This review & recommendation roundup is going to be a short one. Since last time I have finished writing one book (woo!) and have started editing another book (not my favorite thing to do but I am getting better at it). I’ve been busy. Anyway. Enough excuses! Onto the stuff.
The Deep by Nick Cutter – I counted Nick Cutter’s previous horror novel The Troop as one of my favorites of 2014. The Troop is a dark, gruesome tale of a troop of boy scouts dealing with a slimy horror that gets inside and changes people. Nasty piece of work. Considering my appreciation for that book, I considered Cutter’s next horror story The Deep to be among my most anticipated novels of 2015. It didn’t disappoint.
The Deep tells the story of the world dealing with an apocalyptic disease called the ‘Gets. The disease causes people to forget things. Little things at first. Where’d I leave the keys? What’d I have for breakfast this morning? Then you forget your family, your name, how to chew your food, and eventually how to breathe. It’s like Alzheimer’s on a massive scale.
The scientific community has discovered a strange substance in the Pacific Ocean that might be a cure-all. The problem is it’s located at the deepest part of the ocean — eight miles down — and so they must build a facility there in order to harvest and study the discovery. But this strange new biological substance may not be the miracle they’re all hoping it to be. The stuff might actually be evil incarnate. . . and it’s drawn some of the greatest scientific minds in the world down to the dark depths for a bit of fun.
The story is a bit like Michael Crichton’s Sphere (one of the author’s more underrated works) mixed with Paul W.S. Anderson’s film Event Horizon (one of the director’s only worthwhile films). Or maybe it’s James Cameron’s The Abyss meets John Carpenter’s The Thing. However you want to try to describe it, I personally think that The Deep is one of the most harrowing sci-fi horror stories ever done in either fiction or film.
This book is relentless and unforgiving. The horrors that haunt the characters never seem willing to let them go, and we’re stuck down in the deep with them. After one bad thing is just barely survived, something else even worse pops up. I’d previously been of the opinion that you need some space between the scares to build suspense, but Cutter succeeds by never letting the reader get a chance to catch his/her breath. It’s like an extended chase sequence through a haunted house and every door has something bad waiting behind it. Almost all your fears get checked off the list one by one. If you’re scared of something, chances are The Deep has it covered.
Like The Troop, The Deep has its fair share of body horror and nastiness. But this time we get more psychological horror as well. Also like The Troop, the action of The Deep is broken up by jumping into other places in the timeline. The Troop did this with newspaper clippings set after the incidents of the book, The Deep gives us flashbacks of tragedies and dark drama set before the events of the book. If I’m being honest, I liked The Troop’s newspaper stuff more because it helped build dread, but the flashbacks here serve to build a more complex central character. Our hero Luke Nelson suffered a lot in his life before ever finding himself at the bottom of the ocean dealing with giant hands, undead test animals, and evil goo. The horrors of the deep get into his head and force him to replay much of that trauma over again on the underwater station. It’s dark stuff and not often pleasant, but the horror and suspense make for a story that’s difficult to put down, with scenes that linger on long after the book is closed.
The Deep is one of the most frightening haunted house stories I’ve ever read. It just happens to take place eight miles beneath the surface of the ocean. Great book. Highest recommendation for horror fans.
The Art and Making of Hannibal: The Television Series by Jesse McLean. I think that Hannibal is the best show on TV right now. (Curse you NBC for cancelling it! I just hope it finds a new home on some other network. Netflix? Are you listening?) The writing is dark and intriguing. The performances from Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne and others are all top-notch, portraying complicated characters with surprising subtlety. I think that their portrayals of these popular characters should be considered the definitive representations by now (Anthony Hopkins is great as Hannibal, but Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is deeper, more human). The show is also the most visually interesting thing on television. Though this book spends time on multiple aspects of the show, its primary focus is on the visuals and the behind the scenes of how they brought those visuals to life.
It’s often surprising how much Hannibal is able to put on TV. This is a gory show. The Walking Dead, TV's other extremely gory show, mostly shows nasty bites and heads getting pulverized. Hannibal is inventive with its bloody set pieces, not only pushing the boundaries of what’s allowed on TV, but also pushing the people working on the show to do their very best on schedules that are less than ideal.
If you’ve not seen Seasons 1 & 2, you should do so before beginning this BTS book. Basically every episode and every major crime scene of the first two seasons is covered in detail. We get concept art, BTS photos, and final shots taken from the show. Added to that are many interesting comments from the cast and crew. These are smart, creative people and they offer some interesting insights, not just to the ‘making of’ aspects but also to storytelling and characterization.
The show picks and chooses how to incorporate sections from Thomas Harris’ books. Instead of going for a direct adaptation that follows the books from point A to point B, Bryan Fuller and his writers like to surprise people about what comes next. For example, certain portions of the third novel appear in the show before parts of the first novel do. This ‘making of’ book kind of does the same thing in that it does not begin with episode 1 and continue on from there. The book and its writer Jesse McLean cover every episode, but with no discernable order; not chronological, and certainly not based on dramatic importance. The final major chapter of the book focuses on the Lance Henriksen episode with the human totem pole. I personally consider the episode to be among the more forgettable episodes of Season 1, but it does feature that incredible set piece of the human totem pole. So it makes perfect sense to close out this book – a book about dead bodies. Well, it’s more than just that, of course. But the fact that the totem pole is given extra treatment at the end should make it clear that the makeup and effects work are the primary focus of this book.
Since only the first two seasons are covered here, this book is bound to feel somewhat dated within a year’s time. That can’t be helped, as Season 3 just began. Perhaps we can hope for a Volume 2 sometime in the future? If this book is any indication, there are going to be many more stories to tell. Hannibal is my favorite show on TV. So dark, so weird, so good. And I think this book is a decent companion piece to the show.
Godzilla: History’s Greatest Monster by Duane Swierczynski – I’ve established myself as a kaiju nut by now, I think, right? Godzilla: History’s Greatest Monster is basically Jason Statham vs. Godzilla and it’s just as silly and as cool as it sounds.
Okay, so it’s not really Jason Statham, but it might as well be. Boxer/Statham is an ex-special forces tough guy with a grudge against Godzilla. Along with his team of ultimate badasses (which are a more unique bunch than you’d expect), Boxer travels the globe taking down kaiju for cash, but Godzilla is the one beast he just cannot defeat. When malevolent alien kaiju invade the earth, Boxer realizes that maybe he’s been fighting on the wrong side all along.
History’s Greatest Monster is a collection of IDW’s ongoing Godzilla line (when it was originally published issue by issue, I believe the title was simply Godzilla). History’s Greatest Monster follows the first chapter of the ongoing series Kingdom of Monsters (though I don’t think you need to read that one to follow this) and precedes the (final?) part of the ongoing Godzilla series, Rulers of Earth. All the chapters of the ongoing series have their own specific tone thanks to different writers and authors. I never liked Kingdom of Monsters. History’s Greatest Monster is a big step up, giving us strong central characters, lots of action, and a big storyline that flows really well from issue to issue.
The art by Simon Gane is interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic with art that I could compare to Gane’s. I wasn’t immediately a fan, but I grew to like the art very much. There’s one issue in the collection where we get art from Dave Wachter instead. You could say that Wachter’s art is ‘cleaner’ but by having that one issue with a different style it kind of messes with the visual look of the collection. All in all, though, the comic’s visual presentation is really interesting.
I had a lot of fun with this one. Actually I think it ranks much better than its reputation suggests. History’s Greatest Monster succeeds because it manages to feel like a epic Godzilla film in comic book form. For a fan, there’s a lot to like.
As I mentioned before, I contribute film reviews for the Asian action movie website CityOnFire.com. So the three reviews here are Asian films. For other film recommendations, see the bottom of this blog post.
The Happiness of the Katakuris – When Takashi Miike agreed to do a remake of Kim Jee-woon’s directorial debut The Quiet Family, he wanted to give the story his own “personal stamp” to make his version worthwhile. And Miike did exactly that, turning the dark comedy into a bizarre musical, complete with claymation monsters and zombie dance numbers. The Happiness of the Katakuris is somehow simultaneously one of Takashi Miike’s most insane films and one of his most accessible. It’s a wonderfully weird journey into the mind of one of cinema’s boldest, most inventive filmmakers. Read my full review at City on Fire.
The Taking of Tiger Mountain – Adapted from Qu Bo’s 1957 novel Tracks in the Snowy Forest, which is itself based on a true story, Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain takes what sounds like another drama about China’s revolution following WWII and turns it into an entertaining action-adventure instead. Tsui Hark thankfully shirks politics, preferring instead to just have a bit of fun. I don’t always agree with such an approach to historical events, but in recent years we’ve gotten a lot of historical action films from Asia that tried to be tragic and dramatic but came across as stuffy and dull instead. A movie that simply strives to entertain its audience is all right by me. And while it’s unlikely that The Taking of Tiger Mountain will ever be considered one of Tsui Hark’s finest films, it is one of the director’s most entertaining pictures made in the past decade or more. Read my review at City on Fire.
Retaliation – There are two primary types of yakuza (Japanese gangster) film. The genre began with films about chivalrous gangsters. These classics depicted yakuza as outlaws, yes, but they lived by a code, they were often romantic, and they did right by their neighborhoods. In the late 60s and into the 70s filmmakers deconstructed the yakuza, depicting them as ruthless bastards out for personal gain who cared little for honor or who got hurt along the way. This second type of yakuza film is perhaps best represented in the filmography of Kinji Fukasaku. His famous series Battles without Honor and Humanity explains the new depiction of the yakuza world so well you don’t even need to see the films because the title says it all. I think you could say that Yasuharu Hasebe’s 1968 film Retaliation is something like a bridge between the two types of yakuza film. Read my full review at City on Fire.
Jurassic World is a lot of fun. See my previous blog post.
Batman: Arkham Knight is not just a great videogame, it’s one of the boldest, coolest stories in Batman’s long history.
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the craziest, most awesome things you’ll ever see in theatres. If you’ve been holding off, stop that. GO SEE THIS MOVIE. And check out my rambling appreciation post about the film.
I’ve been reading this horror manga series by Junji Ito called Uzumaki. It’s insane. It’s about a town cursed by the shape of the spiral, which corrupts reality, twisting it into something ugly. You’ll never get the images of Uzumaki out of your head. Crazy stuff.
Are you the only person who hasn’t seen Daredevil on Netflix? Check it out. It's cool.
Hmm. That’s about it, I think. Like I said, it’s a small review & rec roundup this time. I’m thinking about the format of these posts. I may start doing these more often, especially the reading recommendations. Because, you know, BOOKS.
I know I keep talking about new book announcements coming up… well, they're still coming. Really. I’m editing In the Shadow of Extinction now. The book is huge (maybe not by Stephen King standards, but for me it sure is) so the rewrite is taking some time. More soon! I promise.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of books and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
Blog notice: mostly this blog is for sharing my thoughts and talking about my books. From time to time I will also comment on books, films, music, sports, and/or videogames. During these times I may use images of the creative works under discussion. I'm posting the images under the "fair use" allowance, for purposes such as criticism, comments, reporting, teaching, and research. If you have any issue with images used on this blog, please contact me and the images will be removed.
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