Reviewed by Ian Reilly
The Filthy Marauders
by Bob Freville
The Evil Cookie Publishing
Paperback, 191 pages, March 17, 2022
The ensemble of this nasty novella is a group of demented gang members on motorcycles. Each has a colorful name to match their colorful perversions, but you needn’t commit any of them to memory since they serve as little more than cannon fodder over the course of this short and nasty book.
This isn’t to say that the characters in The Filthy Marauders aren’t memorable. If anything the opposite is true; Freville’s gift seems to lie in his ability to craft flesh-and-blood eccentrics with voices that are all their own. It is only too disappointing that he has more enthusiasm for their suffering than he does for their redemption. To be clear, the characters of The Filthy Marauders are vile human beings driven by desires too perverse to list here. That we relish their every word is almost unforgivable and certainly frustrating.
The book reads like an overly-elaborate retelling of The Aristocrats, that most obscene of all stand-up comedy in-jokes once perpetrated by the likes of Gilbert Godfreed and the late Bob Saget. Regretfully, The Filthy Marauders lacks the essential good humor and succinctness of the joke it attempts to one-up.
At times it is difficult to imagine the same author that wrote The Proud and the Dumb, a witty political satire, sitting down and committing himself to writing something this base and seemingly devoid of meaning…until one remembers that The Proud and the Dumb was marketed as “Horror” by a publishing platform called Godless. Then it all starts to make a bizarre sort of sense.
This is a surprisingly mean little story by an ordinarily moral writer. Whether it was really fun to write, as Mr. Freville claims in his brief author’s note, is anyone’s guess, but this writer sincerely hopes he was merely being sarcastic. After all, if such a story could be fun to write, one has to to wonder what Freville’s idea of a good time looks like. If the book offers a clue then he probably requires a change of clothes and a bottle of mouth wash.
A deep dive on the author’s Instagram account reveals some potential clues to his choices here. Among the many films he references on his wall we find Pasolini’s Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, a controversial 1975 film that is as notorious for its scenes of shit-eating and torture as it is for its progressive politics.
Freville’s sophomoric tale of surly bikers cajoled into fighting and fucking for their lives shares more in common with ‘Salo’ than mere scatalogia; The Filthy Marauders is also an example of extreme horror, at least in form, but it breaks with genre in its choice of characters and their spiritual journeys (or lack thereof).
The Manichaeism that colors most mainstream horror is nowhere to be seen. There is no light and darkness, only shades of blackness. The lead characters are every bit as deviant and and irredeemable as their captors. Their survival seems to signify nothing so much as the endurance of the “bad ass” or “bad motherf****r” in Western culture.
This renunciation of traditional horror tropes of goof and evil, right and wrong, may have made for a compelling story were it handled with the all-or-nothing detail and urgent moralism of Freville’s didactic The Proud and the Dumb, but The Filthy Marauders seems to lack all but a hint of its authors’ usual insight. The whole untamed mess, albeit cohesive enough to pass muster with straight horror fans (the most forgiving of fiction readers), is bound to strain credulity with any discriminating reader.
The “bonus” short stories included after the novella are further evidence of a talented writer cowing to the market demand for weird fiction. Neither story had anything of substance t say and could have easily been penned by a child who kjnows how to disengage the parental controls on their internet-enabled devices.
Reading this after reading The Proud and the Dumb is very baffling, almost like witnessing an author selling out in real time. That the book was not a money grab and was, in fact, published by an emerging small press specializing in “splatterpunk” (that most jeujeune of horror off-shoots) is that much more ponderous. I found myself wondering more than once, What was he thinking?
If I know the author of The Filthy Marauders like I think I do from reading his work voraciously (can we ever know an author?), I have to imagine this book was a bar room bet or the settling of a debt. No previous relationship appears to exist between the publisher and the author (so, a debt paid to whom?), which raises more questions. This only makes the experience of reading it more vexing.
Both The Filthy Marauders and The Proud and the Dumb share an interest in Sartre’s sense of the absurd, but only here does Freville trade his gift for wit and political intuition for what can best be compared to the Theater of Cruelty. This nasty little story is nothing if not a cavalcade of atrocities, many of them delivered with a nonchalance and humor that borders on the insane.
That Freville’s protagonists are murderous coprophiliac rapists cannot be ignored. It seems obvious to this writer that the point of The Filthy Marauders (if there is one) is this: society celebrates the deplorables so long as their savagery entertains us.
About the reviewer: Ian Reilly is a New Jersey writer with a rich history of saying the wrong thing. When he’s not reading too many books, he’s dreaming of leprechauns with gold-plated watches. Follow him at: Ian Reilly | Facebook