The last time Stephen King wrote a novel about the end of the world, there was a certain “niceness” about it, subject matter aside of course. In The Stand, which is widely recognized as King’s apocalyptic masterpiece, a band of everyday Joes are drawn by their dreams to the remote south following a biological mishap (the virus known as “Captain Trips”) that ends up wiping out most of the planet. There they meet up with the new messiah, who it turns out is an octogenerian black woman named Mother Abigail, to rebuild a new civilization based on community.
Now of course they must first deal with the little matter of doing battle with the AntiChrist, the “Walkin Dude” Randall Flagg, who has gathered his evil minions way out west in — where else? — Sin City Las Vegas. But the bulk of the novel focuses on how these ordinary people are drawn together by extraordinary curcuimstances. First they discover each other. Then in rebuilding a newer, simpler world, where they have vowed not to repeat the mistakes that destroyed the old one, they discover the joys of community.
Reading The Stand almost makes you yearn for the apocalypse with the “Doomsday in Mayberry” picture it paints. No such luck with Cell. In Stephen King’s newest doomsday epic, it’s apocalypse by cellphone. When a single pulse signal turns every person on earth within earshot of a cellphone into mindless, murderous zombies, the world is instantly transformed into a nightmarish hell on earth. Bodies are ripped limb from limb. Cities are burned to the ground. And the music really sucks.
You see these zombies, when they are not busy destroying every living thing in sight by day, huddle themselves to sleep at night with boombox lullabys courtesy of a nonstop mix tape from hell itself. Debby Boone. Kenny G. Micheal Bolton. It’s all there. Talk about your soundtrack for the apocalypse.
Meanwhile, the survivors make their way through the night in a vampiric sort of existence while the cellphone zombies sleep. But if you think that maybe switching the tape up from “You Light Up My Life” to say, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is going to stop these phone crazies, well, you have obviously never texted your vote for American Idol.
What will piss these zombies off is if you burn a thousand or so of them to death. When that happens about midway through Cell, the Zombies develop a hive mindset intent on avenging their dead. Soon, our hardy group of survivors begin dreaming of a particularly nasty phone zombie in a red hoodie. Seems the “Raggedy Man” intends to try our flock burning friends for zombicide before a phone zombie kangaroo court somewhere in a football stadium up north.
So when Mister Rags makes his presense known in the waking world, the survivors do what anyone in the no doubt soon-to-be-released movie version of Cell would do. They head straight for the location of their own execution, and an epic confrontation with what is surely the Antichrist of all mixtape DJs.
You’ve got to give it up to the “Master of Horror” for coming up with his most nightmarishly gruesome vision of what a real hell on earth would actually be like.
The Smooth Jazz.
Now there’s a “Stand” I get chills even thinking about.