Scott Cole is a very good friend of mine. Because of that, I wasn’t comfortable doing a straightforward review of his latest book, Triple Axe. I adore this novella though, and since there were questions I intended to ask Scott anyway, I figured we’d do it right here. Fair warning, you’re going to want a copy of this sucker after reading this.
I want to open with a big congratulations. TRIPLE AXE is a great book, fast and funny, creepy and sweet. A near perfect distillation of everything I love about the genre. I don’t think I’m off base in saying that this book couldn’t exist at this level without someone like you at the helm. Someone who lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes this sort of weird and wonderful world of horror and exploitation cinema. Is this book the result of imbibing on too much cinematic junk food?
First off, thank you so much for the kind words! It’s been really exciting finding out that this book has been resonating with people.
Yeah, I think it’s definitely the result of years and years of watching movies. The early ’80s slasher film cycle was (and remains) a favorite subgenre, and eventually led me to gialli and all sorts of exploitation film. I grew up in the ’80s, in the age of VHS horror, but to this day I’m still tracking down plenty of stuff I’ve never seen before, either through a handful of specialty video companies, or through repertory screenings. So it’s nice to be a fan of this stuff and still have a constant stream of movies to look forward to, even if I’m looking back.
When the idea for TRIPLE AXE came to me, it seemed like it would be a fun way to combine a bunch of the things I like about these sorts of films – moments of suspense, camp, gore, and other forms of cinematic titillation – and mix them together with some interesting characters, but do it as a book. I had a ton of fun writing it, and I’m glad people have been enjoying it so far.
One of the things I love about your work is that you’ve got a knack for letting the absurdity of the story do your heavy lifting. I’d say that’s emerged to me as your style. It’s clean and confident. You first book SUPERGHOST is a good example of this, but TRIPLE AXE even more so. Fun, funny, but not a joke. Our protagonists have real heart and soul and even when the chaotic finale goes way over-the-top, it’s never at the expense of your characters. You’re not winking at your readers. Can you speak generally about this approach and why you feel it’s right for your work?
Well, if your story – no matter what genre – doesn’t have good characters, then readers aren’t going to be interested in sticking with it, and there’s not going to be any sort of emotional punch when the plot takes a turn and things go wrong.
Absurdity is definitely something I’ve focused on in my writing. For one thing, it’s just fun. It’s fun to write, fun to read, fun to watch. My world changed when I discovered Monty Python as a kid. And it’s just part of my sense of humor, so I think it comes naturally when I sit down at the keyboard. Amping up the ridiculousness of a situation can sometimes reveal truths that might otherwise go unnoticed.
But absurdity is everywhere anyway, if you look around. The world’s a crazy place. I encounter bizarre moments every day, whether it’s a personal interaction, an advertisement, or something on the news. So, in a way, writing about absurd things kind of keeps the fiction realistic. Which doesn’t sound like it should make sense, but it does – to me, at least.
Follow-up question: Are you ever tempted to crank that dial to where your work becomes more of a cartoon? Or is that beyond the scope of your interests?
Oh sure, that temptation is often there – And I’ve definitely gone down that road in some of my short stories. That’s part of what makes bizarro fiction fun for me – the unbridled craziness, the surreality, the creativity. In my longer(ish) stuff, though, I guess I’ve made a decision to reel things in a bit. Actually, this isn’t something I’ve given all that much thought to, but now that you’ve got me talking about it, I guess that’s the way it is. I’ve probably thought, on a subconscious level, that if I went too crazy, maybe people wouldn’t buy in for the duration of a novel or novella.
That said, SUPERGHOST is about a mad scientist who steals phantom limbs from amputees and assembles them into a giant ghost-monster – so if you call that reeling things in, maybe I just don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. TRIPLE AXE is a little more straightforward, though.
It’s easy to categorize this book as “bizarro,” though I think TRIPLE AXE works a lot more broadly than that description implies. Nothing at all against that genre, I just want to encourage readers who might be intimidated by it to give this a go all the same. The gonzo elements are intact (I love the idea behind the killer’s weapon), but this really is a story about a sisterhood that realizes it must protect itself because no one else will. Our friend and colleague Adam Cesare called it “surprisingly woke” and it is in a sense. TRIPLE AXE says a lot about the treatment and objectification of women. And it manages to do so without ever shying away from the colorful verisimilitude of the porno world–that is to say, I’m still laughing at some of your movie titles and actor names. To me, this looks like an incredibly difficult balancing act. Is that true? If so, how hard was it for you to strike that balance?
I would argue that TRIPLE AXE isn’t bizarro. It’s plenty over-the-top, but I don’t think it quite has that level of weirdness and surreality that would make it a bizarro book. To me, it’s more of a horror story that’s filled with moments of humor, in the way some slasher movies are, without being a horror-comedy.
I definitely wanted to write something that focused on strong female characters, and included people from all walks of life (beyond stereotypes) – partially because that’s the way the world is, but also because some people might not expect that sort of thing in an campy, bloody slasher story. Or maybe they would! Who knows. Either way, I wanted to write something that had something to say, but do so in a fun, entertaining, and hopefully surprising way.
The movie titles and character names were a blast to come up with. I have a deep love for puns, both good and bad. But was it tough to balance that with some of the more serious elements of the story? I don’t know, actually. I think that’s just part of my natural style, which we’ve talked about. I just tend to look at everything with a bit of snark, and I’m able to find humor in most situations. So in this case, I set out to write a horror book, but the humorous stuff just crept in naturally from the edges.
We’ve talked a lot about your tone and style, but I wanted to give you props on another level, too. TRIPLE AXE has some really great little bits of stalk-and-slash suspense. I’m thinking of a moment early on where one of the girls is abducted in a bathroom stall that really came alive in my mind. I think it’s important for this type of novel to work at this level, because if it doesn’t raise my hackles, I’m not scared for these girls.
Exactly. A slasher story – or any kind of horror story, really – needs to have characters that you care about, facing some sort of danger. If it doesn’t, it just becomes a display of violence on some sort of masturbatory level – which is something that, I guess, has its place, but wasn’t what I was interested in doing here.
I was in full-on slasher mode when writing the scene you mentioned, having recently watched or re-watched a ton of early ’80s movies. I’m glad the influence came through!
I think I already complimented you on the killer’s reveal/motivation, but, man, it’s beautifully twisted in a way that made me pause for a minute just to let it sink in.
Thanks! That was the real tightrope walk for me, technically speaking – trying to make sure there was enough info present that the puzzle pieces fit together, without giving too much away too early.
In reading TRIPLE AXE, one movie I kept coming back to is ACT OF VENGEANCE (aka RAPE SQUAD!). A fantastic bit of 70s exploitation about a group of sexual assault survivors who turn the tables on their attacker in a really satisfying way. I don’t want to ask you for direct influences (unless there’s something overt you’d like to mention), but are there any works out there, past or present, that you think of as spiritual relatives to TRIPLE AXE?
ACT OF VENGEANCE is one I haven’t seen, actually, but I’m adding it to my list (a list I’ll seemingly never cross everything off of). It’s amazing how many unknown or under-seen gems there are from the ’70s and ’80s. And not just from those decades. But that’s part of what drives genre film fans like us – the hunt for the next mindblowing obscurity – because it’s definitely out there.
I don’t know if there are any specific movies I would cite as direct influences for TRIPLE AXE, beyond just saying exploitation films in general.
There’s an amazing repertory film group here in Philadelphia called Exhumed Films, and among many other things, they put together an annual 12-hour exploitation film marathon. I’ve been to all eight of them so far, and it’s my favorite film event of the year. They show a bit of everything, from kung fu to sexploitation to poliziotteschi, and everything in between, and I’m sure various films they’ve shown over the years have worked their dirty little fingers into my mind, and ultimately, this book.
As for spiritual relatives… Hmm. Maybe something like MS. 45 or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE? Although I think both of those feature considerably rougher elements than TRIPLE AXE does. Maybe something like DEATH PROOF, or KILL BILL, or any of the dozens of movies they borrowed from.
Oddly enough, just the other day, my wife had this epiphany, drawing a parallel between TRIPLE AXE and the movie 9 TO 5 (yes, the one with Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda). And it hit me kind of hard, when I told her that I had probably seen that movie a hundred times as a kid when my family first got cable TV. To this day, I may have seen 9 TO 5 more times than any other film. So maybe that’s the real answer to your question, and I just didn’t realize it until now.
Lastly, with Scares that Care just a week away, have you been practicing your TRIPLE AXE sales pitch?
Here goes: When a serial killer is stalking the adult entertainment industry and the police are no help, three porn stars decide to take matters into their own hands – with axes! TRIPLE AXE is a campy slasher story filled with blood, babes, and dozens of porn puns. It’s gooey fun, in more ways than one!
Thanks for your time, Scott.
You can (and should) purchase Triple Axe via Amazon.