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Friday, February 26, 2016

The Skipped Stories Strike Back

Anyone else feel like some Beach Boys?
These last few weeks I've been consumed in job hunting, but I've still managed to get a fair bit of reading in there. Some of it I've blogged about  (The Club, Christine, Pet Sematary) and much of it I haven't. These are the stories from the last month that aren't getting their own adaptations, even though some of them I think could work.

I'll admit, much of the short stories I've been reading I have decided don't get their own post, not because there's no way to adapt them, but because an adaptation would need to change quite a bit, and as I'm devoting most of my energy to the job hunt, I just don't have it in me.

Which I feel guilty about, because I made adaptation pages for some very short stories, like Strawberry Spring and The Lawnmower Man, both of which necessitated creating characters out of whole cloth and making ideas for plot expansion.

But as I've said before, not every King story needs adapting, and many of the ones I skipped wouldn't work in any context aside from their original. As well, many of them already have been adapted, either successfully or recently enough that a second (or third) adaptation isn't necessary.

And here they are:

Survivor Type (Short Story) (1982) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
I have gathered that this story is fairly infamous among Constant Readers. It's definitely up there among King's grosser stories. It focuses on a thoroughly unlikable surgeon and drug dealer who survives a shipwreck and gets washed up on a deserted island. Don't expect any cutesy Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball stuff; this story is gruesome. First, our "hero" (who's actually one of King's most detestable protagonists) gets injured while trying to kill a seagull for some food. Now he can't walk and has nothing to eat. But he does know how to amputate a foot, and if you're hungry enough, you'll eat anything. But rescue isn't happening, and after a while the other foot starts to look I really need to spell out why I don't see this one being adapted?

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (Novella) (1982) (Collected in Different Seasons)
Even if you've never read a King book in your life, you're familiar with this one, but you probably think the title sounds way too long and clunky. Well, that was the original title of The Shawshank Redemption, a film you've likely seen even if you hate Stephen King. Frank Darabont's feature debut, The Shawshank Redemption accomplished the impossible; a film based on King's work that not only is quite faithful to the source material (but not entirely) and manages not only to be good, but great. Most Constant Readers call this the best adaptation of King's material of all time, and there's good reason for that. This film is practically a miracle. Taking an all-but-forgotten novella and making it one of the defining works of all time, creating an iconic character by hiring Morgan Freeman to play him and letting him do his thing (Freeman was robbed of the Oscar), this film is definitely one for the ages, a modern classic, and in absolutely no need of a remake.

Apt Pupil (Novella) (1982) (Collected in Different Seasons)
The second novella in this collection, and unlike the others, this one is truly dark, and very disturbing. I didn't have a good time reading this one at all, primarily because I was disgusted by both lead characters. You probably know the plot of this one; a young boy in the summer of 1975 realizes that his neighbor is an infamous (though fictional) Nazi war criminal. Instead of turning him in, he demands the old man tell him first-hand accounts of his deeds, and deeds he witnessed, during the war. He wants gritty details, or as he calls them, the "gooshy parts". The subtitle for this one is "Summer of Corruption", which I figured meant Dussander, the Nazi, would corrupt Todd, the boy, but no, Todd is corrupt from page one. Dussander just wants to forget everything he did and live out his twilight years in peace. At first he resents Todd's presence but eventually Todd starts corrupting him. I'm not gonna do a full synopsis for this one, because I think you probably already know it. This book got a film version back in 1998, and I saw it back then, only remembering certain scenes today. I'd say it's probably as good a film adaptation as this story could ever have. I know people who hated it, but the reasons they seem to hate it are taken directly from the book, so their issue is with King, not the movie. I don't think another film version is needed.

The Body (Novella) (1982) (Collected in Different Seasons)
One of the great classics of the modern age, one which nearly every film lover has seen, one that shows up on many "greatest movie of all time" lists, is Rob Reiner's Stand By Me. Everyone knows the story of four boys on their way to see a dead body, learning some important life lessons along the way. I recently re-watched it after reading the novella The Body, which most people don't even know exists, let alone that Stephen King wrote it. Yep, this is another book where the film version has surpassed the book version in pop culture, with people who don't know, and even refuse to believe, that King wrote this. The strangest part is that unlike The Shining and The Running Man, this one is incredibly faithful to the book, almost to the point of being a direct translation. The only real changes, aside from changing its name from the grisly The Body to the more heart-warming Stand By Me, are bulking up the screen time of the character Ace Merrill and for whatever reason moving the action from Castle Rock, Maine to Castle Rock, Oregon. Part of me really, really wants to do another film version as it's very self-referential, with ties to Cujo, The Dead Zone, Needful Things, even Pet Sematary. But there's a reason Reiner's film is the classic that it is. Remaking this film would go over like a lead-filled balloon.

The Raft (Short Story) (1982) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
I liked this one a lot. And it's been adapted before, as a segment of Creepshow 2. This one's a pure, out-and-out monster story that works very well; four young, sexy people, two guys, two girls, decide on the spur of the moment to head down to the lake during off season and have some sexy fun before it gets too cold. None of them expect there to be a monster in the water. It's just a scary good time, but then, that's all it is. It's a lot of fun, but there's nothing to it, and I can guarantee it wouldn't work as a feature. The adaptation from Creepshow 2 is actually pretty darn good, so there's no reason to try and remake it.

Word Processor of the Gods (Short Story) (1983) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Ah, the early 80's, when writers got a new toy to play with. No, not the personal computer, though it existed (too buggy). No, the word processor. I've never used one. I have no idea how they work, but that didn't ruin my enjoyment of this one at all, this deceptively dark tale that made me think very much of The Monkey's Paw, except with a more ambiguous ending. This story seems to have a happy ending, but it fools you. I found the ending quite dark, due to just how many unsettling implications came up. It stars a middle-aged less-than-successful writer who is sorting through the belongings of his brother and brother's family, after they were killed in a car accident. See, this guy thought of his brother as having the family he'd always wanted. He was actually in love with his sister-in-law before she got together with his brother, and still sees her as the one that got away, leaving him to marry a woman he didn't really love to begin with and now finds himself resenting. His own son is sullen, distant and lazy, while his brother's son always felt to him like the son he deserved. His nephew is also a mechanical genius, who had rigged up a word processor for his uncle's birthday, and died before he had a chance to give it to him. The machine is not in the greatest of shape and the power supply fan is making way too much noise, but in the process of farting around with it, he discovers that he can alter reality by typing and saving what he types. He shares this with his brother's elderly neighbor, who is full of dire warnings about powers man wasn't meant to meddle with. Naturally, our hero doesn't listen. One afternoon, he erases his son from reality by typing "my wife and I never had children". When he sees the horrendous change this makes in his wife (she's morbidly obese and even colder toward him than she had been", he types "I am a man who lives alone" just as the power supply is about to die, but then hastily types "except for my wife Belinda and son Jonathan", his deceased sister-in-law and nephew. Then the power supply dies completely, leaving him unable to erase what he's done. The story ends with his nephew, now his son, coming in to apologize for the machine dying on him, and the two of them go into the house, seemingly peacefully. But damn if I didn't finish this one more concerned about all the unseen repercussions of unpersoning two people and resurrecting two others. King doesn't show us anything like that. He just leaves it to our imagination, and I'll say this much; if I think about it too much I get the creeps. The story is short, but powerful in its own right and really shouldn't be extended past this format. It was adapted once, as an episode of Tales From the Dark Side, and I haven't seen it, but I understand it did the story justice. That's really enough. But I highly recommend you do read it.

Uncle Otto's Truck (Short Story) (1983) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Another Castle Rock story, with references to other events in and around the town (and we're hardly done with it, either). This one is narrated by a young man named Quentin, whose uncle, Otto, was an early entrepreneur in Castle Rock, but just might have murdered his business partner. In fact, Quentin is sure he did. His partner died after an old truck he owned but no longer ran rolled off its blocks and crushed him. Quentin thinks Otto rigged the truck to crush him. Otto then, for whatever reason, builds a small house directly across the road from the field the truck has stood in for decades, and becomes convinced it's getting closer to him. The story's ending is somewhat predictable, but I liked the way it was done, and some shivers definitely went down the ol' spine. If the anthology film or TV series ever comes back en vogue, I nominate this one to be adapted. But as a stand-alone film? It just won't work. Not nearly enough story there.

Cycle of the Werewolf (Novella) (1983)
I don't think there's a weirder beginning to a Stephen King story than this one. It began as an idea for a calendar. Yeah. Artist Bernie Wrightson and King teamed up for a calendar that each month would feature an illustration by Wrightson and a short write-up by King. The problem was, King felt like he didn't have enough space to write all that he needed to, so the idea was expanded into novella form and published, stand-alone, with Wrightson's illustrations. For each month, there's a full-page color illustration and there's a two-page slash picture that details what month we're in. The pictures are all well-done, but I like the black-and-white ones better than the full color ones. They're more evocative, especially the one for August. The plot concerns a werewolf that is terrorizing the small town of Tarker's Mills. That's...pretty much all that's going on. There's a hero in a young paraplegic who manages to harm the wolf if only by accident, there's some minor drama going on, but honestly, this is one incredibly forgettable story. Nowhere near King in top form. He's just having fun. Now, this has already been adapted once, the name changed to Silver Bullet, and by and large is considered a cheesy, forgettable movie. I can't help but think a remake would be the same, especially because it would likely use a lot of CGI for the werewolf effects, and those never look good.

Gramma (Short Story) (1984) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Another great one. A genuine creeper that made the hairs on my neck prickle. Many a kid knows the terror of being left alone with their infirm, possibly senile grandparent. There are sweet old people and then there are frightening old people, and the titular Gramma here is clearly one of the latter. Young George (man, King uses that name a lot) is the kid in question, staying home to make sure there's someone to bring a cup of tea to Gramma if she wakes up while his mother drives into town to visit his older brother in the hospital. George has always been a little scared of Gramma, but in an attempt to feel older he tries to pretend he isn't. But the longer he's alone with her, the more he remembers old stories...stories that imply his grandmother actually is a pretty scary person. Then there's the ending, which is all the scarier thanks to how easy it is to picture it. There's a bit of Lovecraft to this story, always welcome. So why am I skipping this? Because it's been adapted twice, including once fairly recently. There was an episode of The Twilight Zone that adapted it, and a film, which changed the title to Mercy for some reason (Gramma in that movie is named Mercy, but in the story she's just Gramma) which I have not seen, but have not heard good things about. As this movie isn't even a full month older than my youngest child, another remake this soon is probably not called for. But I wouldn't mind a good film version of this being made some day when Mercy is a long-forgotten film.

Mrs. Todd's Shortcut (Short Story) (1984) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
As with some others on this list, I assumed this one would make a good story. What I'd heard about it made it seem like a nice, Lovecraftian creeper. I was wrong. It's actually kinda boring. It involves an old groundskeeper for a rich summer resident of Castle Rock (and yes, there are references to other Castle Rock stories, such as Cujo) recounting to the story's narrator (yeah, narrating to the narrator; King does this more often than you'd think) the story of the first Mrs. Todd, who disappeared a few years ago. Homer, the groundskeeper in question, was often the sounding board for Mrs. Todd, who was always trying to find the quickest way to get anywhere, and, as Homer discovers, she found in the process several Roads Not Meant for Mortal Man. This part of the story worked well enough. The alternate worlds she was traveling through seem pretty scary, but they take up less than a third of the story, which is pretty short as it is. And far from being truly harmful, Mrs. Todd seems to love these alternate roads and traveling them has made her younger. To be honest, this story ends in just about the cheesiest way it can, and it almost seems like one of those old songs from the 50's like Strange Things Happen or whichever. I wasn't impressed. King's done better. No need to adapt this one.

The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet (Novella) (1984) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
There's a movie in here. There definitely is. But to make it, much of the way it's told would have to be changed. This story is a study on madness (which is the titular bullet), as it examines two men losing their minds together. As I read, I thought it sounded like prime material for one of the two Davids, either Lynch or Cronenberg, and as there were similar elements to the film version of The Naked Lunch, I lean toward Cronenberg. I've wanted to see King team up with either Lynch or Cronenberg for years. The way it's told is odd. It's a conversation where an aging editor is at a celebration get-together with a young writer, the writer's wife, his agent, and the agent's wife, and as they're talking, someone mentions the great one-book-only author Reg Thorpe, who died young and only published the one novel, the classic Underworld Figures. Someone idly asks if he ever wrote anything else, and the editor pipes up: he did write something else, and this editor is the man who tried to get it published, and went crazy in the process, as did Thorpe himself. The two of them enter into a shared delusion about tiny creatures called Fornits who bring good luck to those with creative minds, and a shadowy agency, known only as Them, determined to kill Fornits. It is a fascinating story, but I can't see it translating perfectly to the screen, nor do I really have any idea who would play the various roles. The editor could be played by Peter Weller, James Woods or any other of the lead actors Cronenberg likes to work with. I pictured Tobey Maguire or perhaps James McAvoy playing Reg Thorpe. The rest of the cast would likely be Canadian actors. My only request, if anyone wants to film this, is that you include in some capacity or another Stephen King's poem "Paranoid: A Chant", which I was already thinking of early on while reading this, and then it was confirmed that there's a connection by having the editor actually use the description "paranoid chant" to describe some of the letters Thorpe wrote him. If you've got a copy of Skeleton Crew, read both one after the other. They fit perfectly.

Beachworld (Short Story) (1984) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
Damn, but I really wanted to make a movie out of this. I'd only heard snippets about it before reading it, but after reading it, again, I think it would need significant changes to make it work in full length, and I'm not sure how much energy I want to put into changing the narrative. It follows two astronauts in the far future who crash land on a planet that appears to be nothing but sand. It's called Beachworld rather than Desertworld because one astronaut, Rand, who starts losing it almost as soon as they've landed, calls it a beach in need of an ocean. His colleague, Shapiro, even says something like "What do you call a beach with no ocean? A desert." Long story short (not really, the story is pretty short), the planet itself might actually be a sort of genius loci that gets into Rand's head and tries to get into Shapiro's as well, but before it can, a salvage ship arrives. I think there's a possibility of this working, but I'm not sure how. If there was a movie, I pictured Jamie Foxx as Rand, John Cusack as Shapiro, Michael Rooker as the cyborg captain of the salvage ship and some character actor, maybe Peter Fonda, could be the captain, Grimes, who dies on impact in gruesome fashion. In a film, he'd have to be a character.

Morning Deliveries (Short Story) (1985) (Collected in Skeleton Crew)
I cheated with this one. I read it out of order. Bad me. I did it because it was the only story left in Skeleton Crew that I had not read (and yes, I read the poems, too), and it was only five pages long. I figured there wasn't much reason to leave those last five pages unread until I'd read two novels (one frigging huge) and a novella. So, forgive me for breaking reading order this one time. Basically, this is the prequel to Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game, which I'd already read and written on, despite it being the second "Milkman" story, because it was published first. I've been told by Bryant Burnette over at The Truth Inside the Lie that these two stories were evidently pieces of a full novel King was trying to write about a homicidal milkman named Spike Milligan, but I'm kinda glad he didn't inflict that on us. Spike is the central character of this one, and he's a killer. Not even such a charismatic bad guy that we like him in spite of his evil; he's just a guy who puts harmful things in milk bottles, apparently just for fun. This story was quick, inconsequential and forgettable.

And that's all for now. I just began The Talisman, so I'll be at that one a while. It's not The Stand-length but it's longer than any other King work I've tackled so far other than The Stand. It's definitely getting a post, though, so bear with me as I do my best to get it done.

Next Up: The Talisman!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Pet Sematary

Gather 'round, boys and girls, as your friendly blogger tells you the story of the first Stephen King novel he ever tried to read.

It was 1988 and I was but a bloggerling. I had never read, or watched, horror, or at least not on purpose and had no real desire to. At the time, I was a complete fraidy-cat, one who had nightmares for weeks after the Large Marge scene from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and who looked away in the final moments of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

But even if I'd wanted to, my parents, a Baptist minister and his almost superstitiously religious wife, would never, under any circumstances, have allowed it. I don't just mean in the house; I mean at all. When a friend of mine had a birthday party, his mother rented two films for us to watch; Coming to America and Halloween 4. His mother told my parents what the movies were, and I was told very strictly to stay long enough for the first movie and then to come home. So, at age 11, I got to watch Eddie Murphy being fellated but not a killer slashing up teenagers.

We had a tiny little church that didn't even have its own building (we met in a school), and my father made it his practice to personally visit each new regular attender, and to bring his family with him. One such visit was to a young single woman, and I barely remember it, except that she had a book on her coffee table with a single, terrifying two-letter title, It, written by a man I'd never heard of.

My father, however, did know about him, despite never reading him, and he mentioned the book while we were there. I could practically write a book about my father and Stephen King, but that's not the point. The point is, that title awakened something in me, even though I didn't know it at that moment.

I had a friend at the time. He was also a pastor's son, but his my parents made his look like pot-smoking hippies. He was three years my senior, and his brother was one year older still. This made them practically adults in my eyes. I credit this friend with my present-day nerdiness. While the title of It woke up a dormant need to be scared, my friend's collection of comics, toys and the like sparked off my appreciation of all things geeky. I'm not sure he knew that, so if you're reading this, Michael, thank you.

Anyway, I can't remember how it came up, but I told him about learning who Stephen King was. Between this conversation and the church visit, I had seen several books of his at the library, including Christine, The Shining, 'Salem's Lot and Pet Sematary. It turned out, my friend was a King reader, at the time, anyway, as was his older brother, and both of them assured me that if I were to read one sentence King wrote, I would be in immediate need of a change of underwear. My friend showed me his copy of Pet Sematary. Stamped on the back were the words that would follow me around for a couple of years: "The most frightening book Stephen King has ever written."

At the time, I decided, okay, that's enough for me. If it's that scary, and Stephen King is known for horror, I don't want anything to do with it.

Cut to midway through eighth grade.

I had spent several years treating King's books like a bus crash. I didn't want to be involved, but every time I saw a book of his on the shelf somewhere, I wanted to pick it up and look at it. I kept wondering about that Publishers Weekly quote. What made the story of a pet cemetery so frightening? Why, out of all these scary-looking books, did that one get the honor of being called "the most frightening?"

I brought this up with another friend (I lived elsewhere by that time) and it turned out, he had a copy and had read it. Before I knew what was happening, I had asked to borrow it. He agreed. And thus, Stephen King stopped being a name I merely heard about, and became someone I had actually read.

At least partially. See, I was terrified of what my parents would do if they caught me with a Stephen King book. My parents were pretty particular about what I read, and not just in the sense of making sure I stayed away from stuff that was too violence, sexual or scary. My mother honestly believed that horror of any sort was straight from Satan, and that reading it or watching it opened up doors that led you down dark paths, farther and farther away from God.

So I only read it at school, or in the bathroom at home (meaning I had to wait until no one was even close to the bathroom door when I went in or out), and if I was really daring, once I'd gone to bed. I was terrified that my parents would see the light on under my door and then the jig would be up. I did manage to read a significant amount of it. I got as far as the Creed kids at the dinner table, Ellie asking Gage to say "shit", and then I started feeling like I'd had it long enough that my friend might expect it back soon, and I had enough of it left to go that I became convinced that eventually my parents would catch me with it. I gave it back to my friend unfinished.

Years later, in my early twenties, now a stepfather myself and with several other King novels under my belt, I read this one again, this time all the way through.

It is at this point that I must warn of spoilers, as there's almost no talking about this story without discussing the ending.

This is Kingian horror at its best, and I mean that in every sense of the term. First, it's overt horror, which King engages in surprisingly infrequently (see my last post), and second, it's horror that manages to scare you and to move you on a deeper level. It's a meditation on death, and how different people deal with it; both the idea of it and the reality of it. It's about how a rational human being can be driven to the deepest irrationality by the inability to face and accept death. Death and grief are the theme from practically the first page, though it doesn't really become evident until the middle.

It does so in such a way as to really get under the reader's skin. It brings you face to face with just about the worst kind of death that could possibly exist; the death of a young, innocent child. The first time I read it all the way through, it was hard enough to read, but this time, now the father of an adult woman (that's the stepdaughter, but I'm the only father she's ever known), a fourteen-year-old son and a sixteen-month old, well, it nearly undid me. Cujo was just the warm-up. For a bit, I hated King for making me feel this death so deeply. I looked at my own kids and thought the only thing worse than one of them dying would be my wife dying and...oh my god KING YOU BASTARD!

At least one of my readers is likely going to want to skip this one. King has hit me with child death several times now, like in the aforementioned Cujo and to a slightly lesser degree in 'Salem's Lot (that poor baby!), but that was kid gloves compared to Pet Sematary, which I still hold to be the most emotionally devastating book that King has ever written.

It focuses on Louis Creed, a doctor, who takes a job running the infirmary at the University of Maine, and thus moves his family, including his wife Rachel, five-year-old daughter Ellie and nearly 2-year-old Gage, to the nearby rural town of Ludlow.

By the way, if you Dark Tower fans need a clue that this story doesn't take place on our level of the Tower, how about the fact that in our world, Ludlow is nowhere near the University of Maine, nor is it close to Bangor or Bucksport, which in this novel are called the two closest towns. For that matter, both Bangor and Bucksport are south of Ludlow, while in the story it's between them. There's also a direct tie to Cujo, as a character mentions a dog that went rabid, killed his owner and had to be shot. Cujo takes place in Castle Rock, which according to various sources is supposedly in southern Maine, not northern coastal Maine, where real-life Ludlow is. Also, Route 15, which plays an important role in the story, doesn't run through Ludlow.

Okay, geeky obsessing over, back to the story.

At first, everything seems normal, even good. Ellie loves her new school, all of Louis's family loves their new home, and right away they make a friend in charming 83-year-old neighbor, Jud Crandall, who becomes something of a surrogate father to Louis. Side note; when you read this, do you hear his name pronounced the French way? I see "Louis" and I think it's pronounced "Louie", whereas "Lewis" would make me think the "s" is pronounced. Anyway...

Jud shows them around town, and it's through him that two important details come up. One is that Route 15, which is the road that runs right past both their homes, is very dangerous, as giant trucks routinely speed down it on their way to or from the Orinco Plant in Bucksport. It's killed numerous pets, and seeing as the Creeds own a cat, Winston Churchill, or Church for short, they need to keep a close eye on him. For that matter, make sure their kids stay in the yard. We call this foreshadowing, everyone.

Jud also shows them the burial spot where, for decades, kids have been taking their pets after they died, due to the highway and other incidents. There's a sign painted above its entrance, spelled "Pet Sematary", for those who have always wondered why this book's title is misspelled.

But one night, while his family is out of town and Louis is by himself, Jud calls him and tells him that Church has been hit by a car. Then, Jud takes Louis to the real pet cemetery: an ancient Micmac burial ground that has been a hushed secret of the town since its founding. Nothing buried there remains quiet for long...

Now, I've said quite a bit, and you might be able to judge for yourself where this is going, but still, the journey getting there is one I think you'll still...well, not enjoy, really, but be enthralled by nonetheless.

For an adaptation, I could see this going the way of the art film, being a modern day "prestige horror film" in the vein of The Exorcist or The Omen. Thus, I want an artsy director. The man who helms this has to be someone who can reach through the screen and grab our grief sense and make it not just a tear-jerker but a mood alterer. Who can make an impact like that? Probably Alejandro Gonzalez Innarittu, who makes us feel every leg of the hero's journey in The Revenant.

For a cast, this one seemed to almost cast itself. There were a few roles that threw me for a bit, but ultimately, this one was rather easy. I should mention something, though. One is that, as I'm sure most of you know, this has been adapted before. The leads were played by Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby and Herman Munster Fred Gwynne. With the possible exception of Gwynne, I don't feel like either lead really brought it. Both were sort of blandly attractive, inexpensive and not very memorable. Since literally 95% of this novel takes place from Louis's perspective, you've got to have a truly great actor in the lead, and Dale Midkiff just isn't that actor.

My choice is Ryan Gosling. Like Louis, he's 35 and in good shape, physically a great match for the character, and I think more than able to take on the devastating work this role will need. Gosling is practically today's Brando, and if there's an actor that can make us feel everything Louis is going through, Gosling is that actor.
Well before I started reading it, I thought of Natalie Portman as Rachel, Louis's wife and the female lead. One reason is that she's the right age, another is that she's Jewish, like the character, and a third reason is that when Natalie Portman cries, you want to cry with her. No mother should have to go through what Rachel goes through, and Portman will bring that idea to the fore.
Jud Crandall was the hardest role to cast, and the one I think I'll get the most disagreement with. As I mentioned, he's 83, but a hale, hearty 83. When Louis first meets him, he assumes him to be a very healthy-looking early 70's-ish. I'd forgotten this detail (that he doesn't look his age) when I started reading this time around, and was thinking about the possibility of Robert Duvall, but when I read that line describing how young and healthy he looked despite his age, I thought, why not go even younger? Fred Gwynne was 62 when he played the role. I thought about Jon Voight or Jeff Bridges, seriously got stuck on Bridges for a bit, but then settled on Kris Kristofferson, who's 79 but could pass for mid-sixties. However, Kristofferson is slowing down of late, and doesn't look as tough as he used to, so if he ages too badly, Bridges can step up without much difficulty. Bridges is 66, and looks maybe 60 at the earliest, so I think he's in danger of looking too young, which is why I chose Kristofferson.
Aside from the two Creed kids, that's literally all the major roles. I cast a few of the others, however. Specifically, Steve Masterton, the PA who works with Louis at the University, and maybe doesn't get a lot of page time but there's a scene later in the book where he tries to get the Creeds to pull together following their tragedy, and it's really effectively done for a character who's not really major. It made me want to see the movie beef up the character, and I chose Aldis Hodge to play Steve, because he came closest to matching how I pictured the character.
Norma Crandall is Jud's wife, who in the movie is dead before the story but in the book is just old and infirm, and dies later. I thought she should be included, since a scene where Louis saves her from a mild cardiac event is what prompts Jud to help Louis bring Church back to life. She could be played by just about any older actress, but I chose Grace Zabriskie.
There are two more characters who work with Lou, and although they're not large roles, both of them are very present characters who are involved with the funeral and I felt they needed to have faces put to them. The first is Louis's chief nurse, Charlton, who isn't described apart from being older and kinda hard-faced. An image came to my mind as to how she looked and sounded, but I couldn't place an actress to her until I saw a picture of actress Gillian Armenante, and realized that was just how I was picturing her.
The other is Surrendra Hardu, the night doctor who is of Indian descent. There's a lot of middle-eastern actors who are gaining popularity in Hollywood, and I figured this was an opportunity to see another one get some work. I picked Irrfan Khan, who just looks like a doctor to me.
Rachel's father, Irwin Goldman, is not a huge role, either, but damn if he's not memorable. The classic father-in-law from Hell, Irwin causes quite a scene at Gage's funeral. He's described as looking pretty old for his age, bald and with a permanent scowl on his face. His wife Dori is also in the story, but she does so little I didn't see a point in casting her. Irwin, however, made me instantly think of Richard Schiff.

Finally, there's Victor Pascow. I had no intention to cast him when I started reading, but after this re-read, I decided his scenes were important enough that I'd want a known actor to play the character. He's a college student who gets hit by a car on Louis's first day after classes start, and for reasons King chose to leave mysterious, his ghost is the one trying to warn Louis about the dangers of the Micmac burying ground. As he's a jogger and described as muscular, I couldn't stop seeing him as Taylor Lautner.
So that's Pet Sematary and thank Christ it's over. I don't think I'll ever read this one again, not because it's bad but because it succeeds so well at what it wants to do. It might be a while before I'm fully okay again.

My next read, once my nerves are settled, is Cycle of the Werewolf, which I already know I won't be doing a full post on. After that it's the rest of Skeleton Crew, The Talisman, Thinner and Dolan's Cadillac. After that, that's it. Ha ha. See what I did there?

I don't know which of these will be getting full posts. The Talisman for sure, and maybe one or two more. Either way, I'll probably be doing a "skipped stories" post next.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Stephen King, General Fiction Writer

What I am about to say probably isn't all that controversial.

As I've been reading Stephen King over these past few months, I've come to a realization about him. It's one that I think has occurred to a number of other Constant Readers over the years.

Stephen King, the man often referred to as "the Master of Horror"...isn't a horror writer. Or at least, he isn't exclusively.

I don't think this is something that can be argued, as much of King's literature that has become popular out in the general public can't be called horror by any stretch; movies like Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, Dolores Claiborne and The Green Mile as prime examples. But then, it's kinda funny how these are among his most beloved film adaptations and yet there are still people who have no idea that they're based on his works, and in many cases won't believe you if you tell them. After all, Stephen King writes horror, and these aren't horror.

But does he? To answer this, we have to first define what "horror" is, in reference to it as a literary genre. This is hard, because the word can be pretty subjective. What might be a horror to you might mean nothing to me, and vice versa, not to mention how often the word is misapplied.

"Did you see how the Red Sox were playing last night? That was horrific."

But, if we're to define the term, shouldn't we start with the dictionary? Webster defines horror three ways:
  1. painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay
  2. intense aversion or repugnance
  3. a state of extreme depression or apprehension
Now, most literary genres are pretty easy to define. Crime fiction is about, well, crime, mystery is about mystery, romance is about love, science fiction is about real science used or applied in fictional ways, fantasy is about the fantastical or mythical, historical fiction tells a fictional story in a real historical setting, etc.

So what about horror? What, as a genre, is it about? Certainly it's not just about ghosts, vampires and other things that go bump in the night, as much of what is labeled "horror" doesn't feature anything remotely supernatural. And much of what does really shouldn't be thought of as horror.

Let's pose a question. What genre does the movie The Sixth Sense fall into? Horror, right? I mean, of course it does. It's about ghosts!

Okay, so I suppose Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth are horror as well, right? Now you're scratching your head, because you likely studied one or the other of those, or both, in school, and surely school wouldn't be teaching horror as part of its curriculum.

But Hamlet features a ghost come back to convince his son to murder his uncle, there's a good deal of suspense, violence and darkness, and it ends with all the main characters dead. Macbeth features not just ghosts, but witches, and it features a once noble character going mad with the idea of gaining more power, murdering people he once called friends and allies, being visited by their ghosts, and it ends with his head on a spike.

Sounds pretty horrific, right?

Of course, neither play is thought of as horror, because ultimately, both offer much for the viewer or reader to think about, reflect on, etc., and while both may come to sad endings (they are tragedies, remember), neither one inspires feelings of painful and intense fear, dread or dismay, intense aversion or repugnance, nor do I think, as sad as these stories are, that anyone has finished them and felt extreme apprehension or depression.

So, if they're not horror, despite featuring ghosts and witches, why is The Sixth Sense considered so? After all, while the main plot does concern a child who can see ghosts, and there are a few creepy scenes, did you walk out of the theater feeling painful and intense fear, aversion, repugnance, apprehension or depression? Not only do I strongly doubt that you did, I also do not feel that the movie intended you to feel any of that. When people bring it up today, no one talks about how scared they were by it. Mostly they mention one of two things; the tour-de-force performance of 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment, or, say it with me, the twist ending.

It was labeled horror due almost strictly to marketing.

Let's compare it to another movie that was released the same year. The Blair Witch Project was, at the time, a relatively inventive movie that told the story of three young film school students trying to film a documentary about a local legend in a small town. The three students disappear, but now their footage has been found.

That's the setup, anyway, and the movie does all it can to be as authentic as possible. The actors' names are the same as the characters. The cast really did spend days in the wilderness, camping and making their own food, wearing the same clothes day in and day out, and filming themselves with two hand-held cameras. They were not given a script, and the only direction they received was notes they found each morning upon waking up as to where they were supposed to go and what they were supposed to do. One of them going missing, the flight through the woods in the dark, the creepy sounds around their camp at night, none of the actors were told about this.

The result is a palpable feeling of dread that you feel because it's so obvious the characters feel it. Heck, the marketing campaign didn't even make it clear that this was fictional; some thought it really was recovered footage (this was before the "found footage film" became its own genre). The whole point was to make you, the viewer, terrified. To inspire in you painful and intense feelings of fear, aversion, etc., etc.

My point is this; while it's possible to be made afraid by stories that are not horror, I don't think we can or should label something as "horror" unless there is a clear attempt to make you feel that painful and intense fear, dread, apprehension, etc. In short, to be horror, it has to want to scare you. And I don't mean make you afraid for the characters.

I hear this all the time: "That book scared me so much. I was sure (character) was going to die!" But let's be honest; that kind of thing doesn't scare you. There's no painful, intense fear that lasts once you've closed the book. You were afraid for the character, not for yourself. That kind of story plays up suspense and character empathy, but not true fear. Your spine stopped tingling when the book was over. Once you put down to do other things throughout your day, the feeling of fear did not follow you. You wanted to get back to it to find out if the character lives to the end, but you didn't spend the day worrying about yourself and wondering if you're going to meet the same fate the character. You aren't afraid the the villain is going to come for you.

And that's what I mean by horror. An author isn't writing horror if they're not playing with your own personal feelings of dread, fear, revulsion, apprehension and depression. Maybe they're not very good at it, or the methods they use, which might work on some, don't work on you. But all the same, you can probably still sense the attempt to play on those feelings; to make you scared, and keep you scared once the book is closed.

I'll use an example from the book I'm reading right now. The last time I read Pet Sematary, I felt many things, including overwhelming depression (and now, re-reading it, I'm starting to feel it even before getting to the depressing parts) and a creeping fear about whatever was going on in that burying ground. I remember reading one scene, near the end, late at night when my house was quiet, then putting the book down to go to bed. Almost as soon as I turned the light off I wanted to turn it back on, and every little noise made my eyes pop back open. I even imagined I heard a child's laughter in the hallway outside my door.

Pet Sematary is horror. It's one of the few straight examples of horror that King has ever written.

See, nine times out of ten, I don't think King is trying to stir up those feelings of painful and intense fear, dread, apprehension, etc. Even when he introduces the monsters and creeps, it seems like he's more focused on the characters, making their struggles real to you, making you care about them, which often has the side-effect of making their fates all that much more affecting. While one could suggest that's a horrific thing to have to feel, again, I can't define fear or sadness for the characters as the same sort of emotion as fear and sadness for yourself.

How many of the novels and short stories that I've read so far truly were meant to inspire fear in the reader? Honestly, not as many as you'd think. Probably less than half.

Of King's novels thus far, I would only use the term "horror" to describe 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, Christine and Pet Sematary. Oddly enough, I might also include Apt Pupil from Different Seasons, despite the entire point of that collection being that King can write more than horror. It doesn't quite fit, but I can tell you that the depression it inspired was absolutely still felt after the story was over.

Several of the short stories King wrote can be considered horror, no question, but each collection so far has included a healthy mix of genres.

But let's look at the others. Carrie might have been marketed as horror, but why? Carrie herself was a very sympathetic character, and even when she snaps and starts murdering people with her powers, we still are more or less on her side. Margaret White can be considered a scary person, but again, only due to the threat she poses to Carrie's physical and mental well-being. I strongly doubt anyone reading Carrie became afraid that Margaret would come for them.

The Stand is pure post-apocalyptic fantasy, and while it's an amazing book, one that I literally cannot praise enough, the enjoyment I derived from it came from the characters and their situations. I enjoyed the main plot on the same level that I enjoyed the plot of, say, The Lord of the Rings or a number of other fantasies.

The Dead Zone was a deeply emotional, and strangely political yet apolitical, thriller. Not one iota of horror to this one, and I don't think anyone would argue with me. Some might argue The Stand or Carrie, but I have yet to come across anyone who considers this a horror story.

Firestarter; another thriller. There's a bit of science fiction involved, but mostly it's about a man and his daughter fleeing from a government organization.
Cujo certainly had its intense moments, and the movie scared plenty of people, but the novel mainly made me afraid for the characters, Cujo included.
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger is fantasy from the word go.
I've already talked about how Different Seasons was supposed to prove Stephen King didn't just write horror, but the funny thing is how little horror he'd actually written thus far. 

None of Richard Bachman's initial novels are horror. Dark, yes, but nothing close to horror. I shouldn't count those, however, as people still didn't know Bachman was King.
I haven't ready everything past this point, but I've read a lot, and read about the stuff I haven't read. About half of it could be called horror. The other half is a mix of almost everything.

In fact, I wonder how often King really set out to write something that would scare his readers. Even his overt horror novels focus more on character development and interaction than scares. That doesn't mean the scares aren't there, though, nor does it mean their impact is blunted. If anything, the fact that the characters become so real to us just hones the edge of the fear. But can you really suggest that King's main goal, ever, is to scare us? He's always got a bigger story to tell, and the scares just come naturally as part of the story, when they come at all.

Of all the horror writers out there, Stephen King seems to remain the ur-example, the go-to name when people try to think of horror story tellers. Even Lovecraft is a distant second these days. He's one of the more venerable names on the market; one of the only names that nearly everyone knows. Think of other authors who've managed that. How many of them were considered horror writers? Don't talk to me about Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley; its their big works people remember. Mostly, neither one wrote horror.

Here's where a King critic might resort to an argument I've heard countless times; that he's a flash in the pan. Fleetingly popular, and will be forgotten in ten years time. The problem is, people have been saying that about him since the mid 70's. If it was gonna happen, wouldn't it have happened by now? And then there's the argument that he's lost whatever he once had and isn't even trying anymore. I somehow doubt that most of those who think so have even read much King to begin with. Some of my favorite King novels came in the late 90's, early 00's. If I can believe reviews, both from professional and non-professional sources, he's produced some great stuff in the last decade as well.

This is because King isn't a horror writer. Oh, yes, much of what he writes has elements of horror. Some of it is overtly horror. Much of it isn't. All of it is so much more. He doesn't write to scare. He writes human stories that speak to all of us, that we relate to on some level or another.

He's one of the great American authors. It's almost a shame that history will likely remember him as "that great master of horror." He's that great master of the written word.

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Reading Order (Screenshot)

Just to give you all an idea of what the next little while brings for me.

You'll notice that some books and stories have been marked as read already. This is because I've read them in the past. They're still getting re-read this time around.

As you can tell, this is just a small slice. The full list is 216 items long.

I have got a looooooong way to go.


Let's go back to summer 1978. Bell-bottoms and tie-dyes aren't entire gone, cars are transitioning from boats into boxes, The Bee-Gees, Abba and Queen are eating up the charts, Star Wars has invented the blockbuster and everyone's eagerly awaiting the next installment in that franchise, Jimmy Carter is busy carving his name on the "worst president ever" plaque, your friendly blogger is learning to sit up on his own and a kid named Arnie Cunningham just bought a 20-year-old muscle car from a strange old man.

Yes, King made this book a period piece, just after spending four stories in the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's in Different Seasons. I'm guessing in this case it was so that a car from the 50's would only be twenty years old, not nearing 30, because there's no way anyone would try to sell a car that old. I didn't realize this was a period piece the first time I read it, because I didn't check the publication date and assumed this was another book from the 70's, but nope, it's from 1983.

This book is one of those that a lot of people think they know about but I'm betting not many have read. John Carpenter made this into a movie the same year the book was released (whaat?) and stuck to the story pretty faithfully, and apparently it was something of a hit. Opinions on this one are sharply divided among CR's; some will tell you that it was great, others will tell you it sucked. I'm on the "good, but far from great" side of that argument. Could it stand a remake? I think so.

The plot concerns a young outcast teenager named Arnie Cunningham (why are nerds always named something like Arnie or Ronald or Delbert or some other name that paints a target on them?) who just happens to be best friends with a popular jock. Now, I confess I didn't see a lot of realism here. Arnold and Dennis are portrayed as closer than brothers, and they make no attempt at school to distance themselves from each other, yet Dennis is popular and Arnie is an outsider. The reason for their friendship is that they grew up together, becoming friends back when popularity didn't matter.

Real life has always gone somewhat differently. One of two things would happen. One; Arnie and Dennis would simply grow apart as their peer groups worked to separate them. It would be gradual, neither one would really be at fault and eventually they would stop being aware of each other. The other possibility is that Arnie would be semi-accepted into popular society, even as a sort of "mascot" due to his friendship with Dennis. He still would be mocked, but in a more jocular fashion and would learn to give as good as he got. He still wouldn't get dates, but he'd be allowed at the parties. He might be made water boy of the football team. His skill with cars would be recognized and appreciated. But he'd still be only on the fringe of acceptance, his place among his peers contingent on his friendship with Dennis.

The first is the most likely. The second is probably how I'd like to see him portrayed in a future film.

Arnie is short, skinny, bespectacled and pimply. He's not strong, not handsome thanks to his complexion and while he is smart, he doesn't have any one particular course of study he excels at, other than fix cars, which isn't considered an academic pursuit, so really, he's got no peer group to be part of. His parents are worse. Both are college professors and while his father is somewhat reasonable, he's also completely under the thumb of his domineering wife, who wants to control every aspect of Arnie's life.

This part I could really resonate with. Without going into too much detail, I know what it's like to have parents that have no intention of letting go or letting you find out who you are on your own. I know about parents who, when they discover their son has a will, decide the best thing to do is break that will. Dennis, who narrates the first and last thirds of the book, even points out that Arnie's parents have no idea, nor would they care, that their micromanaging of his life is one of the reasons Arnie turned out the way he did.

For the most part, Arnie has let his parents control him, let the school kids turn him into their whipping boy and let the world keep him on the sidelines. But that all changes the day he sees Christine for the first time.

Christine is a 1958 Plymouth Fury. When he first sees her, she's sitting disconsolately in her owner's yard, falling apart, and he buys her no questions asked. Dennis, who gets bad vibes from the car (and owner) right away, tries to talk Arnie out of it, but Arnie's in love.

From there it's a rather repetitive story of people in Arnie's life objecting to the car and his owning it, all of them getting the same bad vibes Dennis got. Everyone but Arnie himself, who dedicates himself to building her back up to brand new, and in the process, seems to change as a person himself.

He gets more confident, his complexion clears up and he even gains the gumption to ask out the prettiest girl in the school, who neither knows nor cares about Arnie's prior reputation. And before you ask, yes, she's creeped out by the car, too.

Carpenter's film version cleans a lot of this up; repeated scenes of people suggesting that maybe Arnie's a little too into his car, Arnie getting upset at them, showing more and more signs of changing and not necessarily for the better, all of that being condensed into a fairly tight two-hour film. And really, the book is much longer than it needs to be. It's over 500 pages, and I feel like there's less story here than there was in The Body, which is just over a fifth its length.

The two lead characters are what sell this. No, not even the car. The friendship and what it's put through in this book are what kept me reading. Arnie is a very relatable character, as is Dennis, even though my own High School career was closer to Arnie's. The horror concerning what's happening to Arnie was bittersweet for me because I loved the scenes where Arnie developed a backbone and told off the people who had, up until now, made his life miserable. But then it becomes obvious that it's not really him...

I'm about to get a little spoileriffic, so I apologize. Skip two paragraphs ahead. The book never really makes clear what's going on with Christine. She obviously has a will of her own and feels possessive of Arnie, trying to turn away his friends (or turn him away from them) and avenge him against his enemies. Meanwhile Arnie seems to be acting more and more like Roland LeBay, the man who owned her previously, who, according to his brother, was a real piece of work. Arnie starts using his phraseology and having his "the world is against me" attitude. At first it feels like Christine is haunted by LeBay's ghost, but it's implied to be more than that. LeBay is part of Christine now, but she had a will of her own before LeBay bought her. Now she's hoping to possess Arnie the way she possessed LeBay. The movie also takes this turn, showing Christine being manufactured and killing a man before she's even off the assembly line.

Several years after I read this the first time, I read Hearts in Atlantis, a mosaic novel made up of four novellas and a short story, and the first story, Low Men in Yellow Coats, has strong ties to The Dark Tower, introducing some of the servants of the Crimson King; the titular Low Men, who wear long yellow trench coats and drive large, loud muscle cars. The novel From a Buick 8 focuses on one of those cars and how it behaves once it becomes separated from its driver. Ever since reading those books, I wondered if Christine herself might not be a Low Man's car that went rogue. Unlike the movie, the book never talks about her on the assembly line, but the idea that this car was born evil really makes me want to tie her to the Low Men, even just to have it end with Christine crushed in a compactor, and have a man in a long yellow rain coat walk up to her and murmur "What
did they do to you, baby?" while caressing her. Think about it; she's an old muscle car from the 50's, there's something that sets her apart even from her fellow make/models ('58 Furies did not come in red and white), is obviously sentient and self-repairing. I know it's cheesy, but as I'm trying to create a SKCU, I see no reason not to do this. Someone told me that trying to connect all the stories together makes the universe seem smaller, and while I can see where he's coming from, I guess my thinking is this is the whole point; connecting it all.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is my choice for writer/director on this one. What made me choose him was the fact that he made a winning film centering around three teenagers and their dysfunctional issues but he also does horror. And choosing him is about to make me look like a huge Glee Fan.

I'll admit, I did watch Glee during its first couple of seasons, mainly because I like music and singing, but it really grated on me after a bit, particularly how it stopped appreciating the music of yesteryear and focused on modern pop songs, which I hate, and, well, if I have to go into all the reasons why Glee sucks, we'll be here all day.

But I do like the cast, or some of them, and one of Glee's cast members is going to star in this film.

Blake Jenner is playing Dennis Guilder, the narrator of the beginning and end and really, the main character. Or at least as main a character as Arnie. Jenner is a handsome, muscular young actor who is easily believable as a jock, but also easily believable as the nicest of nice guys.
Jenner actually made me wonder about this, though, as the three central characters are teens, and what could I do to keep them from aging out of the roles in less than a couple of years? Well, most movies cast teen roles with actors in their mid- to late twenties, and since Jenner is only 21, as long as the others are relatively young themselves, we should be okay. For Arnie himself, I wanted someone who looks young, innocent, not physically strong, but capable of being both nerdy and kinda cute. Keith Gordon, who played him in the movie, was basically that, but started off good-looking and then just took his glasses off. I'd want a good make-up job to give this Arnie pimples, and maybe adjust his posture so that in the early parts of the movie he's kinda walking hunched over, and gradually straightens up as he gains confidence. I chose Asa Butterfield to play him. Butterfield really is 18, and looks and talks like a real 18-year-old, but we're used to 18-year-olds on film being played by people in their early 20's (like Jenner), so having Arnie be played by a kid just one year older than the character is supposed to be will make him look smaller, meeker, more vulnerable.
The third most main character is Leigh Cabot, and this is where the script (and the right performance) could lift a fairly bland character into someone worth watching. Leigh's name might as well be "love interest" and she seems shoe-horned in so that there can be a prominent female character, but she does little except act her part. She's supposed to be the prettiest girl in the school, which the first film got very, very wrong, casting Alexandra Paul (who's very attractive) but hiding her in the frumpiest clothes and a wall of hair, while casting Kelly Preston as the shallow cheerleader that Dennis dates but grows tired of. Kelly Preston is a thousand times cuter in this film. Leigh needs to be breathtakingly beautiful without looking slutty, and needs to be believable as the type of girl who'd go for personality over looks, choosing Arnie after turning down a number of other guys. Chloe Grace Moretz was too pretty to be the outcast Carrie White in the 2013 remake of Carrie, but she's just pretty enough to be a great Leigh. She also has a sort of gravitas to her that most actresses her age do not have. She seems several years older than she actually is (in personality, not looks), very self-possessed and confident. She's one of those teen actresses I feel will have no problem whatsoever transitioning into adult acting.
Then there's Roland LeBay himself, and I gotta wonder why King chose to name such a vile character after his most famous character ever. The other Roland came first, and here's King giving the same name to a thoroughly miserable, hateful character. LeBay is an elderly man who hates the world and everything in it, except for his car. He bought Christine new, and throughout his life, she was the only thing he ever showed love to. But now, well past 70 and unable to drive, he has let Christine go to pot and eventually sells her to Arnie. (SPOILER) Then he dies. It's implied a few times that the car is possessed by his ghost, but toward the end it's made clear that it's more like he and this car were kindred spirits. Both his daughter and wife died in the car (his wife by suicide) and yet not only did he keep it, but the idea of getting rid of it made him more upset than losing his wife and daughter. The actor I chose for him is known for playing thoroughly unlikeable characters despite apparently being a sweet guy in real life. But let's face it, he just looks like an old crank. I chose David Bradley.
When Arnie needs a spot to get his car fixed up, he chooses Will Darnell's garage, owned by a local racketeer. Darnell is one of those guys with all kinds of crooked business dealings, and he's a pretty unlikeable guy in his own right. He's described as being older, overweight, smoking cigars, you know the type. He'd be easy for almost any character actor to play, and in fact the film version had him played by Robert Prosky, the king of "Hey, it's that guy" actors, or at least he was while alive. Now, I'm gonna say something that might ruffle some feathers. The name "Darnell" always makes me think "black guy". I know there are white guys named Darnell, and I know that King didn't intend for Darnell to be black, or he would have had one of his "bad" characters call him the n-word. He was pretty fond of that back in this era. But literally every man named "Darnell" (first or last) that I've met in real life has been black. So, I pictured Darnell black. I did the first time I read this and the second time. In fact, this time the image of a large, older black man chomping on cigars led me to cast Frankie Faison.
Arnie's parents play a larger role in the novel than they do in the movie. I've already talked about how his mother (in particular) wanting to control every aspect of Arnie's life is largely responsible for both Arnie's initial personality and the bitterness Christine is able to exploit. Regina Cunningham is the classic overbearing mother, and I admit, the first time I read this book, I pictured my own mother in her place. This time I just tried to think of actresses who can do that disapproving "I'm just shocked that my boy could do this" look, and I came up with Marcia Gay Harden.
His father is more reasonable, seeing things from both Arnie's perspective and his wife's. Michael Cunningham is described as being relatively tall, wearing a pathetic little goatee and having a constantly sad expression, like he just heard his best friend died. Initially the sad look made me think of The Office's Paul Leiberstein, and yes, I know he's not really an actor, but neither was Phyllis Smith, who last year starred in one of the biggest movies of the year. That said, I eventually hit upon an actor that I think it's a real shame he doesn't get more work. His name is Marcus Giamatti, and he is the older brother of a much more famous actor. Marcus, like his brother, is the master of the "hang-dog" look, but he's much taller and seems like a pretty stereotypical dad. So he's my Michael Cunningham.
Buddy Repperton is a pretty standard bully character, and one of the first to live up to the "King bully" trope. You know, the one where King's bullies are utter psychopaths who only don't kill our heroes because someone steps in and stops it. I think Repperton is really the first example of this. Even Ace Merrill wasn't totally willing to use the switchblade he carried, and when he finally did beat up Gordie and the others, it was far from fatal or even hospitalization worthy. I think Ace would have thought twice about bringing out a switchblade on school property, and I know he would have considered the possible consequences of destroying someone's car. Not Buddy. There's not a lot of character here, but he plays a big part of the story, so we need to cast him. There's several lines that imply that Buddy is at least a few years past graduation age, but got kicked out and let back in so often that he still hasn't graduated. In fact, it's sorta implied that this is true of most, if not all, of his "gang". Michael Madsen is one of those character actors called in to play tough guys all the time, so I figured his son could play a junior version. Christian Madsen is a young-looking 25 and fits right into the character of Buddy Repperton.
Dennis really finds out just how bad Roland LeBay is, and the history of him and Christine, from LeBay's brother George. George is described as eleven years younger than Roland (which I'm kinda ignoring for this) and nicer but still hard-faced. I admit, I wasn't sure whom to cast here. I've been wanting to use Tobin Bell and Peter McRobbie since this project started, but both men are too old, and neither one looks mean enough to be Roland. So I went with Charles Dance, who does indeed look like he could be the younger brother of David Bradley.
I'm not casting most of Repperton's gang, because despite each one being named, most of them are just faceless mooks. But one of them in particular makes an impression: Moochie Welch, who actually has a character quirk beyond "one of Buddy's gang" (he makes his living "spare-changing" in front of movie theaters and concert arenas) and is the subject of a pretty gruesome death. The first film has him played by Malcolm Danare, who was tall and heavy, and I liked that look for him. So I picked Andrew Caldwell, who is also tall and heavy, and can play a dumb mook like Moochie.
Of course, once Moochie dies, this plot really becomes more than just "will Arnie be corrupted by Christine" plot and becomes a genuine murder mystery. Enter Det. Rudy Junkins, described as a "small, dapper man". This made me think almost immediately of Clark Gregg of Agents of SHIELD fame, and every scene of his just made it easier to see him in the role.
I'll be honest; my reading rate is slowing a bit. Part of it is fatigue and part of it is being unemployed and consumed by looking for work. Prospects are picking up in that area, so without getting too hopeful, it's possible that this will change soon, but for the time being, I think my blogging rate is going to slow down a bit as well. I read when I can, but being home full time with a baby means that even time away from the job hunt means I don't get much reading or computer time. I no longer have long commutes and lunch hours to read during, but don't worry, I'm still committed to this project.

Uncle Otto's Truck, Pet Sematary, Cycle of the Werewolf, Gramma, Mrs. Todd's Shortcut, The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet, Beachworld, The Talisman, Thinner, Dolan's Cadillac and Morning Deliveries stand between this read and the next Beam holding this blog up. I know at least one of my readers is wanting to get some of the biggies read before I get to them, so I am putting this up to show just how much I have to get through before I get to It. Most are short stories or novellas, but The Talisman is a very long novel, and Pet Sematary is nothing to sneeze at, so it will be a while before I get to It. Which I'm very excited to get to.

I'd say most of those stories aren't getting adaptations of their own, but I can say for sure which one I'm doing next.

Up Next: Pet Sematary!