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.

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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 🙂

30 Days of Night: Far Away From Sparkles

This week’s reading is the first volume of 30 Days of Night. I first read this graphic novel when the (pretty bad) movie was coming out. It was always on the “to read” list but I’d never gotten around to it until then. Rereading it now, I was again more engaged by the visuals than the actual story. That probably happens a lot in comics, while the super successful ones have  the perfect balance of great story/arresting visuals. The story wasn’t enough to peak my interest to read the other volumes, though I think the world they’ve built is interesting. But really, we’re here to talk about the vampires, so let’s get to it.

First of all, thank you Mr. Steve Niles for not making these vampires flouncy, or sexy. For a raw story like this, in such a brutal setting as Alaska, having pretty boy vamps just wouldn’t work. Not that I mind pretty boy vamps. A girl can always use a sexy-but-scary vamp in her life. But for this kind of story, where the vamps are basically going on a feeding frenzy since they don’t have to worry about the sun for 30 days, the monsters should look like monsters. And they do, especially thanks to the art by Ben Templesmith. The vampires look appropriately human and not-human at the same time. Teeth are jagged and pointy. The older ones echo the classic Nosferatu look. And that’s fine by me.  One thing I am especially fond of was their screechy noise. It makes the vampires that much less human, and more animalistic, which works since they’re about to gorge themselves like a pack of lions on fenced-in antelope. Now, I did see the movie when it came out, and they pretty much made the vamps sound like the Nazgul from Lord of the Rings. So my friend and I ran around the movie theater parking lot screeching at the top of our lungs. It was one a.m. And I was 29. Didn’t matter. Screechy vampires are cool. And my dear friend who will remain nameless, does the hands-down best Nazgul impression I’ve ever heard 🙂

Though this is also scary:

Anyway, getting back to the book, we also have another classic human becoming the monster plot, though this time Eban, the town’s sheriff, chooses to do this of his own accord, rather than unconsciously evolving into a monster like our good old friend Neville from I Am Legend. Eban willfully injects himself with vamp blood because the only thing he’s seen do damage to the vamps were other vamps. A sound theory, if a little radical, but they are desperate humans, and Eban their protector. The one thing that I don’t buy is that newly vamped Eban could actually (spoilers!!!!) kill a super old and powerful vamp. Maybe it’s my years of being wound up in vamp rules from White Wolf and the rest, but I just don’t see how even a desperate baby vampire could actually kill an old vamp, even with a lucky shot. The believability went out the window. Well, what believability you have reading about vampires in Alaska.

No vamps biting on me!

No vamps biting on me!

So all in all, this is good. Vampires behaving like vampires, capitalizing on what in theory sounds like a great idea, feasting on a small town way up yonder when the sun goes down for a whole month. I’d be scared to death to live in a town like that, dark for a whole month. If the vamps don’t get you, seasonal affective disorder probably would. Hey I wonder if any of those people suffered from that, and had those special lights. Would those lights have worked on the vamps? Did Eban turn into a vamp for no reason? Dun dun DUUUUNNNN!!

Sorry. Been a long day.

If you haven’t read this, you should, just for the last few pages. Really poignant, and really my favorite part of the story. It’s why I love comics, and the emotions they can pull out with a simple image and a well-placed word or two.

Rawhead Rex: Eating Babies Since Time Began

Finally, a story that hits all the creep, gross and horror buttons for me in one little package. I don’t say a neat package, because if you want to get into the technical side, “Rawhead Rex” is a mess of head-hopping reminiscent of a whack-a-mole machine. But we’re talking about monsters here, and Rawhead is definitely that. The more ancient the evil, the better it is. And Rawhead, bless his ugly mug, delivers evil in spades.

So Rawhead gets unearthed from his prison by some unsuspecting town folk guy, who of course bites it literally moments after first viewing this monstrosity he unwittingly helped escape. Rawhead definitely looks the way a boogie-monster that eats kids should look: inhumanly tall and strong, meaty face that looks like the moon (coincidentally this is happening around the “harvest festival”). Nasty sharp teeth that come out of his gums when he’s ready to eat or attack. For some reason I picture the way a shark’s mouth looks, with all those teeth, and rows of them. Teeth are scary. Teeth made to tear more succulent meat are even more scary.

I’m not going to recap the whole story. You should go and read it, if you haven’t (though of course some of the people reading this blog are along with me in the RIG and had better of read it 😉 ). Needless to say, Rawhead goes on a rampage, and kills a lot of people, before finally being brought down by an equally ancient power, the Mother Goddess. We’ll get into that later.

Don’t judge, but I’m glad that Clive Barker actually shows Rawhead eating kids. That’s what he does right? And not only do we get to see him eat the kids, we get to be in his head while he enjoys it, like he’s dining at a five star restaurant. I know this is probably more in movies than in books, but there’s some kind of rule that you don’t kill the kid, or the dog. We can already thank Richard Matheson for the dog part, but now we get the kids from Barker, with some eloquent details that just make it sound so deliciously evil. And yes, I used delicious on purpose. Rawhead is just doing what he does best, what he was supposedly put on this earth to do, and that’s terrorize us by taking something that is more precious than our own lives, and that is the lives of our children.

Not quite as scary, but still...

Not quite as scary, but still…

I love that we get into Rawhead’s POV and hear him puzzle out this new world while trying to balance his appetite and his need for destruction. He has to learn about cars and their “blood” and uses that knowledge to set a ton of fires. He learns to fear guns as a new weapon, but isn’t overly concerned by them. It’s always nice to hear why the monsters are driven toward what they are doing. In Rawhead’s case, it’s just how he was built. He is the ancient king of his Wild Domain, and humans are there to prey on. And that’s how it should be, in his opinion. I also love that the thing that finally makes him afraid is his antithesis, the Mother Goddess that is the source of life and not death. Even though it’s been a long time since humans worshiped her, her image still has sway over Rawhead, weakening him enough for the humans to take him down.

One thing that definitely grossed me out, even more than the eating of kids, was Declan’s “baptism” by Rawhead’s piss. While pee is not the highest on my list of bodily fluids that gross me out, people drinking said pee is still pretty gross. And reading about it while eating lunch was definitely not a good idea.

Reading The Books of Blood collection is my first experience with Clive Barker, and while the POV-hopping is annoying, the way he uses description in almost a beautiful way, to describe some horrible things, is awesome. Pairing eloquence with dread makes the horror story that much more sublime. “Rawhead Rex” is a great example of a monster that parents would use to scare their children into behaving, never realizing that once long ago, that monster was real, and was only waiting for the opportunity to be free to rule his domain again.

Breeding Ground: …whaaa?

This week’s adventure in Monster Mashing puts us in a small English town, that becomes Breeding Ground, by Sarah Pinborough. While spiders creep me out A LOT, and telepathic mutant spiders that grow inside humans and burst out Alien-style from women’s wombs REALLY creeps me out, there was enough WTF moments in here to diminish the creep factor and make me just shake my head when I was done. Literally. That’s what I did. I closed the book, and shook my head. Then I immediately tried to describe the craziness to my boyfriend, who also got that glazed-over WTF? look too.

It's reading my MIND!!!

It’s reading my MIND!!!

The story is vaguely typical. Main character guy Matt is happy with his girlfriend, then she gets pregnant. Things are okay, but she gets fat. Too fat. Too fat to just be pregnant. Then she changes and gets creepy, gross stuff happens, and Matt is out of there. Comes across telepathic mutant spider things, that have apparently burst out of all the women in the town. Eventually he meets up with other survivors, including a young woman with her little sister that are apparently not affected. The try to survive, blah blah, end up at a military compound with some more survivors, everything looks bleak, the weather changes, there are suicides, and murder by mutant spiders, and then male spiders start to appear out of the blue, and then…that’s it. Oh and there’s a deaf dog.

My biggest beef with this story is that there is no reason whatsoever for this to be happening in the first place. It just…happens. The closest thing you get to even a hint of a reason is that the scientist that the survivors meet in the military compound says the reason is genetically-modified food. COME ON. I just can’t buy it. Sure that stuff is scary, and who knows what kind of effect it has and will have on our bodies if we consume mass quantities of it. But growing mutant-spiders that burst out of you then cocoon you from the inside out to eat you? Doesn’t even have a hint of plausibility to me. I would have been more content if there was a hint, even a vague hint, of alien abduction, or a crazy experiment gone wrong, or something from the past coming back all mutated. But I don’t buy into that excuse, and I really hoped the scientist was just being crazy or dumb. But he wasn’t. Oh and I don’t think it explains much about the weather either; the weather suddenly turns almost rain-forest like. It pours tepid water every day and it gets really humid and hot. I’m supposing that these conditions are great for the spiders. But outside of people noticing that the weather is weird, no one makes any kind of connection between the spiders and the weather. None that I saw anyway. Maybe I missed something. I’m not going to reread it to find out.

There were a lot of other things that bothered me, almost too much to get into them all. Matt was apparently a total pimp in this book, starting out with his girlfriend, then moving on to survivor Katie in mere days after his girlfriend gives spider-birth. Then after unfortunateness happens to Katie Matt ends up with Rebecca the deaf lady and gets her preggers.

Really?

Add to that the whole deaf-blood-acts-like-acid-to-the-spiders thing, and the fact that no one has a cell phone or a computer (a minor detail to be sure but it still bothered me), and then the male spiders start popping out of all the men that are left except for the old guy George and Matt, our red-blooded virile protagonist that is in perfect heath and should have become a spider incubator with the rest of them. Maybe being intimate with the deaf girl gave him immunity? Who knows. All these questions made my head hurt.

You'll be scared when they come out of YOUR FACE.

You’ll be scared when they come out of YOUR FACE.

It really sounds like I hated this book. And I did really bitch about it when I was done ( and in the previous paragraphs). But you know, I still read it in two days. When I wasn’t reading it, I thought about where the story was going. And I still got the tenseness of the atmosphere, and the creepiness of the whole thing. Especially the four chapters, when things are just slowly starting to change; watching Chloe’s slow transformation as she grew fatter and changed was more horrifying for me than anything else. So even if, in the end, I was left scratching my head, I do have to admit that it was still an eerie and compelling read. Minus the part about the GM foods.

The Funeral: One Happening Place!

This week we’re taking a look at a short story called “The Funeral”, written by Richard Matheson (of last week’s I am Legend fame). This short story is a complete opposite in tone and theme than I am Legend. Where as the longer novella really dealt with the concept of who exactly was the monster, and loneliness and desperation in the end times, “The Funeral” read to me like a who’s who of creepy crawlies, just out to celebrate and support each other. And what better way for them to celebrate than by going to a funeral?

funeral

Poor Morton Silkline, the funeral director. He gets thrown into it right away, having to plan an extravagant funeral for a Mister Asper, who actually comes into his office to do all of his arrangements. The guy is physically there, so he’s definitely not dead, or at least not yet. Silkline can’t even fathom what this is all about, but it’s made pretty clear the night of the funeral, when Asper comes in with a witch, a creepy dude that keeps saying “tasty”, a hunchback named Ygor (of course) and other classic spooky characters. The “funeral” goes off with only a slight hitch and an almost brawl with lightning involved, but the overall festivities pleased Asper so much he recommended the funeral home to another of his “friends.”

One of the great details of this story is the description of Morton Silkline. I actually thought for a moment that he was the one that was part of the creepy-crawly brigade. His simpering manners, and his “liver-colored” eyes instantly set him apart for me. Though, to be honest, I think there is something about working at a funeral home that makes you straddle the line between here and there. I quickly realized though that he was the odd one of the bunch, being very human, and (pardon the pun) extremely mortified by the funeral and its guests.

This looks like a party to me!

This looks like a party to me!

This story feels like a party, or a high school reunion, more than an actual funeral. This may sound weird, but it kind of reminded me of the movie Hotel Transylvania. I could totally see these guys celebrating their friend, then having a party, or a wake of sorts, where there’s all sorts of nasty nibbles that creepies like to eat, and funky dance moves, and the occasional row. And I love that kind of vision. It’s the “monsters are people too” thought, or at least “monsters were once people too”.

Why wouldn’t they band together, compare notes, share experiences, be friends, or at least have tolerable working relationships? We as human beings do the same thing. And if one of us had an important party planned, like a wedding, or a shower, or a graduation, we’d want our friends there to support us.

Hopefully our friends wouldn’t throw lightning around or try to eat any of the other guests.