June 6, 2023

Fleuve Noir: GORE

Fair warning, kids: this is not safe for work. This art is graphic and rated R (for nudity, blood, disturbing violence, and then some). Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve had a collection of these images on my computer for a while. I’m not sure why. I have no excuse except that I was fascinated by the idea of such extreme art circulating in the 1980s without censorship. This series may have targeted a niche audience, but maybe this art was displayed in France side by side on supermarket shelves with Nora Roberts novels, for all I know. There’s no way for me to know first hand, because they sure didn’t make it to American bookstores.

These cover images were gleaned from various Web sites several years ago when I was just getting started with Realms of Night. One of the Web pages from which I saved much of this content now appears to be gone, so I might be one of the only people online with all of this art in a central location. I suppose as a collector of paperback horror and curator of this site, that obligates me in some way to publish these images. I admit, I feel kind of squirmy about it. But, this is art, after all. And this series has a cult following. More than anything, I am stunned that anything like this ever made it to a newsstand or book rack anywhere, never mind on a regular basis.

Everything I know about this series (which admittedly isn’t much), I gleaned from pages written in French, translation courtesy of Google.

Flueve Noir is French for “Black River,” a long-running French publishing company that started publishing fantastic literature in the 1950s. The company capitalized on the horror frenzy of the 1980s by launching a five-year run of books beginning in 1985. Catering to the base desires that stirred in our sick little minds the desire to find the bloodiest and most violent horror we could get our hands on, Flueve Noir’s GORE series assaulted the public with graphic images on book racks across the nation of France at a rate of two titles per month. If you hunted down the 72 films on the United Kingdom’s list of banned “Video Nasties,” lived for Italian horror works by the likes of Lucio Fulci, or wore out your copies of Faces of Death and Blood Feast, this stuff was for you. In fact, some of the titles in the series were novelizations of notorious gore flicks, including Herschell Gordon Lewis’s 2000 Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red. In some cases, the cover art blatantly ripped off images from popular horror films, especially Nightmare on Elm Street. One of the covers reproduces the famous impaled woman image from Cannibal Holocaust. The cover of La Cervelle Contre Les Murs by none other than Brain Splash (pseudonym anyone?) features the sliced open cranium of a doctor well known to fans of Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon’s Re-animator.

Every single one of these books was splashed with extreme gore, aiming to sell themselves as the literary equivalent of Cannibal Corpse albums. Many of them were written by folks well known to British and American horror readers of the time. In fact, it’s a pretty star-studded cast of authors as far as pulp horror goes: Shaun Hutson, Gary Brandner, Richard Laymon, Ray Garton, Guy N. Smith, Jack Ketchum, John Halkin, Harry Adam Knight, and others.

As far as I can tell, a man by the name of Daniel Riche was behind the series. Another man by the name of David Didelot — a fan and collector — compiled what looks like an interesting retrospective on the series and the authors involved. Unfortunately, the book is only available in French. In any event, here are the collected images that I have, most of the 118 novels published during the series’ five-year run. The majority of these images originally came from a French SF Web site https://www.noosfere.org/.

Some of these covers are by Romanian artist Dugévoy. Several other covers are by Roland Topor, a famous French cartoonist, illustrator, comic artist, actor, and writer. (Roman Polanski made a film of Topor’s 1964 novel The Tenant in 1976. Thomas Ligotti wrote an introduction to the novel when it was reissued in 2006.) The other artists are unknown to me.

From what little I can find in English online, the Maniac series covers at the end of the gallery represent a short lived attempt to resurrect the series, with more realistic artistic depictions, albeit with the same gruesome theme.

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Christopher Fulbright

Christopher Fulbright is the author of short stories, novellas, and full-length novels of fantasy and horror. His short stories have appeared in many venues--webzines, magazines, and anthologies--since 1993. Fulbright received the Richard Laymon President's Award in 2008 from the HWA, and his short stories have received honorable mentions in "The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror" and "Best Horror of the Year." He is a former journalist turned technical writer, an unrepentant horror fan, and owner/webmaster of Realms of Night.

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