Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The soul of Frankenstein

I don't know if anyone has seen the movie FEAST, a direct-to-video gorefest starring Henry Rollins and directed by John Gulager, but it's actually pretty good for what it is - a gorefest. Basically, some people are trapped in a bar in some desert town in the midwest and are forced to fight for their lives against some inexplicable monsters who like to eat humans. There are also a couple of sequels, each one more bizarre than the last. The monsters are pretty convincing, the victims are pretty convincing, everything is pretty convincing.
But there's one thing that always bugs me about most modern horror movies like FEAST - there's no soul. I mean, sure, you get to see the humans fighting off the monsters while trying to maintain their humanity and hopefully win out in the end, but beyond that there's - well, nothing.
Here's an example. Frankenstein creates a monster. The monster comes to life, decides he wants to explore the world, and goes out in search of knowledge. Unfortunately, he doesn't look so hot and the townspeople misunderstand his intentions and ultimately come against him. The monster then goes on a rampage, causing even more misunderstanding and more misery.
In the meantime, we are feeling sorry for the monster, because, after all, did we not create him in the first place? There is some sympathy there, because we know that down inside, the monster doesn't see himself as a monster - he sees himself as a human.
I feel no sympathy for the monsters in FEAST - they're just monsters, one-dimensional and soulless. They simply kill and do...well, other things. The Frankenstein monster killed, too, but we also felt pity for him when he was being relentlessly hunted by angry villagers with torches and pitchfoks. Even though he couldn't talk, he was multi-dimensional and we could empathize with him.
How do you empathize with something that does nothing but kill? Think about other monsters like Dracula, or the Mummy, or the Wolfman, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or even Godzilla. We could empathize with all of these characters because we know that somewhere inside of them is a misunderstood being driven by circumstances beyond their control to do what they do.
That's the same way I wrote my book, DIABLERO. My monster is not just a killing machine - he has a heart and a soul and a battle going on inside that all of us as humans also have - the battle between good and evil.
That's why I like the classic monsters - the Mummy, the Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein - it seems like the monsters of today have lost their souls and have nothing to offer in the way of enlightenment, only entertainment.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Wisdom of Loons by Jeff Dennis

The funny thing about this book is that I don't usually read this kind of stuff. I stick with the action-oriented page-a-minute type of thrillers or classic sci-fi by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Heinlein or horror by H.P. Lovecraft or Rod Serling - you get the picture. This book really expanded my horizons.
To be honest, though, Jeff Dennis' "The Wisdom of Loons" is a lot like Serling - very Twilight Zone-ish. It's really a foray into a surrealist universe peopled by some very down-to-earth types - a guy who just wants to relax with his dog and go fishing, and a woman and her cantankerous father who just want to get away from it all for a while.
Enter Lake McDowell in the mountains of Georgia, where nothing is as it seems. The loons (birds that look like ducks but who can dive underwater like fish), play an integral part in the story of Cal Blevins and his would-be girlfriend, Lauren Talbot (no relation to the Wolfman, Lawrence Talbot - I asked), and Lauren's father, Edgar.
I like Cal because he plays guitar like me. That's how he meets Lauren - she hears him play and falls for him immediately. The same thing happened with my wife. Well, sort of. Anyway, Cal soon learns that Lauren's father had a stroke recently and is a little loony himself when it comes to loons. Edgar not only is obsessed with the birds, he starts making loud, obnoxious bird calls and driving poor Lauren nuts.
Cal tries teaching Edgar some guitar licks, which helps create humor to kind of balance out the ongoing tension between Edgar and Lauren.
But Edgar's obsession with the loons goes even deeper - so deep it becomes a mystical experience, such as when the birds fly over the mountain, five at a time, in a perfect "V" several times. What does it mean?
Lauren and Cal fall for each other hard and poor Edgar feels left out, going even further into his own little world, doing crazy things like trashing the cottage and wandering off at night into the forest to find loon eggs.
They even meet a few helpful Native Americans along the way, who live in the mountain and help them try to understand the ways of the loon.
Lauren and Cal see and experience a lot of weird, inexplicable things which at first don't make sense. But in the end, it all comes together in a memorable way.
And by memorable, I mean mind-blowing.
This book isn't Dean Koontz and it's not meant to be. It's a love story with supernatural elements that will jerk a few tears, produce a couple of guffaws and maybe even clean some of the cobwebs out of your brain.
Above all, though, it's just great storytelling, which is what every novel aspires to be. I highly recommend it, because "Loons" is a unique literary experience.
Check out "The Wisdom of Loons" by Jeff Dennis at