Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Retro Reading - Spoopy Edition!

Well, t'is the season, right? I figured October was a good excuse to ramp up the retro reading with some Halloweeny pulp horror, starting with one of my top five Point Horror books, The Cemetery!

Also known as The Ripper, apparently? I guess that was the American edition.

Also also known as Le Griffes Meurtrieres, which is French for "The Griffes Murders," which is admittedly not as catchy as The Ripper or the Cemetery, and also has nothing to do with the plot barring murder.

Anyway! The short version of the plot is that a bunch of edgy teens have a party in a cemetery on Halloween, raise the dead or a demon or a vampire or possibly Jack the Ripper, and murder ensues. There's more to it than that, with sibling rivalry, class warfare, broken hearts, and old whaling journals all featuring, but that's the quick and dirty take, which I could have given you from heart, because I must have re-read this book hundreds of times. I remember it as being really sharp and witty, and there are lines that have stuck with me all my life, like this one:

Teenage me thought that comeback was the height of sophistication. Every character always has something clever or pithy to say no matter how terrifying things are getting. I suppose it's sort of Whedon-esque, which normally I'm not keen on, but I read this book long before I ever heard of Joss Whedon, so it passes.

I want to get to the characters, though, because I kinda love them all? Except Foy, I guess. Here's a quick breakdown of our players:

Cyndi: the rich bitch hostess of the Halloween party. Cyndi is a bad girl with an abrasive personality, tons of money, and bags of attitude. She organises the party at Point Cemetery that kicks off our slasheriffic story. Cyndi is great.

Dade: Cyndi's sort-of-boyfriend, although he's not really that into her:

Dade likes to party and possibly owns a gun. He owns an old Chevy, which isn't important at all, but for some reason I developed the impression from this book that Chevys are ultra-hip cars and I still believe that to this day even though I know nothing about cars at all.

Wills: Cyndi's ex, now dating her best friend, Lara. Wills thinks Jack the Ripper is an admirable sort of guy. Apparently his break-up with Cyndi was brutal, which leads many to suspect she set up the Halloween party to murder him in revenge. (Oh yeah, Wills gets murdered).

Lara: Lara's family owns a garden centre. She nopes out of the book after Wills dies, to be honest, because she thinks she saw the killer and sensibly decides to hide in her room until the whole thing blows over.

Jane: Jane is rich and a good girl. She's embarrassed by how nice she is, but comes out of her shell by hooking up with Dade even though he's sort-of-dating Cyndi, because these kids are just buckets of hormones.

Foy: Foy is rich and Jane's best friend. That's all I've got on him. He doesn't really contribute anything to the book.

Rick: Rick is not rich. His dad is the town mortician. Rick makes inappropriate jokes to hide his fear of dying. He seems to hang out with Foy a lot, but I don't know why. In retrospect I wondered if they were dating, but neither of them are remotely dateable, so probably not (and I also don't think Cyndi would invite guys she couldn't hook up with to her party).

Charity: Charity is awesome. She takes no shit and turns out to be the heroine of the book in a roundabout way. She hates Cyndi and is best friends with Jane.

Jones: Basically Van Helsing. Wears a cowboy hat.

Georgie: Georgie is poor. Her dad makes vodka out of potatoes, which she steals. She hates Cyndi and crashes the Halloween party with Cyndi's older brother. She performs the seance which probably raises the demon-ripper.

Dorian: Cyndi's older brother. He hates Cyndi and may have tried to kill her as a child. She definitely tried to kill him later. He's dating Georgie in the most casual sense of the word.

That's our team! The story begins with Cyndi's Halloween party at Point Cemetery. Lots of bitchy one-liners are exchanged, because basically everybody is just hear to snipe at each other and hook up with someone's ex if they can. After Georgie shows up and performs a seance, Cyndi decides they should play a game of hide-and-seek. Charity, sensing something is amiss after the seance, legs it. Everyone else hides/seeks.

We cut back and forth to different view points a lot in this book, often with no breaks to indicate it's happening, and whilst the head-hopping can be confusing, it's done well in this early section to create tension. We know something is out in the cemetery with the kids, we know it's going after someone...But who? The changes in perspective keep us guessing - is that Cyndi about to leap out on Dade, or the Ripper? Is Lara about to stumble upon Wills, or something else entirely? Who or what is Charity running from? We're kept guessing - until the screaming starts.

Wills is the first to go, which is great, because he's frankly been a dick the whole party. Our heroes, being relatively sensible as characters in horror stories go, get the fuck out of the cemetery and go straight to the police.

Cyndi is a suspect because of her nasty break-up with Wills, but despite some initial wild accusations (nobody died before Jones came to town!), everyone is quick to agree that something supernatural is at play. Charity, being down-to-earth and also open to new ideas, goes researching the history of the cemetery and finds this:

I mean, that's basically Dracula's arrival in Whitby, right? It also touches on the theory that Jack the Ripper fled to America at some point. Based on the American version of this book being called The Ripper, I assume the parallel is deliberate. We do also get some confirmation from the Ripper itself that it took the form of Jack to kill Wills (what with Wills being a big fan), but I don't really know if we're supposed to think that A) this is Jack and B) Jack is therefore a supernatural being. I don't think it matters; it's just an interesting thread in the book.

Anyway! While Charity is researching and Cyndi is driving madly around town and everyone else is making out with someone or whatever, Georgie and Dorian go back to the cemetery because Georgie thinks it'll be neat to check out a real-live murder scene, and Georgie gets murdered. Dorian abandons her to her fate, because he's a fucking asshole, and drives home to cower in the garage. After a confrontation with Cyndi, Dorian finds himself face-to-face with the Ripper, who has taken Georgie's form to fuck with him. Trouble ensues, and a fire breaks out.

I have to mention this, purely because of Dade. Up til now, Dade has been a fandom Draco Malfoy type, all smooth lines and handsomely evil, hooking up with Jane behind Cyndi's back and dismissing Wills's death as no big deal. But from this point on, Dade is the MVP of this book behind Charity. He's making out with Jane when they realise there's a fire at Cyndi's house, because of course he fucking is, and he drives over there like a bat out of hell and rescues Cyndi from the burning house by himself even though there are already firemen on the scene. Later, when a heavily-medicated Cyndi takes off for the cemetery to find the thing that killed her brother, Dade goes after her, chases her down (even though she could be the killer) and basically saves her from either tripping over a headstone in the dark and breaking her neck, or probably getting murderised by the Ripper.

Guys. I mean, he's still a cheating jerk-face who judges girls for not putting out, and I cannot emphasize that enough, but Dade steps up when the stakes are high. Maybe it's because he (possibly) owns a gun.

However, Dade is not the true hero of The Cemetery. That title goes to Charity, who actually defeats the Ripper. Sort of. I mean...this is part of the book that really confused me as a kid. Our surviving teens take off to the cemetery after Cyndi. It's dark. The Ripper is out there. Everyone is holding hands for safety, until Cyndi emerges from the dark and starts taunting them. We know by now that the Ripper can shapeshift, so...is it Cyndi? Either way, Dade takes off after her, and Jane follows him, and someone punches Rick and Foy is also there, not really contributing. And Jones and Charity, who have both read up on this shit, are left to confront the Ripper.

There are some beautifully creepy touches of ocean folklore in this book. Not nearly enough for my tastes, but hints at pacts with demons, ghosts ships, and suicides are woven together to bring the book to its climax. Its...super-confusing climax. Basically, Charity is possessed by the spirit of a woman from the 19th century who defeated the Ripper before, when it first came to town. The woman...just...like...hangs onto the Ripper while it shifts into different forms, and...that...banishes it? It's Tam Lin, basically, except much less romantic. Charity just...hangs on, until the Ripper is like, "FINE THEN! NO MORE MURDER!" and that's that.

It's confusing. It confused me at fifteen and it confuses me at thirty-four, because it's not really a resolution. I don't know why this woman's spirit can defeat the Ripper. It's hinted that she might have been a witch (and since Charity was dressed as a witch for Halloween and they have the same name, this seems to be why she chooses Charity as her vessel), but that's me extrapolating. The book pretty much ends with Charity hugging the Ripper into oblivion, then cuts to her and Jones making out. After she's asked him if he's some kind of Van Helsing and he avoids the question, which basically means yes, anyway.

It...I...I don't know? I love this book. I still love this book, but I still don't fucking know how and why Charity beat the Ripper.The answer is clearly tied to Jones. He's the new kid in town. Nobody knows anything about him. He hints at a mysterious past and clearly knows straight away that the Ripper is inhuman and can only be defeated through supernatural means. But he never tells anyone anything outright, and instead pulls the strings from behind the scenes. Who he is and what he does isn't really of interest to the author, it seems. He's just there to be silent and intriguing and guide Charity toward the answers. I feel like you could easily have Jones popping up in other books to slip you an ancient diary that explains your haunted house problem, or to leave you the mysterious locket that will help you summon the dead, idk. Jones has seen some shit. Jones knows things, man. And in the end, Jones isn't any more explained to us than the Ripper.

And nobody died before Jones came to town.


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