Can you say, “Refuge in Audacity”?
Not that I expected anything less from J. Manfred Weichsel, especially when he’s expanding “Alter-Ego” from his short story collection, Going Native. And in some ways, that makes reviewing this difficult.
See, I’m so far away from the audience for this that it’s not that I don’t appreciate the schlocky Skinnemax horror, it’s that I don’t know how to. Never got into horror, grindhouse, or any of the other genres firmly in Weichsel’s crosshairs. And just like his Ebu Gogo, it took a while for me to get what was really going on.
In Five Maidens on the Pentagram, Weichsel continues with his bulldog-goes-for-the-throat approach from so many of his previous stories. So many third rails of today’s polite society get not just poked, not just tap-danced on, but steamrolled over again and again that it’s hard to know who to recommend this to. We’re not talking the full Metokur here, but it’s close.
Jonah is a mental patient with split personalities. One evening he has a phantasmagorical nightmare of a satanic rite in the basement of the insane asylum, only to discover that he wasn’t dreaming – his other personality, the evil Maldeus, is working with his doctor to sacrifice women on a giant pentagram. He has to tell somebody, but who will believe him?
Jonah is thrust into the middle of a diabolic plot involving occult magic, a perverted, sex-crazed blue demon, and Satan!
Sure, it seems like one of a thousand straight-to-video films from the 80s and 90s, but I like the setup where a man’s alter-egos are dualistically-opposed enemies. Protagonist and villain, just in a scenario where there is no such thing as good magic and everyone involved around Jonah is a villain in their own degenerate way. You may expect the same sort of revelry in excess and sex as found in weird menace, monster girl harems, and the other popular subgenres of the day. Weichsel instead is very blunt about what’s happening but its matter of fact, not titillating. This is what happens to people and what they do when they depart from goodness and truth. Don’t expect any privacy cuts, though.
As writer J. D. Cowan put it, “J’s works are intense, wacky, and lurid, but inside that wrapping comes a core that is crystal clear and as strong as oak. The issue is if you have a strong enough constitution or stomach to get to that point.” There are no brakes, no filters. You can trust that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train, but you might not want to stop and see what’s around you.
The intrigues, impersonations, and rites float atop a morality tale that hands just desserts to everyone who departs from the good and true for strange powers and the mundanity of various lusts and gluttonies. There are lessons to be gleaned at the end, you’ve got to go through Hell first to get there.
Literally. Divine Comedy-style.
And Satan has no chill.
Maybe you might prefer the more genteel Inferno, by Niven and Pournelle, for your warning tours of damnation and demonic evil. But if you like occult horror that spares no one from its skewering blade, this might be worth a try.