Friday, December 3, 2010

KILLER CRABS Paperback Review

KILLER CRABS by Guy N. Smith
(1978/New English Library/UK)

Often downgraded as the poor man’s James Herbert (The Rats), Guy N. Smith was one of the most pure pulp writers of the 1970s. With no pretence to literary art, Smith authored some of the most visceral, arousing and downright exciting horror novels from that era, all of which were tailor made for the paperback medium.

A published writer from the age of 12 (when he contributed to his local newspaper), Smith had a career in banking forced upon him by his father, before he broke the shackles with his first book Werewolf by Moonlight, published by NEL in 1974. It marked the beginning of an intensely prolific career for Smith, who now has over 60 horror novels to his credit, not to mention a number of crime thrillers (he wrote a serial killer book, The Hangman, under the pseudonym of Gavin Newman), and his 1996 volume Writing Horror Fiction (A&C Black), a how-to manual for aspiring writers wanting to break into the genre.

Killer Crabs was the second and best of Smith’s series of Crabs books (the original, Night of the Crabs, having been published in 1976), and provides a great summation of his prowess as a writer. The premise of the series is one of pure B-grade schlock: an army of giant, ravenous crabs bob up from time to time at various exotic locales around the globe, wreaking havoc and snacking on the locals.

After being driven out of Wales in the first novel, the crabs this time resurface in the sunny far north of Australia, where they settle down to spawn in the mangrove swamps not far from the popular Hayman Island holiday resort. After treating us to an expected opening chapter crab attack (aboard a small fishing trawler), Smith settles in to introduce us to his cast of cliched but delightfully sleazy cast of characters, including Klin, the ruggedly-handsome, G I Joe - type action man, big game hunter Harvey Logan, British scientist Clifford Davenport (returning from the first novel), and holidaying sexpot Caroline du Brunner, who beds everything in sight bar the crabs, and whose sexual adventures Smith details with an enthusiastic gusto that would have doubled the pleasure of any young male who had picked the book up expecting a mere horror story.

‘Klin began to push forward with his thighs, slowly and purposefully at first, then speeding up as his tension mounted. Her eyes were closed. She was breathing heavily, her whole body stiffening, jerking, convulsing inwardly. Her legs shot upwards bicycling, faster and faster, and her fingernails tore viciously at his shoulders and back. Seconds later she was going crazy with passion beneath him, pushing her thighs at him, grinding her pubic bone on his as she sought desperately for an even deeper penetration.’

The scenes of carnage in the book are equally exciting, as the crabs multiply at enormous rate and move inlands towards the resort, a trail of death and destruction littering their wake. Smith revels in describing these scenes with a sadistic glee, bringing forth images of a gaudy, EC-inspired 1950s horror comic, as this passage describing the demise of a Japanese fishing captain amply illustrates:

'The crab was astride the captain, its legs holding him firmly, whilst the pincers, almost delicately, explored his body in search of another limb to amputate.

Helplessly the crew watched, some of them being sick with revulsion. It reminded them of a spider finding a fly caught in its web, and instead of devouring it immediately preferring to torture its victim by ripping off a leg at a time.

The severed wrist still spouted blood, a bright red fountain which sprayed over the crab, rendering it an even more horrific spectacle. Almost effortlessly the pincer found the shoulder joint and with a loud crunch removed the whole arm. Then, seconds later, the captain’s other arm suffered an identical fate.’

With its winning combination of action, gore, sex and never a dull moment plot, it’s surprising that an adaptation of Smith’s crab paperbacks never made it to the cinema (or even the straight-to-video shelf). With the plethora of shoddy Jaws clones that were festering flea pit cinemas during this time (Tintorera, Grizzly, etc.), I would have thought that a film about man-eating crabs would have had every cigar chomping schlock producer foaming at the mouth (I can just see the poster, depicting a horde of the ugly titular creatures emerging from the red-tinged surf, a screaming, bikini-clad young woman clenched between the triumphant claws of the leader crab!).


Copyright John Harrison 2010