Horror Review: Header by Edward Lee (1995, Necro Press / 2012, Deadite Press)

in books •  25 days ago

"Answer the question. What's a header?"

Another spit, another sigh, then Pierce came clean. "A header's the worst thing these rubes out here could think of. It's like the law of the hills. Someone does ya wrong bad enough, then yer justified ta do the worse thing imaginable fer yer revenge. That's what a header is. Folks don't talk about it much, it's just somethin' that's understood. Yer gettin' all whipped up 'bout somethin' that's been going on fer generations."

Cummings closed his eyes, took a deep breath himself now. "J.L.. you're telling me that that's what this is all about? Hill people feuding?"

"That's right, boy, so don't'cha gripe 'cos you was the one who asked. It's one-uppin', like I said."


Edward Lee has one of the sickest, most twisted imaginations of any published author I've ever come across. The reigning king of both shock fiction and hillbilly horror, one gets the impression Lee giddily arranges words on the page for the sole purpose of making readers say, "What the actual fuck?!" every couple of paragraphs, then read on, anxious to see how it could possibly get any worse, only to find out and wish they hadn't.

That said, if you ever looked at Deliverance and thought, "Man, what that movie really needed was more non-consensual hillbilly humping than a West Virginia family reunion, with a healthy dose of Human Centipede-level grotesque depravity for good measure", then boy howdy, have I got some good news: you now know the name "Edward Lee".


Header is nefarious among the Splatterpunk or "extreme" horror scene. It was originally published in 1995, as a 100-page chapbook format by Necro Press. It went out of print in a very short period of time, and copies of the original sell for absurd amounts of money on the collector's market. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on the strength of your stomach) Deadite Press published a reprint in 2012, in both physical and ebook formats, making it far more accessible to the readers who wondered what all the fuss was about.

Header is the story of two main protagonists, neither of whom can easily be called "the good guy". Something you'll learn if you venture into reading other Lee material is that it's very hard to find anybody within the pages to actually root for. If you're the sort who can watch a slasher film and cheer every time a teenager with more boobs than sense takes a machete to the neckmeat, that's the approach you have to take with Lee's writing. Best then to simply root for Lee himself to come up with ever more disturbing and depraved ways to have his characters heap injury upon insult and make sure your tongue never emerges from your cheek.

Stewart Cummings is an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms who finds himself in the middle of backwoods Appalachia where running down the occasional illegal moonshine operation is about the extent of his day's excitement. His wife is extremely ill, and his salary is failing to keep up with her rising medical expenses, so he has turned to the dark side, passing information to local drug dealers to ensure they can send their shipments via safe routes. Everything is golden, until bodies of local women start turning up dumped in public places, and violated in ways too awful to describe. He's told to back off the case, as these things tend to run their course and there's no need to waste time and money following up on somebody's sense of backwoods justice. As more bodies pile up, however, he finds himself unable to let it go, at least until he finds out what exactly a 'header' is, and who's decided to start the tradition up again.

This, unfortunately, will put him on a collision course with Travis Tuckton, a man fresh out of an 11-year stint in prison, who finds himself back home in rural Kentucky with no place to live, no job prospects, and only his old, footless grandfather to rely on. Times have been especially hard for his clan, what with the deaths of his parents and many of his old friends while he was doing time, but Grandpappy puts a roof over his head and gives him a place to stay while he's getting back on his feet. He also answers the question which has been burning in Travis's brain for over a decade: "What's a header?" Once Travis learns the answer to the riddle tormenting him since his childhood, he realizes that there are a great many folk in his neck of the woods in need of some payback. And a header? Why, that sounds like just the way to get back at all the assholes who done his family wrong these last eleven years.

One man who won't stop until he finds out what a header is, and another who can't stop now that he knows. When they collide, it's gonna be messy. Hell, it's gonna be messy no matter what happens, cuz once you've had yourself a header, why boy, there ain't nothing better 'n all the world than that. Kinda like them Lays tater chips they sell at the gas station--ya cain't stop at jus' one.


There's really no way to sugar-coat this.

I don't recommend Edward Lee to anybody. Not because I think he's a bad writer or anything, but because I have a hard enough time making friends that I'd like to keep the few I've managed to hoodwink. If you don't have a strong stomach, if you cannot handle gleefully graphic depictions of depravity, if Stephen King's work keeps you up at night, then you have no business getting anywhere close to Edward Lee. Even if I piqued your curiosity in my steadfast refusal to reveal what a 'header' is, I don't recommend you go looking unless you want to hate yourself.

On the other hand, if you watched A Serbian Film and somehow didn't feel like you needed a long shower afterwards...if you read American Psycho and thought, "That wasn't violent enough!"...if you devoured Ryan Harding's Genital Grinder and wondered where all the really sick shit was that everybody talked about, then Edward Lee just might be your guy. If you're going to start somewhere, you might as well start here, since at only 100 pages it's actually one of his more restrained works.

I can't believe I just typed that sentence, but here we are.

I don't recommend that you, or anybody else, read Header. If you choose to ignore my recommendation, that's fine--just don't say I didn't warn your redneck-humpin' ass first.


Best Scene:

Nominating a scene in Header as "the best" would be as crass on my part as flipping through a slideshow of road fatalities and grading them like an Olympic sport. There is no 'best scene' in Header. It's just one long, painfully drawn out litany of stomach-churning suffering and slaughter. Open to a random page and you'll be treated to people humping things that shouldn't be humped, talking about humping things that shouldn't be humped, eating things that shouldn't be eaten, or talking about eating things that shouldn't be eaten. Sometimes all at the same time. If Lee wasn't such a damn clever, intelligent, and inventive writer, there would be no excuse for Header to exist. The thing is, Lee is exactly that clever, intelligent, and inventive...he's just chosen to focus his talent on what folks get up to in the privacy of their own rotted tar paper shacks.

Works like Header exist beyond simple concepts like 'rating systems', so any number or star value assigned to it becomes instantly meaningless. It's a story that can only be judged on its own merits and the abilities of the man who penned it. Trying to make it in any way relate-able to the general public is an exercise in futility.

You've been warned.


Edit: I totally neglected to mention that this was actually turned into a movie back in 2006:

I've not seen it, so I have no idea how faithful an adaptation it is, or how good the production values are, but I have SOOOOOO many questions. Chief among them: HOW?!


Second edit: I also neglected to mention that Header has received not one, but two sequels. Whoever is out there encouraging this behavior, I'm gonna need you to stop. :D


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Holy cow, this is awesome!! Thank you so much, @ilsaione! :D

This book sounds a bit like the notorious missing "orgy" footage from Event Horizon (some of which can be found on YouTube). Yikes!

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Man, Event Horizon is a film that just does not get enough love. I wish there was some way they could do some sort of an unrated release or a director's cut version of the film, but apparently nearly all the footage was lost, destroyed, or stored improperly after its release.

Seriously, if you've never read about this movie's production, it's a trip and a half. Film canisters stored in an abandoned salt mine, budgetary battle royales, script issues, porn actors...it's a wonder Paul W. S. Anderson got this thing made at all. :)

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It's a great exercise in terror, but I'm not sure I can ever watch it again. (Shudder.) I've never seen the missing footage, but people who claim to have seen it have described to me what it contains. Oh, man. . .

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Uhhh - yikes. Great review, but... no thanks :) Don't think I will be reading this author :)

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A wise decision, sir. I commend you on your restraint. :)

Is on on Audiobook though? Looks like not... I listen these days and don't read as it simply takes too much time.

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The nice thing about this one is it's only 100 pages, so even if you're a slow reader, it's not much of a time commitment.

Maybe I should do the community a favor and record an unofficial audio book version! :D

Who am I kidding...the reason this isn't on audio is nobody would be able to read it out loud without laugh-puking out their intestines.

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I'll get @blewitt's help. He can play the role of all the victims. I hear he's good at screaming and crying and begging. ;)

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I’m in!!! What’s the pay?!?

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As always, pay will be measured in beatings per hour, with an opportunity for overtime beatings if performance merits. ;)

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