Saturday, February 17, 2007

House of Spiders - Review

(All quotes used under the "fair use" provisions of U.S. copyright law.)

I thought I would take a stab at another Pacione classic – House of Spiders – the story that spawned two sequels. And what do you know…it was posted at AuthorsDen. How convenient.

The infamous story starts when Joanna Hollins, a 21-year-old college student working on her thesis, gets a telephone call from a reality show. We are told that,

“…it was a calm winter morning within her GrundyCounty home.”

Personally, I’d be a little upset if winter were INSIDE my house. I’d be frantically closing doors and windows and hoping my pipes weren’t frozen, but Joanna just answers the phone. She learns that she has been selected to appear in a reality television program which will be filmed at an abandoned asylum where a doctor killed himself and nurses “became violently ill.” This exact phrase “became/becoming violently ill/sick” is used no fewer than eight times in the story.

The caller won’t give Joanna much in the way of details and tells her that taping will take eight months. What does Joanna do? Ask for more information? Tell the caller that she can’t possibly put her life on hold for eight months for a show about…something? Of course not. Then there wouldn’t be a story. She decides to chuck school, her thesis, work, and her life, and says, “What the hell. I’ll get my husband to do it, too.” Husband Todd writes gothic novels. It’s Marty Sue time again.

OK, so now two people are out of a job for eight months. Think that house will still be there when they get back? Banks (or landlords) and utility companies are kinda funny about getting their payments regularly.

That night, Joanna talks to Todd and…well, the line reads,

“A conversation between her and Todd, and a degree in film making and her husband was a writer of gothic novels.”

So she talked to Todd and a piece of paper? Anyway… Todd repeats what he knows of the asylum, which is pretty much exactly what the caller told Joanna. Yeah, I got the details the first time. Oh wait…then I get the same details a third time as Joanna muses about what she has heard. And I’m only 1200 words into the story.

Jump to a few weeks later. Joanna is packing to leave for the show and narrating a “video journal” in a horribly stilted manner typical of all dialogue in this story. She starts by saying,

“…I don’t know the details of this show that I was selected for but I was told that it would be a documentary type of format.”

It’s weeks later, she’s leaving for eight months, and she still doesn’t know the details? Joanna is now designated TSTL as a horror story heroine, and it will take a lot to redeem her. She wonders how the show got her number, despite the fact that the caller from the show told her that. Joanna has a bad memory as well as bad decision-making skills. She also says she has an “allegory” to bees and that she,

“…cannot begin to describe this though it is something that scares the hell out of [her]…”

I’m not sure what “this” is, but there’s a lot of “can’t describe” in this story. What that really means is that the Nicky can’t describe it – and that is weak writing. Or a cop out. Or both.

Joanna and Todd go to the train station where they are met by employees from the show. The employees, the producer and a cameraman, are in a SUV, however, not on the train. They drive Todd and Joanna to the asylum in the SUV. Now most people go to a train station to catch a TRAIN not an SUV. Why couldn’t the show pick Todd and Joanna up at their house? As Joanna and Todd are driven to the asylum, one of the employees gives yet another summary of the creepy happenings – doctor suicide, nurses ill, etc. That makes four times now; I’m counting.

When they get to the asylum, Todd briefly narrates his own video journal entry. True to Nicky form, Todd says,

“…I don’t even know what I can say of this place but all I can say it has a feel that is all of its own.”

Yep, real descriptive. I bet Todd is a really good author. Not.

When Todd is done narrating, the story resumes,

“…; for the next five months they were going to call the place home. Though the narrative given will be of the first few days, but by the time the entire project was done, no one can begin to find the words to describe what they saw in the place.”

OK, are they going to be there for five months or eight months? And why so long if the show was only going to cover the first few days? Someone ought tell Nicky that saying something defies description DOES NOT make is scary; it just makes it vague.

Joanna has nightmares her first night at the asylum. She dreams about spiders coming out of the walls and attacking her room mates and the “nurses who became violently ill.” The POV ping-pongs from Joanna to a cameraman who “wakes” her. He talks to her in more stilted language, and she sees his hand is bloated from a spider bite. Then, after the word horror/horrified occurs five times in three paragraphs, Joanna wakes for real.

She checks on her husband (he’s OK) and then on her room mate, who is dead and “bloated and puss filled” with puncture wounds on her arm. Being a sensible girl, Joanna doesn’t do anything silly like…oh…call the show producers or EMTs or the police. No, she picks up her camera and makes another video journal entry.

She has apparently become psychic overnight because she knows that the spiders were,

“…what appeared to be the resemblance of vampires,... These were spiders that lived for hundreds of years.”

She runs to get her husband, trailed by the show’s cameraman. I’m not sure where he came from; he just appears. He can’t be bothered to call emergency services either. They reach Todd’s room and find another spider sucking on Todd’s room mate. I’m a little unclear about the spiders – because they are never described beyond “spiders” – but how scary can one spider be? How much blood could a spider suck if a spider could suck blood?

Todd wakes, sees the spider and camera, and says…

“…I cannot believe they caught that on tape; I wonder if they are actually going to air this…”

then lectures Joanna about what he knows about the spiders (Todd has apparently turned psychic also). That’s it? No “what the hell is that?” No expression of outrage, shock, disgust, any other normal human reaction? Maybe it’s a tiny little spider.

He tells Joanna they need to get out of there and to go get everything she came in with. More WTF? Todd’s got serious priority issues. The spiders are presented as scary, and if scary blood-sucking spiders were looking at me as dinner, I sure as hell wouldn’t worry about a few personal items. I’d be out the front door faster than the wind in one of Nicky’s unnamed, Category 6 storms. If the spiders are small – and thus NOT scary -- then why not just squish them?

Todd also tells Joanna that he saw the nurse (one of the room mates) in a web somewhere, so they have to rescue her before they leave. Huh? Just when was he going to tell the others the nurse was in trouble? They just woke Todd from a sound sleep, so he must have seen the nurse before he fell asleep. And he didn’t tell anyone before bedding down for the night? I’m lost. Either Todd’s a callous ass or a psychic.

So they go get the nurse. The cameraman continues to film instead of helping out in a LIFE OR DEATH situation, the doctor’s ghost makes a deux ex machina appearance, some other stupid stuff happens, and they finally get out of the building. The show producer meets them, and it finally occurs to Todd to call for an ambulance. They drive off, not waiting for the ambulance or to see if anyone else makes it out. I’m back to voting for callous ass.

Todd imparts some final words of wisdom, cementing this as a Marty Sue.

Arachnophobia, this is not.