Horror fiction writers were slow to take up the slasher mantle back in the early 80’s even though celluloid stalkers were carving up hefty profits at the box-office. Anyone scanning paperback racks at the corner market were more likely to find novels about demon possessed houses, Stephen King rip-offs featuring evil little kids with psychic powers, or past-life-ghostly-romance crap. Slasher fans could get a quick fix from the occasional Halloween or Friday the 13th novelization but the market was painfully barren when it came to new slasher material. Finally, in 1983, slasher fans received a gore drenched gift when Pinnacle Books published Stephen Crye’s Joyride.
Nine teenagers venture into All Saints Hill Cemetery one evening in search of a quiet place to get drunk, stoned, and naked. Watching from a tool shed is Cleats, the hideously scarred caretaker who thinks the cars contain his tormentors from six years ago. Cleats locks the gates, gathers his tools, and goes hunting. Any poor soul straying too far from the party runs into the wrong end of a sickle, chainsaw, pick-axe, or ice pick. A subplot set in 1974 follows the life of Robert Atchison as he fights with his abusive father, falls in love with the most beautiful girl in school, and suffers a terrible tragedy that changes him from a dreamer into a monster.
Stephen Crye writes like a man who knows the rules of a slasher and then tweaks a few things to keep the reader off balance. Crye sets up one of the female characters as a very obvious Final Girl then turns her into the first victim. After that first kill the reader knows anyone could be next. While most of the characters are written as rather generic slasher victims, Crye’s monster has much more back story and depth than the average mad slasher. Cleats could have easily been written as a Jason clone but reading about his life before his face was blown off during a prank gone wrong makes him much more sympathetic.
The real highlights of Joyride are the extremely gory murders. Crye handles the deaths with ghoulish glee and never backs away from the descriptions. Severed limbs twitch, decapitated heads roll and fly through the air, and arterial spray stains anything in its path crimson. The most stunning image, which was also used for the front cover of the novel, is a gore splattered statue of Mary holding baby Jesus in one arm and nestling a decapitated head in the other.
At 248 pages, Joyride is a fast, thrilling read and captures the feel of the slasher genre during its golden age. As for the author, Stephen Crye remains an enigma. Joyride appears to be his only novel and no other information could be found about Crye while researching the book for this review. One can guess Crye is a fan or at least watched a few slasher films back in the day as subtle elements from Hell Night, The Burning, and The Prowler can be found in Joyride. Next time you’re in a used book store or walking through a flea market check around for a copy. Joyride is a grizzly goodtime for folks who enjoy moist slashers.