Ginger Nuts of Horror
Here's the thing about extremity in horror or any other kind of fiction:
It's relative; entirely subjective. One cannot pre-empt how others are going to react or respond to the material your provide; one can only hope that they do react, and in a manner that makes the work worthwhile.
The notion of advertising material as “EXTREME!” has never particularly sat well with me, as it seems to be an attempt to pre-empt or proscribe reaction before audiences have made their minds up. The relative extremity or not of any given material relies largely upon the reader; what biases, interpretations, intentions and, indeed, agendas, they bring to it. As such, one could make what one considers the most disgusting, offensive, morally reprehensible material imaginable, yet it might gain no traction or elicit no response from certain consumers beyond a shrug or a sigh.
This is certainly a position I often find myself in, especially since what is considered “extreme” in horror fiction and cinema has become so codified; a sub-genre within itself, with its own templates, traditions and parameters. That phenomena in itself is arguably contradictory, since having established parameters of “extremity” ultimately makes for work that can be predicted to certain degrees of accuracy: a reader will generally know roughly that there will be some form of extreme gore, bodily mutilation and/or sex within the work, and will -consciously or otherwise- take pains to cushion themselves against it, thereby diluting emotional response.
This begs the question: regardless of what it consists of or contains, can a work be legitimately labelled or marketed as “extreme” if it fails to elicit extreme emotional response? What if something ostensibly banal -such as a soap opera or day time TV drama- elicits an extreme response owing to its promotion of banality, the simplification of certain situations it provides, the two-dimensional, sentimental solutions it promotes? Can that then be labelled as an extreme work?
Herein lies the core problem with work like Sex, Gore and Millipedes; nothing innate to the work itself, which is generally fun, punchy, well paced and economically written, but with reference to certain syntheses and contradictions that exist within wider culture and certain markets.
Sex, Gore and Millipedes markets itself as a work of conscious sickness, as something that will distress, disgust and/or morally offend. For me, it achieves none of those goals, but does succed in being an extremely fun, sardonic, comic-book extravaganza of absurd images and situations, ranging from the erotic to the obscene and back round again. There's a certain quality to the writing that makes it light and breezy to read; a factor that may, for some, be in contrast to the nature of its subject matter. The experience of reading put me in mind of flicking through certain comic books as a teenager; the horror comics, copies of 2000AD and certain examples of Manga that had only just begun to filter into Western markets: there's a pleasant and abiding sense of the taboo about the collection that makes it intimate and fun; the kind of sex partner who is as inclined to laughter as to sighs.
Nor is it abashed in its appetites and obsessions, which fact appeals to a reader of my inclinations ENORMOUSLY; all of the characters are sexual, sensual beings, who enjoy what they do, even when it descends into the most uproarious deviance (from a woman who takes her pleasure from graphically fucking the living, chocolate bunny her Father brought her as a birthday present to the couple who discover a tree on their property whose apertures resemble certain female anatomy). There is an enormous degree of pleasure in this collection, as well as examples of incredible pain, disgrace and despair (parasitic millipedes whose excretions prove an aphrodisiac that overpowers all restraint and parameters of sexuality, orientation etc infesting and graphically bursting from the belly of one of their beneficiaries, the woman sucked dry of her youth by the spectral lover whose heart she keeps in a pickling jar om the shelf).
For the most part, this is not a collection that concerns itself with the ideologically perverse or intense; it isn't attempting to make any weighty point or engage in philosophical deviance; its stories are highly aesthetic, extremely vivid and colourful, as is the nature of the deviance and/or extremity they contain: it certainly wouldn't be out of place to see them rendered in graphic form, maybe as a comic or a web series of some description. There's a degree of colour and vivacity to the images described, as well as a distinct and sensory quality to their situations and environments.
Extreme? Well, as previously established, that depends very much on the reader. For many, I can certainly see the graphic and unabashed sex, the acknowledgement of appetite, the scenes of mutilation and gore, eliciting fairly strong reaction. For me, they evoked a sense of appreciation as to the colour and clarity of their recording, the fact that the writer is clearly unambiguous concerning what pleases, arouses and engages him, and hopes that others share those interests. I can't profess a sense of disturbance or of being unsettled at any particular point; this simply isn't the kind of material that evokes that kind of reaction in me (such tends to be of a more ideological stripe; an extremity of ideas rather than of images), but what it does elicit is entirely welcome and pleasurable.
A fun descent into gratuity, fully aware of its audience and what they crave, for all of its omens and warnings; stories that hurtle along at incredible pace, that don't concern or belabour themselves with redundant or cushioning details: that get down and dirty in sex and blood and pleasure and pain at the earliest opportunity.
Nor is this predominated by male appetites or phalocentric drives; there are as many -if not more- stories whose protagonists are women as men, who are presented as unambiguously, as desire-driven, as hungry and urgent as their male counterparts (sometimes to their deficit, often not), which is refreshing, especially in a sub-genre in which women so often become fodder for or mediums of extremity; subjects of rape and mutilation, rather than entities that engage with and exhibit their own desires (interestingly, it's often the female characters in the collection that embrace the strangeness, absurdity and surrealism of their situations, whereas the male characters -more often than not- fall victim to them).
Not exactly extreme to my tastes, but an extremely fun, sharp, eminently readable collection, the appeal of which relies arguably even more so on personal taste and proclivity than many other texts of its type: those who have issues with graphic and highly sensual details will find this off-putting, whereas those like me, who actively seek out such qualities, and have a significantly high threshold for offence, are likely to devour it just as readily as some of the characters devour one another (in every interpretation of the concept).
Wait! Seriously, hang on a minute before opening this book. In case the title, and lurid, disturbing image on the front haven't already made it shockingly clear, THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR CHILDREN. Or people with sensitive stomachs. Or taste.
This is a volume of twisted, dark, incredibly graphic horror stories. This is all the stuff the author wouldn't want his mom to even know he wrote. This is the one book he plans to keep hidden from his kids under after his death.
It's not all blood splatter and fornication, however. I mean, sure-- there's a lot of those things (more the latter, maybe). There's human struggle, self-doubt, painful choices, and love. Yeah. Love.
Because, if you, the reader, doesn't feel for the characters, if they don't resonate with you in some way... well, then where's the fun in torturing them?
Ken MacGregor pulls you into the stories, and, once you give a damn, that's when he starts doing horrible things to the people in them.
So, if you think you've got the guts, and you don't mind losing some sleep, go ahead. Read the book. But, please, if you know Ken's mom, don't tell her it exists, okay?