Monday, May 26, 2014

A Review of "They Thirst" [by Robert McCammon]

Consulting my records, I see that it has been roughly 1.25 years since I wrote the previous post in my Robert McCammon retrospective series.  By any standard, that is an unacceptable gap, and I will make every effort to ensure that the next gap is substantially shorter.

Truth is, I've been feeling the weight of time lately.  Perhaps not coincidentally, I'll be turning 40 in a few weeks, and while I don't have the existential worry about that which I'm expected to have according to most books and movies, I nevertheless feel a bit as if time is decidedly not on my side.  There are things in life which I wish to accomplish, and thus far I have accomplished nary a one of them.

Don't misunderstand me.  This is not the sound of despair you hear; it is instead simply the sound of somebody who realizes that it's time to start focusing a bit better.  I've still got plenty of time to do all -- or at least most -- of those things on my list, but getting them done is going to require that I find a way to eliminate as much time-wastage as I can.

What does that mean, in practical terms?  Well, primarily, it's going to mean a severe pruning of the amount of movies and television shows that I watch.  Not in terms of the raw number of hours spent on those enjoyments, but rather a tighter focusing of which movies and shows I allow myself to watch.  Fewer new movies, fewer new tv shows, fewer new comic books.  A curtailing of watching several current television shows which I enjoy but which do not really fit into my goals.  Example: I've been hearing a lot of friends say that Arrow is awesome.  And I love superhero tales.  However, I feel as if I can live without it.

Anyways, we're not here to listen to me whinge on about how I don't have time for all the books, movies, tv shows, and music that I'd like to consume.  Who does have that much time, anyways?  There's nothing special about my plight, and I only use the word "plight" so that I can immediately point out that as far as plights go, that's a damn sight better than the plights of many.

Nope, we're not here for all that selfish bullshit.  We're here for this:

That's a groovy cover.  Not at all accurate in terms of the novel's depiction of vampires (whose fangs are much more like those of a rattlesnake), but like many a comic-book cover in the history of that medium, this is a cool bit of art on its own merits.  I don't have a copy of this edition of the novel, sadly; they aren't all that easy to come by.  [UPDATE, June 10: Thanks to some crafty eBayin', I now have a copy of that paperback.  Groovy!]
Here's what I've got:

That's a scan of the very copy I bought in 1990 from a little used bookstore called The Book Rack.

I'd not reread this book in a long time, if ever; I think this may have been one of the McCammons I only read once.  I remember liking it a lot when I read it, though, and while I felt like it had some similarities to Stephen King's vampire novel, 'Salem's Lot, I also felt as if it was good enough that I didn't mind the comparison.

Over the years, my memory for the novel's specifics faded away almost entirely.  If you read my blog regularly (and thanks if you do!), then you know that that is by no means unusual for me.  I wish I had a better memory but alas, I don't, so in some instances, I'll have read a book and not be able to remember anything about it apart from a general sense of how much I liked it.  It's a bit like a memory of a smell: I can't grasp the specifics, but I can remember a bit of how it made me feel.  Memory as emotion: like describing music using only colors to do so..

As I've said before, my blogs are to some extent designed as a weapon against the creeping menace of poor memory.  Before I began blogging, I'd have to rely on that emotion-sense memory to "remember" a lot of the books I'd read; now, in some cases, I can go back and read blog posts I've written.  "Oh yeah," I might think to myself; "that's what that was like, and here are several thousands words to prove it."  It's a cool thing, and I kinda wish I'd started doing it sooner.

As regrets go, that's a minor one.  But regret (he said, segueing semi-nimbly) runs deep in They Thirst, and indeed might be what I would characterize as the novel's chief emotion.  Here, the main character, police detective Andy Palatazin, illustrates my point for me:

Now a world away from Fountain Avenue, Palatazin felt a wave of regret pass over him.  He took his coat from the back of a chair and wearily shrugged into it.  Why hadn't things worked out as he'd planned so many years before?  His dream had been to take his wife and son up to a little town north of San Francisco where the climate was cooler and head a small police station where the most serious crime was kids stealing from a pumpkin patch.  He wouldn't even need a car, and he would know and be liked by everyone in town.  Jo could open that florist shop she was always thinking about, and his son would be quarterback on the high school football team.  He buttoned his coat and let the dreams drift away like so much shimmering dust.  After the second stillbirth Jo's doctor had told her it would be dangerous for her, both physically and emotionally, to try again.  He suggested adoption and left it at that.  And Palatazin had been caught, as everyone is, in the huge whirlpool of events that takes you down once, twice, a third and final time.  He knew he would probably remain in this city until he died, though sometimes late at night he thought he could close his eyes and see that little town, full of white picket fences and clean streets and chimneys that puffed white plumes of cherrywood smoke in the long winters.

Time to go home, he thought.
(pages 148-149)
Virtually every human character in the novel has some version of this melancholy; it seems almost to be a part of the human condition.  Which, arguably, it is, at least in current Western culture.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

They Saw Nothing But Themselves: A Review of "The Reaper's Image"

"The Reaper's Image" appeared in the Spring 1969 issue of Startling Mystery Stories, and though King had already by this time published a quartet of stories in college publications during his school years, this marks only his second professional sale.  The first, "The Glass Floor," had also been to Startling Mystery Stories.

And like "The Glass Floor," "The Reaper's Image" really isn't much of a story.  Of those two it is the superior effort; but in the end, neither amounts to much.

The story would later be collected in 1985's Skeleton Crew, and it is, of course, that version of the story which I will be reviewing today.  I don't have a thousand dollars to spend on acquiring a copy of the original magazine, so readers who possess one are encouraged (and would be thanked for) considering scanning the pages in and sending to me.  I probably won't quite fall to my knees and bless ye as did Aunt Talitha before Roland Deschain, but hey, you never know.

To be honest, I don't have much to say about this story.  I've been putting off writing the post for several days because I did not have the time to devote.  When I'm doing what I intend to do with my reviews, it usually (what with all the note-taking and rereading and whatnot) takes me seven or eight hours to pound out one of these short-story pieces, on account of how I'm a dull-witted laggard; I prefer by far to spend those hours in one concentrated dose, and have not had too many seven or eight hourses to spend lately.

But now that I sit down to perform the actual writing of the post, I see that it is going to be a nonissue for "The Reaper's Image."  There's just not a lot of meat on them bones.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Review of Andrew J. Rausch's "The Wit and Wisdom of Stephen King"

The book I'm reviewing today came out in 2011, so this is not exactly a Johnny-on-the-Spot review.  Sorry about that, y'all.

Actually, no!  I'm not sorry at all!  Dadgum it, there's no need for me to apologize!  Fact is, I didn't think this book would amount to a whole heck of a lot, so when it came out, I kind of just shrugged at it and put it where I put a lot of things that interest me but only to a certain degree: on my wishlist.

Every once in a while, though, when I'm buying other things from Amazon and have a bit of money left to spend, I'll scroll through that wishlist, and if the price is right and the mood strikes me in the correct manner, I'll pluck an item or two or three off of that list and migrate 'em over to the shopping cart.

And so it is that when I recently bought a few other books about Stephen King, I decided to go ahead and pick this one up, too, because hey, why not?

Turns out, that was a pretty good decision.  This book is well worth having and reading.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Review of Paul Simpson's "A Brief Guide to Stephen King"

For every good book about the works of Stephen King, there are probably two or three mediocre ones.  

Which brings us to today's review:

This is one of the mediocre ones.  Not bad, mind you; just mediocre.  Simpson undertakes an overview of King's entire oeuvre, from books to movies to other ephemera.  If you are the kind of person who likes Stephen King's books but knows absolutely nothing about him, and also has no ability to go online and use Google to find things out for yourself, then this is just the book for you.  You will learn plenty here.

Most King fans, however, will already know the vast majority of this stuff, I suspect.  I shouldn't say "most."  I should say "many" instead.  But it is a near-certainty that many King fans will already know virtually everything that Simpson has to say here.  Those who don't can get on Wikipedia, or on one of any number of King-centric websites (up to and including this one), and get most of the same info without having to spend money on a book.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Review of Scott Von Doviak's "Stephen King Films FAQ"

According to Wikipedia -- and also to everything else I've ever seen or heard in my entire life -- the acronym "FAQ" stands for "frequently asked questions."

With that in mind, when you see the title Stephen King Films FAQ, what sort of mental concept does it conjure for you in terms of what the content and structure of the book will be?  If you answered, "a book about the movies of Stephen King, arranged in the form of a series of ostensibly-frequently-asked questions about same," or some variant of that, then congratulations: you came to the same conclusion I reached.
It might or might not, then, surprise you that this particular book is not in any way structured around a series of questions -- frequently asked or otherwise -- about the movies of Stephen King.  Whether or not it surprises you, odds are good that you won't much care.  You'll care even less when and if you discover that Stephen King Films FAQ is part of a series of books with FAQ in the title, each based on specific subjects and published by Applause.  The series editor is filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, so I suppose I ought to be blaming him.  This is fine; it gives me something to blame him for, whereas before I only had him encouraging Frank Miller to direct (which led to Miller's film The Spirit, surely one of the all-time cinematic losers).

[UPDATE:  A commenter informs me that this is not THE Robert Rodriguez, but a different person altogether.  We regret the error, but are too tied to slamming The Spirit to fully remove the above comments.]
The idea, I guess, is that these books serve a similar function to what a website's FAQ section serves: to introduce, to explain, to clarify, and to forestall.  None of this lessens the truth of the meaning behind the acronym itself; you cannot label something an FAQ and decide to simply ignore what the "F," the "A," and the "Q" mean.

Granted, we live in a culture that has within my lifetime decided that the word "literally" does not literally have to mean "literally" anymore.

With this in mind, I am considering adopting an if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em stance, and becoming a trailblazer in the saying-stupid-ass-shit field.  I haven't settled on a final approach yet, but my first idea is to begin referring to every movie and television show as a Harry Potter.  I myself saw a good new Harry Potter a few weeks ago; it was one of the best ones ever that had the Muppets in it.  I especially liked the songs, all of which reminded me of the ones from that Harry Potter HBO did a few years back, the one where Harry Potter was played by Jemaine Clement from the Outback Steakhouse commercials.  I think this is because the other guy who played Harry Potter on that series wrote the songs for this new Harry Potter.

If we, as a people, can make "literally" mean "figuratively," then we can sure as fuck make all movies be Harry Potters.

If a book that is titled an FAQ but is not actually an FAQ doesn't bother you the same way it bothers me, then you are probably in better shape long-term than I am.  And title issues notwithstanding, Scott Von Doviak's book is pretty good.  It isn't going to redefine the way you think of Stephen King movies as a whole, although it might help to reshape the way you think about a few of them individually.  It also won't redefine the way you think of film criticism.  But it will likely entertain and educate you, and that's a pretty good thing to say about a book.

The book opens with 38 pages worth of chapters discussing the history of the horror genre on film leading up to 1976 (the year the first King-based film, Carrie, opened).  This is similar to the manner in which a great many biographies of people begin: with the backstory of their parents, their grandparents, their great-parents, their uncles and aunts and the towns in which these various people lived.  I'm by no means a rabid reader of biographies (though I'd like to be), but I've read enough of them to know that most of the good ones begin in this fashion.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Review of Tony Earnshaw's "Studies in the Horror Film: Tobe Hooper's Salem's Lot"

It's been a busy year so far for books about the various works of Stephen King, and of the group, I'd say the one I was most looking forward to was the one we're covering today:

And of the 2014 books about King that I've read so far, this one is easily the best.  It is a beautifully-made book in the physical sense, and the text is (while not exactly what I was expecting) very much worth reading.

Let's break it down a bit and examine the contents.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #46

This week's post is probably not going to be describable as "the soul of wit," but I do intend for it to be brief.  I will almost certainly break that vow when we get to the Alan Moore section at the end, but we'll play it by ear and see how it goes.

So: comics!

Let's begin with a bit of news:

Marvel has decided to get back into the Dark Tower business, and their adaptation of The Drawing of the Three begins with the first arc, "The Prisoner."  Both Robin Furth and Peter David will be returning as plotter and scripter, respectively, which, given how The Gunslinger turned out under their shepherding, is perhaps not a great thing.  We'll see.  I'm skeptical, but will I be subscribing via my local comics retailer?  M-O-O-N, that spells "fucking of course I will."

I'm not at all familiar with artist Piotr Kowalski, but Entertainment Weekly posted several pages if pencils from the first issue, and I like what I see.  He's got my interest, and I have to admit that the final page of the EW gallery also makes me think Furth and David might have stepped their game(s) up a notch.

So, skeptical, yes; but also cautiously excited.  I'd love for Marvel to eventually adapt the entire series, provided they can do it well.

And now, let's move on to this week's month's comics, starting with:

Wraith #6 is the penultimate issue in the series, so it is difficult for me to be specific about what things I liked in this issue, and which things I loved in this issue; at least, if I want to avoid giving away plot details.  I am arguably being too sensitive about that.  But the fact is that I just don't want to delve into the intricacies of the plot.  Someday, sure.  We'll cover the whole series and dissect it like it's a frog.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Few Thoughts About "The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands"

A few nights ago, I finished rereading The Waste Lands for the first time in a few years (maybe since 2003 or so).  As I've been rereading King's books, I've been blogging about them; since 2011 when I began the blog, at least.

The blog was started after I'd reread the first two books in the Dark Tower series, though, which means that there are no posts corresponding to those novels.  As a result, it would feel . . . unbalanced, somehow, to write a full-on review (or, more likely, a series of reviews) on The Waste Lands.  I think that is going to have to wait until I can find time to circle back a bit and tackle both The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three.  And THAT is going to have to wait until I can find the original magazine versions of the stories that comprise The Gunslinger, as I would like to read them for reference purposes to find out what King changed in revising them for collection.

It seems wrong to simply skip over the book, though, so I thought a few personal reminiscences about my personal history with the novel might make for a decent solution.

That's the cover of the book that I purchased in 1991 when it was released.  I've not been able to find a firm release date for when the trade paperback hit stores, but evidence seems to indicate that it was in early- to mid-December, and that matches with my memories of reading the novel over Christmas break.  I was in my senior year of high school, and my family spent Christmas the way we almost always spent it: Christmas Eve was spent in Tuscaloosa with members of my mother's side of the family, and then on Christmas Day, we went to Creola and Saraland and spent time with my dad's side of the family.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Worst to Best: Scores for Stephen King Films

I've been having fun with the recent soundtrack reviews I've been doing, and in order to prolong that fun a bit, here is a Worst-to-Best ranking of the scores to King-based movies (and television projects).  It will not be 100% comprehensive; a great many of the scores to King movies are not obtainable even via bootleg.  Or if they are, they've not been obtainable in my experience attempting to obtain them.  And since it's my experience that must (for better or worse) guide us here, that is what we are stuck with for now.
All of which means that when you notice that, say, Hearts in Atlantis or Desperation or The Mangler Reborn or whatever is missing from the list, you need not assume I have forgotten about it.  I have not forgotten; I merely did not have the means to properly judge the score at my disposal.
Let's get started, beginning with the bottom of the barrel, which I am going to identify as:

#42 -- Riding the Bullet (2004, Nicholas Pike)

I don't own a copy of that score, thank Christ.  I'd hate for anybody to know I spent money on such a thing.  I spent a bit of bandwidth on downloading it illicitly, and even that makes me a bit ashamed.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Review of the "It" Soundtrack

Despite the fact that the miniseries has extremely successful and remains very popular nearly twenty-five years later, the Emmy-winning score for It did not receive any sort of commercial release until Intrada stepped up, said "Hey . . . we got this," and put a two-disc release out in 2011.

I'd love to tell you that you can still get a copy, but if I said that, I'd be a liar: it sold out long ago.  If you are disreputable and know where to look, you can find MP3s of it floating around out there on the high seas of Internet piracy, but that's just not as much fun, is it?  

It's more fun than the other option, which involves buying a sealed copy from this piece of shit on eBay, who obviously bought a copy only so he could sell it to you later for over twice what he paid for it.  So far, he doesn't appear to be having much luck, and to that I say "good, I hope it never sells."

Can you tell that limited-edition hounds get under my skin?  I certainly don't make a secret of it.

But let's not focus on that.  Let's focus on something cheerier and less loathsome, the shapeshifting, child-mutilating semi-eternal evil that is Pennywise the Dancing Clown:

I'd bet my watch and my warrant on the fact that that image alone is enough to creep out a great many people, especially if they are among the demographic born between the years of, say, 1985 and 1995.  The miniseries seems to hold a very special place of horror for kids of that age group, and while Tim Curry probably deserves a great deal of the credit (blame?) for that, he didn't do it alone.

An under-sung contributor to that longevity of impact is composer Richard Bellis, who created an effective score that serves to underline Pennywise's looming presence.  It is a vital psychological component of the miniseries, and while I think the music probably works a bit better within the context of the film than it does as an isolated listening experience, that changes nothing: this is a great example of a dramatic score doing exactly what a dramatic score needs to do.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Review of the "Salem's Lot" Soundtrack

The 1979 miniseries Salem's Lot is arguably one of the most famous and popular Stephen King films to this day.  It landed at #10 on my list of the best King movies, but it isn't uncommon to see it higher on other people's.  And it's a generally well-respected film within the horror community in general.

Despite that, the lush score by Harry Sukman had never been released commercially in any form until Intrada released it on CD in 2013 as Volume 256 of their Special Collection series.  In retrospect, this is a little difficult to fathom; the miniseries had been a big hit, and the score was a very highly regarded effort by an Oscar-winning composer.  No LP release, no cassette release, no CD release; no eight-tracks or minidiscs or MP3s, no nothin' until 2013.

Intrada finally stepped up, though, and righted that wrong, which means that you -- yes, YOU! -- can now visit their website and buy a copy of the two-disc release for a mere $29.99.  I know what you're thinking: "thirty bucks?!?  'Fuck' and 'no'!"  But look here, you cheapskate, it's thirty bucks for nearly an hour and forty minutes of music, plus a 24-page booklet of liner notes, and it's a score that seemingly stood a good chance of never being released at all.  So go buy a copy and thereby thank Intrada for making the release happen.

I don't have the slightest clue what format this review is going to take.  I think what I'll do is just listen to the discs, and from that point, que sera sera.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Review of the "Pet Sematary" Soundtrack

Released in the fall of 2013, La-La Land's expanded release of Elliot Goldenthal's score to Pet Sematary was limited to 2000 copies, but, surprisingly (to me), was still available for purchase when I sat down to write this review.  I'm not sure what to make of that, but here are a few guesses:
  • #1 -- the film-score fan community isn't comprised of all that many hardcore Elliot Goldenthal fans
  • #2 -- the horror-film-score fan community isn't comprised of all that many hardcore Elliot Goldenthal fans
  • #3 -- the Stephen King fan community isn't comprised of all that many film-score nerds

At least one of those things -- and, if I had to guess, maybe all of them -- must be true.  Otherwise, it seems likely to me that those 2000 copies would have been sold long ago.

I can say with certainty that at least one of them was sold, though, because I'm looking at it right this very moment.

2013 release from La-La Land Records

I'm slightly unsure as to how to proceed with this review.  A track-by-track approach made sense for Room 237, but it makes less sense with this disc, for reasons that I find I cannot immediately put into words.

As a stop-gap measure, I should mention one thing right up front: the Ramones song from the end credits ("Pet Sematary") is nowhere to be found on this release.  Nor was it on the original CD release from Varèse Sarabande, which has been out of print for a looooooooong time (making it doubly surprising that this new release has not sold out yet).  The Ramones song is therefore something you'll have to track down elsewhere, which is a bit of a shame.  I've got a legit copy courtesy of the Rhino compilation CD New Wave Halloween, which is a great disc even if half the songs on it fail to actually qualify as new wave.  The 1989 Ramones album Brain Drain also includes the song, which is probably also a good option, even if the band was well past its heyday by '89.

My stop-gap measure seems to have more or less worked, as a tentative plan of attack has presented itself.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Review of the "Room 237" Soundtrack

I love big, symphonic movie scores.  The all-time master of that art is John Williams, who has been scoring films for nearly sixty years now.  I'd also mention Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Danny Elfman, Elmer Bernstein, Alan Silvestri, Howard Shore, Max Steiner, Maurice Jarre, Basil Poledouris, and Michael Giacchino as being terrific practitioners of that art.

But symphonic film scores are not the be-all / end-all when it comes to movie music.  There are several film-music forums that will do their best to convince you otherwise, but those places seem to wish the world had stopped turning in 1979 or so.

To each his own, but for my tastes, a really good electronic-music score is a thing of beauty, and if you've seen Room 237, then you know it has just such a score.  It's composed by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes (presumably no relation to Wesley, but a blogger can dream, can't he?), who are unfamiliar to me apart from their involvement with this movie.  The small amount of research I've done on them reveals that they have mostly worked individually, and not as a duo, and that between them they have several current bands, several former bands, and a number of film scores (mostly for television and for documentary shorts).

Based on the music here, I would say that investigating their other works would probably be well worth my time.  However, that is going to have to be a project for some other day.  On this day, let's focus merely on the score at hand.

That's the cover of the CD, which was released by Death Waltz Recording Company, a UK-based label that specializes in vinyl (and CD) releases of horror-movie soundtracks.  Which Room 237 isn't, but it has obvious horror-movie associations, so the jury will allow it.  (Links now follow for the CD and the vinyl releases.)

The cover art is by Sam Smith.  I don't really know what to make of it.  I guess the idea is for me to figure out what it means (a tactic which clearly has resonance given the subject of Room 237).  I am tempted to get grumpy about it.  Why not just make the cover art one of the seemingly dozens of awesome posters for the movie?  I like the music so much that I can't summon a grump about it, though.