Beasts Of 42nd Street: Preston Fassel
Reviewed By Daniel James
Based around the notorious grindhouse subculture which lurked in the seedier corners of 1970’s Manhattan, specifically the eponymous 42nd Street, Preston Fassel’s bleak character study follows Andrew “Lew” Lewinski on a wretched journey through the city’s underbelly to discover the Holy Grail of cinematic horror: a true, unflinching snuff movie. And so desperate is he, he’ll strike a Faustian bargain to witness it.
Andy Lew works as the projectionist at the Colossus Theatre on 42nd; he is also the curator of the cinema’s unpalatable showings. A deeply troubled, macabre, and sketchy “burnout”, the job is all Andy has of any real value, the one lifeline in his murky world, so much so that he prides himself on being an authority on celluloid exploitation.
His exterior life is one of poverty, heroin, few morals, and broken, unhealthy relationships. One such relationship is Gator, a sleazy, racist, crooked cop whom Andy works for as a criminal informant from time to time. And when Andy finds a new movie in his possession, Last House on Dead End Street, Andy is convinced by Gator to show it to former porn legend-turned spiritual wisdom seeker Nicky Blayze in the hopes that he might purchase it for a handsome sum. Unfortunately for Andy, Nicky — along with his pretentious, art-snob friends — views the movie as nothing but cheap and pedestrian for what he desires, leaving Andy humiliated.
And that’s when Andy crosses the line into very dark territory. Andy’s borderline sexual attraction towards discovering the hardest, most graphic sex and violence leads him to Mr S. Draft, a chilling underworld phantom who traffics in the appalling contraband of backroom whispers and urban legends: snuff movies. But Andy’s first teasing glimpse of the movie is not enough, only a few frames of film with no payoff, but what’s more, he develops an obsession for the beautiful victim. To see more of her — beauty and innards — Draft demands a tribute, more than money and pleading. He wants Andy to murder somebody of his own choosing, but somebody whose life carries worth to him, for Draft senses a passion for the unspeakable desires in Andy, something of a kindred spirit, and demands Andy kill somebody who will provoke his secret passion for bloodlust. It’s that…or no movie viewing.
To avoid giving away the rest of the plot, I’ll have to leave it there.
I found this to be a very gripping read, and for me, the story earns additional kudos by focusing on an entirely unlikable (intentionally, I must add!) cast of characters. Interesting yes, but interesting in the way dung beetles are interesting, their whole unappetising lives being concerned with shit and dirt. And so it’s a testament to Fassel’s exceptional writing ability that he held my attention throughout, despite being forced to — well…I wouldn’t say root for, but observe — the seedy and lamentable quest of Andy. It really is an impressive feat. Because while Fassel does a terrific job of fleshing Andy out, he ensures that you know why he is the way he is without soliciting any genuine or unearned sympathy for him. His whole existence is like a car wreck made flesh, and even if I found it difficult to look away, I didn’t enjoy what I was seeing. And Fassel’s whole world is like this, perfectly capturing the grime-coated and unsafe era of Taxi Driver and Death Wish, with the city itself being a breeding ground of rats and filth, an overflowing cesspool with Andy swimming deeper and deeper into its depths of moral depravity and criminality in the hopes of finding his way out.
This is a story about the darkest impulses of humanity, the quiet shameful desire to witness violence and death, a primal voyeuristic compulsion. And as the plot gained momentum, and Andy’s life spiralled into mania, desperation and violence, I found myself glued to the page, eager to find out how and if Andy might escape his pact with the devil.
Beasts Of 42nd Street is out March 2023 via Cemetery Dance.
Beasts Of 42nd Street
From the award-winning author of Our Lady of the Inferno comes another tale of New York in the Bad Old Days: A saga of murder, bloodshed, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Times Square at the height of its decadence and depravity.
In the kingdom of the damned that is 42nd Street, there’s no lowlier subject than Andy Lew. An unrepentant junkie, voyeur, and degenerate, he’s only tolerated by the more dangerous men around him because he keeps the projectors at the Colossus theater running on time, entertaining them with the most extreme horror cinema money can buy.
There’s something unique about Andy, though. He owns a movie. It’s the only one of its kind. No one knows who made it. Only he knows where it came from. The woman it stars is beautiful beyond imagination—and the images it depicts are more nightmarish than the darkest depths of Hell. The beasts of 42nd Street will do anything to possess it, but there’s something they don’t understand. Andy loves the woman in the movie—and he’ll go to any lengths to protect her…
A savage love letter to 70s exploitation cinema and a biting satire of toxic fan culture, Beasts of 42nd Street makes horror dangerous again as it ventures into the mind of a psychopath like no other— one that will have readers recoiling even as they keep coming back for more.
You can buy Beasts Of 42nd Street from Cemetery Dance
Daniel James is an author of horror, fantasy and pulpy, fast-paced thrillers. He first began writing as a hobby to distract himself from the mundanity of completing his dissertation at Liverpool Hope University. When not writing, he loves reading genre fiction novels and comic books, watching movies, and listening to music (he used to play bass in local rock bands).
He is the recipient of the Literary Titan Gold Book award for his crime-thriller novel, Pigs.
You can follow Daniel on Twitter @DJauthor85