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Get Ready for a Wild Ride Into the Belly of the Beasts of 42nd Street

"File:New york times square-terabass.jpg" by Terabass is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Preston Fassel’s Beasts of 42nd Street is a gritty portrait of 1977 Times Square in New York City when it was infamous—filled with sex shops, adult movie theaters, and strip clubs.  Andy Lewinski, known as Andy Lew, is a projectionist at the run-down Colossus Theater. The theater’s main audience is sex workers and drug addicts. However, the patrons use the theater to do their business. They’re not there to watch the steady flow of exploitation films. 

Obsessed with violence, sex, and death, Andy is always on the lookout for the goriest and most violent films he can find. He comes across a film unlike any other–Last House on Dead End Street—the perfect film with the perfect star. Andy obsesses about the actress as he repeatedly watches her death scene. Afterward, he wonders if the film is real and whether or not she’s dead or alive. Andy is determined to find out who she is—dead or alive.

His detective work leads him into a macabre wonderland populated by the denizens of Times Square. Andy comes into contact with porn stars, drug addicts, cults, and crooked cops. He isn’t a typical protagonist. Lew is rotting from the inside out. Hatred and self-loathing consume him. Andy escapes reality behind a veil of drugs, alcohol, and increasingly violent fantasies. His life spirals out of control. He comes in contact with the very worst of the worst of Times Square. There are no loveable heroes in this story. Pressel slowly unravels Andy’s dysfunctional background. Although I didn’t like Andy, I couldn’t tear myself away from his story.

Beasts of 42nd Street Cover

In Beasts of 42nd Street, Pressel crafted a macabre adventure that left me feeling as worn out and beaten up as the main character. From start to finish, Pressel keeps the story alive without a dull moment. Pressel will keep your imagination going with an action-packed scene or an ingenious plot twist. The tone of Beasts of 42nd Street is satirical. Every character is an exaggeration. Pressel uses prose like a distorted funhouse mirror held up to society as a whole.

Fassel’s language is raw, giving the reader a clear picture of 1970s New York. His vivid prose captures the imagination with twisted, macabre, and gory images. The dialogue is politically incorrect —which is accurate for the period. Fassel knows how to create tension and is creative in conveying emotions of the his characters. 

Beasts of 42nd Street is not for those easily offended or who shy away from the darker side of life. Fassel opens a door into a world most would decline an invitation into. We see the world from Andy’s eyes. I wondered if he will ever find the object of his obsession and what he will do to her.

Beasts of 42nd Street is also thought-provoking and features a lot of interesting dialogue. The Colussus manager, Rod, wonders why horror films have escalated with their portrayal of real-life violence. He remembers how classic movie monsters like werewolves and vampires used to draw in crowds. Rod refers to their brand of violence as “fun play violence”. So, he wonders why the newer, more violent films draw in crowds instead of the old movie monsters. Andy says that the appeal is that the current films are more realistic.

A gang of criminals terrorize two young women in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972)
A gang of criminals terrorize two young women in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972)

Horror movies from the 1970s dealt with more realistic violence. Films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave portray extreme violence and depravity beneath the surface of everyday life. These films expose true horror lurking behind the closed doors of the innocuous little house with the white picket fence. As a result, the realism of it is what makes it more disturbing and therefore naturally more horrific. Some people think that  Psycho’s Norman Bates and Silence of The Lambs’  Hannibal Lecter are actually more frightening than Leatherface or Michael Myers because they seem so civilized when they wear their carefully constructed masks of sanity.

Fassel provides information about Andy Lew in the acknowledgments. Fassel describes Andy as a supporting villain in a series of short stories about life on 42nd Street during the 1970s. His wife found Andy Lew fascinating. Therefore, Pressel decided to make Andy the subject of a novella. In addition, “Mad” Ron Roccia provided Pressel with information on both being a projectionist and life in Times Square during the ‘70s. Roccia worked as a projectionist for 35 years. Fassel met Roccia when he was researching Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell for a Fangoria article.

Victim Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) gets revenge on her attackers in I Spit on Your Grave (1978).
Victim Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) gets revenge on her attackers in I Spit on Your Grave (1978).

Preston Fassel currently serves as the Managing Editor for The Daily Grindhouse. His work has appeared in Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Scream, Dread Central, and Our Lady of the Inferno was his debut novel and won the 2019 Independent Publisher’s Gold Medal for Horror and was named one of the ten best books of the year by Bloody Disgusting. His credits also include the first published biography of British horror actress Vanessa Howard, Remembering Vanessa, in the Spring 2014 issue of Screem.

I strongly recommend Beasts of 42nd Street if you love gritty, gory, satirical stories. Beasts of 42nd Street is set for release on March 17 from Cemetery Dance Publications. Cemetery Dance’s website describes the book as “A savage love letter to 70s exploitation cinema and a biting satire of toxic fan culture, Beasts of 42nd Street makes horror dangerous again as it ventures into the mind of a psychopath like no other— one that will have readers recoiling even as they keep coming back for more.” 

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Written by MD Bastek

Just a person who loves horror and writes about unusual things

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