Editor’s Note: I am posting this from St. Lucia and will not get home until late next Wednesday so please forgive the fact that these will probably be shorter, less well researched, and posted irregularly. I also can’t promise a theme most nights since most of the horror I’m bringing with me is from my Universal Horror boxset so there won’t be as much variety.
10/23/2017 – Literature: This Book Is Full of Spiders (2012)
Written by David Wong
Bet you didn’t see this coming. Well to be honest I didn’t either. I mean I knew I was going to read this book this vacation and that I was going to write about it, but I figured it would just be as a bonus. Well for the first time ever, I’m choosing a book instead of a movie. Don’t worry, I haven’t violated the terms of my probation. There’s still a movie review coming down below. It’s just that absent my DVR and a reliable stream (it could probably be done but I just want to avoid the headache) and staring at a list of four titles which included two more werewolf titles, another Invisible Man film, and what would be the THIRD adaptation of Phantom of the Opera I’ve seen this month and trying to find a topic to talk about that I haven’t before feels like a fool’s errand.
I’ve mentioned plenty of times before that I am nowhere near as qualified to speak on horror novels as I am on horror films. I love reading but if a book isn’t done in a day or two (maybe three as I did with this one), I will never finish it. I just can’t do a chapter or two a night, I have to marathon them and the only time I really get to do that is on vacation and generally only beach vacations. I also don’t read as much as I used to and by the time I got into horror, my reading had already gone down quite a bit. I only just read a tiny bit of Lovecraft for last year and as I said in my It review, I’ve read exactly one Stephen King book and it was On Writing. I’ve never read many of the other classics as well (though I may have another novella done for tomorrow).
Horror dates back as long as we have told stories, both as a concept to scare and many of the genres. Witches existed long before Shakespeare, vampires long before Dracula, etc. Modern horror as a genre of literature dates to the Gothic horror of the 18th and 19th centuries starting with The Castle of Otranto in 1764. It only grew more with novels such as Frankenstein, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Mummy!, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Varney the Vampire and the works of the Brothers Grimm in only the first half of the 19th century. being an influence on such an incalculable portion of even modern-day horror in their stories, subgenres they defined, and through the adaptations of Universal Studios.
That’s not to say that the latter half of the century were any slouch as Poe (who I have read a bit of), Carmilla, the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (another I have read), The Invisible Man (also read but I’ll credit it more to me being into sci-fi novels), Dracula, and The Turn of the Screw being all hugely influential themselves (and seemingly making up the other half of the Universal catalogue.
As we headed into the film era, the number of classic works declined. The early 20th century brought us Lovecraft, M.R. James, and The Phantom of the Opera, but more and more the two mediums of literature and film became almost intertwined with the films almost universally overshadowing any novels (and would just feel like a list of famous movies based on books). It also feels strange to put the horror comics of EC Comics here but their influence on King, George Romero (who also drew heavily from I Am Legend), del Toro, and others is undeniable. Where gothic horror mostly escapes the low status of horror (aging has a way of making us forget that they were once largely critically dismissed), modern horror has not really had the time to do that.
King has long tried to shake the dual associations with horror and the mainstream in terms of critical appraisal but by sheer volume alone he has cast a long shadow over the genre. Anne Rice brought in the romance that helped birth us Buffy and it’s countless influences as well as Twilight and it’s countless followers (Rice giveth and Rice taketh away). R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps helped create a generation of new horror fans. Modern horror comics like Hellblazer, Hellboy, and The Walking Dead have taken up where EC Comics was chased out of business decades before. The Zombie Survival Guide can be largely attributable for the modern zombies boom with its influence on the internet’s fascination with zombies and the rise of “anti-zombie” groups (more on that in a bit).
One horror book I have read though is John Dies at the End (I have read the also read the first two Strain books though so that’s something) and it’s hilarious and just an all-around awesome book. The film adaptation was improbable in its existence but suffered not as much from budgetary issues related to effects as I suspected it would but from chopping out like 2/3 of the story. I figured this would happen too as the book feels like three stories within it, but the film just felt lacking by mostly just doing the first third and the very end with not enough (successful) humor to carry the story. I’ve had the sequel basically since it’s paperback release but only just got to it (having also read the nigh-impenetrably slow starting and overly context heavy but still very good The Name of the Rose and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which feels so archaic in the way it has to make every tiny thing sound “futuristic”).
Like many I presume, I was introduced to the author David Wong (Jason Pargin) via cracked.com and while my readership of that dwindled away thanks to growing older, as the percentage of great to garbage articles (which had always been there) increased slowly but consistently over time, and as the listicles that had always defined the site becoming more dominant, more inane, and even more questionably accurate. Still, Wong and John Cheese (Mack Leighty) were two of the best authors and it inspired me to check out John Dies at the End (which stars fictional versions of the two as white trash monster-fighting characters before they started writing for the site as the book was actually serialized online previously). This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It is the second of so far three in the series and both tries to start anew but without ditching any continuity. David, David’s awesome one-handed girlfriend Amy (yay!), and the dog Molly (also yay!), Dr. Marconi, the town of Undisclosed, and of course SPOILERS John END OF SPOILERS all return but there’s nothing here that relies on prior knowledge of the previous book. But I am not going to spoiler tag any more spoilers from the first novel so if you plan on reading that, just stop here.
David and John still have the same personalities and abilities with them having gained quite the reputation (in the avoid them sense) but the book moves to an ironically easier to adapt style single narrative. It’s still divided into three parts, each one counting down to a single event which function as chapters, but the story feels more cohesive for better or worse. While the previous novel was almost entirely from the perspective of David, this time out the novel rotates between the perspectives of David, John, and most awesomely Amy (and in one notable instance Molly).
The titular “spider” is a twelve-legged creature only visible to David and John (and be able to be sensed by Molly) thanks to the mysterious Soy Sauce from the previous novel which attack David when he wakes, and has to be pried off with a boxcutter as it bites with a painful, paralyzing bite. An officer responds to a call about all the noise and the spider takes up residence inside him. They rush the officer to the hospital where he proceeds to kill and refuse to die even after being shot countless times. In an attempt to destroy all the spider-like breeders who have taken up residence in David’s closet, John burns down the house and unwittingly starts the entire outbreak as the spiders escape into the firefighters and all the onlookers.
While early on, the book generally keeps Dave and John together (relatively), for the most part the three are generally separated (with Molly just kind of showing up wherever she feels like). Dave spends much of the time in a converted asylum and prison camp-like quarantine where he is trapped under a mistaken attempt to try to save a returning Amy (who was away at college and right near him when he ran back into the infected zone), Amy spends most of it trying to get back to him and eventually into the quarantine, and John spends it fucking up and basically causing all the issues of the plot.
The outbreak is labeled as zombies though the resemblance is surface at best and variously blamed on terrorists, an infection, or really anything but the truth, SPOILERS trans-dimensional interference. END OF SPOILERS The whole novel plays with the notion of our fears and the ways others can predictably exploit them and render the truth unimportant (the leads themselves representing a sliding scale of giving a shit but mostly just desire to end it). A mysterious organization, REPER, sweeps in far too quickly and effectively, declaring martial law and spreading disinformation inside and out of the town with David’s court mandated therapist having a connection to the incident.
The book is crude, vulgar, and most importantly funny. It’s not often that SPOILERS the bad guys (the zombies anyway) are defeated by a fur-like gun which fires ray that transformed based on your thoughts conjuring a velvet Jesus painting which proceeds to eat them. It’s even rarer to find a work that makes that feel not only natural but almost normal feeling in context. It also has a very Mars Attacks type enemy weakness with the shrieks that destroy the mysterious creatures. I also love the reveal that all the awesome things about an uber-badass detective who recurs throughout were fake and only added for extra access to shit for the book. Both of Wong’s first two novels very much play with the idea of an unreliable narrator and in the end, it can be hard to tell how much was really real (and in this case it hardly matters). END OF SPOILERS
The book isn’t perfect though. Even more so this time, it’s clear the writer came from the internet with his contempt and familiarity with certain groups, the frequent trivia, and in fact the style. In fact, it can sort of devolve into a Cracked article (where Wong also served as head editor) where it starts to feel it just wants to push in facts that even five plus years on I remember being discussed almost identically on the site regardless of how well it fit into the plot. SPOILERS Also, in the end, Dave tries to sacrifice himself to save Amy but they both manage to survive miraculously as Molly had jumped in front of a bullet intended for both because Molly was just the best *tears up a bit*. So, fuck you David Wong for making me get misty eyed over your comedic horror novel. If Molly doesn’t come back for reasons that are basically just shrugged away, I’ll be rather cross (okay bringing her back would be pretty cheap and probably unfulfilling in the long run but…). END OF SPOILERS
Still, I’m excited to read the next sequel when it comes to paperback and I finally get time which is hopefully less than like five years from now *proceeds to buy more books than I actually read despite having like two shelves of books, comics, and cookbooks to get to already*.
Bonus Episode #13 – Sci-fi: The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
Directed by Ford Beebe
It’s time to return to my comfort zone. That is twofold in this case as it is a return to talking about movies and it is also a return of this series to proper horror after the comedic The Invisible Woman and the propaganda-comic-suspense thriller Invisible Agent. The final film of the series before it crossed into Abbott and Costello’s orbit, trades all that comedy for a good simple revenge plot. John Carradine stars as the doctor and inventor of the invisibility technology and Jon Hall as the titular invisible man. Hall is an escaped fugitive and murderer from an asylum intent on revenge on a couple for the way they abandoned him in the African jungle years earlier. They drug him and throw him into a river when he comes to collect.
Eventually Hall stumbles upon Carradine and his invisible dog and parrot who offers him the opportunity to be a human guinea pig. The doctor turns the man invisible and he immediately takes off to achieve his revenge. He forces the man who stole from him to sign a confession and tries to drive the couple mad and get close to their daughter who he wishes to marry. He also aids the man who saved him from the river in trying to make some money. As he works on his revenge, the doctor develops an anti-invisibility treatment that requires a complete transfusion of bloods, SPOILERS which he gets from the doctor himself (an impressive task to do solo with no medical training) but needs to keep draining people to stay visible, being stopped before he can complete the next transfusion. END OF SPOILERS
There are a lot more shots of the invisible man using various substances to reveal parts of his body which just look more impressive to me and feel like they are just about the only significant upgrades to the story. The now token comedic scene works better here even if they don’t feel all that original mostly thanks to the efforts of the man who fished him out as he consciously leans into the ridiculousness of the scene. A quick, painless classic horror movie felt like the perfect touch even if it drags toward the finish line as if they hurtled to the end but realized a 60 minute film wouldn’t cut it anymore with the public. Nothing real original but a nice easy watch.
Next up: Werewolf of London, She-Wolf of London, or the 1943 Phantom of the Opera. It will almost certain be one of those three but which one? Tune in tomorrow to find out.