Martin Jenson – The Village Of Fear (Nel, April 1974)
Cover photograph: Keef
“Strange screams split the night air as a young woman cries for mercy – but none is given. There are untoward happenings, things without explanation. In bewilderment the villagers can only fear a devil or an unquiet soul is abroad in their peaceful streets.
No one is safe from the violent and malevolent intruder. Doors are bolted, eyes peer from behind curtains. There seems no end as every fresh horror is revealed, till the very fires of Hell itself are burning in their midst.
The unknown enemy that fills the night with terror is the most deadly of them all – the enemy from Within.”
Review by Steve Goodwin
For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. – Luke 21:22
In thy filthiness is lewdness, thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness till I have caused my fury to rest upon thee. – Ezekiel 24
Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. – Romans 12:19
Never shoot a pigmy with a cannon. – The Village of Fear p.10
Wellesford is much like any other quiet, little English Village, with its cheery postman, its rows of quaint, white-fronted cottages, its elegant church with stout steeple, its Conservative Club…
We’re slowly but ever so surely submerged into this little world of parish magazines and boiled eggs for breakfast – rural England in the 1970s. Introduced in turn to Colonel Harry Rodgers, president of the aforementioned Wellesford Conservative Club (and his sagging wife, Dolly); Dave Marriot, manager of the local Social Club in his pale green silk suit “like an affluent bookmaker”; and shameless self-publicist and founder of the Wellesford Film Society, Tom Radcliffe complete with flares, peroxide blond wig – like Andy Warhol’s but lacking the pre-fabricated Pop Art “honesty” of Warhol’s ‘do’ – and “young, bright and promiscuous” live-in ‘friend’; Goldie of the “very large naked breasts”.
And then there is Austin Trench, M.A., Wellesford’s greying but wiry and well-tended, fifty-five year old vicar – his still powerful six-foot frame the result of years of self-denial. When we first meet Trench he seems very much your average country vicar, seated at his desk in his study, listening to the birds and the “faint rustling of the ivy” around the vicarage, at the same time drinking in the scent of “freshly clipped grass” from the churchyard outside his window.
But what is he scribbling obsessively in his notebooks? Why is he so nervous about the delivery of the small, black book in the brown paper parcel? And why does he suffer seizures and vomit up his breakfast egg when he communes with the Holy Spirit?
Jenson turns things up just one notch with every chapter.
It transpires that the Reverend Trench has discovered an ancient document in the corner of his crypt, a prophetic sermon which foretells how; “One day, men with unruly hair, wild eyed and lost in drink and other looseness” will threaten the peace and quiet, not to mention the moral rectitude, of this his little corner of England. Clearly, in Trench’s mind, a reference to those noisy, long-haired youngsters and their “sl*ttish” girlfriends who hang about outside the village Social Club of an evening. Furthermore, says our long-departed prophet of doom, we should “beware the falseness of corrupt brotherhood, the black laughter and the leperous wine of the hell-bent kinship”. Obviously the local Tories, who’ve just applied to extend their drinking licence (spot on there, I’d say…).
And what’s worse, that arrogant young trendy, Tom Radcliffe, is planning on screening Bunuel’s “blasphemous” Viridiana to an audience of naively unsuspecting villagers little prepared for the tide of filth which is about to engulf them cinematically speaking.
Radcliffe is, it must be said, a particularly irritating and self-serving character who speaks in headlines – “Raver Gives Rabies To Rapist!” – and has a habit of addressing people as, “baby”.
So what’s a reactionary, sexually-repressed flail of the Lord to do cast adrift in such Godless times? Listen to the voices in his head of course…
In Chapter 3, far and away my favourite so far, we’re introduced to the Yellow Helmets – where would any self-respecting NEL title of the 1970s be without at least one biker gang to spice up the proceedings?
The Helmets aren’t exactly your typical Angels from Hell though. The fifteen members – “ten of whom had their own bikes” – meet up each evening in the car park of the Social Club to share a couple of cans of shandy and enjoy a few games of tag and blind man’s buff. Their leader is Gunner an ex-Hell’s Angel who suffers from alopecia.
The ensuing showdown between hellfire Trench, a kind of unholy cross between Travis Bickle and Derek Nimmo, and our not-so-wayward angels is worth the purchase price alone, for my money.
“Return to the place where you learned your savagery!” (Coventry apparently), intones the silvery-headed, bible-toting ‘evan-gilante’.
“Bugger off, Vicar!” reply the Helmets from behind a hail of shandy cans.
And so onto the bar of the Conservative Club for a confrontation with Bunty Carmichael – “one of the louder ladies who attended the club regularly” – and a bed-hopping, buck-toothed builder’s wife who thinks everything is “creepy”.
At chapter’s end, we leave Austin Trench, M.A., brow-beaten but unbowed, back in his study consulting a copy of ‘The Urban Guerilla: His Methods’ and planning his Divine retribution.
Thus far it’s little short of New English gold. Strangely sinister and oddly unsettling, but I couldn’t really explain why. Not entirely what I was expecting, but really rather good.
See also Vault Of Evil’s Martin Jenson thread