Urban Gothic is a novel written by prolific horror writer Brian Keene. While still believed to be quite a ways off from Stephen King or Dean Koontz, Brian Keene is nonetheless quite the storyteller when it comes to tales of terror and I will admit that some of my horror stories are inspired by his classics like Darkness on the Edge of Town and Conqueror Worms. Urban Gothic is one of his older works that I have only recently read and, I must admit, it exceeded my expectations when it comes to being a simple horror story.
The premise of Urban Gothic is an unusual combination of the haunted house genre and the mutant slasher story. For fans of the Wrong Turn and The Hills Have Eyes film franchises, this is probably a good choice for you. However, unlike the aforementioned films, instead of taking place in a secluded part of a forest or a remote part of a desert, Urban Gothic takes place in a large Victorian manor somewhere in the heart of a rundown neighborhood in Philadelphia. Now, to be honest, I’m not really a big fan of the slasher genre. More often than not, I am just forced to watch them with my friends. However, as I soon came to discover and much to my delight, Urban Gothic proved to be more than just a slasher story.
The plot begins simple enough. Six teenagers are coming home from a concert when, suddenly, their car breaks down in the middle of a rundown neighborhood in Philadelphia. After a round of arguing, they are soon approached by a group of African-American youths of probably the same age. While the local teens mean no harm to the newcomers, their poor communication leads to a misunderstanding that make the outsiders believe that they are muggers or worse. In the end, the six teens from out of time retreat to a dilapidated monstrosity of a house located at the end of the street not knowing that it is inhabited by a family or, more accurately, a small tribe of murderous and cannibalistic mutants.
Meanwhile, the local teens go and visit a middle-aged resident named Perry Watkins in the hopes that he can somehow help them. From there follows a horrific story of blood, gore, disgusting descriptions of body deformities, sexual depravity and a sprinkling of hilarious antics of Philly urbanites. I’d really like to tell more about it, but that would be spoiling the story and missing the point of this article.
Why I Think It’s Relevant
The thing is, it’s not just your ordinary “mutant slasher” tale as I’ve already mentioned above. For one thing, while it may be easy to guess how a clan of mutant cannibals manage to flourish in a deep forest or a nuclear wasteland, one has to wonder how they managed to hide and continue their atrocious activities within an urban center. Well, the answers are both simple and easily relates to the kind of problems we now have in the Philippines.
The local teens in the story approach Perry Watkins in his home to ask for his help in somehow rescuing the newcomers trapped in the manor. After calling the police, Perry tells the teens that the cops probably won’t arrive in time to help anyone as they likely have their own “priorities” to worry about. When asked about the history of the manor and how it came to be, Perry only shook his head in dismay and admits that no one in the neighborhood really even remember how it came to be the way it is.
As it turns out, the house had existed in the neighborhood for a long time even though it has been believed to be implicated in a long series of disappearances and brutal murders over the decades. Instead of actually doing anything about it though, people simply said to themselves “as long as it doesn’t bother us, it’s fine” for many years even though there are enough mutants beneath the house to be a real danger to the community. What’s more is that there is the implication that if the community had chosen to act earlier, perhaps they could have put an end to the horrors brought about by the house while whatever power it had was still easily beatable.
While there might not be monstrous mutant cannibals in the Philippines, the big problem is that so few of us care about the issues that besiege us as a people. It’s sad to note that more of us care about the AlDub craze than they do about the plight of the Lumads or the victims of Yolanda some of whom are still homeless and hopeless even after two years. What’s worse is that I think that some of the problems we have today, including our issues with insurgency and terrorist, could’ve been resolved more smoothly had we chosen to solve them earlier.
An Unwillingness To Change
In the story, Perry Watkins and the local teens often talk about how people are clamoring for change yet do not want to make any kind of change for themselves. While they want to be seen more than just as petty criminals and worse, few in their neighborhood have made any real effort to change their image. Indeed, while it’s clear that there are a lot of decent people in the neighborhood like Perry Watkins and the teen boys, their efforts are clearly not enough to show their altruism.
Which is why, later on in the story, Perry and the teens decide to take matters into their own hands and find a way to rescue the trapped teens within the manor. Needless to say, it doesn’t work as smoothly as they hope but their efforts don’t prove to be entirely worse. Also, it is implied while their troubles may be far from over, there is hope now as people in the neighborhood have shown how united they can be against the Victorian manor and its horrors.
Look guys, I can’t stress this enough. We all want change and by God our country needs it very badly. Unfortunately, only so few of us are actually willing to act and make themselves more decent people. We want a cleaner environment but few of us are actually willing to dispose of our waste properly. We want competent leaders yet we keep voting for inexperienced buffoons. We want to live safer lives yet so many of us are unwilling to come to terms with the dangers the country faces.
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