Thursday, May 1, 2014
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Saturday, October 19, 2013
|Seriously, check out this cover. You'd|
have to be some kind of moron not
to want to read it immediately.
Just look at that pulpy cover. Art Deco out the wazoo, two guys with syringes full of glowing fluid in an old-timey cityscape, postures clearly suggesting action and pursuit! Plus it promises to tell—even expand upon!—Herbert West's story through the perspective of an apparently rather determined nemesis! While David Gale's flying severed head has left any purported rival to Dr. West with some pretty big shoes to fill, I'm a total sucker for this "new side of an old story" approach (Philip José Farmer, who once wrote a Tarzan story as if it had been written by William S. Burroughs instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs, was the all-time grandmaster), and have almost zero sales resistance. So I grabbed it off the shelf while hunting for candidates for the Fact Desk and vowed to read it.
It starts off in the grand pulp tradition, with an agitated narrator promising to explain where all those bodies came from. We soon find ourselves caught up in the first few chapters of Lovecraft's original 6-part serial "Herbert West, Reanimator" (check it out here), except this time we find out that zombie Dean Halsey's rampage left Dr. West with a pretty pissed-off nemesis in the form of the freshly-orphaned Dr. Stuart Hartwell. Our bereaved protagonist decides to dedicate his life to Revenge, and determines to beat West at the reanimation game while he's at it. It's not long before the novel's scope has expanded from the original events of HWR to include appearances by a number of prominent characters and events on the Lovecraftian timeline, from both the Old Man's own works and those of a few of his contemporaries. Sometimes the overlap is a local character whose own encounter with the unnameable lies in their future; sometimes we're treated to behind-the-scenes details that flesh out a familiar story, most notably "The Shadow out of Time" and "The Dunwich Horror." The danger of an approach like this is that readers who aren't familiar with Lovecraft's universe might end up feeling like they're sitting at a table with a bunch of horror geeks trading impenetrable in-jokes. While I can't speak from the perspective of those appallingly ignorant creatures, everything seems to be smoothly woven together into a tale that is enhanced by a knowledge of the classic works of the Cthulhu Mythos but stands alone just fine without it. No matter how well-versed you are, though, you're bound to find yourself occasionally turning to Wikipedia to see why a character's name sounds familiar, or whether Summerisle is where you think it is.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Fans of Tim Burton and obscure trivia might recognize Michael McDowell as the writer of the first and much darker draft of Beetlejuice, but clever rats like me and honorary rat Stephen King1 know him as the creator of some of the finest Southern horror ever to see print. His work is often labeled Southern Gothic, but since I've never been able to find two people who can agree on exactly what Gothic horror is, I'm just going to avoid talking about that. His main works3 are all well grounded in the South, though, whether the beasts of a particular nightmare are supernatural forces (as in The Elementals or The Amulet) or just your fellow primates behaving in that uniquely horrible, uniquely human way that you all comfort yourselves by calling "inhuman" (Gilded Needles or Toplin).
The Elementals begins with two very different families, united by friendship and eventually by marriage, coming together for a funeral. The Savages are proper old-school Southern quasi-aristocrats, steeped in tradition and secrets; the McCrays are bold and brash, none more so than matriarch Big Barbara, happily drinking her way through life. Dauphin Savage and Leigh McCray, who united the bloodlines in marriage, are there; even Barbara's son Luker and his precocious daughter India, refugees who fled Alabama for the Manhattan nightlife years ago, have come back to the Gulf Coast to bid their farewells to the late and unlamented Marian Savage.
After the creepy funeral and some horrific talk of Savage family history, the two families retire for a lengthy getaway at Beldame, three ornate Victorian houses built on a little spit of land that sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico. Far from any sign of civilization, its isolation is increased twice a day when high tide swamps the only road and turns Beldame into an island. The Savages and McCrays each traditionally occupy one of the houses on their yearly outings, while the third house... well, no one goes into the third house anymore. It's slowly disappearing under the dunes, the gleaming white sand of the Gulf drifting relentlessly over it. And if there's something in that house, something living in the sand that's poured in through the broken windows? Probably nothing to really worry about. The Savages and McCrays have been coming to Beldame for years, and nothing horrible has ever happened, give or take. Sure, there's been the occasional death or disappearance, but nobody could ever prove the third house had anything to do with it. You don't stay out of the ocean just because there might be a shark or two swimming around somewhere out there, do you? Just use your common sense and everything will be fine.
This is why The Elementals is one of the scariest books I've ever read. You see, all monsters have rules. They may seem invincible at first, but no matter how much of a bad-ass the beastie of the week might be, sooner or later the survivors-so-far are going to huddle around a professor or grimoire or crotchety old-timer and ask, How do we kill it? Learning the monster's rules changes the narrative from human smorgasbord to heroic battle. It turns an unstoppable supernatural killing machine into a problem to be solved, one more trophy over humanity's fireplace. Find the monster's rules, and you're halfway to victory and a sweet freeze-frame high-five.
What happens, though, when you meet a monster who knows you're looking for its rules, a monster that's perfectly happy to let you outrun it, knowing you'll be back some day with a smug spring in your step and no clue just how fast it really is? A ravenous fiend that wants to eat your face is one thing, but a patient fiend that wants to fuck with you? That is no fun, and that's what's waiting in the third house.
One thing McDowell does very well indeed is evoke a strong sense of place. The placid Gulf, the blank white expanses of sand, and above all the third house always looming in the background are vivid and real, a well-lit stage for the horrors to come that nevertheless feels haunted by shadows and the things that hide in them. Draped over it all is the crushing heat of the Gulf Coast summer, a constant presence that practically steams right off the page, affecting anything that anyone does during the day, and even much of the night. The dread that steadily escalates under this suffocating blanket of humid air gives everything a nightmarish quality, like a sneak preview of the knee-deep molasses you're going to have to wade through when the monsters finally run out of patience.
Now that I've convinced you that you need to read this book, how can you get one? Find a copy here! Then read it, and get ready for the next review, because you've got a lot of catching up to do.
2. That particular today was in 1985.
3. He wrote under several different pseudonyms, but all his horror novels were released under his own name.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Friday, September 6, 2013
Look at him with his mouth foamin' up!This obviously raises the question, What the sweet pale hell is wrong with me? I do not know. I know that I fear to continue, for were I to succeed, then there would be, extant in our world, a parody of DEVO's "Girl U Want" that tells the story of Old Yeller, and if that's possible, then you have to ask yourself what the fuck else might be possible and the next thing you know your neurons are reconfiguring into eldritch alignments and whoops! here come the Great Old Ones tearing their way back into our world through your neural net, and as the director of the porn parody of Star Wars said to the confused actor in the cantina orgy scene, FUCK THAT.
Look at him with his eyes spinnin'!
Why don't you just admit it's all over?
Old Yeller's got the 'bies!
Monday, September 2, 2013
Penelope was feeling pretty good about her first few steps toward a new "under her own control" life, and it wasn't until the crescendoing shriek of the town's emergency siren, carried through the afternoon on a bed of choking black smoke laced with screams of agony, was cut off by a shuddering roar that cracked half of her carefully polished windows that the first traces of doubt creeped into her thoughts. Had she been cowardly to invoke the wrath of Zalgrath the Devourer upon the entire town just to avoid the awkwardness of quitting her job at the county records office with no notice?