Nasty, Nasty Part II: Birds, Bugs, Blowflies, and Buh-alligators

I love alliteration so much I've been known to do some silly things in my day just to preserve it. Just ask my cousins, Fabian, Fatima, Faustus, and their long-suffering brother, Bart.

Anyway, this is the second in our however-many-it-takes part series on critter and/or British "nasty" books. The first part was here if you missed it. I only got in one British novel this time, and I'm starting with critter-book roots-rock, if you will - a long-short-story/short-novella that was one of the earliest (but strongest) examples of the genre. From there I've continued onto some more obscure titles that hopefully needed reviewing. So here we go...

“The Birds” - Daphne DuMaurier (in Kiss Me Again, Stranger) Pocket Books, 1953
As great as Hitchcock’s film is, the original source is even more powerful because it gets right into the situation and cuts out the overlong meet-cute first half of the film. Birds in a seaside community (and possibly worldwide) react to a sudden cold spell by becoming organized and aggressive, attacking humans. One family barricade themselves in their house and try to survive; apparently they’re one of the few, because the story grows more and more apocalyptic. DuMaurier usually writes quieter stories, but proves here that she had no problem doing action, and this story stays intense without sacrificing atmosphere. The movie is essential viewing but by no means should it stop you from reading the novella.

The Fire Ants - Saul Wernick (Award Books, 1976)
Being raised in Mississippi, I have a healthy respect for the sting of a fire ant, but no real fear of them. Unless something really odd happens you're not likely to be covered with them. We used to kick their mounds over and bomb them with firecrackers and seldom got stung. So it's a bit odd to me how the people in this novel react when confronted with them. They won't go within fifty feet of a fire ant mound, and to enter a field where they live mans certain death. Granted, this is supposed to be a mutant super-powered strain of them, and there are a lot of the little buggers, but still, it seems overblown. Anyway, fire arnts show up in a farming community and stung-to-death corpses start showing up. Jaws-style, a local senator who owns a resort nearby tries to suppress news of the infestation lest it cost him clientele. Meanwhile, farmers can’t work their fields because the ants have set up shop there, and they won’t let the authorities burn or poison the fields because a fanatical reverend has them convinced that the Lord sent the ants as due punishment for sins. The farm folk view the fancy resort as a den of iniquity and soon the superstitious hicks are shooting it out with the corrupt senator’s thugs, and the legion of ants becomes a secondary problem. There are some well-done action scenes (it’s not surprising that Wernick got to write the first of the “new” Mack Bolan series, The New War, as a ghost writer) but it’s not really much as a killer-bugs-on-the-warpath horror novel, and it’s overlong at 220 small-print pages. Not bad, really, but not delivering on what you’re probably looking for when you pick it up.

- Donald F. Glut (Manor Books, 1974)
Strange, goofy horror-mystery in which an old fraternity of professors is the target of attacks by a variety of insects. Some are pretty straightforward, with beetles, ants, and mantises swarming to eat their victims, but others are a bit more quirky (termites eat a staircase to make a guy fall, and a butterfly lures one man into falling on a rake!). Bees, dragonflies, moths, bedbugs, flies, and black widow spiders all kill people in rather repetitive ways. A pulp-magazine-loving cop and the daughter of the first victim try to determine if this is nature gone amuck or the work of some mad-scientist supervillain. It’s all wacky enough that I kept expecting Batman to show up any minute. It’s an obvious homage to old pulp stories but it’s weird because people don’t react in sensical ways (a girl who’s just seen her father eaten alive just wants to call a cab!) and the writing, while competent, still isn’t very good. Not quite what I’d want from a bug-attack book, even though there are lots and lots of those. Ultimately silly, with bits from the point of view of the leaders of the bug hoards, and heaped-on melodramatics toward the end.

Blowfly - David Loman (Star, 1984)
Standard British nasty in which trillions of hybrid blowflies descend on Britain, eager to lay their eggs and not particular about the flesh they lay it in being dead yet. The flies can’t bite, but they still lots of people by swarming all over them in such numbers that they’re suffocated under the sheer mass of flies. And those who survive the fly assaults often get to look forward to clumps of maggots hatching in their skin or even in their intestines. The authorities bombard the countryside with all sorts of insecticide but every time they think they’ve got them all massive new swarm shows up, and it looks like a plague of filthy insects may be unstoppable. There’s lots of fly-attack action and some of it is pretty gruesome, with babies being smothered, people vomiting up flies they were choking on, flies emerging from an opened colon during an operation, etc. The book is still not great, though, because characterization is especially weak. The writing’s not bad (though overly British) but, even though Loman does try, the characters are so weak I never felt like the book had any protagonists, and so it wasn’t very involving. But it did deliver plenty of gruesome infestation action, which is an essential thing in any book like this, so I can’t fault it there. It’s kind of hard to believe that there could be that many flies, but I can play along. A subplot about a “Manfly” superhero TV show seems tagged on as a joke. Not great, but you’ll get your money’s worth in fly attacks.

The Night of the Toy Dragons
- Barney Cohen (Berkley Medallion, 1977)
Weird title covering for another alligators-in-the-sewer tale. The alligators happen to be albino midgets, more like carnivorous lizards, and they’re aggressively breeding in the sewers of NYC, chowing down on anyone unwary enough to go down there. And they’re breeding in such numbers that they’ll soon be a threat to the surface world. The mini-gators attack in swarms like reptilian piranha, leaving skeletons in their wake, and once the authorities figure out what they’re dealing with (which takes a damn long time) they send down troops with gas and flamethrowers to destroy their nesting grounds. This could be a good book but for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on the writing just isn’t absorbing. Cohen tries to create interesting characters but despite his attempts they remain so unmemorable they make no impression and you almost get left without a protagonist to follow. He does keep the action moving but it’s too mundane to have much impact and you’re left with an uninvolving, mediocre story that should be better than it is, and an ending that comes across as a "I wasn't really sure how to end this" white flag. Still, fans of critters-on-the-loose horror may want to check out this obscurity, regardless.

And that's all I managed to read for now. It's kinda tough reading too many of these in a row, because, let's face it, the plots run toward the similar. They can't really help it. No matter how creative you get, it's gonna end up as critters eat people, authorities become aware of critters, methods to stop critters are deployed and they're wiped out (except for a couple so we can have a sequel). But, I've amassed quite an arsenal of these things and I full intend to keep chipping away at 'em, so, stay tuned, same bat/bug/gator/spider/fish/rat channel.

Meanwhile, you can read me being ever-so-screamingly-funny on Twitter. Another of our blog alumni, Kicker of Elves (so named, I think, because the lazy mofuck posts here 'bout as often as Santy Claus, but when he does it's like getting a good present ) is also on Twitter and is a great guy to follow. And there may be more Twitter stuff if you poke around but due to the nature of it, that's classified! Shhhhh!


Like following a retarded donkey around...

...cuz there's always some new shit to marvel at coming from that stupid ass...

Which brings us to this story.

USA Today reports that, during a recent radio talk-show interview, GOP presidential hopeful, mostly-successful gay-beard + special-needs adult Michele Bachmann said that, among other things, Americans currently "fear the rise of the Soviet Union."

I know we should just laugh + move on, but the GOP has a remarkable track record of getting the stupid, callous, evil, + even the prob'ly-retarded elected in recent decades, so start sharpening those voter ID cards...


Number 1 with a whole buncha bullets and some fists

"I flaunted before him my open groin, the path to his salvation!"

That's a direct quote from one of the books I'm featuring today. If you can guess which one, you win a wonderful prize -- the admiration of your peers! Yeah, it's not much, but it's within budget.

I been readin' some stuff. They're all #1's in their series-es. Hence my clever title. Here we go...

Code Zero #1: Speedball - D. A. Hodgeman (Gold Eagle, 1992)
First in a three-book series about DEA agents taking on drug cartels. In the opening chapters a pair of drug-lord brothers massacre a bunch of cops at a traffic stop and kidnap an officer named Carmelita Mrales, who's been shot in the head but is still alive. A DEA agent named Harry Wolfe tracks them down and is determined to rescue Carmelita. The pursuit of the ruthless cop-killers leads to the formation of a special DEA unit known as Code Zero, which has a license to kill or do anything else necessary to stop the drug lords. The action scenes are great, very realistic, and display a lot of firearms, ballistics, body trauma, and combat strategy knowledge. Hodgeman has done his homework and has a skill at describing detail that makes you see the scenes in slow-motion, and he goes over gunfights several times from the point of view of different characters so you get the action from all angles. It's an interesting technique, and the writing and plotting is far more intelligent and high-quality than you find in most action paperbacks. Good stuff.

MacMorgan #1: Key West Connection
- Randy Striker (Signet, 1981)
Written under a pseudonym by Randy Wayne White, who went on to become a big deal, this is the first in a seven volume series following the exploits of ex-Navy SEAL Dusky MacMorgan. Nicknamed because of nearly being killed by a dusky shark while on SEAL training, MacMorgan is a big blonde handsome action-hero stud, but other than that he's a little different than the usual. Most notable is the fact that the books are written in first person, and there are some odd quirks, such as Dusky's reminiscences of talking to Hemingway (while an orphan working in the circus). Dusky works as a charter boat captain in the Florida Keys until the perfect storm of vigilante-making hits him: his best friend is killed by drug smugglers who want his boat, and in settling that score Dusky finds out the head bad guy is an old nemesis from his SEAL days. Said nemesis then kills off Dusky's wife and two sons, and after that nothing is going to stop him. Armed with weapons from an underground arms manufacturer friend (including a poison dart pistol and a giant-mousetrap device that replicates a shark's bite) and a clearance from government agencies who need a guy like Dusky to be their troubleshooter, off he goes, kicking massive amounts of drug-dealin' ass. There are narrow escapes aplenty, an ever-escalating number of events that need avenging, and almost some sex -- every woman Dusky encounters tries to bed him but he's always too busy or gets interrupted. The writing's of a higher caliber than the usual action pulp and White keeps the pace relentless without sacrificing much in the way of character/setting/realism, and the ocean setting is nice. Good stuff.

Cutter #1: Panhandle Payback - Duff McCoy (Pinnacle, 1990)
I'd love for "Panhandle Payback" to be the title of a book about a butt-kicking homeless guy, but instead we've got a grimy Western that tries to out-violence the Edge series. It's strange that Pinnacle was competing with itself, since they were also Edge's publishers. A mean, emotionally-dead gunslinger named Cutter is out to kill the men who shot his Pa and branded him and sent him to hard labor in a prison ten years before. Of course, the guy he wants to kill has built up an army of gunmen so we'll have a bigger body count, but it's a cardboard one and even though the action in this book is pretty much constant, it soon becomes more tedious than badass. There's no attempt at characterization other than to establish that everybody's an asshole (except for a prissy dude artist who seems to be a decent guy but gets his hands chopped off for his trouble), and Cutter's so antisocial it's kind of mysterious how he manages to interact with anyone on even a basic level. I don't know how he even buys ammunition without killing somebody. Anything gross that can happen, does: loads of gore fly about, everyone vomits, everything stinks, and everyone's filthy. If that's the atmosphere you're looking for, then indulge. The writing is spare but full of period jargon (it's been a while since I heard anyone referred to as a "jasper" or seen anyone smoke a "quirly"). Not good, but bearable.

Roadblaster #1: Hell Ride
- Paul Hoffrichter (Leisure, 1987)
Post-apocalypse action with a generous helping of sleaze and some cover art and copy that doesn't really reflect what's inside. A guy named Nick Stack is camping in the California mountains when WWIII goes down and the U.S. is blitzed by nuclear missiles. He finds other survivors and they try to figure out what's going on and how they should deal with it. Meanwhile, a motorcycle gang worse than Hollywood's meanest depictions decide to take advantage of the apocalypse by doing whatever they feel like they wanna do, gosh. They take over towns and kill and enslave the citizens, and stand in line to force schoolgirls to give them all oral sex in scenes that are uncomfortably too-florid. Amidst all of this, a B-52 loaded with nuclear weapons has engine trouble and lands at a remote airstrip. Stack and the good guys have to fight off the evil bikers before they can get possession of the nukes. Stack's kind of an average guy (the back cover says he can build and repair any machine but that's not evidenced in the book) but he finds enough desperate bravery to fight back. He does make some odd decisions, though, such as when he's rescuing a girl who's being raped, he shoots the dick off the biker while she's sucking it. Isn't that risking shooting her in the face, when he could've more easily killed the guy outright? And is a severed dick in the mouth only going to worsen the horrible trauma he's trying to save her from? Anyway, the bikers are really evil (and have weird names like Billy Bullshit, The Black Donut, Monster Man, etc.) so you'll like seeing them get blown away. It's a lot better than just seeing them get blown. As if conscious of slandering bikers in the book, a few 99%ers show up and they're super-clean-cut nice-guy citizen clowns, so if you conform to the status quo you're an okay fella. If not, you're the scum of the earth. On the cover of the book, Stack's a long-haired guy (who's oddly mild-looking, even a bit Abe Lincolnish) wearing fancy Road Warrior gear, and the bikers are all armored, but in the book he's just a normal camper. Civilization has only been out of service for a few hours, there hasn't been time to get a fashion sense goin'. There's lots of action but it's mostly standard firefights instead of Road Warrior type stuff, but it's not badly handled. The writing is okay but pretty average.

K'ing Kung-Fu #1: Son of the Flying Tiger - Marshall Macao (Venus Freeway Press, 1973)
Kung fu movie turned into pulp fiction series, with the half-breed son of an American WWII pilot becoming the student of an aged kung fu master, Lin Fong. This pupil, Chong Fei K'ing, trains under him in the Gobi Desert, learning as much philosophy of the Tao as he does martial arts. K'ing is a calm, good-natured boy who wants only to learn, but then Lin Fong takes on another pupil, Kak Nan Tang, who is hot-tempered and ambitious. After battling an evil fighter and his pupils (part of the mystic Red Circle, which are enemies of the good-guy Blue Circle K'ing and Kak are supposed to be heir to), Kak turns on Lin and K'ing and becomes a deadly enemy. This is a well-written book with a leisurely pace (the author obviously loves Chinese philosophy and likes to impart it, and since the book was probably inspired in part by the Kung Fu TV series, readers would want that) and good action scenes. Kung fu fights are hard things to write, though, so the effectiveness of the fight scenes will be restricted to how well you can picture such things as "pounding wave" and "ram's head" and "buffalo horn" and "rock smash." If you've watched a lot of kung fu movies, that will help. Such a story could easily get pretentious and dull, but I stayed enthralled and am glad there are six more books in the series. A promising start, and purer to the tone of kung fu movies than anything else I've read.

By the way, today is the birthday of our esteemed colleague, Kicker of Elves, so massive happy birthdaze, fella! :) I couldn't think of what to get you as a blogday present, so here are some random bad scans out of Jhonen Vasquez and Henry Rollins & Glenn Danzig romance comics, taken completely out of context and made somehow even funnier (and bewilderingly awesome) thusly, or such is my theory. Enjoy!


As Metal As A Really Damn Metal Thing!

Greetings! I played hooky from the blog last week 'cuz I was watching Kicker of Elves and his rock'n'roll brethren rock'em some fuck out of a place! It was METUL! Covers of Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Metallica Guns 'n' Roses, AC/DC, Dio... all your favorites! And also Ratt. :) Not a booty went unshaken and not a head of hair remained unthrashed! If the bar had been a van, you wouldn't have been a-knockin', if you know what I mean. Mighty ruckuses were kicked up! Ears, they bled! Waitresses danced in kind of, I guess, a metal-sorta dance kinda thing, there. There were power-chords and what-have-you. There was none more metal anywhere, maybe in the whole town, even! No one was killed or injured but you sensed they could have been, because, y'know, METUL! It was as metal as anything could be without covering Manowar, which I feel certain was just an oversight. It was so metal that by the end of the night, all the forks in the place looked like this'un here:

Anyway, I was having much fun doing that so I wasn't here and that's why-for. YOU FORGIVE ME, UNDERSTAND?!?! Good, I'm glad we had this talk.

Anyway, I'm here now and ready to disappoint with just more movie reviews, since I haven't gotten enough reading done lately to make sizable posts. But I'm workin' on it, I'm workin' on it.

These are all relatively recent DVD releases. Here goes:

Cropsey (C, 2009) Documentary on an urban legend about a child murderer on Staten Island who supposedly lived in the abandoned Willowbrook Asylum (the documentary doesn't mention it but this psycho, known as "Cropsey," was the basis for the slasher films The Burning and Madman). The filmmakers investigate some actual murders of retarded children and the man who was convicted of the crime, a disturbed man named Andre Rand. Rand may or may not be guilty of the crimes. He's certainly a creepy-looking goon and writes strange, obsessive letters to the filmmakers, but he maintains his innocence, and the Staten Island community does seem a little too eager to have a scapegoat (shades of the West Memphis Three). There are crazy rumors about Rand digging up corpses and having sex with them or serving as a Jim Jones figure for a cult of devil worshipers, etc., which sound implausible under the best of circumstances. The filmmakers have strange dealings with Rand, who seems to be manipulating them, and citizens have lots of bizarre stories about him, but there is no conclusive proof of his guilt or innocence. The study of it is interesting, though. The footage shot in the abandoned mental institution and the woods where Rand had campsites (and where one girl's body was found) are eerie, and some archival footage (from Geraldo Rivera's early days of legitimate journalism before he became a propaganda tool) of the terrible conditions at the institution are disturbing. I'm not sure it really explains everything behind the legend completely, but it's an enthralling, well-made documentary that's worth viewing.

Hobo With A Shotgun (C, 2010) Spawned from an entry in a fake-trailer contest and turned into a legit neo-grindhouse film, this one will assault you with cartoon depravity. Rutger Hauer is a transient who rides the rails into the worst town in the universe. A psychotic crime lord named Drake has taken control of the police force and the town is complete anarchy, with murder going so unpunished that it's just another form of entertainment for lunatics. Hauer saves a hooker from some of the crazies, who carve "SCUM" on his chest for his trouble. He can't stand to watch any more of the depravity around him and he has a high tolerance for pain, so he does some degrading things to get money from a guy making bum-fight type videos. Hauer planned to use the money to buy a lawnmower so he could start a business, but decides his money would be better spent on a .12 gauge pump. His new vigilante career keeps him busy killing all the dirtbags on the street, but Drake can't handle law and order so he has his crazed sons turn a flamethrower on a school bus full of children, threatening to kill more if someone doesn't bring him Hauer's head. In response, the city declares war on the homeless, but Hauer proves not so easy to kill, even when Drake sends out The Plague, a pair of iron-clad stormtroopers whose voices sound like old Space Ghost bad guy, Metallus. The movie's completely ridiculous and would have been better if it had been more influenced by the '70's instead of the 80's (it's obviously aping Troma's moronic splatterfests, but fortunately it's not quite as stupid as those were) but it's still a lot of fun because it keeps trying to top its source materials with new levels of extreme gore and crazy cartoon goofiness (a lawnmower as a weapon, a combo axe/shotgun). It cannot be taken seriously (if it were it'd be too depraved to watch), but it's all played straight, so the comedy comes from it being so over the top rather than just making jokes. Not quite as great as the other big neo-grindhouse project, Machete, but kicks the shit out of something like Hell Ride. Hauer has to be considered one of the world's great good sports for taking on this project, and his presence adds immeasurably to adding legitimacy to the film.

Here's a great (and hilarious) counterpoint from one of my favorite people on Twitter, the lovely AminaMarx. She's always clever 'n' funny and, from what interaction I've had with her, a very much-cool person, so follow her or you 'n' me's gonna fight!

I can't really disagree with her take, even though I liked the movie more than she did... which means I guess I'm not invited to her birthday party (I counted the candles and there were only 12, which would make her very precocious and me too-way-ass-old to mingle well, anyway), but I'll try to make it up to her by watching Blade Runner soon. This originally had a really well-done music video of the most splatterific scenes backed with Joey Ramone's version of "What A Wonderful World," but the YouTube Nazis gave Mina a bunch of copyright flack about it and cheated you of that... but I got lucky enough to catch it before they took it down, and can vouch that it was goodstuff.

Insidious (C, 2010) Scary horror about a family who thinks their house is haunted, only to find that the house is fine; it's their son who's full of haints. The little boy is prone to astral travel, and his spirit goes too far from his body and gets lost, which his parents interpret as his being in a coma. Unquiet ghosts and demons gather around his empty body, wanting to enter it. These supernatural entities create havoc in the home and provide lots of extremely creepy visuals. It may rely a bit too much on jump shocks, but the director is extremely good at them and they still work even when you start expecting them. The creepiness does get compromised a bit when the movie goes into Poltergeist mode and becomes sort of a paranormal adventure, with psychics and ghost-hunters tracking the demons. And I really wasn't into the boy's father entering the other world (known as "the further" - it's always a bad sign when a movie gives fantasy names to its mysteries) to track down his son and rescue him from the evil, but the intensity still remains high and there's a good feel for what's scary... even if the head demon looks way too much like Darth Maul. The movie does a lot without gore or big body counts, and carries an atmosphere or dread that makes it a heavy-hitter. Horror fans must check it out.

[REC] 2 (C, 2009) Picking up where the first left off, but weaving together a more complicated timeline involving multiple sets of protagonists (who all happen to be carrying cameras), this is another grade-A Spanish scarefest. To make any sense of it you will have to watch the original first, because it's not very merciful about catching you up. A SWAT team is sent into the building to try to contain the outbreak, and they find a priest who's seeking the blood of the original possessed girl, which is the only thing that can stop the demonic-possession-virus from spreading. They have a bunch of hard luck and are whittled down pretty quickly by the frantic zombie-like horrors infesting the building, who are now sometimes manifesting more demonic powers, such as crawling on ceilings. Also a group of teens, bored after their bottle-rockets-and-love-doll experiment doesn't work, sneak into the building and soon wish they hadn't. The attacks are frequent and scary but they also get numbingly repetitive after a while because they're so chaotic; there's only so many times a bloody screeching person can run at a camera and attack it before you start thinking "this again?" And the movie relies on jump-scares so much that it could work as a kegel exercise video. The subjective camera thing starts wearing out its welcome in this one because between the darkness and the camera being thrashed around and broken up you end up not seeing much. But the situation is so creepy and the visuals so hellish that none of that matters too much, and this sequel is a very worthy follow-up, as horrific as the first chapter.

Wake Wood (C, 2011) The return of England's revered Hammer Studios, this is a combo of Don't Look Now and Pet Sematery, and even though it's pretty predictable, the classy handling of the material (and the modern levels of gore) makes this a welcome return. A veterinarian and his wife are so bereaved after their little daughter Alice is mauled to death by a dog that they make a dark deal with the magic of the community where they live. By means of a weird and grotesque ritual they can bring Alice back from the dead and have three final days with her. But they haven't exactly been truthful about a few details, and they're a little greedy when the three days are up... and Alice turns out about the way you'd expec if you've been paying any attention to the horror genre. It's got some atmosphere (although not to the level of Hammer's past, but that's too much to expect, I think) and creepy moments, and it doesn't balk at the gory details.

And if that's not enough out of me, you can go read me on Twitter, where you're never far from some fart joke or horrible thing I say about fictional relatives or co-workers. (Actually, some of the co-worker ones are real, but it'll be more fun if I leave it up to you to guess which).