DiaTribe: “Lazarus” Tries New Angle with Gothic Horror Holocaust Novel

No one likes a party-pooper.

In December of 2001, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” the first part of the LOTR Trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s novels of the same name, was nearly universally hailed by audiences worldwide and, for the most part, all of the major film critics of the day.

The emphasis, in this case, should be placed on for the most part.

TV film critic, Richard Roeper, co-host to Roger Ebert on their syndicated program, “Ebert & Roeper,” dismissed the film as “boring and overlong.” In fact, he gave the film a national dis on Jay Leno’s show, going as far as making fun of fans of the books and the movie. He also seemed to forget that it was a fantasy—as in, it has absolutely, positively no basis in reality and, therefore, should not be placed under such harsh scrutiny as trying to look at it from a “real world” perspective.

Being a fan of all three films, I was fairly outraged.    Sure, it’s just one “critic’s” opinion, but to try and bash a film for trying to be unique, epic in scope, and visionary, well… I thought to myself, wow, dude…pretentious much?!

And yet, here I am, nearly a decade later, finally (kinda-sorta) understanding where Mr. Roeper was coming from.

Granted, I still wholly disagree with him (on, like, a gazillion levels) about “Fellowship,” but sometimes, one person’s vision is another person’s “say what?!”

The source of my ire is Jewish author Michele Lang’s Holocaust gothic witch/vampire/werewolf fantasy opus, “Lady Lazarus.” (Tor Books: Aug. 31, 2010 release; priced around $10)

Yes, you read that correctly: Holocaust gothic witch/vampire/werewolf fantasy opus.

The story begins in Budapest, where Magdalene Lazarus, a Jew with paranormal roots, in that she comes from a long line of powerful witches. The plot consists of her journey to the heart of darkness to fight, using her magical powers, and overthrow Hitler, who has been possessed by demons—natch—all the while being hunted down by S.S. Werewolves and vampires (oh, my!) and…well, you get the idea.

Well, Lang’s novel certainly wasn’t boring—I’ll give her that.

And yet, at the risk of being a Debbie-downer, what started out as a somewhat interesting premise, grew more and more preposterous as the story unfolded (for example the titular character even has a few run-ins with Mr. Führer himself); not to mention the fact that it comes across as a tragic, and fairly tasteless, misfire.  After all, the loss of six-million Jews is scary enough in its own right, without having to “Twilight” it up into a gothic horror novel. If you’re looking for something more along those lines, you needn’t look further than a good ol’ Anne Rice.

And yet, there’s a part of me that believes a novel such as this one, no matter how distasteful, is an admirable experiment. Lang’s creative story really is one of a kind. And that gives it at least some significance, no matter what your view is on the topics, in this sprawling epic.

For that, I’ll give the author an A for effort, trying something new and different.

However, that’s about it.

One could argue that I’m being unfair. After all, how can I give a film like Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 nutty-but-brilliant WWII film, “Inglourious Basterds,” which played fast, loose, and furious with historical facts, such high praise, and yet, give this film a negative critique?

It’s certainly neither a bad point nor an unfair argument.

Let’s face it, the idea of (spoiler alert ahead!) Hitler, Goebbels, et al., being riddled to death with bullets, in “Basterds,” is, if you think about it, kind of a slap in the face of actual written record, as well as a sucker punch to all of the poor souls that lost their lives, during WWII/The Holocaust.

Yet, “Basterds” never claimed to be anything other than a blood-thirsty spaghetti Western, a campy look at what could be considered as alternative history. Certainly, it never took itself seriously, which Lang seems hell-bent on doing.

Tarantino’s no guiltier of creating a hypothetical course of history than, say, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Roth for writing his novel, “The Plot Against America,” in which everyone’s favorite American Hero and anti-Semitic flyboy, Charles Lindbergh, defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election.

Look, Hitler was Evil because he was just that: Evil—a murderous, bloodthirsty sociopath that rose to power by playing to the German peoples’ embittered emotions, after losing WWI. That’s what has and, most likely, always will cause people to flinch at the sound of his name, what will always instill fear, disgust into the hearts of men and women.

Throwing things like ghosts, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night into the mix of already-tragic historical events just seems kinda, well, trivial, compared to what took place in real life.

As for demonic possession, Ms. Lang? Um, honey, let’s give credit where credit’s due.

And if that makes me a party pooper, well, hell, I’ll take that mantle.

Article comes courtesy of The Omaha Jewish Press.