REVIEW: Squirm by Hugo Bernard

Last Updated on July 5, 2024

Only a few authors are capable of writing good B-movie horror. B-movies come to it naturally as they’re a product of too small special effects budget, underwritten characters, and ridiculousness that must be taken seriously through the acting of the people involved. B-movie horror must always be sincere and yet have the charm of a child who is certain he’s beating you at laser tag or some other sport you’re letting him win at. This is why it’s impossible to do A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday The 13th reboots because they keep trying to make the movies good when they’re at their best when they’re kind of bad.

SquirmSquirm (Tales of GymBro Horror #1) by Hugo Bernard attempts to walk that Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism or Stephen King’s Thinner line of attempting to be B-movie horror in a literary form. Asking, “Are you saying it’s as good as these books?” Is kind of missing the point. No, it’s not but it’s fun, well-written, and deliberately schlocky in a way that would make a very entertaining low-budget movie on HBO or Netflix. It’s deliberately stupid and yet sincere with its characters and intelligent with its ridiculousness, like the early seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer before they stopped parodying old horror films.

The premise is Steve is a gym bro. He is neither particularly intelligent nor stupid but has the mundane goal of wanting to get jacked so he can score with women impressed by that sort of thing. His friend Tommy claims to have the answer in Frog Juice, an all-natural supplement that looks like tadpoles swimming around in clear white fluid. Lured by the oh-so-believable claim of no side effects, Steve immediately starts showing improvement and starts getting the physical body as well as confidence he’s always wanted. He also gets roped into trying to import the stuff from India so they can make a fortune selling it.

If you guess that Frog Juice has some horrifying heretofore unknown side effects then congratulations, you are familiar with at least one horror movie or book. Steve turns out to be surprisingly sensible once he finds out that he’s gotten more than he bargained for and much of the book is attempting to dig himself out of the hole that he’s found himself in. Even though he’s a wannabe drug dealer and not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I found myself reasonably sympathetic to his plight.

The book is a quick read at 112 pages and probably closer to a novella than a novel but just long enough that it probably would make a decent 1:30:00 movie was someone to adapt the events onscreen. They could probably shorten it to an hour-long Tales from the Crypt episode too or Masters of Horror were someone inclined to adapt it. The Frog Juice is suitably visceral and there’s a decent amount of foreshadowing as to what the stuff really is (albeit I’m pretty sure people would have figured it out by the taste or smell).

In conclusion, it’s a fun book and I recommend people looking for a quick fun horror read should check it out. I don’t know if there’s room enough to do a sequel as the author seems to be planning but I certainly don’t regret my purchase. There are even a few surprising twists in the story, which I wasn’t expecting.

4.5/5

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CT Phipps

CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.

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