November 25, 2013

A One-Legged Stripper in an Ass-Kicking Contest: a review of Eric Beetner's "Stripper Pole at the End of the World"

Stripper Pole at the End of the World
by Eric Beetner
Schlock Zone Drive-In (2013)
101 pages
ISBN 9781491031612

Cannibals are under-appreciated in horror. Zombies just hog the spotlight in the flesh-eating department. Humph ... lousy zombies. Well, Eric Beetner offers a stage for the old-fashioned flesh-eaters in this Schlock Zone Drive-In feature.

"The Collapse", as it's called in this novella, is a little vague on details. It's the end of the world as we know it, with the economy tanking, governments disintegrating, and humanity basically turning on itself in one big free-for-all. You know, like 2008--but with cannibals.

Amidst the chaos is Janet, a widow wandering the ravaged landscape towards Center City, where she hopes to scrape together what's left of her life and make a go of things. She's already seen her husband killed by the roving hordes, and even lost a leg and much of one arm to the madness, but she soldiers on with a determination unmatched by anyone she meets. Eventually, she winds up at a strip joint called Moon Sammy's, which features women with a variety of scars of their own. Janet should fit right in. Before too long though, things head even further south when the bar is attacked by cannibals.

The story feels like it was sprung from one of those fake trailers that played between Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof from a few years ago. If you watched that Grindhouse double-feature, you know what I'm talking about. A combination of brutal violence and barbed wit. There isn't a lot of time to get to know the characters, but Beetner does take fleeting moments between action sequences to add a little flesh to Janet's fellow survivors. Good thing too, since the cannibals seems fairly proficient at tearing said flesh away. The main villain, a surprisingly coherent cannibal leading the pack, could have used a little more focus though, at least in my opinion. I didn't need some long-winded origin story, but some semblance of where he came from, and a little more explanation as to how he held onto his mental faculties while his underlings were more feral attack dogs, would have been nice.

In the end, the book delivers what it promises, which is a high-octane and low-brow thrill ride that taps into a reader's hunger for B-movie bedlam. Don't expect Cormac McCarthy's The Road here, folks. If you want refined contemplation on violence in society, maybe you shouldn't be picking up a book titled Stripper Pole at the End of the World.

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