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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!


  1. I would have liked to see an adaptation of Word Processor of the Gods and Uncle Otto's Truck (which I think could be embroidered enough for a movie), and I must have liked Mrs. Todd's Shortcut better than you did. But thanks for the mercy skipping of Survivor Type and the incredibly unpleasant Apt Pupil. And I agree 100 percent about Morning Deliveries, which along with Big Wheels may be the only King story I would say isn't good on any level. I have no idea where he was going with it, and I probably wouldn't have published it at all.

    1. WPOTG and UOT were both just too short to warrant extensions. UOT I think would lose some impact if you tried to make it feature length. WPOTG might work. I was really hoping to adapt Beachworld. Oh well.

      Both Milkman stories feel like King sat down at his typewriter and just fired off something quick. I've done it myself. Rarely has it produced something I wanted others to read.