Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Necrophiles

The Necrophiles, by David Gurney
January, 1971 Pyramid Books
(Original New English Library publication, 1969)

Orgies, incest, drugs, homosexuality, necrophilia, murder, satanism, and living sacrifice...

My god, what more could you ask for?? Usually cover blurbs oversell a novel's more sordid aspects, but in the case of The Necrophiles, the cover blurb for once tells the whole truth -- this is one twisted little novel, one that fully lives up to the publisher's hyperbole.

The necrophiles in question are a group of teens living in the countryside outside of London. A mix of four boys and two girls, they enjoy meeting weekly in a secluded area of the woods and getting drunk and stoned and engaging in group sex. Theo is the de facto leader of the group, one of those Dionysian types with looks that appeal to both men and women. Then there's Johnny, Theo's second in command, a slow-witted sort who sets everything in motion when he comes upon some grisly crime-scene photos which he shares with the group.

These gory photos excite and arouse the group, which leads to lots of weird shenanigans in which Theo will tell one of the girls something like "I'd like to do that to you," showing her a photo of an eviscerated, decapitated body, and the girl gets all weak in the knees. Did I mention this is a twisted book? Eventually the photos no longer do the trick, and Theo announces that the group must move on to the real thing -- they need themselves some real corpses.

The group breaks into a morgue and gets their hands on three fresh corpses. A madness descends upon them and they begin hacking apart the bodies, taking away grisly trophies in the aftermath. (By the way, these are our protagonists.) Unbeknownst to the others, Theo actually sells his collected viscera to a group of posh London homosexuals. Later, Theo reveals to Johnny that he's a sort of kept man; in exchange for money he travels about Europe and the US with wealthy and gay businessmen, and on a recent trip to New York (Woodstock, no less!), Theo participated in an actual Satanic ritual with his latest paramour.

Theo describes the scene: a mass of robed and masked Satanists in the misty woods, each of them "jabbed" with a psychedelic drug; they come to a clearing in which a nude woman is chained to a rock, a figure above her with a raised dagger; the figure seems to become a horned demon before Theo's eyes, though it must be the drugs; but then Theo looks down at himself and sees that he too is just as shaggy-haired as the horned demon. Theo comes out of the trip confused, reeling, and inspired with a sure-fire way to make some cash: these freaks would pay mucho dinero for the viscera of fresh corpses. Hence Theo's selling of those fresh guts in that first morgue-raid. Now Theo proposes a business deal with Johnny: together they can raid morgues and sell the goods to those homosexual London Satanists.

It all spirals out of control, with in-fighting and treachery, and an incredibly grisly and disturbing finale in which our "necrophiles" discover they're nothing to match the real thing. Gurney writes with the usual emotionless reserve I find in most British genre fiction, yet his narrative also reminds me a bit of Stephen King, in that he trades off on pages and pages of unnecessary detail about country-bumpkin characters with moments of chilling horror. But this would be Stephen King at his most coked-out, as Gurney pulls no punches. There's graphic sex here and there, but it's delivered just as gruesomely as the horror scenes.

The Pyramid Books edition is shown above; the novel was originally published by New English Library. Here's the cover:


Lantzvillager said...

Astounding! Sounds like a true NEL title.

Curt Purcell said...

Once I finish Dr. Orient, this is probably the next horror series I'll review. Glad to hear it delivers on its promises!