PLOT: Under a full moon, a hardened trio of Pistoleros are tasked with ridding a Mexican village of a rabid wolf-men infestation.
REVIEW: The great Eric Red has wasted little time pounding out his second novel, THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE, which I'm happy to report is an utterly enjoyable read! If his first novel DON'T STAND SO CLOSE was a welcome alternative for the slightly younger crowd who thoroughly despised the TWILIGHT saga, SANTA SANGRE is for the hardened horror head who craves an even more violent, visceral, overall priapic experience. Set in the arid Mexican desert, Red's prose and storytelling are somewhat redolent of Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King, with SANTA SANGRE evoking shades of what a twisted lovechild of BLOOD MERIDIAN and SILVER BULLET might cast. High praise indeed. Even higher praise is due, because of his many years of screenwriting experience, to the way Red paints such a visual world without subjugating the importance of believable, three-dimensional characters whose journey we truly care to ride along with. Props Mr. Red, you've done it once again!
The titular GUNS refer to Tucker, Bodie and Fix - a troika of hired gunmen with a bounty swirling overhead for their inglorious ways - with SANTA SANGRE referring to men's destination, a small village dubbed Saint Blood, named too for its portentous past. The two troubled nouns are on a collision course of grisly destiny, but until that fateful full-mooned night finally arrives - we live, breathe, drink, sweat and fight with the gun-slinging trio on a bloody warpath of bare survival. Tucker assumes the de facto leader role, Bodie's a sizable Swede with muscle, while Fix is the consummate pragmatist. Together they're a formidable gang you don't want to cross, physically or otherwise. As the story starts, the gunmen are on the run, but they soon happen upon a young peasant girl named Pilar who solicits their much needed help. You see, her family village has been pillaged by a legion of wolf-men - Men Who Walk Like Wolves - a race of 8-foot tall, red-eyed, bear-clawed monsters who skulk the night under a full moon. Quite a tall task for our gruff, no-shit-taking antiheros...especially considering the beasts' insatiable penchant for human flesh. Are the boys up to it?
What I love most about SANTA SANGRE is the seamless marriage of not just horror and western genres, which I always appreciate, but rather the specific folkloric interplay between the outlaw and the werewolf subgenre. Eric Red is no stranger to such tropes, remember, he made the iniquitously undervalued BAD MOON back in 1996...which sort of touched on similar themes. Here though the gauntlet is thrown down with hardcore force, highlighted by prose and story-action that are boastfully brusque, ultra-bloody and unremittingly brutal. Seriously, if babies getting gulped-up-whole by ravenous Wolf-Men might offend you, well, I say suck it up and take the hit. I really do. For the AITH crowd though, this is a surefire must read...fevered, sweaty and dusty by day...twisted, gory and hyper-violent by night. It's the kind of successful genre mash-up Hollywood has tried to get right on many a occasion, often with tragic and laughable results. Refreshingly, though only literary at this stage (fingers crossed), THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE aims high and hits the bulls-eye dead f*ckin' center!
Along the way, we meet a few other ancillary characters...many of whom parish, few who survive. One such is an 85 year old drunkard with an intimate knowledge of werewolves, having survived many an ominous full-moon rampage. His liquor stench hides the smell of human flesh, thereby giving him agility. It's through him we learn more about the feral bloodthirsty beasts that await the gunmen, namely how silver bullets through the heart are the main way to dispatch such a nasty foe. Sounds rudimentary at first, sure, but remember this is the old west. Silver is much harder to come by, and when you finally do procure any amount of it, the raw material must be melted down and molded into properly calibrated ammunition. No easy feat. But quite auspiciously, the gunmen learn that the church in Pilar's village is rife with all kinds of silver trinkets...many of which promised to them after mission complete. The three brutes agree to help, saddle up, and make their way to Santa Sangre. What bloodily befalls them in the interim is up to you to find out!
Thankfully though, it's those very auxiliary characters and slight tangential red-herrings that keep the journey from ever being stale. If it weren't for the offshoots and subtle misdirects, the story might be little more than a compilation of high-caliber action set-pieces, whereupon the trio of gunmen ride into a new town, show down, blow shite up, and move right the hell along (not that that would be a bad thing on its own mind you). As it is, the heft of those gnarly confrontations are more noticeable amid some of the lighter lulls we find all characters - the main three and others, namely Pilar - experiencing throughout. In shorter, there's a measured balance Red strikes between the hyper-furious shootouts and the contemporaneous character building...and in a true symbiotic fashion, each one makes the other better. Like its own blood-flow, the story stays fresh and it stays rich!
In the end, THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE is a fun, good-old-fashioned horror read that often defies werewolf convention. It's brisk. It's bold. It's bloody as hell. And as a lifelong storyteller who thinks in pictures, Eric Red will set us in one direction then deliberately crack the compass and laugh right in our face. Which is fantastic! The book is unpredictable like that, which keeps the story fluid and vibrant all the way to the climax. Spikes of terror, lulls of laughter, extremely well drawn and ultra-violent action scenes, deftly shaded characters we can care and root for...all make for a potent-hundred-proof-brew of fictitious bliss. I shit you not - hardened horror head or not - go out and get this book ASAP!