You know you’re in for plenty of warped humour and weird horror with Carlton Mellick III, and Clusterfuck is no exception. Loosely following on from the excellent Apeshit – that followed a bunch of jocks and cheerleaders being stalked by a crazed mutant in the woods – Clusterfuck has a similar hook. But this time it’s fratboys and college chicks on a caving weekend, and while not quite as outrageously gruesome, it piles on the claustrophobia and the laughs.
As the author explains in the foreword, frat boys are both “the worst human beings on the face of the planet, and the funniest human beings on the face of the planet”. And that’s certainly true of this crowd. The “alpha-bro” of the group is Trent, who along with his gloriously stereotypical buddies – beer-guzzling, insensitive, sexist pricks – decides to stock up on booze and go caving with a trio of girls in tow, undeterred by his lack of experience and the fact that two of the girls can’t even stand him.
So after some pre-trip shenanigans and a journey into the wilds, with shades of Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, they head off underground. Naturally, things start to go bad pretty quick. The cave network starts to flood, and if this wasn’t enough, they soon realise they’re not alone down there. Yes, there are cannibal mutants to contend with and as we have a bizzarro master at the helm, some brilliant and sick imagination is on the way.
It’s the characters that drive this story. A couple of them seem fairly normal at the outset, such as squeaky-voiced Lauren, who simpers around Trent, and Selena, who’s intelligent and completely unimpressed by bro-culture. And of course the quiet and sensible Lance, dragged on the trip without really wanting to be any part of it. But as we find out more, they’ve all got serious issues: some just weird, others monstrous. These are deftly teased into the plot, and I found myself delighted every time some back story made an appearance, wondering what perversion or beastly childhood trauma was going to surface next.
Lance – who suffers from human proximity anxiety and entrapment nightmares from his past – also forms the foundation of some intense claustrophobia. When he gets firmly wedged upside-down in a descending, pipe-thin tunnel, his panic beneath the pressing rock made me short of breath. This is expert writing, and also tempers the comedy and impending gore.
I ended up being quite fond of main player “Extreme Dean”, despite him being the most irritating, high-fiving, whooping, hooting bellend you could imagine. As the book progressed, his view of everything as awesome and extreme – no matter how unpleasant and tricky the situation might be – became rather infectious. But while his eternal optimism and complete lack of self-awareness is endearing, he’s still a dick, and capable of some pretty callous violence. I suppose it’s because “THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FROM MESSING WITH EXTREME DEAN, THE ULTIMATE ASS-KICKING MACHINE!”
The first half of the book is atmopsheric adventure-horror of a familiar tone, but the author’s gloves really come off for the second. The promised family of subterranean cannibals don’t disappoint, there’s gross-out moments involving male lactation, mutant sex and consumption of vomitus, and plenty of bone-crunching physical trauma. And although some of this causes a wince, it’s played for gory slapstick too. One scene involves Extreme Dean using poor Lance as a human shield to defend himself from a deranged butcher with a knife. The argument that ensues between the two fraternity bros during the attack made me laugh out loud.
It builds to a blackly comic finale, but harbours a nasty sting regarding the fate of one particular character. Although only hinted at in a couple of lines, it left a sour taste in my mouth as well as a smile on my face. Which is no bad thing.
Overall, this is a wild read, and the witty narration just rolls off the page. It’s not essential to have read Apeshit first (click for my review), despite the threads and references, as this is very much a standalone novel. But should you start here with Clusterfuck, it just means that you’ll have an extra “What the fuck?” moment that readers of the first book have already enjoyed. If “enjoyed” is the right word.
I think this is one of Carlton Mellick III’s finest works so far, and have to recommend this bad trip of horror, entrapment, douchebaggery and twisted humour. Because “This is gonna be the most EXTREME FUCKING WEEKEND EVER!”