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Called out on what initially seems to be a minor contamination problem with a water well, plumber Mason, thinks little of the strange discolouration. He pops a sample down to his friend, Dan the analytical chemist, who discovers that the water contains strange microbial creatures. Before Mason can warn locals not to drink the water, the deaths have begun...
The Wells of Hell: An Evocation of Total Evil (1981. Reprinted Telos 2015. 242 pages) is a Lovecraft themed tale of horror by Scottish writer Graham Masterton, loosely based on Lovecraft’s own The Colour out of Space (1927).
Masterton has had an impressive and varied career, writing in such diverse genres as the detective novel, sex manuals and of course horror. He has been awarded a number of awards and remains the only non-French winner of the prestigious Prix Julia Verlanger in France for his novel, Family Portrait (1985), an update of Oscar Wilde's tale, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890).
It is difficult to know what was in the writer's mind when he wrote this novel. Whilst it has large elements which are borrowed from Lovecraft, it actually reads more like a twisted take on a nineteen fifties ‘B’ movie.
For a start the main hero of the story is the plumber, Mason. Sure, he had gone to university, before dropping out half way, but the way that the rest of the characters defer to him is straight out of a fifties low budget film, where the reporter or fire chief would stumble on some great horror and no one from the police to the army seems to think to tell them to go home and let the professionals handle things.
To forward our ‘B’ movie premise we have Mason's friend Dan, the chemist, who just happens to have an intelligent, but sexy female assistant. Now add to this the gruff and plain speaking sheriff and we have the perfect cast.
In structure, the story also has more in common with Them (1954) with the townsfolk being slowly transformed into giant crabs. The mechanism for this is equally ludicrous as it would seem that when Atlantis failed Cthulhu unable to save his original body injected his seed into the rocks, two million years ago, and the seed is discolouring the well water and turning everyone crabby which, in turn, should lead to an endless string of jokes about which of the townsfolk spat or swallowed.
If the book is read as a straightforward horror story, the reader is bound to be confused, too much will strike you as silly, but cast your eye over it as a fifties romp and there is much to enjoy.