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Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Well, I broke down and did it. I'm casting a movie version of King's short story, Jerusalem's Lot, which is both a pseudo-prequel to the much more well-known (and already cast by me) novel, 'Salem's Lot, but also an ode to HP Lovecraft (one of several). It was its Lovecraftian nature that made me want to see it filmed.

Right away I'll mention that I think this would be a great project for Guillermo del Toro, who has wanted to film Lovecraft's In the Mountains of Madness for years. Here, he'll get a chance to combine his love of Lovecraft with the more claustrophobic atmosphere of Crimson Peak.

Jerusalem's Lot is set in the 19th century, at a massive mansion called Chapelwaite that sits above a town called Preacher's Corners. It is an epistolary tale collected of letters written mostly by our protagonist, Charles Boone, as he moves into the house and realizes it has a dark history and that the locals fear it. He also does some digging and realizes that his grand-uncle went insane and joined a cult in the nearby town of Jerusalem's Lot, which at present is entirely abandoned.

Boone and his manservant, Calvin McCann, do some investigating and...well, for the sake of avoiding spoilers I'll stop there. Things don't end well, naturally, and if you know at all what the term "Lovecraftian" means, you already have an idea of what sort of things happen.

I decided right away that a film version cannot be called "Jerusalem's Lot" because it's confusing to the non-reading film-goer. They'd either think it's the same movie, or think it's a sequel. It is, in fact, almost entirely unrelated, with the exception of being set more or less in the same area in Maine. But what to call it? Preacher's Corners, the name of the town most of the action is set in? I didn't like that idea. I decided the best bet was to call it Chapelwaite and market it as a highbrow, thinking man's horror film.

Casting it will be simple; the cast is relatively small. I figured del Toro's latest leading-man-du-jour, Charlie Hunnam, would work quite well as our protagnist, Charles Boone. Yes, in the novel, Boone suggests that he won't see forty again, but this isn't really a central factor to his character, plus, he's unmarried and at the time, a man over forty and still a bachelor would cause quite a few raised eyebrows in his community. It's possible that Boone actually is a closeted gay man, and in fact his closeness with the also unmarried Calvin might carry some connotations that King does not elaborate on because Charles would never include such things in his letters to friends. I'm not going to delve too deeply there, but ultimately I see nothing wrong with a man in his late 30's playing Charles Boone, especially considering he'll likely be much older by the time anyone decides this needs filming.
A large part of the story is told in flashback, with Charles discovering, and transcribing, his grandfather Robert's journal. If this movie is to be told properly, it will cover two time periods; the period when his grandfather was young, and the present period where he and Calvin gradually uncover the horrors that wait for them.

Robert Boone and his brother Philip are residents of Chapelwaite and Robert begins to realize that his brother is falling under the sway of a local cult leader who more or less owns the town of Jerusalem's Lot, and might in fact, be their relative. James Boon (no "e"), brought to mind a Victorian Fred Phelps, his cult (and town), made up almost entirely of his own offspring, much of whom are inbred and nightmarish in appearance. Robert is disgusted by this but Philip is enthralled, and starts seeking a book called De Vermis Mysteriis and if you know your Cthulhu Mythos, you'll know that this was a book originally invented by author Robert Bloch for his short story The Shambler from the Stars, but incorporated into the Mythos by Lovecraft himself, first in The Haunter in the Dark. So you know the book ain't good.

I thought Michael Stuhlbarg would make a good Robert and James Frain, he of the freaking crazy eyes, would make a good Philip.
Michael Stuhlbarg

James Frain
The elderly Mrs. Cloris, who cleans for the Boones, relates quite a bit to young Charles, as she was alive while most of this was happening. I kept picturing Judi Dench, and really, why not? Judi Dench it is.
The last of the major roles is Calvin himself. He's not really described in the book, as everyone Charles is writing to knows him already. Some parts make me think he's older, others make him seem the same age. I went with a man in his fifties, an underrated actor named David Costabile, primarily because he's really good at playing Victorian Americans and looks like a manservant.
Finally, for the ancient James Boon, I thought it would be fun to have a cameo by one of the oldest actors still alive, Norman Lloyd, who is 101 as of this writing and still acting. Dear god! He can film this role in an hour or so, sitting the entire time, so I don't see an issue here. Of course, if he dies while this blog is ongoing I'll have to come back and change this up.
So that's Stephen King's Chapelwaite, based on the short story Jerusalem's Lot. I'll be back in a little while with another write-up on stories I'm skipping, and, eventually, with my casting for The Stand. As King readers know, The Stand is his longest novel ever, and I'm barely three hundred pages in. I'm loving it, and reading is going as fast as I can make it happen while still absorbing all the details, but it will be a while before I can really post about it.

So I bid a fond "see ya later" to my readers, and promise more posts are coming.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

More Skipped Stories, Part I

Do enjoy this photo of Stephen King struggling to poop
Does anyone have any idea why The Colorado Kid is seemingly harder to get a hold of these days than Jimmy Hoffa?

I never had a copy of this one. I was a little angry at the way The Dark Tower ended back in those days and I kinda swore off King for a while. I saw copies of it everywhere, but never picked one up. Curse my short-sightedness.

Today that freaking book is harder to get a copy of than any book I've ever tried to buy. I have a copy of Rage, and it's not even in print anymore. I have a copy of Cycle of the Werewolf, a book that I have never seen a copy of that isn't second-hand. Apparently it can be ordered through my local chain book store, so I guess it's still in print. Maybe. I dunno.

Anyway, I have three choices when it comes to The Colorado Kid. I can either continue to scour my local secondhand stores, hoping against hope that it will come in some day (they have it marked as rare. A book younger than my 14-year-old son, and it's rare.). I can pay exorbitant prices to have a physical copy through Amazon (I can't even order it from my local chain book store!), and by exorbitant I mean anywhere from $35 to hundreds of dollars. I'm not comfortable with paying $35 for a book that retails for eight bucks. The third option is to get the e-book. This is the one I'm leaning toward, but I have this thing about buying an internet version of a book I know exists in paper format. I definitely prefer the book in my hand, not my kindle app (I don't even own an actual kindle). I have shelf space cleared for when I get it, and I'm loath to only own a soft copy when I have literally all his other published works (barring Throttle, A Face in the Crowd and In the Tall Grass) physically on my shelf.

It will be a while before this becomes an issue. As I'm reading or re-reading King's books and stories in publication order, The Colorado Kid is many, many books down the line, so hopefully I'll find a hard copy of it before then (or break down and pay Amazon's prices) and won't have to resort to e-booking it.

Sorry for the rant. Now on to the topic of today's post.

I'm nearly finished with Rage now, and coming after that are the remaining stories in Night Shift as well as a couple of others. I doubt any of them are getting a casting from me, and the ones I've read so far aren't going to be cast either, so here's a post about the stories I am not casting, and why.

Before I go much further, let me say thanks to a reader who hooked me up with some of King's harder-to-find stories. I believe this person wishes to remain anonymous, and I can understand why, as I doubt they wish to be inundated with requests from others asking them to share the stories. But, you know who you are, so, thanks.

I Was a Teenage Grave Robber (Short Story) (1965) (Uncollected)
This is one of the earliest short stories King wrote that anyone outside his circle of childhood friends has read. It was "published" in an independent fanzine called Comics Review, which from what I can tell was so independent that the art for it was hand-drawn. King was 18 when it saw publication, and I gotta say, it's not bad for an 18-year-old. I enjoyed it better than The Reaper's Image, which has been collected in Skeleton Crew. It employs some pretty obvious cliches of the horror genre, and the title really tells you everything you need to know about the story, but King showed he was already skilled in the use of mood and atmosphere, and if I'd been his creative writing teacher, and he'd handed this in, I would have given it an A- (marked down a bit due to some grammatical problems any 18-year-old writer would have made). So you can probably see why I don't think this one would work as a film.

The Glass Floor (Short Story) (1967) (Uncollected)
Here it is, folks, the first of King's writing that the general public got to see. This one was published by Startling Mystery Stories, a pulp magazine that went out of print just a few years after this story hit. This is, for good or ill, the one that Started It All. How is it? Well, it's not bad, per se. It's not at all the greatest example of early writing from King. It kinda reminded me of The Reaper's Image, oddly enough, what with the protagonist going to an old, creepy house, getting into an argument with the guy who owns it (despite the owner not being a bad person), meeting an unfortunate end, and heck, it even involves mirrors. That said, I liked this one a bit better because there were more issues that I felt bubbling under the surface, such as, what does the house's owner know and when did he know it, why is the room there and who put it there, and what's up with the housekeeper? Don't tell me it's nothing; that broad clearly knows more than she's saying. Anyway, I'd like to see a future collection include this one, but I don't think there's enough there for an adaptation.

Slade (Short Story) (1970) (Uncollected)
To paraphrase Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Stephen King, when you tried to scare us with a haunted laundry machine, you were funny. When you tried to make "SSDD" a viable catchphrase, you were funny. But when you try to be funny, you suck." Slade is an old west parody that seems to take itself too seriously to be an out-and-out parody but is too satirical to be serious. King has never really made humor that worked, but there were two moments here when I laughed in spite of myself. The first, I'm ashamed to admit, was when a thoroughly drunk Slade tells the bartender "I know how to lick my holder". So sue me, it made a child-like part of me grin. Until, that is, he killed the joke by having Slade realize what he just said and correct himself. The other part was when it describes Slade's underwear, which, unlike his tough-guy all-black outer attire, is light blue with "nice flowers". We later learn he wears it because it's bulletproof, but the "nice flowers" part makes it seem like he picked the color and pattern because he liked it! This was published in The Maine Campus, the college newspaper at the University of Maine, which King was attending when he wrote this. It's just...odd. For one thing, the hero name-drops King himself, as though acknowledging that he's a fictional creation, and there's also a weird out-of-left-field slam against Republicans that in no way matches the setting.

The Blue Air Compressor (Short Story) (1971) (Uncollected)
This is one of those "the fuck did I just read?" stories. This strangely plotless story concerns a young writer (is this the first King protagonist who's also a writer? Maybe!) who rents a beach cottage from an old woman who is apparently ungodly fat. He's so fascinated, and repulsed, by her size that he decides to write about her, and when she discovers the story, she's all mockery, telling him that he can't write and "didn't make [her] big enough", that he's not enough of a writer to adequately describe just how big she is. Then he...does something that involves the title object, and I'm not going to describe it here. You can google it. I found it weirdly gruesome and not in a way that was pleasing to this horror fan. Also, for whatever odd reason, King stops the story mid-way through, introduces himself and tells you what he's trying to do with this story. Why? I don't know. Just proves that King was self-inserting years before he started actually honest-to-god doing it in published works. Anyway, there's not enough to this story to warrant being adapted.

Weeds (Short Story) (1976) (Uncollected)
Once I start describing this story, it might seem familiar to you. There's a reason for that. The story was published in Cavalier magazine, but never collected in one of his omnibus books. I'm not sure why, because it was used as the basis for the Creepshow segment "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill", marking the first time Stephen King played a character he created, and the only time it was something more than a cameo (that's him in character up top, if you didn't already know). As an actor, King is...not awful. He's a better actor than he is screenwriter or director, that's for sure. Anyway, Weeds is a story about a Maine hick who has a meteor land on his property that starts turning him into  a plant. It's mostly noteworthy due to the surprising homage paid to HP Lovecraft, surprising because this is in no way a Lovecraftian story aside from the way it opens. The adaptation it already had is good enough for this story, which is a forgettable little tale, all told.

The Ledge (Short Story) (1976) (Collected in Night Shift)
A taut little thriller with a satisfying ending, this one has already been adapted as part of the film Cat's Eye. I liked this story, but there's not really enough story here to make a theatrical film out of, so I think the adaptation it's already had is about as good as it can get. This is one of those stories that's not really horror, just nail-bitingly tense. I definitely recommend it, but again, only as a short story.

I Know What You Need (Short Story) (1976) (Collected in Night Shift)
I liked this one, too, even if I saw the twist coming well before it was revealed. This one stars a young college girl who meets a weird, nerdy guy who seems to understand her better than anyone else, including knowing what she wants before her thoughts have even fully formed about it. Now that I've said that, you can probably guess something about the reveal as well. I agonized over whether this would work as a film. I think it could; it's certainly long enough, but there's not enough here to set it apart from the myriad of "young adult horror films" that litter the horror landscape. It kinda reminded me of the movie Abandon for some reason. Abandon didn't make good box office and I don't think this one would, either. I reminded myself in the end that not all King stories need a movie, even if there's enough there to make one. If this King Cinematic Universe ever comes to fruition, flooding the market with unnecessary little movies like this one would wear out the welcome, especially since the very first one was a college-centered story.

Children of the Corn (Short Story) (1977) (Collected in Night Shift)
I said in my last post that the world doesn't need more adaptations of this story, but I think I was wrong. The 1982 film Children of the Corn was silly, with an over-the-top performance by its lead "child" actor and horrible, horrible visual effects. The 2009 SyFy version was, well, a SyFy film. Neither one captured the creepiness of this short horror story, which, unlike the original film has a downer ending and implications about what's really going on that will make your skin crawl. I really liked this story, and I'd love to see it done on film with a competent director, good child actors and keeping to the original ending, but here's the problem; the first film was an inexplicably big hit and spawned about nineteen thousand sequels, each one stupider than the last. So the market is saturated with crappy COTC titles, and another would get lost in the shuffle unless there was a genius marketing campaign. I don't see this happening, so I'm not bothering to do a full post on it. That said, I imagined our two adult leads played by Jim Parrack and Kate Mara.

One For the Road (Short Story) (1977) (Collected in Night Shift)
This one serves as a sequel, sort of, to 'Salem's Lot, and it feels kinda neat to read, especially if you just read 'Salem's Lot not that long ago. It cements the idea that King's world is an extended universe, and that much of it is directly connected. That said, while I liked this story a lot (no pun intended), I don't see an adaptation working. It's not very long, it's only got three main characters, and there's not enough story there to make an adaptation worth it. I pictured it playing during the credits of a 'Salem's Lot movie, or at least in part being a post-credits sequence, but it's too long for that to work. What would be cool is if it ended up as part of an anthology film, perhaps coupled with the short story Jerusalem's Lot, but since I said I won't be doing anthology films, I'm not doing a casting.

The Cat From Hell (Short Story) (1977) (Collected in Just After Sunset)
Would you believe this story was around for over thirty years before it was included in any of the omnibus collections that King has put out? Would you like to know why? Because King didn't realize he'd never included it before. Seriously, when he told his agent that he was putting together another collection, she asked "Is this one finally going to include The Cat From Hell?" He responded saying surely it had been collected before, and was surprised to learn that it had not. This one has already been adapted as a segment of the film Tales From the Dark Side: The Movie, and to be honest, that's the only adaptation I see ever happening for this one. It's not all that scary, it's in no way able to be extended, and honestly, I didn't like it that much.

So those are the stories from the last short while that I'm not doing a casting for, and there are more to come, let me assure you. There are nine more stories (one is a novel) between these and The Stand, and you can bet your ass a full casting is coming for The Stand. I doubt I'll be doing any full casts for the stories leading up to it, but I'm reserving the right to change my mind should one of them prove cinematic.

Until then, stay tuned!

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Shining

Oh dear. Oooooooooh dear.

It is with some degree of trepidation that I write this post. If you're reading this blog, chances are pretty good that you're a horror fan. Chances are even better that you've seen Stanley Kubrick's film version of The Shining, and assuming that's true, you likely really enjoyed it.

The Shining isn't just one of the better known and best appreciated films based on King's work that's ever been made. It might actually be the one film that many feel surpassed King's effort. It's certainly a name that most people know, even if they've never seen the movie or read the book.

Next time you're at a public gathering, see if you can find an appropriate way to work in phrases like "all work no play makes Jack a dull boy" or "come play with us...forever...and ever..." or "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" In all likelihood, most of those gathered will know the reference. The funny part is, all of those phrases are from the movie, not the book. The movie has supplanted the novel in terms of pop culture awareness.

And there's a reason for that. It's a damn good movie. It makes every list of "greatest horror movies of all time", it contains one of the most iconic performances of Jack Nicholson's career, and we're talking about Jack Nicholson. You know, 12-time Academy Award nominee, three-time winner? Forget memorable lines, this is a movie with so many well-known scenes that even if you've never seen it, you're still familiar with it. Every sitcom on television has spoofed it at some point.

And yet, Stephen King hates it.

You probably knew that. The King/Kubrick feud was pretty well publicized. King has waffled a bit on that, saying that it's a very well-made horror film, but all the same, it's not his story. And he's right.

I'll give you my own personal history with this book before I go too much further. I read The Shining well before seeing the movie, and I loved it. This is a novel that goes beyond mere "scares" and really gets under your skin. There's a creeping dread that builds gradually but inexorably that starts on page one and just gets bigger, and you keep hoping against hope that the inevitable can be avoided, even as you begin to realize that no, it won't be.

Then I watched the movie. And I hated it. I hated it so badly it made me angry.

Gone was the character development. Gone was the creeping dread, replaced by scare chords and an unhinged performance from Nicholson that started with the dial at nine, cranked up to 11 barely an hour in and broke the knob off. Gone was the palpable struggle each of the main characters were going through, replaced by standard horror movie cliches.

I've grown up a lot since then. I watched the movie more recently and had to admit, if I'd never read the book, I wouldn't care a whit about it being so different. The movie, as a horror movie, just plain works, and that's okay. No, it's not King's story, and there is no question in my mind that Kubrick was intentionally telling a different one.

But here's my problem; the movie may be excellent, but the novel is still a great novel, and unfortunately in the last decade or so there are people who have started trash-talking King and this book as though it's a piece of garbage and Kubrick came along and "fixed" it. I don't know how many people I've seen advising others to just watch the movie and skip the novel, which they describe as "lame" and "boring". As proof, they point to the far-less-well-known mini-series that aired on ABC in 1997.

Yeah, I've been kinda wondering how to bring that up. The screenplay for that one was written by King himself, and allegedly adheres much closer to the original novel (it doesn't, really), and fans almost unanimously found it to be awful. The problems with the mini-series are multitude, but they didn't stem (much) from being overly faithful to the novel. The problems were mostly due to director Mick Garris (a hack if I've ever seen one) and his production team, the glacial pace, the absurd length and the little wiener who played Danny, that I wanted to smack the entire time (note to casting directors: if you want us to sympathize with child characters, don't hire a kid with a deviated septum).

And, yeah, the screenplay was a little off, as well. It was too long, too many scenes went by where nothing was really happening, and for whatever ridiculous reason, King decided to have Danny's parents, at least Wendy, not only seemingly aware that Danny is psychic, but totally at peace with it.

Then there's Tony, Danny's imaginary friend who is actually a manifestation of how Danny perceives his abilities. In the novel, he's a distant figure that Danny never sees close up (until the very end). While it's clear that he's not evil, he's also a little scary, and what he shows Danny plays a part in the young lad's emotional scarring.

In the movie, Danny thinks of him as "a little boy who lives in my mouth", and when it's Tony speaking instead of Danny, Danny puts on a more raspy voice and quirks his finger like a mouth. I'm honestly okay with this change. It works in the context of the movie. But King's version...

King had him as a nerdy teenage dude floating in mid-air. Oh dear lord, no.

Let's not even talk about the special effects.

So, yeah, the mini-series was bad. Really bad. I'm willing to go that far. The movie was great. I'm willing to go that far. But was the movie better than the novel? I would argue no, and as far as I'm concerned, if you truly believe that, you either haven't read the novel, or you read it expecting it to be a scare-a-minute fest like the movie was. It isn't, but it isn't meant to be.

For that matter, I still have a problem with how the movie handled the character of Jack Torrance. This is likely what King's problem stemmed from as well. The subject of alcoholism is one that King returned to many times in his writing career, and for good reason; he was dealing with it himself. He was so far gone that he doesn't even remember writing the novel Cujo and in fact wrote many of his early novels while screaming drunk. The first novel he wrote entirely sober was Needful Things in 1991. Very often he tried working out his addiction issues in his characters, and I don't think any character was more Stephen King himself than Jack Torrance.

Book Jack is a scarred man, raised by a drunken, abusive father, who found himself a much slave to the bottle as his father had been. Despite this, and his anger issues, he wants nothing more than to be a loving husband and father. At least, he wants to want it. But he wants drinks more, and he makes excuses for himself that send him careering into a living nightmare in which he realizes he's turning into his father. When he finally realizes he's gone too far, after an incident where he drunkenly breaks his son's arm and then runs over a bicycle, realizing he might have killed someone, he goes sober and, by the time the story starts, has been for over a year. His anger management issues are still there, evidenced by him beating the shit out of a disgruntled student who slashed his tires, ultimately costing him his job, but at the start of the book, he's seemingly ready to be the man he's always wanted to be. He's stone cold sober, he and his wife, who found themselves facing divorce, are happy and in love again, and his relationship with his son, five-year-old Danny, couldn't be stronger. He's even found a temporary job as winter caretaker for the remote Overlook hotel, a job that will keep him and his family fed and cared for, and give him time to finish a play he's working on, while he tries to get back into the school's good graces. But then a combination of isolation, his own inner demons and the physical demons within the hotel start working on him, driving him slowly mad even as he fights it.

Movie Jack is an insane, abusive husband and father who can't stand his family and spends his job interview displaying a slasher smile. When it's mentioned in the interview that the last caretaker went crazy and killed his family with an axe, you can practically see Movie Jack thinking "Oh, an axe! That's perfect! I was gonna use a Roque mallet but an axe would get the job done much faster!" No sooner has he gotten his family up where nobody can get to them than he turns on them, first just speaking to them like the evil abusive man he is, then chasing them with an axe and trying to do the same thing the last caretaker did, something he was clearly capable of well before he got to the hotel.

Oh, and he's an alcoholic as well.

The movie sort of glosses over this critical aspect of his character. It's present, but it's made pretty clear that he doesn't need it to be evil. We're barely 45 minutes in (the movie itself is two and half hours long), and Jack hasn't had a drop to drink, when he browbeats Wendy for interrupting him using horrendously abusive language that Wendy, apparently used to it, takes in stride, and does her best to keep from bothering him again. Book Wendy would have slapped him, called him a bastard, and locked she and Danny away from him. It's like Kubrick's take on Jack's drinking problem was "Yeah, sure, why wouldn't an abusive monster also be an alcoholic?"

Just how much of a non-factor is Jack's drinking? It's not even brought up in his job interview. In the book, hotel manager Ullman is hiring Jack because the hotel owners (one of whom Jack is tight with) ordered him to, but makes it clear that if it were up to him, he wouldn't do it. He doesn't trust a drunk. It's the first chapter of the novel, showing that Jack's struggle to put his demons to rest will always be dogged by the fact that no one will let him forget the man he's trying, and mostly succeeding, to stop being. Movie Jack and Movie Ullman get along fine, and if anything, it's Jack who's more hostile during the interview. More creepy, at any rate.

We also only get one, maybe two, scenes of the hotel trying to force Jack to drink, and the way it's presented makes it seem like it's all in Jack's mind. In fact, there are still discussions today among fans of the film about whether or not the ghosts were real or whether they were just Jack's inner demons being given visual form by Danny's powers.

And speaking of those powers, they're sorta shunted to the side as well; definitely present, but by no means the focus. I mean the freaking title is The Shining, so named because Danny has a very bright "shine" (incredibly strong psychic ability), and the hotel wants to absorb him into itself so that it can use that ability to physically manifest the ghosts and demons that infest it. In fact, just his being there makes the demonic force behind the hotel stronger, and its purpose is to get Jack to go mad, prodding his alcoholic nature and violent temper, so that he will kill Danny and the hotel can have him forever.

In the movie, Jack wants to kill Danny because Jack's a crazy bastard.

Then there's Wendy. I used to hate Shelley Duvall's performance as Wendy, just like I hated Nicholson's psychotic take on Jack, but this Wendy, a shrinking violet clearly used to her husband verbally and perhaps physically abusing her, whose response to being abused is to walk on eggshells and still put her husband's needs ahead of hers...well, this Wendy is the only one that could be married to Movie Jack. Book Wendy would never marry this guy.

Now, some of the book's critics have accused King of wanting to have his cake and eat it too. He wants Wendy to be a strong woman, but she stays with an abusive husband. He wants us to like Jack, and think of him as a loving father and husband, but he makes him abusive as well.

Sorry, but if this is your take-away from the book, you clearly don't have anyone you love struggle with alcoholism. I can't say I've ever struggled with it myself, but several in my family have, and I know that alcoholism is not just something that happens when someone decides they like to drink too much. It's a medical condition, one that it's damn near impossible to get over once you realize you have it. It's a mental disorder; something in the brain that's supposed to make you understand when you're losing control of yourself, but it doesn't work, and you just keep going. It takes over, and you become someone else.

This is the key to understanding Jack. When we meet him, he's realized what his problem is, and while it's still bothering him, he feels like he can beat it, and he is. He's finally ready to be the man he wants to be, rather than the man he has been. He's not an asshole who beats his wife and kid while stone cold sober. He's a man who desperately wants to be the man his wife and son need, but who just once let his drinking rage so far out of control that he ended up hurting his son.

As for Wendy, there's the criticism that if she really was the "strong woman" King wants us to believe she is, and if she was any kind of mother, she would have packed Danny up, moved into a women's shelter and divorced Jack before Danny's arm had time to knit. These people don't remember the 70's. In the 70's, a divorcee, and more importantly, a single mother, was an immediate pariah, much like a deadbeat dad today. Back then, strong women tried mightily to hold their families together, and used divorce as a sort of last resort. One thing the movie doesn't make clear that the novel does is that Wendy was ready to hand Jack divorce papers until he showed her he was serious about getting on the wagon. The scene was handled realistically, and I had no trouble believing Wendy was a strong woman and a good mother.

What I'm saying is, would it be a terrible thing to try one more time to make a movie that is as good as, or better than, Kubrick's version, but actually contains the character development and creeping sense of dread that the novel contains?

My take on how to make this a great movie is this; focus on the characters and their issues. Focus on Jack struggling to keep his alcoholism and temper in check, how much he really does love his wife and son, his struggle to not be what his father was to him, and how his growing obsession with the Overlook is slowly turning him into the monster he was always afraid of becoming. Focus on Wendy's desire to keep her family together, her fears over whether or not she can trust her husband, her need to keep Danny safe vs. her strong wish that he won't lose his father. Focus on Danny and his ability to see what's going on with his parents more clearly than even they can, his childlike wish that everything will be okay, coupled with his knowledge that it won't be. Make all that the film's true focus. Include the horror aspects, but keep them muted, to the side, until the end when it all comes apart, and market this as a straight drama. Take it on the film festival circuit, take it to Cannes, all that.

Also, unlike other King adaptations, where I'm okay with it being a bit modernized, I want this one to stay a period piece. This is for several reasons. First, there's all kinds of modern conveniences around today which would make the utter isolation the Torrances experience impossible. Second, as I've already pointed out, values dissonance would be very strong. In 2015, Wendy would have left her husband long ago. Thirdly, King wrote a distant sequel, Doctor Sleep, with an adult Danny in 2013, and for this all to make sense, this movie has to take place in 1976, when it was written.

I decided Derek Cianfrance can be our director and screenwriter, because he does very well with movies about relationships that take a wrong turn. Watch Blue Valentine if you need an example. In fact, it was with Cianfrance in mind that I thought of Ryan Gosling taking the role of Jack. But I don't think Gosling will work. He's too smooth, too suave. Try as I might, I can't picture him being "good" Jack, who's a bit of a nerd, or "bad" Jack, totally taken over by the hotel.

I wanted an actor that audiences would instinctively like, someone who usually plays the hero, or the nice guy, but who could also play pure evil if called upon. I admit that I spent about half the book imagining Bradley Cooper in the role, and while there's no question he could play Jack, I worried about him aging out of the role well before another director decides to try and take a crack at this. Cooper is nearly 41, which would make him eleven years older than Jack of the novel (not a huge problem), a year older than Nicholson was when he played the role (again, not bad, especially since Cooper's a bit of a babyface, while Nicholson looked somewhere around 50 from ages 29-65), but, would probably be 45 plus years by the time a film gets made. That's just too old.

Then it hit me. Tom Hiddleston. We know the man can act (and yes, he can do an American accent), we know he can do creepy and scary, and we know that he can play nice guy, as well. The guy's got a huge online following of men who want to be his best friend and women who want to have his babies. Someone audiences instinctively like? He's got that covered and then some. He'll sell the loving husband and father quite well. It will devastate viewers to their core when he goes truly bad.
For the role of Wendy, it was a no-brainer. Somehow, the face of Claire Danes immediately attached itself to the character, and I never went back. Danes is an actress of more range than we give her credit for. From Temple Grandin to Shopgirl to Homeland, she has fit herself into more roles than many actresses ever have, and has gone criminally under-recognized for it. I have no doubt that she can convey every level of Wendy's struggles.
Danny is going to be a difficult role to cast. I have already said I won't be casting preteen roles, and I'm sticking to that here, especially because finding a young actor who can really convey everything Danny is going through is going to be a challenge. Of the two kids who have already played him, Danny Lloyd did a pretty good job, despite several mumbled lines, while Maitland Ward was unbelievably annoying. Book Danny tugged at my heartstrings something fierce. I kept wanting to reach through the page, scoop him into my arms and tell him he was safe now, and finding a child actor who can pull that off on screen is going to be very, very difficult.

Then there's Dick Hallorann, the old black cook who has a fairly strong ability to Shine, but nowhere near Danny's level. It's Hallorann who lets Danny understand that he has an ability most don't have, and who comes to the rescue when Jack goes off the wagon and off the rails. King was well ahead of his time having a black man be the Knight in Shining Armor (remember, this was the 70's), and I still think it was unforgivable that Kubrick decided to kill him. I've heard the counter-argument as to what Kubrick was trying to do, which is make Danny realize he has to save himself, but I'm not sure I buy it. It really does feel more like yet another "black dude dies first" scenario, and yes, that did already exist in 1980. This is especially true because Hallorann in the film dies as soon as he walks into the hotel, without anything resembling a heroic rescue. If he had fought Jack before dying, I might believe the counter-argument, but no, he was killed senselessly and violently, and while Danny does take some steps to save himself, ultimately it's his mother that saves him.

This will be an opportunity to do Hallorann right, and I think I've got the right man to play him. I went with a lesser-known actor this time, but if you're familiar with this guy's work you'll have no trouble believing him as Hallorann: Clarke Peters. That is all.
Hotel manager Stuart Ullman isn't a large role, but he looms large over the story, and I want to keep the antagonistic relationship with Jack that he has in the book, as well as scenes of him meeting Jack's family, and the scene where Jack calls him. In the book, he's described as a short, fat, officious little prick. No sooner had I read those words, when an image of Toby Jones rose in my mind. I like Jones, and I almost want to give him a bigger role somewhere down the line, but this is a role that was almost written for him.
Summer caretaker Bill Watson, a one-scene-wonder character whose rambling, profanity-laced monologue sets up nearly all the story's Chekhov's Guns, is another I'd like to see played by a recognizable character actor. Couldn't go with a huge name this time, but instead I chose an actor who's achieved a sort of "hey, it's that guy!" level, Brent Briscoe.

I also want Al Shockley to have a physical presence in this movie. Al is Jack's buddy from when he was a teacher. He's actually a member of the school's board, and the one who got Jack the job as caretaker of the Overlook. He used to be Jack's drinking buddy but is now sober, apparently more sober than Jack, and he plays a sort of reasonable authority figure. I pictured him as Mark Moses.

That's it for the big roles, but I like the idea of there being a quartet (or sextet) of ghosts who are the main personal antagonists for Jack, popping out of the woodwork to send him further down the hole of insanity. They would take the form of Horace Derwent, the most notorious owner of the hotel (whose backstory we would see; I even thought it might be cool to open with some old newsreel style footage of him buying the hotel), as well as Mrs. Massey, the woman from Room 217 (movie fans, do not correct me; in the novel it's Room 217), Roger, the gay man dressed as a dog and finally, Jack's father himself, Mark Torrance, who would be introduced in a dream sequence where we'd see him playing Elevator with Jack, flying into a rage, beating his mother almost to death, and then appearing at random to demand his Jack kill Wendy and Danny.

In order, John Lithgow will play Derwent, Nina Hellman will play Mrs. Massey, Robin Lord Taylor will play Roger and Pruitt Taylor Vince will play Mark Torrance.
John Lithgow

Nina Hellman

Robin Lord Taylor

Pruitt Taylor Vince
But we're not done with the ghosts. There's also Lloyd, the bartender who first gets Jack to take a drink and who seems to turn into a ghoul the longer Jack waffles, unsure if he should. I want a gaunt, hollow-eyed face to play this role, someone we know can be scary, scary, scary if need be. We need a character actor who doesn't seek the spotlight, since his role is kind of a one-scene wonder. Such as Christopher Heyerdahl.
Delbert Grady, the ghost of the previous caretaker who went crazy the same way Jack did, is another important character. Now he's part of the ghosts in the hotel, and when Jack meets him, he thinks it sounds odd to hear clipped English coming out of "that thug's face". In Kubrick's version, he's just a standard English butler. But "clipped English" seems more like what we're used to hearing from David Hyde Pierce, only with the face of a brute. I think Mark Pellegrino both looks thuggish enough and has the talent to adopt the clipped tones of Niles Crane.
Finally, and here's a bit of controversy, I'm changing things up a bit from the novel for the role of Tony. If you've never read the novel, I'm about to spoil things for you. Tony, you see, manifests as an older version of Danny. He basically looks like Danny as a teenager. This isn't future Danny time-traveling, or anything. It's more like Danny's power is more mature than he is, and therefore takes the form of an older version of himself. We don't see this about Tony until near the end, and I figured this would be a very cool way of tying it into the distant sequel, Doctor Sleep.

See, I figure if we're doing this Shared Cinematic Universe, we could film The Shining one year, and film Doctor Sleep at or near the same time, since they wouldn't share the same cast. But you could preview Doctor Sleep for the audience by having the same actor who plays the adult Danny in that film play Tony in this one. I chose Ryan Reynolds, an actor with way more range than nerds who hated Green Lantern give him, and one of the men I considered as Jack (I tossed him out because he's both too old and because he played a very similar role in The Amityville Horror). I can easily see Tom Hiddleston and Claire Danes's son looking like Reynolds.

So that's my take on The Shining. The second full novel on this blog and the second to have had two previous adaptations. I'll be honest, I don't expect this remake to actually happen, but I hope some filmmaker somewhere sees this and decides it deserves a remake.

Now, for the next bit here, I'll be entering truly uncharted territory. I have eleven short stories to read, and one full novel, before I get to the next post that I know for sure I'll be blogging about. If you're curious, the reading order is Children of the Corn, One for the Road, The Cat from Hell, The King Family and the Wicked Witch, The Man Who Loved Flowers, Rage, Jerusalem's Lot, The Last Rung on the Ladder, Quitters, Inc., The Woman in the Room, The Night of the Tiger and Nona.

I've never read any of them before.

Out of that selection, Rage is the only full novel, the first novel he ever wrote, in fact, and the first one published as Richard Bachman. I won't be blogging about it because, as I'll explain better later, I know there won't be a movie version. Children of the Corn has been adapted twice directly, and there have been umpteen sequels that King had no hand in writing. The Cat from Hell was adapted as part of the film Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie, Quitters, Inc. has been adapted as a part of the film Cat's Eye and as a Hindi film called No Smoking, while The Woman in the Room became one of the better-known "Dollar Baby" short films, this one directed by The Man Frank Darabont himself. It launched his career, and for a long while was available on home video.

I don't know if I'll be casting any of them. I don't thing we need more Children of the Corn, and the others are, from what I can tell, probably too short.

So it's likely that the next full post will be a casting of The Stand, but in the meantime I will do another post about stories I'm skipping, and why, and honestly, there's enough of them this time it might even be two posts.

Until then, constant readers (oh, dear, what delusions of grandeur), I shall bid a fond "see you soon."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

'Salem's Lot

At last, we finally come to the first full-length novel on this blog.

I love this book. Really, it's among my top ten King novels. It might fall, considering there are novels of his I have yet to read, but I somehow doubt it.

This novel shows just how much King grew as a writer between Carrie and this one. It didn't hurt, I'm sure, that he had also written a shit-ton of short stories and four full novels that had yet to see publication. Carrie felt like King but was missing something hard to define. Whatever it was, it's very present in this book.

Known here and there as Stephen King Does Vampires, this book is, as all things King tend to be, more than it seems. Jeffrey Deaver called it "Dracula meets Peyton Place", and that's pretty on the nose. This story is about a small town and all the skeletons in its closet; skeletons that come out to play when a vampire moves in next door.

Ben Mears is a young writer (35 in the novel) who lived in the Lot for a few years as a child. While there, he had a traumatic, possibly supernatural, experience in the old Marsten House, an old, dilapidated building that sits on a hill overlooking the town and has quite the storied history. It was owned by a criminal named Hubert Marsten, who was hip-deep in all sorts of nasty shit, a sort of jack-of-all-evil-trades. He killed his wife and hung himself in the end, and ever since then, the Marsten House has stood empty. Ben's goal is to put his past demons to rest and perhaps get a novel out of it in the process. What he finds is far more than he bargained for.

The Marsten House isn't empty any longer, you see. A mysterious man named Straker and his forever-unseen partner Barlow have bought it, and while they seem to be in town for the mundane reason of opening up a fine furniture store, there's something definitely off about Straker. Soon after his (and Ben's) arrival, two little boys go missing, and one dies shortly after being found. Then others start to mysteriously ail and die...

'Salem's Lot is not just the first full-length novel I'm blogging about, it's also the first on this blog to have already been adapted. Twice, in fact. So, why do I feel that it needs a third adaptation? I'm glad you asked.

First, this novel isn't all that long (439 pages in hardcover), and yet both adaptations were TV mini-series. I don't get it. The first mini-series, which aired in 1979, is three hours long while the second, from 2004, is a bit shorter, but I don't see why no one's tried to turn this into a big-screen production yet. It's far shorter than The Shining, Christine, Needful Things and Dreamcatcher, each of which were adapted as feature films. You wouldn't need to prune much to make it fit a feature running time. Heck, both mini-series seemed to add subplots (or expand existing ones) that weren't really necessary. This isn't to say they were bad (almost needless to say, the first one was better) but both were longer than strictly necessary and both made alterations to the story that would make them impossible to fit into a shared cinematic universe like the kind I'm trying to build.

By the way, before we continue, I've got to share this cover with you. It was the cover used on the edition I bought the first time I read it, years ago. I paid two dollars at a thrift store for it. The cover photo was raised, but otherwise colorless, having been worn black from years of handling. It was suitably creepy and I loved it.
It might lose a little something in transference.

Now, when I started reading this time around, I thought about directors who had made movies about small towns where bad things happened. That's a long list but for some reason I seized on Ben Affleck. I told you there would be some controversy to this post!

Hardly any name out there dredges up more nerdrage than Ben Affleck. I sorta understand why (Daredevil, Pearl Harbor, Gigli) but I think a lot of it is undeserved. The man's a good actor and a fucking amazing director. He has yet to make a bad film, and they're not even hurt by him taking the lead role. Watch The Town and Argo if you don't believe me. I'm also excited about his upcoming drama Live By Night. Fitting title considering what we're talking about here.

His first directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone, is what inspired me to choose him to direct, and yes, to star, in the film version of 'Salem's Lot. Now, he's mostly done crime dramas up until now, but I am sure he'd be amenable to this, considering he was for a while signed to write and direct a version of The Stand. That didn't happen, but this work is smaller in scope and a very tight script, so it's more up his alley.

Yes, he's older than Ben is supposed to be, but Ben comes off as having more life experience than most at age 35, and I just couldn't think of an actor that young who could pull off the role. When David Soul played this role he was 36, but that was the 70's, when actors looked older in their twenties than actors today look in their fifties. Rob Lowe was 41 when he played Ben in the 2004 series. Affleck is 43 but could pass for five years younger. This is one of those times when I agree the character should be aged up.
Billed second in my version is our Van Helsing-esque character (the novel even points this out), teacher Matt Burke. Matt is a lifelong resident of Jerusalem's Lot (the town's actual name) and has been teaching high school English for thirty years (the fact that he's taught a lot of the younger adults in town is a kind of a running gag). He's very learned, very open-minded and his mind is opened wide when he becomes the first man in town to encounter an honest-to-god vampire. He and Ben become friends, bonding over their mutual love of literature, and the fact that his intelligence and sound mind are unimpeachable is pretty much what convinces Ben that he's not crazy or making up stories.

The character is described as being about 61 in the novel, but in the 1979 series he was played by Lew Ayers, who was a decade older than that, and by Andre Braugher in the 2004 series, who was a whole 42 at the time. I'm always happy to see Andre Braugher in anything, so I can forgive it, but I'm going older still than either of them.

This is the role I'm giving to Morgan Freeman. I said I'd be saving him for something better, and something better has arrived. Now, I almost didn't cast him, because Freeman is nearly 80, and unless someone decides to film this thing in the next couple of years, he'll be over 80. That said, I'm sticking with him because for a man that age, he's in excellent health, still very active, and this isn't a very taxing role, physically. Plus, it makes what happens to the character a bit more believable.

Matt is wise, scholarly, fatherly and the man everyone instantly defers to the minute he's in the room. That's Freeman all over the place, and we all know it.
Does he look 80 to you?
Now for the villains. Richard Throckett Straker is the most visible villain, at least for the earlier parts of the novel. He's the thrall of master vampire Barlow, human, but with some unnatural abilities, mostly in the case of his enhanced strength.

The first two adaptations really upped his role and made him the central antagonist, including (SPOILER ALERT) having him live much longer. In both cases they changed him pretty dramatically from the character in the book. The '79 series cast James Mason, who pretty much played him as James Mason, while Donald Sutherland played him in the '04 series as a bearded, obviously insane man.

Straker is tall, thin, completely bald and speaks with an inflectionless accent that might come from a number of places. He's charming to ladies, creepy to men, and moves lithely, like a dancer. Now, never accuse me of being afraid to type-cast, where I think it will work, and here, I'm sure it will. I chose John Malkovich.
Then there's Kurt Barlow, the master vampire. I confess, this one threw me. Barlow appears in about two scenes before the climax, and both times he's described a bit different, because he's a bit of a shape-shifter and because it appears he's getting younger as he grows more powerful. He's of western European descent, so the entire time I was thinking of Germanic or Scandinavian actors, but none seemed to fit very well.

The series versions were no help because both decided to play with the character; in the '79 version put Reggie Nalder in blue Count Orlock make-up and decided to portray him as non-verbal, communicating entirely through Straker while the only thing Nalder needed to do was hiss and scream. I'm guessing they were trying to get away from the Dracula stereotype, but in the age of the sparkly sexy vampire, an erudite, gentlemanly vampire who is still every inch the monster would be a nice shake-up. The '04 version had him played by Rutger Hauer who played him as Rutger Hauer. But then it hit me; a Germanic expatriate who spent most of his recent years in England, having a very Baltic appearance with high cheekbones but a mixed accent from living all over...

...Michael Fassbender. A German-born actor raised in Ireland? Perfect. Simply put him in a Lucius Malfoy wig and add a few lines to his face to start off with, then remove them until he looks young, handsome and virile. Perfect.
The last of the major adult roles is Love Interest, I mean Fan Service, I mean Susan Norton. I'll admit, this is the one aspect of the book I find a little weak. I don't hate the character, don't get me wrong, but the way her relationship with Ben is written is highly unrealistic. Ben is in the Lot for a month all told, and he meets her on his first full day there, and there's an instant attraction. That's fine. Then they're going to see a movie that very evening. A little fast, but still fine. Then she's talking about having him over for dinner to meet her parents. Umm... Then we learn that, in fact, she has a boyfriend that she's getting a bit sour on, but hasn't officially broken up with. What? Then she's telling Ben she loves him, even sleeping with him and...hang on a second!

See, Susan isn't written like a fluttery high-schooler in most of her scenes. She's actually pretty smart, artsy (she likes to paint), well-read and the only main character to reject out of hand that vampires could be real because hey, she's an adult. She's 24 years old, and pretty mature, except she doesn't have a job and still lives with her parents (both TV series change this), but she's ready to leave the Lot and find her way in the world even before she meets Ben. But then, all her interactions with Ben are all on the level of a high school kid who meets a handsome guy at summer camp. Suddenly she's in love with him, and he with her. Suddenly she's willing to be his, and this is all before she even mentions to her boyfriend that they're over.

Obviously the role is going to need to be written a bit different. Maybe imply that Ben's been around town for several months, instead of one, and write in many more scenes of them simply talking and getting to know each other before they sleep together and he meets her parents. This does happen in the book, but later, well after she's fallen hard for him and done things with him she can't just take back. This approach won't fix all the problems, but the rest can be helped by casting a woman of appropriate age (a tad older than 24) who conducts herself like an adult and is a very good actress. I chose Emma Stone.
There is one more very large role, and that's the role of Mark Petrie. I'm not casting him, though, for the same reason I'm not casting the first vampire victim, Danny Glick; because Mark is preteen, though I wouldn't have a problem aging this character up to about 15 or so. Simply put, Mark is a badass little boy who also still manages to seem like a realistically written 12-year-old. He's one of the first true believers about their being vampires in town, and a nice juxtaposition to Susan, who refuses to really believe until it's entirely undeniable. It will take a very good actor to make Mark convincing, and not either overly whiny or overly Wesley-Crusher-esque. If I was going to cast the role, I'd go with Thomas Barbusca, a young actor with an impressive range, but in all likelihood to have aged out of the role by the time anyone gets around to filming it.

The other roles are fairly minor, but I'm casting them anyway because without them this story loses its flavor. We want to feel like we know Jerusalem's Lot, as if we live there. And that will be greatly helped by putting names to faces. There are too many to do them all, so I'm sticking with the larger and/or most memorable characters.

First, there's Dr. Jimmy Cody, a boyish young physician who was once Matt's student. Jimmy is kinda nondescript, but ends up playing a pretty large role in the story, which I won't spoil. In the '79 series they merge his character with Susan's dad (which oddly worked), and hired a random actor to play him in 2004. I was just thinking about boyish-faced actors and for some reason Donald Glover popped into my head. He's mostly known for comedy, but I think he could play Jimmy interestingly. He certainly worked in my head as I read the character.

Father Donald Callahan is a pretty major character when it comes to his impact on King's universe as well as his contributions here. He's a priest who's losing his faith, not in God, necessarily, but definitely in the church. He's taken to drinking too much and doesn't think of himself as much of a priest. But he knows evil when he sees it. The '79 series all but wrote him out, while the '04 series dramatically changed the way his character is handled. James Cromwell played him, and was a bit older than the character is described (mid to late 50's) but honestly, he could be played anywhere between the ages of 55 and 70. I picked 68-year-old Alan Dale.
I chose John Carroll Lynch and Jayne Brook for Susan's parents, Bill and Ann, but to be honest, they could be played by almost anyone. Bill is described as being a large-framed working man who likes Ben just fine, while Ann is practically a harpy who hates Ben on sight. In fact, the only thing more unreasonable than her utter dislike for Ben is Susan's love-at-first-sight for him. I imagine that neither character is going to get a ton of screentime, but I cast them anyway.
Town Constable, Parkins Gillespie, isn't a huge role, but he does have some significant impact on the earlier parts of the story, plus I love his confrontation with Ben. This sad-eyed, laconic old cop would be a perfect role for Ben Affleck's regular collaborator, Titus Welliver.
Gillespie's colleague and polar opposite, Deputy Nolly Gardner, would be a nice comic-relief character in a movie that could use some levity. I cast James Ransone as this small-town peace officer who thinks he's Dirty Harry.
Ed "Weasel" Craig doesn't have much more character than "town drunk" but he adds a lot of local flavor. Elisha Cook, Jr. certainly made him memorable in 1979, and I think Cooper Huckabee could as well.
Mike Ryerson is a young man who works for the local undertaker, driving the hearse, digging graves and becoming the first adult victim of the vampire's kiss. It's not a large role but it's quite memorable. I wanted a man who looked like a somewhat handsome, but lower-class working man who looks believable in a set of coveralls, but would also look bloody terrifying as a vampire. I went with Sons of Anarchy's Niko Nicoterra.
Eva Miller, owner of the boarding house where Ben and Weasel live, is also a small but memorable role. I chose CCH Pounder but really any older woman could play this part.
The role of Larry Crockett, the unscrupulous Realtor who sells the Marsten House to Barlow and Straker, is another that's rather small but one hundred percent necessary. The first series even expanded his role and had Fred Willard playing him. The second one extended his influence on the story, implying he was sexually abusing his daughter. I'm not sure we need to go that far; he's unscrupulous and willingly aids Straker's getting into town. As for an actor, David Fierro would work well.
Floyd Tibbets is Susan's erstwhile boyfriend, a working-class northern redneck who we don't really get to know before he gets turned. However, in the mini-series his role is merged with another very minor character who gets a memorable scene, and he probably should be here, too. The way he's described made me think of Brad Carter.
Finally there's the role of Mabel Wertz, a sort-of non-character who's talked about way more than she's seen. But somehow the image of an old, fat woman spying on everything and spreading gossip made me thing of True Blood's Dale Raoul.
So that's the major cast, with a director to boot. I think it will make a solid film, but if there's anything else I worry about it's the values dissonance that would come from trying to move the setting up to a modern time. I'd be okay with doing that (and it would certainly make it work a bit better with some later works) but the character of Susan, and her mother in particular, are rooted in the 70's, what with her mother assuming she's going to marry Floyd for no other reason than that they slept together and he's got a job, plus her assumptions about Ben based on the fact that he's a writer, and even just the fact that Susan is 24 years old yet lives with her parents and doesn't have a job (she was a teacher in the first series, a waitress in the second, and there's no reason she couldn't be something else in the this one). Not to mention there are many scenes that revolve around characters not being able to get ahold of each other because they're not near a phone. In the age of cell phones, that's going to be harder to do.

I've also noticed that in King's early works, nearly everyone smokes. That can be easily gotten around, I just thought I'd mention it.

Anyway, the long wait is over; 'Salem's Lot has been cast. In the next little while I'll be holed up with The Shining. I did read The Ledge and I Know What You Need, two short stories that were published between 'Salem's Lot and The Shining, but I'm not sure if I'll be blogging about them. The Ledge was adapted as a segment of the anthology film Cat's Eye, and honestly, that's probably the only way it should have been adapted. I don't think it needs another. But the second one might, maybe, work as a dark romantic drama. I'll think harder on that and update later.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Stories I Skipped

Happy (Late) Halloween from your friendly blogger and family; a witch, her familiar, a vampire, and most frightening of all, George RR Martin (I look nothing like Stephen King)
Well, I'm getting close to finished with 'Salem's Lot (okay, so it didn't take a month afterall) and I'm happy to report it's still among my favorites of King's works. In the meantime, I thought I'd do a post talking about the material I've read thus far that I've skipped, and why.

To begin with, I skipped many of the earliest works King produced for the simple reason that they've never been professionally published. A couple of his earlier works that were, such as his very first, The Glass Floor, I have also skipped, mainly because I simply can't get my hands on a copy. They are not commercially available, unless you happened to get your hands on a magazine that happened to reprint them. I'm not especially keen to do it for this blog, though, because what I know of those stories tells me they are not exactly adaptable material. If the purpose of this blog were to review every piece of written material produced by King, I would be more interested. As it is, such a blog already exists and you can find it here. I do recommend you check it out, because it's far more than just reviews. If you're a King fan, I guarantee you'll love it.

Anyway, I also want to clarify that the purpose of this blog is to cast adaptations of King's work for the screen, both television and the Big Screen. If a story doesn't lend itself to feature-length-or-longer adaptation, I won't be adapting it. Short films, TV anthology series episodes, even anthology films; I'm not here for that. Maybe another blogger can take that one up, but not this one. I kinda broke that with Night Surf, which I admitted is more ripe for a short than a feature, but again, the exception there was due to its connection to The Stand and how a film of that story could be a companion piece to the adaptation of the latter. There might be a few more exceptions down the road (such as One for the Road) but I won't necessarily make a casting each time. We'll see how that goes.

Because I'm not counting his pre-professional stories, I also am not including Jumper and Rush Call, despite them being available in the mostly non-fiction collection Secret Windows. I pretty much decided early on that I would only include King's stories that are commercially available. As in, they have to be something I can purchase at a book store, second-hand or otherwise, or find on Amazon. While this is true of Secret Windows, both stories contained therein are:

A) From his youth, and included mainly to highlight his and his brother's early publishing attempts and

B) Not really adaptable.

But there were still many that I skipped, and in this post I will go over these stories and the reasons why I decided they weren't fit for this blog. Spoilers will abound, so consider yourself warned.

And so, without further ado:

Cain Rose Up (Short Story) (1968) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Short reason why I didn't cast this: it's too short. You can read this thing in five minutes. I took ten, because I tried very hard to visualize all aspects of it. Cain is a harrowing tale told from the perspective of a college student who decides to start shooting up his campus. The subject matter will probably keep it from ever being filmed, but it could conceivably make a decent half-hour episode of an anthology series.

Here There Be Tygers (Short Story) (1968) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
What a weird little story this is. It gets less weird if you think of it as the kind of tall tale one child might tell another. "Okay, so there's this kid, see, and he's in class but has to go to the bathroom, like, really bad. His teacher lets him go but he's really embarrassed. Only when he gets to the bathroom, there's, like, a really big tiger in there. So now he can't go or the tiger will eat him. But this other kid comes to check on him and, like, the tiger eats him up. And then..." You see what I mean. This story is cute, kinda silly, contains the oddest euphemism for "bathroom" I've ever seen, and not at all adaptable. This one will never be filmed because there's just not enough real story there. It's a perfect example of the idea that not all King stories need be adapted.

The Reaper's Image (Short Story) (1969) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)

This is one of King's earliest published short stories. He wrote it at age 18. And it shows. It's not a bad story at all, it's just...there. The story concerns an antiques collector who visits a museum hoping to get a glimpse at a rare mirror that supposedly has a curse on it. He's not interested in the curse, just the rare mirror, which he's hoping to make an offer on. I'm not describing the rest, not because I wish to avoid spoilers but because I think you can guess what happens. I understand that there have been attempts to adapt this, but I don't see how because there's not enough here to even make a good segment of an anthology film.

Graveyard Shift (Short Story) (1970) (Collected in Night Shift)
And now we come to the first story I've read thus far that has already been adapted. While this is one of the longer stories in the collection, there isn't much to it, and there's not much to the film based on it, either. The film itself is mostly remembered for Brad Dourif's performance as a weird, intense exterminator, and would you believe this characters isn't even in the story? So ultimately, while it's a bit creepy and a fun read, I don't think this one deserves two adaptations.

Suffer the Little Children (Short Story) (1972) (Collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes)

It breaks my heart to skip this one. I love this little creeper about an elderly teacher who suspects that her students are turning into monsters. It's genuinely well-written (perhaps helped by the fact that King likely re-wrote it before it was made available for mass consumption) and genuinely scary. It would make a truly excellent segment of an anthology, either in film or TV form, provided the budget was there to do it right. Some of you may wonder why, if I like this one so much, I don't suggest a cast for an extended version of the story? Because unlike Strawberry Spring or Gray Matter or even The Lawnmower Man, everything that happens in this story is shown in great detail. The previous stories all hint at other stuff that might happen off-camera. This story pretty much has it all happening before our eyes. Try to extend this story and it won't be as frightening.

The Fifth Quarter (Short Story) (1972) (Collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes)
Another one I loved. No supernatural elements to this one: this is a crime story about a small-time con man who takes revenge for the murder of his former cell mate by going after the four-man criminal ring who did him in. This one was adapted as an episode of Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King, which I haven't seen, but this story, which gripped me something fierce and even crossed into genuine scares with the introduction of the last member of the ring, almost assuredly wasn't as good on film as on the page. The problem with adapting this one is that what made this one so good is how King wrote it, and I don't know that this would translate to the screen. If it did, it would be just another crime drama, and while those always seem green-lightable, there's not much on the surface to set this one apart.

Battleground (Short Story) (1972) (Collected in Night Shift)

Another one that already has been adapted, and as an episode of the same series. William Hurt took the role of a hitman who offs a toy maker only to have a mysterious package delivered to him; little army men. The episode, which I also have not seen, achieved some acclaim because of the fact that it is entirely without dialogue (the story almost is, as well). This is the episode's most noteworthy feature, but wouldn't work if you tried to do it as a feature film, and if you added dialogue to it...well, I have two words for you: Small Soldiers. Did that movie scare you? Did it even really work? So, I passed on this one.

The Mangler (Short Story) (1972) (Collected in Night Shift)
Like Graveyard Shift, this one was adapted as a feature film. Much like Graveyard Shift, I have to wonder if that wasn't due to its length; it's one of the longest stories in this collection. I have no idea what other reason there might be to adapt it; it's about a haunted laundry machine. I'm not even kidding. The title refers to all the hooks, rods and arms in a steam ironer/folder. In this case, such a steam ironer gets possessed by a demon. Yep. Shaking in your boots yet? Oddly enough, King almost makes this plausible, but divorced from his writing style, it looks just like it sounds; plain silly. In addition to the feature based on this, two sequels that have nothing to do with it were produced straight to video. So really, I don't see a need to adapt this again.

Trucks (Short Story) (1973) (Collected in Night Shift)
For the life of me, I cannot figure out how this inconsequential story ended up with not one but two screen adaptations; one for the big screen and the other for television. And as for the film version? It was directed by Stephen King. I shit you not. I already mentioned it, but I'm repeating it because I want you to realize the full extent of weird here. The one time King decided to bring one of his own stories to film and take such control of it that he got in the director's chair himself wasn't to direct an adaptation of The Dark Tower or Pet Sematary or even Cycle of the Werewolf. No, it was this silly little story. What's it about? Oh, yeah, I guess I should mention that. It's about trucks. Yeah, trucks that, uh, come to live and terrorize some people at a rest stop. How's your heart rate? Pretty normal, right? In all fairness, as a story, it's not terrible. I know I called it lame in my first post, but that's because on no level does this work as a horror story, and yet King himself pronounced that with his film version, he will "scare the hell out of you." And again, this one was adapted twice. How this one gets two adaptations before Gray Matter even got one is beyond me.

It Grows on You (Short Story) (1973) (Collected in Nightmares and Dreamscapes)
This one just left me cold. It was fine for what it was, but it kinda reminded me of stories by Faulkner or Oates where they just tell you "This, this, then this happened, and then some more stuff happened. The end." In this case, it's a story about a house where strange things kept happening like cattle deaths, a monstrous stillborn child, et al, and with each new horror, the owner added a new addition to the house. Now the house seems to be growing new additions on its own. Creepy, sure. Adaptable, not really.

Sometimes They Come Back (Short Story) (1974) (Collected in Night Shift)
I liked this story, but I'm not sure how it formed the basis for a horror film, despite already being one once.. It's just not all that scary, nor all that original. Like The Mangler, this one ended up with two sequels that had nothing to do with King's story. I've already talked about it and why I don't think it needs a second adaptation.

Carrie (Novel) (1974)
As I've said numerous times, the main reason I am not blogging this one is that I see no reason why this film should be remade a third time. I don't have a problem with remakes, clearly, nor do I see it as a sign of a lack of creativity. More like just giving a new director/screenwriter a chance to do their take on the material. Of the three Carrie films we've already gotten, the first one, which starred Sissy Spacek, is probably the best, despite some weak points, such as the laughably over-the-top performance of Piper Laurie and the hopelessly dated look. But then, any time you set a film in high school it won't take long, like two years, tops, for it to look dated. The 2013 remake with Chloe Grace Moretz was pretty good, but it, like the original, cast an actress who started off beautiful and got more beautiful, rather than a girl who starts off looking plain, even ugly, and then gets prettier later. However, no ugly-duckling-to-swan film has ever actually started off with the girl looking ugly, so I don't think there's a need to remake it based solely on that.

So that's my take on material skipped. I'll do one of these every so often to let you know what else I'm reading but not blogging about, mainly because I appreciate my readers and don't want to lose your interest.

See you soon with my 'Salem's Lot post!