8.08.2012

King's Highway pt. 27: The Other Nightmares & Dreamscapes and A Look Back...

I forgot to mention how much I like this cover in pt. 1 of my N and D overview.
There was a whole lot of additional-viewing required * for this blog! Nearly every story has either a feature-length or tv-episode-length adaptation to go with it. Let's just dive right in...

* Requirement not-actually-required

Let's start with "Head Down" and "Brooklyn August." I didn't care much for the latter. With some notable exceptions, I'm just not much of a poetry guy. (Ironic considering my concentration as an English major was American Poetry) But it's fine for what it is. I love baseball, so you'd figure I'd find something deep and romantic about it, but it just seems slight to me. If it was about the Red Sox, maybe I'd have been moved, I don't know. "Head Down," though, is a fun read about the Bangor West Little League team winning the State Championship. Small town boys make good - a theme that never really loses its appeal, if you came of age in a small town, like me and John Mellencamp.

The Bangor West team in 2011.
Originally commissioned by The New Yorker, this one works on a few different levels. I've always enjoyed the sports story that's about winning a specific game, or closing out a specific theme/ arc, vs. "winning the ultimate game" narrative. So I enjoyed that aspect of this, as well as just a slice-of-little-league life. Something for which, I confess, I have a lot of nostalgia, not that any team I was on ever made it to the State Championship. While reading, I kept wondering how Stephen King - as the father of one of the pitchers/ players, his son (and excellent writer, as well - check him out, if you haven't) Owen - could go along for this emotional journey and maintain a cool, dispassionate writerly voice. As both a participant and later an umpire, parents at these games, particularly when they get past the normal little league match-ups, can go pretty effing crazy. I imagine it was an exercise in restraint.

The Bangor West team immortalized in "Head Down" is also notable for having produced Matt Kinney, who gave up the home run to Barry Bonds that tied him with Willie Mays. (660th, career - Bonds finished with 762, making him the HR leader, as I'm sure you know. The previous leader Hank Aaron, of course, somehow managed his without, ahem, juicing, ahem.)
Next up, "Chattery Teeth." I was surprised as hell to discover that had been made into a short film. I enjoyed the read (though the writing tutor in me, who is sometimes too big for his britches, must point out that the last 7 paragraphs are not only unnecessary but also dilute what-came-before; get rid of 'em) and all, it's just kind of a slight story to hang a movie on. Tho, to be fair, this was never meant as a movie but as one part of an ongoing show that was never picked up called Quicksilver Highway.

This might have been part of the reason it wasn't picked up. That's Christopher Lloyd, there, believe it or not, as some kind of aged-goth-horror-emcee... Weird.
The film adaptation isn't bad - considering it's by Mick Garris, that it is not atrocious is a victory in and of itself - but the visual image of the chattery teeth running amok works better perhaps in the mind's-eye. (I hope we never have to see a bad-CGI version of such.) It's constructed quite well, with some nice symbolism in unexpected places.

That's quite a line-up of readers! Get the full scoop here.
Couple things from the story. I thought this was an interesting insight to read from a former hitch-hiker (as King describes himself during his late high school and college years) with regards to the contemporaneous model:

The snakes in pissant little roadside menageries like this one couldn't kill you; their venom was milked twice a week and sold to clinics that made drugs with it. You could count on that just as you could count on the winos to show up at the local plasma bank every Tuesday and Thursday. But the snakes could still give one hell of a painful bite if you got too close and then made them mad. That, Hogan thought, was what the current breed of road-kids had in common with them.

And I just like this passage:

...He saw the Jumbo Chattery Teeth standing on their funny orange feet ...in spats so cool they made the coolest of the California Raisins look like hicks from Fargo, North Dakota, standing there in the electric purple light which had overspread these empty lands west of Las Vegas.... The Chattery Teeth were dragging Mr. Bryan Adams away to Nowhere, U.S.A.

Not much to say about "Dolan's Cadillac." It's a good read - another vengeance-is-mine EC throwback (for something like Crime SuspenStories) - but a terrible movie. I made it about halfway through and then had to turn it off. What I saw kept trying to turn the story into some kind of comment on immigration, which is not in the source material at all. As always, leave it to Hollywood to turn anything into a delivery mechanism for half-baked politics.

I googled "Arc of Descent," a concept that plays no small part in the goings-on in "Dolans," and had planned to put in a graph of some kind with angles and math to make me look smart, but this came up instead. I guess it's the name of a song or something. Creepy image, though, so I include it here.
"Sorry, Right Number" was written originally for Amazing Stories, which came out during the Anthology Show revival of the 1980s but isn't discussed much these days, but Spielberg passed on it. So Richard P. Rubenstein picked it up for Tales from the Darkside. It reminded me of "The House" episode of Night Gallery, and I think there are several other precedents for this "call from the future" sort of thing. Not that I'm knocking it; it just wasn't all that memorable for me.

It suffers from the murky look/ sound of Tales, though that murkiness brings to mind countless VHS rentals from the 80s for me, now, so I kind of like it for that vague time-travel-ly feeling.
"The Ten O'Clock People" was one of my favorites from Nightmares & Dreamscapes. It's being made into a movie with Justin Long and Rachel Nichols and directed by Tom Holland. None of those credits particularly inspire confidence, but regardless, I bet it'll be good. I thought while reading it that it would make a no-brainer of a movie. The bugs-that-walk-among-us put me in mind of one of my favorite movies They Live, as well as one of my favorite X-Files episodes "Folie à deux" - which then made me think, wow, I guess I really enjoy stories where certain characters can see the true form of these skinwalkers/ bug-people ("batmen" in this particular story)/ aliens all around us! Probably appeals to that paranoid side of my personality.

(There's a Far Side cartoon that would be perfect for right here, involving a guy on the street yelling "There are vampires everywhere!" but no luck finding it for you.)

The that-zone-between-quitting-smoking-but-maintaining-an-intermittent-and-tightly-regulated-smoking-habit part reminded me of my own experiences in 2012, which has seen me become a Ten O'Clock Person, myself.


As of this writing, I am a No O'Clock Person (and therefore unable to see the aliens/ bug-people/vampires! I knew quitting smoking was a bad idea...) I often wonder where King is with smoking cigarettes. He has had characters explicitly comment on smoking or quitting smoking throughout his career and has referred to "kicking the habit" in forewords/ afterwords/ interviews from each of the last few decades. But in On Writing he refers to asking the EMT who arrives at the scene of his accident (late 90s) for a cigarette, and in Neil Gaiman's great interview with him from The Journal, he refers to standing in the tiny toilet with King as he smokes "a furtive cigarette" in 2002-ish. I find this re-assuring. It's something non-smokers can't understand. (It is a thing no offworlder may know...)

All of which is to say, thanks for this one, SK, from a fellow Ten O'Clock Person.

Now, as for "Crouch End..." as with "Dolan's," the story is worth reading; the film is... not very good.

I believe I referred to Nightmares & Dreamscapes as mostly-excellent, but in rewatching all of them, it's actually more miss than hit. This in particular, originally aired directly after the amazing "Battleground," is just baffling in its off-ness.
Both the story and its film adaptation deal with a "thin area" of Crouch End in London, where the Lovecraftian monsters from another dimension can cross freely back and forth with this one.

This King re-read has really hammered home my need to familiarize myself more with Lovecraft. He has moved up the list considerably as a result. Between this and "N" from Everything's Eventual, just to name a couple, there is quite a bit of Lovecraft popping up throughout the King canon.
King got the idea for this after visiting his friend Peter Straub, who was living at the time in the Crouch End area of London. As I read this, I pictured a young SK and his wife, flush with early success, taxi-ing around London, the storytelling wheels for this story turning in his head as he looked out the lorry window. I googled real-life Crouch End, which, of course, anyone could do, so perhaps this is insert-pic-overkill, but here's a good shot:

They don't have a professional football team, unless I just didn't see them, but one of their amateur outfits is "Crouch End Vampires." I liked that. Too bad it's not the "Crouch End Cthulhu" or "Crouch End Many-Angled Ones."
"The House on Maple Street" is a fun read. One of those wicked-stepparents-get-their-comeuppance stories. SK was inspired by this picture:


which his wife showed him and his son (Owen not Joe, if memory serves) as a "let's create a story from scratch" exercise. (Family Fun with the Kings! Sounds cool, actually.) It didn't go exactly where I suspected it might, so although I was unsurprised by the ending, (mainly, the pic itself is a spoiler) I was still kept on my toes.

"The Fifth Quarter" was originally written in 1972. Neither here nor there - it doesn't feel "of the 70s" the way something like The Running Man or The Long Walk does. It's a good read but, as with "Crouch End," not a very good adaptation. Why so many King adaptations get it wrong in the journey from page to screen is beyond me.

I googled and came across this. It's a completely different story, no King involvement at all, of course. But Aidan Quinn and Andi MacDowell making Nazi salutes? In a Christian-themed football movie? For twenty damn bucks?? As Maggie Simpson said via James Earl Jones once: This is indeed a disturbing universe...
I liked this almost-throwaway line from the story: "It didn't surprise me much. No, I take that back. It didn't surprise me at all."

"Umney's Last Case" is another episode of the TNT Nightmares & Dreamscapes that I remembered pretty fondly but didn't like at all this time around. Maybe it's because I finally got around to reading the story, which I enjoyed and which fits together much more coherently than the film adaptation. I enjoy watching William H. Macy in just about anything, but this was too uneven for my tastes.

The dialogue / narration is a lot better handled on the page, as well.
Fun idea for a story, though, most definitely. (Writer decides to swap places with his fictional avatar. Hi-jinks / resentments ensue.)

I remember reading "The Doctor's Case" when it first came out as published in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 

Which my Mom either bought or got from the library.
I've read all the Sherlocks and seen most of the tv and film adaptations. (My favorites being Terror By Night or The Hound of the Baskervilles with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, even though the latter bears little resemblance to the source material.) This was fun - the conceit being "the one case the Doctor solved before Holmes did," which is kind of surprising no one did before when you think of it. Lestrade comes off pretty well in this, as well, which is good; too often, he does not. Like Watson, writers in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's wake tend to make him like "bumbling fool/ comic relief" Marcus Brody from Last Crusade vs. the "competent ally and friend" Marcus Brody from Raiders.

While we're here, this has nothing to do with SK, but I can never get enough of this:


As both an 80s flick and a "new adventure of Sherlock Holmes" entry, Young Sherlock Holmes holds up surprisingly well. (This music is never far from my mind - it's just one of those things that got stuck in my head and has stayed there for almost 30 years now.)

Finally, we have "The Night Flier" and its quasi-sequel/ continuation, "Popsy."


This is a great read. Richard Dees - last seen in SK's The Dead Zone, where, although we're meant to despise him for trying to exploit John Smith's new abilities, I thought he was disposed of rather rudely - writes for a tabloid mag, Inside View and chases after a vampire he has dubbed "The Night Flier." He catches him... sort of.

The pacing and characterization in this one are great. Not to mention the language:

...of course no mention of the sweeping bat-wing cloak that was red as a fire engine on the inside and as black as a woodchuck's asshole on the outside...

I'll not mention how Dees characterizes how tightly a Beech airplane can port, but I enjoyed this section as well:

Or the Beech might simply twist apart, leaving Richard Dees from the gut on down twitching in his seat, while Richard Dees from the gut up went in a different direction, trailing severed intestines like party-favors and dropping his kidneys on the concrete like a couple of oversized chunks of birdshit.

As with "Chattery Teeth," I was surprised to hear this was made into a film. (And it's hard to find, and prohibitively-priced on Amazon - good thing for YouTube!) But I'm glad they made it; this was way better than it had to be: a solid lead performance from Miguel Ferrer and some fantastic atmosphere and composition. It adds a character or two and a whole new ending, but I was impressed. Check out this last scene, particularly the bit in the bathroom:


(It's only a few minutes and forgive me for showing you the ending first, but let's not be unscientific when it comes to spoilers...)

One last thing, the film shows us several Inside View articles previously written by Richard Dees, and all of them reference other King stories... nice touch. Here is a very good review for the film, if you desire more info. Mark Pavia (the director) will hopefully be releasing more King cinema soon.

In his notes for N and D, King mentions that the title character of "Popsy" is also the same vampire from "The Night Flier." This is another one that put me in mind of EC's Tales from the Crypt or The Vault of Horror. A nice coda to "The Night Flier," to be sure.

(Though, and maybe I just missed the explanation, if the young boy is the vampire's grandson, how is he out walking around in daylight in the first place, before he gets kidnapped? King seems to toe a pretty traditional line with vampire mythos, so that gave me pause.)

~
Well! Here we are at pt. 27 of the ol' King's Highway. Seems like a good midway point, to be sure, and a good spot to take a few weeks off and stretch my legs, change the oil, etc. I can't believe it's been three months now since I started this project. I've covered a lot of ground since this email exchange from April 30th of this year with my friend Mike:

Mike: The latest thing that is occupying my easily distracted brain is this, a complete ranking of all of Stephen King's books in order of quality.
Me: Fun list! Man there is a hell of a lot of Stephen King I haven't read/ didn't know existed. So tempted to go on a King bender, just from this list of titles...  
Mike: I'm a slow reader usually, but even if I were fast I can't imagine how long it would take to read these 62 books. A book a week pace (which is fast for some of these tomes) would still last well over a year.
Me: Call me crazy but I think I can do it... (an hour or so later) I just signed up for the Doubleday Book Club... Maybe I'll turn my blog over into a Bryan Reviews the King Catalogue format. It'll give me something to do.

I've read the first of the The Dark Tower books now, and when we return, will be following (more or less) this course painstakingly plotted by Bryant Burnette (to whose blog I've been linking an awful lot these past few entries; hope you don't mind my piggybacking on your accomplishments, Bryant) through the mythos and landscape of All-World...

But in the meantime! Enjoy your August. Thanks for traveling with me this far. See you at the vending machine or in the arcade.

4 comments:

  1. Mind?!? Good lord, I'm just happy anybody every reads my blog!

    There's a lot to chew over in this post, and as seems to be the case more often than not, I agree with most of it.

    A few points of interest, though:

    "Head Down" -- This essay seems out of place in "Nightmares & Dreamscapes," but boy am I glad King put it in there. Great stuff. I had no idea someone on that team grew up to play in the bigs! Pretty cool.

    "Dolan's Cadillac" -- It's a bad movie, no doubt about it. The screenplay was written by Richard Dooling, who was King's co-writer on "Kingdom Hospital." I can sympathize with turning the movie off early, but I will say this: once it (finally) gets to the sequences involving burying the Cadillac, it gets ... well, not GOOD exactly, but it at least becomes mildly competent. For whatever that's worth.

    "Crouch End" -- GREAT story, but the television version was awful. Just awful. A big part of the problem is the acting. I liked Eion Bailey in "Band of Brothers," and whatshername in "Mallrats," but here, they have about as little chemistry as I have ever seen between a married couple on film. That's only part of the problem, though; the direction/editing are lousy, too. Yuck.

    "The Doctor's Case" -- Haven't read that one in a long while, but I remember liking it a lot. Makes you wish King would do more pastiches; he's quite good at them. He actually started (but never finished) his own "Wimsey" novel at some point. I don't know anything about the character Wimsey, but apparently, it's a thing.

    "The Night Flier" -- I love that movie. To me, it's a prime example of a b-movie that works. Miguel Ferrer is great, the plot is expanded just enough to plausibly pad it out to feature length, and there is some cool iconography. I wish a couple of the supporting performances were better, but that's no big deal in the grand scheme of things, at least when it comes to b-movies.

    Did you know King liked it so much he co-wrote a screenplay for a sequel with Mark Pavia? True story. Man, how I'd love to read that...

    ReplyDelete
  2. I didn't know that, no - good lord, why doesn't he get it off the ground? Either I'm overestimating his fortunes or he's being awfully frugal... still, absolutely would love to read that.

    I keep typing a few words, then getting distracted by Return to Salem's Lot, which is on cable right now and something I haven't watched in good lord 21, 22 years or so.

    Had to look up Wimsey - added to the list.

    Have you read any of the Horatio Hornblower novels? Just curious.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Based on things I've read about it, King and Pavia simply couldn't find anyone who was interested in financing the sequel. Seems like a shame. Oh, well; maybe the screenplay will poke its head into the public one of these days.

      Nope, never read any "Horatio Hornblower." I have been led to believe it's basically just "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," but with fewer spaceships and genetically-engineered megalomaniacs. Which means I'd probably enjoy it, but with a slight feeling that something was missing...

      Delete
    2. I'm a huge fan of the Hornblower books. Great stuff, there, if you're into that period of history. It's not everyone's cup of tea, understandably.

      Thinking of King writing for other well-established characters put that in mind. It'd be cool to see him do a Hornblower story.

      Yeah, here's hoping the Night Flier sequel script sees the light of day sometime. More people need to see the original - it's too bad it remains so undiscovered.

      Delete