Monday, October 9, 2017

Book Review: 'Crucifax'

Book Review: 'Crucifax' by Ray Garton

2 / 5 Stars

Garton’s novel ‘Cruxifax Autumn’ was published in 1988 by Dark Harvest, a small press publisher. When Pocket Books released the novel as a mass market paperback titled ‘Crucifax’ (387 pp) in June, 1988, they obliged Garton to remove a scene featuring some particularly ‘gooshy’ action. 

[ I picked up the Pocket Books edition of 'Crucifax' at McKay's Used Books in Manassass, Virginia, for $3.25. According to Will Errickson at the Too Much Horror blog, finding an affordable copy of this book in good condition is not easy. ]

The missing segment later was included in Paul M. Sammons’ 1991 compilation Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror. From what I remember of reading that ‘missing’ segment over 25 years ago, its absence from ‘Crucifax’ doesn’t harm the novel.

‘Crucifax’ is set in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles county in the mid- to late- 80s. Think of the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and you get the necessary sense of place.

The lead character is teenager Jeff Carr, who lives with his Mom, and younger sister Mallory, in a modest apartment. As the novel opens, a Mysterious Storm rolls into the Valley just as Summer is coming to an end. This 
obviously is a Portent of Doom. 

Soon afterwards, a man named Mace becomes a regular fixture at the Mall and the other teen hangouts in the Valley. Mace looks like Billy Idol on steroids: tall, thin, with his long white hair in a mullet. He comes equipped with a long overcoat. Gold-flecked eyes, and an easy sarcasm. And mirrorshades ! 

No one knows where Mace comes from, or what he does for a living……….but he has a unique rapport with Troubled Youth, and soon kids are hanging out at the abandoned health club that Mace has turned into a clubhouse. Rumors soon fill the Valley of illicit goings-on in Mace's hangout.

As Mace lures more and more of the Valley’s teens into his sinister circle, Jeff becomes increasingly alarmed that Mallory may become a Mace convert. But confronting Mace is fraught with danger, because Mace knows and exploits a lot of deep, dark secrets, like Jeff’s well-hidden, incestuous infatuation with Mallory. And anyone who crosses Mace must deal with his demon familiars………nasty little creatures straight out of the movie Gremlins.

As Mace’s influence grows, his talk of taking everyone to a ‘better place’ takes on an ominous meaning. Can Jeff, and caring high school counselor J. R. Haskell, intervene in time to prevent a Teen Holocaust........... ? !

‘Crucifax’ is really not a horror novel, but rather, a Teen Melodrama sprinkled with splatterpunk segments here and there. The plot is set up in the first 75 pages, after which the narrative lumbers along with interminable dialogue passages dealing with teens conflicting with their parents; teens conflicting with authority figures; teens conflicting with Society; teens conflicting........with.........everything.

Slowing the narrative up even further are the musings of the adults; for example, a monologue of self-recrimination delivered by an evangelical pastor takes up over three pages. 

By the time ‘Crucifax’ finally reaches its denouement, the continuous vignettes of teen angst had become so tiresome that I was rooting for Mace.

It doesn’t help matters that author Garton tries to imbue his novel with Social Relevance, by regularly reminding the reader that Mace is able to corrupt his followers because the kids have been neglected by parents who are too consumed with self-interest, and lust for material possessions, to Really Care.

One thing 'Crucifax' does very well is recall the pop culture atmosphere of the mid 80s. The jukeboxes play Robert Palmer, there is reference to Twisted Sister, and malls are 'in' places to hang out, not the crumbling retail wastelands they are nowadays.

The verdict ? Those pursuing a copy of ‘Crucifax’ in the hopes of obtaining a splatterpunk classic are likely to be disappointed. It may offer some reward as a snapshot of 80s teen drama, for those so inclined. For anyone else, well, this book is for Garton completists only.

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