The books discussed here do not necessarily constitute pure Slashers, but they are books that contain strong Slasher elements and should appeal to fans of Slasher films.
This time ’round, we look at the novels of Jack Kilborn.
Jack Kilborn is actually a pen name used by author J.A. Konrath. Konrath may be familiar to some as the author of the Jack Daniels series, quirky crime thrillers akin to those of Janet Evanovich, while others may know him as the champion of indie e-publishing and scourge of the Big Six Publishers. However, earlier in his career, Konrath, writing as Kilborn, inked a three book deal on the strength of his first horror novel, Afraid.
After the publication of Afraid, Kilborn handed his publisher the manuscript for Trapped, a kinda-sorta-sequel to Afraid. According to Kilborn, his publisher hated Trapped, an opinion that remained unchanged after heavy rewrites, so the author moved on, producing a third horror novel, this one titled Endurance.
Once again, the powers that be requested rewrites, but Kilborn had had enough and pulled the novel. Eventually, he self-published both Trapped and Endurance as e-books where they became moderate hits and remain available in electronic format.
Kilborn is no great stylist. He tends toward flat characterization that relies too heavily on past trauma or current disabilities. The plots of his horror novels feel a tad recycled, never truly stretching beyond the premise of ‘ordinary’ people faced with surviving extraordinary freaks. Of course, these are exactly the features of his writing that might appeal to fans of Slasher films.
To be honest, Kilborn’s novels are less Slashers than survival horror and, as movies, I probably wouldn’t even watch them. The bulk of each storyline is dedicated to escape as the protagonists struggle through one set of murderous psychos after another. If made into movies, these books would actually benefit from a low budget and a director more interested in over-the-top violence than scares. The violence in Kilborn’s novels is extreme (though not always explicit) and he does not shy away from rape or torture.
Readers used to reading more literary genre fiction, stuff like that produced by Peter Straub, Gary McMahon or Sarah Langan, will likely find it difficult to make through even a single chapter of Kilborn’s work. But readers looking for the literary equivalent of, say, House of a 1000 Corpses, or Inbred, will almost certainly find much to enjoy in a Kilborn novel. Likewise, Slasher fans who don’t often read will find that Kilborn’s books are easy, accessible reads. Trapped and Endurance also tend to be extremely cheap buys, usually between $3 and $4.
A group of people in a small town are hunted by a team of physically enhanced psychopaths with possible ties to the military. The antagonists here are akin to a team of super-villains, each with their own special abilities and quirks—usually a favored method of murder or torture. The protagonists are largely forgettable, but the novel includes a few nicely done chase and fight sequences.
Two social workers bring six troubled teens to a supposedly uninhabited island on Lake Huron. They soon discover the island is home to silverware-wielding wildmen, a giant psychopath with a biting fetish, a mad scientist, and the mysterious Subject 33.
Trapped is the weakest of the three novels on this list. The characters are stock, the plot is never developed beyond the premise as described above, and the Kilborn’s attempts at writing ‘urban youth’ dialogue is sometimes painful.
Most of the tension comes from learning what atrocities the scientist will next commit, or which atrocity Lester will commit, or—I wonder—just what kind of atrocity does Subject 33 commit? In other words, there’s really little tension or suspense at all and, after awhile, the violence grows more tiresome than intense. There’re a couple surprises, but they feel forced and unbelievable.
Keep this one for last. Trapped is available as an ebook but, be warned, it contains a few editing and formatting flaws (nothing major but enough to pull you out of the story once in awhile).
Though the plot is nothing spectacular, Endurance is probably the more fun of the three novels listed here.
A group of travellers, including a few women competing in an Iron Man-style event, are hunted by the matriarchal owner of the hotel in which they’re staying—along with her freakish sons.
This is leave-your-brain at the door kinda reading, but Kilborn offers up a few nice twists on the backwoods Slasher. Again, it’s more survival horror than pure Slasher, and I don’t think I’d want to watch a movie version of Endurance—this given the amount of torture and, though not explicit, it’s made clear that several of the female characters are raped repeatedly—but the freaks are fun to picture and some of the chase sequences, including one that takes place within the floors of the hotel, are well-constructed.
I’d say to start with this one and, if you hate it, give up on Kilborn entirely while, if you like it, you might want to give Afraid a shot.
Kilborn’s stuff is far from brain food, but if you’re a Slasher fan—and especially a fan of B-grade survival horror—you’ll want to keep Kilborn’s titles in mind.