Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Guided Tour of the Kingdom: A Chronological Walk Through the Career of Stephen King, Part 17 (2019)

The year of '19.  Surely that was a banner one in the Kingdom, right?  I'm writing this brief introduction on March 29, so I've -- we've -- got nine more months of '19.
Let's take a trip through it together and find out how it turned out.

Hell Hath No Fury Like Her: The Making of Christine
(by Lee Gambin)
a Bear Manor Media hardback, published January 16, 2019
The Truth Inside the Lie review of Hell Hath No Fury Like Her

Gambin's second monograph about a King film (the first was Nope, Nothing Wrong Here, which focused on Cujo) is not quite as long as the first, but it's every bit as good, and maybe even a bit better.  I walked away from it thinking Christine -- a movie I love -- is even better a piece of work than I'd ever given it credit for being.

And so can you!  Get a copy today, won't you?

(short story by Joe Hill)
published in the Subterranean Press anthology At Home in the Dark, edited by Lawrence Block ; trade paperback and ebook editions published February 3, 2019; hardcover edition published May 2019

Hill's story "Faun" was the reason I bought this book, of course, but it's got some other heavy-hitters represented in its pages as well.

As for "Faun," it's sort of a high-fantasy version of "The Most Dangerous Game."  Did you ever wonder what might happen if the wrong person had access to a portal to a Narniaesque fantasy world, and sold trips there to the sort of people who like to shoot lions and elephants and whatnot?

Nothing good, that's what would happen.

It Clue
(board game)
released circa March 2019

Never played a game of Clue in my life, unless I did back in the day and forgot it.  Which is possible.  Never saw the movie, either.  [UPDATE: By the end of 2019, that was no longer the case.  Fun movie; glad I finally caught up with it.]

All of which means that I can't tell you a heck of a lot about this, except that it runs ya 'bout $40.

Is this the first King-related board game?  If so, it's not the last (more on which in just a bit).
Pet Sematary
(4K/Blu-ray release)
Am I crazy, or is "Church" (that ain't actually Church) not only photoshopped, but badly photoshopped, and in about seven different layers?  Why do so many home-media covers suck so much ass?
Timed for release in proximity to the theatrical release of its remake, 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 had not arrived as of March 29, 2019.
To entice King fans like me (who already have the first Blu-ray) into an upgrade/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! 
The second featurette is called "Revisitation."  It runs 9:38, and is an interview with director Mary Lambert about her experiences making the film.  She's very engaging, as always, and she speaks a bit 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.  This requires deeper analysis, but -- say it with me! -- it's not happening today.  [UPDATE: it actually did happen a few days later, though, as the review I linked to above will prove.]
All things considered, I'm happy to have bought this new edition.  I'll be even happier about it whenever I upgrade my television to a 4K. I'm sure that by that time, fucking 8K or some shit else will be coming down the pike and I'll have to start thinking about upgrading yet again.  That's a problem for future Bryant, though.

The Shawshank Redemption
(stage production)
  • produced by the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre in Kansas City, April 4-21, 2019
  • adapted for the stage by Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns; directed by Bob Paisley

The play by O'Neill and Johns already existed, having been produced in Ireland and in London's West End circa 2015; this was its first American production, however.  And that is pretty much all the information I have on that.

Pet Sematary
(feature film)
  • a Paramount film, released April 5, 2019
  • directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer from a screenplay by Jeff Buhler (based on a screen story by Matt Greenberg)

Paramount had been trying to get a remake of Pet Sematary off the ground for the better part of a decade; at one point, there were rumors that George Clooney would be playing Louis Creed.  Stories like that are always going around Hollywood.  It's best not to believe most of them; once a movie or television show is actually filming, it's more or less safe to believe in it, but even then things can fall apart.

The monumental success Warner Bros. had with It in 2017 was bound to get a few projects moving, though, and one such example seems to have been this Pet Sematary remake.  It's directed by the duo who previously made the excellent indie horror Starry Eyes, and I wish more of their voice shone through in this readaptation of King's classic.  It does show up at times, but more often the movie feels strangely hollow.

It was an odd experience for me, watching it the first time.  I sat there and felt some of it wasn't working but most of it was, and some of it at a very high level; but when the movie ended, the balloon of my enthusiasm popped, and I walked out of the theatre deflated.  I wasn't negative on it, I was just kind of indifferent toward it.  Some of this, I think, was due to the marketing campaign, which gave away one of the big-swing changes this movie makes to the story as originally told in the novel and the 1989 movie.

I won't give that change away here; odds you you know it already, but if you don't, you don't deserve for it to be ruined for you by a fat bastard on a blog.  I wish you didn't even know a big change existed.

I definitely wish I hadn't known; I didn't mind this during the marketing phase of things, but once the movie reached that point and I saw how plain as day it was that the filmmakers had intended it to be a change that would catch people off guard in the moment, I soured on the decision.  Not the storytelling decision (which I rather love); but on the marketing decision itself.

Why make such a decision?  The answer is self-evident: because the Paramount marketing team felt it would give the movie a better chance of box-office success.  They may have felt the movie was a bit on the weak side and that a big swing like that was necessary.  The first trailer offers no hint of the twist, and it felt a bit flat and uninviting; so it may be that it proved impossible to cut a trailer that was deemed exciting without delving into the plot twist.

My gut tells me it was a mistake.  Awesome trailers have been cut from movies that are utter shit; this movie is far from being utter shit (utter shit is R.O.T.O.R.), so I can't quite make myself believe it was impossible to cut a trailer that both enticed audiences and protected the story change.  Be that as it may, I believe in my heart that if the audiences who showed up on opening night had gone into it prepared for the original thing only to be surprised and gut-punched by the new thing, they might have stood a better chance of walking out of the theatre buzzing.  As such, maybe the actual box-office performance might have been stronger.  As things played out, though, the movie opened to a decent $25 million and then limped to an unenthusiastic-though-not-abysmal $54.7 million, which, you will note, is less than the $57.5 mil the original movie made in 1989.  Thirty years ago.  When a remake comes three decades later and makes less money, that's a fail on every level of the commercial side of things.

But what does any of this say about the artistic side of things?  That it just didn't quite work, I think.  The acting is good, with the standouts probably being Amy Seimetz as Rachel and Jeté Lawrence as Ellie.  Plus this guy:


That's Tonic the Cat, and he wasn't the only feline to play Church; it was a team of furbabies.  And I thought they combined to do a damn fine job.

Both Jason Clarke and John Lithgow are pretty great, too.  The visuals are fine, for the most part; the sound design is good, the music by Christopher Young is alright, etc.

It's not scary, though.  The directors seem to be going for unsettling more than for scary; a few jump scares happen, but they're not particularly effective, and so they feel cheap.  The movie is unsettling at times, though; some of the best moments involve the brushing of hair.  Weird, but true.

Somewhere in these directors, there was an even slower and more contemplative and more disturbing version of this movie.  I wish they'd made it.  But they did get bits of it onto the screen, and my gut -- which is doing a lot of talking tonight -- tells me that over time, I'm going to come to appreciate the movie more in its as-is state.  There's little here I'd call bad; a few missteps, and a lot of cases of inspiration failing to arrive.  But even in the absence of inspiration, solid craft can result in an enjoyable movie, and I think this is a fairly enjoyable movie.  It cuts no deeper than that for me, but it joins that great, swollen middle rank of King movies that are, y'know, okay.

Things could be worse.

"Squad D"
(short story)
  • published in Shivers VIII, a Cemetery Dance softcover, April 2019
  • uncollected

We've spoken of "Squad D" before, in the Guided Tour post that covered the late seventies; as it was unpublished and fit nowhere, I just sort of lumped it in with my discussion of Night Shift.  I quote now from that post: 

"Let's turn once again to the redoubtable Rocky Wood (from his Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished) for an explanation of what this story is:

Squad D was written in the late 1970s for a Harlan Ellison edited anthology, Last Dangerous Visions.  Ellison told George Beahm for The Stephen King Companion: 'Stephen sent me a story for Last Dangerous Visions that needs to be rewritten . . . I was sent this short story, and I think there's a lot more in it than Stephen had time to develop.  The story deserves better, the work deserves better, and Stephen's reputation deserves better.'
     As part of research for the latest edition of this book Stephen King was asked what had happened to this tale.  His response: 'What I remember most clearly about "Squad D" is the reaction of Kirby McCauley, my then agent, when I told him I'd given the story to Harlan.  We were in a Checker cab, and Kirby punched the roof hard enough to make his knuckles swell (the cabbie never said a word -- probably wasn't his personal cab).  It was the only time Kirby was ever angry with me.  "Why did you do that?" he shouted.  "Harlan will never publish that book, and that story will rot in his files!"  He was talking about The Last Dangerous Visions.  And while Kirby was wrong about many things, he was right about that book.  It never has been published.'

Based on that response from McCauley, one might be tempted to think that "Squad D" was some sort of masterpiece.  Having read it (it was sent to me long, long ago by a fellow collector who had somehow lucked into a copy), I can say that it is not.  It's okay, but was it worth an agent wrecking his knuckles?  I don't think so.

Let's turn to Stephen J. Spignesi for a plot synopsis (from The Lost Work of Stephen King):

Dale Clewson is the father of Billy Clewson, a young solider killed in Vietnam while crossing a bridge that had been booby-trapped by the Vietcong.  Billy was a member of D Squad, which had ten members, nine of whom were killed that day on the bridge.
     The tenth member of the squad, Josh Bortman, of Castle Rock, Maine (a town certain to be familiar to King fans), was in the hospital that day with bleeding hemorrhoids and was thus spared a fiery death.
     From his hospital bed, Josh writes letters to each surviving family, and with the letter, he encloses a photograph -- enlarged and framed -- of the nine squad members killed.  Josh had not been with his squad when the picture was taken or when they all died.
     Eleven years and one day after Squad D was wiped out, Josh Bortman's image suddenly appears in the Squad D picture, finally completing the ten-man squad.  When Dale Clewson sees the tenth man suddenly appear in the picture, he questions his own senses: Weren't there always nine men in the picture?
     Dale decides to call Josh, his son's friend and the only survivor of Squad D, only to find out that Josh had finally found a way to catch up with his friends: He had hanged himself the day before in the garage.

I'll be honest: I'm on Team Harlan regarding this one.  I consider myself very lucky to have been able to read it, but it's decidedly non-essential King, so my advice to one and all is to not get yourself worked up over the fact that you can't pull Last Dangerous Visions down from your shelf and check it out.  (By the way, for those of you who don't know, Ellison edited two anthologies in that series.  Dangerous Visions appeared in 1967 and is considered by some to be one of the seminal science-fiction anthologies of original material.  A sequel, Again, Dangerous Visions, appeared in 1972, and the final volume would have theoretically shown up in 1979.  That never happened, and the book's Wikipedia page is unclear as to whether "Squad D" was ever officially a part of the project.)

Good news for King fans who want to read the story and make up their own minds: "Squad D" is finally seeing publication, via Cemetery Dance, in their Shivers VII anthology, which is tentatively scheduled for publication in late 2017.  So look for that in 2019 or so.  Place your pre-order here, and prepare to have to be patient.  (Fucking Cemetery Dance, man...)

[UPDATE: Shivers VIII has finally been published.  And, yes, it did end up being 2019.]"

I'd always been uncertain as to whether the story I had actually was the intended final version of "Squad D," but the version that appears in Shivers VIII is indeed it.  Having read it with a more certain eye, I'll say this: it's not bad by any means, but neither is it the sort of thing that makes one wonder why it sat in a drawer for decades.  It's decidedly of sitting-in-a-drawer-for-decades quality, in my opinion.

As for the rest of Shivers VIII...?  I'm ashamed to say I have not read it.  Some strong names in there, though, so I'm sure it's worth the effort; someday!

(UK-exclusive Blu-ray)
released by Eureka! on April 29, 2019

Oh, lord; now we're headed for quicksand.

Let me explain.

I don't know if you know this or not, but there's a thing about Blu-rays (and DVDs): different regions of the globe have different types of discs.  By this, I mean that here in America we have one type, and in England they have another, and in Australia another, and in Japan another, so forth and so on.  Guess what, American...?  That Blu-ray player you got at Walmart on Black Friday in 2013?  That fucker won't play most Blu-rays from England, or Australia, or Japan, etc.  You want to play a Japanese Blu-ray?  You will have to get your ass a Blu-ray player encoded to Japan's region.

I myself knew this, but had never really had to contend with it in any way, since there had never been a non-American release that I felt I needed to own.

Just recently, though, it was announced that Eureka! Video would be releasing the first-ever UK release of Cujo on Blu-ray.  Okay, fine; good for the British!  We here in the Colonies already had Cujo on Blu-ray; I was a little surprised they didn't, but glad they were getting to catch up.

Then, I learned that this was going to be an edition with a copious amount of new behind-the-scenes material.

Uh-oh.  How much and of what sort?

Well, first off, a new commentary by Lee Gambin, author of Nope, Nothing Wrong Here, the definitive book about the making of this movie.  But also a slew of interviews with various of the filmmakers; and by "a slew," I mean something in the neighborhood of three hours and sixteen minutes.  Can a guy like me pass that up?  Fuck no!  Forty-one minutes of new interview footage with Dee Wallace about Cujo?!?  Are you kidding me?!?  Of course I can't pass that up!

But there's no way for me to play it on either of the two Blu-ray players I currently own, so this means one thing: time for me to invest in a multi-region Blu-ray player.  That's not THAT big a deal, but it run me about $100, which means that in doing so, I am now allowing myself to be the kind of person who spends $100 so that he will have the option of spending another $40 on an imported version of a movie that he already owns two copies of.  Do I REALLY want to be that guy?

Irrelevant.  I AM that guy, so I may as well own it.  And so I do, which, naturally, led me down a bit of a rabbit hole.  We'll get to that momentarily, but first, let me run through the contents that are specific to this edition from Eureka.

  • a commentary track by Lee Gambin, who (thanks to his book on the film, Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of Cujo) is certainly an authority on the subject; he begins speaking at the beginning of the film and I swear to God he never takes a breath the entire time but just talks and talks and talks, AND does so in an entertaining and informative manner; it's a top-notch commentary 
  • a 60-page booklet including essays on the making of the film
  • a 41-minute interview with Dee Wallace
  • a 35-minute interview with composer Charles Bernstein
  • a 26-minute interview with stunt performer Gary Morgan
  • a 21-minute interview with stunt performer Jean Coulter
  • a 20-minute interview with casting directing Marcia Ross
  • a 13-minute interview with SFX artist Kathie Clark Lawrence
  • a 12-minute interview with SFX artist Robert Clark
  • and a 28-minute interview with Teresa Ann Miller, daughter of the late Karl Lewis Miller, the film's animal trainer
Additionally, if you sprung for the limited edition like I did, you got a second disc which includes a 100-minute long convention panel during which Lee Gambin interviews Dee Wallace about her career.  Surprisingly little of this focuses on Cujo, but that was fine by me; listening to Wallace talk about "10" and The Howling and E.T. and The Frighteners was plenty entertaining enough, especially with the affable and enthusiastic Gambin there to serve as a foil.  That second disc also contains a 27-minute segment of Kim Newman ostensibly discussing Cujo but actually discussing the history of King on film at large.
It's a fine ol' set of bonus features, and I'm pleased I was able to get it without having to move to move to England to make to happen.

While we're here, let me briefly cover some other international Blu-rays which I found out about and felt moved to obtain:

I was kvetching above about cover art, but this piece here is glorious.

This 2018 limited-edition UK-only Blu-ray from Arrow is less chock-a-block with new-to-Bryant bonus features than the Eureka! edition of Cujo, but it does come with these exclusives:

  • a poster of the incredible cover art
  • a lo-fi but nevertheless interesting alternate (and television-friendly) version of the opening lockerroom/shower sequence that has not, to my knowledge, ever been released on home video before
  • an excellent Lee Gambin commentary track (he's teamed up this time with fellow Aussie film critic Alexandra Heller Nicholas)
  • a twenty-minute visual essay by Jonathan Bygraves that uses film clips from all three filmed versions of Carrie to examine differences between the tellings
  • eight replica lobby cards
  • and a 40-page booklet that includes several brief essays but also, more compellingly, a seven-page reprint of an interview with Brian DePalma that was conducted between the wrap of filming on Carrie and its release

This edition also ports over what I think is every other bonus feature from the various American home-video releases, making this the definitive edition.

This is not the sort of thing The Truth Inside The Lie can stomach not having; and so, now, we do.

Released in 2017, this Australian Cat's Eye Blu-ray purports to be region-locked, but is in fact region-free; so if you want it and can find a copy, your American player will handle it with no issues whatsoever.

There are two bonus features specific to this release: a 27-minute interview with Robert Hays, star of "The Ledge"; and a brief (seven minutes) but good interview with animal trainer Teresa Ann Miller.  The only downside: director Lewis Teague's commentary is nowhere to be found.  (This is also true of the Eureka! Blu-ray of Cujo, unfortunately).

On April 8 of this year, Sony evidently put out a first-season Blu-ray set for Mr. Mercedes ... in Australia.  It's region-free, happily.  Less happily, it (like the DVD set available in America) has no bonus features whatsoever, just the ten first-season episodes.  It's good to have them in a hi-def format; it's bad they aren't being sold that way in America.

It's a baffling decision you've made there, Sony.  But damn your eyes, if you'll put out seasons two and three for the Aussies, I'll spring for those as well.

Australia was also privileged enough to get a 2018 Blu-ray set of Kingdom Hospital:

It's a plain-jane episodes-only release, but it is Blu-ray nevertheless, and Blu-ray is superior to DVD in every way, even for a mediocrity like Kingdom Hospital.

I've been grousing for years about the fact that The Dead Zone isn't available on Blu-ray, and hey, guess what?  It goddamn well IS available on Blu-ray, at least in Australia!  It's got basically the same bonus features as the extant America DVDs, so from a behind-the-scenes standpoint there's no real reason to plunk down money for this one.  It does have a commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, who do a decent job but do not provide anything that would quality as essential; this track apparently first appeared on a 2002 British DVD.

The sole reason to get this is to have the movie itself in HD, and the image is strong.  Plus, as with Cat's Eye, this is actually a region-free disc; it's not terribly expensive, nor is it terribly hard to find.  How this failed to come to my attention upon its 2016 release, I do not know.

And that's what haunts me: what else do I not know about?!?  All manner of things, one assumes; if you have any info on other non-American King-movie discs you think I should know about, please do let me know in the comments.

Oh, but I'm not even done yet.

Did you know there's a German Blu-ray of Graveyard Shift?  Indeed there is.

Don't get excited by that "special collector's edition" nonsense on the cover; there are no bonus features whatsoever.  This is fine by me, as they'd likely have been in German anyways; what good is a German commentary track to a guy from Tuscaloosa?  (Actually, we've got a Mercedes plant here, so statistically-speaking, probably pretty good.)

Nevertheless, I'd love to know why Germany's home-video industry felt as if its people simply could not abide one day further without a hi-def home-video release of this tale of poor middle management, but America's discmakers feel its contentious and obese customers should continue to live in the Hell that is a lo-def-only existence for Graveyard Shift.  What's that all about?  Whatever the case may be, in 2017, the German people stepped up and got that shit done. 
I'm happy to have the movie in high definition; that was the allure of the disc for me.  The transfer itself is seemingly the same grainy one used for the DVDs, but upscaled (if that's the word) for greater resolution.  Here come a trio of comparison screencaps:







I'm willing to bet you can't tell much difference; looking at them in blog-post format, I can't either.  Blow 'em up a bit and that changes; the DVD images begin to lose resolution quickly, whereas the Blu-ray images don't.  And if you put the two on an HD-TV, the difference is stark.  Bottom line is, if you're going to watch this movie on a big television, Blu-ray is by far the superior option.

Why us Americans -- excepting the ones with the initiative to scour eBay for a German solution (I regret that phrasing) -- are deprived of this experience is a mystery to me.

Eli Roth's History of Horror Uncut
episode #1, "Stephen King," premiered May 3, 2019

A companion podcast to the 2018 AMC docuseries, Eli Roth's History of Horror Uncut was basically just the audio versions of some of the full-length interviews Roth conducted that were then edited into the television series.  I say "just," as though it's a mere piffle; but in fact, these are strong interviews.  Roth himself is arguably a bit of an aggravation; he is a bit too prone to interrupt his interviewees for my tastes.  It's hard to hold it against him much, though, because his enthusiasm and passion for what he's doing is charming and infectious.

The podcast debuted with the King episode.  It was actually released twice: it briefly went online on February 22, and this evidently was some sort of a mistake, because it vanished not long thereafter and did not reappear until the series launch -- relaunch? -- in early May.  It was up for long enough for me to snag it, though; ain't no sleepin' on King watch round here!

The Colorado Kid
(new illustrated edition)

trade paperback published by Hard Case Crime on May 7, 2019
The Truth Inside the Lie review of the illustrated edition

cover art by Paul Mann

After being out of print for some time, The Colorado Kid returned to shelves in 2019 in an illustrated edition that also includes a new introduction by Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai.  ("It's gotta be a boxing story.  Either that or a western," he recalls thinking the first time he heard the book's title.)

The cover art by Paul Mann is perfectly in keeping with the house style of Hard Case Crime, which typically features at least one smoking-hot dame.  In this case, though, the scene does come straight out of the novel: I'd forgotten it, but Vince and Dave describe the teenagers who find the Colorado Kid on the beach, and, sure enough, one of 'em is a girl in tiny red shorts.

The interior art is by Mark Edward Geyer, Kate Kelton, Paul Mann, and Mark Summers, and there's a lot of it: twenty illustrations, which is one for each of the eighteen chapters plus a frontispiece and one that appears prior to King's afterword.  PLUS, there's an excerpt from Joyland at the end, and they even tossed an illustration in for that!  None of it's gonna change your life or anything, but I like most of it quite a bit; the next time I read the novel, I'll be reading this edition.

Speaking of which, I've always liked this novel more than most people seem to, and in his introduction, Charles Ardai makes a strong case for it.  I got no real point to make; just thought it was worth mentioning, is all.

Post Mortem With Mick Garris
episode #54, "Stephen King," premiered May 8, 2019

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the broadcast of ABC's The Stand miniseries, King appeared as a guest on Mick Garris's Post Mortem podcast.  The two discussed various things, including casting, King's desire to direct another movie someday, the process of screenwriting/adaptation, and so forth.

Good stuff; nothing super revelatory, and the audio wasn't awesome thanks to King having to Skype in.  Still, if you get a chance to listen to Stephen King for nearly an hour, you take it; at least you do if you're me.

"The Little Green God of Agony"
(comic adaptation by Dennis Calero)
print debut in Heavy Metal #293, published May 8, 2019

In 2012 and 2013, a 25-page webcomic adaptation of King's short story "The Little Green God of Agony" appeared online, one page at a time on a (mostly) daily basis.

In spring 2019, the adaptation finally appeared in print via issue #293 of Heavy Metal, which I honestly had no idea was still in existence.

The only change that I could see was that the final two pages were split into two distinct pages, whereas in the webcomic iteration they were presented as a single splash.  Having them split into two -- and don't think this is a drastic change, it really isn't -- actually makes it somewhat easier and clearer to read, in my opinion.

That awesome cover above is by Flavio Greco Paglia, of whom I have never heard, apparently to my own personal loss.  There were also four variant covers, including other artists' work, and while none of them have anything to do with Stephen King, I guess we may as well have a gander:

art by beeple

art by Wanjin Gim

art by Antonio J. Manzanedo

I've read none of this issue's contents; I assume I'd enjoy it, and I feel bad for basically buying it and then putting it in a box, but hey, time grows shorter by the day 'round my way.

Plus, frankly, I'm afraid I'd want to begin subscribing to the magazine, and from there it's a short hop to wanting to collect back issues, and from there I assume eventually it's the end of the world.  I can't risk it, y'all; I can not risk it.  At least not this month.

It Monopoly
(board game)
released circa May 2019

I've played plenty a game of Monopoly in my time, so this is more to my immediate liking than It Clue is.  I couldn't tell you a thing about this Pennywise-infused edition of Monopoly, but I've got a copy on the way to me, so maybe at some point I'll have to find someone to play it with, and issue a full report here.

(television series)
broadcast on AMC from June 2 through August 4, 2019

Based on Joe Hill's 2013 novel of the same name, NOS4A2 stars Zachary Quinto as the villainous Charlie Manx.

The episodes:

  • 1.01, "The Shorter Way" (June 2)
  • 1.02, "The Graveyard of What Might Be"  (June 9)
  • 1.03, "The Gas Mask Man"  (June 16)
  • 1.04, "The House of Sleep"  (June 23)
  • 1.05, "The Wraith"  (June 30)
  • 1.06, "The Dark Tunnels"  (July 7)
  • 1.07, "Scissors for the Drifter"  (July 14)
  • 1.08, "Parnassus"  (July 21)
  • 1.09, "Sleigh House"  (July 28)
  • 1.10, "Gunbarrel"  (July 28)

I've listed all the episodes with their AMC broadcast dates, but it's worth noting that all of the episodes technically debuted on June 2.  The catch: the season was available for binge-viewing only to AMC Premiere subscribers.  This, if I understand correctly, is a service that one can purchase for $4.99 per month, but only if one is also a cable subscriber whose service of choice carries AMC.  I am not a cable subscriber, so this option was not available to me.  Instead, I bought a season pass for $24.99 via Amazon and watched weekly.  (I will also note for the record that the series began streaming weekly on Shudder on August 8, with new episodes dropping each Thursday.  A Blu-ray set was released on October 22nd.  Did I buy it?  I did.  Am I covering it here?  I am not.)

It was announced on July 20 (at San Diego Comic-Con) that a second season had been commissioned by AMC.  I was a lot happier about that by the end of the season than I would have been at the beginning.  I felt as if the first season got off to a rocky start, but that it eventually began to find its footing somewhat.

Because I am lazy, I am now going to copy/paste an email I sent to the Stephen King Cast about the show after its fifth episode aired.  The host, Constant Reader, was unimpressed by the premiere episode and bailed out of watching any after that.  So I wrote him this:

I wanted to drop a quick line just to say that I myself had very similar feelings to yours about the NOS4A2 television series for the first two, maybe three, episodes.  At some point after that, though, I began to look forward to it each week.  I think that what happened here, maybe, is that the producers kind of went about the adaptation the wrong way, resulting in some miscalculations that are going to be difficult to get over.  But within that, they've got (mostly) a very good cast that is doing strong work, so even though the series is a bit of a disappointment through its first half of the season, it's got strong points, too.

Such as:

(1)  I really, really like Ashleigh Cummings as Vic.  I kind of miss the younger version of the character from the novel, but what they've done is try to showcase the world-weary older version in a teenage take on the character.  I'm not sure that was a good decision, BUT, they found a genuinely excellent actress to play the role and then have given her enough family trouble that the world-weariness aspect actually kind of plays.

(2)  Phony accents excepted, the actors playing Vic's parents are also great, and only get more so each week.  Speaking of which...

(3)  Bing is terrifying.  He's kind of blowing Charlie Manx off the screen, which is a problem -- but an interesting one.

(4)  Zachary Quinto is a mixed bag as Charlie Manx.  It's a tough character to pull off onscreen, I think, and the production has done itself no favors by presenting Charlie in a more or less straightforward fashion.  This is proof of just how -- as you mentioned in your review -- difficult Joe Hill's tone is to translate from page to screen.  I'm not sure what the solution was for this; this series did not find it, that's for sure.  Not in the first few episodes, at least.  I will say, though, that in the fifth episode, when Vic and Charlie finally have a face-to-face confrontation, it's pretty great.  You can feel Quinto and Cummings feeding off one another, each elevating their game in response to what the other is doing.  All of a sudden, in that scene, Charlie Manx DOES work, and Quinto works in the role.  He's not bad elsewhere; he's just kind of stranded by the approach the show's writers and directors took with him.  I hate to think how poorly the role would have come off with someone less talented than Quinto playing Charlie.

(5)  The first two episode were directed by Kari Skogland, who also directed Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return.  Just sayin'.  (She's done plenty of better work, mostly on television, since then, of course.  But I don't think she had a solid handle on what the tone for NOS4A2 should have been at all.)

(6)  I agree that the opening credits sequence is lame and ineffective.  That said, there's a cool little musical Easter egg right at the end: it quotes "Dies Irae," a famous Latin hymn that can be found in about a gajillion movie scores, including the main titles for The Shining.  More germane to this conversation, though, it's also the musical backbone of Danny Elfman's song "Making Christmas" from The Nightmare Before Christmas!  Pretty cool.

(7)  The actress who plays Maggie is apparently a YouTube star best-known for her makeup tutorials.  Sure, why not?  I didn't think she was particularly good in the first few episodes, apart from her miniskirts and tattooed cleavage (sorry/not sorry).  But she, too, has grown on me with each episode.

All in all, it's a weird show.  I'm much more invested in Vic's likely-doomed-to-fail attempts to get into RISD than I am in Charlie Manx kidnapping kids, which is a problem; but I am definitely invested in that, and in her sad relationships with both her mother and her father.  So it's not a complete failure on its own merits, and there are still five episodes for the horror elements to begin working more consistently.

That never happened, though, not so far as Charlie Manx and Christmasland and his "children" were concerned.  They simply haven't found the right tone for that stuff; nearly every scene involving a "creepy" kid and a mouth full of fake teeth makes me roll my eyes.  Charlie himself is somewhat better, but there's a whiff of camp that comes wafting off of Quinto that cannot be denied.  That he's good at it mitigates it somewhat, but only somewhat, and only sometimes.

At the end of the season, though, I found myself happy to have been able to spend ten episodes with Ashleigh Cummings, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Virginia Kull, and even (mostly) Jahkara J. Smith.  You can say a lot worse things about a show than that.

So bring on season two, and good tidings to you; I kind of enjoyed NOS4A2.

Sleeping Beauties
(gift edition)
published in hardcover by Cemetery Dance, June 11, 2019


art by Jana Heidersdorf

art by Jana Heidersdorf

Even before Sleeping Beauties was published in mass-market hardback in 2017, Cemetery Dance had announced a limited edition.  Available in three version (a signed lettered edition, a signed limited edition, and an unsigned gift edition), it weighed a ton and cost either an arm and a leg or (if you were splurging on a signed edition) those plus the torso as well.

I can't speak to the signed editions, but the gift edition finally came out in June of 2019.  As is always the case with Cemetery Dance books, it is a lovely piece of work.  I'm happy to have it on my shelf.  I'd not ordered it originally when it was announced, but they had a few extra copies as the actual release arrived, and I talked myself into getting one.

It: Chapter Two
(feature film)
  • a New Line film, released September 6, 2019
  • directed by Andy Muschietti from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman

"I assume this will be great."

Those were the placeholder words I wrote here several weeks prior to actually seeing the film.  Well, I just got home from seeing it, and can say that It: Chapter Two is instead a great disappointment.

So I took it, at least.  Your mileage may vary.  I suspect the movie is going to be broadly disliked, though; my official guess is that it's going into the record books as one of the most disappointing sequels ever made, and will also fail to make anywhere near as much money as the first film did.  I think it will open big, and will then sink like a stone.

The problem?  [Oh, by the way: spoiler alert.]  The movie is simultaneously too long -- WAY too long (by, like, an hour) -- and vastly too short.  Entire subplots are cut from the novel.  Are you a big fan of Audra?  You'll get one scene with her.  Were you looking forward to hating Tom Rogan?  He, too, gets one scene.  Neither of them come to Derry.  And that's fine; neither of those subplots were needed.  But somehow, the movie fails to put the elbow room it thereby gains to any meaningful use.

Instead, what we get is a running gag about how bad Bill -- who is still a novelist and screenwriter in the movie -- is at writing endings.  This gag pops up about half a dozen times, and is clearly meant to defuse fretting over whether the ending of It (meaning the novel) itself is any good.  Hint: it is; one of his best, if you ask me.  Sure, he's been accused of ending a book poorly from time to time; but that criticism of his work is overused and hackneyed and holds less water than many of its proponents believe.  So for this movie to turn it into a meme -- one which they rope the actual Stephen King into participating in (via his cameo) -- is not merely misguided, but is insulting.

I'm not sure if it's director Andy Muschietti who gets the blame for this or screenwriter Gary Dauberman; I'm choosing to blame both, because if it was one of them individually, they should have talked the other out of it.  Producer Barbara Muschietti should similarly have known better.  This is especially true considering that their movie about the perils of being bullied climaxes with a bunch of adults bullying a space clown to death.

Apart from that, though, the film drops the ball more often than not.  It has little of the magic that made the first film so special.  That magic made it possible to overlook the fact that that first film wasn't the tiniest bit scary.  This one isn't, either, and, worse, it doubles down on the use of CGI.  The effects are marginally better here in most places than they were in Chapter One, but little of it looks real.  It looks like what it is: hopped-up ones and zeros making booga-booga faces and drooling a lot.  I guess that's what you kids are into, though, so feel free to roll your eyes, aim an "OK boomer" at me, and go back to your Tik Tok or whatever the fuck.  By the way, I'm Gen X, fuckface, so joke's on you.

The cast mostly gives it their all, and they are worth singling out:

  • Jessica Chastain -- she's good as adult Beverly, but the screenplay makes her less feisty than her younger counterpart, so she never really gets a chance to shine the way Sophia Lillis did/does.
  • James McAvoy -- as Bill, McAvoy stutters capably and shows a lot of resilience.  But the screenplay never really puts him in the leadership role, which is an odd choice.
  • Bill Hader -- he's probably the standout as Richie.  Some of the subtext Eddie has in the novel is (I would argue) transferred to him here, and we find out that he's been struggling with his sexuality his entire life.  Fine by me; that's a valid adaptation choice, and Hader plays it very well.  But, again, it's underserved by the screenplay.
  • Isaiah Mustafa -- Mike comes off both better and worse in the sequel than he did in the first film.  Better in that he's got things to do here, but worse in that the screenplay presents him in a fairly ludicrous manner.  See, Mike's been to visit a tribe of Native Americans who live outside of Derry, and from them he learned the secrets of Pennywise's origins.  This is silly enough to have been in a Scooby-Doo episode.  The cosmic aspect of King's novel is hinted at, but obliquely and ineffectively; the movie bungles this entirely, and so Mike's role is a bit of a bungle as well, although Mustafa gives a good performance.  He's good enough that I really regret not seeing him play the Mike of the novel; he'd have done it well.
  • Jay Ryan -- playing the adult Ben, Ryan is hunky and steadfast.  His pining over Beverly -- which he's apparently been doing for nearly thirty years -- is pathetic, but is well-played and comes to a satisfactory conclusion.  At least they got THAT right.
  • James Ransone -- I thought Ransone was a bit frantic in some scenes, but overall, his performance as Eddie works.  He's especially funny in one of the movie's most surprising moments of violence.
  • Andy Bean -- he's fine as the adult Stanley, but (obviously) isn't in the film very much.  And his suicide scene is a weird misfire; if you don't know his fate in advance, I'm not sure you will even realize that he's killed himself.  Was this on purpose?  It's a possibility, I guess.  Not sure why you'd do that, but that's how I felt about much of the movie, so at least that'd be consistent.  Then, too, Stan is given a truly unfortunate bit at the end where it turns out that he killed himself as ... a sort of act of courage?  So as to avoid weighing the other Losers down, I guess?  This is truly awful; it's intended to allow the film to end on a sort of bittersweet note, but hey, uh, that's kind of implying suicide can be helpful to the people you live behind, isn't it?  Bad move.
  • Bill Skarsgard -- he's weirdly underserved by the film, or so I felt.  He's got a few good scenes -- he's flat-out great in a bit where he menaces a girl with a facial deformity under a set of bleachers -- but he seems overpowered by the rest of the cast in a way that was not true in the first film.
  • and finally, the guy who plays adult Henry Bowers.  He sucks, but the movie makes such poor use of him that I'm not entirely positive it's even his fault.  So both films were at least consistent in bungling Henry Bowers.

Bleh.  I give a double-bleh to the screenwriting decision for the Losers to end the movie NOT by losing their memories, but by keeping them. 

It's not a bad movie in the sense that, say, Dolan's Cadillac is; but it is, at least for this Constant Reader, a crushing disappointment.

UPDATE: I won't be covering the Blu-ray, but it's worth mentioning that there are about ninety minutes worth of good behind-the-scenes documentaries.  Muschietti also provides a great commentary track.  Unless I'm wrong -- and I might be -- screenwriter Gary Dauberman is not mentioned once in any of these.  Nor should he be, the hack.

The Institute
published in hardcover by Scribner on September 10, 2019
The Truth Inside The Lie review of The Institute

King's 2019 novel was billed as a throwback of sorts which featured It-like kids contending with a Firestarter-like secret organization.  It also got some press for its echoes of real-world concerns about children being kept in captivity on the Southern border.

Perhaps coincidentally, The Institute was one of the rare King novels to miss out on hitting the #1 spot on bestseller lists in its first week; Margaret Atwood's sequel to The Handmaid's Tale came out the same day and proved to be too large a juggernaut for even King to overcome.  However, the two novels swapped places in their second week, with King rising to #1 and Atwood falling to #2. And while it didn't stay on #1 for long, it lingered in the top ten for the rest of the year, and was reportedly the best-selling King book in recent years.

Fine by me!  I didn't love it, but if other people did, that's awesome; maybe my second experience with it will make me love it.

Mr. Mercedes
(season three)
broadcast on Audience Network from September 10 through November 12

For its third season, Audience's Mr. Mercedes circled back to the middle -- which is not a saying -- to adapt the second Hodges novel, Finders Keepers.  New castmembers for the season include Rarmian Newton (who also had a small role in NOS4A2) as Pete Saubers; Gabriel Ebert as Morris Bellamy; Bruce Dern as John Rothstein; and Kate Mulgrew as a character created for the series.  Hey, I'm all about some Kate Mulgrew. 

The episodes:

  • 3.01, "No Good Deed" (September 10)
  • 3.02, "Madness" (September 17)
  • 3.03, "Lost Love" (September 24)
  • 3.04, "Trial and Terror"  (October 1)
  • 3.05, "Great Balls of Fire"  (October 8)
  • 3.06, "Bad to Worse"  (October 15)
  • 3.07, "The Beginning of the End"  (October 22)
  • 3.08, "Mommy Deadest"  (October 29)
  • 3.09, "Crunch Time"  (November 5)
  • 3.10, "Burning Man"  (November 12)

I'll get to see this someday, presumably.  Still not subscribing to DirecTV to make it happen, though; that, gents, is a line in the sand.  And this is me remaining on my side of it.

Pet Sematary Two
(CD release of the score by Mark Governor)
released by La-La Land Records on September 12

The never-before-released score for Pet Sematary Two received a CD this year, in what I can only assume was lingering excitement for the rejuvenation of the Pet Sematary story via the movie remake.  I can't imagine there were more than about eleven people in the entire world who bought it, but I was one of them.  Much of the music struck me as being kind of terrible, but the liner notes make a persuasive case for why I'm wrong about that.

So if this kind of thing is for you, get a copy of this and support the notion of such things being released.

The Stand
released September 24, 2019

The ABC miniseries version of The Stand received its first-ever hi-def disc release in the second half of 2019.  It was not, as one might have hoped, a bells-and-whistles special edition; there are no new bonus features at all, in fact.  (It does include the DVD commentary track, which is great.)

However, I assumed this miniseries would probably never be released on Blu-ray or any other such format, so this was a nice surprise merely by virtue of its existence.

It looks pretty dang good, too!  One hopes this means other such minis will follow suit; we could use Storm of the Century and Rose Red and Golden Years and The Shining and Kingdom Hospital and The Tommyknockers and, yes, even The Langoliers.  I'll have 'em all, please!

(season one)
streamed on Shudder from September 26 through October 31
The Truth Inside The Lie review of Creepshow

The horror-centric streaming service Shudder resurrected Creepshow in the fall of 2019 to entice new subscribers.  I can verify that they got at least one.

Only one first-season segment ("Grey Matter") was based on a story by Stephen King, but that's fine by me.  At least in theory.  In practice, I found the vast majority of the first season to be pretty mediocre.  Even the segment based on "Grey Matter" was, in this viewer's eyes, weak sauce. The final segment of the season, however, was one of the good ones: and that was "By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain," which was based on a Joe Hill story.

The episodes:

  • 1.01, "Gray Matter" and "The House of the Head" (September 26)
  • 1.02, "Bad Wolf Down" and "The Finger"  (October 3)
  • 1.03, "All Hallow's Eve" and "The Man in the Suitcase"  (October 10)
  • 1.04, "The Companion" and "Lydia Lane's Better Half"  (October 17)
  • 1.05, "Night of the Paw" and "Times Is Tough In Musky Holler"  (October 24)
  • 1.06, "Skincrawlers" and "By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain" (October 31)

Here's hoping the second season will be more to my liking.

Full Throttle
(story collection by Joe Hill)
  • a HarperCollins hardcover, published October 1, 2019
  • includes the collection of the stories "Throttle" and "In the Tall Grass," both co-written by Stephen King
  • includes the debut appearances of "Late Returns" and "Mums" and the first print appearance of "Dark Carousel" 

You know me; you know I love to debate classification of things.  With that in mind, I wonder -- given the collection here of two stories co-written by Stephen King, is that enough to make Full Throttle count as a Stephen King book?  Conventional wisdom says probably not; but I wonder.  I do wonder.

In any case, this is a Joe Hill collection, which is a fine thing in its own right.  The contents:

  • Introduction: Who's Your Daddy?
  • "Throttle" (with Stephen King)
  • "Dark Carousel"
  • "Wolverton Station"
  • "By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain"
  • "Faun"
  • "Late Returns"
  • "All I Care About Is You"
  • "Thumbprint"
  • "The Devil on the Staircase"
  • "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead"
  • "Mums"
  • "In the Tall Grass" (with Stephen King)
  • "You Are Released"
  •  Story Notes and Acknowledgments

Is this AS great as Hill's first collection, 20th Century Ghosts?  Eh ... hard to say, man.  I think the best comparison I can make is that the difference between the two is a bit like the difference between King's Night Shift and Skeleton Crew.  Which of THOSE is better?

Hard call to make.  The winner is whoever is reading one of them.  Same deal here.

In the Tall Grass
(feature film) 

  • a Netflix film, released October 4, 2019
  • written and directed by Vincenzo Natali

Netflix's third King-based movie (Gerald's Game and1922 were the first two) is also its first Joe Hill-based movie.  King and son penned the short story together in the distant past of 2012.

The movie is adapted from that story (which was included in Hill's 2019 collection Full Throttle) by Vincenzo Natali, a filmmaker best known for Cube and Splice, and maybe for his episodes of Hannibal.  His screenplay deviates from the short story to expand it to feature length, but does so in ways that I found to be more or less in keeping with what King and Hill wrote.  It aspires to be a mindfuck of a movie, and whether it gets there or not is a matter of personal preference.  For me, I think it leans a little closer to being a miss than a hit; but it's not bad.

An Evening with Joe Hill & Stephen King
(reading/lecture and Q&A)
held at Porter Square Books in Somerville, MA on October 10, 2019

stole this from some guy's Twitter

In support of both Full Throttle and The Institute, Hill and his pops did a bookstore event for the first time.  And if you want to see that (you do), it's currently on YouTube.  Here's proof:

Among the highlights for me:

  • Hill reads a couple of pages from The Institute (the scene in which Luke cuts out the tracker from his earlobe) and has a lot of fun grimacing at how gross it is.
  • King reads a couple of pages from his son's introduction to Full Throttle, including a bit where he talks about being traumatized by being hit in the face accidentally by a shovel when he was five years old.  King pauses the reading and corrects his son, saying that it happened when he was two.  "Where were you when I was proofreading this thing?!?" Hill asks good-naturedly.  Without missing a beat, King puts on a corny hick voice and answers, "I wuz writin' m' next book, son!"  He is delighted by his own answer and cracks up, as does Hill, everyone in attendance, and me while watching it on YouTube.
  • The two authors ask each other a series of questions, and Hill asks King whether the opening section of The Institute ("The Night Knocker") was written first.  King says no, he began with the next bit, about Luke.  Hill seems to have guessed this, but is pleased to have sussed out a bit of his dad's working methods.
  • Hill described how the ending of NOS4A2 was originally much, much darker and how he ignored requests from his publisher to change it because he was "a fackin' artist."  He then says that his mother, Tabitha, read the draft he sent her and called him up and said the novel was great but the ending wouldn't do.  "Yes, mom," Hill replied meekly, and changed it.  

It's a very fun watch.  Hill and King are clearly great friends, and enjoy needling each other in good-natured manner.  And they're both quite good at it, too!

Shining in the Dark
(anthology, edited by Hans-Åke Lilja)
  • includes a reprint of "The Blue Air Compressor"
  • Gallery Books trade paperback published October 22, 2019

This anthology contains a reprint of King's obscure short story "The Blue Air Compressor" (which I reviewed here), which marks the first time it has been widely available to American buyers in a mass-market format.  A limited-edition Shining in the Dark hardback from Cemetery Dance came out in the spring of 2018, so I probably should have mentioned it in my Guided Tour post for that year; I apparently forgot to do so, but since I remembered it when I got my copy of the Gallery edition, I think I'll just drop it in here.

Let's examine the book's contents:

  • "Celebrating Twenty Years of Lilja's Library: An Introduction" -- Lilja's Library, of course, has been the internet's best source for curated Stephen King news for ... well, for twenty years now.  Twenty-one, actually, now.  Lilja's introduction discusses the impetus for creating an anthology to commemorate the anniversary.
  • "The Blue Air Compressor" (by Stephen King) -- I'm conflicted.  On the one hand, I think it's fantastic that this rare King story has finally been published in an edition which is affordable for the average Constant Reader.  I suspect it is unlikely ever to be collected in one of King's own books, which might well make Shining in the Dark the best chance such readers will ever have to add the story to their collections.  On the other hand, I think "The Blue Air Compressor" is quite a viable contender for the title of Worst Published King Story.  This is a story that is arguably for only the most devoted of King fans; I'm not sure one needs to be an aspiring King historian to find it worth one's while, but it's a possibility.  So while I think it's great for the story to be solidly in the world again, and while I also think it's great for Lilja to have been the one to publish it, I think it's a bit of a shame that one of his book's lesser stories is the one by King himself.
  • "The Net" (by Jack Ketchum & P.D. Cacek) -- In which two people meet up in a singles chatroom and fall in love and -- spoiler alert! -- one of them turns out to be only fifteen years old.  A relatively well-told story; well enough that it felt for a while as if I was peeking in on something I oughtn't.  I think I mean that as a compliment.  King connection: somebody's cat in this story is named Cujo.
  • "The Novel of the Holocaust" (by Stewart O'Nan) -- This is not even vaguely a horror story; not that it has to be, I'm just saying.  I didn't particularly like it.  It's less a story than it is a mildly clever idea.  The idea is this: a writer has gotten moderately famous for writing a novel about the Holocaust, so he's giving interviews and whatnot about it frequently enough that in some sense, that's what he himself is -- a Novel of the Holocaust.  So that's how he is referred to throughout the story.  It gets old quick.  Not a bad story, but that's the best I'll say for it.  King connection: O'Nan collaborated with Steve on both Faithful and "A Face in the Crowd."
  • "Aeliana" (by Bev Vincent) -- A were-creature of some sort comes into contact with a cop who is investigating a rash of dead bodies.  They develop a psychic bond, which proves useful right up until it doesn't.  This is a good story; Vincent avoids cliches and makes you care about what's happening, and that's a recipe for good short fiction.  King connection: it's Bev Vincent, and if you don't know who that is, you should be aware that he is one of the world's foremost authorities on Stephen King.
  • "Pidgin and Theresa" (by Clive Barker) -- Pretty weird.  I mean, it's Clive Barker.  In this one, an angel comes to conduct an apotheosis of a Saint, except a mistake of sorts is made.  And then in trying to fix that mistake, the Saint's pet parrot and turtle are accidentally turned into humans.  They go on the run and decide to fuck.  Somebody also turns into a literal pile of shit, and then somebody gets shit in their eyes.  It's a big mess, honestly.  The story is well-written, but I found it to be a bit off-putting.  King connection: none, apart from Clive Barker being one of his more celebrated contemporaries within the horror genre.
  • "An End to All Things" (by Brian Keene) -- I guess you'd call this a slice-of-life story.  It's about a man who suffered a pair of tragedies in the previous year (his young son dies in an accident and then his wife blows her brains out) and who now wakes up every day and hopes for death to reunite him with them.  Grim, but okay; that's fertile ground for fiction, absolutely.  I couldn't feel okay about this story, though, because the main character's actual wishes for death struck me as being contemptible.  Many of them are along the lines of wishing for an asteroid strike or for a zombie apocalypse; events which would claim the lives of many people other than himself.  I'm sympathetic to a point, but it only goes so far, and this story went beyond it.  King connection: I'm sure there are others of similar tenuousness, but King once recommended Keene's book Darkness on the Edge of Town.
  • "Cemetery Dance" (by Richard Chizmar) -- This five-page story is really more of a sketch than anything else, but it's a relatively evocative one.  A man who once murdered a woman he ostensibly loved returns to her gravesite to commit suicide, lured by the siren song of the "cemetery dance."  King connection: he and Chizmar co-wrote Gwendy's Button Box, which Chizmar himself later sequelized.  And King's connection with Cemetery Dance (the magazine and publishing house which Chizmar founded) is longstanding.
  • "Drawn to the Flame" (by Kevin Quigley) -- If I were pitching a movie version of this to somebody, I'd say it's like Saw meets Something Wicked This Way Comes, and then I'd watch them be confused over what Something Wicked This Way Comes is.  It's about three boys who go to a place called Scary World, which turns out to be kind of like a funhouse, except with killer moths.  Also, there's a really aggravating villain named Etienne LaRue, who speaks in not-especially-poetical rhymes.  There are some strong horror moments in the story, but the characters are thin and uncompelling.  I might be guilty of not having given the story a fair shake, though; I was distanced greatly at the outset by strange formatting choices involving section and/or paragraph breaks.  The problem -- if indeed it WAS a problem, rather than a conscious choice on the author's part -- pops up occasionally throughout, but is especially onerous at the beginning.  King connection: Quigley has written several books about King's work, and also has a King-centric website, Charnel House.  It's been fallow for a while now, though; has Quigley gotten out of the Stephen King game?
  • "The Companion" (by Ramsey Campbell) -- Guy goes into a dark ride at a fairground and something unsettling happens.  King connection: in Danse Macabre, King referred to this story as being one of the best written in the past thirty years.  With apologies, I must express skepticism.  Maybe this was another case of me failing to properly read the story; if so I have no excuse this time, but if not then I really just don't see what the fuss is about.  This story is okay, but I'd say little more for it than that, at least for now.
  • "The Tell-Tale Heart" (by Edgar Allan Poe) -- Hard to argue with a Poe story being included in more or less any anthology.  King connection: King's obscure story "The Old Dude's Ticker" is a pastiche of Poe's tale.  There are also echoes of it -- and actual references to it -- in "The Blue Air Compressor."
  • "A Mother's Love" (by Brian James Freeman) -- A guy considers whether to put his mother out of her misery.  King connection: a few echoes of "The Woman in the Room," plus Freeman, via Cemetery Dance, has published King numerous times.
  • "The Keeper's Companion" (by John Ajvide Lindqvist) -- Lila himself is Swedish, and so is Lindqvist, who is best known for having written Let the Right One In.  He wrote this story especially for Lilja's book, which is a nice touch.  It's also probably the best story in the anthology other than Poe's.  It's about some gamers who accidentally -- ? -- summon a malicious entity of some sort while playing a variation on the Call of Cthulhu RPG.  King connection: none whatsoever, although there are themes of high-school bullying.  Also, De Vermis Mysteriis plays a role in both this and "Jerusalem's Lot."

All in all, it's honestly not that great a collection.  I'd say I liked four of the stories.  But King fans should have it if only so they can make their friends jealous by saying that they've read "The Blue Air Compressor."  You do want to make your friends jealous, don't you?

Castle Rock season two
(television series)

streamed weekly on Hulu beginning October 23

The second season is set partially in Jerusalem's Lot and features as what I suppose you'd call its protagonist Annie Wilkes, who in this version of the story...

No.  No, let's stop that right there.  This isn't a version of Annie Wilkes' story.  This isn't a version of Misery in any way.  This is just some other bullshit with the name "Annie Wilkes" slapped on it.  This Annie has a backstory in which as a troubled teenager, she murdered her father, tried to murder her stepmother, kidnapped her infant sister, and then took the kid on the road with her to raise as her own daughter.  She's been a fugitive ever since, and yet somehow managed to learn how to be an RN, which is how she's been making ends meet.  Oh, but by the end of the season she's starting reading Paul Sheldon novels, so yay, Misery.

This show is complete bullshit.  Some people love it, apparently; but everything that sucks is beloved by someone.

Uncle Steve, you spent decades bitching about how Stanley Kubrick shit all over your poor little Jack Torrance by turning him into a character who was crazy from the outset of the story.  But here, the tools who make Castle Rock have turned Annie Wilkes into more or less the heroine of a story.  They've divorced her from everything that mattered about her origin.  AND...!  AND in so doing, they've set their story in Jerusalem's Lot, divorcing that town from everything that mattered about its origin.  (Less importantly, they've also mangled the story of Reginald "Pop" Merrill into something unrecognizable.)  I simply cannot understand how this gets a pass from you.  There will be people who grow up thinking these are the "real" versions of your characters.  There will be people who grow up thinking that THIS is the "real" version of Castle Rock, the town you crafted over the course of the eighties and early nineties.  You've ceded a part of your legacy to people who, so far as I can tell, wish only to exploit it.

I beg you to begin thinking about what is potentially being done to your legacy when you allow things like this to happen.  I'm sure you'd roll your eyes, or call me a incunk, or tell that old anecdote about all the books being on the shelf, untouched.  That's a great anecdote.  It's also bullshit unless it takes place in a world where everyone cares about the bookshelf; we don't live in that world, we live in one where that bookshelf has been -- not for all, but certainly for some -- replaced by Wikipedia pages and Reddit threads.  And a lot of people in those places don't even know the bookshelf exists; some of them, if they found out, wouldn't care.  Every time you allow bullshit like Castle Rock to happen, you give them power.  I get why you'd find Kubrick's movie distasteful, I truly do.  But in that particular case, at least the butchery committed upon your novel was committed by an iconoclastic artist whose body of work reverberates down the ages.

That's one thing.  Giving an even worse butchery over to schmoes like the Castle Rock writers is another thing entirely.  What they've done here is shameful.

The episodes:

  • 2.01, "Let the River Run" (October 23)
  • 2.02, "New Jerusalem" (October 23)
  • 2.03, "Ties That Bind" (October 23)
  • 2.04, "Restore Hope" (October 30)
  • 2.05, "The Laughing Place"  (November 6)
  • 2.06, "The Mother"  (November 13)
  • 2.07, "The Word" (November 20)
  • 2.08, "Dirty" (November 27)
  • 2.09, "Caveat Emptor"  (December 4)
  • 2.10, "Clean"  (December 11)

For my part, I hope there won't be a season three.  I'm sure there will be, though, and I am already annoyed with myself for being willing to tune in for it. 

Doctor Sleep
(feature film)
  • a Warner Bros. film, released in select theatres on October 30; released wide on November 8
  • written and directed by Mike Flanagan

The fourth King-based movie of 2019 was by far the best, and, disappointingly, was also the biggest flop.  (Assuming people watched In the Tall Grass; it's possible nobody did.  It didn't get much attention, so perhaps it actually flopped harder; but since Netflix doesn't release viewership numbers, we've got no way of knowing.)  It died a quick death at the box office for reasons nobody is entirely sure of, although it can at least be said that it was neither the first nor the last high-profile flop of the month: one week prior Terminator: Dark Fate had faceplanted worldwide, and one week later the same thing happened to the most recent Charlie's Angels reboot.

Were audiences tired of sequels they perceived as unnecessary?  Do too few moviegoers care about (or know about) The Shining to have been enticed by a followup?  Is Ewan McGregor too weak a star to launch a hit?  Is the box-office clout of Stephen King overvalued?  Was the movie given a poor release date?  (Releasing a horror movie the week after Halloween ... smooth move, y'all.)  Was the marketing campaign too reliant on imagery from Kubrick's movie?  Was the marketing campaign foolish not to mention that this was the director of The Haunting of Hill House?  Did Warner Bros. make a mistake by failing to spend the money necessary for Iron Man to be a part of the story?

Probably a mix of all of that.

So now begins the years-long process of the movie trying to find its actual audience.  If it does, it won't be the first King-based movie to do so; The Shawshank Redemption took a while to catch on, as did The Mist.  I'd say the potential for Doctor Sleep lies somewhere between those two; I don't think it's likely to ever be widely embraced the way Shawshank is, but hey, you never know.

One thing that might hold it back is the fact that much of its motivation for existence seems to have come from a desire to make peace between people who think of King's The Shining first and people who think of Kubrick's The Shining.  I'm not sure enjoying Flanagan's movie is absolutely dependent upon being familiar with how much distaste for Kubrick's movie King has expressed over the years, but I do think a familiarity with that real-world contentiousness -- and an interest in it -- makes it more likely that one will pick up what Flanagan is laying down.  Doctor Sleep the movie is simultaneously: an adaptation of Doctor Sleep the novel; a sequel to The Shining the movie; a sequel to The Shining the novel; a repurposing of elements from The Shining the novel that were ignored by The Shining the movie; and a "guys, let's all be friends" extrafictive plea.

It works as all of those things, I'd argue.  However, somewhere in that process, I think the movie might have failed to sufficiently be its own thing to engage people who couldn't care less about the King/Kubrick divide.  Ask the average eighteen-year-old It Chapter Two ticket buyer which side of that debate they land on; they're unlikely to know who either Stanley Kubrick OR Stephen King is.  You might reasonably expect them to at least know who King is, but that's just not how things work, folks; always count on people knowing less than you expect, and you'll find yourself less surprised more often.  My point is, most people who saw It saw it for Pennywise, not for Stephen King.  Some of them have probably heard of The Shining; many have not, and consequently, the number of people who give a tinker's cuss about the fact that Stephen King has been nursing a decades-long butthurt over Stanley Kubrick's movie is inherently tiny.

Whether Doctor Sleep the movie plays well for someone who enters into it purely as a moviegoer looking to enjoy the next 140 minutes is unclear to me.  I think many people who enjoy horror would find it ponderous, but strangely alluring, and would probably be into it by the end.  Will this lead them down a rabbit hole wherein they learn about the behind-the-scenes histories which helped bring the movie into existence?  It might.  I'm not sure how many of them are going to end up watching Room 237 or the ABC miniseries Shining remake, but there might be a few.

All I know is that I myself am a guy who DOES care about the King/Kubrick divide.  I myself stand more or less where Mike Flanagan seems to stand: with one foot in either camp.  It might well be true to say that Flanagan made the movie primarily for the fractional audience of people like me, who come into it with those pre-defined interests.  If so, he hit the mark.

There is plenty more to be said about the movie, but that'll wait for another day.  I've still only seen it once, but will definitely see it again one of these days.  A director's cut with an additional half hour is on the way in early 2020, and I'll definitely be checking that out.

Hill House Comics
(comic-book imprint overseen by Joe Hill and published by DC)
launched October 30, 2019

I know it isn't, but I keep seeing that as Tobe Hooper's Barlow.

In fall 2019, Joe Hill launched a horror-centric imprint for DC.  As of the time I'm writing this, only a single issue has come out so far -- Hill's own Basketful of Heads was the debut title -- but a total of five miniseries are planned for the first wave.  They are all pictured above, and as I obviously have not yet read them in their entirety, I'm content to mostly just mention that they exist.

Hill will be providing both Basketful of Heads and Plunge, as well as (presumably to entice Hill collectors who might be tempted to skip the titles he didn't pen) Sea Dogs, a backup serial which will run throughout all issues of the first wave.  It's about how werewolves won the Revolutionary War for America, and who can resist that concept?

Locke & Key: Dog Days
(comic-book one shot by Joe Hill)

published by IDW on November 6, 2019

This two-story Locke & Key one shot is credited to "Storytellers: Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez," which is a nice touch.  Hill has often said that Rodriguez' contributions are so significant that he ought to be considered the co-creator of the comics; so here, he's seemingly following through on that to some extent.

The two stories are "Dog Days" and "Nailed It."  The former is a funny and sweet tale about two boys and their dog.  The latter is about some guys rebuilding a house.  It's very brief, but very impactful if you are a fan of the series.

I'd complain a bit about the price, which is a bit steep for a regular-sized comic.  But hey, IDW gotta eat.

Gwendy's Magic Feather
(novel by Richard Chizmar)
  • published in hardcover by Cemetery Dance on November 19, 2019
  • includes a foreword by Stephen King, "How Gwendy Escaped Oblivion"

Noted for posterity's sake:
The official publication for the novel was November 19.  However, the copy I ordered from Amazon shipped earlier than that, and was allegedly delivered to me on November 11.  I say "allegedly": because no package actually arrived; which makes sense, given that November 11 was Veteran's Day and the USPS was closed.  So it didn't matter what the tracking said; no delivery had been made to me.  Amazon concurred, and sent a new copy to me; it arrived on November 15.  Therefore, despite the official publication date, some copies went out over a week earlier.  Let it be thus spake down through the ages.
But what care any of you about that?!?  Not much, probably.  Point is, this novel is Richard Chizmar's expansion of the Castle Rock universe, a sequel to the novella Gwendy's Button Box, which he co-wrote with King in 2017.   In it, we meet up with Gwendy again in the year 1999, where she is serving a term in the House of Representatives.  The button box inexplicably reappears to her one day, and when she returns home to Castle Rock for Christmas break, she struggles with whether to use it, and how.
It's a mediocre novel.  If you loved Gwendy's Button Box, you will probably enjoy the sequel; if you were indifferent to it, I'd recommend skipping it.  You've got better things to do, I promise.  It's not a bad book, though; just slight and a bit pointless.
So it struck me, at least.  And as your self-appointed tour guide on this journey, I am empowered to make such observations.

Dying Is Easy
(comic-book miniseries by Joe Hill)
published by IDW beginning December 11

I'm perfectly okay with there being Joe Hill comics flying at me left and right.  If there was one every week -- and there damn near is, at this point -- I'd gladly plunk down my bucks for 'em once a week.

Gotta say, though ... didn't particularly care for the first issue of Dying Is Easy.  It's about Syd "Shit-Talk" Homes, a stand-up comic who used to be a homicide detective.  He's got some skeletons in his closet, and I'm guessing we'll get to explore some of those as this miniseries unfurls.

My problems with this issue were at least two of the following:

  • I didn't care for the art by Martin Simmonds
  • I didn't care for much of Hill's dialogue, which seemed weirdly strained and ineffective
  • I am completing my end-of-the-decade transformation into a real grouch, a sourpuss who no longer knows how to enjoy things, even things he ostensibly loves

At least two of those are what's going on for me with this one.  But, naturally, I'm more than happy to give the rest of the miniseries a shot, and who knows?  Maybe 2020 Bryant will be a happier and more amenable fellow than this grumpy fuck 2019 Bryant is.

Silver Bullet
(Scream Factory Blu-ray) 
released December 17, 2019

Say, didn't we cover a Silver Bullet Blu-ray as part of last year's Guided Tour retrospective?  We sure did; that was a region-free release from Umbrella, an Australian company.  This one, coming nearly two years later, is an American release from Scream Factory.  The Scream Factory edition has most of the bonus features the Umbrella edition had, but adds an eleven-minute interview with actor Kent Broadhurst (he played the grief-stricken father of the young boy who gets killed) and a sixteen-minute interview with editor Daniel Loewenthal.  Both are good; neither is particularly essential, but I can't get enough of that sort of stuff, so I'm glad to have nearly half an hour more of it.

Weirdly, the Scream Factory edition omits one of the best bonus features of the Umbrella release: an interview with producer Martha De Laurentiis.  Making up for that somewhat is a new commentary track in which she is joined by documentarian Michael Felsher.  It's a very good track, so I guess the lack of her video interview is okay in that sense.  Still, it's frustrating that if one wants to have all of the bonus features that are out there, one has to buy multiple editions of the film.

But I did buy them both, and I can't lie about it: I was happy to do so.  What a sucker!

As for the image quality, it's solid.  I can't tell any difference between the Umbrella and Scream editions; both look good.


And that, my friends, was the state of the Kingdom for the year of '19.