Slash by Hunter Shea
Book Review by Rich Duncan
Hunter Shea is one of my favorite horror writers and while he is best known for his cryptid novels, the fact is he has an incredible range. The one constant though is his ability to craft high-octane horror stories that appeal to the horror lover in us all. Like many in the horror community, Hunter is a horror fan first and foremost. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films and books – which you can see from his podcasts Monster Men and Final Guys – and he has an infectious energy when talking about all things horror. That same passion bleeds through in his works and the result is a fun read made for horror fans by a horror fan.
His most recent Flame Tree Press novel Slash, finds him taking his knowledge and fandom and applying it to the Slasher subgenre, which is something that doesn’t get nearly the love it deserves when it comes to books. One thing that I loved about Slash was that it’s set five years after the Hayden Resort Massacre, when the world was first made aware of the lunatic killer known as the Wraith. Ashley King was the only survivor of the massacre and the opening chapters explore the guilt and grief that she feels being the only one to survive after witnessing the deaths of her closest friends. Not only that, she lives her life in constant fear since the Wraith was never found. She hates dark spaces and is constantly looking over her shoulder, worried that the Wraith will hunt her down.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of what happens to the characters that survive slasher films or novels, which is something you often don’t get to experience. Sure, you’ll get brief flashes of what happens if the franchise gets a sequel (which they almost always do), but it usually just scratches the surface. In Slash, Hunter takes these psychological implications and places them front and center. He also explores the inevitable media circus that would result from a horrific event like this and the impact it would have on the lives of those involved and how it could define them as they attempt to recover. You come to empathize with Ashley and the other characters throughout the novel, and it’s these scenes that add a little more depth to the plot. It kind of reminds me of Kealan Patrick Burke’s modern Horror classic Kin in that regard.
Ultimately, the trauma and fear consume Ashley and the aftermath devastates her fiance Todd and their close group of friends. Driven by his grief, Todd uses one of Ashley’s favorite podcasts – The Killer Podcast – to call out the Wraith and make himself a target. But ultimately what starts the chain reaction of carnage that ultimately plays out throughout a bulk of Slash is when he finds the last letter Ashley had ever written him. It hints at the fact that the truth of what happened that night years ago can be found at the Hayden Resort. Armed with this new knowledge, Todd enlists the help of his closest friends and heads back out to the Hayden to get closure once and for all.
The slasher genre has fervent fans that will find any flaw and Hunter is able to avoid those in Slash. There is plenty of depth to the story, but make no mistake, Slash pulls no punches when it comes to violence and bloodshed. Slashers have a long history of memorable kill scenes like the “Sleeping Bag” scene from Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood or the “Bedroom Blood Fountain” of A Nightmare on Elm Street just to name a few. Hunter goes all out in crafting some of his own in Slash that are worthy of being included with some of the classics. The Wraith is an intriguing villain that pays homage to the tropes that people love while being something fairly unique. Hunter gives him a unique backstory that was honestly a surprise for me and amplified my enjoyment of the novel. The Wraith is a seemingly unstoppable force that’s not only incredibly strong, but fast. Not to mention he is seemingly driven by an unquenchable bloodlust and revels in extreme brutality. I know it will sound like sacrilege to some, but if you threw The Wraith into a cage match with slasher icons like Jason and Michael, I think he would more than hold his own, if not outright win. You may be scoffing now, but I’m willing to bet you’ll either agree or strongly consider it once you finish Slash.
Shea builds a great creepy atmosphere by setting the bulk of this story in a hard-hit town in the Catskills. You know how in a lot of slashers, the protagonists roll into an isolated town and it just exudes creepiness? Shea captures that feeling expertly here, and even gives a nod to the trope of the grizzled old man who attempts to warn them one last time to turn back. And then there are the ruins of the Hayden. The isolation of the building and the state of disrepair just amplify the feelings of dread. Also, it’s a pretty sprawling place that gives the Wraith plenty of places to hide and you never know where he’s going to come from next. But more important than the physical settings of the book are the ways Hunter uses their history to amplify the scares. Even though the new group that ventures into the Hayden weren’t there originally, they are haunted by the carnage that has seeped into the foundations of the building over the year based on the Hayden’s sordid history and the reports from the original massacre.
I’ve always enjoyed reading Hunter’s books because they capture that same feeling I used to get browsing the shelves at the video store, grabbing armfuls of classic horror movies. There’s a comfort there, and every time I pick up one of his books, I know I’m in for one hell of a reading experience. At any given time you may laugh, cringe, yell out “holy shit,” or any other reaction you can think of. But, most of all, you’ll have fun. We all know the tradition of slashers and sequels and Shea doesn’t disappoint in that regard, leaving the door open for future stories involving the Wraith. I thought Slash was an absolute thrill ride from start to finish and was full of buckets of blood, mayhem, and great characters. So, if you’re reading this Hunter or any of the folks at Flame Tree Press, please give us more of the Wraith!