30 Days of Night (and Death)

I remember watching “30 Days of Night” when I was younger and thinking that it was pretty decent for what it was. Had a couple bigger name actors, namely Josh Hartnett. So when I saw that we were going to be reading the graphic novel for class, I was super excited. And I’d have to say I wasn’t let down. It was a true work of art.

The story opens and we already know that tension is going to be high. Every single cell phone has been stolen and burned. Shortly thereafter, the sun sets for the last time and all hell breaks loose pretty quick. That’s perhaps one of the best aspects of this graphic novel. The pacing was quick and things were consistently happening, keeping me intrigued throughout the entirety of the story. Perhaps that is an element of the graphic novel, the ability to move a story quickly, but it really worked for me, even if it did lack some character development (more on that a little later).

The vampires were done  much better than Matheson did in “I Am Legend”. These vampires are powerful and pose a very real threat to the survivors of Barrow. Even though the people try to fight them, they’re unable to win even the smallest confrontation. These  vampires take shotgun blasts to the face and it doesn’t even slow them down. Another advantage that comes from using the medium of the graphic novel is that we get to see the artists rendition of these vampires.

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They are terrifying, with mouths full of razor sharp teeth and pale grey skin. And the largest amount of color in the entire story is the blood that they spill as they go along. This is what a vampire is supposed to be like in its most monstrous form. Even the vampire who was a little girl was pretty creepy looking. I was also pleased that the movie went with a similar style for the vampires. 2007_30_days_of_night_019

But in addition to being some sort of hideous monster, we  are given some back story for them. Evidently they had been hiding for centuries so that their existence could be forgotten. It was a neat touch that added a certain level of believability to these monsters. They could exist and could be that creepy neighbor of yours with the night shift job.

I feel like this story also worked really well plot wise. However, there were some trip ups that I had issues with. First was characterization. I really didn’t get a feel for any of the characters. That may have been on purpose, showing that they could really just be anyone. On the other hand, it didn’t give me an emotional connection. I just accepted it when someone died or someone got infected and had to be killed. It was just part of the story.

My second issue was the ending of the story. The survivors of Barrow are hiding from the vampires and have evidently been hiding for the majority of the thirty days (although we don’t have any time reference and are thus left to wonder how they fed themselves for that long). In order to survive and defeat the vampires, Eben, the main character, injects himself with vampire blood to become a vampire and fight back, since the only way to kill a vampire is for another vampire to do it. Okay, I could believe that. However, what I can’t believe is that Eben, who is just a noob vampire, is able to defeat and kill Vicente, this ancient vampire who is leading the others. That stretches it a bit far. Vicente would know how to handle himself and would have hundreds of years of practice. Eben wouldn’t stand a chance. It would be like Pee Wee Herman taking steroids and then deciding to fight Mike Tyson. Even with the help, Pee Wee would still get the crap beat out of him. This ending for “30 Days of Night” just didn’t work for me.

However, I did like the premise and the way they used a natural phenomena in Alaska to play up the vampire story. It was pretty cool and I was interested to read more in the series.

Clive Barker’s “Rawhead Rex”

Clive Barker’s short story “Rawhead Rex” was my definition of a story about wanton death. Nearly every character that is ever focused on in the story dies horribly at the hands of Rawhead. I honestly didn’t know who our protagonist was going to be, or even if there would be one, until closer to the end of the story. And that’s okay because it worked to show the sheer, unstoppable power that Rawhead wielded.

Unlike most stories, the first character we meet dies shortly thereafter. He isn’t our protagonist and that’s okay because he seemed like a bit of an ass to me. We meet Ron, who becomes our hero, early on but I read over him, thinking he was just an example of a city guy out in the village where he didn’t really belong. He pops up here and there, talking with more people who died. It introduced us to him before we actually needed to focus on him, which actually worked surprisingly.

Rawhead as a character was gruesome and disgusting. First off, he is a giant, standing like 9 feet tall. He is also described as having a mouth that opens like a cavern in which he eats men and children. Rawhead is a gruesome guy who I definitely wouldn’t want to run into in a back alley. But what was really great was how intriguing Rawhead was. We were able to get into his head and see how he thought. We saw how destructive he naturally was, how arrogant he was and how inferior he felt humans to be. It put a new spin on the monster that we haven’t actually seen yet. While we certainly don’t like Rawhead, he was definitely given more depth than other stereotypical monsters we have seen so far in the course. And I think it was easier to identify with certain characteristics Rawhead exhibited, like greed, anger, fear, and power.

Another great aspect of the story was the use of the feminine as Rawhead’s weak point. Early on, he won’t eat one of the women because she is on her period and it seems like that repulses him. But in fact, he can’t because it is what he fears. By the end, we see that it was the ancient fertility goddesses that were able to frighten Rawhead into submission so he could be buried in the earth. (Although he is killed at the end of this piece.) This is cool because we see Rawhead as an exhibit of the masculine. We see him urinating on a man at one point and masturbating in another. To be defeated by the feminine was very believable for me as this monster’s weakness.

Finally, I wanted to talk about beginnings and endings. First off, the opening line of this story was fantastic. “Of all the conquering armies that had tramped the streets of Zeal down the centuries, it was finally the mild tread of the Sunday tripper that brought the village to its knees.” This line was elegantly written and drew me in, making me want to read more to find out how this worked into the Rawhead Rex myth.

The ending of this was also done well. We don’t know what happens to Ron but, unlike “Breeding Ground”, here it is okay. We don’t need to know because we are a) not overly attached to Ron and b) used to death by this point. The last paragraph was also interesting, showing the union between Rawhead and the earth. In a way, he was returning to the earth where he was imprisoned. But also, in another way he was mating with the female. His penis ejecting fluid to enter into the womb of Mother Earth. Just an interesting connection that I may or may not be reading too much into.

Overall, I think this story worked well as a short story but definitely couldn’t be extended into a full length novel.

Sarah Pinborough’s “Breeding Ground”

I think I have sat here for about an hour now, unsure of how I want to write this post. I have so many emotions going through me right now. Confusion, anger, disappointment. How do I respond to this book that I enjoyed reading but DESPISED finishing… I guess… Well, let’s just start at the beginning.

When I started this book I have to admit I was creeped out. And that is something that doesn’t happen very easily for me, usually. The premise for this book is about these spider creatures, called “widows” that grow within women’s bodies and then are born, eating and terrorizing the world. Right now, in my personal life, my wife is pregnant with our first child, so I think I associated with Matt’s character on a level that the average reader might not have. And the ordeal that he went through really bothered me. So much that I had to put the book down for a few minutes and just chill. I liked the fact that it freaked me out but the fact that it did was a new experience for me. I’ve read a lot of horror and never had a reaction quite like this. Yay for fatherhood.

The book’s pace really picked up and I enjoyed the ride for what it was. You had a group of survivors trying to make it in this world that has been taken over by spiders. They fend off attacks, deal with some crazy people and eventually make it to a “secure” facility, where they continue to live out their lives until more chaos ensues. However, this whole premise seems overdone for me. For instance, you have “The Walking Dead” where the survivors of a zombie apocalypse take refuge in a prison, with thick walls and fences to keep them safe. Very familiar to what Pinborough did here in Breeding Ground. But I can let that trope slide. It is what it is and worked for the story, I suppose.

One of the things that I thought was done really well and echoed Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” was depicting how people have to adapt to this new, apocalyptic world in order to survive. (I hesitate to say post-apocalyptic because the apocalypse is still going on and getting worse up until the very end). This really shines through in the final chapters when Nigel finally goes nuts and tries to kill Jane and Rebecca, succeeding with Jane. However, Nigel is infected by a widow. And rather than resisting the world they have found themselves in and humanely killing him, they decide to let him suffer and die slowly, screaming over the span of three days. Matt describes this, saying “A new order had taken hold and our old laws no longer applied” (p. 315). The people have become, in their own ways, monsters as well like Robert Neville in “I Am Legend”. This is done well and seems like it may be a recurring theme in apocalypse style horror.

Now to the part that really made me mad. We get to the last two chapters, where most novels would be wrapping up and tying things up for us. But, no, not this book. Instead, we find out that not only can women give birth to the spiders, but so can men, giving birth to these smaller, male, black spiders. Several more characters show signs of growth and things start all over again. There is hope that maybe a cure is found but once again, no, that gets shut down in our faces. Now, I’m getting aggravated. How long until Matt is infected too. And then, Matt and his pregnant girlfriend (not infected because her blood is acid to the widows) decide to leave, heading in one direction while George, the other good guy, heads in another. And then it just stops. No conclusion, no resolution. Just the last page. And I’m left wondering but… but… but… WHAT HAPPENED?!? This is a story that I got invested in, as a father-to-be and loving husband. And she just ends it like that? After we just found out that the spiders have evolved again? Why??? Maybe she wanted to aggravate us? Maybe she wanted us upset with the end? To be quite honest, I would have rather had Matt get infected by a widow and kill himself than the ending that it was. It was the Sopranos all over again.

(Deep Breath… Sigh). Okay, so the ending may have been less than adequate. But overall the book was a fun read and kept me thrilled all the way through besides its short coming. It was fun getting to see each new development in the cast of characters, seeing who could handle the pressure, who cracked, and who checked themselves out of life even if they weren’t the most believable responses to the situations at hand. I enjoyed the concept and it really did freak me out. But still a great read.

Also, for any interested, there is a sequel out there called “Feeding Ground”, although it doesn’t seem to have any of the same characters. They are trying to escape London during the height of the widow infestation. I’d be interested to read it and if she is willing to make a sequel there, I hope she will come back to Matt to let us know how his story actually ends.

Matheson’s “The Funeral”

Matheson’s short story “The Funeral” took several stereotypical horror monsters of the times and spun them like a top laced with humor. And I have to say, it killed me. Okay, okay, not the best joke in the world but honestly, that’s about how the humor felt to me. Matheson tried to create some jokes but he may have overstepped his bounds just a little bit with this piece. It just wasn’t all that funny to me. However, even though the humor didn’t necessarily work, I thought the story was able to pull off a couple really cool things.

Before I get into what worked for me, I have to bring up the biggest issue I had when reading the story. As I was going along, I ended up having to pull up a dictionary app on my iphone just to know what some of the words that he used meant. There were context clues but it looked like he went through with a thesaurus in hand and changed any words that he could to increase the grandeur of his vocabulary. Words like “fiduciary”, “badinage”, “modicum”, and basically every word that came out of the Count’s mouth during the funeral speech. This made it so hard to read and get into the story and it may have played a role in ruining the humor for me. (There, that’s out of the way, moving on)

I think this story actually did a great job of humanizing the monsters. I could have easily seen this story being told about your everyday, dysfunctional family funeral. Just because they are monsters doesn’t mean that they can’t have feelings, wants, desires, and regrets. Most of the monsters in this story were human at one point. It would make sense for them to still have their desires for, oh say, a proper funeral. And Silkline just happens to be the person there who is responsible for ensuring that they’re worldly desires are met.

As for Silkline, he definitely was written as the protagonist. I kind of saw this as his own “coming of age” and “acceptance” story. He is introduced to the world of monsters and their desire to have even the simplest of things like a funeral. But at the end of the first two sections, we see him passing out because he just can’t handle it. “Quite suddenly, Morton Silkline found the floor” (a great line in and of itself) and “Then Silkline was at one with the rug” (p. 265, 268). But by the end of the story, he has accepted the existence of monsters and resolved to work with them, because quite frankly they pay well. It is his own evolution from a scared normal human being into a businessman who doesn’t see the people coming to him as monsters but as clients and people. I almost hoped this had some kind of racial undertone to it, about accepting people because they are people, not because they look different or act different. And if that is the point of the story, then I think it pulls it off well. (However, I worry about that reading after just having read I Am Legend)

Overall, the story was pretty good for what it was. The humor could have been better but it worked in making the monsters relatable. Not a bad choice to read after the depressing nature of I Am Legend.