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Black Creek / Gregory Lamberson

Medallion Press / March 2016
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

Gregory Lamberson likes horror movies. No, I mean, he really likes horror movies.

It’s no coincidence then that the award-winning director of cult-favorite films like Slime City and Killer Rack wears his cinematic B-movie influences proudly in is latest novel, Black Creek.

For the residents populating Lamberson’s version of Black Creek Village – the real-life Niagara Falls neighborhood that sits atop the infamous Love Canal, in which 22,000 barrels of toxic waste were dumped in the late 1970’s causing widespread health problems and population displacement – there is less love in the air this Valentine’s Day than there is snow and blood. Lots of snow, lots of blood.

As a winter storm of epic proportion bears down upon them, cutting them off from the rest of the world, those former denizens of Love Canal who never left and instead descended underground where they continued to live – and, worse, breed – for the last forty years amidst all that toxic slime emerge. As anyone who’s ever read Jack Ketchum or Richard Laymon know, these folks generally come out of hiding very cranky – and ravenous.

Just as he demonstrated an affinity for the slasher film formula in his Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel Johnny Gruesome, Lamberson shows that he knows his way around a creature feature with equal aplomb. He adeptly builds tension by using shorter passages to introduce a sizable cast of characters as they go about the mundane tasks of preparing for a winter storm. As the storm approaches and then hits with a wallop, he intercuts between his various literary set pieces, with enough foreshadowing to leave the reader braced and prepared for the underground creatures to strike – yet never quite knowing where or when. That possibility of being struck and knocked off-balance at any moment is half the enjoyment of Black Creek and a testament to Lamberson’s skill as an able storyteller.  

Although Black Creek is an obvious environmental cautionary tale, Lamberson wisely sidesteps the weighty thematic pontifications that often bog novels like this down. Instead, he opts for an old-school, Laymon-light vibe here, reminiscent of the 80’s mass market horror novel boom during which excess ruled. He competently builds his narrative to an all-out assault on his cast of (mostly likeable) characters like the literary equivalent of a Neil Marshall or Joe Dante, with action, blood and guts, and a few surprising kills that might have you shaking your fist at the author in anger.

Lazy reviewers might be tempted to classify Black Creek as a literary retread of Wes Craven’s seminal The Hills Have Eyes, but aside from the environmental effects and inbreeding between their antagonists, the comparison stops there. In The Hills Have Eyes, there is a key element of intrusion, as the hapless Carter family crash lands in the antagonist tribe’s turf. The cannibals attack as a means of both survival and self-protection – a safeguarding of their home, their way of life, the very secret of their existence. In Black Creek, Lamberson subverts this idea of intrusion into invasion. The characters are set upon while going about the normal course of daily business. There is no precipitating event – at least not one triggered by the victims. Conceivably, the long-lost denizens of Love Canal have existed without attacking humans for nearly four decades so their onslaught carries with it a strong element of revenge, taking from those who live above what was once taken from them. The victims here are symbolic.

In Craven’s film, the cannibalistic carnage is opportunistic in nature, both a reaction and result of random circumstance – strangers stumbling into someone else’s realm. In Lamberson’s novel, the action is a deliberate and pre-meditated act of misguided vengeance.

Readers are well advised to grab their popcorn for this one because Black Creek reads like a Saturday matinee, with its propulsive plot, high body count, and just the right amount of pathos to keep readers invested in the plight of its characters. Like Laymon’s The Woods Are Dark and Ketchum’s Off Season, Black Creek explores the inner savage in the everyday man with a ferociously fun – yet genuinely frightening – creature feature mentality. Best read on a snowy night.

Purchase Black Creek by Gregory Lamberson.

Posted on Sunday, April 3, 2016 at 12:24PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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