Your source for retro horror movie and book reviews

Author Archive

Fright Fest 2019: Event Horizon (1997)

EHThis is not the first time I have reviewed this movie. In fact, it isn’t the first time I have reviewed this movie for this site. But it happened to come up as relevant to the theme for this month and all I could think was, “I couldn’t just recycle the old review, could I? That wouldn’t be right.”

There are certain plot formulas that will win me over, just for coming into the room and saying, “hello”. And one such formula is that of the ghost ship, especially if you add in a kind of cautionary angle. The ship had gone off on some kind of exploratory mission, was never heard from again and then, decades later just shows up, abandoned. I love the inherent darkness and peril that hovers just outside the borders of those stories and the first time you read or watch something like that, you spend most of your time clenching, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now if you were to make that concept into a sci-fi movie, there’s going to be little chance I won’t like it. You’d have to try pretty hard to turn me away.

Enter into the conversation, Event Horizon.

So maybe you shouldn’t give this review any weight because the person writing it isn’t coming from an impartial point of view. Maybe I should adopt a more discerning eye for the more important flaws of a movie and be willing to put my feelings aside in the essential dissection of the mechanics of a film in review.

Maybe there’s some value to that point but I’m not doing it. Sorry.

I mean, not really but you know what I mean.

The premise of the movie is (as ideal for horror) simple and effective. Sam Neil plays Dr. William Weir, a man who is in mourning for the death of his wife and in the midst of this is called to duty in the investigation of an exploratory vessel he helped design, years ago. The Event Horizon, created for deep space exploration, has suddenly reappeared after vanishing without a trace and with no explanation.

A salvage crew led by Captain Miller (played by the outstanding Laurence Fishburne) has been scrambled to go to the ship and Weir has been tasked to accompany them, as an expert on its technology.Film and Television

What happened to the Event Horizon? Where has it been all this time? Why has it come back? What happened to the crew? All questions that will need to be answered in the course of their mission. And after a quick introduction to our cast of characters, the story is moving full speed. What I think the film uses most effectively is that of isolation and foreboding. As soon as the ship catches up to the Event Horizon and boards her, you have a sense of something dark about the ship and that Weir knows something that he isn’t sharing with the rest of the crew. All of this unfolds nicely as most everyone starts to come unhinged and eventually they are trapped on the Event Horizon.

As the ship’s creator, Weir seems to be especially affected by the ship as his recent emotional traumas are exploited to bring him around to a rapidly descending path into madness.

For me, Event Horizon is all about the claustrophobia you manage to feel within the immense vastness of space. Every scene is oozing tension with the mystery of what might be lurking around the corner and what entity may have returned as a part of this cursed ship. You spend most of the film bracing yourself for coming upon the brutal end that you know most of these characters are destined for.

There is a certain mythology around this film on the subject of the infamous director’s cut. Evidently there was quite a bit of footage in the film that was removed as it was thought too disturbing and considering what did end EH2up in the final product, I can only imagine what that would entail. However, while footage like this would normally be reserved for an eventual re-release as a blu-ray collector’s edition, that footage has sadly been lost forever as it was evidently exposed as a result of being improperly archived. For some reason, for me this gives the film a little extra bit of aura, somewhat along the lines of all the mysterious problems that existed on the set of The Exorcist. After being simply missing for years, the lost footage from Event Horizon was found in a Transylvanian salt mine. That in and of itself is begging to have a book written about it.

Event Horizon is a beautifully shot film with fantastic atmosphere and tension. I love all the scenes on the ship with thunder rumbling outside even though it makes no fracking sense that they would be able to hear thunder while in orbit. After all, in space no one can hear…well you get the point. Still, I love it. Maybe I’m being suckered into the fly trap of the film’s superficiality but I don’t care. It’s a movie I love to watch and I would place it on a level as being a later generation’s version of Hellraiser, another favorite of mine.

Sometimes things that we think are lost come back. And sometimes they bring friends. Check this film out and you can see a pretty good example of this.

 

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of dark-leaning fiction, born and raised in the middle of the United States. His road began in Illinois, along the banks of the Mississippi and from there he moved to Iowa, where he has lived ever since. From an early age, he was brined in the glory that is science fiction and horror, from the fantastical of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry and Steven Spielberg to the dark and gritty tales of Stephen King and George Romero. The way from there to here has been littered with no shortage of books and movies, all of which have and continue to inform his narrative style to this day. Chad has written horror, science fiction and non-fiction. He has been published by Crystal Lake Publishing, Dark Minds Press, Shadow Work Publishing, Sirens Call Publications and EyeCue Productions and his books have received critical praise from the Ginger Nuts of Horror, Ink Heist, Confessions of a Reviewer, Horror DNA and This is Horror. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Advertisements

Reviews In The Machine : City of the Flesh Eaters (2019)

City of the Flesh EatersGrowing up, zombie movies were something that really fueled my love for the horror genre. They scared all holy hell out of me and I think the main reason was the implacability and inevitable nihilistic doom to which the movies all seemed to portend. A zombie by itself might pose no threat. But bring on a herd of the shambling monsters and your odds were a lot worse. Add the fact that as the movie goes on, there just seems to be more and more of the things and the outlook is bleak, indeed.

This was the benchmark I used as I began to develop my own sensibilities in crafting horror and it is something I will always be grateful for.

So reading this series from Thomas Flowers I find myself appreciative on several levels. First, it returns the zombie genre back to those days I remember from so long ago but as a bonus, he has also grounded these stories heavily in the eighties. Doing so only helps me feel an even stronger connection as the books have now become tied up in my own fuzzy, happy memories of times gone by.

This series, currently standing at two books, began with Island of the Flesh Eaters. And as the VHS video tape-style cover and title would suggest, this is one story that goes after you from page one, taking little time for fluff or ceremony. You are thrust into the story along with all the gore and glory you would expect. It’s a quick read and well worth your time.

Just last month, we got the next book in the series, City of the Flesh Eaters. And what I think works most effectively here, besides the writing, is the fact that while it exists as a sequel, it runs more concurrently to the events from book one and as a result, the two books could be theoretically read in any order. It’s something that can be hard to pull off but Flowers has done a good job in this effort.

The book follows a format of moving the camera around between a group of characters, giving individual chapters to specific people. The story-lines don’t all occur necessarily at the same time and while it can be jarring to jump from one character to the next and back again, I think this feeling is actually important to the experience of the book. After all, isn’t disorientation exactly what the characters are experiencing themselves?

As would be expected, this story moves along quickly and as the reader, I was waiting for everyone to be brought together and the point where the book would become unified and moving in the same direction. And then, in one brilliant, extended chapter, Flowers takes hold of the different threads of the plot, brings them all together and makes them one with a heavy piece of twine wrapped tightly around everything. It is a plot that is deceptively complex, fooling you with how simple it seems. It is a project that requires organization, even being of shorter length and again, Flowers has proven up to the task of keeping a lot of narrative organized and up in the air.

If you cut your teeth on the glory of eighties horror, this is a book that you should check out. While store-bought nostalgia has become more of the norm anymore, this one feels quite different, coming from the creative mind of someone who has a clear love for that time and for the culture which came out of it. Reading this as well as his Planet of the Dead series gives me little glimpses into what it is I love about zombie movies in the first place. Do yourself a favor and dive in today.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of dark-leaning fiction, born and raised in the middle of the United States. His road began in Illinois, along the banks of the Mississippi and from there he moved to Iowa, where he has lived ever since. From an early age, he was brined in the glory that is science fiction and horror, from the fantastical of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry and Steven Spielberg to the dark and gritty tales of Stephen King and George Romero. The way from there to here has been littered with no shortage of books and movies, all of which have and continue to inform his narrative style to this day. Chad has written horror, science fiction and non-fiction. He has been published by Crystal Lake Publishing, Dark Minds Press, Shadow Work Publishing, Sirens Call Publications and EyeCue Productions and his books have received critical praise from the Ginger Nuts of Horror, Ink Heist, Confessions of a Reviewer, Horror DNA and This is Horror. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Walking In Memory, by Chad A. Clark

walking in memory

The plane set down in New Orleans in a pouring rain. He stepped out of the terminal, his bright red alligator boots crunching down on broken glass. He raised up a hand, clutching a pack of cigarettes, as he waved for the next cab.

He walked down Bourbon Street, glancing up at the balconies, and remembering how her hair had flowed in the breeze as they pelted the Mardi Gras crowds with peanuts. He took long drags from the cigarette, the smoke rising up to mingle with the banners and elaborate flower arrangements that lined the street.

The coffee shop where he had met her was still there, now sandwiched between trendy chain restaurants. The ragged poster of Louis Armstrong still stood guard over the patrons, partaking in burnt espresso and stale sandwiches. He had never cared for the place, but the essence of her still lingered there and who was he to fight the pull of tradition?

On the next corner, as he tried to fight the taste of caffeinated memories, the smell of catfish frying wafted down from the balcony above, and he could make out the sound of someone inside, banging on an old piano. It was the same corner he had walked past with her, the preacher standing on his apple crate, reaching out to the crowd, reaching out for him.

She had always loved the city, the people and the music, the food and festivals. Loved the smell of spice in the air, and nights spent trudging through the worst parts of town to find restaurants hidden behind heavy metal doors. He was often surprised that they hadn’t needed a password, just to get in.

She had always been there next to him on these trips, here in the city and beyond. She was supposed to stay there, always at his side. Now the only presence he felt around him was the weight of absence.

So, hours after his informal walking tour, he blinked and found himself on the bed of a hotel room. He reached across to return the now empty bottle of gin next to the empty bottle of scotch. Satisfied that he had finished both, he reached to the table on the other side of the bed, took hold of the tiny prescription bottle and laid back, steeling himself against the imminent comfort of the outstretched shades of eternity.

 

Read more short stories like this in Chad A. Clark’s collections, A Shade For Every Season and Two Bells At Dawn.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Reviews in the Machine : The Cold, by Rich Hawkins

The ColdIt’s been a long held fact that you can’t judge a book from its cover. I would disagree with this notion from time to time but the relevance to this discussion is the incredible cover art that perfectly sets the mood for this book. This cover looks like the book was published, ready for John Carpenter to come swooping in to do the film adaptation. And in all seriousness, if this book makes it into the right hands, I can only hope that that adaptation becomes a reality.

I have been a fan of Rich Hawkins from the early days of the Last Plague. He has taken his books in any number of different directions but what I constantly find myself drawn to as a unifying factor in his books is a profoundly ingrained and yet beautiful sense of bleak darkness. There’s an almost nihilistic drive to the writing that, while sad on the surface is also compelling enough to keep me turning the pages and pulling me through the story.

The Cold starts abruptly and while many would call for more information and context, I think this works better. Rich is superb at putting the reader into the story, along with the characters. The book opens on a train and we have about that much time to acclimate before things kick off. It begins to snow and the train stops, stranding the passengers. And hidden within the misty snow and driving wind are creatures that are powerful and terrifying.

I hate retreating back to the tried and true catch phrases like, “Truly no one is safe in…” But in this case, I can say with total accuracy that no one is safe in a Rich Hawkins book. As our characters do what they can to make their way across this nightmarish landscape, new people are quickly introduced. And just as quickly, they are obliterated out of the story in spectacular fashion.

And while you aren’t given a ton of back-story up front, I felt like the protagonist managed to grow in my mind as the book wound its way to the gripping finale. Rich does a great job keeping with what you know and mixing all of that into a great tale, even when there’s more still yet to come.

Rich has some of the most vivid and visually creative descriptions I think I’ve read in some time. So while the book could be seen as maybe a touch plot-heavy, I find that the plot is so great I just don’t care that much. The book could have been twice as long and I would have happily gone along for the entire ride. A meal as good as this one, you don’t never want it to end.

We live in a world in which every day, people seem to be a little bit angrier. For whatever reason, so many people seem all the more invested in finding reasons to take issue with each other. And I’m not putting down the more politically inclined of our society or those who speak up in favor of those who can’t speak for themselves. But there’s no reason why that has to completely take over our lives. It’s also refreshing to be able to pick up a book and take in a really great story. This is a frightening tale that is paced brilliantly and leaves you wanting to immediately know when the next Rich Hawkins book is going to finally hit the shelves.

Or at least wondering when John Carpenter is going to get around to doing an adaptation of this book.

 

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Paranormal & Supernatural In Review : Drag Me To Hell (2009)

DragMe1

Drag Me To Hell is a film that I enjoyed when it first came out but with so much time having passed since, for the purposes of this review I thought I should re-watch it. And what I found was that I wasn’t enjoying it as much the second time around. And this could be a simple case of a movie not holding up as well for multiple viewings but I tried to mull it over and decide what exactly about it bothered me this time, as opposed to when I first saw it.

And in the end, I think what I can come up with is that this is the kind of movie that is going to depend a lot on what you’re expecting to see as you walk through the door. What style of horror are you expecting and how well does it hold up under those expectations?

Looking at this as a straight horror film, I felt like it came up quite short in the end. And it’s more than just the acting not being great or the cringe-worthy lines of dialog, the likes of, “I beat you, you old bitch” or “That’s the last of my hair you ever get!” For me, it goes down to how the premise of the movie itself is executed, pardon the pun.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I love a good story involving a curse. But in this case, I kind of felt like the movie just goes through the motions of establishing said curse.

The movie opens on a young couple rushing to the aid of a medium. Their son has been marked and made the target for a powerful demon. He has been hearing voices following an incident in which he stole a necklace from a group of gypsies. Always gypsies, right? The parents tried to return the necklace but to no avail. And in the course DragMe4of the attempted séance, a demon attacks and takes the boy, dooming him to an apparent eternity of suffering.

Right off the bat, I have a problem.

Give me a moment and I’ll come back to explain.

Flash forward some thirty years later and we are with our protagonist, Christine. Christine is a loan officer at a bank who is competing with a sniveling coworker for a promotion and things aren’t looking good for her. On this day, an elderly woman comes to the bank because her home is about to be repossessed. She pleads for leniency, despite already having gotten multiple extensions. Christine goes to her boss who implies pretty strongly that if she hopes for this promotion, she should turn this woman away. But of course it’s her choice.

Christine rejects the woman’s plea for help and in the course of her desperation, she makes somewhat of a scene in the bank, begging on her knees and in the course of a mildly physical confrontation where they kind of get tangled up in each other, Christine calls security, having the woman kicked out. She leaves, scolding Christine for shaming her and I’m pretty sure you can guess where the story goes from there.

My problem is at the point where it seems like these people drop a curse on someone in the blink of an eye. And while I get that the point is to generate sympathy for the characters, it goes so far as to make the gypsies in the movie just seem like unreasonable assholes. Look at something like Stephen King’s Thinner. In this story, you have a main character who is in an equally sympathetic situation but at least there’s the other side of the coin where you realize he could have been responsible for a death. He is being punished for an act that most of us would consider equally horrible. There’s a balance.

DragMe5In this? A child is dammed to eternal suffering in hell? For stealing a necklace? That they tried to give back? Could Christine have given the woman a break and given her another extension? Sure. But is it really her fault that the loan is so far behind? Should she be cursed to her own eternity in hell for something like this?

The responses seem all out of proportion with the crime. At some point, you would think that the demon these people are calling up would be like, “Hey, could you stop summoning me every time the checkout clerk at Costco is mean to you?”

I know, I’m taking this aspect of the plot too seriously as obviously this is just intended as a mechanism to put the protagonist into a situation of peril. I just thought they could have done a better job making the main character a bit less sympathetic while still preserving the overall tragedy of the notion of a curse.

All of that aside, I do have to acknowledge some of the better parts of the movie and there are some fantastic moments of gross gore in all of its horrific glory. There are any number of scenes involving the main character and dead bodies and fluids expelling that are pure gold for their entertainment value.

And that brings me to the other side of this coin and what I think settles my mind in terms of seeing the reaction to this movie as being so linked with the attitude you have going in.

I mean, who is this that we are talking about, anyway? Sam Raimi has certainly established himself as a name when it comes to epic, splatter-tastic cult horror films. I mean, that’s what he’s known for AFTER consideration of his epic cameo appearance in Spies Like Us. From the opening moments of Drag Me To Hell when the retro logo for Universal crawls onto the screen, I should have been expecting a throwback to a fantastic era of horror when the experience was just as much about calling friends over right before you ordered the pizza and began stacking up the VHS tapes.

These were not high-brow movies, meant to be taken seriously. This isn’t an experience that is necessarily going to dragme3-e1564170900329.jpgleave you enlightened and more mature. None of it is really meant to be taken on an intellectual level.

Looking through that lens allows me to relax a bit and take in the absurdities of the film as just part of the ride.

The moment of the movie where I think it all crystallized for me had to be the goat sequence. If you aren’t familiar, basically the plan that is hatched by the medium that Christine goes to for help is to summon this demon, trap it within the body of a goat and then kill the goat. Sure, nothing could go wrong. Anyway, the moment when the animatronic goat becomes possessed is one of the more hysterical sequences I think I have seen in any kind of a film, be it horror or comedy or whatever else. How can you not love a movie that has the guts to create a scene as over the top as that?

So I guess my overall diagnosis of the film and how I reacted to it is that I think maybe Raimi was hedging his bets a little too much. The film kind of dips its toes into both sides of the fence but doesn’t seem to commit to one or the other. I think this either needed to be a serious horror film or he had to flip all caution into the wind and go totally over the top. A lot of the movie feels like it’s kind of stutter-stepping in that direction without having the conviction to just do it.

What I’m saying is that if we had slapped on a little more cheese, we might be talking about this film, right alongside the likes of The Evil Dead.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


First Meetings, by Chad A. Clark

first meetings

Before the crew had even finished the landing sequence, the delegation of Khaln’aari had emerged from the forest to greet them. Captain Altranor led them down the ramp to meet the party with the crew already in full dress uniform. Theirs was one of the first crews to come to the planet, and it lifted their spirits to find such a warm reception.

The digital network that was streamed through their comm badges was able, albeit slowly, to translate what the Khaln’aari were saying. Before long, the formalities of the reception had lessened somewhat to a more comfortable familiarity. They exchanged gifts, the Captain giving the Khaln’aari a glass figurine of Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom. The Khaln’aari had given each of the crew necklaces of tiny, but intricately sculpted pieces of brawn’dak stone.

The two groups entertained each other at the reception site with traditional myths native to each others’ cultures. They traded the stories, back and forth, until the sun was starting to set beyond the southern horizon.

The food was by far, the highlight of the evening.

Being nighttime hunters, the Khaln’aari allowed several members of the crew, including the Captain to join them on that evening’s excursion. The crew had been able to achieve several kills, even though all they saw of the animals were dark shapes running through the trees. The Khaln’aari had several dozen kills, and they sent the younger hunters of the tribe to collect the bodies and clean them for the feast.

Hours later at dinner, the servers brought out pots, steaming from within. The stews, all different, were served to everyone, dark and rich, with the most moist, and flavorful meat any of them had ever eaten. The over-sized glasses of blood-red wine went straight through them, and soon, most were seeing the table through an unsteady haze of pre-intoxication.

The Captain stood to toast the hospitality of their hosts and to thank the Khaln’aari for the feast.

There was a tittering of laughter in response to the toast and for the first time, the Captain looked uncertain. The leader of the Khaln’aari rose and spoke loudly for quite some time, the rest of his delegation chuckling as he went on. It took a minute before the neural network was able to fully translate what was being said, and another minute before the implication of his statement set in.

“That is precisely what the last group of humans who visited here said. I know that you believe you were the first to set foot here, as did they. You were incorrect in that assumption, as were they. They enjoyed their meals as well, that is, before they knew what they were eating, or rather, who they were eating. As great as their anger was at being tricked into hunting their own kind, the humans who had visited here before them, it paled in comparison to the revelation that it was those fellow travelers who they had been dining on.”

The crew all pushed back from the table, meaning to stand, reaching for weapons that the Captain had not let them bring for fear of offending the Khaln’aari. Before they could even rise to their feet, guards stepped forward out of the shadows and held them down in their chairs. The Captain stood frozen in place, unable to move or react. The leader spoke one last time, “I wonder,” he said as he lifted a glass, “how the next crew will feel about hunting you. Do you think they will enjoy the food?”

 

 

Read more short stories like this in Chad A. Clark’s collections, A Shade For Every Season and Two Bells At Dawn.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Reviews In The Machine : Compliance (2012)

Compliance1Compliance is a movie that I watched ages ago, back in the days of old of Netflix and bright red envelopes. But the movie recently popped up again on my Amazon prime list so I thought it would be worth paying it a revisit.

Compliance isn’t a horror movie necessarily. It doesn’t have monsters or the supernatural or any kind of ghoulish threat to our main characters. However, the experience of the protagonist in this movie definitely crosses over the border into what anyone in their right  mind would consider to be horrific. It’s the kind of story that shines a disturbing light on how easy it can be to get people of strong moral character to do the most depraved and horrible things.

The film is based on actual events which maddeningly could be accurately be described as a series of phone pranks. For the most part the basic details were the same. An individual calls in to a restaurant claiming to be a police officer. He tells the manager that he has just taken a complaint from a customer who claims that a cashier from the restaurant has stolen money from her purse. And because there isn’t an officer available to come to the restaurant, he needs the manager to pull the employee aside, detain her and go through her belongings to try and find this money. Continue Reading


Ambition, by Chad A. Clark

ambition

Morris ducked through the archway into the cemetery, trying to stay out of sight. That intern had been at the movie and clearly was interested in conversation that Morris wanted no part of. As soon as the credits started to roll, he jumped up out of his seat and darted out through the rear emergency exit. He thought he had made a clean getaway but still, he heard the sound of dragging footsteps, coming from somewhere behind him. The kid was nothing if not relentless.

A certain amount of hero worship was to be expected when you were a vice president of foreign acquisitions. He was used to that, but the unending barrage of questions and requests was almost enough for him to consider early retirement. He had neither the interest nor the time to be just some renewable resource. Not unless he was getting paid.

Besides, it wasn’t as if there was a career path that he could recommend, based on his vast experience. Granted, climbing the corporate ladder had always been easy for him. What he could never say was that the reason was that people ahead of him on the food chain always seemed to fall victim to convenient accidents. How could he phrase that in the form of a mission statement? Kid, just make sure you’re always in position to step up, if and when someone kicks the bucket. Better yet, make sure you provide the bucket. Continue Reading


Saugus Falls, an excerpt, by Chad A. Clark

creative-writing-landing

A few months ago, I began writing what I thought was going to be a short story. As I got into it, however, I realized that this was likely going to end up being a full novel. For posterity and maybe to motivate myself, I am sharing the first chapter with you now, in all it’s rough-draftiness-glory. I’ve done very little to this, keeping it pretty close to how it sprang out of my mind. I’ve given it a quick read to make it (hopefully) not completely embarrassing. Still, it’s a project that I’ve been intrigued to see what direction it’s going in. Check it out, I hope you enjoy it. It will be some time before this project sees the light of day but it’s from here that it begins.

Nolan picked up the battered Zippo from the gravel. He took note of his fingers trembling as he wiped the greasy leavings of blood from the tarnished metal. The thing was frail-looking, despite the breadth of time and destruction that it had borne witness to. He wondered at how many fire-fights it had gone through, tucked away in his grandfather’s uniform as he struggled to find warmth in the Ardennes Forest. A battered landscape long since given itself up to the cold of empty death.

Now the thing was no better than a token for drunk rednecks to go bare-knuckles over in the parking lot of a bar that looked like it only served as the last stop before the end of the line. He hawked up the gunk in his throat and spit, feeling something dislodge in the process and watched detachedly as a tooth skittered off towards the sewer. Considering how much the side of his face still burned from where the guy had put the pool que, one tooth was probably getting off easy.

Maybe it was time to call it quits on this town. Put boots to that dusty Iowa road and depart for yet one more point B. It was a bit far to the next town but he could always get a good start now, thumbing his way for the rest. Someone would be willing to pick him up and toss him a ride. Even if it was in the flatbed of a pickup that wheezed and groaned, like it was on the verge of giving up the ghosts. He just had to be patient and put himself in the right position to catch a ride. Continue Reading


Reviews in the Machine : Frankenstein Theory, by Jack Wallen

Frankenstein TheoreyAt some point, author Jack Wallen made the decision to climb the literary mountain and write his own interpretation of one of the classics, Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein. And as we currently sit in the era of the reboot and the remake, I think it would be totally understandable if the reflexive reaction to something like this would be to dismiss. To bemoan the general lack of originality and new ideas that are popular culture seems unable to produce anymore.
However, knowing Jack’s work and him personally, I knew him to not be the kind of writer to simply take on any easy gimmick as a way of bringing in readers. I know how devoted of a storyteller he is and as I allowed the idea to fairly percolate in my head, I had to acknowledge that for as much as I like the original Frankenstein, it certainly isn’t without its faults and flaws.
I actually have just re-read Frankenstein this year as I had purchased it for someone as a gift. And as I was reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder where exactly my enjoyment of the story was coming from. There were several junctures where I had to acknowledge that my reaction was stemming from the fact that on an intellectual level I simply knew what was going on in the story. I couldn’t say that I was reacting to the inherent quality of the prose itself. And I think that raises the question which is important for a lot of literature of time periods which are lost to us. How much of our enjoyment of the writing is coming from the actual words from that author and how much is coming from the fact that we are so intimately familiar with the raw details of the plot? Is it possible that these books have been talked over so many times in so many literature classes that we now almost read them on autopilot?
Mary Shelley wrote a classic of modern genre literature. It has hints of science fiction and horror and while people commonly misunderstand who in the story Frankenstein actually is, this book did launch an entire franchise of content in our pop culture. However, I do have some issues in the way in which she chose to deliver the story.
The nested doll style of the plot, along with the heavily epistolary nature of the story makes me as the reader feel cut off from the heart of what is going on. At the outset of the book, the story is centered around the captain of a scientific expedition, writing letters back home to his wife. In his letters, he details an encounter with another scientist by the name of Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein proceeds to tell this captain an extremely detailed story in his own right, shifting the story to another voice. And at the peak of the story’s narrative complexity, the voice of the narrative shifts again to that of Frankenstein’s creation. If you’re keeping track, this  becomes the voice of the monster, told by Frankenstein to the Captain who then retells it all it in his letter to his wife. At some point you start to wonder how it is that so many people have such a crystal clear recollection of every word spoken to them over the course of their life.
And I get it. I understand that a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required. After all we are talking about a book in which the dead are brought back to life. Still, my point stands that while I enjoy the novel a great deal, there is plenty which can be built upon and expanded and maybe done with a little bit more clarity. And what I think Wallen has done here so effectively with Frankenstein Theory is to take some of the concepts which Shelly flirts with and makes them much more evident and impactful on the page.
According to Wallen, this book began as a short story intended to be somewhat of a backstory for Victor Frankenstein. And as short stories often seem to do, it ended up growing and expanding from there. So another strength of Frankenstein Theory is that the doctor himself feels like a more fleshed out and rounded character, as opposed to merely an obligatory piece who is there to tell his story.
For me, what made Frankenstein Theory stand out was in the way that it made the issues presented in Mary Shelley‘s book more accessible. And I don’t mean that in a lazy sense of “I just don’t want to deal with the mental strain of disentangling Shelly’s prose.” For me, this book manages to make the morality of the story the centerpiece, as opposed to an aspect which has to be explained and talked over before you really get the significance of what’s going on.

And Don’t get me wrong, the language of Mary Shelley is beautiful and it is a book I enjoy a great deal. It’s just that, generationally we are so far removed from that period of time and that language.  It’s overly simplistic to accuse a lack of intellect when people have a hard time engaging with classic literature. It’s simply that for many, the process of engaging with a voice so far removed from us just isn’t worth the pay-off of what we get in the narrative. And for as simple as I’m sure many would dismiss books of our current era, I have to think that a hundred years from now, readers would have just as much trouble trying to  get at the heart of what was being written. The key I see to my enjoyment of this book is how it manages to dust off the power of Shelly’s work and make it feel less like a literary artifact.

Because of the immediacy of events, Wallen is able to plunge the reader into the moral spectacle that Shelley only seems to wink at. That as the book moves forward, the monster becomes progressively more human while Dr. Frankenstein becomes more and more inhuman. To me, this is the core power of Frankenstein. Not stumbling, green monsters, but how the rational pursuits of an intellectual mind can reveal the real monsters hiding within. And this is a point beautifully laid out in Frankenstein Theory. I, for one, am excited to read more in this series.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page