As we creep closer to Halloween, more and more of us are testing our own courage in the spirit of the season. This week, a few friends asked if I wanted to go to a haunted house. Per my usual, my answer was hell no. While I love being creeped out, I absolutely despise jump scares and haunted houses are all jump scares. One of the best things about horror as a genre and as part of the season is that there is a multitude of ways to disturb yourself and just because you don’t like one doesn’t mean there aren’t others. And occasionally it’s good to test your limits (though I’m still a firm no on haunted houses). In the spirit of that, I decided to look at a graphic novel series which is firmly in a horror camp of which I am typically not a fan. Regression, written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Danny Luckert and Marie Enger is a story which revels in body horror. For fans of Clive Barker, Regression is pretty tame fare. For those of us who don’t enjoy being grossed out however, it’s a bit more of a challenge. The series is currently up to two volumes, with a third on the way next year. If you enjoy insects, mayhem and cults, come along with me on a nasty journey.
Regression wastes little time on getting to the body horror as readers are introduced to the main character, Adrian Padilla, who has been experiencing vivid, waking nightmares that make it impossible to live a normal life. At the urging of his friend Molly, Adrian reluctantly visits a hypnotist who helps Adrian delve into a past life regression. As it turns out, that may not have been the best course of action. While it has absolutely no effect on the waking nightmares, the hypnotist fares even less well and Adrian is drawn into the machinations of a cult. The cult has its own plans for Adrian’s life and none of them include curing the nightmares that have him seeing writhing insects everywhere he looks. As Adrian and Molly try desperately to find a way out, they’ll have to contend with both the cult and the police, leaving a bloodbath in their wake.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, body horror has never really been a part of the horror genre that I enjoyed. I was a big fan of some of Cullen Bunn’s previous work (particularly Sixth Gun and Harrow County) so I was taking a chance with Regression. And even after two volumes, I’m still pretty mixed on the series. Without a doubt, Regression is disturbing and disgusting. There were plenty of moments that I wanted to put the book down. But Bunn knows how to write an intriguing story and the cult elements were enough to keep me reading. The struggle between Adrian and one of his past selves is both horrifying and compelling and I was intensely interested throughout both volumes to find out what his past self had been up to in order to draw this level of horror into his current life. The characterization, particularly that of his friend Molly, felt a little weak at times and the story suffers a bit (particularly at the beginning) from characters who seem too meek and mild. Even Adrian himself isn’t particularly interesting until he’s struggling with his past life. At the end of it, only the intriguing cliffhanger at the end of the second volume had me tempted to try the next one. While I wouldn’t have expected gorgeous art out of a story with this many writhing insects and gore, I still wasn’t a big fan of the work by Luckert and Enger. It felt kind of ugly and unpolished, though that may be meant to suit the grossness of the story. It also felt awkward, like the artist had a hard time portraying movement well. Good artists can make it feel like the panels are moving. For the most part, the art in Regression just left me feeling ambivalent when it could have been terrifying.
After my test swim in the waters of a horror genre that I’ve never been much of a fan of, I’d have to say that Regression didn’t do much to change my mind. The use of insects, mutilation and gore made my stomach turn, even if it wasn’t on a Clive Barker level. I’ll always prefer psychological horror to the more visceral kind. For those who enjoy body horror however, Regression might be an interesting tale for a dark, spooky night. Just try to avoid Adrian’s sort of nightmares if you can.