I’m getting old. My heroes are getting older. As time passes and more legendary people take the long walk it’s impossible not to consider the end of things that have been part of our lives for so long. I’m older than the oldest player in baseball. I’ve watched all of my heroes retire and ride off into the sunset. I’ve watched authors write their last book, musicians record their last note, and filmmakers call “action” for the last time. Many way before their time and many at the autumn of a great long life. This column is a look at people in various parts of the business who simply need to hang around as long as possible if for no other reason than my own selfish need to cling to them to stave off my own spiraling coil.
Today’s Entry: Stephen King
Highlights: The Stand. It. The Shining. Salem’s Lot. Danse Macabre. 11/22/63. Different Seasons.
Lowlights: The Tommyknockers. The Regulators. Maximum Overdrive.
Age at time of writing: 67, but dude got hit by a van. That’ll slow you down. He’s also been married to the same person for the better part of five decades. That’ll slow you down. Substance abuse for decades. That’ll slow you down.
He also worked for EW. That’ll really slow you down.
More than any other one person in the entertainment industry, Stephen King has carried me through my life. As a kid way too young to be reading his books I read his books. It was the 70’s and I wasn’t even ten years old and I was reading his books. Understanding a lot of it too. The first half of the 80’s was the real explosion. Pet Sematary was the first book I read the of release. I was eleven years old reading about smashed children, reanimated cats, and everything else King’s notorious [he was afraid to publish it] book has to offer. It was massive for me, and his prolific release schedule married perfectly with my voracious appetite for books and my life evolved in part due to him. To this day when he releases a book it’s a holiday though I must admit his effect on me has faded with many of his recent works and I am sad to admit I am not a fan of his The Dark Tower.
I love his films too. I paid to see Sleepwalkers and Maximum Overdrive and The fucking Lawmower Man. I knew before most that The Shawshank Redemption wouldn’t be shit and that The Stand miniseries had an uphill battle. But I watched them. Planned my time around them. Still watch them. The guy is the definition of a cottage industry and what’s odd is that he’s such a part of the publishing landscape that I feel people just accept him as a part of the machine and something that’ll just go on for infinity. Now, I’m sure the guy’s got a few manuscripts tucked away for when he rides the bullet, but there is a finite amount of Stephen King left. And you won’t be seeing that ghost writer bullshit Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler have robbed fans with posthumously.
I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. – Stephen King
You’re damn right, Mr. King. Pride is an overrated trait in an author. You are writing glorified pulp and there are no tricks in the book beneath you. When horror is your primary genre and you’re a writer, you can’t have jump scares or cheap camera tricks like the movies. You still have to earn it. It’s safe to say no author has been able to deliver chills on so many levels in so many ways as this guy.
Let’s have a look.
Body of Work:
Danse Macabre – Essential reading.
On Writing – Non-essential reading.
Faithful – Non-essential reading.
Carrie – Decent book, decent movie. I know both are considered classics but I never fell in line even though I’m a huge fan of menstruation pranks. Huge fan. I was super young when this broke and Sissy Spacek’s face always scared me more than the subject matter. A great parable about the nature of humans, especially at that all too tender high school age demographic.
‘Salem’s Lot – Now you’re talking. Funnily enough I think Tobe Hooper’s Mr. Barlow destroys the one visualized in the novel but as a whole this is the first of many masterpieces for the author. A classic vampire story, one heavily borrowed from. The miniseries featured the moment of celluloid that scared me more than any other. The image of the boy floating outside the window, ruined me. Then his awkward drift into the room before giving his brother the ol’ mouthful. I saw this scene as a youth and had to sleep under the kitchen table while my parents played pinochle out of utter terror. As is the case with the best of us, I watched it again as soon as possible.
Shining, The – More masterpiece, please! Jack Torrance is one of the great characters of forever and this book is a slow burn of absolutely batshit lunacy. Though the movie is a far cry from the book, it’s also a masterpiece.
Stand, The – Amazing. See below.
Dead Zone, The – Thrifty, crackerjack, and great. It’s sort of King-lite, but still riveting and handled to perfection by David Cronenberg onscreen. Even with Christopher Walken’s hairnightmare.
Firestarter – This book is rather dogshit. At least, when it comes the golden years for Steve. The film version did land David Keith an acting gig and got George C. Scott to have a ponytail. Not small accomplishments.
Cujo – Sort of great, albeit another King-lite. The book destroys the movie version. As it turns out, St. Bernards are a lot scarier on the page. Imagine M. Emmet Walsh drooling outside your car window.
Pet Sematary – A knockout and a heartbreaker. This was a seminal book for me, especially at the time of my life when it was published. Dark shit. The movie was good too, especially because it led to a lifetime of Gage Creed and Fred Gwynne ankle jokes. “No Fair”.
Christine – Good one. Some people treasure it, but it’s sort of midrange King for me. Even with a John Carpenter adaptation.
Talisman, The – I could never get into this. Probably because Peter Straub always bored me to oblivion.
Cycle of the Werewolf – You cannot beat Stephen King paired with Bernie Wrightson. It’s absolute magic. The film version is carved asshole but 80’s Gary Busey is always a boon.
IT – A colossus. Even though it’s horrible uneven, when it’s good is life-altering and when it’s bad, there’s a camp or “what the fuck did he just write” element that makes it all worthwhile. A brutal, sad book. One that was perfect for me as a young gent with a budding sexuality. I wanted Beverly Marsh for myself. The miniseries has its moments, thanks most in part to Tim Curry at his most Currilicious. Plus, the Ritual of Chüd… how could I not?
Eyes of the Dragon – This book pissed me off. I had just weaned myself off my first fantasy kick and I wanted no part of it.
Misery – Solid. The movie’s solid too. I can’t muster much for for either.
Tommyknockers, The – A clunker on every level. I was so excited for this book and then I was so excited to burn it. The movie is an abomination.
Dark Half, The – Very strong stuff, which great character work. Timothy Hutton rocks the flick too.
Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition – This is the one for me. The book that solidified my course in life. The good and the evil. The richness of the characters. The constant twists and utter shattering of the reader as beloved characters die, betray, or lose ones they love. Randall Flagg is an all-timer. Stu Redman is another. Nick Andros is a legend. Trashcan Man. Lloyd. Tom Cullen. Mother Abigail. The list goes on and on. This gigantic novel was at my side nearly every day in high school. I read it whenever I could, carried it around like a bible, and it’s the one hardwired to my soul. And it’s also seriously uneven and flawed at times but that’s part of the magic. This gigantic release added so much greatness to an already great book, it was unheard of. A remix of a book. A director’s cut. With Bernie Wrightson art. I forced myself to love the miniseries even though it got so little right (Don’t Dream It’s Over, Don’t Fear the Reaper, and Rob Lowe being high points). I have bought this book as a gift for so many people and coerced others into reading it, I almost feel like a zealot. I regret nothing.
Needful Things – Greatness. Underappreciated greatness, actually. Especially Max Von Sydow’s work in the feature.
Gerald’s Game – Kinda shit.
Dolores Claiborne – Kinda shit.
Insomnia – Ambitious and neat, but ultimately not for me. Especially since I am not a Dark Tower guy. I’ve tried dozens of times but it’s just not for me.
Rose Madder – Kinda shit.
Desperation – Kinda shit. Especially Kathy Bates’ performance in the audiobook. I could go the rest of my life without hearing Tok Tok again. I really hated the Richard Bachman companion to this as well.
Green Mile: The – Amazing. Unique. Emotionally powerful. Warm. Filled with great moments. And when this came out I’d devour a book in a day and then have to wait for the next installment. It was a fun experiment and a rare one that works serialized, in one collection, or ultimately on the silver screen.
Bag of Bones – A great book. Also very emotional. Also a King book that treaded line between fine literature and straight supernatural horror. A winner on every level. As an aside, I never saw the TV version of it but I wasn’t psyched by the casting choices. Pierce Brosnan?
Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, The – Middling.
Plant: Zenith Rising, The – I don’t remember a single thing about this, other than I read it online and in those pre-tablet days it was a pain in the dick.
Dreamcatcher – Ok, so… I kinda like this one. And I kinda like the movie. I know it’s shit but I kinda like it. There are some good ideas here and the quartet of old friends is evocative of King’s old classics like The Body and It, so there’s a built in warmth in the story of friends who share a past dealing with a threat in the present. But it is kinda crap. I was on the set of this movie when they were filming in negative twenty degree weather and there were some great moments on that trip and some not so great ones. But I will accept the role of apologist here.
Black House – I still don’t like Peter Straub.
From A Buick 8 – I thought this was dreadful.
Dark Tower, The – There’s no book (series) I wanted to like more than this. None I tried to read more than this. It’s that white whale for me, and probably the thing I’ll commit to when I’m an old immobile fuck or when King’s body of work has taken its course.
Colorado Kid, The – Still haven’t read this.
Cell – Better than I expected, one that worked well as an audiobook. I was upset when I heard Eli Roth was making it because I think he’s a shit filmmaker but at this point I just want someone to make it.
Lisey’s Story – Tried the audiobook. Abandoned the audiobook.
Duma Key – Tried the audiobook. Abandoned the audiobook.
Under the Dome – Pretty good for a while. Then simply too much book for too little reward. Kind of dumb, really. It sucks, because our TV show at Fox suffered because the suits felt the concepts were too similar [they weren’t]. As a result I could never bring myself to watch this.
11/22/63 – Great. Great. Great.
Doctor Sleep – Still trying to fight my way through this one. I want to love it, especially considering it’s sort of a sequel to The Shining. But it’s slow going.
Joyland – A nice amusement.
Mr. Mercedes – Much better than I expected.
Revival – It’s on my ipod waiting for its moment.
The Short Story Collections:
Night Shift – Seminal. One of the great reading experiences of my young life. So many great stories. So few great movies, but a few decent ones. This was really what started me into short fiction, possibly my greatest literary love. There used to be a CHUD section devoted to it. Anyone remember Chudstories?
Different Seasons – Classics, all of them. Three great movies born from it too. The best is The Shawshank Redemption but I won’t kick Stand By Me and Apt Pupil out of bed either.
Skeleton Crew – Another winner that contains a few gems. A few solid movies came out of this too, though one of my dreams is to do an adaptation of Survivor Type.
Everything’s Eventual – I don’t remember liking it that much but upon revisiting the list of stories, it’s a great collection. A great one.
Full Dark, No Stars – Brutal and great. A good gateway for people who think Stephen King is just a junk food horror author.
Four Past Midnight – Decent book that birthed two awful films.
Hearts in Atlantis – Classic. My favorite audiobook of all time thanks to William Hurt’s amazing performance.
Just After Sunset – Not a favorite.
Nightmares and Dreamscapes – Delightful.
The works of Richard Bachman:
Rage – My first ever screenplay was an adaptation of this, written in 9th grade. It was about 120 pages and most likely awful. I wish I still had it, because no studio will ever touch a story about a kid who brings a gun to school and shoots classmates. It’s not a hot button topic at all.
The Long Walk – A lot of people love this story. I am not one of those people.
Roadwork – Pretty good stuff, albeit raw.
The Running Man – The book could not be any further from the movie. Both kinda suck.
Thinner – I dig this one and the film based on it and it has everything to do with my massive boner for Kari Wuhrer.
The Regulators – 12 pounds of piss.
Blaze – I forgot he actually published this.
Please don’t die, because…
- “They all float down here” is a part of my daily lexicon.
- No one writes like you.
- I don’t want Joe Hill to be your legacy.
- There’s still a few masterpieces in your arsenal.
- When you die, it means a lifetime of my pop culture is dying too and I’m on the tail end.
- You’re a high toned son of a bitch.
- You did a movie with a soundtrack by AC/DC.
Please don’t die, even though:
- I don’t give a child’s ribcage about The Dark Tower.
- Your best work was done under the influence.
- Joe Hill came out of you.
- Under the Dome killed my TV show.
- The Lawnmower Man.
Thanks for reading.