Thursday, June 26, 2008


Satan Sublets Front Satan Sublets Rear

Yes, I do read. (Mostly the same stuff I watch, but hey, it’s got words.) And all those months ago, when I first responded to the Page 123 Meme which Mr. WAC from Fish In A Barrel tagged me with, the same one which prompted my upcoming review of Ator: The Fighting Eagle, I included this small excerpt from the second closest book I had at hand:

"When I modeled her, I thought that she would be mine forever-but others came and admired her-others like you and your friend." The axe sliced through the air, missing Arthur and striking the brick wall. Sparks flew as the smashing contact was made."

That bit of prosery comes from Satan Sublets (What? You were expecting War and Peace from the guy who brought you Final Exam: The Novelization?) written by the non-existent Jack Younger, one of the many pseudonyms of Russ Jones. Russ is one of those semi-Renaissance type guys you find scattered across the world of sci-fi/horror who has done a little bit of everything to keep working with the subject matter he adores. Over the past few decades he’s been a comic book artist (Mystery In Space) and writer (Arrgh!), magazine publisher (Monster Mania) and editor (Creepy Magazine), and even a documentarian (Buzby Berkeley). More important to the topic at hand, however, is that during the mid-seventies, Russ Jones anonymously authored over twenty dime store novels with titles such as Claw, Curse of the Pharaohs, Maniac!, Demon, and Rest In Agony.

I think it’s fair to say that not everything  Russ has done had the Pulitzer as a goal. Russ himself admits as much when discussing the time director David Hewitt couldn't get the rights to make a film version of Creepy Magazine and called Jones up to provide a screenplay instead. In the book Eye On Science Fiction, Mr. Jones remembers, "I wasn't particularly busy at the time, and Dave had a picture to make and didn't have a script. I had some cast-off stories I had done, and I fired them off to him in the mail." These cast-offs eventually became the five stories which comprise 1967's Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors, a poor man's spin on the much better Amicus anthology films of the time. Jones wasn't too fond of the finished product himself. "I didn't want my name on it at all, but I knew it was gonna look good on the resume!" Now I could be 100% wrong, but after reading Satan Sublets, I would lay odds this book offers up something of the exact same scenario. Take a look at the plot.

On the verge of giving up on his search for an apartment in New York City, Peter Harcourt chances upon the nearly hidden rental offices of L. Devlin. Offered a luxurious apartment at a rate only a madman could turn down, Peter immediately sends for his wife and young daughter. Things go well until little Peggy builds an altar to her favorite goatman doll inside her locked playroom and the cat disappears. It all ends horribly one rainy night as Peggy kills her mother, transforms into a goatman, and leaves her father a rambling lunatic for the rest of his life. The following week Devlin rents the apartment to retired businessman Arthur Grant. Things go well until Arthur and his friend Carl become obsessed with the wax figure of a beautiful woman they've found at a local artist's studio. Unfortunately for them, the figure's creator becomes jealous of their attentions and decides to rectify the situation with an ax. The following week Devlin rents the apartment to Mike Fuller and his wife Debbi. Things go well until Mike begins to lose his hearing and Debbi, knowing her phone conversations can't be overheard anymore, resumes her career as an on-call nymphomaniac. Unfortunately for her, Mr. Devlin recommends a doctor to Mike who replaces his auditory nerves with those of a vampire bat. The newly created nosferatu, who can now hear quite well, eventually slays his wife and the vampiric pair take up residence in the building's basement with some of Devlin's other creatures. The following week...

Any of that sound familiar? It should. The stories are chock full of references to Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, EC Comics, you name it. The wax museum story even goes so far as to have the characters discuss the similarity of their situation with 1953's House of Wax. Let's face it, no matter how much silly B-level entertainment the book offers up (Hey kids, bat eardrum transplants can turn you into a vampire! Get yours now!), the stories in Satan Sublets have cut-and-paste written all over them. The biggest giveaway is the jarring sex scene in the final story that feels totally out-of-tone with the rest of the book. It smacks of having had some editor call Jones up and say, “Look, Russ baby, it’s the 70s. We gotta have us some graphic sex in this thing!” The book reads like a bunch of unrelated (and unsold) short stories Jones had laying around which he reworked and patched together with the flimsy linking device of Devlin and called it a book.

The funny thing is, the Devlin stuff is what’s most enjoyable about the book because, well… it’s just… goofy. Take this section where Devlin explains what’s going on in the apartment building.

“You see, Mr. Fuller – that apartment is owned by the Prince of Darkness, Himself. I find people for Him, so he can enjoy his New York abode. In fact, the Master is quite pleased with the progress He has made in this town. Soon, it shall all be under His domain.”

So let me get this straight. Satan’s big scheme to conquer a city of over 8 million people is by sub-leasing out a single apartment? Come on, I know times are tough, but would the entire population of the largest city in the United States really line up and surrender their souls one at a time just to get rent controlled living space? (Cheap gasoline, maybe, but low rent?) Is this the best Old Scratch can come up with? I mean, his résumé sounds pretty intimidating in The Catechism. "A murderer from the beginning, …a liar and the father of lies," Satan is "the deceiver of the whole world." Through him sin and death entered the world and by his definitive defeat all creation will be "freed from the corruption of sin and death." Does somebody who sounds this awful really have to resort to such pedestrian methods?

You know, he just might. Although the Catechism never short changes the danger represented by the Devil, it does go on to explain that “the power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature.” Basically, as a created being, Satan cannot possess the omni-traits of God. He can’t know everything, he can’t do everything, and he can’t be everywhere at once. Theoretically this means that even as a spiritual being, Satan could be confined to a single place at any given time and forced to travel like the rest of us if he wishes to go from one place to another. If this is the case, then it’s quite possible the Devil could be hanging out in a New York City apartment building carrying out his (snicker) master plan while the rest of the fallen multitude do his dirty work elsewhere.

A number of theologians, however, speculate that this lack of omnipresence doesn’t preclude the ability of the Devil to bilocate or multi-locate. According to the New Catholic Dictionary bilocation is “the actual presence of the same finite being in two totally different places at the same time.” (I’m going to include the rest of the definition here because it’s interesting, but if you’re like me, you might want to get a second dictionary to look up the stuff you’re reading in the first dictionary.) “A physical body is said to be in place circumscriptively, every exterior part juxtaposed with Its corresponding part of the environing surfaces. A spiritual being is said to be in place definitely, entire in every part of space occupied. A mixed mode of location is that of a being circumscriptively in one place and definitely elsewhere, as is Christ in heaven and in the Sacred Host. This latter mode of bilocation is pertinent to the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. All the physical laws of matter known to natural science contradict the bilocation of a material body as physically possible. As an absolute or metaphysical impossibility involving an intrinsic, essential contradiction, Catholic philosophers maintain that there is no intrinsic repugnance to a mixed mode of location. Since local extension is not an essential note of material substance, but merely a relation, bilocation does not involve the multiplication of a body's substance but only the multiplication of its local relations to other bodies.”

All that is just a fancy and philosophically correct way of saying that while not able to be omnipresent like God, beings with a spirit can in a certain sense be in two places at once. So with the ability to bilocate, the Devil could actually be hanging out at his own New York apartment AND be down the street getting Rosemary pregant AND be in Washington possessing Reagan seemingly all at the same time. Perhaps that’s why Father Pedro Barrajon, a trained exorcist and professor of theological anthropology at the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome, recently stated that “The devil is present everywhere that evil things happen within the normal laws of nature. In anyone who says: I don't accept love, the love of my brothers and sisters, the love of God. And in many places, in all massacres, in every murder, in physical catastrophes, in every concentration camp, in all evil.”

So, be warned. Just because the Devil might be tied up with this silly subletting scheme in the Big Apple right now, that doesn’t mean he can’t be outside your door right now also.


Wm. said...

Having not really read anything on the subject I must confess that my concept of the devil has been molded only by mostly bad, but sometimes good, television and movies (I especially like George Clooney's character's description in O' Brother.)

That said, I will admit to devoting some amount of time thinking about the subject (usually in the car or while mowing the grass or something.) I don't know how this fits with a Catholic model of the devil (or any other faith for that matter) but I have come to the view that regardless of whether the devil has physical shape, his only power is that of temptation. That is, the only power the devil may possess is that which someone willing gives him by going along. I just don't subscribe to the whole "devil made me do it" idea.

EegahInc said...

I touched on this a little bit back when I watched DEVIL DOG. I'd guess 99.9% of the time the Catholic Church would agree with you. The New Rite of Exorcism published in 1999 says "Diabolical obsession is not the most frequent way the spirit of darkness exerts his influence...the harmful influence of the Devil and his evil spirits is normally exercised through deception, falsehoods, lies, and confusion." Basically it's that little voice in the back of your head telling you to go ahead and do it even though you know it's wrong.

That makes lousy entertainment. It's much better drama to have a devil who can jump into someone at will and take control. In the rare instances where the Catholic Church agrees that a person has become "possessed" it is usually likened to an addict. Through an escalating series of bad choices the person has so degraded and sublimated their free will that they no longer have the ability to resist. They've surrendered all control rather than being taken by force.

(There are a handful of exceptions but that's a long story and best saved for another time.)