Summer of Sleaze: Guy Smith’s The Sucking Pit and The Walking Dead

Summer of Sleaze is 2014’s turbo-charged trash safari where Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction and Grady Hendrix of The Great Stephen King Reread plunge into the bowels of vintage paperback horror fiction, unearthing treasures and trauma in equal measure.

He enjoys tobacco. He loves guns. He does not like street lights. Truly, Guy N. Smith is a man of many facets, but he’s best known for his crabs. From 1976 until 2012 he wrote Night of the Crabs, Killer Crabs, The Origin of the Crabs, Crabs on the Rampage, Crabs’ Moon, Crabs: The Human Sacrifice, and Killer Crabs: The Return. Along with about 93 other books. But apart from being a prolific writer of all things crab, what does Guy N. Smith have to offer the modern reader?

Gideon Smith amazon buy linkThe Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural calls Smith “endearing” and the man has certainly written a lot of books, from Sabat IV: The Druid Connection to Sexy Confessions of a Window Cleaner. But many of his reviews are not very good. And yet he has a fanclub, an annual convention, and a quarterly newsletter. So, in the interests of science, I sat down with his cult novels, The Sucking Pit (1975) and its sequel The Walking Dead (1984), to see what they were made of. After all, you have have some respect for an author who taunts critics by putting the word “suck” right there in his title.

Written during the early years of the horror boom, The Sucking Pit seems to be Smith’s second novel, and it’s become a cult classic. You can even buy a limited edition for only $325 (act now, supplies are limited)! The book begins with a welcome to delightful Hopwas Wood, home of such beautiful sights as the Devil’s Dressing Room, the Hanging Wood, and, of course, the Sucking Pit—which is basically a fancy way of saying “hole full of mud.” When Tom Lawson, the caretaker of the woods (who has Romany blood in his veins, and we know this because Smith won’t shut up about it) keels over dead, his niece, Jenny Lawson, finds his body. She had Romany blood in her veins, too. Curious about the black book she finds in his house, she reads it and decides to whip up a batch of “MAGIC AND POWER. FERTILITY POTION.”

Following instructions, she mixes hedgehog and vole’s blood, boils it, and drinks it naked. That is all it takes to transform her into “a crazed hell-spawned bitch delighting in domination—in humiliation…” Heading into London, she starts screwing men in alleys for two pounds each, then castrating them. It’s even affecting her home life. “I said I wanted men!” she snarls at Chris Latimer, her reporter-boyfriend. Fortunately, she finds a real man when Cornelius, King of the Gypsies, shows up. He’s a real man with Romany blood in his veins, too, and he tells her that the Sucking Pit is the burial ground for all gypsies.

Determined to turn Hopwas Wood into a gypsy homeland, Jenny seduces Clive Rowlands, the owner of the wood, while she and Cornelius kill everyone who gets suspicious of what’s going on. There is a lot of vomiting (“He wanted to vomit, but told himself he must not.” “She almost vomited,” “He vomited and then pulled himself together,”) and a lot of sex. Chris Latimer and Clive Rowlands’s wife, Pat, fall for each other (“The feel of her body was not unlike that of Jenny’s. Small, firm, desirable. Just blonde instead of brunette.” Easy come, easy go.) and Pat tells him that they should run away from the gypsies, not fight them, “Leave them to wallow in their filthy rites and sex orgies…” she pleads.

But the climax is coming so there’s no time for people to act reasonably. Clive Rowlands is furious when Jenny demands he buy her a mini, so she kills him with sex. Pat and Jenny get in a slap fight and Jenny hypnotizes her, then everyone winds up shotgunning each other and it all ends when most of them fall into the Sucking Pit, then Scotland Yard shows up and drains it and finds a bunch of dead bodies. Pat and Chris survive. The book is kind of bland, to be honest, notable mostly for Smith’s deep conviction that combining the blood of a vole and a hedgehog is Satan’s viagra for women. Then again, he is the author of the gardening manual, Moles and Their Control.

The Walking Dead Guy SmithIn The Walking Dead, Chris and Pat are unhappily married, they’ve sold Hopwas Wood to a developer, the Sucking Pit has been filled in, and that’s that. But then the Sucking Pit sucks its way to the surface and sucks a lot of people in. Some of them get so sucked that they murder other people. In the end, the pit is sucking everyone in when suddenly, for no discernible reason, lightning hits it (?) and it stops sucking people and then sucks itself and then it disappears (?).

Summer of Sleaze comrade, Will Errickson, tried to warn me about Smith, but I didn’t listen. And I confess, sometimes when you Gideon Smith amazon buy linkdig into old paperbacks looking for gold, you hit the occasional dud. Even an optimist like me has to admit that there’s not much to either of Smith’s books. The Sucking Pit barely breaks 100 pages, The Walking Dead just limps past 150, and the plots are little more than random incidents hastily strung together. The kindest thing you can say about characterization is that it’s idiosyncratic.

If a woman has wild sex it’s a sign that she’s probably possessed; in The Walking Dead, Pat falls apart emotionally after she has sex with Chris while on top. And if Smith is really amping up the Fear Meter, he has his women get pregnant. I think three different women have unwanted pregnancies in The Walking Dead’s 160 pages, which also features a woman who declares that she’ll sleep with anyone in order to have a baby. As Smith writes, “Carl always had his problems, basically stemming from one source—women!”

The writing style is purple, and yet it never achieves those dizzying heights of badness you sometimes crave. Smith loves metaphors. Darts are “vicious messengers of bloody mutilation,” and someone passing glasses to someone else to throw is a “conveyor belt of disfiguration. So organised, so deadly.” He loves ellipses (“an ancient evil that had emanated from…The Sucking Pit!”) and he sprays exclamation marks all over the page with his Punctuation Gun to little effect. He also loves italics, splashing them all over his manuscript, sometimes for whole paragraphs at a time:

But it was the expression on those distorted features that had you almost throwing up! The face was frozen into a wax-like mask of sheer terror! Eyes bulged until surely they must burst like soap bubbles, the mouth still open in a scream that had never really ended. Still shrieking, you could almost hear the cries.

It’s too bad, because while Smith’s books seem to promise pulpy thrills, they deliver watery gruel, combining perfunctory sex with run-of-the-mill violence, the whole package thrown together as carelessly as a six-year-old’s Mother’s Day wrapping job. And yet people love his books. The highlight of The Walking Dead is when a diver has a spontaneous orgasm in his wetsuit. Then he goes home and murders his wife. Is something wrong with these people?

Smith’s work is far too simplistic to appeal to adults, and it’s way too tame to appeal to teenagers, but it’s right in the wheelhouse of kids 12 and under. If you’re a middle grade reader and you’re bored by Goosebumps or whatever kind of mild scares you’re getting from middle grade horror, Guy N. Smith is your man. The sex, the violence, the “Who cares?” plotting and characterization, it delivers a fast, pulpy, trashy read for very young children, and I don’t mean that as an insult. A recent poll showed that the books that stick with us for most of our lives are the ones we read as children, and that’s where the best audience for Guy N. Smith’s books can be found. Let’s face it, if I’d discovered his books at 8 years old, I would have loved them more than my own parents.

Grady Hendrix is the author of Satan Loves You, Occupy Space, and he’s the co-author of Dirt Candy: A Cookbook, the first graphic novel cookbook. He’s written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today and his story, “Mofongo Knows” appears in the anthology, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination.


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