Tag Archives: The Shining

Our Top Ten Stephen King Books

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MH:  Hey Craig! It’s been a while but we’re back with something we probably should have done at the outset – our top ten King books! Now, this is mainly in response to the wrongness of this list from Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/lists/readers-poll-the-10-best-stephen-king-books-20141105. I must also warn you that I did no prep, so my list will be in no particular order and be off the top of my head and will probably contain 27 books.

CHB:  I have been trying to refine mine down. I started at the beginning of his bibliography and realised I’d maxed out before I got to 1983.

But, first thing’s first: some rules. Is this Best Books, or Favourite Books?

MH:  Is there a difference? I consider my favourites to be his best because they’re my favourites. Nice bit of circular thinking there. But for me, they’re aligned.

CHB:  Fair call. We’ll go with that. It allows for some good partisan thinking.

Secondly: is The Dark Tower series one big book? And are the collections judged collectively, or for individual stories?

MH:  Collections are judged collectively, if we go for individual stories we’ll be here until next week. And I think the Dark Tower books can be judged individually.

CHB:  Good, and arrrgh.

Okay. let’s begin.

MH:  Cool, first up (and remember this is in no particular order), I’m going to go for …. The Shining. Obvious choice, of course, but oh man, what a novel. I’m re-reading it at the moment and it’s just brilliant. Chilling, fascinating, haunting, and the character of Jack is perfectly believable. Seeing the action through Danny’s eyes adds a dimension to the book that wouldn’t have been there if the story had unfolded through adult eyes. I’m assuming this is on your list, too?

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CHB:  I’m going to say yes it’s on my list, and know that nine books down the track I’m going to wish I’d saved this spot for something else. But yes, of course. Have to put The Shining there. Quintessentially perfect horror. I think the first time I read this it was the scariest of all his books for me. Leaner than others, in pages, characters and body count, but terribly terrifying. Wonderfully terrifying. And as much as I don’t necessarily agree with King’s distaste for Kubrick’s adaptation, I love his take on his own book, and how it had what the film didn’t, which is a hell of a lot of heart. It’s Jack Torrance’s soul at stake, his obliteration throughout the book, and his inability to fight back against the Overlook.

Good horror needs heart, needs that balance of good overwhelmed by bad.

MH:  The destruction of Jack’s character is the brilliant thing here, at the beginning he’s already losing out to himself in a big way, and the sense of doom that builds up is tremendous. Anyone could see that the Overlook job would be a bad idea for someone of Jack’s disposition. But he just barrels towards his own destruction.

CHB:  I listened to the audiobook recently, and had forgotten entirely that whole part of his backstory with the student and his teaching career. Perfect economy of character development that lays such a good foundation for everything that happens to him. I read a recent interview where King stated that the Overlook was his addiction written into the form of a hotel. He was very up front in saying that this was almost a confession for him.

MH:  Yeah, reading it after knowing a bit more about King than I did when I was 15, you really can see so much of him and his fears in it. We could probably bang on about The Shining for ages. What’s your first pick?

CHB:  IT. Hard pressed to not list this as my favourite of his. Towering, staggering, 1100 page treatise on the horror genre. This whole story means so much to me and my experience of stories as a child and as an adult, and how it literally and directly speaks to that idea for all of us about the things we face in childhood but forget when we’re older.

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MH:  YES! Great choice, and this would be my pick for #1 if I was going in any order. I love this book so freaking much. You’ve summed it up perfectly. Pennywise is an unforgettable character, and that opening scene with George is one of the most outstanding horror scenes ever put to paper.

CHB:  IT IS. Whenever I feel like I’m losing tone in my own writing, I go back to that first chapter. That and Stan Uris taking a bath. I love all the characters, I love all the chapters, all the sequences of them individually before they join together, and then their eventual reconnection as adults. I love Ben Hanscomb’s instruction to his mother to only feed him salads, Eddie Kaspbrak’s hypochondria, and Mike Hanlon’s slaving away as the last remaining Derry resident of the club.

MH:  When Pennywise talks to Bev through the drain… *shudders* It’s amazing it works at all when you think about how huge it is.

CHB:  Oh man. Too big for words. Best horror novel hands down.

Okay, next for you?

MH:  Under the Dome. When I first read this I was preparing to not like it, the concept sounded kind of dumb, but I was blown away by how tight it was. Despite being an 800 page book, there’s barely a word wasted in it. Big Jim Rennie is a great villain, and I liked the way King just took it as a thought experiment. If there was a dome over a town, what would happen to the air? How would the military react? What would the people do if they suddenly knew they couldn’t walk away?

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CHB:  I do love this book. Though I don’t know if I can fit it in my 10, I’m going to save a spot. But Rennie is magnificently awful. Has to be one of King’s best villains. I just finished a re-read of this, and you just hate Rennie so much, all the way through. He transcends pretty much every other character in the book. I found the ending much stronger on the re-read also.

MH:  The ending was always going to be tough with this one, the pay-off just couldn’t match what had come before, no matter what. I haven’t re-read it so maybe it would be different the second time around as you say. I really liked the concept of the ending, but it felt a little more appropriate for the ending to a novella, rather than a tome like this.

CHB:  Yeah it’s a tricky one, and I’m not sure how much was made easier by knowing it second time round. Apparently Rennie was based on Dick Cheney, which is kind of terrifying to consider.

And by god the TV series is yet another terrible missed opportunity.

MH:  I didn’t stick with it, so I have no idea where it goes in the second season, and I don’t care to know! So what’s next on your list?

CHB:  Salem’s Lot. I love it so much, probably more than Stoker’s Dracula. Really great to see King’s writing in this open up after the lean Carrie. Just a great vampire story, really well told. I love the portrait of the town, and its destruction.

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MH:  Hahaha, I am terrified of how much we’re agreeing tonight. Absolutely on my list. The horror novel about a writer in a small town that King does so well was really established with this title, and it’s one of the best vampire novels ever written. I haven’t revisited it for some time, but it’s one of those books that sticks with you.

CHB:  It is. Very much an instructive manual for me, as you can see King playing with the style and form of the horror novel (which he got perfect with IT). The whole sequence that montages the whole town through different times up to the disappearance of Ralphie Glick is so fun and terrifying. And the Marsten House. And the scene where Matt Burke has the soon-to-be vampire sleeping upstairs in his house is so great. Barlow is amazing as the villain, particularly his taunting and manoeuvres against the heroes. And it’s the introduction of one of my favourite King character, Father Callahan.

Also, can someone please make this properly into a film? It’s a straight adaptation. It’s so simple. Just do it. Make some money. Scare some people. Stop messing with a perfect story.

MH:  I haven’t seen the Rob Lowe version but I’ve heard it’s pretty bad. What I love about this is that he totally plays within the restraints of classic vampire mythology and still makes it scary, proving that vampires don’t need to be constantly re-invented to be compelling.

CHB:  Totally. Gets into the reality of what would actually happen, without falling prey to Gothic silliness.

So that’s 3 for me and 4 for you.

MH:  Next: Pet Sematary! This book is horribly fucked up and terrifying. I love it and hate it. The places he goes to with this one, taking any parent’s deepest fear and then twisting the knife in the way he does. This is pure horror.

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CHB:  Aargh. This is the hard one. I’m going to leave it off, as much as I’m loathe to. It is so messed up, so dark, but in such a way that you don’t seem to realise it until you’re there.

MH:  This is another story about addiction, once the main character starts bringing the dead back to life, he can’t stop, no matter how bad it gets, no matter how much damage he does, he just keeps on doing it in bigger ways. It is very disturbing, very violent, and very upsetting. I almost think of this as The Shining‘s evil twin.

CHB:  More terrifying still is that he apparently wrote it in no time at all, can’t remember the exact time, but it was something ridiculous like a week.

MH:  And I think he was high the whole time. What’s next for you?

CHB:  I know this one isn’t on your list, but 11/22/63.  It really caught me by surprise this one. I loved the concept when it was announced, and early chapters were great, but I got so bogged down in the history that I wasn’t sure about the book at all. But the ending was magnificent, and completely made me see the rest of the novel in a whole new light. Which is surprising, given how King is famous for sloppy endings. But this began and ended perfectly for me, in a wonderfully uplifting and heartbreaking way. Just about seeing the value in life, in small moments, and in the company we keep.

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MH:  I like this book, a lot, but it’s nowhere near my top ten (ahhh, sweet, sweet disagreement, how I’ve missed you). I did find the ending sloppy, and I thought it just sagged in the middle. Also got a bit caught up in that late-career King trend of being too nice to his protagonists. What makes it standout for me is the trip he makes to Derry and the nod to IT. I also did find the Lee Harvey Oswald sequences great.

But would have worked better as a novella.

CHB:  I kind of feel a lot for the character. As a reader I went with him, wanting to see Oswald, see the history come alive, and try to change it. You want him to do it, just as he compels himself forward (even though time is trying to stop him), and then his realisation that he’s the Jimla. The bad guy. You can’t change it, because you’re missing all the better things along the way. I love the love story in this. It’s also some of his best writing about teaching, so I’m a likely target.

Your turn.

MH:  Time for a Dark Tower title, and for me the best book in the series is Wizard and Glass. Getting the chance to see some of Roland’s backstory, and a little bit more of how mid-world operated before it really moved on was hugely satisfying. I love the mixture of sci-fi, fantasy and westerns in the whole series but it’s most vivid in this one.

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CHB:  YES. On it. This is probably my second favourite after IT. Such a good story. So well told. Every inch of this book is beautiful. It resolves the Blaine the Mono stuff from The Waste Lands (which was not my most favourite part of the series, to be honest), goes into this enormous flashback, and then winds you back up with Randall Flagg in the Emerald City. And Roland’s youth is so well written, it’s amazing that King hasn’t done more of this kind of story, but then again it’d be hard to top this.

The best of the Dark Tower series.

MH:  I really want to read an entire series about the adventures of Roland, Cuthbert and Alain! That series would be awesome! But it’s probably good that we just get this glimpse of it, it is quite perfect. This is another one that I thought I wasn’t going to like when I picked it up, because it completely derails the momentum of the main story, but after a few chapters you just don’t care anymore.

CHB:  King apparently still wants to write the Battle of Jericho Hill. He says it’s the one part of the Dark Tower stories he’s yet to do, he just hasn’t worked out how to do it yet. So there’s hope. But we did get a bit in The Wind Through the Keyhole. On Wizard and Glass though, it has one of my favourite passages in anything ever, which is this wonderful description of the changing season in Mejis, talking about how things all pass, and he finishes with the line: ‘time is a face on the water.’ Just love it.

MH:  It’s almost a shame that it’s hidden in the middle of the Dark Tower series, so most people will never actually get to it.

Next for you?

CHB:  This is where it gets hard.

I was hoping to sneak this one in unsuspectingly, but I’ll go for it now.

On Writing.

MH:  Ha! Good choice, actually! It’s not on my list, but mainly that would be because I consider it separate to the rest of his work. But I do love it. The insights into the way he approaches the craft are almost as good as the insights into his life.

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CHB:  Definitely. It’s really a book in two parts: the first autobiographical, about his take on writing, his childhood, and the origin of some of his stories (particularly Carrie). and the second part is one of the most practical, clear-headed and effective instruction manuals for writing that’s out there. It’s so generous. His whole chapter where he shows his edits on 1408 is great. And the epilogue describing his journey back to writing after the accident when he almost died is just a rocket for anyone hesitant about committing to writing.

MH:  Yeah, that epilogue is amazing. I think it’s fascinating even if you’re not interested in writing stories.

CHB:  Definitely. And only about 200 pages. Practically a sprint for King.

That’s 6 each now. Four to go.

MH:  Well, I’m going to go for a collection now. But it’s hard to choose one. I’m a big fan of Everything’s Eventual and Different Seasons, but I love Full Dark, No Stars.

CHB:  Oh controversial.

That’s an interesting, out-of-the-box selection.

Please explain.

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MH:  A Good Marriage is a wonderful story about long-term relationships, and how well you can really know a person, even if you live with them intimately. Big Driver, about a mystery writer who finds herself using the cliches of her genre to turn the tables on a tormentor is a great little story, too. 1922 is just a good, scary read. I like it because it’s King at his most self-assured, and the collection is very even. And while there are other great collections, I think this one just speaks to me in some way that makes it a winner for me.

CHB:  I’m going to have to disagree, in that while I find them all very capable, interesting stories, and even as you say, I just don’t respond to them in the way that I do with the stories in Different Seasons – which is my next choice by the way.

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MH:  Yeah, Different Seasons is a great collection, but I think that the films made from those stories were stronger than the stories themselves.

CHB:  Big call. I find it a remarkable collection, and quite astounding that King could turn out so many great novels in a short space of time, and still fit this in.

MH:  The film of The Shawshank Redemption is much better than the story, and while I’ve never been the biggest fan of Stand by Me, I think the film is better than The Body.

CHB:  Oh on that, the Rolling Stone link at the top of our conversation was a follow up to an interview with King where he listed Stand By Me as his favourite adaptation of any of his works.

Because, you know, me and Stephen King think the same thoughts.

MH:  Ah, interesting. At least he didn’t name his own adaptation of The Shining.

CHB:  Haha. Negative.

MH:  So is that 7 each?

CHB:  Yep. And so many still to fit in.

MH:  Ok, business end. Have to get The Stand in now. I love this book so much. Another epic, good vs evil story, but it’s amazing. The descriptions of the abandoned cities, the way the illness spreads at the beginning, just brilliant. I love the sequence where he describes how all the idiots who survived the plague would up accidentally killing themselves in the weeks that followed.

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CHB:  I think I’m going to go a bit crazy and not include this in my list.

And this is based largely on my latest, quite recent, re-read of it.

MH:  I am shocked and disgusted with you.

CHB:  Haha.

MH:  Hahaha, but what’s your reasoning?

CHB:  This was the first book of his I ever read. And I do love it. But I think I love others more. I think you can see the writer’s block in this too much. The first half is almost perfect, but then it gets strange. Characters do weird things like go off on a journey and then turn around and come back without there being any consequence. There’s too many contrivances in the end, and I can see him saving characters and killings characters for reasons that don’t serve the plot as well. And the resolution in Vegas is a bit of a mess. Also I’m probably still bitter that he killed off Nick Andros, who had the best introduction, and was the most fascinating of all the Boulder Free Zone characters. Sorry, spoiler spoiler spoiler but come on the book is thirty odd years old.

And these are small quibbles in an enormous book, that does so many things so well. There’s a bit of hairsplitting so that I can get other titles in.

MH:  I agree about Nick’s death, I am still bitter about that. A terrible waste of a great character, back when he wasn’t too sentimental to do it! What’s next on your list?

CHB:  The Dead Zone. It has this wonderful opening with Johnny that’s straight out of Ray Bradbury, then it evolves into this much weirder, stranger story that really explores some very interesting and ambiguous areas for King.

It’s a very sad story, very well told. And he ends this one well too.

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MH:  Yeah, I do like it but it’s not on my list. Agree with your points, though, it does have a good ending.

CHB:  Yeah I think at this end of the list it’s really about unconscious personal attachment. I find it hard to articulate why I like this one so much, but I do.

No.8?

MH:  Misery! And I think we’re up to 9, aren’t we? This one is insanely good. Annie Wilkes, what a character. And what a situation for Paul Sheldon to find himself in. This is obviously what scares King, and he conveys that fear so well. Also, the hobbling scene is awfully vivd.

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CHB:  Oh man, I forgot about that one. It’s going to miss out for me. Can’t fault it though.

MH:  I have a feeling that after this post we’re both going to be kicking ourselves for the things we missed out! What’s next on yours?

CHB:  The Long Walk. Had to get a Bachman in there. Such an unusual story, unlike any other read I’ve ever had. It’s essentially monotonous – the characters just walk. So in reading it you feel the grind, the bleak drudgery of marching to your death, emotionally exhausting, but hits its theme so viscerally.

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MH:  Interesting choice! Did not see that one coming. As you say, it is a great story and it’s very unusual. I didn’t even consider the Bachman stories for this.

CHB:  Well Misery is technically a Bachman, so I’ll give you that one.

Last choice?

MH:  For me it’s a tie between Christine and Rose Madder.

Kidding!

CHB:  At least you didn’t mention Dreamcatcher.

(Token Dreamcatcher criticism)

MH:  I think I’m going to go with another Dark Tower book, and I’m leaning towards The Gunslinger. Cracking little story that sets up so much, and has the best opening line of any of his stories.

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CHB:  Oh good, I’m glad you put this in, because I was split between this and another one.

Such an enigmatic beast this one. So unusual, and unlike so many other things in the genre.

So many good lines.

MH:  Excellent! It’s almost easy to forget it once you’ve gone through so much with the characters, but when you revisit it you’re just reminded of how well it works, it’s a bold attempt to mash multiple genres together in a Lord of the Rings style quest, and it clocks in fairly short having covered a lot of ground. Robots, mutants, cowboys. It’s basically perfect.

CHB:  And kind of humble, in its strange way. Given where the series goes, amazing how fascinatingly mundane it begins.

MH:  So what was the other book you were split on?

CHB:  Okay, my last works kind of well with this, as it’s the final in the series, The Dark Tower itself.

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MH:  Ha! I was having the same dilemma!

CHB:  And this is for pure emotional pull. It has Callahan’s death, which was the first of the many tears for me. I love his story, and how King brings him in here decades after ‘Salem’s. And even though his backstory (which is wonderful) is in Wolves of the Calla, I love his saving of the ka-tet and his refusal to give in. And Jake’s death, saving King himself. So upsetting. To see how King feels about his characters and their pull on his life.

MH:  It is so epic and such a fitting finale to the series. Although the ultimate resolution was divisive. I actually thought it was great.

CHB:  I love it. The stories go on. Anybody who doesn’t like it can go jump in a lake for being wrong.

I wanted Wind Through the Keyhole too, and Wolves, and Drawing of the Three. And parts of The Waste Lands. It’s really hard to separate this series, really is an enormous book.

MH:  Yeah, I considered Wind Through the Keyhole. The others are also great, but I think the series needs to be divided in lists like this, mainly to highlight how good Wizard and Glass is.

CHB:  True. It is the standout, mainly because it has the one plot that can be isolated. The rest bleed into each other.

Okay, well shall we wrap it up? Ten each, some controversy, some crossover. Corrected the pedestrian list from the Rolling Stone readers.

MH:  I think we did a great job! Thanks for the chat, and I guess we’ll reconvene here once we’ve both read Revival?

CHB:  Definitely. Comes out next week, and King’s talking it up as being big on the scares.

MH:  Brilliant!

 

CRAIG:

‘Salem’s Lot

The Shining

The Long Walk

The Dead Zone

Different Seasons

IT

Wizard and Glass

On Writing

The Dark Tower

11/22/63

 

MARK:

‘Salem’s Lot

The Shining

The Stand

The Gunslinger

Pet Sematary

IT

Misery

Wizard and Glass

Under the Dome

Full Dark, No Stars

 

 

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The best Stephen King film adaptations

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MH:  Hi Craig! Well, it’s been about six months so let’s do another post! Today we’re going to talk about our top five Stephen King film adaptations. Most of King’s novels and a whole bunch of his short stories and novellas have been adapted into film and TV, some multiple times. Is he the most adapted author of the modern era?

CHB:  (Six months? Wow. Time flies when you’re listening to too many Dark Tower audiobooks.) I would have to agree, it’s like he’s seen as a goldmine for Hollywood, where everything he writes is optioned, and fast tracked into script development, but the strange thing is his books are hardly the cash cow that he would appear to be, with more films failing than succeeding, for a variety of reasons.

MH:  I think it probably has to do with the ROI on horror films; they’re usually cheap to produce and stand a better chance of becoming profitable, even if they’re not breaking records. He has an in-built fan base and brand recognition, plus he’s made good sense over several stages of his career. In the 80s and 90s he was a blockbuster novelist whose books sold in massive numbers, and now he has the cultural cred that his adaptations can be taken seriously. (And for the record, it’s not been six months, I was exaggerating.)

CHB:  Phew. I was worried the senility was kicking in. See, it’s interesting though. It’s rare his horror is successfully translated onto screen, despite being the recognisable genre for King’s name. It seems to be his more straight drama that only borders on horror (or sci-fi) that reaps the rewards and is able to be adapted in a way that retains the strengths of the story.

MH:  I’ve been having a look on Box Office Mojo. Adjusted for inflation, the top 5 highest grossing King adaptations at the US box office are: 5. Pet Semetary 4. Misery 3. Carrie 2. The Shining 1. The Green Mile. A couple of interesting things from that, first it’s been 15 years since we had a King adaptation that reached blockbuster heights, and second it seems that it’s a mix of his straight out horror (Pet Semetary, Carrie, Shining) and drama/horror (Misery, Green Mile) that appeal. And that’s really his strength, he is able to talk to different audiences despite the fact that he’s primarily a horror writer.

Link if anyone’s interested: http://boxofficemojo.com/franchises/chart/?id=stephenking.htm

CHB:  Well there goes some of my theory. I guess it’s easy to forget The Shawshank Redemption didn’t actually make much money initially. But those are five of the stronger adaptations, so it does make sense. Though it does show how there’s no easy way. The Green Mile was prepared to be somewhat ponderous and risk echoing Shawshank in its style and approach, even though it was a vastly different story. The Shining famously abandoned much of the novel and set upon creating its own horror in its own medium. Carrie as well streamlined the narrative and hinged everything on one major sequence. Misery went the faithful route, to an extent, and Pet Semetary benefited from having a fairly lean and straight novel to adapt, which relied on relatively stock characters and minimal context outside of the main horror narrative.

So it’s clear that you can’t just take a King novel, adapt it, and hope for an imported audience and and surefire narrative to guarantee box office revenue.

MH:  Yeah, and I think the problem with box office charts is that they do only measure how a film did on initial release, they don’t take into account the numbers of DVDs sold, and they can’t measure the cultural impact. For example, The Shawshank Redemption must rank as one of the most popular and well regarded King adaptions of all time, but it took a while for it to find and build an audience. And those charts also don’t include TV adaptations, so IT may also rank as a popular adaptation. Anyway, shall we look at our lists? You go first, what comes in at #5 for you?

CHB:  Okay I need to make an executive decision here. I’ve got four clearly in, and another four jostling for the fifth spot.

I’m going to go with Misery.

MH:  Nice one!

CHB:  Such a strong, successful adaptation, perfectly cast and gets every aspect of how the story should be presented just right.

Kathy Bates. Seriously.

MH:  If ever there was a perfectly cast film, this was it. For the record, Misery comes in at #3 for me! What a great adaptation. A guy stuck in a room for 2 hours and it’s absolutely riveting. It succeeds because the changes are minimal and the characters are allowed to shine through.

CHB:  Yeah. And such a simple conceit. King played with this idea of a haunted writer many many times, but I think this is one of the best presentations of it. And that he’s a pulp writer as well! Just makes it hysterical, yet Bates’ character is so plausible, without ever going too far into the implausible. Oh god the hobbling.

MH:  The hobbling! It’s done well in the film but I remember feeling the pain in my legs when I read it. And the idea of the terrifying uber-fan is so interesting, that there are people who love things so much they can hurt and destroy them. I think it’s probably one of the stories where we really get to see something that genuinely frightens King.

And it’s anchored in reality more than most of his novels.

YOU DIRTY BIRD

Sorry, had to be done.

CHB:  Definitely. And it was meant to be a Bachman wasn’t it? But he was found out before the publication? So this was while he was still trying to write and yet hide part of his writing, just wanting to write for the joy of it without the pressure and expectation.

MH:  Yes I believe so.

CHB:  Oh and from memory Richard Farnsworth is in it, who is possibly one of my favourite actors ever. Made famous in David Lynch’s The Straight Story.

MH:  Yep, he is. IMDB is so handy.

CHB:  Okay, your number 5?

MH:  My #5 is the De Palma version of Carrie. I won’t go into too much detail as we discussed it at length when we did our review of the new Carrie. But it’s a film I’ve grown to appreciate more in the past year or so. There’s an approach to the material that just gets the spirit of the novel. He conveys the horror without going to the lengths the novel does, and it’s supremely well-crafted on a minimal budget.

Also amazingly well cast.

CHB:  True. Spacek is phenomenal. (Also in The Straight Story!) I wanted to find a spot for this but couldn’t fit it in. Ultimately I had to go for others, as it’s just dated a bit too much for me. But for its time was so well done, and so many elements of it have become cornerstones of the film genre. And part of cultural knowledge. People know Carrie at the prom without having actually seen Carrie at the prom.

MH:  Spacek’s performance is iconic and this really is, as you say, a cornerstone of the horror genre in film, and I’d say a cornerstone of American cinema. I know we differ on our opinions of Piper Laurie as Margaret, but I think she was great. It has dated, but I still rate it much higher than the new version. Ok, so what comes in at #4 for you?

CHB:  The Shawshank Redemption for me.

I wasn’t a huge fan of it for a long time, though I could appreciate it. I do tend to resist those films that everyone goes completely batshit crazy over, particularly ones that the mainstream embrace when they might otherwise resist certain aspects of the plot (or the author). It always smacks of being disingenuous to me, and a bit of a bandwagon. But it’s such a well-made film.

I recently re-read the novella, and I actually think the film improves on it.

The additions that Frank Darabont brought in are perfect, and most end up being the lasting impressions of the story, it’s hard to imagine they weren’t actually in the original. Particularly sequences like what happens to Brooks after he leaves prison, and Red’s final journey. They’re so well told, so gently presented to the audience in the film, it’s hard to imagine the story without them.

MH:  I agree with you 100% on this one (first time for everything)! This is such a good film, and it’s one of the highest-rated films on the IMDB which shows that it’s been embraced by audiences long after its initial run. My first exposure to this was in high school. Our English teacher was trying to give us a film course and she showed this. I had no idea what the story was, outside of it being a prison drama, and it totally blew me away. It’s powerful, it’s moving, and it’s thrilling. Phenomenally good movie. And it is so much better than the novella, which takes the form of a letter written by Red.

CHB:  Yes, and I think the best thing about revisiting this is how little the reveal of the prison escape actually matters. The story is so much more than that, and so much more than the lines people quote all the damn time. I could watch Tim Robbins rig Mozart into the prison’s PA all day long.

MH:  And another film with an amazing cast including the wonderful actors William Sadler and James Whitmore.

CHB:  Again, perfect casting. And Darabont is almost the sole director who gets King’s America, like really gets it. The two seem to just share the same vision of neighbourhoods and individuals from that generation.

MH:  Yes, it seems that if you want a trashy King adaptation you hire Mick Garris, and if you want a classy one, you book Darabont!

CHB:  Darabont and Rob Reiner. They’ve got the goods.

#4 for you?

MH:  Ok, I’m going with another Darabont adaptation and it’s one that may be surprising. I’m going with The Mist. It was great to see a director like Darabont handle one of King’s pure horror stories. It’s based on a novella that was in Different Seasons (I could be wrong about that). It’s a great story in that it looks at character dynamics, survival situations that go wrong, and it’s set against this backdrop that’s a throwback to paranoid monster movies from the 50s.

It’s rare that a King adaptation has looked so good on screen (he really used the mist conceit effectively) and the partly-glimpsed horror works well. The ending is problematic.

CHB:  Oh I wanted The Mist in there, I really did. Left out on a technicality.

Yes, the technicality was that ending.

For the most part though it’s just great horror. And so well made, all the supermarket scenes are so well laid out. Tom Jane is excellent, and looks like he basically stepped off the page. Such a King main character.

MH:  Ha, yes. And one of the things I loved about that film was that Jane’s character was an artist who designed movie posters, and at the beginning of the film he’s working on a poster for The Dark Tower. But yes, great horror both inside and outside the supermarket. And, like Dawn of the Dead, proves that our temples of capitalism can be terrifying places when the doors close.

CHB:  Nice description.

MH:  But that ending is too much, although King apparently prefers it to his own.

CHB:  I loved the Dark Tower nods. And that glimpse at the end of that huge…well, I’ll leave it for whoever wants to see it. But it is really the closest we’ve got to a great depiction of the Dark Tower world on screen.

Yes, I think I remember hearing Darabont say he wanted to make an ending like the ending in Seven. That there hadn’t been a great down ending in a decade, so they were going to go for it. But it’s too far. And the cover art lies! The poster art that promoted the film gives you an image that does not exist in the film! Completely unfair, given the way the ending goes.

MH:  Yes, it’s one of those films that I thought was brilliant when I saw it, but I have no desire to rewatch. Just can’t! But I gave it a slot in my top 5 because of that. It’s a horror film that’s so horrific I can’t bring myself to watch it again. So, what are we up to? #3?

CHB:  Yes, and I’m still on Darabont. The Green Mile.

Just edges out Shawshank because, well, I just like it.

It’s a fable, a tall tale, a myth, a prison-drama, science fiction, a question of ethics – it’s so much.

MH:  Yes, it’s a brilliant story. And again, Darabont is a guy who is able to do King justice no matter what. It didn’t actually make my list, I lean towards Shawshank. But it’s another atypical King story, released as a serialised novella in the 90s.

Have to say, once again, brilliant cast.

CHB:  Yeah, I think I enjoy that. The serialised aspect translates. Told really straightforward in these big chapters, no dressing up, no huge tricks of narrative. Here’s a story about a thing that happened. I like that Darabont used old-school film tricks to enhance the look of it as well, from the colours and feel of the Mile itself, to the emphasising of John Coffey’s size. It’s almost a children’s tale, told to grownups.

MH:  Yes, and it has the biggest box office for any King adaption, which is interesting given how different it is to what people expect from him. Setting a story around the idea of executions and then not making it a horror story really subverted expectations for his genre and pushed him towards the literary and mainstream acceptance that helped to drive this film to the heights it reached. Multiple Oscar nominations too if I’m not mistaken. Yes, nominated for Picture, Supporting Actor and Screenplay.

CHB:  That’s right. I wonder if it was the build-up of acclaim for Shawshank that made everyone jump on this when it was released. I was showing it to a class of mine two years ago, and the day we got to the final John Coffey scene was the day Michael Clarke Duncan died. Tears in the classroom.

MH:  Woah, that must have been quite a screening. I can’t even imagine.

CHB:  They loved it.

Can’t quite recall the academic necessity for showing it, but…

MH:  Seems like all the awesome teachers show King films! Hey, you’re teaching them that ‘reading’ and ‘text’ aren’t limited to the page.

That was the justification my English teacher used.

Think she actually wound up getting disciplined.

CHB: I’m going to take that as an official warning.

MH:  Hahaha, no don’t! That was my favourite class!

CHB:  Your number 3 was Misery, so number 2?

MH:  This is going to be short. My #2 is Shawshank! So we already discussed that, but I just wanted to add that Morgan Freeman’s voice over about hope at the end of the film, hits me right here (I’m patting my heart). “I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope.” I know it’s corny but it speaks to me.

CHB:  Was that in the book? I think it was. I remember reading that part aloud when I got to it.

For the record, sounded nothing like Morgan Freeman.

MH:  Yes, although not in that exact way. Also the film shows him meeting Andy, while the novella just ends with that and you have no idea if he makes it or not. Gives them completely different tones. So what’s #2 for you?

CHB:  The Shining, which I’m guessing is your #1.

MH:  Ha! Yes. I’m guessing your #1 is Stand by Me?

CHB:  Correct!

MH:  Are we really that predictable?!

CHB:  It would appear that we are.

So, The Shining though. Probably next to Shawshank the most famous adaptation of King’s books, yet so different at the same time.

MH:  Yes, and done by an absolute master filmmaker.

CHB:  It’s hard to ignore it, given that it’s effectively in the top two horror films ever made.

MH:  Scream 2 is hard to top.

CHB:  Hah. That Neve Campbell.

It rewards in spades this film. The first time I watched it I was creeped out. The second time terrified. The third scared witless. It just keeps building. Not having Torrance’s inner monologue deprives us of answers and understanding, and the film is effectively impenetrable, and offers no solution.

MH:  Yes. I make no secret of the fact that Kubrick directed my favourite film of all time, 2001. And he just takes the material and makes it his own. King famously hated this adaptation but it’s hard to see why. Yes, it deviates from his text quite a bit, but what it creates is a terrifying and unique experience.

The sets are creepy, the scares are genuine, and the tension is tangible.

CHB:  I think it’s because Kubrick and King were such different people, had such different philosophies on the nature of individuals, I think King just missed seeing himself in his story.

MH:  Yeah, I think that’s right. King’s biggest problem was the casting of Jack Nicholson, who already seemed crazy from the beginning, whereas in the book Jack Torrance is a normal man who is struggling to conquer addiction (so essentially yes, he is King). But I think Kubrick recognised that 2 hours isn’t a huge amount of time to tell that kind of complex character narrative, and instead opted to foreshadow the horror that was to come. Nicholson did look crazy and it was only a matter of time before he snapped, but that helps to fill the early sections of the film with a sense of inevitable dread and foreboding.

CHB:  That’s so right. There’s dread from the opening frame. It’s a film that feeds off dread. And so atypical for a horror story, or at least what horror cinema has become. The crazy psychopath only kills one person, and that’s it. And that’s an invention of the film, in the book he doesn’t kill anybody! But I tell you, the creepiest bit in the whole thing is that brief shot of the man dressed up like a dog. Once I read the corresponding scene in the book, and the story about how that character in the dog suit came about, it’s just terrifying.

MH:  Yeah, I agree! Dog man is so creepy. That opening with the car driving through the mountains and the eerie soundtrack. That’s just terrifying even if you don’t have any context! I recently watched the mini-series King wrote and it’s much closer to the novel. Much less terrifying though. The craft and imagery that went into Kubrick’s version is all designed to unsettle the viewer. Everything is uncanny. And the horror is unforgettable.

CHB:  Uncanny. Perfect. Have you seen the behind-the-scenes that Kubrick’s daughter made? Watching Nicholson get into character is amazing. Eerie.

Okay, so I should probably explain why Stand By Me is my favourite.

Other than the fact that it’s the best.

MH:  Yes, please do!

CHB:  Again, a simple story. So straightforward, and so clearly adapted from the novella. Which was in Different Seasons, which also had Shawshank, and Apt Pupil, which was an honourable mention for me, well worth seeing.

But again, Reiner, like Darabont, perfectly captures that childhood that King writes so well. The characters are so clearly drawn, and (dare I say it) perfectly cast. The scene where they’re all introduced, it’s just so real. The childhood sequences in King’s novels are always the bits I love the best, and that’s why I’m drawn to this story in particular. It’s a story about childhood, and friendship, and boys. Who basically just go on a walk, tell stories, argue, do stupid things, and express their frustration at growing up. And then they go home.

And Richard Dreyfuss’ voiceover is on the money. Again, last lines, just like Shawshank: ‘I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?’

MH:  Yes. And just for the record, you are correct, this was in Different Seasons as ‘The Body’ and The Mist was in Skeleton Crew. It’s funny but I don’t have a whole lot of opinion on this film. I watched it years ago and never revisited it because it didn’t have a huge impact on me. And while ‘The Body’ is a great story about childhood from King, it kind of fades into the background when I compare it with his other work. Not saying there’s anything wrong with it, probably more that there’s something wrong with me! The cast is great, it’s well directed, and it’s certainly one of the most influential adaptations of his work.

But does it have a scene where Sherman from American Pie gets killed by a mist monster? No it doesn’t.

CHB:  Yeah, it was one of those films I had seen when I was young, but I picked it up a couple of years ago and (again) showed it to a class, and was just struck by how much I now loved it.

MH:  I should revisit it.

CHB:  Yes you should.

I love that this is a journey they take to see a dead body. That’s all they want to do. It’s so clear, these boys who come to realise that one day they will grow up and die. It’s heartbreaking, but so perfectly normal.

Okay, any other honourable mentions? Or ones people should steer clear of, for all the listeners out there?

MH:  Honourable mentions, I’d go for Apt Pupil, IT (just for Tim Curry), 1408 is decent, and Pet Sematary was good. Probably best to avoid some of the worse TV mini-series like The Tommyknockers, but that was a weak book to begin with.

CHB:  Yes, agree with those, and The Stand miniseries has some nice moments, if you can get your hands on it. Avoid the ‘Salem’s Lot miniseries like your life depends on it.  And Dreamcatcher, because it’s Dreamcatcher.

Oh and Dolores Claiborne is great, in a story King wrote for her because of her work in Misery. As is Dead Zone. Just not great enough for top 5 material.

MH:  Oh fucking Dreamcatcher don’t even get me started.

CHB:  Hahaha. Shitweasels.

MH:  I think the next big adaptation we have to look forward to is Cell. Again, not the greatest novel.

CHB:  Yes, true. John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson again, just like in 1408.

MH:  And of course there’s The Dark Tower. But we could probably dedicate an entire post to that.

CHB:  True. And King’s got a new novel out soon, in about a month, so there’s that to look forward to as well.

MH:  Yes! Mr. Mercedes! I think that we should probably review that for our next post.

CHB:  Sold.

MH:  Awesome. Well, until next time…

CHB:  Get busy living…

 

Mark’s Top 5:

1. The Shining

2. The Shawshank Redemption

3. Misery

4. The Mist

5. Carrie (1976)

Craig’s Top 5:

1. Stand By Me

2. The Shining

3. The Green Mile

4. The Shawshank Redemption

5. Misery

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Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor_Sleep

MH:  Hi Craig, so we’re fortunate to have started this blog so close to the most major Stephen King release in years, Doctor Sleep.

CHB:  I know. And last time we talked about it – on the podcast – I hadn’t actually finished the book yet so a lot of my thoughts were half-formed and based on the early sections of the book. Which, I have to say, were excellent. It is quite an exciting event, a new release from someone who’s been publishing books since the 1970s, and I have been really hanging out for this one for a while, as it’s one of the few times he’s done a direct sequel. And given that The Shining is such a classic of the genre, almost a risk to write a sequel to it.

I was especially excited that King had promised on his site that it would be a return to horror for him. I think he described it as all-out, balls-to-the-wall horror. Which sounded excellent in the lead-up.

MH:  I’d been waiting such a long time for this. It had been announced years ago and the idea of catching up with Danny again after all this time was so enticing. I spent years speculating as to what the story would be, what the tone would be, whether King would try to capture the menace of The Shining or do something different. And I went out on day 1 and got my copy. So, what did you think? Did it live up to your expectations?

CHB:  Short answer: no. But it’s difficult. Expectations of sequels usually mean you’re waiting for a continuation of the story in the original. And while this does continue the story – following what happens to Danny Torrance immediately after the Overlook burning down, and then Danny’s life decades later – it’s a different type of story. It isn’t a typical haunted house narrative like The Shining, though it would have been a mistake to merely repeat that. But it’s such a different story, though it contains the same character. It’s almost like Danny wandered into a different world.

You?

MH:  It lived up to my expectations but didn’t exceed them. I had a great time with this story, and while there were certainly weak points, overall it did a great job. My expectation was that it would be a completely different type of story. Danny the man is a vastly different character to Danny the boy, and in that sense this was another great work like IT, where King masterfully looks at the changes that happen between childhood and adulthood and writes believable characters. It’s very difficult for any story to live up to a 35 year legacy and years of anticipation. I’m just glad it didn’t go all Crystal Skull on us!

CHB:  For sure. And it really is consistent with the overall spectrum of King’s stories. I don’t think he will ever return to the classic horror of the 70s and 80s. While it’s a bit reductionist to reduce characters and books to ciphers for the author’s own life, there’s definitely a parallel between King’s early demons and fears and the stories he wrote back then. And for now, it’s almost like he’s finished working through the terror, he’s now trying to make up for it. There’s a lot of redemption in his later stories. This is very much a redemption for Danny.

And, I guess, for Danny’s father.

MH:  Absolutely. That was a wonderful moment at the end where he sees the ghost of his father watching over him. You leave The Shining thinking the worst of Jack Torrance, and in Doctor Sleep you see how he was really a victim, and how much Danny loved him, still loves him. Oh, spoilers by the way.

CHB:  Yes. I don’t think it’s actually occurred to me now that parallel between King and Jack that was obvious in The Shining but less so in Doctor Sleep, given that Jack is really just a memory. But he really was one of those characters that begins as the pseudo-hero of the story, and little by little becomes the villain. And Doctor Sleep completes that character’s arc, through what happens to Danny as an adult.

What did you think about the story with the True Knot, the travelling group of vampires that feed off kids who ‘shine’, like Danny?

MH:  It’s funny how Jack is almost a character in this book. I liked the True Knot, although I think I liked the idea of them more than their actual representation. The idea that these really really bad guys are just hiding in plain sight was truly creepy. It was a great attempt to take the mundane and make it terrifying. And when he shows what they do, what they did to that one boy, it’s as brutal and shocking as anything King has ever written. Unfortunately I think they were ultimately a little toothless (so to speak) by the end. It seemed that every plan they had to capture Abra kept getting spectacularly foiled.

CHB:  Yeah, that scene with the Baseball Boy was truly horrific. And given that it happens to a child, it seems like the natural progression of the story that Abra would become under threat from the True Knot, and Danny would have to save her. (Abra, by the way, is a girl Danny comes into contact with through their shining, much like he communicated with Hallorann the chef in the original. Abra is rumoured to be the strongest child who can shine that the True Knot have ever discovered. And they want to feed off her.) But there was this point in the narrative where I felt the older King took hold and removed the child from danger, something he wouldn’t have done, and didn’t do, when he was a younger author. Abra literally stops on her journey to the True Knot, and turns back for home. She is, in the end, never really as in danger as she could have been had she physically confronted the True Knot.

MH:  Yeah that’s true, but it’s Danny’s story ultimately. It was always going to be him who confronted them. Shall we talk about the showdown a little? SPOILER ALERT. I was surprised that none of the good guys were killed at the end. As you say, it seems that the older King likes to keep his characters safe. If he had been writing this in the 80s you could have been sure of a high body count. Maybe that’s something that’s come to King with age? His books are littered with the corpses of good and innocent characters who died and didn’t deserve to.

CHB:  I really thought Danny was done.

MH:  I definitely did too, so there was tension. Just surprised he made it.

shiningfirsteditionautographed

CHB:  I loved that the showdown was in the grounds of where the Overlook had once stood – an ongoing theme of King’s, where evil resides in places, and attracts evil things to it. But it just didn’t live up to the promise. I’m wondering if he needs to retire vampires. I get that he has expanded them to be part of his multiverse that connects so many of his stories, from Barlow in ‘Salem’s Lot to the vampires in the Dark Tower books, and now to here. But these ones became a bit easy to put down. They literally just wilted in front of the good guys.

MH:  On your first point I think the location choice was excellent in that it mirrored Danny. Both look different on the surface now but are haunted by what happened. On your second point, I think it lived up to the promise. I can’t really think of what else he could have done with the concept without rehashing The Shining. And I liked that he was attempting a different spin on vampires. While I usually avoid them in books because they’re so overdone, when a unique take works it can really be wonderful (see Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt novels). Agree that they were too easy to put down though.

CHB:  Yeah, I thought there was going to be more in the ‘cycling’ that they went through. But it was really more of just a ticking clock with them. I did love the character – whose name I’ve forgotten. any help Mark? – who the True Knot recruit early on and she has the ability to put people to sleep. A really terrifying antithesis to Danny’s own role as the Doctor Sleep who eases people into the afterlife.

MH:  Hang on, I have my copy of the book here. In the first chapter she’s referred to as Andi but I think she gets a nickname later on. Danny as Doctor Sleep was the highlight of the novel for me. This is where he uses his shine to help people in a hospice pass from life to death. There was some beautiful writing in this part of the novel, and the scene where he first shows how it’s done is moving. I teared up.

CHB:  Yes. Danny is as you said the centre of this novel. It is his story, and as interesting as the interactions between the True Knot and Abra are, the scenes where it’s just Danny – growing up, seeing dead people, battling with alcoholism, and then finding work in the hospice – are the strength and backbone of the novel. He’s a great character. And I guess, after everything, I’m glad he lived in the end. Perhaps we’ve become too accustomed to noble but flawed characters dying for redemption.

MH:  Yes, the way that he struggles with himself after what he does at the beginning of the novel – stealing money from a poor drug addict he’s just slept with, in front of her child no less – is brilliantly done. He’s so haunted by that one act, it defines him in so many ways. But the fact that he struggles with it and can’t shake the guilt is what ultimately drives him to become a better man, a good man. I’m also glad he lived. There’s room for another book with Danny as an old man. What did you think of Abra?

CHB:  The haunting of that, and the repetition of that haunting throughout the narrative, is so strong. I enjoyed Abra as a character. He really does do young people well. Though to be fair, they’re generally young people who are fortunately wise beyond their years. But she needs her own story. She’ll probably return as an adult somewhere down the track. Or in one of Joe Hill’s stories. Did you say there was some connection between this and NOS482?

NOS-4R211-669x1024

MH:  She was good, but she didn’t leave as much of an impression in this that Danny did in The Shining. He’s very good art writing likeable young people. Yes, I’ve not read NOS4R2 yet but there are references to the villain of that book, Charlie Manx, in this book, and I’ve heard that NOS4R2 references the True Knot. Joe Hill is brilliant.

CHB:  (jesus, we both got this wrong, it’s NOS4A2!) Yes, NOS4A2 is on my list, really looking forward to it.

MH:  I think it’s NOS4A2 in America and NOS4R2 in the UK and Aus. Could be wrong about that though. Last question I wanted to address is, what happens with the inevitable movie adaptation? Does it get treated like a sequel to Kubrick’s Shining? Is it a standalone thing? Is it an excuse to remake The Shining?

CHB:  NOS4A2 on Wikipedia, so it must be true. I think Doctor Sleep could be ample reason to do an authentic The Shining remake, and then Doctor Sleep. We’re of course in dreamland here, where The Stand adaptation is made, The Dark Tower series is made by HBO, and people other than Frank Darabont finally discover that the best way to make Stephen King adaptations is to not fuck with the story.

I officially approve swearing on this blog starting ten seconds ago.

MH:  Hahaha good work. I think it would be very hard to remake The Shining. I don’t care what Stephen King says, I love that movie so much. It stands apart from the book though. But the way it was shot, the performances, the horror was all perfect.

007_Danny_The_Shining

CHB:  Yes. I think it was cinematic horror perfect, and the book is written horror perfect. I can quite happily have both stories exist in my head distinct from one another.

MH:  Yeah me too. Although I’ve revisited the film more often than the book (mainly because it’s easier).

Rating time! How many paths of the beam are you giving Doctor Sleep?

CHB:  Haha. Bird and bear and hare and fish and this just got super nerdy. Because it wasn’t before.

I’ll give it three. And a half.

MH:  I’m going to give it four and a half. Four because it was solid, and an extra half because it brought tears to my eye on two occasions.

CHB:  Excellent. In extra bonus news, 11/22/63 is brilliant in audiobook form. And Carrie is out this week in cinemas.

MH:  Yes! Shall we do a review of Carrie for our next chat?

CHB:  Definitely. Plug it in.

MH:  Great! See you in a couple of weeks.

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