Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to my dark half. As regular visitors will know, Foster Medina has a passion for messed up literary diversions - books that are bizarre, twisted, grotesque, and kinky - and he's only too happy to splatter them across the page.
Raw Pain Max, other than that it was in one of those lists of books that someone felt should be banned, mutilated, and destroyed. Even if the very concept hadn’t piqued my interest, there’s no better recommendation for me than being told NOT to read something.
Yeah, I’m a little bit perverse that way - and if you're at all surprised by that, then you haven't been paying attention.
Yes, the critics are right - this is violent, sexual, sadistic, and bordering on the pornographic, but it has compelling take on the legend of the Countess Elizabeth Báthory to propel it along. C. Dean Andersson actually strays from the vampire mythology to which she’s so often tied, and delves instead into witchcraft and demonic possession. He sets up the Countess as a young woman at first in love, and then at odds with the sorceress who shares her bloody perversions. The lovers ultimately sacrificed one another to their respective demons, only to continue their rivalry through centuries of reincarnation.
We catch up with Erzebet (Elizabeth) and Darvulia in the late 80s (a time of corvettes, black leather, heavy metal, and a pre-internet amateur sex industry) through a pair of women who look as if they stepped out of a kinky dominatrix fantasy. In fact, that’s precisely the role Trudy plays in her life (whether it’s on stage, on screen, or within the insulated walls of her own private dungeon), and certainly the image Liz works hard to portray. Both women are sexy . . . and dangerous as Hell!
What ultimately gives the story the edge it needs to carry the reader beyond the bondage/torture titillation factor (which, despite some repetitive language, never really gets old), is the mystery behind the occult elements. Through Trudy’s memories/fantasies, Erzebet runs the gamut of sadistic villainess, tortured victim, and reluctant ally. We’re never sure of whose side she is really on, or what role her demonic Ally really intends to play. In fact, for a while, we're not even sure whether it's really Erzebet with whom Trudy shares a past life.
Fortunately, Trudy has a good man on her side in Phil, the silent loner who shares her stage, her screen, her dungeon, and (less frequently) her bed. He comes across as a realistic hero, a man who is far more interested in saving the life of the woman he loves than in trying to save the world. He’s definitely flawed, and probably suffers more than anybody in the book (at least, anybody who doesn’t end up a corpse), but he’s also what keeps the story grounded and the reader involved.
If you have fond memories of 80s slasher flicks and splatterpunk horror novels, a strong stomach, and a bit of a twisted sense of sexuality, Raw Pain Max is definitely a fun read. I can certainly see how some readers would be turned off by the violence and the sexual nature of the torture, but it’s never merely gratuitous, as hard as that may be to believe. My only regret is that I didn’t come across this in the 80s, when it was fresh and new, but I enjoyed it just as much now as I’m sure I would have then.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published December 1st 1988 by Warner Books (NY)