Monday, December 31, 2018

I Had a Lot to Be Careful For: A Review of "The Fifth Quarter"

Today, "The Fifth Quarter" is up to bat.
  
It's not much of a story, to be honest.  I sense already I'm going to struggle a bit for things to say, but that's okay, because I've got an ace up my sleeve.  Of sorts.
  
"The Fifth Quarter" was originally published (under the pseudonym John Swithen) in the April 1972 issue of Cavalier.  It also appeared in Cavalier's 1973 annual, and would later be reprinted in the February 1986 issue of The Twilight Zone Magazine before being collected in 1993's Nightmares & Dreamscapes.
  
Because it's the 1993 version of the story which most readers will encounter, that's the version we'll be considering.  However, I do have scans of the Cavalier and TZ versions of the story, and once I've said my piece about the story itself, I'm going to do something that I hope to do for a number of other King stories eventually: have a look at variations in the text from one version to the next.
  
If that sounds dry as mummy-humping to you, well, that's how it goes sometimes.  And speaking of humping:
  
  
No "John Swithen" graces the front cover of the magazine where the story initially appeared.  No surprise there, I guess.
  
I love seeing the artwork many of these stories had in their original appearances.  This appears in both the regular Cavalier issue and the annual.
  
  
"The Fifth Quarter" is a tale about a guy whose friend is killed when a heist he's part of goes wrong.  Partly as an act of revenge for his murdered pal, and partly -- mostly -- in an attempt to score the proceeds for himself, the unnamed protagonist goes on a small quest to track down the other three members of the four-man crew.

It doesn't go entirely to plan, of course.  He tracks down two of the crooks and corners them while they're in the same place; but as it turns out, the fourth and final member of the crew has also been tailing them.  So now he's tailing the narrator as well, having essentially allowed him to do most of the dirty work beforehand.

It isn't a bad story; or at least, I find it to be harmless enough.  Your mileage may vary.  I would have a hard time believing it's any King fan's favorite, either.  It just doesn't amount to a whole heck of a lot in the end.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Books I Read In 2018, Part 3

After a strong start, 2018 proved to be a disappointment to me in terms of the number of books I read.  Summer (and much of the spring and fall) was a complete wash.
  
However, I'm hoping for a strong finish, and either way I'm going to talk about it.
  
Let's see how I did, beginning with:
  
  
Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
  
  
  
  
Pressed for an answer to the question "What is your absolute favorite novel?" I would likely answer "Dune by Frank Herbert."  I reread (and blogged about) that awesome work of science fiction last summer, and revisited the awesome (and underrated) sequel this summer. And my takeaway from a fresh visit with the sequel is that it might be better even than the original.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Worst To Best: Stephen King Books (2018 Edition)

Disclaimer: This is (I think) the fifth version of this list that I've put together.  If you've read any of those, you've read much of this one; there's some rewriting here, but much of it is simply repurposed from previous editions.  (Which meant copying and pasting, which meant weird formatting glitches; Blogger gets pissed off if you copy and paste, and while I've eleminated as much of the formatting weirdness as I could, some of it lurks nevertheless.  So if you see places where there are too many lines between paragraphs ... well, I tried.)

The previous incarnations can be found by digging around, if you're interested enough to look for them.  I suppose doing so would give you some insight into how wrong I always manage to get these things the evolution of my thinking about some of the titles; that's a thing that sort of matters to me, which is why I've kept the older versions online.  If it matters 0% to you: trust me, I got no issue with that.
  
As always, I urge you not to take the list too seriously.  I generally go with my gut, and my gut fluctuates; it's influenced by recent rereads, or by podcast episodes discussing the works, or by conversations I have with correspondents and friends about these things, or by ... well, by the way the wind is blowing, maybe.  
  
One thing I always struggle with is determining what to actually count as a "Stephen King book."  This is not as clear-cut an issue as it might seem.  Some items are clear.  There's no scenario in which The Shining wouldn't count.  With other titles, there's considerably more room for interpretation as to what the designation "book" actually means.  I've done version of these rankings where I tossed everything I could think of in; this version is more of a leaving-things-out take on the topic.
  
But I thought it might be useful to deal with some of the omitted titles up front, and establish some guidelines for why I decided (this time) to not formally rank them.  There's a whopping thirty of those; let's go through them in alphabetical order.
  
  
It's demonstrably a book, as are the other 29 omitted titles.  But what do we mean when we say "Stephen King book"?  To some extent, I think we mean prose, and this graphic novel is only partially prose.  In the past, I've struggled to figure out how to compare this to, say, Thinner or Rose Madder.  I might not be a fan of the latter, but it delivers more "Stephen King" to me than this comic does.  Which is not a criticism of the comic.  If King had continued to work on the series, or certainly if he was the sole writer, I'd likely have left it in.  (If, for example, I were ranking Joe Hill's books, that ranking would definitely include Locke & Key.)  But this was a part-time summer job for King, not a career; so for now, I feel like it doesn't quite belong on this list as a ranked title.
 
This is the first of a trio of books which are collections of interviews with King.  I love love love Bare Bones and in many ways do consider it to be a nonfiction book by King.  But at the end of the day, he did not edit the individual interviews, nor did he edit the book overall, and may not even have been kosher with it being released.  Great, great stuff; but probably not really best considered to be a King book.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Movie Review: "The Dark Tower" (2017)

The wheel has finally turned.  It is, at long last, time for:
  
  
  
  
There aren't many movies in my lifetime that I've wanted to see more than I wanted to see this one.  And it was, of course, a complete letdown.
  
I've probably wanted to see nothing in my life more than I wanted to see the first of the Star Wars prequels.  I'm old enough to remember a time when there weren't going to be any more Star Wars films; then, suddenly, there were: the long-rumored prequels.  I was so excited about The Phantom Menace that I can -- to this day -- vividly recall having a nightmare about it.  This happened about a year before the movie was released; I had a nightmare in which I went to see the movie and it sucked.  I woke up and may literally have breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Oh, thank God it was only a dream!"  But that ended up not to be true, didn't it?
  
Luckily, I also know something of what the opposite of that feels like.  Another of my most-anticipated films ever was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  I remember sitting with a friend watching the first trailer, and us being giddy about it and wondering aloud the kinds of things you should never wonder aloud about movies: what if it is not only good, but SO good that, like, it wins a shitload of Oscars?  What if it makes, like, $300 million?  That one turned out quite nicely.
  
The Dark Tower is somewhere between those two.  In truth, I was never excited about the movie.  I was excited about the idea of the movie.  Well, not "the" movie; "a" Dark Tower movie, yes, but never this particular one.  It became real evident real quick that this was going to bear very little relation to the movie playing in my head; so it never had a chance to really get me pumped up with true anticipation.  
  
However, in the let's-make-a-movie-someday stage of things, yeah, absolutely: this is about as hyped as I can get.  I used to think things like hey, what if they made about seven or eight Dark Tower movies?  What if they were all huge hits and did SO well that people made spinoffs and did, like, a whole King Universe thing?  What if the chick who played Susannah won an Oscar for it?
  
You know.  Shit like that.
  
Clearly, that didn't happen.  In theory, I guess it still could, but I'd say the chances are nil for about fifteen more years of anyone even trying, much less succeeding.
  
Still, it's plain that at some point in time, at least a few Hollywood movers and shakers were thinking along similar lines, if only in a theoretical sense.  At some point in time -- let's say it was around the beginning of the decade -- the film industry developed a rabid desire for long-running franchises.  There was probably nothing in a single one of the Dark Tower novel that made studio executives excited to make a movie; but since there were SEVEN of them (nobody told them about The Wind Through the Keyhole, guaranteed), we-he-HELL! now, THAT'S something different!  THAT sounds like a franchise, fellas.  All we have to do is buy the rights, sit back, and count our bonuses as they come rolling in.  Whuzzat?  Figure out how to MAKE the movies?!?  Christ, that's just details.
  
If that sounds like a cynical take, let's not necessarily feel that way.  In theory, I love big franchises.  It's what our culture as a whole has decided it likes about going to the movies, and there's at least one example -- the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- of this type of thing being pulled off at an extraordinarily high level.  There have been flops, too; the world is still laughing about the Dark Universe that Universal tried to gin up with its classic-monsters properties.  Oh-ho-ho!  Oh, how we laugh about that one.
  
But in theory, a Dark Tower franchise could have been a resounding success.  So why not aim for it?  Why not make two decades' worth of movies and/or television shows set in (or spinning off from) that universe of storytelling?  It is a perfectly reasonable desire from a studio standpoint, and by golly if this property doesn't fit the model (albeit imperfectly in some ways).  Furthermore, what King and/or Tower fan would balk at the idea?
  
No sir, there's no cynicism whatsoever from me as it relates to the idea of doing that.
  
There's quite a bit of cynicism in me regarding how Sony and MRC went about actually trying it, though.  And rest assured, that cynicism is likely to be vented at full pressure throughout this review.  Because they bungled it.  They fumbled the ball on first down; they struck out looking; they bricked both free-throws.  I don't know cricket, but I assume "sticky wicket" might apply, too.  Feel free to apply your own sports-fail metaphors; they'll all work.
  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Hear Me, Hear Me!

Just a quick little note here: I was recently invited to guest on Lou Sytsma's The Stephen King Podcast and speak on the subject of Mike Flanagan's filmography.  
  
We talked about all of his movies a bit, with the focus being figuring out how we feel about the prospects of Flanagan's currently-filming adaptation of Doctor Sleep.
  
Spoiler alert: we're feeling pretty good about it.
  
Check it out here, if you've a mind to!
  
  
  
  
It was a lot of fun, and I thank Lou for asking me to come on and run my mouth for an hour!

Friday, November 16, 2018

What I Watched This "October" (2018 Edition), Part 10

I had a big ol' pile of movies that I wanted to work my way through this October, and I got a fair number of 'em crossed off the list.  But not all of them.  Since the would-be list for 2019 is already unmanageable, I don't want to overburden it further by adding 2018 holdovers (some of which are themselves 2017 holdovers).  Lest they get permanently shoved to the sidelines, I've decided to just keep right on a-watchin', and to cover it all here. 
  
And here that coverage is.
  
We begin with:
  
  

  
  
I'd seen Robert Wise's The Haunting once, years ago; it didn't do a whole heck of a lot for me, to be honest.  But I wanted to watch it again before tackling Mike Flanagan's Netflix series (stay tuned, we'll be covering that right after this), and so I did.
  
Unsurprisingly, I got a lot more out of it this time.  I listened to an audiobook of Shirley Jackson's novel (The Haunting of Hill House) first, narrated by the great David Warner.  The movie is a faithful enough adaptation, although a few key details definitely get changed, especially toward the end. 
  
What makes this adaptation work, apart from the source material and the production design and the score by Humphrey Searle, is the casting.  Everyone in this is well chosen for the roles they are playing.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Brief Review of ''Elevation''

A new Stephen King book came out on the day before Halloween, and my annual rumpus of gorging on horror movies delayed me from beginning it that day.  Plus, I'd only gotten about halfway through Flight Or Fright, and wanted to finish that one first.
  
And so I did, and moved on straightaway to Elevation, about which I shall tell you more momentarily.
  
  

  
  
Elevation is a novel.  It says so right there on the cover, which means Stephen King says it's a novel; therefore, it's a novel.
  
Thing is, Elevation is demonstrably a novella.  It can easily be read in a single sitting (as I would have done if not for pausing a few minutes to go take a load of clothes out of the dryer and hang them up); this is something that simply isn't true of most novels.
  
A further thing is, it doesn't much matter whether you call Elevation a novel, or a novella, or a salamander, or a marmalute, or a short novel, or a taquito.  Whatever you call it, it's a sweet little tale about a guy who suddenly begins losing weight without losing mass, and finds a way to apply this newfound lightness of being to an existing problem: a mild feud with the married women next door whose dogs occasionally poop on his lawn.
  
It's a tale that starts well, middles excellently, and kind of peters out at some point right before the end.  It's still pretty good, though; very minor King, I think, but minor King is still worth a read for virtually anyone who has stumbled their way onto this blog.
  

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Brief Review of "Flight Or Fright"

It took me long enough, but here at last: a brief review of the Cemetery Dance anthology Flight Or Fright, edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent.
  
  

 

The book came out a bit more than two months ago; all I can say in explanation of why it's taken me so long is that I got sidetracked working on that whopper of a series examining the Halloween movies.  Is that a good explanation for delaying the reading of a new Stephen King book.  It is not.  Apologies, if only to myself.
  
Anyways, it's now been tackled, and so let's have a brief look at the contents and call it a review.  
  

Thursday, November 1, 2018

What I Watched This October (2018 Edition), Part 9

Halloween has come and gone; this here series of posts rolls on. 

Up first:




I'd seen this before -- several times -- but not in close to twenty years, so I figured it was high time for a revisit.
  
It's a movie that made a strong impression the first time I saw it, not entirely in a positive sense.  If you'll pardon the pun, I found it to be campy and slipshod; this was one of the first times I'd encountered that breed of horror film -- the kind that was made on the cheap by people who only barely seemed to possess a working knowledge of how to do the jobs they'd been tasked with doing -- and I didn't quite know how to process it.  I enjoyed it, though; it was something different than most anything else I'd ever seen, and stuff like that tends to make a mark on impressionable viewers.
  
It now becomes necessary for me to discuss the movie with the spoiler gloves taken off.  So if you don't know what happens in this movie, now's your chance to bail out.  I'll skip to the end a bit by saying that this revisit reaffirmed my belief that this is a fundamentally bad movie that nevertheless has a fundamentally strong impact.  And a lot of that is due to the plot twist, which I shall now discuss.
  

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

What I Watched This October (2018 Edition), Part 8

Two more days 'til Halloween, Halloween, Hallo....
  
Well, it's two more days as of this writing; it's liable to BE Halloween before I post this, though, so I might ought to not commit to specifics on that Silver Shamrock ditty.
  
Anyways, let's dive right in, beginning with another Tobe Hooper movie I'd never seen before:
  
  

  
  
Sandwiched in Tobe Hooper's filmography between the great 1979 miniseries Salem's Lot and the great 1982 feature film Poltergeist is 1981's The Funhouse, which I found to be a real treat.  I'd never heard many good opinions of the movie, and I suppose an argument could be made that it never quite comes together as well as its potential indicates it might.  I don't think I'd be the one to make that argument, exactly; but it could be made.
  
Either way, I enjoyed this top to bottom; maybe the climactic confrontation is a mild letdown, but even that is fine.  It's probably be something I gave a thumbs-up to if only for the opening scene, which is a combination homage to both Psycho and Halloween.  Good stuff.
  
It's a great setup from there: a quartet of teenagers go out for the night to a somewhat disreputable carnival, and walk around experiencing the sordid pleasures there to be experienced until one of them makes a suggestion -- that they go to the Funhouse dark ride, get out of their cards, and hide inside and spend the night.
  
And so they do.  Naturally, at some point bad things begin to happen; yes, they surely do.
 

Monday, October 29, 2018

What I Watched This October (2018 Edition), Part 7

First up this time:
  
  
  
  
I'd never seen this one, amazingly.  I remember it being a big deal when it came out, though; in the eighth grade, some classmate described it to me in gory detail, so much so that as the arm-wrestling scene approached tonight while I watched it, I got a little antsy.  I powered through it, though; and it wasn't so bad as eighth-grade me thought (though eighth-grade me would have disagreed vehemently).
  
I also recall reading the short story by George Langelaan at some point around the same time, and just being aghast at the way it ends (dude getting crushed to death in an industrial stamper).  Sickened to my very core, I was by that story.  I wish I could remember exactly when I read it; I feel certain it was before my King-reading phase began, and I feel similarly certain that it helped pave the way for me to be able to tolerate some of King's bloody excesses.  I think I might have read it after my classmate described the movie to me, sort of as a I-can-read-anything act of defiance. 
  
So, in that sense, it may be that The Fly is kind of a part of my King-reading origin story.  The memory is too indistinct to say for sure.
  
Bottom line, though, is that I've finally seen the movie, and I mostly liked it.  I didn't love it; that could happen over time, but for now, I didn't quite get there.
  

Saturday, October 27, 2018

What I Watched This October (2018 Edition), Part 6

When we last met, we discussed a late-seventies horror remake scripted by W.D. Richter (1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and so shall we begin this time: with 1979's Dracula.
  
  
  
  
In no way is this film the measure of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but don't let that fool you; there's a lot here to recommend, and I'd rank this as being a worth Dracula tale.  It doesn't have the mystique of the Tod Browning version from the thirties, nor does it have the sheer cinematic verve of Francis Ford Coppola's version from the nineties, but it's solid, and has its own identity.
  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

What I Watched This October (2018 Edition), Part 5

No time to waste!
  
  
  
  
I've got a very fond memory of the first time I saw this movie.  The same friend who introduced me to Halloween gave me a killer birthday present one year: the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series in the form of a DVD box set.  Shortly thereafter, I had my wisdom teeth taken out, and in the several days I was recuperating from that, I worked my way through the entirety of the box set; not just the movies, but all the bonus features, which were considerable.  I was zonked out on meds, naturally, but cognizant and more or less wakeful.
  
Far and away the most fun I've ever had being sick.
  
Anyways, A Nightmare on Elm Street is obviously a classic, and this fresh viewing -- first one for me in at least a decade, and probably more like fifteen years -- did nothing to change my mind about that.  It also did nothing to change my mind about the fact that the movie is a little shabby in places; stray shots, occasional line readings, some of the effects.  (I've never thought the moment when Freddy's arms are unnaturally long looked like anything other than shit; probably never will.)
  
I guess you could let stuff like that distract you if you wanted to, but you sure would be missing out on a lot if you did.
  

Monday, October 22, 2018

What I Watched This October (2018 Edition), Part 4

I'm making pretty good progress in this series of posts thus far this month, don't you think?  We're about halfway through the month -- which I admittedly began before September had ended (and will admittedly push through at least November 1) -- so it's looking to me like there'll end up being eight or nine posts.  Will that be enough to get to everything I want to get to this month?
  
Of course not.  Never enough time for everything, is there?
  
But this next title was definitely one I wanted to cross off the list, and my not-even-vaguely-patented random-selection process has come through for me once again.  So let's look at
  
  




  
  
This 2014 film was directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, whose adaptation of Pet Sematary will be out in April 2019.
  
And if I like it as much as I liked Starry Eyes, that'll be cool, because I liked Starry Eyes quite a bit.  It's not perfect; the low budget rears its head a few times, and the pace and tone slip every once in a while.  Still, I'd rate this as a B+ at worst, and further consideration might bump it up from there.  [UPDATE: I'm already up to an A-.  It's sitting in my brain nicely.]
  

Monday, October 15, 2018

"Halloween" Watchthrough, Part 5: Rob Zombie's Director's Cuts

The bad news: I've got yet more to say about the Halloween movies.

The good news: this one is going to be pretty quick.  Relatively speaking, I mean.  It's still me, so it won't be that quick.

Today, I want to cover the two director's-cut versions of Rob Zombie's movies.  With the first of his remakes, there isn't a huge amount to be said (one scene excepted), because many of the differences between this and the theatrical cut consist merely of scenes that have been extended slightly at one end or the other for the director's cut.

For example, there is some extended dialogue in the breakfast scene.  Judith says she doesn't want any eggs because they're chicken abortions, which Deborah says isn't true.  "Like you know what an abortion is," snipes Judith, which makes Ronnie laugh.  To be honest, it kind of makes me laugh, too.


A brief shot of Loomis arriving at the principal's office appears in this cut.  I kind of like hip young Loomis, who is neither as hip (nor as young) as he likely imagines himself to be.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

What I Watched This October (2018 Edition), Part 3

Welcome back for another dash through the various things I watched this month as part of my yearly Halloween-season binge.  No further preamble seems required, so next up is
  
  
  
  
In 2014, there was a movie called Ouija that was based on the board game -- they'll make movies about goddamn anything these days, eh? -- and was a bigger hit at the box-office than anyone expected.  Not huge; we're not talking Get Out or A Quiet Place or nothin' like that, but it was profitable.
  
Thing is, nobody liked it.  I mean, fucking nobody.  Did I see it?  Sure didn't, and I probably never will.  Which begs a question: why did I see the prequel that was made and released two years later?
  
Two words: Mike Flanagan.  
  
After seeing and loving his adaptation of Gerald's Game last year, I decided to see a few more of his movies, and after seeing and loving both Oculus and Hush, I decided to see all of his movies.  Which brings us to now; I've still not seen everything, but with Origin of Evil I'm one step closer, and I can definitively say this: I've got a new least-favorite Mike Flanagan movie.
  
Aha, BUT, y'all, don't let that fool you into thinking I disliked Origin of Evil.  I liked it just fine.  I can't honestly say I loved it, but if this is what Flanagan doing director-for-hire work looks like, then that dude is in good shape.
  
Anyways, having not seen the first movie, I can't speak to how much of this prequel is beholden to plot points established there.  What I can say is that this movie is set in the sixties, and is about a widow and her two daughters making a living by holding seances for paying customers.  It's all bogus, of course, right up until the point it isn't.
  
Flanagan knows how to construct a scene for suspenseful purposes, and while there's a little too much of the modern-day creepy-face style of jump scares, a few of them work pretty well and the rest of the movie is strong enough to survive the impositions.
  
Part of the fun I had was due to being outright pandered to by Flanagan's amusing use of reel-change cigarette burns in the editing.  See, I used to be a 35mm projectionist; I was one for about a decade, so this sort of thing is like catnip to me.
  
Allow me to explain.
  

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

What I Watched This October (2018 Edition), Part 2

We'll begin with a movie that may or may not count as horror; not that it matters much either way, as I very much enjoyed:
  
  
  
  
I didn't see this when it played in theatres, and boy, do I wish I had.  I'd have loved to be there when...
  
...well, we've got to get spoilery as blue blazes in order to discuss this movie in the way I wish to discuss it, so I'll give you a buffer to move along to the next film on the list.
  
10...
  
9...
  
8...
  
7...
  
6...
  
5...
  
4...
  
3...
  
2...
  
1...
  

Friday, October 5, 2018

"Halloween" Watchthrough, Part 4: Rob Zombie's Halloween(s)

After 2002's Halloween Resurrection killed off both Laurie Strode and the public's interest in the franchise, there was seemingly only thing to do.  
  
Start over from scratch.
  
Rob Zombie was the guy who was hired to accomplish this task.  Zombie had started his career as the leader of the metal band White Zombie; he later went solo, and eventually began directing the music videos for his songs.  The videos, and his concerts, and indeed the songs themselves, had a very horror-movie sort of aesthetic, a style that culminated in Zombie's first movie, 2003's House of 1000 Corpses.  It got some good reviews; it got some bad reviews.  Some horror fans loved it; some found it to be a loud and unpleasant exercise in style with no weight to it.

The sequel, 2005's The Devil's Rejects, was less garish, more realistic, and better-reviewed.  It was hailed by some as being a new horror classic; others found it to be more of the same, a needlessly brutal and preposterously vulgar bunch of scary-redneck sound and fury.

Clearly, not everyone was onboard with Zombie's aesthetic.  But whether one liked it or disliked it, I think one had to admit that it was a clear and specific aesthetic.  He'd been building it going back at least as far as his White Zombie days; he'd been consistent in pursuing it, and had developed his ability to express it over time.

And so when Zombie was hired to direct the remake of Halloween, there was never any chance that he wasn't going to bring that aesthetic to bear on the story of Michael Myers.

You probably know this already, but I'm a fan.  At the time his Halloween was released in 2007, I'd have said I was a bigger fan of Rob Zombie by far than I was of the Halloween series overall.  Not, perhaps, a bigger Zombie fan than I was a John Carpenter fan; but Carpenter had been involved in fewer than half of the Halloween movies, so that was no contradiction.

I may as well tell you now: I'm still a bigger Rob Zombie fan than I am a Halloween fan, if we're talking about the entire series.  He hasn't made anything I like as much as I like Carpenter's Halloween, but that's no sin; and with the exception of Season of the Witch, I'll take his movies over anything made from The Return of Michael Myers straight through to Resurrection.  That's not even a choice.

In other words, I am bringing a bias of sorts to this post, and I don't want to shy away from it or inhibit it or try to trick anyone into thinking that's not the case.  I adore John Carpenter's Halloween, and always will, but I also adore Rob Zombie's aesthetic.  Because of that, I was -- and am -- willing to put the Carpenter film to one side and forget about it while I'm watching Zombie's remake.  There are deep transgressions against the Carpenter movie in Zombie's.  For me, that's okay, because the Zombie film is mostly its own thing; and Carpenter's film remains unassailable, and is undamaged by any of what Zombie is doing.

That's how I myself see it.

If you see it differently, I totally get it.  If I were not a fan of Zombie's music and filmmaking, I think I would be enraged by these movies.  I've certainly got the potential to despise a movie or series if I perceive it as being too far removed from the franchise of which it is a part.  Ask for my feelings on Spectre or Star Trek: Discovery sometime if you want examples of me in that mode.  (Better yet, don't.)  They are deep and, so far, ungovernable.  Zombie's Halloween films provoke the same partisan rage in many horror fans, and I totally get it.  I just don't share it, and I don't think it makes them bad movies.

My goal with this post is simple: I'm going to give you my take on these two films.  It's admittedly biased, but my hope is to at least be able to back it up.  If you're not willing to go there with me, I totally understand; like I said, I've been on the opposite side of the equation with several things in the past few years.  (Some of them King-related atrocities like The Dark Tower and Castle Rock.)

But if you are willing to go there with me, maybe we'll have a good time.

We're about to hit the road, but first, I need to talk about what format this post is going to take.  See, there's a decision to be made in covering Zombie's Halloween films: theatrical cuts or director's cuts.  There are substantial differences for both movies, and pros and cons for all versions.  It's the director's cuts that are most commonly available to viewers, so in some ways, that seems like the most natural place to begin.

However, I decided against that.  This review (or set of reviews) is an expression of my own viewpoint, and therefore I think it ought to reflect my own experiences.  My own experiences with these movies is that I saw the theatrical cuts first, and only years later saw the director's cuts.  Therefore, even if the director's cuts eventually supplant the theatrical cuts, they are forever the second way I experienced these movies.  So I figure I may as well keep viewing them in that way; it doesn't prevent them from being superior in some ways, but I think it's more accurate to my viewpoint to consider them as secondary versions.

With that in mind, we're going to first look at the theatrical cuts of both Halloween and Halloween II, and then follow that with a look at some of what makes the director's cuts different.

We begin, of course, with:




Let's kick things off with a discussion of one of the most controversial elements of Zombie's remake: the decision to have Michael Myers in this film be just a psychopath, and not a supernatural being of some sort.

This was probably the best decision Zombie made, in my decision.  Don't get me wrong; I love the fact that the first film's Michael Myers is some sort of literal boogeyman.  That's an iconic depiction which gave us one of the best ending scenes in cinema history; what's not to love?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

What I Watched This October (2018 Edition), Part 1

As I write this, it is September 21.  Kingmas: the birth of our Uncle Steve, this year being his 71st.  With that, we begin the marking of the Halloween season, and this year, as last, my intentions for the season are plain: watch as many horror films as I can squeeze in.
  
And this year, boy do we needs it.  Yes, precious, we needs it something fierce.  And we shall have it, yes!  Haha, indeed we shall, beginning with:
  
  



By the time this post appears online, the one-week IMAX 3D engagement for Michael Jackson's Thriller music video will have come and gone.  It played in front of showings of The House With a Clock in Its Walls (more on which momentarily), and looked and sounded marvelous.
  
The video was directed by John Landis.  I'd not seen it in probably about a decade, and I'd forgotten how effective a short horror film it is.  Rick Baker's makeup is terrific; they did not skimp on the werewolf action or the zombie action.  
  
More than anything, though, I was struck by the not-so-simply sight of seeing a young and impossibly talented Michael Jackson doing his thing on an IMAX screen.  He was a good film actor, and watching this, I found myself wishing that I could somehow go back in time and warn Michael to take a slightly different path than the one he ended up taking.  Would it have made any difference in the end?  Impossible to say.
  
But it's also impossible for me not to wish that somewhere around the beginning of 1984 -- before the accident while he was filming the Pepsi commercial -- Jackson had decided to focus on acting for a while.  I'm not saying leave the music biz, necessarily; I think there was probably a scenario in which Jackson could have been the man to bring the big Hollywood musical back into serious popularity.  Seeing him here, and remembering how good he is in The Wiz, it seems like a logical thing to have had happen.
  
Alas, it didn't happen.
  
Seeing Thriller in all its glory (and then some) again, all I can think is: what a shame.
  

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Halloween" Watchthrough, Part 3: The Return of Laurie Strode

Previous posts in this series can be found at:
  
  
  
  
Today, however, we'll be closely -- how closely remains to be seen (depends on how long my tolerance holds out) -- examining my two least favorite Halloween films of them all.
  
About that: just because they're my two least favorite doesn't mean they aren't somebody else's top two.  So to any of you who love (or even like) H20 and Resurrection, let me say that I apologize for my attitude toward these films and in no way want you feel like I'm attempting to discourage YOU from liking them.  If anything, I'd encourage you to use the comments section below to give me your thoughts on the movies; maybe seeing them through your eyes might change my mind.
  
Stranger things have happened, that's for sure.
  
For now, though, it's probably going to be a rather negative look I'm about to take.  Let's try to get through it quickly.
  
First up -- Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, which I refuse to type out in full again.
  
  
We open with a fakeout: this Michael-style butcher's knife, which murders the fuck out of

Saturday, September 29, 2018

"Halloween" Watchthrough, Part 2: The Jamie Lloyd Trilogy

You must remember this: a kiss is just a kiss.
  
You must also remember this: in 1988, when Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers was released, the Halloween series was dead.  It had given rise to an entire decade's worth of imitators, and imitations of those imitators.  And other characters had sprung up to fill the void left by by the departure of Michael Myers into the void.  Jason and Freddy, to name a couple.
  
Eventually, the producers who owned the rights to the Halloween movies and the Michael Myers character decided enough was enough.  Why were they leaving all that money on the table?  There were people out there who loved Michael Myers, who'd been disappointed by the Season of the Witch debacle (so-called); they were practically standing in front of the producers' houses holding fistfuls of cash, begging somebody to come outside and take it.
  
You must remember this.
  
That's the only reason the rest of the movies happened.  There was no artistic impulse at play here; there was no yearning for the soul's expression.  None a that shit.  Just moneymoneymoney.  As I've said before, I don't blame them.  Not one little bit.  
  
But I do think it's incumbent upon fans to remember that.  And it's especially incumbent upon non-fans to remember that.  Until at least H20, there was nothing happening in this franchise but pure commercialism.
  
This does not inherently mean that what happened next was destined to be bad.  You must also remember that.  
  
Before we proceed, let me state definitively: the first time I saw IV and V, I thought they more or less sucked.  I liked VI, more or less, but only mildly.  So if you've come here expecting the sort of enthusiasm I showed for the first three films in this series, you're apt to be disappointed.  Probably.  There's no guarantee of it; sometimes when I go on these deep dives, I end up bobbing to the surface again with a much greater appreciation of the movie/book/whatever than I had before submerging.  It's part of the reason why I enjoy doing these so much; they tend to reward me.
  
So who knows what we might discover?  I'm just saying, maybe ramp those expectations down a bit if you're a big fan of these films.
  
We won't know until we get there, I guess, so let's get to gettin':






So here's what happened.  John Carpenter and Debra Hill got out of the Halloween business for good following Season of the Witch, and producer Moustapha Akkad was left without a brain trust.  There was nobody around to decide what direction the franchise should go in except Akkad, and Akkad correctly determined that what the public wanted was for Michael Myers to come back.  Michael Myers WAS Halloween, so far as the public was concerned.

That, then, was the mandate for the fourth film: bring back Michael Myers.

The writers assembled to do so were as follows:

  • Dhani Lipsius, whose sole screenwriting credit is The Return of Michael Myers;
  • Larry Rattner, who had zero produced screenplays prior to this and had a mere two after it;
  • Benjamin Ruffner, whose sole filmmaking credit of any kind is for this film; and
  • Alan B. McElroy, whose first filmmaking credit was -- you guessed it -- this film.
  
In other words, a bunch of nobodies got hired to write this film.  McElroy ended up writing the screenplay based on the story contributions of the others, and he at least has gone on to work consistently.  Not well, particularly; his credits include things like Left Behind: The Movie, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Wrong Turn, The Marine (as bad a movie as I've ever seen in a theatre), and so forth.  He did also create the animated Spawn series, which has some stature ... but then he also wrote the screenplay for the live-action movie, which is dookie.

So is The Return of Michael Myers.  Spoiler alert!  It's doo-doo.  I do admittedly kind of like it for various reasons, but ... yeah ... it's not good.

And if you want to know why, that murderer's-row of no-talent screenwriters is probably a big chunk of it.  Their big idea for how to bring Michael Myers back was this: hey, what if we just say he never really died in the first place?  And then we can say Loomis never really died, either?  Cue everyone slapping each other on the back and popping corks on champagne bottles.

To shepherd the production of this new chapter, director Dwight H. Little was hired.

Who?

He'd directed three films before this, all grade-z action films starring people like Michael Billington, Edward Albert, and Christopher Neame.

To be fair, everyone has to start somewhere, and Little did go on to bigger and moderately better things like Marked For Death and Murder at 1600.  And he's directed extensively in television, including Millennium, The X-Files, The Practice, 24 (two episodes of the best season, the fifth), Prison Break, Castle, Dollhouse, Nikita, Bones, Sleepy Hollow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Scorpion.  So compared to those writers, this guy is Federico Fellini.

Put those writers together with that director, and what you've got is pretty clear: you've got a movie being made almost exclusively to bring in a little bit of money with as little as possible being spent in order to facilitate it.

That's what The Revenge of Michael Myers is: a low-budget, low-imagination propping up of a corpse.

Amazingly, the corpse realized that somebody had sat it up, and it jolted back to a diminished form of life; the movie was an actual hit.  Not a huge one or anything, but an actual hit.

Let's have a look at it and see if we can figure out why.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Halloween" Watchthrough, Part 1: The Carpenter Years

As promised/threatened in my previous post (ranking the Halloween films), I have returned to Haddonfield to wreak more vengeance, this time by offering up a prose commentary on the films themselves.  
  
This first post will tackle the three movies produced by John Carpenter, beginning with:
  
  
  
  
I wonder: how much of the first film's success (and subsequent -- and ongoing! -- mystique) can be attributed to the opening credits?  I'd wager a fair portion.  It's a very simple credits sequence, consisting only of a slow pushin on a jack-o'-lantern with a flickering candle flame dancing inside it, accompanied by one of the all-time great movie-music themes.
  
  
  
  
There are probably about 182 billion people in the world who'd be better suited to explain why Carpenter's music is great than I am.  But they're not writing this blog post, so I guess it's me or it's nobody.  And what I'd say about the theme is that it is perfect.  Why is it perfect?  No idea; get one of those other people to explain that one.  Something to do with the combination of rhythm and intensity; something to do with the spareness of the arrangement combined with the precision of the performance.
  
Whatever it is, it perfectly evokes both the allure and the dread of being in a scenario filled with mock dread.  And that's part of the key, too, I think; there is a playfulness here that summons up childhood make-believe.  I don't think this movie or this music is about actually being afraid; I think it's about pretending to be afraid, and having a good time doing it, but maybe doing juuuuuust a little too good of a job.
  
Anyways, that's what this music says to me.  And the jack-o'-lantern photography fits it like a glove; or vice versa, depending on how you see it.  It's a "simple" sequence, sure; but it's astonishingly effective, and hey, if it actually WAS that simple, wouldn't every movie have a credits sequence this great?
  

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Worst To Best: "Halloween" Movies

This October is bringing us the eleventh film in the Halloween series: Halloween.  No, not Halloween, or even Halloween; this is Halloween.
  
Why you'd be okay with having three out of the eleven films in your franchise bear precisely the same title is a mystery to me, and it's one we're unlikely to unravel over the course of this post.  However, it will be an adequate backdrop for a post about a rather eccentric and -- it must be said -- nonsensical series of films.  These are weird movies, guys, filled with weird plot points designed to stretch the franchise for just one . . . more . . . movie . . .!!!  And to be fair, it mostly worked; and yet, deep weirdness was frequently the result.  So sure, why NOT name three of the movies the same thing?
  
If you will allow me a brief indulgence, I'd like to set the scene by offering a brief chronology of my initial exposure to the films.
  
1997 -- I saw the original John Carpenter movie for the first time this year and loved it
2001 -- I (reluctantly) watched the sequel and hated it
2002 -- I (at the behest of a friend who loved it) watched The Curse of Michael Myers and liked it
2007 -- I watched the Rob Zombie Halloween and loved it
2009 -- I watched the Rob Zombie Halloween II and hated it
2012 -- I watched the entire series in order, seeing 3-5 plus 7-8 for the first time
2014 -- I bought the limited edition Complete Collection Blu-ray set and did not watch it
2018 -- prompted by the podcast Halloweenies, I worked my way through the entire box set
  
And here we are.
  
I mention all that to establish a couple of facts: one, that I am in no way precious about these films; and, two, that despite that fact, I am definitely invested in the series (if only for the original and the rare moments when the followups rise to something approximating its level).  I am a fan, but no a slavish one.  I think and hope that this makes me qualified to give these films a fair assessment.  You be the judge on that score.
  
By the way, Halloween will not be covered.  I haven't seen it yet, and to be honest, I just don't much get into the idea of immediately trying to figure out where to rank a new movie in a series.  Will I rank it someplace mentally?  Well, yeah, probably so; but I'll get it dead wrong, if my past experiences are any indication, so I figure let's let it settle for a while.  If I ever do a 2.0 version of this list, I'll rank it then.
  
Hey, I just had an idea.  Here is how I will refer to the three identically-titled films in any context that does not make it clear which I am referring to:
  
Halloween = the original John Carpenter movie
Hall2ween = the Rob Zombie movie
Hallowe3n = the David Gordon Green movie
  
I think that manner of nuclear option may be called for; lack of clarity has come to your little town, sheriff.
  
And I should also mention before we proceed any farther: this list is going to piss you off.  Oh man, you're gonna fucking hate this list, I bet; and when you feel that hatred bubbling and about spill over the top of the kettle, remember this: it's only some dude's list.  It's filled with that dude's biases and quirks, and is his brand of bullshit, which may not be your own.
  
But I'm not about to let that stop me, because I am that dude.

So let's start slashing our way through these suckers beginning with the worst movie on the list, which is unquestionably:
  
  
#10 -- Halloween: H20
(1998)
  
  
  
  
Tonight, on the two-part Halloween series finale...
  
What a pile of shit.  It's got its fans, but I find it almost impossible to drum up even a moderate amount of like for this movie.
  
H20 is a film for which I have no nostalgia whatsoever.  Why would I?  I didn't see it when it came out.  As mentioned above, I didn't see it until this decade, when embarking upon a mission to see every film in the series.  I got no nostalgia for this flick at all, man; zero.  And hence, no love, and very little like.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

There Are Dark Stars Near Arcturus: An Overview of Stephen King's Juvenilia, 1956-1966

When I undertook my series A Guided Tour Of The Kingdom, one of my primary motivations behind doing so was to establish for myself a sort of checklist to use for the many King-related works I'd like to blog about someday.  My hope was to begin putting checks in those boxes, by which I mean blogging about the things I've not blogged about.
  
I'm hoping to begin actually putting some checks in boxes on a regular basis, and I thought maybe the best way to get that ball rolling might be to begin at the beginning.  In this case what that means is looking at some of King's early amateur writings (a.k.a. juvenilia).  However, in no way do I feel like that work merits the same type of attention as, say, The Shining; so while I thought it made sense to cover it all, I thought it made a lot less sense to devote an entire post to each story.  This is especially true given how difficult most of these are for the average person to actually find and read.
   
So, a compromise: a roundup post.  We'll cover everything that I know of to be at least marginally available, which is by no means everything; for example, I won't be covering the fabled "novelization" of The Pit and the Pendulum that King wrote, because nobody has ever read it (or at least, nobody has ever reported on it).  Sames goes for a satirical piece he wrote in high school called "The Village Vomit."  If and when additional pieces make their way into the public view, I'll update this piece accordingly.
 
For now, though, we're stuck with what we're stuck with. 
 
Let's get cracking, beginning with:
  
  
"Jhonathan and the Witchs"
(written circa 1956; published in First Words, 1993)
 
 

   
   
I'd intended to use this post as an excuse to read the entirety of First Words, but when I picked the book up and actually contemplated doing it -- it's 502 pages (in hardback; the abridged trade paperback clocks in at a more-than-halved 241 pages) -- I realized that most of it would probably be something less than rewarding.  I kind of feel bad about that, but does 14-year-old John Updike really care what some fat bastard in Alabama reads and doesn't?  I'm guessing not.  And this fat Alabamian bastard kind of doesn't care what young John Updike wrote.
   
He cares about what young Steve King wrote, though, so we are going to skip straight to "Jhonathan and the Witchs." King wrote it at a mere nine years of age, and it's loads better than most nine-year-olds would manage.
  
Here's a plot summary I wrote:
 

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Clearing at the End of the Path; or, Why Stephen King?

A single word hangs like a pall over this post; over my entire life, maybe.  The word is "why," a short word with a very long meaning.
  
I've got a middle-aged man's half-lifetime's inventory of "why"s, stacked up like yellowed newspapers in an abandoned house.  In writing this post I am going to try not to stagger drunkenly into those stacks of whys, knocking them over and sending plumes of musty dust billowing into the air.  If I fail in that aim, I'd recommend not breathing that dust in; I'm not sure it's particularly healthy.
  
We're on the porch of that house now.  Hear the floorboards as they creak?  I don't know that you should follow me in.  It's safe enough, but it's honestly kind of gross and upsetting, and part of me wants to just go in all by my lonesome; see, I'd kind of like to just knock all those whys over and do away with the pretense of letting them stand.
  
But that defeats the purpose of this post.  We -- or so I'm claiming -- only want to go inside and grab a couple of the newspapers from those stacks; one of them is lamentably recent, so it'll be no challenge to get at.  The other is older; we've got to further in to get to it, but I know from previous visits that it's right on the top of a stack, easy to reach, easy to grab.
  
The temptation comes from everything around it, the whys at the bottom of stacks which are in the corners of rooms buried behind other stacks.  Only a nutso would even TRY to get to those, because there's no way to do so cleanly.  And yet, I'd like to get to them; yes indeed, I surely would.
  
What I'm saying is this: we're here to answer the question "Why Stephen King?" but I've brought us here on somewhat false pretenses, so we're also going to try to answer the unanswerable question of "Why Trey Sterling?" at the same time.  And what I'm really saying is this: I wonder if I'm strong enough to withstand a trip into this house that lasts long enough to visit two different rooms.  There's a danger of getting lost, and if I can drop my silly metaphor of houses and newspapers, what I'm REALLY saying is this: I hope I won't end up talking about too much bullshit nobody reading this blog would possibly give a damn about.  All those whys, they are not your concern; you've likely got your own house full of 'em, and hardly need a visit to see somebody else's.
  
So I'm going to try to not do that.  But I worry.
  
The worrying has ended for my friend Trey Sterling, who spent a year worrying about the lymphoma that had invaded his body, and then surrendered to it on June 22, just a few weeks shy of his 32nd birthday. 
 
 
Trey took that Logan's Run thing a little bit too seriously, if you ask me.  (And yes, I stole that joke from Trey himself!)

 

He spent his final weeks floating in and out of consciousness, and the extent to which he was able to actually understand and process the things happening around him is a bit of an unknown.  There were moments of lucidity; they were not entirely pleasant, I am led to believe.  I only saw him on a few occasions during this time, and from my perspective, "Trey" (meaning the qualities that made Trey himself) was almost entirely absent.  There were flashes of him there; he was not entirely gone.  But to the extent he was present, he was diminished; not gone, no (the sense of devil-may-care humor shone through at times), but absolutely diminished.
  
Why?
  
Why would a thing like this be possible?  An inane question to ask, and not one that I actually expect to be answered.  This "why" is less a question than it is an accusation; it is a gob of spit hocked onto the ground at the feet of an indifferent universe, a "fuck you" in a question's clothing.  The universe that would do a thing like this to a Trey Sterling is a universe that needs to be told to get bent.
 
 

 
Of course, the joke will be on me for that act of defiance; the universe's response will be to rise out of the ocean someday (perhaps tomorrow!) and run amok, prompting hysterical madness in all who glimpse it.  I mean, fuck that universe in the nose all the same; but it's gonna get me one of these days, and it's gonna get you one of these days, too, and whether our fates are more benign than Trey's or shockingly less benign is utterly beyond our control.
  
We're going to walk on from that, and as we do, allow me to mention that Trey's death put me in mind of The Dark Tower.
  
That might seem like a trifling thing to be reminded of.  It's not.  That series of books is how Trey and I became friends in the first place; it's baked right into the DNA of our friendship, and so while it might seem to some trivial and even crass for me to use that as a way into memorializing him, it doesn't strike me as the least bit odd.  Wouldn't have struck Trey that way, either.
  
But it's worth asking: why?
 

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Look at "The Search For Castle Rock"

Last week, Hulu released a brief (23ish minutes) documentary called The Search For Castle Rock.  I decided to write a little summary of it as part of Part 16 of my Guided Tour Of The Kingdom series of posts (which you'll see at some in the future).  I ended up writing a little bit more about it than I'd planned, and thought that it might not be a bad idea to go ahead and just toss it up here, if only so as to provoke some Castle Rock conversation.
  
Confession: while I will absolutely be watching that series on Hulu when it starts later this week, I have no plans whatsoever of writing about it here.  Also, I'm not as sold on the idea as many King fans seem to be.  I'll get into some of my reasons for that below.
  
Though I'll not be writing anything about the show on a weekly basis, I'd be more than happy to discuss it in the comments section for this post; so there's another reason for the post's existence, potentially.
  
*****
  
  
  
  
This twenty-three-minute documentary short is essentially just a promotional piece for Castle Rock, the Hulu original series from producer J.J. Abrams.  I wouldn't normally cover that sort of thing here, but this is an interesting and very professionally-produced documentary, plus, hey, I got no real reason not to.
  
"Haunted places have long been a staple in Stephen King's writing," says a narrator at the beginning.  "That's because the locations that inspired his writing have dark histories themselves."
  
Right here, you get a sense of what this documentary -- and perhaps the broader scope of Castle Rock itself -- may be trying to accomplish: this is myth-building, in which Stephen King is being turned from a man into a myth.  What we are glimpsing is a bit of what seems likely to happen once King has reached the clearing at the end of the path and is no longer among the living: the shadow's ability to persist once the body itself has vanished.
  
I suppose this was always inevitable.  And it's probably preferable, right?  I mean, it's happened before.  Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, H.P. Lovecraft, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickens, so forth and so on; all exist in our minds at least as much on a mythical realm as on a literal one.  This happens with rock stars, too, and probably with anyone famous whose fame has any reason to outlive their bodies.
  
And yet, I have to confess to feeling a little grumpy about it.  I mean, can't this wait until King is dead?  Dude is still building his own myth; two books a year, most years.  There's no reason on Earth he can't live and write and publish well into his nineties, so there may be entire chapters of that life yet to be written; maybe the myth-making can slow its roll.