Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Jack Ketchum is a horror writer who needs no introduction. Along with Richard Laymon, and Edward Lee, the man popularized and defined hardcore horror during the 1980s and made it palatable for mass market consumption. Novels, such as Off Season and The Girl Next Door, are classics within the genre.
However, very few have ever read or even heard of Ladies’ Night. Ladies’ Night was penned by Ketchum in the early 80s as a follow up to Off Season. It was written as to be more violent and offensive than its predecessor. Yet, the book as it was originally envisioned was never printed. Ladies’ Night was determined by publishers to be too extreme. Instead, the manuscript was buried and a few years later, readers were treated with the more subtle horror of Hide and Seek.
Fast forward into the splatterpunk heyday of the late 1990s, what was extreme in the early 80s was now almost the literary staple of the horror genre. Moreover, Ketchum’s success and notoriety for pushing the limits allowed him much more freedom to publish whatever he wanted. What he wanted was to cut, polish, and rewrite Ladies’ Night.
Ladies’ Night, as published in 1997, was 170 pages in length, down approximately 230 pages from the original 400 page manuscript. It makes for a short no-holds-barred novel. Ladies’ Night takes places over the course of a single night in New York City. An unlicensed chemical truck has spilled its contents on the city streets. Woman breathing in the fumes are struck with severe headaches, followed by a strong desire for sex, and ultimately, the want to kill all men they encounter.
The story follows Tom, a serial cheater, out for a night on the town when things go bad. After dealing with some woman in the bar, Tom comes to the realization that his son, Andy, is at home alone with his possibly deranged wife. As Tom takes the fight against the opposite sex across the streets of New York City to find Andy, Andy is at the apartment warding off the advances of the beast he used to call “mom.”
Ladies’ Night hits upon several societal taboos, most prominent of which is violence towards women. Women are the bad guys here and are dealt with using extreme prejudice. The whole concept plays on the notion of hormonal women not being able to control their urges and as a result, feels entirely too misogynistic… even for a horror novel.
Ketchum is a great writer and the brutality between the sexes is cringe worthy. However, most will not be able to get past the concept. A man, who regularly goes out on his wife, is the hero. His goal is to get his son away from the woman he married and kill her.
In all fairness, Ketchum does deliver what he set out to create. Ladies’ Night is more violent and offensive than Off Season. If the concept does not disturb you, it should. This one is not for the faint of heart.