Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Walkers by Graham Masterton (1989): Just Wanna Walk Right Out of This World

You know what's really crazy about this absurd cover art for Graham Masterton's 14th horror novel Walkers? It's completely accurate. It is! Walls and floors are somehow horribly alive, thanks to artist Joe DeVito. Masterton's penchant for making the ridiculous seem plausible is in full effect in this violent, quick read. Going by the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, Walkers seems to have a pretty good reputation in the Masterton canon, which is why I chose to make it my second novel of his after I absolutely loved The Manitou, his 1975 horror debut. While it isn't close to being as much fun as that horror-fiction classic, it follows the same formula: ridiculously horrible thing happens for no good reason - oh, wait, it's some kind of ancient religious mythology! In this case, the Druid myth of earth-walkers: men whose spiritual powers allow them to walk inside the earth, inside walls, floors, glass, etc. I don't even know if that's a real Druid myth and kinda don't care. There is some bosh about ley lines, as well.

There is a very good haunted-house style opening in which Jack Reed discovers an abandoned, decrepit building called the Oaks, hidden from view for decades and forgotten. Jack wants to turn it into a country club, and in his effort to buy the place learns that 60 years ago, it was an asylum for the criminally insane - but one night they all disappeared. The ostensible criminal "leader," a truly despicable human called Quintus Miller, found Druid spellbooks in the warden's library - but of course - and in an attempt at freedom, led his fellow inmates into the very walls themselves. However, they were trapped by Father Bell, using his own Christian brand of hocus-pocus, and Quintus vows revenge, and "kidnaps" Jack's young son Randy by pulling him into the walls. But of course. Quintus wants out, wants some kind of eternal Druidic godhood, and plans on sacrificing not only Jack's son but hundreds of other innocent people. Masterton really knows how to ante up.

1991 UK paperback

Novels like Walkers are essentially critic-proof; what can I say about it? It's the sort of thing you'll like if this is the sort of thing you like. There's no depth or real thought here, no overarching theme or human concern, nothing to really talk about other than the many scenes of graphic horror which are, yes, cringingly gruesome and lovingly detailed. Masterton's characterization is crudely succinct and rather unimaginative: the blue-collar regular guy, the shrewish wife, the busty blonde who wears high heels everywhere, the resourceful British scholar. Masterton doesn't waste time trying to make dialogue believable, or even having his characters behave believably (particularly Jack's reaction after he realizes his son is missing, as well as the final chapter). But he's good at pacing and conjuring up a storyline solely for the payoff of those big, bloody scenes of horror: people getting dragged into walls and floors and through the bottoms of cars by the imprisoned madfolk and Masterton, as ever, spares us no grisly detail.

Walkers isn't bad at all; it's fun but disposable, definitely one for fans of trashy '80s horror and Masterton himself. Just like The Manitou, there are moments of dated cultural insensitivity and a couple head-smacking bits of obvious dialogue. It's also got a crazy final showdown between Jack and Quintus and the rotting corpse of a two-headed dog. If you like that sort of thing. And I kinda do!


Unknown said...

I remember reading and reviewing Masterton's The Chosen Child a couple years ago. A real nail-biter of a tale. Never got around to reading another of his, though.

I do love the cover on this one, but I think the next one of his I'll read is The Fifth Witch, which is collecting dust in my closet.

Malibu Express said...

I just picked this one up last week (got it for a dollar) - I figured killer walls, how could it not be good?

I love all that crazy "everything's got a spirit" (and wants to eat you) stuff Masterton used to do - the rotting two-headed dog just seals the deal.

- Aaron

Anonymous said...

Ah Will you jumper ahead of me.
WALKERS is one of the stack novels that I ordered back in January after your review of THE MANITOU got me on a Masterton kick. But, I haven't gotten to it yet.
So I can't comment on your review & comments on it yet 'cause I just skipped over for now. Don't want to know too much about it before reading it myself. I'm sure you know what I mean.
But, once I get to it I'll be sure to come back & let you know what I think. Deal?


highwayknees said...

Heey Will! This was one that I recommended after your Manitou review...Glad you liked it. I thought it was really scary- atmospherically speaking! But I still implore you to read MIRROR,FEAST,or PREY. In that order. Talk about surreal with a soupcon of nasty! MIRROR obviously takes it's cruel cue from THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS...but with decidedly more gore! And FEAST is so audacious it's plain stomach-churning! PREY on the other hand ,is an obvious take on Lovecraft. Done really well, for once.

Darkeva said...

I've been itching to pick something up from Graham Masterson, but I don't think I'll start with "Walkers" lol On another note, I wonder if Kim Harrison nabbed her use of "ley lines" in her Hollows series from Masterson, or whether he nabbed it from someone else. Sounds interesting, though!


Adam Carroll said...

Hey, man. I love this site. I was obsessed with horror paperbacks when I was a kid back in the 80's, especially the Tor titles. Like you I shyed away from the Zebra's - they just looked cheap and lazy. The Tor guys actually burned some calories on the covers and I ate those suckers up.

There's one book I've been searching for called THE SCHOOL. I'm pretty sure it was a Tor and it had a girl on the cover holding a bleeding apple. I can't even find it anywhere. Amazon, Google images, nada. I remember it blew my hair back as a kid and would love to see if it holds up to my more mature (????) standards.

Thanks again for the nostalgia trip.

Will Errickson said...

Hey Adam, thanks! OK, how about this:

It's from Leisure, not Tor (looks like Tor, though), but cover art fits your description. My search was "the school" horror novel. Lemme know if that's the right one; always ready to track something down...

Adam Carroll said...

Bingo! Good on ya! Every review of it online says it's a real P.O.S :). I remember loving it when I was twelve so if I find a cheap enough copy maybe I'll pick it up for nostalgia's sake.

I also remember loving Rex Miller's FRENZY when I was that age. I tried re-reading that recently. Ugh! I guess when you're twelve anything with enough sex and violence will get your rocks off.

Thanks for tracking that down so fast!

Ashley Pauly said...

I checked this out years ago from the library simply because of the cheesy cover art -- I love horor, especially classic horror, but I get scared really easily and sometimes need something dumb to give myself a break every now and then.

I read it all in one night and was almost too scared to walk down the hallway to my bedroom! It doesn't help that my cat is kind of dumb and scratches at the wall around his litter box after he's used the bathroom, so hearing the scratching noises + being a wuss in general = intense paranoia for the rest of the night.

Suffice to say, I really liked it.