Underground Film Journal

Posted In » Book Reviews


By Mike Everleth ⋅ March 6, 2006

Stephen King's Cell

Clay thought, as he almost always did on one level of his mind or another when he saw a variation of this behavior, that he was watching an act which would once have been considered almost insufferably rude–yes, even while engaging in a small bit of commerce with a total stranger–becoming a part of accepted everyday behavior. — (page 5)

I’m with Stephen King on this one. I think cell phones are the work of the devil. I don’t own one myself, although my wife does and I see the wonderful convenience of the devices, but I think they turn people into morons.

It’s one thing to be annoyed by some idiot screaming into his or her cell phone while waiting in line at Starbucks or sitting down in a nice restaurant, but it’s an entirely different thing watching some bozo carry on a conversation while attempting some disasterous U-turn in the middle of busy traffic. I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the country, but here in Los Angeles it’s an epidemic. I’m almost killed on a daily basis walking to and from work (I don’t own a car either) and about 90% of my would-be murderers are gabbing on cell phones while executing dangerous moves behind the wheel.

I also love the concept of a zombie invasion being triggered by cell phones because this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. (Yes, I think about strange things.) Why are zombie movies, since Night of the Living Dead, always End-of-the-World kind of scenarios?

One answer is that the more popular zombie movies these days aren’t really about the dead coming back to life. Both the Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Days Later, which are great horror movies, but neither are not about the dead coming back to life. They’re about people becoming infected with a virus and turning into mindless killing machines. Because I think today if the actual dead came back to life, a zombie attack could probably be fairly well contained.

Cell, therefore, isn’t actually a “zombie novel” either if you consider zombies to be the dead returning to life. Instead, on Oct. 1 at 3:03 p.m., an event called The Pulse causes every human on a cell phone to turn into a raving, bloodthirsty maniac. While the book’s action begins in Boston and the city is quickly thrown into chaos, I can tell you that if it were in Los Angeles, this city would be rubble by 3:05 p.m. Well, 12:05 p.m. with the time difference. I would estimate a good 75% of the population being on their cell phones at that time. Me, I’d be toast in seconds. There isn’t a nanosecond where several people in my office building aren’t in the hallways or outside gabbing on their phones.

The hero of Cell, though, is a comic book artist named Clay who witness the initial assault, picks up a couple of companions who travel with him from Boston to his home in Maine. Because of the journey nature of the book, it reminded me more of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds than George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead–even though Romero is one of the people the novel is dedicated to (the other is Richard Matheson, presumably for his classic I Am Legend). Also, as Clay and his new friends travel across New England they discover that the afflicted “phone crazies” aren’t just flesh-eating maniacs. They’re an entirely new type of creature who have a greater plan involved than just eating and/or people randomly.

I’m not a big Stephen King scholar and I’ve only read about half his output–including recently reading his entire Dark Tower saga. But I think you can look at his books and figure out what his own biggest personal fear is: Losing his mind. It seems a lot of King’s horror revolves around his characters having some kind of psychic ability. There’s of course the “shining” in … well, you know. There’s also “the touch” in the Dark Tower books, Carrie‘s telekinesis, the The Dead Zone‘s ability to tell the future, Firestarter‘s pyrokinesis and now Cell‘s… Ok, that would be telling. But if you read it, you’ll see what I mean.

King can be quite a wordy writer. Most of his books are massive, but Cell is a nice, little compact action story. It’s got a slam-bang opening and while I initially thought the set-up that allows the main characters to travel across several states so easily was a cop-out, he does eventually set us up for an eerie mystery that leads to a wild conclusion. The book is also very much tied into modern times with numerous mentions to 9/11 and terrorists are on the minds of Clay and his fellow travellers.

Buy Cell at Amazon.com!