Friday, August 23, 2019

I Was Built to Believe in Weird Stuff: A Review of ''Nightmares & Dreamscapes''

Nightmares & Dreamscapes was published in late September 1993, and might well have come as a relief of sorts to many King fans.  Since he ended his Castle Rock cycle in 1991 with Needful Things, he'd pumped out two relatively slim novels that told mostly non-supernatural stories.  Those books were Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne, both of which I love; not all King fans do, and while I can't presume to speak for anyone else, I'd wager that more than a few Constant Readers were a bit worried about the direction their favorite author was taking back in those days.
Imagine, then, what a relief, this cover must have been:
I can't remember the first time I saw it, but I love it, and assume I must always have done so.  That Rob Wood cover art is just wonderful: suggestive of the arrival of a peaceful and comfortable night-time after some long and taxing day, the colors manage to make the spooky scarecrow -- standing implausibly in the middle of the road -- a welcoming figure and not an intimidating one.
That's not the description I intended to write when I began that sentence.  I expected to write something about how the colors informed one that King was back at the horror game.  And the cover does suggest that, as well, but I think it also suggests comfort, which in turn implies familiarity.  And that makes a sort of sense given this book's place in King's bibliography, don't you think?  If many King fans were breathing sighs of relief to find that King (after the abused-women duology of Gerald's Game and Dolores Claiborne) was in the mood to get spooky again, then it makes sense to see that scarecrow as being a welcoming figure.  Bottom line: I think the cover art works either way.
Before we get into a discussion of the book's introduction, let me tell you what this post won't be: in-depth.  I do have a tendency to aim for going deep when it comes to writing about King's short fiction, as anyone who has read my reviews of the following stories can attest:
I sometimes allow myself to run hog-wild on this blog, and so you get what we had here for "The Fifth Quarter," which was slavering lunacy.  I personally found it be rewarding, but I don't know why anyone would ever read what I wrote with that one.  To those of you who did I say thanks with apologies.
Anyways, the point is this: we won't be doing that sort of thing in this post.  In fact, I'd anticipate that as I march through the book, I'll restrain myself from writing more than three or four paragraphs about each story.  I'd love to write in-depth pieces about each; but that sort of attention is best saved for the series that all the above links come from.  See, those -- most of you know this, but I'll make it explicit nonetheless -- are King's stories in chronological publication order, whereas Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a collection that spans several decades' worth of material.  So I'll cover those individual stories when they come up in the chronology (as, indeed, two of this book's stories -- "Suffer the Little Children" and "The Fifth Quarter" -- already have).
What was that I just heard?  A collective sigh of relief from this blog's readers?  Well, it was a wind of some sort, and if it was of that variety I wouldn't be too surprised.

With that in mind, let's hop right in, beginning with:

"Myth, Belief, Faith, and Ripley's Believe It Or Not!"

About which I might theoretically end up saying more than I'll say about the stories themselves, simply because it's nonfiction, and therefore won't be a part of that incredibly-slow-moving blogthrough of the short stories.  It is King's introduction for the book, and (like the introductions to his previous collections, Night Shift and Skeleton Crew) it is wonderful.

"When I was a kid I believed everything I was told," King begins, "everything I read, and every dispatch sent out by my own overheated imagination."

I can relate.  When I was a child, it was as though I lived in a world of hyper-reality, where everything was exactly what it seemed to be, but plus, somehow.  I loved the things I loved more than I ever had the ability to cope with or even understand; and the things that scared me (which was almost everything) scared me so much that it was like walking through a perpetual nightmare.  A really lame one, granted; but still.  Those feelings -- of wonderment and terror alike -- have mostly dimmed over time.  Long ago, in most cases.  They kind of just shorted themselves out; they're still there, but it's like someone turned down the volume ... or flipped the switch that turned them from color to black-and-white.

I think this helps explain my continued need for stories.  When I read a great book or watch a great movie or hear a great song, it's like the volume on my emotions has been turned all the way up again; like the color has been brought back to my inner life.  That's an awfully pretentious way to think about it, and it's probably not terribly accurate in many ways.  But it's the best I can do tonight, seemingly, so it'll have to do.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Book(s) Review: A Trio by Lee Gambin

Today, let's have a look at a trio of books by film critic and journalist Lee Gambin, beginning with his exploration of the Lewis Teague adaptation of Cujo:

Weighing in at close to five hundred pages, this is an exhaustive piece of work indeed.  I'm pretty sure I feel like every movie ought to have a book this detailed written about it.  Well, okay, maybe not EVERY movie, but certainly every good movie; and Cujo, as Gambin persuasively argues throughout, is probably closer to a great one than merely a good one.
Gambin's structure is simple, but highly effective: he walks us through the entire film, scene by scene, in chronological order.  Not merely summarizing the film, he's also giving keen critical analysis as he goes.  After each scene, he then provides lengthy oral-history-type comments from many of the filmmakers and other contributors who worked on the production.  Often these comments illuminate the making (and intentions) of the scene Gambin has just discussed; sometimes, though, they speak less to specific scenes and more to at-large issues and concerns. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A(n almost certainly incomplete) History of Stephen King Audiobooks, Part 1

I have a love/hate relationship with audiobooks.  The first time I encountered one, however many years ago that was, I thought I'd stumbled upon some sort of magic.  And hey, maybe I had.

Over the years, however, my enthusiasm for the format has diminished considerably.  Too many shabby performances, man; I find myself entirely put off by narrators who take it as their duty to deliver character performances.  I guess some amount of that is necessary; and if you're actually good at it, well, why not go for it?  I find most readers to be decidedly not good at it.  Nothing kills an audiobook for me faster, and I've found myself liking some novels less after hearing them in audio form than I had liked them when simply reading them in prose.  Perhaps this speaks to some weakness in my character; beats me, man, I'm just here to try and make sense out of all this shit.

With that in mind, I've embarked upon what is almost certainly a foolhardy mission: to detail the history of King audiobooks, along with my thoughts on each title.  In some cases, I probably won't have listened to the entirety of the audiobook; as I've said, they sometimes gall me, and while I'm into the idea of having listened to them all, I'm not THAT into it.

Before we get going properly, let me acknowledge something: Kevin Quigley is the go-to guy for information about King audiobooks.  This page from his site Charnel House was very valuable to me in putting this overview together; and that's an understatement.

At Charnel House, you will find references to Library of Congress recordings for certain King books.  These were recorded expressly for the use of blind readers (no, that's not an oxymoron), and were apparently available ... somehow.  Via libraries, probably; possibly also via mail on a rental basis.  I've done very little research on this, and if you wish to accuse me of laziness, I will plead no contest.  I will also welcome any additional information you have, so use them comments, y'all.

Anyways, these were technically the first King audiobooks, and they are as follows:

  • Carrie (circa 1974, read by Anne Chodoff) 
  • The Shining (circa 1977, read by Bruce Huntey)
  • Night Shift (circa 1979, read by Michael Kramer)
  • The Dead Zone (circa 1979, read by Diane Islandburg)
  • Firestarter (circa 1980, read by Merwin Smith)
  • Cujo (circa 1981, read by Bob Askey)
  • Danse Macabre (circa 1981, read by Merwin Smith)
  • Christine (circa 1983, read by Bob Askey)
  • Cycle of the Werewolf (circa 1983, reader unknown)
  • Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man (circa 1985, read by Bob Askey)
  • It (circa 1986, read by Chuck Benson)
  • The Eyes of the Dragon (circa 1987, read by David Palmer) 
  • The Tommyknockers (circa 1987, read by Pam Ward)
  • The Dark Half (circa 1989, read by Chuck Benson)
  • The Stand: Complete & Uncut (circa 1990, read by Bruce Huntey) [although based on Huntey having read The Shining circa 1977, I personally wonder (based on nothing concrete) if this isn't Huntey reading the '78 version of The Stand]
  • Storm of the Century (circa 1999, read by Gregory Gorton)

Additionally, I happen to know of the following, which may or may not have anything to do with the Library of Congress:

  • 'salem's Lot (read by Richard Nazarewich)
  • The Eyes of the Dragon (read by Bill McNeff)
  • The Mist (reader unknown) 

I've managed to track down MP3s of a few of these; I've listened to none of them, and I'm not sure I ever will.  Quigley asserts that the readers are amateurs, not for-hire professionals; and I wonder whether I'd be able to endure such a thing.

I might, eventually; I mean, heck, if a series of posts like this won't get to listen to them, what would?  If nothing else, I'm kind of curious to find out what an audiobook version of a screenplay (like Storm of the Century) would be like.

But I won't be covering any of those in this particular post, and while I am 100% copacetic with that decision I thought it made sense to at least mention them, just so y'all didn't assume I was unaware of them.

We good with that?

Okey doke, then let's move into the post proper, beginning in a real damn fine place to begin:

1984 -- Different Seasons
(read by Frank Muller, produced by Recorded Books)

There are two things I absolutely do not know about Frank Muller's Different Seasons:

(1)  Whether these were indeed released separately and (2) whether it/they was/were actually the first commercially-available King audiobook(s).

Quigley lists these as being 1985 releases, which would generally be good enough for me.  The recordings themselves say "copyright 1984," though, so between that and Skeleton Crew definitively NOT being released until '85, I think it's likely these four releases beat the Recorded Books Skeleton Crew into the world.  And if they didn't, we're going to pretend they did.
There's also a third contender: the truncated Stories From Night Shift release, more on which in a few paragraphs.  That, too, was a 1985 release; could it have actually preceded the Recorded Books Different Seasons volumes?  I do not know for a fact, but it seems possible.
What I do know for a fact is that these four audio releases of the Different Seasons novellas are awesome.  Frank Muller was hands down the finest narrator of audiobooks to ever live.  Have I heard every audiobook narrator to ever work in that business?  I have not.  But I'm standing by my assessment, and that's just all there is to it.  We'll hear Muller's name again in this post, fairly frequently (though not frequently enough for my tastes).

Monday, May 20, 2019

Potluck time at The Truth Inside The Lie, part 2

Diving right in, let's have a look at:
You can probably guess why I bought this new anthology from Lawrence Block: yes, sure enough, it was for the Joe Hill story.  And we'll get to that in a few moments.
First, an apology to the many authors represented herein whose stories I didn't read.  My standing policy is to read anthologies cover to cover, but folks, I'm badly off my game right now in all sorts of ways, and I just didn't want to spend the amount of time it would take to read it all.  Nothing more complicated or nefarious to it than that; I'm being a time hoarder over here, plain and simple.  That said, I felt pretty bad about it, so I did read a couple of pages from every story, and pretty much every single one of them seemed interesting, so my feeling is that this is likely a very strong anthology.
I did, apart from Hill's, work my way through two additional stories in full.  

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Potluck time at The Truth Inside The Lie, part 1

I am in the midst of a week of vacation time right now, and thought I'd work my way through a few bits of King-related ephemera in lieu of doing anything useful.  In order to prove it, here come some random thoughts about it all, beginning with:

The last time I read a Tabitha King novel, it was The Trap, which I thought was pretty great.  It was only the third of her novels I'd read, and next up in the queue is a book called Pearl, with One On One being the next after that.  I'd been wanting to wait to listen to this audiobook until I had actually read the novel, because I generally find that I no longer respond very well to audiobooks as first "reads."  This is especially true of abridged audiobooks, which are something I try to avoid whenever possible.
However, I'm also -- verrrrrrrrrrry slowly -- working on a series of posts about audiobook versions of King books, and the next title up in my explorations was his abridged reading of Tabitha's One On One.  So I figured hey, the time has come; let's just dig into that, and think of it as a preview of the actual novel.
Which is exactly my response upon having finished it: I just got a preview of a novel.  And I think it's a novel I'm going to like quite a lot; maybe more even than Tabitha King's Caretakers, which I flat-out loved.
Thing is, I can't make that call based on an abridged audiobook, even one narrated by Stephen King himself.  Mr. King does a terrific job of reading Mrs. King's words; so much so that I immediately wished unabridged audiobooks existed of him reading all of her novels.  Frankly, she deserves the attention, and that'd be one way to get a bit more of it.
The story (as you can read a bit for yourself from the back cover) is about the fraught relationship between two high-school basketball players.  The Kings were, during the nineties, famous for their championing women's basketball at both the collegiate and high-school levels; Mr. King would work the sport into a short story ("Ur") in a roundabout way years later, but Mrs. King tackled the subject while they were in the thick of it.  And, indeed, she wrote a regionally-published nonfiction book (Playing Like a Girl) about a high-school hoops team only a year after this.
As I have found to be the case previously, Mrs. King's gift is for writing characters.  Deanie Gauthier is maybe the best I've read from her yet; I found her to be incredibly frustrating but also utterly irresistible, which meant that I was in complete sympathy with Sam, her male counterpart.  This is a different-sides-of-the-tracks relationship, in some ways, but in a setting where more or less everyone is a born loser.  Basketball arguably offers them both a way out of that world; but that world has its hooks in them deep, and does NOT want to let go.  I got deeply invested in this relationship, and its ups and downs worked on me fully even though I was getting only what felt like a cursory summary of the novel's events.
That, of course, is the problem with abridged audiobooks.  By definition, a lot of things have to get cut out; in a way, it's like hearing edited-down clips of songs and saying you've listened to a whole album.  Nope, you sure haven't; and here, I really felt it.  I was never sure when I bouncing from one scene to the next because it had been designed that way by Mrs. King, or because the rough blade of abridgement had sliced a scene to smithereens.  It was mostly the latter, I feel sure.
Nevertheless, I found it to be enjoyable.  The bottom line for me is that I love to hear Mr. King narrate a story; he's really, really good at it.  He keeps the goofy character-voice tomfoolery to a minimum, and just goes at the material in straightforward fashion.  I guess I'm glad he's spent much of his life writing books, as opposed to narrating them; but if somebody told me he'd spent secret hours recording dozens of audiobooks for other authors' works, I'd buy every single one of them when and if they got released.  This is not merely because I'd feel obliged to for my collection, but also because I just like the way he reads.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A gallery of cover art from Russian editions of King books

Today, I've got something for you that I would have liked to have put out much sooner -- but life gets in the way sometimes, and I've had precious little hours in the week to devote to blogging of late.  Better late than never, though, one hopes!
Anyways, a while back, a commenter named Arseniy left some links within comments on my 2018 King-books rankings in which he pointed our attention toward the cover art for Russian edition of the books.  I asked if he'd mind me turning that into a post, and he said he wouldn't, and I said I would, but then over two months went by.  However, I never forgot about it, and so now, I present to you, courtesy of Arseniy, a look at some awesome editions of King books.
I'll go in chronological order by publication, beginning with:
Carrie -- A decent few of these, you will see, are inspired by one of the movie adaptations.  This one takes its cues from the 2013 Kimberly Peirce adaptation.  I'm a bigger fan of that movie than many people seem to be, and so this cover works for me just fine; it's creepy, and I can easily imagine it lodging in some kid's brain the way iconography from the Brian DePalma version lodged in mine many years ago.
'Salem's Lot -- This one mystifies me a bit, because I don't really know what it has to do with the novel.  But as an image on its own, it's fairly striking, I think.  So this is not a favorite among the images we'll be looking at, but it's not bad.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

You Need to Be Listening to ''Derry Public Radio'' (Plus: A Trilogy of Interviews!)

Y'all know me; know what I'm about ... and it will therefore come as no surprise to you to know that I have a Google Alerts email subscription for stories pertaining to Stephen King.  I get a dozen or so of these emails a day, and they contain all manner of links: news items about upcoming movies or television shows; reviews (both professional and otherwise); items for sale on eBay, Craigslist, etc.; torrent mirrors; memes; random bullshit that has nothing whatsoever to do with Stephen King; news about other people named Stephen King (such as the economic advisor one or the politician/scumbag one or the photographer one); and so forth.
Also: occasional podcast episodes.  (More on which momentarily.)
Guess what?  I literally just got one of those emails while typing this.  Let's have a look:

Most of the emails contain links that are (like the sample ones above) entirely ignorable.  However, in my capacity as an amateur King scholar, I curate what I like to think of as an extensive archive of King-related news items.  That being the case, I take it as my solemn duty to sift through these emails in the hopes of finding something valuable to add to the archives.

On many days, one or two articles do indeed get added to the archives: today (May 3 as I am writing these words), for example, an interview with Greg Yaitanes about having directed the Castle Rock season two premiere.  Also today: an article on the website for the Bangor Daily News about King's love of baseball and how it has historically impacted the town.  Good stuff, especially that latter one (which has some nice photos) -- and I'd possibly never have known about it if not for Google Alerts.
I'd probably also never have known about Derry Public Radio.

Or if I had, I wouldn't have known about it immediately.  Luckily for me, though, I got one of those emails in early May of 2018, and it included an item about a then-brand-new podcast: Derry Public Radio.  The link was to a Reddit post the pod's creators had made announcing themselves to the world, within which was a link to a Soundcloud page for the first episode.

It sounded intriguing, so I decided to give it a shot.
This wasn't the first time I'd discovered a King podcast in this manner.  Matter of fact, podcast episodes pop up fairly regularly via Google Alerts.  That's how I found The Losers' Club, for example, and I think it may have been how I found the Stephen King Cast as well.  Terrific podcasts, both.
Those are the gemstones amid a field of pebbles.  Much more common, in my experience, for google Alerts to alert me to podcasts which I find to be annoying, amateurish nonsense.  And I say that as an annoying, amateurish blogger self-aware enough to know the hypocrisy with which he has just spoken.

I'm not wrong, though.  Nine times out of ten, the descriptions of the podcasts are sufficient to make me feel no urge to listen to them; of the ones I do decide to sample, nine out of ten of those are not to my liking.  Some come at the material as primarily comedic podcasts that use King's books (or, more often, movies) as a vehicle for delivering snark; others seem primarily to be interested in describing what drinks they are having during the recording; others are hosted by people who are not actually very good at talking.  
That last observation of mine brings me to an uncomfortable truth: in addition to be an annoying amateur, I'm also a judgmental prick.  Guilty!  No contest, judge, take me on away.

But look, man . . . you gotta sort the wheat from the chaff one way or another.  Nobody anywhere eats Chaff Thins.  So I figure that if a podcast hasn't hooked me within five minutes then it's best to move on.  In a perfect world, maybe I'd just listen to it all and be content with that; but in this imperfect world, where time is at an ever-increasing premium, ain't nobody got time for that shit.  So sell me on your podcast quick, or find yourself unsold.
I was sold on Derry Public Radio within about two minutes.

It was immediately clear that the three hosts of this particular show were (A) more interested in King's work than in proving their comedic chops; (B) possessed of sufficient comedic chops to have done it the other way and made it work if they had so chosen; (C) skilled enough at speaking to pull off podcasting as an artform of its own; (D) insightful; (E) determined to bring a polished production quality to the podcast; and (F) loose enough to not be precious about what they were doing.
In other words, they were/are naturals.

Monday, April 1, 2019

A look at the new Blu-ray of the old ''Pet Sematary''

This 4K restoration of the 1989 Pet Sematary adaptation probably looks great in that HDR format.  I wouldn't know.  I don't have a 4K TV; might will one of these days, but that day has yet to arrive.
To entice King fans like me (who already have the 2012 Blu-ray) into a double-dip, there are a couple of new bonus features.  Neither are Earth-shattering, but I enjoyed both.  The first, "Fear and Remembrance," runs 7:14 and is primarily a promo piece for the upcoming remake.  The interviews are with the directors, stars, and producers of that version of the movie, and there's a lot of footage from it; but it's also very much about their memories of the 1989 film, and the way it is presented here made me want to watch the movie again.  And so I did!  (We'll come back to that.)
The second featurette is called "Revisitation."  It runs 9:38, and is an interview with director Mary Lambert about her experiences making the film.  It's thirty years later, and she's turned into an older lady (as have all ladies from 1989); but she's in the mode of one's favorite grandmother or great aunt.  I think she's pretty goddamn adorable, personally.

She's very engaging, as always, and she speaks a bit here about something that interested me greatly: the fact that during the 4K restoration, she was given the opportunity to clean up some of the film's optical effects.  This could have used a before-and-after presentation, because I'm a bit unclear as to what exactly got done.  Lambert seems quite excited by it, though, and is also careful to point out that nothing was actually changed; just improved.
I was intrigued by this, so -- spurred on by both this and the desire "Fear and Remembrance" sparked in me to undertake my own revisitation of the movie -- I decided to try an experiment.  Could I do a literal side-by-side comparison of the 2012 Blu-ray transfer with the 2019 transfer?

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The King-Movie Oscars: Winners!

It's Oscar Sunday, and the world waits anxiously to find out which movies it's never heard of will take home the gold.  Will it be that black and white one?  Or will it be that other one, with the two guys in it?  We shall see.  Or not, as the case may be.
I'll be tuning in.  I was on the fence about it when I wrote my post announcing the nominations for these doofy awards I'm giving out today, but the crushing weight of tradition has buried me once again; count me in, Oscar, ya scamp ya.
But first, this:

That's right, it's time to hand out the awards for the winners of the King-Movie Oscars.  And by "hand out," I mean read a bit of fluff from me wherein I defend my decisions.  And by "awards," I mean the same sort of awards you used to get if you won a No-Prize from Stan Lee.  They're in the mail, winners!

Excellence In Animal Training

Karl Lewis Miller for Cujo (1983)
Was there any doubt?  The other nominees contain very fine work indeed, and (if such an award existed) would have deserved to be nominated for actual Oscars during the years they'd have been eligible.
For me, though, this one is a no-brainer.  The work Miller did with the team of Saint Bernards who collectively portrayed Cujo is truly a marvel.  At no point in the movie does it feel like you're seeing dogs pretending to do things; Cujo feels like a dog actually suffering from the tragedy of rabies.
Without the work Miller and those pups did, this movie would have been a laughable failure.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A Guided Tour of the Peanuts Filmography, Part 4: The 1990s and the Post-Schulz 2000s

Our fourth and final post in the series begins in the year 1990, with:

Why, Charlie Brown, Why?
airdate:  March 16, 1990 (CBS)
written by:  Charles M. Schulz
directed by:  Sam Jaimes
produced by:  Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez
music by:  Judy Munsen

This one is about a friend of Linus's (Janice) who gets leukemia and has to go in and out of the hospital over the course of a winter.  Linus is very protective of her, especially when a bully mocks her for wearing a pink hat to cover her newly-bald head.

If this sounds like an awfully serious subject for a Peanuts special, well, maybe it is.  But there's an emotional reservoir from which all of Peanuts flows, and so it's really not as incongruous an idea as it might seem.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure it's an especially successful attempt this time out.  Too much of it feels like an educational film expanded to half-hour length.