Quick, name the presidential candidate who won the election based on the following platform:
"He promised us swinging cutbacks in Administrative spending in almost every area except Defense. He promised us fewer tax laws, a severe pruning of government bureaucracy, and an attack on featherbedding of any kind. He said he would 'never, under any circumstances' consider revoking the current gun laws because 'every American citizen ought to have the right to defend himself.'...Children, senior citizens, racial minorities, invalids and anyone earning less than $25,000 a year had better beware. If you can't support yourself, ask a friend to support you. If your friend won't support you — well, I heard that Canada's a nice friendly place to live."
That candidate is, of course...
Written in 1980, first in hardback then published so quickly as a paperback they didn't even have time to spell the main character's name right on the back cover (and that sassy red, white, and blue demon's head is artist Lisa Falkenstern's very first horror cover) this is the book that said what everyone was thinking about then-candidate Ronald Reagan: he was possessed by a demon from hell and had two dicks. Okay, maybe not the part about the double dicks, but we all wondered why he was so obsessed with provoking the Soviet Union into an armed confrontation and we all suspected that he could penetrate a woman vaginally and anally at the same time, and the only explanation for both those feats was that he was possessed by Satan and had two dicks.
Told in the world-weary voice of candidate Hunter Peal's publicity chief, Jack Russo, with all the gimlet-eyed cadences of someone who lives on take-out food, cheap cigarettes, poll results, and adrenaline, The Hell Candidate begins when a milquetoast Hunter Peal, who's sort of like Walter Mondale (Who?) and Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis (Again, who?) all rolled up into one unimpressive package, starts his lackluster presidential campaign at Allen's Corners, a historic old home in Connecticut. A historic old haunted home in Connecticut.
That night, around chapter four, Hunter Peal is possessed by the house's lawn ornaments, namely a big horny satyr depicted raping a maiden with his two devil dicks (later, the Pope will examine these marble wieners and pronounce, "These are quite plainly the organs of Satan" and I don't think he means this. Overnight, Peal becomes a randy warmonger, unexpectedly fisting his dismayed wife, then delivering a hellfire speech about driving back the Soviets, getting rid of poor people and minorities, cutting taxes, going to war to reassert American dominance, and building a wall on the border of Mexico. Well, not so much that last one, but you get the point. He caps it off by conjuring up an illusion that makes every single member of the press feel like they're standing in a field of waving wheat watching American bombers fly low overhead and, instead of making them feel deaf, it makes them feel like going out and voting for the guy who wants to start a war.
Peal's Jedi Mind Trick causes crowds to go bananas, and he keeps the people around him, from the future first lady to his press secretary, mentally groggy. "It was like a mental parasite, a psychological tapeworm...It was inside everyone who ever listened to Hunter speak or who pledged him their support, confusing their morality, shifting their understanding of the truth." Some people just call it Fox News.
And Peal can do more with his psychic powers than make illusions. When an assassin tries to shoot Peal on the campaign trail, the poor kid yarks up his lungs. A doctor gets squished by invisible forces. Someone else spontaneously combusts in their car. And before long, Peal's winning the election, because the incumbent candidate, "was fighting on his record, but Hunter was fighting for a fantasy."
Then there are the twin marble phalluses of the devil that Jack Russo's girlfriend gets obsessed with, makes a necklace out of, and which have a disturbing tendency to ejaculate all over her chest in the middle of arguments with Jack. No matter how much insider politics we get, this novel always keeps one eye on the twitching dicks of Satan because people are shallow or, as Hunter says, "Show them the power of the universe and all they think about is tits."
That sounds like something Graham Masterton would write, so you probably won't be surprised to discover that Thomas Luke is a pseudonym for Graham Masterton, Master of Mayhem, which means that we get plenty of gore and plenty of sex and plenty of gore-sex when Satan humps women to death with his double-pronged dong. And he's not the only lawn ornament on the loose, because another piece of decorative statuary may or may not have possessed Jack's girlfriend, too. The situation gets so complicated it takes an exorcism performed by the Pope in the Oval Office on the eve of a nuclear war to sort everyone out.
Ultimately the scariest thing about The Hell Candidate is not the fact that a multi-nippled, multi-penised Satan could inhabit the White House but that he's voted in there by we the people. As Masterton writes, it's not just psychic powers that win Peal the election, "it’s what the electorate are thirsting for...They’ve had years of indecision. Years of liberalism. Now they want somebody to stand up and say this is the way it’s going to be."
Cat DeSpira has written longer than I have about the impact this book had on Cold War Kids, and she also adds the footnote that Graham Masterton himself contacted her to say he was shocked — shocked — that anyone thought he was talking about Ronald Reagan. I'm sure.
But it wasn't just Graham Masterton writing about elections in 1980. For a less penis-ful take on our electoral system, try Ramona Stewart's The Nightmare Candidate.
A popular mid-list author of thrillers, Stewart started her career with Desert Town a standard issue noir with an eye for power dynamics and hints of kicky same-sex love lurking in the corners. She entered horror paperback immortality with The Possession of Joel Delaney (1970) about a young upper class Wasp possessed by a Puerto Rican criminal, and then in 1980 came The Nightmare Candidate.
Elissa Blake is a staff photographer for the handsome and glamorous presidential candidate, Steve Cameron, a golden boy from a rich New England family who expects to hop from being governor of New York to President of the United States with a wink and a grin. But Elissa has a psychic vision of him lying in bed with his skull shattered, covered in blood. Convinced this is a premonition of his impending assassination, she sets out to learn more about this strange science of ESP. And learn about it she does, for sixty-something pages.
- Did you know that the Soviet Union has 25 psi centers?
- Did you know that NASA is developing telepathy for deep space communications?
- Did you know that psi is a real science and not a bunch of mumbo jumbo?
- Did you know that for thousands of years people have been having telepathic experiences?
- Did you know that harnessing psi would be like harnessing nuclear energy?
Elissa is a little dubious because her mom had visions and her dad made her get a lobotomy and dumped her in a mental institution, but "a lot of people in institutions are really psychic!" a psi expert reassures her. Hooray! Still, Elissa is disturbed, both by being endlessly mansplained about psi for page after defensive page, but also by the visions she has of people being lynched in Washington Square Park during the Draft Riots.
Finally, she decides that a shifty part-time bartender is the potential assassin, and fingers him to the cops, but then learns in a twisty final chapter that actually she was seeing the past, not the future, and the man she thought was Steve Cameron was a man he shot for sleeping with his wife in a secret bedroom suite for sex he built into the Museum of African Art funded by his family, and he then had his wife committed to an asylum for alcoholism where electroshock therapy wiped her memories of his crime and also caused her to slash her own throat (side effects!), and now he's going to kill Elissa but she uses her psychic powers to kill him instead and then, in despair at how terrible everyone is and how they keep putting people in asylums and electing monsters to be President, she joins a massive psi hive mind formed by all the psychics locked up in mental institutions everywhere and they become a new form of life.
That's one way of dealing with it, I guess.