I'm out-and-about tonight leading the London Horror Story tour for London Walks. Digging around in The Daily Constitutional archive I found this post on a London horror classic…
The Rats (1974)
By James Herbert
My goodness, the Visit London people are going to HATE this post… the most gruesome and shockingly memorable London-set horror novel of all time.
Before you’ve even opened the thing, the title has the heart racing: The Rats. It plugs directly in to one of mankind’s most primal fears: and in a London context it sends historical shivers down the spine resonating back to 1665 and the Great Plague.
But a good title is nothing without a strong tale, and Herbert has fashioned a gripping narrative enhanced greatly by a vivid backdrop of a crisis-torn London.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the giant, man-eating black rats.
Upon its publication the book attracted great criticism for its graphic scenes – but with 40+ years hindsight, Herbert can be seen as the man who brought British horror fiction out of the 19th Century drawing room/stately home/haunted castle and in to the streets of the 20th Century.
The exhilarating terror of the piece is timeless. The context is both very much of its time of writing (1974) and deeply Millennial. Its dystopian vision of a London failing to deal with a crisis places it firmly in the tradition of post-apocalyptic movies and TV of the period (the BBC’s Survivors, Hollywood’s The Omega Man).
Looking forward, it is hard to imagine the conception of recent horror/disaster movie 28 Days Later without Herbert’s disturbing tale. Just like that movie, the desolate London scenes haunt the memory for long years after. The scenes on the tube train will stay with you forever. Be afraid. No, really. I'm not kidding. Be VERY afraid.
Join me on London Horror Story tonight Saturday 2nd March. Meet at St Paul's tube 7.30pm
Ghosts, murder and mayhem - 2,000 years of dark history
£10/£8 Pay on the day or book now…
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