Thursday, September 16, 2021

What I've Been Watching: Update Edition

When last we convened for one of these "What I Watched" posts, it was in early May.  I indicated that I was going to be done with those writeups for a while, and that was true in one sense, but false in another: true in that I intended to be done with them, but false in that I kept on writing the capsule reviews anyways.  Caveat: I restricted myself to detailing the horror movies I watched, as well as anything horror-adjacent enough to fit in here for one reason or another.  I omitted quite a lot, though, and I say thankya.  (Would I have liked to devote some time to discussing some of those?  You bet.  The Winds of War: outstanding.  There's one example.)
Bottom line: I've got several months' worth of movie watching to catch y'all up on, beginning with:
Scream 2 (1997)
I'd seen this movie only once before: sometime shortly after it opened in 1997.  I remember one thing above all others in relation to that viewing: that I went to see it with a group of friends from work, and that it was snowing in Tuscaloosa when we went.  It was, therefore, kind of risky and irresponsible for us to be driving at all, much less to go to a movie.
Beyond that, I remember being entirely underwhelmed.  I didn't dislike it, but it didn't scare me even a little bit, whereas the first had terrified me only a year previously.  Either I had grown a bit by the time the sequel came out, or it was less effective; perhaps a bit of both.
Revisiting the sequel now, I got more out of it.  In some ways, I think I might even prefer it to the original.  It's arguably less fresh, but it's also arguably more inventive; I think it's maybe a touch less pretentious than the first, too.  Or perhaps I'm simply responding more positively because I had very low expectations for the revisit.  I'm simultaneously too in my head these days and too unfocused to make much use out of being there, which is one of the reasons I opted to take a sort of step back for a while.  Solution: don't worry about it!
A few notes:
  • I continue to not particularly like Neve Campbell and/or Sidney.  I don't particularly dislike her, either.  She's just an odd sort of nonentity for me.  I do like the way she puts an extra bullet into the bad guy at the end of this one, though.
  • A number of King alumni (and future ones) here: David Arquette returns, obviously, but also there's Jerry O'Connell from Stand By Me, Laurie Metcalf (Misery on Broadway), Timothy Olyphant (Dreamcatcher), and Heather Graham (The Stand).
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar gets to be the lead in a very brief Black Christmas homage sequence which is better than both of the Black Christmas "remakes" put together.  Not that that's saying much.
  • Courteney Cox is brutally hot in this movie.  She doesn't always hit me on that level, but golly, she sure does here.  She's very good, too, as is David Arquette.  Their relationship is endearing.  Dewey's theme music -- which is evidently a Hans Zimmer piece from Broken Arrow, though I'm pretty sure it was meant to evoke the theme from Twin Peaks -- is ridiculous, but also kind of appealing.
  • Olyphant gives good pyscho.  So does Laurie Metcalf, to be honest; she's a bit less persuasive than he is, but it more or less works.  I'll take these two over Skeet Ulrich and (especially) Matthew Lillard every time.
  • I despise the opening scene with Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps.  This is perhaps just because I, as a theatre manager, could never abide an audience that rowdy.  The idea for the scene is kind of clever, but only kind of, and it puts one of my least favorite aspects of these movies front and damn center: I simply cannot take it seriously.  It's not meant to be taken seriously, so I'm aware that I'm complaining about something needlessly, but even so, I don't get a great degree of usefulness out of the metafictive aspects of the movie(s) overall, and I get none whatsoever out of this opening scene.  I do like Omar Epps, so there's that; Pinkett, less so.
  • Luke Wilson playing a fictional version of Skeet Ulrich's character from the first movie is pretty amusing.  Supposedly, there were plans for the role to be filled with Johnny Depp; it didn't happen, and the world is poorer for it.  Even so, Luke Wilson is amusing.
reviewed on May 16

Friday, August 6, 2021

"Summers" Is Here

It's August 6, which is somewhere roughly in the middle of summer.  For me, it's the end of Summers, however, as I completed the new Stephen King novel last night.  You might have heard of it.
It's yet another in the run of King's crime-focused fiction, which is probably going to make some fans of his gnash their teeth a bit.  Get used to it, folks; I don't think this trend is going away.  Nope, I think we are in the midst of a full-blown late-career refocusing.
Anyways, Billy Summers.  
I loved it!  
I've heard a few people say that they reckon it's his best in years, specifically since 11/22/63.  I'm not sure I'd go that far; it's got Revival for competition, as well as my beloved The Wind Through the Keyhole.  So I'm not sure I can stretch it back as far as 11/22/63, personally.  Billy Summers is not notably less good than any of those, however, 11/22/63 included.  In my opinion, this one is a big old winner.
I wasn't expecting that, to be honest.  The title did not impress me; the concept did not impress me; the cover did not impress me.  I was hyped for the novel even so, but in a dutiful way; an unhyped hypeness, if there is such a thing.  Hyped because I owed it to my fandom to be hyped, I guess.
After reading the novel, however, the title and cover both work on me considerably better (especially the cover), and the concept?  Well, that's only part of what this novel is.
I'm debating diving in immediately to a reread and taking notes for a proper review or two; I'm on a bit of a blogging hiatus, in theory, and had intended to simply let this one roll by unremarked upon in any detailed sense.  But there's just too much here; I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do it.
Either way, I wanted to put a tiny something out there and let people know my overall opinion of this one.  Comments are open, so go give the novel a read and come back and we can yammer about it.

Monday, June 14, 2021

First Dig the Experience: Stephen King on "Lord of the Flies"

Let's discuss one of the acknowledged classics:

It's the third of those images that comes to mind for me in association with this novel.  That's the paperback edition which was in heavy circulation when I was in school, so I saw copies of it everywhere.  (I should buy one!)  Strangely, I was never assigned the book; not in high school, not in college.  Therefore, I'd never read it until recently; I did so spurred on by the fact that my favorite podcast, The Losers' Club, is covering it soon.
I did so via this edition, the 2011 Golding-centenary one:
Did I buy it just for the Stephen King introduction?  Why, yes; yes, I did.  This sort of thing happens if you get deep in the weeds as a King fan.
I'd already encountered King's thoughts about Golding's novel, via his 1999 novella "Low Men in Yellow Coats" (itself a part of the book Hearts In Atlantis).  It's so prominent there that the novella might well be considered a sort of fictional essay about Lord of the Flies.  We'll talk about that a bit toward the end, but my primary goal for this post is to consider Golding's novel through the lens of King's introduction to this edition of it.
Before we do that, I suppose perhaps a few words of my own reaction are in order.  I loved it!  I didn't think I would for a while there.  I was restless and distracted for the first, oh, two thirds or so; but once the novel began grabbing me in the final third, it really grabbed me.  I've mentioned elsewhere recently that I'm having real problems on a reading-comprehension level.  My brain is just plain old fried, I think.  I don't believe it's necessarily a permanent thing; I think I've just been encouraging it to multitask too much, and there's only so much CPU power to be spared, which means that any one task is necessarily limited in terms of the resources headed its way.  Apparently about 20% of it is permanently tasked now with hanging on to snatches of songs and vomiting them up incessantly.  This has become such an issue that I've -- crazy-person-typing alert! -- taken to imagining a volume knob and envisioning myself turning it down to zero.  It helps marginally.
Anyways, my point is that when I did not necessarily find myself feeling all that engaged by Golding's classic right off the bat, I was inclined to chalk it up more to a failing on my part than to any sort of inherent weakness in the material.  A restless brain does not make for a good sponge, and a good sponge is preferred for reading.  Even so, once the shit began hitting the fan on that island, Golding began getting through to me more forcibly, even though my reading ability continued to be scattershot at best.  That's how I know the novel is great; even my foggy brain was letting a good amount of light from it through.
The world has no need for me to attempt an analysis of it, so I won't do much of that.  I think I'll likely return to it someday, though, and attempt one then; this will almost certainly be in the guise of background work whenever I decide to tackle Hearts In Atlantis.  I'm content for my thoughts on the subject to remain shallow until then.  Well, "shallow."  It's hard for the mind not to go to some deep-water type places in connection with this one.  After all, I am still living in 2021, a year which continues to see sharp divides within American culture, to put it mildly.  They are perhaps more aptly described as fault lines, and one senses that the Big One has yet to hit.
Point is, I'm in a dark mood these days as it pertains to human nature, and so I found myself responding to Lord of the Flies from that mindset.  Toward the end, when Ralph is being hunted by Jack and the other biguns, I actually found myself rooting for Ralph to figure out a way to violently retake control of the island.  His first step along those lines would have been to find Roger, slit his throat, and deprive Jack of his most dangerous warrior; then, Jack himself gets the blade.
Now, I'm not sure this is the type of reaction one ought to be having to Lord of the Flies.  But what else would one do in that situation?  Diplomacy has failed, and one is being literally hunted by the masses with the intent to deprive your body of its life.  So surely proactive murder is permissible in such a situation, yes?
I'd very much like to never find myself in a situation even remotely resembling Ralph's, of course.  The existential dread of 2021 America, with its Marjorie Taylor Greens and its Joe Manchins and its Maxine Waterses and the assorted other cretins with which one is confronted if one opts not to ignore the news, is enough for me.  But we do increasingly seem to be trapped on a philosophical island of some sort; I'm not even Ralph, or Piggy or Simon -- I'm probably one of the littluns.
Let's check out some of King's thoughts from his introduction:

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

What I Watched During the Pandemic, Part 23

Well, folks, I believe this is going to be the final entry in this series.  It's not because I'm tired of writing them (I'm not), or because the pandemic is over (it isn't), but because I don't believe there's going to be any way of declaring the pandemic to actually be over.  So instead, we're going to mark the end of this series by the administration of my vaccine.  Seems fair, and on the same day I watched the first movie which we'll cover here, I got my first dose.  Of the Pfizer shot, if you wondered.  Did it hurt?  Barely felt it, and my arm wasn't even sore the next day.
Halfway there!
Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959)

I'd seen this several times, but not in the better part of twenty years.  I am pleased to say that it was every bit as delightful as I remembered.
The story is about a caretaker named Darby O'Gill, whose employer -- the Lord of the estate which he caretakes -- decides he is perhaps a bit long in the tooth to continue to do the arduous job.  He's hired a younger man (Sean Connery) and brought him to the estate to introduce him.  He breaks the bad news to Darby, and buggers off to who-knows-where, leaving the definitely-Irish Michael McBride (the definitely-Scottish-but-trying-to-pretend-not-to-be Connery) to hang around awkwardly.  Which he is very happy to do when he gets one good look at Darby's daughter, the leaning-toward-spinsterdom Katie O'Gill.  
Darby is a kindly old soul, but one who is entirely too predisposed toward hanging out in the local pub, telling tall tales about his adventures with the leprechauns who live on nearby Knocknasheega Mountain.  Despondent over the impending loss of his way of living -- and of having to put his daughter out of the only home she's ever known -- Darby goes off hunting poachers one night, only to end up on Knocknasheega.  The "come hither" has been put on him by the King of the leprechauns, who has heard of his plight and decided to intervene by giving him a place to live in their home under the mountain.  Oh, and he can't leave, so settle in, Darby m'lad.
Turns out, though, Darby is every bit as wily a trickster as King Brian Connors himself, and he soon gins up a way to get out of Knocknasheega and even trap the King into having to grant him three wishes.  From there, things begin taking turns, and matters get quite thoroughly dark before all is said and done.  If this movie is famous for anything other than being Sean Connery's biggest pre-007 role, it's got to be for the horror-movie imagery of the Banshee and the Death Cab which show up in the final act.  It's potent stuff for the wee ones; and not by any means impotent stuff for the rest of us.  Sure, the jaded among us will laugh it off as being cheesy, but don't bother listening to the jaded; that won't do you no good, generally speaking.
The movie ought to famous (and in some circles is) for its absolutely superb special effect.  There are several scenes in which Darby interacts in a single shot with King Brian Connors, and the effects used to create this illusion are nothing short of magic.  There are some shots where the illusion is broken a bit, but most of the major shots are so convincing that you almost can't believe what you're seeing.  So much so that you almost CAN believe what you're seeing, is what I mean to suggest; I'd be willing to bet that some viewers in 1959 halfway assumed that Walt Disney really had gone and caught some actual leprechauns.  Disney filmed some scenes with "King Brian" as part of his television show, too, hyping the idea that he had indeed found the end of the rainbow.  From what I recall, those shots were every bit as marvelously achieved as the ones in the movie!
Again, the jaded among us will scoff at some of this stuff.  They'll point out that these scenes do nothing CGI can't.  I'll point out that for a movie made two decades plus before the first CGI shot in a movie, this stuff is utterly mind-blowing.
The movie itself is just marvelous, and probably ought to have a better reputation than it has.  Albert Sharpe and Jimmy O'Dea are tremendous as Darby and King Brian, and Janet Munro is very charming as Katie.  Connery isn't operating at James Bond levels of charm quite yet, but you can see it developing.  He's even got a decent singing voice!
Highly recommended.

Friday, April 9, 2021

A(n almost certainly incomplete and at-best-marginally-worthwhile) History of Stephen King Audiobooks, Part 4

We begin Part 4 (here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) with something that is not technically an audiobook at all:
1998 -- Pet Sematary
(radio adaptation produced by the BBC; released by Simon & Schuster Audioworks)

The cassette release billed it as "a fully-dramatized multi-voice presentation," but let's be clear: it was a radio drama.  It even debuted on the radio: on BBC Radio 4, to be specific -- in six half-hour episodes during early 1997.  A year later, Simon & Schuster put the episodes on tape here in America, and that was the only "audiobook" version of Pet Sematary available on the mass market for the next twenty years.
One's enjoyment of this version will be dependent upon whether one can cope with radio dramas.  I can, so I find this to be fairly fun.  (Well, "fun."  This IS Pet Sematary.)  Mayhap you will, too!  But you may not find a physical copy very easily.  Check out the prices this sucker is commanding on the secondhand market as of March 30, 2020:

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What I Watched During the Pandemic, Part 22

Welcome back, lads 'n' lasses, for another review roundup.  Let's take a moment to acknowledge a handful of Stephen-King-on-film projects which have been announced recently:
  • Edgar Wright -- Edgar Wright! -- is allegedly going to direct a new version of The Running Man, one which hews more closely to the novel.
  • Jack Bender is allegedly directing a movie based on Elevation.
  • Paramount+ is allegedly making a prequel to the 2019 Pet Sematary reboot, which had damn well better turn out to be the never-before-told tale of Hanratty the bull.
  • Steven Spielberg and the Duffer Brothers will allegedly be co-producing a series for Netflix based on The Talisman, which has occasioned many news outlets' forgetting that Peter Straub even exists. 
  • Some dude whose name I can't remember will allegedly be developing a television series based on "The Jaunt."  I've used the word "allegedly" with great purpose in this list, and if I may build upon that, I am outright stating that this Jaunt series will never happen.  The others on the list might.  This?  Forget it.
These join a number of other allegedly-in-the-works projects, such as:
  • J.J. Abrams' HBO Max series The Overlook
  • Andre Ovredal's movie based on The Long Walk 
  • Keith Thomas's movie based on Firestarter, starring Zac Efron
  • James Wan's productions of both 'Salem's Lot and The Tommyknockers 
  • Alex Ross Perry's remake of The Dark Half 
  • Lynne Ramsay's movie based on The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon 
  • the adaptation of From a Buick 8 Thomas Jane is producing
  • the AMC series based on Sleeping Beauties 
  • the HBO Max movie based on "Throttle"
  • Darren Aronofsky's The Life of Chuck 
  • John Lee Hancock's Mr. Harrigan's Phone 
  • Ben Stiller's Rat 
  • a David E. Kelley-produced miniseries based on The Institute
Of those, I'd wager that only two or three of them end up getting made.  There's been no news on most of them in a while; several are likely dead already.  That's how it works in Hollywood.
We'll see!
First up for us in this review of movies and shows that DID happen, King-related or not:
WandaVision (2021)

I've written about the Marvel Cinematic Universe before, and am pleased that this series of pandemic posts gives me an opportunity to say a few words about WandaVision, the MCU's first Disney+ original miniseries.
I'll spoil none of its twists and turns here, but I will be definitive about one thing: I thought this was pretty damn terrific.  Much of the internet seems to have been let down by episode nine, the finale, but I thought it was fine.  If the entire miniseries had been only as good as that episode, we're still talking about a B+ or so; well worth my viewing time.  It did play as a disappointment even for me, though, because the eight episodes which preceded it were often exceptional.  And it's that we should focus on.
The setup is ... hard to describe.  It's basically Wanda Maximoff and The Vision playing suburban newlyweds in a series of sitcom parodies.  There's more to it than that, obviously, and you might or might not be inclined to be patient enough to let the series get to that stuff.  Without giving too much away, I'll just say that Wanda knows she's in a kinda of quasi-holodeck fantasy world; Vision does not.  If you've seen Infinity War, you can probably make an educated guess about what's going on here.
The joy of the series is how incredibly good both Elizabeth Olson and Paul Bettany are in their roles.  These two are Emmy worthy, and it's really great to see them given their own showcase.  They were both always good when they showed up in the Avengers films, but it also seemed a bit like a waste of their talents.  One suspects that the fine folk at Marvel must have had some inkling all along that they were going to eventually be expanded in importance, and buddy, here it is.  Given the mostly-rapturous reception the series got online, I think it's now quite possible to argue that both Wanda and Vision have joined many of the other Avengers in both importance and popularity.  That's a hell of a feat, but it's one made considerably simpler when you've got Elizabeth Olson and Paul Bettany to lean on.  They are hilarious, until the time comes for them not to be; and then, they are everything else you would want, as well.
The series also managed to use itself as a launching pad to bring Monica "Photon" Rambeau into the MCU, and, as played by Teyonah Parris, she made a strong impression on me.  She'll be appearing in other MCU productions, starting with Captain Marvel 2, and that's fine by me.  
There's plenty more to be said about this series; I'm not going to say it here, but if you saw it and want to talk about it, please do visit the comments.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

This Is A Horror Story: A Review of "Later"

I intended initially to just lump this review of Later in with the rest of the books in my first "Books I Read In 2021" post, and indeed that's how I wrote it.  But it occurred to me tonight that that post might be in the oven for a while before it's finished baking.  So why not go ahead and get these thoughts on into the world?  Why wait until later?
Why indeed.

Lots to talk about with this one.  Here's your spoiler warning: I'll be talking about some things you don't want to know unless you learn them from the novel itself.  You've been warned!
Before we get into the spoilers, let's wrestle with an issue that has been somewhat controversial; not for the first time, either.  I refer to the issue of whether this novel makes sense as a Hard Case Crime Publication.
I'll confess to knowing little about their overall line of books.  I've read King's three, plus one Max Allan Collins that I enjoyed; and have read a handful of McMolo reviews at Dog Star Omnibus.  That's scarcely an amateur's knowledge, though, so I will have to yield any definitive opinion as to whether Later makes sense as a Hard Case Crime release to somebody with a bit more expertise.
My perception?  Yeah, more or less; it did.  It takes a while for it to get to the crime-centric aspects, but they do eventually arise, and they are suitably pulpy, albeit with a modern twist.  
If anything, Later makes more sense for Hard Case Crime than either of King's previous titles for them The Colorado Kid or Joyland do, so we're getting there, I guess.  The Colorado Kid (love it though I do) is more about journalism than about crime, or even mystery; Joyland definitively has a murder mystery in it, but does it have any detectives or any of the elements one thinks of when one thinks of hardboiled crime fiction?  Not sure I'd argue that it does.


Thursday, March 4, 2021

How Many Books Has Stephen King Written?

It isn't as easy a question to answer as one might think. 
I have pondered this question before, but recently found myself with it on my mind again thanks to something I saw.  It was, in fact, a list of King books inside another King book: a new trade paperback edition of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.  Let's have a look:

A few things jump out at me from that list.  I'll go ahead and tell you now: the cumulative effect of them is that this list is bullshit.  I mean, yes, it's true that they are all also by Stephen King; in a technical sense, that is the only claim this list has made.  Still, it's bullshit, and here are a few reasons why:
  • It forgot Joyland.  Nope, you can't do that.  You are bullshit.
  • Creepshow is listed -- does this mean the movie or the comic?  If the former, then where are Sleepwalkers, Cat's Eye, etc.?  If the latter, where is American Vampire?
  • Why are both Different Seasons and The Body listed?  See also: Skeleton Crew and The Mist; Four Past Midnight and The Langoliers; and Full Dark, No Stars and 1922.  You might think that this is because all of those novellas have been released as standalone books in recent years, but there have been several others also released, such as Apt Pupil and The Sun Dog, which have been excluded.  So there's no evident rationale here whatsoever.
  • I contest the idea that It should be spelled IT, but so be it (pun intended).  Either way, it's listed out of order here.
  • Yo, where Storm of the Century at?  That was published as a book!
  • Stephen King Goes to the Movies, though?  Really?
  • Faithful is not listed? That makes me feel bad for Stewart O'Nan.
  • No Gwendy's Button Box?  That makes me feel bad for Richard Chizmar.
  • No Flight Or Fright?  That makes me feel bad for Bev Vincent.
This is sloppy work as far as list-making goes.  
It got me to thinking anew about a topic that has come to mind before a few times: how many books has Stephen King written?  If you were being interviewed in front of the Senate -- or, better yet, in front of some body where you actually had to tell the truth about things -- then what would your answer be?  How would you go about deciding how to answer the question?
Here's the thing: there's no definitive answer to this.  With some authors, maybe there is.  With others -- and we've already got ample evidence that Stephen King is one of those -- it's literally impossible because at a certain point, the definition of "book" becomes an issue.  You can go one of two ways, and either involves your own opinion of what the word "book" means in the context of a conversation like this one: (A) you can be restrictive or (B) you can be inclusive.  Either way, you're immediately going to have to make decisions regarding what you are going to use for criteria, and even then you may find yourself struggling to be consistent once you've made those decisions.
It's a dilemma.  So perhaps the answer is this: you shouldn't even try.
Hell with that.
To begin, I think we can construct a relatively definitive list of titles that have to be counted no matter what.  A minimum-contents list, if you will.  That, I think, would look like this:

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

"Later," Sooner

 Here's a super-duper brief post about Later, King's most recent novel.
What am I going to say about the novel?
I ain't gonna say shit!  (Even if I wind up with a mouthful, to paraphrase a thing King has said any number of times over the years.)  Not nary a thing am I gonna say, up to and including whether I liked it.
Why would I do such a thing?  Well, it's simple: I figured we'd talk about it in the comments.
So for those of you who have read it and want to talk about it, yonder below do the comments lie.  All others, delve into them only with caution.
Now, there will be an actual review, at some point.  I'm going to talk about it in a "Books I Read In 2021" post I'm working on.  May be a while, though, so I thought I'd at least put up a little something here to give us a place to talk about it if anyone is interested.
Oh, I should mention: I was lucky enough for Amazon to deliver my copies (yes, I bought two) a day before the release date.  So I rolled home from work Monday night, sat down in my armchair, flipped my circuit breaker to "sloth," and read 150 pages.  Then I polished it off on release day, and bam-a-lam, here we are.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

All Lines of Force Have Begun to Converge Here: "Insomnia Revisited," Part 3

We have arrived now at the third and final post in my series revisiting Insomnia.  I feel like I've dropped the ball in my analysis of this novel, and I've been trying to figure out how that happened.  I'm not exactly the world's most skilled literary analyst in the first place, but that's okay; I make no pretensions toward being such, and am generally out only to capture my own feelings toward whatever I'm analyzing/critiquing.  Even so, I just didn't get there with this series.  I'm hoping I can redeem it somewhat in this third and final post, but -- not gonna lie -- I'm not optimistic.
So what happened here?  Is it a deficiency in the material I'm looking at?  Absolutely not; I don't think this is one of King's better novels, but it's certainly a good one, and I think it's ambitious enough that even if one feels differently then one is likely to have a great deal to discuss.
In that case, it's down to me.  I think maybe I tried to be too broad in my approach(es), but simultaneously managed to be overly restricted.  Ultimately, I think I just didn't find the right way into the material.  I might have been better-served by doing something more like a diary-of-reading-progress wherein I gave my thoughts on a chapter-by-chapter basis.  Live and learn, I guess.
Be all that as it may, here we are, so let's get into it.  I'm going to sprinkle some images of various editions throughout, beginning with this cool Croatian one:

I'd love to have a copy of that, so if anyone knows where I get one for an affordable price, do let me know.
Alrighty, where do we want to begin?  How about with the novel's setting: Derry, Maine, which is perhaps best known as the locale for the 1986 novel It.  It wasn't that novel in which the fictional town made its debut, however; that happened, if my research has not failed me, in 1982's The Running Man.  Followup appearances/mentions came in "The Body" (1982), Pet Sematary (1983), "Uncle Otto's Truck" (1983), and "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" (1984).  All of these were published after King had begun writing It, however, in September of 1981, so it's possible he'd already created it for that novel, and snuck it into those other works as a sort of preview of coming attractions.
Does it matter?  Not really.  After It, Derry was referred to in The Tommyknockers (1987), Misery (1987), "The Night Flier" (1988), "Secret Window, Secret Garden" (1990), Needful Things (1991), and Gerald's Game (1992).  It was those mentions which really drove the town into the soul of Constant Readers, I think.  Combined with the massive amount of exploration it received in It, each of those mentions carried a weight like very few of King's fictional towns before it; perhaps 'Salem's Lot was an equal, and probably Castle Rock surpassed it, but those are almost certainly the three heaviest hitters in the King canon among the fictional towns.
With that in mind, it definitely carried a huge amount of weight when King set a second novel in Derry.  It's one thing for there to be an offhand reference or even a brief stopover, but Insomnia is rooted to Derry from beginning to end.  There would have been no way to keep Constant Readers from thinking about It, and that's okay, because King has not only acknowledged the connection, he has steered into it in a way which not only deepens Insomnia, but arguably deepens It as well.
Indeed, I believe that what King really had his eye on with this novel was a massive expansion of the mythos which underpinned most of his body of work at large.  I doubt it was his primary goal; it likely just developed that way as he wrote, but the end result is unquestionably one of the linchpins of his connected universe.
He gets started on the first page of the prologue, with a reference to Ralph doing research in the Derry Public Library.  And just in case readers might be inclined to think that it's a Derry which somehow exists apart from the events of It, he disabuses us of that notion two pages later by inserting references to the Barrens, Neibolt Street, and the Kissing Bridge into the text.  
Insomnia is 26 years old, but I can remember a bit about my reaction to these connections: I didn't freak out over them, I just accepted them for what they were.  After all, King had done similar things a number of times by then: with nearly the entirety of Needful Things, for example, but also in the Gerald's Game / Dolores Claiborne relationship, Flagg's appearance at the end of The Waste Lands (and in The Eyes of the Dragon, for that matter), Dick Hallorann showing up in It, etc.  This was just a thing that King did from time to time; not EVERY time, necessarily, but frequently enough that one simply accepted it, assuming one was aware of it.  
Modern readers are probably more likely to assume right off the bat that the It / Insomnia connection is going to be more pervasive than it is.  In fact, given how conditioned modern readers are -- largely due to movies and television shows, but probably also due in many cases to a preponderance of fan-fiction -- to assume that by mentioning Derry and setting a second story there, Pennywise is bound to show up.  I can't say with 100% certainty that that my mind in 1994 was free of that expectation, but I've got no memory of it.
There are places where I think many modern readers would be likely to flat-out assume King was toying with them in that regard.  "All lines of force have begun to converge here," Ed tells Ralph on page 87, referring to Derry.  He's in the middle of a rather impressive rant, and Ralph thinks he's gone completely around the bend.  "I know how difficult that is to believe, but it's true," Ed continues.  A bit later, he says, "This isn't about abortion, don't get that idea!  Not anymore.  They're taking the unborn from all kinds of mothers, not just the junkies and the whores—eight days, eight weeks, eight months, it's all the same to the Centurions.  The harvest goes on day and night.  The slaughter.  I've seen the corpses of infants on roofs, Ralph . . . under hedges . . . they're in the sewers . . . floating in the sewers and in the Kenduskeag down in the Barrens. . ."
"Ralph," Ed confides in a whisper shortly after this, "sometimes the world is full of colors.  I've seen them since he came and told me.  But now all the colors are turning black."
Let's break this down a bit.  I don't think it's possible to be a reader of It who is reading Insomnia and have a muted reaction to that mention of the sewers and the Barrens (not to mention floating), especially since slaughtered children has been invoked.  Even if it's on a merely subconscious level, I just don't see how your mind won't summon forth old Bob Grey here, especially once Ed invokes the idea that these colors he has mentioned (which Ralph is still some forty pages away from encountering) began with some specific person visiting him.  We know Pennywise visited Henry Bowers; is it possible he's visiting Ed Deepneau as well?
We will learn different later, but it's understandable if somebody gets to the exchange I just quoted and begins wondering if perhaps the Losers didn't do as thorough a job in those sewers as they thought they'd done.
I'd be curious to know what King's intent in this scene is.  He's not a dunce, so he knows what he's doing; he knows he can't just set a story in Derry and then drop in references to dead kids floating in the sewers.  That's going to provoke a response, as is tying these ravings to the notion of the raver having gotten the information from a "he."  "Who's he?!?" is the only appropriate reaction.  "Is he who I think he is, Steve?!?"
If King isn't after setting up an expectation of Pennywise popping 'round the corner with a balloon in his hand, what IS he up to?
I think it's probably no more complicated than King surprising us into placing some credence in Ed's words.  We've been taking him as a lunatic, just as Ralph has been, but all of a sudden he seems as if he's talking about the Derry we already know about, the one a guy like Ralph Roberts would know nothing of, and believe less.  I suspect King is probably confident in his readers' (certainly those of the Constant ones) ability to remember that even if Pennywise was still hanging around, it's much too early for him to be out in the world again.  1985 + 27 years, that's, oh, roughly 2012 before Derry would be likely to ravages by Pennywise again.  I don't think he thinks readers will really assume that Pennywise is back, but I do think he knows that those references to the sewers will catch readers' attentions.
And I think also that while he might be toying with the notion of evoking the villain of It, he won't mind it if he produces the subconscious effect of readers taking whoever "he" is to be, if not literally Pennywise, then some other character who is perhaps of equal menace.  In other words, this little bit has the effect of suggesting that the character whom we will eventually know to be Atropos is just as dangerous and awful as Pennywise.  Now, personally, I don't feel that the text really bears that out; Pennywise whips Atropos's ass real quick, if you ask me.  Nevertheless, I think that's the function this little bit serves; and it does so rather nicely.
There are a number of other instances in which Derry-centric things are mentioned: