Torture Porn in Print

Author: Michaelbrent Collings

It’s a holiday. The buildings should be empty. But a selective announcement went out, and a cadre of misbehaving rich kids and their ne’er-do-well professors are in attendance today at an otherwise abandoned Reina High School. Only, the session today is one of blood and pain and vengeance. As a highly trained tactical team holds the students and teachers hostage, the police swarm to launch a rescue attempt, all the while trying to understand the ringleader, Teacher. Teacher, it seems, has a lesson he wants everyone to learn, and as the bodies stack up and the detectives scramble, the lesson becomes carnage. But is there more? Is there an even deeper, darker, more sadistic reason behind Teacher’s plan?

I came to Malignant through one of my GoodReads’ book clubs. When the group selected it as the monthly read, I admit that I wasn’t thrilled. To me paramilitary troops lead by a ghoulish leader who enjoys carving up spoiled rich kids sounded like nothing more than torture porn. I like horror, obviously, but only a certain kind. Gore and killing for the sake of splattery effects is sickening to me. Good horror is more about inspecting the emotions – plus the highs and lows – of humanity. Think of Stephen King at his very best. It shouldn’t be, in my humble opinion, an excuse for a sociopathic bloodbath on every page. Malignant, however, is just that. I found myself having trouble getting through it, partly from distaste and partly from sheer boredom.

The story starts with a fanfare of inexplicable murder. We soon become aware that the homicidal goons maiming the children and holding the school hostage are led by Teacher and The Lady, two figures in black who orchestrate the violence and claim to have a grander plan for retribution – a lesson. Set against this backdrop is a slew of overdone caricatures – entitled and cruel rich kids, the pervy gym teacher, the I-just-want-money Principle, and of course the one good teacher who accidentally showed up at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s all so overdone, especially the violence, and it’s difficult to tell if this is supposed to be some sick kind of comedy or if the author is serious.

Meanwhile, we have the good guys trying to find a way into the school without causing more death. There is a ragged, haunted, detective who just cannot let it go because damnit, he cares about the kids. This one-good-egg is followed by a sarcastic reporter who tells the story in overdrawn shades of foreboding and angst. In the background we have a quirky computer genius (of course) and a few smart-alecky gallows humored worker bees who, nevertheless, legitimately care.

Of course, we also have a parade of the rich and famous who don’t really care about the kids but aren’t fans of the scandal or potential set up for blackmail. And we have the police leaders, who are more interested in glory and fame than thinking through their own plans. It’s a veritable comedy of every potential stereotype out there, drawn together by unnecessary violence and over-the-top descriptions that verge on the absurd.

The story trucks along, one killing after another, one cut-and-paste character speech after another, until we are finally told why Teacher is doing all of this. It is interesting, but honestly goes against the character’s established personality and inherent villiany. But whatever, I was just glad to be done.

The only redeeming portion of the book was the afterward, which should have proceeded the story. Here the author shows some passion (and realism), delving into the effects of pornography in a surprising (and non-preachy) way, showing the research and the fallout from that research that inspired Teacher’s obsession and desire for revenge. The afterward is thought-provoking and worth reading. The rest of Malignant is pure, poorly executed, psychopathic torture porn trash.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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