Thursday, February 17, 2011

Killer Crabs by Guy N. Smith (1978): Death Comes Clicking

Prolific British pulp-horror writer Guy N. Smith's second novel in his infamous Crabs saga - although the first published in the United States - is a slim and fast-moving account of seriously gigantic, man-eating crabs invading a resort island off Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Now you may not believe me and it may disappoint you to hear it, but Killer Crabs (Signet Dec 1979) is not the outrageously trashy and poorly-written horror novel I'd expected. Yes, it is trashy and yes, there's a lot of bad writing, but at no point did I practically exclaim aloud, "Get the fuck outta here with this shit!" or "You gotta be kidding me!" or some other bit of disbelief. Nope, Killer Crabs is just a run-of-the-mill '70s horror novel in the "giant monster" or "nature running amok" traditions. Pincers sever limbs, entrails are devoured, buildings destroyed, watch out, here they come: Click, click, clickety-click...

I can only imagine these books became "famous" because Smith kept the shtick going over half a dozen novels and a few short stories. Maybe as the years went on he became a better bad writer so as to make reading the books guilty pleasures; the handful of boner lines in this volume are bad, but they're not so bad that they're entertaining. No, they're mostly kind of dull and drab. For your suspect delectation I noted a few of the better lines:

An aura of evil emanated from the crab, a force that was far in excess of its physical atrocities. It was a reincarnation of the Ancient Mariner, compelling an audience.

It was hunting - for human victims!... Once again the giant crabs had proven their supremacy over mankind. This was just the beginning.

She reached down and fondled him, her fingers demonstrating their expertise even on a morning following a night which had seen one of the most terrifying battles in history.

Mercifully he passed out before the razor-sharp incisors which had amputated both his legs found hold on his neck and beheaded him.

1989 Dell Books reprint

Compared to two other pulp horror '70s classics that I enjoyed, Killer Crabs is unremarkable. Unlike The Manitou, which has the utter conviction of Masterton at the helm no matter how ridiculous the story gets, or The Rats, which has Herbert's colorful vignettes of English life, Smith's novel just sorta hangs around, going through the motions with a desultory air. The plot is banal simplicity itself, the "characterization" de rigueur: the fearless, seasoned fisherman, the oversexed female with a secret, the ex-con with a secret, the big-game hunter with a secret, the scientist with the hot wife (but of course!). There are a couple cool moments however: a drunk discovers a severed head; various politically-incorrect sex scenes; an exploration of a coral reef cave that houses not the monster crabs but dozens of venomous sea snakes. That was creepy.

 Original UK edition, New English Library, May 1978

Alas, Killer Crabs is not particularly gripping, with no surprise or "what the fuck" moments; it is more by-the-numbers than a cult classic should be. If you can find it for cheap, as I did - the Signet '79 edition is readily available, but the Dell reprint is pricey - pick it up if you like creature horror. Of course, my lack of enthusiasm about the novel will not stop me from picking up more of the series when I can, if only for the cover art alone.


Anonymous said...

Mercifully he passed out before the razor-sharp incisors which had amputated both his legs found hold on his neck and beheaded him.

"Mercifully"? How nice, when seeing some poor slob being dismembered by a giant crab, to see the gentle touch of mercy at work, turning what might otherwise be a messy, unseemly business into a peaceful, polite, and proper departure from this unruly sphere.

Anonymous said...

Yep. Sadly that's the way it is with Guy N. Smith's stuff.
It's all SO promising in theory, but disappointingly bland upon delivery. Every last one of those that I've gotten my hands on over the years.
His fans are legion in the UK & his titles & plotlines are pretty much perfect examples of that wonderful period sub-genre of paperback originals the "British nasties". Of which, so many were audaciously entertaining.
Unfortunately, to me anyhow, Smith's work was the exception.
No matter how cool his ideas were & how shocking the events, his prose made them rather dull & his inability to create characters that I cared for in the least made it a chore to get through his novels.
What should have been fun, quick reads ( & WERE for so many others... ) would become exercises in tedium for me that I'd get bogged down in midway through.
Then, invariably, I'd spot another book of his a couple of years down the line whose premise would catch my interest & I'd hope that I'd be able to "get into" this one. But...
That never was the case.

You're right though Will.
Those old covers of his work definitely ARE worth collecting on the cheap just cause they look so cool on the shelf.

Keep up the excellent work my friend.

Malibu Express said...

Man, where do you keep finding this stuff? I've been looking for Smith's Crab books for years and I've never seen one (or Clickers for all that, killer crab-things seem to be hard to find in general).

Did you get yours online, and if so, where?

- Aaron

Will Errickson said...

I found this one on Amazon! Just a couple bucks, but most of them cost a lot more.

Anonymous said...

Books like this is why I love your site.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I have about 50 pulp horror novels by Guy N. Smith...dont judge me! :-)

I have all The Crabs novels - I first started collecting Smith's books around the age of 14, attracted mostly by the lurid covers. I think my favourite in this series is ORIGIN OF THE CRABS, which was the third he wrote, but is a prequal to the first adventure NIGHT OF THE CRABS. KILLER CRABS is a dull sequel I'd agree with you there Will. I hope you get some more Smith's to review - I'd recommend THE SLIME BEAST,THE SUCKING PIT and BATS OUT OF HELL.

Aylmer said...

I read this as a little kid and remember feeling very conflicted, confused and disturbed by the mixture of sex and violence. To my innocent young mind it just seemed to ooze grime and sleaze.

Aylmer said...

Actually, now I think about it, I believe the one I read was Night Of The Crabs.

Darkeva said...

I confess I hadn't heard of "Killer Crabs" until now, but I can definitely see why someone would have written a horror novel about them turning into giant monsters ;-) Thanks for highlighting another interesting book. Seems that these types of monster pulp fiction novels definitely had their heyday, but @Aylmer's mentions of the sex and violence are definitely surprising! Who knew that killer crabs could be such pervs? lol


Will Errickson said...

I think Aylmer's "grime and sleaze" description is about right! "Fun," not so much, though.

venoms5 said...

I had three or four of these as a kid, but not that one from 1979. I don't have them anymore, but that Dell cover rings a bell. I never read them, but just bought them for the covers which had that puff print for the titles. This CRAB post does bring back a memory of one book I did read, though, one I bought from this time called RIP TIDE about a killer shark.

Matt Bradshaw said...

When I first got my Nook back in September one of the first books I downloaded was Smith's Night of the Crabs which was the first in the series. I'd heard of these books over the years and since it was a cheap download ($2.99 I believe) I figured I'd give it a shot. The characters were utterly wooden, and when the hero suggests that radiation might have caused the mutation of simple crustaceans I found myself thinking, "wasn't that a passé plot device by the 1970s?" The scene that sticks with me is when our hero knocks on the door of the woman he has been lusting after for several chapters even though it is well after midnight. They haven't spoken for days but she is awake and conveniently naked, leading to a scene more reminiscent of a letter to Penthouse than a cult horror novel. I suppose if I'd read this back in the day I would have been young enough to enjoy the pulpy thrills, but it doesn't look like the book has aged well. I've since downloaded Clickers which I believe is a more modern take on the concept, so I hold out some hope for that one.

Andy said...

Ha, I do believe Smith is the author who served as the main inspiration for Garth Marenghi.