Welcome to Freaky Friday, where your apartment is a Hell hole and Satan signed the lease. Brace yourselves, because your friends Insanity, Gore, and Utter Stupidity all have spare keys.
Hell is New York City real estate, as Peter Harcourt of Pentagram Films learns when he moves his family into a too-good-to-be-true sublet on Manhattan’s West 77th Street. Given that it’s on the 13th floor and his realtor is named Lucifer Devlin, it’s no surprise that they’ve barely had time to get their sofa delivered before his little daughter is sacrificing their cat to Satan (that’s the cat floating a few inches above the floor in Stephen Shub’s surreal cover). Her mom discovers the cat sacrifice, freaks out, but refuses to bother her husband at work. Instead, she pours herself a great big Scotch, and falls into a reverie:
“She had begun to question everything. Was this really what life was? A home, a husband, a child? What do we really know of the universe? We don’t even know who or what we are, or where the blazes we come from. Is living a reality? Judie began to question the whole meaning of life. It was a terrible feeling.”
Her doctor diagnoses her as having too much time on her hands, but before she can take up a fun hobby like painting, everyone is dead and Peter is a “salivating blank-eyed lunatic” crawling across the floor.
Just in case you thought the Harcourts were a fluke and it could have happened in any apartment, the next tenant falls in love with a wax figure in a nearby museum and winds up murdering his best friend. But still, it’s a really nice apartment and it’s soon sublet by up and coming actors, Mike and Debbi. Mike has a shocking secret: he’s going deaf! Debbi has a shocking secret too: she’s having an affair with Mike’s producer! No wonder, because Mike’s deafness has rendered him impotent. Depressed, Mike mopes (exiting a room he moans, “I’m doomed to live out a life of silence.”) while Debbi plots his murder (“You know,” she confides to her lover. “Deaf people get hit by cars and such.”) until Lucifer Devlin hooks Mike up with an underground doctor who researches hearing loss.
The fee for his services is $3,000 which, he quite reasonably explains, not only covers the cost of the procedure but also “my risk of being caught and jailed once again.” So actually, it’s a bargain. Given that disclaimer, it should come as no surprise when Mike wakes up post-surgery to hear the doctor say, “Just relax, Mr. Fuller. I have replaced your dead auditory nerves with those of a bat.” Bummer alert: it turns out to be the auditory nerves of a vampire bat and soon Mike’s sucking blood and hanging upside down in his closet. Then he kills Debbi and they move into the basement where Mike becomes a vampire and Debbi turns into a zombie while Lucifer Devlin explains that it’s all part of Satan’s plan to turn New York City into hell on earth, one sub-lease at at time.
Basically a Chick comic in book form, its cartoonish ridiculosity comes courtesy of author Jack Younger, who is actually Russ Jones, the comic book artist and writer who founded Creepy magazine for Warren publications in 1964. He’s also the author of the screenplay for Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors and over 20 horror novels in the Seventies like Maniac and Claw. Written in a style that suggests several cats might have stood on each other’s shoulders to reach the typewriter, Jones doesn’t feel a need to play by anyone’s rules, allowing him to stop for a totally loony four-page digression in which Mike delivers a critical analysis of The Word, an eight-hour miniseries broadcast in 1978 starring David Janssen and Kate Mulgrew.
But who can hate a book that features the greatest dedication from the author of all time?
“I simply couldn’t have done it without the aid of the people at the Liquor Locker, who have extended credit to this scribe during the bleak periods.”
If you plan on reading Satan Sublets, let’s hope there’s a Liquor Locker in your life, too.
Grady Hendrix has written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today; his previous novel was Horrorstör, about a haunted IKEA, and his latest novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is basically Beaches meets The Exorcist.