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Monday, February 8, 2016


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!


  1. First things first, I don't think that picture is of Charles Durning. Secondly, Durning died years ago and was nearly 90 years old, so he wouldn't have been playing anybody's younger brother. I actually liked the idea of Tobin Bell, who's never going to be thought of as anyone but Jigsaw again, but has been a solid character actor for a long time.

    Blake Jenner is actually 23, which is younger than a lot of movie high schoolers, but one of the things I love about Freaks and Geeks is that those kids all look like real high schoolers, because all of them were, except for Linda Cardellini, and she looked the right age. Butterfield is a great pick for that kind of character, and I agree with what you said about Moretz.

    You're way more knowledgeable about famous actors' families than I. I had no idea that Michael Madsen had a son acting. He looks like a good antagonist. The second I saw Giamatti's brother, I thought Giamatti. I actually liked the idea of Lieberstein, and don't know why it would matter that he's not primarily an actor. He certainly got plenty of screen time in The Office. Frankie Faison is always good to see, though his role as Barney has apparently cemented him as likable in my head, The Wire notwithstanding.

    One last thing I've been meaning to ask you: are you okay with re-using actors who have been elsewhere in the good adaptations of the King universe that need no remakes? Apparently so, since this is at least the fourth time you've done it (Harden in The Mist, Cromwell and Jeffrey DeMunn from The Green Mile, Morgan Freeman from Shawshank). Does that mean that Tom Hanks, David Morse, Richard Dreyfuss, Tim Robbins are all fair game?

    1. Oooooops!

      I honestly had no idea I had done that, and wondered what you meant at first. It's corrected now.

      Bell will make it into one of my cast lists one day. The thing is, he just doesn't have the mean-set face that LeBay needs. Maybe he should show up in one of the more overt horror movies.

      I didn't know about Christian Madsen until researching actors for this film, oddly enough. I was looking at Charlie Plummer as a possible Arnie, and after seeing some footage of King Jack, figured I didn't have my Arnie but I had my Buddy!

      Finally, yes, any actor I haven't used already is fair game, even if they've starred in a King adaptation before. I've done it here, too, with Chloe Grace Moretz as well as Harden. Also, if an argument can be made that two characters are twinners of each other, or are the same character under an assumed name, I will re-use an actor, like I did with Lee Pace and Alan Dale.

    2. For one of your next grumpy old guy roles, I hope you'll use Jonathan Banks.

    3. I'm sure there's a role for him out there. Now I'll be on the lookout for it. I'm not sure who, though, yet, because Pet Sematary doesn't have many older male characters, and I don't think he's old enough for the main older character.

      It might be a few more stories down the road.

  2. "David Bradley for Roland LeBay" for the win!

    1. Glad you like him. What do you think of the others?

    2. I didn't have strong feelings about most of them either way; Asa Butterfield works for me, Moretz a bit less so (although only a bit).

      I can;t get with Madsen as Buddy Repperton at all. This is not his fault, or yours; I can only imagine Buddy Repperton as he is in the John Carpenter film, i.e., roughly 40 years old, and with terrific Travoltaesque hair. So really, just about anyone was going to disappoint me there.

    3. Honestly I had a hard time not picturing Buddy that way myself. Oddly enough, though, William Ostrander was only 27 when he played Buddy.