In 2009, Brian Keene authored a paperback for Leisure called Urban Gothic. The premise had a group of kids breaking into an old row house in Philadelphia that they thought was abandoned. Unfortunately for them, a family of inbred cannibals lived in the basement. The book was an obvious ode to “grindhouse” theater flicks like Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I enjoyed the book years ago, so I was intrigued to learn of the book's sequel, Suburban Gothic, published in 2020. But, the backstory on the novel doesn't stop there.
It turns out that Suburban Gothic actually connects (retcons?) Keene's Urban Gothic with Bryan Smith's horror novel The Freakshow, which was originally published by Leisure in 2007. I also read that novel, and reviewed it HERE. In The Freakshow, cosmic entities are controlling humans from a netherworld. These entities combine mayhem, torture, cannibalism, rape, etc. into a sort of game which comes to a small town in Tennessee through a traveling carnival. The book was slightly above average and written in a perverse way that I typically find distasteful. I'm not a fan of Bryan Smith.
Suburban Gothic, which is authored by both Smith and Keene, has an early explanation that the inbred cannibals from Urban Gothic are forced to move to an abandoned mall located in a sketchy crime-ridden part of Philadelphia. At the same time, Smith's crazy supernaturally-controlled entities also move into the mall. One side is occupied by these mutant freaks (humans with arachnid-like appendages, multiple heads, etc.) while the other side is the weirdo cannibals.
Like Urban Gothic, various people enter this abandoned mall for different reasons. These disposable characters include a group of urban explorers shooting YouTube footage, a real-estate agent, and your common everyday headbanging stoners. This is a problem for the book and it's readers. None of these characters are remotely interesting, and all of them are flawed and unlikable. So, when Smith writes nasty, violent deaths for each character (I'm sure he was tasked with their violent endings), I found myself simply skipping to the next death set-up.
Brian Keene typically isn't an extreme splatter-horror guy, but Smith's participation drags this book into uncomfortable depravity. Characters are raped sodomized, eaten, beaten, forced into various amputations, dragged across multiple hard surfaces, shot, stabbed, and, in some cases, involuntarily placed into barbaric medical experiments. At a time in my life when I can turn on any social media news platform and see brutality and death, reading the intricate details of a fishing hook ripping an anus isn't really what I find enjoyable.
If you love shock and awe, then by all means have a great time with Suburban Gothic. For me personally, this book is just an absolute mess mired in useless death, excess violence, and horrific gore. Take a hard pass on this kind of thing. Maybe it will eventually just go away.