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Monday, January 18, 2016

The Return of the Skipped Stories

It's eternity in there...
Well, it's that time again. Time to have a look at some of the stories that won't be getting their own posts or their own casts, and why.

I'll admit there weren't as many this time, because for one thing the amount of short stories between each novel is starting to grow fewer. When I first started this blog project it seemed like it was nothing but short stories, and even once I got to the earlier novels there were still tons of short stories in between. Now there's maybe two or three, and there weren't any at all between The Running Man and the book I'm reading now.

I also ended up making full posts at least twice out of novels I had initially not thought would get their own cast. I figured the world could live with just one adaptation of The Dead Zone and Cujo, but once I was done with them I felt like I wanted to cast them.

But, as I've said before, not everything King writes needs its own movie, and these stories, for a variety of reasons that I'm about to elucidate on, won't be getting one, at least from me. Which is kind of a shame because at least one of them I thought would be.

Here are the stories, and my reasons for skipping them:

Squad D (Short Story) (1978) (Uncollected)
I put 1978 as the date here, but no one's really sure when this thing was actually completed. It was intended as part of an anthology series edited by Harlan Ellison, but Ellison rejected this story, and as far as I know, it's never actually been published. I can sorta see why. It's a little weak, but then, it's nowhere near King's weakest. Several published stories were weaker. In this case it's about an old man who lost a son in the Viet Nam war, but was sent a picture of nine of his son's squad, the titular Squad D. The picture was taken by the tenth squad member, a young man who was in the hospital when the rest of his squad ended up walking across a mined bridge. So the only squad member not in the picture is also the only surviving member. Apparently he was wracked with a serious case of survivor's guilt, and the story starts on the tenth anniversary of the squad's death, when the father in question notices there are now ten soldiers in the photograph he has. He ends up calling the father of the surviving soldier, and learns that, yes, the young man is now dead. He hanged himself out of guilt, finally joining his squad both in death and in the picture. It's a little mysterious, sad, touching, but for some reason not really any of that on the level it's clear King intended. I can see why he hasn't included this this one in a collection yet. He likely never will.

Man with a Belly (Short Story) (1978) (Uncollected)
I don't know why, but I never really enjoy King's mob stories. He's written a surprising amount of them, and this is one of the few that have never been collected. I'm not sure why. I expected this one to be about a grossly fat man, as King seems to have a morbid fascination with fat people, usually making them the object of scorn, pity or loathing, but in this case, the term "man with a belly" is apparently an old Sicilian term that means a man heavy with power. Or something. Anyway, the title character hires a hitman for a job on his wife, but not a murder. That's kinda all I really want to say on the subject. Let's just say it's not a pleasant story. It's also not all that interesting. Like Squad D, I won't call it his weakest, because it isn't, and in fact is stronger than many that were collected, so I expect it will show up in a future collection some day. But it's not even close to adaptable material; it's too short, lengthening it would make it boring (which it kinda already is) and everybody in it is miserable.

The Crate (Short Story) (1979) (Uncollected)
My first thought after reading this one was that it would make an absolutely phenomenal episode of some classic anthology TV series, like The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Maybe the first one, as Hitchcock tended not to go for the (apparently) supernatural. This one has been adapted already, as one of the episodes in the first Creepshow movie, and it worked there probably as good as it can, with one exception. The story concerns a professor who, along with a janitor, discovers an old crate under the stairs in an older part of the university he works at. Whatever is in it eats the janitor and a graduate student before the professor runs to his friend's house to find out what to do. The twist that occurs near the end is genuinely not one I saw coming, and I don't think you will either. I really liked this story, and I'd like to see it filmed again some day, especially because Creepshow actually showed the creature in the crate, when the story deliberately didn't show us more than a couple of glimpses, which I thought was more appropriately creepy. This is another one that I'm not certain why it was never collected, because it's a really cool little story that worked exactly as intended. However, it's not long enough to film as anything but a short, and as I've said, that's not the purpose of this blog.

The Mist (Novella) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Well, there's a pretty obvious reason why I skipped this one. There's already a film version of it which was released relatively recently, and it was damn good. Frank Darabont always turns out a winner, and dang it if he didn't do it again. His prior King adaptations were all non-horror, so it was cool to see that he can do this kind of story as well, and do it very well. Probably the only part that wasn't so good was a brief segment where it was obvious the tentacles attacking a character weren't really there, but for the most part, the effects are amazing. I'm a little sad that I can't include this in the SKCU, but happy that this movie exists. The movie is also surprisingly faithful to the novella, with a couple of very appropriate additions and the removal of some unneeded marital infidelity. The ending caused some controversy, but I must say, it fit pretty well, as sad as it was, especially considering the story actually hints at it.

Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
I think King sometimes just sits down at his typewriter (or computer nowadays) and starts writing until he reaches a certain word count, then stops. This story is pointless. Now, the crazy thing is, it's the second story about a character King introduced in the early 80's, the Milkman, Spike Milligan, who kills. Yeah, this is the second story, but was published first, from all I can gather, so I read it first. The Milkman is barely in it, and doesn't really do much. His inclusion seems almost an afterthought. The main plot concerns a couple of drunks who work at the local laundry driving around trying to find a location where they can get a fresh inspection on their car, which is falling apart. There's a lot of drinking, a lot of pointless talk between the two of them and the vehicle inspector, and a conclusion that seems random and hideous. I can't imagine this one ever being filmed. There's just no there there.

The Monkey (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Here's another one that an anthology TV series could have sold. The plot of the story isn't really scary, but there is a feeling of doom that hangs over the whole thing palpably, and it's one of the stronger stories in the Skeleton Crew selection. So far, anyway. When Hal Shelburn's aunt dies, the aunt that practically raised him, he and his family start going through her belongings, and Hal finds a windup toy cymbal-crashing monkey that he first found as a kid. It seems broken, until it starts clanging its cymbals together, heralding the death of someone Hal knows. What got me here is how much more story there could have been about Hal and his family, both when he was younger and the two sons he has now. I felt drawn into this one and I would love to see it filmed some day, but I think extending it to a full narrative might cut that feeling of doom somehow. I'd prefer it be left as a short.

The Wedding Gig (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Another mob story, another story featuring a fat character that we're, at least initially, supposed to pity. The story is told from the point of view of a coronet player in a band back in the 20's, who are hired to play a gig at the wedding of a small-time mobster's sister. The narrator tells us about the sister's weight problem and how it was obvious that her marriage was a sham, and he has a brief conversation with her before a guy comes in with a message from a rival mobster. You might be able to guess what happens next. This story doesn't have much bones to it. It's just a "this happened, then it was over" kinda story.

The Jaunt (Short Story) (1981) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Out of all of these, I was sure I'd be casting this one. It's considered an early classic, and I felt a little embarrassed to admit I'd never read it. I kept hearing about how this one was pure nightmare fuel, with one of the cruelest, most disturbing twist endings King's ever written. I have to agree. It was a pretty awful ending (in a good way) and an interesting story, at least somewhat, up to that moment. One thing I have to kinda chuckle at is a reference by one character, from far in the future, to a "President Hart". Stephen King was a big-time Gary Hart supporter, and this wouldn't be the last time he allowed himself a little fantasy of seeing him elected. Here's the problem with filming it. The story is about 99% science fiction, and the kind of science fiction that is at least partially realistic, and it's not grim or gritty at all. The narrator is a father in the 24th century who frequently takes teleportation "jaunts" for his business trips, but this time his whole family is coming with him, and just like people in 2016 who have never flown before, his family has never jaunted. To calm their nerves he tells them about how the jaunt technology was invented, and it's a pretty intriguing little tale. And then there's...that ending. This would work very well, I mean very well, as a short film (an independent one was made, but it plays around with the story) or (I sound like a broken record) an episode of an anthology series. But if you expand this to film, which could be done, it would both dull the impact of that shocking ending and also make it sorta come out of left field, this relatively low-key sci-fi story suddenly becoming a horror story in its final moments. I'm not sure how that could work.

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Hmmm...I might not actually skip this one. More on this later.

The Reach (Short Story) (1980) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
I appreciate King's sentimental stories as much as anyone. I loved The Last Rung on the Ladder and The Woman in the Room. I bawled like a baby reading The Green Mile. I don't think there's a person alive who didn't love The Body, even if they only saw it in its movie form, Stand By Me. But The Reach, I'm sorry to say, bored me to tears. It's about a 95-year-old lady, Stella Flanders, who has spent her considerably long life on Goat Island, and has never left. The "reach" of the title is the narrow body of water that separates Goat Island from the mainland, and Stella remembers one winter where it got so cold that the entire reach froze, and her husband and some other men walked across it to spend an afternoon on the mainland. The winter of her 95th birthday is similarly cold, and Stella, knowing she has cancer and is likely to die soon, starts seeing her long-dead husband and other departed loved ones appearing to her, young and healthy, and encouraging her to come across the reach and join them. I don't know if I was just in the wrong mindset when I read this story, but I couldn't really get into it. There were tons of references to this character and that character and how they related to each other, how they died, etc., and it felt like listening to your elderly neighbor talking about the people she grew up with, seemingly expecting you to know who they are just as much as she does. I almost think a full novel would have been better, which makes me think there actually is potential for a moving, if glacial, film to be made of this. Betty White could star. But it's not a film I'm interested in doing a whole post on, ultimately. Odd bit of trivia; there's a family named Bowie in this story. Related to Dave Bowie of The Colorado Kid? Hmmm....

Now for an update on my progress. As I said, there are two versions of this next book I'm going to blog about, the original and a revised, expanded version. As you might recall, I said I was reading both, back to back. I have finished the first, and I am presently about a fourth of the way through the second, which is longer by approximately a hundred pages (it's tough to tell as the first version was trade and the second is mass market). As that's still a relatively short book, it shouldn't take me too long to finish.

After this next post, I have no idea what's really coming next. There are a shit-ton of short stories and novellas in the next while, and many (I mean many) have already been adapted, some to the point where I don't think another adaptation is needed. Among those that haven't, I don't know how filmable they are because I've never read them. The Jaunt showed me that even stuff I think I'm definitely going to adapt ultimately won't happen, so I don't want to make a prediction.

That said, I'm proud and happy to type this next line.

Next Up: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger!


  1. I don't know what's more surprising: that "The Crate" has yet to be collected, or that "The Monkey" has never been filmed. In both cases, it seems like an oversight.

    I don't know if you know this, but Brad Pitt's production company bought the rights to "The Jaunt" a while back and announced they were developing a movie. I don't quite know how; it'll have to be almost totally unrelated to the story. I love the story, but I'm not sure how you do that as anything other than prose.

    The two Milkman "stories" were apparently actually just excerpts from an unfinished novel. I remember liking them, but I couldn't tell you much about them now.

    1. Yeah, The Crate is definitely one that should have been collected, and might not have only due to oversight. After all, King didn't include The Cat From Hell in a collection until Just After Sunset, and it wasn't because he had a problem with it, it was just that he didn't realize he never had!

      I did know about the rights to The Jaunt being purchased, but I didn't know it was Brad Pitt's company. Honestly, the rights being purchased don't mean too much. There's all kinds of properties out there that the rights have been sold for but there's never going to be a movie. Again, I don't know how to stretch that narrative into a feature-length film. I also love this story, and the ending is shocking and horrifying and all that, but will it work on film? Likely not.

      I can believe the Milkman stories are part of a novel. It might even be a novel that makes some kind of sense if you put it all together. This story, though? Nope.

      I'm halfway through the revised version of The Gunslinger, and I'm tempted to put up the post about it before I've finished, considering I know how it ends. I'm pretty sure, correct me if I'm wrong, that you and other readers are pretty keen to see it. I know I'm keen to get to it.

    2. Speaking only for myself, I'd say finish it first. It's worth doing fully!

    3. I finished the revised expanded version last night. I'll be starting the post today, but as it's going to be probably the longest post I've written, I might not finish in a single day.

  2. I'm kind of surprised that you didn't end up doing The Jaunt (I keep wanting to say "we," but that might be a little insulting to your really cool, entertaining work and the time you are putting into it. You should take it as a compliment that this is really engaging stuff you're doing that I am interested in being a part of, and I'm sure I'm not the only one). But after really thinking about it, it shouldn't be a surprise at all. This thing would require some very high production value, for a story that really can't hold up over a full-length movie, for all the reasons you mentioned. I hadn't heard that the rights have been bought, but I'd be very surprised if there is anything more than a tangential connection to the actual King story. They could probably make several interesting stories about the technology, but it would probably end up with credits that say "inspired by the Stephen King story". And if it's done right, maybe we'd get a cool anthology series out of it.

    1. I did want to do one for The Jaunt. I even contemplated Tobey Maguire as the scientist and Clark Gregg for the dad. My idea was that they would focus just as much on the father's family as well as the history of Jaunt technology. But again, we're talking about a story whose main benefit is its twist ending. Can you imagine a full feature length film that's mostly really run-of-the-mill science fiction without a hint of horror, and then it ends on THAT note? I can't.

      That said, why don't we bring back the anthology film?

      Thanks for the kind remarks about my blog. As I said elsewhere, I consider you a valuable contributor and I'm always pleased to hear from you.