Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Book(s) Review: A Trio by Lee Gambin

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

Weighing in at close to five hundred pages, this is an exhaustive piece of work indeed.  I'm pretty sure I feel like every movie ought to have a book this detailed written about it.  Well, okay, maybe not EVERY movie, but certainly every good movie; and Cujo, as Gambin persuasively argues throughout, is probably closer to a great one than merely a good one.
Gambin's structure is simple, but highly effective: he walks us through the entire film, scene by scene, in chronological order.  Not merely summarizing the film, he's also giving keen critical analysis as he goes.  After each scene, he then provides lengthy oral-history-type comments from many of the filmmakers and other contributors who worked on the production.  Often these comments illuminate the making (and intentions) of the scene Gambin has just discussed; sometimes, though, they speak less to specific scenes and more to at-large issues and concerns. 
It's a terrific way to structure the book, and by keeping his own insights separate from those of the filmmakers, Gambin straddles the line between critic and journalist without having one approach work against the other.
He obviously had terrific access to the people who made the film, and they speak to him candidly about every aspect of the production.  This includes the doomed tenure of original director Peter Medak, who was fired a few days after filming began.  Why?  Read on.  Gambin has extensive comments from not only Medak himself, but from similarly-sacked cinematographer Tony Richardson.  These sections hang over the book like a specter, a ghostly never-film that haunts the film which was eventually produced; but even so, Gambin does not allow this aspect of the narrative to overwhelm the story of the making of the actual movie.  
Among the key interviewees:
  • actors Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, and Daniel Hugh Kelly
  • director Lewis Teague
  • screenwriter Don Carlos Dunaway
  • composer Charles Bernstein
  • stunt performers Gary Morgan and Jean Coulter
  • and Teresa Ann Miller, the daughter of the film's animal trainer, Karl Lewis Miller

That's just a few of the people Gambin speaks to.  There are plenty of others.  There's a ton of fascinating information to be found here, ranging from thoughts on the film's artistic intentions to tales of on-set accidents and pranks to complaints about the treatment of Medak and Richardson to cattiness about who was sleeping with whom.  It's all here; pretty much everything you could possibly want to know about the making of this excellent movie.
Gambin even covers some aspects of the rejected screenplay written by King himself, which is especially fascinating for a Constant Reader like me.  Let's say that it's relatively evident why nobody wanted to use King's own script.
Among juicy details I made note of throughout the book:
  • Production manager Christopher Medak (son of would-be director Peter Medak) is especially open, often coming off as somewhat bitter and vindictive, though not necessarily without just case.  He reveals early on that the crew as a whole used quite a great deal of cocaine and MDMA, as well as garden-variety alcohol.  Not much of a shock, that; but Medak describes the crew literally sprinkling MDMA on their donuts!
  • Peter Medak: "I never saw the movie for thirty five years or so, but then I thought, if I am doing this book than" [sic] "I should get over it and go and watch the fucking movie.  And I liked it.  I never talked to Lewis Teague about it, but I was most impressed with the film, I thought Lewis did a fantastic job." [p. 29]
  • The film's original screenwriter "Lauren Currier" was actually Barbara Turner, who adopted a pseudonym after Medak's dismissal.  Turner (who is now deceased) was the mother of future Dolores Claiborne star Jennifer Jason Leigh.
  • Screenwriter Don Carlos Dunaway, who wrote a new draft based on Barbara Turner's: "I'm pretty sure the Turner script had a lot of supernatural elements in there.  I tried to squeeze it all out of the script, but see in my copy of the shooting script there were traces of it in a couple of stage directions that Barbara wrote, so I must have missed them.  I consider that my most important contribution to the film was eliminating the supernatural aspects." [p. 66]
  • Dunaway: "Stephen King's script was a disaster and way way too long, with many, many pages about the advertising business, which he evidently found very interesting." [p. 148]
  • Christopher Medak on the cinematographer who was hired to replace Tony Richardson: "Jan de Bont is an absolute dickhead.  He was arrogant and horrible to the crew." [p. 190]  This is a bit of a running theme in the book; and indeed, de Bont is one of the most notable of the major filmmakers who is not interviewed.  
  • There's a crazy story about the sound department needing to capture dog noises for ADR, so Karl Lewis Miller was brought into the booth with some of his dogs, who he goaded into attacking him.  "In a split second, all hell broke loose," assesses supervising sound editor Michael Hilkene [p. 254].  All turned out well and nobody was hurt, but Hilkene relates this incident as being something he will never forget.  Miller comes off as one of the more colorful characters involved with the making of the film: such an Elvis fan that he wore his hair in imitation of the King (and not Stephen, mind you), he was also a recovering alcoholic who had a very close bond with his animals and became downright despondent when one of the St. Bernards died during the making of the film.  No, not on-set; the poor animal developed a twisted stomach, which is apparently something such large dogs are prone to.
  • Dee Wallace recalls not quite seeing eye to eye with Peter Medak in one regard for the planned sequences in the car: "He wanted me to be dressed down in just a bra and be in this see-through dress, and to have everything have a sexual connotation to it, and" [...] "I didn't get it, I didn't get his vision and [producer] Dan [Blatt] seemed to be rather surprised about this." [p. 296]
And, too, let me shine a light on Gambin's critical analysis, which is keen and mostly unbelabored.  Sure, he reaches a bit on occasion; what in-depth film critic doesn't?  Mostly, though, he offers very sharp and incisive observations, some of which made me appreciate the movie even more than I already did.  A few I took note of:
  • "[T]hroughout the entire opening sequence where a happy, healthy and joyous St. Bernard races after a panicky rabbit, we are witness to a mini-three act play: beginning with chase, hanging off undisputed determination and finally ending in heartbreaking tragedy."  [p. 2]
  • "The first word heard in the film is screamed out in absolute terror — Tad hollers 'Mommy!' beckoning for his mother to come to his aid.  A thematic condensation and precursor as to what is to come, Tad calling out for the comfort of his mother and ultimately being rescued by her will be the fundamental surface core to the motion picture." [p. 45] 
  • Gambin asserts that when Charity takes Brett away to visit her sister, she is actually leaving Joe Camber forever.  Personally, I never got that feeling, and I'm not sure I buy it.  But Gambin is fairly persuasive on the matter, so ... maybe?
  • "The image of Cujo, completely covered in dry foam and saliva, eyes oozing yellow puss, blood smeared upon his muzzle, his lips quivering with fury, his eyes fixed on the Pinto waiting for movement and sound, bears semblance to that of the possessed Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist who patiently waits for Father Karras (Jason Miller) — the Jesuit priest sent to exorcise her — to enter her bedroom." [p. 275]
  • A black lab was fitted out in a St. Bernard costume for various scenes to do things St. Bernards don't naturally do, but it isn't entirely clear whether any of this footage ended up in the movie.  There's a delightful photo of this odd apparition on page 306: a black lab in a St. Bernard outfit, looking weirdly undignified but completely unbothered by this strange new phase in its life.  Gotta love dogs, man.
  • Stuntman Gary Morgan also wore a St. Bernard costume, and this was used in numerous brief shots of the dog attacking people.  Morgan, in order to avoid having any of his face be visible to the camera, blacked out his white skin; there's a photo of him with the actors who play Joe Camber and Gary Pervier, and without the context of what's actually going on, it does indeed look as if they're proudly posing with a guy in blackface.  Context matters!

It's a pretty goddamn great book, guys.  Gambin writes in such depth that it makes me a bit jealous; what he's doing here is a bit like what I wish I could do for every single King book and movie.  He's light-years ahead of me, though, which works out pretty great for me as a fan of what he's doing.  He's also evidently the kind of guy who dedicates a book to his dog, Buddy.  You can't dislike a guy who dedicates one of his books to his pupper.  And if you can, fuck you, because you are an awful person.
I found a photo of Buddy himself, by the way, posing beside a stack of copies of the book dedicated to him:
This photo came from Facebook, I believe; hopefully neither Mr. Gambin nor Mr. Buddy mind me pinching it.
That photo is almost unbearably cute.  Buddy is the most adorable thing since baby Ewoks.
I'll transition out of that moment of wild positivity by mentioning that the book does contain occasional imperfections that I'd be remiss in my duties to leave unmentioned.  They include:
  • The book is rich in photos -- various of the filmmakers turned over what seem to be treasure-troves of personal photo collections -- but the manner in which the book is physically printed sadly leaves a great many of the black-and-white pictures dim, fuzzy, and overall a bit hard to make out.  This is a shame; such a lovingly-curated set of images deserved better presentation.  But hey, they are better than nothing, so while I think this is a valid criticism, it's also a mild one.
  • Gifted as Gambin is as a critic and journalist both, he's on shakier ground as a writer when it comes to prose.  The book shows evidence of quite possibly not having been edited at all, with numerous typos, incorrect word usages ("populous" is used where "populace" is meant at one point, and "viscous" is used where "vicious" is meant at least twice), and so forth.  The interviewees' words are seemingly transcribed with complete accuracy, and this does not always yield positive results; the way people speak is not inherently conducive to clarity when those words are put on paper.  I'm sure it can be tricky to edit direct quotes for such purposes, and I'm not clear on what the journalistic ethics of doing so are, but my feeling is that it would probably have been a thing worth doing. 
  • I cannot resist making a transcription correction for a quote that comes on p. 412 from Gary Morgan, who has been talking a bit about how he began in the industry as an actor, but shifted into stunts when the roles began drying up.  "So it was right around Cujo where I settled more completely into stunts," he says.  "For that I wouldn't do any stunts if I could have played the role.  I wouldn't double somebody, you know what I mean?"  Here's the thing -- I didn't know what he meant, literally!  After puzzling over these words for a bit, I realized that what Morgan must have was " 'Fore that" (as in "before that") "I wouldn't do any stunts if I could have played the role."  Gambin has seemingly been defeated by a bit of accent from Gary Morgan.  Editors/proofreaders: essential.  This book could definitely have used such professional services.  But so could this blog, which is riddled with errors, cockups, and downright embarrassments; so who am I to criticize?  Nobody at all, that's who. 

Don't let quibbles like those fool you, though: this is a hell of a fine book, quite possibly the definitive word on a hell of a fine movie.  I'll happily read every single book of this nature Gambin writes.

And luckily for me, he's already written two others.  Let's look at one now!

The Howling, of course, is not in any way a Stephen King film.  Many movies aren't, you know.  Surely, though, The Howling is of interest to many a King fan based simply on its genre and release date.  It came out in 1981, squarely between The Shining and Creepshow, and is very much a product of the late-seventies/early-eighties boom in horror film that arguably gave rise to King's cinematic career.  Plus, Dee Wallace is the star.

Anyways, we're covering it, justification or no!

I bought the book upon release based purely upon my anticipation of enjoying Gambin's Cujo book.  I had not seen The Howling at the time, and indeed did not see it until this past October, just before Halloween.  I wrote a few brief thoughts about it at that time; I present them to you now, right after a picture of the film's poster:

I've mentioned this before a time or two, and apologize for the repetition: when I was a kid, I had about as low a threshold for tolerating scary stuff as possible.  Sometimes, all it took was an image to haunt me for weeks afterward.
Case in point: that poster for The Howling.  Looking at it now, I don't really know why, but that poster absolutely horrified me.  It horrified me badly enough that to this day, I can remember having a dream about it in which I was in my grandparents' truck, driving down the road with them, and suddenly the road was surrounded on all sides by one billboard after another of that screaming face.
It's a fear of being afraid, most likely.  Some psychoanalyst could probably tell me more, but I am content to let it remain right where it is.  Every time I see that poster, for a split second, I'm a kid again.  That ain't all bad.  I feel no urge to make it go away.
Perhaps for that reason, I've been putting off watching the movie for decades now, even well after the point where I got relatively comfortable with the genre.  But the time has come at last, and so now, I'm here to tell you about my experience finally watching Joe Dante's The Howling.
It was alright.  I didn't dislike it by any means, but it didn't vault its way into my immediate graces, either.  Slim Pickens shows up, so that's cool; and Dick Miller, and Kenneth Tobey, and Robert Picardo, and Kevin McCarthy, and Patrick Macnee.  And of course, Dee Wallace is always fun to watch.
But in the end I was left wondering what any of it meant.  It wasn't quite fun enough for me to avoid needing a meaning, and it was a little too serious for me to take it purely as a joyride.
Feeling the need for context, I -- knowing it had just come out -- visited Centipede Press and ordered a copy of Lee Gambin's new book on the movie, The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film.  I'm a piece of shit, so I STILL haven't read Gambin's book on Cujo, which by all accounts is essential.  It's gonna happen, though, and I'm planning on reading this one sooner rather than later, as well.  Can I stick to that plan?  Stay tuned, pard.  We shall see.
In any case, I can now cross The Howling off my list.  I don't know if this is a good thing or not, but for the time being, it's still the poster that haunts my mind; maybe the movie can join it someday.

Having now read Gambin's excellent book, I'll say this: it gave me a handle on some of the thematic material embedded within the movie.  Thus armed, I suspect I may well enjoy the movie quite a bit more whenever I watch it a second time.  And the urge to do so soon is fairly strong thanks to Gambin's book.  More on that momentarily; but first: a word or two about the book itself, the physical item.

The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film was published by Centipede Press, as part of its "Studies in the Horror Film" series.  (Surely, Bryant, there was a more graceful way to write that sentence...?)  We've seen two other books from that series on this blog: one about Carrie and one about Salem's Lot.  There's also one about The Shining that I own but have not yet read; I've flipped through it, however, and can verify that, like the others, it is a beautiful piece of work, filled with gorgeous photographs of the cinematic subject at hand.  This is also true of Gambin's exploration of The Howling, which marks a major change from the black and white Bear Manor Media publication Nope, Nothing Wrong Here.

I say that not to shit on Bear Manor Media -- it's the words that are of primary importance, not the photos -- but to praise Centipede Press.  A book this lovely deserves praise; it's well-earned.

It's also well-written, and the proof of that for me is the renewed interest it gave me for the movie itself.  Gambin's essay material makes a strong case for considering The Howling as both a satire and a tragedy, one which skewers the narcissism of television journalism as well as the self-help boom of the time in which the movie was made.  In director Joe Dante's hands, it also speaks to something more primal, and thus ends up being more than mere of-the-moment satire; this is also the story of failed communication between a husband and a wife, and the story of fighting to keep one's integrity when all the forces around you are pulling you away from it.

I missed all of that when watching the movie last October; but reading Gambin's take on the film, I knew immediately that he was dead-on with all of it.  This is not straining-for-effect criticism; this is the insightful passion of a guy who knows his subject backwards and forwards.  It's every bit as good as Nope, Nothing Wrong Here.  Maybe even better.

A few things I wanted to mention:

  • Gambin's introduction makes the case for a cessation of comparisons between this movie and the same year's An American Werewolf In London.  I think he makes his case pretty well, but I also think it's futile; as long as people who love horror movies remember 1981, I think they're going to pit these two films against one another.  I can only speak from personal experience, but since I came to both movies very late, I never really had a sense of the two being in competition.  I saw American Werewolf first (probably ten years ago), and liked it well enough; but, as my anecdote above relates, it was The Howling that prompted me to have perhaps the most vivid nightmare of my entire childhood ... and it didn't even require me to see the movie!  So if I'm forced to take sides, I'm officially Team Howling, if only for the poster.
  • Many of the characters' names are derived from the directors of classic werewolf films.  Gambin points them all out with glee.
  • You know how I mentioned that this book is, physically, a real gem?  Well, during the first several chapters I kept seeing a small square image in the upper right-hand corner of each odd-numbered page.  I wasn't sure what these represented; some obscure design element, I assumed.  Eventually, I figured it out: these were flip-book images that formed a werewolf transformation!  How fucking cool is THAT?!?
  • Say, friends, did you know I have a blog?  You did?!?  Well, then, did you know I have two others (one about James Bond and one about sci-fi in general but mostly about Star Trek specifically)?  Indeed I do.  They're roughly as cringey as this one, if not more so; so if you enjoy 007 or the final frontier and don't feel the urge to barf every time you read one of my paragraphs, check 'em out!  Anyways, I bring it up because this book made me realize something that I failed to actively note while watching the movie: that all three of my favorite hobbies are represented here by proxy.  You've got Stephen King in the form of Cujo stars Dee Wallace and Christopher Stone; James Bond in the form of A View to a Kill co-star Patrick Macnee; and Star Trek: Voyager in the form of old Shmullus himself, Robert Picardo.  I wonder how many other properties share a prominent representative from each of those three of my personal lodestars?  Can't be TOO too many, I bet.
  • I found myself reflecting while looking at a photo of Christopher Stone that it's a real shame he and Tom Atkins never played brothers in a movie.  That's a missed opportunity that, thanks to Stone's untimely death, will forever remain such.
  • I need to see Alligator and Piranha, neither of which have ever crossed my eyeballs.  Although I do have a very dim memory of Alligator being on television once when I was a kid; I think my parents were watching it and I snuck in and saw a bit of it and was scared of it.
  • Unlike with Cujo, which has quite a lot of material about King's novel, Gambin doesn't focus much at all on the source novel for The Howling (by Gary Brandner).  The reason seems to be that it is uninteresting and not particularly like the movie that emerged from it.  Fair enough!
  • It is divulged that a lot of nude extras were intended to be present in the climactic barn scene.  There's a great story about Dee Wallace objecting to the scene (which had not been written that way) and getting the producer to side with her.  But there's also a bit from Gig Williams about how this scene was filmed primarily for the benefit of Roger Corman, and wasn't even intended to be in the movie, but was intended for him to see during dailies.  Now, did I miss something?  Corman didn't actually produce this movie, so why would he be seeing dailies?  The implication is that this happens on all of Corman's films, and if so ... ehhh ... well, let's move on, I guess.
  • On page 279, Gambin indulges in a terrifically effective blow-by-blow description of Eddie Quist's first big transformation scene.  You can tell he's been waiting years to write this paragraph, and it's rather a tour de force (just like the scene itself).
  • A practical joke was played on Dee Wallace by parties unknown in which she was handling a gun, and it had a blank in it, and the gun went off unexpectedly.  This could very easily have resulted in a fatality -- such as what happened years later to Brandon Lee -- and it sent Wallace into an hours-long panic.  The good old days weren't always good, said Billy Joel, and I'm inclined to believe him.
  • Gambin writes very persuasively on the subject of the movie's final scene.

And that's my thoughts on that.  Great book; highly recommended.  If you love the movie, you need a copy of this book.  If you don't, it might change your mind.  Can't say much better about a book-length piece of film criticism/history than that, I think.

Next, the final part of our trilogy:

The second King-movie book from Gambin is a little slimmer than the first, but every bit as comprehensive and entertaining.
I'm guessing that the odds are pretty good that any reader of this blog knows and loves John Carpenter's Christine.  Or knows it and likes it; maybe there are a few knows-it-and-mehs-it among you out there, or even a few don't-know-its.  But intuition tells me that the appreciation for Carpenter in general and Christine specifically is pretty strong around here.
That's certainly the case for me.  My appreciation for both the director and this movie seems to grow only larger over time, and guess what?  You're not going to be surprised by this: it grew even more while reading Hell Hath No Fury Like Her.
Gambin's structure and style are identical to the first two books we looked at it, which is fine by me; it works quite well.  Most of the film's key participants are interviewed, including:
  • Carpenter;
  • Keith Gordon and Alexandra Paul;
  • William Ostrander and the other actors who played the bullies;
  • cinematographer Donald M. Morgan;
  • co-composer Alan Howarth;
  • producer Richard Kobritz;
  • screenwriter Bill Phillips;
  • and so forth.
There are also insightful comments from music critic Adam Devlin, who gives a good bit of fascinating info on the song choices.  This is a huge part of the film, and Devlin and Gambin tackle it very capably.
As with Nope, Nothing Wrong Here, this book is a Bear Manor Media production.  Good news about that: the black-and-white photo reproduction here is considerably stronger than it was with the Cujo book.  It's so much so that I began to wonder if my copy of Nope is defective.
In any case, there are a lot of photos here, many of which show Carpenter directing and seem to back up an assertion that several interviewees make during the course of the book: that this was a very fun set to be on.  Gordon and Paul both have high praise for the manner in which the director focused on making sure his sets were as pleasant to be on as possible while still getting the work done, and the photos do indeed show a lot of laughs being had.
Speaking of Carpenter, you may or may not know this, but he is a notoriously difficult interview subject.  (I say that like I've interviewed him.  I haven't, and never will, and wouldn't even if I had the opportunity -- not out of lack of desire, but, like, what's a dork like me gonna ask John fucking Carpenter?!?  I'd just waste his time, and I like the guy, so I don't want that.)  It doesn't show in this book, though; he's very informative, and sounds like just the kind of guy you'd want John Carpenter to be.  My guess: he must have liked Gambin.  Not all interviewers have been thus blessed, from what I can tell.
Excellent analysis/insights abound, as well as general information.  Here are a handful that stood out to me:
  • Gambin frames the opening assembly-line scene as one in which Christine is, in a manner of speaking, sexually assaulted by the factory workers who lay hands upon her.  Had this ever occurred to me?  I don't think so.  But the metaphor works, and the entire movie can be seen as a sort of furious navigation of a handsy world by Christine herself.  A reading like this might seem like a stretch to some readers/viewers, I suppose; but consider the fact that the scene in which the bullies attack Christine with a sledgehammer and with knives is partially scored by a cue that Carpenter and Howarth titled "The Rape."  And that's just one piece of evidence.
  • Carpenter, fascinatingly, gives some brief details about the version of Firestarter that he almost made.  He seems genuinely regretful for not having been able to make it; he was drawn to the notion of a father-and-daughter-on-the-run story.  However, the budget for the film was cut nearly in half, and he was contractually allowed to walk away AND take a paycheck (he had a play-or-pay deal, meaning he got paid even though he didn't make the movie) that he then used to buy a helicopter and take flying lessons!
  • William Ostrander, who played the bully Buddy Repperton, was anything but like his character.  Keith Gordon in particular speaks well of him for being a cool and all-around quality guy.  (Speaking of Buddy, this book, like the others, is dedicated to Lee Gambin's dog Buddy.  I suspect Gambin did NOT name him after Buddy Repperton, but anything is possible.)
  • William Forsythe was apparently very nearly cast as Buddy!
  • Gambin is fascinating on the subject of the homoerotic undertones in the Arnie/Dennis relationship.  In my capacity as a straight man who's lived a -- understatement time! -- sheltered life, I confess that the movie doesn't particularly play that way for me.  Guess what?  There's no need for it to!  It must surely play that way for the vast majority of gay men who watch it, which means that reading is just as valid as any other; probably more valid than some.  In any case, Gambin tracks this theme throughout the book, and I found his take to be persuasive.
  • Gambin is also persuasive on the subject of Alexandra Paul, whose performance he finds to be very effective.  I never have, personally.  But Gambin singles her work out in several scenes, including the choking scene and the confrontation in the rain outside her house afterward.  I've seen the movie enough that as I read these bits of analysis, I could kind of replay it (albeit in very vague fashion) in my brain, and felt myself nodding in agreement with Gambin's praise for Paul.  This -- and a dozen other things -- makes me want to rewatch the film again soon, and see how Leigh plays for me through these new eyes.  Is it possible I might become even bigger a fan of the film?  Something tells me it might be...
  • Did you even wonder how Moochie's death -- with Christine squeezing down the narrow alley to get at him -- was filmed?  You'll wonder no more after reading this book.
  • Carpenter and Richard Kobritz apparently briefly considered trying to launch a television series starring Detective Junkins, who would have gone around investigating supernatural (and not) incidents now that his eyes were somewhat opened to them.  This means that when we finally get our Ur-Kindles, there are, like, five seasons worth of Harry Dean Stanton starring in Junkins, Private Eye or whatever that we can dial up.  FUCK YES.
Plenty more where all that came from.  Are there still occasional typos and awkward transcriptions?  Yeah, I have to admit; there are.  Power the fuck through those, y'all; it won't take much efffort, and if I can, so can you.
My final thought on Hell Hath No Fury Like Her is that it serves as a terrific repository for knowledge about a movie that seems only to get better with age.  Gambin reveals a film that is more thematically rich than I'd ever considered, and argues that the movie has a stronger standing within Carpenter's body of work than it has perhaps been given credit for having.
Deeply good stuff.
What other King movies would I like to see Gambin tackle?  I'm glad you asked.  The answer, of course, is most of them.  I suspect Gambin's interest in writing a monograph about, say, Graveyard Shift would be minimal.  But I'd read the hell out of that.  My serious answer would probably be Stand By Me.
But, like I said above, I'm probably going to read the next one no matter what it is.
I enjoyed these three sufficiently that I picked up two of Gambin's other books.  These are not monographs about the making of single films, but are instead focused on genres/subgenres.  I've read neither yet, but I figured they merited mention:
GREAT title.

I assume that this 2012 look at Mother-Nature-run-amok movies is exactly what it sounds like it would be.  I'm terrified to read this, because I suspect it's going to make me want to watch every movie within it.  Except for the ones -- and I'm sure they are in here -- about spiders.  Damn that.

This seventies-movie-musicals tome is enormous; I mean, like, nearly-eight-hundred-pages enormous.  I had no idea so many musicals were made cinematically in the seventies!  Shows what I know.
Here again, I'm apprehensive of my queue growing by about a hundred films if I actually read this.  Shit, man, just looking at the covers reminds me that I want to see the non-Gaga versions of A Star Is Born one of these days.  And I've somehow managed to go all this time without seeing either Saturday Night Fever or Nashville, which seems a mistake in both cases.
I give this book major points for going year-by-year beginning with 1970 and ending with 1980.  It's the cheating-and-including-1980 part that I really appreciate; that's my kind of numbers-fudging, right there.  I innately sense that this means Gambin had at least one 1980 film that he was desperate to cover and simply could not bear to omit; my guess is, it's Popeye.  Hey, is Flash Gordon in there?!?  Does that count as a musical?!?  I do not know; I am speculating.  I think I'm going to let it remain a mystery, both to myself and to you fine folk.
I also award significant points to the book for having KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park on the front cover.  God help me, but I owned that on VHS once upon a time.  VHS!
Anyways, the book looks as if its content is amazing.  I have no earthly idea when I'm going to read it -- or Massacred By Mother Nature -- but I think what I'll maybe do is work on them slowly, and maybe report back on it here via the comments section.  Is there a real urge among Truth Inside The Lie readers to discuss, say, Fiddler on the Roof?  I cannot rule it out.
In any case, I'M looking forward to it.
And to whatever Gambin has coming down the pipeline next!


  1. (1) I'm going to have to revisit CUJO, both the book and the movie, one of these days. Neither really impressed me much on first viewing and reading but enough people tell me they're good/ great that I need to revisit.

    (2) "Let's say that it's relatively evident why nobody wanted to use King's own script." Oooo - those are the details we want! Was it just the advertising stuff? (I admit, I found there to be too much of that in the book as well.)

    (3) I sure remember THE HOWLING coming out, but that's one I've never tracked down. WOLFEN, either.(While we're here.) Or the Paul Schrader CAT PEOPLE.

    (4) I never saw any homoerotic undertones with Arnie and Dennis, either, but that's probably on me. I doubt King was putting it in there, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was in the movie.

    (5) The commentary track that Carpenter and Keith Gordon did for the DVD is fantastic.

    (6) "This means that when we finally get our Ur-Kindles, there are, like, five seasons worth of Harry Dean Stanton starring in Junkins, Private Eye or whatever that we can dial up. FUCK YES." Absolutely. Someone should set up pre-orders for Ur-kindle titles and then show the Amazon scientists how much money is waiting for them. Like the Nazis racing after heavy water and spurring on the Allies, I be that would be an effective motivator.

    (7) "I suspect Gambin's interest in writing a monograph about, say, Graveyard Shift would be minimal. But I'd read the hell out of that. " Uhhh yeah me too. Hell, he sounds like the only one I'd trust with such a project. But also: MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE.

    (8) It's too bad that movie musical one doesn't cover the early 80s. The first couple of years of any new decade belong to the old one in tone and approach, usually, so it would make sense to look at FLASH GORDON and ANNIE and XANADU and THE APPLE as 70s musicals.

    1. (1) I didn't care much for the book myself at one point in time. I always remember liking the movie, though.

      (2) The consensus seems to be that it departed too much from the novel (!) and, indeed, focused on the advertising angle too much.

      (3) I've never seen either of those other two. Someday, maybe.

      (4) My guess is it's less a matter of intent than of applicability. I'm probably on shaky ground trying to discuss such things at all. I enjoyed reading Gambin's take on it, though.

      (5) It really is. You know, I've got an MP3 version of that -- I think I'll load that onto my phone and listen to it at work tonight.

      (6) Everyone would be instantly bankrupt. Except the lawyers who had to begin litigation over how/whether copyright laws applied.

      (7) "Maximum Overdrive" for the win.

      (8) If I'm not mistaken -- and I'd forgotten this until just now -- Gambin's next monograph is about "Xanadu." I've never seen that, but I vaguely remember it coming out.

    2. (1) I'd have to say "Cujo" is a film I'd recommend very highly. I think the moment I realized it was good was when the death scene of Gary Pervier would occur on and off in my mind. Apparently, it's the moment the I realized there might be something interesting in it.

      I haven't read the novel yet, so I can't say one way or the other.

      (2) Interesting about King's script. It makes me wonder if his unconscious was on a kind of below the radar material gathering mission of sorts. In other words, I wonder if part of King's mind during the 80s was busy looking at the excess of that era and slowly forming a book like "Needful Things" somewhere in the background?

      (6) The idea of Ur Kindles is appealing, yet I'm not sure how well a continuing series with Stanton's character would go over in the long run, for some reason.

      (8) Does that mean Gambin could one day devote a whole book to the making of "An American Tail"?


    3. (6) As with most shows, it'd depend on the writing. Stanton would have been good, though, if nothing else.

      (8) Anything is possible!

  2. (1) I'll admit the idea of Christine as victim angle is one that hadn't occurred to me as I watched the film. I'm not too sure that I agree with Gambin;s take here, either.

    I think Tony Magistrale was more on target when he says the car is more a symbol for King;s concerns about the way people value technology over each other, and of how we invest our tech with a lot of our own fallible designs and hang-ups. That's just me, however.

    (2) Mr. Gambin, if you're reading this, could you please make one of your next books something along the lines of "We All Float Down Here: The Making of Stephen King's It Mini-series.


    1. (1) If we eliminate the explanation for Christine's apparent supernatural abilities that King provided us with (and the movie does just that), then suddenly no explanation really exists. So Magistrale's analysis may be at least partially null and void as regards the movie itself.

      I kind of like Gambin's reading of the film as -- in part -- a feminist tale in which Christine is right from the get-go furious due to her perceived mistreatment at the hands of sweaty, rude men. I'm not sure the idea tracks fully throughout the film, but it's an interesting way to look at that opening scene.

      (2) Seconded.

  3. Mr. Burnette:

    Thanks for the reviews, I really appreciate them. What I do not appreciate is the fact that such reviews cause my book-buying budget to spiral out of control. Oh well.

    Kiss Meets the Phantom on VHS! Lucky you. I remember watching that on the tube when it came out. It was a big night for me and my friends. I only saw it that one time though.


    1. Sorry to piggyback, but coming to this blog is one of the more pleasant parts of my day. Thanks for all you do Mr. Burnette (you too Ray).

    2. What a terrific compliment! That means a lot to me -- more than you likely know.

      I appreciate the thanks, by the way, but there's no need for it. Trust me when I tell you, getting to work on this blog is one of the more pleasant parts of MY day. Like, I feel kind of anxious when I can't make a bit of time for it. I just wish I could write the posts more frequently! Maybe someday.

    3. Ray--

      I apologize for the damage done to your book-buying budget. It's a risk!

      Wow, you saw the Kiss movie on initial broadcast?!? That's awesome! Well, maybe not, given the quality of the movie. But a certain type of cool, for sure. I'm sort of a lapsed Kiss fan, but if that had premiered during the time when my fandom was in full bloom, I'd have been busting at the seams to see it.

      By the way, there are some Kiss posts at McMolo's blog you should check out, if you haven't already. I'll drop a few links here, the latter of which is entirely devoted to "Phantom of the Park."







  4. Yes, I saw it on TV the night it came out. It was all the buzz at elementary school that week among my friends. I even had a buddy sleep over so we could watch it together. It was awesome for us because we didn't care about story and quality -- we were kids!

    Thanks very much for the links. I'll be sure to check them out when this thing called work doesn't get in the way.

    Perhaps a Go Fund Me page is the answer for my book-buying woes?


    1. "It was awesome for us because we didn't care about story and quality -- we were kids!" -- Not sure if this applies to you, but imagine how many kids there must have been who were fans of the band but who had never had any sort of opportunity to actually SEE them. No YouTube back then; couldn't just dial things up and watch them.

      By which I mean, I can absolutely see how that movie would have been a huge deal. I can remember being stoked to see some band I loved on -- it wasn't Saturday Night Live, but some late show like that -- tv and staying up into the wee hours for it.

      I love stuff like that. These kids today are spoiled! I'm glad for 'em, too.

      As for the Go Fund Me page ... I can almost guarantee you people have started them for worse causes than buying books.

    2. Yes, I never got to see them - not even yet. I do remember staying up late to watch a piece on 20/20 about how they were really raking in the dough. Other than that it was albums, comic books, scribblers, and trading cards. Fun times.

    3. I bet! I did see them once -- in 1990, I think. They were great. I considered going to see their farewell tour in Birmingham earlier this year, but it didn't work out for me to do so. I have a feeling I'll end up regretting that.

  5. Probably the wrong place to ask, but what did you think of stranger things season 3? I think it continues to hold up a fun show, maybe the most fun I can think of tv show wise

    1. It's as good a place to ask as any -- I certainly don't mind.

      I enjoyed it well enough. I felt a bit disengaged from it at times, and I'd say that some of it felt forced and uninspired. But there was also a lot there to love, and I thought the final episode was (with the possible exception of the "Neverending Story" sequence, which did indeed feel as if it was never going to end) pretty great.

      So all in all, I think it's a bit of a drop in quality from the first two seasons, but not a drastic one. Still fundamentally my cup of tea.

    2. I agree. While I did enjoy the season, I hope the next one is the last. I feel if they push past and try to do more than that, the show will screw itself.

    3. I think they might be able to go five -- that would theoretically take them to the end of the eighties, which seems like it would have resonance to it. But I don't know what else they can do with the Upside Down; that seems played out to me.

    4. only way I think they can use the upside down again would be if someone didn't get their something back. That could add a shit ton of tension, but I don't know if they keep that certain someone in the state their in at the end of the season.

    5. Yeah, that might could do it, I guess. Good point!

  6. Cujo is indeed a good movie but for me, its not one for repeat viewing. I caught fragments of it on TV as a kid and of course, it freaked me the hell out. Years later, when acquiring all of King's flicks on DVD, it was the only one I immediately tossed afterwards. More years later, I noticed Amazon Prime had a bunch of free King movies posted, including Cujo. Decided to give it another watch then went "Yep, never watching this again." Its just way too much "sitting in a car and suffering" for me, not to mention endless "Mommy!!" "Tad!" "Aaaaah!" "Ooooooh!" *sob sob sob* and on and on. Not to mention the actors playing Vic and Steve are practically wax museum dummies.

    I know the book is just as bleak and gruesome but King always lightens the mood with his wicked sense of humor and dialogue. The whole "Kemp jizzing all over the bed and leaving a note" scene is twistedly hilarious ("Do YOU have any questions?") and I remember somewhere, Vic's co-worker randomly says something about having the hershey squirts!!

    1. The first time I read that novel, I was not really quite old enough to have a solid grasp on what jizzing even was. I was deeply confused as to why anyone would do that on a pillow. That stuck with me, boy.

  7. Well, I started reading "Massacred by Mother Nature," and would like to leave the following brief report on the first chapter or so:

    "Frogs" (1972) -- in which telepathic amphibians communicate murderous plots to each other and ruin a rich family. Stars a young Sam Elliot. Sounds pretty crazy.

    "Grizzly" (1976) and "The Day of the Animals" (1977) -- Gambin is a big fan of director Williams Girdler, who made both of these and who died at too young an age. Gambin feels he had it in him to be as successful as Spielberg. I am dubious. I am also curious, so I may check both of those out eventually. "Day of the Animals" stars Leslie Nielsen in prime villain mode. That does nothing to dissuade me.

    "Prophecy" (1979) -- This movie by John Frankenhimer has been on my radar forever. I feel certain King wrote about it at one point. Possibly in "Danse Macabre." I think I remember him being a fan. I am too lazy to research it. Anyways, it's about a mutant bear, so how could King NOT be a fan?

    "Roar" (1981) -- Notorious as the movie during which cinematographer Jan DeBont got scalped by a lion, this one came to my attention previously via the now-defunct but incredibly great podcast '80s All Over. It sounds like a movie that went well beyond the borders of acceptable filming practices; and that makes me reluctant to see it. However, it stars Tippi Hedren, and too few movies do; so that makes me want to see it. What to do, what to do?

    "Link" (1986) -- Apparently about a psychotic genius orangutan who is Terence Stamp's butler and who menaces Elizabeth Shue. How have I never heard of this?!?

    "Monkey Shines" (1988) -- I remember being freaked out by the trailers for this Romero movie, but I've never seen it. Gotta do a Romero deep-dive one of these days. Gambin argues for this movie persuasively.

  8. Contents from the chapter on undersea-terror films:

    "Piranha" (1978) -- I really need to see this.

    "Alligator" (1980) -- Ditto. I remember that playing on tv when I was a kid; I don't think I saw it, but I think I remember my parents watching it. Aren't you glad I am here to mention these things?

    "Orca" (1977) -- Gambin actually prefers this film to "Jaws," which is surely the raving of a madman. Now, that said, I've not seen "Orca" since the mid-eighties, when I watched it on HBO or some such channel. And while I remember nothing whatsoever about it, I remember liking it back then. I can't swear I'll ever revisit it, but I'm not opposed to the idea.

    "Tentacles" (1977) -- I don't think I'd ever heard of this, despite it starring John Huston, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, Henry Fonda, and Claude Akins. The poster is awesome. (https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-RPJLMKoLM5Y/UlCA6bjiQmI/AAAAAAAAA7g/qgARjM-2DN8/s1600/tentacles_poster_02.jpg) The movie, apparently, is not.

    "Jaws 2" (1978) -- I watched this for the first time last year and enjoyed it. Gambin is also a fan, and points out that it has similarities to the teen-centric slasher genre that was developing at this time.

    "Jaws 3D" (1983) -- Gambin also has kind words for the third film in the series. Can anyone back him up on that? (He's not similarly generous with his feelings on the fourth film, though, which he says "has not one redeemable feature other than being a movie about a killer shark".)

  9. Okay, this is pretty much way off topic, however for what it's worth, there are a few words about Neil Gaiman that can be found here:


    Just for whatever it's worth.


    1. It's worth plenty, I'd imagine!

      Thanks -- I will check it out.

  10. I've read the drafts of Firestarter that Carpenter was going to direct. Very interesting, albeit with some notable changes to the story. And neither really nails the ending in my opinion, either. Still, they were good reads.

  11. I finished reading "Massacred By Mother Nature," and realized I'd failed to report on it in a dutiful manner. Too late to circle back now, but here are a few movies that Gambin discussed which I'd like to see eventually:

    "The Pack" (1977) -- Gambin's "Cujo" book discussed this one a bit, so it was technically already on the list.

    "Kingdom of the Spiders" (1977) -- I'd generally wish to avoid spider-centric movies, but William Shatner.

    "The Swarm" (1978) -- Sounds a little tacky, but not in a bad way. The score is by Jerry Goldsmith, so that's reason enough in and of itself.

    "The Food of the Gods" (1976) -- Gambin describes this as a "perfect" film. I'm skeptical, but this movie sounds pretty wild.

    "Willard" (1971/2003) -- I've long intended to see the remake, which is a favorite of one of my friends. She tried to get to me to watch it numerous times and it somehow never happened. Gambin makes me also want to see the original.

    "Jennifer" (1978) -- Sounds like a ripoff of "Carrie," but with a hot woman who controls snakes. Okey doke. I'm in.

    So all in all, it was a book well worth my time.