Here’s a rarity: a backwoods horror novel by ASIAN CULT CINEMA editor/Video Search of Miami founder Thomas Weisser, his first and only work of fiction. Heavily inspired by the novels of Jack Ketchum, it’s a fairly readable exercise in no-frills nastiness, but there’s a reason VIOLETS OF DAWN is so little known: it just isn’t very good.
The set-up is one that makes the ultra-spare concepts of Ketchum’s novels look downright Nabokovian: several college twerps are driving through an Ohio forest one night and run over a dog, which pisses off the beast’s owners, a crime-prone quartet of sibling hunters led by the psychotic Deff Ballard. Deff and his bros take the twerps hostage, subjecting them to rape, brutality and confinement in a tiny closet. In the meantime local cops grow increasingly suspicious about the Ballards’ activities and a determined officer decides to conduct a personal investigation--just as, conveniently enough, Deff and co. are about to execute their captives.
The narrative may be achingly simplistic, but I’m not especially bothered by that fact. Nor am I too upset at the perfunctory characterizations, oft-clumsy prose and frequent grammatical errors (throughout, Weisser misuses or leaves out commas, and has trouble with its and it’s). My expectations, after all, were pretty low going in.
Ultimately, what really galls about this novel is its failure to deliver the extreme nastiness it promises. It obviously doesn’t work as literature, but it doesn’t satisfy as exploitation, either. The misleading introduction by Herschell Gordon Lewis characterizes VIOLETS AT DAWN as “unrelenting,” “controversial,” “relentless,” “graphic” and so forth. Did he read the same book I did?
The novel’s failings are particularly evident in the second half. It contains a promising development in its revelation that Deff has contracted rabies and passed it on to his young rape victim. This would seem to portend all sorts of gory fun of the type a real genre novelist could have provided, but what Weisser delivers is a lame PG-rated denouement that, in common with the rest of the novel, reads like Jack Ketchum lite.