Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Skull - Shaun Hutson, 1982

Normally you should not judge a book by its cover, but in this case it tells you all you need to know about it. The blurb on the back waffles on about a skull found on a building site coming back to life. The front cover has a hideously badly-realised version of this idea on it. This low quality extends to pretty much everything inside the book.

It's a thick book, but written in REALLY BIG FONTS so that in truth it is closer to a novella in size. The author has an irritating Dan Brownian habit of ending every chapter on a cliffhanger.

Hutson made a name for himself in the mid to late 80's as the godfather of British splatterpunk horror fiction. He earned that name by breaking the boundaries of what could be considered acceptable in horror fiction. This is an early work however, and boy does it show.

Set in a fictional British small town cut off from the outside world by flooding due to near-biblical amounts of rain, the novel focuses on a builder, Nick Regan and his scientist wife Chrissie. When the eponymous skull is unearthed on a building site for a new sports complex, Nick takes it to Chrissie for her to examine in the town library where she works. When the small group of scientists accidentally spill blood on it, the skull starts to regenerate its flesh.

Now, instead of, say, contacting the Nobel Institute, the scientists decide to keep an eye on this specimen and see how much of it regenerates. When the skull infects one of them and they turn into a ravening monster, they still decide to keep the skull quiet.

Eventually, after an interminable buildup the skull grows a whole body and the creature goes on the rampage. Nick and Chrissie go to the police, who immediately believe them, but refuse to contact any other police stations as the town is cut off. Presumably they have not heard of boats or helicopters. Anyway, the police go to the local gun shop and commandeer the kind of weaponry last seen in The Terminator (I'm not kidding, and just lying on the racks in a rural gunshop).

I could go on, but you get the idea. You cannot suspend your disbelief when reading this book, there are too many "Wait, what?" moments for that. Add to that sloppy plotting, farcical sex scenes and a completely ridiculous and bathetic ending and you get a true blue prime stinker of a book.

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