Boyll, (James) Randall 1962-
BOYLL, (James) Randall 1962-
PERSONAL: Born 1962.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd St., New York, NY 10022.
After Sundown, Charter Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Mongster, Berkley (New York, NY), 1991.
Chiller, Jove (New York, NY), 1992.
Katastrophe, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Wes Craven's Shocker, Berkeley (New York, NY), 1990.
Darkman, Jove (New York, NY), 1990.
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, Pocket (New York, NY), 1995.
The Long Kiss Goodnight, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Mission: Impossible, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
"darkman" series; novels
The Hangman, Pocket (New York, NY), 1994.
The Price of Fear, Pocket (New York, NY), 1994.
The Gods of Hell, Pocket (New York, NY), 1994.
The Face of Death, Pocket (New York, NY), 1995.
Contributor to Writer's Digest.
SIDELIGHTS: Randall Boyll's reputation as a horror writer is predicated largely on his novelizations of horror films and derivative chronicles of cinematic superhero Darkman. However, his promise as a rising horror talent was remarked upon from the publication of his first novel, After Sundown, which Locus magazine nominated as one of the best horror novels of 1989. "After Sundown, is absolutely terrific," wrote Edward Bryant in his review for the magazine. "It's a genuine pleasure encountering such an unanticipated talent from out of the blue." The novel concerns two families, the Pruetts and the Butlers, who rent a cabin on Spike Mountain, east of Salt Lake City, and soon find themselves snowbound and out of touch with civilization. The temporary retreat to the wilderness is supposed to help both families come to terms with the loss of young Robin Pruett, but Mark Butler's complicity in Robin's accidental death has left him with overpowering feelings of guilt. These prove a catalyst for the reenactment of an orgy of cannibalism and violence that resulted in the deaths nearly a century before of three people whose spirits still haunt the site. The spirits of a group of religious fanatics, and their cruel leader, remain trapped at the site, and it is their intent to stop the Pruetts and Butlers from leaving. "What makes this haunted house variant so effective is a combination of good characterization and some truly bizarre imagery, particularly the sequence in which phantom trees are summoned up to block egress from the cabin," commented Don D'Ammassa in St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers. "Boyll's manifestation of the chief villain is particularly effective and he takes great care to humanize his characters so that the reader can feel a reflection of their terror," D'Ammassa wrote.
The backdrop of After Sundown is interwoven with elements of Mormon history and church doctrine, and Bryant singled these out as especially inventive means by which Boyll presents the novel's basic haunted-house theme from a different angle. "What Randall Boyll has crafted is a Mormon parallel to Stephen King's The Shining," he wrote. "Bringing Mormon metaphysics into mainstream American fantasy is something few other than Orson Scott Card—and now Boyll—have tried." But Card, himself a famous writer, disagreed. "Every time a Mormon doctrine or practice is mentioned or hinted at it is howlingly wrong," he commented in his review of After Sundown for Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. However, he conceded that the novel "is, in fact, a remarkably powerful and well-written horror novel, with a grisly tale that makes a perverse kind of sense."
One of the themes of After Sundown, the vulnerability of children to life's insults, is at the core of Boyll's other original novels. His second novel, Mongster, is the story of Arnold White, a resourceful thirteen year old whose repeated physical abuse by his alcoholic father puts him in the hospital. From his dying roommate, Arnold learns of a gold sarcophagus containing a mummy that has been smuggled from Egypt and buried in a secret site in his small Indiana town. Arnold eventually claims the sarcophagus as his own and reanimates the mummy to protect him from Alfred Cumberland, a ruthless archaeologist who has sought the treasure for more than forty years. "Mongster isn't just a horror novel; it's a novel about horror, offering uncomfortable observations about the blurry lines between the horror we all might imagine and the horror we can experience," Bryant wrote in a Locus review. Also reviewing Mongster in Locus, Scott Winnett praised it as "beautifully written, with a very strongly drawn and likable thirteen-year-old boy as the protagonist." But Winnett felt that Boyll's depictions of child abuse are overdone, complaining that "the sheer amount of brutal ill-treatment left me with such a nasty taste that it was impossible to enjoy the novel." Bryant concluded that Mongster "is a remarkable piece of work."
In contrast to Mongster, Chiller has a plot in which horror arises from the overprotectiveness of a parent for his child. Its protagonist, widower Peter Kaye, is a loving father who embarks on a cross-country crime spree to raise the money he needs to save his daughter Darbi, who is clinically dead but still conscious and capable of speech as the result of medical experimentation. Peter spends much of the novel in his car conversing with Darbi, whose body is slowly decomposing, even though he has packed it in ice. D'Ammassa commented on the dramatic power of this scenario, noting that "this could have been the vehicle for thinly veiled dark humour, [but] Boyll opts for absolute seriousness, and the effect is intensely unsettling." The government also has a hand in Kaye's situation, as two FBI agents, bemused but dedicated, follow Kaye to make sure he continues his western course to an undisclosed rendezvous in Rawlins, Wyoming.
Boyll's five horror thrillers featuring the character Darkman are based on characters and ideas found in Sam Raimi's 1990 film of the same name. Darkman introduces Peyton Westlake, a research scientist who is attempting to create synthetic skin when his laboratory is torched by criminals. Westlake is horribly disfigured and vows to apply his scientific know-how to rid the streets of crime. Working out of an abandoned warehouse, he perfects an artificial skin that allows him to conceal his deformities for short periods of time and assumes the persona of the shadowy avenger Darkman. In The Hangman, Darkman breaks up a crime ring that exploits disadvantaged youngsters, while The Price of Fear finds him doing battle with a secret society whose elite members have corrupt plans for the city. In The Gods of Hell, he matches wits with the church of Eternal Youth and Beauty, which resorts to evil means to find the secret of immortality for its disciples. The Face of Death embroils Darkman in a conspiracy to replace the president of the United States with a look-alike impostor. The novels feature a recurring cast of characters, including Julie Hastings, Westlake's fiancee from his former life, whose ignorance that her repeat savior is actually the lover whom she believes has died adds a touch of pathos to the plots.
Boyll's "Darkman" novels have been praised as contemporary extensions of the pulp hero tradition that echo the exploits of Batman, and especially the Shadow, a conspicuous example of another extra-literary creation who achieved notoriety as the hero of a fiction series. D'Ammassa remarked that "The Darkman books are good adventure novels as well as marginal horror, but for the most part they lack the intense imagery of Boyll's earlier, less derivative work." However, these novels moved Ed Bryant to praise Boyll in Locus as "one of the truly underappreciated writers in horror. In these well-crafted media tie-in novels, he's adding much to the original material, and is ever more clearly structuring these as a continuing gonzo varietal of horrific cliff-hanger, soap opera."
Boyll has also turned in novelizations for screenplays of movies such as The Long Kiss Goodnight, Mission: Impossible, and, early in his writing career, Wes Craven's Shocker. D'Ammassa commented that "the story of a condemned criminal who makes a pact with an evil force so that his life is preserved as a form of electricity even makes a good transition to the printed page" in Boyll's novelization.
In Katastrophe, Boyll's 2000 novel, the author explores the possibilities of a compelling scenario: what if World War II German dictator Adolf Hitler has been reincarnated and lives again in a fresh new body somewhere in the world? Hank Thorwald and his wife, Rebecca, attend a faculty party for their college in Terre Haute, Indiana, expecting an enjoyable but likely bland evening. When Hank agrees on a whim to be hypnotized, he discloses that he is the reincarnation of Hitler—and offers up evidence that serves to convince his host, Perry Miller, and the guests at the party. Alan Weston, a muckraking local TV reporter who witnesses the hypnosis session, seizes on Hank's confession, and soon Hank is an unwilling media star whose professional and family life is quickly slipping away from him in the glare of the spotlight. Uninvited guests appear, including a Hitler devotee who says he knows where Hitler's body is buried. Through it all, Rebecca strives to clear her husband's name and protect their daughter, Sherri, from the brutal attention. The novel "will interest readers who enjoy suspense," noted Ronnie H. Terpening in the Library Journal. Boyll "keeps the action going, and his plucky characters deliver whip-smart dialogue, even as the plot grows more convoluted," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Pringle, David, editor, St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Reginald, Robert, editor, Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Library Journal, May 1, 2000, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of Katastrophe, p. 151.
Locus, July, 1989, Edward Bryant, review of After Sundown, p. 51; February, 1990, p. 25; September, 1990, Scott Winnett, review of Darkman, p. 29; February, 1991, review of Mongster, p. 31; May, 1992, Edward Bryant, review of Chiller, pp. 21, 23; April, 1994, Edward Bryant, review of The Hangman, p. 26; August, 1994, Edward Bryant, review of The Price of Fear, pp. 31, 64; November, 1994, Edward Bryant, review of The Gods of Hell, p. 31.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January, 1990, Orson Scott Card, review of After Sundown, pp. 49-51.
Mystery Scene, January, 1990, Michael R. Collings, review of After Sundown, p. 94; October, 1990, Scott Winnett, review of Darkman, p. 126.
Publishers Weekly, April 10, 2000, review of Katastrophe, p. 77.
Fantastic Fiction Web site, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (July 27, 2004), reviw of "The Long Kiss Goodnight, Mission Impossible," and "Katastrophe."*