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Friday, May 4, 2018

The SKCU is Dead

It was fun when it was a "what-if".

When I started this blog, there were rumors that It and The Dark Tower would begin filming soon. Since that writing, we've gotten the film versions of both, and two more besides (1922 and Gerald's Game). And therein lies the problem.

See, when I started this blog, Stephen King movies were thought of mostly as punchlines; many were great, but it had been years since the last even barely tolerable King movie was released. With the news that It and The Dark Tower were being given a chance to do it right (and one of them succeeded, the other not so much) and rumors that other projects, such as The Stand, might also be in the offing, I thought, "wouldn't it be cool if there was a shared universe for King's adaptations, in the vein of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?"

Well, a lot has changed since then, and it's been getting harder and harder to even think of keeping up this blog. For one thing, multiple King properties are exiting "rumored" or "planned" stages and are actually filming, and it's becoming clear that there are not now, nor ever will be, plans for a shared universe. Each project is being filmed independently, and this pretty much means that it's business as usual in King adaptation land; some of these projects will be awesome, and many will suck. And I don't see a point anymore of running a blog whose sole purpose is to cast film versions when film versions are being produced en masse even as I type.

But it's other factors as well. Shared universes on film are not a universally good idea. The MCU is awesome, and remains so. Universal's "Dark Universe" flopped hard with its first release, and the DCCU has produced only one good film. A Stephen King shared universe would be a dicey prospect in any case.

Third factor is...sigh...politics. With every agressively left-wing hate-tweet, King lost me a little further. I just couldn't get interested in reading what he was writing, knowing that he literally hates people like me. I don't mean we differ politically; I've always known that and didn't care because I can read the writings of people who don't think like me. George RR Martin is a far-left loon himself, but I love A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, and his politics role off my back. But King took it too far. He didn't just say "these people are wrong" he said "these people are evil and deserve to die". Talking about people like me. I won't get into why my views are what they are; I have a right to them, same as anyone else does, and no, that doesn't make me a racist, sexist, homophobe or any other "ist" or "phobe", and I think if you read what I've written on this blog, you'll see that's true. In fact I often wonder if I'm not significantly less racist, sexist or homophobic than King himself, or at least, less so than he used to be, considering some of his earlier writing.

So, with apologies to my dedicated readers, both the ones who regularly comment and those that just read, I'm officially closing this blog down.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Langoliers

This is one of King's most infamous stories.

Not because the story is bad, because it isn't. But for two reasons. The first is that its title is a made-up word that sort of highlights how often King does this.

He could have called the title...things...anything he wanted. The Devourers. The Exterminators. They That Wait in the Dark. Well, that last one's a bit corny, but you get it. So, what is a "Langolier"? What's the root word? Where did that word come from? To me, a "langolier" sounds like some kind of position on a military aircraft or tank, or perhaps on a sailing ship. In this story, they're made-up little critters that a character's father used to try and scare him with, and he uses that term to describe what he's certain is coming for him in this story. But there's no explanation of where the term comes from, what caused his father to use that particular word.

The second reason this story is so infamous is thanks to the awesomely awful ABC mini-series based on it. I mean, it's a disaster. Shitty directing, awful acting (even from usually reliable pros), about the worst visual effects possible (believe it or not, this isn't photoshop, that's what the effects actually looked like) and an ending made of pure cheese. The worst part is that it's not unfaithful. It's just bad. It's bad for the same reasons all of Mick Garris's King adaptations are bad; it's primarily focused on just transcribing King's story into a screenplay. It's not concerned by whether or not the lines make sense when stripped of the internal monologue that birthed them in the story, and it keeps in even stuff that doesn't work at all if you have actors say them out loud. For example, Kate Maberly is forced to, with a straight face, describe the horrible sound of the approaching Langoliers as a "horrible cereal noise". No, actually the line that comes before that one is worse, where she says, again, completely serious, with ominous music to tell us this is supposed to be really scary: "I hear a really terrible scary sound. And it's awful. A little like Rice Krispies after you pour in the milk."

Oooh, talk about a shudder down the ol' spine! I was never able to stay in the room after pouring the milk on my Rice Krispies! I mean, when you're adapting a good story but you come across a line like that, it should be the first thing cut. Especially since it doesn't even really work in the story. There are other lines later that really do show how horrible the sound is, and never mind that this line is spoken by a small child, that line removes any and all fear from the sound the Langoliers are making.

But I haven't even gotten to the crown turd in this shit pile. Remember this silly little TV series called Perfect Strangers? It was about a young Greek-ish (his island country was made up) shepherd who comes to the big city to make his fortune. It starred a young comedian with a talent for accents who was funny for about two seasons. Maybe. And then he got really grating and yet we all kept watching. His name was Bronson Pinchot, and he's in this movie as...the antagonist. Sans accent, and trying to be scary, any charm he may have once had is gone. He's not fun to watch as a bad guy, he's hilarious to watch in all the wrong ways. Mr. Toomy is not a guy you should be laughing at, and Pinchot isn't trying to be funny, but all you want to do while watching him shout and screen and gobble up more scenery than the titular monsters is laugh at him. He's worse than Jack Nicholson in The Shining, worse than Tim Curry in It, and in fact just might be the most over-the-top villain in any Stephen King adaptation ever. And that's saying a lot.

But to me, the worst performance of the film isn't even Pinchot. You expect ham and cheese from him, and at least he's a performance you can love to hate. No, the worst performance comes from Dean Stockwell, playing King's stock writer character (though for once he isn't really the lead), in this case, a mystery writer who figures out what's really going on with this story. Stockwell is a good actor, and we know he's above the material in this turkey (the film, not the story), but holy Christ does he phone this one in. He's wooden, stilted and never acts like he actually believes what he's saying. You can almost see his eyes flicking back and forth as he reads from cue cards. I'm tempted to blame director Todd Holland, who has produced many films with stilted acting in them, but I can't pin it all on him. Stockwell's a good enough actor that he should have been able to tell Holland "look, just let me find this character my own way". This doesn't happen, and Stockwell seems half asleep for most of it. Any time his character begins speaking, I want to fast-forward, and considering the character is one of the most engaging in the book, I don't understand why Stockwell apparently felt he had so little to work with that he just didn't put in any effort at all.

And then there are the effects. Sweet hot-buttered fuck. I just...can't...nope.

So this is badly in need of being remade, as the book is damn well creepy, and in fact, seems like an extended creepypasta. If you don't know what those are, google it. You might enjoy yourself. Or you might find one of the more cliched ones and not enjoy yourself at all. This one is one of the better ones. Well, better still, because it's a full novel (whatever Four Past Midnight might be, it isn't a collection of novellas; these are absolutely long enough to be called novels) and because it's written by the man himself.

A flight from LA to Boston starts off weird when a stewardess says the Aurora Borealis has been spotted over the midwest. Brian Engle, a pilot who just fought through some major turbulence to be greeted with the news of his ex-wife's death, is now dead-heading home on another flight, and finds himself drifting off to sleep. He wakes to realize that only himself and ten other passengers remain, and the plane is on autopilot flying over what looks to be an utterly dead United States. It gets worse; one of the passengers becomes unreasonable and violent when he realizes they won't be making their scheduled stop in Boston, and then their forced landing puts them in a dead airport, empty of people or even the seeming remains of anyone having been there at all, and one of the passengers, a little blind girl, reports hearing a horrible approaching noise. There doesn't seem to be any question; if they're still on the ground when that noise arrives, they're done for.

The violent, insane passenger, Craig Toomy, thinks he knows just what it is that's coming; the Langoliers, evil creatures his father made up to scare him into doing what his father demanded (more on that in a moment). He's determined to do whatever he can do to not be caught by them...even kill.

Now you might be able to see why Bronson Pinchot was the wrong choice for this part.

I think we need to get Mike Flanaghan, the new voice of horror, on this project. I love this guy's work, and his name at the helm lets me know I'm in for a treat. A scary, scary treat.

For our stalwart captain, Brian Engle, I picked Idris Elba. Just because he isn't Roland doesn't mean I don't want him in the SKCU at all, and somehow the image of a resolute man in a pilot's uniform, his face came straight to mind. Brian's not the real lead here, but he's one of three or four, and would probably be top-billed.

Then there's the Stephen King expy...okay, I'm not being fair, but someone in this story's got to be a writer, because someone in King's stories always is. This time it's Bob Jenkins, a mystery writer who's never actually been involved in a real life mystery, per se, but he's created enough of them in his head to know how to deduce what's happening now. He's older, and I see him as a professorial man who makes lectures interesting, which is exactly what Dean Stockwell did wrong in the miniseries; his lectures were the most lifeless part of the film, helped only by how absurd his acting was. Bryan Cranston played a professor who could make physics lectures seem interesting on Breaking Bad, and he'll slip very easily into the role of Jenkins.

One of the travelers is not what he seems; Nick Hopewell looks like a slightly nerdy British embassy employee, but he's quite a bit more than that, as you'll find out pretty quickly in the story. Dan Stevens can handle both the nerdy side and the man of action.

Laurel Stevenson is a school teacher who's approaching her mid-30's and is still unmarried, and has boarded this plane after deciding to meet a man she met online through the personals. She ends up a surrogate mom to Dinah, the little blind girl (who I'm not casting for reasons that should be obvious if you're a regular reader). I wanted an actress who can rise above a rather bland character, so I picked Ruth Negga.

A seventeen-year-old Jewish violinist named Albert Kaussner is another character that gets a huge share of the action. He's an engaging character who was turned into a boring cipher in the film, but recent Academy-Award nominated Timothee Chalamet will help with that.

Bethany Simms is your basic "troubled teen", but as far as I can tell from the book, the most trouble she gets into is smoking and drinking, which makes her...just a teen, really. She could be played by anybody, but I picture her as Alison Thornton, who I know from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and actually made me care about her despite literally playing a dog.

Don Gaffney is an older passenger who broadcasts his fate by his vivid red shirt. In the book, he gets a lot to do but not much development. Frankie Faison played him in the mini-series despite the character not being described as black in the book, but there's no reason he shouldn't remain black, and Stephen McKinley Henderson (check him out in Lincoln, Fences and Lady Bird) is one of those actors who makes you want to watch him even in the most minor of roles.

The final passenger before we get to the last role is Rudy Warwick, a mostly useless guy who is defined almost entirely by his desire to get something to eat. He's not described as fat, but I couldn't help but picture him as Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Joel McKinnon Miller.

I wasn't sure at first how to deal with the antagonist, Craig Toomy, the one passenger who can't allow anything, even being sucked into a time-rip, to keep him from his goal of getting to his meeting in Boston. Toomy is a deeply tortured man, who was raised by a father who only cared about how focused he could keep his son on "The Big Picture" and get him driven toward the ultimate goal of being successful and hard-working. He made up the Langoliers as monsters who come for lazy people, and Craig seems to have grown up believing in them, determined that the Langoliers will never get him, but also determined to be free. His meeting, that he has to get to on time? It's to tell his bosses that he deliberately made a bad investment and lost them millions. This isn't a spoiler, like in the movie, it's part of his internal monologue practically from the moment we meet him. Toomy is a character that it would be very easy to take up to Eleven to start off with, then go well past where the knob ends and stay there the whole movie, which is what Bronson "Scaring the little guh-AAAH-irl!!?? LA-DEE??!!" Pinchot chose to do. So I didn't want to get someone known only for humor, but someone who could start off low and subtle, dangerous but not crazy, and gradually ramp up the crazy until close to the end. That person is Kier O'Donnell, who has done humor, but has also played insane bad guys before.
There is one more passenger, an unnamed man with a black beard who sleeps through almost all of it, and I can't say I really understand the point of his character. He was left out of the mini-series, so I'll leave him out here. I also won't go as far as to have Toomy suffer visual hallucinations of his father, as just hearing voices will be enough.

Now, at this point, I still have three novels left to read in Four Past Midnight, and I don't know which ones, if any, I'll be doing a post for. I'm fairly certain I won't be doing one for Secret Window, Secret Garden because that one has a film adaptation that was a massive critical and commercial bomb, but I don't think it's been long enough since its release to try it again. The only question is whether I think it's a good enough story that it must be tried again. The other two, The Library Policeman and The Sun Dog have never been adapted and I'd like to read them before I decide whether or not to blog about them.

But! I'm going to step outside the norm of this blog for a short while. I recently picked up two horror novels that look awesome, and I really want to read them, but the difference is, I'm going to blog about them here, even if it's not a casting post. Yes, I know they're not Stephen King novels, and yes, I know that the purpose of this blog is to create a Stephen King Cinematic Universe, but it's my blog and I have decided these books are relevant to the subject matter. Besides, King himself tweeted his appreciation for at least one of these books (the other is Canadian and he might not have been able to read it yet).

So, next up, in whatever form it takes: Kill Creek and A God in the Shed!

And then back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Dark Half

Before I talk about this book, I want to take a little bit of time to talk about Misery.

As I said in my last post, Misery won't be getting an adaptation from me, and that's because it has a film adaptation already that's bloody perfect. I don't often say that of King films, but I can't fault a single thing about it.

That being said, it's less the book itself and more about its creation that I want to talk about, because it led, indirectly, to the book this post is about.

As I've talked about before, Stephen King used the Richard Bachman pseudonym starting back in the late 70's, mainly as an experiment. At the time, King had three big hits on the market with Carrie, 'Salem's Lot and The Shining, but these three books were hits because the movie Carrie, directed by Brian de Palma, had been a big hit in 1976, causing the reading public to not only turn the previously little-known novel into a hit but also to see what else King could offer. As all three books were horror tales, he became firmly entrenched in the minds of the public as a horror novelist, and because his books became insanely popular almost overnight, critics tut-tutted him and declared that he was just a pop fad that would soon pass. He couldn't write, and the evidence was that he wrote horror, which wasn't real literature. They assured everyone that once the hype died down, King would be forgotten.

King wanted to know if this was true, so he began releasing some of his other material under a different name, Richard Bachman, most of which was not horror. I've talked about all of it so far, but I haven't really talked about how Richard Bachman died.

As you'll recall in my post on Thinner, I noted that this was the first Richard Bachman novel that began life as a Bachman novel, and the first written by Stephen King the Experienced Novelist, rather than Stephen King the Starting-Out Author. It was written well after King found his voice, and read exactly like a Stephen King novel. It was even a horror novel, which none of Bachman's books had been yet. This was what led to the death of Bachman.

See, King still wasn't sure if the experiment had yielded any results one way or the other. Bachman's books didn't sell nearly as well but the critics were much kinder and readers that knew Bachman liked his work a lot. He was actually in the process of writing another Bachman novel, which became Misery, which was the dramatization of a lot that King was going through.

In Misery, an author who suffers a car crash finds himself in the care of a psychotic former nurse who also declares herself his "number one fan". He's been badly hurt in the crash and is in a world of pain, and really should be in a hospital, but Annie, his deranged caregiver, won't let him go until he resurrects the character Misery Chastain, who he has just killed in the final volume of his best-selling series about her. He depends on her, she demands he do only what she wants, and hurts him if he won't, yet keeps saying she loves him and she's his number one fan.

Annie is basically a big stand-in for addiction, that number one fan that hurts you as it loves you, that you depend on, but will kill you. She's also a stand-in for the kind of fan that won't let you be anything other than what they demand. I get that last one the most, because I've never suffered from addiction (except coffee; can't function without coffee), because I've been on both sides of that. I've been a fan who wanted only one thing from some authors (for example, I really don't care about anything George RR Martin has written that isn't part of A Song of Ice and Fire), and I've been a writer who produced something that people didn't want to read, not because it was bad (in fact, I'm repeatedly told how good the stories I write are) but because it's "not scary". The same thing happened to King.

After he published The Eyes of the Dragon, he got a number of angry fan letters telling him to stick to horror. I am not certain why it was this book that prompted it, since King had already published plenty that wasn't horror, but this was the first time he'd clearly gone to a different genre. One could conceivably call The Dark Tower "horror fantasy" and the sort of thrillers and dark dramas he produced could also probably count as "horror". I don't count them as such because they weren't intended to scare, but I've gone over that in detail before. The Eyes of the Dragon was a fairy tale, and whether or not it was good story might be a matter for debate but that wasn't what prompted the letters. The letters came because King dared to move to a genre that could in no way be called horror. Bad King, how dare he write what he wants to write and not what fans demand! Doesn't he know that as fans, he owes us?

I'm going somewhere with this, trust me.

Now we come to Misery, in which a fan learns that her favorite author has written a story of which she doesn't approve and has decided to stop writing the stories of which she does. She refuses to let this stand. In that story, Paul Sheldon, the writer in question, writes everything under his own name, but has become famous for a series of books he never intended to be his primary focus. He wanted to write about darker stuff, about different kinds of people, about different time periods and different levels of society. But what he became known for were a series of period romance novels about a single set of characters. Now he was so identified with these books that his fans got upset if he even talked about writing anything else, and the one who has him at her mercy demands he destroy his other work and go back to writing what she wants.

But Thad Beaumont, protagonist of The Dark Half, has almost the opposite problem. He, like Paul, wants to write "serious literature", but the stuff he's written under his own name isn't getting him anywhere. Critics love his work, but readers aren't buying. So his wife suggests using a different name and writing under that name for a while just to see what comes of it. She'll come to regret that scenario.

Thad's pseudonym, George Stark, is a writer of very dark, very violent crime fiction, which takes off like hotcakes, especially the ones featuring his villain protagonist, Alexis Machine. For about ten years, Stark's books keep the Beaumonts rich and happy, but Thad himself has a couple of secrets, secrets not even he knows.

The first one is from his childhood; he suffered crippling headaches, always preceded by the sound of sparrows chirping and taking flight. Eventually the headaches lead to a seizure, which leads to surgery, which shows that the "tumor" causing these headaches is in fact Thad's twin, which he absorbed in the womb, and which has spontaneously begun to re-grow. It's removed, and Thad never knows it's anything more than a tumor.

Second, when he writes as George Stark, it's as if he really is someone other than himself. For one thing, he can't write as Stark without using Berol Black Beauty pencils (I don't think they actually exist; Berol's was called "Black Warrior" while Rowney made a pencil named "Black Beauty") and when he does write Stark novels, he takes up several habits he'd been able to kick years ago, like smoking and heavy drinking (Thad, like so many other of King's protagonists, is a recovering alcoholic). But it goes beyond that; he begins to think like the fictional Stark, and for that matter whenever he writes longhand as himself his handwriting begins to get sloppy and unreadable, while Stark's always remains perfect.

Now, there are some parallels here, obviously, with King's own life. He created a fictional persona to release his Bachman books under, including a fake writer profile, and a personality for his alter ego different from his own. But the parallels aren't exact; for one thing, in the story, Stark is the best-seller while Beaumont can't get readers. In reality, almost the exact opposite is true; Bachman at best had a cult following, while King was the mega-star. Also, some suggest that Bachman's books, like Stark's, are less cerebral and more violent. Having read all but one of Bachman's books, I can't agree. Bachman's books were often colder and bleaker, that's true, ending on a downward note very often, but they were also smart books. The books of an intelligent, if cold and calculating, man.

Now let's circle back around to Misery. While he was writing it, a book store clerk named Steve Brown was reading Thinner. Brown was a Stephen King fan, and he began to notice a lot of similarities in how Bachman and King wrote. In fact, they seemed so much alike that he decided he had to find out if his hunch was true. In his research, he realized that he could not confirm anyone having ever seen Bachman in person, and that the mere idea that he was "reclusive" did not do enough to account for the fact. Finally he checked the Library of Congress and was able to learn that the copyright holder for all of Bachman's material was, in fact, Stephen King. He then contacted King's publishing house and asked them what he should do with his new-found knowledge. The result was that King called him personally, suggested he write an article about how he found out, and agreed to an interview on the spot. He then decided that, the fiction discovered, there was no reason to keep writing books under the Bachman name, and Misery became a Stephen King novel.

This is appropriate, because it's a very personal novel that was clearly the work of King from the get-go, but it has some direct ties to The Dark Half, because while Misery focuses on a fan that hates change, The Dark Half focuses on a pseudonym that doesn't like being cast aside. For that matter, he, like Annie, doesn't want the author to write what he wants to write, but has a far more personal reason.

The same sort of thing happens to Thad Beaumont; a law student named Fred Clawson discovers, in almost exactly the same way, that George Stark does not exist and that Thad Beaumont is the writer of his books. But unlike Brown, Clawson decides to blackmail Beaumont. I can't say I really bought this part of the story; after all, pseudonyms get revealed all the time, and yet it doesn't really cause any problems. "Robert Galbraith" was revealed to be JK Rowling shortly after his first book, The Cuckoo's Calling, was released, and she followed that up with two more Galbraith novels that have sold like wildfire. For that matter, there was a dramatic uptick in sales for Bachman's books when it was discovered King was their real author. What exactly did Clawson think would happen if he blackmailed Beaumont?

Well, what happens is that Beaumont goes public, essentially getting the jump on Clawson, who is probably a bit insane (his reaction to Thad's going public is hilarious and sad), and announces via a People magazine story that Stark is dead and that he's going back to writing books under his own name. This story even includes a photo shoot of Thad and his wife Liz standing over a mock gravestone that reads "George Stark - 1975-1988 - Not a Very Nice Guy". They consider the matter, if you'll pardon me, dead and buried.

But this one doesn't stay buried.

The Dark Half was adapted back in the early 90's by horror-maestro George A. Romero, with Timothy Hutton starring, and from what I've heard, it was generally well-received. I haven't seen it. I've seen clips, but not the movie. But there are two things that make me want to do a remake of it.

The first is that this is the story that introduces Sheriff Alan Pangborn, a character King will use again, and who will be a nice link to all the stories taking place in Castle Rock (or near it, in this case; Thad actually lives in Ludlow, and apparently on Route 2, just like Louis Creed in Pet Sematary, but he has a summer home in Castle Rock). Pangborn is George Bannerman's successor as the sheriff of Castle County, and he'll be the central character of another story I'll be adapting; Needful Things.

The second is that the film version doesn't really go in depth about what George Stark is, and to be honest, the novel doesn't, either, or at least, it leaves a lot unexplained. I don't want to give too much away, but it seems like a combo of George already existing and finally becoming real (Thad suggests that when he wrote as Stark it was like being possessed), and not just his body, but a few other things as well. Stark in the novel doesn't look or sound anything like Thad, but he does have the same fingerprints and voiceprint, both of which he uses to make it seem as if Thad is guilty of murder. The film takes this idea and runs with hit, having Hutton play both characters, while the novel explains that George Stark looks like the mental image Thad formed of him, which is partly based on what Alexis Machine looks like.

I have a theory that George Stark comes from a pocket universe formed by Thad's creativity coupled with the ghost of his twin. Stark has always existed on a different level of the Tower, perhaps in a version of our world where he lived and Thad didn't. The only way he can write is by possessing Thad, and the traumatic experience of being symbolically killed off caused him to manifest physically in our world, guided by the psychopomps that are the sparrows. It's a bit more of a concrete answer to the question "why does Stark exist", but I'm not sure it makes any more real sense.

Another thought I kept having as I read, one that I thought about while reading Misery but not so much The Tommyknockers or Home Delivery, is how several scenes would have to be completely re-written if we were to modernize this. Several scenes have a person going out of their way to find a payphone or phone that they'll be unreachable on (when today everyone carries a phone in their pocket), and I also don't know about the idea of a manuscript being turned in in longhand. I don't know the publishing industry inside and out, but my understanding is that today if the manuscript doesn't come printed out (in the right font, too!) double-spaced, etc., it gets rejected immediately, so the idea that Thad could turn in his Stark manuscripts in pencil, no matter how neat his handwriting, might not even work. I could see publishers accepting such a manuscript from their most legendary writer (like, say, Stephen King) but not from a guy like Thad Beaumont, who apparently was a writer who pleased critics but made no money.

I'm setting this one up to be directed by Karyn Kusama who has an eye for artistic horror. Thad Beaumont, who is described as clumsy and bookish, bespectacled but also kind of cold and distant, will be played by James McAvoy, who has the ability to change his personality to look both nerdy and scary. While Stark will be played by a different actor, Thad himself needs to be able to manifest the darkness that came from writing as Stark, especially toward the end when it starts to feel like he and Stark are becoming one.

Thad's wife, Liz, who first suggests creating George Stark, and then regrets it when she sees what it does to her husband, and later really regrets it, will be played by Rachel McAdams. She's around the right age and pretty and blonde, but honestly this is the kind of role that can be played by just about anyone as she's kind of just the damsel in distress.

Now for our antagonist, George Stark himself. Thad has come to identify Stark and Alexis Machine almost as the same person. He imagines Stark as a large, muscular blonde man, as is Machine, who probably did time (hence never learning to type) and has bright blue eyes. The eyes are what led me to Kevin Durand, who is just as large and well-built as Stark is described, and has those piercing blue eyes. He's not blonde, but as the photo shows, he can fake it. He's also got a deep, threatening voice but is strangely charismatic. My thought is that toward the end, in the climax, his face can start to be digitally blended with McAvoy's.

Sheriff Alan Pangborn was a role that I was thinking about even before I started reading, as he's a supporting player here, but will be the lead in Needful Things. Thanks to different production houses and whatnot, Pangborn has been played twice before by two different actors (and a third is on the way); in the existing film version of this story, he was played by Michael Rooker (yes, Yondu) and Ed Harris played him in the film version of Needful Things, less than a year after Rooker's turn in the role. Scott Glen will be playing an older, retired Pangborn in the upcoming series Castle Rock, but this Pangborn should be younger and ready for action. He's not an old man, but not necessarily young, either, and absolutely in charge the moment he enters the room. I found Josh Brolin to fit the image perfectly. And Brolin is one of those actors who can be both a character actor and a leading man.

Rawley DeLesseps is a fellow teacher at the university Thad teaches at, and an expert in folklore. He's a very stereotypical old professor, with the tweed and the tie and the "pip pip cheerio, old fellow, what?" way of speaking. He even smokes a pipe. In the movie, he was changed into a woman, played by Julie Harris, but I wanted the classic old professor. For some reason, I couldn't picture him not having a British accent, even though the book never says he does. I played around with the idea of Jim Broadbent in the role, but switched him out for Bill Nighy, as he can be both funny and really intense, which he'll need to be for at least one scene.

If Alan Pangborn is Castle Rock's Andy Taylor (only far more serious), then Deputy Norris Ridgewick is its Barney Fife, only...well, pretty much just like Barney Fife. It even says in the book that he looks like Barney. Ridgewick is another character we'll be seeing again in other Castle Rock-set stories, and we learn that as silly as he can be, he's no dummy. I pictured him being played by Jack McBrayer, and the picture below is the closest pic I could find of him without his trademark wide, silly grin. McBrayer can do bumbling and funny and yet make you understand the character is not stupid.

Fred Clawson is described as a young law student in the book, and we never see him alive and the whole story of his attempt at blackmail is told in retrospect. He's got to be seen in the film, though, which he was in the original version. He was played by Robert Joy, who was older than Clawson was described in the book, and that's okay, really, because his being a cash-strapped law student isn't necessary for the character. He just has to be cash-strapped, and he's got to be a little shit that you hate from the moment you see him. Jimmie Simpson can do that, as I've often felt he just has a really punchable face.

Finally, I feel like there need to be a few scenes of Alexis Machine in action. He needs to look a bit like Stark, enough that it's obvious who Stark's physical look is based on, but I think it would be cool if what we saw was a movie adaptation of one of the Machine books. Maybe Dolph Lundgren could play himself playing Machine.

And now, we bid a fond farewell to the 80's and dive into what I've heard called one of King's darkest periods (which is saying something). As I've pointed out, I've also read the least of this era's output. I'm heading into Four Past Midnight next, and I'm already certain I'll be adapting at least one story therein.

Next Up: The Langoliers!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Skipped Stories: The Revenge

My eyes! MY EYES!!
It's time once more to have a look at some of the stories that won't be getting their own adaptation. I considered leaving this post a bit longer as I'm quite sure I'll be skipping some others down the road, but I'm also sure I'll be making posts for the next three or four big ones coming up, so I'll split these posts into smaller chunks.

We're about to close out the 80's, here. In fact, the next full post I do will be for the last thing published by King in the 80's. I feel like we've been in the 80's forever, mostly because I took that year-plus pause right at the start of the 80's latter half.

I was also surprised at the number of stories that I felt needed their own adaptation. I didn't think I'd be doing one for a majority of them, but instead once I was finished with Popsy, The Doctor's Case and Home Delivery, I felt they had to get their own films.

But these won't be. So, for the first time in two years, here's some stories that didn't merit their own post.

The Revelations of 'Becka Paulson (Short Story) (1986) (Uncollected in its Original Form)
As I mentioned in my post on The Tommyknockers, this story was eventually re-written and enfolded into that book. This isn't the first book this happened in, either. The Body, another story I skipped, had two full (and possibly unaltered) stories in it; Stud City and The Revenge of Lard-Ass Logan, both of which had appeared in previous publications (Ubris, King's university journal for Stud City and The Maine Review for Lard-Ass Logan). I say they might have been left unaltered because both were changed into stories written by Gordie LaChance, the narrator of The Body, who was giving the reader examples of the kind of stories he wrote when he was a kid, and how he looks back on them and doesn't think much of them now. But The Revelations of 'Becka Paulson is different, because well after its initial publications in Rolling Stone and the anthology I Shudder At Your Touch, it was incorporated into the actual plot of The Tommyknockers, and altered significantly. I can't honestly say which version I liked the most (though I was far more irritated by this story's version of 'Becka, who kept referring to sex as her husband "putting his man-thing in her woman-thing", which even the most repressed of housewives probably wouldn't say), but as far as adaptations, there's just no need to do a full adaptation of The Tommyknockers and then do another for this story by itself. The central conceit is the same; 'Becka starts having things revealed to her by a picture of Jesus that begins to talk to her. Like I said in the post for The Tommyknockers, in this story the cause is a gun she fires into her forehead by accident, which by itself is intriguing because of how in real life apparently this has happened a few times; people surviving gunshot wounds to the head, sometimes for years afterward. In the case of 'Becka, it causes her to hear people speaking to her that shouldn't be, like her dead father and a picture of Jesus. I've also mentioned that this story was adapted as an episode of The Outer Limits, which is actually available to watch on YouTube, and as I said, in the SKCU, it really doesn't need to be there twice. That said, it's kinda cool to think about this story and The Tommyknockers both being part of the extended canon. Different levels of the Tower, for sure.

The End of the Whole Mess (Short Story) (1986) (Collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes)
This was the first short story I read after coming back from my break. It's been adapted before as an episode of Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King, and as I read it, I really tried to picture how it could be expanded into a movie. And the truth is, I don't think it can be. This is a story about two genius brothers (one of whom is our narrator), the younger of whom becomes so affected by the idea of ending wars for good that he sets out to literally cure humanity's need for violence. Here's the problem; this kid is so brilliant, and knows it, that he has developed a fatal flaw. He never once considers the possibility of unintended side effects. So, yes, he finds a cure. But the cure is, naturally, worse than the disease. It's an interesting, engaging story, but to lengthen it would be to essentially be 80 minutes of research, research, research. I'm more than okay with this one remaining in short form.

Misery (Novel) (1987)
It breaks my heart to skip this one, and at the same time, it doesn't. The reason I'm skipping it should be obvious; there's already been an adaptation of this one, and it was perfect. I mean perfect. It stands with It, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, The Green Mile and others as proof that you can adapt Stephen King--and stay faithful to the story--and produce a damn good film. Kathy Bates won a deserved Oscar for it. Does it need a remake? Absolutely not, and for that matter, any remake would have to be a period piece as there's almost zero chance such a plot could work in a modern setting. But damn if I didn't love this book, and movie. Aside from providing me with the single most horrifying thing ever to come out of a Stephen King book (see the page image), it also gives us one of King's best villains in Annie Wilkes, a psychotic nurse who stands in for two of King's biggest demons; his fans who would write him nasty letters whenever he would produce something non-horror (specifically those who wrote him about The Eyes of the Dragon, specifically saying they hated it not for being bad but for not being horror) and, even more so, his drug addictions. This also has the distinction of being the novel King was working on when it was made public that Richard Bachman was Stephen King. This would have been the next Bachman novel had King not been outed, but I think it would have been even more obvious than Thinner that this was a King story, mainly because the writer-as-protagonist thing is a very King-ian trope, and one that Bachman notably never used, even with Thinner. So, I'm not adapting this one, but I am recommending that if you haven't read it  (or seem the movie) do both, and do it now.

The Night Flier (Short Story) (1988) (Collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes)
Another I thought I'd be adapting, but mainly because the villain in this one is, according to King himself, also Popsy from Popsy. I'm not sure I can really agree to that, because Popsy didn't seem to be evil, though he and Dwight Renfield (the alias this vampire uses) both like to dress like typical Lugosian vampires. In this story, a tabloid reporter feels like he's got the scoop of the year; a pilot who flies his tiny private Cessna from small airstrip to small airstrip, feeding on whom he finds there. That's...pretty much the story. I was waiting for a twist ending or some revelation, but none comes. In fact, it ends on a very typical note. The one thing that I liked about this story, or at least, the one thing that struck me as unique, was the scene where Dees, the reporter, watches in a bathroom mirror as a vampire (who, naturally, isn't reflecting) empties his bladder. This was already adapted once as an HBO movie that did air in some cinemas, starring everyone's favorite "where do I know him from" actor, Miguel Ferrer, as Dees. I don't see a need for this simple little story to be adapted twice.

Dedication (Short Story) (1988) (Collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes)
One question CR's must ask themselves is "how far is too far?" What's too gross, when coming from the master of macabre himself? What crosses the line? As far as I'm concerned, the sewer scene (you know the one) from It crosses the line. This story comes pretty close itself, if it doesn't actually cross it itself. This story is just...icky. It's unpleasant in almost every way, and it doesn't even make a lot of sense. It also underscores a real problem with some of King's early writing when it comes to how certain stereotypes are represented. A black person in a King book (at least, at this point in his career) can't just be a black person. They have to be either a "Magical Negro" (like Dick Halloran or, later on, John Coffey), or they are presented about as stereotypical as it gets. They're always poor, grew up in the wrong neighborhood, usually were involved with, or threatened by, gangs and/or drug lords, et al. This one's no exception, and for that matter, I could tell the characters in this story were black even before it was mentioned just by how King made them talk. Because a black person can't just speak normally. They have to drop their g's and call people "child" and whatnot. I'm not calling King a racist, because he isn't, but he was someone who didn't know how to write a black person as just a person, at least not in the 80's, he didn't.

The Reploids (Short Story) (1988) (Uncollected)
This story was one of three stories collected in Dark Visions, an anthology that actually included three of King's works, the other two being Dedication and Sneakers. This was the only one of those three that's never appeared in one of King's own collections, and I can't say I blame him for leaving it out. This story looks like it's going somewhere really interesting and then it just...stops. It's like King didn't know how to finish it so he just didn't. I did my best to see if perhaps it was just that the copy I got (from a private collection) was incomplete, but as near as I can tell, it wasn't. The tale, which connects somewhat distantly to some later works in The Dark Tower series, involves a strange incident where The Tonight Show opens as usual, but instead of Johnny Carson, a strange man comes out as if he was the one introduced. He has a big chin and a squeaky voice, no, that's too strange, no one would believe that. Actually, he's a guy named Ed Paladin, who comes out on stage as if he has every right to be there and gets ready to open the show, just as Johnny would, and when hauled out by security, seems genuinely upset and baffled that he's being taken away from "his" show. While being questioned by police, it becomes clear that Ed is from parallel Earth, where he actually is a Carson-like talk show host, and had no idea that he somehow ended up in ours. But again, this pretty neat set-up has no pay-off whatsoever. It ends literally just as the idea is revealed. How did Ed get to our world? What's going on? Has anyone else been replaced? This story isn't interested in telling us. While I certainly wouldn't be upset if a Dark Tower TV series made use of this story, there's no reason whatsoever it deserves its own adaptation.

Sneakers (Short Story) (1988) (Collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes)
Once again, King introduces a long-victimized group in a problematic way. In this story, our hero is a music producer who notices during work on an album that the men's room on their floor always has one stall with a pair of filthy sneakers just sitting there, silently. Several years later, he's back in that building producing a new record, and the sneakers are still there. They begin to freak him out, even before he learns that the sneakers belong to a ghost that others have seen. What makes this story problematic is that this really is the first time King writes an openly gay major character (several minor characters have been gay but almost none had major roles) and he is a sexual predator. Honestly I can only think of three openly gay characters in King's canon and all three are from It. One was a character so minor he didn't have a name, and the other two were walking stereotypes. Now we get a sexual predator. Again, the character can't just be gay. Now, that isn't why I'm not adapting this one, though it doesn't help. It's that there just isn't that much of a story here. It might make a nice anthology episode, but I've said that about a lot of stories that I haven't adapted.

Rainy Season (Short Story) (1989) (Collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes)
Now, this one not a bad read, but I can't help but think that any attempt at putting on the big screen would just look stupid. A young couple moves to a town that has a weird secret. In exchange for being prosperous forever, once every seven years it rains toads. Not just any toads but large, carnivorous toads. The couple, naturally, doesn't believe this, and they don't leave town when the offer is made. The story ends about how you'd think it does. So, not a bad read, but not an especially good one, either.

My Pretty Pony (Short Story (1989) (Collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes)
This one really did remind me of stories like the ones I was assigned to read in college, like The Lottery or A Rose for Emily. This is not a story to be read and enjoyed. This is a story to be studied. If I was in the business of analysis and dissection, this one would keep me busy for a while, because there's so much one can take from it, especially in a group discussion. I don't even really want to get into what it's about, because it's about many things, none of them actual ponies. The central theme is time, and how your perspective of it changes as you get older, but that's just scratching the surface. Remember how I said that at some point, and maybe already, King's stories will be studied in schools? Well you can bet this one will be on someone's syllabus at some point. In fact, I think it is already because I found a study guide for it. Do read it, do think about it, and I'd be happy to discuss it with you in the comments, or elsewhere. But while there's a lot to be gleaned from this, it's not exactly ripe for an adaptation.

More short stories are coming up, and I'm halfway tempted to add another I know I'll be skipping to this post, but I think I'll save them for the next one. I'm about halfway through The Dark Half right now, and yes, that one's getting an adaptation.

Next Up: The Dark Half!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Shameless Self Promotion

Tired of waiting for the next Stephen King novel?

Head over to Reddit's Library of Shadows for an exclusive full novel by Yours Truly!

Actually, it's a softmore effort I wrote when I was much younger, but there have been tweaks to it lately. I don't feel like it's good enough to get published (and boy did I imitate King, albeit unconciously) but I do feel like writing it made my writing better, and the people on Reddit seem to like it.

Maybe you will too!

You can access the full story here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Home Delivery

Even after reading this, I wasn't sure if I'd do an adaptation, but Star Wormwood convinced me. Read the story if you want to know what I mean. That sucker is gonna be a visual that stays with you.

There's not a lot I can say about Home Delivery without spoiling it. That kinda sucks, but as it first appeared in a collection called The Living Dead, it probably won't surprise you that it's a zombie story.

But what it is at heart is the story of a young woman. It's a subtle and actually charming story of a woman who discovers herself in the midst of one of the worst circumstances of all.

King has taken some hits over the years for some alleged misogyny in some of his earlier volumes. I haven't seen it; the misogynistic characters he's written have always been portrayed as monsters, but this one is an actual feminist piece that doesn't come off as misandry. It's just a story about a woman who grew up believing one thing about her gender and its natural role, and discovering what it can really mean when faced with the worst situation. Usually feminist stories turn out to undercut their own points or are all about making men out to be monsters, but not here.

It starts out talking about how Maddie has been raised by an abusive father and weak-willed mother, never really hearing about the Women's Movement, and in that actually being more like the other women around town. That town, at first, anyway, is on Little Tall Island, which is also where Dolores Claiborne is set, and it gets a shout-out, even though this story was published first. This makes me wonder if that shout-out was in the initial print of this story (I know there were changes from the first version to the one in Nightmares and Dreamscapes, which is the one I read), especially because there's no way Dolores Claiborne and this story take place on the same level of the Tower.

Maddie marries a fisherman and it seems like she's being set up for an idyllic, if repressed, life. She wants nothing more than to be a good wife and do what her husband tells her, to the point where she can't really decide anything on her own. Her husband is not abusive, like her father, but he is domineering, and Maddie is okay with that. More than okay; it's like she wouldn't know what to do with herself if he wasn't domineering. Then she gets pregnant, and Jack dies, and "the world gets weird."

Just when you think it's going to be a dramatic story about a woman in chains struggling to survive by herself, the story genre-shifts and the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us. And she learns that when the chips are down, she can deal. And she does so in a ladylike fashion that underlines that she doesn't have to change who she is to talk hold of her life.

This story feels for the first few pages like it's set in the 60's or something, but I believe it was meant to be a modern parable, and thus, it will be set in present-day. Its connection to Dolores Claiborne will be minimal, since I don't think I'll be adapting that one. I'd like Sean Byrne to direct this one, as his film The Devil's Candy was another film that examined the family dynamic while being an unabashed horror movie.

For Maddie, I picked Alexis Bledel, whose eyes always convince you that she's innocent, naive and as fragile as your grandmother's china. She's 36, but she's always going to look 16, I guess. The youthfulness definitely will help her seem like a damsel in distress, which is what we need.

Her cro-mag husband Jack is not a bad guy, just not a very smart or thoughtful guy. He's kinda monosyllabic and doltish, but the funniest thing about him is his propensity to go on rants about how he's not always gonna be a lobsterman, no sir, he's got plans, big ones, he's gonna do right. And then he dies. I pictured him played by Garrett Hedlund, who, in a crazy twist, is actually three years younger than Alexis Bledel.

Those are really the only two major roles, but I'll cast Maddie's parents as well, since there will be a prologue about why Maddie is the way she is. Her father, George Sullivan, will be played by Gregory Sporleder (who was once Beverly Marsh's dad, but not anymore):

And for her mother, whose name is never spoken, I picked Dierdre Lovejoy:

Her closest friend is Candy Pulsipher, who's kind of like a mother to her after she moves away from her childhood home. I picked Laura Linney.

A British scientist, described as having a big nose, is the one who first discovers what's going on. His part is not very large, but is very important. I picked Ewen Bremner, who is British and has a big nose.

Now, once the zombie action gets started, a few of the menfolk get ready to defend their little town. I pictured this mostly as a group of hapless yokels in over their heads, but Dave Eamon, a close friend of Maddie and Candy, does come off somewhat heroic. I chose Paul Sparks:

Town Selectman Bob Daggett is going to be played by Kevin Breznahan, who plays hapless but determined well.

His father Frank, who starts off as comic relief but becomes the only member of the party with a brain in his head, made me think this is a perfect role for an elderly comedian who people can take seriously because they've known him for so long. Like Joe Flaherty, whose Eastern Canadian accent will sound pretty close to a rural Maine accent.

Finally, the President of the United States (unnamed, but in the version I read he seemed like a riff on Bill Clinton) will be played by Jim O'Heir, who could be seen as a pastiche of Clinton and Trump (and please, let's have no more discussion about Trump.) (Or Clinton, for that matter.)

I've read all the other short stories I mentioned, and am now on The Dark Half, which I've said will be getting an adaptation, because there's no way I'm leaving Sheriff Alan Pangborn's introductory story out. I have no idea at the moment who I'll be picking to play Pangborn.

My next post will be about skipped stories, as I've now read enough to justify a post on them. After that, it's The Dark Half.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Tommyknockers

Late last night, and the night before...

That's sort of the only word I can think of to describe having read this sucker.

The Tommyknockers has a bit of a reputation. More than one CR has called it one of King's worst, and King himself has said it was "awful". 

A sprawling, nearly 800-page beast that ranks among the top ten longest books in the catalog of a man known for writing dictionary-sized monsters, The Tommyknockers is far from the worst King fiction I've ever read, but also far from King in top-form. This thing's nearly as long as It, but nearly devoid of that one's depth and applicability. Not a bad novel, really, but a weird one, and I do think that it wasn't supposed to come off as weirdly as it did.

Before I really get into talking about the novel itself, I want to talk a little bit about the man who wrote it. I can safely say it was not the man who wrote most of the books that came after it, and not really the guy who wrote the ones that came before it. It's no secret that King spent most of his adult life up to this point battling addictions of multiple kinds. He started drinking heavily at age 18 and by early in his marriage he started suspecting he was an alcoholic, though at the time he thought he had it under control because he would wait until evenings, after he'd finished writing for the day, to go on his benders.

In the late 70's, he began smoking marijuana and then graduated to cocaine. This is where he really, truly, lost any control he might have once had. I've already mentioned that he says he doesn't even recall writing Cujo, and it's also true that the 80's (which is when his problem got totally out of hand) is a period where he started really over-doing it with some of the more "Kingian" aspects of his prose, such as his repeated words, repeated, repeated words, because they're meaningful, don't you know it, friends and neighbors, so let's repeat dem words, and do it again and again throughout the novel, because it's
                      (King tripping)
Meaningful, and if he keeps it up he'll start writing a long run-on sentence that is supposed to communicate stream of consciousness thoughts from the character whose point of view we're reading this from but really goes on for far too long and gets a bit annoying with how it ambles n rambles and never really goes anywhere and it sometimes is overused because it doesn't really communicate anything except that King doesn't know what punctuation is but hey let's keep it going because isn't it charming and unique and it's how you know you're reading a King book ladies and germs and we're just gonna keep this whole thing going until it runs completely out of steam which it did about five lines ago but now I'm entirely unable to stop and dear god are you still reading this this is a casting blog and you could be doing something productive right now.

You know. The kind of prose only King can really get away with. My recollection is this kind of thing got less as we entered the 90's, but I suppose we'll see.

King knew he was an addict, but still thought of himself as a functioning addict for most of that time. By the late 80's, though, King knew he had a problem, even if he wasn't ready to do anything about it. Kinda like how I know I have a weight problem, but only recently changed my eating habits and started walking more. But for this book and the one immediately preceding it, his addiction worked its way into his writing. It did wonders for Misery, turning it into one of his undisputed classics, as he personified his addiction in the form of Annie Wilkes, the crazed, murderous "number one fan" that didn't want to let him go and loved his writing, but also wanted to hurt him, yet he depended on it. 

But by the time he got to The Tommyknockers, he was starting to unravel. He describes himself as up all night, his heart thudding in his chest, cotton balls and q-tips in his nose to stop it from bleeding, as he wrote like a madman.

It shows.

The Tommyknockers is all over the place, not sure what it really wants to be. Often it works very well. At other times it's bonkers. King says that part of its problem was that it was far longer than it needed to be; "There's a really good 350-page story in there." Yeah, I can't disagree, but it gets weirder still.

Imagine 'Salem's Lot, but instead of focusing on the lead, the love interest and the mentor, and having a clear villain with a clear agenda, imagine that it opens spending several chapters following Susan, making us certain that she's the protagonist, and then suddenly switching over to Ben, who has only been mentioned in passing up until now, and spending several chapters on him, and then--and THEN--imagine that a bulk of the rest of the book goes around town in little vignettes, focusing on one townsperson and then another, rinse and repeat, until maybe the final third begins and then finally we return to our ostensible protagonist.

Add to that that for the bulk of the story, Ben doesn't really do anything heroic. That's The Tommyknockers in a nutshell. The threat this time, instead of vampires, is what appears to be an alien spaceship emanating a field of some kind that starts affecting the town of Haven, Maine in odd ways. That's the main story, but the real feature of this is King writing his own addiction issues into the story in some pretty visceral ways.

He starts off with the idea that once Bobbi Anderson, essentially the female lead for this outing, has uncovered a buried flying saucer in the woods behind her farmhouse, she becomes obsessed with digging it out, even at one point not sleeping or eating for three days. But this isn't really the most harrowing depiction of what it is to be an addict.

No, he saves that for our protagonist Jim Gardener.

Holy hell. That's all I can say about how Gardener's alcoholism is portrayed. Jack Torrance was a sad story. Gardener is scary. I used the word visceral earlier; Gardener's addiction is deeply, horribly felt in this book. Reading the scenes where he goes on a tearing bender, which are written from his perspective, I went from wincing to cringing to feeling physically ill. No, not ill, hurt, like my head was going to explode and my nose was about to gush blood. Has anyone ever noticed that sometimes depictions of the horrors of alcoholism make it look like it's still a good time, and you don't really regret it until you sober up? Leaving Las Vegas is a great example; Nicolas Cage always felt totally awesome while drunk. It was only while sober that he started hurting.

This isn't the case with Gard. He hurts all the damn time, and it only gets worse the more drunk he gets, but he doesn't, in fact, can't, stop. At several points throughout the story, he realizes he's completely sober, and does his best to stay that way, and then he'll run into something he can't deal with, and his first thought is that he needs to be drunk.

Gard's past is similarly dark. A poet and former teacher, Gard is also a rabid anti-nuke activist who has taken part in many protests in the past, including being beaten and jailed by the Dallas Police (in his terminology, any evil government force is referred to as the Dallas Police) after they found a loaded gun in his backpack at one of his protests. Gard was so drunk he doesn't even remember how it got there. He also is prone to getting unreasonably angry and violent when he gets drunk and begins to rant about nuclear power, nuclear war, etc. At one point in the past, he ended up shooting his wife during one of this drunken furies. It wasn't fatal, and she agreed not to press charges if he would just disappear from her life, but still, he shot his wife. Our hero, friends and neighbors.

But then, he's not our hero. In fact, like I said, he spends the majority of the novel letting things happen to him and getting drunk when he needs some way to deal with it all. Gard is on a "poetry caravan" when he encounters a man at a party who works for a nuclear power company, and by this point, Gard has gotten lost in the "eye of the tornado" (in his drinking he sometimes remains functional, but he likens realizing a screaming drunk is coming on by saying he "sees the funnel cloud about to touch down" and once he's in that tornado, he's lost) and he makes a gigantic scene that ends with him beating the "power man" with an umbrella. Several days later, with no idea how he got there, he wakes up on Arcadia Beach by the Alhambra from The Talisman and has a sort talk with Jack Sawyer. Not kidding, and this isn't the only tie to another of King's novels. This is actually where the title first makes itself evident.

As a child, Gard had heard a little rhyme, one Jack apparently know as well, that goes:

Late last night
And the night before
Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers
Knockin' at the door

Want to go out
Don't know if can
Cause I'm so afraid
Of the Tommyknocker man

Admittedly, that's a pretty creepy poem, and one that unfortunately is more chilling than the actual book itself. For whatever reason, the name "Tommyknockers" is given to the aliens who made that ship in the earth, despite the fact that at no point do they come and knock on anyone's doors, and frankly, what this reminds me the most of is "The Gentlemen" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (who had their own rhyme too!), which might even have been a better story than this one. King apparently remembers this rhyme from his own childhood, though it's possible that he made it up himself.

Regardless, Gard becomes convinced that his longtime friend and former student, Bobbi Anderson, a writer of westerns, is in trouble, and hitchhikes to the little town of Haven to see her. And well, she's in trouble, alright, but not anything like what Gard fears.

Bobbi has, as I mentioned before, found an alien spaceship buried in the earth and has become obsessed with digging it up. As she does, she starts changing, first for the better and then...well, the first change is that she suddenly has several revolutionary ideas about how to modify and/or build several different gadgets, such as modifying her typewriter to read her mind and write her next novel as she sleeps, or fixing her water heater to have a small sun inside it, or even making her tractor hover. And it's not just Bobbi; all over town various townspeople are being struck with revolutionary ideas themselves, and they all become, as Bobbi says, idiot savants who can think of these incredible inventions but can't see beyond their own wants, so they do things with them like make a machine that sorts the mail, or shakes gophers out of their holes (and threatens to shake the very core of the earth apart) and they can read each others' minds so they end up sharing their ideas with each other. 

But, on the downside, they also begin changing. It starts with their teeth falling out, and then their hair, and then...

Gard doesn't feel any of this, though, and Bobbi can only barely read his mind, thanks to Gard having a steel plate in his head from a skiing accident in his youth. Thus, Gard becomes the only sane man in a town becoming increasingly nuts. The job of being the hero falls to a decidedly unheroic man simply because he's the only one unchanged by the catalyst. Gard even goes along with the insanity for a while because he's fascinated by the idea that the revolutionary gadgets the town are inventing might very well be the key to finally having a clean and effective alternative to nuclear power. Even in the last fifth of the book, he's still not sure the negative consequences of the changes to the townsfolk outweigh the benefits of this potential clean energy source.

I should mention at this point that this book has been adapted before, as a 1993 ABC miniseries that ran just over two hours and suffers from the same kind of crap that other King miniseries of the time did: It was not given enough time, it was run on Broadcast TV (on a particularly family-friendly channel) and the screenplay chopped up the narrative to the point where it doesn't make any sense.

But unlike It and The Stand, which both have their fans, nobody liked this turd. I haven't seen the whole thing, but what I have seen makes it look like this nuts-oid but still fascinating novel is turned into a flailing mess that has the exact opposite problem that the It and The Stand mini-series had. Instead of being far too faithful to the source material to the point where they forgot they were making a movie instead of transcribing a novel (and thus kept in a bunch of stuff that didn't work in a visual medium), as far as I can tell the makers of this film didn't understand the novel at all. Jimmy Smits starred as Gard, and again, while I haven't seen it all, he starts off as the "funny, falling-down drunk" and then sorta stops being a drunk at all. My recollection is that they keep Gard's anti-nuke rant, but only part of it, and it seems to come out of nowhere and just be more drunk ranting.

The Tommyknockers themselves are changed, as well, in ways I won't describe, except to say that their entire point is lost, and the townsfolk go from normal salt-of-the-earth hillbillies into quirky weirdos even before the ship does anything to them. Ruth McCausland doesn't keep her doll collection in her home office, but at the sheriff's station. The pets in town aren't just dogs and cats but include a Komodo dragon, an owl and a freakin' cobra. It rushes the story, muddles the entire meaning of what's going on here, and changes the ending, despite the fact that almost unanimously, CR's have agreed that this novel has the opposite problem from most King novels; it's weird and unwieldy most of the way through, but actually has a satisfying ending. The mini-series ending made zero sense, and is all wrong.

The entire point of The Tommyknockers is that no matter how bad you think the current situation here on Earth is, reaching for the first solution that presents itself will only be worse. There are constant references to the line from Pink Floyd's "Won't Get Fooled Again", "meet the old boss, same as the new boss", and Gard is constantly thinking of the altered townspeople as "new and improved", but ironically, as they're changing into something alien and dangerous, and not at all an improvement over what they were before.

As I've said before, the book is weird and disjointed and all over the place, both in tone and in how it skips from character to character, letting several characters be the central protagonist for one or two chapters, ultimately all of them scuttled out of the way (and not always by their deaths) for the next set until we're back to Gard and Bobbi (who, in the early chapters is confusingly always referred to by her last name, and only consistently becomes "Bobbi" when we only see her from Gard's perspective; it's very weird for the narrator to constantly call her "Anderson" when nearly everyone else is referred to by their first names).

Also, it's very long, despite, as King himself admits, not needing to be, but I did like the quirky townsfolk and I think cutting it down to its bare bones to make a big-screen film would just make something odd that nobody likes, kinda like what the miniseries tried to do. But I do want to film this, because it's a real chapter in the SKCU. Not only is Haven and the events of this novel mentioned in other novels and affecting their plot, but quite a few other King stories are referenced here. David Bright, the reporter who interviewed Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone shows up, as does the Shop from Firestarter and even Pennywise gets a cameo. I've already mentioned Jack from The Talisman showing up as well. This novel may, in fact, be one of the most open and blatant attempts to tie King's fictional universe together (though The Shining is referred to as a movie, and apparently the real Stephen King also exists in this world). There would be far more to come.

So how do we film this? Easy. We Lynch this bitch. Make it an eight-ten episode season in the vein of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. We need to, absolutely need to, start off showing the townsfolk going about their normal lives. In the book we're just told about them. Here we need to see them. We need to meet Ruth McCausland, the Browns, Ev Hillman, the Paulsons, Nancy Voss, et al, before anything weird begins to happen. The miniseries tried to do this as well, but you can only to so much with only three hours to tell this story. This is why they had to do stupid things like have Ruth McCausland keep her doll collection at the station house instead of her home, which makes more sense (not to mention that they totally screw up the reasons the dolls are there, and what they do later).

Lynch himself probably wouldn't do this as it's not his original creation, but Chad Hodge of Wayward Pines could probably do this justice.

Now to casting. Jim Gardener is described as a big man, and I wanted someone who looks haunted and angry. Almost immediately the face of David Harbour of Stranger Things came to my mind and wouldn't go away. At 42, he's not too old but is just old enough (and he looks his age) to have conceivably taught the actress I have for Bobbi.

Kirsten Dunst is my Bobbi Anderson, despite her hair color being wrong, and being a bigger name than Harbour. I don't know why, but the longer I read this, the easier it was to imagine her in this part. She's done TV at this point, and she looks her age (how many grown-up child actors can say that?). Plus she'd probably like the way Bobbi is written, which is all I'll say).

Ev Hillman is a cuddly old grandpa who becomes one of the more noble, heroic characters in the story. I had a hard time with him as many of the actors I was picturing at first are either too old now (or dead) or I'd already used them (Dan Aykroyd was my initial thought), or don't really look like cuddly old Grandpas. Michael Douglas, for example, might be the right age but he's about as cuddly as a boa constrictor. In the end I picked Scott Wilson, who I'm sure everyone misses as Herschel Greene, and here he has a chance to do that kind of character again.

Ruth McCausland is a cool character, a widow who, at 50, looks 30 and is the love of the town. Seriously, she's the phrase-catcher for the words "We all love you, Ruth". She's the town constable, and a notary public, and a number of other things. She'll be a meaty role as well because she's one of the only townsfolk who rejects "the Becoming" even as it happens to her because she holds on to just enough humanity to know that what's happening isn't normal or right. I picked Nia Long, who's 46 but looks 30.

The Brown family doesn't actually get a lot of real face time in the novel beyond their initial introduction. The family kicks off a major plot point when their oldest son, Hilly (named Hillman, after his mother's family, as his mother is Ev Hillman's daughter) makes their younger son David disappear in a magic show that works too well thanks to the Tommyknockers' influence on Hilly's mind. Obviously I'm not casting Hilly or David due to my own rules, but I will cast their parents, who in the series are definitely going to need more screentime. Jenna Fischer will play Marie Hillman Brown, an actress who I like because she has never looked like an actress to me, but someone who could be your neighbor.

That's also true of Tyler Labine, who I have cast as Bryant Brown, Marie's husband and the father of Hilly and David.

Very late in the story, Bobbi's sister Anne shows up, and holy tits-on-beans, this woman is a peace of work. I almost don't want to describe her, I'd rather you just experience it. Royal bitch from the Ninth Circle of Hell is an apt descriptor. Bridget Regan's face is all hard lines, and she can do the whole "speak like the Olive Garden customer who sends back all her meals" voice very well.

Nancy Voss, who works in the local post office, is described as 50 and vampish, like in an old film noir. She's the woman with whom mailman Joe Paulson is having an affair, and while she's kinda minor, the miniseries made her a more major (and changed, for the worse) character. She was played by former porn star Traci Lords, who for a while in the early 90's tried to have a legit film career. Nancy needs to be cold and threatening as well as hot and seductive, and I can't think of a better actress for that kind of part than Jeri Ryan.

Joe Paulson, on the other hand is a paunchy, middle-aged schlub who bring Homer Simpson to mind. Now, this is where I need to mention that Joe and his wife 'Becka first appeared in a short story written several years before this book, and published in Rolling Stone and an anthology of sexual horror called I Shudder at Your Touch. I haven't read the original story, mainly because it was never collected in one of King's collections and I'm not paying the exhorbitant prices that Amazon wants for I Shudder at Your Touch, but it's worth talking about here because the short story The Revelations of 'Becka Paulson is a legitimate separate short story in its own right, and even got adapted separately as an episode of The Outer Limits, and I understand it's been changed somewhat for this book.

In the story, a neglected housewife named 'Becka Paulson accidentally shoots herself in the head with a pistol she didn't realize was in the top of her closet. Miraculously, the bullet lodges itself in place and she doesn't die, but her painting of Jesus above her TV does start talking to her, telling her all kinds of nasty secrets about her neighbors, and telling her that her husband is having an affair.

In The Tommyknockers, most of that is kept, but instead of it being a bullet that lodges in her brain, it's the influence of the Tommyknockers that cause 'Becka to see the picture of Jesus come to life and begin to speak to her. It's at this point that I should mention that both adaptations of this material change who begins to speak to 'Becka. In the miniseries, it's a local talk show host on her TV that suddenly can speak directly to her, and in The Outer Limits it's a photo model that came with a frame (he's referred to only as "the 8x10 man") whom 'Becka keeps in the frame apparently because she finds him handsome. I don't know why both versions changed it away from being a picture of Jesus, but it was likely to avoid protests from religious groups.

Since Joe will probably have more actual screen time, I'll cast him first. I wanted him to be believable as a schlub whose idea of Heaven is a porn mag and a six-pack, but still handsome enough to attract a cougar like Nancy. I picked Stephen Rannazzisi.

Now, for 'Becka, I admit this was a hard one. I cycled through a great number of actresses that were all just not right for various reasons. Allyce Beasley plays her appropriately needy and pitiful in the miniseries, while Catherine O'Hara plays her as neurotic in The Outer Limits, but she needs to be pathetic. And Stefanie Drummond, the actress known best for her "too-much-information" confession in the movie Mean Girls just has a pathetic face.

Then there's Christ himself. Now, of course, this isn't Jesus, and because 'Becka has never met the real Jesus he ends up talking more like her dad, a stereotypical redneck. I could even see him puffing on a smoke and giving a thumbs-up, etc. I think it would be a nice in-joke to have Dave Grohl, who looks like the western idea of Jesus, show up to play him and maybe have 'Becka be an aging Nirvana or Foo Fighters fan, whose image of Jesus really is just Dave Grohl.
Hang on a sec, the Lord's gotta check his text messages...
State Police Captain Butch "Monster" Dugan is a cop whom Ev convinces to come with him back to Haven. He's described as being 6'7", and Winston James Francis is 6'9", and not a bad actor at all. The book at one point describes a minor character as the only black state cop, but I don't care. Francis is perfect for the part.

Francis is the one in the black shirt.

The remaining characters, mostly, are the townsfolk who comprise the "inner circle" of those being changed by the Tommyknockers, and are the ones making all the big decisions. I won't bother mentioning why I picked each actor, as the characters aren't really described, they're just always there in a big group. Instead I will just show you who I pictured while reading:

Lew Temple as diner owner Beach Jernigan

Dennis Cockrum as fire chief Dick Allison

Karen Konoval as Hazel McCready

Richard Marquand as realtor Kyle Archinbourg

Fredrick Strother as trucker Freeman Moss

Patrick St. Esprit as selectman Newt Berringer

Brian Reddy as Adley McKeen

Finally, Benton "Bent" Rhodes and Peter "Jingles" Gabbons, two state troopers who investigate a local death have a memorable chapter of their own, and I think they bear expanding in this series.

S. Robert Morgan as Bent

Troy Evans as Jingles
So that was The Tommyknockers and while I'm glad I read it, I'm also glad to be past it. King himself describes it as the "last thing I wrote before I got my act together", but apparently Needful Things was the first book he wrote after going stone cold sober, so I don't know what to expect in the next while here. There are a lot of short stories to read (I'm wondering if he mostly wrote shorter stuff due to going through rehab?) and I'm not sure which, if any, will be getting their own adaptation. I was certain that I would be adapting The Night Flier, but having read it the other day, I think I'll probably let the original adaptation stand. It's a neat concept, but not really one that needs a second adaptation. Coming up on my reading list are Dedication, The Reploids, Sneakers, Rainy Season, Home Delivery and My Pretty Pony, before I get to my next full novel. I have this feeling I'm about to do a "skipped stories" post.