New Perspective: A Review of Clive Barker’s “The Yattering and Jack”

“The Yattering and Jack” is a short story by Clive Barker that centers around the Yattering, a lower demon tasked with driving Jack Polo insane because his mother promised the demon Beelzebub his soul, and she never delivered. However, Jack appears oblivious to all of the Yattering’s attempts. As the story progresses, we learn that Jack isn’t as oblivious as he’s letting on, and he is a worthy opponent for the Yattering. Barker uses perspective and blends horror and humor to create a unique and effective monster story in this unconventional take on a demonic haunting.

While some horror stories include the antagonist’s perspective, I have yet to read a story that uses perspective between the monster and a victim in a more effective manner than “The Yattering and Jack.” Nearly the first third of the story is told strictly from the Yattering’s perspective as he tries and fails again and again to drive Jack insane. Only after the Yattering decides its last chance will be “Christ’s Mass,” when Jack’s family will be home, do we begin to get Jack’s perspective of the situation and the game he’s playing. He’s aware of the lower demon and intends to defeat it by trying to drive it insane through his indifference. By holding back on Jack’s perspective, Barker is able to further develop the Yattering before their final showdown. We learn the Yattering went through significant training to torment “client,” and he works under a demon named Beelzebub. We also learn that this lower demon cannot go outside the house or touch his victims. Through telling the story from the Yattering’s perspective for the first third of the story, Barker not only characterizes the lower demon, but also enables us as readers to understand his frustration.

The way Barker uses perspective also adds to the unique balance of humor and horror in the story. The first third of the story, where the Yattering tries and fails again and again to affect Jack, is rather humorous. The idea that all this poor lower demon wants to do is drive this oblivious man insane was full of absurd humor, which becomes funnier when we learn that Jack is actually aware of what the Yattering is doing and is intentionally ignoring it in the hope of making the lower demon crazy. While Yattering does horrible things like murder cats, everything is painted in a humorous light though his exasperated perspective. The horror only really takes the driver’s seat when Jack’s daughters come home for the holidays, and the Yattering torments them. By this point, we are privy to both the lower demon and Jack’s perspectives. Both fully intend to drive the other mad. The conflict comes to a head in a scene where, after the Yattering explodes their Christmas tree, Jack tells his terrified family that he’s going for a walk. The Yattering tries to keep him inside, but with the help of his daughter, Jack escapes and tricks the Yattering to not only leave the house, but also try to choke him. Since he broke not one, but two of the cardinal demon rules, he must now serve Jack. How Barker uses the perspectives of the Yattering and Jack to further blend horror and humor ultimately elevates this tale to a unique and effective monster story.

While “The Yattering and Jack” is not a conventional demonic story, it is an effective monster story. Because Barker starts the story from the perspective of the antagonistic monster and maintains this perspective through the first third of the story, we are able to understand the lower demon as well as its limitations. The inclusion of Jack’s perspective raises the stakes and helps simultaneously further the humor and then transition to more of the horror of the situation, particularly when the Yattering begins tormenting Jack’s family. The final confrontation is so satisfying because we understand the Yattering, the monster, and its weaknesses as well as Jack, the victim, and what he has to lose. “The Yattering and Jack” by Clive Barker underscores the importance of perspective and how humor and horror can work together to create an effective monster story.

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A Good Old Silver Bullet: A Review of Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf

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Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf revolves around a werewolf who is murdering people and animals in Tarker’s Mill, Maine, during the full moon each month. The book is divided by the twelve months of the year, each part almost functioning as its own short story that connects to a larger story more and more as the months pass. Similar to Creepshow, this book reads like a love letter to classic horror comics like Tales from the Crypt with all the charm and horror of the stories that inspired it. While I am partial to Stephen King, I found Cycle of the Werewolf to be an effective monster story through how King uses different aspects of the story, like its unique structure and characters, to develop and characterize the werewolf and build to its eventual defeat.

The first several months reveal the strength of the werewolf as well as how helpless the citizens of Tarker’s Mill are against him.  In the first few months, each victim is murdered without much resistance. However, in classic horror story style, each of these characters seems to perish because of a personal flaw or mistake. Stella Randolph, consumed with what she believes is a romantic fever dream, opens her window to the monster. Brady Kincaid stays out too late flying his kite and was found “headless and disemboweled” the next day. I found myself trying to guess how the werewolf would get these unfortunate humans each month. We get general descriptions of yellow eyes and the look of a big wolf at first. Then we learn of its shaggy hair and big paws. In May, we are presented with Reverend Lester Lowe’s nightmare about him and his congregation turning into werewolves, and the following morning, he finds Clyde Corliss, the janitor, hanging dead over the pulpit. After reading of its strength and violence through these early victims, we are left with the knowledge that this werewolf is probably the last person these citizens would ever consider to be a homicidal monster, a reverend.

The exploration of Reverend Lester Lowe as the werewolf further develops and explores the mythos of the monster in the story. In November, we learn what was already heavily implied earlier in the story: Reverend Lester Lowe is the werewolf. However, he hasn’t even suspected he was the werewolf until he lost his eye in July. When he finally does realize this, he believes that he shouldn’t have to die because he didn’t choose to be a werewolf and good or bad, everything is God’s will. While he is clearly trying to rationalize his actions, he brings up an interesting point about monsters in general. Sure, the werewolf is murdering people and animals, but the Reverend didn’t choose to become one. Killing himself might be considered the heroic route to take in such a situation, but he seems more content with killing others than killing himself, which, while selfish, is understandable on some level. Showing the Reverend’s path to realization along with his lack of choice in becoming a werewolf makes the murders more understandable, even if the decision is selfish, especially for a reverend.

The emergence of Marty Coslaw as the protagonist as well as the examination of the werewolf’s weaknesses also makes this monster, and its eventual defeat, more compelling. Marty Coslaw, a young boy in a wheelchair, is the only person to survive an attack from the werewolf. He is also the only person to realize Reverend Lester Lowe is the werewolf. Unlike Elmer and Pete Zinneman and the other citizens who mindlessly wander through Tarker’s Mill at night with beer and guns in the hope of catching the monster, Marty uses his wits to discover and defeat the monster. He uses a firework to put the werewolf’s eye out at the first attack, provides a return address in one of his last letters to the Reverend, where he asks him to kill himself, so that if he was wrong about the Reverend, he would contact Marty’s parents about the letters. However, since the Reverend doesn’t, Marty requests two silver bullets from his uncle. He is waiting for the werewolf when it comes for him in December, and it is his wit, not his physical abilities, which he uses to ultimately defeat this monster–well that and the silver bullet. The merging of wit against a mindless, violent monster with a more classic weakness like silver bullets made the werewolf’s ultimate downfall all the more satisfying.

Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf is clearly inspired by classic horror comics, but he builds on these ideas to create something new and unique. The werewolf in this story is such an effective monster because it does ultimately die with a silver bullet, but it is also characterized and humanized throughout this story, developing with the ever-connecting plot as each month passes. From first presenting its violence and superior power, King enables us to get into the mind of the man who is the werewolf as well as the intelligent boy who finally brings him down using the wit that the Reverend lacks as a werewolf–and a good old silver bullet.

What Happens in Zeal, Stays in Zeal: A Review of Clive Barker’s “Rawhead Rex”

“Rawhead Rex” is a short story by Clive Barker that has since been adapted into a film and a comic book. Set in Zeal, Rawhead Rex, an ancient god, is unearthed by an unsuspecting farmer, who he inverts and throws in the grave (that he was once buried in by the farmers “forefathers”) before wreaking havoc on the town. Despite a slow start, the story soon builds to a gory and horrific tale as the citizens are subjected the wrath of this seemingly unstoppable monster. Beyond the blood and gore, Barker puts us in the mind of the monster while layering concepts concerning history, territory, religion, and gender that elevate this story from a pointless slaughter to an effective monster story.

The way that Barker develops and puts us in Rawhead Rex’s mind really elevated this story for me. We learn relatively early on that Rawhead Rex is incredibly strong. He demonstrates this by murdering citizens in increasingly creative manners, including a castration. We also learn that he was once worshipped and eventually defeated by the people of Zeal. Thus, since humans put him in this grave, he is motivated to destroy them and reclaim his territory. On top of fleshing out of the monster through history and motivation, we also get insight into the monster’s mind. We get see him try to understand what a car is as well as how to destroy this “beast.” While he is not from this time period, he is smart and incredibly strong. Until the end of the story, I genuinely didn’t think the citizens would be able to stop him, and I liked the odds placed against them, and us as humans, through Rawhead Rex’s clear power and wit. While he is destroyed in the end, he manages to torch most of Zeal. He is a strong and smart monster, which made him all the more effective.

On top of this incredible monster, Barker examines history, territory, religion, and gender in this story. When the story began with a history of the conquering armies of Zeal, I wondered if this information was necessary, but as I read, I realized this theme embodies many of the concepts that Barker examines. Rawhead Rex is the old, pagan god that has come back to get revenge on these conquers who now worship a Christian god. The fact that Declan is so easily swayed back to this old god brings up a question of blind faith. With this idea of history and religion, there is also an underlying commentary of gender. I spent some time trying to figure out how women, and Rawhead Rex’s fear of women menstruating, played into these ideas of history and religion. I came across an interesting idea that he may fear them because women can create life, giving them almost godlike powers. Whether or not this is Barker’s true intention, this concept ties Rawhead Rex’s fear of women with creation, which comes to a head when Ron uses a symbol of a pregnant woman to weaken Rawhead Rex and eventually defeat him. The fact that all these different elements work to ultimately further develop Rawhead Rex truly elevates this monster story.

While I was skeptical of the story at first because of the expositional start, the story evolved into a rich monster story that explores ideas of territory, history, religion, and gender. Rawhead Rex is not only physically inferior to the people of Zeal, he is also intelligent, which we were able to observe through his perspective. This is an effective monster story in that while it has many rich elements, it’s ultimately about a great and terrible monster: Rawhead Rex.

Does This Human Suit Make Me Look Fat?: A Review of Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground

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I enjoyed Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground, but I had some problems with this novel. Before I dive into these issues, let’s discuss the strengths because, while I found this novel fell short on multiple levels, there were several positive aspects. Breeding Ground was a quick, easy read that played with the apocalypse storyline. Furthermore, the book combined various monster stories like monsters growing in people and monsters genetically created by man. Overall, this was an enjoyable read, but it wasn’t exactly an effective monster story.

Unfortunately, Pinborough performs the cardinal sin of monster stories: the monsters aren’t scary. To clarify, I hate spiders. I will stand on a chair and throw various objects at these creepy crawlers. However, these “widows” did nothing for me. A large reason why they weren’t scary was due to the fact that Matt didn’t really seem scared of them. Sure, he avoided them and said, “oh shit,” when faced with one, but the emotional depth I would presume most people faced with psychic, killer, giant spiders would experience was absent, which prevented me from getting into the character’s head and finding any of his experiences scary.

The fact that Matt was seemingly blasé about the “widows” was just one problem I had with his character. His actions, reactions, and characterization was very generic and unbelievable to me, which was largely due the absence of emotional depth. When Chloe, who is supposed to be the only thing going for Matt, is taken over by a killer spider and eats his unborn child, he merely thinks that he is too shocked to deal with the emotions of this loss, which is not how being in shock works and seems like a cop-out. His reactions are also unbelievable. After foraging for food at a café, he literally washes the dishes he uses, ignoring the world ending around him. He has generic dialogue as well like when Jane finds a car and Matt pats her on the shoulder and says, “Well done, Jane.” Likewise, and I hate to be this person, but I could tell the writer of this novel was not a male. No man thinks, as a man…, like Matt does throughout the novel. With this premise of monsters growing inside women (at least at first), Pinborough had the potential to really examine gender, but she barely touched upon it, providing us with an unbelievable male character who charms literally every woman over the age of 12. He has no clear arc and barely develops, moving from one female character to the next. Through such a bland and unrealistic perspective, the horror suffered because I never saw Matt as a real person and never feared for his life.

The development of the “widows” in this book was also poorly executed. From the beginning of the novel, I immediately assumed that these were aliens. Somehow aliens had implanted women with these monsters and Earth was their “breeding ground.” While I was glad to find my clichéd assumption was incorrect, I was saddened that the explanation was GMO food. I know everyone was a little worried about this in the early 2000s, but really? No real explanation is given to this or how these creatures had psychic abilities and what not. Furthermore, mace was said to work like acid and also blood of deaf people? I can accept a lot of nonsense for the sake of a good story, but this was a hard pill to swallow. Similar to Matt as a character, the lack of insight and development of these monsters made them seem more silly than scary. I couldn’t imagine them in my mind because Pinborough never suspended my disbelief long enough for me to try. Beyond Matt’s character, the underdeveloped “widows” were probably the most disappointing aspect of this novel.

Breeding Ground was a fun read that maintained a decent pace throughout. However, when examining it as an effective monster story, it falls short. I was not scared once while reading this novel, and as someone who hates spiders, that’s not a hard feat. The horror didn’t work for me because I didn’t believe that Matt was a real person and I didn’t believe that these “widows” could ever exist, even in the framework of the novel.  The lack of believably made me view this novel as a fun read, but not necessarily an effective monster story.

Humorous Horror?: A Review of Richard Matheson’s “The Funeral”

I try to approach every story with an open mind, but I have trouble being unbiased when it comes to Richard Matheson (as anyone who has read my blog knows). However, when I read his short story, “The Funeral,” I found myself admiring the balance of humor and horror that he creates. When Ludwig Asper comes to Morton Silkline, a fancy, greedy funeral director, looking for a lavish funeral without a concern for cost, Silkline is eager to accommodate him. While Silkline is a little hesitant to have a funeral for Asper, who is clearly not dead, he soon ignores strange requests like removing the mirrors from the parlor at the prospect of a hefty pay. After witches, werewolves, and other vampires attend said funeral, he begins to regret this decision and hilarity ensues in this humorous horror story that has made me second guess my complete dismissal of his work.

The humor in this story functions on multiple levels. First and foremost, in the concept that a vampire would have a second funeral because his first wasn’t satisfactory. The way in which Matheson slowly lets the reader know that Asper is a vampire through hints about this being his second funeral, the removal of mirrors, and the “superbly toothed” guests enabled me to learn with Silkline that this wasn’t the average lavish funeral. Humor is also present at the funeral, where these different monsters are bickering and frightening Silkline as Asper tries to enjoy his funeral. When he peaked his head out of the casket to plead with guests to behave, I nearly laughed out loud. Furthermore, the ending where another monster comes to Silkline for a funeral shows the problem he has created for himself through his greed. All of these levels of humor add a richness to the story.

That being said, there are also horror elements present in the story. Beyond just having common horror monsters like witches, werewolves, and vampires, there is an underlying question of whether or not these monsters are going to kill Silkline. He is clearly distressed by this possibility, and on some level, he reminds us that these bickering monsters can be deadly. The fact that he is a rather greedy and unlikable character who is in jeopardy because of his greed also adds further humor to the horror. In a way, I think that this unlikable protagonist works in this story as opposed to unlikable protagonists in Matheson’s other novels because the story is so short. The reader doesn’t have to see the world through his eyes for several hundred pages as he acts pompous; the reader just gets to enjoy his suffering at the hands of these monsters in a short story. The prospect that he will have to deal with more monsters in the future is a horrifying prospect for him, but humorous for the reader.

I have a lot of problems with the novels I have read by Richard Matheson, but this story was very effective at merging humor and horror. I felt bad that this funeral director could die at any moment, but I also couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of a vampire having a second funeral. I stand by my reviews of Hell House and I Am Legend, but in the case of “The Funeral,” Matheson takes a humorous concept and follows through with a truly interesting story that effectively balances humor and horror.

Matheson Ruins Another Amazing Premise with His Misogyny: A Review of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend

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When I started reading this book, my expectations couldn’t have been lower after reading Hell House. However, while I knew the book, I Am Legend, and the film adaption were very different, I liked the 2007 film enough to give the book a chance. While I largely enjoyed this book from a conceptual and horror perspective, the way in which Matheson depicts women and furthers rape culture made Robert Neville, the protagonist, so creepy and unlikeable that I lost all empathy for him, which ultimately sabotages the horror elements of the story because there wasn’t a likeable, or even understandable, protagonist through which the reader could experience the horrors in this story.

While the socially irresponsible and problematic aspects of this novel shouldn’t be excused, let’s first talk about what this book did right as both a horror and monster novel because, while Matheson’s archaic views ruined this book, I Am Legend has a lot of effective elements. This novel has a fascinating premise. Not only does it bring vampires into the twentieth century with enough faux science to suspend my disbelief, but it also plays with this idea of being the last man on earth. I loved how biology and psychology worked together to explain these legends about vampires being afraid of the dark and the cross. Furthermore, how Neville copes with being alone in this world full of monster was really well done. I was in Neville’s head with him, angry at the vampires as well as his helpless situation. His reaction, first hysteria and then compassion, toward the dog and then Ruth really rang true to me. Furthermore, the twist that, to this new species of people, he was the legend to be feared, the vampire to the vampires, was a really cool concept. The fact that the history and biology of these vampires were explored so in-depth and that the reader is so deep in his perspective made the more horrifying elements all the more effective because the reader is alongside Neville. Thus, when he stays out after sunset and has to fight his way into his house, I, the reader, experienced the fear that he does.

Unfortunately, the reader is also forced into Neville’s sexist perspective that furthers rape culture and makes the character unsympathetic. At first, when Neville describes how he had to resist the gyrating female vampires, I felt uncomfortable at the idea that women, albeit vampire women, were always enticing him and he had to resist the urge to have sex with him. Then came the violence against these women enacted by men. Not only do other vampires murder these female vampires, but Neville even recognizes that all of his test subjects are female and then he thinks about how he takes them because some part of him wants to rape them. Then, when he meets what he believes to be a human woman, he is grateful his research curbed his sexual hunger and developed self-control because he doesn’t even want to rape Ruth. However, she is objectified by physical descriptions that are clearly from a male gaze that values her for sexual worth. She also ends up betraying him. Thus, women are sexual creatures that men must resist raping, and, to make matters worse, they can’t be trusted. The fact that the reader is so far in Neville’s perspective only makes this further problematic because I, the reader, am supposed to think these things through him. I ultimately became so disgusted by Neville by the end of the novel that I was just waiting for him die, which is unfortunate because there are so many fascinating aspects of this novel.

In a lot of ways, I Am Legend gives the reader everything they want in a monster story: monsters whose creation and existence are deeply explored. However, the novel didn’t give the reader a hero to root for. Instead, I was forced to go through these horrors with a man who is not only sexist, but also furthers rape culture by promoting the idea that women are sexual, distrustful creatures that men must resist raping. Unfortunately, Matheson ruined another great premise with his misogynistic views that are as much part of the story as the vampires. These views are not just held by the characters: they are also furthered by the plot.  As much as I wish we could cut out this misogynistic cancer and separately love the monster story, this book is just infected with it. Perhaps a wooden stake would do.

Versus: A Review of Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters (2016)

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Ghostbusters (1984) and the more recent reboot, Ghostbusters (2016), have been the subject of heated debate since the announcement of the reboot. I grew up watching the original Ghostbusters and its sequels, and I was interested to see Paul Feig’s take on the classic. From accusations of cash grabs to sexist remarks about the all-female cast, the reboot was overwhelmed with controversy. When I watched these two films to evaluate whether or not they were effective ghost stories, I kept this controversy in mind. Ultimately, I found that while the original Ghostbusters is a clearly superior ghost story and overall movie, the reboot is more compelling and enjoyable. In my opinion, a large reason why the reboot was not as well received, beyond sexism, was due to the fact that this film and its purpose were largely misunderstood.

Before diving into the reboot, let’s talk about the original Ghostbusters. While this film is largely considered a straight comedy, I was surprised by how many horror elements appeared in the story. From the beginning scene with the oblivious librarian walking through bookshelves as library cards shot from their drawers to demon claws ripping through Dana’s armchair and dragging her to Zuul, The Gatekeeper who possesses her, Ghostbusters is a film that balances comedy with horror very well. Furthermore, the plot, while unique, contains many of the signs of an effective ghost story like the escalation of paranormal activity and the eventual arrival of Gozer, an ancient god from another dimension, who the Ghostbusters must battle in the finale. My main problem with the film was the characters. Overall, we learn little about them, all of whom remain static throughout the film. Dr. Peter Venkman, who I thought was a cool guy growing up, seemed really creepy to me as I watched it this time. The way he was using his position to get women seemed creepy and unethical. When Dana was possessed, I was surprised that he didn’t rape her. No characters go through great developments. The only change is that Venkman gets Dana, which left much to be desired as far as characters to empathize with and root for. The film is a classic for a reason and it is an effective ghost story, but I found that it was missing the depth and purpose that a lot of other ghost stories have, which is a lot to ask for of an 80s comedy about catching ghosts, but it would have certainly raised the stakes of the film.

The reboot was much more of a comedy than the original. Unlike the first film, there was virtually no horror elements. Comedy was its main focus. A lot of the ghosts were used more as props to further the humor than actual threats or intimidating beings. However, I am not sure this film was supposed to be a ghost story. While it does contain ghosts, this film seems to be a comedy that is an homage to ghost stories than one in itself. Throughout the film, there are several references to the original Ghostbusters films, including several cameos from the original cast. There were also references to other films. When a possessed Abby spins her head around, I couldn’t help but laugh at the not so subtle reference to The Exorcist. The characters, while nearing caricatures at times, were much more developed than the original characters. When Erin and Abby make amends at the end of the movie, I was actually touched. Jillian and Patty were not as well developed, but I actually cared about all of the characters (and wasn’t creeped out by them). Between the comedy, homages, and characters, I enjoyed watching this film almost as much, if not more, as the original. I would be lying if I said the film was perfect. The villain was severely underdeveloped with an unclear motive and questionable decisions (like that random dance sequence). However, I think this film, whether it was perfect or not, would still have been panned because of the controversy surrounding it. The reboot is not an effective ghost story because it isn’t a ghost story. While the reboot has many flaws, it was a very enjoyable film that was misunderstood and unreasonably criticized.

While Ghostbusters (1984) was clearly the superior ghost story, I had some problems with the characters. Similarly, while Ghostbusters (2016) had many flaws, there were several aspects of the film that I enjoyed far more than the original. I don’t believe the reboot should be categorized as a ghost story because it lacks all of the elements of a ghost story beyond the ghosts. The reboot seems to be a humorous homage to the ghost stories that came before it. The original Ghostbusters is clearly the superior ghost story, but as someone who is fond of ghost stories, I found the reboot to be hilarious and compelling in its own right.