I have been lucky with my experiences online – meeting lots of fantastic readers and writers alike. Mr Servante is an author who has been an immeasurable support for my own writing and has provided some of the more insightful and poignant reviews of my work in the past. So when he asked if I’d be interested in getting involved with his latest project: Killers and Horror: Ink Black, Blood Red I jumped at the opportunity. Anthony, once again, proved his skill in critically analyzing a number of fantastic works by Billie Sue Mosiman, Mark Parker, and Christine Morgan, alongside Blood Related, in relation to the portrayal of fictional violence and the comparison of non-fictional descriptions of infamous serial crimes. Here is the blurb:
Killers and Horror: Ink Black, Blood Red by Anthony Servante is a critical look at the horror of real killers versus imagined killers as analyzed in four fiction novels and three nonfiction books, featuring works by Billie Sue Mosiman, Mark Parker, Christine Morgan, and William Cook in fiction, and discussing real-life murderers, including Ed Gein, the original “Psycho”, El Sicario, a Mexican hit-man, and Richard Kulinski, The Ice Man, a Mafia contract killer. He discusses specific murders, the reasons for these deaths, and the personal motives of the killers. He also addresses the role of the reader who chooses visceral books with anti-heroes. WARNING: EXTREME GRAPHIC KILLINGS DESCRIBED.
The following is an excerpt from Killers and Horror (permission kindly granted by Mr Servante) pertaining to his analysis of Blood Related:
“Which brings us to Blood Related by William Cook . . .
“Meet the Cunninghams . . . A family bound by evil and the blood they have spilled.
Meet Caleb Samael Cunningham, a diabolical serial-killer with an inherited psychopathology, passed down via a blood-soaked genealogy. Caleb is a disturbed young man whose violent father is a suspected serial killer and mother, an insane alcoholic. After his Father’s suicide, Cunningham’s disturbing fantasy-life becomes reality, as he begins his killing spree in earnest. His identical twin brother Charlie is to be released from an asylum and all hell is about to break loose, when the brothers combine their deviant talents.”
William Cook kills via a family of psychotic butchers. In his docu-crime drama, Cook employs a narrative style that floats between letters, newspaper accounts, third person perspectives from a law enforcer on the hunt for the killer(s), and the first person account of a set of sociopathetic twins whose mental ramblings veer between insane genius and sick sanity. The reader walks a thin line between fiction and nonfiction as Cook’s prose style shifts between demented frames of mind with seamless ease.
The reign of terror begins with Grandpa Cunningham, father Errol Cunningham, and the twins Charlie and Caleb. Grandpa and Errol are sadists who kill for sadistic pleasure. Errol and his crazed wife Vera teach their young boys to dispose of the bodies of their old man’s victims, just as likely Grandpa taught his son Errol. After Errol commits suicide as the law closes in on him, we learn that Charlie and Caleb have been killing victims on their own. Thus the police are confused and track two killers, the Portvale Serial Killer and the Dockside Ripper, little knowing that they are both members of the Cunningham clan. Cook uses his poetic style to blend the twins into one character, where the reader at times sees Charlie and Caleb clearly, but at other times, we cannot tell when we are seeing Charlie and/or Caleb. And to further confound the reader, Cook even blends elements of Errol into the mix. Caleb looks into the mirror and sees Errol, then Charlie. He no longer sees himself, though he knows (most of the time) that he is in fact Caleb. Furthermore, this mix takes on overtones of the supernatural (floating skulls and apparitions), but we know that the killer has gone completely insane. His only lucid moments come in dreams that have truths and frenzied fantasies interwoven. Reality and dream become the same images Caleb sees. And through it all, murder is the only means to separate the real from the hallucinations. This does not bode well for the Portvale population.
Ray Truman is the cop on the trail of the killer(s). He is the opposite of the Cunningham clan. He comes from a family of cops. He married a cop. His quest is for justice. But when he becomes a detective and tracks the Cunningham family, he faces the abyss once too often and does not hesitate to become a monster to stop these murderous fiends. It is he who suspects that the Cunninghams are responsible for the slew of deaths and missing persons, and it is he who first notices that the young twins are not so alike: Truman
“thought about Charlie Cunningham, realizing that when he thought of that psycho he couldn’t help but picture Cuntingham senior. He looked at the only mug-shot on the wall he had of a young Caleb and saw both Charlie and Errol in his dark eyes. He thought of how Caleb looked the last time he’d seen him, the scar that ran from his forehead to his chin had changed his face so he looked like his brother but not like his father, it was kind of hard to explain. Charlie was more like his old man than Caleb was. Caleb was a different beast altogether…”
He understands the danger that Caleb poses is far greater than his brother Charlie, but Caleb is the abyss that looks into the soul of the lawman. They both know only one of them will survive.
Caleb takes exception to the lawman’s fixation on him; he says, “The only reason Ray Truman suspected me of any of the unsolved murders in the Portvale region and surrounding city boroughs, was by way of association. Crime by association, that is my family legacy – tainted with the same lust to kill, the same burning urge, passed on down from generation to generation. And I am guilty. Guilty of the crime of being a Cunningham, and an exceptional killing machine.” He is offended by the accusation at the same time that he boasts of Truman being right about his guilt.
Because Cook portrays the Cunninghams so realistically, down to the newspaper accounts, it is easy to accept these killers as possible characters based on actual serial killers. I asked the author about this concern of mine. He answered, “I made the characters up – actually using an old friend of mine as the character study for Charlie Cunningham but they are both indeed composite characters of ‘types’ of Serial Offenders. There were aspects of some serial killers I used and I also used old case files from some vintage Detective magazines that I own (not verbatim of course). For example, the scene where Charlie places a pen in a shop-keeper’s ear and kicks it is actually a true rendition of a case where that actually happened. Nothing weirder or more horrifying than reality.
More info here about the process: https://bloodrelated.wordpress.com.
Cook holds up a mirror to art with his work, as a book about serial killers and as a work of art in its aesthetic theme. Blood Related is a work of art. It depicts killers. The killer kills for art to engage viewers and the media to his form of murder. The author and the main character blend in the poetic gray area of sophistry. Is it Cook or Caleb explaining the artistic aesthetic of death? As such, Cook is commenting on the real serial killers and their various reasons for killing (think Hannibal who kills to weed out the brutes of society, to make it a better place in essence); the Ice Man thinks the world is better off without the low-lifes and bullies that he kills. Cook has taken his “anti-hero” to a whole new level—as a comment on Art with a capital A. (I think of Buckets of Blood, the movie that depicted death as a comment on art via the Beat Era thinking of gaining immortality via art). Caleb confesses, “I wanted to see the world. Maybe become a better person one day. God knows I had tried, but my urge to create runs deep – killing’s in my blood.” He equates “creating” with killing. Hannibal Lecter equated cuisine with his murders. Is it the painter or the picture standing in the gallery?
We have seen how our fiction and nonfiction killers have been influenced by Pulp Crime Novels and lurid Detective Magazines. Cook takes this influence one step further with Caleb’s choice of reading: “Charlie liked the instinctual driven nature of Raskolnikov and felt that he learned a lot about avoiding capture, thanks to Dostoyevsky’s thorough analysis of the crime of murder committed by his protagonist. Charlie swore the author must have killed before to write with such intimate knowledge of the emotions befitting such a crime. The clarity of experience shone like light on the bloody hands of the killer.” Caleb also learns from the traditional trashy fare: “‘True Crime’ literature was my next step into the dark corners of the human mind – my own mind to be exact. I quivered with excitement and guilty pleasure as I thumbed through the volumes filled with the most horrible aspects of humanity. I recognized myself between the lines. I found kindred spirits on these pages; new heroes filled my world as I read voraciously, devouring the methods and the means to avoid detection and to make my mark on the world.” His master plan comes together as he takes refuge at his grandfather’s deserted farmhouse.
In this sense, Caleb’s killing of the German Shepherd, who resembled the dog from his grandfather’s ranch, symbolized the annihilation of his own psychosis, the putting down of a rabid dog, himself. Other images of himself appear as feral animals, including the wolf he destroys. Caleb is psychologically cleaning house; he even remarks his need for antibiotics and antipsychotics, the two drugs that would return him to a sane state where he could start over. We understand that he is still a killer, but repressed by medication, he can start over, re-imagine his art, and perhaps some day, stop taking the meds and resume his murderous work. This is Caleb’s way of thinking as he wraps up his catalog of deaths with the final killing we witness at his grandfather’s ranch. He has transcended the role of serial killer in much the same way that Hannibal Lecter took his killings to culinary heights: Two madmen who see no difference between fiction and nonfiction killings, between art and reality, between Hieronymus Bosch and Norman Rockwell.
Later we learn that the twins’ father, Errol, had a similar taste for the perverse: “Errol’s father trapped and killed stray cats and dogs in his backyard, enjoying their agonized death throes and often forcing his son to participate in the culling.” Caleb realizes that life had dealt him a losing hand from a stacked deck: “[I]f my parentage had been different – if the circumstance of my youth was not what it had been – then I may have been different. It wasn’t nature or nurture that dealt me the cards I played with now, more of a divine providence that gave me the tools I had at my disposal. These same tools allowed me to step into Pa’s mind’s eye through his words and see what he saw, feel what he felt.” Keep in mind that real serial killer Richard K surmised the same line of thinking, that he had become his brutal, angry father by trying to escape him.
The Portvale murders cease for a while but resume with slight variations, leading police to believe a “new” killer was on the scene or a copycat (as we’ve seen with Widow). But it was a case of father handing down the tradition of death to his sons, who, though at first reluctant to assume the mantel, learned to appreciate the pleasures of the hunt and kill. “Whoever made it out of the basement alive, was mine to play with in the tunnels below,” says Caleb with pride. The twins were picking up the crumbs left to them by their father. The reason for the confusion of the police: there are three killers at work, Errol, Charlie and Caleb. Cook in essence “recreates” killers who are traditional; Caleb seeks to emulate the real serial killers he has grown to idolize. He even lists his top ten, some of whom we’ve already discussed in the nonfiction section earlier: “Ted Bundy – Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway – The Ice Man Richard Kuklinski – H. H. Holmes – The Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe – The Zodiac Killer – The Dusseldorf Monster Peter Kurten – The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run – The Night Stalker Richard Ramirez – Jack The Ripper.” Caleb’s sleeping arrangements also reflect his new taste for the grotesque and the visceral. “My mattress sat on a bed-base I had constructed from old wooden packing cases and the walls were covered in posters and pictures ripped from library books and magazines. The various pictures juxtaposed with each other, the naked bodies of centerfold models set alongside the images of naked corpses of concentration camp victims.” He can no longer distinguish between arousal and blood-lust.
William Cook has created a crafty killer in Caleb whose roots in the Cunningham atrocities across two generations have been honed in the mad genius of the last member of the clan. As such, the reader may confuse fiction with nonfiction, for Caleb is so well drawn that one must blink twice now and then to check on the raison d’etre of the book. It is fiction. But there is no safety here, as there was in our other fiction books; the reader must plunge into the mind of the Cunninghams without the net, as we did with our nonfiction works. It is a perfect denouement to this look at killers and horror.
Killers roam the streets of everyday life. We are at their mercy. But the odds are so small that we will become victims that we feel safe. In reading about our nonfiction killers, the odds increased, and our safety net was lowered, depending on how much we empathized with our killers and how much we cringed that more such killers are out there. In reading about our fiction killers, however, our safety net was raised. Our killers here were romanticized, distanced with humor, and portrayed in nonfiction variations. It is the fiction killer who seems real that fascinates us the most as we feel the danger at hand. It is a roller-coaster ride where we are safely locked in, but a ride that can go wrong with the shredding of one important bolt. With the nonfiction, it wasn’t about a fun ride; it was about facing our fears head-on, traveling into the heart of darkness where Kurtz and Horror await. If, like Marlowe, we can return from this darkness, then we appreciate our civilized lives all the more. But then, what if we don’t return? That’s always the risk we enjoy taking whether it’s in fiction or nonfiction, with real killers or imagined. Because sometimes we learn that there is safety in the darkness, for who of us hasn’t a bit of the killer in their heart? Certainly not us, right?”
Thankyou to Anthony again. Please make sure to buy a copy of Killers and Horror: Ink Black, Blood Red by Anthony Servante. While you’re there, check out Anthony’s other works – he has a real penchant for horror and you’ll see this aesthetic carried through most of his works. Also, pay a visit to Servante of Darkness: Horror, SF, and Noir. Words & Sounds for the Living where he elucidates the following commendable philosophy:
“In literature these are the eras agreed upon by academics: Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Romantic, Victorian, Naturalism/Realism, Existentialism, Beat, Modern and Post Modern. Did you know that the genre of Horror has no eras because academia does not consider it a legitimate field of study. I consider horror to begin with the Romantic (Frankenstein), Victorian (Dracula), Golden (Cthulhu), Silver (Manitou, The Keep, The Rats), and Cyber (which is today’s use of the internet by both e-authors and paper authors). Although academia has only begun to listen to me and my categorization of the cybernocturnal as a new form of literature, I storm ahead with my chronology of horror and hope that the academics will catch up. This is our field, what we read, what we write, what we discuss. We can’t wait for some anthropologist to decide what “horror” is 100 years from now. It’s our responsibility today. That’s what the Servante of Darkness is all about. I write reviews. I discuss literary trends. I interview people of note. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org”