When I started reading “Mass Hysteria” by Michael Patrick Hicks initially I had a sinking feeling abandonment would arrive after twenty or thirty pages, when you have as many books stacked on your Kindle as I do one has to be ruthless… However, I was pleasantly surprised by this very violent, equally dumb, but pulsating horror science fiction crossover which hit top gear from page one and hurtled into car crash territory. It was a pretty brief read, but that’s a compliment, as I sped through it in no time.
I got the impression the author was a fan of trashy straight-to-video films which were popular in the 1980s, everything from “Night of the Creeps”, to “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” and even the much older “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock. At one point “Critters” is mentioned in the novel, so I reckon I was on the right track. You know the sort of movie scene I am talking about; small town isolated from the outside world and suddenly lots of weird stuff starts to happen. Throw in a few randy teenagers, random violence, a confused sheriff and you’re good to go! “Mass Hysteria” was far from original, but more than made up for it in wild set pieces, sex, blood and general craziness.
The book hits the ground running from page one when poor Melisa is savaged and killed by her pet dog Buckley in pretty graphic fashion. At the same time the local area has been enjoying an amazing meteor storm over the previous few nights, with a few landing close to the town where the entire novel never strays from. That’s all the back story you need, as there is obviously something weird about the meteors which quickly make all pets and animals go bat-shit crazy.
And I mean CRAZY. Within a few pages you have deer smashing into cars, pit bulls savaging babies, labrador’s mauling volleyball players and killer cats hunting in packs. Basically the natural order of things has changed and humans quickly become the prey over a few brief hours. I enjoyed the inventive and entertaining ways various humans are despatched including some gleefully nasty scenes. Hector the cat was a particular favourite, after trying to kill a baby and being thrown out of the family home, he so immune to pain the bone was visible from his skull after he repeatedly throwing himself at the window to get back inside to his owner. Ouch.
The characters are pretty sketchily drawn, undoubtedly similar to those B-movies I mentioned earlier in the review. Lauren is the main girl lead, and when she is introduced is more interested in getting hot and sweaty with her older boyfriend, before quickly showing some girl-power and morphing into a spunky and engaging heroine. Hendrix was another fun character, a deputy policewoman, who has a big part to play particularly in the second half of the book. Lauren’s father is the local policeman who is instantly overwhelmed by the local disaster, other characters die horribly and I got the impression the author enjoyed writing this fine piece of trash tremendously.
So by about 25% into this short novel we head into full apocalypse mode, but a tad later the author takes us into a clever new direction. I am not going to reveal what this is, except to say it was dumb yucky fun and gave the novel a certain level of originality it previously lacked and raises it above the pack. A word of warning – the novel finished a bit prematurely for me, my Kindle was saying 80%, so I was waiting for the big finale, only to find out that the ‘other’ 20% was a short-story. I really liked the final sequence, and I did not expect the story to finish so abruptly, and it irritated me somewhat. The author should be pleased with that irritation though as I wanted the other 20%! Overall though, by no means a classic of the genre, this was a very solid and well written slice of horror science fiction which was fun, horrible, fun from start to finish.
Written by: Tony Jones