Modern Pulp Aug 7 2016
THE GREAT SATAN
Politics turn out to be hell—literally.


The Hell Candidate, which was written by Graham Masterton using the pseudonym Thomas Luke, first appeared in bookstores in July 1980. Ronald Reagan, who unwittingly provided Luke with inspiration, became the Republican nominee for president the same month. The book did well, but was almost forgotten until recently. In the last few months we've seen completely worn copies of the paperback version for sale online for $150. We got ours for $13 because, fortunately, not everyone researches book prices before they post them on an auction site. Why do people suddenly want to read The Hell Candidate again? Well, it has to do with the campaign of a certain Donald J. Trump. While the parallels are interesting and terrifying, the important aspect of the book is that it deals with contemporary American politics. Its lesson is that horrible candidates appear because voters secretly like them. Do we agree? Not entirely. But considering how useless most U.S. political candidates are, it's a point worth consideration.
 
The basic idea in The Hell Candidate is that an otherwise affable politician of moderately conservative bent named Hunter Peal is possessed by Satan and becomes a profane, warmongering, sexually violent monster. His aides and friends are horrified by the change in his personality and are sure he's doomed to flame out on the campaign trail, but a strange thing happens—the American people love him. His promises of violent action against foreign enemies and unrestrained plenty on the home front propel him closer and closer to the Oval Office. His promises are impossible. They're simply a means to power. But they keep working. From his early campaign stops in the sticks to massive rallies in major cities, candidate Peal utilizes doublespeak, tricks, illusions, and tortures to rise onto political center stage. He's beyond ruthless. Early in the book he rapes his wife eight times in one night—and admits it with pride. Later he dispatches a debate opponent by magically afflicting him with diarrhea. Yeah, it's that kind of book.

Could such a story really be worth reading? We think so. There's real terror, and some moments of insight, like this one:

Suddenly you're prepared to rationalize all those weird things you saw at Allen's Corners, and suddenly you're prepared to rationalize the fact that good old Hunter Peal has turned into a raving rightwing fascist [snip] and you know why? Because you're like every other creep around every other presidential candidate. If the candidate looks like he's winning then you'll forgive him anything. Rape, murder, fraud—anything.”

Hunter isn't guilty of any of those things.”

He raped his wife didn't he?”

While The Hell Candidate is unambiguously a political allegory of at least minor historical significance, and it's also a unique horror novel, it's additionally an early-to-mid example of transgressive fiction—in fact a defining example, though it's never appeared on a list of such books we've ever seen. But consider—transgressive fiction deals with characters who break free of perceived social norms in violent, sexual, or illicit ways, and such characters often seem mentally ill or nihilistic. Hunter Peal, once possessed, pointedly destroys all boundaries of socially acceptable behavior through repeated acts of profanity, depravity, cruelty, and shockingly lethal violence. Meanwhile other characters spend ample time misunderstanding his satanic nature, instead discussing whether he's merely gone insane.

It's similar in some ways to American Psycho—a landmark transgressive book critics mostly failed to understand. Peal becomes an embodiment of America's impulses toward violence in the same way Patrick Bateman becomes an embodiment of runaway capitalism. The books are also similar in that their violence is so vivid that merely reading it can make you feel guilty. That Peale's victims are sometimes forced through mind control to respond to his blood-drenched brutality as though they're in the throes of sexual ecstasy will do a number on your head. But this is the Devil we're talking about. Such sexualized hyperviolence fits—at least in terms of how he's conceptualized in Western lore. Masterton pulls no punches. The Hell Candidate is visceral, pornographic, and utterly enervating, often terrible to experience, but a modern pulp masterpiece.
 
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 30
1986—Jimmy Cagney Dies
American movie actor James Francis Cagney, Jr., who played a variety of roles in everything from romances to musicals but was best known as a quintessential tough guy, dies of a heart attack at his farm in Stanfordville, New York at the age of eighty-six.
March 29
1951—The Rosenbergs Are Convicted of Espionage
Americans Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage as a result of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. While declassified documents seem to confirm Julius Rosenberg's role as a spy, Ethel Rosenberg's involvement is still a matter of dispute. Both Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953.
March 28
1910—First Seaplane Takes Flight
Frenchman Henri Fabre, who had studied airplane and propeller designs and had also patented a system of flotation devices, accomplishes the first take-off from water at Martinque, France, in a plane he called Le Canard, or "the duck."
1953—Jim Thorpe Dies
American athlete Jim Thorpe, who was one of the most prolific sportsmen ever and won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football at the collegiate and professional levels, and also played professional baseball and basketball, dies of a heart attack.
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