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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Important, Non-Kingian Update

As my long-time readers know, I have been unemployed for the past three months. I have often complained that this did the opposite of freeing time up for me to read; it instead cut out the guaranteed two hours a day (roughly) that I could read uninterrupted. This being my commute (half-hour there, half-hour back) and my lunch hour.

However, I am now pleased to inform you all that I start my new job this coming Monday!

I gotta say, this economy sucks. Jobs exist, but the competition for them is crazy. Back in the mid-2000's, I would interview for the job, and usually from there would be hired, and then on the first day I would meet the twenty or so others who'd been hired with me. Now companies are only hiring one or two people at a time and you're lucky if you manage to be the one they choose. Some companies or recruiters would tell me how many people applied to a given job prior to me. It was always in the hundreds.

This process has been marked by, well, I'm not sure how many interviews. I didn't keep count. But inevitably I would hear that I was not the one selected. A couple of times I didn't feel the interview went so well, so I wasn't surprised to find I wasn't hired, but other times I walked out of an interview feeling like I'd nailed it, and was shocked to learn that I was being turned down. In some cases, if there was a second interview, I didn't even get invited back for the next round.

But the interview I had this past Thursday felt different than all the rest. It felt less like I was being interviewed and more like I was just having a friendly conversation with my boss. Don't misunderstand me; the standard interview questions were asked, but while talking with this guy (and yes, he is the one I'll be reporting to), I felt like he and I had similar attitudes and approaches to the work we do. By the end, we were laughing and joking together.

When I left, I was careful not to get too excited. I knew it was the best interview I'd had yet, but I didn't let myself think about that. I'd been burned too many times. I'd been told that I would hear from him early next week, so now I just had to play the waiting game. I was getting good at that game.

I had to pick my wife and daughter up from the mall, so getting home took longer than normal. I had my family in the car and was headed back to my house when my phone rang, and on the other end was the recruiter, asking how the interview went. I told her what I just told you, and she said "That's great, because I have some good news for you."

From the time the interview ended to the time I got the call I don't think more than an hour and a half had passed.

So, the good news is, I am indeed employed. From a blogging standpoint, that means I'll be glued to my book a minimum of two hours a day, meaning I can post faster, so we're all winners here.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Tower is Ever Outside My Reach

Folks, I gotta confess something.

I am on a great journey with this blog. It's taken me back to many familiar haunts and introduced me to new places as well. I've enjoyed each step of it, even the unpleasant ones.

And it's not over. Not by a long shot. I said at the beginning that I'll be reading all of Sai King's material, and I still aim to do so. This blog will not be over until Stephen King either retires or passes on.

But...and you could sense the "but" coming, couldn't you? Yeah, there's a "but". But...several things have changed since I began this blog. As I have said several times, my reading time has been cut nearly in half. Back when I was employed I had a guaranteed two hours (roughly) per day to read. Now I have to sneak it in when I can because I am home full time, and looking for work, going to interviews and helping my wife care for our 18-month-old daughter. As our little girl is now very mobile and incredibly active, much of this is simply playing with her or reading to her. And she's not a fan of Stephen King. She prefers the earlier works of Theodor Geisel and PD Eastman, with some Rev. W. Awdry thrown in for flavor.

But it's not just a lack of reading time. I'll be honest here; horror has never been my preferred genre. I like horror, even love it, but my first love is fantasy. It might not surprise you that I favor the darker fantasy works out there, including the currently-well-known George RR Martin and Joe Abercrombie, and some lesser known like Glen Cook and Steven Erikson. My book shelves are sagging under the weight of umpteen fantasy novels that I have yet to even crack open.

There is no question that I am devoted to finishing this blogging project, and by finish, I mean catch up to where King and Joe Hill are (yes, I still plan to include Joe Hill's works). But I hate to admit this; lately it's started to feel like a chore. I have started finding excuses not to read, and it's starting to take me far longer than it should even with my reduced reading schedule to finish a book. Even when I enjoy the book, such as It, which will always rank among my favorite King works, the feeling I get when I pick up the book and force myself to read is one of being burnt out.

This is probably for several reasons. One, I usually don't read the same author for this long. I'll read a series by one author, which generally contains three to seven books (there are some longer, but not many) and then I'll switch to someone else for a bit. But I have now read 23 and a half (roughly) books by the same man, all in rapid succession. I include in this the whole of Night Shift, Different Seasons and Skeleton Crew, and half of Nightmares and Dreamscapes. And as you've seen from my blog posts, it's been a bit of an up-and-down journey. Not everything King wrote was a winner, but I've read it all; the dizzying heights, the terrifying lows, the creamy middles. For 23 books straight.

Can you see why I might be feeling a bit burnt out?

Then there is the fact that I am desperately missing fantasy. I miss the armor, the leather, the swords, the lances, the troop formations, the world-weary soldiers, the devious wizards, the demonic invading hordes. I look at my book shelves and I long to read what's there. Sure, there's also the part of me that is eagerly looking forward to reading the King material I've never read before, and Gan knows there's a ton of that. But combined with my burnout feeling and my yearning for other worlds and times than these, I find myself at a bit of a crossroads.

I see this going two ways. One of them is that I continue to force myself to read King and King only, tiring myself out and getting slower by the day, eventually leading readers to ask if I'm giving up on this blog, or I can balance myself out.

What I think is a far more preferable option is that I start a second blog, one devoted to my fantasy reading. It doesn't have to be straight reviews or straight casting posts as I've done here; it can simply be my own thoughts as I read various fantasy series. Once I've read a full series (don't worry, the ones I read are usually short) and blog about them, I can come back to King and read him for a while, blogging all the way, and while that will mean that both blogs are updated slower, it will also mean that the likelihood of burnout is significantly smaller.

I know most of my readers probably aren't huge on fantasy. However, I often wonder if it's because you probably think, as many I've met do, that all fantasy is the same; Tolkien clones or RPG tie-ins full of fanciful magical battles and quests. My goal with my second blog is to show people that isn't true. I do hope that you'll give it a look. You just might find yourself interested in picking up a fantasy novel and reading along with me, as readers have done with this blog.

It's brand new, but if you're interested in following it, head over to There's only one post so far (the introduction), but more will come. I do hope to see you there!

Monday, April 4, 2016


Once more, we have arrived at one of the three beams holding up this blog. This is the last one, but then, not, because there's more Dark Tower posts coming.

In one very specific way, this story is one reason this blog exists. A while back, I was researching online for a possible blog post about the top ten essential King books, and I came upon The Truth Inside the Lie and Bryant Burnette's ranking of all King's books in his preferred order. I kinda got hooked on his blog and got involved in a discussion about who should play Pennywise the Dancing Clown in an It remake that was being planned then but appears to have fallen apart.

This book is, much like The Stand and The Dark Tower series, one of the more "near and dear" works of Stephen King to my heart. It's one of the first books of his I read, and the one I've read through the most often. I was surprised at how little I'd forgotten during this trip through it.

Non-CR's likely think of this one as "the evil clown story". It's so much more than that, naturally. Yes, the nameless monster that serves as this book's antagonist uses the form of an evil clown to both lure and frighten (often both at the same time), but that's far from the only form It takes, nor is it anywhere near as frightening as the implications of It's true form and how long It's been around.

What really prompted the discussion I mentioned above, though, is that one of the replies made the declaration that Tim Curry, who played Pennywise in the 1990 mini-series, is "irreplaceable". And yes, I'm gonna talk about the mini-series a lot in this post, because unlike some other King movies, this one I've actually seen multiple times and it's one of the better known King adaptations.

Unlike The Running Man, Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption, most viewers know this mini-series was based on a book, and unlike The Shining or The Dead Zone, they acknowledge that the book is better. But still, this mini-series is one of the more talked-about adaptations of King's works, and it's one that seems to still have its fans who remember it as one of the scariest things they'd ever seen.

There are also plenty of people who realize how cheesy and unintentionally funny the film was, but even these people seem to hold one caveat: Tim Curry as Pennywise/It. They still talk about how damn scary he was and how even to this day they have nightmares about Tim Curry coming to get them.

Ever feel like you're an X in a world of O's?

I just re-watched the mini-series recently in order to refresh my memory. I didn't remember Tim Curry being scary at all, and this latest re-watch confirmed it: Curry inspired far more unplanned laughs than scares. On paper, Curry seems like the perfect guy for the job. He has a naturally creepy face and seems to always play sinister people, and play them well. Here, I hardly recognized him. Seriously, if I didn't know better and you told me it was, say, Harvey Keitel, I'd likely have believed you. He's not really even wearing that much make-up, but I still can't see old Creepy Curry in Pennywise's face at all. He's also putting on this weird almost southern accent that rids him of any remaining creep factor.

There's not a piece of scenery left that he hasn't chewed all to hell by the time this thing is done. He's silly. He's also hampered by poor visual effects, and at one point you even see him duck his head out of frame so he can put in his scary monster teeth. Irreplaceable? Hell, he's in dire need of replacement. In fact, it won't be a matter of replacing him, just finding an actor who can do It justice.

I'm not sure that Will Poulter, the actor who was going to play Pennywise back when Cary Fukunaga was on board, is that guy. But we'll get to casting in a bit.

I think it's a shame that It is primarily remembered for the "evil clown". What really drew me in were the characters and setting. This is the novel that really introduces Derry, Maine, a setting King will return to frequently. Up until now his default setting was Castle Rock. Castle Rock is home to killer cops, killer dogs and white trash parents. Derry is the home of horror.

In fact, that last sentence is very literal. It's implied that Derry is in fact a haunted patch of land, and that weird, unexplained events have been happening since the first settlers got there. Just how long has It been there? Did It invade our territory or did we invade Its?

Every 26 or 27 years (every 30 years in the mini-series, because it's got to be round numbers in Hollywood, where viewers are assumed to be morons who would be thrown off by irregular patterns), the nameless abomination rises and feeds. It mostly feeds on children, and during one such feeding, in 1956, It murders a young boy named George Denbrough.

Bill, George's big brother, and six of his friends, later bond over the two things they have in common; they're all social outcasts and they've all had encounters with It and survived. Bill is called "Stuttering Bill" because, you guessed it, he's blind. Ben Hanscom is smart but quite overweight. Richie Tozier hides his insecurities with humor and attempts at funny voices. Eddie Kaspbrack is small for his age and babied by his overprotective mother, who is convinced that he's asthmatic and fragile. Beverly Marsh is from the wrong side of the tracks and is regularly beaten by her drunken father (and it's implied that he's working himself up to begin sexually abusing her as well). Stan Uris and Mike Hanlon's issues stem more from their racial background; Stan is Jewish and Mike is black in a time when open racism was still very prevalent.

Guided by a force they don't understand and only barely sense, the seven of them decide that it's up to them to take on and destroy It. This story is pretty much the poster child for the idea that adults are useless, as one of the ways It keeps successfully coming back to kill children is Its ability to ramp up adults' desire to ignore anything they can't explain. The mini-series tries to show us this, but ultimately it just makes our heroes seem quick to jump to conclusions about why adults in town don't seem willing to help.

While it seems like the losers' club's efforts have worked, they promise to come back to Derry if It returns for the next cycle. It does, and the kids, now 38 years old and scattered across the country, except for Mike, who purposefully stayed home and kept watch, each receive a phone call; It has returned, and it's time to make good on their promise.

The story skips around in time a lot, and I don't just mean hopping from 1985 back to 1958. It plays around with the order of events from the summer of '58, often mentioning events before we read about them, then later, sometimes much later, showing us the event as it happens. This is less confusing than it sounds, and somehow sucked me into the story even more.

Probably half the story, give or take, is set in the modern age as our heroes reconvene as adults and the other half takes place when they're 11-year-olds in the late 50's. I think I enjoyed the scenes from the the 50's more than I did the "present day" (read: thirty years ago) scenes, at least in the book. I recall enjoying the 50's scenes more in the movie, as well, but this last time I realized just how bad all the child actors are. They're really bad, especially when they're called upon to play up a big emotion. The adults, however, aren't especially good, either. They're played by a bunch of sitcom stars and a ponytail that looks like Richard Thomas. I don't have a problem with sitcom actors, but in a way that I've never experienced before, none of them became the characters in my eyes. This was especially true of John Ritter, who was just never Ben Hanscom to me.

Ever see a movie and really like it, then several years later see a play based on it? It's never really the same, and this is definitely the case here, even though these seven actors are the only ones who have ever played these characters. They're not all bad, really. Richard Thomas is a fine Stuttering Bill. But when he turns around, there's that ponytail again, and that just feels so wrong. Tim Reid, who to me will always be Venus Flytrap from WKRP in Cincinnati and no one else, did a fine job as Mike Hanlon, for that matter. Dennis Christopher was just sorta okay as Eddie, but Harry Anderson was genuinely awful as Richie. More on all these guys later. What really felt weird watching it this time around was how nearly all of them (Thomas and O'Toole being the exceptions) just looked too old to be 40. Yeah, even Dennis Christopher, who was only 34 at the time. The weirdest part is that only Tim Reid was genuinely older than his character was supposed to be by any real margin (he was 45 playing 40), but really, watch it again. Do Harry Anderson, John Ritter or Richard Masur look like they're in their late 30's, which they were, or verging on 50?

Let me tell you, the weirdest part of the casting process this time was realizing that in order to get the ages right, this time I had to choose actors that were around my age. Regular commenter Aaron talked about that in response to my post on Thinner, but nowhere has that hit home more than here, for some reason. I've been casting books I read for years now, and the first time I read this in full, I cast Nicolas Cage as Bill, Julianne Moore as Beverly, Bill Paxton as Ben, Blair Underwood as Mike, Hank Azaria as Richie and Michael J. Fox as Eddie. When you think about the fact that the characters are supposed to be 38 years old, that tells you how long ago I did that casting. Now I found myself considering and even casting actors that are in several cases younger than me, and for some reason, this really felt odd. Maybe it's because of how close I have always felt to this book. The first time I read this book, I resonated more with the Losers' Club when they were eleven. Now those parts are pure nostalgia, and the realities of being a grown man dangerously close to 40 got a bit too real.

Now we're gonna get to the casting, and before I start, I want to say that I didn't always follow the book's descriptions of every character to the letter. Two characters are described as going bald, and I could not find any actors of both appropriate age, acting skill and overall look that were losing their hair. Also, one minor character is described as having a beer gut, and my actor does not have one. I trust you'll see as we go that this really doesn't matter. Also, most of the actors playing the adult Losers are not 38 yet and the ones that are all look younger. This, again, is on purpose because I want them to remain age appropriate for several years. As always, I won't be casting the child characters, and in this case it's especially important to cast them based on how much they resemble the adult actors I'm choosing, so I'll leave that to a child casting director. All I ask is that they have real talent.

As far as format, there's really only two ways this can be done, as a a series of three films (not my preferred method at all) or as an 8- to 10-part mini-series akin to what 11/22/63 has gotten. I'd strongly prefer that option as it will help us get in as much of the town's and characters' histories (and yes, they are important) as possible. The book is over 1100 pages, and I'm hard pressed to think of a part I'd want cut in this adaptation. The mini-series took a hacksaw to the story, paring it down to three hours. Three. Hours. This book. Just one of many reasons why I can't stand the mini-series.

Also, just to answer the question of to modernize or not to modernize, I'm heavily in favor of not modernizing. So much of what happens is tied to the attitudes of the late 50's and would not at all work in the 80's, which is when it would have to be set if we modernized. The mini-series moves up the date to 1960 so that it can be exactly thirty years prior to 1990, the year it aired and the year the modern day scenes were set. But that wasn't a huge change. Moving the action to 1988 or 89 absolutely would be.

I'm starting with the Losers' club. We'll work our way up to Pennywise Itself because I'm a cruel bastard and I want to keep you in suspense as long as possible and let's face it, you just scrolled down the list looking for him, didn't you? Come on back up, I'll wait. No, seriously, I want to spend some time on the protagonists because I have this feeling that most people will read about who's playing Pennywise and skip the rest. The Losers' Club is the true heart of this story, and they're coming first.

William "Stuttering Bill" Denbrough is fairly close to the lead in this tale; he's the de facto leader of the losers and he's the Stephen King stand-in, being that he's a horror writer whose career seems, in many cases, to mirror King's. Bill isn't King, however, and it's clear that King has a lot more respect for Bill than he does for himself, as Bill is pretty much the ultimate good guy, the guy you can count on, the true soul. He's certainly the character I appreciated the most (Ben being a close second) and the others in the group naturally defer to him. Despite that, Bill is something of a nerd, bookish, bespectacled and, in the novel anyway, balding. Richard Thomas played him in the movie, and carried his John-Boy Walton likeability factor with him. It worked, mostly. He was one of the few casting choices I was more or less okay with. I still wonder what he was thinking with the ponytail, which seemed out of character and I found it very distracting. Jonathan Brandis played the young Bill, and while I appreciated that they put a matching mole on his face so as to be more convincing that he'd grow up to be Richard Thomas, the simple fact is that he had yet to develop as an actor. It's genuinely cringe-worthy to see him obviously focusing on getting the stutter right and shouting "You killed my brother, you bastard!" in a tone of voice that suggests Pennywise ate the last of the breakfast serial. As I said, a while back I picked Nic Cage for this role (this was well before he got a reputation for ludicrous overacting) and later I wondered about Anthony Edwards, who played the perfect "good guy" on ER, but both are far too old now, and I went with someone that might be a tad unconventional. Topher Grace is a very likeable actor who can easily be believed as just a very good guy, plus he's got red hair like Bill and in the past he's played characters who've stammered a lot, so I know he could pull off Bill's stutter when it returns years after he apparently beat it. And he may not look it, but he was born in 1978, which means he'll be 38 before this year is over.
Mike Hanlon is another important character, an armchair historian who, even as a kid, is very interested in the history of the town and begins to notice the patterns of destruction. As a young black kid, however, he is automatically an outcast, and one of the favorite targets of the local bullies. I admit I had a harder time with this one because Mike is supposed to look bookish, like a teacher, and most of the black male actors around the right age look more like action heroes. Even Tim Reid was more conventionally handsome than Mike describes himself in the book, and heck, he was the ultimate cool guy back in the 70's. I decided Anthony Mackie was a well-rounded actor who could bring some natural gravitas to the character, and is also totally believable as an armchair historian who works in the library.
Ben Hanscom was harder to cast because his defining characteristic as a child is his obesity, while as an adult he's lost all his weight and turned into a handsome young man and successful architect. The mini-series got him wrong twice. The child version of the character is mildly stocky at best; if anything he looks like a bulky wrestler or football player. The bullies keep talking about his gut, but he doesn't actually have a gut. Even the baggy clothes they put the kid in fail to convince us that he's anything more than thick of frame. As an adult, he's played by John Ritter, and heaven help me, I can't see him as anything other than John Ritter. He simply never became Ben to me. Even the others were more convincing. Casting him presented a bit of a problem. Initially, I chose Jason Segel, but since I've already used him in Firestarter, he was off the table. I considered Mark Duplass, a tall, handsome actor who still made me feel sorry for him in Safety Not Guaranteed, making me think he'd kill as Ben, but Ben is described as looking much younger than he is, and Duplass is 39 and looks every year of it. Ultimately I chose Charlie Cox of Daredevil because he's only 34 but can pass for older.
For Eddie Kaspbrack, it was a no-brainer. I knew exactly who should play this part. Eddie is a small, wimpy guy who grew up with the queen of overprotective mothers, taking a placebo for asthma that he doesn't even have, and as an adult turning into a full-fledged hypochondriac. Dennis Christopher played him in the mini-series, and had me convinced throughout my first time watching it that he was Malcolm Gets of Caroline in the City fame, playing him as a fairly stereotypical nebbishy nerd. And I could be wrong, but I think Eddie is supposed to be a deeply closeted man, never fully secure in who he is and unwilling to admit it even as an adult, which is why his marriage to a woman frighteningly like his mother seems so passionless, and why, when he's stalked by It, It takes the form of a syphilitic hobo offering him a blow job. Then there's his overly defensive reaction when it's mentioned that all seven Losers have no children. In the mini-series, they change his character to still be living with his mother, unmarried, as an adult, and have him later confess to being a virgin, because he could never have sex with someone he doesn't love, and he's never loved anyone "except all of you." The scene plays like a man coming out while still not daring to say the words. All this comes together to suggest Elijah Wood, who is 35 but looks younger, small for a grown man, weak-looking and, let's face it, kind of effeminate. He also has the "wide, staring eyes" that Eddie is described as having.
Richie Tozier (how do you pronounce that? In the mini-series they say "TOE-zher", but I think it's supposed to be kinda French, Toe-ZHAY) is a bit of an odd man out among the losers, in that he's really not a loser. He's just a guy with an odd sense of humor and a penchant for impressions (it's a running gag that as a kid his impressions never sound right but as an adult they're so perfect that over the phone people think another person just jumped on the line) and thick glasses that get him teased at school. But when it comes to teasing, he gives as good as he gets. It's only when fists come out that he doesn't measure up. As I said, the first time I read this I pictured Hank Azaria, and later thought Seth McFarlane could play him, but alas, he's a bit too old now. Harry Anderson played the adult version of Richie in the mini-series, while Seth Green, of all people, played him as a kid. Green was actually pretty good, even if he looked and sounded much older than 11, but Anderson was truly terrible, playing Richie like a Jay Leno-style talk show host and managing to be about as funny as...well, as Jay Leno. Part of the problem is that Richie is an impressionist, not a stand-up comic, so why did they hire a comic and sitcom star instead of, say, Phil Hartman? Hartman may be gone, but we've still got Bill Hader, who I have always liked and would love to see him get more work. And yes, I considered casting Seth Green, but Green as an adult just doesn't feel like Richie to me.
Then there's Beverly Rogan nee Marsh. I confess, I was a bit stuck with her. Honestly, I'm kinda conflicted about her character. I'd better address the elephant in the room; Beverly's issue is that her father is physically abusive and damn near obsessed with the idea that Beverly is catting about town whenever he's not paying attention. Yeah, at 11 he's worried that she's a slut. It's implied pretty heavily that this stems in large part from his own inappropriate feelings for her that he's very close to acting on (at one point he even demands to be allowed to examine her to make sure she still has her hymen). But meanwhile, Beverly might not be screwing the entire male population of her school, but all her friends are guys, and she does flirt with pretty much all of them. And then there's...the scene. If you've read the book, you know the one I'm talking about. If you haven't, maybe it's better that I not talk about it. Suffice it to say that Beverly grows up to marry a physically abusive man, and her character arc is her gradually gaining the strength to never let herself be abused again. That's all we need to see, and the scene that I'm deliberately not talking about was not in the mini-series, nor even alluded to, and that's one of the few cuts it made that I firmly agree with. Annette O'Toole played adult Bev, and while she got the weak, cringing aspects of Bev down cold, she, like John Ritter, never felt like Bev to me at all. It didn't help that this version of Bev was a brunette instead of a fiery redhead, which makes it odd that they keep in Ben's poem about her, which talks about her hair being "winter fire, January embers". If they're not gonna keep her a redhead, why keep the poem about her beautiful red hair? Anyway, after rejecting Rose Leslie for being too young and Scarlett Johanssen for being too famous (and too young), and finally Alicia Witt for being too old, I decided on Bryce Dallas Howard.
The final loser is Stan Uris, a Jewish boy who grows up to be a successful accountant, and it's through his scenes that we begin to suspect the adult Losers' Club is cursed. Stan's major issue is that he has a hard time accepting that It is actually real, even when confronted with obviously supernatural happenings. As an adult, the concept of returning to Derry is too much for him to face. His part will be small, but memorable. The mini-series had him played by Richard Masur and for whatever weird reason decided to add in the idea that Stan had some sort of death wish and longed to be killed by It. This is not in the book at all, but I felt like he needed to be cast. Jewish actors of appropriate age are actually plentiful, but I picked Adam Brody.
And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, except that I know you scrolled down and read this first; the casting of the title character Itself, aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown, aka Bob Grey, aka the Mummy, aka the leper, aka the werewolf, aka the giant bird, etc. It has many forms, and while the clown is the most prevalent, I wanted an actor who can disappear into the make-up and make each form It takes be distinct and frightening. But before I get to casting him, let's talk about how Pennywise should be played. He should be the Joker. That's pretty much what's called for; Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker. Ledger himself is not available, of course, nor would I cast him if he was, because I wouldn't want the parallels to be that obvious. Pennywise always seems morbidly amused by whatever's going on, and the parts where he actually talks to the kids, he's actually kind of understated, muted, not in-your-face yelling, the way Tim Curry played him. My band teacher once told us what he really means by playing with "intensity". He asked us what's more intense, then singled out a student and yelled and screamed at her for a few seconds. He asked us if that was intense, then leaned down close to the same student, his eyes wide and angry, and very softly said "If...I...ever...have to talk to you about this again..." We all agreed that the second approach was intense. The first was just loud. Tim Curry was loud. The new guy needs to be intense. There's a lot of names I've seen tossed around. Way back in the day I thought Robin Williams could do it. But going for a comedian is the wrong path, because they'll all be tempted to take it over the top. So how about an actor known for "ink suit" work, which is to say one of the growing number of actors known for their mo-cap or heavily made-up work. Your basic Alan Tudyk, your basic Andy Serkis, your basic Doug Jones. Tudyk I discounted because I think he probably would go for zany instead of intense, but I waffled between Serkis and Jones for a bit. Serkis we know can do creepy, we know can do a variety of voices, and even without make-up he's a pretty scary-looking guy. But something felt wrong about casting him. Serkis is just so well-known for being Gollum that I worried about there being constant comparisons to Pennywise and Gollum. But I've had my eye on Doug Jones for a while. He doesn't have a scary face, but he is very odd-looking, like an alien or something. If you think he's too cuddly and doesn't know how to be creepy, all I can say is watch him in Pan's Labyrinth, where he plays both the title character and the sinister Grey Man, or his performance as one of the Gentlemen in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush", or as the Ice Cream Man in Legion, or as Slenderman himself in Always Watching. Oh yes, he can play creepy. At 6'3" he'll tower over the child actors, and his thin frame looks skeletal and otherworldly. He also can do just about any voice you ask him to do, and he's a contortionist to boot. Doug Jones will make a truly terrifying It.
Now for some of the minor roles. I've mentioned Henry Bowers before, but I haven't fleshed him out. Bowers is Derry's local bully, a truly psychotic kid who even scares his henchmen. He's probably one of the earliest examples of King's bully trope; that is, bullies with literally zero redeeming qualities who are fully capable of murder. Even Ace Merrill would be afraid of this guy. He's described as very large, with short red hair that he wears in a flattop. As ever, I didn't cast the child version of this character, nor did I cast Victor Criss, Belch Huggins or Patrick Hockstetter, some of the kids that follow him around (I was loathe to not cast Patrick, a truly creepy character who will live in your memory, but he's only 12). Henry is the only one we meet as an adult, when It decides to use him to hurt the Losers. He's definitely older than the Losers, and his hair has tuned white after his childhood encounter with It, but for some reason the mini-series decided he should look like Matlock. He should still be large and powerful-looking, just with dyed white hair. Now, before I started reading, I had picked Charles Halford for the role, with Ryan Hurst as a possible backup. Both men are physically large enough, but when I read the description of red-haired, flattopped Henry, I knew who his adult version would look like: Michael Cudlitz of The Walking Dead fame. He's 51 but could easily pass for a hard-living 43-year old.
Eddie's mother is a smaller role, but incredibly memorable thanks to her hilarious overreactions to just about everything. This role really is comic relief and perfect for a comedienne. She's also described as being very overweight, and after I beat down the thought of Melissa McCarthy in the role (too famous), I went with Robin Thorsen of The Guild fame, who truly is overweight and the right age.
Bill's wife, Audra Phillips, is an actress described as five years his elder, with a British accent from years of living across the pond, rather than being natural. For whatever reason, the image of Natascha McElhone got into my head and wouldn't leave, but I kept thinking she was too old. However, she's only 44, which is perfectly within the right range to play Audra.
Then there's Bev's husband, Tom Rogan. This is one of the chief characters I've cast who won't really resemble his novel description. Tom is a physically abusive man, described in the novel as having a beer gut that he did not have when he and Bev met. I decided the beer gut wasn't necessary, because the man I've cast is otherwise perfect. Joel McHale might be a comedian, but he's fully capable of going serious and he has this ability to look very angry, with wide, glaring eyes and a jaw set that makes me think he's about to murder his co-stars. Could he play a physically abusive jerk of a husband? Oh, yes.
I won't be casting any of the other spouses, by the way, because none of the others play a major role in the story. But I will cast Beverly's dad, because much like Eddie's mom he's a pretty memorable character, just for very different reasons. I've already talked a lot about him, and don't really need to say more, except that he reminded me of the abusive, incestuous Calvin from True Blood, played by Gregory Sporleder. There's no reason Sporleder can't play Mr. Marsh.
And that's the last role large enough to cast. So there It is, a cast I've been working on for months if not years, finally set down in print for the world to see. Much like my Dark Tower and The Stand posts, this one was a long time in coming and I'm really glad I've gotten this far.

And now to admit something: I'm not actually finished reading it. I felt comfortable casting it because I remember it so well, but I am going to finish it before moving on to the next one, which is thankfully much shorter. That said, I know exactly what post is coming next.

Next up: Eyes of the Dragon!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Creepshow 4

I've been thinking back to my earlier refusal to do anthology films, and I keep wondering why I am so against it. After all, they've been hits in the past, and they're starting to make a comeback (see the V/H/S movies), and some of King's better stories are his shorter ones.

I have wondered for years why King and George A. Romero never did another Creepshow film after the second one. Yes, there was a third one, but it had nothing to do with King or Romero, and was considered by all to be an utter waste of time. But there's no reason the two masters can't reclaim the title and put it to good use.

There are so many great Stephen King short stories out there, so narrowing them down to just four was kinda hard. But I chose the ones I did because one of the hallmarks of the Creepshow movies is that they focus on stories that aren't as well known (often not even collected) and they tend toward the cheese as much as genuine scares. So, here are the stories I've picked for Creepshow 4, and the lead actor for each I trust you will agree I chose well.

Here There Be Tygers
This fascinating story touches on two basic fears I think we've all had over the years; the fear of being embarrassed by a teacher because she forces you to say the word "bathroom" when you'd prefer to say "basement" and the fear of walking into the bathroom and finding a tiger in there. I can't tell you how many times I've been afraid of that. I mean, we all call the bathroom "the basement", right? It's just ingrained in us at this point. I have two basements in my house. I call the sub-ground room the "pool". Don't you? As for the little boy in the story, I decided to break my rule and cast a preteen actor, but just so I can avoid the trap of the actor aging out of the role in just a couple of years, I cast infant actors Dashiell and Fox Messitt of Fuller House fame, whom I am sure are headed for Olson-Twins style careers in their future.
As for the tiger, I considered first casting the EssoTiger but I haven't seen him around lately and considering he's been in those commercials since I was a kid, there's a possibility that he's dead. So I chose a different tiger as well; one that is known for creepily hanging around with kids as they eat breakfast and encouraging them into dangerous challenges even when they'd rather not participate.

King's wickedly funny take on the old west story is crying out to be filmed. It isn't scary, but it definitely fits the tone of these movies. Probably the best way to really sell the satirical tone of the story is to cast someone who is the antithesis of an old west hero, so I went with Danny DeVito.

The Blue Air Compressor
I would genuinely love to see this film go full meta, including this story of a man so grossed out by a fat woman that he blows her up with an air compressor. The beauty of this story is that King stops in the middle to introduce himself and talk about the sexual nature of his hero's crime. King would, naturally, play himself, and I think Melissa McCarthy could play the fat old lady. She wouldn't even need a latex suit.
Finally, no good Creepshow film doesn't have a solid framing device. In this case, I think we could open on a sunny, peaceful neighborhood with a cheerful-looking milk truck making its rounds, driving from house to house as each story gets told. Of course, this is no ordinary milk truck. This is the vehicle of the dreaded MILK MAN, the diabolical Spike Milligan himself! And he would be played by...Scott "Carrot Top" Thompson. I mean, come on, is there a creepier guy around?
So, King, Romero, you've seen the potential for a fourth movie, I say get on it.

And with that, I wish you all a fine, happy April the First.

Monday, March 21, 2016


Mr. Bachman, come in. It's been a while.

If you're a Constant Reader, you know (kinda) why Stephen King occasionally became Richard Bachman. He only had three novels to his name, and the first had been a major hit so of course the two follow-ups had been as well, and critics were eager to point out that King's popularity had nothing to do with his talent, which, as far as they were concerned, was negligible.

Instead, they insisted, as the author of a big hit, his next few novels will also be big hits until his name stops being a selling point all on its own. Then he will be seen as the flash in the pan he actually is. You know, kinda like how Stephenie Meyer is viewed today.

King wanted to know if this was true. What if he released something under a different name, with as little fanfare as possible, and just let people discover it? Would it garner the same sort of response his mainstream releases got?

Other reasons for inventing the Bachman persona (and at this point, I think "persona" is the right word. "Pseudonym" just doesn't do what King created here justice) was that it gave him a chance to release some of his earlier material, some of which was written prior to Carrie, and also because his publisher, at the time anyway, would not allow more than one book a year to be published by the same author.

Results were hard to nail down. On the one hand, Bachman's novels did not sell nearly as well, but the lack of promotion could have had a lot to do with that. Also, critics were much kinder to Bachman, even describing his first novel, Rage thusly: "It's like something Stephen King would write, if Stephen King could write." Joke's on them, I guess.

But Thinner is different. All the previous Bachman books were the works of a young King, still finding his voice and sampling various genres. In other words, they didn't really read like Stephen King novels. Thinner is a novel written by the man who had, at that point, given us The Stand, The Dead Zone, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Different Seasons and Pet Sematary. This was the master at work again.

But King thought the experiment had not yet yielded conclusive results, so, he began work on Thinner, planning from the get-go to make this one a Bachman book. This means this was the first Bachman book intended to be one, despite the fact that really, honestly, the disguise at this point was paper thin. It doesn't surprise me at all that King was unmasked shortly after this book was published. Heck, he even name-checks himself in this book, having a character describe what's happening to him as being "like something out of a Stephen King novel." He might as well have winked at the audience, and it doesn't help that Thinner, unlike pretty much anything Bachman wrote up until now, can safely be classified as a horror story. Not a very scary one, but a gripping one, where the fear is derived from what our protagonist's body goes through.

The story focuses on Billy Halleck, a lawyer who has been blessed with a comfortable marriage, a loving daughter and a successful career. He's also a good fifty pounds overweight, and getting bigger. His doctor warns him that he is verging into heart-attack territory.

Now, I'm just gonna break in here and state that this is one of the things I'd like to see changed for the film. Billy is described as being 37 years old, six foot two and 247 lbs. That's...not heart attack territory. At all. I figured Billy had to be pretty short and slight of frame until the line about him being 6'2" came up. I'm 6'2" myself and over 300 lbs. I don't want to say just how much over, but let's just say I'm bigger than Billy. I've had my heart and blood pressure checked numerous times. They're both completely normal, and for that matter, when I had gas pains in my chest recently I went to the doctor to make sure everything was okay with my heart. I was told that not only was my heart completely healthy, but the fact that I was only 38 meant that I was extremely unlikely to have a heart attack, despite my weight. Is this just another example of King's seeming issues with fat people rearing its head again?

Well, apparently not. Apparently they were based on King's actual experiences. He weighed a bit less than Billy but was a heavy smoker, and was told he was entering "heart-attack country". Of course, what he leaves out is that in addition to being a bit overweight and smoking heavily, he was also a big-time substance abuser and alcoholic. That just might have had something to do with his doctor's warning.

Billy is a very good lawyer, though, and at this point even has mob connections, having successfully defended a low-level mobster named Richard Ginelli, who apparently has done that thing where a mafia man decides his lawyer is "part of the family now" because he treats Billy like a brother. But recently Billy himself has had legal trouble that is kicked off by the arrival of a traveling caravan of gypsies.

Now, here's another sticky point: I simply don't know if traveling gypsies are still a thing. Most Romany peoples of this day and age have more or less modernized and joined society. The gypsies in this story might wear rock star t-shirts and travel in campers and cars rather than with horses and wagons, but still, they're practically like something out of some old story.

Because it's the 80's (though this would be easy to modernize, gypsies or no gypsies), local police chief Duncan Hopley tells them to get on out of town. But before they can, Billy ends up running one of them over with his car.

It's not entirely his fault. First, his wife Heidi had decided to give him a handjob while he drove, which she had never done before, and thus he was distracted, plus the old woman didn't use the crosswalk or look where she was going when she darted out in front of him. But Billy is respected by the law enforcement community, and so Hopley doesn't even check to see if he'd been drinking while the judge, a buddy of Billy's named Cary Rossington, finds the fault to be entirely the old woman's and lets Billy off without even a slap on the wrist.

But the old woman's father, a 108-year-old Romany shaman, gets his own revenge, touching Billy on the cheek outside the courthouse and whispering one word: thinner. Before too long, Billy notices he's losing weight despite no changes to his diet or lifestyle. Even worse, he can't gain weight no matter how much he eats, and he's losing it fast enough to scare his wife, daughter, doctor and himself. Quickly the smiles and congratulations turn into worried looks and admonitions to see a doctor. When Billy realizes that he actually has been cursed to evidently lose weight until he dies, his wife and doctor decide he's crazy and try to have him committed. Only his mob buddy, Ginelli, believes him enough to help.

At first, I wasn't sure I was gonna do a post on this one because there already is a film version of this story, and while I haven't seen it, what I know about it tells me that it's pretty faithful to the novel, adding in only some marital infidelity and changing the ending a bit. It bombed at the box-office and critics were not kind, saying that it was all high concept and no pay-off and that there wasn't a single likeable character in it. I'm not sure I agree with either assessment, at least of the book, as I found Billy pretty likeable, even as I understood his flaws, and I liked Ginelli, too, as a sort of anti-hero, plus the pay-off was pretty intense, at least I thought.

So sure, let's try again. David Fincher can take the reigns this time, and maybe Ehren Kruger can handle story duties. And now for a cast.

For Billy, I hunted around for emaciated actors, or at the very least actors thin enough they wouldn't have to do much to look deathly gaunt. I figure the best way to do it is film the fat-suit scenes first, let the actor sweat and lose muscle and start to look unhealthily thin, and then finally have him pull a Christian-Bale-in-The Machinist and go scary gaunt. Make-up can help with that too, making his eyes look sunken and his ribs and collar-bones stand out, etc. I even figured Bale himself would play the part well, but then I figured he likely wouldn't be in a hurry to get scary-thin again, so it would have to be someone who could do it but hadn't yet. Eventually I settled on Eddie Redmayne. Now, Eddie's about three years too young, and looks younger, but Billy isn't tied to his age. Even his daughter, written to be a teenager thanks to Billy and Heidi marrying early, can be re-written as nine or ten and not one thing would be lost (there's even a scene where she asks for an explanation of the gypsies as he's saying good-night to her, and she really seems quite young in this scene). For that matter, this just means that for the next decade or so, Redmayne can still be used as he won't have aged out of the role yet. Plus, the fat suit will add years.
Richard Ginelli was harder to cast than I thought he would be. Joe Mantegna played him the first time out, and might be young enough to still pull it off, but I don't like having the same actor play the same role in a remake. It never sits well with me. I'm even against JK Simmons playing J. Jonah Jameson again for the new Sony/MCU Spider-Man film. But who else could play him? I tossed out name after name (Steve Buscemi, Michael Imperioli) before settling on Bobby Cannavale. This guy just screams small-time mobster and once I'd settled on him, he became Ginelli very naturally in my head. It's the kind of role he could play in his sleep.
Billy's wife Heidi was harder because she's a pretty generic character. She also gets shunted to the sidelines midway through, so a big name is not required here, but I picked a relatively well-known actress. I figured Laura Prepon was believable as the wife of an overweight man. She's a bit older than Eddie Redmayne, but not unbelievably so. I won't be casting Linda, their daughter, as in this version she'll be a pre-teen.
Early in the story, Billy goes to his friends on the legal side of things, hoping they can help. He finds they've been cursed as well. Judge Cary Rossington is never actually in a scene, but he'll have to be in the film. He's not described, so I picked a not-too-famous middle-aged man, Mark Moses.
Rossington's wife, Leda, is present, telling Billy what's happened to her husband (he's growing scales), and I didn't realize it until I saw her face, but I pictured her looking like Frances Fisher.
Police Chief Duncan Hopley is another role that will be bigger on film as much of what his character does is described to us rather than shown. His one scene has him covered with boils and sores, so it doesn't really matter who's under there, but I figured in the scenes before he's cursed, he'll have to look like a credible cop. So I picked a middle-aged Irish character actor who's played a lot of cop roles, Shea Wigham.
Doctor Michael Houston, Billy's physician who at first thinks his weight loss is a psychosomatic response to his guilty feelings, and later feels that he's gone crazy, doesn't get much description besides being handsome enough to make Billy jealous. In the film version he has an all-out affair with Billy's wife while trying to get Billy committed, but that's an invention of the film. A pretty believable one, but still, just an intention. Not sure it's needed here. He's also a coke-head, revealed in a far-from-believable scene where he just openly snorts coke in front of Billy while giving him his report on Billy's health. That scene would have to be changed so that he toots up before talking to Billy, but Billy notices the paraphernalia or something. I pictured Michael Trucco in the role.
Now for the gypsies. To start off with, I'll mention that not all these actors will be actual Romanies. This is because most Romany actors don't look Romany at all. Did you know Jennifer Aniston is of Romany descent? Yeah, look it up some time, you'll see what I mean.

For Taduz Lemke, the old man who curses Billy, I settled on Wes Studi, who I am now grateful I didn't use for Firestarter. Studi is a scary-looking man, and looks much older than his 69 years. This part will fit him like a glove.
His great-granddaughter Gina is a psychotic little firecracker who uses her sharpshooter abilities for more than just her slingshot act. She's described as being incredibly sexy but very dangerous. I went through a number of darker-skinned actresses before settling on Janina Gavankar.
Her brother, Samuel, is the troup's juggler, a young handsome man who's fiercely devoted to his family. He doesn't really have much character, but he's present and central for all the action at their camp. I chose Luke Pasqualino to play him.
My last role, if you'll permit me, isn't really a character in the book, but when I found him while searching for Romany actors, I had to include him. Not only is he really of Romany heritage, and looks it, he's also perfect for a traveling circus. Every circus needs its strong man, right? And he could be used as one of the enforcers who confront Billy when he gets to their camp. You could even split up the roles of Samuel and this guy. I decided he'd be named Trey Heilig, after one of the minor Gypsy characters. The actor in question is Dave Bautista. Couldn't you just hear him growling "white man from town!"?
And now I again beg your indulgence, because I'm about to start another long novel. Today I finished reading Dolan's Cadillac because I wanted to know before making this post if I would be making one for that story. I don't think I will, though. It's weird; there was a film version of this in the works for years, with Sylvester Stallone and Kevin Bacon attached to star, and when it was finally ready to roll, both men had backed out and instead we got...Christian Slater and Wes Bentley. I understand that it's one of the worst King adaptations to ever exist. I wondered if we needed another film to do the story justice, but really, it's a pretty standard revenge tale that's neatly told but not all that compelling. I'm not sure a film version is necessary.

Instead, I'm moving on to the next big novel, which I've been waiting a long time to get to, and I know I'll be doing a post on it. Yes. on it.

Next up: It!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Gunslinger Updated

Last night I updated my post on The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. Now I have decided that my adaptation of The Dark Tower will be a NetFlix TV series. The Gunslinger will encompass the first season.

I didn't really change much of it because I liked the original post as it was. And thankfully, since I mostly chose actors who are comfortable doing both film and television, I didn't really have to update the cast for the most part, though I did remove Helena Bonham Carter. I also took my alternate Rolands away since Langley Kirkwood was far and away the reader pick for that role.

Really, this story belongs on TV. It's just so detailed. I picture this series running for about five seasons. But wait, I hear you cry, weren't there seven books? Yes, and that was about two more than were necessary. It would not trouble me at all if the writers of the TV series, and I want this to involve Frank Darabont and Daniel Knauf in some capacity, were to completely re-write the ending, and by that I mean the last three books.

For a while, I thought The Dark Tower would need to be movies because it's this series that ties King's mythos together. I compared it to the MCU's Avengers films. But now I think it's more like this is the Agents of SHIELD of the SKCU, only with way more interaction with the films.

So for The Drawing of the Three, I will be approaching it as though it were Season Two of the TV series, and as for the flashbacks in The Gunslinger and practically the whole of Wizard and Glass, these events will unfold throughout the series rather than as one big story smack in the middle.

As I explained in the edited post, the film version currently in the works appears to be going the "in name only" route, casting actors that are nothing like the characters and apparently starting in the middle and mostly keeping the setting in "our" world, focusing on Jake instead of Roland, who will be more like a mentor figure. The fact that they've made a prominent character with the same name as a background character tells me that whatever this movie turns out like, it won't be The Dark Tower. I'm calling it The Grey Castle from now on because I don't see it as anything close to The Dark Tower.

Unless we're talking about the Men in Black franchise, any time producers feel like they can screw around with a story and produce something that bears little to no resemblance to the source material, what you end up with is a giant stinking bomb, and I am 99.999% sure that's what will happen here. Thankfully, this means that if someone (Darabont? Knauf?) tries to do it again and do it the right way, people will be responsive, rather than asking "why are you making this again?"

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Talisman

Well, let's start this post off with some relatively good news for yours truly: I am now the proud owner of a physical copy of The Colorado Kid!

It was ordered for me back in January by my loving wife, and was supposed to arrive on the 8th of February. After it was officially 20 days late, I gave it up for lost in the mail.

Three days later it got here, safe and sound. Yay! Still don't have a job, so all is not perfect in my little world, but at least I have a modicum of good news.

Anyway, now on to The Talisman.

This book is a collaboration between King and Peter Straub, two authors whose personal styles are all but diametrically opposed. King's prose and dialogue tend to be pretty down to earth and realistic. He also tends to keep things moving at a nice clip. Straub is quite florid and glacial, at least in my one experience trying to read one of his novels, a supernatural creeper called Shadowland. My chief issue with that book is that its characters didn't talk like people. Their dialogue sounded like they were rehearsing for a play.

But both Straub and King are important names in horror, so it might seem odd that the two of them getting together produces a non-horror novel. The Talisman is pure fantasy from the word go. And it's portal fantasy, for that matter.

As I've said before, I read a shit-ton of fantasy, and it's far and away my favorite genre, but I'm usually not a fan of what I call "portal fantasy".  You know what I mean. If I'm looking at books on the rack and one of them says something like "16-year-old Cody couldn't stand the thought of spending the summer on strange old Aunt Hazel's farm. But when he discovers a mysterious door in her attic..." such a book gets put right back where I found it.

But this isn't normal portal fantasy. It's not even portal fantasy of The Dark Tower variety. No, this is more like what would happen if you sat King and Straub in a room together, got them flying high on coke, read The Chronicles of Narnia to them and then told them to write their own version.

The end result is, well, one very odd book. It's not bad; there were some really great parts, and they probably outnumbered the less-than-great parts. It's just...weird. I'm still not 100% sure what it was about. It felt disjointed, all over the map, and that's probably because of clashing narrative styles. I understand that King and Straub basically took turns writing this thing and when one of them got stuck, or felt they'd written enough, they'd send what they had to the other and he would continue from there (though there was an outline, made by King). This means there are plenty of chapters that end on one note and the next begins on a completely different one.

For example, one chapter ends with our young hero, Jack, thinking that he's run into one of his demonic pursuers again, in this case a shape-shifter that calls himself Elroy. And when I say "thinking" I mean the prose literally says "the herdsman was the Elroy-thing". But the very next chapter begins with the words "Except it wasn't." Turns out Jack was mistaken, but I'm not sure how, because the "Elroy-thing" and this herdsman are both described and neither looks anything like the other.

That's the example that really seems to stick out to me. Also, there were times when I felt like I was reading a Stephen King novel (especially when certain words or phrases are repeated to make sure we know they have meaning) and at other times, the story slowed right down and got overly florid and I knew Mr. Straub had taken over.

I remembered liking this book the first time I read it, and I was genuinely excited to get to it this time around. That feeling didn't last throughout, however. It came in fits and starts. The beginning is boring as hell. After getting over that hump, things got better for a bit, but honestly, a lot of this made me want to go read a real fantasy novel.

Essentially, this story is about a young boy named Jack Sawyer, the son of an aging B-movie actress named Lily Cavanaugh, who has grown up all his life having very realistic "daydreams" involving other worlds and strange happenings. His father has recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, and his father's business partner, "Uncle" Morgan Sloat (does any name scream "I'm the villain!" more than that?) apparently is interested in taking care of Lily and Jack. Lily doesn't trust Morgan at all, and has moved out to a nearly deserted hotel in New Hampshire, taking Jack with her. Jack also doesn't trust Morgan, and his mind for whatever reason connects Morgan to the death of "Uncle Tommy", his father and Morgan's lawyer, who was always good to Jack and who was recently mowed down by a van.

Now Lily seems to be dying, and while wondering what he can do about it, Jack meets Speedy Parker, a friendly old black handy man (shades of The Shining) who seems to know more than he's saying, and that he knows a way Jack can save his mother's life.

You see, Speedy, and apparently Jack's father Phil, Morgan Sloat and probably several others, have knowledge of an alternate world they refer to as "the Territories", and this world is connected in a mysterious way to our own. The Territories are mostly peaceful, agrarian and technologically on par with our own medieval period. As Morgan describes it, "they have magic like we have physics", so it's basically your standard-issue fantasy world, with probably even less thought put into the social, political and geographical landscape than hacks who try to write fantasy by essentially just copying Tolkien's Middle-Earth do.

But then, that's not the point of the story. The point is that Jack's mother is dying, and there's something Jack can get that will save her; the titular "Talisman", which is all it's ever referred to as. It's in a "bad place" on the other side of the country, but Jack can get there by also traveling in the Territories, which are smaller than our world, so he'll cover more ground faster. But then, there's that connection between the Territories and our world that I mentioned. See, stuff that happens in that world affects stuff that happens in ours, such as a murder on that side causing mass death in our own, and many people on our side have "twinners" in the Territories. A "twinner", as best as I can describe it, is the version of you for that other world. Because that world is different, your twinner is different and yet they look like you. Even that doesn't really explain it because we find out that Morgan's twinner looks like him in the fact but is taller and didn't lose his hair, two things that really can't be explained by just "having lived a different life in a different place."

Twinners are a neat concept, but handled weirdly, almost as if Straub and King had different ideas as to what a twinner actually is. Morgan Sloat is the twinner of Morgan of Orris, and in one scene, Jack watches with horror as Morgan Sloat rips open a tear in reality and steps through from our world to the Territories, literally transforming into Morgan of Orris as he does so. This, I took to mean, was an indicator that the two men are pretty much the same man, or at least Orris was the guise Sloat uses when in the Territories. Osmond and his twinner, Sunlight Gardener, also seem to be more or less the same man, with similar mannerisms and memories, just a different manner of dress. Later, we're told explicitly that Orris and Sloat are two different people, alternate versions of each other, and that when Sloat "migrates" to the Territories, he automatically ends up in Orris's body, wherever Orris happens to be. This goes against the scene where Sloat steps through the rip in reality, but King or Straub, whichever of them wrote the later scene that describes what happens when Morgan migrates, tried to cover that up by saying that Sloat had been "lucky" that Orris was already there when he stepped through. This is just lazy writing because Orris was clearly not there in the scene as written, and this was a very transparent attempt to rationalize an earlier scene.

But Jack is "single-natured", meaning his twinner is dead. When Jack flips back and forth, he is in whatever corresponding spot he was in our world or their world. In a weird, almost neat twist, everything about Jack's clothes and items change, as well. His backpack becomes a medieval style traveling bag, his clothes become more medieval and his money becomes what they use for money. He even finds himself automatically speaking and understanding their language. This is never explained. Just part of the magic of flipping over.

Laura DeLoessian is the Queen of the Territories (see what I mean about geopolitical structure not really being explored? How much of the Territories is she queen of? Are there other nations? Do the Territories have a real name or are they just "the Territories"?) and she's dying, as is Jack's mother, because they're twinners. Apparently a twinner's death affects the other, but not always by both of them actually dying. It's very complicated and not really explored at all. A lot of stuff isn't really explored or explained. I sound like I'm ragging on it, but honestly, I think if King and Straub had tried to explain it, it would have been immensely unsatisfying and would have made everything lamer.

And now I want to pause for a moment and share a story with you from the first time I read this. As I have probably mentioned, I'm a divorcee, and the last time I read this I was still with my first wife. I have eczema patches here and there and one of her pet peeves was when I would get itchy in my sleep. For some reason the sound of me scratching at my eczema drove her nuts, and she would tell me to go downstairs until I was finished being itchy. While I was in the middle of reading this, one night I was half-asleep and dreaming that as I scratched my chest, a bridge was being built in the Territories. So I'm not kidding, this conversation happened between my former wife and half-asleep me:

Wife: Quit scratching.

Me: I have to. I'm building a bridge.

Wife: What? Whatever, if you're gonna scratch, go downstairs.

Me: I can't. If I go down there the bridge won't get built.

I didn't know about the conversation until the next morning when my then-wife asked "how's that bridge coming?" and I wondered how she knew about my dream.

Anyway, that's a lot of background for what's really a simple plot. Jack needs to save his mother's life, and in so doing also save the life of Queen Laura DeLoessian, and meanwhile he's being tracked by Morgan Sloat who has dark and sinister plans for the Territories, and wants Jack out of the way before he ruins them.

Sloat's goals are actually kinda nebulous. We don't spend a lot of time getting into his head. It seems like he mainly wants to plunder the Territories for their resources but also wants to rule them. It's semi-explored that becoming the Territories' absolute ruler is more Orris's goal, while plundering for resources is Sloat's. So he's basically every despotic villain you've already seen, not all that interesting, but that's where a dynamic actor could probably help. It's a bit odd just how far Sloat is willing to go to accomplish his goals, at one point even suggesting the death of his son would be an acceptable loss. Did I mention Sloat's just a talent agent? Yeah, he and Jack's dad ran a talent agency that represented his mother. Sloat was more the business end of things, while Phil, Jack's dad, handled the clientele, but Sloat wants to branch into other business ventures and considers nothing too far to go in pursuit of money and power. So, essentially, he's Donald Trump.

I sound like I'm damning this book with faint praise, but I actually do like it. I don't love it like I remember loving it the first time out, but this is an important chapter in the unfolding saga that is the SKCU, so this really needs to be filmed. Not to mention, it later has a sequel, Black House, which is both an awesome book (again, that's my recollection, and I hope I'm right) and very, very tied in with the Dark Tower mythos, so we need a film of this one.

I wasn't sure what format to film this in. Filming it as two movies, a la Kill Bill, would give it more than enough time to tell the whole story, but as I was reading I realized how episodic this book is. Jack literally goes from one bad situation to another, and they don't always build on each other. It kinda feels like I'm watching TV.

I decided to cast this as if it could go either way; a mini-series or two films. The actors I chose have done extensive work in both formats (well, most of them) and would work no matter which way it was done.

I also decided that our main character, Jack, should be aged up to teenage years. I started off thinking he seemed far too mature to be twelve, and as I read I kept thinking that. He's described as twelve but in no way, shape or form written as twelve. Same with his friend Richard, who becomes a major character in the book's second half.

Jack is described as a handsome young lad with hair that's a bit too long, tall for his age, and the more he travels back and forth between this world and the Territories, the more the Territories seem to rub off on him and cause people to be unusually drawn to him. In this case, the actor I pictured might or might not be the absolute perfect choice, but he's a good young actor who matches his physical description and has some residual popularity. I went with Chandler Riggs of The Walking Dead fame.
Morgan Sloat/Morgan of Orris was harder, because even though they're twinners of each other, they don't look alike as far as their body type. All the same, I wanted one actor to play both. Make--up, wardrobe, wigs and camera tricks can help the two characters look suitably different. When I read this the first time, I pictured Liam Neeson, only with a fat suit and balding hair when he's Sloat. This time, I realized how great James Spader would be. Spader really is short, getting heavier as he gets older and losing his hair. Considering there are more scenes of Sloat as Sloat, this means a minimal amount of make-up, etc., would be necessary. Orris would require them to make Spader look taller and slimmer, but that can be done. Spader has this crazy-awesome resonant baritone voice and naturally plays evil very well. But can I believe him as a nerdy guy who went into the talent rep business? Absolutely.
Then there's Jack's mother, Lily Cavanaugh Sawyer, who is also Queen Laura DeLoessian. I have to say, I kept my choice from the first time I read this. I feel like maybe she's too big a star, after all, this role is more or less a cameo, but somehow this actress's face is the only one I can see. The fact that she's probably older than Lily is supposed to be, but still beautiful, will help communicate Lily's illness making her age too fast. I picked Julianne Moore.
Lester "Speedy" Parker is another almost-cameo. The first time I read this book, I pictured Morgan Freeman in this role, but the more I read, the less he fit and I realized that Freeman can't literally play every magical negro out there. Besides, I've already used him. My choice for this one is probably going to cause some disagreement. See, Speedy Parker in our world looks like a very old man. Much is said about his grey steel-wool hair and lined, leathery face. But his twinner, Parkus, is a very healthy-looking badass. It's implied that Speedy has aged prematurely due to alcoholism and other factors (he actually gives Jack a bottle of cheap wine, telling him he'll need it to travel to the territories; only King would write a portal story where wine is, seemingly, what transports you). I decided I'd cast a younger actor capable of being aged up through make-up. Andre Royo is in his late 40's but those of you who are familiar with The Wire know how superbly he "de-glams". I see no issue turning him into a decrepit old man.
Then there's Osmond, AKA the "Reverend" Sunlight Gardener. Oh, what a character this is. Probably more psychotic than even Morgan, Gardener in our world is a "minister" who runs a home for wayward boys that Jack and his companion Wolf essentially become imprisoned in. Osmond, meanwhile is the whip-bearing psychopath that Orris employs as his right-hand-man. Gardener is who we really spend more time with, though, through Jack's stay at the Sunlight Home. He is probably one of the most hate-worthy characters in this or any of King's books, a boo-his villain you can't wait to see get his comeuppance. He just feels slimy. There's no better way to put it. He's basically every snake-oil salesman you've ever met, with a sort of craziness in his eyes and a deceptively soft, almost effeminate manner, until he gets to preaching at which point he turns into Billy Sunday. Osmond is a less complicated character; he's just a really bad guy who runs Orris's labor pits where the toxicity of the materials they're working with and around mutate both the prisoners and their guards. His own son (Osmond's that is, the twinner of Gardener's son) has mutated horribly, in one of the more unnerving scenes in this book (I called it non-horror, but oh boy are there some Lovecraftian overtones to this; might be part of why I like it). The first time I read this, Christopher Walken was my head-Gardener/Osmond, but this time around, I pictured him as Brad Dourif. He just does slimy so well, and I want you to feel the slime dripping off this character.
Before Jack gets to the Sunlight Home, however, he has another, nearly as bad problem after he ends up in a dying town called Oatley. He ends up getting a job at the Oatley Tap, the local bar, working for a truly despicable character named Smokey Updike. This is one of the most obvious times in the story where I just couldn't believe the character to be twelve. Smokey ends up hiring him because Jack is underage and can therefore be paid whatever Smokey wants to pay him. However, as Jack's job requires him to be seen by customers, I sincerely doubt anyone would hire a 12-year-old. A 16-year-old, though? Maybe. Especially in 1981, when this story is set, and I would actually like to keep the setting, especially considering its sequel focuses on Jack as an adult. Smokey is one of the few villainous characters in this book that's just a bad person, not a twinner, not in any way connected to the Territories. He's described as skinny and greasy, and it wasn't hard at all to picture Sons of Anarchy's Kim Coates in the role.
While in Oatley, Jack is menaced by a cowboy type who looks like actor Randolph Scott. This is Elroy, a sort of weregoat creature (but described as something more horrifying; more shades of Lovecraft) who is trying to scare Jack into going back home. Looking like Randolph Scott isn't really 100% necessary for the actor. He just has to be able to look really, really creepy and Lee Tergeson knows how to do that.
Jack doesn't just make enemies on the road, though. In fact, one of the first people he meets is the captain of the Queen's guard, a man named Farren, who isn't a large role but is certainly important. Farren's description wouldn't be out of place on an episode of Game of Thrones or something, so I cast a middle-aged, still-handsome Australian actor who can play period: Callan Mulvey.
Then there's Wolf. Oh boy. One of the more well-known characters from this story, Wolf is a werewolf herdsman who looks after the Queen's cattle. In the Territories, apparently this is pretty common, for a wolf-man to be a sheep herder. Wolfs are quite peaceful (they're all called Wolf, from what I can tell), just intelligent enough to seem like a simpleton, but much smarter when it comes to smells, and very large. Wolf himself is seemingly a young boy, at least by Wolf standards, though he looks like he's in his late teens or older to Jack, very tall and broad-shouldered and with a wide-open, friendly face. He also says "Wolf!" a lot while talking, which I pictured more as him kind of barking. Wolf is well-loved by quite a few fans (and despised by others) so I had a hard time getting someone who was just right. But then I got into watching Downton Abbey with my wife, and actor Matt Milne is just the man. He stands 6'5" and both looks and talks like a Scottish Eddie Redmayne. I don't know why, but I always pictured Wolf talking like a highlander, so this really fit even better. Watch Downton Abbey if you think this picture doesn't look giant enough. Or just google "Matt Milne Downton Abbey" and have a look at the images that come up.
At Sunlight Home, several of the older boys act as lieutenants to Gardener, the ones that have been totally brainwashed by him. In the book there are five or six of them, including Sonny Singer, the ring-leader, and Hector Bast, the enforcer, who's Wolf's size and built like a tank. I decided that really only Singer needed to be cast, sorta standing in for all of them except Bast, and Bast is so big that I had an impossible time finding someone who looked both big enough and young enough. I'm sure such an actor exists, but he's probably an unknown. Singer, meanwhile, is of normal size but abnormal evil. He's got to be played by someone automatically unlikeable and Frank Dillane can't look pleasant even when he's trying to.
After Jack escapes from Sunlight Home, he makes it to Thayer School where his friend Richard Sloat, Morgan's son, is studying. This leads to one of the most Lovecraftian scenes in the book and I bloody loved it, but Richard I found to be an insufferable little snot that I didn't like at all. I kept wondering why Jack would ever call this little shit a friend, let alone his best friend. I warmed to Richard very slightly toward the end. He's described as every kid who made you want to pound on him when you were in school; bespectacled, smartly dressed and oh-so-sure he's smarter than you. What really made me dislike him was that Richard is the sort of kid who has absolutely no patience for anything that isn't concrete, scientifically, veritably, absolutely real. He doesn't even like realistic novels. At one point Jack asks him what he's got against a good story, and Richard gives the most punchable reply possible: "Well, there's no such thing as a good made-up story, is there?" We later learn that he has his reasons for this, and they are pretty understandable, but still, I had a hard time feeling any sympathy for him at all. I picked Charlie Plummer to play him, for reasons this picture should make obvious.
The next two roles are smaller but memorable. Anders is the man who runs the Outpost Depot, a train station in the Territories set up by Sloat and Orris together, who is terrified of Morgan but who helps Jack and Richard get further west by train. I love adding technology to a traditional fantasy setting, so this put a grin on my face. Anders is described as being very tall and broad with a broad white beard and looking about 70 years old. This was a no-brainer. James Cosmo fits the bill.
Jack's father, who would only be seen in flashback, is Phil Sawyer, the twinner of Prince Philip Sawtelle in the Territories, long-dead husband to Laura DeLoessian. Jack's memories of Phil made him seem like a pretty standard nice guy, without a lot more to go on. Still, he's a large enough part of the story that he needs casting. The first time through I pictured Anthony Edwards, but he's too old now. I went through a dozen or so "nice guy" actors, discarding several as too famous for such a small role or too old, too young. Finally I hit on Jeremy Sisto, an actor it's almost impossible not to like, and as he's 14 years younger than Julianne Moore, it can help underscore just how much her disease is aging her.
Bottom line, this is a divisive book. You might like it, you might hate it, you might even find yourself liking in spite of itself. I know that scenes where everything went to Lovecraftian Hell were my favorite, but there's so much that happens in between them, and this is a very slow read. That's another area a film version might help. Just as many love the Lord of the Rings films but find the books slow and ponderous, this story is very cinematic, and just waiting to be cleaned up and streamlined.

Thinner is next on the reading list, but I'm not sure if I'll be doing a post for it. There's a film already, and I understand it's terrible, but I've heard from some who've read it that the novel itself isn't really any better. At least the title is accurate as far as the book's length, so it won't take me long (I hope) to get through. After that is another novella that's been filmed already, Dolan's Cadillac. That one probably won't get a post due to how recent the (apparently very, very bad) film version was released. The novel after that, though? Oh, it's absolutely getting a post.