Monday, January 18, 2010

Nature Goes Berserk

It's pretty well accepted that James Herbert started it all; I'm referring to the Nature Gone Berserk (NGB) genre. Of contemporary novelists, he was first with The Rats ('74). Guy N. Smith followed with his crabs (Night of the Crabs, '76), and writers such as Nick Sharman (The Cats), Joseph L. Gilmore (Rattlers), Mark Sonders (Blight) and many others made contributions, too. For mine, all were worth a look.

Pierce Nace, who I've written about already, dished up the ultimate NGB book, Eat Them Alive, in which giant, intelligent prey mantises snack on the entrails, breasts, eyeballs, and associated bits and pieces of humans unlucky enough to have pissed off the book's hero. This stands as one of my favorite books of all times for reasons you'd have to read this entire blog to understand.

Let's not forget that in 1904 H.G. Wells wrote Food of the Gods, a mostly ignored novel in which plants and beasts became large and angry after ingesting a strange, alien substance. The Wells novel is less an NGB work than the Bert I. Gordon film of the same name, but it introduced something fresh and wonderful, nevertheless, to a world craving adventure.

I don't know much about Gregory A. Douglas (real name: Eli Cantor), the author of The Nest, but I do know he's a damn good wordsmith. This New English Library original from 1982 was published in the US first by Zebra Books ('80); that edition sported a much better cover than the NEL effort.

These were the post-Rats years, and NGB tales were leaping off the shelves like giant rodents into strollers. Interestingly, the initial suspects behind the slaughter of a dog in The Nest are rats; one attack features a rather oversized specimen. But it soon becomes apparent that cockroaches -- cockroaches controlled by a strange intelligence -- are responsible for the slaughter on Yarkie, an island off Cape Cod.
Douglas writes well. And though the novel is fairly slow to develop, it's quality pulp that delivers on every count.

The attack sequences are graphic and realistic, as opposed to the attack sequences in Eat Them Alive which are ultra-graphic and ultra-unrealistic (God bless 'em!). Douglas's action/horror writing style comes fairly close to Herbert's in that he zeroes in on specific details of a character before letting the blood fly. A sequence detailing the bloody destruction of a bunch of school children (by cockroaches) is a hair-raising hoot, as is the conclusion in which The Nest is destroyed.

The dramatic set-up is straight from a 50's monster movie, and the lengthy scientific explanations for what is happening hark back to that period also. If I have any criticisms of this work, it's that there's too much science. Sometimes, just a little is more than enough.

Ultimately, The Nest is a winner, and I urge you to seek it out.

In '88, Terence H. Winkless filmed The Nest, and I'm happy to report that the solid source material prevented it from becoming a cheesy, stupid mess.

At seventeen years of age, I read James Montague's Worms. It initially disappointed me because it wasn't a Rats ripoff (I was a shameless gorehound back in those days and I asked for nothing but blood and sleaze). It then surprised me because it opened my eyes to a different form of horror writing. With the exception of Jessica Hamilton's extraordinary Elizabeth, I wasn't too familiar with narrators who were going progressively crazy. I was more at home with narrators like 'Harris' of The Rats, regular blokes with regular problems suddenly thrust into a world gone mad. Anyway, when I was done reading Worms, I was a better man for the experience.

Like the hero in Stephen Gregory's brilliant The Cormorant (see separate blog), the hero of Worms, 'Hildebrand', is shouldering a raft of personal problems, the heaviest of which is his ball-busting wife. Dreaming of making her worm food, he is spurred into action when she belittles him and makes it clear that he'll never get a penny of her inheritance.

When Hildebrand purchases a country mansion with the winnings from his murdered wife's will, his elation is short-lived. The town of Blaney, where he now lives, is cold, rainy, and miserable. Images of the poor sod's dead wife plague him, and sticky, fat-bodied worms are appearing all over the place. It's like they're coming to get him, Barbara.

Matters worsen when a nuclear reactor is built near the town. Although it's felt that the worms will react badly to its presence, they embrace the technology and reproduce accordingly until they're an enemy to be reckoned with. In a sense, Worms finds parallels with Jeff Lieberman's film of Squirm; the Squirm worms were also invigorated by a power source close to their moist, electricity-conducting breeding grounds. Montague does provide a supernatural reason for the behavior of the worms, but it's neither here nor there whether its legitimate.

What truly distinguishes Worms is its Lovecraftian hero, a troubled soul whose insatiable appetite for the dark side is matched only by the worms' appetite for flesh.

1 comment:

  1. Just found out about THE NEST; that Zebra cover is pretty fantastic!