I finally found it!

Back when I was in high school, one of my English teachers kept a small bookshelf with different books for us to read if we had nothing to occupy ourselves with. One day I started a book that I didn’t get to finish, but wished I had. I’ve been searching for this particular book off and on for years, but it’s hard to find a book when all you can remember is that the cover was white, and some guy on a plane literally exploded with Ebola. Not exactly the best description to go by!

Surprisingly enough, Dipper recognized the book by my description. He told me I was looking for The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. He also forewarned me that it wasn’t the greatest piece of literature he’d ever read, but if I was that interested that it had stayed with me, I might as well read it.

A couple weeks ago my job took me to a local hospital that isn’t within the usual system I work. One of the unspoken bonuses of working in hospital systems is that most of the gift shops offer a cart of used books for sale. I love used books! On this particular day I was lucky. I found In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté, MD, which is about addiction. It’s a relatively thick book and sounds really interesting. I have some small experience with addiction, as my aunt was a very dedicated alcoholic.

The other book was The Hot Zone. At long last, I had found it! Granted, it was a severely beaten copy, but for 50 cents and charity at a hospital, you simply can’t go wrong! I purchased both books, and since it was a Friday, I was able to finish my current read at home and begin The Hot Zone.

The Hot Zone started off pretty confusing, because there was much talk of Marburg as well as Ebola Zaire and Ebola Sudan. Until reading this book, I don’t believe I was ever fully aware that there were enough strains of Ebola for one to be considered worse than the other. I also had no idea where Marburg fit into the equation. As it turns out, they’re all filoviruses. Filoviruses look stringy under a microscope, and cause hemorrhaging in people and primates. They’re also called “the three sisters” because of how they are related in terms of structure and effect on a living body.

The first part of the book went into the differences in the filoviruses, as well as some information on how they were discovered. I found that extremely interesting, but since I wasn’t expecting it to cover the different viruses, I was lost a few times and had to backtrack. In retrospect, I’m really glad Preston covered the viruses in the beginning, because I also got used to terminology that he would use later. For instance, I had no idea that when sick with a hemorrhagic disease, a body is considered to “crash out” when it is so completely consumed by the virus that it basically collapses, turns to mush, and spreads the virus. Preston also does a really good job of explaining the different levels of clearance when working with viruses. Level 4 is the killer stuff – Ebola, Marburg, Lassa. In other words, the nasty shit.

After this run-through and backstory, The Hot Zone shifts it’s focus to Ebola Reston. This strain was discovered in Reston, Virginia in a building that housed monkeys used in research. I don’t want to ruin the whole book for any potential readers, but I will say this. Once the story hones in on Ebola Reston, it’s easy to see parallels between the story and the 1995 movie Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman, Renee Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr, Kevin Spacey, and Donald Sutherland. (While I’m at it – it’s a super cheeseball movie but one of my favorites. I highly recommend that you watch it!)

There are some parts of The Hot Zone that are really confusing, and I would have preferred if Preston followed a chronological timeline for the viruses in the beginning, rather than skipping around. As someone not terribly familiar with these viruses, it made understanding their origins difficult. However, once Preston switched to Ebola Reston, I found the book much better written and easier to follow. The pace also picked up, making it a page-turner. I appreciate the fact that Preston conducted several interviews with the people involved in the outbreak of Reston, as well as the other filoviruses, because it gave the book an edge. Instead of guessing how people felt or what their motivations were, he had knowledge from the interviews.

Overall I liked The Hot Zone, and it’s spurred me into a serious kick. I have purchased several other books on Ebola, HIV, and other diseases. I am also on a binge for virus-themed movies. Be forewarned – there will be a bit of a sidetrack into the viral for the next few posts!

 

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors

Tonight is my night off – and I’m spending it in the nerdiest way possible. I’m working on crocheting a temperature blanket and watching horror movies.  (For those that don’t know, a temperature blanket is a year-long project, where every day the highest or lowest temperature is recorded, and a row is added to the blanket with a color corresponding to the temperature.) I haven’t watched any movie recommendations from my brother lately, so tonight I decided on Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors. To be honest, it was an arbitrary pick. I don’t remember him specifically recommending it, but it’s on a list of movies he has watched, so I figured what the hell. Anyways, it’s always good to discuss old horror with Dipper, who is very knowledgeable.

dr terrorI was immediately pleased to see that Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Donald Sutherland were in it. (Kid you not – Donald Sutherland looks just like his son, Keifer, in this movie!) I’m sure there’s other actors that I’ll recognize, but none by name.

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors is an anthology movie, or rather, it’s composed of several stories woven together by a central theme. The mysterious Dr. Schreck tells the fortunes of five strangers on a train. Each fortune is a story about their future, and the horrors that will befall them. In the first one, “Werewolf“, Jim goes to his former home to make alterations for the family that lives there. While there, he finds the coffin of Count Cosmo Valdemar, and hears a legend that the Count turns into a werewolf hellbent on killing the widow living in the house. The truth, he will find out, is much more terrifying.

Creeping Vine” is the second fortune, and in it, Bill returns with his family from vacation to their home. Bill’s wife asks him to get rid of the vine that has sprung up seemingly out of nowhere, fearing it will overpower the hydrangeas. Instead of overpowering the other plants in the garden, the creeping vine has higher aspirations. Soon the family is trapped in the house, with a homicidal vine covering every window. It becomes a fight for survival between the plant and the family, with only one victor.

Voodoo” is adapted from a story by Cornell Woolrich called “Papa Benjamin”. Biff is playing a jazz gig in the West Indies, where he overhears a voodoo ceremony. Enthralled by the music, he decides to sample one of the songs in the ceremony. He ignores a warning not to steal the song, which belongs to the devotees of the god Damballah, who is portrayed as fierce and not taken to sharing his rituals with nonbelievers for the purpose of entertainment. Biff more than ignores the warning, even incorporating the high priest’s mask into the background for his performance stage.

In “Disembodied Hand“, Christopher Lee plays Franklin Marsh, a scathing art critic. He publicly humilates artist Eric Landor during a heated exchange at a gallery. Marsh, not to be outdone, hits Landor with his car. Landor loses his hand, and with it the ability to paint. He then kills himself. His disembodied hand seeks revenge.

Vampire“, features Donald Sutherland as a doctor returning to the United States with his French wife. They no sooner settle down when there begin a rash of strange killings. He enlists the help of his friend Dr. Blake, who helps him discover the true identity of the vampire. But that’s not the end of Sutherland’s problems, as he is soon betrayed by his friend.

I’m incredibly sorry that most of these descriptions are sparse at best. Despite the film’s small running time of 98 minutes, each story is absolutely packed with great acting, fast-paced storytelling, and quirky twist endings. That’s why I can’t divulge the last story, “Epilogue“, which is the wrap-around tale for the film. Suffice to say, it’s absolutely brilliant.

I had never heard of this film until I saw it in my brother’s collection, but I will say this much: this is exactly why I listen to all of his recommendations. I’m also pleased that I’m expanding my horizons when it comes to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who until I started watching the old horror movies, were known to me only in their later careers. I’m not going to lie, films like this also cause a certain degree of melancholy. At the risk of sounding cliche, they just don’t make horror films like these anymore. Straight-up storytelling with no gimmicks. Well acted. Decent production value. And well-written tales. I’m already sorry for the day I’ve seen all the older horror films I can, because it really is an experience to watch them for the first time with fresh eyes.