Friday, 8 February 2013

Review : Brian Keene's Ghoul (2012)

In a year of vast disappointments none has cut so deep as this long-awaited adaptation of one of Brian Keene's most beloved and admired novels...GHOUL.

Keene is something of a legend in my world. Of all the genre writers out there today; Keene is the true heir to the throne left heartrendingly empty with the shock death of Richard Laymon, (many years later and it still stings like hell). Its no secret that Keene was something of a Laymon fanatic himself, and it shines through much of his work, (his novel CASTAWAYS was an ode to the great mans work, especially the Beast House/Malcasa Point trilogy), but Keene quickly found his own voice in the over-saturated world of horror lit, and managed very quickly to rise to the top of the heap alongside Edward Lee, Bentley Little, Jack Ketchum and a few select others, as a truly ferocious writer with a singular vision of what his brand of horror would be. His books are nothing short of fantastic. All of them. He's broken new ground in the zombie genre with THE RISING and its sequel, CITY OF THE DEAD, he's upped the stakes in terms of sheer viscera with URBAN GOTHIC, and has deftly combined eroticism and fear in DARK HOLLOW. He's given us Earthworm God's, Satyrs, shape-shifters, mermaids and more, and he's done it all with a writing style thats as free-flowing and effortless as any before or since. The mans a fucking genius.

And for many of his substantial fan-base, his 80's set coming-of-age tale, GHOUL, is his most accomplished and emotionally resonant work. Shit, the man himself has stated that its his most personal and autobiographical tale so far....

It shows....GHOUL tells the tale of three young boys as they teeter on the cusp of adulthood during the mid-eighties. As people begin dissapearing in their small town, they come to suspect that something ancient and evil is living underneath the local cemetery, where they just happen to spend their summers...

The story expertly balances period nostalgia, childhood whimsy, dark horror and fantasy, and stark unflinching truths about the real monsters that dwell in suburbia, as its young heroes traverse not only the hunting grounds of an ancient creature, but the harrowing canyons of sexual and physical abuse dealt out by the people they should be able to trust the most...their parents.

It's not an easy read, but its a damn powerful one, that recalls Stephen King's STAND BY ME and Richard Laymon's THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW, as it explores the minefield that is our loss of innocence. Its harrowing, often frightening, occasionally very violent, and when all's said and done...heartbreaking. If you haven't read Keene yet, its a fine place to start.

Now, if its seems like Im reviewing his book here, instead of the adaptation you came here to read about, I apologize. In truth, I'd rather talk about the myriad merits of Keene's great work than discuss this wholly unsatisfying and dismal attempt to bring his work to celluloid life. Its just too depressing.

Sadly, with this straight to DVD release...all of the dark magic that Keene wove into the  tapestry of his tale is lost. GHOUL may be a story centered around children, but its a very adult book. Keene never shy's away from shining a light into the darkest corners for all of us to see, but this....this movie comes across like a very poorly acted episode of Goosebumps. I'm not exaggerating or even trying to bring humor into this shit...its really that bad. All of the plot points that made the novel great...all of the themes that reverberated and resonated with all us old 80's kids, (and old kids of all decades), is gone. The brutality...gone. The heartache...gone. The subtleties and the metaphors on monsters real and imagined...gone. The fucking heart and soul....gone. This is a horrifyingly poor representation of not only a powerful story, but of the man who wrote it. Keene deserved much, much better than this.

Instead of a layered, simultaneously merciless and compassionate look at child abuse, we get a Scooby-Doo lite children's movie that flirts with darkness, creating a tonally unbalanced and confusing mess that can be neither enjoyed by kids as a 'kids take' on the work, (which I would have perhaps been fine with, were it done right), or by adults looking for real horror and/or depth. The monster at the heart of the tale has been jettisoned completely and replaced with a villain so ridiculous that it benulls me to divulge him. The scenes of abuse are hinted at but never serve the plot or relay the message, and only muddy the waters of what this film is trying to be. It's never engaging, frightening or exciting, and doesn't even hit its target as an 80's nostalgia trip, (one of the novels greatest strengths).

The acting, (and I hate to say this, as its by kids mostly), is simply atrocious. And before you tear into me for being a soulless monster, let me say that I don't blame these kids. They're all likable and they do what they can with the deeply shit material, but that ain't a whole helluva lot. This is on the director, all the way. I've seen films carried by far worse child actors, but the delivery here is of such a low standard that it's crystal clear no one was paying attention to the daily' all.

Musically, it strikes out in stunning fashion as well. There are no 80's tunes here. I realize its a low-budget affair but come one...was not one lesser, hard up 80's artist approached? Theres no sense of time and place. Those looking for a ride down memory lane are in for no such pleasures here.

I'm gonna wrap this up, because frankly, Ive never been more deflated by an adaptation in my life. I love Brian him. He's most likely my favorite writer and I've read his works more times than I can accurately recount. He's still not anywhere near exposed enough, and I had hoped that this film may act as a draw to his work, but it will only serve as a deterrent. Had this been left in the hands of someone of J.J Abrams, (SUPER 8), caliber, I can only wonder at what greatness may have resulted, but its been handled lazily by people with no grasp or understanding of the material, or the decade. I'm sickened by this, man...sickened.

It cuts deep to say it, but do not watch this, especially if your a fan of the novel. And if you haven't read the'd be doing yourself a favor by doing so. It really is wonderful.  In fact...I'm counting this as a double review, of the film and the book, so I don't throw myself out a fucking window.

GHOUL (NOVEL) - 10 Eighties-Kids out of 10
GHOUL (MOVIE) - 1 Scooby-Snack out of 10


  1. And thank you for saving me a buck!...Seriously, with a DVD cover like that, you have to expect this is gonna be bad...

  2. Yeah, and that cover is the best thing about it, bro.