Chasing Ghosts, by Glenn Rolfe is a serious book. It goes at you quickly and hits you hard. For as much as I have loved the works of the likes of Stephen King, I am becoming more aligned with the idea that the novella as an art form is the place where the horror genre really shines. It’s so great to be able to get there and experience the meat of the story in as few sittings as possible. I read this book in a day and I think the only reason why it wasn’t in one go was because I was at work and couldn’t rightfully justify taking an hour long break.
Chasing Ghosts takes place in Maine where a disparate group of strangers is drawn together, where they are confronted by a dark presence residing within the woods. A number of different abbreviated story threads weave in and out of each other in this book as it winds its way down to the exciting conclusion. Continue Reading
I had every intention of posting a book review today. But then the news dropped and I felt like it was incumbent upon me to take note of the loss of one of the biggest and most important names of our modern popular culture.
I can’t bring myself to call the loss of Stan Lee “tragic”. To be sure, the news makes me sad and the weight of his departure is going to be felt for a long time to come. Still, to say that he led a long and successful life would be the understatement of the year. Ninety-Five years is a long time and we were definitely the benefactors from a long career that almost ended before it really began. For a man who was at the end of his rope, ready to leave the industry far behind in the rear view mirror of his life, Stan Lee ended up defining the landscape of a generation, setting off an industry that has generated more quantities in money than we probably have names for. Continue Reading
An American Werewolf in London
Watching An American Werewolf in London now, one of the first things that strikes you is how long ago 1981 was, and how much the world – specifically England – has changed since then. This is partly due to the observational eye of American director John Landis, achieving a detached touristy perspective on the closed community of East Proctor in rural Yorkshire, with its shifty paranoid locals who talk in broad accents and fear strangers; and also taking in the sights and sounds of swinging London – Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and not forgetting the seedy crepuscular interior of a Soho porn cinema. Notable too is the appearance of Jenny Agutter as love interest Nurse Alex Price, then still at the height of her nubility and fantasy material for legions of young men after a string of scantily clad roles in movies such as Walkabout, Equus and Logan’s Run. Seeing Ms Agutter in contemporary roles is another indicator of that gulf of time that has elapsed since the early 1980s. Continue Reading
I was introduced to The Last Plague in its original incarnation, several years ago. It was the first work I had read of Rich Hawkins and as can be expected I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had been interacting with him for some time on Facebook, leading up to the release of his first book, but you never really know what narrative sludge is lurking under the surface.
The book was phenomenal. I loved it. It was original and bleak, grim and brutal in its execution. And underneath all the guts and the gore there was still the heartbeat of an original story, of characters that had soul that I connected with.
This book as well as the other two volumes in the trilogy was originally published by Crowded Quarantine Publications. And despite putting out a number of fantastic books, within the last year, Crowded Quarantine was forced to close its doors, leaving the Last Plague trilogy without a home.
I felt bad for Rich but I also knew that it wouldn’t take long for him to find a new home for these books. And as such it was no surprise to me when the announcement came that the books had been picked up and slotted for re-release.
And while all of this is interesting, I realize it begs the question as to what, if anything has changed? I wouldn’t likely be reviewing it again if it hadn’t, right?
Yes, the heart and soul of the book remains the same. Rich hasn’t pulled a George Lucas here necessarily, or is trying to sucker us all into buying the book again with some new frills. What he did do was another pass with the editors pen, smoothing out areas which he felt was a bit on the rough side. As a writer myself, I can certainly sympathize with the pull to go back into those first few books and update it to your contemporary style and quality. I would say that Rich’s work here was most evident in the start of the book. While I never felt like it didn’t work, the opening chapters of the original book did go by rather fast. Rich has extended much of this out, giving more time to the characters and allowing the narrative to develop a more complex and dynamic root structure.
But more importantly than the prose of the original story, Rich has also surprised all of us with a brand new novella, snuck amidst the pages of this re-issue. The story is titled AWOL, and is set within the Last Plague universe. This story picks up a secondary character from The Last Plague and extends out his story as he strives to get back to his ex-wife and son. The story is gripping and heart-wrenching, all that I have come to expect from Rich. And it serves as the perfect companion piece to the main novel.
What I like the most about The Last Plague is in how it borrows from multiple sources that I have loved throughout my life. First, he brilliantly captures the magnificently bleak landscape of Stephen King’s legendary book, The Stand. Despite being so bleak and unforgiving a landscape, you can’t help but read onward, it’s so compelling. But besides this great tapestry, Rich also tapped into one of my all-time favorite horror/sci-fi mash-ups, namely James Cameron’s Aliens. The Last Plague has the same level of intense fear that you feel for these characters situations in that, for as much as you want things to work out for them you also know it probably isn’t going to happen.
Being an original fan of the book, I will say that I have a fondness for the cover art that graced the books put out by Crowded Quarantine. The art for all three books was magnificently done and I thought captured perfectly the vibe of the series. It adds value for me to the paperback editions I have sitting on the shelf in my closet. Not to suggest that a cover makes the book, just that in this case, I really liked these covers.
The Last Plague is an amazing book, one that I feel lucky to have come across as they have hit the market. And they have only served to function as a springboard into the rest of Rich’s bibliography. I eagerly await the completion and publication of the other two books in this (hopefully) expanded format.
And before I go, I would just like to point out the inherent challenges of living as an indie or small press author. This endeavor is a constant attack on our self-esteem and while it is a battle we can generally win, a little help goes a long way. Rich is a great part of this genre and I’m glad to call him a friend. Please consider supporting him by picking up this book, reading it and leaving a review. Think of it as necessary fuel for your favorite authors to keep putting out the work you enjoy.
BUY THE LAST PLAGUE TODAY
Let’s see if we can start some stuff, here.
If there is a vampire film that has proved to be more divisive and argument-provoking, Lost Boys would likely be close to the top of the list. The world seems to have no shortage of both love and scorn for this landmark film.
And hey, I get it. I am not the biggest Joel Shumacher fan. While he has done some films I like, A Time To Kill, Falling Down and 8mm, I will completely acknowledge that much of his work comes off as a touch superficial, movies that look nice but without a lot of substance to them. He managed to personally put a torpedo into the flank of the original Batman film franchise, trying too hard to make a big-budget summer film but also somehow trying to wear Tim Burton’s clothes at the same time. Often, I get the vibe of someone who directs high profile films but who also wants to have what he sees as the cred of a small-budget indie filmmaker.
Maybe I’m just at the right age, but Lost Boys was a huge part of my childhood. I still remember seeing it in the theater, although how I managed as an eleven-year-old to have parents who took me to a film like that is beyond me. But still, it was a movie I saw upon its original release and over the years, I have come back to it and watched it again and again. And as the genre has shifted and changed to the Twilight era we find ourselves in, Lost Boys still stands as one of the last contemporary vampire movies that I have really enjoyed. And yes, I do realize that I’m putting a spotlight on my age by referring to this as contemporary. Just move past it, Atticus.
Yeah, I know. I did it again.
And please don’t take this as the old guy grousing on how millennials have ruined vampires. That isn’t my point. I’m sure that fans of the classic Universal Monster movies were equally put off by movies such as The Lost Boys and Fright Night. While much of current interpretations aren’t for me, I’m mature enough to understand that it’s a big world out there and things are inevitably going to shift in favor of the interests of other people.
And for me, Lost Boys represented a narrative sensibility where vampires were something we were meant to be more afraid of. These characters existed as destructive forces of nature that demanded respect and incited terror. Cold-blooded killers (literally) who took and did whatever they wanted.
Let’s start with the area that I think is the most important and most underrated when it comes to success in a movie – the music It’s not something that many give thought to, but the reality is that the music of any given scene is responsible for laying down the emotional groundwork that the acting is built upon. Acting and writing is important, as is costume and set design and effects but the music is what gets into our heads and informs us as to how we should be feeling about what we’re seeing.
Lost Boys has a phenomenal soundtrack. I’m listening to it right now as I write this. It’s no coincidence that great movies are often paired with great soundtracks. Despite all the years that have passed since this movie first came out, there is a lot of music from there that has stayed with me.
I’ll concede that the acting in this movie isn’t great. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Coreys and I’ll freely admit that they were more a product of popular culture at the time than anything from their actual acting chops. And by putting them front and center, the film was pretty clearly going after the younger MTV audience, presenting a fairly superficial stereotype of pseudo “punk-rock kids” as the vampires in this. I get it, but the positives of the movie still outweigh all of it for me.
Would I still like the movie as much if I were to watch it now, for the first time? I’ll be honest and admit that I have no idea but there’s also no way to resolve that question. I’ll own the fact that my own middle-aged nostalgia could be causing my love for this movie to swell out of control and it could very well be affecting my judgment.
I just don’t care.
I’m a sucker for stories where strangers roll into a new town and are sucked into a dark underworld that manages to exist and thrive right under everyone’s noses. That was done really well here, with one brother being sucked into the allure of this world and the other being driven to rise up against it.
And besides Stand By Me and Young Guns, this is one of the more iconic performances of Kiefer Sutherland’s early years for me. I thought he did a great job as the menacing leader of the gang of vampires taking this seaside town apart. He plays the role that was required of him and he put his all in to it.
And while the twist at the end wasn’t that unexpected, even to eleven-year-old me, it’s still done well and brings the film around to a satisfying conclusion. This isn’t a movie that was meant to change the world. It was a movie that was meant to be entertaining, it was meant to be fun in all of it’s baby oil-slicked, saxophone toned glory and if there is any one thing I would say about the endurance of the Lost Boys it would be that I still believe.
And just as an aside at the end here, I’m not going to bother speaking up for any of the films that came after this. I haven’t watched any of them and I have no interest.
For me, there will always and only be one Lost Boys.
I was a big fan of Jonathon Butcher’s novella from last year, What Good Girls Do. So much so that in the wake of that release I found myself pondering something that doesn’t often come to mind with an author.
The question was, what now?
What does Miles Davis do after releasing Bitches Brew? What does Scorcese do after Goodfellas?
So when I saw that a new book was on the horizon I was excited. I was also very nervous. It’s about as difficult as it gets for an artist to reach down in oneself and come up with something that can stand on its own greatness in the shadow of what came before it. To put something out and constantly hear muttered refrains like, “Sure, it was okay. But it was nothing like…”
Is that a fair standard? To demand equal levels of greatness from each successive release, if not more? Perhaps not. Many an artist has unfairly ended up fading away into the background of our culture because they were too caught up in trying to chase the vestiges of former greatness.
Still, this was the mindset I was dueling with as I came to The Children At The Bottom Of The Gardden.
What can I say? Sometimes fears are totally unwarranted and clearly this kid has some game.
Let’s start with this brilliant cover art. Right away it had me thinking of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights which made me believe that I was in for a great ride.
What I get from Bosch is a feeling of voueurism, of observing this panorama of society, having been left to its own excess and perhaps some overindulgence of sexual liberty.
Pack that notion away in your mind for a minute. We’ll come back to it.
The standard book formula tells us that we have to have a protagonist and an antagonist. The character who sits at the center of the story and makes most of the decisions and actions that drives the narrative as well as the character that provides opposition and roadblocks to that progress.
With Gardden, we don’t really have a protagonist or an antagonist, not in the strict definitions of the words, anyway. We have an ensemble cast of characters who (depending on the context) can have aspects of being both protagonist and antagonist at the same time. I think it can be a cop-out at times for books to present characters as if anyone can truly be either entirely good or entirely bad when the reality is that on the inside, each of us is fully capable of both.
This is a book that, in all fairness shouldn’t work. This is the kind of narrative structure that I think causes hair-rending and unsolicited lecturing in workshops and writers groups. It’s the kind of thing many readers might turn away from because of the sheer size of this journey.
Thankfully, this was not the case with me.
What makes this story succeed is the strength and depth of the characters. They’re so engaging that, looking at the first half of the book, I think that if you were to unravel the separate narratives and lay them out flat, any one would have the potential to stand on its own as a great novella. And yet somehow they also all manage to create a necessary support structure for each other.
I like the density of this story. As I have gotten older I have become less of a fan of longer books and on face, this would be one that would stretch my limit a bit. But the way a longer work gets to me in the same fashion as a novella is by keeping me invested in the story that is unfolding. This book easily hits this mark. Butcher breathes life into these people, for as much as I kind of hate that expression. This is a book that is going to demand your attentiveness and I would not suggest putting it down for very long. This is the kind of book you need to be picking up every day, even if just to read a chapter or two. But trust me, the level of familiarity you get from this complex tale makes all the time worthwhile.
Like the inherent craziness of that Bosch painting, what I see in this story is a conglomerate of different parts that are completely separate and yet destined to be brought crashing together. Is the point the specifics of the lives these people lead, thinking of themselves as completely independent? Or is it the fact that ultimately their fates have already been decided, merely for having been brought into existence on the same landscape? I love the sense of impending doom around all of them, that despite how independent they are from one another, they all share the common factor of hurtling down this common highway, leading towards the brutal end that maybe they all deserve.
And not unlike Good Girls, there are definitely parts of this book that will disturb, as well as some aspects of most of the characters. But again like Good Girls, it’s impossible to look away, sitting above this Bosch-ian landscape, secure in the knowledge that whatever is lying at the end of the road for these characters, it’s going to be nothing good.
This week, Machine Mean will be running our review of the latest book from author Jonathan Butcher. In advance of this, we took the opportunity to sit down with Jonathan and poke at his soft bits and see what came loose. Give it a read and don’t forget to come back on Thursday for our thoughts on The Children At The Bottom Of The Gardden.
MM: Tell us about yourself. Where do you come from? Why writing? Where does your passion come from? What do you eat?
JB: That’s like a game-show question! I’m Jonathan, from South West England. From the moment I was able to transcribe ideas onto paper, I’ve been writing stories about weird, dark subject matter. I have little idea where my passion comes from – maybe from my folks having read to me from a young age, and maybe from a natural curiosity. And I eat pretty much everything, but at the moment I’m on a protein kick because I’m trying to de-scrawn myself and gain a couple of muscles, here and there.
MM: How do you feel that your narrative sensibilities have been shaped? Have you ever thought about where your art comes from?
JB: I write about what interests me, what makes me laugh, what grosses me out, and sometimes what moves me. For me, the most important aspect of a story is its structure; if it doesn’t have a satisfying beginning, middle, and an end (no matter how obscure) then I consider it a failure. I started reading adult horror at the age of about 10 but I grew to read plenty of other genre and non-genre stuff, so over time I’ve picked up a lot of influences. I’ve no idea why I’ve always been obsessed with such twisted subjects though – I had a good childhood and my parents and friends never encouraged my love for horror. I’ve just always been interested in understanding the things that many other people shy away from: the cruel secret, the things in the dark, and the good person who does something abominable.
MM: The characters in your stories often seem to be quite complex and laid out. Do you devote time to wrapping your head around them to the point that they are mostly fully formed by the time you start writing? Or does that happen more organically as the story also comes into being?
JB: My characters are very important to me. Even if they are exaggerated and outlandish, I want them to feel real within the context of my story. I very rarely plan them out in too much detail. Their personality forms during the first draft and is then expanded upon and refined in future drafts. I think that the characters in The Children at the Bottom of the Gardden are my most successfully-developed so far, but that book took 10 years (off and on) to write, and had five full redrafts, so I guess that’s to be expected. For me, the most exciting moments I experience as a writer are when one of my characters does something I wasn’t expecting. That’s when I know they’ve taken on a life of their own.
MM: Tell us about how this book came to be.
JB: I started The Children at the Bottom of the Gardden in about 2007. I’d tried writing a couple of novels before but never got further than about the 17,000-word mark, because I had been attempting to make them “deeper” than I was capable of at that point. The only reason I managed to complete Gardden is because I focused on writing about people and things that interest me, rather than trying to say something profound. I just chucked as many twisted ideas in there as I could, making myself laugh and occasionally retch, and then after the first draft was complete I realised how much work I still had to do!
MM: This book weaves a complex tapestry of characters that dips and weaves into each other. Did you have to conceptualize all of these plot-lines on their own at first or were you able to keep all of that present in your head as you wrote it all at once?
JB: I was about 70,000 words into the initial draft when it occurred to me how ambitious I was being writing this as my first book. I had 6/7 main characters, each with multiple plot arcs. At that point I started putting together brainstorms and detailed character backgrounds, and listing the number of sub-plots between each character that needed resolutions. It was intimidating, infuriating at times, but very satisfying when it all came together.
MM: And related to that, is there a particular character or character relationship in this that you feel particularly drawn to?
JB: I don’t think that there is any single character in the book that I feel more drawn to than the others. The more “realistic” characters came from my own life experiences, and the more OTT ones came from all the films/books I’ve watched/read. If I had to pick one of my creations who I’m most proud of, it would have to be Gary. He’s such a tragic, hopeless, and (for me) horribly believable character, and I feel like his chapters have a real energy to them.
MM: You seem to have made some deliberate formatting choices with this, for example some sections in all caps or spelling in some cases of specific words. “Gardden” is certainly an older usage of the word. Can you cast any light on these choices?
JB: The formatting comes from the fact that, while each chapter is written in the third person (she said/he said) they are very much subjective to each character’s personality and dialogue. Henry is like a lame version of a Guy Richie cockney wideboy, so instead of writing “fucking” the word is written in his accent: “fackin”. Locker has a very blunt, abrasive view of the world, so I wanted his chapters to reflect this – that’s why they’re in block capitals. And so on. As for the spelling of “gardden”, you’ll notice that it’s only written that way at certain times and in certain contexts … and that’s all I’m willing to say, for fear of spoilers. I think that my formatting choices may be clearer in the physical copy of the book, because each character has their own font to suit the style of their chapters.
MM: What Good Girls Do was obviously a starkly written, disturbing book. And while this new offering is quite a bit easier to get through, there are still some fairly graphic, disturbing scenes. The horror industry has received criticism in the past for the content we put out into the world. Why do you feel like your writing is pulled in this direction?
JB: Horror is there to horrify, plain and simple. I don’t think that I’m an author who writes shocking scenes without a purpose behind them – I have no interest in producing that kind of horror. I like the transgressive, and I like there to be a point behind extreme content. Sure, there are some unpleasant scenes in Gardden, but I think there’s only one which you could argue to be truly excessive, and that one is so over-the-top that it makes me laugh! I refuse to pull back from the shock of torture, murder, and violence. I just hope that I manage to make the level of viciousness suit the context of each story. I am a firm believer in free speech, and I think that it’s transparently obvious that if someone doesn’t like horror then they shouldn’t be reading it.
MM: Finally, what excites you about the state of the genre, what authors do you enjoy? And considering you have now put out two successive books that couldn’t be more different from one another, where do you see yourself going from here?
JB: I don’t feel qualified to comment on the horror genre as a whole, but I like Adam Nevill, H P Lovecraft, Duncan Ralston, Paula Ashe, and I have just discovered Poppy Z Brite. I’m currently enjoying The Stake by the late Richard Laymon, despite the fact that he struggles to describe a woman or teen girl without sounding like a pervert with drool running down his chin. As for my writing, it’ll probably continue to remain varied. I’ve been working on a novel about religious and political extremism but I needed to take a break from that for a while. I’m hoping to write a horror novella next, which is looking like it will feature possession, demons, cultists, and the usual weirdness that keeps me scribbling.
Jonathan Butcher has been writing weird stories since he was a child. He vividly remembers being 7 years old and banned by his teacher from writing about monsters or ghosts for a full term, but he can only assume that this encouraged him to write about them even more. He is a glutton for punishment, in that he not only writes for a hobby and passion, but also for a living. He lives just outside of Birmingham and spends most of his time immersed in horror, VR, strange music, dark strong beer, and all sorts of other naughtiness.
At the start, let me get out of the way that I fully acknowledge that in no way is Blade a perfect film. I don’t place it in my list of favorites – its isn’t even my favorite vampire film and I’m not going to argue that it should be for you.
It isn’t horror – in any interpretation of the word. I would categorize this alongside other similarly themed films as Underworld or Van Helsing. Films that may involve supernatural creatures or monsters as part of the story but are clearly just intended to be action movies, thrillers at best. Is this really important in the evaluation of it as a film? Probably not. But considering the context of reviewing vampire movies this month, I think it’s a relevant issue to bring to light. Is it really a vampire movie? Or is it just a movie that happens to have vampires in it?
So, I don’t think this is necessarily a shining example of what I would consider vampire lore. I can’t stand the notion that a vampire could be able to survive being out during the day because he’s wearing sunblock. And I tend to think that it takes a concept that should be fairly straightforward and simple and places it on an arbitrarily grandiose scale with notions of this massive underground society and with pseudo-mythological notions of the “day-walker”. Whatever, it’s all just pieces of the story to me and I don’t give it that much importance.
And I do tend to believe that the movie is a tad superficial. At times, I can’t escape the feeling that what the movie is really trying to do is show me how cool leather can look and sound.
I’ll also admit that I haven’t read even a frame of the comics that this movie was based on. So for me, I’m coming at this and seeing the movie in a vacuum for what it is. For me, this is all about just sitting down in front of a movie and enjoying, or not. Any previous knowledge or expectations are left at the door.
The question naturally and fairly becomes, why the hell do I like this film when by all rights and on paper, this should be a movie I don’t like?
It could be that it came along in the perfect point in my life. I was in the process of moving out of my dorm, it was the end of my senior year of college and it was a stressful time. There was a lot that needed to get done and my brother was in town helping me out.
And as things were finally angling down towards being finished, he and I took time out to catch a late-night showing of this. And I think it was exactly what I needed at the moment. Mindless, fun, loud action film at the theater that gave me something to escape into.
It could also be that, growing up in the eighties and nineties, Wesley Snipes was a major name and bulwark of my movie experiences, from as early as Major League, with fairly notable roles throughout much of the years to come. And looking back now, from the distant perspective of 2018, the Blade franchise was kind of the last hurrah for Snipes in terms of his visibility as an actor. This is not a criticism of him, by any means and I hope that wherever he is, he’s living comfortably, working on what he wants to and has found happiness on the back of the great work he has produced over his life.
Despite the annoyances over the little things and the parts I wish had been done differently, I have to put out there that I think the opening sequence of this film was one of the best I’ve seen. As absurd as the notion is of underground vampire clubs, it was a perfect way to introduce Blade as a character and I loved watching the intensity of him taking that room apart. It established the perfect mood for a movie that is designed to keep you in your seat, eating popcorn and drinking soda. It’s a great movie visually, with great dark tones to it and despite the summer blockbuster status, it still has some hints at harder edges that would suggest that maybe they were going for an adult audience at least. This is the kind of movie that you aren’t supposed to take that seriously. It’s a nice balance of the Marvel formula of action and funny talking combined with some gory and bloody bits as well.
And if there is anything Wesley Snipes does to perfection, it’s action movies. And this was one of his swan songs in that regard. Take it in for what it’s worth, great action and fun fictional escape routes from the dreary reality of our day to day existences.
For me, part of what makes Interview With The Vampire interesting is in considering the movie that we almost got. This was an example of a film plagued by pre-production difficulties, one of which was the outspoken criticism of author Anne Rice of the decision to cast Tom Cruise in the enigmatic role of Lestat. Now, as I write this review in 2018, Scientology and other eccentricities aside, Cruise has become a household name and not just for being an action star. I think he has well established himself as an actor with chops. This was not so much the case in the early to mid-nineties, however, and it led to Rice’s decision to disassociate with the film. And it would only be years later when she would recant her position.
But more than that, even, was the role of the boy who conducts the interview during this story. In the beginning, this role was given to young, up-and-coming actor River Phoenix. And it would be only days before filming that he would pass away tragically from a drug overdose. The producers had to scramble at the last minute to find a replacement and as a result we ended up with Christian Slater, who does a perfectly fine job, but I still can’t help but wonder what kind of a turn Phoenix would have taken with the role.
The movie was not an easy experience for the cast. When production shifted to London, it was in the dead of winter and work was conducted inside a studio with little or no windows so after toiling away in darkness of that place, the cast would emerge into the outside world, dark as well. Kind of an appropriate statement on the content of the story but understandably difficult to endure.
The point is that the film had an interesting gestational process and I have to think that if some aspects of it been different, we would have ended up with a dramatically different film, for better or worse, who’s to say?
My feelings on Anne Rice are a bit complicated and conflicted. On one hand, growing up with her writing was immensely influential for me. It was my first exposure to the possibility that horror(ish) fiction could also be beautifully written and intelligent. The first four books of the vampire chronicles were read multiple times as I made my way from junior high through college.
As I got older, however, I kind of drifted away from her writing and I have never really returned. I could never really put a finger on it until I recently when I thought I would try reading the entire chronicles and started fresh with Interview and found that I couldn’t get myself past the fourth book. I still loved Interview and I even enjoyed The Vampire Lestat. I still think those two books serve as a perfect example of the importance of point of view and how you can never really trust your narrator.
But as for the rest, Queen Of The Damned and Tale Of The Body Thief, I just felt like the writing was overwrought with unnecessary verbiage and backstory and slowing down the plot to drag out personal histories for characters that I didn’t really care about. And as a result, with the heart of the story so difficult to access, I decided to leave it all behind. It just doesn’t click with who I am as a reader anymore.
I know, what’s the point of all this, right?
I found that it gave me a new appreciation for the film adaptation of Interview With The Vampire because I think it managed to capture the beauty of Rice’s prose while at the same time keeping things grounded in a fairly solidly plotted screenplay. It also helps that as Rice devotes a lot of time in creating complex characters, the performances across the board were phenomenal.
There was some to-do made on the casting of then unknown Kirsten Dunst in the role of Claudia. Because while Dunst was youn, the character in the book was even younger. And while I can see the point that the film departed from the text somewhat, ultimately you have to lean towards the abilities of the actor and there was no way any actor of the age the book calls for would be able to pull off such a difficult role.
And for as huge as they are now, imagine trying to pull off a film with both Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. One or both of those guys would have to take a serious pay cut in order for that to happen. And this is a time when I think both of them were really at the top of their game. Tom Cruise had been a star for some time, but more for his work as an action star than anything else. Coming out around the same time as movies like A Few Good Men and Jerry MacGuire, Cruise seemed to be branching out more, into more serious roles that he might have otherwise not been associated with. And Pitt was just starting to put in some of the more notable early performances that would make him a household name. In all, great performances from the both of them.
Add to this some great supporting performances from the likes of Stephen Rhea and then also emerging Antonio Banderas. Even Christian Slater, (who I occasionally poke at a little for being what I consider Jack Nicholon Lite) put in some solid work, despite basically being dropped into production.
Interview is a beautifully filmed and constructed movie, so much so that I almost feel like it was made as if Anne Rice’s narrative sensibilities were surgically grafted onto the director. The music is fantastic, and the set work is top notch. I feel like I’m in these places and I can distinctively feel the vibe and the history of all of them.
On the flip side of things, I also have to acknowledge the other possible influence that Anne Rice and this movie have had on the current landscape. I have not been a huge fan of where vampire lore has gone to this point, with Twilight and the likes dominating the genre to such an extent. And I think an argument could be made that books and movies like Interview With The Vampire and subsequent books were taking the first steps towards that point. Not that Anne Rice could have ever conceived of this taking place, but I find myself forced to consider it as I contemplate my feelings on the film.
Interview With The Vampire is not horror as I would define it. Not really, anyway. I think it’s a fairly literary story that happens to feature characters of supernatural origin. Regardless of how you categorize it, though, I think Interview stands as a fresh and original fictional take on the notion of vampirism. This isn’t just about fangs and coffins and victims screaming as they are devoured. This is a human story told through the lens of monsters and it’s the only time I can think of where I have seen vampires actually struggling with their own morality and where they stand in the world. It’s a well thought out and executed story, one that I would recommend checking out, either by seeing the movie, reading the novel or both.
I Kill In Peace, by Hunter Shea is a powerful book, one of the more effective explorations I have seen of the twisted and deteriorating sanity and perspective of a chilling character. I don’t say this very often but this really was a book that I had a hard time putting down so I’m glad I was able to read it fairly quickly. The narrative was that compelling, feeding my need with each page to find out what was happening.
The premise of the book is that of a character being driven to commit murder. After being let go from his job, Peter starts to receive text messages from an anonymous source, instructing him on who he is to kill, providing the weapon and the opportunity to do it. This starts simply enough as revenge against the opportunistic boss who fires him and from there it just gets more extreme.
One of the more effective parts of this book was how Shea demonstrated exactly how Peter is driven to committing acts that most of us would consider unconscionable. I’m not normally the biggest fan of the first person but in this case I think that it is essential to trace his state of mind and why he is doing the things he is doing. Ironically enough, even in the midst of committing unforgivable crimes, you can’t help but feel just a little bit sorry for him, like he was caught up in circumstances more than anything else.
Peter himself is a solid character and the story built around him is effectively done. Shea does a good job putting him in a position that earns the sympathy of the reader. You really feel his stress at the prospects of having to support his family now that he is without a means of earning an income. Besides obvious external pressures to commit these crimes, you also see the internal stresses created by the situation he finds himself in.
As intriguing and mysterious as the story is, right out of the gate, it only proves to get even more disturbing as we witness not just Peter’s apparent transformation but that of the world around him as well. As the story progressed, I was totally absorbed with the events of this town and what could possibly be causing all of it. I’ll be completely honest, there was a part of me that was worried about whether or not he was going to be able to bring everything in for a conclusion that was going to make any sense. Too often with books like this, the author does an amazing job building up the universe of the story but isn’t able to figure out how to find a good exit point. Happily though, the book does find its way to a resolution that felt complete and satisfying, without going too far and over explaining.
One aspect of this book I really liked was how at times I was reminded of Bret Easton Ellis’ book, American Psycho, in the moments where you find yourself questioning the reliability and honesty of the narrator, whether what you see through Peter’s eyes is really happening, or if he is manufacturing them in his mind. Is the person leading Peter along actually there at the other end of the digital messages he receives? Or is it some kind of supernatural force using Peter like a pawn? I thought that Shea’s use of technology in the story worked really well and added new elements as Peter tries here and there to extricate himself from this anonymous character.
This book is not going to be for everyone. There are some graphic moments and the story takes a very dark turn, but while the book is undoubtedly disturbing in its content, there was no point where I felt like he was being gratuitous. The content that is there serves an essential purpose in detailing the progression of his state of mind throughout the book. In my opinion, I don’t think I could imagine it working as well as it does without it.
The book ends on a really strong note, going in a direction I can honestly say I would have never predicted. Shea sends us off powerfully, with an intensely emotional scene followed by an incredibly vivid visual as the book draws to a close. Overall, the book was extremely effective in its pacing and execution. If you’re up for some gritty, dark fiction give this one a look. It is what I think is the perfect length for horror fiction and it does more in a hundred or so pages than some books manage to do in over a thousand.