistic tasks in order for them to win both their freedom and a prize that they would truly love.

Such cruelty and suffering, streamed via satellite direct into the homes of a gore-hungry audience, all for a modest subscription.  Through word of mouth The Game had become big bucks.  And governments took a blind eye to the brutality, thanks to healthy donations from the show’s producers.

Shane Ryder was the game show host.  Each episode he lapped up the buzz given off by the live studio audience.  The viewers loved him.  But it was ultimately the blood and guts and raw human suffering that kept them coming back for more.

After all…More Gore, More Ratings…

DLS Review:
Okay, so the concept behind this particular story isn’t exactly new.  Shaw’s the first to admit this, with “Saw meets The Running Man” emblazoned in big bold letters across the book’s back cover.  And that’s exactly what this is.  Ultra-violent reality TV, akin to the likes of ‘Battle Royale’ (2000) meets Stephen King’s ‘The Running Man’ (1982), only with a gritty room-by-room ‘Saw’ (2004 – 2017) style challenge to it.  But the ‘tests’ are far more sadistic and downright depraved than seen in any of the ‘Saw’ films.  I kid you not, Shaw’s gone all out to push the boundaries of bad taste here.  In fact I’d go as far to say the ‘Saw’ films haven’t got a patch on this piece of truly vile sickness.  Depraved isn’t a hard enough word.  It’s goddamn horrific is what it is.

So with the concept hugging some already reasonably well-trodden grounding, the novella’s real strength, its absolute goal, invariably rests with the depth and delivery of the extreme horror within.  A simple caved-in skull announcing the start of the tale doesn’t offer up even a hint of the brutality that’s to come.  Trust me, this shit is about to get sick.

Shaw does attempt to gradually build up with the levels of abhorrent vileness.  The first two rooms aren’t really anything we haven’t already seen before.  Just an appetiser for the horrifically merciless misery to come.  However, from Room Three onwards, there’s literally no holding Shaw back.  The man’s twisted imagination is let loose, and there’s seemingly no boundaries he’s unwilling to venture past.

This my sick little friends is extreme horror, through and through.  It’s not trying to be big, it’s not trying to be clever, it’s simply trying to entertain in a twisted-as-fuck way.  That’s the sum of it boys and girls.  If that’s not your bag, then this really isn’t for you.  Move on and don’t look back.  But if for some quite worrying reason this sort of hellishly violent and gut-churningly depraved fiction floats your bloodthirsty boat, then hop aboard the fucked-up subway to hell.  You won’t be disappointed.

The story runs for a total of 65 pages.

Bonus Short Stories:

In The Hand Of God – 6 Pages
Forty-five-year-old Mark Joshua had hit rock bottom some time ago when he lost the final thing that was important to him: his wife.  She’s walked out on him, unable to cope with her own grief after the accident that tore their lives apart.  The supposed ‘accident’ that so far gone unanswered for.  Now their son was dead.  But vengeance would be Mark’s, one way or the other…

Drenched from head to toe in red raw human suffering, this first bonus short story is anything but entertaining.  It’s cold and callous.  Hard-hitting in an all-too-real sort of way.  It’s all about the human element.  Loss and suffering and the struggle to find peace with the next step.  Truly harrowing.

The Body Out Back – 11 Pages
Alex Davies knew he was slowly drinking himself to death.  Seeing his lifeless reflection in the mirror didn’t deter him from his desire to die.  It only seemed to make him feel more guilty for those who had to bear witness to what he was doing.  The people he was supposed to love.  Those who begged him to seek help.  Those who he continually pushed away and angered.  But none of that stopped his self-destructive descent of self-hatred and despair – all the while drinking himself into an early grave.  He’d just called in sick again – not able to face work with another gut-churning hangover – when he saw the handwritten note that had been posted through his door.  Scrawled on the single sheet of lined paper “Do not disregard.  Out of the back door, you will find a dead body”.  What a load of bollocks.  But why the hell would someone put such a thing through his door?...

Sometimes all a short story needs is one simple idea, one clever little twist behind it, for it to be an out-and-out success.  This little beauty’s got exactly that.  It’s far from a complex story.  It’s short and sweet and incredibly well executed.  Shaw lulls you into a false sense of security with a purposefully slow-footed pacing for the first two-thirds or so of the story.  It’s all about setting the scene.  Getting you at ease with the situation.  He’s toying with you like a cat with a motherfucking mouse.  And you dear reader are the mouse here.  And then when the time is right, when you’re settled into the flow of the story, then he delivers the suckerpunch.

Insomnia – 6 Pages
It was now the third night in a row where he lay there in bed watching the hours tick on by, minute by minute, second by second.  Next to him his wife was fast asleep.  Of course she was.  Ever since her head had hit the pillow she’d been dead to the world.  But that’s not how it was for him.  His brain just wouldn’t switch off.  Wouldn’t let him succumb to the restful embrace of sleep.  And so he lay there.  Thinking.  Pondering.  Growing increasingly, irrepressibly, frustrated…

Another simple concept short story here.  And for this one you can almost imagine Shaw enduring the mind-numbing frustration of insomnia as he wrote this very story.  The living-hell of being so fucking tired, but not able to switch off.  The envy at your partner asleep by your side.  Their smug as fuck heavy breathing grinding away at your brain.  And the bloody cat thinking your feet will make a cosy bed for the night.  The frustration feels so very real.  Almost palpable.  For me this is the aspect of the story that works, and not so much the sudden ‘horror’ ending.  Still a good ‘un though.

Cold Hands – 4 Pages
Marie worked long hours.  She didn’t mind.  Being the shop manager called for a pretty big commitment.  The end result was she’d get home, and after an evening meal with her husband, she’d end up going to bed, leaving Matt to stay up watching whatever late night TV was on.  Eventually she’d feel the creak of the bed behind her, and his cold hands pulling her close.  Always those cold hands.  Even now...

This is a sad one.  It’s short.  Not much on its bones other than one woman’s life sketched out over a few pages, until the twist is unveiled.  It’s cold, sad and somehow meaningful.  There’s a definite lingering sense of what it is to be human left at the end.  And it tugs at your emotions ever so gently for a short while afterwards.

Outfits – 35 Pages
Sarah had just finished another hard day on the prison ward.  However, her day’s work wasn’t finished just yet.  She had her other job to do.  Her other role in life.  She had just enough time to get changed into her other uniform before her client turned up.   He was a regular.  It meant she knew what he liked.  What turned him on.  How far she could push the pain and humiliation.  That’s what made her a professional dominatrix.  One that clients kept coming back to.  Like this one.  During the day he was a successful man in his fifties.  But in her playroom, his role was very different.  Here he was little more than a worthless maggot.  A submissive slave to her every sexual whim.  But tonight he’d turned up requesting something a bit different.  Tonight he had a suitcases containing three separate uniforms.  Sarah didn’t like surprises.   Especially from her clients.  But she was intrigued with what the uniforms were.  And after all, what’s the worst that can happen?...

Ending the book we have a particularly sordid little treat, very much in the style of a David Owain Hughes story – with perversion and sexual deviancy forming the starter, main and dessert of this deviant little feast.  In fact, from the very outset Shaw gets down and dirty with the filthy intricacies involved in this particular dominatrix’s ‘behind-closed-doors’ second job.  If you’re one for blushing at sloppy ladleful’s of crudeness, then best not read this particular cum-splattered short whilst on public transport.  It’s Hughes’ ‘Wind-up Toy’ (2016) all over again, although here Shaw’s really trying his best to push the boundaries for how depraved one man can stoop.  Furthermore, you’ll find the deviancy and debauchery cranks up a good notch or two with pretty much every page, only stopping short of delivering a Kentucky Hot Pocket by a gnats fucking whisker.  The final handful of pages are brutal, delivering a grim-as-a-dead-granny’s-twat conclusion which not so much wraps the story up as it does leave you feeling flayed by filth and left to succumb to the harshness of the real world.  This is quite some story my friends.  Quite some fucking story.

The book runs for a total of 121 pages.

© DLS Reviews



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