Monday, January 27, 2014

Fear Itself (Book Of The Undead #1)

Fear Itself, by Ric Meyers
June, 1991  Dell Books

About a decade after writing Ninja Master, Ric Meyers turned out this now-forgotten trilogy that seems very much inspired by Sam Raimi’s film Darkman. But whereas Raimi was sure to keep his story action-packed and darkly comedic, Meyers unfortunately delivers what is for the most part a padded, tepid, and uninvolving story – a definite shocker, given that this is the guy who wrote Mountain Of Fear!

In fact it seems throughout Fear Itself that Meyers was going for a “real novel” approach, rather than the lurid pulp he gave us in the Ninja Master books. So then the focus here is on character rather than action, which would be fine if it was doled out in moderation. But when you consider that Fear Itself is about a dude who returns to life as a zombie-esque force of vengeance, you kind of wonder why so many, many pages are devoted to documenting his widow’s depression and the plight of the homeless in New York City.

Anyway, the novel opens from the perspective of Melanie Merrick, a hotstuff blonde in her late 20s who’s married to Geoffrey Robert Merrick (the pretentious name being there for a purpose). If you recall that super-sappy opening in Commando, where Schwarzenegger and Alyssa Milano indulged in a montage of cutesy father-daughter stuff that veered straight into parody, you’ll be prepared for the opening of Fear Itself, as it’s along the same lines – Meyers is at pains to inform us of how much the Merricks are so very in love, to the point where you want to puke.

Of course all of this is what’s called “set up” in the biz, as you know from the back cover that Geoffrey will get wasted and be reborn as the undead avenger known as Grim. Unfortunately though it takes a hellaciously long time for this to happen. Instead we slog on as we read how Geoffrey is opposed -- damn opposed! – to his corporation, Dice-Corp, doing business with drug kingpins, even if it’s a legal, above-the-table sort of thing. Like many other novels of its era, Fear Itself is brimming with the “drug war” rhetoric of the early ‘90s, and in fact comes off like an interesting curio about the dawning of our current, sterilized world, with characters talking about their sudden decisions to stop smoking and etc.

Long story short. Geoffrey in his anti-drug agenda has run afoul of Sullivan, another executive at Dice-Corp, and Sullivan arranges a hit on Geoffrey. This is pulled off by a South American hitman who calls himself “the Student;” he puts a bomb in Geoffrey’s car and the poor bastard is blown up at the train station after having to go into the office on a Saturday! Here the horror portion of the novel finally comes to light, as Geoffrey sort of dies, but also sort of doesn’t.

Finding himself in some astral plane, with no knowledge of who he is or was, Geoffrey is accosted by The Imp, a demonic entity which tries to take him over. Instead Geoffrey escapes back to his burned and blackened human form, where he takes on the Student in one of the most plodding and unexciting fight scenes I’ve ever read – made even worse by the fact that the Student escapes alive!

Like Darkman, our hero is now a shambling, disfigured form who goes around in a black trenchcoat and hat. His name, Grim, is given to him by a bum who comes across him – the initials G.R.M. are sewn into what remains of the figure’s clothing (the pretentiousness of Geoffrey’s full name thus explained), and so “Grim” is born. But even here the novel doesn’t take off as expected, Meyers instead cutting away to poor old Melanie, who is trying to cope with sudden widowhood, as well as the advances of Geoffrey’s former colleague, Sullivan, ie Geoffrey’s murderer.

At great length it develops that Melanie shares a psychic bond with the being now known as Grim; meanwhile she’s determined to find out who killed her husband, and also if her husband’s even dead, his body missing from the wreckage of his bombed car. (The cop who assists Melanie is named Lt. Wade, perhaps an in-joke to Brett Wade of the Ninja Master series?) The bums of New York have also developed a bond with Grim, we learn, looking to him as their savior and whatnot.

In fact many pages are given over to the plight of the homeless when the next plot arises, courtesy a group of sick teens who go around dousing bums with fire. This section too is padded and overwritten, as first Meyers informs us how the group formed, initially getting together to make up twisted stories about bums raping and killing young women, until they felt compelled to go out and start killing bums themselves, in “retaliation” for these imaginary crimes. But as you’ve no doubt guessed, after too many pages have elapsed the group finally sets in on a batch of bums who are protecting Grim, who makes short but gory work of the teens.

The third and final plot concerns Jeremy Bancroft, who considers himself the king of all killers. As “Cryst” he abducts women and murders them in horrific ways; we meet him in a very unsettling scene where he kidnaps a poor girl as she’s getting off work and hooks her up to a bladed contraption. Bancroft becomes the star of the tale as the narrative solely focuses on his attempts to become famous via a vapid female anchor on the local news; Grim, not to mention his vengeance on those who destroyed his life, is just brushed aside.

At least it all builds up to a tense climax, as Grim takes on Bancroft on the subway, Bancroft having gone after Melanie in a stroke of luck/coincidence (Melanie goes to the downtown area after another psychic merging with Grim, determined to find out once and for all if the thing is really her husband, and runs right into Bancroft!). But even here it’s kind of boring, because it’s just Grim going up against one guy – you’d expect a lot more power and ferocity from an undead avenger, or whatever the hell Grim’s supposed to be.

Another thing I didn’t like about Fear Itself is how Meyers makes the Imp responsible for Bancroft’s murderous actions. The Imp we see gets off on feeding humans with evil desires, and sates himself on their eventual actions. This goes hand-in-hand with the occult belief that demons are responsible for most suicide murders, the demons taking possession of humans and satiating themselves. I’ve always found all this to be bullshit, and just another indication of how people refuse to acknowledge that each of us are responsible for our own actions (MK-Ultra subjects excluded).

Anyway, Fear Itself didn’t do much for me, and I found it to be a snoozefest for the most part. Worst of all, I was so uninterested in the protagonists and their story that I found myself hesistant to even continue on with the trilogy (Living Hell being the second installment and Worst Nightmare the third). But perhaps someday I will.

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