THE LIST: Ten species which menaced humanity in 1970s and 1980s pulp horror novels (From Swindon Advertiser)
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THE LIST: Ten species which menaced humanity in 1970s and 1980s pulp horror novels
1. Rats – in The Rats by James Herbert (1974), whose debut novel about savage mutant rodents began a craze for literary ‘creature features’. It had everything the discerning reader of the era could wish for, including gratuitous sex and lashings of gore. Herbert moved on to other styles of horror but revisited his beloved rats in sequels Lair and Domain.
2. Crabs - Not the ordinary variety without which no supermarket sandwich spread shelf would be complete, but rather great big ones about the size of Transit vans. They were the creation of astoundingly prodigious pulp-merchant and champion pipe smoker (no, really) Guy N Smith. The crustaceans first appeared in Night of the Crabs (1976) and returned in sequels including Crabs on the Rampage, Killer Crabs, Origin of the Crabs and Crabs’ Moon. Night of the Crabs is celebrated among devotees of charades as the most difficult book title to mime without offending anybody.
3. Dogs – in The Dogs by Robert Calder (1975), in which a man rescues a fighting dog only to discover that it was scientifically bred as a ruthless killing machine. Calder manages to make us sympathise with the animal and its pack, which is no mean feat as they spend the bulk of the book ripping people limb from limb.
4. Devils Coach Horses – in Devil’s Coach Horse by Richard Lewis (1979). They may be rather obscure members of the beetle family and never more than an inch long, but in the hands of careless genetic scientists they become a scuttling tide of death. Lewis, incidentally, also wrote Night Killers (about murderous cockroaches) and Spiders (guess).
5. Rabid animals – in Day of the Mad Dogs by David Anne (1977). Rabies breaks out in Britain thanks to a smuggled pet. This book was a vital component of a peculiar surge in rabies-related paranoia during the 1970s. A national newspaper serialised it and publicised the fact with an ad showing a man in an armchair being mauled by a springer spaniel. The book’s cover artist achieved the difficult feat of making a red setter look evil. (Actually, he just coloured in the eyes a sinister green.)
6. Lampreys – in Pestilence by Edward Jarvis (1983). The rather revolting parasitic fish had a starring role in the novel thanks to some nuclear tests on the sea bed that made them grow to the size of sharks, whales, submarines and finally battleships.
7. Slugs – in Slugs by Shaun Hutson (1983). These days Hutson tends to be styled as a writer of visceral thrillers, but his early career was devoted to horror, and Slugs was the novel that made his name. Mutated to have sharper teeth than the ordinary variety, and seemingly blessed with a frightening hive mentality, these molluscs wanted more than lettuce. Hutson took care to have them either surround victims by stealth or else pounce on people who were asleep or immobile, which meant he could neatly sidestep cynical critics who wondered why characters didn’t just run away – or, indeed, walk away.
8. Cats – in The Cats by Berton Roueche. In the wilds of New York State, the moggies are breeding, and when they come calling on the human population, they have more in mind than a scratch behind the ears and playing with a stuffed mouse on a string. The book was surprisingly literary in tone for this genre, probably on account of being written by a respected mainstream writer who worked for The New Yorker.
9. Rattlesnakes – in Rattlers by Joseph L Gilmore (1979). One of the rare instances in which a creature feature’s featured creatures were of a species usually associated with danger. In a cave beneath a California tourist resort, millions of ravenous rattlers hang out in readiness to take revenge for all those handbags and belts.
10. Caterpillars - in Squelch by John Halkin (1983). Beautiful moths are seen in the English countryside and are admired until their eggs hatch into caterpillars with an insatiable appetite for flesh.