Daredevil: Ultimate Collection

Daredevil!

WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND

The official start of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil kicks off with the attempted assassination of the Kingpin, who is now blind. The palace coup is led by none other than Sammy Silke, a made guy from out-of-town. Silke’s dad and the Kingpin’s dad were friends, which is why Sammy is around. How an out-of-towner on the skids from his own crew ends up running a major crime syndicate (however briefly) is an interesting story. But is it a Daredevil story? Keep reading!

The Kingpin, like every girl Matt Murdock has ever slept with, knows that Murdock is Daredevil. Even though Daredevil is a crimefighter and the Kingpin is a crime lord, the two of them have come to an understanding. This is the sort of thing that happens in comic books all the time, but falls apart in the real world. What it amounts to is that the Kingpin leaves Daredevil alone, and Daredevil continues to beat the shit out the Kingpin’s men. This is a bad deal, if you are in the Kingpin’s crew. 

The Kingpin’s disgraced son spreads the word, and pretty soon everyone in the Kingpin’s crew knows that Murdock is Daredevil. But they aren’t allowed to touch him. They’re pretty salty about it, so when Sammy comes along sowing the seeds of discontent, he finds a willing audience. TBH, in the real world a blind mob boss would last about thirty seven seconds. 

Silke puts out a bounty on Matt Murdock, so we see assassination attempts from villains such as Nitro, Boomerang and Mr. Hyde, including a fight scene with an unnamed assassin that would normally take a single panel but goes on for pages. The fight is visually striking and looks great, but it’s also total page filler. There’s no way Daredevil is going to die at the hands of an anonymous killer.

Sammy leads the assassination attempt against the Kingpin, complete with knives. Despite not having read a book since the third grade, Silke quotes Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which leads to a plausibility hiccup. These are mobsters, trained killers, but they don’t make sure the Kingpin is dead. The easiest way to do that is to put a bullet through his head. They should have done that, because the Kingpin isn’t dead.

Vanessa Fisk, the Kingpin’s wife, exacts vengeance by killing everyone involved in the assassination attempt, including her son. Sammy escapes by the hair of his chinny chin chin and goes running to the FBI. The Feds tell him to take a hike, unless he gives them something. Sammy gives them Daredevil’s secret identity. This is squashed by the FBI higher-ups (it helps that Murdock has a SHIELD file), but one of the agents goes to the Daily Globe. The Globe runs the story, and Matt Murdock’s life goes to Hell.

The fallout from the expose is brutal. Foggy Nelson (Murdock’s law partner) wants him to hang up the tights. Foggy doesn’t pull any punches, pointing out that so many people know Murdock is Daredevil, it’s a wonder the secret didn’t come out sooner. He also plays the old ‘two of your exes were killed by your archenemy’ card, thus implying that Murdock is indirectly responsible for their deaths.

This argument isn’t exactly true, and it’s debunked by others, but it’s powerful nonetheless. What Foggy is saying is that Murdock’s lifestyle is dangerous, which is bound to lead to fallout and civilian casualties. Soon afterwards, Mr. Hyde attacks Murdock’s brownstone and almost kills Foggy.

Murdock hangs up the tights for a few issues. It is to the writer’s credit that he doesn’t even pretend that this will be permanent. Two of Murdock’s exes, Natasha Romanova and Elektra Natchios, pay a visit. Natasha and Elektra are the same character, in that they are both stone cold killers. Natasha used to be a Soviet spy. Now she’s an American spy.  She’s killed tons of people, all off-camera. This is an uncomfortable truth, like pointing out all the people the Hulk has killed (which the same writer did). Elektra is an assassin, and the ultimate crazy ex-girlfriend. 

They have different solutions to Murdock’s problem. Natasha wants Matt to play dress-up and beat up some muggers, and Elektra validates everything Foggy says. The issue fades away when Matt dons the tights again, except it doesn’t. Is Matt Murdock a noble hero who’s sacrificed everything for Hell’s Kitchen? Or is he a narcissist willing to risk the lives of his loved ones because he likes playing dress-up? Or is he both? To be continued…

The third storyline in this volume is the most powerful. Hector Ayala, aka The White Tiger, interrupts a robbery in progress and ends up accused of a police officer’s murder. Luke Cage, of Hero for Hire fame, wants Matt Murdock to represent Hector. Murdock tells Cage that if he takes the case, his pending lawsuit against the Globe will make the trial a media circus as well as a referendum on superheroes. Murdock ends up taking the case anyway, because reasons. Why does he do this, especially since everything he says to Luke Cage turns out to be true?

The trial begins. Luke Cage follows the trail of the junkies who killed the cop. We learn that the robbers left town, and then the plot thread is dropped. Why? Murdock has resources we can’t imagine, including access to the superhuman community. Instead of attempting to find the real perpetrators, Matt Murdock makes the case a referendum on superheroes, even though the prosecutor trying the case TELLS Murdock that making the case a referendum on superheroes will be playing right into his hands.

Hector is found guilty and commits suicide by cop. The story is insanely depressing, all the more so because we know that Hector is innocent. It also proves that Murdock is a narcissist. Why did he take the case to begin with, and then compound the error by making the trial all about him? Because – as he himself says – he has to do things his way. He just can’t help himself.

Overall, a great volume. 

Dracula

Dracula!

This is a review of Dracula, by Bram Stoker. First things first: by today’s standards, this is not a scary book. Dracula is an epistolary novel, which means it’s written in the form of letters, newspaper articles, and diary entries. Do you find reading letters frightening? I don’t know if the Victorians found this book to be scary. I think it more likely they found it shocking or even titillating. 

Nowadays Dracula is an indelible part of pop culture, bad movies and breakfast cereals and all. The original novel is valuable both as a historical and cultural document, giving us insight into the Victorian thought process. A friend of mine insists that Dracula illustrates how xenophobic the English were, terrified of foreigners stealing their women.  It’s an interesting argument, but Bram Stoker was Irish and not English, so I’m not sure I buy it.

Who cares about all that shit, how’s the book? Is it worth reading? Well…I don’t think Dracula is very good. I recently reread the novel, and it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, which a) doesn’t mean much, and b) doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book. I don’t finish most of the books I start, yet I’ve read Dracula four or five times. Take that for what it’s worth.

The plot: Jonathan Harker, realtor wannabe, travels to Transylvania to meet his boss’ newest client. Harker writes about train times and spicy paprika chicken in his diary. Thrilling stuff. The book perks up during Harker’s carriage ride to Castle Dracula, which involves sinister blue lights, wolves, and a mysterious coachmen. Upon reaching his destination, Harker is greeted by Dracula himself, who is getting ready to invade – er, I mean relocate to England. 

Technically, Dracula is a Voivode rather than a Count, but whatever. Harker soon has other things to worry about, like survival. Staying alive isn’t easy in Castle Dracula. Dracula enters and leaves by scaling the walls like a lizard. He has three ravenous wives, who want to drink his blood. Even worse, they’re voluptuous. And there’s always the hungry wolves, lurking outside.

One of the more interesting things about this book is the fact that Dracula doesn’t kill Harker. He leaves him alive in his castle while he travels to London. True, Dracula’s wives will finish Harker off, but there’s always the risk that he will get away and spill the beans. Which is what happens. Why not make sure? While never overtly stated, I believe it’s because Harker is Dracula’s guest, and killing him would violate the rules of hospitality. Dracula is a supernatural entity, and thus must abide by a number of rules. Leaving Harker alive means Dracula is following the letter of the law.

Dracula charters a boat to transport him and his fifty earth-filled coffins filled to England. He kills everyone on the ship, which sails into Whitby with the dead captain tied to the wheel. It is never revealed why the Count chose Whitby. Why not London or Liverpool? Anyway, Dracula wastes no time seducing Lucy Westenra. Lucy’s best friend, Mina, is Jonathan Harker’s fiancée. Coincidence? Part of the Count’s evil plan? Bad plotting?

Whatever the reason, soon poor Lucy is in her grave. This despite the efforts of her three suitors, Dr. Jack Seward, Lord Arthur Godalming, and Quincey Morris, who hails from the great country of Texas. Further reinforcements arrive when Dr. Seward consults his old tutor, Abraham Van Helsing, about Lucy’s bizarre anemia. Van Helsing doesn’t have a great command of the English language, and his solutions involve crosses and garlic flowers. Instead of confining Van Helsing in his sanitorium, Dr. Seward and company agree to a number of blood transfusions. Since people didn’t know about different blood types back then, it’s possible those transfusions helped kill Lucy.

Lucy rises from the grave, begins preying on children, and is dubbed the Bloofer Lady by the press. The sequences with her are the creepiest parts of the book. Somehow Van Helsing convinces the others to pound a stake through Lucy’s heart and then chop off her head. Meanwhile, a weakened Harker makes it back to England, only to lose it when he sees the Count strolling through London. One thing leads to the other, and the Harkers are united with Van Helsing & his crew.

Blah blah blah that’s a lot of plot, and I haven’t even mentioned Renfield the Fly Eating Lunatic. Is the book any good? Yes, and no. The plot is the weakest part of this novel. Dracula’s plan to conquer England is so bad that Stoker dedicates a half-chapter to Van Helsing talking about Dracula’s child-brain. Exhibit A: Dracula has spent several months in England and only made one vampire. Van Helsing and company find forty nine of his fifty earth-filled coffins in a single day. These are not the actions of a master tactician.

The book’s characters fare better. The standout humans are Van Helsing and Renfield the Fly Eating Lunatic, both of whom are crazy. And then we have Dracula. We never get to understand what makes him tick, which is part of what makes him interesting. His entrance to England, floating into harbor in a corpse ship, are the actions of a Voivode. His exit, wherein he scrambles for pocket change and spends weeks hiding in a boat, are the actions of a scared man. The apparent contradiction is never explained. Perhaps he’s acting according to an unstated set of rules that are never explained to us?

Parts of this book reek of a bizarre sickly sweet sentimentality, but much of Dracula was quite shocking to the Victorians. The novel brushes against sexual mores and taboos (A WOMAN’S BOUDOIR, INVADED!), and I think that’s what shocked people. In the end, Dracula dies and we have a happy ending, but sometimes it seems like we’ve brushed up against something we don’t quite understand, and I don’t know what it is, and maybe that’s why I keep coming back to this book.

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men Volume 1

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men Vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men, Volume 1 is a mixed bag. Jack Kirby’s art is wonderful. The writing is okay, the caveat being that the same two storylines are repeated ad nauseum in the first ten issues. For those not in the know the X-Men are mutants, aka Homo Superior. Their genes give them miraculous powers, which is good. What’s not so good is that plain old humans, Homo Sapiens, hate and fear them. The X-Men are led by benevolent telepath Charles Xavier, who is dedicated to protecting humankind from existential threats and also evil mutants. It’s interesting that Xavier works to protect humanity rather than his own kind, a paradigm that changes later.

The evil mutants are led by Magneto, who in this volume is a Dr. Doom clone. Magneto believes that human beings are scum. He’s assembled a group of mutants, aka The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, to conquer humanity. Later, Magneto and Charles Xavier become two sides of the same coin, but here they are oil and water.

There are two storylines. In the first, Xavier discovers the existence of a new mutant. He sends his X-Men to recruit this new mutant, but the mutant always turns out to be evil. See: The Vanisher, The Blob, The Sub-Mariner, Unus the Untouchable. In the second, the X-Men fight Magneto and his band of evil mutants, as they try to a. conquer the earth; b. recruit mutants to their cause. Both Xavier and Magneto are terrible at recruiting mutants, Magneto because he’s a homicidal maniac, Xavier because he’s creepy. Would you want a teacher who could read your mind? At least with Magneto, you get to hang out in his cool lairs, asteroids and islands with big magnet skyscrapers.

Reading this volume gave me the impression that the creative team was in a state of perpetual deadline Hell. It’s not that the stories are bad, but reading the same two plots gets repetitive. One of the better issues is the introduction of Ka-Zar and the Savage Land, because it probably started life as a ten-second pitch session (Tarzan in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World!) that gained legs. 

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men is worth a read, because it’s Jack Kirby and also because it introduces a number of iconic characters in Marvel history, even if we don’t see a lot of these characters nowadays. These are the issues that laid the groundwork for some classic stories. 

X-Men: Volume One

X-Men: Volume One

X-Men: Volume 1 features the first six issues of the newest reboot of The X-Men. This volume acts as setup for upcoming storylines: the X-Men skirmish with Orchis, a band of human scientists who want to exterminate the mutant menace; the sentient mutant isle of Krakoa reunites with his better half; a quartet of octogenarian botanists hack Krakoa; and The Vault opens.

To say this book features an ensemble cast is an understatement, but the main character seems to be Cyclops. Cyclops lives on the moon with his partner Jean Grey; his brothers, Alex (Havok) and Gabriel (Vulcan); his two children, Nathan (Cable) and Rachel Summers (???); and Wolverine, who is either Jean Grey’s sidepiece or the third party in a polyamorous relationship. Cyclops seems to be the p-o-v character mainly because he’s a good guy who doesn’t consider himself to be a god and doesn’t hate humans.

Speaking of hating humans…Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Apocalypse attend the World Economic Forum, where Magneto tells the pesky human leaders exactly how the newly formed mutant nation intends to conquer the earth by economic means. I guess it beats sinking nuclear submarines. Still, this a bizarre scene, made more so by Xavier’s silence. Marvel has a long tradition of villains with heroic (or at least sympathetic qualities), but Magneto is in a class by himself. He’s a mass-murderer, but the mindset of the new X-Men seems to be ‘fight fire with fire.’

Oh, and apparently there was an assassination attempt on Xavier, but that’s not in this volume. I have no idea which volume it is in, which is annoying. At the moment, there are four or five X-titles, which is Marvel’s way of milking their fans for all they’re worth. None of which is the creative team’s fault, btw.

We learn what Mystique was doing when the X-Men stormed the Orchis Forge and destroyed the Master Mold. She planted a flower of Krakoa in the garden, which gives her the ability to travel to the Forge at will. There she discovers that Nimrod the Master Sentinel isn’t dead after all, but is being constructed by a female scientist.

Magneto and Xavier, who are using Mystique’s dead wife (Destiny) as leverage, want her to kill the scientist, yet another sign that the X-Men are fatally compromised. They also have no intention of resurrecting Destiny. If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, it looks like this iteration of the X-Men will fail on a truly grand scale.

One of the interesting things about X-Men: Volume 1 is how good people – or people who used to be good – make stupid mistakes. Definitely worth a read.

Daredevil: End of Days

Daredevil: End of Days

WARNING: contains spoilers.

The plot of Daredevil: End of Days is simple. Years in the future Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, is killed in a brawl with his archenemy Bullseye. Before he dies, he says ‘Mapone’ to Bullseye. Perhaps Murdock says this because of the beating he’s taken from Bullseye, or the brain damage he’s undoubtedly suffering from, or it could mean something else. Nobody cares but Daredevil, Bullseye, and beat reporter Ben Urich. This is a potential problem, because I didn’t care what Mapone means either. What made Matt Murdock lose his sanity is a lot more interesting, in a car crash sort of way.

Urich is a strange choice for a narrator. He has a compulsion to know what happened, all the while understanding that the picture he paints won’t be pretty. He’s the picture-perfect portrait of the grizzled beat reporter, so much so that a cynic might say that he’s a parody of himself, especially when he does things like standing in a downpour (because it’s always either dark or raining in Hell’s Kitchen).

Urich decides to retrace Murdock’s last years. The last time Matt was seen in public as Daredevil, he killed the Kingpin in a brawl. This is the type of thing that is frowned upon by a civilized society, and there’s also the undeniable truth that pummeling a man to death with your bare hands in public is a clear sign that you have lost it.

So begins the journey of discovery. Even though Ben Urich has no social skills, we learn things. A man dressed as Daredevil is tailing Urich. The Black Widow is dead, either in a cosmic skirmish (according to Nick Fury) or murdered in a bathtub (according to the cover of Issue #6). Urich’s adopted son, Timmy, idolizes Daredevil. Former assassin Elektra is now a soccer mom. Bullseye kills himself a few days after murdering Murdock. Daredevil’s ex-foe Gladiator makes costumes for fetish parties. Oh, and all of Matt’s ex-girlfriends have children with red hair. This was funny the first time, but after the third or fourth child with red hair, it veered into eye-rolling territory. 

Urich reaches a dead-end when he visits the Punisher in prison. Old, grizzled Frank Castle gives the plot away, but Urich is either too dogged or too stupid to quit. He keeps on plugging away, scraping the bottom of Murdock’s rogue gallery, until he’s killed by the Hand. At which point we learn that the new Daredevil is Urich’s adopted son, Timmy, who was trained by none other than Murdock himself! We also learn that Mapone is the name of Matt Murdock’s and the Black Widow’s daughter. She may also be Murdock’s reincarnated teacher, Stick. 

We never learn what made Matt Murdock lose it, and what he was doing all those years in hiding. We also never learn why the name Mapone makes Bullseye kill himself. I have searched teh Googles in vain, but have found no answer as of yet. EDIT: it turns out Bullseye didn’t know what Mapone meant, but the fact that Murdock got in the last word tipped him over the edge. This is according to the writer’s blog, but I am unsure if the writer is trolling, because his answer makes no sense. I think it’s fair to say that the linking of Bullseye and Mapone as a plot point doesn’t work. The other thing that confused me are the covers, which depict the deaths of Daredevil & various Daredevil cast members, some of whom were still alive when I read the book. 

Overall, I enjoyed Daredevil: End of Days, even though plot-wise the book falls apart in the final issue.

The Exorcist

I have an Exorcist story, but you have to read my review first!

We’ve read a bunch of good books this semester, and The Exorcist is one of the best of the bunch. I’d rank it neck-in-neck with The Shining, probably my all-time favorite horror novel. In fact, I enjoyed all the books we read with the exception of two; I must confess to liking The Amityville Horror,which is craptastic but still fun to read in an awful sort of way.

If you have even a passing interest in horror movies, you know the plot of The Exorcist. The movie is faithful to its source material, even using a number of the book’s best lines. I believe Mr. Blatty wrote the screenplay. But hey, we’re not here to talk about the movie!

I have read The Exorcist a number of times. I’d say that number is less than ten, because that book never triggered my OCD, thus making it a must-read. So I know it pretty well. There is a sequel to The Exorcist, Legion, which is well-worth reading also. The main characters of Legion are Lieutenant Kinderman and Father Dyer, believe it or not.

Here are a few impressions, gleaned from reading the book again.

The biggest thing that struck me is how funny the demon is when it talks. Most of the things it says are blasphemous, but they are still funny. The demon has a sense of humor, something God seems to totally lack. This is an interesting decision on Blatty’s part.

Why? Well, there are theological implications. A sense of humor is a very human trait, especially considering I believe that one of the prerequisites for a sense of humor is suffering. That would mean that humans have more in common with demons than with god. Ah, you say, maybe the demon was a good mimic or channeling Burke Dennings, although Father Merrin states that there is only ONE entity possessing Regan. Possible, but unlikely. The demon has a PERSONALITY that comes through when reading the book, and that’s hard to fake.

One of the understated questions raised by The Exorcist is why do people suffer? It’s a good question (which the book doesn’t answer), explored in greater depth in Legion. People should read Legion, because Kinderman’s fabled carp in the bathtub makes an appearance.

Speaking of Kinderman…he’s based on Porfiry Petrovitch, the inspector in Crime and Punishment. The TV character Columbo is also based on Porfiry. Don’t be fooled by Kinderman; he’s a devious bastard. Denning’s death and the church desecrations are the book’s subplot, which hums along nicely beside Regan’s decline.

Here’s an interesting question: who is the main character of The Exorcist? The title refers to Father Merrin, who bookends the book but isn’t around enough to qualify. Father Karras is the demon’s intended target and a solid choice; Regan’s character has no drive of her own; Kinderman is a strong character, but in the same boat as Father Merrin. My personal choice would be Chris MacNeil, even though after a certain point she becomes little more than a spectator. One of The Exorcist’s strengths is the number of interesting characters; even the minor characters are fleshed out.

Anyway, here’s my Exorcist story. When they released the extended theatrical version, I went to see it in the movies. I was too young to see the original version back in 1973! Anyway, the theater was full of kids, and those kids laughed their asses off from start to finish. That’s the first time I realized I WAS GROWING OLD.

 

The Shining

I’d like to use the space allotted to me this week to talk about Jack Torrance, because after at least twenty rereads of The Shining (I read this book for the first time when I was twelve years old) facets of his character still hold a certain fascination for me. I don’t find The Shining frightening anymore – I admire the book’s claustrophobic vibe, but at fifty years old the bathtub scene doesn’t scare me the way it did when I was twelve and I wouldn’t go into the bathroom.

What interests me now is Jack. Wendy and Danny are straightforward characters, in that we know what makes them tick. Jack is interesting in that his desire line isn’t so clear. What makes Jack tick? Let’s talk about him, shall we?

The thing that struck me upon this reread of The Shining is the fact that Jack Torrance goes through the pages of this book in a constant state of piss-off. If Danny is always getting hurt, Jack is always getting pissed off. Big things, little things, it doesn’t matter. Jack starts the book angry, and goes downhill from there. Rage is the key to Jack’s character. The first three words of the book – officious little prick– tell us everything we need to know about Jack.

I guess that’s why my view of Jack has changed over the years. I used to view him as a man in turmoil, but now I can honestly say that I just don’t like him. The description of Jack breaking his son’s arm comes early in the book, and it’s brutal. Looking back, I’m not sure why I kept reading. I’m not a big fan of the horror genre’s fascination with domestic violence.

So why did I keep reading? If I’m being honest, I guess it’s because King makes it obvious that Jack views breaking his son’s arm as the worst mistake of his life. He feels great shame and views himself with pure self-loathing. Yet he doesn’t stop drinking. That is a brilliant character moment. Even after breaking his son’s arm, Jack doesn’t stop. It’s not like Jack can’t stop. He doesn’t stop. All it takes to make him stop is a broken bike.

Yes, this tells us something about the nature of addiction, sure, but maybe it’s also a hint about how Jack really feels about his son. Don’t believe me? The plot of Jack’s puerile play is all about an older man beating an insolent youngster to death. The play is another brilliant character moment, because King doesn’t dwell on it. It’s just another view into Jack’s subconscious. Here’s another: Jack putting a wasp’s nest in his son’s bedroom. This is a man who has conflicted feelings about fatherhood, to put it mildly.

However, the true key to Jack’s character is that he’s in denial about being an asshole. Jack is a bad guy who thinks he’s a good guy. Jack isn’t a good guy. Jack is a self-destructive asshole. The Overlook didn’t make Jack beat the shit out of his student. The Overlook didn’t make Jack break his son’s arm. The Overlook didn’t make Jack an alcoholic. Jack did all those things to himself.

Jack tries to quit drinking using sheer willpower, which is lunacy. Let me explain my statement, lest people get the wrong idea: people can and do quit drinking all the time. However, the magnitude of Jack’s drinking problem isn’t something he can just walk away from without repercussions.

To expound upon my point: there’s a reason people go to AA meetings for years after they’ve had their last drink. Jack has no support system. Jack doesn’t seek treatment. Jack decides to hole up in an abandoned hotel in the middle of nowhere in the hopes that the experience will somehow solve all his problems and heal his fractured marriage.

It doesn’t work. Why on earth would it work? Jack is broken from the first page on. The book’s big question is whether Jack will also break his son. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but the biggest trick The Shining pulls off is making Jack seem interesting enough so that the reader doesn’t throw the book at the wall.

King’s obvious fascination with Jack is a big part of that. King starts the book with Jack. Danny Torrance is the main character of The Shining, but by starting the book from Jack’s point-of-view we get the impression that Jack is our main character. He isn’t. We see more of Jack than Wendy, even though Wendy is a stronger character. Wendy really loves her son and doesn’t harbor subconscious fantasies about murdering him. When the shit hits the fan Wendy kicks Jack’s ass. Jack needs the hotel to bail his ass out, just like he needs Al to bail him out. At the book’s end, Jack even screws up killing his son. YOU HAD ONE JOB.

To conclude, Jack is an utter failure at everything.

Loser.

 

 

The Amityville Horror

I read The Amityville Horror when it first came out, back in the wild and wooly days of the early 1980’s. Even as an impressionable youth (12 years old!), I knew this supposedly true book was full of shit. More on that later. I wish I had some enjoyable anecdote to share about the reading of The Amityville Horror as a young man, but nothing comes to mind. Honestly, I was nervous rereading this book. Was it as bad as I remembered? Would it be worth my entertainment dollar?

Reader, I needn’t have worried. I haven’t laughed so much reading a book in years. One of the joys of The Amityville Horror lies in its plethora of bizarre details. Where else can I learn about George Lutz’s diarrhea, or the particulars of the Lutz’s sex life (nightly, until their stay at 112 Ocean Avenue!), or how George and Kathy practiced TM? These are things that I – the reader – want to know. No, I’m going to go a step further: these are things that I DESERVE to know.

A short synopsis: The Amityville Horror is the supposed true story of one family’s experience in a haunted house. Ronald DeFeo murdered his family in this house (located in Amityville, NY) in 1974. George and Kathleen Lutz and her three children moved into the selfsame house a year afterwards and fled twenty-eight days later, claiming their former abode was full of poltergeists and demons, including a devil pig with laser beam eyes.

The Amityville Horror purports to tell the tale of what happened in those twenty-eight days. Here are some fun facts. The house was frigid. There were flies in the sewing room and black smelly goop in the toilets. A four-foot ceramic lion menaced the family. An invisible demon wearing cheap perfume hugged Kathy Lutz in the kitchen. George Lutz spent most of his time in a stupor, only rousing himself to throw logs into the fire and beat his stepchildren. More on this last point later.

Author Jay Anson is a hopeless exclamation point (!!!) addict. I can just imagine his editors, egging him on – ‘Jay, we’ve decided that this book needs more exclamation points. Oh, also more devil pig with laser beam eyes.’ I will give Mr. Anson credit for this. After finishing The Amityville Horror, it became clear to me that something was wrong with George Lutz. That something has nothing to do with literal demons, though.

The Amityville Horror is written like true crime, but it is clearly fiction. The influence of The Exorcist and The Shining shine over this book like twin moons; Jodie the laser beam devil pig is The Exorcist’s Captain Howdy while the ceramic dog mirrors the hedge animal scene in The Shining.

The attention to details is what’s supposed to make The Amityville Horror realistic. In better written books this can work; in this case, not so much. That doesn’t stop Mr. Anson from flooding the book with trivia, though. George Lutz wakes up at 3:15 a.m. every night; the coroner determined that the Defoe Familly died at 3:15 a.m. (wow, they’re good!). The DeFoes slept on their bellies; now, the Lutzes sleep on their bellies! Missy’s (Kathy Lutz’s daughter) pig friend’s name is Jodie and he’s male. Father Mancuso – the priest who blessed the Lutz’s house – was stricken with the flu by Devil Laser Eye Pig, and his temperature was 103 on such-and-such a night! Unfortunately, we never learn whether the good father had diarrhea.

Sometimes this attention to detail works against the author. In one of his nightly jaunts to the boathouse at 3:15 a.m., George Lutz sees his stepdaughter Missy standing in the window by the light of the full moon. LaserPig is standing behind her. This event happened on December 25th. Too bad the full moon was on December 18th; the 25this the date of the moon’s last quarter. Abraham Lincoln supposedly won a court trial by consulting an almanac about the phase of the moon, and what’s good enough for Honest Abe is good enough for me! Props to Mr. Anson for getting the day of the week correct (Christmas 1975 was on a Thursday), though.

Here is the source I used to look up the phase of the moon:  https://www.calendar-12.com/moon_phases/1975

I could go on and on about this book, but I won’t because I want to say a few words about the movie. The original Amityville Horror is a movie everyone should see, if only to witness the MOST AWKWARD LOVE SCENE IN THE UNIVERSE, courtesy of Margot Kidder and James Brolin. I don’t know what happened between these actors, but it sure wasn’t love, and their total lack of chemistry isn’t an act.

A final word: what happened at 112 Ocean Avenue was not demonic in nature. It was child abuse. Danny Lutz gives a detailed account of his ordeal in the documentary My Amityville Horror, released in 2012. While I am not sure whether Mr. Lutz believes in demons –the filmmakers clearly do, so he gives it lip service – he makes his point about his relationship with his stepfather crystal clear. When asked why he’s smiling, Mr. Lutz says – because  George (his stepfather) is dead and I’m a free man.

Truth.

Postscript: here’s a snippet of an interview with Margot Kidder (in Rolling Stone) regarding that love scene. I knew something was up!

“You should have been here earlier,” she said. “You missed some sizzling love scenes. Bright lights on me, Jim Brolin on me, and fourteen men standing around watching. In twelve movies, I’ve never had to do a love scene, and I started getting some funny thoughts, like, ‘How do you act like you’re a good lay?’ I don’t want to look like some fat New Jersey housewife. Last night I was pretty nervous about how I was going to look, so I ate an entire box of chocolate Ex-Lax, thinking I’d lose a lot of weight real fast. Well, I lost about six pounds, but it was all water weight and diarrhea. Boy, I feel terrible!”

Source: https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-features/the-education-of-margot-kidder-630259/

 

 

 

Nightmare House

Capsule review of Nightmare House: if you like ghost stories, give this a try. It’s short and the author quotes Tennyson. I will admit that this book was not my cup of tea, but maybe you will like it. And if you do enjoy Nightmare House, there are a number of sequels and prequels available.

Okay, that’s the short version. The longer review is below. If you don’t like spoilers, don’t read any further.

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

You know, one of the things that always cracks me up is when assorted writer folk/agents/the peanut gallery say that Stephen King can’t write endings. I recall one instance at a now-defunct convention in Westchester, New York, where an agent informed a panel full of enthralled listeners of this very fact. He then told us that if Mr. King worked with him, he’d straighten him out! The thing that makes this memory so beloved is that the agent gave out pens inscribed with his agency’s name, and when I put said pen into my pocket it burst and ruined a perfectly decent pair of khaki trousers.

((Side-note: Mr. King’s endings can be summarized thusly, people live, people die and the world keeps on turning.))

Whilst wiping blue ink from my leg, I starting thinking about Mr. King’s plots, the best of which spring from his characters. This is a long-winded way of saying that if I hadn’t been reading Nightmare House for an assignment, I would have put the book down after the first twenty-five pages.

Why? Because the book’s main character, Ethan/Esteban, has no desire line at all. He inherits a house from his wackadoodle grandpa in the late 1920’s, and travels to a small town in upstate New York to check it out. That isn’t a plot, it’s a situation.

That’s fine, because plots can spring from situations. Unfortunately Ethan isn’t a character, he’s a puppet of the plot. None of his actions even advance the plot. Ah, you say, what about unveiling the hidden room? Yeah, that did nothing, because the spirit of Aunt/Mommy/Crazy Matilde was already roaming the house freely.

The characters in Nightmare House are so paper thin I didn’t care if they lived or died. The garrulous housekeeper vanishes early in the book, never to return. Grandpa’s a loon, pure and simple. Ethan falls madly in love with a woman at first sight, because – well, I don’t know why. Because she’s pretty and makes him clean the bathroom? Pockets, the garrulous constable, only exists to unveil the backstory and give out cigars, which he does with great vigor.

There are a number of plot twists that don’t mean anything because they aren’t properly foreshadowed. The house’s history is hinted at, but not gone into in any detail. The ghosts say all sorts of stuff I didn’t understand, and I got the sneaking feeling I didn’t get it because I hadn’t read any of the other books.

In fact, Nightmare House reads more like a treatment that hasn’t fully been converted into a novel. It needs to have at least 50 more pages to be interesting. If Nightmare House reminded me of anything, it would be H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Rats in the Wall.” Both have that vibe of family rot/predestination, but Lovecraft’s narrator was batshit crazy, and Ethan/Esteban isn’t crazy. If the author really wanted me to believe Ethaneban was crazy, he shouldn’t have written four more books in the series.

 

 

Ghost Story

Hey, time for another story from my far-flung youth! Ghost Story is one of the first R-rated movies I ever saw. It scared me enough so that I made sure to finish my paper route before dark. I had to deliver a paper to this house atop a small hill, and for a few weeks the trek up that hill freaked me out. Thinking about that now – the fact that I had a paper route, and the fact that a movie could scare me – fills me full of sad nostalgia.

Anyway, back to the review. Ghost Story isn’t an original novel, but it’s told in an interesting way. The book is long and dense and full of bizarre imagery, much of it sexual. Ghost Story meanders into strange places. Characters do weird things for inexplicable reasons. The person I’m assuming is our protagonist appears in the first chapter and then doesn’t reappear again for many chapters.

I think part of Ghost Story’s appeal lies in its unpredictability. I am not sure what to make of this book, but feel sure that the author was in control every step of the way. I’ve read better horror novels, but I’ve never read a horror novel with as much style as Ghost Story.

The plot: The Chowder Society is a group of five old men (four when the story starts) bound together by the fact that they killed a woman when they were in their twenties, except that the woman wasn’t really a woman and they didn’t really kill her. Despite these facts, the not-woman and her creepy friends have returned, decades later, to murder The Chowder Society and anyone with even a tangential relationship to the aforementioned not-killing. We’re talking about sons, daughters, neighbors, paperboys, even nephews of the original players!

The Chowder Society is important to the plot of Ghost Story, but the actual members don’t appear much in the book. Ricky Hawthorne has a cold that seems to last a few months. I am sure that Sears James, Hawthorne’s law partner, is based on Orson Welles. Their last names are puns – (Nathaniel) Hawthorne and (Henry) James. Dr. John Jaffrey is a dope addict who takes a header off a bridge in the opening chapters. Lewis Benedikt lives alone in a big house in the woods and is attempting to have sex with every housewife of Millburn, NY.

The actual plot is driven by others. Exhibit A is Jim Hardie, teenage lunatic, lover, hotel clerk, rebel without a cause, town peeper. For awhile Jim is the little engine that could, single-handedly placing the plot on his brawny shoulders and running with it. I liked Jim. Collective IQs drop by fifty points whenever he enters a room, but you can’t have everything. When the shit goes down, Jim is the first to die, leaving his sidekick Peter Barnes to face the weirdlings alone.

Peter’s mother is having an affair with Lewis Benedikt, one of the members of the Chowder Society, and that’s enough to mark him and his mom for death. We also have Freddy Robinson, who sells insurance and lusts after high school girls. Don Wanderley is a youthful horror writer who I’m sure isn’t based on the author at all; he tells the story of his relationship with the strange woman who later kills his brother, seemingly unaware that he comes off as a neurotic asshole. What I like about Ghost Story is that although Wanderley doesn’t know that he comes off as a neurotic asshole, the author does.

Stuff happens, but not in the way you’d expect. The not-woman has style. There is a choreography to what she does, a strange dance. She’s like a movie director – or even a writer. It helps that most of the members of the Chowder Society are done. At times it seems like the not-woman is doing them a favor by putting them out of their misery.

Anyway: I loved Ghost Story even though I see how it could drive people crazy. Book tally so far – two thumb’s up, one thumb’s down.