Let’s talk about the unexplained. Or, rather, the over-explained.
See for me, horror tends to work best when it takes place for no reason. It’s why Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake wasn’t as successful as the original, when Michael Myers was just The Shape, an inexplicable force of evil driven to kill because why not? Would It Follows have been so frightening if they had revealed that they were being followed by the spirit of a little girl who died during a game of kiss-chase?
Now I know some of you will disagree. Some people (we’ll call them pedants) demand answers to everything, as if knowing why the dead rose from the grave will somehow make the nihilistic farmhouse siege in Night of The Living Dead more exciting (for the record, there’s a line in the movie about a venus probe returning the earth being the cause, but it’s just a dropped, throwaway line that even the filmmakers apparently chose to ignore).
The reason I bring this up is because I just read Nick Sharman’s Childmare, and damn it if doesn’t do so well right up until the stupid explanation scene stops the story dead in it’s tracks.
Childmare was released in 1980, and it’s a glorious testament to the cultural impact James Herbert had on the horror scene. What I mean is, it’s The Fog, but (and here’s the twist!) without any fog.
Children in London suddenly fly into a blood-thirsty rage that leads to acts of increasingly lunatic devastation, murdering and assaulting their teachers, before heading out on the streets in a rampage that brings the entire city to it’s knees. Apparently it spreads all over England too. Funnily enough, Scotland is never mentioned. I’d like to think we were safe, as we’re all bloodthirsty savages up here anyway.
Anyway, the action is brisk and brutal, and while it lacks the imagination of some of Herbert’s more outrageous set-pieces (no death by cows here, I’m afraid), it arguably improves on the pacing, running just over two hundred pages and barely pausing for breathe.
The hero is the usual lantern-jawed oaf, the heroine is a teacher who wears see-through blouses and no bra at work, and there’s a great quote that anyone who’s ever worked in retail can attest to –
Amen to that, bro’.
It’s the paperback equivalent to the “video nasties” that were in the tabloid headlines at the time, and I highly recommend it. Well, right up until THIS happens, about 15 pages from the end.
No Mortlake. Don’t.
But he does! About 10 pages of facts about lead, no less. The book grinds to a halt at this point, as we discover the explanation for the violence is something boring to do with lead, and I found myself desperately skimming pages, hoping that surely, at some point, someone is going to stop talking about goddamn lead.
Eventually they do, and the wrap up is over in a few pages. The End. A bit of a limp ending, considering what had come before, but an end nonetheless.
WHAT BORIS THE PUG THOUGHT: Boris was just glad that there were no scenes of dogs in this book, as it would almost certainly not have ended well for them.
OVERALL: 5 paws out of 5
THIS EDITION: Hamlyn, 1980