I have a great love for 1980s slasher movies, possibly more than most any other horror genre. Many independent film companies in recent years have tried to recapture the charm of the slasher movie. Most have fallen short—or simply were missing that strange essence that came from 1970s and 80s film techniques.
The closest modern slasher resurrection I’ve seen is Bloody, Bloody Bible Camp, which was a ridiculously fun film. Still, the spoof elements continually reminded me that the movie was, in fact, not an 1980s slasher, but just a fun homage made by fans of the genre.
However, I still pursue my never-ending quest to find the perfect slasher resurrection.
About a year ago I had the question: Has the 1980s slasher genre ever been captured in a book? Is there a piece of fiction that reads and feels like a classic slasher film?
That was when I conceptualized the idea of a small-press indie-publishing company which focused solely on horror novellas and novels which try to recapture the slasher genre. I worked over the details of how such a company might work, even coming up with the name SlashHouse Fiction. Ultimately, I passed this concept onto a few of my business savvy friends who then ran with it.
The Water Babies by Russell Holbrook is the first publication from this indie-publisher.
Reviewing a book like this is very difficult. Not only am I friends with the author, the editors, and the publishers, but the whole idea for the publishing company was mine. Because of my history with this particular book, I came into The Water Babies with excitement, anticipation, and high expectations.
The story, just like any good slasher film, begins with a group of horny, drinking, smoking teenagers planning a weekend trip into the woods. Each of them excitedly talks about their desire to get laid, to get drunk, and to have an overall good time.
Unfortunately for them, there is a legend about the old woods where they’re planning on visiting. An old covered bridge over the creek is the site of multiple gruesome deaths. The story goes that two young boys who drowned in the creek still come back at night, and if you park on the bridge in the dark, they’ll crawl up from the murky depths and kill whoever has disturbed their domain.
The teens, not caring about the old legend, go and set up camp near the old bridge.
Unfortunately, for them, their trip ends up being far grimmer than they expected.
Now, let me say first and foremost, the plotline and concept behind this story is perfect in almost every way. It blends the slasher genre along with a ghost story very well, creating a spooky atmosphere that eventually deludes down into a boiling cesspit of blood and gore.
Taking an old urban legend that could be familiar to any small town in America, Holbrook mixes in his own devilish and macabre storytelling style to deliver a shocking and rather enjoyable tale.
What else could a horror fan or gore hound ask for?
Of course, the book isn’t without flaws. In fact, there were moments where I found the book was difficult to read due to typos, grammatical errors, repetitive story elements, or choppy sentence structure. Now, as a writer, I am no stranger to these mistakes. Even in professional publications, typos are an inevitable fact of life. However, I simply felt that The Water Babies would have been better served to have gone through at least one or two more proof edits before going to print.
Secondly, the flow of the story was a bit jarring—even confusing—at times. There were moments where the scene had transitioned into a flashback or dream sequence, and I was left wondering if I’d missed something. The change wasn’t seamless and often forced me to stop reading and go back over the previous pages. Additionally, the cast of six main characters blend together at times, making it difficult to figure out who is talking or acting at points.
Lastly, I have one final complaint about the chapter lengths. Some chapters only lasted a page and a half, while others went on for nearly twenty. While most books vary in chapter length, the differentiation in The Water Babies just seemed too drastic. I found myself wondering when a chapter would end, even hoping it would end, when it got too long-winded for its own good. In particular, the flashback to the origin of the murders (which I also felt came too early in the book) was exceedingly long and difficult to sludge through.
All in all, don’t come into The Water Babies expecting the fast-paced storytelling and smooth dialogue of genre masters like Richard Laymon or Edward Lee. The book is an early attempt by an aspiring author looking to get his name out there, and when viewed in that light, the book is fairly enjoyable. Therefore, if you’re interested in giving a new and growing author a try—and you enjoy a fun, gory short read—than give The Water Babies a try. Come in with the right mind-set, and you might just find yourself one enjoyable slasher “movie” experience.
While it still doesn’t quite capture of the magic of the 1980s, it might scratch the itch for a short time.
RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 PENTAGRAMS
Occult Concept is a horror podcast and blog focusing on discussions of horror and exploitation film from the 70's and 80's--as well as current media which is inspired by these movies.