Zoltergeist The Poltergeist: Douglas Hackle
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Douglas Hackle is back with a novel whose title instantly made me grin, and caused my copy of OpenOffice to shit itself as soon as I typed it out. The titular Zoltergeist is the star of a TV show which our hero, Jimmy, became fascinated with as a child. The show is very much Not For Kids, so Jimmy’s questioning mind naturally wants to know more the sweary, murderous antics of its star. It’s a constant obsession, which haunts (ha ha) Jimmy until his forties, during which his life as a chauffeur driver takes a peculiar turn after an unfortunate confession.
This is a world populated not only by ghostly TV stars but sentient pots of chicken broth, drunken priests, potential leprechauns, barely perceptible monsters and more. Suffice to say it’s a truly bizarre piece of bizarro, with sly social commentary rubbing shoulders with dark, weird comedy, pop culture references and the odd burst of terror for good measure. To paraphrase Hackle’s own words, “shit is janked up as heck.” To use my own words, it’s like Night Vale on crack.
The main narrative is frequently broken up by Jimmy’s descriptions of old Zoltergeist the Poltergeist episodes and other media, which take sitcom setups and turn them into bloodbaths. Jimmy delves into these memories as a form of escapism, and it’s easy to get drawn into his vividly entertaining recollections, which is kind of brilliant, as it feels like a mirror is being held up to the reader, showing them how their desire for quick-fix entertainment sometimes distracts them from other things – like Jimmy. He’s a guy who doesn’t have a lot going for him, and is prone to angry, sometimes violent outbursts, but also knows how to poke fun at himself, especially during a cringe-worthy sequence at a rap party which leads to some Very White Dancing.
Partying and TV don’t help Jimmy much when it comes to the malevolent forces he starts to encounter as the plot thickens though, with some truly eye-watering, leg-crossing descriptions of injuries and accidents, along with some creepypasta style frights that wouldn’t be out of place in an SCP field manual. It’s the same blend of humour and horror that worked so well in Terror Mannequin, with the laughs and general sense of peculiarity keeping you in high spirits (pun fully intended) until there’s a moment that catches you unawares, upping the effectiveness of the frights & gore. Then you’re back to tension-deflating pastiche or general bizarreness, never sure of where the next scare might come from.
It’s brilliantly entertaining writing, and funnily enough, it’s more of a loosely connected series of events than anything else. Kind of like an episodic TV series, where you’re happy enough to hang out with the characters and see what kind of scrapes they get into rather than worrying about their final destination. There’s even a cheeky mid-season cliffhanger of sorts, after which some of the supernatural elements ramp up, as does Hackle’s propensity to mess with the reader, right up to an anarchic finale packed with more mind-fucking bedlam than a 24-hour marathon of Too Many Cooks.
Zoltergeist The Poltergeist
Jimmy Green is a middle-aged limousine driver and a devoted fan of the insane TV sitcom Zoltergeist the Poltergeist. Once when he was a boy, Jimmy had an impure thought about the lead singer of The Bangles.
After confessing his sin to a drunken priest thirty-five years later, Jimmy is sentenced to six months’ penance in an old, isolated house—dubbed Penance House—in the middle of nowhere in rural Ohio. There, sequestered from civilization, Jimmy must repent for his sinful nature or else endure the Everlasting Fires of Hell.
As if Penance House weren’t creepy, whack, and janked-up enough, Jimmy is forbidden to enter the room at the end of the upstairs hallway. Does something sinister lurk beyond its closed door? And what about that leprechaun he keeps seeing skulking around in the woods?
Lucky for Jimmy, he has all forty-nine seasons of Zoltergeist the Poltergeist saved to his laptop to distract himself from his unsettling surroundings. Toward that end, probably the only thing better than rewatching old Zoltergeist episodes would be a visit from the show’s enigmatic, titular star itself…
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on Twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.