A Bit of Horror

I'm on a bit of a horror reread rampage, which I broke up by watching a horror film. I've also read some fiction that is new to me, including a short book by Stephen King (I know, who thought such a thing could exist?) that I liked very much.

Blockade Billy is two novellas in one thin book. (The ebook may only have one story, it's hard to tell without actually buying it.) The titular story is told from the perspective of a baseball coach who is long retired, telling a visitor all about a former player nicknamed Blockade Billy. Billy lands a place on a major league team when two catchers in a row have to leave the team, resulting in a space that needed to be filled immediately. He's a little weird, not very bright, and is easily influenced but he's great at his job. He's also hiding a secret. This is a beautifully told story, which once again proves that the right voice can make anything interesting, even the most snooze inducing sport in the history of humankind.

The second story is called Morality and is about what happens when an elderly priest offers an overworked young lady a large sum of money in exchange for her committing a sin. I'm skeptical about the direction the story takes as I don't see the events as a natural progression. Would committing this particular sin really cause such a drastic change in personality? It's still an interesting tale, albeit disturbing, no real surprise when discussing Mr. King's work.

I also finally got around to seeing Cabin in the Woods, which I meant to see when it came out. I was surprised by the story, not so much because it is surprising, but more because I had misunderstood the story structure. There are two parts to the story; a horror element and a weird underground science lab element. I thought the lab stuff was supposed to be a secret which would be sprung on the audience halfway through the film, but instead the movie opens with a scene between two of the lab leaders.

The story pits the lab folks against a group of young college kids, with the kids at a steep disadvantage. The lab techs are able to completely manipulate the cabin's environment including releasing pheromones and other types of chemicals into the air, with detrimental effects on the students. They also have knowledge, with all sorts of contingencies planned for, while the students have no idea what this trip to an isolated cabin entails. Joss Whedon fans will see a variety of familiar and loved faces. Amy Acker plays a scientist while Fran Kranz is a super stoner called Marty. Tom Lenk plays an intern in the lab while other notables include Sigourney Weaver as an upper executive, if not the top dog. Chris Helmsworth, most famous for playing Thor, is Curt, one of the students.

It's hard to find anything to dislike in this movie. It's witty and scary, fast paced and well acted, original and exciting. It was more gory than I like but there are plenty of people who like blood and guts so I can't complain.

As usual Joss takes tropes and spins them around. For instance the “dumb blonde” is a pre-med student and the “virgin” is just getting over an affair with her teacher. Archetypes are also important in this film, with my favorites being the Fool and the Harbinger. And if you like monsters you'll be in heaven with Cabin in the Woods. The official trailer can be found here:

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is quite a bit different from my usual offering. Instead of being something I enjoyed or found intriguing, it's a short story that I disliked. Called Vilcabamba it's an extremely heavy-handed story about the aftermath of a successful alien invasion. The protagonist is the president of what's left of the United States, a vestige that is hanging on by its fingernails. Tension between the two species escalate when the invaders decide to destroy Utah in order to obtain some deeply buried silver. So what is so heavy-handed about the story? Harry Turtledove, the author, uses the word free, or freedom, 32 times. I didn't bother counting how many times he compares the alien invasion to the genocide of Native Peoples of the Americas, but it was quite a few. I prefer it when an author has enough respect for the reader's intelligence to not over-explain, especially 32 times. http://www.tor.com/stories/2010/02/vilcabamba