By F. Paul Wilson
F. Paul Wilson
Tor / 336p / $25.95 US
F. Paul Wilson tells us right up front in an author's note that he's had it with the "tortured romantic aesthetes" that pass for vampires these days. Midnight Mass is his answer, a return to the "soulless, parasitic creatures we all knew and loved." Welcome to retro-vampirism! Is this the (re-)birth of fangpunk?
Well, yes and no.
The scariest thing about Midnight Mass is the premise that the rituals and myths of the (pre-Vatican II) Roman Catholic Church are the One True Way -- at least to fight vampires. The second scariest thing is the way Wilson molds entirely unbelievable genre cliché into an entirely entertaining read. With superhuman powers like this, Wilson could rule the world...or at least control the Jersey Shore.
Here's the deal: Vamps have always been among us, but were content to stay in Eastern Europe. With the fall of the Soviet Union, they suddenly decide they want to take advantage of the political disarray and take over the world. Don't ask why. Maybe they wanted new blood. Heheh.
Once they decided to roll, though, they were one hell of a weapon of mass destruction and quickly wiped out the civilization and noncivilization in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, India, and China (and, we later learn, the Third World, as well). Western Europe fell several months before the start of our story. America, more specifically the U.S. of A., most specifically the eastern seaboard has succumbed to the onslaught of the undead. The Atlantic Ocean being, we are told, "a natural barrier against the undead."
They've managed all this by first turning a lot of people into vampires and taking advantage of geometric progression. Not that all vampires are alike. There are the ruling elites, the bourgeoisie minions, and the near-mindless, beastly, ravening, recently human masses -- ferals - that are used as shock troops. The ferals are let lose on a locale, slaughter and drink their fill, and make sure to rip everyone's heads off. Headless victims die the True Death, which is highly desired since there are enough vampires already. A few humans (mostly local community leaders) are allowed to join the undead whether they want to or not. A few more semi-humans (the kind of folks who weren't really human to start with) are promised eventual promotion to the ranks of the undead and/or the chance to stand stud at breeding ranches full of childbearing-age poontang to act as "cowboys" and help round-up and contain what's left of the human hold-outs.
The vampires supposedly have all the traditional weaknesses: garlic, no reflections, sunlight, stakes, decapitation, a need for daytime comas, and, most importantly the symbols and rituals of the Catholic Church -- crosses, holy water, transubstantiated wine, etc. (They got past the Vatican with "turned" ex-military commanding tanks and heavy artillery. What, no limited nukes?)
In Midnight Mass, they arrive in a Jersey Shore town on Good Friday and have the place pretty much under control in less than six weeks. Except for the few good citizens smart enough to have taken precautions and able to defend themselves against the collaborating cowboys who rout them out and round 'em up...and, of course, those destined to be Our Heroes.
There's Orthodox Rabbi Zev Wolpin, who has seen his people -- cross-less and incredulous -- wiped out. Sister Carole Hanarty is another, a Sister of Mercy turned by the death of her fellow nun, into a wily -- if half-mad -- vampire killer. (A former high school chemistry teacher, Carole can cook up a batch of plastic explosives in a twinkle.) Zev, at Sister Carole's behest, routs Father Joe Cahill out of drunken oblivion, and the priest -- big, strong, Irish-American, handsome, devout, virile (if celibate), charismatic -- immediately gives new hope to the straggling remnants of his former parishioners. They are joined by Lacey, Father Joe's buffly beautiful lesbian atheist niece. Add some colorful supporting characters and, in no time, we are on the way to saving humankind -- which, of course, involves love, death, and at least one great car-chase sequence and an assault on the Empire State Building.
Wilson lays it out, über-cinematic scene by scene: good has seldom been so Good, evil has seldom been so Evil and tough, buff lesbian babes have seldom needed to strip naked so often to defeat It. Wilson throws in the kitchen sink and most of the plumbing. The Bad Priest is a pederast-turned-vampire, vampiric haute cuisine is newborn babies, vampires have dumb politics, ineffective bodyguards, dress badly, and, yes, read Anne Rice novels aloud to one another and laugh! Rape, brutality, eviscerations, stadiums full of bodies, people blown to pieces, vampires blown to pieces, bitch fights... and what possibly may be the single most melodramatic hero-in-the-clutches of the Evil Mastermind as he Explains It All scenes ever written. ("Where's your arrogance now, priest?") Thank goodness...I mean God...there is a Secret that may provide the key to defeat these blood-sucking parasites.
It's not entirely mindless fun. Zev, at first, provides the reader with a reference point. Nu? What's with this cross business? How can this be? Pragmatic the Reb can be, but, oy, are there are Questions here already. Lacey later takes on the role of Doubting Thomasina, so we can buy into the whole scenario to enjoy the ride -- even if we do need to stick a plastic Jesus on the dashboard.
So, enjoy already. Don't think so much. Midnight Mass a hell of a lot better than the average genre vampire crap and better than a lot of serious re-interpretation of the vampire mythos crap. Wilson, as he has proven before, can plot his way out of any situation and deliver a pay-off.
After it's all over, you can let your brain cells get back to work. You can start being logical again. Maybe the theological implications and historical questions and the vampiric details about native soil and crossing water and turning to a fog...will all be worked out in the sequel. Or not.
-- originally appeared in Cemetery Dance #49
F. Paul Wilson
Tor (HC) $25.95 336p
ISBN: 0765307057 (April 2004)
Tired of panty-waist vampires who regret their monstrosity and inspire fear in the hearts of none? Then join F. Paul Wilson for a whomp-ass novel of bad old-fashioned vampiric fiends. They say ex-Catholics make the best horror writers and veteran Wilson seems bent on proving the point as he intentionally pits what he calls the "Catholic Church's mythology" against everything we always knew about vampires before Anne Rice meddled with 'em. it seems vampires have taken over most of the world in a rather messy manner, and they mean to do things even more efficiently - keeping some humans as future fodder and prime breeding stock -- in the US. DC and New York were no challenge, and now the nasty vamps and their nastier human collaborators, who like to be called "cowboys" since they round up the human herd, to the Jersey Shore. It takes an elderly Rabbi who's man enough to wear a cross, a vampire-killing nun, a heroic priest, and his tough-chick niece to find a way for humankind to fight back. Read it as high camp or retro-horror, either way you're in for some fun.
-- originally appeared in Cinemafantastique Apr/May 2004
Copyright © 2004 by Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.