Saturday, June 21, 2014

Shivers 31: Shriek Home Chicago

This is Shriek Home Chicago, otherwise known as, and it says this on the back of the book, "Terror on Troll Mountain II." Now, I was dreading this since the moment I discovered this book, but- and I really can't believe I'm saying this- Shriek Home Chicago is really good. I'm serious. I apparently hated the first book, but this one is not bad, because M.D. Spenser took one look at Terror on Troll Mountain and said, "Well, screw this." This book is so over-the-top and ridiculous that it's hugely entertaining. This book does not take itself seriously at all, and is written with a level of head-shake-inspiring corniness that only Shivers could pull off, and- for the first time ever- M.D. Spenser pulls it off perfectly. There will be no extra segments because this whole book is one big Insight into the Complex Minds of CharactersBeautiful Imagery, and Hip References combined with whatever other random segment I would've come up with. It's truly spectacular.

Maybe the first book was like this too, and I was too new to the Shivers series to appreciate it, but I don't think so. I think this is a unique book. It starts off with our previous protagonist, Paul Alberti, looking for his right shoe, eager to pick up Anthony, who is visiting Chicago from Italy, from the airport. Paul looks in his closet when all of a sudden he sees the Orco and he jumps back and it's a dream sequence. Starting with a dream sequence, maybe it's not that unique. To be fair,  I feel like M.D. Spenser or whatever genius he paid way too little to write this book for him just included this as a joke, because as Paul Alberti (who in this book is much less annoying than in the first book- don't get me wrong, he's still annoying, but in a funny way) is searching through his closet, he finds "'Mad' magazines. Empty Doritos bags. Ukulele. Run-DMC tape. Snickers wrapper. 'Huckleberry Finn.' [sic]. Hawaiian shirt. Fur-covered foot. An old collection of Smurfs.
Wait a minute. Fur-covered foot?"

It's like something out of a Scooby Doo cartoon, and it's not the funniness that makes me appreciate it (I mean, he's no Bo Burnham), but the fact that considering such a ridiculous threat as a mountain troll in Paul's closet, M.D. Spenser writes in a way fitting the situation: utter silliness. Then the book goes over Paul and Anthony's experience with the Orco, the giant mountain troll that tormented them in Italy before being pushed off a cliff. M.D. Spenser handles sequels well; I didn't get bored of reading a review of the events in Terror on Troll Mountain, but it said enough to jog my memory. Later, Paul and "Mrs Alberti," as she's legitimately called in the book, wait for Anthony, whose inadequacies in the English language are expressed through random insertions of "-- how you say? --", at the airport. It's actually pretty obnoxious. It's at the stupidest parts, too, like "We should just keep our lips -- how you say? -- zipped."

When they get home, Anthony reveals that he suspects the Orco is alive and angry because he'd been getting "how do you say it? –– bad vibes." The whole book, while third person, definitely includes traces of Paul's thoughts. For example, "In Italy, most pizza crust is so thin it's practically see-through. Well, not that thin, but it'd seemed that way to Paul." Silly M.D. Spenser, an impartial narrator can't correct itself. Oh, and yet another burn against Italy (there are quite a few). Later, they go to a shopping mall, where Anthony challenges a young kid to a "computer boxing match" and Paul goes to look at action figures. Oh, and another thing about this book: the protagonist has an actual personality! It's insane. Paul is not just some mindless plot device, he is a real character. It really is a momentous occasion; I attempted to call the Los Angeles Times about it but they hung up on me. So did the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Santa Monica High student newspaper. The only newspaper that was willing to hear me out was The Onion, but... yeah.

When Paul tries to find his cousin, he discovers that Anthony had run off and starts to panic. Then, a furry brown hand lands on his shoulder and, in one of the most amazing scenes in Shivers history, the next line is "Hey! You like my mittens? Fifty percent off!" It's like in The Simpsons.


When the pair gets home, they watch Treasure of the Sierra Madre before asking to watch the news in an effort to stay up late. JUST MAKE SURE IT'S NOT FOX HAHAHA no but they really are the scum of the earth. The news claims that many children had been reporting Bigfoot sightings. Luckily, there's a reality show dedicated to finding him that somehow lasted more than one season. M.D. Spenser also does this weird thing where he writes a statement followed by a question for that statement followed by an answer. For example: "The next morning, Paul woke up early. How early? Before either one of his parents. For Paul, that was pretty early." It's so strange, I would hate that if it was in any other Shivers book.

So the pair decides to head down to a nearby park because a kid who had seen Bigfoot supposedly went there every day. They start walking up to him and handle the terrifying "big kids approaching a much smaller child" situation perfectly: Paul says "Don't worry, Jimmy... we're not gonna beat you up or anything." The thing I love about this book more than anything is that the main characters, especially Paul, act like idiots, so all evidence suggests that they shouldn't have lived half as long as they have; because of the way they act, other characters actually treat them like idiots. It's awesome. This kid Jimmy gives off a I-hate-dealing-with-idiots-like-these vibe, probably because Paul "felt like a private eye or an undercover cop, getting ready to pump a snitch for information." I don't even have to attempt to be funny, this book does it for me.

Jimmy leads them into the woods, where they get ambushed by a poodle which is understandably mistaken for a giant furry man. Jimmy bolts, but they find out from his description that it was, indeed, the Orco. When they get back home, Anthony proposes that they go after it with dynamite, machine guns, and grenades, because "I thought you could buy all the weapons you want in America." Now, one might expect me to make a statement on gun control. Well, I won't. I won't succumb to your expectations, I barely even care about gun control myself. So there, consider your expectations defied.

Paul, thinking his cousin has gone over the deep end, goes downstairs to make himself a sandwich. As he's reaching into the refrigerator, a hairy hand clamps over his mouth and tells him to be quiet but it's actually... the Orco. Legitimately, it's the Orco. 43 pages in and there's already a tangible threat, this book is awesome. But here's where it gets better: the Orco talks. In a British accent. "It was the voice of James Bond, or one of the Beatles, only huskier." Is... is M.D. Spenser just listing off well-known British people? The James Bonds don't even sound like the Beatles.

So the Orco demands a sandwich, and tells Paul about how he was human once, and how he stowed (stew?) away on Anthony's plane (yes, because that's possible), and how he likes to eat children, and yada yada yada he talks way too much. Then Anthony comes downstairs and Paul yells at him to run, but the Orco catches them both. He starts to eat Paul when his dad comes down and they discover that adults can't see the Orco. Nevertheless, the Orco stops eating Paul and leaves. Once upstairs, Paul and Anthony decide to visit Zia Anita, their crazy aunt who happens to live in Chicago and who had never appeared or been mentioned until this very moment. When they get to her house, they realize that she'd also seen the Orco, but since it only appears to adults, she can't do anything to help except maybe do some research or something. Wow, even their deus ex machina is useless, these boys are screwed.

When they get home, the boys discover that Paul's mom has to leave for work all day the next day, so they're completely alone. Once again, I love this book. After mom leaves, the boys take a bus over to the Field Museum of Natural History, where I would assume they learn things. Once inside the museum, they walk around for a while before coming upon an empty room where the Orco kidnaps them and drags them into a fake cave. I just want to know how it's possible for a giant mountain troll to stalk these kids in a museum without having been noticed by, say, other children. Whatever, he pulls them in a hatch and threatens to bring them back to his evil lair, which has the best view in the city (plot bells). Anthony challenges him to a fight, which he loses pretty badly. The Orco starts advancing on Paul, who backs up into a cupboard and knocks over a bunch of cleaning chemicals and stuff. God, I remember how much of a klutz Paul was in the first book. Pissed me off then, too.

Paul then figures out how to get out of this sticky situation by lighting a match and preparing to light the chemicals on fire when he realizes he needs a cool line before lighting flammable liquids. The good news about this book is that I can say "classic ___" about a character and not be sarcastic. The bad news is that I can say "classic ___" about Paul and not be sarcastic. This is how the snappy finishing-line goes: "Paul  lit one of the matches and called out: 'This light's for you!'
Not the greatest line, he had to admit. It actually didn't make much sense. A confused look spread across the Orco's face."

Can I say, one more time, how much I love this book? Anyway, the Orco grabs Anthony and runs away. Paul manages to climb up the hatch in which they entered when he's apprehended by a cop and charged with arson. He stomps on the cop's foot and escapes (yeah, really). The POV, while still 3rd person, becomes all detective-y as Paul deduces that the Orco is in the top story of the Sears Tower, which was under construction in the beginning of the book. That's actually really clever.

Paul sneaks up there and gets knocked out by the Orco. Considering how unbelievably half-assed his plan was, good.  When he comes to, he's next to Anthony and the Orco is making a stew for them. He explains his whole evil backstory: he was a totally evil pirate, lots of enemies, so he looked for a Fountain of Youth in Pinzolo, where he murdered all his men and drank from it, and the murder violated the spring and now he's the Orco so he has to feast on the blood of the innocent once a day.

Just when the Orco is about to murder Paul, Anthony cuts through his ropes with a pocket knife he didn't mention until that moment and starts hitting the Orco with a rolling pin. The Orco is scared, because it turns out that he was just a big scared bully the whole time (which actually kind of makes sense). Then the Orco fades to dust because it's midnight, and I'm just glad his weakness isn't camera flashes. The cousins go friendly jostling each other into the sunset, having burned a museum and assaulted a cop.

Insight into the Complex Minds of Characters (yeah, I lied, but it was just too tempting):
1. "And Paul hadn't been able to hit her back or anything because she was a little girl and it was his mom's school and he'd get busted for sure."
2. "He'd gone over the edge. Grenades! Machine guns! TNT! Sure, and maybe they could swing by Rent-a-Tank while they were at it!"
3. "This light's for you!"

The fact that the sequel to Terror on Troll Mountain managed to be better than the original is a feat within itself. Not a large feat, granted, but a feat. But this book completely ditches any attempt to stick to the children-horror genre, instead becoming its own goofy action-adventure thing and doing a pretty decent job in that category. This book is perfect in a way that no other Shivers book has been, because not only does it have a compelling storyline inspired by characters I actually care about, it does it without taking itself seriously in the least. This is what separates this book from the other good ones, and the best part is that it wouldn't have been half as effective without all of its predecessors, both crappy and OK. Thank you, M.D. Spenser.

P.S. Sorry for the late update, I have been extremely busy this week. I'll make more frequent reviews starting now.

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