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.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Rat Trilogy

Today, I’d like to get literary. British author James Herbert has always been one of my favourite writers. His fictional England has endured innumerable disasters under his hand and no one fucks up London better than he does. Herbert’s penchant for graphic mayhem grabbed me right from the first book of his I ever read called The Fog. James Herbert isn’t well known on this side of the pond because his works are seldom released here. Whenever my family or I go to the UK, I always make sure a trip to the bookstore is in order. When I was in my teens, sometimes two or three books would go by between visits without me knowing the wiser. With this being Rat Week, I would like to fittingly focus on his books The Rats, Lair and Domain, known tentatively as The Rat Trilogy. These novels filled my imagination when I was younger. They brought forth such blood-soaked imagery like no other author I’d ever read before. I absolutely BURNED through these as a young adult. It was my kind of stuff – gory, gritty and concentrated.

The Rats was published in 1974 and chronicles a giant rat infestation in the East London suburbs. It starts with isolated incidents, including a pupil of the main character Harris, an art teacher, being bitten while walking to class. When the child soon succumbs to his wound, Harris suspects the situation maybe more dire than the Ministry Of Health is letting on. Then, the attacks become more brazen and vicious…

Lair (1979) continues on four years after the events of The Rats. A mutant white rat is using Epping Forest, northeast of London, as its new breeding ground. Exterminator Lucas Pender is called in after the first few attacks are reported. Once there, Pender quickly realizes that this new breed of black rat is even more bloodthirsty than the last.

Herbert turned things up to the nth degree in 1984 with the release of the third book Domain (my personal fave). After a nuclear holocaust, the black rats rise up from the ashes of a devastated London to feast upon the survivors. The story follows a group living in an underground government bunker and the subsequent breech by the rat hordes. I often can’t believe that no one has ever tried to make a movie of this one. The setting reminds me a little of Day Of The Dead, but I also remember Deep Blue Sea (especially the sequence where Jacqueline McKenzie gets it) striking a chord of familiarity with bits of Domain, as well.

James Herbert’s catalogue is perhaps one of the largest unmined resources for adaptation out there. His books are very graphic, in a violent (and sometimes sexual) way and usually involve elaborate showcases of carnage that would likely be costly to bring to the screen. Still, that’s no excuse. To date, only four of his twenty or so stories have gotten the theatrical treatment. In addition to 1982’s Deadly Eyes (screening at Trash Palace this Friday), there was the David Hemmings' film The Survivor in 1981. The other two were decidedly more mainstream. His novel Fluke, about a man reincarnated as a dog, was made into a more family friendly vehicle starring Matthew Modine and Nancy Travis in 1995. That same year, Aidan Quinn played David Ash (one of Herbert’s only regular characters) in the film Haunted. I believe that was also the movie I first laid eyes on Kate Beckinsale... [pause for giddy reflection]

If you can find The Rat trilogy, or any of Herbert’s books, I highly recommend them. I’ve strayed recently and haven’t dipped into his most current works, but all is old catalogue is gold as far as I’m concerned.


Heather Santrous said...

It has been a long time since I have read these books. I really should read them again here sometime soon, since I don't really remember to much about them.

I mainly wanted to thank you for talking about James Herbert. You are the only person that I have heard talk about him or his books. Then again, I haven't really gone out of my way to look either. It is nice to know I'm not the only person that reads his books. I have most, but not all, of his books.

Like you, I love his novels. I have always ben surprised that more people don't talk about Herbert when it comes to great horror authors. The one book I had to most trouble tracking down was "The Fog". I could not find it at any book store I went to. One store was willing to look for out of print books though. On a long shot I asked them to look for "The Fog" and they did find me a copy. The original hard back even. I don't really recall how much I paid for it but it was more than I had spent on a book before or sense. It was well worth it though since I love his books.

Jay Clarke said...

I know!!! Never has the gap between the UK and North America seemed so vast.

Creed has always been my favourite (apart from the Trilogy). It had such an anti-hero for a protagonist and a twist I NEVER saw coming.

Glad you liked the story. I knew there must be fellow Herbert-ites out here somewhere...

Anonymous said...

The Dark was the first James Herbert novel I ever read, and it stays with me to this day.

Lifelong fan, really, just haven't heard that much about his work on this side of the world (US here).

Anonymous said...

48 and Rats/lair/domain are easily my favourite books ever, amazing stuff.

Ed Amato said...

Currently reading a beautiful set by Centipede Books. The Dark was my first Herbert as well and it still has an impact from when I read it in 1980.