Soil of the Soul

A few weeks ago, I was trawling the internet and reading various blogs and website articles on the subject of personal direction. Something that has been gnawing at me for some time now is my lack of direction in life and every so often, I find myself trying to seek the answers or at least some pointers to how I can get my arse fired up and motivated to do something more fulfilling than the dreadful 9-5 (or – in my case – 7-5) grind as a servant of The System.

It was while seeking enlightenment (spoiler alert: I’m still me, for better or for worse) that I came across an analogy that did at least strike a bit of a chord with me. This analogy compared the human soul to fertile soil and reminded the reader that we could all plant seeds in our soil, nurture said seeds and watch them grow into mighty trees. The main problem for a lot of us is that the soil has been tainted and the seeds left unwatered and unfertilised thanks to invading external forces that have seen fit to turn our plot of soil into a rubbish dump.

I quite liked this analogy and thought about it some more. I saw my own patch of fertile soil enclosed within a field. Seeds labelled “Direction”, “Passion”, “Happiness” and “Purpose” were planted but I didn’t get chance to water or feed them. Y’see, the field has a gate and just as I was skipping toward my patch of sown soil – watering can in my hand – there came a loud crunching noise. It was the sound of a dump truck reversing right through the gate! The bastards! Before I could verbally assault the driver of the truck with a multitude of PG-18-rated words, he tipped the bed and unloaded his cargo of garbage all over my patch. I was too aghast to act but I caught the registration of the truck as it sped away, leaving a cloud of diesel fumes behind. It was a private plate that read “LIFE”.

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We all plant seeds in the soil of our soul. Some seeds take longer than others to germinate, break the surface and bear fruit but we do plant them subconsciously, most often as children when we aren’t even aware that we’re doing it.

Or so I have been reading anyway.

You have to take any advice or points of view that you read on the internet with a pinch of salt of course; especially when it comes to the optimum way to live your life and be happy/successful. Everybody has their own philosopy or tried-and-tested ‘secret’ that worked for them but we are all different and what works for Bob won’t necessarily work for Dave. I personally believe that it is perhaps better to listen to different ideas and solutions then draw your own conclusions based on everything you have read.

However, one recurring self-help tactic that is supposed to help the individual work out what they want to do with their life, is to go back to the past and reconnect with your inner child. You know, that previous version of you that enjoyed doing certain things or making use of talents/skills without realising that they might take you somewhere. Before the fly-tipping began and you turned an unwitting blind eye to the dumping of truckloads of garbage on your precious – now poisoned – patch of soil.

Before the superficiality, materialism and greed of society poisoned our minds.

Before you graduated childhood and were inducted properly into The System, encouraged to accept a status quo and pour all of your energy into unfulfilling jobs in order to service unavoidable debt and keep a roof above your head.

Before you were trapped in that 9-5 cycle with those wonderful dreams shelved as you play the part of just another cog in the machine – a machine that works for the rich and powerful and runs on the blood of the working class.

Shit got a bit dark and gloomy there but it really is how our human society functions. Breaking out of this cage and finding a way to live happily – without being sucked dry by others who don’t have your interests at heart – is the ultimate quest in my mind. It’s not an easy quest by any means and there are a lot of boxes to be checked as you are pushing forwards but is there a more rewarding journey to embark upon?

I’ve been trying to reconnect with my inner child and cast my mind back to past. What I remembered was that I was crazy about drawing, writing and being creative in general. I would spend hours doing this sort of thing, improving my skills and simply enjoying what I was doing without feeling the pressure to turn it into a career or money. Somewhere along the way, I ran out of steam and stopped. Society, people and working a physically-demanding job left me tired and more likely to turn to mindless entertainment in my spare time rather than enjoying the arts and continuing to improve my crafts.

One of the last things I drew was this picture of the character, Blaze Fielding, from the videogame, Streets of Rage 2. That was in 2015 (according to the date on the back). I’m not proclaiming myself to be a good artist or anything like that but comparing this picture to what I was doing a few years prior shows dramatic improvement. It’s also a stark reminder of where I could be at today had I kept at it. As it is, the cubby-hole in my desk is a stack of outdated portfolios and half-finished pictures living in plastic wallets, awaiting completion.

I’m not going to blame society or other people for my lack of work. After all, it was me who allowed this to happen and it was me who chose to numb my tired brain with the likes of videogames and Youtube and lock my creativity away in a cupboard. That said, external influences and the necessities that come with living in the way that society expects you to live have had a part to play. Of course, it is my responsibility to push back and not allow external factors to affect me.

It is my responsibility to fit a stronger lock to the gate that the dump truck forced open before tipping its load all over my patch of soil (no dirty innuendos intended…). Heck, I should be investing in 24/7 security and watchtowers.

But what is done is done and now the clean-up must begin. It’s past time that I hired a skip and put in the work to clear out all of the dumped rubbish that hides that soil and the seeds that are buried deep, awaiting their oppurtunity to sprout.

And with that, I will spare you any more long-winded analogies.

Comic Book Talk: Ghost Rider #1-#27 (1990-)

GR-1The 90’s gets a bad rap when it comes to comic books. The 60’s and 70’s established many of the characters and ongoing books that readers are familiar with while the 80’s featured countless classic story arcs and famous runs on big name comics. Fast forward to the modern day and the likes of Marvel and DC are enjoying more exposure than ever and, as befits the age we live in, the comics themselves enjoy slick presentation and the individual titles are far more integrated into the main ‘universe'(s) with frequent crossovers and major ‘events’.

By contrast, the 90’s is often cited as the decade of forgettable storytelling, uninspiring ideas and a lack of anything “big”. Thing is though, while many of the mainline books suffered a period of stagnation in the 1990’s, it simply isn’t true to claim that the decade as a whole is worth forgetting about because there were some fantastic comics. Case in point, the 1990 Ghost Rider reboot which is one of my favourite runs of any comic to date.

The powers of the Ghost Rider are picked up by new lead character, Dan Ketch, and he struggles to cope with the Rider’s furious need for vengeance as well as his own personal life which begins to spin out of control once he begins moonlighting as GR. This is a different Ghost Rider to the original Johnny Blaze incarnation and so this run had the freedom to go its own way while posing numerous questions and mysteries regarding the Ghost Rider.

I’m only going to talk about the first 27 issues here in this post because from there on, the Sons of Midnight crossover project began and I haven’t read any further since I need to track down some more comics to fill in the gaps in my collection. Those 27 issues however are pure dynamite. This is a dark book that doesn’t shy away from violence, blood and innocent death. A core of recurring, brand-new villains are also established for Ghost Rider to contend with and while they don’t exactly have the most dynamic of personalities between them, the psychotic brutality of their actions and the joy they extract from killing, makes them fascinating adverseries for GR to face off against.

Blackout is a crazed, sharp-toothed killer that enjoys ripping people’s throats out, Deathwatch is an evil businessman that cracks necks and appears to draw energy from the death of his victims and Zodiac is a sick serial killer that continually manages to escape the vengeful wrath of Ghost Rider. This trio of villains are collectively behind a wave of violent murders and disappearances in the Forest Hills area of Queens, New York. Ghost Rider might be a powerhouse of a character with high immunity to damage but he struggles to permanently put these sickos down. Deathwatch for example hides behind the persona of a respectable businessman and pulls the strings from the shadows. Blackout on the other hand deduces GR’s identity and makes things personal, striking out at those close to Dan Ketch. He even attacks the hospital and tears the throat out of Ketch’s comatose sister! You end up really despising these villains and rooting for Ghost Rider as he takes on a sort-of anti-hero role, beating the shit out of bad guys and not being constrained by the morality codes that the likes of Spiderman and the Avengers abide by. As I said before, this is a dark book.

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During these 27 issues, Ghost Rider also encounters Dr. Strange, teams up with The Punisher to take on Flag Smasher and battles the Brood alongside the X-Men. Mephisto makes an appearance, Ghost Rider has his first battle with Scarecrow and Johnny Blaze himself even shows up but the motive for his return isn’t what you might expect.

The thing that really makes this run of Ghost Rider so special is the creative team behind it. After reading some truly woeful Spiderman arcs in the late 90’s from Howard Mackie, I didn’t ever expect to praise the same guy for his writing but here, it is superb. The human side of Dan Ketch and the effect that his actions as Ghost Rider have on the supporting cast is as integral to the ongoing plot as are the villains that refuse to give up and die and Mackie does a great job of striking a balance between them. Better yet is the artwork which is absolutely stunning in that raw, detailed style that only comics from the 80’s and early 90’s could deliver before presentation as a whole moved to another level and computer work sucked some of the soul and purity from the pages.

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Javier Saltares kicks things off before being replaced by regular artist, Mark Texeira (also known as simply ‘TEX’). Both men really bring the book to life with grim, brooding artwork but Texeira in particular is on another level. Ron Wagner steps in from time-to-time too and honestly, I rate him almost as highly as Texeira. There really is no weak link in the art department for these opening 27 issues.

Overall, I cannot recommend this volume of Ghost Rider enough. I don’t disagree that the 90’s served up some real duds in the comic book arena but in my experience, it is the B-Tier characters and books that give the decade some appeal. In particular, I love the dark characters and horror themes that Marvel saw fit to push out in the early 90’s; the 1990 reboot of Ghost Rider being a front-runner (or should that be ‘rider’?). It remains to be seen whether the rest of the run manages to uphold the same quality and thrilling reading but I have high hopes.

More red pills

Not so long ago, I wrote about the Matrix-inspired red pill/blue pill analogy, how I interpreted the meaning and how I think it should be applied to the real world around us. In my eyes, taking a (metaphorical) red pill means to look beyond the consumerism, materialism and superficiality that rot us as human beings. It means to ask questions and not be sheep. It means to not blindly accept the status quo and established way of things as being the one and only way of living.

That’s my definition of a red pill.

Unfortunately, I discovered – after writing that post – that the Red Pill has actually gained negative connotations and to take one is no longer simply an analogy for waking up. If the internet is to be believed, you can now be “red-pilled” by somebody else. Using my definition of the red/blue pill decision, I see choosing the red as a positive thing; especially given that opting for a blue pill means to be ignorant and to endure any old bullshit that society can throw at you just because standing up and rocking the boat is too frightening, even when being a passenger on said boat makes being happy incredibly difficult.

But now I see the red pill associated with the hard-right who think that they are fighting back against an SJW agenda. It is associated with those who believe that there is some almighty global conspiracy to control us all with hidden figures pulling the puppet strings from the shadows. All I can say on the latter is this: look at how useless those in charge of this world really are and the chronic ineptitude and childish dick-waving that occurs when it comes to domestic and foreign policy. If that is really an act to fool us all then it’s a bloody good one and we should start handing out the Oscar trophies now.

Of course, I’m not completely condemning the concept of a secret global elite that exist on a level above world leaders because – as I have said before on this blog – it is far more grounded of us to accept that we don’t really know anything and that we could always be wrong. Plus, I already believe that it is corporations and big business that really run the world. Coca-Cola probably has more influence on the direction of our race than Donald Trump, the EU or any other political organisation could ever hope to wield.

The irony that I see in all of this is that those who proudly claim to have been red-pilled are quick to tell you not to blindly accept and believe in social agendas or the ideas of others. At the same time, they are asking you to accept THEIR ideas and anti-progressive agenda.

I think it’s a shame that the red pill is now a buzzword used in conjunction with hardline right-wingers because I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of free thinking and not obediently accepting the agendas of others as the “correct” way forward. But to talk about red pills in 2019 kind of puts you on a “side” and I’m sure many will auto-assume that somebody such as myself is a “bad” person. Not that I give a fuck of course. I’m comfortable with my interpretation of Morpheus’ ultimatum to Neo and I’m happy to call out ideas on both sides of the political divide as bullshit.

If we ever want to advance as a human race then we need to come together in the middle and stop drifting apart into two warring “sides”. BOTH camps need to stop enforcing their beliefs on the other while they simultaneously denounce the act of enforcing beliefs on others. Both groups need to realise that it is okay to accept that, when somebody disagrees with something, then it’s fine and that it doesn’t make them the enemy.

Book Talk: Earthbound (Richard Matheson, 1989)

eath-1Note: Earthbound’s release should technically be dated 1982. However, Matheson attached the pen name of Logan Swanson to the original version after publisher Playboy Press “severely” edited (source: wikipedia) the original manuscript. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t until the 1989 re-release that Earthbound was published unaltered with Matheson’s name on the cover hence why I am using that date for this review.

Last year, I made a vow to spread my wings and step further afield when it came to the fiction I consumed and the authors who wrote it. This was right after reading Stephen King’s non-fiction book, Danse Macabre, in which the famous writer explores the subject of horror, what makes it tick and – more importantly – the writers and works of fiction that inspired him. I jotted down a list of titles, recommended by King, that I wanted to investigate. And yes, I totally appreciate the irony in compiling a more varied reading wishlist using the recommendations of the author that I have stuck too close to over the years.

Earthbound by Richard Matheson is the first book that I have crossed off that list. I have to confess that, despite being an avid reader, I hadn’t heard of Matheson before purposely seeking out Earthbound. I guess that’s proof of how little I have actually dipped my toes below the surface of horror’s waters.

As such, I was unfamiliar with the author’s writing style. Regardless, this is a review and so I can only offer my honest opinion based on my experience with the book and what I got out of it.

It was a book of two halves and a slow-burner to begin with. David and Ellen Cooper have gone away to an isolated beachside cottage at Logan Beach, the place where they spent their first honeymoon over twenty years ago. Unfortunately, Logan Beach and the cottage in particular have become quite rundown and ramshackle in the intervening years and the icy cold temperature that permeates the building is highly uncomfortable. The couple put up with the dilapidation and unfavourable cold however because they are there to try and rekindle their ailing marriage.

Not much is initially explained on the marriage breakdown front but it is hinted that David has had an affair in the recent past and that their marriage is on the rocks as a result. It’s this section of the book that is the slow-burner. The conversation between David and Ellen is fairly flat, their background is only gently alluded to and quite honestly, I didn’t find either character that interesting. What’s more, there are precious little scene changes and so you – the reader – feel stuck in the depressed cottage with these two characters that aren’t exactly thrilling to be around. Once I’d finished this book, I DID appreciate that David and Ellen were just very normal, boring but flawed people and that, perhaps, this was a quality of the writing and not necessarily a detraction. But without that hindsight, Earthbound initially felt lacking in depth and pizzazz.

Until Marianna shows up.

The mysterious Marianna arrives at the door while Ellen is out and David is on his own. She is young and shockingly beautiful to David, who is immediately bewitched.

When she looked back at him, David felt the drawing tingle in his flesh again, stronger than ever now. It was almost unbelievable that any woman could be so lovely. He stared at her, imprisoned by her beauty.

Straight away, during the first few pages of Marianna’s presence in the book, you can tell that the tendrils of obsession are beginning to wrap about David. Matheson uses some powerful language and descriptives here and I had no trouble believing in Marianna’s intense beauty and the affect that she was having on unwitting David.

Then it’s back to some more David and Ellen with David now obsessing over Marianna and allowing her image to cloud his mind even while he is supposed to be attentive to Ellen and their fractured marriage. But then Marianna returns at night and Matheson suddenly spices things up with a shot of erotic sex as Marianna follows through on her determination to seduce David.

With an impotent shudder, David slid both arms around her and she fell against him, lips, hungrily, at his again. He pulled her violently to himself, the pressure of her jutting breasts arousing him still further. Suddenly, Marianna jerked his right arm free and, twisting slightly to the side, lifted his hand to her left breast. David cupped his palm across the thrusting cone and started fondling and massaging it, feeling through the sweater, how its nipple hardened at his touch. Marianna licked his lips tempestuously. She raked her teeth across his cheek, her breath like spilling fire on his skin. “Anything!” she whispered in his ear.

Drawing back, eyes never leaving his, she tugged the sweater up across her head and slung it aside; David tightened at the prominence of her bust as she turned her back to him. “Quickly, darling.” His fingers trembled as he picked the four hooks from their eyes. The brassiere ends sprang apart and Marianna shucked it into his lap. “Hands,” she muttered. David held them out, numb and shaking, and she clutched them to the pendant arching of her breasts, hissing through her teeth, eyes hooded as he dug his fingers into them. “More,” she said. Gasping, David dropped his head and started kissing them. He ran his tongue across the large, stiffened nipples and she pulled him savagely against herself, a frenzied moaning in her throat. “Feed,” she said. Her back went rigid as he began to suckle her. “Bite me, hurt me.” Her hands were clutching at his head like talons of steel. “Take them,” she ordered. “They’re yours, yours!”

(Still with me?)

Between Marianna’s sudden, inexplicable appearances, her lustful interest in a forty two year-old married man that she just met and the furious, animal-like sex that she is only too willing to initiate, it is clear that there is something not right about her. Furthermore, David wakes the next morning to feel utterly drained of energy and not necessarily due to the night’s physical efforts. You begin to wonder if Marianna is a succubus or some form of sexual vampire.

The rest of the book – without going into any more spoilers – is David gradually losing his mind as Marianna continues to visit and his obsession spirals out of control, as does the sensation of being sucked dry (no dirty pun intended…). He and Ellen argue and an internal war rages within as David grapples with what he knows is right and the delicious, gratifying wrong that Marianna has poisoned his well with. He wants – needs – Marianna and his lust for her is all-powerful. At the same time, he is desperate to escape the cottage and get away before it is too late.

Unfortunately, it IS too late once the horrifying, supernatural truth about the enigmatic Marianna is revealed. Fortunately for the reader however, this is where the book kicks into overdrive and everything comes to a wild head. If Earthbound had been a slow-burner before, peppered with flat spots and dull dialogue, the endgame more than makes up for it. Seriously, it comes from nowhere and is a chaotic rush of madness and plot twists.

As I have no doubt suggested, I didn’t immediately take to Earthbound with much enthusiasm but by the time I reached the book’s conclusion, I was left a little breathless by the sudden rush of events. In fact, it made me look back at the book as a whole and realise that the dull bits were just part of the suspense. I think I was expecting straight-up horror but while Earthbound certainly has that, it is more of a psyhological story. The description of David’s mind and thoughts as he slowly drowns in his obsession for Marianna for example is rich and almost disturbing.

Thing is though, I think most of us can relate to being obsessed with another person that we are infatuated with on a near-toxic, unhealthy level. We know it is senseless and irrational with no chance of a happy, wholesome ending. I know I certainly can and I was reminded of the dark time in my life when I’m ashamed to admit that I was a slave to a woman’s beauty, my mind akin to a runaway minecart. And while my own experiences pale drastically next to the supernatural forces and savage sex that David Cooper faces in Earthbound, I still saw murky reflections there. It made me feel a touch uncomfortable about myself as a human being and a man and that is, in my opinion, REAL horror that hits harder than any OTT gore or monsters could ever hope to.

My overall feeling about Earthbound is that it is a book that probably needs a second read-through in order to fully appreciate. I think being pre-armed with pre-existing knowledge of the characters (rather than being frustrated by the lack of explanation and scant characterisation of David and Ellen early on) would help the reader enjoy the suspense and pyschological aspects of the book that much more.

Red or Blue pill?

Don’t worry; you haven’t stumbled across the diary of a drug addict. This is simply me being incredibly original uninspired and treading a well-beaten path, about to get my analogy on and talk about pills that are far more powerful than any Class A drug.

I’m fairly confident that most of you have watched 1999’s The Matrix but if you are perhaps too young to have been there at the time, first of all, stop making me feel old damn it. Second of all, you should go and watch it. Actually…don’t. In period, The Matrix blew our minds with cutting-edge CGI and the infamous “bullet time” effect, the latter of which was subsequently imitated just as much as electronic products are imitated by dodgy Chinese copycats. I haven’t watched The Matrix for some years now but I have a sneaking suspicion that it hasn’t aged particularly well; less so in the eyes of anybody viewing the movie for the first time in 2019. And the less said about the sequels, the better.

There’s a funny thing about The Matrix though. When we were younger, we came away from the movie wowed by the fights, bullets hanging in mid-air and – if you were a boy – Carrie-Anne Moss in leather. Today however, I take something else away from The Matrix – something more resonant with REAL life. I am of course talking about Neo being asked by Morpheus to choose between the red and blue pills. Back in ’99, Neo’s decision was simply part of a sci-fi plot in a futuristic bit of popcorn fodder. The deepest thinking that I can recall doing in relation to The Matrix‘s plot is wondering whether WE were also living in a Matrix created by Terminator-like machines or even aliens. How even that level of theorising managed to take place in a teenage imagination otherwise filled with videogames and women’s breasts is a wonder in itself.

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[Source]
But now I’m far more interested in the symbolism behind the red and blue pills, and Neo’s choice. In The Matrix, taking the blue pill will allow Neo to remain in the false world of the Matrix, living a comfortable, ‘normal’ life of acceptance and ignorance. Opting for the red pill on the other hand is to choose to wake up and enter the real world. This ‘real’ world is a world of war and hardship where the last humans are fighting for their freedom against the machines and computers that all but destroyed mankind. The machines’ human victims are kept in stasis, their electrical energy harvested while they “live” in the Matrix. They live in a dream, unaware of the truth.

Away from the big screen and back to reality, I believe that we all have a choice between a red and a blue pill. We are choosing which pill to swallow every single morning when we wake up. We choose which pill to take whenever we make a decision. We choose every time we interact with life and the world around us.

Anybody who plays around with the red/blue pill analogy probably has their own definitions of what it means to choose between the two but for clarification, these are MY definitions and just my personal opinion on the idea:

The Blue Pill – To live a life governed by materialism and following the crowd. To not question authority. To keep oneself “drugged” on entertainment, material items and celebrity rather than seeking to improve oneself and push back against the system.

The Red Pill – To reject materialism and blind consumerism. To not be easily influenced by the views and lifestyles of others. To question the oppressive nature of the system here in the “democratic” and “free” Western world and to push back when necessary. To be yourself and not try to fit into a mould of another’s creation.

If you happen to be a hardcore revolutionary and are expecting me to suddenly morph into an anti-authoritarian guerilla fighter then I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you though. Perhaps you think I’m taking the pussy-boy halfway house approach to knocking back a red pill but I cannot escape the fact that I am a child of “the system” and as such, waking up fully isn’t an instantaneous process. We have been moulded and shaped into what we are by parents who might not have been aware that it had happened to them and as such, we cannot lay the blame at their feet.

Education and governments are to blame. Corporations, greed and capitalism too.

So yes, while I have been shunning materialism more and more as of late, I’m still materialistic to a degree and I highly doubt I will ever not own anything of material value. Likewise, I am still living in the system and working a crappy job; still living by the rules of a society that I often disagree with on a daily basis.

But asking questions and taking a look outside of the box is the first step to – hopefully – a better life as I see it. I have plans for further posts linked in to this subject coming up very soon where I look at the likes of education, The System and reassessing life and our surroundings.

 

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #5: Monster Blood (R.L. Stine, 1992)

MB-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

I have to begin this particular review with a little mystery. If you have read the previous entries in this series then you may be thinking that I’ve made a mistake in a title. After all, the previous book – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – was dated 1993 so why are we going BACK to 1992 for the next book in the series? Well, the copyright page of The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb stated “First Published in the US by Scholastic Inc., 1993”. Here, with Monster Blood, it states 1992. Though all of these books look uniform in terms of covers, I definitely have a mix of editions on my hands. After all, the prices for these books began at £2.99 in the UK before rising to £3.50 and then – finally – £3.99. What’s more, these prices are printed on the back of the books so it’s clear whether you have an original or newer printing in your hands. That said, the copyright pages don’t ever change and only show the date of the first UK publication. In addition to that, they could have printed these books and updated the copyright pages a billion times over and it still shouldn’t affect the original US publication date.

The only solution I can offer is that Monster Blood was published before The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb in the US and the order of release was switched about for the UK. I haven’t looked into it though so feel free to enlighten me on the truth in the comments if you know! Anyway, that’s enough rambling about publication dates. Onto Monster Blood

The Blurb

Evan’s not too happy about staying with his weird Aunt Kathryn – she gives him the creeps!. But at least he’s found a friend, and they’ve discovered a great toyshop, selling really cool things – like Monster Blood.

But there’s something very strange about this Monster Blood – it seems to be growing…and growing…and growing…

And what’s more, it’s developed an appetite – a monstrous appetite!

We’ve arrived at one of the most iconic series’ in Goosebumps’ run and one of the longest-lasting. There are four Monster Blood installments in total with Monster Blood IV completing the original run of 62 books. This here though, is where it all begins. Evan’s parents are having trouble re-locating to a new home in Atlanta and so, while they are busy sorting out adult affairs, they leave Evan with his Aunt Kathryn. Thing is, Aunt Kathryn is pretty sinister, looks like a witch and is completely deaf. Evan is also in an unfamiliar neighbourhood where he knows nobody and so it doesn’t look like a fun summer is on the cards.

Fortunately, he chances upon a new friend – Andy (full name, Andrea – she’s a girl don’t you know?) – and finds some form of escape from Kathryn’s house at least. Andy suggests that they go into the nearby town where there is a toy shop.

Evan hesitated. He hadn’t told his Aunt he was going into town. But what the heck, he thought. She wouldn’t care.

Besides, What could possibly happen?

Oh nothing much…apart from finding a strange tin in the shop’s back room labelled “Monster Blood”, the contents of which will lead to supernatural horror. Just your standard trip to the local store, huh? While they are in the shop, there is another really dated 90’s moment which I should save for the “Incredibly Dated Segment” at the end of this review but I’ve used the Nintendo card several times in a row now so I’ll just include it here.

“Do they have Nintendo games?” Evan asked her, whispering, afraid to break the still silence.

“I don’t think so,” Andy whispered back. “I’ll ask.” She shouted up to the front, “Do you have Nintendo games?”

It took a while for the man to answer. He scratched his ear. “Don’t stock them,” he grunted finally, sounding annoyed by the interruption.

I’m starting to wonder if Stine was sponsored by Nintendo. Of course, the truth is that Nintendo as a brand was just THAT big in society back in the 80’s and early 90’s so I shouldn’t be surprised that it finds it’s way into children’s fiction.

Anyway, Evan purchases the tin of Monster Blood from the shop (much to owner’s annoyance since Evan simply waltzes into an off-limits back room and picks it up from a shelf of crap) and then he and Andy mess about with the slimy contents, unaware of what the (very) near future holds. The Monster Blood begins to grow, becoming too much for the original container to hold. Evan and Andy have to keep finding new ways to store the green goop and, as is Goosebumps tradition, none of the adults have even the slightest clue what is happening. Evan’s dog – Trigger – even gets away with growing in size after ingesting some Monster Blood and nobody else seems to see the problem – not even a vet who diagnoses Trigger’s sudden doubling in size as a late growth spurt!

At wit’s end, Evan and Andy have to resort to pouring the Monster Blood into dustbin but it soon escapes and begins a deadly rampage as the book reaches it’s endgame.

A robin, pulling at a worm in the grass, didn’t look up in time. The trembling green mass rolled over it.

“Oh!” Evan moaned, turning back to see the bird sucked into the green ball. It’s wings flapping frantically, the bird uttered a final cry, then disappeared inside.

Plop. Plop. Plop.

The Monster Blood changed direction, still bouncing and quivering, and leaving white stains on the grass like enormous round footsteps.

“It’s alive!” Andy screamed, her hands pressed against her cheeks. “Oh, my God – it’s ALIVE!”

Reading this book as adult, I can still appreciate the concept of the Monster Blood and the sinister description of the massive green blob as it begins absorbing people, looking to feed on living creatures. It is, of course, a complete rip-off of 1958’s The Blob, a classic horror movie about an ever-growing alien blob that devours the citizens of a town. Unoriginal it may be but I still enjoyed Monster Blood as a ‘lite’ version of The Blob.

Until the conclusion that is. You’d hope for an interesting explanation as to the origins of the Monster Blood substance, especially given how creepy the toy shop and its odd owner were. Unfortunately, everything falls to shit at the end so if you somehow haven’t already read this book, prepare for spoilers and all that.

As it turns out, the Monster Blood itself isn’t evil or a sentient creature. Y’see, Aunt Kathryn really IS a witch and she was forced to place a spell on the otherwise inert Monster Blood by ANOTHER witch that had been disguised as her cat – Sarabeth – all along. Sarabeth is also responsible for Aunt Kathryn’s deafness and had been keeping her captive for the last twenty years. Where had Sarabeth came from and for what reason did she move in with Kathryn and decide to keep her under her control? And why did she decide to kill Evan and Andy in the most obtuse, ridiculous manner possible? It’s a bizarre finale that takes away the mystery of the Monster Blood with a load of partially explained (and that’s being generous) nonsense about witches and black magic.

The ending feels extremely cheap, almost as if somebody else wrote it at the last minute. Naturally, the Monster Blood – now shrunk back to its original volume – disappears while everybody is preoccupied with attempting to wrap their brains around the nutty events that had just transpired. I thought this stuff was only alive thanks to the (now broken) spell? I guess we will have to wait for Monster Blood II

The Cover

On a more positive note, I LOVE the cover for Monster Blood. The tin looks evil as fuck with a jack-o-lantern style face and glowing red eyes peering out from the dark innards of the can. It’s worth remembering that the can isn’t depicted like this in the story but this is the kind of artistic liberty that I can wholeheartedly approve of.

The incredibly dated bit

I wonder if Aunt Kathryn has a video, he thought. He quickly dismissed the idea. No way…

A nice little flashback there to the days of VHS tapes and VCRs. In fact, this book is SO old that it was still feasible to assume that people didn’t even have video players…

The nostalgia rating

Pretty high with this one as Monster Blood is one of the more recognisable books in the series. While I didn’t remember how that terrible ending played out, I did recall most of the other events in the book so it must have stuck in my brain.

Up Next: Let’s Get Invisible!

Movie Talk: Raw Deal (Schwarzenegger, 1986)

Raw-3Release Year: 1986   |   Directed By: John Irvin   |   Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathryn Harrold, Darren McGavin, Sam Wanamaker, Paul Shenar, Steven Hill, Ed Lauter, Joe Regalbuto, Robert Davi, Blanche Baker

“Raw Deal” is a fitting title for this Schwarzenegger action movie because that’s exactly what I have seen critics give it. Wooden acting on behalf of Ahnold and a non-dynamic plot were to blame but I think the standards of these critics must be too high because Raw Deal is just raw (pun totally intended) fun. Still with a 25% rating on the ever-reliable (lol) Rotten Tomatoes and Wikipedia entries such as,

Though the film doubled its production budget at the box office, its earnings were a disappointment.

you could be forgiven for assuming that Raw Deal is a blip in Schwarzenegger’s career that you shouldn’t waste your time on.

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“WRONG!”

 

This film is – critically speaking – a shit film but it’s one of those films that is entertaining because of how dumb it is and because of how stiff Schwarzenegger’s acting is. Look, not all movies need to be thoughtful or clever pieces of writing. Sometimes you just want to kick back and enjoy the kind of 1980’s menu that a movie like Raw Deal serves up: Arnie in his element as an unstoppable one man wrecking machine, bodies piling up by the second, a sexy big-haired 80’s girl with plunging cleavage, quotable one-liners galore and repulsive villains getting their just desserts.

To give the critics some due (but only some), the plot is pretty disposable and only really an excuse for Arnie to go around shooting gangsters and generally being a badass. He plays former FBI agent, Mark Kaminski, who was forced to unceremoniously resign from his post due to his heavy-handed approach to apprehending a scumbag child molester. Brown-nosing FBI prosecuter, Marvin Baxter, gave him the option to “resign or be prosecuted. Any way you want it”. Kaminski lands on his feet (sort of) with a Sheriff’s job in small middle-of-nowhere town where they have no friends and nothing ever happens, much to the misery of his wife, Amy, who has taken to drinking to blot it all out.

But then Kaminski is contacted by old FBI pal, Harry Shannon. Harry’s son, Blair, has been killed while protecting a witness crucial to a big case against Chicago gangster, Luigi Patrovita. Harry is determined to seek revenge and asks Kaminski if he will go undercover on an off-grid, privately-funded operation to infiltrate Patrovita’s organisation and destroy it from within. Additionally, it is also apparent that somebody within the FBI has been bought by Patrovita’s organisation hence why their witnesses keep getting assassinated. In order to be convincing, Kaminski has to fake his own death in a massive chemical plant explosion and not tell anybody else the truth, even his wife.

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You’ll see this – a LOT. [Source]
The reason for agreeing to all of this? Reinstatement with the FBI. Though I can’t help but think that such extreme commitment for such a dangerous job on Kaminski’s end doesn’t quite equal Harry’s promise of “possible reinstatement”…for completing an unsanctioned operation! It’s a good job that Harry is his friend and that Kaminski wants to see Amy happy again…

The way that all of the backstory is told is fairly unimaginative too. Big in-depth recollections are simply brought up in conversation with Amy and then Harry and delivered monologue-style by Kaminski. But – as I said – you don’t watch a film like Raw Deal for a complex storyline and clever scripting.

You watch it for the resulting action. Kaminski goes undercover with a false ID, posing as Joseph P. Brenner, a convicted felon. He gets inside Patrovita’s organisation and then the fun begins. This is one of those classic 80’s action films where the hero guns down a never-ending supply of enemy goons that are seemingly unable to shoot straight. Arnie takes no hits at all as he blows away enemies. There are explosions and punches that sound like explosions for good measure. It’s just so entertaining. Especially when thugs are shot or punched and go flying silly distances, crashing through windows or into bar serveries. The fake blood is terrible and there are no end of conveniences such as when Kaminski steals a truck that just happens to have the keys left in the ignition. Or when he needs to escape a cemetery later on in the film and Monique roars up in a car with no explanation as to how she knew where he was!

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Kathryn Harrold plays Monique, the staple big-haired, big-eyed sexy 80’s girl that every action film from the era needs. [Source]
It all leads up to one final massive shoot-out in Patrovita’s offices, preceeded (of course) by a dramatic tooling-up montage of guns being loaded to some heavy electric guitar sounds. You know that Arnie is going to decimate the enemy and walk out completely unruffled but who gives a fuck about realism? This is a tour-de-force of destruction and henchmen getting what they deserve. It’s feel-good justice and pure entertainment that doesn’t need to apologise for what it does.

So yes, Raw Deal probably isn’t a “good” film on critical terms. Heck, it’s not even one of Schwarzenegger’s greatest hits. But this is still 1980’s, one man army action at it’s silliest. You aren’t meant to take films like this seriously or analyse their plots. You sit back, shut the fuck up and switch your brain off for 105 minutes. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that.