- Horrors of War: The Undead on the Battlefield eds. by Cynthia J. Miller, A. Bowdoin Van Riper
Following on the success of their critical anthologies of the supernatural undead in film, Undead in the West volumes I & II, editors Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper have assembled a diverse collection of essays exploring the intersections of war narratives with tales of vampires, ghosts, and zombies. Along with their contributors, they turn a critical eye on novels, films, and other narratives in which revenants or the walking dead are the enemy, conflicted allies, or the vengeful returned. Along the way, they unearth a host of lesser-known narratives, imaginative tales of conflict, violence, heroism, and redemption, from vampire flying aces to possessed machines or war to wronged and vengeful spirits. While the collection eschews rigorous critical theory and more scholarly approaches to the texts under investigation, it does provide those interested in the intersecting genres a vast array of new narratives and stories to consume and explore.
The first section of the collection, titled "Monstrous Enemies," focuses on narratives in which undead monstrosities fight on the front lines of some of the world's most infamous conflicts. For example, Robert A. Saunders examines the intersections between the mythology of the vampire and the cultural history of the United States' slaveholding past. In Seth Grahame-Smith's well received revisionist-history novel, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2010), the vampire metaphor reveals the slave trade for what it really was: a bloodthirsty enterprise that treated human beings as little more than cattle. In a similar vein, Miller investigates a lesser-known novel, Jasper Kent's Twelve (2009), a reimagining of the War of 1912. As with Grahame-Smith's tale, Kent casts the most ferocious soldiers as vampires, Russian voordalaki, creatures of myth and legend who fight for Russia for the sheer joy of violence and destruction. Kim Newman's The Bloody Red Baron reconsiders [End Page 92] the soldiers of the Nazi Luftwaffe as bat-like vampires, and Van Riper argues that the novel "takes aim at the 'knights of the air' mythology" surrounding WWII fighter pilots, revealing the combat for the brutal struggle it actually was. Instead of romanticizing the role of the air corps in the war as noble knights of a bygone age, Newman's liminal monsters reduce the soldiers of the air to violent brutes. The final entry in the section, by James J. Ward, provides readers with an overview of supernatural films that imagine the Nazis' experiments with zombies and the occult or their return to power long after the war has ended. Ward provides limited cultural analysis of the films mentioned, opting instead for more of a general survey and discussion of quality.
The collection's next major section, "The Dead Don't Rest," explores the hauntings associated with a variety of violent conflicts. The first chapter in the section considers the ghosts of Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (2001) as poignant reminders of the Spanish Civil War, and Michael C. Reiff produces an insightful Derridaian reading of the film's hauntology. The ghosts of the film—both people and objects—explore the psychological trauma of the war and how the resultant fear continues to affect the people of Spain. Thomas Robert Argiro offers readers an even stronger chapter with his detailed psychoanalytic reading of Adrian Lyne's film, Jacob's Ladder (1990). The movie exposes real-world military chemical and drug experiments conducted during the Vietnam War, presenting their possible effects through a supernatural narrative of dreams, visions, and illusions. Argiro uses both existential and Lacanian critical theory to unpack the complex film, revealing it to be a powerful testimony to the horrors of war. Paul O'Connor offers a brief, encyclopedic chapter introducing readers to the DC Comics series "The Haunted Tank," a mildly supernatural series that romanticized war—World War II in particular—while exploiting the trope of a benevolent ghost from the Civil War. Marzena Sokotowska-Paryz takes readers into the...