Original Release Date: December 1, 2010
Publisher: Apex Publications
Growing up offers many new experiences: the first time using a curse word, the fist time seeing an R-rated film, the first kiss, the first date, and so on. Mark Allan Gunnells’ novella “Asylum” tackles one such experience, albeit one that only a small percentage of the population has ever faced: going to his/her first gay club.
Going away to college always brings new experiences, and for Curtis, this new experience is his first visit to a gay club: Asylum. The world within Asylum interests him, seeing men openly dancing with and kissing one another. But it also appalls the small-town side of him, stumbling upon such things as the orgy in the men’s room. Which is why he’s outside trying to find a quite, discreet spot to relieve himself.
His friend Jimmy doesn’t seem to mind the antics at Asylum. In fact, he’s joining in, taking advantage of both the backseat of a car and the young accountant he hooked up with inside the bar. But Jimmy’s evening is turned upside down when the accountant is pulled through a car window and he discovers the assailants devouring the poor man. Curtis can’t believe his eyes, either, but he realizes that he’s seeing the impossible: zombies. And worse, he hears more quickly approaching. The only thing he can do is to drag an unbelieving Jimmy into Asylum and try to keep the approaching horde outside the bar.
Things aren’t as easy as Curtis had hoped once they lock themselves inside the bar. Convincing the stragglers and the bartender that zombies are running amok outside seems impossible, until Gil the bartender takes a look over the wall behind the patio and finds himself facing down a mob of the undead. He quickly orders the patrons to barricade all the doors and to keep quiet so as not to attract any more unwanted attention.
As the night slowly passes, personalities clash as the patrons and staff try to rationalize and to deal with what’s going on in the world outside Asylum before the undead find a way inside the bar.
Leave it to a mob of angry and hungry undead to ruin a night out. Let’s run “Asylum” through the Score and see how Gunnells’ story fares….
G: General Entertainment – “Asylum” effectively relies on the threat of zombies and the psychological effect on those trapped within the bar rather than buckets of blood, gnashing teeth, and shambling undead bodies. The story follows how each character faces the situation and interacts with the other bar patrons, and it provides a nice, tense atmosphere. The knowledge that they may not have any way to escape makes some people go mental, while others become steadfast and almost heroic. The novella also manages to work in a little love story between Curtis and Jarvis, the stripper at the bar, which I found to be very sweet. 9/10
O: Original Content – These zombies mean business and hungrily attack their victims, such as the poor accountant at the beginning of the story. They also still have enough human left in them to kick their prey in the stomach or lick their lips before going down for the kill. And in what I see as a break with much of zombie stories that are out there, a person doesn’t necessarily have to be bitten by a zombie to become one. That’s not a new concept, but Gunnells uses it to terrifying effect as the story speeds towards the ending. 9/10
R: Realism – Each character handles the zombie situation as I expect real people would: some remain calm and take charge, organizing, thinking, and planning to stay alive or to escape; some refuse to believe anything bad is happening, hiding themselves in alcohol or sex; and some panic, allowing their frenzied state to confuse and affect their perception of the world around them. A few of the characters start to veer towards clichés, such as Devon (who struggles with his religious beliefs) and Gil (the bartender who firmly believes that the government won’t take the time to help a group of gay people trapped in a bar), but their backstories weave well into the main story. And I must say that I was surprised at how much sex occurred while the zombies amassed outside. My thought was “How could you think of sex at a time like this?!” but I guess stress can make people react in different ways. 7/10
E: Effects and Editing –Gunnells uses the semi-darkness of the bar’s interior to good effect, intensifying the action and the mayhem both as Jimmy and Curtis struggle to make it past the security door at the entrance to the bar and later on when Devon, who intensely struggles with his personal religious views, takes matters into his own hands. And the “blood and guts” factor is quite good, as I fleetingly mentioned earlier. What the female zombie at the beginning does to the accountant…I’m still cringing. The zombies aren’t pretty, either, with chunks of flesh missing to reveal bone or a torn-out throat or an empty eye socket. 9/10
TOTAL SCORE: 8/10
Speaking from my own experience, it took me months and months to work up the courage to set foot into the Main Street Bar in Laguna Beach, CA. Luckily for me, my first visit to a gay bar didn’t involve what Curtis had to endure – though some of the drunks could have passed for the undead now that I think about it….