Snow: NOT a Winter Wonderland

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I’ve gone through a complete cycle of emotions after reading Snow, by Ronald Malfi. At first I couldn’t stop comparing it to one of the earlier selections I’ve had to read for my Monsters course, that being Breeding Ground. Since I wasn’t really fond of Breeding Ground, I decided that I didn’t like Snow. Then, while pondering my dislike of Snow, I realized that Snow really wasn’t that bad. Then it started to snow for real around here (just a spit, but still) and I decided that I don’t like real snow, but that Snow the book was growing on me. I’ve now concluded that Snow was a decent one-time read, with characters that I actually liked somewhat, a unique monster, and enough shooting and explosions to keep me moving toward the somewhat satisfactory ending.

I don’t really like recapping the story in my posts: these are really supposed to be all about the monsters, but I also realize that not everyone who’s reading this has read the book, so here’s the tiny recap: Main dude down on his luck is stuck at the airport over Christmas because of a terrible storm in the Midwest. He meets up with a woman who is also stuck, and together with another random couple (read: CANNON FODDER) they rent a four-wheel-drive and attempt to drive from O’Hare to DeMoines, Iowa. Of course they can’t see, the roads suck, they almost hit a creepy dude in the road and end up stuck in this town, that they quickly find out has been taken over by translucent snow-creatures with sickle-hands that turn humans into pod-people-puppets or eat them. Survival ensues.

The monsters Malfi created in Snow I thought were pretty unique. You kind of infer by the end of the novel that they’re either some sort of alien or from another dimension (there’s a weird electric-eye-cloud-possibly-portal that floats around that I’ll get to in a minute). The monsters are hard to see on their own; they appear as drifts of snow, with maybe a weird shimmer here and there, and they don’t always behave like snow. Mainly, they move. Normal snow usually only falls, not move and swirl independently. Mutant snow would be terrifying on its own ( I think about how bad East TN is about snow, even when it’s not even an inch. These guys would shit their pants around mutant snow); but the truly scary part is when the snow gets close. It can concentrate just enough to solidify its arms which have nasty sickle blades as hands. They hook these into your shoulders and move you out, then they move in. In the book they’re described as “skin-suits” or “puppets”. That would scare the bejebus out of me. So you have mutant snow tornadoes, puppet people, oh and the beasties can band together and make a giant snow monster. Eat your heart out, Abominable Snow Man!

Now I have to talk about the similarities between Snow and Breeding Ground. Weird monsters, plucky band of survivors, funky weather, and a weird fascination with sex. But Snow does all these things in a much more believable, not as weird way. I liked the characters a lot better in Snow. The main guy, Todd, fully admitted to being a bit of a douchebag, but was trying to make things right by his son. He had a lot more depth than Matt did. And when Todd finds himself attracted to Kate, the woman he meets at the airport and hitches a ride with, he questions his emotions and calls himself out for being dumb and thinking with his lower regions in the middle of a catastrophe. At least he’s unattached and isn’t mourning his pregnant girlfriend that just died the day before. Stupid Matt.

At least the funky weather makes a lot more sense in here. You KNOW the creatures need it to be cold; the book is called SNOW for Pete’s sake. When the clouds started to look funky I was worried that it would never get more than a nod like the weird weather in Breeding Ground. But then we see the electrical-storm-cloud thing, that tends to move. You find out that it acts like a portal, and is most likely communicating directions to the puppet people. It also has rendered all the electronics in the town useless. Good thing Todd brings his trusty laptop!

My phone works Bro!

My phone works Bro!

Finally, what the heck is it with people in terrible situations thinking about their past sexual relationships? Is it the fear of death that makes us think of the act of creation? I have never been in a situation where I’m about to be eaten by a giant spider or ridden by a snow ghost, so I can’t say that isn’t what I would be thinking about. But I just found it jarring in this book, and whenever one of these sections popped up, it took me out of the story. Trying to relieve the tension maybe? I don’t think that’s a good way to do it.

Oh, and I forgot to mention. The snow makes kids’ faces implode so they are completely just a bubble of skin. Creepy and gross. More so than anything else in the book.

So Snow has pretty creepy monsters that are definitely unique enough to stand on their own, even if the actual premise of people surviving against crazy creatures wanting to end the world isn’t all that original. I will never look at snowdrifts or kids in those huge bubble parkas in the same way ever again.

Towns across the Midwest all saw something similar.

Towns across the Midwest all saw something similar.

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Relic: Plants Make You Craaaaazzzyy!!!

The Relic by David Moscati

Relic seems like such a classic kind of story, it should be done more often. You get a touch of Indiana Jones, mixed with Theseus and the Minotaur, to equal Night at the Museum. With body parts. Sounds good to me! ( Oh and there are SPOILERS!)

I love stories having to do with mysterious cultures and their monsters/gods. Relic’s monster comes from a thought-to-be extinct tribe in the Amazon, a curse centered around an old idol discovered and shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History. The monster comes along with it, a beast that could be ape-like, lizard-like, or big cat-like (the book including the cover hints at something like a pissed-off gorilla with raptor claws, while the movie has this apey-lizardy thing that looks badass). It makes its home in the labyrinthine tunnels under the museum, stalking its prey. This giant scary ape-lizard hunts you, rips you apart and then noses around in your brain to eat this tiny little delicate part that is almost like a drug to it. It’s like a chocoholic with preternatural strength going nuts in a Godiva store and ripping everything apart just to get to the cherry cheesecake truffles, because they’re addicted to them. Only there’s not as much human carnage.

Relic2

The book never gives a great description of the monster itself, almost pulling a movie trick of keeping the beast in the shadows. Even when Margo finally confronts it in the end she doesn’t get a good look at it. I really enjoyed the way the monster looked in the movie (though the movie itself isn’t all the great). It looks truly horrifying, and can definitely rip you in half without batting an eye. The fact that there is almost human intelligence behind all that power and hunger, and you can see why everyone in the museum would be terrified. All of the science behind the monster’s creation lost me a little bit though. It has to do with these specific plants that grew in the area where the tribe was from, and the enzymes from the plant were like a virus that mutated the tissue, or something crazy like that. And that enzyme was similar to the hormone secreted by the hypothalamus that the monster needs to nosh on in order to survive. Basically, the plants mutate animal tissue. Or human tissue. In the book, none of the brilliant scientists ever figure that out, except for one guy that of course wants to use it (enter Book Two). I liked in the movie at least they figure out at the end that the monster used to actually be a person.

The setting itself is great too: a huge, old museum, built on top of an even older structure full of twisty tunnels is the perfect setting for a more modern monster story. It reminds me of the old monster story of the Minotaur, roaming around his maze, stalking his meals while they haphazardly wander around getting more lost by the minute. The monster is obviously not lost. It’s not until Pendergrast produces blueprints that the monster loses some of its power.

All in all I enjoyed Relic. While I am not rushing out to read Reliquary, I think the book stands on its own as a different take of the monster in the maze story, with an actually unique monster in the middle.

The Thing: Proving I’m Still a Big Wuss

john_carpenter__s_the_thing_by_thomwade-d30n8g5

It’s Halloween. Yay! I love Halloween. Pumpkins, ghoulies, little goblins coming to my door for candy (though I only got 4, bummer!). I got to dress up in some cute witchy couture for work. I love it. So of course what’s a better day to watch a scary movie like John Carpenter’s The Thing?

Any day. I hated watching this movie.

I didn’t hate the movie. Actually now that I have seen it, I will say that it is extremely effective at what it does, and it is very well done, especially for the time that it came out. But…I knew I would hate watching this. I knew that I would get scared. I didn’t expect to feel like I was going to get sick, but maybe that was my own damn fault for eating dinner during the first ten minutes. Before the bloody chunks started to fly.

While Ash in Alien may have complemented the alien for being the perfect organism, that android probably never ran into the Thing. The Thing is actually the perfect organism. It can assimilate you and become a perfect replica. It’s genius. You never know who its going to be, or what. It just can’t be something inanimate. It can sneak among your group, laugh to itself as you accuse each other of being monsters, then pick you off one by one. And if you don’t burn the entire thing…well let’s just say don’t let the body parts run away.

I’m getting nauseous just thinking about this.

thethingmac

One image sticks out to me, and it’s a mirror of the image that made me cry when I saw the remake/prequel when it came out in 2011. In John Carpenter’s version it’s even more haunting, because it’s dead. We think. Maybe. But it’s this grotesque shape, too many arms, too many fingers, drenched in goo. The face is two faces, like cojoined twins joined at the cheek, sharing one tongue that snakes between them.

God that’s a horrible way to live. Can you imagine if you still had conscious thought while that was happening to you? Well I think that’s what’s implied when we see the same mashed-together faces in the new version. They’re moving and screaming and you can just tell that they’re in agony.

Wow. This is the hardest blog post I’ve ever had to write. I am usually not this big a weenie, and can handle an okay amount of gore. But, while I didn’t cry watching this (like I did with the other one), recalling my revulsion is just making my  stomach really hurt. And I’m regretting those Swedish Fish I snuck out of the Halloween bucket.

photo(2)

I am a big wuss and I cannot lie.

 

So, okay, in short, excellent movie. Kurt Russell is epic as always. I wanted him to get all Jack Burton on the Thing’s ass. Wilford Brimley minus his mustache took me a minute. But he was also epic. The monster is gory, gross, sneaky, and kind of wins in a way at the end of the movie. But you don’t really know. Because its very ambiguous. I’d like to think Kurt Russell fried the bastard. That’s what I’m going to tell myself when I go to bed after taking some Tums and hugging my teddy bear.

Those of you in my Monsters class may remember when we were asked the question “what is the scariest monster to you?” The Thing is that for me. And it still is.

The Wolfman: Still Better Than the Movie

wolfman 2

You’ve heard it a million times before: the book is always better than the movie. I wasn’t quite sure if the same held true for a movie novelization book, based on the actual screenplay of the movie. In the case of The Wolfman, novelized by Jonathan Maberry, the old adage still holds true. And to make sure I could actually say that, after I read the book, I watched the movie.

Let me start with the book, and of course the monster, our dear old friend the Wolfman. The idea of the werewolf is one of the instantly-known monsters, right up there with vampires and witches. The story is set in the late 1800s, giving it that distinct Gothic feel that classic monster stories deserve, at least in my opinion. I felt that Maberry really tried to make the story feel older, and give it that decidedly Gothic air. The language he used for the most part felt right for the time period, but still simple enough and not too flowery for modern readers. There was only a phrase here or there that made me stop and think, “Hmm, that doesn’t sound like something he would say.”

Lawrence Talbot’s transformation into the monster was painful to read, and rightfully so. When the man’s bones break and reform, his limbs and mouth elongate, I was squirming in my seat trying not to picture it in my head or hear the sounds that must have made. And once the transformation was complete, there really isn’t a shred of human left. He turns into a giant wolfy monster man that is as comfortable on two legs as he is on four, that is made to slash and kill and feed and not give a damn who or what he’s slashing and killing. And I am glad for that. Werewolves should be that way, not just giant versions of what’s in the wild. I don’t always agree when the lycanthrope can still think semi-rationally. They are killing machines, working for a cruel mistress in the moon, and they really shouldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything except blood and food. Now I have to mention the movie here for a minute. I loved how they portrayed Lawrence’s transformations, especially when he’s in the asylum strapped in the chair. You hear those nasty popping sounds, see the stuff crawling under his skin, and the blood that comes out when his jaw reforms and his claws pop out. But once he’s fully transformed…I don’t know, I thought his face would be more terrifying. I guess this is another nod toward the original, but I didn’t think with all our moderness that in the end the Wolfman’s face would still kind of look like a guy in wolf makeup. And I thought Anthony Hopkins’ makeup was better, but maybe it was because he was grey and not black. I don’t know. I will stick with my own imagination on this one, because that is a much scarier version.

wolfman meme

In the end, I think the idea is there, and the story really pays homage to the classic, and captures all the scary elements that you think of when you think of werewolves. It’s dark and bleak in that classic Gothic way, and delightfully gory to boot. But don’t bother with the movie. Read the book, and let your own mental images of the Wolfman color your dreams.

P.S. Fun fact for those who have seen the movie: Talbot Hall was filmed at the same location they used for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. Maybe instead of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies it should have been Pride and Prejudice and Werewolves. Darcy as the Wolfman? Food for thought 🙂

Now picture this all busted and dark and gloomy.

Now picture this all busted and dark and gloomy.

ALIEN: So Iconic it needs all caps.

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I am about to probably give up a little bit of my geek cred when I say this, but I have to do it: this is my first ever time watching Alien. I always avoided it because I’m just not that into scary and gory, and what did I think of whenever I thought of Alien? Chest-bursting, acid-drippy, wet glistening grossness. So when I finally sat down to watch it, and had my blanket about an inch from my face just in case, I discovered that, although I still (delightfully) got scared, the goopy goreness wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. Maybe I’ve been desensitized a little bit by this point in my life. There was still grossness, to be sure, but it was grossness I could handle. And I’m glad I could, so I could finally see this iconic flick and enjoy it for what it is: a classic Sci-Fi terror-fest in space.

Yay we made it, yay!

Yay we made it, yay!

The alien really is a perfect organism, as Ash the android scientist puts it. Its various life stages pull at so many different base fears, it’s genius really. First it starts as a creepy egg, that ominously flowers open to let the spider-looking face-hugger out to, naturally, latch onto your face, sticking its nasty alien juice tube down your throat. Then a pint-sized monstrosity bursts out of you, rending your chest into a soup of meaty death. The bugger gets big, bleeds acid, and kills you so quick you don’t even know. Or it strings you up in tons of alien goo and saves you for later. What the hell is there NOT to fear in all that? Even the form of the alien is something instantly recognizable yet foreign; because the alien is a Xenomorph, when it comes from a human host it has just enough qualities to suggest humanity, even though it also has enough alien features to be super scary (like that extra mouth/tongue thing, that’s probably the ickiest part to me).

"Come on man, I just want a hug!"

“Come on man, I just want a hug!”

It was nice to actually see the original inspiration behind so many good Sci-Fi horror stories, including the Dead Space games. Those games scared the crap out of me. I didn’t need my mom in the room like I did with Silent Hill back in the day, though it helped when my boyfriend was home. The monsters in there, called Necromorphs, mutated out of dead tissue into something monstrous and alien and very very nasty. The first one happens on a mining vessel in deep space. Sound familiar? Dead Space is the video game that the Alien franchise really deserved, and not embarrassments like Aliens: Colonial Marines. I’ll talk more about Dead Space when we watch The Thing in a couple weeks. These games are really the love child of Alien and The Thing.

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

"Okay okay I'll play your game!"

“Okay okay I’ll play your game!”

Anyway, I’m glad I finally saw Alien. It was a fun get-my-pants-scared-off kind of movie, that is still as poignant today as it must have been when it first came out in 1979. I was 1. My boyfriend was 4. Alien was the first movie he ever saw in the theaters. It really explains a lot.

World War Z: A Monster Book?

 

Z cover

I’ve had to sit on this one a few days and chew on it before attempting to write this post. First of all, this book is awesome. The sometimes-correct Natty Ultra has been begging me to read this for ever, since it’s his favorite book, and I just never quite got around to it. I was sure it was pretty good; he usually has excellent taste, but I’m just not really into zombies. He tells me, “It’s not really about zombies; it’s about the human factor.” And after reading it, I found he was absolutely right. Which brings me to my conundrum when writing about this book for a class on Monsters: are the monsters the stars of this book, enough for it to qualify being part of a class on Monsters?

Yes. And no.

(LOOK OUT! SPOILERS!)

I think the format of the book what was threw me at first, about whether this book was indeed, for lack of a better term, monster-y enough. It’s set up as a series of interviews of some key and not so key people that made it through World War Z. In his intro Max Brooks clearly states that his interviews were more about “the human factor” than anything else. It’s about the kinds of stories people want to hear about wars. And this is most definitely about a war. It’s a war not against other countries, but against people that we knew at one moment, changed forever into a danger that you cannot reason with, just destroy. But it’s still a war. And to me at least, it reads like a war novel.

Maybe part of the other problem I had is that with a lot of monster tales, often you get into the head of the monster. Of course with the trend of human-type monsters like vampires, the monster has enough of a brain for us to get into . Not so with zombies. Unless you have a unique case like Warm Bodies, you’re just not getting into the head of a zombie. And a lot of the survivors’ tales have to deal with the human “monsters” that inevitably crop up in this kind of scenario, just as much as the actual zombies. So you instantly ask yourself, “is this book about zombie monsters, or humans as monsters, or both?” And which monster features more prevalently?

The zombies in World War Z have enough classic elements to make them instantly familiar, but the setting in which they’re placed, and they way that they are used make them terrifying. These zombies are the slower kind, with some interviews talking about exploiting their slowness in order to get away. Essentially, you can outrun or even out walk a zombie (though I swear I read about them running somewhere in the beginning of the book, but I can’t seem to find it, so maybe I was hallucinating it. I did read much of it during the wee hours of the morning.). I think sheer numbers, and surprise, is what allowed the zombies to take over so drastically in the beginning. They were everywhere before people knew it. And if you live in a bustling metropolitan or even suburban area, how likely are you to be able to avoid all those dead people? It makes me actually be thankful for currently living where I do in East TN. I think about DE, and the stretch of 95 from Baltimore to NYC that is pretty much entirely civilization, shopping malls, towns and smaller cities all interconnected into the bigger pulsing cities, and I think why it would be apt for those places to be the first to be lost. You just couldn’t sneak through that many. And when one gets a whiff of you, it moans loud enough for the dead to hear, pun intended. There’s no running from the swarm.

"Let me in to  WalMart!"

Maybe I’m being a little controversial in saying that I don’t think this book is a monster book, or just only a monster book. It doesn’t need to be solely about the monsters in order to still be scary. I am not completely convinced that World War Z is enough of a monster book to be included next to stories that are completely, obviously about the monsters. World War Z, to me, is several kinds of books in one: a war novel, alternate history, survival horror, and yes, a monster book too. Whatever it is to you, you should still read it. In the end, whatever kind of book you think it is, it’s just a great read.

P.S. I purposely chose not to mention the movie in here, which is so drastically different from the book it really is its own creature. I think there are several good points to be made when comparing the two, and I would even go so far to say that the movie was more about the monsters than the book. But we’re talking about the book, so I’ll leave the movie for another post.

 

z pitt 2

I’m not afraid o’ no zombie!

P.P.S. Brad Pitt is good at fighting zombies. He can be on my survival team.

The Yattering and Jack: Dance Turkey Dance!

So The Yattering and Jack was the first thing I actually read by Clive Barker, and I have to say this was what made me really appreciate his way with words. There was still that crazy head-hopping that I mentioned in Rawhead Rex, but he totally made up for it with the turkey. More on that later, and if you don’t want any more spoilers, STOP READING. For now, anyway.

The Yattering is one of my favorite kinds of demon portrayals. Poor little Yattering just wants to please his masters and drive his target, one Jack J. Polo, completely insane. Easy, right? Throw a few things, toast a cat or two, whisper nastiness in his ear. What the little demon doesn’t know is that Polo is completely on to him, and is playing a game of his own.

I really felt bad for the little thing. Once again we get a story from the monster’s POV, but this time the monster is the demonic equivalent of a child, who doesn’t even know what Heaven really is, or why he’s really doing what he’s doing. He was bred for purpose, and that was it. But the Yattering has a child’s curiosity and wants to know why why why. Instead he just gets boredom. And man, I would go crazy too if all I had to do all day was putter around the house, wait for the mailman, torture the cat, and leer at the naked lady across the street. What I want to know is, why didn’t the Yattering watch TV while he waited for Polo to come home after work? He obviously could touch things since he broke most of Polo’s belongings. If I were a little demon stuck in that situation, I’d be watching daytime talk shows. It would have been funny if the Yattering got addicted to soaps or Oprah.

Anyway I have to talk about the turkey scene, which to me was the hands-down best scene in the story. The Yattering is at its wits’ end and is launching a full scale assault on Polo and his daughters during Christmas. His brilliant idea is to make the Christmas turkey escape from the oven and try to fly away. I absolutely love the imagery of this delectable looking turkey, complete with a coating of bacon, stumbling around clumsy and headless as it launches toward the family. The words that Barker uses to describe it are at once grotesque and delectable, making the reader not sure whether they want to run from the turkey or eat it. It’s the one image that sticks in my head whenever I think about this story. The turkey certainly isn’t the monster, but it is a little terrifying. And delicious.

Well the poor Yattering doesn’t win in the end. Polo ends up incensing the creature to the point where it breaks all its rules and comes out side to squish Polo’s head. As soon as it does that the creature is now bound to Polo. Polo effectively beats Hell at its own game, and the Yattering becomes the prize. The reader certainly empathizes with the Yattering, even though you feel like you should route for Polo. I can’t quite decide if Polo is actually evil, or just trying to live his life in peace. You get the sense that he’s done his research and knows quite a bit more about Hell and its denizens than he ever lets on in the story. So is the Yattering actually the protagonist who meets a tragic end? I guess that’s up to you to decide. I think so. I rooted for the little guy.

***I am posting this from my iPad, so I don’t have the funny pics that I’d like to include with this post, but I will most likely update it later with some gems 🙂

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