Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, September 1, 2022


 Day Care by John Russo (1985)

John Russo (b. 1939) is a screenwriter, film director, and author who may be best known for co-writing the 1968 horror film Night of the Living Dead with director George Romaro.  (He also had a brief acting gig in that film as the first ghoul who is stabbed in the head.)   From that point on, much of his career has been defined by that paricular type of visceral horror genre.  Among the films he wrote were Midnight (1982; a.k.a. Backwoods Massacre), The Majorettes (1986, a.k.a. One by One), and Voodoo Dawn (1991; a.k.a. Strange Turf) -- all three -- plus Night of the Living Dead -- were novelized by Russo.  A full two dozen of his thirty-one published books are in the horror genre, at least four of which are in the Living Dead franchise.  Most of his books were published as paperback originals, many of them during the late Seventies-Eighties "horror boom."

Day Care was Russo's ninth novel and the seventh to be published by Pocket Books.  The cover (Frank Morris) shows a young girl whose pretty face hides a distorted skull, complete with bulging eyeball.  That kind of sets the tone for Russo's novels.  You know you are not going to get nuanced prose.

What you do get is a sensualized tale of extreme mind control in which the victims of sexual violence at the hands of psychopathic killer are teenage girls.  Because of this the first third of the book is more than a little icky.  Things pick up after that.  It's as if Russo had to get the sexual fantasizing thing out the way before he could get to the meaty, more sinister/less kinky part of the book.

Reminiscent of Dean Koontz's 1976 novel Night Chills, in which a scientific discovery allowed the total mind control of others, Day Care explores a similar technique developed by rogue scientists Vincent and Carol Parkhurst.  Secretly funded by the NSA, the Parkhursts founded the Fairchild Academy, a premiere private educational institute for primary through high school grades, as well as the Fairchild Eductional and Psychological Research Center.  Admission to the ultra-exclusive Academy ensured top college placements and a major start in life.  Unknown to the students and to most parents, the Academy was home to the Ultrachild Project and its Brain Augmentation System, in which a controlling microchip was implanted in the skulls of selected students.  Those students had an overwhelming desire to study and to achieve in school.

The chips could also be used to control emotions.  It would be a simple matter to trun a quiet student into a raging killing machine, or a studious, quiet schoolgirl into a nymphomaniac.  Enter the young man who wants us to know him by the name "Augie."  He is a graduate of the Fairchild Academy.  He is also a computer hacker.  His hacking skills have given him the knowledge of the Ultrachild Project and the Brain Augumentation System and he's been able to use that knowledge to control students.  His goal is to destroy Fairchild Academy and the program that had allowed it to control him while a student.

The government has decided to expand the Ultrachild Project to pre-schoolers and Fairchild Academy in about to introduce a pre-school program to its offerings.  Linda Berkshire is the over-doting, over-achieving mother of four-year-old Shana, who has been pushed into beauty contests, modelong gigs, and commercials.  (This was some ten or eleven year before JonBenet Ramsey.)  Shana's father, Ray, an advertising executive, is wary of Linda's ambitions for their daughter but is emotionally overpowered by Linda's single-mindedness.  An acquaintance of Linda's -- a fellow stage mother -- arranges for Shana to gain admission to the Fairchild pre-school program.  

Unknown to either parent Shana is chipped, setting the stage for a violent ending that threatens the Berkshire family and may call for the ruin of the Fairchild Academy.  Helping to propel things along is Augie.

In the end what we have is two books.  The first, a pandering tale of sexual voyeurism, then a suspenseful tale of slowly growing tension.  It would have been better if Russo had decided which he wanted to write and then went ahead with it.

Also it should be noted that there is no "day care" in the book.  Go figure.

1 comment:

  1. I read DAY CARE long ago and dimly remember it. I found John Russo's work very similar to Dean R. Koontz's--they were both working the same side of the street.