“Cult writer” is an obnoxious term: often the “cult” consists of one person (the writer himself) and sometimes even he doesn’t like his work. Nonexistent UK author “James Havoc” is a good example of one, though, in that he exerts strong appeal to a very niche audience. 95% of readers will be repulsed, offended, weirded out, bored, or otherwise unengaged by what’s on offer here, but the remaining 5%…
Butchershop in the Sky is a compilation of the Havoc’s astonishing writing, which consists of two novellas (Raism, White Skull), a short story collection (Satanskin), some unpublished material, and some unwritten (!) material that exists in synopsis form. There’s also a foreword from Creation founder James Williamson, describing how James Havoc went missing in Japan after an epic drinking binge, and is now feared to be dead. Although from what I hear, he’s crashing at Richard Bachman and Jesus Ignacio Aldapuerta’s apartment.
Straight off the blocks we get Raism, one of the least readable things ever published. It isn’t written in English, it’s written in “James”, an arcane pseudolanguage constructed by setting Ed Gein, an 18th century Jesuit monk, and the Marquis de Sade loose in a bar fight and writing down their shrieks. “Skin pins decant pyhorrhea from cumulus cunts, derisive quarsars blind supplicants; all lovers suffused with cancers by a petulant olive bruise.” The entire novella is written like that.
Satanskin is more restrained: a series of short vignettes that often contain actual plots. It’s hard to call anything in this collection mainstream, but stuff like “Shadow Sickness” wouldn’t have seemed too out of place in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, for example. Havoc’s prose is extravagantly purple, and his imagination takes him to interesting places (“White Meat Fever” is about a man who steals vaginas from women and implants them on his body somehow). Tonight, we have no sense of crime.
White Skull is James’ last and best work: a rollicking pirate novel that destroys all in its path. Tales of the Black Freighter, innit, except there’s no pictures.
The rest of the book is a mishmash of a drunken writer’s bottom drawer. There’s two of Havoc’s stories adapted into comics – I didn’t like Mike Philbin’s art. “In and Out of Flesh” is about people literally trying to have sex with bolts of lightning, and manages to be disgusting and compelling. “Zipper Fox” is the tale of a lesbian biker gang, James Havoc guest featuring Russ Meyer if you prefer, and it exists only in outline form.
The most surreal moment comes in “Gingerworld”, an aborted attempt at writing a children’s book. The ginger king of a ginger kingdom has a series of bizarre confrontations with his nemesis, Hag Helly. In one story, Helly literally steals his face while he’s sleeping. Not to fear, though – his manservant is able to construct a replacement face from skin flakes from his bathtub.
As far as I can work out, “James Havoc” is not dead but is merely the pseudonym of publisher James Williamson. He’s found himself in a bit of trouble over these past few months (according to some Creation Books writers, his business model is to publish your book, not pay you royalties, and perhaps threaten you with violence) and if any of that’s true, I do feel guilty for financially supporting him. But what the hell. If you read Butchershop in the Sky, you should feel guilty anyway.
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A “pirate novel” that’s actually a 90-page sledgehammer of gore, dismemberment, cannibalism, pedophilia, and perversity. It wants to shock and offend, and since I wanted to be shocked and offended, I enjoyed it greatly.
Donald Trump reputedly owns an edited version of the film Bloodsport that contains only the fight scenes. White Skull is like an edited version of the 17th century that only contains nothing except vileness. Call it the Golden Shower Age of Piracy. The sheer depth and density of Havoc’s perverse invention is impressive – nearly every paragraph provokes a “wait…what?” reaction at some point.
White Skull is derived from corruptions of pirate tropes. A young man called Misson (who may have actually existed but probably didn’t) incites mutiny on the high seas, helped by an insane monk called Carriacole (who considers himself “the shit of Christ”). He takes command of a ship, renounces all ties to God and Government, and becomes free. Free to do what, exactly? His will. The idea that pirates were early anarchists is a familiar one, and not original to Havoc. They were men who tried to solve their problems not by learning new concepts, but by purging their minds of concepts already there. And while the analogy can only go so far, there has to be a correlation between men who defy earthly authority and those who defy any authority – that of Christianity, or that of basic human decency.
The newly-made pirates cut a swathe of destruction across the main, destroying slaving ships, whaling vessels, and everything else they consider an affront against liberty. Real life pirates such as Billy the Kid, Thomas Tew, and Jean Lafitte play roles in the story (the fact that these men lived decades and sometimes centuries apart doesn’t trouble Havoc). Eventually, Misson and friends establish a stronghold on the island of Madagascar, hoping for a pirate paradise. However, corruption and decadence soon attack the pirate community from within.
Things take on an interesting allegorical edge here. Beneath the gore and human debris, White Skull is the story of what happens when men throw off the chains of society…and then find that those chains were the only things keeping them tethered to sanity. As the pirate paradise grows increasingly vile and repugnant, Havoc sketches Misson’s growing disillusionment with the project – even though he might secretly be the worst of all of them.
This is the closest James Havoc (a pen name for someone else) came to writing a genuine novel. His previous works include Raism (an unreadable Burroughs-style experiment), and Satanskin (a Clive Barker-style short story collection). To see Havoc tackle a traditional beginning-middle-end Story is surprising. The writing is incantatory: as foul and colourful as gems expelled from bowels. It’s both realistic enough to shock and surrealistic enough to float, and it’s one of the fastest-paced stories I’ve read. White Skull doesn’t just move, it spins crazily forward like a unmasted ship before a gale, and the finale is ridiculous but satisfying.
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Ishiro Honda’s 1954 monster movie Godzilla isn’t scary now. Maybe it wasn’t scary then. It possesses a certain eerie power, though, because of what’s outside the frame: its context. You’re watching two of Japan’s deep cultural fears (the deep ocean, and nuclear weapons) collide on the screen, in the form of a huge mutated creature rising from the sea, destroying city.
Forty years later Roland Emmerich resurrected the franchise and shot it full of steroids.
The good part is that there’s no phoned in “humans are the REAL monsters!” subtext, a’la every other monster movie from the period.
The bad parts can be generally defined as “the rest of the film”. The CGI Godzilla is never even slightly believable. There’s never the sense that it’s a skyscraper-sized colossus that weighs a hundred thousand tons. It dives into the sea and makes a tiny splash. It sneaks around New York as inaudibly as Solid Snake.
The film’s best moments are the ones where the monster is outside the shot, or barely seen. This is an effective touch. It gives the impression that we’re looking at a beast of uncontainable size, a beast too big to film. But that’s also an indictment of how shitty Godzilla looks in this. His every appearance does to our faith in the film what the monster does to buildings.
The movie is badly cast and written. About half the cast is from the Simpsons, and there’s comedic moments (such as the Roger Ebert mayor) that ruin the tension and aren’t even theoretically funny. The characters are extremely stupid – deciding to lure the monster to one of the world’s most densely populated urban metropolises, where mass civilian casualties are almost guaranteed. It’s also one of those movies full of shots of marines firing magazine after magazine at a monster that we’ve long-since established isn’t hurt by gunfire.
I was into kaiju shit when this movie came out. Godzilla caused me to go out of it again.
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