Horror author Hunter Shea admittedly owes a lot of his success to Skunk Apes, the Everglades version of Bigfoot.
Shea’s fast-paced, action-packed horror novel, Swamp Monster Massacre, is a crowd-pleasing creature feature about a criminal on the lam alongside a group of Everglades tourists trying to survive a pissed-off family of Skunk Apes.
Swamp Monster Massacre is also the book that helped launch Shea’s career as a writer of cryptid fiction.
In an exclusive interview for The Bigfoot Files, Shea said a popular TV show sparked the idea for Swamp Monster Massacre.
“The entire novel literally came to me fully formed while watching an episode of Bar Rescue,” Shea said. “I knew I wanted to write a Bigfoot book, but I had to take a different angle. And I wanted the heat of summer to be a character of its own, so my mind immediately went to the Florida Everglades. Settling on Skunk Apes, those smelly beasties of the swamp, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to strand a bunch of tourists in a fan boat in the middle of the Everglades?’ And what better way to do that than have them kidnapped by a criminal named Rooster. It was one of the very few times a story popped into my head fully formed. I wrote the book over the course of three weeks in a kind of fever dream. Little did I know how much that crazy little book would change my life.”
While evidence of the Skunk Ape’s existence is lacking, Shea’s discovery is based on clear proof of his unique writing talent in the horror genre.
“I was discovered by my editor at Kensington/Pinnacle when he read the book,” Shea said. “That turned into a three mass market paperback deal and other books that have followed. It also set me on my cryptid course. I’ve now written about the Jersey Devil, Orang Pendeks, the Loch Ness Monster, the Dover Demon, and so many more. In fact, I kind of combine the beasts and many of the characters from those standalone books into my Patreon only choose-your-adventure story, Clash of the Cryptids. That book led me to meeting and befriending real cryptozoologists, including Loren Coleman. I’ve even had some of my books on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum. It’s kind of crazy to think how so much has come from a book called Swamp Monster Massacre. It’s a dream come true in a very weird way.”
Swamp Monster Massacre begins with a hot-under-the-collar criminal named Rooster Murphy prying his knuckle from the shattered eye socket of a Cuban named Cheech after a gun deal gone wrong. Rooster soon finds himself on the run from three vengeful Cubans and commandeers an airboat of tourists to escape.
On the boat are pilot Mick and seven passengers. The passenger list includes two Jersey Shore-type guys Angelo and Dominic; identical twin blonde college girls Liz and Maddie; older married couple John and Carol; and businessman Jack.
Rooster doesn’t want to hurt anybody. He just wants to reach a safe house hidden in the Everglades that his father showed him when he was old enough to learn the family business. However, the passengers don’t know Rooster’s intentions and attempt to disarm him, resulting in a boat wreck that strands everyone in the middle of the swamp, miles away from the safe house.
Unfortunately, the boat happened to hit a young Skunk Ape standing on the shore, killing it and sending the other Skunk Apes into a bloodlust of vengeance. The rest of the story follows Rooster, Mick, and the tourists into the Everglades where the family of Skunk Apes hounds the group, picking off the humans one by one.
Shea writes the action at a breathless pace but doesn’t forget to include details of the swamp’s heat and mosquitoes, which makes the setting a character of its own. Despite the gory nature of the book (Massacre is in the title), Shea provides a kind of comedy relief with some of his dialogue and descriptive metaphors.
He saves some of his best descriptions for the Skunk Apes:
- “Four hairy monsters, the smallest at just about seven feet, the largest over eight, stood side by side on the shore, bellowing with murderous intent. All had broad, muscular chests, and one sported a pair of drooping, furred breasts. The hair on their heads was long, like an 80s glam band gone rogue. Their immense, talon-like hands hung low, almost to their knees. A small amount of bronze flesh was visible on their faces, but the rest of them just looked like bipedal woolly mammoths. And their eyes! Eight flaming eyes bored out from under all that hair and filth.”
- The Skunk Ape’s smell? “It was like a combination of gasoline, body odor, wet dog, and the inside of a baby’s diaper.”
- The Skunk Ape’s sound? “Suddenly, there was a loud roar, like what Rooster would imagine a tiger caught in a bear trap would sound like.”
One of my favorite lines is when Rooster tries to convince the pilot that they need to get moving: “It’s either that, or sit here like a corn dog on a dinner plate.”
The climax of Swamp Monster Massacre is brutal as the story dips into extreme elements of horror for the finale, but what a wild ride at the end. The tone of the book reminded me of the 1987 film Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, where the tension of a possible surprise attack at any moment keeps everyone on edge.
Shea’s interest in and ability to write about cryptids is legit, and among his many cryptid titles is Savage Jungle, a novel about Sumatra’s version of Bigfoot, the Orang Pendek.
I asked Shea if he believes in Bigfoot.
“I believe there is a high probability that Bigfoot is real, but perhaps not in the way that people think and hope,” Shea explained. “I’m not on board with the interdimensional Sasquatch theory, nor do I think they are aligned with extraterrestrial interlopers. I think that whatever they are is something beyond our modern comprehension. That goes for ghosts and ETs as well. Somehow, they are all connected and have always been throughout time, with different names given to them by succeeding generations of man. Are they physical beings? I tend to think they are ultra-physical, a form of life we’re not equipped with at this time in our development to even fathom. Anyone trying to explain Bigfoot is like the Buddha telling people how a cellphone works. No matter what, belief makes the world a much more fascinating place.”
I also asked Shea why he thinks Bigfoot continues to remain so prevalent in pop culture today.
“Bigfoot is fun for the city dwellers, a monster myth that makes for cool TV specials, bad movies, and some bizarre books,” Shea replied. “For the woodsy folks, it’s a killer campfire story that adds an element of excitement to a night in the deep, dark forest. I once took my daughters on a nature hike in Maine that was basically a trail that wrapped around Main Street. You could even hear cars from time to time. But when they heard what sounded like a wood knock, they nearly beat feet and ran the hell out of there. Fear is good. It’s a rush. It makes us feel alive. In a time where it seems like everything is at our fingertips, it’s nice to think we don’t have everything figured out. The possibility that our long lost cousin or the missing link is still out there, ready to redefine our notions of ourselves, is downright fascinating.”
NEXT UP | Chapter Four: “The Road Best Not Taken.” I review the horror short story “The Road Best Not Taken” from the collection Snowbird Gothic by Richard Dansky, featuring an exclusive interview with the author about how the Bigfoot legend inspired his story.
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THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot
THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller