I like 'creature feature' horror more than any other sort of horror sub-genre. They’re rarely the most subtle pieces of work, but do I care? Heck no. They’re fun. And sometimes they’re beautiful and strange in a way that a ghost or a dude with a knife can’t be. Broken Shells by Michael Patrick Hicks (Revolver) is not beautiful. It’s gross. It’s grueling monster horror featuring bugs crawling out of people’s dislodged jaws. It’s gore on levels that I personally haven’t seen in creature horror since Nick Cutter’s The Troop. If this were a movie, you can imagine it’d play best in 3D with the screen throwing bits of intestines and eyeball goo at the audience every 10 minutes.
Antoine DeWitt is a guy who’s down on his luck. Desperately needing a good break, he takes a chance on a junk mail flyer claiming that he’s won $5,000 at a car dealership in the middle of nowhere. Antoine shows up and, much to his surprise, the shady car salesman says that, yes, you are a winner. Would you please step this way to collect your winnings? Maybe Antoine's luck has finally turned. Then next thing Antoine knows he’s been stabbed with a needle and pushed down a flight of stairs.
Antoine wakes up in the caverns beneath the car dealership. He’s encased in a biological shell. After some struggle, he breaks free of the shell, but his fight is only just beginning. Big bug bastards rule these tunnels. Human sacrifices line the walls, each locked in their own shells, each missing pieces thanks to the hungry creatures that keep them there. Now Antoine must fight as he forces his way through the monster insect hordes as he looks for a way back to the surface.
Broken Shells is a nasty little book. It’s like a long lost Tales from the Crypt episode in the way that it starts as one thing, becomes something else, and only gets darker as it goes. Hicks fits in a bit of political commentary into the book as well. Antoine is a poor African American man in Trump’s America and deals with open hostility long before the bugs bite off his ear. There are moments that call to mind Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a horror movie ahead of its time with politics on its mind that also featured a black man as a hero.
But what Broken Shells will be remembered for is its gross monster horror brutality. Hicks does not shy away from the slimy details. If anything, the unflinching look at the gory details seems to be one of the author’s primary intentions in writing this story. The author’s style—blunt but squishy—makes for very readable prose. Antoine is a likable, flawed hero fighting against the odds and even the villainous car salesman is written with unexpected depth.
The book is grim. Maybe too grim for some folks. But for those in the mood for hardcore monster horror, look no further. I’m gonna remember it for a while, especially for one bug birthing scene that I think would make Ridley Scott proud. And I’m gonna think twice before following the car salesman to his office to make a deal.
Broken Shells: A Subterranean Horror Novella is available on Kindle and paperback today.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of books and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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