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Personal blog of freelance writer MGMason
With Halloween coming up and this being the time of year I tend to start diving into horror (change of seasons, nights drawing in and Christmas is still far enough away that the jollity is yet to rear its head), I thought scares would be a good idea to write about. Plus, Daily Post had this interesting prompt just the other day. Read more of this post
Last year I acknowledged that I needed to read more horror. Joining Read It, Swap It allowed me to do that and to break away from the Herbert and King work that had become the core of my genre reading. One of the works that pricked my ears up was this interesting nugget co-written by one of my favourite film directors.
JFK International Airport. A Jumbo Jet lands and immediately all of the electrical systems and engines shut down. It does not as instructed taxi to its allocated gate. What’s more, all of the shutters are drawn and all attention of airport staff is focused on this bizarre aircraft as it sits there, on the tarmac, doing nothing. After all attempts to contact any crew or passengers fail, security services decide to break in.
Read more of this post
After the only other werewolf in existence is killed, Jake Marlowe finds himself alone. Contemplating his own existence, the impending extinction of his species and giving serious thought to suicide and thus ending a 200 year curse (middle aged for a werewolf), Marlowe recounts a largely mundane existence of mere survival against humanity, the elements and his enemies.
He hides from an organisation known as WOCOP and realises his precarious position when it also seems that vampires are out to get him too and these are no sparkly emos either! But are they after him to kill him or do they want him for something else…? Read more of this post
Richard Matheson’s novel has been given a one-off award to mark the 100th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s death.
Congratulations to Matheson! Personally, I think it is an amazing novel and a must-read for anybody interested in post-apocalypse or vampire novels.
A shame I have already done a discussion piece on vampires or this would have been the perfect example to talk about my favourite examples. I have nothing new to add since then aside from that the second part of Justin Cronin’s series The Twelve is released in October.
I’ve been itching to do a discussion piece on vampires since seeing Fright Night (discussed here). Now that I have finished Justin Cronin’s The Passage, I think the time is right while that book is still fresh in my mind. This book really got under my skin and I felt so engaged with it.
It is a haunting book: the characters are deep and realistic. it is the bleakness of a post-apocalyptic world. It is a landscape devoid of wildlife giving it a permanent autumn-winter cusp atmosphere. It is well-crafted character of Amy… brilliantly haunting, adult and childlike at the same time, a metaphor of fate and innocence seemingly unaffected by events yet always central to them. Most of all it is the vampires, so unlike anything I’ve encountered before. They are animalistic, hunting in packs and developing attack strategies like wolves. A newly infected person starts to lose their memories and personality before they gain the bloodlust. They are controlled by a mysterious group known as “The Twelve”, specifically “Babcock” who seems to have developed incredibly powerful telepathic skills.
Yet despite this, there are many indicators of infected clinging to their lost humanity. Flickers of recognition when confronting people they were acquainted with before they became a ‘viral’, going through the motions of human life, remembering entrances into places they once knew yet largely driven by instinct to feed on blood.
This is another new concept for vampires and in a fiction world swamped with SEVs (simpering emo vampires) and it’s a refreshing direction.
Modern vampire lore began with Bram Stoker in Dracula. A callous predator and terminal sociopath, Dracula bled London dry quicker than an investment bank. Ultimately his motives and methods were more or less human. When you view Dracula as a metaphor for STIs, this is understandable. Dracula would set the trend for about the next century. Some of the sexual element was lost in the 1970s and 1980s as films and books focused more on the horror element. The last film to have portrayed vampires in this traditional way was the much maligned Van Helsing.
The 1990s saw the beginning of the SEV with Anne Rice’ creation Louis in Interview with a Vampire. He was suicidal when Lestat offered him a choice that he would regret taking him up on. The series for the next few books would centre on Lestat before finally going to pieces.
Now we are in the age of the SEV, the shameless appeal to the teenage girl through a saturation of vampires that just ain’t what they used to be. I’ve not read Twilight but I was forced to watch the first film. That was enough, I won’t be exploring the books or films further.
But there are many bastions of the traditional vampire. Recently, 30 Days of Night restored the bloodthirsty concept when a small Alaskan town is attacked by a group of travelling vampires. They are terrifying creatures too, amoral, bloodthirsty and sadistic.
At about the same time, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend was converted to the big screen. The vampires in the film were vastly different from the book. Will Smith battled animal-like creatures, perhaps less intelligent than Cronin’s virals but capable of employing tactics to catch Robert Neville. By contrast, in the book they are very much human… more like the civilised society that we saw in Daybreakers or Blade.
This year saw the remake of cult horror-comedy Fright Night. Colin Farrell very much played the typical vampire – no nonsense, predatory, seductive and dangerous.
I’m not sure that Justin Cronin’s Virals as described above represent another paradigm shift but anything is possible. What it does represent is another concept in the endless ways to portray vampires in fiction.
At first glance, this doorstep sized novel (over 900 pages) might appear to be a daunting read. The blurb warns of an apocalypse and hints at the role that a special little girl would play afterwards. She is Amy Harper Bellafonte and she is the key to something. And that something is the reason the FBI abducts her from the convent her biological mother left her with, and take her to a secret testing facility. Without giving too much away, it seems that her immune system is special and they wish to investigate her in conjunction with another project involving death row inmates at the same facility. Shortly after her arrival, hell literally breaks loose leaving Amy and her abductor running for their lives. The Vampire Apocalypse is here…
As a young girl, it is without doubt that I would compare her to Ayla (the heroine of Earth’s Children) and Lyra (His Dark Materials); Amy is no Ayla but she’s no Lyra either. As a girl who grew up alone she lacks the social skills, keeps a childhood innocence yet is wise despite her years. I loathe to elaborate further because I wouldn’t want to spoil her development as a character which is revealed with deliberate caution. She is an enigma and Cronin wants us to experience this along with the people she encounters. But I will say that she is a walking metaphor and I am still trying to piece together everything I think Cronin was trying to say in this book.
Cronin proves that plot and characterisation need not be mortal enemies. Despite its length the story moves quickly and for literary work it flows well. Most of all it has great atmosphere. The tagline of the novel is Something is coming… and that is how the narrative flows, the hint of a threat of what is going to happen next and that’s what keeps you turning the page. It is a book about portents and fate.
This is easily one of the best novels I’ve read this year.
This is not a review. I’m expecting to finish this book in the next few days and I will publish a full review then. I’m also piecing together an essay on vampires in fiction. Both should be up by this time next week. I’ve been itching to write about this book while I am still reading it though; something is niggling me to comment on it.
That’s the sort of book that it is. There is something about it that really gets under the skin, a haunting presence throughout that constantly hints that something is about to go horribly wrong. It is long (over 900 pages) and generally quite slow paced so the sense of foreboding is integrated into the style. When something does happen it becomes a real page-turner.
Comparisons with King’s The Stand and McCarthy’s The Road were inevitable. But it is more character driven than The Stand and more eventful than The Road and not as bleak. Fans of either will no doubt like this.
Because it is literary, there is undoubtedly a lot of metaphor and I have found the need to stop at times to ponder what I have just read.
I went to the cinema to see the new Fright Night film this week. In a fiction world that is flooded with simpering emo vampires that don’t drink blood, sparkle in the sunlight and become stalker-ish over equally simpering teenage girls, it may be too easy to forget that vampires are menacing blood-sucking creatures, dangerous, calculating, manipulative predators and sometimes just plain evil.
The original Fright Night is a horror-comedy cult classic, arguably the best example of the bizarre fusing of two genres that shouldn’t work together. This reboot does the original proud. Colin Farrell is surprisingly menacing as Jerry in a role that is quite unlike anything he has done before. David Tennant, looking like Russell Brand but thankfully not playing camp, is amusing as Peter Vincent. Anton Yelchin, best known as Chekhov in the rebooted Star Trek is a good lead but suffers for being outplayed by everybody else. Even the typical fang-fodder bleach blond stripper is sympathetic. You feel for her when Charley discovers her locked away in Jerry’s house.
The cast gel well and the characters refreshingly normal for horror films, particularly the women. Imogen Poots is sweet and very likeable as Amy, Toni Collette is solid as Charlie’s mother and Sandra Vergara as Ginger (Peter’s girlfriend) has a small part but gets some of the best one-liners in the script. For a remake of a film that was arguably the first horror-comedy, it is surprisingly short of clichés and that is to the credit of the production staff, particularly the script writers.
What are you waiting for?! Go and see it!
A short yet harrowing tale of (probably) the only human left on the planet after everybody else has turned into vampires. Night after night, Robert Neville is hounded by the blood-sucking population to come out of the house that he has made his fortress. It is one man’s tale of survival, his attempts to out-think the vampires and prevent his descent into madness all the while attempting to find a cure for the vampirism from which he is immune.
Some reviewers have criticised it as slow-paced. For me, the intense focus on the monotony of his daily routine really adds a sense of despair to Neville’s situation. It creates a sense of loneliness as harrowing as Robinson Crusoe’s, arguably worse because of the danger beyond his door.
What isn’t made clear is that there are two ‘factions’ of vampire, those that contracted the virus while alive (and therefore didn’t die) and those that were killed by the plague and came back as vampires. This point is crucial to the end of the story and the only weakness in the novel is that this particular plot element is confusing at first.
Is there social commentary in horror? (addendum)
I was reminded this afternoon of the film Daybreakers and got to thinking about the social commentary there. I know I have discussed this before so let me quickly re-cap the story.
In the near future, the whole world has succumbed to vampirism. There are very few humans remaining. But unlike most apocalyptic tales, society has carried on pretty much as normal. People go to work, they eat food, they go to the pub, they have laws and businesses and stock markets and a global economy. Life is normal except that we now need to consume blood to survive and we cannot go out in the day time.
The problem though is that human blood is in short supply and the scientists attempting to synthesise it or otherwise increase the yield are struggling. These vampire people can eat normal food but obviously blood is still their staple and melange-like it is put into everything. To preserve supplies, the government is ordering a reduction in the percentage of blood going into every day food. There is already a shortage and people are starving. These starving are being pushed out of society where they cannot be seen to maintain the illusion that there isn’t a problem (more out of sight out of mind).
The social commentary here is the inability or unwillingness of humans to consider the dangers of cause and effect and to pretend that problems do not exist. Actions have consequences and if we over-farm, over-fish, pump too much CO2 into the atmosphere, chop down too many trees, pollute our food supply or generally ignore the consequences of our actions in favour of short-term financial gain then in the long run that is going to have a serious effect on society as a whole. I don’t think there is any specific parallel to be drawn here (I did consider that it was a metaphor for human reliance on oil but I’m not convinced, I think it is more of a general point about over-consumption and squeezing out natural supplies).