Midway through the first chapter of Under the Blade I kept thinking to myself how much I'd love to see the pages of the book brought to the big screen. Author and longtime contributor to horror mega site Dread Central Matt Serafini has a keen understanding of the slasher subgenre, and that comes across loud and clear on the page. With Under the Blade Serafini crafts an iconic villain and as strong an entry to the “final girl” cannon in the mold of Friday part 2's Ginny.
Under the Blade begins where most horror films end with the sole survivor of a campsite massacre facing off against a hulking, unstoppable agent of death. Serafini's ability to cull from decades of sitting through the best and worst of what slasher films offer and distill that into the action on the page shines through in a section that hooks the reader in right away. Our final girl, Melanie is as quick on her feet as she is scared out of her mind. Each of her choices: from barricading the cabin she's hiding out in, to sending multiple canoes downstream in an attempt to throw the killer off her scent to biting off a chunk of his nose in a desperate gambit to free herself from his death grip, all make perfect sense despite never working out as she hoped. When she finally gets the upper hand on her assailant, she doesn't pussyfoot around while doing her best Big Papi impression on his skull multiple times.
Unlike most horror films, where the viewer never sees the traumatic aftermath of finding your friend strung up by their innards before fighting for one's own life, Under the Blade picks up twenty five years later. Despite her success as a college professor, Melanie still finds herself traumatized by the horrors of the campsite. When a professional setback sends her reeling, she decides to take up a longstanding and lucrative offer to pen her memoirs of the event. Packing her bags and sending her cat to stay with a friend, Melanie Holden returns to Lake Forest Grove to bury Cyrus Hoyt once and for all.
Under the Blade creates a terrific set of supporting characters and whodunnit mystery that keeps the reader guessing and enthralled throughout the book. Three hundred pages of a silent killer stalking prey through the woods would most likely be as boring as fuck, and thankfully the book doesn't go that route. From the moment Melanie arrives back at Forest Grove it's clear that the sleepy burg still suffers from the aftershocks of Hoyt's killing spree. The town's youth remain on lockdown, with staple events like homecoming dances being off the menu for fear that it could raise some bad juju and start a new cycle of killing.
Meanwhile Melanie runs into various degrees of resistance from the town's straitlaced new sheriff Brady, his bohemian wife that's decidedly unhappy about leaving their New York lifestyle in order to return to her boring hometown, her father and the town's ex sheriff along with a slew of other oddball characters that seem to know far more than they'll let on. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the town's trouble run far deeper than the one time killing spree of a presumed dead madman. Ties to a Jonestown like religious cult come into play midway through the story, and as Melanie inches closer to the truth, she faces threats from both those desperate to keep the Grove's secrets along with a killer that has either taken up Hoyt's mantle if he's not the resurrected man himself.
The four or five hours it takes to devour the novel offers one important luxury over an hour and a half movie. Serafini takes full advantage of the written page in order to develop each of the players of Under the Blade. The reader gains full insight into each character's motivations, fears and doubts. By allowing the reader the time to know the characters so well, it makes the larger reveals and shocking moments all the more impactful when the last fifty or so pages begin to unfurl. Even would-be throwaway characters like a teen couple factor in, offering one of the most stunning incidents in the story. You get to know these characters well enough that when they begin to drop like flies in the last act, you feel genuine remorse. When a person we follow from near the beginning of the tale is killed off in a quick and insanely painful way, I found myself rereading the passage multiple times with the hopes that there would be an “out” that allowed them to reappear again, intact. That's a clear sign the book is working.
With the Christmas season coming up, You're bound to be looking for a stocking stuffer for the horror fan in your life. Whether it's the buddy that has a Halloween sleeve running down his arm, or the friend who devours the novels of Jack Ketchum, for a measly twelve bucks you can pick up the paperback, or grab the ebook for less than $5. It's a great read, and one had me pulling my Friday the 13th DVDs off the shelf for some nostalgic viewing after I finished the last page.