Cold Cuts is a mixture of polar horror, the likes evoked by John Carpenter’s The Thing and Steve Niles’ 30 Days of Night, as well as splatstick, such as Dead Snow and Evil Dead 2. The story revolves around Ozzy Pratt with second billing going to Ben Eaton. Both characters are scientists stationed at the Earthwatch One station in Antartica, and both characters are (Pun intended.), polar opposites of each other. Pratt is overweight, driven by pop culture and snacks, and though smart, prefers field work to lab work. Eaton is a vegetarian, skinny, and focused on hard science. A combination of bloodthirsty, mutated killer penguins and a militia unit wind up destroying Earthwatch One, effectively confining Pratt and Eaton to their underground living quarters for the majority of the book, which spans a little over half a year.
As the months pass, starvation takes hold of Pratt and Eaton while incidental characters who happen by the general vicinity of the Earthwatch One ruins are quickly dispatched by the penguins as gory as possible: fingers are eaten off; torsos are penetrated by leaping penguins only to explode out elsewhere; and so on. Pratt and Eaton’s only access to the outside world is via their television set, which they voraciously consume in absence of both food and other company.
Cold Cuts is excessively graphic in its bloodshed, yet its delivery embraces the splatstick style of horror. A toe splits open like a “plastic coin purse,” dismembered hands are “done grabbing things,” and “blinking is no longer an option” for a face that has been peeled off. Cabeen’s macabre wit is on full display with each gory scene, illiciting both “eews” and laughter from a reader. The horror-comedy also adds a pace to the story. Time may pass at a snail’s pace for the imprisoned scientists, but the narrative is quick. The real horror in Cold Cuts comes not from the mutant penguins, but from the isolation that Pratt and Eaton has to cope with. In probably one of the most terrifying scenes in the book, Pratt decides to switch off the television that has been on twenty-four-seven, and the deadening silences he faces becomes unbearable. Horror can come when a person is at their most weakest and vulnerable, and the way this scene plays out is maddening.
Though not quite in Cronenberg-territory, there’s also undertones of body transformation in Cold Cuts. It’s less of the fear-of-the-body variety, but extended periods of starvation and isolation take a drastic toll on on both Pratt’s overweight body and Eaton’s underweight, and their various pains and maladies are conveyed in a more serious fashion than the penguin scenes.
The final chapters of Cold Cuts embrace action-horror, akin to Army of Darkness, with Pratt assuming the Ash role and the mutant penguins the army of Deadites. It’s a seamless transition that adds another element of splatstick fun to the story. If Cold Cuts falters anywhere, it its ending, which comes across as disconnected from the rest of the story, though it sets up the foundation for a sequel.
For a debut novel, Cabeen has written an incredibly fun and engaging story. The characters are likable and relatable while the horror-comedy comes across the pages in a well-realized fashion. Cabeen’s trademark dark wit is ever present, giving Cold Cuts a certain charm to it that’s lacking in other contemporary horror.
Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, and Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He can be found at nickdiak.com.