King's Highway pt. 3: Salem's Lot and more

I wandered over to Ravenswood Used Books earlier this afternoon (leaving myself plenty of time to arrive back home for the Champions League Final, of course) to see what they had to contribute to this Stephen King project. Unsurprisingly, they had quite a few things. For a grand total of $26 I got hardcovers for Everything's Eventual,  Just After Sunset, and Full Dark, No Stars, and the paperback for Skeleton Crew. Very pleased with that!

'Salem's Lot, "Jerusalem's Lot," and "One for the Road."

I never read any of these as a tweener/ teen. I remember reading a few pages of my old copy of Night Shift - oh wait, here's my old copy of Night Shift:

I was rarely without a Stephen King paperback in 7th through 9th grade. This cover describes a story therein "I Am the Doorway," which was recently made into a Russian short film. Anyway, I'll get to the rest of Night Shift in a moment, but "Jerusalem's Lot" and "One for the Road" begin and come-near-the-end, respectively, of this collection of short stories. And they take place as respectively-chronologically to the events of the novel 'Salem's Lot. 

I remember making an attempt with "Jerusalem's Lot" once and perhaps I even finished it, ditto for "One for the Road." But if so, I forgot everything therein, as I found it all new to me here in the far future of 2012. I enjoyed both quite a bit. The former is set in 1850, upon possession of family property, and the story bounces between what they discover about its past and what they discover about its surroundings. (Not to mention what's in the cellar...) The mythos are definitely Cthulhu, but it also relates to events that occur in 'Salem's Lot.

"One for the Road" is about an out-of-towner who gets lost and leaves his wife and child in a parked car in 'Salem's Lot, as he goes for help in a snowstorm. The locals that he encounters don't think much of his plan, and they trek out to see what can be done. The unspoken superstition and certainty of the locals comes across really well.

Neither of which would have hit me as much if I hadn't finished 'Salem's Lot at the same time I was reading them. Now, this was one I actually never read as a kid. (Kid sounds better than tweener/ teen, so I'll just use that. But, really, my big King reading years were 1986-1989 or so. By the time Misery came out in the theaters, and definitely by the time I was working at Waldenbooks and unloading endless boxes of The Green Mile off the trucks, my interest had waned.) But I remember the paperback on my brother's shelves:

Maybe it was my mother's actually. At any rate, I was so freaked out by the little bits of the Salem's Lot mini-series I saw when I was 10 or 11 that I never wanted to try my luck with this one. (I'd say I spent at least 40% of my time between 1984 and 1989 scaring the crap out of myself. I miss those years. I'm so happy I didn't spend my 10-15 years watching stuff like Saw, Cabin Fever, or Wrong Turn. Totally different vibe.)

Here are some pics from the mini-series:

I suppose it's a bit dated now - well, more than a bit. A used copy of the DVD is en route to my house as I type this. I was going to wait to incorporate a review of it into this blog, but it's probably the sort of thing you can review without seeing. If you're nostalgic for the era or time of your life, you'll find something to like. Perhaps it'll be a hidden gem. Anyone of a certain age remembers the kid scratching on the window and floating there - that got a lot of on-the-bus currency.

(I never saw the Rob Lowe version from 2004, but I've heard universally bad things.)

It was so refreshing to read an old-fashioned vampire's story. Crosses and holy water. No sexual metaphors wagging the dog. No labored layers of artifice. Sometimes that sort of thing is fun, but there's just been too much of it since Anne Rice, for my money. Now stuff like this is the exception and not the rule: Just an evil inhuman presence that spread its virus through human hosts until he consumed them and moved on. But these things come in waves, so we'll likely see a return to the more traditional "monster's tale:" A few dashes of satanic or psychological ritual (both also fleshed out further in "Jerusalem's Lot") and some "old-fashioned" murder, but mainly it's about having the outwit and then stake a bunch of bloodsuckers, turned by one master bloodsucker, and his human assistant. It's told in an engaging way, giving a bird's-eye view of the sort of fictional town in Maine I normally associate with a Stephen King book: a place where people are quitting smoking and others are smoking, people are drinking beer, and a lot of guys are slapping their wives around and where the main character goes to either reconnect with his past or get over a profound loss in his life. (In this case, both.)

I guess Father Callahan, who suffers an ignoble fate here, appears in some Dark Tower stuff, and I understand Wolves of Calla is a sequel (of sorts) to this. I joined the Stephen King forum and there's a lot of discussion of it over there. I'm saving all the Dark Towers, perhaps not for the end, but to read as a whole, so I won't get to those for a bit. But, if you're ahead of me here but have no reason to wait, see Dark Tower V: Wolves of Calla for more information...

Night Shift

Ahh Night Shift... I was very pleasantly surprised with this collection, and it was my enjoyment of this that led me to select the purchases referenced earlier. I'm curious to see how his 21st century short fiction holds up.(And why I picked Skeleton Crew from the other books available - figure if I don't like the new stuff, I can always enjoy that. That was another paperback that traveled to a lot of different study halls, back in the day.)

The only story in here that I felt didn't really work as a story was "Night Surf," which was likely just a napkin-sketch for what eventually became The Stand. Not necessarily a bad read, but I tried picturing it as an episode of Tales from the Crypt or something, and had it been, it wouldn't have had much of a plot or point to it. (Probably more of a Tales from the Darkside.) The rest run the gamut from not-bad-but-not-amazing ("The Man Who Loved Flowers" or "The Last Rung on the Ladder") to surprisingly good/ better-than-I-remembered (Pretty much all the rest, but particularly "Battleground," which was made into a really wonderful episode of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and "Quitters, Inc." which I always remembered as inferior to the James Woods segment of Stephen King's Cat's Eye, but this time around, I found much better. And I love that segment, don't get me wrong. Although the film deviates substantially (pretty much altogether, keeping only the "man quits smoking via mysterious all-powerful organization" part of the plot) from the story, but it was recently made as the Bollywood feature No Smoking) to the wow-that-was-fantastic, which I reserve for two of its better known ones, "Children of the Corn" (made into a crappy but fun 80s movie, which spawned several diminishingly-fun sequels, and an underwhelming, rather-pointless recent SyFy remake) and "Trucks," which saw life on the big screen as Stephen King's directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, but which reads here as actually pretty wild. It ends right when it would be getting interesting, as a book (and depending on your reaction the film, it might end exactly where it should have), but the images and logic and scenario remain. "Trucks" is definitely "one of those stories."

I enjoyed "Sometimes They Come Back" but mention it here mainly as an excuse to share the poster for the film:

Which I remember distinctly from a video store I used to rent from. (Never saw it. But I like the poster.)

This has been a little longer than I expected, even after editing, so I'll save Firestarter and Four Past Midnight for next time...


  1. Battleground is just about the only King story I've enjoyed without reservation. I first ran across it when I was in Middle School, as I recall, probably 1979. It was included in one of those Weekly Reader-type of magazines for older kids. It may even have been the WR's Middle School edition, if they had one. It was definitely a fun read at the time, one of the highlights of those current events/short story mags we paid some nominal amount to subscribe to in school.

    On a side note, because I may forget about it before you get to it, I want to mention The Mist. I became familiar with it only due to it being the inspiration for the RPG scenario "The Cloud" in Twilight Nightmares, a 1991 book of adventure scenarios for the WWIII RPG Twilight:2000. It's one of my favorite RPG adventure books, and includes scenarios inspired by everything from Predator to Plague Dogs to a pre-movie Jurassic Park (and Valley of the Gwangi, truth to tell). I get the feeling that Maximum Overdrive (and Ted Sturgeon's "Killdozer!") inspired another scenario in the book. Just a little trivia for ya.

  2. You can't go wrong with a title like "Killdozer!"

    The Mist is in Skeleton Crew, which will be reviewed sooner than later (as I've finished it.) Sounds like a cool RPG.

  3. The Rob Lowe version of "Salem's Lot" is decent. I've got a lot of problems with it, but there are some things it does well.

    I love the Tobe Hooper version, but still, nobody has yet managed to do a genuinely good job adapting the novel. I'd love to see AMC or HBO or FX or somebody do it as a 12-part miniseries. That could be great.

    And it's only a matter of time until somebody figures out that THAT is the way to properly adapt King's novels.

  4. By the way, this is the first I'm hearing of the movie "No Smoking." I had no idea that movie existed!

    I feel the need to do some research.