Thursday, November 14, 2013
Cut, by Jerry Bronson
July, 1976 Pinnacle Books
Proving once again that the best trash is ‘70s trash, Cut pulls no punches in its sordid tale of an asthmatic private eye, a missing socialite, a hippie cult, and the sick world of snuff films. “Jerry Bronson” was actually the pseudonym of two British authors, which Justin Marriott explains below, and after reading this novel I’ll need to reassess my lazy opinion of UK pulp as “prudish!”
But then, nothing about Cut comes off as British, save for one slightly jarring bit where Frank Reagan, our Dirty Harry-esque former cop turned private eye, uses the distincly British curse “bloody.” Otherwise the novel is as lurid as one could wish a trashy ‘70s novel to be, opening with the graphically-detailed filming of a porn scene that, unbeknownst to its drugged-out starlet, is actually a snuff film…and her ensuing on-screen murder goes on for a few pages, the authors going out of their way to push buttons. And they succeed – I’ve read some sick shit, and this opening chapter of Cut is pretty damn sick!!
The opening chapter also introduces the villain of the tale, namely Priest, a muscle-bound and bald “guru” of sorts who wears denim suits and white gloves of kid leather; Priest also fancies himself a director and shoots snuff films on stolen equipment, usually murdering the people he steals it from. In this scene we witness one of his snuff films in full, as the novel opens from the perspective of Reena, the starlet who thinks she’s shooting just another porn scene.
As mentioned the explicit detail in this sequence alone places Cut outside the realm of most other ‘70s pulp, but then it gets super sick as the masked and caped mystery man who’s humping Reena pulls out a dagger at the moment of truth and stabs her in the throat…and then continues to mutilate her face in excruciating detail for a few pages. The mystery man’s identity is easily figured out as the novel progresses, but this first chapter really sets him up as one sick bastard.
After this charming opening we are introduced to the “hero” of the tale, the aforementioned Frank Reagan (his last name elicits a few Ronald Reagan jokes in the text), a former Las Vegas cop who was kicked off the force after blowing away a drug dealer who sold Reagan’s former-junkie wife some heroin, heroin which she OD’d on. Now working as a P.I. in San Francisco, Reagan is as mentioned asthmatic and as bitter and cynical as you’d expect a private eye to be.
With its jaded, ball-busting private eye protagonist, snuff film plot, over-the-top tone, and super-lurid vibe, Cut is everything LA Morse’s The Big Enchilada wanted to be. However unlike that later novel Cut is told in third person and, despite the seriously dark humor that runs throughout, it never devolves into satire or spoofery. Also, at 146 pages of big print, it’s half the length – indeed it’s shorter than the average volume of The Penetrator – which is also to its strength.
Reagan’s contacted by the wealthy and beautiful Lorraine Hamilton, who lives in opulence in Los Angeles. A veritable man-eater, Lorraine sets her sights on Reagan as soon as he enters her palatial home. After getting the details of the job out of the way – Lorraine wants Reagan to find her sister, Lee, an 18 year-old nympho who’s run off into the hills around LA to join some hippie cult – Lorraine promptly gets down to the business of having sex with Reagan.
As expected for a pulp P.I., Reagan’s method of “investigation” is basically to harrass and beat up people. He drives up to one of the communes in the hills and does precisely that, throwing around tranced-out hippies who have no idea who Lee is. Eventually he gets wind of Priest’s cult; larger and more mysterious than the others, it’s located among the same hills, the cultists having taken over abandoned studio sets from the golden days of Hollywood.
Anyone hoping for a deeper glimpse into who Priest is and an explanation for why he holds people in such thrall will be let down – I mentioned ealrier that the short length of Cut is a good thing, but that’s at least so far as its overall impact goes. One thing it lacks is much explanation for what we are witnessing, or much depth. But anyway like a muscular Charlie Manson Priest rules an obedient flock, and shortly after barging onto the cult’s property Reagan is escorted by Priest himself to Lee’s shack, Priest proving to Reagan that the girl is here of her own will.
Guess what, this leads to yet another sex scene, Lee throwing herself at Reagan. Again, the novel is very similar to The Big Enchilada, with its protagonist scoring with practically every woman he meets. Here at the commune Reagan runs afoul of a few of Priest’s stooges, thus setting the scene for the later action sequences, including one enjoyably arbitrary bit where Reagan drives back up to the commune in the middle of the night for the express purpose of murdering a few of them!
The novel rushes headlong for its conclusion as we are quickly introdued to Douglas Q. Wilde, a Boris Karloff/Vincent Price-type horror actor with delusions of grandeur who is known for portraying insane men who get off on murdering women. (Even the “subtle” material is obtuse in Cut!) Wilde happens to be at a party Lorraine is hosting, and Reagan instantly suspects something about the guy. Meanwhile Lorraine doesn’t believe that her sister is really a willing Priest devotee, and insists that Reagan bring her back, regardless of what the girl says.
The authors are also good at setting up action scenes. When Reagan finds himself being tailed by two of Priest’s goons the next day, he veers off into Disneyland, and the ensuing action sequence suspensefully plays out among the rides and attractions. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is the setting for one memorable scene, where Reagan jumps out among the model pirates and blows away one of his pursuers as he rides by in a boat.
Like Dirty Harry Reagan carries a .44 Magnum, though sometimes it’s a .45, and sometimes it’s an automatic…that is, when it isn’t a revolver. And yes, he just has the one gun! So it’s safe to say the authors forgot to compare notes when it came to Reagan’s gun. Strangely enough they don’t play up too much on the gun-battle gore, with Reagan apparently doling out clean and nonmessy kills, which must be pretty hard to do with a .44 Magnum.
Before it’s all over we get another detailed snuff film sequence, this time “starring” a character we know. And unlike Morse’s parodic character Sam Hunter, Reagan is actually fazed by what he sees, to such a point that Priest gets a drop on him while he’s watching the flick. This leads to a suitably apocalyptic finale, one that leaves Reagan further unsettled. In fact it’s strange that there was no sequel to Cut, as the authors leave a lot of potential for further lurid adventures with Reagan.
As for the authors and more background info on Cut, here’s what Justin Marriott has to say:
Jerry Bronson was Laurence James and John Harvey. The late Laurence James is my hero, ex-editor at NEL whose final days were spent on Deathlands as Jerry Axler. When the original author of the first Deathlands story faced a few personal issues which resulted in him supposedly turning in a manuscript consisting of several hundred pages of dialogue between the two lead characters crouching in an armoured tank, it was Laurence that Gold Eagle turned to. No doubt due to the connection between GE editor Mark Howell and Laurence -- they worked together at New English Library in London during the early 1970s.
John Harvey is the best-selling and politically aware crime author. I asked Harvey about the book, and his version was Laurence did the kinky bits and he did the PI bits. From what I know of Laurence, that would definitely have been the case. Apparently he always had the latest scandalous gossip and sometimes photos of various dignitaries and celebrities up to no good. His Hells Angels books as Mick Norman for New English Library are my favoutite all-time books - subversive and hugely entertaining.
Cut was written for the American market. The link here was Andy Ettinger at Pinnacle who reprinted a number of Laurence's UK books at Pinnacle, and those of his colleagues. Examples include the Edge westerns by George G Gilman (Terry Harknett was the author but Laurence was key in their development), The Killers by Klauz Netzen (Nettson in the US), The Gladiators by Andrew Quiller (the pun only works with the English series which was called The Eagles. Aquilla meaning Roman for eagle), The Vikings as Neil Langholm, and Simon Rack as Laurence James.
There's no way Cut would have been printed in the UK in the 1970s. I think the stilted and restrained approach of UK pulp authors reflected the standards of the time and our strict censorship laws. Hardcore only became legally available here in the 1990s and is still only available through licenced sex shops. In the 1980s the video distributor of The Evil Dead was given a jail sentence and the likes of The Exorcist weren't available on DVD until the late 1990s. At one point the word Chainsaw was banned, so that terrible film with Gunnar Hansen was renamed Hollywood Hookers. Nunchaka scenes were also banned in the 90s, which meant Enter the Dragon couldn't be seen uncut and the video cover was doctored to show Lee holding what appeared to be a large baguette! (At one point, an uncut version was accidentally shown on terrestial TV and was the source of bootlegs for many years.) Bizarre I know - we Brits are totally obsessed with sex and violence yet at the same time totally repressed and hung-up.
I think Cut shows what they could write with the brakes off!