NIGHTMARE ROYALE #10: Horror and Shit! (On the Mind-Blowing Bizarro Nightmare Stylings of Carlton Mellick III)Columns,John Skipp's Nightmare Royale (On Making Horror Better),News John Skipp 4 Comments
I’ve got a confession to make: I like it weird. So weird that I can barely believe it’s happening. So weird my jaw drops thirty feet and hangs like a construction site accident, while my mind echoes Palmer from Carpenter’s THE THING, saying, “You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me.”
As such, I’m a huuuuge Bizarro fan. This new strain of cheerfully transgressive weird fiction — also known as “the literary equivalent of the cult section in a really cool video store” — is to me the most vibrant, exciting, genre-mangling scene in all of strange literature today.
And no one holds dominion over this blossoming underground phenomenon like the godfather of Bizarro, Carlton Mellick III. With the most impressive sideburns in imaginative lit since Isaac Asimov, and a brain that squirts out more shamelessly playful originality in any given chapter than most artists will accomplish in their entire lives, he’s the poster boy. The Elvis. As well he should be.
A simple run-through of the titles in his controversial thirteen-year professional career to date kinda says it all. Starting out with SATAN BURGER in 2001, he rapidly moved through RAZOR WIRE PUBIC HAIR to THE BABY JESUS BUTT PLUG, ADOLPH IN WONDERLAND, THE MENSTRUATING MALL, THE HAUNTED VAGINA, ULTRA FUCKERS, CUDDLY HOLOCAUST, THE FAGGIEST VAMPIRE (a children’s book, lushly illustrated by Mellick himself), KILL BALL, THE MORBIDLY OBESE NINJA, and I KNOCKED UP SATAN’S DAUGHTER. And that ain’t but the half of it.
But there are three Mellick novels that — though Bizarro as all get-out — squarely fall into the full-tilt hardcore horror realm. They are APESHIT (2008), ZOMBIES AND SHIT (2010), and CLUSTERFUCK (2013). All three available from Deadite Press, the extreme horror imprint of Eraserhead Press (the flagship publisher of the Bizarro empire).
And though he does not think of himself as a horror writer, they are three of the coolest, most relentlessly-surprising horror novels I’ve read this century.
APESHIT is billed as “FRIDAY THE 13TH meets VISITOR Q”. And for readers who’ve seen Takashi Miike’s weirdest, most early-John Waters-like film, that’s the best warning I can give. Yes, five teenagers go to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend of unbridled hedonism. And yes, it all goes horribly wrong.
But there’s no way to prepare for the sheer onslaught of totally wrong moments, including a sexual depravity so deeply fucked-up that I’m as ashamed of Mellick for bringing it up as he is for doing so. But there it is, amidst the disemboweling by lobster-clawed mutants, intestinal rope-climbing exhibitions, physicalized redefinitions of mind-fucking, and other tamer assaults on all your expectations.
And the craziest thing is, I love his people. Like so much Bizarro, there’s a lot of human heart and good will leaking out with all the ruptured bodily fluids. Like VISITOR Q, this is a story that seemingly has no right to be as charming and funny and personable as it is. But it is. And is therefore a genuine astonishment.
Same goes for ZOMBIES AND SHIT: a crazed, hilarious, action-packed commingling of BATTLE ROYALE and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, wherein a diverse stack of hapless victims are deposited in a city overrun by the living dead with only one way out. And there’s room for only one.
It may sound derivative, but fuck that noise. It’s just one wildly original action sequence or brain-fragmenting character revelation after another, getting weirder and weirder, till you think it can’t GET any weirder. And then it does.
There’s not a fucking person on Earth who can honestly guess where this story is going. Who’s going to win. It subverts every through-line it offers you to root for, every single time it turns around. And it never stops turning around.
The simple fact that the Mexican zombies in this story don’t cry out “BRAINS!” as they lurch toward you — but, rather, “CEREBROS!” — should help indicate why I never stopped smiling, the whole way through this crazy thing.
Which brings us to CLUSTERFUCK, the long-anticipated semi-sequel to APESHIT, wherein high school kids and a cabin in the woods are replaced by frat boys, three very unusual young women and a spelunking adventure (ala Neil Marshall’s THE DESCENT) that winds up more-than-earning its incendiary title.
This may be my favorite of the three, because it’s the only one that actually scared me, with its powerfully elucidated fear of darkness and enclosed spaces, way down in those uncharted caves. There are parts of this book that had me dreading the next page, not because “Oh, no! Something disgusting’s gonna happen!” or “Oh, no! I already know what typical horror shit is about to happen!”
The dread was my dread. I DIDN’T WANNA GO IN THAT CAVE! It made me nervous in ways that horror novels almost never do. It snuck up on my ass, while I was laughing. And then left me in the dark, down there. To me, a remarkable accomplishment.
This is not to say that shit doesn’t get entirely out of hand down there. The book is, after all, called CLUSTERFUCK. This implies a million things going wrong, and getting worse by the second. Which is utterly what happens. Every time you think shit can’t get more “extreme” — as Extreme Dean, the greatest milk-titted steroid dumbass frat boy character in all of horror history shouts, every chance he gets — something else comes up to clusterfuck the circumstances further.
You want horror on your horror? Here’s some TRIPLE-FUCKING HORROR!
I’m kinda madly in love with these books. They cheer me up, and give me hope in ways that all too few modern horrors do. You know why? Because they a) genuinely surprise, and therefore b) genuinely entertain.
In a genre so lamentably coasting on its infinitely remake-able laurels and pre-fab gotcha moments, Mellick’s guerrilla incursions combine total geekboy fandom and love with genuine, unbridled outsider madness.
As such, it borders on genius, in the way only true outsider art can.
Do I heartily recommend it?
Why, yes, I do.