“Do not withhold your Mercy from us. O Lord; may Your love and Your truth always protect us. For troubles without numbers surround us; our sins have overtaken us and we cannot see. Our sins are more than the hairs of our heads, and our hearts fail within us. Be pleased, O Lord, to save us; O Lord, come quickly to help us.”
Another week another great tube read. Stephen King’s Cell is a return to basics for the horror legend, a quick burn of a book to get all that mystical gunslinging crap out of his system. It reads like a great B movie has enough blood and gore to excuse the flimsy premise and romps along at a great pace, before stumbling at the final hurdle. In other words it’s a typical above average Stephen King shlocker.
King is at his best when he’s destroying the world. The Stand is, of course, the most famous example, but his much shorter and much better The Fog is also a great slice of apocalypto, hell we even have time for the King directed nonsense of Maximum Overdrive. So he’s on familiar ground when he decides once again to bring civilisation to its knees, this time using the most innocuous, but omnipresent device of the modern world – the mobile phone.
A pulse spreads virus like from mobile to mobile and everyone with an ear near the receiver becomes a stark raving mad homicidal maniac. Those that witness the initial onslaught reach for their phones… And this is where King has the most fun. Watching the city go to hell and the few phoneless survivors start to come together to make sense of all the madness is very well done. The hero, Clayton Riddell, is a nice typical King everyman and it’s not long before he’s got a little band of refugees under his wing who humour him in the notion that perhaps his son is still alive…
Things slowly but surely begin to unravel as the phone crazies stop hacking at one another and begin to show flocking behaviour. It’s the switch from pseudo-zombies to mangled-with-a-plan that changes Cell from unputdownable to merely oftenpickupable. It still has a lot up its sleeve, but like the Dawn of the Dead remake loses a lot of steam after the initial carnage.
The Romero comparison is an easy one as King dedicates the novel to George and his phone maniacs have a lot in common with the walking dead. If you can see the original version of The Crazies before the remake is finished then do so and you’ll see even more similarities here. However, King’s tale of a new social structure (the survivors being forced to live by night as the infected move around by day) owes a greater debt to Richard Matheson, to which Cell is also dedicated. His I Am Legend is one of Londonist’s favourite slices of horror/sci fi ever, and while it’s nice for King to nod to Matheson this just isn’t a patch on Robert Neville fighting off a whole vampiric world in which he is seen as the monster. As things progress (and King takes great joy in creating likeable characters only to see them fall by the roadside) the homage becomes a lot clearer as those that dare to fight back against the phonies are declared insane. We also get a spokesperson for the ‘monsters’ and it’s with the Raggedy Man that comparisons with The Stand start to pile up like so many bloody severed limbs. If anything this is like a very condensed version of that novel with events unfolding quicker and the conflicting sides drawing their lines in the sand much earlier on.
So it’s a good mindless enough read, but nothing to lose sleep over. A less bloated King is a good thing and we’ll be looking forward to his next novel (unless he retires again or gets bounced off another truck first), but if you want a really good King story with real zombies in then it’s still best to track down a copy of his short story Home Delivery.