Helltown – Jeremy Bates, 2015. Rating 3/5
“Hell is other people,” wrote Jean Paul Sartre, and in Helltown, that’s pretty much a literal truth.
On Halloween night in 1987, a group of self-absorbed young twenty-somethings take a road trip to Boston Township in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, aka Helltown, looking for spooks and hoping for nookie.
Legend and rumors run rampant about this isolated, densely-wooded part of Ohio. Helltown is purportedly home to a mutant python, scores of abandoned homes, a toxic chemical spill, a group of Satanists who worship in a church that is covered in upside down crosses, a crybaby bridge, ghosts that sit waiting for you in the cemetery, a road that leads straight to hell, and a haunted school bus: no kidding! Helltown has it all.
Vainly handsome Jeff gets a little cocky, decides to play chicken with a hearse, and ends up in a colossal car wreck. The group splits up (how is this ever a good idea, people?) Some stay with the badly-injured Jeff, while others attempt to take Jenny to a hospital. All become the prey of a handful mentally-challenged backwoods rednecks. These disturbed and disturbing folks intend to kill the “bucks” and rape the “does,” sacrificing them to Satan in a black mass. They succeed admirably: Helltown has a staggeringly high body count.
This is book three in Bates’ The World’s Scariest Places series and the first of them I have read. I was excited to pick it up because my grandparents lived in Peninsula—smack in the middle of Helltown—and I’ve traveled around the area since I was small. The above rumors and legends still circulate about Helltown today.
Bates remarkably manages to incorporate most of the weird tales about the real Helltown into his narrative, but there is nothing supernatural going on. The horror in Helltown is the gross desires and amorality of the men cheerfully hunting down and brutalizing their human prey. Bates shifts between characters’ perspectives to maintain tension and keeps the story moving along with plenty of violence and graphic descriptions. Characterizations are solid, if stereotypical. Fortunately, I didn’t care too much about any of the characters, so I wasn’t really upset to see them systematically and explicitly dispatched. On the positive side, I guess you could say there’s a happy ending for the scant few survivors…
Maybe my hopes were a little too high, or more likely it’s my fault not researching a bit more about the book: I’m not personally a big fan of this horror subgenre. I was hoping for a spooky read, over a violent one. All that said, I was engaged enough to finish the entire thing. If you enjoy the Wrong Turn movies, then Helltown is right up your alley. I live in the same neighborhood, just up a different alley.