Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Servante of Darkness: #1- A Review of Classics Mutilated, Edited by Jeff Conner

Classics Mutilated, Edited Jeff Conner

Review written by Anthony Servante

I’m a college professor, but I’m here as a horror fan today. Sort of. You see, today’s column concerns itself with literature…and horror. As many of you may be aware, there is a new trend in town: The classic reworked as Monster Lit. Which brings me our book for today: Classics Mutilated, Edited by Jeff Conner, IDW Publishing. Jeff has compiled 13 original crossover stories by some of today’s seasoned as well as upcoming authors, who have taken on the task of turning a literary classic into a horror classic. Jeff describes this mix of genres as a “mashup”, similar to the phrase used to describe two or three songs mixed together to create one song. Monster Lit injects established works of literature with horror subplots, but keeps the storyline intact. In CM, Jeff seeks to free up the contributors and allow them to reinvent the form. No longer are they tied to the original classic; the authors in the anthology are given rein to create new hybrids, that is, new stories for the literary characters, from Alice to Ahab, without worrying about retelling the original story. So here we have all new stories combining old and new literary conventions. Does it work? Let’s review the stories.
The Fairest of Them All/A Symphony of Revenge by Sean Taylor mixes Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and H.P. Lovecraft. It almost works, but strays too far from the originals to remain cohesive. Our heroine Alice has become a villainess. Is this what happens from spending too much time in that underground nightmare? I remember Mad Magazine turning Wonderland into scary place in which Alice fears for her life. Although the parallels of Wonderland to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu are interesting Alice never quite fits in. It is a crowded mashup, the parts never becoming a whole.
Anne-droid of Green Gables is a really bitchen title. But it bears little resemblance to the original character. I guess if author Lezli Robyn is saying that Anne is stiff and robotic, then it’s a cute observation, but the story of a family and the droid made for a good story on its own, without the literary mashup. But we were promised a blend of genres, two books in one, so to speak. I recognized the Green Gables, but couldn’t place the ‘droid’ to a familiar book or story. Adam Link, perhaps?
Little Women in Black by Rick Hautala and “Alcott” is good Gothic horror, but any resemblance to Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March from the original book is lost in this great mood piece by one of my favorite writers today. And I thought that the story was going to be a wink to Men in Black but wasn’t. Still, this was my favorite story overall, but a weak attempt at a mashup.
Death Stopped for Miss Dickenson by Kristine Kathryn takes the poet’s famous poem and literally turns it into a romantic tale. The figurative becomes literal. Cute conceit, but I preferred the poem: Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me. Well worked story, but avoids the whole mashup thing since Dickenson was a real person and not a character from a classic book. Still, good standalone story.
Twilight of the Gods by Chris Ryall mashes Norse mythology and the Twilight series of vampires and werewolves. Sorry, but Twilight is not literature and is not worthy of a mashup as the series parodies itself much better than the story here. And I thought it would have something to do with the Chariots of the Gods. Oh, well.
Pokky Man by Mark Laidlaw fuses Pokeman and Werner Herzog, two media sources unemcumbered by literary reference. A very curious mashup. I once wrote about a world where cartoon characters were flesh and blood, rather than ink, as in Roger Rabbit, and subject to human pain and joy. Such are the Pokeman (men?) here. This is possibly the most horrific story of CM. Mad Magazine once did a similar take on Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, with Donald trapped in the human world and subject to experimentation after being betrayed by Mickey. Always enjoy anthropomorphic horror. But there are no classic books here to discuss.
Vicious by Mark Morris does not excuse itself for not being a mashup. It follows Sid Vicious ex of the Sex Pistols who took Sinatra’s My Way to new heights, or depths, depending on your point of view, on his American tour. He dabbles in voodoo, but alludes to no particular classic that I’m aware of. This story is more in the Night Gallery vein, not the genre of Monster Lit. He does get inside the head of Vicious the way I remember him. This is a story I would have liked in a horror anthology about rock stars.
From Hell’s Heart by Nancy Collins blends Moby Dick’s Ahab with the legend of the Wendigo in a satisfying mashup tale. Collins grabs the classic premise and adds a healthy dose of horror that meets the requirements set by the Monster Lit paradigm but pushes it no further. I didn’t care, because the story held my attention, and it was good to follow Ahab on another adventure.
Frankenbilly by John Shirley meshes Billy the Kid with Interview with the Vampire. Again, as with Twilight, is Interview classic lit? Depends on who you ask, I suppose. As a mashup, however, the story works as a western take of the vampire novel. It’s clever without the confines of classic lit, but I would have liked to have seen a book like Wyatt Earp’s memoirs merged with Rice’s book rather than reach into American history for a companion to Interview. There’s enough literature in the western genre to create a good mashup. Shane of the Dead, anyone?
The Green Menace by Thomas Tessier mashes up Senator Joe McCarthy, the Red Scare mastermind of the Fifties with a plague of frogs, real biblical stuff. Reworked history with an element of horror thrown in avoids the Classic motif and is probably the weakest story in the anthology. It doesn’t even try to demonstrate the premise of the book by adding a classic literary storyline. If frogs scare you, this tale may work for you, but the real “Red Menace” was much more frightening. Go see Woody Allen’s The Front and follow Zero Mostel as Hecky Brown. That’s scary stuff.
Quoth The Rock Star by Rio Youers mixes Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven with Rock Star Jim Morrison. The lizard king meets the bird. The story doesn’t bother to follow the premise of the Poe poem, but follows the mythos of the Morrison bio as seen in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. I’m surprised this story made it into the anthology at all. Even Doors fans will shake their head with bewilderment. I see Morrison as Picture of Dorian Gray fodder, perhaps. But it’s a tight squeeze for The Doors in Poe’s claustrophobic world.
The Happiest Hell on Earth by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow ties The Island of Dr. Moreau with the Wonderful World of Disney. This mashup made me giddy when I started reading it. I expected much from the H.G. Wells story mixed with Disneyesque characters, and the story delivered. A true example of how Monster Lit, even its mashup counterpart, can work as literature. When old and new classics coalesce, a new form is born, and Happiest Hell marks a good direction for the mashup form. I wished that the story had been longer and hope that Skipp will reconsider it for a novel in the future.
Dread Island by Joe Lansdale mixes Huckleberry Finn with Cthulhu to create a nice hybrid that the anthology promises to give. Lansdale delivers a horror tale that echoes Twain without mimicking him. Huck and Jim track Tom Sawyer to Dread Island where Lovecraftian creatures lurk and loom. Neither Lovecraft nor Twain, but a perfect mix that gives us a mashup that stands on its own as Horror Lit. This is what Monster Lit is evolving into. If you read the Lansdale tale first (it is last in the anthology), you can easily measure the other tales’ successes and shortcomings as Dread Island transcends the form it seeks to emulate.
I tried to judge the stories as mashups of literature and monsters. As such, some were on target, capturing characters from classics and reworking them into horror tales, but others latched onto sources other than literature for inspiration and mashed up popular trends rather than ‘classic’ works. But if you aren’t anal about the premise, every story is enjoyable for the horror fan. I’m just a little bit picky about what I’ve been promised, you know, as a literature teacher, and all that.

--Anthony Servante