As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read 30 Days of Night, a graphic novel by Steve Niles and illustrated by Ben Templesmith, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.

I appreciated both the concept and the artwork in this book. The execution of the concept was unimpressive, in my opinion, but the concept and artwork made up for that. Generally, 30 Days of Night is about an Alaskan town invaded by vampires during a period of thirty days of darkness. As a concept, this is genius. Vampires and a town that gets a month of darkness—these are two things that fit so perfectly together that they feel like they were made for each other.

The artwork fits the book’s dark theme. I’m not an art critic, so I don’t have the right words to describe how the art is executed. But it has an impressionistic feel to it. For the most part, humans, vampires, and objects and scenery are recognizable. But there are occasional panels where blood and death are clear, but the precise manner of death remains unclear. As a result, the artwork evokes darkness and death while retaining a note of mystery. And, as we’ve discussed numerous times throughout this course, mystery and the unknown can increase a sense of horror.

In short, I love the art in this graphic novel. My only issue with it is that occasionally, given its impressionistic style, characters can become indistinguishable from one another. But this was rare; it happened maybe twice for me throughout the entire store. But those times were a big distraction, pulling me out of the story.

Now, I’ll talk about the execution of the plot and writing, with which I was much less thrilled. The story is straight forward and lacking in grace or complexity. The vampires come and they feed, and they are eventually defeated. Typical.

Somehow, the vampires managed to steal all mobile phones and shut down all electricity to make it difficult for the townspeople to get outside help. This is a good idea in theory; after all, given modern technology, the vampires had to something to isolate their victims. But as a practical matter, this doesn’t work. It’s unclear how they actually managed to snatch every mobile phone in town. They’d need a ton of help in advance of their arrival, and as far as I could tell, there was only a single vampire in town prior to the invasion.

Speaking of that single vampire, what was the deal with that guy? I’m referring to the vampire arrested for causing a disturbance in the local diner. He was definitely a vampire, because he eventually bent the prison bars, and he had those funky speech bubbles in that artwork that all the vamps have. I’m assuming he went to jail quietly because he didn’t want to go public with his vampirism until his buddies arrived for the massacre. Maybe he just arrived a little early and had to cool his heels until the main event.

But that doesn’t explain why he died so easily. A bullet to the head did him in. Later, the sheriff and his wife wonder why that vampire died so easily. I wonder the same, especially given that at least two other vampires took headshots—one with a shotgun—and barely blinked as a result. As the sheriff stated, “We’ve got to take his head off.” (Niles, Steve, and Ben Templesmith. 30 Days of Night. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2008. Kindle file.) So basically, the whole existence and death of the first vampire encountered is never resolved.

My last major objection to the story has to do with the woman and her son in New Orleans. I want to know how they got involved with the vampires. Without an explanation, their existence looks like a plot device contrived to give the vampires something on which to blame the fire they plan to use to destroy the town.

Even if I accept that these New Orleans people interested, I still refuse to accept how they discover the vampires are going to Barrow, Alaska. According to the son, “I’ve b … been monitoring the mail networks based on the names and locations you specified.” This line baffles the computer scientist in me. I’ll accept that he can monitor the accounts of particular individuals. But monitoring the mail networks based on locations would mean scanning mail, regardless of sender and recipient, to determine when certain locations are mentioned. This is an insanely huge task, and from the way it’s tossed out so casually, I don’t think the writer understands that. This reminds of those moments in cop shows where they blow up digital images and then sharpen them to magically see everything clearly. Computers don’t work like that.

In summary, I loved the concept and artwork but found the story lacking in many respects. I wonder whether any of my issues with are addressed in the sequels. But if so, it doesn’t cure my issues with the first book, which needs to be able to stand on its own.

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As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.

In this book, the Mbwun, a mythical beast of the Kothoga tribe, ends up in a museum, where it kills patrons, staff, and cops. I found a lot to like and little to dislike in this novel. In this blog, I’m just going to touch on one of each, starting with something I disliked.

Throughout the book, there are two main theories presented for the Mbwun’s existence. The first is that the Kothoga summoned the Mbwun at will to perform errands of destruction against neighboring tribes. The Kothoga, however, have died out and cannot confirm this myth. The other theory is presented by scientists in the book, specifically that the Mbwun is a product of aberrant evolution, in which a sudden, grotesque change appears in a species.

I appreciated these two warring theories, in part, because one was a sort of magic-based theory while the other was based on science (or pseudo-science). Toward the end of the book, it occurred to me that the genesis of the monster still had not been resolved, and I was thrilled that it looked like the issue would remain open. I liked the idea that, despite all these scientific people running around, there was still the possibility of magic. Unfortunately, this issue was resolved in a pseudo-science manner. I was disappointed and would have preferred for the mystery to remain. To me, this felt like a missed opportunity for an unsettling ending.

Specifically, it turns out that the Kothoga feed certain fibers to humans, thus infecting them and turning them into Mbwun. On top of wishing this wasn’t resolved at all, I didn’t feel like there were enough hints toward this particular conclusion throughout the story. Generally, I feel that any big reveal has to be supported by prior situations or findings in a story. I want to be able to look back and see all the hints I ignored or misinterpreted, and then realize the author skillfully planned this ending so that all the little pieces fall into place. I didn’t get that sense here. As far as I recall, the only real support for this conclusion is that Whittlesey’s property was found in the monster’s lair, and that wasn’t enough for me because it could just as easily suggest that the monster killed Whittlesey (rather than is Whittlesey).

My favorite thing about this story was the balance between science fiction and horror. The museum is filled with scientists, so it’s expected that one or two will try to figure out what kind of monster they’re dealing with. They didn’t disappoint in this respect. I happen to be a fan of science fiction, so I was fascinated by all the genetic testing and analyses of evidence. However, for someone who’s less of a science-fiction fan (or for someone who just wasn’t feeling this science fiction), all the science talk might have been problematic.

On the horror side, there were occasional moments of high tension throughout the book, and then the final third or so of the story dealt with the monster stalking people in the locked-down museum. For me, this more than made up for the science-heavy early parts of the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this, and I’d recommend it to folks who think they can bear all the science talk in the first two thirds of the book.

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As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I watched the movie The Blob (1988), directed by Chuck Russell, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.

The Blob is a surprisingly good movie with a ridiculous concept. A ball of goo terrorizes a small town. Despite this campy idea, I enjoyed the movie immensely. It’s proof that execution matters just as much as concept.

Two things in particular strike me as being responsible for this movie’s success. (And by “success,” I’m referring to the fact that it made me like it.) First, it developed characters early on through romantic and familial attachments and then had the nerve to kill those characters after making us like them. Second, the movie created a steady growth in tension in parallel with the growth of the blob itself.

In the opening scenes, the first character we meet (if I remember correctly) is Paul. Paul’s an all-American football hero, who, like many high-school boys, has a crush on a cheerleader. In some ways, Paul is a stereotype. He’s athletic and good-looking, and he likes a cheerleader. However, he veers away from the stereotype in how sweetly and innocently he treats the girl when he gets a date with her. Similarly, the sheriff asks a waitress out for a date, and she appears to display interest in return.

Paul, the sheriff, and the waitress all die. And it’s perfect. It’s especially wonderful because I really thought Paul would be the hero of the movie, because he was the first character we met. But nope, he was the second character to die. As a result, I immediately got the impression that anyone could die in this movie.

The blob itself could so easily have been lame. A ball of goo is an unlikely antagonist, yet it works. This particular ball of goo actively stalks its prey. Plus, its continued growth projects into growing tension. It doesn’t simply get bigger; it gets deadlier. In its first appearance, the blob slowly eats a man’s arm. But it gets more active as it grows. Toward the middle of the movie, its tentacles snatch up movie theater patrons with deadly precision. The monster rockets across floors and ceilings at incredible speed for a slimy beast, which I would have expected to move at a snail’s pace. I admit it; I was riveted.

At first, I had mixed feelings when it is revealed that the blob is a man-made creation, but that works as well. Because of this twist, a new antagonist is introduced. Although the blob is a predatory monster, it lacks human motivation, which the best villains have in spades. By introducing a human monster, in addition to the blob, we now have a human antagonist that viewers can relate to and legitimately hate.

Lastly, I want to talk about the ending. I appreciate it when horror movies don’t tie things into a neat little bow, and The Blob did not disappoint. The monster’s crystalline remnants have the potential to turn into new blobs—possibly multiple new blobs. Even though I don’t expect a sequel, I liked ending on a note that suggests the horror might not be over after all.

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As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read Twilight at the Towers, by Clive Barker, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.

In this story, Ballard slowly realizes that the British Security Service, his organization, has suppressed the monster inside him, and that the KGB has monsters as well. Interestingly, although this is a werewolf story, the author makes no mention of the monsters being wolves until the final scene. Rather, there’s talk about rage and transformations, without naming the monster.

Twilight at the Towers seems to suggest that, for the wolves, humanity is a cage while being a wolf is freedom. I might take that further and say that being one’s true self is freedom.

When we first meet Mironenko, an agent of the KGB who wants to be brought under the protection of the British Secret service, the man speaks of the rage inside him. He’s desperate to escape the KGB. In contrast, after his first transformation, he feels physical pain but emotional freedom: “But that sense of imminent rebellion had disappeared, to be replaced with a dreamy peacefulness. And at its heart, such happiness.” (Barker, Clive. “Twilight at the Towers.” The Books of Blood. Vol. 6. Crossroad, 2013. Kindle file.) Having given in to his wolf nature, Mironenko became a happier person. Ballard experiences a similar phenomenon later in the story, which contrasts with the pain he feels when trying to bury his dreams of the wolf.

Throughout this story, names are given the power to control. Wolves are nameless, and to become a wolf is to become nameless and free.

At some point, Ballard believes his friend Odell is dead and would be forgotten. He thinks, “Coming here tonight raised the ghost of Odell, whose name would now be scrubbed from conversation because of his involvement with the Mironenko affair.” Ballard believes this name-scrubbing is a bad thing. But the truth is that Odell has become a wolf and thus no longer has a name. Thus, it’s appropriate that his name be scrubbed, and this scrubbing signifies Odell’s freedom.

As described by Ballard’s thoughts when he hears his name during his own transformation: “No, thought the man in the mirror. There was nobody of that name here. Nobody of any name at all, in fact, for weren’t names the first act of faith, the first board in the box you buried freedom in? The thing he was becoming would not be named, nor boxed, nor buried. Never again.” As Ballard’s true nature is revealed, his freedom comes along with it, and he relinquishes his name.

Most importantly, I believe, is that the monster Ballard and others become remains unnamed until the final pages of the story. At that point, all these hints about freedom and names finally come together. Ballard joins a clan of others of his kind—who are called wolves for the first time in the story. And Ballard immediately knows that names are forbidden among his kind.

This is the most at peace we ever see Ballard. In the end, he discovers his true self and is able to shed his name and his chains completely. He becomes what he was always meant to be.

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As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I watched the movie Godzilla (2014), directed by Gareth Edwards, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.

I feel like I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here because this is the first Godzilla movie I’ve ever scene. Sure, I’ve seen bits and pieces of the original, but not enough to figure out the plot. Still, I’m familiar with the franchise, so I hope I don’t see anything completely ridiculous about it in this post. Feel free to call me out if I do.

I believe Godzilla was originally an allegory for the atomic bomb, in that he is a monstrous thing capable of leveling entire cities. He is the king of monsters, in the same way that the atomic bomb is the king of weapons. This was of course an important thing for Japan to comment on at the time of the first Godzilla movie, which was released in Japan in 1954.

Godzilla also works as a representation of humanity in general. On our planet, humans are capable of both great good and great evil. We are the giants, with our complex brains and opposable thumbs. And of course, humans created the atomic bomb. If there’s any creature capable of destroying our planet—and of being the king of monsters—it’s us.

As Serizawa was so fond of saying in the movie, Godzilla is capable of returning the balance to the planet. Although humans conceivably have the ability to return balance, more often we tend to throw things out of balance with our attempts to make the world more comfortable for ourselves—with only minimal concern for other creatures or for the planet’s future.

Of course, this movie makes Godzilla the savior. When two MUTOs (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms) emerge from the earth, Godzilla awakes to return balance to the world. In this case, returning balance means a monster fight on the edge of San Francisco. Godzilla eventually manages to kill both MUTOs before returning to the depths of the ocean.

But Godzilla could just as easily have destroyed the city single-handedly. In fact, if I understand correctly from earlier movies in the franchise, Godzilla has previously wreaked havoc rather than reeled it in. Like humans, he is capable of great things, but it’s up to him whether he saves lives or destroys them.

Before I wrap up this post, I want to add that I loved this movie. In general, I love movies where giant entities battle. Another example of this is Pacific Rim, which I adored. My one disappointment with Godzilla is that I would have liked to see Godzilla and a human right next to each other (or the human on top of Godzilla) in at least one scene. I feel like I can’t fully appreciate how monstrously large Godzilla is when he’s always standing next to giant architecture or the MUTOs, which are also quite large.

I would definitely watch this movie again; I’d even add it to my movie collection.

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