30 Days of Night: Fear of Emotion?

I haven’t read many comic books, the grand total comes to about 1 after reading 30 Days of Night, but after reading this one I feel like I should read more. I have read mangas before so I’m sort of familiar with the format of comic books, but this one made me wonder if I should stop putting off reading all of the Marvel and DC comic books I’ve been saying I should read for years.

That being said, I will say that I love how much can be conveyed in just pictures with very little written word. I know that is the whole reason behind the format, but it really does impress me. I wondered if I would have trouble connecting to the characters, and while I think there is certainly more distance than there would be in a typical novel format, I never questioned Eben or any of the other character’s desires and motivations.

One of the things that I was a little disappointed with was the level of terror. While the vampires were certainly scary, especially in the beginning when the town had no idea what had hit them, I felt as if the tension and the actual fear in the story was lacking. Most of the focus seemed to be on the gore, as the pictures were able to show that explicitly, instead of trying to strike fear into the readers. We talked about this earlier in the semester- how horror has become more gory than scary. The vampires were ruthless and if I were in Eben or Stella’s shoes I would have been scared out of my mind, but their terror didn’t seem to show on these pages.

I think that the lack of pages with the humans may have contributed to this feeling. At the end, when Eben decided to turn to save the town, I questioned it. I hadn’t even gotten enough pages with him to be able to decide if that would have fit into his character. It definitely took me out of the story. I understood his desire to do so, but I didn’t feel comfortable with how quickly or easily he seemed to make the decision. Also, while I felt like I understood why he did what he did, I felt like the emotion behind that choice just wasn’t there. I wonder if all this is just because of the comic book format, or not. Like I mentioned, I don’t read them very often, so I was unable to decide if all of the pieces that I felt were missing were typical of this type of book.

I did, however, think that the vampires were extremely interesting. I would say that they were the most interesting part of the story. There was definitely a hierarchy among them and I loved that the ring leader in the beginning seemed to come off as lower on the hierarchy, and though it was never stated, I got the feeling that it is ranked by age. There seemed to be very little loyalty among them. It made them even more unpredictable and dangerous for the townspeople.

All in all, I think that while I had a lot of questions about the human aspects of the story, it may have introduced me to the comic book world.

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Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs: An Archeologist’s Epilogue

I actually really enjoyed reading Relic, as much as I dreaded looking at it on my shelf all semester. After a pretty rocky first five chapters, in which three different points of views are introduced only to be immediately dropped, I was hooked. Despite the jerky beginning, it didn’t take me very long to be absorbed into the mystery surrounding the Mbwun figurine.

I think one of the things that Preston and Childs did really well was introducing us to the wide cast of point of view characters, and giving us a good reason to be in their heads at any given time. I was skeptical at first of the necessity for so many point of view characters, but I ended up truly appreciating what each one brought to the table, eventually. I did, however, find that each of the characters tended to act stereotypically. Smithback the reporter reminded me of Robert Downey Jr. when he played Paul Avery in Zodiac, and Detective Pendergast reminded me of Sherlock Holmes, which the NYPD officer pointed out early in the book.

Even though after the monster struck there was plenty of blood, I felt like this was less of a horror novel, and more of a mystery novel. We don’t get to see too much of the monster for much of it, and if we do it is shrouded in so much fog and mystery that we wonder the entire time if it could possibly be a human murderer, even if we do believe in the creature represented in the Mbwun figurine. This is another reason why it felt more like a mystery than a horror: the final showdown with the creature wasn’t really a scary moment. It was incredibly tense, but I wouldn’t say it terrified me. It almost felt like the final showdown between the police and the murderer in any thriller. Not to mention, after the story ends and they’ve killed it, the epilogue reveals that the creature hadn’t just eaten Whittlesey, but Whittlesey had become the creature.

One of the only things that I didn’t necessarily enjoy about the book was all of the science jargon that seemed to be explored in great detail. I have a love for the natural sciences and I had a hard time sitting through it all. There were quite a few times where I skipped through the explanations to get to the point. I think that it would have been acceptable for the science to be explained in Layman’s terms, even though science is a large part of the story. I think it would have made the story more approachable and a little more enjoyable overall.

All in all, though, I really did enjoy the novel. I think it was paced well and the way that the events unraveled allowed my curiosity to be constantly quelled and re-piqued as everything built up to the climax. I think out of all the novels we have read this semester, I found the least amount of issues with monster continuity or explanations. I could tell the authors had truly done their research and hunkered down to write a really great novel about what happens after the tomb-raiders remove the artifacts.

The Blob (1988): Where Dialogue Falls Flat and a Love Triangle Literally Disintegrates

The Blob (1988) was actually higher on the list of movies that we watched this semester that I liked, second only to Alien. Like all of the movies  from the 1980’s that we have watched, the special effects were gnarly. The way the blob would engulf the victims and then chemically melt, dissolve, and/or stretch their skin was so gross. It caught me off guard. I had no idea what was coming in this movie, except that a giant blob would be eating people.

The first thing I have to talk about is the obligatory love triangle. From the very first time they showed Brian and Meg on screen together, I knew there would be romantic tension. What did surprise me, though, was how quickly said love triangle was destroyed. I don’t know if it is just because I am used to movies where the “core” characters tend to live for most of the movie, but I had no idea Paul’s character would die so quickly. Though I knew he wouldn’t make it until the end, as Brian was clearly the male focal point. I am actually sort of depressed that there wasn’t that common moment where Paul and Brian fought stupidly about what to do, while everyone knew they were really just fighting for dominance in front of the lady. The point is, I think this movie did a really great job of introducing us to characters and making us feel attached to them before killing them off. I totally thought the sheriff was going to make it to the end of the movie. Did that surprise anyone else? Also, that poor kid!

As far as monsters go, the blob was pretty unimpressive—flesh disintegrating powers aside. While there were definitely moments of tension, I never felt actual fear of the monster itself. There were many jump scares with the gross and distorted faces popping out of nowhere, but the blob probably won’t be haunting my nightmares any time soon. One of the good things about the blob was that its back story worked, even though it easily fell into the “science experiment gone wrong” trope. I did question its general scientific properties and motives, because I have no idea why it consumed people, but it was something that I easily shrugged off as unimportant. It just simply was, and ate people because it either needed or wanted to.

The major issue that I had with this movie, aside from its predictability, was the dialogue. It didn’t flow naturally and it tore me out of the scene more than once. One specific incident that stands out in my memory was after Brian saves Meg in the sewers and he promises her that he was going to get them out of there, while calming her with a hug. The first part that rubbed me wrong about this was that she didn’t even ask what they were going to do, which most heroines seem to do in horror situations like this. The second was that they really hadn’t had much reason for her to hug him in comfort up until that point. It might just be because the romantic storyline seemed to impose unwelcomed on the main story line, but I think there were quite a few scenes that suffered because of that. I am unsure if that was a writer’s faux pas, or if the actor’s delivered their lines poorly, but I think it was a healthy mixture of the two.

Poor dialogue, and semi-boring monster aside, the movie stands up pretty well. I do think the pacing was pretty solid and there was never a moment where I felt bored with what was happening, or where I laughed out of pity.

H.P. Lovecraft: Pickman’s Model, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Outsider

These short stories were my first experience with Lovecraft, and even though I was a little disappointed, I would still have no trouble placing Lovecraft up with the best. I think the one thing that Lovecraft does well, which I noticed in each of the stories, is building up that supernatural dread. We talked about the difference between a lot of the horror today and the horror of Lovecraft’s and Poe’s times, when things were different. If Lovecraft had written these stories today, I could almost guarantee there would have been a lot more gore.

I will talk about “The Outsider” and “Pickman’s Model” together, because they stand on the same level in my mind. In each of them, I knew where the story was going about halfway through, yet the supernatural dread just kept building and building so that even at the end, when what I knew was going to happen, happened, I still felt my stomach drop, or felt surprised by it. I think Lovecraft’s knack for non descriptive description is really what makes his stories so great. In “Pickman’s Model” we are told about the demonic faces of the monsters, but we never fully see them, and we are left with a bit of room to use our imaginations. I think the other really genius thing about “Pickman’s Model” (which is definitely my favorite of the three) was the way in which the story unfolds. Even the characters are introduced slowly into the story, and we are left just as clueless as first Elliot, and then Thurber, throughout Pickman’s strange lapse into the dark and terrifying world. In “The Outsider”, when the monster finally sees himself in the mirror, we are given very little concrete description of what he looks like; Lovecraft guides us to something horrid and disgusting, without actually describing it. Honestly, I think that makes the monster so much scarier.

As far as “The Call of Cthulhu” goes, I had a really hard time working my way through this one. I think that like the other two, the way that Lovecraft lets the story unfold is the most genius part. While having the first half of the story told secondhand made for a rough start, I think it added to the tension of the narrator’s own beliefs and eventually discovery of the old god. Had we not been forced to see how silly he thought all of this to be, on,y to have him slowly start believing, I think the story wouldn’t have been effective. I think there is something about a disbelieving character that makes the discoveries in these stories so much more powerful.

Again, I think what makes Lovecraft’s stories so powerful isn’t his ability to gross out of terrify his reader, but the ability to build the dread, even if the reader knows what’s coming, and still have the ending be as powerful as they are. Additionally, his descriptions of these monsters are just enough to give us all a similar idea, while also leaving us space to fill in the gaps with our own terrifying images.

Godzilla: Retaking his Throne as the King of the Monsters

After finishing Godzilla (2014) all I can say is what an ending!

I have never watched any of the Godzilla movies, so that blue atomic (or so I have read) breath was both surprising and amazing. The last fight scene between Godzilla and the mama MUTO where he just breathes that blue fire into its mouth was freaking epic. All of the fight scenes between the monsters were actually pretty awesome. I really enjoyed watching this movie, from start to finish.

The pacing was pretty slow in the beginning, but I think as the movie progressed it gained momentum, from one MUTO to Godzilla, then to the last and final MUTO. While watching Godzilla duke it out for best monster was entertaining, I thought that the human story line was pretty standard. While it is probably the most common story line to follow in a mass crisis situation like this (trying to get home to your family), I just felt like I had seen it a million times before. However, Ford’s (what an American name) decision to kill the eggs while he had the opportunity and his utter determination to make it to his wife and kid made it redeemable.

Going back to the monsters, as this is a class focusing on them, I will say that while the MUTOs were pretty solid monsters, Godzilla’s presence in the movie had me a bit disappointed. He wasn’t the main monster! I get that he is the titular character, and you can’t have a Godzilla movie without Godzilla, but I felt like this movie sort of redeemed him and redacted all of the previous terror and fear that people [would] have felt toward him. Godzilla did succeed in destroying yet another metropolitan area, but he also—saved humanity? Not to mention, I am pretty sure that someone in the army would have made the decision to destroy Godzilla while they had him in their sights- to prevent further terror, of course, because who knows when he will decide he wants to destroy humanity?

As for the MUTOs, I thought they were great. Their origin was pretty solid, if a little bit hard to believe—though you could say the same about Godzilla’s reawakening from the Prehistoric period—and their motivations were pretty substantial. They didn’t seem to care about anything but rebuilding their species and releasing hundreds (maybe thousands) of tiny MUTOs out to run around the world on their creepy, monkey-knuckled, insect-y legs. I did wonder, however, how the MUTOs survived for any length of time given that they had to use a nuclear warhead to grow or “charge” their babies. I don’t know much about radiation, except that it does occur naturally, but I just don’t know that there is that much radiation just sitting around naturally. Maybe they laid fewer eggs in their time, so it required less energy? I don’t know. It’s not a make-it-or-break-it thing for me, just a curiosity.

Anyway, their motivations were strong and they didn’t seem to have any sort of extra intelligence, the way a lot of monsters seem to these days, so I thought that was a plus. Even Godzilla seemed to have some sort of awareness of the world around him that the MUTOs lacked. This might be because he has been “awake” for a while, just biding his time until his throne was challenged. All in all, I really liked this movie and it huge monsters, and I am excited to check out the one that is supposed to be coming out next year.

Snow: A Traveler’s Worst Nightmare

Snow by Ronald Malfi was not a bad book. Honestly, it surprised me by how not-awful it was.

I will start first with the one thing that I didn’t like most while reading this. Malfi had a tendency to use the same images or words multiple times throughout the novel to describe the same things. At some point he should have focused on some other detail to describe, as that one had already been done, or just skipped over it completely.

Another thing that I didn’t really like was that the two women who were minor point of view characters, Shawna and Kate, both had their past sexual exploits described in detail, while the main point of view character, Todd, didn’t. At first, when Kate’s previous relationships were described, I thought it might just be a reflection of her character and I shrugged it off. When Shawna’s experiences were detailed and Todd’s hadn’t been shared, however, I was a little upset. First, I couldn’t see why either Shawna’s or Kate’s previous sexual encounters were relevant to the current story. Second, if the author thought those details were important, why weren’t Todd’s shared? The only thing those two brief moments of backstory did was make me think that Malfi had a problem with women in the past and he was taking it out on his characters.

Stepping off my soap box now, I will go into what I did like about the novel. I thought that the monsters were actually pretty effective. Compared to Breeding Ground’s widows, these snow monsters held their own. The fact that they could possess human beings, eat them, and turn them into strange zombie-like things created great conflict for the characters. I also think that because Malfi didn’t feel the need to explain the existence of these creatures, they were able to just be and create fear without the readers having to make too much sense of them. While I would say that I do have a few questions about them, the blanks didn’t distract me or keep me from truly enjoying the book. They weren’t contradictory, and they didn’t seem to have random or unexplained abilities. Everything seemed to fit.

I also enjoyed the multiple points of view. I think that Malfi didn’t necessarily do a great job separating his point of view characters all the time, but I do think that having the multiple viewpoints served this story well. I think that with these monsters and how many of them there were, we really did need to see what was happening in multiple places at once in order to fully experience what was happening. Malfi did a great job showcasing how wide of a reach the monsters had, and how they could affect the town so easily.

Another thing that I think Malfi did really well was the monsters themselves. I think having a sure way to tell if the people were monsters (the slits in their backs) was a great choice. Somehow I think it adds more suspense or drama to the story if there is a way to tell, especially in this case. They have to already be close to the monster in order to check and see if they are one; like with the little girl they found in the church. She had been sleeping in the ambulance with them a whole night, without them knowing she had turned. She could have eaten them in their sleep.

All in all, I think there were definitely some stylistic choices that could have been improved, but other than those this was a pretty effective monster story. I never doubted the snow creature’s abilities, their existence, or the character’s knowledge of them.

 

The Thing: Don’t Look at It for too Long, It Might Make You Sick

The Thing (1982) didn’t strike me as a sci-fi monster movie until a few minutes in, when Mac and the doctor went to the Norwegian base to check things out. Even then it was only the music, and the title of this class, that made me think there was something unusual happening. Had the Norwegians just gone stir crazy I am thinking the music would have sounded more mysterious, rather than ominous and mysterious. It wasn’t until they showed the thing Mac found at the base up close that I knew it was more than just a psychological turn. That melted face the first corpse had freaked me out for real. Also the dog. At first I thought the dog knew what was up. Then I realized the dog was what was up.

And then I almost threw up.

I don’t know much about cinema, but those effects were gnarly in the best way. Yeah, they were old, but freaky and oddly realistic, for what the “things” are. Effects aside, this monster was extremely effective, if only because we really have no idea who is infected for most of the movie. Even in the end we are left with the idea that either one of them could have been the thing then. The tension and suspense built so quietly but effectively because of it. The movie had me going for a really long time, trying to figure out if Mac had turned, even though I was mostly positive that he hadn’t. The suspense was really what kept this movie going. At almost every second of the movie we were wondering when the next person would get infected, and when they would turn on the people around them. I appreciated the plot points. Each time they “got ahead” of the infection in some way, their plans would be foiled; for example, when they decided to do the first blood test with the clean blood only to find that that blood had been slashed.

There was one moment that I was confused about the science behind the “infection” or “monster”. When Mac was forcing the blood testing, they all shared the same scalpel, and Windows only briefly wiped it off on his pants before he used it. If this was an infection type thing, wouldn’t they all have contracted it right then and there? Or at least every one after the first infected person got cut?

I think one of the things that I really liked about this movie was that besides the shaky effects, like when Windows’ head was being eaten, it was actually a slow moving film that I wouldn’t consider boring. Nothing was really over the top, and the filmmakers took their time getting from action scene to action scene, but it wasn’t wasted time. This was certainly not an action packed horror movie, and it was sort of refreshing. I think that is one thing that a lot of the horror movies from the 80’s that we have been studying have done right. In horror movies I watch now, the down time is filled with heart racing suspense, not slow and cold suspense, the way it was in this movie.

Another part of this movie I appreciated was that the characters weren’t stupid. A lot of the horror movies I have seen make their characters either completely stupid, or clueless for a while. From the beginning, these characters knew that something was up and the doctor was on top of it. It wasn’t long before the doctor was crunching the numbers of an epidemic, and then they were attempting blood tests.

All in all, I thought this was a great movie. I don’t think I would categorize it strictly “horror” as there really aren’t many jump scares or fear-inducing moments, just suspense and reveals and a very freaky looking “thing”.