Monday, March 8, 2010

The Devil's Rejects

Writer/director (and rocker) Rob Zombie's sequel to 2003's House of 1000 Corpses finds us in familiar yet unique territory. House was a structured, homage ridden gore fest commercially successful enough to warrant a follow-up (Rob actually started penning a sequel the weekend House went to no 1 at the US box office), while The Devil's Reject's is attacked from an almost completely different angle. Here, the 70's horror/action milieu is evident in every reel.

The beginning is a mishmash of what-went-before interspersed with news snippets regarding the current status of the sicko Firefly family. As stated, Zombie's direction is full of reverence for the techniques of others, yet he does it effectively, mining a by-gone era with sallied stills-in-action of bloodshed and gore. You feel strapped in for a jolly ride, and want to know who to root for when the action cranks up a notch.

And crank up it does. Picking up almost immediately after the first film, the exploits of Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), and Otis (Bill Moseley), come to a head as the police catch wind of their debauchery and lay siege to the property. Both Sherri and Otis escape while the mother is captured by a Sheriff with a score to settle. Perhaps inevitably, the Firefly's become small celebrities with the media label of 'The Devil's Rejects'.

An off the map motel is the scene for most of the film's macabre moments. After a brief introduction to the current lodgers (a traveling old-timers country band among them), we're then treated to their subsequent kidnapping while the Firefly's wait for their father (Captain Spaulding) to arrive. And this is where Zombie makes things more than a little ... uncomfortable - our captors displaying no mercy as they subject a couple to torture and humiliation. During it all, we're fleetingly reminded of Natural Born Killers as our Sheriff (William Forsythe) exorcises personal demons on a jaunt to catch the psychopaths. Later we encounter a black desert pimp who helps out the Firefly's when they escape again. Said pimp offers some much needed lighter moments as the film builds towards a climax.

House was regarded by fans of the genre twofold: loved or hated. One of the strong things about this sequel is we call tell Zombie just doesn't give a damn. This is his world, his characters, and his rules. You'll feel totally ensconced in the realm he creates: the dust, dirt, and grit of 
Texas during the 70's; the songs intertwined during action sequences that make them poetic and disturbing. Although not as tell-tale as House, The Devil's Rejects nonetheless acts as a worthy successor.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Store by Bentley Little

Small American towns as the epicenter for strange goings on - the hallmarks for many writers of horror fiction. And yet we keep coming back to these tales where sleepy, conservative municipalities are transformed into cauldrons on the cusp of Hell. Midnight by Dean Koontz showcased what would happen to a modern town if HG Well's Dr Moreau happened to drop by - Peter Straub has transformed a fictional town called Millhaven into a realm where the serial killer has a permanent home. And Needful Things by Stephen King is perhaps the penultimate tome whereby destruction takes a town by the throat.

Now Bentley Little has his chance to cut a swath on the map with the hot, baking towns of
Arizona as the centerpiece for mayhem.

Do not be fooled by the blurb on the back, or the title of this story. Perhaps parts of it are a homage to Needful Things, but Bentley stamps his mark with his own unique brand of fiction.

Welcome to Juniper,
, the off-the-map dessert town where retail giant The Store has chosen for its new location. Now everything you could want is under one roof, at unbelievable prices. But you'd better be careful what you wish for; this place demands something of its customers that goes beyond brand loyalty.

Our protagonist, Bill Davies, is the driving force behind this novel that sees the town he loves becoming swallowed by the giant commercialism of The Store: local businesses are forced to shut their doors; agents of The Store have infiltrated the echelons of local government, making it all but impossible to operate independently. The entire town is slowly but surely pinned under the thumb of corporate supremacy and unless Bill can usurp them by some means, Juniper will fall under the spell of its charismatic owners and converted employees.

The Store itself is creepy. Although inside it resembles nothing so much as a K-Mart on steroids, the objects its sells become perverted and are converted into The Store home brands. The employees are issued with Store-worker handbooks that are like malign bibles glorifying the Hugh-Heffner-ish owner Newman King.

That said, Bentley's heroes are likable and engaging. He seems to have an overt grasp of local small town milieu and their inner workings. The chapters are structured cleanly and effectively to resemble what they should be: maps of intent. Not only is the writing mature, but the dialogue is established and at times hilarious. We know some of these people: they are our neighbors, friends, and are easily recognizable.

Now we come to the pitfalls: although not directly part of the this novel per say, I've had a little difficulty fathoming why such talented authors should succumb to titles with limited imagination. Little gives us headings such as: The University, The Mailman, The Resort, The Ignored, and The Revelation. Appalachian writer Scott Nicholson has a similar tact. The perpetual use of The can give the reader a sterile, almost clinical feeling that flees away from the story.

After delving through four hundred pages, we wait for the spooky things to be resolved: just what, exactly, are those puppet things called the Night Managers crawling around the store at night? Who is the big-wig Newman King? What does he want from this community besides control? Unfortunately, Little loses himself in these areas, and closure is not one of his strong points. Horror fiction, so flexible when it comes to these elements, should not be shied away from. There are a multitude of revelations one can employ, yet Little tries his best to avoid them. It's a small weakness in an otherwise engaging novel.