30 Days of Fright: A Review of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night

RCO001_1469308813.jpg

30 Days of Night is a comic book miniseries that was written by Steve Niles (no relation, unfortunately) and illustrated by Ben Templesmith that involves vampires attacking Barrow, Alaska, a small town where the sun doesn’t rise for thirty days in the winter. I was first introduced to the story through the film adaption that was released in 2007. While this review will focus on the comic book miniseries, a lot of the issues I had with the comic were corrected or improved in the film adaption.

However, before diving into some of the shortcomings of the comic, let’s discuss its strengths. The premise is incredible and terrifying. I couldn’t believe no one had used this setting where there is a month of darkness before for a vampire novel. The fact that there is no sun takes away one of the greatest weaknesses of vampires. Furthermore, the vampires had a unique and subtly horrifying look to them that, coupled with how strong they were, made the humans helpless against them.  A lot of the concepts in this comic were interesting and unique, such as injecting vampire blood to fight the vampires and committing suicide as a vampire by watching the sun rise. Overall, the premise of the story and the ideas it explores were, by far, the greatest strengths of this story.

My biggest issue with 30 Days of Night was that many of these really interesting elements were not developed in the story. Who is this woman outside Barrow who sends her son to take pictures of the vampires? Who are the people who live in this town? How did they survive as long as they did? Because the characters weren’t really developed, I had a hard time connecting with these cool concepts because I had no one to care about. One of the strengths of the film is that you get to know the characters of the town and care about them so when Sheriff Eben injects himself with blood, you feel genuinely sorry for him and yet commend him for his bravery. In the comic, I could appreciate the concept, but I couldn’t connect to the characters and, by extend the story, because there weren’t characters to care about. Likewise, while I see how the helicopter enabled a convenient cover story, the side story with the mother and son didn’t seem to fit in this story. They either needed to be developed or cut out. In the film adaptation, they were cut out, and I think it made the story more effective because you felt trapped in the town with them. This comic had so many amazing elements, and I just wish they were more developed.

30 Days of Night is a unique take on vampires. Of all the vampire stories I have read, these are some of the most terrifying vampires I’ve ever came across because of how intelligent and physically superior they are to humans. Furthermore, the setting of the story in this town where the sun doesn’t rise for thirty days makes them even more deadly because they do not have to hide during the day. That being said, several elements of this story were underdeveloped, especially the characters. Unfortunately, this might be a rare case where the movie might actually be better than the source material.

Advertisements

A Nightmare at the Museum: A Review of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Relic

relic.jpg

Relic is a thriller novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child that centers around the New York City’s American Museum of Natural History as some sort of monster begins murdering people in the museum. While there is a large cast of characters that range from museum workers to journalists as well as policemen and FBI agents, the story mainly follows Margo Green, a graduate student and researcher at the museum. While I found this novel enjoyable, I had issues with the plot and the overall depiction of the monster.

Before diving into some of the weaknesses of the novel, I would like to first examine its many strengths. While there is a nearly overwhelmingly large cast of characters in the story, I thought Preston and Child made sure these characters were only highlighted when their role directly affected the plot and developed each of these characters enough for me to empathize with them. Furthermore, while I did have some issues with how they depicted the monster, I thought the way that this mystery of the monster unraveled was really well done. The idea that this monster is intelligent, nearly indestructible, and needs to eat this plant to survive enabled me to understand how lethal the monster was and its motives. Likewise, the subsequent twist that the monster was, in fact, Whittlesey came as a surprise, but it was subtly set up with clues throughout the story. These elements, coupled with the inner workings of a museum, made this novel a very enjoyable read.

That being said, I struggled with the believability factor of this novel. The fact that the new exhibit would open, despite the killings, wasn’t believable to me. Similarly, the fact that they closed off other areas of the museum, effectively trapping everyone at the opening was so stupid that other characters in the novel actually point this out. However, they go along with it anyway, which took me out of the story because it just didn’t seem like something that would happen in real life. I also had issues with the monster. While, as I already pointed out, the monster is developed and its motivations are clear, I felt like it rarely appears in the book. Furthermore, each time it does appear, it is in and out of the scene so fast that before I can really feel the character’s fear, the monster has either killed or disappeared again. Since so much of the story focuses on understanding and learning more about this monster, I don’t think we got enough time with the monster, particularly at the end of the novel. Overall, these issues didn’t make this a bad novel, but it disappointed me because so many other aspects of the novel were so effective.

Relic might not be a perfect monster story, but, ultimately, it was effective in that the characters and monster were well-developed. While I had a few believability issues and I wanted more of the monster in the story, Relic is an effective monster story that I enjoyed because, despite these shortcomings, there are characters to empathize with and a formidable monster.

It’s Nothing Personal: A Review of The Blob (1988)

the_blob_big.jpg

The Blob (1988) is a quintessential 80s horror movie with overacting, cheesy humor, questionable special effects, and the slaughtering of sexually active teenagers. While I didn’t find this movie horrifying in the slightest, I did find it entertaining. With a relatively silly premise, the movie managed to draw me in and hold my interest. My main issue with the movie was the selection of main characters and their relationship with the monster.

The main characters of the movie are clearly teenage archetypes: the honorable football jock, the kind cheerleader, and the earnest bad boy. However, the movie played with the expectations of these archetypes. The jock is consumed by the Blob early in the movie, leaving the cheerleader and bad boy to face the monster. Furthermore, while Meg, the cheerleader, was saved by Brian, the motorcycle riding bad boy, at several points during the movie, she manages to be a strong female character who ultimately holds her own against the monster and discovers the Blob’s aversion to cold. That being said, I wasn’t sure why these characters were made the main characters of the story. How was what was happening to the town more personal for Meg and Brian than any other citizen of the town. As a result, I enjoyed how the movie played with teenage archetypes, but I am still not sure why they were the main characters of this story.

My issues with the selection of main characters goes hand and hand with their relationship to the monster and its development in the movie. While the monster consumes many people in the movie who Meg and Brian know, nothing seems personal about the attacks. The Blob doesn’t seem to care who it consumes as long as it consumes someone in order to eat and grow. With such basic motivations, I had a hard time finding the monster scary or fearing for the lives of the characters we follow because they mostly seem like unfortunate bystanders. While we learn that the Blob is a science experiment gone wrong, we learn very little about it in the movie beyond its aversion to cold. If anything, the military scientists who want to contain the Blob in the town are the real villains of the movie, which takes focus away from the Blob and makes the monster seem more like a random, uncontrollable force than an actual creature. By taking away the personal elements that usually exists between a monster and its victims, the selection of the main characters and their relationship to the Blob seems too random and distant.

The Blob is an entertaining 80s horror movie that captures a lot of the fun of horror movies from that era, including some nicely coiffed mullets. However, by removing the personal motivations of the monster and the personal relationship between the monster and the main characters, I found myself questioning why we follow Meg and Brian in this movie as opposed to any other character in the town where the Blob is wreaking havoc. Likewise, I didn’t understand why I should fear this gelatinous monster.

Less is More Horrifying: A Review of H.P. Lovecraft’s Short Stories

tales-of-lovecraft-e28094-book-cover.jpg

This week, I read three famous short stories by H.P. Lovecraft: “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Outsider,” and “Pickman’s Model.” Each of these stories reminded me of Lovecraft’s unique ability to balance ambiguity and detail while building suspense and horror. These stories are not free of issues or weaknesses, but they serve as clear examples of what makes effective monster stories.

“The Call of Cthulhu”

Arguably Lovecraft’s most well-known work, “The Call of Cthulhu” focuses on Francis Wayland Thurston, who, after the death of his grand-uncle, discovers writings and a small statue of a creature, which leads him on an investigation to discover the mystery of Cthulhu. I understand why this is such a well-known work. The story not only contains mystery, but it enables us, the readers, to investigate this monster alongside Thurston, growing more uneasy as we learn about the cults who worship this old god and leaving us with the fear of retaliation from the cult as well as the return of Cthulhu. The way Lovecraft slowly builds suspense and dread while simultaneously developing the backstory of this monster is truly impressive. Unfortunately, a lot of the horror of this story is based in a fear of Eastern cultures and other races, who are vilified and feared because they worship this monstrous old god, consequently tapping into Western fears of Eastern cultures at the expense of oppressed people and cultures. Furthermore, this story seems to lack the level of ambiguity and detail that he balances so well in other stories. As a result, I simultaneously understand why this is such a celebrated story and acknowledge that it also contains some of the follies of Lovecraft’s work.

“The Outsider”

“The Outsider” was a far superior short story for me because it highlights Lovecraft’s strengths. The balance of detail and ambiguity was brilliant in this story. The story begins with a man who is stuck in a castle that is surrounded by an impenetrable forest. We get ominous details around this time like descriptions skeletons around the castle. As readers, we get just enough information to feel a sense of unease and empathize with the man’s loneliness. Then, when he finally climbs up a tower and escapes through a trap door, he ends up on the ground of some world. He comes upon a house and, somehow finding it familiar, goes inside. Then, after the occupants run terrified from a monster, he finds it in the mirror. These details ignited my imagination. Is he some sort of zombie or man damned to the underworld who, upon finally escaping, only finds his true, monstrous self in the mirror? Is he a demon from the underworld who escapes in search of companionship to only find victims? The balance of ominous details with haunting ambiguity, paired with the psychological horror of a man realizing that he is a monster, made “The Outsider” an effective horror story that has stuck with me long after I finished reading it.

“Pickman’s Model”

In “Pickman’s Model,” the narrator details his interaction with Pickman, an artist known for his horrifying images who mysteriously went missing, to his friend. This story combined two effective elements from “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Outsider.” Similar to “The Call of Cthulhu,” we are presented with this mystery that is slowly unraveled over the course of the story, and, like “The Outsider,” there is a balance of details and ambiguity (in that we are told these images are terrifying, but are never given a clear description of them so that we can fill in the details on our own). However, despite these elements, I didn’t find the story that effective as a monster story. Part of why it was a disappointment to me was that I saw the twist that the monsters were real coming from a mile away. Furthermore, distancing the story from the reader through a discussion between the narrator and his friend removed a lot of the tension from the story because we know from the beginning of the story that the narrator lives. What is more, we don’t learn a lot about these monsters. I don’t mean to say that this was a bad horror story, but it wasn’t as effective as “The Call of Cthulhu” or “The Outsider.”

There is a reason that H.P. Lovecraft’s stories have survived the test of time. Lovecraft understood the power of tension and dread. His works serve as a testament to how explicitly describing blood and gore is not the most effective way to evoke horror. What is truly horrifying is that which we, as readers, can create in our minds, and his stories give us just enough foundation to form our own nightmares.

A Need to…Breed?: A Review of Godzilla (2014)

MV5BN2E4ZDgxN2YtZjExMS00MWE5LTg3NjQtNTkxMzJhOTA3MDQ4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_.jpg

Godzilla (2014) was technically a monster movie in that it contains monsters. We are given a history and explanation of how these monsters are created as well as the motivations and backstory of the main characters, who even have a personal stake in this conflict. Overall, this movie contains many ingredients of an effective monster story that I have spelled out in previous reviews (excluding the clear whitewashing). However, this movie, despite containing many elements of an effective monster story, is ultimately ineffective because of the role of the protagonist as well as the actions of the monsters.

At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to Joe Brody, a nuclear engineer, who is forced to watch his wife, Sandra, who also works at the plant, die after a tragic accident occurs during an earthquake. The scene of him watching her from behind the protective door is arguably the most compelling scene of the movie. As a result, I was puzzled when, jumping fifteen years into the future, the narrative now following Ford Brody, a US Navy officer and the son of Joe and Sandra. While Ford seems well adjusted, Joe is a mess, claiming that something was covered up when his wife died. Ford lost his mother, but Joe seems to be the one more emotionally invested in discovering what happened as well as defeating this giant monster that comes out from under the plant, which is named MUTO. However, Joe is killed nearly as soon as this monster is introduced, leaving us with his son, who seems out of place in a story about his father. All of the backstory at the beginning of the movie concerns Joe, so when the movie switches to Ford, I was much less invested in the story because my protagonist, Joe, was dead.

An even bigger issue I had with the movie was what the monsters did after the buildup to their introductions. MUTO, who is supposed to be the big antagonistic monster of the movie, is just trying to eat nuclear weapons and mate. Most of the destruction seems to be accidental. The humans have no means of killing this monster, so they just try to manipulate Godzilla into doing the job for them. Godzilla’s motivations weren’t really clear to me. Then a female MUTO arrives and Godzilla must battle two of them. Ford’s only contribution to this battle is blowing up the eggs of the MUTOs, which seems like a small part for our protagonist to play in defeating the antagonists of the movie. There seemed to be no tension in this movie because the monsters, while accidentally creating destruction, aren’t that nefarious. Furthermore, the awkward final blowout between the MUTOs and Godzilla seems like something concocted by a child playing with action figures. Don’t even get me started on all of the people cheering Godzilla on like he was their favorite heavyweight boxer. I just can’t find this to be an effective monster movie when the reason the monster is harming the humans is because they are simply in its way.

The random emergence of Ford as the protagonist as well as the random battle between the monsters in the movie ultimately made this an ineffective monster movie for me regardless of its other effective elements. This movie seemed like a combination of several interesting ideas that do not work well together in a single story.

I’m Not Angry, I’m Disappointed…And Angry: A Review of Ronald Malfi’s Snow

snow.jpg

As soon as Snow by Ronald Malfi started with superficial jokes about political correctness and gender, I had a feeling this wasn’t the book for me. What I found after the unnecessary epilogue was that this book is largely superficial in a lot of aspects. While it has potential with the unique concept of using snow as the monster, it fell short in nearly every conceivable way because there is no depth to this story. There were many interesting elements to this story, but they were underdeveloped and ultimately fell flat because of a lack of depth.

Before diving into this book’s many shortcomings, I do want to give Ronald Malfi credit that this book did have some interesting elements that, if actually developed, could have turned into an effective story. The concept of these monsters and how they take over human bodies was very unique and interesting. Furthermore, the idea of children going crazy when possessed and becoming physically deformed was creepy. Several scenes of Shawna fighting to survive these creatures were tension filled as well. The book even was set in a rather claustrophobic setting. However, none of these elements were truly effective because they were never developed, which brings me to the shortcomings of Snow.

First and foremost, this book needed a good editor. There was a lot of repetition of language and phrases, generic metaphors (which are also repeated), unrealistic dialogue, and tropes. To make matters worse, the characters are poorly developed, and there is a strange romance between Todd and Kate for reasons that are not altogether clear beyond the fact that he is a man and she is a woman. All of the minor characters seem to function as people to die, and they all die so soon after being introduced that I didn’t really care that they bite the dust because I didn’t know them. Arguably, the worst sin of this book is that it didn’t develop the creatures that could have been really interesting. We hardly know anything about these creatures and while their permutations were interesting, without knowing more about them, they seem to be a hot mess of monsters. In previous reviews, I discussed that a level of ambiguity can work in a story surrounding a monster, but the fact that these monsters are so complex and aren’t explained besides maybe being aliens is not satisfying enough of an explanation to make this story believable. Again, had these elements been developed and polished, this book might be more than an amusing quick read.

This book angered me because it had the potential to be an interesting story, but without developing it, this book is only an interesting first draft. I wanted more from this book, and because I didn’t get it, I think I ended up finding it even less effective than other works because it had so much potential. While an interesting monster is essential to an effective monster story, the development and depth of that monster as well as every aspect of the story is necessary.

There’s Just One Thing: A Review of The Thing

the-thing-movie-poster-1982-1020195945.jpg

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) follows a group of American researchers in Antarctica who encounter an alien that can impersonate humans and other beings, which breeds distrust and paranoia among the characters in this remote location as they try to kill the “Thing.” While the movie was initially poorly received, it has gone on to become a cult classic that is praised for its practical special effects. Beyond a slow pace at the beginning of the movie, The Thing creates an effective monster story through how it uses this alien to not only breed paranoia among the characters, but also among the audience.

Before diving into the many effective aspects of this movie, let’s first discusses the main issue I had with it, which was the pace, especially at the beginning of the movie. We start the movie with this scene of a spaceship crashing to Earth. Then we get a long scene of people in a helicopter trying to shoot a dog before they eventually chase the dog to the American research camp, which is when our main characters are first introduced. The main issue I had with this beginning is that it isn’t necessary. If the film started with the dog running into the American camp, the audience would learn about the spaceship and why this Norwegian guy is trying to kill the dog with the protagonists when they go to investigate the other camp. Since these other scenes give us the backstory about these aliens that we need, these first few scenes serve no real purpose and slow the pace of the story. Furthermore, they let us in on information that the characters do not know, which adds distance between us and the characters. While this choice may have been intentional, it is ultimately unnecessary.

Besides a slow start, The Thing was an effective monster story in how it used the monster to build this sense of paranoia. We immediately learn how deadly this alien can be through the destruction of the Norwegian camp. We then learn that beyond taking the form of a dog, the alien can also imitate humans. The fact that besides a blood test, the characters cannot tell the alien apart from other humans immediately creates distrust and paranoia among the researchers. While Kurt Russell’s MacReady is our designated protagonist, we, like the other characters, aren’t even sure if he is who he says he is, especially at the end of the film where he and Childs are the only survivors. This final scene is often discussed in excruciating detail in order to figure out which one, if not either or neither, of them are the alien. The fact that audiences want to know who is the alien in this final scene is a testament to the movie’s ability to create a sense of paranoia. We are left with an open ending like this because, like the characters, we aren’t supposed to be entirely certain who to trust. The only drawback to this is, similar to the beginning of the film, it puts distance between us and the characters. That being said, this sense of paranoia also adds to the horror of this monster in that it makes people distrust everyone because it can turn into any being.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is an effective monster story because of its ability to transfer this sense of paranoia to the audience. Few movies have made me fear its monster in a same manner as characters in the movie. The “Thing” for which the movie is named can be anyone or anything, which not only makes us look at the characters in the film differently, but also the people around us.

*Cue melodramatic music*