Posted tagged ‘horror’

Review: Audition

May 7, 2010

I’ve been waiting years for an English translation of Ryu Murakami’s Audition to be released.  I became familiar with it through the Takashi Miike film, which has picked up the reputation of being one of the greatest horror movies ever.  That’s pretty well deserved too.

So I came into the book with certain expectations, and found it to be a bit less terrifying, but a better example of horror.  Now this is a book that can’t really be described without a spoiler, but its one that is pretty obvious based solely on the book jacket so I’m going to go for it.  

The story is told from the perspective of Aoyama, a widowed single father who has just decided that he is ready to remarry.  In order to find a wife he joins forces with a friend at a video production company to hold an audition for a film that will likely never be made.  That way he can come in to the casting sessions as a producer and hopefully find the woman of his dreams amongst the runners-up.  The plan works, and he becomes hopelessly infatuated with Yamasaki Asami, a former ballerina with an unknown past.

All of Aoyama’s friends warn him away from her throughout the book, but he remains blinded by her, and as this book is told in the first person, so is the reader.  It’s a nice approach to take for the story, which makes the famed torture scene at the end of the book all the more horrifying.  But unlike the film which gets its terror from the unexpected story twist, the book relies on the Aoyama’s inability to comprehend the situation to achieve its horror.  And this works admirably!  Murakami takes love, which lets face it, can be pretty incomprehensible at times, and twists that into the sort of horror usually found in a Lovecraft story.  Well done.

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Review: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days

April 23, 2010

Dark Days is easily the worst book I’ve read in months.  It’s the sequel to 30 Days of Night, a vampire tale with two things going for it, Ben Templesmith’s art, and the unique setting of Barrow Alaska (where there are in fact 30 days of night).

But now writer, Steve Niles, has moved the action to LA, and the art, while still gorgeous, is just not enough to help this train wreck.  So “the plot” 16 months after the prior book , the widowed Stella Olemaun has written a book about the vampire attack in Barrow and has reinvented herself as a fearless vampire killer in the hopes of using her book tour to lure out her victims.  

That’s okay except that her plans totally fall apart when the media fail to accept her story as fact, and she gives up instantly.  And then starts a romance with a vampire who, a few pages earlier, admitted to desecrating her husband’s grave.  WTF!?!

This book didn’t have much of a reason to exist in the first place as the original story is much better without a sequel, but there was a little room for a halfway decent tale despite that.  But this is not it.

Review: 30 Days of Night

April 22, 2010

30 Days of Night is an incredibly clever vampire tale from Steve Niles, with some fantastic art to back it up, but its sadly a bit disapointing.  The basic premise is one of those so ingenius that I can’t believe no one tried it before ideas, vampires come to Barrow, Alaska.  This is the northernmost point in the US, a town where the sun sets for 30 days, making it perfect for a vampire feeding frenzy.

Which is exactly what happens over the course of 3 issues, and not much else.  Vampires appear, town gets massacred, hero manages to chase them away (although in another pretty clever way), 3 issues and done.  And while this might make for a pretty good story, it doesn’t leave enough time to get to know any of the characters.  And without a connection to a single person in the story, the horror falls a bit flat.

Fortunately there’s Ben Templesmith’s career launching art to elevate the book a bit.  He very much comes from the Ashely Wood/Barron Storey/Bill Sienkiewicz school of surreal/expressionistic art.  But Templesmith usually manages to avoid the murkiness associated with many of his peers, using color well (even if it is just red in this book), and showing some real storytelling chops.  And his art gets even better from here.

So, not a great book, but one with a premise that is almost enough to make it worth a read alone.  And the art manages to push it over into being a must read, but just barely.

Review: Hell House

July 24, 2009

To be perfectly honest, I picked up Hell House because I was in desperate need of an audiobook for a long car ride and it happened to have just come in at my library.  It’s not at all what I expected, coming to it only knowing Matheson from his Twilight Zone episodes.  This is pretty much what haunted house movies would be like if directors didn’t have to worry about the MPAA’s ratings board.

Yet despite its attempts to be progressive the story is at its heart a simple retelling of the Haunting of Hill House, which was fine without the Marquis De Sade tribute.  Still Hell House is a fine piece of horror with some honest scares and is well worth a read for fans of the genre.

Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

November 30, 2008

Another vacation, another audiobook (as well as another housing disaster).  This time it’s Jack Finney’s horror classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Now after my slight disapointment with other novel turned iconic film last week I went into this with a small sense of worry.

Fortunately that proved to be entirely uncalled for as the book proved to be far superior to what I had envisioned.  Beforehand I was imagining a book filled with Red Scare/Joe McCarthy inflected paranoia that I felt had become synonymous with this work.  None of that is actually here, instead what’s present is one of the purest examples of the horror genre.  

The essence of horror is about discovering that the world around does not actually conform to your view of it.  Most of the time this is simply manifested by some peril faced by the protagonists, showing that the world is simply more frightening or dangerous.  But here the central premise is that the world contains things that entirely defy explaination.  

This is flat out one of the best horror novels I have ever read, and all the adaptations of it that exist are only pale immitations.

Review: The Graveyard Book

October 9, 2008

The Graveyard Book is Neil Gaiman’s welcome return to the realm of YA fiction.  The last time he tread these waters (not counting Interworld, which he plotted) he came up with Coraline a book that to paraphrase the author, children would love but which would give their parents nightmares.  It was pretty good too, winning a Hugo, a Nebula, a Bram Stoker award, and picking up a nomination for the Carnegie Medal.  Gaiman is an incredibly gifted writer, being the most natural storyteller working today next to perhaps Jane Yolen.

So my expectations were pretty high for this book, and it doesn’t quite match them, but it does come pretty damn close.  The story has the annoyingly high concept of the Jungle Book in a cemetery.  I think the premise bothers me more than anything else really, it’s just one too many gothic fables and I think the fad is begining to pass at last.  

But besides that the book is written masterfully.  The story is structured as a series of shorts, that can be read equally well as individual pieces or as a whole.  Gaiman also shows an incredible level of respect for his target audience.  I think this story is aimed at the tween crowd, but there is plenty here that will appeal to adults as well.  Given the material, there are some horror elements in the story, with quite a few frightening scenes and some violence early on.  But I think it still manages to stay age appropriate at all times.

This book is definitly a must for Halloween this year.  And if your kids like it then maybe they’ll be ready to try Kippling next.

Review: Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

August 4, 2008

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is the first manga I’ve read in quite a while and man is it an odd little series.  The book focuses on a group of 5 out of work college grads (and one puppet) who decide to start a business that conducts favors for the recently deceased thanks to one of them who can talk to ghosts.  The end result is a bizarre sort of horror/mystery/comedy with a truly unique tone that I loved.

In a basic Kurosagi story the group finds a corpse that died under some sort of mysterious circumstances, investigates the death, and then carts the body off to whoever was responsible so that it can be reanimated and get revenge.  The team then realizes they forgot to work out how to get paid for their services and then goes back to eating Ramen Noodles.  These stories can feel a bit formulaic at times but Eiji Ohtsuka milks the concept for all its worth so that it never actually feels repetative.

It’s also amazing how well he manages to balance both the humor and the horror of these stories.  Make no mistakes this is a horror book and some truly awful things occur throughout the series.  We recently purchased this series for the library and I actually have a few reservations about adding it to the collection due to a scene in the first volume (but that is the only time that I feel it may cross that boundary).  So clearly this is not a book for everyone, but I happened to love it.