Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book Review: CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE #84: YOU ARE A MONSTER (1988, Edward Packard)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Pages: 116.
Endings: 13.
Illustrations: Judith Mitchell.

A lot of works of art think that they're special merely because they address the audience directly. They like to call it "breaking the fourth wall." Well, I got a little something here that breaks the- are you ready for this?...– breaks the fifth wall.

'How does it do that?,' you ask. Well, I'll tell you– instead of just watching or reading or listening to the work of art, you ARE the work of art. It's YOUR story, and you'd better hang on for dear life, cause things are liable to get real freaky, real fast. It's called Choose Your Own Adventure- maybe you've heard of it already. You're the star of the story- you make the decisions- you are personally responsible for your successes, failures, and gory, gory deaths!

Anyway, this title is not one of my absolute favorite Choose Your Own Adventure titles, but it still felt appropriate. In a month devoted to enjoying monster movies, I thought I'd turn the tables a little bit. Spin the telescope around. Scrutinize you a little bit. See how you like being the monster for a change. Everybody running from you and screaming at you and laughing at your expense. It doesn't feel very good, does it? I guess that's the point of this book. It's probably the best 'You are a Monster' style book since Kafka's METAMORPHOSIS.

Written by Edward Packard (creator of the Choose Your Own Adventure series and author of some its most popular titles, including THE CAVE OF TIME, INSIDE UFO 54-40, HYPERSPACE, and THE WORST DAY OF YOUR LIFE), YOU ARE A MONSTER is a pretty standard example of the YOU ARE A... subgenre that emerged within the larger Choose Your Own Adventure franchise (i.e., YOU ARE A... GENIUS, SHARK, SUPERSTAR, etc., etc.). The problem here, though, is that there is just too much linear story, and not enough choices. And to cover this up, there's a shit-ton of needless page-flipping. It gives you the illusion you're reading a Choose Your Own Adventure novel when you've flipped pages like sixteen times but haven't yet made a choice.

Regardless, I'm not here today to indulge in literary criticism. I'll save that for HYPERSPACE and HOUSE OF DANGER. No, today, I'm here to show you stuff like this:

Don't worry, it makes sense in context– post monstrous transformation, you shack up with some nonjudgmental blue bloods and play soccer on their estate with their friendly German Shepherds.

Anyway, the plot is this– you're kidnapped from school by the fiendish Dr. Nair, who wants kiddies for his evil experiments. He injects you with gorilla/bear serums, and
"you slap at the bathroom door. It flies off the hinges. The mirror shatters. You roar in agony and rage. There is no doubt what's happened: You are no longer the person you were–– YOU ARE A MONSTER!!!"

This scene is also depicted on the front cover of the book, but note that the monster on the front cover bears little resemblance to the monster which you are on the book's pages. If you go a certain route, once you escape, you're captured by the cops. You have to relearn how to speak because your vocal chords have been stretched, but once you do, you carefully explain everything that happened, and the feds still won't let you out of jail:

'What about my civil rights?,' you say. 'You have no right to keep me locked up!' The police commissioner shakes his head. 'The fact is, you have no civil rights,' he says brusquely. 'They only apply to people–– and you're not a person anymore-- you're a monster!'

Wow, this book's dolin' out some harsh truths– I sure hope no kids on the cusp mistook this for a puberty metaphor.

Allow me to entreat you to a few random moments:

'ARRRRAGH!' Now you're mad. You kick the bear's shins with such force, the animal bellows in pain. ... You have not only been accepted by the bears as one of them, but you've been acknowledged as their leader! '

You're not a monster,' the chief tells you as he reaches up to pat your shaggy shoulder. 'You're a hero!'
'ARRRRAGH! I mean, thanks,' you say humbly. You know you'll always have some problems as long as you remain a monster. But at least now you have proven that you are not a threat to society. THE END

[a phone conversation]
'Well then, please hurry home-- and we'll talk about it.'
'Just one last thing I want to tell you before I get there, Mom.'
'What's that, darling?'
'I've become a monster.'

Meyerstraum is the biggest crime boss in the Caribbean--maybe the world!

There's multiple scenarios where you get shot, and many where you adapt to being a monster (book deals, circus, etc.), but one of the most whacked-out is when a failed operation turns you into a little monkey (with possibly a monkey's mental faculties?).

'I'm glad to see you looking so healthy, and, in your own way, normal,' says Mrs. Vandergraft. 'Yes, you do look fine-- and so agile,' her husband adds with a smile. 'Chh, chh, cheeeeeek,' you respond. But when Dr. Firenze looks at you, his face is grave. 'Now I'm afraid you only have two choices left,' he says. 'The jungle–– or the zoo.' THE END

So wait, why are those your only two choices? Couldn't a family take care of you?
It's interesting that after the operation, Packard allows you no more insight into (your) monkey's mind- are you a vegetable now that can only say 'chh, chh, cheeeeek?,' or is it like before, when you possess your own mind and a monster's body? Existential stuff, there, Mr. Packard.

But probably my favorite ending is when the FBI (!) arranges for you to go to France, where you're going to be paid twenty million francs to star in an arthouse remake of Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

In all, this is far from being the best Choose Your Own Adventure. There is some ridiculous shit happening here, to be sure, but there's nothing like in THE TRUMPET OF TERROR where you have to decide whether to remove your own eye or like in HYPERSPACE where you meet Edward Packard himself and discuss the literary process or like in THE HORROR OF HIGH RIDGE where you're entreated to ghastly, graphic scalpings. Anyway, I guess there's an anti-eugenics–– well, maybe just anti-science in general- message wafting around in there somewhere, and I guess we can all get on board with that. In fact, anti-science has been a recurring theme this Halloween countdown from Chuck Norris in SILENT RAGE to THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES to GEEK MAGGOT BINGO, so, to quote Gary Busey, I'll ask you to hold that in your heart.

Anyway, there were about 10 billion movies and books and beverages and songs that I didn't quite get around to this Halloween countdown, and while I'll save many for later, expect a lot to spill over into November, including TERRORVISION, THE LEOPARD MAN, HELLRAISER 2, and HUNTER'S BLOOD. As far as I'm concerned, it's still Halloween until Thanksgiving.

Happy Halloween!

-Sean Gill

2009 Halloween Countdown

31. PROM NIGHT (1980, Paul Lynch)
30. PHENOMENA (1985, Dario Argento)
29. HOUSE OF WAX (1953, André de Toth)
28. SILENT RAGE (1982, Michael Miller)
27. BASKET CASE (1982, Frank Henenlotter)
26. THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983, Douglas McKeown)
25. PELTS (2006, Dario Argento)
24. ANGEL HEART (1987, Alan Parker)
23. KILLER WORKOUT (1986, David A. Prior)
22. FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991, Rachel Talalay)
21. THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971, Robert Fuest)
20. FRANKENHOOKER (1990, Frank Henenlotter)
19. HELLRAISER (1987, Clive Barker)
18. GEEK MAGGOT BINGO (1983, Nick Zedd)
17. ALLIGATOR (1980, Lewis Teague)
16. LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (1971, Lucio Fulci)
15. THE CARD PLAYER (2004, Dario Argento)
14. SPASMO (1974, Umberto Lenzi)
13. C.H.U.D. (1984, Douglas Cheek)
12. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982, Steve Miner)
11. SWAMP THING (1982, Wes Craven)
10. DIARY OF THE DEAD (2008, George A. Romero)
9. THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988, Ken Russell)
8. PIECES (1982, Juan Piquer Simón)
7. THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982, Lucio Fulci)
6. MOTHER OF TEARS (2008, Dario Argento)
5. THE CHANGELING (1980, Peter Medak)
4. FREDDY'S GREATEST HITS (1987, The Elm Street Group): PART 1
3. FREDDY'S GREATEST HITS (1987, The Elm Street Group): PART 2
2. THEY LIVE (1988, John Carpenter)


skeelo said...

Hahahha sweet ending to the 31 days of horror reviews! chh chh cheeeeek? So basically we are screwed as soon as we choose our own adventure.

I'm glad Gary Busey was mentioned on Halloween ;)

Sean Gill said...

Thanks, man, it was a fun month. And I should probably make more of an effort to mention Gary Busey EVERY day.