To be honest folks, this is about the fifth time I’ve written this review, and it took me a while to decide if I was going to review Hellucination at all. As much as it may not seem so due to some of the things I say and some of the stuff I review, I try to maintain a moderate to low controversy level ‘round here. For that reason there are two things I don’t bring up on SOC. They’re the same 2 that everyone says you don’t discuss if you want to maintain the peace…religion and politics. The thing is, it’s gonna be really tough to review Stephen Biro’s memoir Hellucination without discussing religion. For the most part I’m just going to talk about it as a book, but the religious side of things can’t help coming out from time to time in this review. Therefore, after much deliberation, I will be waiving the “no religion talk” just this one time. Now that we’ve got that little disclaimer out of the way…
Synopsis: A drug-fueled trip through the gruesome levels of Hell may sound like a fictional horror story to some, and since the traveler in question was movie distributor Stephen Biro, it could just as easily have been one of his film projects. But Stephen's experiences were the real, life-changing sort. They're also proof that the Lord does work in mysterious ways -- extending all the way to squares of LSD and nitrous oxide cartridges.
Armed with psychedelics, hallucinogenics and a brave desire to meet God no matter the personal cost, Stephen pushed beyond the boundaries of safe drug use. He took the most nightmarish of trips from a cramped one-bedroom apartment that he used for running his underground video business. With initial difficulty finding God in his altered state, Stephen instead encountered depravity and grotesquery enough to make his soul weep, but he pushed on. And if that wasn't bad enough, his Hellish experiences bled over into his waking days, and his friends and acquaintances began identifying themselves to him as Antichrists, deities and other assorted beings from "the other side." Reality was blurring and shifting, and Stephen was run utterly ragged. Could he fulfill his quest to learn universal truths before his extreme drug use took its toll?
Hellucination: A Memoir spares no disturbing detail of the unusual route that one man took to find Christ and the God of the Bible. The memoir also follows younger Stephen through his 1970s childhood and his bizarre early encounters with religion that drove him to Atheism.
For those not familiar with Stephen Biro, who wrote this book, he runs Unearthed Films. If you don’t know about Unearthed Films, well, you’re probably not into extreme horror cinema. They’re known for putting out such cinematic atrocities as the Guinea Pig movies, the Vomit Gore trilogy, Cannibal, and Aftermath/Genesis. I met Stephen at Days of the Dead Atlanta. I was drunk as hell, standing outside smoking when someone behind me said “Hey you with the press pass!” You know, one of those classic horror convention greetings. Anyway, turns out it was Mr. Biro. We talked for a while, and he turned out to be a really cool guy. He even hooked me up with a killer assortment of flicks including the amazing Where The Dead Go To Die, Das Komabrutale Duell, Header (all of which I’ve reviewed on SOC), and the flick that will be the next EC3 review. When he found out that I was also a former psychonaut, he gave me a copy of Hellucination. He told me “It’s about me doing a bunch of hallucinogens, going to heaven and hell, and meeting the devil and god.” Now that’s a sales pitch. The book is about that and much more…and if you’re thinking that a purveyor of some of the most sublimely vile movies imaginable is a rather unlikely source for a testimony of how he came to god, you’d be absolutely right.
First off, the 800 lb gorilla in the room must be addressed. There is a problem inherent in spiritual memoirs. Conventional wisdom would suggest that to experience the story as a true one, the reader must first share the spiritual beliefs of the author. Basically, if you were going to read the autobiography of a ghost hunter, you kinda have to believe in ghosts or, in your mind, it isn’t a true story. This could be a stumbling block to some. I’ve told people about this book, and they’re on board until they find out it’s a Christian book. Yes, I had to put aside my distaste for religious dogma in one or two places (particularly the end), but it never really gets preachy. In fact, this book would appall a lot of the more judgmental Christians. In my mind, that’s a very good thing. Here’s how I went into it. I don’t necessarily believe in everything Biro discusses in this book, but it’s obvious from the honesty and conviction of his writing that he does. Since he wholeheartedly believes that what he wrote is the truth, I can accept that this was written as a true story in the author’s eyes and experience it that way. It really doesn’t matter if I believe in possession or anti-Christs or anything else, because this is his perception of what he’s experienced, and I can accept it on that level. After all, Aristotle said "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” and he was friends with that So Crates guy from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, so he must be smart, right?
So, putting aside the book’s spiritual platform for a moment, let’s look at the most important question; is it a good book? The answer is an emphatic yes. Biro writes in a very conversational style, which is quite engaging. The subject matter may make this a heavy read at times, but the prose keeps you moving along. A lot of it is told in traditional first person narrative style as Stephen recounts his experiences, but he frequently employs second person, directly addressing the reader. He also goes one step further, actually making you, the reader, a character in the story. He physically places the reader in the framing devices of his story in a unique and extremely effective literary device that I can honestly say I’ve never seen before.
His writing also has a very cinematic quality, both in that Biro has a gift for the verbal dynamic of describing the physicality and mood of a scene and that much of the action seems to be directly or indirectly inspired by movies. When he is describing the things he experienced during his time using LSD and nitrous oxide (aka whip-its…dun dun dun dun dun…whip it good!) to push the boundaries of reality, sometimes characters from movies and television, such as Morpheus from The Matrix or Rob Zombie, actually cross over into his world. Other times, when he’s describing his experiences that don’t directly involve specific films, they still seem to color his exploits. One can pick up elements of flicks like Clockwork Orange and Tetsuo: The Iron Man in certain passages for example. The middle portion of the book where we are back in “every day reality” but nothing and no one is quite what they seem is very reminiscent of the movie Jacob’s Ladder. That’s not saying that these parts of the book are actually based on these flicks however. As anyone with experience with hallucinogens can tell you, anything you’ve ever seen or heard can come back to influence your perception of reality when you’re tripping.
Which leads me to another thing that impressed me about this book. It also brings up a subject I don’t discuss on SOC a lot, drugs. As some of you know, in my late teens and early twenties I did a lot of drugs, and hallucinogens (LSD & Psilocybin mostly) were always my favorite. Therefore, when Biro talks about the combination of acid and whip-its, I can relate to the mental state he was in when this stuff went down. I have always said that experiencing a psychedelic episode is something that cannot be adequately described to someone who has never done it. It’s like sex, it doesn’t matter how well you try to describe it to a virgin, it’s just something that can’t be comprehended unless you experience it. Biro, however, does the best job I have ever heard of verbally explaining what tripping feels like. I honestly don’t know if someone who has never done any hallucinogenic drugs will fully understand where the character is, but Biro will definitely get you close enough.
The most striking portion of the book is Biro’s decent into Hell itself. His vision of hell is absolutely inspired, with each of the seven deadly sins having its own infernal realm and fitting punishments. Depending on whether you believe that this is the actual, God-created hell of the Bible, some great storytelling on Biro’s part, or a drug induced nightmare vision, either Stephen, God, or Acid deserves a lot of credit for their flair for grotesque imagery and symbolism that borders on the profound. Seriously, the punishments conceived of here fit the sins in ways I had never even thought of before. Amazing. In certain areas it has the same type of atmosphere as the hell sequences in some of Edward Lee’s books like Flesh Gothic or The Chosen. Being the huge Lee fan that I am, that’s definitely a compliment. The whole book is outstanding, but this section grabs you by the throat, mainlines straight into your brain, and leaves you woozy and wondering what the hell just happened. Yes, pun intended.
As a pro-spirituality/anti-religion former believer who was raised strict Southern Baptist, one thing that I find very interesting is unconventional Christianity. That’s why I got so into Christian metal in my early teens, because it was diametrically opposed to the Christianity I had been raised on. I would most definitely call a journey to accepting Christ through heavy drug use and graphic bootleg movies unconventional. While it ends up with an evangelistic passage, it never takes on the pretense of a sermon. It’s just a guy presenting his experience and what he feels to be the truth for your consideration. That’s actually really refreshing in a Christian book. I almost hesitate to call it a religious book because of the negative connotations that label has. Hellucination incorporates all kinds of ideas about philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, spirituality, religion, and the human condition; presenting them in such an intriguing and entertaining way that the sheer entertainment value makes it palatable even to the most anti-religious reader.
Random Thought: At one point Biro references the Stroh’s Wet T-Shirt Contest. I have never heard anyone else reference that particular video, and thought I might be the only one who remembered it. THAT caught me by surprise.
Stephen Biro’s Hellucination is a fascinating read. The book’s strength is that it works on whatever level you want to experience it on. If you’re just looking for a good story, it works. If you want to dig deeper into Biro laying his soul bare before you, he does. If you want to go even deeper and use it as a gateway to address questions about reality, both earthly and supernatural, you can. No matter what you’re into, there’s something here for you. If you’re a horror fan, read it for the possession, violence, gore, madness, bizarre and grotesque imagery, and references to great obscure flicks. If you’re into spirituality and metaphysics, read it for its exploration of themes regarding the afterlife, preternatural beings, and the fate of the human soul. If you’re into psychedelia, you will definitely find it here if the book will just stop melting long enough for you to read it (yeah, you know what I’m talking about.) If you’re into religion, read it for a chronicle of a route to God that I guarantee you’ve never heard before. If you’re not into any of those things, just read it because it’s a damn good book. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out. Hellucination is available on amazon or directly from Unearthed (LINK).