7.30.2012

King's Highway pt 25: Some Nightmares, Some Dreamscapes

Damn, this is a big book.

From this one collection of twenty-four stories (King's third, published fourteen years after his first, Night Shift, and seven years after his second, Skeleton Crew) two movies have been made (Dolan's Cadillac and The Night Flier) with another ("The Ten O'Clock People") on the way, as well as three short films ("Sorry, Right Number" for Tales from the Darkside, "The Moving Finger" for Monsters, and "Chattery Teeth" for Quicksilver Highway.) Not to mention TNT's uneven 2006 anthology series, also named Nightmares and Dreamscapes... 


...for which short films were made for "Crouch End," "Umney's Last Case," "The End of the Whole Mess," "The Fifth Quarter," and "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band." Whew. That's a lot to cover, so this will undoubtedly be broken up into a few different entries.

(I'll probably save a discussion of "Dolan's" and "Night Flier" / "Popsy" until I get a chance to see those movies. Well, no movie for "Popsy," but since SK implies the grandfather in that story is the vampire from "The Night Flier," I'll cover those two at the same time. And I'll cover "Chattery Teeth" once I sit down and watch Quicksilver Highway, so, probably either with any of the above/ or in the next one of these. Enough housekeeping/ coming attractions!)

Of the three stories filmed for the TNT series that are not from Nightmares and Dreamscapes, my favorite is definitely "Battleground," from Night Shift. 

Filmed with no dialogue and with an added assassination-sequence at the beginning.
I would never have cast William Hurt in this role, but now I can't imagine anyone else. He's perfect.
I never thought too much of the original story. I enjoyed it, but I had more or less forgotten it until I watched this on tv in 2006. I wasn't reading King at the time but checked out the mini-series just the same. And boy was I glad, because I loved this. Directed by Brian Henson and adapted by Richard Christian Matheson.(All they need is Joe Hill or Owen King (and maybe Zac Starkey) to be a second-generation supergroup.

If you haven't seen/ read it, it's about a guy who is attacked by a a box of little green army men.

No heavy symbolism, nothing Kafkaesque, just a fight for survival.
The other two are from Everything's Eventual:

"Autopsy Room Four" and
"The Road Virus Heads North."
Both are fine, although the latter changes shape a bit from page to screen, and while it isn't exactly good, it has some attitude. As with "The Sun Dog," covered here in case you missed it (I always want to add Stan Lee style editor's notes when I hyperlink like that. 'See King's Highway 22, true believer! - "Evil" Ed.') a monster from the other side of a picture slowly but surely makes its way to this side, much to the protagonist's growing horror and comprehension.

King owns the original painting. Whether or not it has a handwritten note that says "I can't stand what's happening to me" attached to it is unknown.
There's a pretty good overview of the production of the whole TNT series here. It's not my favorite, but it has its moments.

Moving on: "The End of the Whole Mess." I liked the story a bit more than I liked the adaptation, although the TNT version is certainly a good one. ("Everyone is going to get a little... silly." Anyone who has witnessed someone ravaged by Alzheimer's knows this is both accurate and a horrifying understatement.) The end is sad, as befits the material, and it's a compelling read.

Two last things re: "End of the Whole Mess," 1) SK refers to his real-life sibling as the basis for the "genius brother" depicted here. That plus some of his comments in On Writing about Dave King make me really curious about the guy. Sometimes it's tough to respect the King family's privacy. 2) I liked this: "'Bees are nature's kamikaze pilots... Their stingers are barbed, like fishhooks. They slide in easy. When they pull out, they disembowel themselves.'" Whereas wasps (he goes on) can sting you over and over again. Very apt imagery for the subject matter. (Boy genius decides to save the world by ridding it of "mean-ness")

The collection's oldest story, "Suffer the Little Children," was written during the same period as most of the stories in Night Shift, that is to say, the 1970s.  King provides plenty of supplemental info about the stories in the introduction and afterward. Of this one, King writes "(it is) a ghastly sick joke with no redeeming social merit whatsoever." I can see that. He also says it reminds him of early Bradbury. I can see that, too, particularly "The Playground," aka that-one-episode of Ray Bradbury Mystery Theater with William Shatner.

With William Shatner.
I made a note of this line: Air brakes whined and hissed like angry dragons. Great last paragraph/ ending, too, but it wouldn't have the same impact reproduced out of context.

"It Grows On You" I wish I'd thought to do this from the beginning of this series and get a definitive word-count (OCD much??), but I wonder how many times "goldenrod," "ragweed," "arc-sodium," and "culvert" appear in SK's work... The first paragraph, here, has all of them, and it is my suspicion these are words pop up often enough for someone to compile a list.

Not having read Needful Things, I got the sense there's more going on in this story than I was able to suss out. I could be wrong; King refers to it as a coda for "the doomed folk of Castle Rock" in his author's afterword, so maybe I'm just reading into it. It's not a bad read. It's got atmosphere to spare, and that "old town smell," similar to a "new car smell" but with more old-man-regrets and body-decay. The plot is pretty simple: some old guys sit around their old man base-of-operations and talk about this house in town that keeps growing, one of them remembers a lewd act from the lady for whom it was built, and then he dies. Who keeps adding to the house? It's left mysterious.

A user on the SK Forum, ArsePoetica, has this to say about it: "My take on it is that the house appears to literally grow on its own, either feeding off the deaths of the people around it or causing it. I think of it as perhaps the root cause of all that happens in Castle Rock."

Sounds good to me. If that's what was intended, though, I think this needed a tad more salt.
Some fun lines in this one: "Not worth the puke of a tubercular cocker spaniel," and "Gary doesn't know a lot lately, but he knows getting old is a lousy way to spend the last years of his life."

As for "Dedication," let me reproduce this bit from the author's afterword:

"For years, since I first met and was appalled by a now-dead famous writer, whom I will not name here, I have been troubled by the question of why some enormously talented people turn out to be such utter shits in person - woman-pawing sexists, racists, sneering elitists, or cruel practical jokers. I'm not saying that most talented or famous people are that way, but I have met enough who are - including that one undeniably great writer - to wonder why. This story was written as an effort to answer that question to my satisfaction. The effort failed, but I was at least able to articulate my own unease, and in this case, that seemed enough."

I grew frustrated trying to guess the identity of the dead famous writer from the details of the story. I'm sure most details were changed enough to offer no real clues, but after reading that, I couldn't help but look for them. (Mario Puzo, maybe? Joe Heller? I've heard some "colorful anecdotes" about both of them that seem to fit the profile, but... just guessing. Neither of them seems like the guy in the story, of course) If anyone knows, let me know.


Anyway, I have to agree: as an effort to answer that question, "Why are so many enormously talented people such utter shits," it fails; as a story that produces a metaphor to articulate the author's unease, it succeeds. But does it make for a successful story? It unfolds/ bounces around a little too much for me, and, as with "Ballad of the Flexible Bullet," it goes on too long to be believable as a long story recounted by one character, particularly in this case, where the maid/ main character uses certain "Kingsy" type phrases like describing masturbation as "a date with Mama Thumb and her four sisters" or whatever the exact line is. This could just be personal preference, but I think if your story is told entirely through the speech of one character, extra care should be taken to distance the author's distinctive voice from the character recounting it. (And, if you must go this route, shorten it up a little - when's the last time you sat down with someone and listened to a six or seven hour monologue, as broken up over three or four locations? When's the last time you wanted to, is a better question. King knows how to tell a story - I read it all the way through, after all - but this is one of those rare occasions where I felt my inner writing-tutor want to yell at the master.)

And speaking of the masturbation, the main conceit of this story (which I won't get into, because it really does come out of nowhere) is just... silly. I mean, fine, be as gross as you want. He refers to this in the afterword as, more or less, wanting to keep Constant Reader from a sense of complacency re: what to expect from "Uncle Steve." Well, mission accomplished, but I'm of the opinion anyone can gross someone out/ be shocking. King usually ties this to a metaphor or narrative I find compelling, but that's not the case for me here.

Ditto for "The Moving Finger." Which has a lot going for it, if you can get behind the central (and extremely silly) image of a man tormented by a finger poking out of the sink. The writing and construction of this are both top-notch, especially how the Alex Trebek stuff weaves in and out, and the dialogue. I enjoyed the ending, but... well, the central idea is a bridge too far for me.

I haven't seen the adaptation made for Monsters. Anyone?

"Sneakers" is a good read. I wasn't sure what to make of the homosexuality subtext - could be there's nothing there to "make of," but I wasn't sure if I was missing something. I loved this bit:

"He suddenly realized something else - realized it the way you realize things in dreams: when people see ghosts, they always see themselves first. Why? For the same reason deep divers pause on their way to the surface, knowing that if they rise too fast they will get nitrogen bubbles in their blood and suffer, perhaps die, in agony. There were reality bends, as well."

Too true.

Next up: "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band."


Not a Janis Joplin fan. Just thought I'd mention that. I have no trouble picturing her in whatever Diner in Hell exists for rock and roll casualties. Sad to think of Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, and Elvis having to spend eternity hanging out there, though.

"Home Delivery" is just great. Great idea, great execution, great coda for Dolores Claiborne and Storm of the Century. SK was asked to contribute to an anthology that centered around stories that took place in a world determined by a Romero-esque zombie event. That's all I'll say, but there's so much more going on here. Underappreciated.

Ditto for "Rainy Season," which on first glance might seem like just the traditional travelers-to-small-town-with-secrets story


and maybe that's all it is. But it's a great read. I want to know more.


"My Pretty Pony" was first published in 1989 as part of the Whitney Museum's writer-and-artist series. It was an oversized fine press slip-cased book with stainless steel faced boards and digital clock inset into the front cover. You can see pics (and the price tag) here. When I first read about this George Beahm's The Stephen King Companion, I practically salivated - what the hell IS that? But I knew there was no way I was going to be getting a copy of it and more or less forgot about it. So, I was particularly happy to discover it among the Table of Contents here.

How does it hold up? Maybe it goes on a bit too long. The plot is essentially "Young Clive receives instruction from his Grandpa about the nature of time." And maybe he receives a bit too much of it. That said, I loved it. I'm very forgiving of anything that attempts to untangle the enduring mystery of how and why time passes. The image of time as a "pretty pony" and to say that between each and every second, to stay "regular," is as fine as any I can think of. But, yeah, maybe a tad too long. And repetitive in spots. (My brain is trying to turn that into a comment on timekeeping itself, i.e. That's how it's SUPPOSED to seem, ya jerk! Hell, maybe, I don't know.) I do love these bits from the end:

"Grandpa's pony had kicked down Grandpa's fences and gone over all the hills in the world."

and

"Clive Banning never forgot the name, which was time, and the color, which was none, and the look, which was not ugly or beautiful... but only pretty. Nor did he ever forget her nature, which was wicked, or what his Grandpa said on the way down, words almost thrown away, lost in the wind: having a pony to ride was better than having no pony at all, no matter how the weather of its heart might lie."

Could be some of the prettiest SK writing I've ever had the pleasure to come across, right there.

Just a quick word about the "bonus track" story at the very end of Nightmares and Dreamscapes. It is a brief Hindu parable of Shiva and his wife Parvati


transcribed as a conversation between God and the arch-angel Uriel. You can read about it here. God's answer to Uriel at the end of this parable, the so-called "wrap-up" of the spiritual instruction that precedes it, put me in mind of Tom Gordon's answer to The Girl Who Loved Him in TGWLTG. 

From "The Beggar and the Diamond:

"Uriel looked at God (as nearly as anyone - even an archangel - can look at that burning face, at least) uncertainly. "Have you given me a lesson, Lord?"
"I don't know," God said blandly, "have I?"

vs. the end of TGWLTG:

"How much of it was real?"
"All of it," he said, as if it didn't really matter. And then, again: "You did a good job."
"I was stupid to get off the path like I did, wasn't I?"
He looked at her with slight surprise, then pushed up his cap... He smiled and when he smiled, he looked young. "What path?" he said.

See you next time with the rest of these stories.

7.29.2012

King's Highway pt. 24: The Dead Zone

Written during "a depressed state of mind," according to SK.
This is a quirky little novel. I don't use quirky condescendingly. It's just a bit odd, both in how it stands out from King's other books and how the plot unfolds from other would-you-kill-Hitler narratives.

Why doesn't anyone ever go back in time to kill Stalin? I've always wondered that.
The epilogue ("Notes from the Dead Zone") and the way the sections fit together/ unfold... the character arc of "John Smith..." It almost seems like a strange version of Don DeLilo's Libra, but I'm sure that's not what he was going for. Interesting, though, that the two ideas, there, kind of converge later in 11/23/61, but I'll get to that way later.

(I'll get to my Castle Rock thoughts, later, too, and the lasting impact of Frank Dodd et al. when I see the exits for The Dark Half and Needful Things.)

I was reminded both of Duma Key and of On Writing, both which came much later in King's career, of course. But the accident and physical recovery section of TDZ brought to mind the similar section in OW, and the first two acts of TDZ brought DK to mind: accident, severed relationship, psychic ability, used on serial killer, and ... then the two novels diverge, but you see what I mean.

If you haven't read it or seen the movie or the tv show, you're probably still familiar with the essential elements of the story. Like a lot of King's work from this period (Cujo, Christine, Pennywise, The Stand, Redrum, Carrie White Burns in Hell, etc.) the core ideas have taken enduring root in the collective unconsciousness.

Once it's on The Simpsons, it can be considered as belonging to all of us.
King has said that he likes the movie better, and I agree. The changes in the material that the conversion process necessitate definitely work to the story's advantage. The relationship between Sarah and John is more romantically-doomed as it stands in the film, as is the undoing-of-and-apocalyptic-visions-pertaining-to-Stillson scene(s). I think the book is good, don't get me wrong. I just like the way the film handles the elements better.

I suppose it's not that uncommon a practice, but I like how the same font design is used for both the book and the international markets for the film.

That tunnel by the way - which I remember as the main picture that ran with the Fangoria article I read (it might have been Starlog, but that seems wrong - I don't remember clearly) at the time it came out - is called Screaming Tunnel:

Creepy first date...! Creepy any date, maybe.
There's a good review of the film here. Simply put, it's a great film. I don't think "masterpiece" would be unfairly applied. It always seems to be the undiscovered Cronenberg film or King-adaptation film for a lot of people. I don't know why that is. Christopher Walken and David Cronenberg are certainly well known enough. Yet it rarely pops up as the number one King adaptation, or on a short list of Cronenberg's best. (Or, hell, best of the 80s, for that matter.)

This title design is just such a treat. What a way to set the mood. If you haven't watched the movie in awhile, watch those credits again; hell, if you haven't seen the movie at all, watch it, too. It works as a trailer, granted a murky one. The score by Michael Kamen is haunting and used to great effect, particularly the music cues for Sarah.

And of course there's this:


I grew up watching The Dead Zone and even as I discovered the rest of both his and Cronenberg's catalogs, Walken's portrayal of Johnny Smith has remained a Katahdin among Appalachians.

Odd fact I came across while googling for this entry: Bill Murray was considered for the role before Walken.

Martin Sheen's portrayal of Greg Stillson is great, as well. Another role (like Firestarter) where it's fun to think of this as some bizarro previous-work-experience on President Bartlett's cv.
I did enjoy the evolution of Stillson's career in the novel, as well as the friendlier relationship he had with Chuck's family, both of which are changed considerably for the film.

I'm always amused when we cut to a scene where the President has his finger on the button vs. a boardroom in the middle of the night with a bunch of bankers flown in straight out of the movie Margin Call... 

The wolf is loose...
Sheriff Bannerman is played here by Evan Drake from Cheers aka Viper from Top Gun (like he'd be Viper from anything else) aka Tom Preston from The Devil's Rain:


Bannerman pops up or is referenced in several of the Castle Rock stories. Not to mention the Dead Zone tv show, where he's combined with Walt Hazlett and George Bannerman to create Walt Bannerman. Whew. Anyway. Cujo eats him, eventually. So it goes.

Chuck's Dad, Roger, is played by Anthony Zerbe aka that-one-guy-from-Insurrection, not to mention

The Omega Man:
Which, now that I think about it...
is another film where a cult leader must be put down with a rifle via heroic self-sacrifice. (And look at that outfit! Not to make this a review of The Omega Man, but man, that movie.)
Two quick words on the Frank Dodd serial killer sequence: 1) my friend and I have the same lingering-audio-OCD-ness from this film. Anytime we see a gazebo, we say, either out loud or in our heads, "gaa-zee-booh." Try it - you may never stop. And b) now that I think about it, I think it was Fangoria...

and not Starlog. The twitching in the tub was a real fine touch for me. It made the difference to me in the 6th grade and still does today.
As for the tv show, I know many people who enjoy it. I watched the first two episodes to see how they'd handle the origin story and the Frank Dodd bit. I can see it being a fun show. I know they deal with the Stillson stuff as an ongoing subplot. Characters are added or, as aforementioned, fused. I prefer the way the film handles the material, so some of those changes are hard to roll with. But, what I saw wasn't bad, just not my thing.

One thing I noticed in there, though - the fictional 3rd district of New Hampshire was changed to the 2nd district of Maine. Which is an actual district. This district encompasses (I think) the fictional towns of both Derry and Castle Rock.

Has King ever introduced a congressional character from that district? There could be a whole new novel in that. I hope the idea has occurred to him.

I guess not every adaptation keeps the font design.

7.22.2012

King's Highway pt. 23: Can You Hear Me Now?

Not too much to say about this one - it's very straightforward:


There's a nice review here, with no real spoilers, and I will observe the same with this post. You should read it, if you haven't. Perfect way to pass some time in an airport, lounge-chair, train, etc. I don't mean to damn by faint praise; it's a damn-near perfect example of a story finely-tuned to those experiences (during which, for me anyway, reading a book is the only thing I want to do.) It's not too long, starts off with a bang, and takes some wild twists and turns.

I like the paperback cover a bit better than the hardcover. The "911" and tagline are fun commentaries on the events within, as is one of the three inscriptions before the story begins: Can You Hear Me Now?
It reminded me a lot of "The Mist."In both stories, a crisis-event happens and is not explained (ominous references to "The Arrowhead Project" in "The Mist," notwithstanding); survivors band together and hi-jinks ensue (among them, a religious-crazy-survivor who descends on the protagonists); the main character is preoccupied with the unknown fate of his loved ones back home; fact-finding missions are made into the lion's den; and both end ambiguously.

Of course, there are plenty of differences, too. In "The Mist," the m.c. has his kid with him, in Cell we get a glimpse of what the monsters/crazies are doing, and many more.

Frank Darabont added an ending to his film version of "The Mist," and I imagine a film version of Cell would do the same. (Why this hasn't been made, sequeled, and rebooted is beyond me.) I can sympathize with allegations of "cop-out" for the ending, but I for one was more disappointed with how the phone-crazy convention in Kashwakamak wrapped up. That was it? Not that I was exactly "disappointed," more surprised.

A view from the actual Kashwakamak, in Canada, that is.
Pretty good boogeyman in the character of The Raggedy Man aka The President of Harvard

Neither here nor there, but I liked the references to Dark Horse Comics, as well. I'll probably remove Dark Horse Presents from my pull-list in the months to come, but it's been something I've looked forward to for the past fourteen months.

Survival is like love; both are blind.

I couldn't help but think of the TV show Dollhouse, which also depicts an apocalypse triggered by a remote activation, a sudden and ubiquitous paving-over of the neural topography. Opinions are divided on the show...

Full disclosure - I love it.
but the central conceit of Cell (i.e. a pulse was generated over mobile networks and whomever answered the call went wack-a-doo) is pretty much said verbatim by Topher in "Epitaph One." I found a You-Tube clip of the particular dialogue, but it's a whole lot and not the isolated five-second clip that I was looking for. (Here it is, at 1:02, should you want a look)

I don't mean to suggest Dollhouse is derivative of Cell. Only that certain ideas suggest certain tributaries, independent of who observes them.

I found your friend...
I couldn't help but like the idea of old-timers who never quite embraced the change in societal customs and manners that the intrusion of cellphones demanded. I'll never forget the first few times someone answered a call in the middle of conversation and how exasperated I felt. And I still crease my eyebrows when a cashier (or even a cabbie) divides his or her attention between me and the phone, or I overhear the most personal/ ridiculous conversation on the train or bus.

Par for the course, now.
Considering the amount of dropped calls and the inability of Dawn and I to have a phone conversation when she's in her apartment, I remain as unconvinced of the superiority of the cellphone age to the one I grew up on as the author.

I get the same thing when I read F. Scott Fitzgerald and he speaks of how the world he grew up in would be/ is constantly offended by the world he died in. It's not unique to him, by any rate; it's an authorly observation passed down in every generation. But viewed through this perspective, this novel is a bit more of a gut-punch of a "get off my lawn" than others.

Great stuff - on the King recommendation/ readability scale, it's a Gjallarhorn.

I leave you with this, which I feel relates to all of the above, from Neil Gaiman's excellent interview with SK:

"I start to tell King my theory, that when people in the far future want to get an idea of how things felt between 1973 and today, they'll look to King. He's a master of reflecting the world that he sees, and recording it on the page. The rise and fall of the VCR, the arrival of Google and smartphones. It's all in there, behind the monsters and the night, making them more real."

His answer: "King is sanguine. “You know what you can’t tell what is going to last, what’s not going to last. There’s Kurt Vonnegut quote about John D. McDonald saying “200 years from now, when people want to know what the 20th century they ll go to John D. McDonald”, but I’m not sure that’s true – it seems like he’s almost been forgotten.  But I try and reread a John D. McDonald novel whenever I come down here."

7.17.2012

King's Highway pt. 22: The Rest of the Rogue States

We now conclude our tour of the Rogue States. See here for the first incursion into these territories... With no further ado:

Originally written in 1967, revised 1971, published (under Bachman pseudonym) in 1977. Like all the Bachman Books, very much a product of its era.

Rage is currently out of print. Here's SK on why/how that came to be:
"I can't say for sure that Michael Carneal, the boy from Kentucky who shot three of his classmates dead as they prayed before school, had read my novel, Rage, but news stories following the incident reported that a copy of it had been found in his locker. It seems likely to me that he did. Rage had been mentioned in at least one other school shooting, and in the wake of that one an FBI agent asked if he could interview me on the subject, with an eye to setting up a computer profile that would help identify potentially dangerous adolescents. The Carneal incident was enough for me. I asked my publisher to take the damned thing out of print. They concurred...

If... you were to ask me if the presence of potentially unstable or homicidal persons makes it immoral to write a novel or make a movie in which violence plays a part, I would say absolutely not. In most cases, I have no patience with such reasoning. I reject it as both bad thinking and bad morals. Like it or not, violence is a part of life and a unique part of American life. If accused of being part of the problem, my response is the time-honored reporter's answer: 'Hey, many, I don't make the news, I just report it.'

I sympathize with the losers of the world and... although I pity the Columbine shooters, ...there comes a point at which the Harrises and the Klebolds become unsalvageable, when they pass through some phantom tollbooth of the mind and into a land where every violent impulse is let free..."

I like that phrase "the phantom tollbooth of the mind." Rage isn't a particularly bad read, but I, personally, find these comments on it more interesting than the book itself. I agree with King that it seems immoral to shoot the messenger for a message he himself did not create but simply passes on. And I further agree that if something I'd written kept showing up in killers' back pockets, I'd get creeped out, as well. 
But, considering it's a novel about a kid who shoots up his high school/ teachers/ holds them hostage, it's probably not all that surprising/ meaningful that it's read by kids who shot up their high school/ teachers.

Next:

Written in 1974, published 1981.

King describes this one as an attempt to make sense of his mother's death from cancer. He originally didn't want it re-published but decided to "to give his readers some insight into his personality at the time." That's an interesting admission and worth checking out for that reason alone. He has said recently it's one of his favorites of his early works.

I can see that. There's a certain "something" to this one that's missing from the other Bachman Books. Ultimately, though, it feels like a not-particularly-bad-but-very-70s movie-of-the-week. Would it make a good movie with an 80s-era Rutger Hauer? Or Ernest Borgnine? (RIP, Ernie.) Absolutely. It's actually quite an overlooked work, and a re-evaluation is likely overdue.

The last of the Bachman Books to be considered among these Rogue States...

Written 1971 (in less than a week), published 1982. I like this cover. It beats this other one I found:
Well, it is an altogether-different book, but it cracked me up to picture the main character of the Bachman novel as this Mister Rogers-looking dude.

Anyone my age has many memories of the Schwarzenegger movie. I saw it a couple of times in the theater (at the old Woonsocket Plaza cinema) and a few dozen times on VHS. The last time I saw it was while a friend was house-sitting in the late 1990s, and we hooted and hollered at the screen throughout.

I cannot believe two future governors appeared together in this movie. (And Predator, of course. But Predator is a surrealist masterpiece, so anything fits, there.)

The movie bears almost zero relation to the story.

...

They kept the basic dystopian future/ violent gameshow called The Running Man aspect. Everything else is gone. The book is bleaker. Richards, the main character's daughter is dying from lack of access to simple medicine, and his wife turns tricks to stave off death. There is no happy ending; there is no Maria Conchita Alonso.

There is a Killian, but he doesn't come across like Richard Dawson. RIP Richard Dawson.

Actually, while I was reading it, I tried to envision the alternate reality where Schwarzenegger made a true-to-the-novel cinematic adaptation, with its uncomfortable-but-sympathetic take on the Black Power/ 60s riots, its violent jihad against the corporate state, its aggressive political incorrectness, and its ending - where the main character commits suicide by piloting a jumbo-jet into the skyscraper offices of The Network... In that world, did Sylvester Stallone become governor of California? (RIP, Sage Stallone.)

How does its disturbing look into the world of 2025 hold up? It's still somewhat plausible (if depressing) that the world of TRM could come into being. Inflated currency, degraded atmosphere, violent class division, oppressive corporate overlords... all too familiar. A couple of other things are now anachronistic, such as how Richards has to put "tapes" of his day-to-day running into the mail, but overall... pretty well, he says dejectedly.

The use of Derry, Maine would seem a straight giveaway as to the real identity of Richard Bachman, which was, of course, a secret at the time, but Derry hadn't been used much (if at all) when this originally came out.

Speaking of Derry, let's switch over to Full Dark, No Stars and the story "Fair Extension." A man with cancer stops at a roadside vendor in Derry, Maine, and the vendor sells him an extension on his life/ remission of his cancer. All he has to do is wish the "badness" on someone he hates. It's a version of the old "The Button/ The Box" story, and this is a great read. But is the man Elvid (an anagram for "Devil," obviously) Pennywise, from It?


Consider: (as reproduced from the Stephen King Forum by member Falseprophet)

#1 The story takes place in Derry (There is even a reference to the Barrens)
#2 Several times in the story Stephen mentions how Elvid's mouth has too many teeth or his teeth become sharp.
#3 Elvid seems to change shape and grow much like Pennywise.
#4 Elvid also has that power like Pennywise to change reality like how there was plenty of traffic but none of it seemed to be going down the road .
#5 And perhaps the most revealing is how Stephen King describes Elvid: he looked like a clown with no make-up.

Added to which, Pennywise goes into hibernation for 27-28 years, so the timing to the publication of Full Dark, No Stars (2010) is interesting, if not exactly-precise.

The moderator for the forum suggest King had no such intention, but if not, that's an awful lot of unconscious coincidence. I think, whomever/ whatever Pennywise and Elvid are, they are related. Siblings/ cousins in "the Deadlights." Ditto for Ardelia from "The Library Policeman."

From Four Past Midnight.

Not the most pleasant read, with the whole flashback-to-kiddie-rape and all, but some intriguing connections to King's other works. (One example of a few: Naomi, the office assistant who sends Sam Peebles to the library, where he meets possible-Pennywise-relative Ardelia, is a fan of the novels of Paul Sheldon, i.e. the guy who writes the Misery Chastain novels in Misery.) This is a dark story, sure, but it's a good one. I don't know why it's never been made into a movie, actually - seems like it'd be perfect for one.

A few folks on the SK Forum found a lot of parallels between this story and Duma Key. I see them, but in my mind, the story that most made me think of Duma Key (probably just because of the setting) was "The Gingerbread Girl."

The last story in Four Past Midnight is


which may not be perfect fodder for a movie, but it very much resembles a fun episode of Friday the 13th: the Series.

Be honest - if these guys showed up during this story's climatic finish, no one would be surprised.

King's introductory remarks mention how this story is a segue between the events of his novels The Dark Half and Needful Things. All are set in Castle Rock, which figures prominently in a number of other King works, as well. Additionally, Pop Merrill, one of "Sun Dog"'s main characters, is uncle to one Ace Merrill, better known as Jack Bauer from Stand By Me.

I was amused at how everyone on set, even Rob Reiner, during the filming of Stand By Me remembers being terrified of Keifer Sutherland. He has a knack for playing psychopaths. Actually, as Wil Wheaton has noted, it's rather odd how true-to-life the futures of the Stand By Me characters are to the actors who played them. A good read if you're a Stand By Me fan/ fan of Wil "Geek-King of the Blogosphere" Wheaton's brand of reverie.

Before I leave "Sun Dog," though, I was amused by the dialogue "tic" King gave Pop Merrill. Pop affixes "what I mean to say is," to a lot of his sentences. At the end, when he's under the spell of the camera and about to be attacked by the dog from Polaroid World, and Kevin and his father burst in and tell him to move it, he says something to the effect of "No! What I mean to say is, I can't!" Good little payoff for something not essential - the kind of fun detail I enjoy.

Okay, so now for "The Body" and Stand By Me.


My Mom took me to see this one when I was about the age of the characters onscreen. I was mortified by all the profanity, or, rather, having to endure it while sitting next to my Mom. I watched it a lot on VHS, though, where it didn't bother me at all. Definitely the first thing I saw where the kids onscreen talked like the kids with whom I searched for my own dead bodies. I MEAN - with whom I played Lazer Tag.

A lot of folks get "religious" about this movie. I don't mean they see it as a gospel message or anything; I mean they brook no dissent/ get kind of mystical about it/ see in it many things that bedazzle and transcend. I can understand. It's a film about powerful childhood nostalgia, regret, reverie, etc. after all, and it features some for-its-time bold departures for child-actors onscreen. They curse, they rage, they scream, they threaten, they cry, etc. Such stories always touch something deep within us.

It's best enjoyed by anyone in that tender world between 13 and 15, I wager, and it helps if you grew up within shouting distance of the 1980s or have/ had parents who knew every song on the soundtrack. For my parents, my listening to this was a welcome change from my usual diet of W.A.S.P. and Iron Maiden cassettes. (It's funny to me, to think of 60s-songs soundtracks like this, or for Dirty Dancing or Good Morning, Vietnam, and how huge they were. No different, I guess, from a movie that comes out these days, loaded with 80s synth-pop or whatever.)

For me, personally, this isn't my favorite "boys adventure" story of King's; I prefer Hearts in Atlantis, Dreamcatcher or It. Those feel more personal to me, more worthy of such prolonged consideration.

Which is not to say either "The Body" or Stand By Me is unworthy or anything like that. Just they didn't hold up for me during this re-read/ re-watch as well as I wanted them to.

The story takes place in Maine, where Gordie would not have a Yankees cap. (Maybe he would, but King would definitely not give him one) The movie moves the action to Oregon, but some marketing exec/ studio-suit decided it would increase the market value to put this atrocity atop Gordie LaChance's head. Screw you, marketing. And RIP, River.

A lot of the trouble I had connecting to it this time around was Corey Feldman. As Teddy, he's the "wild card" of the bunch. I'm not saying he did a bad job; he did fine. But it's just impossible for me to suspend disbelief and embrace the craziness/ rage of any character played by CF.

The fault is mine, I admit freely. Even if the real-life Corey Feldman was plunging a butcher knife into my chest and screaming in my face, I'd be shaking my head, saying 'I just don't buy it, dude, sorry.'

Perhaps a few too many scenes of painful emotional catharsis/ revelation. The kind of thing actors live for but isn't my favorite thing to watch.

The other novella of Full Dark, No Stars is called "Good Marriage." It's fiction inspired by the real-life story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer.

Or, as Dawn calls him, "One Crazy Nerd."

It's a harrowing read, like everything in FD, NS. Great stuff, though, and compare the ending cop/interrogation scene here with the scene from "Apt Pupil," which we'll get to momentarily. One of the fun things about zipping around King's catalog the way I have been is seeing the changes in his writing over the years and noting the consistencies. I'd say the scene at the end of "Good Marriage" (or "Big Driver," for that matter) reads a lot "tighter" than the equivalent scene at the end of "Apt Pupil."

The film adds Joshua Jackson as "the buddy." This character does not appear in the novella.

"Apt Pupil" was very dangerous in the 1980s. I can speak only for myself, I guess, but there was always some dark energy that surrounded this story of the sexual and serial-killer awakening of an all-American boy who discovers and keeps a Pet Nazi (who later keeps him just as much.) I was the same age as the protagonist when I read this, and I was disturbed by all the sexual-awakening stuff most of all. It sits rather uneasily with all the Nazi and killing-hobos stuff.

This time around... I know a lot of hardcore fans may disagree, but it's not my favorite. He mentions (somewhere) how he was criticized for writing about the Holocaust, that, as a non-Jewish person, it wasn't his to write about. He disagreed, saying the act of writing is a "willed understanding." I can understand both sides of that one. When I was growing up, Nazis were used as props - I suppose they still are, to some degree, but there's more sensitivity to their portrayal, I think. Actually, as certain video games come to mind, I'm probably wrong there; you know what sounds good? Backing out of this paragraph altogether.

Maybe it's all the dreams? I've mentioned elsewhere I'm not a particular fan of the many dreams described in King's work. They're out en force, here. I did enjoy (well, "enjoy") the sections relating what the Nazis did to similar (if not equivalent) policies and murders committed on American soil. That came off rather well, and holds up. Reminded me of Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, which, if you haven't read, you should.

Fun connection to "Shawshank," as Arthur "Denker" refers to having had a "banker who later went to prison for murdering his wife" make all his investments for him.

The movie is still good, though. Less "dangerous," but a better take on the material, maybe? Bryan Singer refers to it as a film about the "tension and danger of adolescent curiosity." A great performance from Ian MacKellen and tho this may sound odd, some damn good lighting. It kept jumping out at me the other night when I watched it.

Brad Renfro was left out of the Oscars's "RIP" montage as he died from a drug overdose. RIP, Brad.

It changes quite a bit: it moves the setting from the 70s to the 80s (though keeps it in Santo Domato, CA) removes the "serial killer awakening" aspect, and dramatically alters the ending. King described both the novel and the ending in this keynote address to the Vermont Library Council back in 1999:

"On the surface, Todd is the perfect California high school kid. Beneath, he's fascinated by the Holocaust and the power wielded by the Nazis; a member of the Trenchcoat Mafia, in fact, without the trenchcoat. After a long (and increasingly psychotic) dance with his pet Nazi, Todd is found out. His response, not shown in the movie which played theaters briefly last year, is to take a high-powered rifle to a nearby freeway, where he shoots at anyone who moves until he is killed. His death is, in fact, what police now sometimes call "blue suicide.""

The movie, however, ends with Todd emerging more-or-less unscathed from the events of the film and heading off to sunny horizons... decidedly more chilling, actually.

~
My favorite of the novella collections? Full Dark, No Stars. It covers some bleak ground, as befitting its title, but the horror of King's later work is more fully realized. The writing is strong. Not that it was weak before, mind you, but there's a maturity to his later work, is all I'm saying.


The Bachman Books: Rage, Roadwork, The Long Walk, The Running Man
Different Seasons: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, The Body, The Breathing Method
Four Past Midnight: The Langoliers, Secret Garden Secret Window *, The Library Policeman, The Sun Dog
Full Dark, No Stars: 1922, Big Driver, Fair Extension, Good Marriage

* I guess I should have mentioned - I'll get to this one once I see the movie. It'll be its own one-off entry.