Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris

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As it says on the cover of my copy of the book: “The terrifying classic that introduced Hannibal Lector.” Yes, Dr. Lector is the kind of doctor that will give you nightmares. If you live long enough to have any, that is. And what’s amazing is Lector just “popped up” out of nowhere when Harris was writing this story. That’s got to be both fortunate for the author (because Lector made Harris rich and famous), and very, very chilling. It almost makes me believe in the supernatural power of … what? The power of evil fictional characters to summon a writer to tell their story? Gah! Creepy. Let’s leave Lector for a bit, since this is not really his story anyway. He’s only a guest here.

The real star is the Red Dragon, or as the media calls him, The Tooth Fairy.toothfairy

Francis Dolarhyde, the Red Dragon’s alter ego, is a very disturbed boy. Plagued with both a harelip and a sadistic grandmother, Francis never has a chance. I believe this is one of the first serial killer thrillers based on then-current FBI knowledge and techniques. Harris actually had to visit the FBI to do research for this book, so it was all pretty damned scary when this was published in 1981.

So, I loved the Red Dragon as a killer – he was twisted, smart, and poetic. That whole “dancing naked in the moonlight while covered in your victims’ blood” thing is just beautiful. And just how crazy do you have to be to track down your soul/nemesis in the Brooklyn Museum, and then, instead of admiring it, or even stealing it, you eat it!eat-it

Let’s not forget, either, the horrible, horrible fate the Dragon inflicts on poor, hardworking, tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds – he bites off Freddy’s lips and lights him on fire, sending Lounds’ blazing wheelchair down the hill towards his newspaper’s building. Ah, they don’t make serial killers like that anymore, do they?

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Will Graham, the FBI profiler, was very good too. This earliest version of what’s become by this time an almost psychic character in our culture, Graham doesn’t make giant leaps of intuition when considering the serial killer. Instead, he suffers “profiler’s block” and bumbles and stumbles around, like a blind man in a strange room. This makes him both more realistic and sympathetic. Nevertheless, Graham does have something special when it comes to figuring these guys out. I see it as mostly a willingness to quit “focusing” on the killer, and to just daydream about him a little. That’s how he realizes that the killer already knows what he’s going to encounter at each scene, because he’s already seen it! Eureka. eureka

Hang onto your butts, people, because I can’t think of a single, damned thing to complain about in this novel. It’s well-written (and if there were any POV shifts in there, I never noticed them), the characters are awesome, and the science feels realistic and plausible. I even liked the movie version, “Manhunter”. Haven’t seen the remake yet, but I hear it’s also good.

So, even though many people only know of this book because it included the first appearance of Doctor Cannibal Lector, there was a LOT more good stuff going on in there. Read it for Lector, sure, but savor the rest of it too. It really is very tasty. hannibal

The Sculptor, by Gregory Funaro

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I feel like I’ve become a crotchety, old sourpuss with all my reviews lately, but publication brings with it some answerability I think.  So here goes nothing.

On the plus side, this novel has no artsy-fartsy unreliable narrator – yay. The story is focused on the serial killer and his victims – also yay – and, like all the best killers, this killer had a “theme” – he wants to rouse humanity from its media-induced slumber.

But for some reason, this killer – The Sculptor, fka Christian – decides that the best way to do that is to recreate some of Michelangelo’s greatest sculptures david with dead people?

Boo.

The Sculptor himself is a hunka hunka burning love elvis

– six foot five inches tall since he was seventeen, and built like a brick shithouse (as my mother used to say) – but with deep emotional scars in all the right places. His mama was a whore who beat and abused him, while his saintly father ends up paralyzed in the car accident that killed his mother and left him a rich man. He abandons dreams of a history degree to become a nurse nurseand take care of his invalid father.

As others have already pointed out, the Sculptor is just too good to be true – he’s big, strong, smart, wealthy, and artistic – what does he need to kill for? His life should be freaking perfect. And yet, he feels compelled to teach humanity a lesson in one of the most pointless, awkward displays of artistic imitation the world has ever seen. Because, let’s face it, this guy is just trying too hard to “shock and amaze” everyone with his ridiculous sculptures.

Not content to mind his own business, the Sculptor has to drag in Dr. Low Self-Esteem, er, Cathy Hildebrant, to his little crazy party. It was supposedly her book about Michelangelo, Slumbering in the Stone, which awakened him to his true calling. So he can’t even think of his own, original reason to be a serial killer – he has to steal it from someone else.

The female lead – and I use the term sarcastically – Cathy Hildebrant is a tenured professor of art history. She is also, if anyone is checking, “very pretty.” pretty-girl

Thank Christ. I hate those “not pretty” or “somewhat pretty” professors.  She also strays dangerously close to dishrag status in this book with a lot of gratuitous mooning over FBI Special Agent Sam Markham.

Markham’s job is to trade large chunks of tedious exposition with Hildebrant, but it’s very cleverly disguised as dialogue.  Oh, and he’s there to catch a serial killer, too. Honest.

I’m not exactly sure how Funaro does it, but he manages to take something interesting, and turn it into a hard slog. The going was toughest, I thought, right around Chapter 43, when we’re in The Sculptor’s head and he alternately refers to himself as The Sculptor and “the boy named Christian” for eleven fun-filled pages …

Don’t get me wrong – I love a well-researched book about a fascinating and brilliant Renaissance artist as much as the next person – but Dan Brown did it better in The Da Vinci Code. 

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The Church of Dead Girls, by Stephen Dobyns

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I find myself, yet again, of being able to appreciate the way a book is written while still disliking the book.

The good stuff – the small town in upstate New York, Aurelius, is brilliantly portrayed as a cauldron of fear, doubt and paranoia as three teenaged girls disappear over the course of a few months. The discovery of their bodies, in the prologue, shows us the what and where, but not the who or why. So, with the so-called “important stuff” – the bodies’ discovery – out of the way right at the start, the author then takes us through the whole story. From the beginning. Because the real horror in this story is not the dead girls, dead-girls

but the cataclysmic way the town disintegrates once the townsfolk realize there’s a killer among them.

The careful, even loving, attention that Dobyns lavishes on his large cast of characters reminded me of how Stephen King populates a story, and so it didn’t bother me. I liked, too, how the author took his time to show us the town’s decline into vigilantism and madness once the killings/disappearances started. Dobyns treats us to his acutely perceptive vision of a town on the edge in a way that is both realistic and chilling. The self-appointed “police helpers” vigilante group was especially creepy, and totally believable.

My main gripe with this story is, once again, the unreliable first person narrator. This narrator – who is sort of revealed very near the goddamned end of the story – as a nameless, gay, male high school biology teacher,gay-male-hs-bio-teach

knows things about the characters and events in this story that only an omniscient, third-person narrator would know.

But what do I know?

I’ll tell you what I know. I know that on page 242, Chapter Friggin’ 30, the book falls into a limited omniscient POV for awhile, and then slips into an omniscient POV for awhile, and then back into the first person for some chapters. This is kind of the problem with slow, cerebral “thrillers” like this – not only do they encourage you to slow down and think, you actually do just that. And that’s when you notice stuff like this. I have to say, though; even before I saw the POV shift, I was getting increasingly annoyed with this mystery narrator – who the hell is this person, and when am I going to meet him/her?

Despite this kind of trivial stuff, the story is top-notch. It is a different kind of horror story that still manages to include sympathetic victims, a crazy serial killer, and a lot of suspense and misdirection.

It also has a great title. It’s just not the kind of horror story I was expecting or hoping for.

 

Dobyns, Stephen. The Church of Dead Girls. Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997. Print.

American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis

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Oh, American Psycho, where to begin?

Let’s begin by saying that this is a brilliant piece of work. As a boots-on-the-ground view of the materialistic madness of wealth-obsessed, alienated, depraved yuppies in Eighties’ New York City, this book positively vibrates. Starting on page one, Ellis drowns us in designer labels as the narrator, Patrick Bateman, meticulously, obsessively notes the provenance of every tie, jacket, pants, dress, scarf, shoe, watch and pair of earrings within sight. Needless to say, a culture so completely self-absorbed in appearances – appearing wealthy, appearing cool – has no interest in, or energy for, looking beneath the surface.  Especially when that surface is so shiny.ooh-shiny

In fact, one of the funniest continuing bits in this book occurs when characters constantly mistake acquaintances for someone else. Nobody seems to really know who anyone is. It is so pervasive that when Bateman kills one of his colleagues, Paul Owen, nobody notices.  In fact, people continue to see Owen in London months after his death, including Bateman’s own attorney who claims to have had dinner with him just a few days ago. It is this last bit of information, along with an odd, unsettling encounter Bateman has with the realtor showing Owen’s apartment to prospective clients that made me wonder if Bateman wasn’t an unreliable narrator. The fact that the cops never show up to question him about any of this can also be used to support the unreliable-narrator-he-dreamed-all-this-up argument.

Shudder.

To show you how much I hate unreliable narrators – I’d rather Bateman actually be a heinous serial killer than a delusional, or lying, unreliable narrator. unreliable-narrator

However one could also argue the scenario put forth by the author – large, crowded city full of materialistic, alienated people plus handsome, rich-guy psychopath striking at random – is equally plausible.

Whatever.

So, let’s talk about Patrick Bateman, the first-person narrator, or star if you will, of American Psycho. But first, a disclaimer – I am not the kind of person who cringes when I hear a bad word, or who faints at the sight of blood. I grew up reading extensively in the field of horror, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve seen some godawful, nightmarish movies that should have never seen the light of day. I know people are capable of terrible things. For these reasons, and more, I believe I can safely say that I’ve read, seen, heard, written, and even experienced some pretty foul shit in my life. foul-shit

But all of that pales in comparison to the misogynistic horror I see in American Psycho.

To be fair, times change and what was once shocking is now considered “transgressive”. Doing research on this novel I came across that word, so I looked it up. Transgressive fiction, I discovered, is a genre that deals with taboo subjects, like drugs, incest, cannibalism, and sexual activity, along with violence, urban violence, crime, and violence against women. Transgressive fiction is a thing, it is a recognized literary genre deserving of study and respect.

This from the Wikipedia entry on “Transgressive Fiction”: A literary genre that graphically explores such topics as incest and other aberrant sexual practices, mutilation, the sprouting of sexual organs in various places on the human body, urban violence and violence against women, drug use, and highly dysfunctional family relationships, and that is based on the premise that knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge. Transgressive fiction shares similarities with splatterpunk,  splatterpunks  noir, and erotic fiction in its willingness to portray forbidden behaviors and shock readers…. Unbound by usual restrictions of taste and literary convention, its proponents claim that transgressive fiction is capable of incisive social commentary.

That phrase “incisive social commentary” is such an interesting, and auspicious, term. After all, when something can be said to have “incisive social commentary” then it’s good, right? And American Psycho has quite a bit of that, and it’s often funny –the aforementioned misidentification of characters; the nightly stampede to get into the newest, coolest restaurants; the slavish devotion to designer clothing – all paint a hilarious picture of poor, tortured yuppies in the Eighties. Also, does the novel also show “its willingness to portray forbidden behaviors and shock readers”? Check. Ellis shows he is well-aware of what would shock readers when he has Bateman kill a blind man’s dog, kill a child at the zoo, and torture and kill a rat that wanders into his apartment. You can almost hear the author chortling as he crosses these deaths off his list of taboos.

At first glance, Patrick Bateman seems like an equal-opportunity killer – he kills animals, men, women, children, young and old, rich and homeless, black people and white people, native-born Americans and immigrants, even some cops. So there’s your “violence” element, and the “drugs” theme runs throughout the novel.  It appears that American Psycho ticks off a lot of the boxes associated with this genre.

So what am I bitching about? It’s the “violence against women” part.

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Because even though Bateman kills all kinds of people and animals, these are usually impulsive, spur-of-the-moment killings, shocking in their casual spontaneity. Bateman strikes then saunters off, the picture of harmless and blameless. Who, me? (I can actually imagine seeing Bateman committing one of these “casual killings,” and disbelieving my own eyes – Hey, did that cute, rich guy just kill that homeless guy? Nah. That’s ridiculous!)

But when he kills women, it’s a whole different ball game. Then Bateman makes an effort to show his charming side. At least initially. He makes plans, there are drinks (usually drugged), conversation, and there is even consensual sex. But it’s like all this “normal” stuff is just foreplay for Bateman’s real interest – the complete annihilation of the female body. He rapes, tortures, burns, mutilates, chops, hacks, electrocutes, slices, bites and eats his victims until there is almost nothing left of them. Once in awhile he’ll keep a finger, or a bit of hairy pubis as a souvenir. And he does this over and over again, recounting the sequence of events with the same obsessive detail he devotes to telling us about his wardrobe.

Plus, it is NOT okay that a literary/academic definition of a genre specifically mentions “violence against women” as one of its tropes. By comparison, is there a genre that includes “violence against men in kilts”  guy-in-kilt or “violence against armadillos”  armadilloas part of its definition?

I didn’t think so.

I haven’t seen the movie yet. I hear it’s a “black comedy”. They just made American Psycho into a musical, for crying out loud. A musical. This is why ironic literary types are so easy to manipulate – bookend your snuff porn novel with “incisive social commentary” and you’ve got yourself a cult classic. As I said in the beginning – brilliant.

On a related note, Bret Ellis has given quite a few interviews where he’s said, “Patrick Bateman is me, was me in New York then. I was living that life.” This made me think of all the times in the book that Bateman told people he was a killer, but no one believed him.

Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if …?

Nah. That’s ridiculous.

 

Ellis, Bret Easton. American Psycho. Vintage Books, 1991.

Psycho: A Novel, by Robert Bloch

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It was fascinating to realize that I had never read Robert Bloch’s book, Psycho. The Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name was so iconic, that Hitchcock basically owned Psycho as far as everyone was concerned. So, it was with a surprising amount of trepidation that I picked up the book – I think I subconsciously expected a “movie adaptation”.

Of course, that was silly. Robert Bloch’s novel of a warped, psycho-killer/grave robber with mommy issues – frankly based on the crimes of the recently arrested warped, psycho-killer/grave robber, Ed Gein – Psycho was the book that started it all. Without Bloch’s masterful depiction of Norman Bates as Ed Gein we would probably never have had either The Silence of the Lambs or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and the world would be saner, but sadder for it. buffalo-bill

As far as this book goes, I thought it was pretty well written. Although I did notice a few dreaded “filter words” in the beginning, Bloch either got his shit together very quickly and went deep third person POV for the rest of the book, or else I got so involved in the story I no longer noticed. It’s good either way. The only time I felt pulled out of the story, really, was in the beginning, when the author started dropping hints that Norman Bates was a fat, white psycho. hitchcock

Anthony Perkins, as the movie version of Norman Bates, was tall, dark and handsome. So my brain rebelled at Bloch’s description at first, but after a while I got over it.

It’s hard to realize how much of a shock and surprise the Bates character was back when the story was first written. Serial killers were not only unknown, but anything psycho-sexual was considered too shocking for the average person to even hear about. Ah, the Fifties.

Anyway, thanks to Hitchcock’s movie, I had completely forgotten there were other characters in the story besides Norman Bates, his mother, and that girl in the shower. janet-leigh-psycho

Speaking of the shower – it’s funny, but I remember thinking, Gee, I wonder how Bloch handles that shower scene in his book. Imagine my surprise when he doesn’t handle it at all! The whole bloody, famous murder of Mary Crane (Janet Leigh) occurred while Bates was in an unconscious fugue state so there are no details. What the actual fuck? Thank God we had the equally talented, equally warped Mr. Hitchcock around to remedy that shit.

The author did go to the trouble of creating an actual story to go with his groundbreaking serial killer, incidentally. The girl in the shower stole a whopping $40,000 and ran off with it in an attempt to save her honorable, but stodgy fiancé from his indentured servitude in a hardware store. There’s also an insurance detective hot on her trail, an easy-going sheriff, and Mary Crane’s younger sister, Lila. Lila, I have to say, was quite the surprise. She was smart, brave, and a woman of action. Even when surrounded by a bunch of men who kept telling her, basically, Sweetie, don’t you think you’re overreacting a little here; she kept pushing, kept demanding that somebody find her sister. Come to think of it, Mary Crane was an unusual female character, too. She was just as smart as Lila – who she put through college while supporting her dying mom – and she took a big chance when she took that cash. I kind of wish she’d never stopped at that out-of-the-way motel.

Anyway, Psycho: The Novel – it’s the original psycho-killer story that all the ones that came after are based on.  Read it.

30 Days of Night, by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith

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I really liked this graphic novel. And not just because I caught the movie made from it on Netflix recently.

It had a brilliant premise – What better place to hold a vampire blood orgy than in Barrow, Alaska, where every year from November 18th to December 17 the sun never rises about the horizon? (Actually, according to the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers https://www.alaskacenters.gov/midnight-sun.cfm the sun stays below the horizon from November 18 to January 24, but “68 Days of Night” didn’t sound as cool, apparently.)

Be that as it may, we have a perfect horror setting – a small, human community huddled together in the cold, dark isolation of the Arctic – coupled with the perfect monster, a bunch of hungry vampires with time to kill.

As others have already noted, this story had some flaws.  Like how did a newbie vampire manage to vanquish the ancient, ridiculously powerful Vincent? Was it because Eben (the newbie in question) still had human feelings? (Puh-leeze.) The hypodermic needle Eben uses to infect himself with a former local boy-turned vampire’s blood was also strange. Where did it come from? Was Eben secretly diabetic? A junkie? A needle enthusiast?

The abrupt appearance, and equally abrupt disappearance, of the apparent vampire-hunter woman and her son was confusing. I was actually fascinated by their story – Who were they? How did they know about vampires? How long had they been monitoring their communications, and to what end? But, just like mysterious sea creatures, this woman and her son swim up out of the gloom long enough to make a few pings on the sonar screen before disappearing back into the depths. Never to be seen again. Sigh.

Back to the vampires in Barrow. Needless to say, they are tearing it up. But not without some conflict first. It seems that the one who had this Barrow brainstorm, Marlowe, invited all his friends to Alaska, including this really famous old guy – Vincent – whom he hoped to impress. Vincent was most definitely not impressed. In fact, he was so unimpressed that he tore Marlowe a new one – neck hole, that is.

According to Vincent, Marlowe was jeopardizing all the vampires’ lives by letting the humans know vampires still exist. How he imagined that humans, upon seeing a bunch of people in Alaska get torn apart (or just go missing), would then make this strange leap to “It HAD to be vampires!” is beyond me. And if it was me running things, instead of that Nervous Nelly, Vincent, I would have said, Sure, let’s go nuts up here for an entire month, and then do what they did at the end – burn the place down! Keep the crashed helicopter as the cause of the fire, make sure no one left behind any monogrammed hankies as a clue, and then go find a new party.

The artwork for this story was both wonderfully creepy, and at times (I’m sorry, Templesmith fans) hard to fathom. There were times I literally could not figure out what was going on in a scene. If the mystery panel occurred in the early part of the book, I could look it up in the back which had part of the script. Otherwise, I just guessed. As much as I loved it, some of the panels were a little too abstract as far as conveying information goes. Evocative, beautiful, but sometimes frustrating.

I understand that this is only the first book of a three-book miniseries, so that may explain tie up some of the loose ends. I did like this enough to track down the other books in this series, so I can’t wait to see how how it all turns out.

Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

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I liked Relic. Museums in general are cool, and a big, old badass of a place like the New York Museum of Natural History is especially cool. All the details in this book lent a realism to the place that sent chills down my spine. Plus, ill-fated archeological/anthropological digs that disappear in South America with all hands on board (so to speak)? Awesome. And it’s even better when said ill-fated adventurers manage to send a bunch of big, wooden boxes full of all these strange things they discovered back to their museum just before they mysteriously disappear.

The thing with this novel is that if you’re not one of those people who love learning lots and lots of details about famous museums full of old, wet tunnels, or museum politics, or genome sequencing software run by ambitious museum researchers/assholes … then you are probably not going to like it.

But, since it just so happens I am one of those people, let’s proceed.

The characters in this story are pretty standard – there’s the main character (I don’t know if you can call her the protagonist, since the POV shifts around in Relic), young, attractive Margo Green, grad student in ethnopharmacology; then we have Bill Smithback, who is also young, and apparently attractive who is the museum journalist (?).  He is trying to write a “hard-hitting” history of the museum, but he keeps getting blocked by the mean, old director. Oh, and he also hits on Margo every chance he gets. There is a member of New York’s Finest – Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta – he gets called in to run the investigation when bodies start showing up dead in the museum. Naturally, he wants to shut the whole place down while the cops investigate, and just as naturally, the museum has a big, important exhibit opening in a few days, so closing the place down now would just ruin them. Then there is the fascinatingly mysterious Special Agent Pendergast from the FBI. He’s there because there were similar murders years ago in New Orleans and he wants in on the case.  Pendergast, unlike most FBI agents does not want to “take over” from D’Agosta, so the two form a partnership to track down the killer.

Which brings us to the Relic itself. The big museum opening is going to be about “Superstition” and one of the treasures on display is from the mysterious Kathoga tribe in South America.  The “relic” in question arrived in one of the doomed-expedition’s wooden crates that were, until recently, sitting in storage deep in the museum’s bowels. It turns out the figurine represents a real monster that also arrived in the wooden crates. According to The Extrapolator (!)– the DNA genome sequencing machine – the Relic is part primate and part gecko (and part insurance shill?gecko). It’s also very smart and even thinks in smells, especially human smells. Do I have to tell you this thing craves thalamus hormones? Human thalamus hormones?

Nevertheless, the Relic monster was a lot of fun – it was original in design and origin, plus it rampaged through an entire museum and through all its tunnels. Speaking of the tunnels – I love old, forgotten tunnels almost as much as museums, so a museum with a huge system of old, forgotten tunnels – Squee!

To sum up, Relic is definitely worth a look – if for no other reason than it has a very nice monster. It’s also the first time we meet Special Agent Pendergast, who goes on to have a lot of other adventures with Lieutenant D’Agosta in New York City. Don’t let the size of the book fool you into thinking this might be long and dull. For the right reader it zips along at a good pace, with lots of realistic details, and plenty of chills.

 

Preston, Douglas and Lincoln Child. Relic. Tor Books, 1995. Print.

The Blob (1998), directed by Chuck Russell

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First of all, I’d like to point out that this time I watched the right version. (Although, to be perfectly honest, only after I had already re-watched the original 1958 version first.)

Be that as it may.  Let’s talk remakes, because that’s what the 1988 version of The Blob was – a remake of the original starring a 28-year-old Steve McQueen in his debut starring role as teenager Steve Andrews. The 1988 version had a 22-year-old Kevin Dillon playing a teen, so there’s that.

The 1988 version follows the original pretty closely right up until the point when the guys in hazmat suits show up. It seems that they suspect that an alien microbe has landed on Earth in a meteorite and is now running around infecting people. Only … it turns out the nice, avuncular Dr. Meddows – civilian head of the hazmat guys – is LYING, and The Blob is really a biological warfare experiment belonging to the U.S. that’s crashed here in a satellite and is running around dissolving people!

I don’t know about you, but I hate when that happens.

The movie itself was an odd mixture of Fifties/Eighties sensibilities.  The clothes and hairstyles all screamed Eighties, while the high school scenes (our team wins!), and the small town scenes (with the motherly diner owner feeding the sad, malnourished juvenile delinquent a sandwich even though the diner is closed for the night) all said Fifties to me. The random scene in the car where one of the “teenagers” tries to cop a feel from his passed-out girlfriend was creepily reminiscent of the allegations against Bill Cosby, and as a result had a nice, timeless quality to it. Plus, the jerk gets blobbed, which was also nice.

The special effects in the 1988 version were vastly superior to the clunky 1958 effects (although, the 1958 ones were not that bad, I thought). Thirty years of advances in special effects allowed the filmmaker to show us all kinds of variations on the Blob theme, the best ones being the “ceiling Blobs,” and the “telephone booth Blob,” and the “scaling the town hall Blob”. I also liked the pretty crystalline Blob when it gets flash-frozen at the end.

Speaking of which, in the 1988 version, a girl – played by actual teenager, Shawnee Smith – figures out that the Blob doesn’t like cold, and she sets about fighting back with a fire extinguisher just like in the 1958 version. Of course, since this was the Eighties they had to do it up bigger than that, so the juvenile delinquent/heartthrob, Kevin Dillon, goes and gets the town’s snow-making truck to try and finish the Blob off. (In case you were wondering, size does matter, it seems. At least when you’re trying to kill evil, covert science experiments gone awry.) And then … and then, once the Blob is lying all over Main Street in these pretty, pastel crystals, the town mechanic says something like, “Let’s get this thing put in the town’s ice house before morning.” (!)

The one bit of wisdom I learned from both versions is this – If you see a meteorite streak across the sky at night, don’t try to track it down. But if you do find out where it landed, don’t go near it. But if you do go near it, then for God’s sake, don’t poke the glowing crack in said meteorite with a stick. And if you do poke it with a stick, for the love of God, don’t lift the stick coated with the weird, alien goo up close to your face to take a better look at it!

Are we clear on that? Good. I can’t take any more versions of The Blob.

“Pickman’s Model” is “The Outsider” who heard “The Call of Cthulhu” – stories by H.P. Lovecraft

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(Oh, don’t judge me. You wish you’d thought of it first.)

Pickman’s Model” is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. I first read it as a teenager, which is the very best time to read anything scary, in my humble opinion. Even though the first-person narration is what makes this story so immediate, I kept wishing that Lovecraft had written it in third-person instead, just so I could hear the other half of the discussion. More than the other stories we had to read, this one felt like I was listening to just one side of a crazy person’s conversation, and it was a little maddening. But maybe that was his intention…?

Anyway, the narrator knows an artist – Richard Upton Pickman — so talented, but at the same time, so subversive that people who once embraced him are now terrified to be in the same room with him. Except for our storyteller, who is kind of a belligerent jerk.

I loved the setting and the gradual, but not too gradual, build-up of terror in this story. I could actually “see” the cramped, jammed, dirty, ancient streets and alleys and houses Lovecraft describes as the narrator accompanies Pickman to the artist’s other studio – the one where he paints all those awful, awful pictures. Pictures that are so lifelike it’s scary!

The little prologue to this story in my book says that Lovecraft had an actual house in the oldest part of the city— the North End of Boston – in mind when he wrote this story. Meaning that he’d actually been in that old house with the dark basement, and that it had a huge well dug in the floor with a wooden cover over it. *shudder*

The next story, “The Outsider” was written in 1921 (five years before he wrote “Pickman’s Model”), and it kind of shows. The narrator in this one is lost, lonesome and sad. For the first few pages, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, and it was a little hard to care about this character because of that. However, Lovecraft’s description of the narrator’s break for freedom was terrific. He climbs above the trees only to end up at ground level, in a cemetery. Oops. The cat’s out of the bag now.

Still, I felt bad for the guy. This afterlife, while lacking all the reported horrors of hell, is also lacking any of the supposed delights of heaven. It’s just a kind of … existence. However, despite that crappy party he crashed, the narrator’s story ends with him actually enjoying his newfound freedom in some faux-literary-Egyptian-name-dropping purgatory. Yes, the ending was a little obvious, but these were different times, so I’m gonna give HPL a pass.

Finally, the great, the immortalThe Call of Cthulhu” – meh.

Although this story is the start of the great, so-called “Cthulhu Mythos” (pause as fan-boys everywhere genuflect at the mention of his name), it should have been so much better. The premise was good – artists everywhere having strange dreams during the same span of time; the equally strange death of the narrator’s relative, who happened to be a professor of ancient languages; a bizarre journal left behind by said relative, full of “disjointed jottings, ramblings and [newspaper] cuttings”, along with a clay bas-relief featuring “a pulpy tentacled head” on a “grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings” (357).

Throw me the keys – I’m going to gas up the Mystery Machine now. scooby-doo-van

Yes, there is so much in this story that should have been great. Instead, Lovecraft goes on and on until only the heartiest of readers are still conscious at the end to appreciate his genius.

Nevertheless, you absolutely MUST read “The Call of Cthulhu” if you want to be a horror writer, or even just a well-read horror fan. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. They just are.

Lovecraft, H. P. The Complete Fiction. Barnes and Noble, 2008. Print.

 

Godzilla (2014), directed by Gareth Edwards

godzilla-2014

I wasn’t that crazy about the 2014 version of Godzilla, despite the hype of having Bryan Cranston in it, hard on the heels of his hit show, “Breaking Bad.” For one thing, Cranston’s character, Joe Brody, is killed fairly early in the movie – right after a giant, winged MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object) escapes and disappears who-knows-where.

But let’s start at the beginning. Godzilla’s “origin story” gets a reboot, along with his appearance. It seems that Godzilla just sort of “happened” in the Pacific, and all those U.S. nuclear weapons’ tests in the 1950s were really just attempts to destroy him. (Miserable failures, of course.)

Flash forward to 1999, and Joe Brody is the supervisor of a fictional nuclear power plant in Japan.  When mysterious earthquakes in the Philippines cause tremors and a nuclear accident at Brody’s plant, lives are lost. Brody’s wife, Sandra, is one of the fatalities, and losing her sends Brody’s mind over the edge.

The people parts of this Godzilla movie were better than average, I have to admit. The Kirk/Spock death scene remake with Brody and his wife (with the wife, Sandra, playing the Spock part where she dies of radiation poisoning on the other side of the glass from Brody) was pretty good. Fifteen years later, the couple’s grownup son then goes on to fight the monsters indirectly responsible for killing his parents. This gives the human element to the story some nice closure.

However, this is a Godzilla movie, so let’s examine the monstery bits. First of all, this Godzilla is the biggest one yet – 350 feet versus the original 100 or so feet – and this Godzilla’s face is reportedly a combination of a bear’s face, a dog’s face and an eagle’s face. Whatever the stats are, they give the Big Guy a face and head that make him look like the monster version of a pencil-neck geek. *shudder* godzilla_empire_reveal

 

The MUTOs are a weird attempt to drag in some of the many “auxiliary” monsters that populated all the Godzilla movies after the first one. The two in this movie – and they are in this movie a LOT more than Godzilla is – just kind of appear out of nowhere in the beginning of the movie. Two giant “spores” are found, only one just sits there, dormant, while the other has “hatched” and scurried off into the sea. (Also, one is assumed to be male, and the other female, based on ….?) Their origins are left to the imagination, but the fact that they spend most of the movie trying to get together in San Francisco to do “the nasty” had me hoping they weren’t siblings, because, Hello, they were in the same “nest.” Ugh. Anyway, it seems there’s a psychic connection between the MUTOs and Godzilla – also, mercifully, unexplained – that has all three of the beasties show up in the same place, at the same time.

There is the requisite “epic battle” between Godzilla and the MUTOs. Godzilla bashes the male MUTO’s head upside a building, and then kills the female MUTO by pouring his hot, atomic breath down her throat in a disturbingly sexual scene. (Not cool, Big G.)

Finally, can anyone explain why the military kept throwing atomic missiles, bombs, and piñatas at these MUTOs — despite ample evidence that the creatures were gobbling up that atomic shit for breakfast, lunch and dinner?