Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

It – Stephen King (1986)

February 7, 2020

I’ve done It. Or to be more precise, I’ve read It. I have to admit that as much as I am a fan of the recent two movies by director Andy Muschietti which adapted Stephen King’s voluminous novel It, coming in at nearly 1100 pages of fine print reading the novel seemed a daunting task. But having increasingly read more King these last few years I’ve come to appreciate the author’s talent at delivering engaging prose with interesting and well defined characters that make it easy to read no matter how long the text. Despite the two movies clocking in at over five hours in total I could not clear my mind that there could be so much more hidden creepiness to the story yet to be enjoyed in the ‘brick’ of a novel. I was not disappointed.

Assuming many reading this may already be familiar with the main elements of the films (or even the less successful, but also faithful television mini-series which aired in 1990) I’ll only give a very high level plot synopsis here.

Small town Derry, Maine has been experiencing a repeating historical pattern of child disappearances every 27 years or so. When Bill Denbrough’s little brother Georgie becomes a victim in 1957 Bill becomes fixated on finding out what happened to him. He and six friends slowly decipher Derry’s strange past of missing kids and other anomalous events that have occured there over the years. But each of the kids, Richie, Ben, Stan, Eddie, Mike and Beverly have experienced their own personal encounters with this unknown entity they simply refer to as “It” and which is often seen in the personification of Pennywise the clown.

They finally track and battle It by the end of that year and each goes their separate way until 1985 when the abductions resume and the now adult group make their way back to Derry to rid the town of the evil entity. So powerful is the evil force that they have forgotten most of the memories of that first encounter. Led by Bill, the motley group have formed a bond that is the essence of their power to perceive It while others are oblivious and even controlled by It. But can they still muster the strength to combat It a second and final time?

The characters in this novel are indeed much more fleshed out than in the cinematic versions for both the teenaged kids and their later adult lives. Aspects that are merely hinted at in the films, such as Ben’s success as an architect (and a particular precisely timed habit of appearing at a bar in remote Nebraska) provide some riveting reading. There are multiple horrific tales of town history which are not directly tied to our protagonist group, but which add to the mystique of It and the subjugation of the town. As exclaimed at one point, “Derry is It!”

For those that are fans of King’s other works and the man himself, there are plenty of royal nuggets to enjoy. For one, Bill grows up to become a successful horror writer and King manages to address questions writers like himself are deluged with such as “Where do you get your ideas from?”. Bill becoming neglected and invisible to his parents after Georgie’s death is nostalgically reminiscent of The Body In Different Seasons (later filmed as Stand By Me). There are also building blocks that would later turn up in other stories such as “a cavalcade of creatures darting a shrouded landscape” (The Mist). And the section that describes a sentient 1958 Plymouth Fury (Christine) roaming Derry was a nice thrilling surprise.

And then there are those parts excised from the films as they wander into sexual taboo territory. I’m not just talking about sexual exploration such as the teen masturbation portion, or more to the Bill-Beverly-Ben love triangle which is in the film, but a pivotal point near the finale where all the kids engage. Never saw that coming.

The novel is written from a non-chronological perspective, alternating between the events of 1957 and 1985, but that aspect becomes increasingly interlaced towards the end of the novel when the adults are basically retracing the actions they took as teens. The last section of the novel uses chapter transitions in which a sentence at the end of one chapter is completed in the next where the setting and context are entirely different, yet the sentence remains apropos. What I find most fascinating in this is that comic writer Alan Moore used this technique so effectively in his masterpiece Watchmen whose issues were released between 1986 and 1987- almost exactly the time King was writing It. I can’t help but wonder if one of them borrowed the concept from the other. (To be fair, Moore’s use was superior in the quality of the transitions, also daring to go further by blending more than just two separate timelines.)

Going back to Muschietti’s film adaptations, he has stated that he actually filmed a lot more than what was shown in the theatrical release for both films and that he would someday like to put out an edition with all of those extra scenes. I for one hope that he does so, and now having read the novel can only wonder which missing bits from the novel made it into those extra scenes. To be sure there are favorable points in the film that were never in the script such as Bill’s surprising guilt-ridden confession to the others for why Georgie was really out that day he went missing.

I can go on and on about the novel. Just read It!

Movie Reviews 411 – Firestarter (1984)

October 25, 2019

Stephen King‘s cinematic legacy has always been one in which adaptations of his writing either fell in the “Terrific Film” category or “Dismal Dreg” cinematic swill bucket. You have your Shinings, Carries, Shawshank Redemptions and Mists against your Dreamcatchers, Maximum Overdrives and Thinners and there are very few that fall in between those extremes.

With an esteemed cast that includes George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Drew Barrymore, Art Carney, Heather Locklear and Louise Fletcher, you could be forgiven if you presumed that Firestarter would fall in the “Terrific Film” camp. (OK, I was just kidding when I included Heather Locklear’s thespian chops as a selling point). However this is not only not one of the better adaptations but would easily vie as one of the worst.

Firestarter is about a young couple who underwent experimental pharmaceutical testing for some secretive government agency which resulted in long lasting psychic abilities for the subjects – well for those that survived the ordeal anyway. As both Andy (David Keith) and Vicky (Locklear) were test subjects, their daughter Charlene “Charlie” (Barrymore) later proved to have even more powerful faculties. As a “firestarter” with unknown limits to her increasing powers, the same organization that administered the drug trials are now deeply concerned and want to get her into their labs for testing. As told from a series of flashbacks, the couple, fed up being confined and tested have long been in hiding with new identities. Accidental firebursts from Charlie allow the men in black to find the family and in trying to retrieve the girl Vicky is killed. Andy and Charlie, now on the run from one crummy roadside motel to another find a brief sanctuary with an elderly farm couple, but eventually they are hauled back to “The Shop” for analysis, and possible ‘threat eradication’.

The list of problems with this film is longer than a Green Mile. An occasional trait of Dino De Laurentiis productions is that he sometimes opted for money and star power alone In lieu of a good script and production values for his film productions – the 1976 King Kong, Orca, and David Lynch’s Dune come to mind as prime examples. This was the fate here, but only the first obstacle.

Barrymore, somewhere between her “cute preschooler who can innocently repeat swear words” debut in E.T. and her current adult director/producer/comedy actor phase, seems to be merely putting on choreographed faces while memorizing lines and is clearly beyond her range. Scott, ever the hard-as-nails heavy is just that, but his macho demeanor and murderous intentions aren’t really backed up by any real threat so he comes off as a delusional psychotic. He inexplicably sports an eyepatch during the latter half of the film (apparently an eye infection developed early in production), but no attempt is made to reconcile it in the film. He also sports and long ponytail coif that is at odds with his military precision facade. Carney is the lovable grampa figurehead as the farmer, but I’m at a loss as to what Fletcher was even thinking as she cardboard-coasts her delivery as his wife. Sheen’s character as the guy running “the Shop’ is meant to counterbalance Scott’s hard handed approach towards Charlie, but in the end he does absolutely nothing. Even a small part for everyone’s favorite “Huggy Bear” (Antonio Fargas) as a cabbie is basically squandered.

Now with a premise completely based on a character that can spontaneously start a fire, one can imagine to type of special effects featured in the film. A few car explosions and inferno’s aside, a lot of the FX are laughable. The zoom in on Charlie every time she is about to unleash her power in which we see her hair suddenly going airborne to an invisible wind tunnel loses its charm the second time we see it and would make for a good beer drinking game by the halfway mark. By the end of the film she can bounce bullets off her like Wonder Woman and start shooting what I can only describe precision meteors to those who stand in her way. Yes it gets that silly and all this before a groan worthy Three Days of the Condor ending.

I never read the novel so I can only conjecture that there may have been a lot of the narrative that  got trimmed as the story does suffer from broad jumps and sparse background of what I suspect may have been a compressed plot. Interestingly, this film was once slated to be directed by John Carpenter but the perceived failure at the time of The Thing resulted in him being removed from the film. (Yes, you got that right. The Thing was not a box office smash and only later received acclaim once it was released on home video.) We can only imagine what his version would have been like.

My Firestarter DVD happens to be the dual set that includes the sequel Firestarter: Rekindled, a TV miniseries made 20 years after this original. I haven’t watched it yet but it stars Malcolm McDowell and Dennis Hopper so it’s gotta be good right? What are the odds I get burned on that one? (I’ll be sure to have some burn ointment close at hand.)

As for Firestarter itself it would be no loss if someone burned all remaining prints and copies off the face of the Earth. I’ll start rubbing sticks. Throw a little gasoline on it for good measure…

 

Night Shift – Stephen King (1978)

March 10, 2019

It’s been nearly four years since I reviewed a Stephen King book (11/22/63) and this time I thought I’d go way back a take a swipe at his earliest short story collections – Night Shift – to see what I’d missed the first time around. Now I’ve often marvelled not only how good a writer he is, – despite some misgivings I had reading him in the 1970’s myself – but what amazes me more is how prolific he is when it comes to developing movie material. Now it’s only natural that a popular writer is solicited for movies as producers know that good or bad  some people will come just for the King name alone, a built-in-profit slice if you will. And I can tell you without doubt that those some producers (big and small) have created both great movies as well as, I’ll be polite and just say not-so-great ones. So no small wonder that this early collection has been rifled for cinematic adaptations over the past forty years. As I read the stories I lost count to be honest so you play the Movie Count game as you read my verse terse run down of the collection.

 

Jerusalem’s Lot

Set in the locale of King’s novel/movie Salem’s Lot this tale told through letters of correspondence and a diary describes the Lovecraftian horrors residing in the area prior to vampires making it their home.

 

Graveyard Shift

Workers in a rat infested mill are offered the opportunity to make a few extra bucks by spending their holiday break cleaning out the basement of their workplace. But things like this never go well and this one doesn’t.

 

Night Surf

A post-apocalyptic tale featuring a small group of survivors who seem to be immune to a natural borne virus having suffered through the prototype mutations virus earlier in their lives. Sometimes it sucks to be immune.

 

I Am the Doorway

The lone survivor of two astronauts that had gone to Venus brought along  something. I’ll just say that I purposefully chose the paperback cover shown as it is derived directly from this story.

 

The Mangler

The Mangler is no human bodied killer but a deity that has taken over a folding machine in an industrial laundry processing factory. But which deity? Depends on the ‘ingredients’.

 

The Boogeyman

Sometimes the Boogeyman is a figment of one’s imagination. Lester Billings was trying to convince himself that it was a real Boogeyman that had killed all three of his kids. Sometimes the Boogeyman is real.

 

Grey Matter

A father turns into beer drinking blob mass and the local corner store hangers-on investigate the entity dividing like cells. Think beer guzzling Jabba-the-Hutt long before there was a Jabba.

 

Battleground

A killer for hire meets his match: miniature plastic toy soldiers. Efficiency and ingenuity meet as the Toy Story army brigade go for the big time killer.

 

Trucks

The revolt of the machines is not in the form of robots, but sentient, murderous trucks and right now they got the occupants of a highway gas stop at their mercy. Much cooler and deadlier than Transformers.

 

Sometimes They Come Back

The recollections of a teacher’s nightmares of his kid brother getting killed come back to haunt him again. But they are very real and this time he fights back.

 

Strawberry Spring

Subtler but very creepy tale of a university campus serial killer. This is part horror and part mystery, another form that King has mastered.

 

The Ledge

A eccentric millionaire forces a man to traipse along a ledge completely around the 43rd floor of a building for love, money and life. One of the three short stories adapted in the film Cat’s Eye.

 

The Lawnmower Man

When a man lets his lawn go for a spell he calls in a lawnmower man to get the job done. But this lawnmower man is directly from Hell. Nothing like the movie which is a good thing.

 

Quitters, Inc.

You think quitting smoking is tough? When you join Quitters Inc, the withdrawal symptoms become the least of your problems. But they do guarantee you’ll quit because the alternatives are too gruesome to even contemplate.  Another segment in Cat’s Eye.

 

I Know What You Need

When Elizabeth meets Ed for the first time, he seems to have exactly what she had in mind. But his uncanny knack for knowing just what she needed could not have warned her of the deadly consequences of his gift.

 

Children of the Corn

The children in a remote rural town have killed all those over 18 and now abide He Who Walks Behind The Rows. And the arguing couple who come across the town of Gatlin are about to meet The Children. The original story that has spawned no less than 10 films (Most reviewed right here).

 

The Last Rung on the Ladder

A heartbreaking story of lives drifted apart and the loss of ultimate trust that a person will be there to set things right. Not a horror story by any means but this is certainly one of the chilliest stories in the collection.

 

The Man Who Loved Flowers

Only two pages but it presents the fasting swing from a peaceful, tranquil love filled mood to one that is the opposite of all that. Packs more than just a punch.

 

One For the Road

Another tale set on dark winter storm night down the road from Salem’s Lot. Two salty locals are forced to rescue a city slicker’s family from the evil we all know too well.

 

The Woman in the Room

A son deals with his mom slowly dying in hospital room wrestling with the thought of easing her pain quickly and forever. Sordid thoughts that millions have probably contemplated.

 

Movie Reviews 319 – The Dark Half (1993)

November 3, 2017

When it comes to halves The Dark Half is equally parsed from both from the story content point of view and from the legendary creators behind the production, teaming a Stephen King story and putting it in the directorial hands of George Romero.

While I haven’t really validated any official metrics I’m fairly confident in saying that when it comes to movie and television adaptations, Stephen King is the one writer whose works have been used as source material more than anyone else. If IMDB is any indication, easily more than one hundred of his novels and short stories have been used as a basis, but that includes some which have been remade or those that have spawned an entire series of films, The Children of the Corn series having ten entries alone. His screen adaptation legacy basically mirrors his actual literary prolificacy.

Filmmaker George Romero who recently passed away will forever be noted for creating Night of the Living Dead which gave rise the modern zombie mythos, and he too has a rather lengthy acumen with horror although with fewer successes over the years, most being sequels to Night of the Living Dead.

But while The Dark Half is a film that combines the talents of these two heavyweights, its reception does not fall into the superior output of either creator and sadly must be considered a second-rate film, but one that does have a few merits.

As a young lad Thad (Timothy Hutton) occasionally suffered from seizures and when doctors investigate they find a partially absorbed parasitic twin growing within his brain which they remove. Years later and now writer, Thad enjoys enormous success as a trashy mystery writer using the pen name “George Stark” while languishing as a serious writer and part time professor using his real name. When a spunky kid figures out George Stark’s real identity, he tries to blackmail Thad hoping the stigma of being labelled a tawdry author is one he would prefer to remain secret. But Thad decides not to cave in and instead of burying the fact reveals himself to the world, even going so far as to glamorize the announcement by staging a hokey ‘George Stark’ burial photo op at a cemetery.

When the photographer of the photo op is killed in an accident and Thad’s fingerprints are found at the scene making him a prime suspect, the faux cemetery plot in which George Stark was figuratively intered is found to have been unearthed. The apparent animation of George as an corporeal entity begins to hunt and murder all of those involved with the prank, and soon Thad finds himself under deeper and deeper suspicion despite a sympathetic local Sheriff (Michael Rooker) trying to give him some leeway. Thad has to convince everyone of his innocence and put a stop to George, but how do you catch yourself?

Part of the problem with this film is that the evil doppelganger plot only goes so far and parts of the story are muddled. The movie first seems to play with the notion of a physical being at the start (that parasite), but then switches gears and opts for psychological entity taking human form. Some of the other characters including Thad’s wife (Amy Madigan) who play major roles end up being totally inconsequential. Other characters who figure into the plot are only loosely utilized. Hutton puts in a double shift playing both the roles of Thad and George but to his credit it took me quite a while to figure out if it really was him playing George given the remarkable contrast in voice, style and mannerism. I confess that I wasn’t one hundred percent sure until I read the end credits.

There are quite a few decent kill scenes that fans of the genre will find satisfying but the one truly shocking scene doesn’t even have a hint of violence. Aside from some those few moments the rest of the film is rather slow going and tedious. There is a recurring reference to a flock of turbulent sparrows that is supposed to be symbolic of Satan, but it comes off as silly rather than serious.

So I’d have to say this one is more for completists of either of the master creators, but if you’re a devotee to both men then I suppose it is mandatory viewing regardless.

Movie Reviews 240 – Storm of the Century (1999)

October 27, 2015

Storm of the CenturyComing right off a review of The Orphanage where a parent is faced with the agonizing mysterious disappearance of their child, horror meister Stephen King blazes a similar trail in his miniseries Storm of the Century where the parents of one town are imposed with an equally audacious plight.

The residents of Little Tall Island are used to the occasional meteorological flurry, but when indicators that a gargantuan winter storm is headed their way, even the hardy townsfolk begin to take precautions and stock up on supplies as they await the tempest. Little do they know that the weather will soon be the least of their concerns.

The coming gale also brings along a mysterious, cane wielding stranger who nonchalantly enters the house of an elderly woman, kills her and calmly awaits the arrival of the authorities to take him in. André Linoge (Colm Feore) has a message to deliver to the town and part-time lawman Michael Anderson (Timothy Daly) has to calm the town and try to figure out what Linoge is really up to. Locked in his cell Linoge exhibits his powers to compel people to do his bidding, which includes having them kill others or even themselves, each of which also prominently scribes (usually in blood) the message “Give me what I want and I will go away.” But when asked directly what exactly is it that he wants, he proclaims that he will only state his mission that night at the local church with everybody (still alive) present.

As the blizzard reaches its fiery peak that night Linoge first reveals his true form, that of a greying, moribund man and that what he wants is a young protégé that he can mold and meld to replace him as mystical sower of evil. To that end, he has decided that he wants one of the eight children living on Little Tall Island. As he does not have the powers to just take them outright and leave, he requires calmly puts it to the residents to willingly let him chose a successor that will be decided by a fair game of chance. A  tough decision as refusal will have him kill off everybody, including the children. The issue is to be determined by a simple vote among the residents.

With little time to decide whether to agree or not, the gathered folks have a tough decision to make. But from the outset Michael appears to be only one unwilling to agree to the sacrificial terms, regardless of the consequences. He is shocked when his own wife (Debrah Farentino) sides with the others despite the fact that their own son would be one of the children in the draw.

Although never stated outright, it is clear that the reason this particular town was chosen as the fount for an heir was because just about every citizen has their own dark secret. Their inner demons vary in magnitude, ranging from simple shameful conduct to law breakers, often not so much a secret at all, but just something that everyone feigns to publicly acknowledge. Everyone but Michael that is, seemingly the only unblemished soul around. The battle at hand between good and evil is a multi-faceted for Michael, pitted against Linoge, the rest of the town, and his own family. The last bastion of morality.

King stalwarts will be familiar with his typical Maine setting and other distinctive trappings, but the movie is slow going at first, giving us a sense of the characters making up the town and playing a bit of a waiting game until Linoge proffers his ultimatum. There is also an interesting tie-in to the legendary lost colony of Roanoke, a town whose residents mysteriously disappeared in 16th century North Carolina, implying that the town had a similar such encounter with evil. But the drama is gripping once the real storm sets in Michael along with the secluded residents ponder their future.

Movie Reviews 228 – Dreamcatcher (2003)

July 28, 2015

DreamcatcherThose reading this blog regularly may have noted that in the last few years I’ve gained some admiration of Stephen King and have not only been trying to catch up on my reading (if that was even possible for such a prolific writer) but have developed a keen interest on the many movies and television series developed upon his written works.

I’ve actually been amassing a sizable backlog of DVDs of Stephen King material and so far they have all been enjoyable if not outright fantastic. At the same time I’ve read some not so positive reviews of other more obscure films that I have yet to watch and have been bracing myself for a dud. Dreamcatcher does manage to fall in the questionable category, but it is all the more frustrating because at the same time it has a lot of promising points.

Drawing on the elements of King’s own alien invasion novel/movie “The Mist” and town quarantine films like “The Crazies“, Dreamcatcher also lightly taps other King material including “Stand By Me” (A.K.A “The Body” in novella form) and even a few mystical elements like “The Green Mile“. Add a stellar cast that includes Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant, Tom Sizemore and even Donnie Walberg (he’s actually pretty good for a change) to all those King ingredients and it begins to sound like you can’t lose. But while Dreamcatcher sounds like a great King amalgam that would be sure to satisfy, drawing on so many elements at once seems to be the Achilles’s heel in this case as the story becomes disjointed and plagued with logic flaws.

As kids long ago, four young boys came to the aid of a mentally challenged kid named Duddits who was being bullied. When they befriend Duddits he later endows each of the boys with unique powers in addition to giving them the ability to communicate telepathically with one another. Years later, the boys, now young men, all meet up for their annual winter cabin in the woods get together with plans for later going to see Duddits again after so many years. But when some of the men bring a rescued hunter to the cabin, the hunter’s body soon undergoes some ghastly transformations and soon releases an inner horror. We soon learn that there is a very localized epidemic of such horrors and an elite super secret branch of the services are here to end the onslaught. It seems that this isn’t the first incursion of some grand alien plan and the rescuers will stop at nothing to quash the invasion, including killing any innocent people caught in the net. It’s up to Duddits and the boys to save the day, although whether that means simply stopping the current incursion or stopping the so called ‘good guys’ is up for debate.

There are some decent scenes and nifty wormlike CGI creatures, but there are so many logic lapses and unexplained events that the movie as a whole fails entirely. We have the leader of the elite fighters (Freeman) going a bit bonkers, but even then it’s hard to argue whether his drastic measures were in fact warranted or not. The boys using their ‘powers’ almost comes as a distraction to an otherwise already muddled story. Each of the four protagonists have a glaring character fault, but why that is or how it fits into the story is never reasoned out.

The boys exclaim their favorite tagline of “SSDD” (“Same Shit, Different Day”) throughout the movie, but this may as well apply to the movie itself and there really isn’t anything new or unique. I suppose that this may just be a bad adaptation of the original source, but even given what was filmed, I’m not particularly interested in ever reading the novel to see if it was much better.

11/22/63 – Stephen King (2011)

March 7, 2015

11-22-63-coverNever one to be pegged into a hole, horror meister Stephen King has dabbled into many other genres before including mystery (The Colorado Kid) and fantasy (The Dark Tower series) and even plain drama (The Shawshank Redemption). He even wrote the underrated science fiction The Running Man, under his Richard Bachman non de plume. But writing a science fiction time travel story was stretch even for him. And what better topic to tackle than the assassination of JFK, one of the most controversial and conspiracy ladled event in history.

Jake Epping is a simple, middle of the road school teacher when Al, the owner of his favorite dinner, confronts him with an impossible yet incontrovertible time travel portal that he stumbled upon at the back of his storage room. The quirk of the portal is that it places travelers to a specific time and place, 11:58 a.m. September 9,1958, Lisbon Falls, Maine, every time they enter. Once they return, they have lost exactly two minutes in contemporary time regardless of the time they have spent in the past. Al, now visibly order after having just returned from a multi-year trip to the past, then tells James of his master plan to reconcile one of recent history’s greatest misfortunes, the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, an act that he believes could eliminate the Vietnam war and other tragedies.

Al used to make regular pilgrimages to the past, regularly buying extremely cheap meat that he brought back to sell in his dinner. When Al got the idea to make meaningful changes he traced and followed Lee Harvey Oswald up until a short time before the alleged actual shooting, taking detailed notes of every aspect he could, but not being able to avert the killing himself. Now on his deathbed, he wants Jake to take his notes and follow through to change history.

With some trepidation Jake agrees, but only by first trying to correct another crime earlier, opting to change the life of one of his former students. But changing history is tricky business. The harmonic forces of nature fight back and the bigger the change you’re trying to effect the greater the push back. After averting a murder that would impact the formative years of his future student, Jake returns only to learn that while he did positively impact his students conditions growing up, the end result was not what he expected.

But now convinced he could can change history, he decides to forge ahead (well, not ahead, behind in fact) and sacrifice going back to 1958 again, and then living out the intervening years until the title date of 22nd November 1963, the date that Kennedy was killed. Jake takes on an entirely new persona in the past, but road to complete his mission does not only encounter natural forces putting up stumbling blocks, life gets in the way. Jake discovers that the past can be quite, comforting and innocent place, devoid of modern nuisances. And then he meets Sadie…

Clocking in at 840 odd pages 11/22/63 is what I like to call a Brick novel. The second trip back for the actual Kennedy mission starts only slightly before halfway point of novel. So the novel is really two journeys, the first laying the foundation and some of the ground rules for time travel. That is not to say that this is a padded novel. King manages to hold interest throughout, most of it being quite riveting. If anything, the pace loses a bit of steam after the ‘event’ and some tough decisions that have to be made by Jake. But the distinction between the first and second time travel trips can almost be considered as two great stories for the price of one, both trips peppered with anecdotal historical events which in themselves can be engaging. In short, another great King novel.

Movie Reviews 170 – Children of the Corn (1984)

February 28, 2014

Children of the CornI’ve always been curious about the Children of the Corn (CotC) movie.  Yet another movie adapted from a Stephen King novel, what intrigued me more was learning that there are no less than seven movie sequels (and a TV series ‘remake’) that were made in the years since. I figured that there must be something particularly intriguing going on here with so many movies and the popularity could not be due to King fans alone.

So I got the DVD with the first movie (actually it was on one of those quad pack with four movies for five bucks) and in anticipation also found another multipack DVD that had the first five sequels (see below) and even three Halloween sequels. CotC DVDs in hand, I got down to viewing …

After an odd short opening sequence in which we find some Amish/Mennonite country bumpkin kids slaughtering the customers at a small town dinner, the ‘Corn’ aspect of the movie (the actual vegetation not the ‘hackneyed’ meaning of the word) makes the first of many appearances. The next scene features young couple Vicky (Linda Hamilton) and her doctor husband Burt (Peter Horton) driving through Nebraska’s never ending corn fields where they literally crash into a kid emerging from the roadside fields. Upon closer inspection they discover to their horror that the kid was mortally wounded even before running out onto the road. The couple then try to report the incident to the local authorities only to find out that they seem to be driving around in circles, all of which eerily force them to enter the town of Gatlin despite being warned by a roadside garage mechanic that they won’t find any help there.

What they do find in Gatlin is a town where all the adults were killed in one big massacre (reference to the opening scene) a few years ago and which is now ruled by the kids. The leader is a conniving, bible thumping Isaac (John Franklin) backed up by the ‘muscle’ of the group, the slightly older Malachai (Courtney Gains). The couple also run into young brother and sister, Job and Sarah, ‘good’ kids fearing and sometimes skirting the rules of the elder leaders. Even more interesting is Sarah’s precognitive abilities in which she foresees horrific events in her crayon drawings.

We find Issac sermoning the kids on the vileness and villainy of all adults during his occasional sermons out in the cornfields (natch!) and revering their deity who is simply referred to as “He Who Walks Behind the Rows”. As you can expect it isn’t long before we find all the kids chasing the couple around town until the movie comes to the big final showdown which will pit some of the kids against one another as much as the adults.

Not a bad movie but not very powerful either as you have to suspend belief for a lot of the events and situations to be realistic. The acting abilities of the young cast can be irritating at times but I’m not sure what the poor acting excuse was for the few adults in the movie. The movie ends on a whimper with one last ‘surprise’ shock that was laughable.

Fair warning. I’ll be watching and reviewing that DVD set with the first five sequels (CotC II: The Final Sacrifice, CotC III: Urban Harvest, CotC IV: The Gathering, CotC V: Fields of Terror, and CotC 666) so you’ll be getting quite a few more Corny reviews in the near future. I’ll also make an effort to find that seventh sequel, CotC: Genesis, completist that I am, but we’ll just have to see about that one.

Movie Reviews 166 – The Shining (1980)

February 7, 2014

The ShiningIt’s tough writing a review of The Shining. On the one hand it is undoubtedly a classic horror movie, the result of a collaboration of three of titans of artistry in their respective fields of directing, acting and writing. While many of the scenes are well known, the movie as a whole is confusing at times, does not deliver a concise message, and has an ending that is open to interpretation on many levels. But the movie does not suffer from it’s ambiguous ending and is arguably one of Stanley Kubrick‘s best movies (you can thank me for not citing the obvious “Shining Moment” adjective) adapting Stephen King’s novel of the same name. I would posit that this also constitutes Jack Nicholson’s most memorable oeuvre, notwithstanding many fine moments in other movies.

What cannot be argued is that the movie does not disappoint when it comes to building suspense and thrills. You literally don’t know what’s around the corner as the characters walk, run or drive their bicycles around the corridors of the Overlook Hotel.

Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is a writer looking for some peace and quiet so that he can take a stab at writing his  ‘great American novel’. He drags his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to a remote Colorado mountain top luxury hotel about to shut down for the winter where meager duties in his new job as winter caretaker will allow for plenty of peaceful writing time. As the family is introduced to the departing staff we learn that one of the rooms had a sordid history, and one of the past winter caretakers had Cabin Fever and butchered his family.  Despite that fact that the family will be almost totally isolated once the snow sets in, Jack assures the management not to worry about him and his family.

Along the introductory tour of the hotel Danny also meets up with Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) the hotel cook who immediately senses Danny gift of “Shining” and he telepathically informs Danny of his gift. Danny knows little of his special abilities but he also harbors another dark secret, that of his imaginary friend “Tony” who sometimes communicates with Danny and even takes over his body on occasion.

Jack’s solid grounding quickly starts to show some cracks as he struggles with his writing and forced alcohol abstinence in the hotel. Their only communication to the outside world is a shortwave radio to an emergency operation center to which they can occasionally get outside news and reports. As Jack slowly becomes unhinged and takes out his frustration on his family, he begins having hallucinatory encounters with a bartender in the main ballroom, and his later visit to the room boast a full house of 1920’s garbed ballroom revelers.

Wendy is not the most stable of parents to begin with herself and harbors doubts about Jack, but as his descent into insanity progresses she does her best to protect Danny. Danny himself has strange encounters throughout the hotel with a set of identical twin girls, the lure of room 237 and visions of elevator doors releasing a deluge of blood.

It all culminates with Jack going totally insane and tracking down his family both within the cavernous hotel and in the labyrinthine hedge maze outside. The famous tracking shots of his chase in the nighttime snowy maze were ‘steady cam’ movie firsts, the developer of the cam perfecting the technology on those scenes and the memorable ones of the camera following Danny on his Super Cycle trike as he races along the corridors.

The Shining-corridors

A fine horror thriller on all accounts and the movie that introduced the word “Redrum!” to the modern lexicon.

As fascinating as the movie itself the history of the it’s filming. Aside from the pioneering use of the new steady cam technology I mentioned it featured Shelley Duvall famously locking horns with Kubrick to the point of losing her hair by the anxiety and the fact that little Danny Lloyd was kept from the fact that they were filming a horror movie at all as examples of the memorable aspects. And there is of course the fascinating conspiracy theory that Kubrick used the movie to try to tell the world that the Apollo moon landings were fake and thereby alluding that he really directed the fake footage himself. Look it up.

The Stand (The Complete & Uncut Edition) – Stephen King (1990)

December 10, 2013

The StandInitially released as a 500 odd page novel in 1978, Stephen King had always been dismayed that his original manuscript for The Stand had to be self edited down to almost half it’s size to placate both his publisher and even the bookbinding process available for mass market books at the time. It stuck in his craw for some time and having achieved near godlike status in the publishing world in the following years he was finally able to exert his clout to have the novel published as originally intended, now coming in at staggering 1152 pages.

As I’ve explained in prior reviews of King books in the last few years (see my reviews for Different Seasons, and The Colorado Kid), I’ve only joined the Stephen King bandwagon recently after not being all that enthralled with some of his earlier novels. But with such an expansive bibliography spanning over 30 years, I tried to cull my King “to read” list based on reviews and fan based commentary to extract those novels that stand (pun intended) above others. The almost unanimous consensus seemed to be that The Stand was his best effort, at least from a novel length point of view.

But even reading those glowing reviews, I could see that there was yet another question that needed to be resolved. Even among those who praised the novel there were two distinct (and as far as I could tell equally numbered) camps. Those siding with the trimmed down early print, and those who swore by the recombined “Complete & Uncut Edition” publication. So I had to decide  which one to read, the original release or the brick?

In the end I opted for ‘the brick’ thinking that I would at least not be forever troubled by doubts of having missed anything if ended up loving the book.

This is a post apocalyptic tale of a world ravaged by a man made flu strain which results in a survival rate of less than 1%. The first part of the novel covers the initial release and spread featuring both characters that will be around for the long haul and a number that soon die. Those that do make it are mostly in shock, but eventually small groups of survivors begin to congregate and figure out what to do in this new world. But it isn’t as simple as trying to survive in the new ravaged world. A more ominous tone of the story starts off via common dreams shared by everyone. The dreams include the presence of two vague characters, each urging the survivors to go to particular destinations. One dream character is a very old black woman named Abigail, a bible thumping, hardworking good soul, but already at death’s doorstep in her eighties.The other is a shady figure of a man, but hardly any detail can be made out of him other than the fact that he permeates evil. It seems that the people must decide which to follow and most people head off in one direction or the other, Boulder Colorado for Abigail or Las Vegas Nevada (natch!) for the shady character. It is in this section of the novel as we experience everyone’s initial survival tales that we determine the well intentioned characters as well as the select evil’ people from their (often grislier) debuts in the new world order.

The second part of the novel concentrates on the rebirth of Boulder city as all the main characters pile in and become the nucleus of the committee formed to get the city up an running again, striving for as close a ‘normal’ way of life as they can. Ignored at first, the committee ultimately has to decide what to do about those dark forces brewing out in Vegas.

The novel is basically split into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Good vs Evil in it’s most basic form. And the conflict isn’t simply cast along the lines of the two groups as we are teased into questioning where the true allegiances lie for some of the characters. Even the climax does not confine itself to having one side win over the other, but whether mankind is to survive at all.

Not always the case with King, but the strength of this novel rides on the great array and diversity of the characters.  Aside from those that are clearly Alpha leaders, we also have a simpleton, a deaf-mute, a pimply faced outcast kid and and a habitual criminal and pyro freak (guess which camp he falls in with?) as just some examples. Best of all is that you really never know when someone is going to die and while I won’t spoil it for anyone I will say that some characters that feature prominently in the novel do meet their maker before the end.

I’d also like to add that the novel is a very easy read even with so many characters and there was little if any confusion among the many players. Once again I credit to King for creating such great, and thus memorable, characters.

So is it really King’s best novel? It was for me. Although I would recommend some of his shorter stories if you want the best King, period. As for whether I was right in opting for the brick instead of the shorter version, I cannot say for sure. But I can say that I found no trouble reading the entire book so I’m just glad I did.