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Book Review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Vampire horde.Summary:
A worldwide virus pandemic has turned most of the world’s population into vampires–both alive and undead.  Robert Neville might, quite possibly, be the only uninfected left.  Every day he goes out on his quest to simply kill the vampires while they sleep.  Every night he curls up in sound-proofed home drinking whiskey and listening to records.  Will anything ever save him from this monotonous existence?

Review:
It’s difficult to read a highly influential scifi book that inspired both the trend of writing of a worldwide pandemic and the original Night of the Living Dead and find that you actually are a bit unimpressed by it.  I was simply expecting more from such an influential book.

Claustrophobic.  That is the best word to describe the book, and it is also what Matheson excels at.  Depicting the effects of painful ostracism and loneliness on a person’s psyche.  For Robert isn’t alone per se.  He is surrounded by those infected with the virus.  Yet he can’t hang out with them or converse logically with them.  They are entirely at odds, and whereas the infected have each other, Neville has no one.  What this book depicts is what happens when the world moves on, and someone is left behind.  This is truly well done and what makes the book periodically powerful.

Yet it struggles with things, particularly the most simple story-telling and pacing.  The order of events is disjointed and difficult to make sense of.  Neville is a rather unsympathetic character because we only get rare glimpses into his past life before the apocalypse.  His relationship with Ben Cortman, an infected neighbor, is built up to be important and influential, yet it is dropped at the last minute.  One plot point in particular toward the end of the book truly makes very little sense.  The actions of the infected seem to be ludicrous at best.  At the base of it, we see Neville’s insanity much more clearly than we see his previous sanity, which makes his gradual changes due to loneliness less powerful.  Thus, both the characterization and the plot suffer from a certain ever-present disjointedness.

This reads as a great idea that was a bit poorly executed.  Perhaps this is why it has inspired so much other creativity.  The germ of the idea is excellent and easy to ponder upon in spite of a far less sophisticated story-telling.  I thus mostly recommend this to fans of the worldwide pandemic or Night of the Living Dead franchise to see where it all started.  Those who are intrigued by the look at ostracism may enjoy it as well, but others probably should steer clear.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Movie Review: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

February 1, 2011 5 comments

Black and white images of horror.Summary:
Dead bodies start inexplicably returning to life.  The horde slowly bears down on an old farmhouse full of a random group of survivors.  The night wears on, and eventually only one person is left.

Review:
George Romero’s classic is essentially what jump-started the cult fascination with zombies.  It established a lot of the unofficial rules for zombies–you have to destroy their brain to destroy them, they’re slow moving, etc…  I guess its status as a zombie classic left me with certain expectations.  Some were met; others were not.

It is filmed in black and white and makes excellent use of shadows.  The soundtrack is exactly what is to be expected from an old horror movie, and honestly some modern horror movies could learn a thing or two from it.  The collection of a bunch of strangers in one house to fight off the hoarde is now considered to be a trope, but it was interesting to see the collection of characters assembled by George Romero.  There’s the terrified woman, the cowardly man, the brave intelligent man, the brave man who’s a follower, and the person who’s been bitten.  The decade certainly shows in the characterization as none of the women are the kick-ass female character we’ve come to expect in modern times.  That was a bit disappointing.

I was completely shocked to see that the role of the last survivor went to a black actor.  This was incredibly progressive for the 1960s, and he was truly there as a man who just happened to be black, not the requisite black guy.  It was refreshing and pleasant to see, particularly in such an old movie.  ‘The zombies though, just didn’t look like zombies.  They were rather gaunt, but none of the decay or general zombie-look we’re used to in modern movies was present.  Also, when they say slow-moving, they mean slow-moving.  I’m pretty sure the actors were mostly moving in place for a lot of the shots.  That was a bit too slow-moving for my taste.  Another interesting factoid, the word “zombie” is never used once in the movie.  The dead.  The living dead.  The arisen dead.  But not zombie.

By far the most frightening scene and one that is repeated in zombie movies to this day is when the arms reach through the boarded windows at the people inside attempting to hold the boards on.  The clawing hands and moans of the undead sent shivers down my spine.  The movie is worth viewing for that scene alone.

Overall, viewing this classic it is understandable why it came to be one.  Although certain aspects of zombies have been improved upon with time, the ground-work is evident here.  I highly recommend this film to any fans of the horror genre or those interested in the presence of 1960s culture and mores in film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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