Sixth floor, dismemberment: A review of James Kisner’s Tower of Evil
So, after the less horror/more urban fantasy read of Night Watch, I figured I’d read something that’s straight-up horror. Trashy, gory, cheesy horror.
Which brings us to James Kisner’s Tower of Evil.
So this was another random find at one of my favorite used bookstores, Long Lost Friends (well worth checking out, by the way). Long Lost Friends is a great little used bookstore, and I’ve found it’s a lot easier to unload a big stack o’ paperbacks there than it is at Half Price books. Now, one of the little quirks of Long Lost Friends’ trade system is that certain books are marked ‘no trade,’ which means you can’t apply your trade credit to them. This means you wind up paying like four dollars for a random paperback instead of, like, one, so it’s not a huge difference. Still, the ‘no trade’ stuff is usually reserved for the most popular authors: Pratchett, Butcher, Weber, and so on.
James Kisner’s Tower of Evil had a ‘no trade’ label, and that got me curious. So I plunked down the whole two-fiddy for the book, and I finally got around to reading it for Horrortober.
And…well, I’m not sure if it warranted its ‘No Trade’ label. It’s certainly not as good as Pratchett, or even Weber. Maybe Kisner’s earlier work was a lot better, I dunno. Also, on a sidenote, a basic wikipedia-ing tells me that Kisner died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 2008, which makes me kind of sad.
To call the plot of Tower of Evil thin is an understatement. The book is pretty much a collection of random horror vignettes that all take place in a big-ass office building in Indianapolis. Basically, there’s this guy called Dead Ted who rises from the dead one night and is given horrible otherworldly powers to murder the living because…reasons. Like, someone had built the tower on top of a gateway to hell, maybe? The book doesn’t really go into this.
And that’s the problem. Well, one of the problems.
Things just sort of…happen in the book. Dead Ted roams around, kills people, then raises them as demon zombie servants so they can go kill more people. Fair enough. But then there’s some fancy-pants lawyer who turns into a demon while banging the tower’s property manager because…uh…something. I mean, I’m not picky, I’ve watched some pretty schlocky horror movies in the past (and look forward to doing so in the future). But the thing is, most schlocky horror movies at least make some nod to some semblance of plot. Escaped murder maniac, revenge-seeking zombie, hungry cannibal rednecks- it would’ve been nice to have just a paragraph or two describing just why things were happening.
So yeah. Dead Ted gets absolute control over the building and everyone in it, which leads to him killing people in various ridiculous ways, such as:
A computer mouse coming to life and burrowing into a woman’s chest.
Spraying gasoline out of a telephone(?!) to burn a guy alive.
Or, in my favorite, a woman reaches into a snack machine to get a sandwich, only to have the machine snap shut and cut her hand off. She’s then attacked by an animate vacuum cleaner. She finally decides to use a coffeepot to smash the vending machine, so she can get her hand back- though as she does so, a shard of glass flies out and stabs her in the thigh. And after that, she gets her hand, and puts it into the ice machine so it can be reattached later, only to have the lid come down and cut her head off like a guillotine. Huh.
The problem with Dead Ted as an antagonist is that he pretty much does…whatever. I know it’s silly to ask for credibility from a book that features evil vacuum cleaners, but having at least the vaguest idea of why things were happening or the extent of Dead Ted’s powers would make for a lot more interesting novel. Heck, over the course of the book, I never even got a solid idea of just how many people were still in the building, between the cleaning crew, the security guards, and whatever random secretaries and lawyers who were working late. Characters just sort of showed up to get murdered whenever was convenient. This last part is particularly bad in slasher-ish media, since having a set number of victims is an easy way to ratchet up the tension as they’re slaughtered one by one.
And the thing of it is, the random people running around this tower barely interact with each other. Well, apart from the murder, that is. They’re all isolated in their little offices, in which they invariably think to themselves about how shitty their job is (seriously, everyone in this book is a miserable bastard) and then they die horribly and inexplicably. Again, it usually makes for stronger (or at least more traditional) horror to have the victims to be play off of each other a little bit, so that way the audience has at least a nominal emotional investment instead of “oh hey, there’s this dude, but then his head exploded.”
Caught up in all of this is the main character, Shannon, the security guard on shift when everything goes to hell. Shannon’s main character traits seem to be that she’s hot (then again, every female character’s bust size is referred to within a paragraph of their introduction. It’s kind of hilarious, in a horrible sexist sort of way) so everyone wants to have sex with her, and that she’s also an idiot.
Well, she’s not supposed to be an idiot, but Shannon runs around for the first half of the book thinking that everyone’s just playing tricks on her- tricks that involve fountains of blood and severed limbs and other stuff like that. It’s…not that encouraging.
Kisner at least goes for broke when it comes to gruesome gore. Again, it’s almost to the point of ridiculousness. There’s dismemberment, disembowelment, decapitations, fanged monster penises, evil demon babies, vending machines full of body parts, people getting chucked into trash compactors, and more. Heck, towards the end of the novel, Shannon arms herself with the contents of a toolbox, leading to all kinds of messy zombie fighting. Between the ludicrous splatter and the cheap treatment of sexuality, the whole book kind of comes off like it was written by a fourteen year old.
The thing that really strikes me about this novel is its wasted potential. By the end, the gore and such is amped up to a ridiculous degree that it’s actually kind of entertaining. If Kisner had given the barest nods to plot and characterization, the premise could actually be really fun. I mean, “Die Hard meets Evil Dead” would be all kinds of entertaining. to read. And that’s before you get into the possible social commentary you could work in. Greedy lawyers staying late to cut deals with demonic forces! High-powered bankers literally preying upon the lower classes! The book practically writes itself.
Tower of Evil was at least a good read in the “I could do better than that!” sense. Which is somewhat appropriate, as I’m gonna try giving National Novel Writing Month a go in November. Givne my past performance on such things, I may just get about ten thousand words in before deciding everything is terrible and giving up to go play Dragon Age instead.