THE SCARLET PLAGUE (1912) – Written by THE Jack London. Years ago Balladeer’s Blog reviewed London’s mad scientist horror tale A Thousand Deaths, now I’ll examine The Scarlet Plague, London’s post-apocalypse plague story set in the year 2073.
Jack London opens up this novella with a grim look at what life is like in the aftermath of the Scarlet Plague which swept the planet in the year 2013. Many recent reviews of this book focus purely on the disease angle because of the world’s ongoing Covid experience, but I think they overlook a lot of London’s political and class commentary.
I’ll take a look at the way in which London presented the pre-plague America of 2013 as a dystopia even before the first victim of the Scarlet Plague passed away. The elderly survivor recounting the tale to his grandchildren in 2073 doesn’t describe it that way because he was in a privileged class as an “educator”.
James Howard Smith is that elderly survivor in a world returned largely to hunting and gathering. He is cared for by his three grandsons, Edwin and two others whose absurd names probably contribute to keeping The Scarlet Plague so underappreciated – Hoo-Hoo and Harelip. (?) They get by as well as they can in northern California, raising dogs to help them herd the goats that they raise for meat and milk, and relying on the ocean for much of the rest of their food supply. Primitive weapons like bows and arrows are all they have on hand to use against wild bears and other menaces. Continue reading
A THOUSAND DEATHS (2014) – This 22 minute suspense/ horror piece was directed by Adam Zanzie who also adapted the script from the 1899 short story by Jack London. Last Halloween Season I reviewed that short story HERE
Adam Zanzie’s effort immediately improves on London’s original tale by at least giving the characters NAMES. I’m not kidding, by the way. The 1899 short story was Jack London’s first published work and he neglected to provide names for any character except the mad scientist’s dog, Dan.
Zanzie wisely decided not to retitle this Dan the Dog and Company and instead chose to just make up names for the characters. Ford Fanter portrays the main character Jack (nice little homage on the director’s part) and John Bratkowski plays Jack’s sadistically deranged father, Dr Chaney.
Like Stuart Gordon having to reconfigure Tales of Herbert West, Reanimator for modern sensibilities, Zanzie does an excellent job of “scrumblin’ up” (for Marx Brothers fans) most of the original story’s elements to accommodate pacing AND budget considerations.
Doctor Chaney tests his life-restoring process by using his own son as a guinea pig, killing him over and over in various violent ways. After each unpleasant resurrection he pumps his son for clinical details about how he felt as he experienced each horrific end. All in the name of science, of course. Continue reading
A THOUSAND DEATHS (1899) – This story was the first published work by Jack London and it definitely shows, but it still has certain merits. The protagonist – who is never named – is the scion of a wealthy British family. Feeling stifled by his rigid upbringing he ran off in his teens to roam the world. He’s fallen into various shady professions over the years and now at age 30 he’s begun having regrets.
His latest misadventure involved diving off a ship he regretted signing onto as soon as he sobered up and as soon as the vessel left San Francisco Harbor. Our hero miscalculated the distance back to shore, however, and now faces the prospect of drowning.
He seems to feel himself going under but then wakes up after an indeterminate time on board a luxurious yacht. The man has various tubes and wires connected to his body and soon learns that he has been saved from drowning by the crew of … his estranged father. That father (who also goes unnamed – it’s early Jack London all right) fails to recognize his son because of the changes the younger man’s rough life has inflicted on him.
Our protagonist (If that IS his real name – I’m kidding.) uses a phony name to hide his identity from his father. And Jack London apparently felt that even that alias was none of our damn business so don’t ask. The undercover son learns from his oblivious father that he really HAD died from drowning, but his father – a mad scientist – used the machines he’s strapped to, to literally bring him back from the dead. Continue reading