Stephen King

February 16, 2016

Simplistic TV: 11/22/63

PROMISE
11/22/63 – Promise

Not many reviews of any kind grace the pages of the site much anymore, mainly because we either get around to talking about it on the podcast, log them on Letterboxd (on occasion), and the fact that every other site on the Internet talks about the same stuff over and over ad nausea, so what’s the point? However, since the Grammys are on, and who really gives a crap about seeing 1,000 cut-aways to Taylor Swift being “happy” for every single artist that has ever stepped in front of a microphone, I thought I’d dust off the old writin’ fingers and give a few thoughts on the surprise Hulu Original, the James Franco-led “11/22/63.”

Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this eight-part series features a time-traveling portal that takes the user back to 1960. Al (Chris Cooper), the proprietor of the diner in which the portal resides, convinces Jake (Franco), a schoolteacher, to travel back into time and stop the assassination of John F Kennedy. With hesitation, Jake enters the portal and is transported back to 1960 and travels to Dallas, Texas.

Most of the time, when King’s works are put to TV or celluloid, the results are mixed. Most of the miniseries’ that aired on network TV back in the 1990s and early 2000s had solid starts, and quickly fizzled out (I’m looking at you “Storm of the Century”). And of course for every “Stephen King’s It” you have duds like “Dreamcatcher,” but being that this is the golden age of TV is almost seems time to see more of King’s work on platforms like Hulu; they can take chances, there are no limits, and with audiences moving to cutting the cord and watching shows on their own time, this might be one of the biggest success stories for any of King’s works and could lead to a revival of “The Stand” or any other work of his that at one time was seen as unfilmable and too big for TV. If anything, at this point in time, in order to tell the story completely, his stories are too small for the silver screen, and perfect for the small screen.

In the first episode, you really get a taste of things to come in this short series. The world seems fully realized in recreating the 1960s with a combination of small town rural and big city Dallas. The creepiness factor moves in with Kevin J O’Connor as the so-called “Yellow Card Man” and the reoccurring comment to Jake; “You shouldn’t be here.”

The early comments are me are as follow; How are they going to show how time travel affects the present, and will eight episodes be enough to tell this story? To the first comment, that is a resounding, “we’ll see” it was partially explained within the first 20 minutes or so, but I’m interesting to see how the bigger implications come into play. As far as the eight episodes, the novel was 800+ pages, so if you figure 100 pages an episode, hopefully it should work, take into account that I’ve never read the novel, so hopefully people loyal to the book will agree on that.

Lastly, you can’t talk a Franco-led show or film without some pretty funny Francoism, and this episode has two whoppers. Early in the show, when Jake first enters the portal, he mentions that there better not be any spiders, and later on, while in 1960, he’s eating pie and mentions how the pie is. Of course this could all be coincidence, but I like to think that Franco is making a concerted effort to relive/make fun of his days in the “Spider-Man” series. Speculation of course, but I like to think that’s what Franco was trying to do.

Overall, from a production, acting, and story standpoint, “11/22/63” is almost unsurpassed. I love the look, I love the tone, and I simply think this is a well crafted and well made adaption of a novel (of course, like I said, I haven’t read the novel, but it looks good) that might have eagles eyes on it from die-hard fans, and TV people alike. Hell, if this works out, we might be looking at more King work going to a studio that knows exactly what to do with it. Don’t mess this up Hulu!     

October 7, 2015

The Horror Time Capsule – 1990: Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift

EARWORM

Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift – Earworm

I’ve done my fair share of reading Stephen King, but most of his longform work can be just that….work. I’ve mainly enjoyed his short stories in “Night Shift” and “Skeleton Crew,” but that’s mainly because I have a short attention span when it comes to reading. This brings me to a film that while it isn’t very good, it’s very memorable; “Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift.”

“Shift” is the tale about a backwoods town where the economy is based around a mill that is infested with rats, and other murdery type creatures. A group of men, and a woman, are tasked with cleaning up the mill and getting it up to code by clearing out out the rat problem. However, there is bigger, deadlier, problem around the mill and people start turning up dead.

The film runs a tidy 88 minutes, which is just the right amount of time to tell the tale of a mill with rat problems, but there are plenty of fun takeaways from this film.

One, Brad Dourif, who you might knows as the voice of Chucky, or if you’re not a horror fan, as Grima Wormtounge in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, plays the creepy exterminator who hates rats and makes an instant impression. He reminds me of the foul-mouthed cousin of John Goodman’s exterminator in “Arachnophobia.”

Two, there are some very odd accents in this film, namely Stephen Macht, who’s accent is a place between a southern plantation owner and a British parliament leader, it’s just odd, and somewhat oft-putting.

Three, and this is only if you stick around for the whole film, the credit song. A combination of lines from the film and jazz beat, this might be the most memorable part of the film.

Overall, this isn’t a bad film, it’s just a Stephen King short that ended up being a film like so many films before and after. “Gravetard Shift” just happens to have enough quirks to make it enjoyable and memorable.

If you thought this film was bitchin’, check out these others from 1990:

Child’s Play 2
Gremlins 2
It
Leatherface: TCM 3
Nightbreed
Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
Tremors

May 8, 2015

Slaughter Film Presents: Action Movie Time Machine – The Running Man


SUBVERSIVELY ENTERTAINING
This “Action Movie Time Machine” trek will continue with the totally awesome theme of Arnold. So strap ourselves in, light up your cigars and hold onto your butts!
The year is 1987. For Broadcasting made it’s debut, the Atari 7800 Game System hit store shelves, and the band Aerosmith got a badly needed boost in popularity with the re-release of their song Walk This Way featuring Run D.M.C.. The world mourned the loss of Clara Peller – the woman who couldn’t help but ask, Where’s the beef?”,and Arnold travels to the future to star on reality television in, “Running Man”.
THE SKINNY
“Running Man” is set in the not too distant dystopian future of 2017 Los Angeles. In this future the economy has collapsed, unemployment has skyrocketed and what’s left of the government is frantically trying to maintain order among the civilian population who live in a police state.
Here we meet Ben Richards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a keeper of the peace. At least, that’s what he thought his job was. When dispatched to quell an angry group of food protesters, he received orders to kill them on sight. Richards refused, and as a result his para-military peers killed the protesters and Richards was framed for their murder. This is the future he lives in.

Later Richards manages to escape his work camp prison with help from William Laughlin, Yaphet Kotto, and Harold Weisse, Marvin McIntyre. The three escapees meet up with the “underground resistance” — because when you live in a dystopian future there is always an underground resistance. The resistance helps them each escape the city.
Meanwhile, Damon Killian, Richard Dawson, host of the top rates television game show “Running Man”, is made aware of Richards’ escape. Familiar with his alleged murderous tendencies, Killian wants Richards, and his prison friends, captured to be used as a contestant on his show.
So, what exactly is “Running Man”? This show selects convicted criminals to participate in a gladiatorial adventure in which they must survive in a “Hunger Games” like arena with trained killers who are stalking them. If the contestants survive, their criminal record is erased and they go free. If they are caught by the “Stalkers”, they die. All of which is being broadcast live for the entertainment of the home viewers.
The television executives work hand in hand with the Entertainment Division of the Justice Department. The show entertains the masses while making examples of the lawless – encouraging them all to fall in line with the demands of the ever powerful and ruthless government. To avoid protests and civil unrest, there is “Running Man”. This is a shared idea between this film and the 1975 “Roller Ball”.

Now we have Richards, with Laughlin and Weisse, traversing the city in their skin tight runner get-ups doing their best to survive. While Richards and Laughlin fight off Stalker attacks, Weisse sets out to learn the up-link codes to the television network’s satellites. With the right codes, the resistance can override the network signal and communicate with the “Running Man” audience. With these codes they broadcast the truth about Richards and how he wasn’t responsible for the deaths of 1,500 protesters and also how the Killian is a puppeteer – controlling and manipulating information to in turn, control and manipulate his audience.
But first, Richards murders the Stalkers and wins over the viewing public as he does it. The rest of the film is good, but this is why we watch it. First there is Sub Zero, played by former professional wrestler Professor Toru Tanaka. Sub Zero is a hockey player from hell who wields a bladed hockey stick. As they fight, Richards manages to use his surroundings to his advantage and strangles Sub Zero to death with barbwire. Followed by the one-liner, “Here is Sub Zero… Now…plain zero!”.

Then we have Buzzsaw & Dynamo. Buzzsaw, Gus Rethwisch, is a motorcycle riding, chainsaw swinging madman who as a child wanted to grow up and become Leather Face. Richards makes quick work of him as he overpowers Buzzsaw, turning his beloved chainsaw against his crotch – sawing him in half. Later he is asked, “What happened to Buzzsaw?”. To which he replies, “He had to split.”. One-liner gold!
Dynamo is an odd duck. He is an overweight opera singer who shoots ’80s rotoscope lightning from his hands. Richards traps Dynamo when he tricks him into following him up a hill that is too steep and Dynamo’s Go-Kart topples backwards, landing on him.
Finally, there is Fireball, Jim Brown – a Stalker with a flamethrower and a jet pack. The two get into the ol’ fist-a-cuffs and Richards manages to sever Fireball’s fuel line – leaking it everywhere. Richard’s finishes him off using a flare to light him on fire while asking, “How ’bout a light?”.
Richards meets up with the underground resistance, who have been watching his progress on television. They use the codes to broadcast the truth and Richards leads them into battle with the network security and government agents.

In the end Richards gets even with Killian when he gives the people what eh thinks they want, by launching Killian into a billboard with his own face on it – blowing him up. And in the background chaos erupts as the underground resistance goes aboveground. The End.
THE VERDICT
Here we have another quintessential ’80s action flick, starring Arnold. It has everything you would want. Exotic deaths, a dystopian future and one-liners galore. It also has a really good, while understated, themethat reoccurs thought the film and one of the retired Stalkers is Captain Freedom, played by Jesse Ventura. Yep, “Running Man” has not one, but two Governors.
It’s right around this time when Arnold started to come into his own. His English was getting good and the films he starred in were getting better too.
“Running Man” is similar to another one of Arnold’s films, “Total Recall”, in the way that the action is entertaining, but the sci-fi story is what makes it memorable. And like “Total Recall” it draws parallels between it’s story and real life. “Running Man” predicted reality television, including shows like “The Real World”, “Survivor”, and especially “Fear Factor”.
But what’s really interesting about the film is the way Killian manipulates the facts to sell his viewers  his brand of truth. It gets it’s viewers to ask themselves, can we truth the news we are fed and the authority that feeds it? This is more important now in the post September 11th/War on Terror era than when it was filmed. But this idea, ”Can we trust the news?”, is a question that can be asked at least once every generation.
The inspiration for the “Running Man” came from the Richard Bachman book of the same title. Bachman was a pen name used by Stephen King for a while. It’s funny to think that he man who wrote “Carrie” and “Stand By Me” is also in some way responsible for this ’80s Arnold action flick.

In conclusion, if you haven’t seen “Running Man”, you are a fool. It’s a classic. For more action packed “Running Man” goodness, check out the Slaughter Film podcast focused on “Futuristic Gladiator” films. We discussed both “Running Man” and “Roller Ball” starring James Caan.
I’m Cory Carr and this concludes another trip in the “Action Movie Time Machine”. Until next time, “I’LL BE BACK!”.
For more from Cory, check out his website slaughterfilm.com, where he and his good friend Forest Taylor record weekly podcasts, reviewing the films that are legendary, even in Hell!

October 31, 2013

This is Halloween: The Shining (1980)

ICONIC

The Shining – Iconic

I hate to be so cliche when it comes to “The Shining” but since I like it not only as a horror film, but as a film in general, it’s hard not to call it iconic.  It’s the first film in the pseudo-slasher genre that was taken seriously by not only horror fans, but film historians and pundits.  I mean Stanley Kubrick directed it for goodness sake!  One of the most important directors in the past 75 years chose to follow up his epic “Barry Lyndon” with a Stephen King adaptation.

While I’m too young to have gotten the chance to experience this film in the theater during it’s initial theatrical run, luckily “The Shining” was being screened during one of Cinemark Classic Series months.  Myself, and two friends, got the chance to experience the way all film should be witnessed; on the big screen.  While I don’t fully agree with complete restoration when it comes to old films (I still like to see the cracks and film burns when I’m watching something that was actually shot on film as opposed to digital) the job they did on “The Shining” to clean it up and and preserve it was well done and didn’t take away from it being scary or it’s overall tone.  Another cool thing that I noticed was the night we watched the film, October 30th, was the same day in which The Overlook Hotel closes for the Winter in the film.  Eerie and awesome.

As a refresher, “The Shining” is based on the 1977 novel by Stephen King about a possessed hotel, The Overlook, and the Torrance family, who become it’s latest victims.  I highlight based because when “The Shining” was released it did not receive a seal of approval from King himself, who dismissed it and still holds it as one of his least favorite adaptions of his works, and there are many changes from the book to the film. The film features Jack Nicholson in the starring role as Jack Torrance, and former school teacher with a violent past who struggled with alcoholism.  Looking to get away and start a new writing project, Jack accepts the caretaker’s job at the Overlook Hotel deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.  With his wife and son in tow, the descent into madness begins.

Straying from King’s novel, Kubrick creates an original take that I think works very well.  The film becomes less about the supernatural and more about the breakdown of the psyche when isolated and away from society.  While the film does keep important elements, such as Danny’s ability to “shine” and the horrors in an infamous hotel room (Room 237 in the film, and 217 in the novel), the ending and what role Jack plays in the hotel’s lurid history is a little more vague.

Kubrick, who was known for his introspective films about the human condition and what drives man to his actions, creates a Jack Torrance who always looked like he was about to break from the very beginning. While the novel portrayed Jack as a sympathetic character come the end of the story where he saves his family from the ghosts of the Overlook, there is no redemption in Nicholson’s take on the patriarch of the Torrance family.  Can you chalk that up to Nicholson’s look?  Maybe.  He always looks manic so you knew his take on Mr. Torrance was going to be manic and unhinged.

Two other things I took away from this viewing of the showing was something good, and something not so good.  The good; The score.  Holy crap, but this score is relentless and puts you on edge nearly the entire film.  It’s a driving score that is the heartbeat of the horrors to come.  Listening to it in surround sounds simply puts shivers down your spine.  The bad?  I’m sorry, but for the most part, the acting is pretty lackluster.  Sure, it was 1980, and it’s a horror film, but goodness, Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers put forth some Razzie-worthy performances.  On the other hand, while Nicholson’s performance is over the top, it’s still haunting as a man who is succumbing to his own demons as well as the ghosts in the hotel.

As iconic as “The Shining” is, there are still problems with the film.  People have pointed out spacial issues with the hotel that make no sense, the fact that the Torrances had a lot of luggage to put into a small sedan, and other assorted things that simply didn’t add up, but I think the reason why a lot of people overlook those irregularities was the fact that Stanley Kubrick was directing, and no one argues with Kubrick.  There’s also the fact that this was a horror film and perhaps Kubrick was pointing out the silliness of horror films and the inconsistencies that all films of the genre possess.  Maybe that’s reaching a little bit, but I wouldn’t put it past Kubrick to create a parody of the horror genre before the horror genre had become a parody of itself.

Overall, “The Shining” stands the test of time, and aside from the silly clothes that most of the characters wear, the film is pretty timeless.  It takes a classic haunted house film, adds the creepiness of King, and incorporates the psychology of Kubrick, a combination that adds up to a horror film that is a cut above the rest.

Fun Fact:  Do you think you know what Kubrick was “really” trying to say in “The Shining?”  Check out “Room 237,” a documentary about the “true” meanings behind “The Shining.”

October 2, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween, Creepshow

Creepshow – Effective

*Let me preface before I get into the actual review.  The next 31 reviews will not be in any discernible order, they will simply be 31 horror/suspense/thriller movies that I enjoy and I think deserve to be reviewed.*

October is here and that means horror, horror, and more horror, and no Marlo Brando isn’t invited.  As a kid growing up I always looked forward to October for all the horror movie marathons and the “money shot(s)” at the end was Halloween, free candy, go home and sort the candy, eat some candy, and watch more horror movies.  One of the earliest horror movies I remember, and remember scaring the living shit out of me, was the Stephen King/George Romero collaboration from 1982, “Creepshow.”

Before “Creepshow” there were several horror anthologies including “Tales From the Crypt” (not that one, this one), “The House that Dripped Blood” in 1970 and “Trilogy of Terror” in 1975.  While these were all well and good, they lacked the blood-spilling, gut-wrenching horror that I desired, that is why “Creepshow” holds such a special place in my heart.

As with many anthologies, the premise is simple; there are anywhere from three to five stories with a wrap around that either begins and ends the film, and/or is used as a buffer in-between each story.  “Creepshow” features five stories ranging from zombies, plant growth that takes over the world, a monster in a crate, and of course, roaches.  There are highs and lows in the storytelling with the third story “Something to Tide You Over” being the weakest and the fourth story, “The Crate” being the standout, not just from a gore perspective, but also having the strongest characters/actors, including Adrienne Barbeau as a nagging drunk of a wife and Hal Holbrook as her long suffering husband.  The premise is simple, yet effective, just like the entire movie.

Other standouts include the creature effects, all done by Tom Savini.  You might know him from a few things, as well as the score by John Harrison, which is tits, the highlight being the main theme for “The Crate” segment.

I might be as bold as calling “Creepshow” one of my favorite horror movies of all time because it made such an impression on me as a kid, and its an old standby that I keep coming back to every Halloween season.

Fun Fact:  Billy, the son in the wrap-around story is actually Joe King, Stephen King’s son.

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