In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Beast In The Cellar

While contemplating which memories to talk about for Final Girl’s “Don’t Be A Douchebag Day” a few weeks ago, I took a trip to my parent’s house. I had to pay a visit to the “crawlspace”.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!

The crawlspace is a sprawling L-shaped cave some four hundred square feet into which over fourty years of the Clarke’s heirlooms/junk has accumulated. This would be all well and good, if this space wasn’t just over three feet high. They don’t call it a crawlspace for nothing! And that doesn’t count all the metal ducts jutting out everywhere, seemingly TRYING to smoke you in the head. Anyway, piled in the back, amongst all my G.I. Joe’s and old Maxim mags is my collection of horror paraphernalia. Stuffed in boxes are innumerable posters, props, clippings, trading cards and God knows what else. I’m sure I’ll pull some of it in the future to post here once I have gone through the five hundred plus covers that were at my store. It was during this latest crawlspace excursion, something in particular caught my eye. In addition to The Legacy paperback I mentioned before, there were others. Before it was stashed away, Amok by George Fox also had a place on my father’s bookshelf. The cover always captivated me as a child. The picture of the bloody sword just seemed so visceral. Later, when it was tossed in the crawlspace, as many old books were, I would shift by it every time I went in there to look for something. It lay on the floor discarded and I paid about as much attention to it as you do the “Welcome To” sign of your hometown. It’s just THERE. However, this time, sitting there amongst all my stuff, I noticed it again and picked it up. I suddenly thought to myself, ‘you know what? I’m going to read this sucker!’ It was a mere three hundred pages and would serve as a nice break from that weighty Dark Tower series, of which I am now on the last part.

And read Amok I did. Tore through it, in fact.

Towards the end of World War II, after Germany fell, the battle still raged in the Pacific. The Japanese were holding fast, on turf they knew well. This was, of course, what led to the momentous decision to drop atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Shortly after, the Japanese surrendered. Unfortunately, the Pacific had thousands of tiny islands, where many Japanese soldiers were stationed, not knowing the war had ended. These men were called stragglers. They survived in the jungle, still manning posts long abandoned by their comrades, for as long as four decades after 1945. Amok tells a story of one such straggler, a hulking maniac hiding in the jungles of the Filipino island of Luzon.

The storytelling in Amok is excellent. I knew nothing of the Philippines and the wonderfully descriptive depictions of the land made it seem like I was actually there. Fox actually served time there as a U.S Airman and it shows. Furthermore, my knowledge of the Second World War consisted mainly of the European campaign against the Nazis, so this was also a good history lesson. The book goes back and forth between two timelines, the fourties during the Japanese occupation of the Luzon province of Cagayan and 1978. The strength of this piece is the many characters though, all richly drawn, including the amok himself, who incites the fear of an entire region by grotesquely dispatching countless people with his samurai sword. The climax of the book is extremely intricate, with a hunting party of about half a dozen men going out after the amok, each with a different motive for doing so.

One thing I was always aware of while reading was, how the fuck was this never made into a movie? George Fox was not unknown to Hollywood, having co-written the script for the seventies disaster flick Earthquake. Amok was written in 1978 and bears an ever so slight resemblance to David Morrell’s First Blood, that was adapted for the screen a few years later. Maybe that had something to do with it.

I was totally immersed in this world the whole time. Not bad for a book that was sitting around in the dark for twenty odd years waiting to be picked up again.

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