Blackwater makes you utterly desperate to find out what happens next, as if your life depends upon it. When I was almost done, I considered calling in sick because I was afraid I might die in a car crash before finding out how the story ends. It’s that good.
Though categorized as a southern gothic and shelved in the horror section (when it’s not out-of-print) it often feels closer to Harper Lee or John Steinbeck than Stephen King. But other times, always when you least expect it, it is very much a horror novel. Not King, though, nor Lovecraft. This is a quiet, creeping horror that doesn’t exactly feel supernatural. After grounding the story so firmly in realistic, earthy characters, how can anything—even water monsters and vengeful apparitions—be unreal?
A woman preps in a kitchen. Like a robot, her movements are both jittery and fluid from repetition. She reaches into cabinets with urgency, gathering oils, jars, utensils and cookware. Ladles and tongs rattle in her grasp. A package of flour slips, bursts and clouds the air. The refrigerator is emptied onto the counter, one item at a time, all in a row. She plucks a few spices from the rack, reconsiders, and brings down the complete set. Her eyes dart toward the huge grandfather clock in the living room. It is five minutes before five.
She surveys the ingredients scattered about the counter. There is no logic to the array, it is simply all that she can find. Tonight she is preparing a new recipe from an old book. Anything can happen.
Avoid the pond water and don’t cut the grass! This eco-gothic horror novel delivers more plant-based thrills than an Earth Day celebration. You’ll think twice about weedy vegetation overwhelming that ramshackle house outside of town, and may even second guess having outdoor trysts with woodland nymphomaniacs.
It’s rare for a pulp novel to live up to its brilliant cover, but this one does. Actually, the story surpasses any of the wild assumptions you might have going in. It gets crazier and crazier with every page, and I’m all about it!
It doesn’t get any more 1969 than Adonis. This novel is as trippy as an extended foot and more surreal than Salvador Dali’s wet dreams. Though billed as “adult only” gay entertainment, much of the sex oozes with a slime of horror and supernatural mystery. You don’t know whether to be repulsed, turned on or terrified. Perhaps it’s the combination of all three which make it so unique.
Back in the day Adonis was popular enough to warrant two sequels. Today it’s an extremely rare find that might cost three figures for a tattered used copy.
California Scene, one of the more literary-minded gay presses, reviewed the novel in their May 1971 issue. They described it as “quite an exciting detective story” and praised Lambert’s “great skill in handling” a “number of good ideas.” In the same breath, however, there was concern that the “extremely involved” plot was peopled with “too many characters” and consequently difficult to follow.
This rare 1977 horror novel occasionally pops up in academic discussions around gay representation in literature. Drewey Wayne Gunn, a leading academic on such topics, describes The Slasher as a “credible attempt to explain a killer’s mentality” and praises its “touching portrait of a relationship between two police officers and their friendship with the medical examiner.” He goes on to lament that the author’s actual identity remains a mystery, since Sebastian Lamb, like most headliners of pulp fiction, is a pseudonym.
Gunn’s praise is generous, but he’s not wrong. If you glaze over the overindulgent sex and generally poor writing, it’s possible to enjoy a story of semi-closeted detectives attempting to bring a killer to justice. Both victims and murderer are also gay, making this a story 100% by, for, and about gay men. A few lines of social commentary imply these grisly murders might go unchecked if the detectives were straight. The media, at least, aren’t interested in reporting on “faggot deaths” until one of the victims turns out to be a young, emerging actor.
A survey of 1960’s and ’70s gay pulp fiction reveals that sequels were scarce. Many of these books had impressive print runs (over 100,000) but rarely did any one title warrant a narrative continuation. The plots and characters weren’t exactly designed for posterity. Instead, their pleasures were often of a disposable nature, to the level of being tossed out with garbage upon reaching aphrodisiacal fulfillment. The idea that people might read, collect and obsess over pulp fifty years later probably sounded laughable at the time.
Nevertheless, there were fan favorites and landmark publications among this ocean of cheap, sleazy paperbacks. Some titles generated multi-book series, spin-offs, parodies and, of course, sequels. Notable examples of the era include the 2069 trilogy (1969-1970) by Larry Townsend, The Man from C.A.M.P. series (1966-1968) by Don Holliday, and Richard Amory’s bestselling Song of the Loon trilogy (1966-1968). Amory’s books sold in the millions and even had a movie adaptation.
Demon’s Coronation (1971) by William J. Lambert, III, is another example, being the dramatic second half of Demon’s Stalk (1970). If you’ve read my review of the first book, you know I’m a fan and would consider it not only a fabulous example of queer pulp, but also the horror genre at large.
“Going to Hell” has always been a part of my existence. I’ve been told it constantly. From the pulpit, from family, from strangers on the street. I suspect every religious gay person decides at some point to either embrace their inevitable damnation, or believe that organized religion is a lie. Friends and allies are forced into a similar conundrum, fearing their soul will turn to salt should they dare sympathize with such “deviants.”
But I was born in 1989 and have it lucky. In 1970, when Demon’s Stalk was published, you didn’t just have the church to worry about. You could be sent to jail. You were thought to suffer from a “mental disorder.” You were an assumed pedophile. You were beaten—maybe killed—in the street. Rarely would anyone care. They saw your death as a public service. It wasn’t just God against you, it was everyone.
It’s within this historical context that I read Demon’s Stalk in awe. It remains edgy and unnerving these fifty years later, arguably deserving of classic status within the horror genre, but also revolutionary for its handling of queer characters within a religious storyline. Which is to say that none of these things matter.
Published in 1977, sometimes attributed to Shelley and Paul Katz, but more often just Shelley, now thoroughly out of print, Alligator is one of the bazillion killer creature novels to emerge after the success of Jaws (1974). Unlike other rip-offs, however, this one is actually good. Unexpectedly, almost shockingly good.
The first chapter is ablaze with rich characterization, ominous Everglades atmosphere, and the chomps we paid for. Then there’s about 75 pages of rubbish. But then, holy shit, the excess characters thin out and we’re left with two guys battling the elements, an evil alligator, and their own hyper masculinity.
Snakes are my favorite beast to go berserk and here we have a satisfying nest of Indian cobras terrorizing New York City apartment buildings. It’s a good set-up that’s just as zany as one would expect and hope for. Only slightly marred by a long list of characters who are probably given more attention than necessary.
That said, characters are also what makes this a good time. Our lead is a creepy vagabond type fellow who’s gone to the dark side because of his overbearing mother. He breaks a girl’s heart after using her to smuggle snakes into the States. His intended purpose with the snakes remains a mystery, but we do know that he has wet dreams whenever he hears them slithering about.
Reading rare and obscure books has become my obsession, and this is the rarest one yet. Considered the first gay werewolf novel, it has significance to queer horror fans, but its appearance in 1971, amid a swirl of gay socio-political turmoil, interests me even more. I can’t read it and not imagine myself as a groovy gay man, the possibility of equal rights newly in my head after the Stonewall Riots, but knowing actual equality is so far off as to be unimaginable. My existence is considered monstrous to almost everyone. I know because they told me. Maybe not me specifically, because of course I’m in the closet, but they’ve said it out loud. Many times.
In 1971 you could be jailed for writing books like this, and reading them wasn’t always safer. Obscenity laws still percolated in the Supreme Court and Greenleaf Classics, Lambert’s publisher, faced endless legal battles.