Savage Headhunters by J. Manfred Weichsel

Front cover of Savage Headhunters by J. Manfred WeichselRecreating both the format and the blatantly racist stereotypes of 1940’s horror-adventure comics, Weichsel satirises conservative and liberal US extremes alike, offering a world where holding the US to be morally superior and becoming offended on behalf of minorities are equally ridiculous.

This is the third volume in Weichsel’s Tales to Make You Vomit series. It is a stand-alone novella so no spoilers ahead.

Fleeing from cannibals, an archaeologist takes refuge in an ancient pyramid, a pyramid containing a library filled with the foulest stories and most unpleasant imaginings ever. The library’s owner proves as sickening as her collection. However, she offers a deal: read one book without vomiting and she will send him to safety; fail and she will return him to the cannibals. Drawn by desire to both escape and learn, the archaeologist agrees to read something from the history section. However, the book he opens will challenge his belief that real atrocities are less nauseous than those that have only been imagined.

This novella features a central narrative framed as a tale provided by a creepy collector and the prose balances the visceral and shocking with pulp action and clear-cut characters. Thus, it strongly evokes Tales from the Crypt and similar portmanteau horror series.

The main plot is centred on the US assault on Guadalcanal during World War 2. Events cut between high-ranking Japanese officials trying to conceal that they are losing the war, American soldiers taking trophies from enemies they have killed, US magazines trying to boost circulation with titillating tales of the battle, and island natives living wittingly uncivilised lives.

While the fictional book the archaeologist is reading presents these events in the white hero vs foreign barbarism frame of the original comics, Weichsel dials every prejudice to eleven, turning it into a parody of the implicit white supremacy in those stories.

However, the unnamed archaeologist narrator does not merely hang a lantern on the colonialist bias of the book but feels nausea at the very title of it. Thus, Weichsel is an equal-opportunity satirist, mocking both casual racism and intense reaction to racism.

Although the mockery is of 1940’s US attitudes and, by implication, current US political extremes, readers in other countries are likely to notice resonances with dogmatic binaries closer to home such as the polarisation of immigrants into either all being a danger to society or all being victims in need of understanding.

Filled with graphic descriptions of taking heads a trophies, eating people alive, and other brutality, the tone of this book is decidedly gross rather than sophisticated. This entirely fits the evocation of trashy comics. Whether theses crudities are amusing, off-putting, or tedious will depend on reader preference. However, while this novella is unlikely to cause the reader to actually vomit, it is certainly not one aimed at readers who do not wish to read mentions of other people vomiting.

Weichsel’s characters are, fittingly, stereotypes rather than nuanced individuals. Aside from the archaeologist, each character is united by the trait of being as morally flawed as the others. This parade of venality, casual brutality, and racing to the lowest denominator is a forceful enough presence that, while readers will almost certainly sympathise with the desire not to get eaten, they might also feel that if someone should fall victim to a brutal Pacific tribe, there are people less deserving.

Overall, I found this novella to be a skilled satire but aimed at an audience that enjoys gross-out humour more than I do. I recommend it to readers seeking something that mocks both ends of the racial sensitivity debate equally.

I received a free copy from the author with a request for a fair review.


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