Stephen King has reframed and often refreshened just about every horror trope around, from vampires to werewolves to the boogeyman. He took a swing at the “fast zombie” icon with Cell, a 2006 novel focusing on a just-about-to-break-big comic artist who barely survives the sudden transformation of almost everyone into enraged, nearly mindless killers, all because they heard a certain signal on their cell phones or screens all at the same time (not unlike The Signal and other movies, with similar results). The opening fifty pages of Cell are as good as King gets, with the initial outbreak described, wonderfully and horribly, from a park bench in the Boston Commons.
After that, however, it gets a bit Stand-like, as the story rapidly progresses past the “survive at all costs” scenario, as the “phoners” start to travel in psychically connected flocks, and as many of the unaffected ban into mercenary “flock-killer” tribes, almost as deadly as the phoners themselves. It ends, much as any King novel ends, with an escape into the less “phony” northlands of Canada by way of New England. There are plenty of familiar King tropes along the way – blossoming mental powers, endangered teens, shared dreamscapes, etc. Don’t get us wrong, there are flashes of the master at his best here, but most of it seems all too familiar and a little by-the-numbers. Still, it’s a worthwhile addition for the zomfan who always wondered how King would handle the walking dead premise.
You might notice that the movie adaptation of Cell, starring horror-movie luminaries like John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, isn’t recommended. That’s ‘cause it’s not very good, like so many second-level King adaptations. You’ll be way better off sticking with the original material. Gotta love the teaser: “You can run… you can hide… just don’t pick up the phone.”