Stephen King (#110 of 37)

Summer of ’90: Mummies and Gargoyles and Cats, Oh My! Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

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Summer of ’90: Mummies and Gargoyles and Cats, Oh My! <em>Tales from the Darkside: The Movie</em>
Summer of ’90: Mummies and Gargoyles and Cats, Oh My! <em>Tales from the Darkside: The Movie</em>

In horror anthology movies, the probability runs high that one or more tales will be terrible. It’s an affliction to which even the best films aren’t immune. While narrative shifts are expected and tolerated, one bad segment can derail an audience’s patience and goodwill, sending the film into a death spiral more horrific than anything depicted on screen. Filmmakers used to better their odds by limiting the number of tales being told, or better yet, by crafting their anthologies in the guise of episodic television, where the nature of the beast is measured in terms of a series rather than a single-sitting entity.

Tales from the Darkside plays both sides of this fence; before it made a beeline for the big screen, it ran for four seasons in syndication. Perhaps all that practice on TV made the filmmakers keep its three tales just about even in the quality department. Each mini-movie has the same tally of moments of greatness, grossness, and dullness, giving Tales from the Darkside: The Movie an even-handed feel. Plus, this being a horror film, viewers watching from a future point in time can enjoy spotting the newbie actors who became stars later on, and others whose stars of fame were quickly descending into obscurity.

Review: Stephen King’s Revival

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Review: Stephen King’s Revival
Review: Stephen King’s Revival

The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, The Prisoner, even creator JJ Abrams’s earlier Alias spring immediately to mind when placing Lost alongside its televisual kith and kin. But there are times where I’m convinced the show’s true heart lies not in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, but in soap opera, with many of its conspiratorial elements serving as mere set dressing for stories of longing, domestic discord, parental abandonment, and tests of faith.

The soap opera comparison is more than just thematically apt: Here we have a serial involving a large and ever-expanding ensemble of pulpy archetypes (the con-man, the doctor, the fugitive, etc…), its narrative progressing at a near-glacial pace and deriving much of its drama from “shocking revelations” buried deep within its characters’ pasts. It likewise demands that its viewers posses either a fanatical appreciation for and knowledge of backstory from seasons’ past or, at the very least, quick access to Lost’s many Internet fan sites. Factor in the sexual tension that has percolated amongst many of the characters over the past two years and the soap opera parallel feels more obvious still.

Review: Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes

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Review: Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes
Review: Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes

Reading Mr. Mercedes, you yearn for the possibility that the astonishingly prolific Stephen King might once again make the acquaintance of a second draft. This cop-and-terrorist thriller often suggests less a novel than the fevered bullet notes for a screenplay to be completed later. The pace is numbing, relentless. Reams of detail and incident are thrown out at you with a speed-freak indifference to detail or nuance that’s exasperated by familiarly overcompensating authorial tics such as words that are bolded or CAPITALIZED needlessly, while italics add emphasis and urgency arbitrarily when you already get it and wish that King would just move on. After a while, a kind of sensory deprivation sets in and you may need to take a break from Mr. Mercedes and read another book composed of sentences that read as if they’ve been actively achieved on purpose. There’s a difference between wearing your craftsmanship lightly in the deceptively masterful tradition of, say, Elmore Leonard, and simply appearing to not give a damn.

King has always been a pointedly off-the-cuff writer; that’s why it took the literati so long to take him seriously. And that informality is, indeed, the source of the author’s brilliance: When he’s cooking, there’s no writer who can match King in the realm of capturing the pop culture-addled joys, hang-ups, victories, and disappointments of the American middle class. Mr. Mercedes opens promisingly with a narrative bait and switch that briefly introduces us to characters that’re about to be mowed down outside of a job fair by a maniac driving a stolen Mercedes. Eight people are killed, including a baby, and dozens more are seriously injured. Detective Bill Hodges investigated the case, but couldn’t make any headway, and he soon finds himself spending his days uncomfortably retired, gaining weight in front of his TV and contemplating suicide, until the maniac sends a letter actively attempting to goad him into swallowing a bullet. Ironically rejuvenated, Hodges puts himself, albeit illegally, back on the “Mercedes Killer” case.

Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions

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Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions
Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions

One of the casual disappointments of the ways we often regard art of all forms is born of that feeling of exclusion that’s often projected and even more often felt. There’s a sense that you have to be educated formally to understand art and to discuss it seriously, and that you might have to be a member of an intangible club of lofty intellectuals in order to be empowered to express a thought about a book or a film or a song that you hope to be taken seriously by others. This is a tragedy, because all great art is an act of democracy that can be felt by everyone. Yes, your background will affect your responses to art, of course, and why wouldn’t it? Your background, which is to say the texture of your life (your childhood, friends, lovers past and present, jobs, education), informs your responses to everything.

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions is a passionate and engaging read, particularly for fans of del Toro’s films, and, most particularly, for monster aficionados of all ages, shapes, and stripes, but it’s most valuable for the way it expresses the filmmaker’s voracious appetite for knowledge. This is an erudite man, and he wears his references lightly, sensually: He invites you into the realms of his obsessions, which include symbolist painters such as Arnold Bocklin, Odilon Redon, and Carlos Schwabe, and writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Arthur Machen, and Stephen King. All of these artists figure prominently in Cabinet of Curiosities, and so do a variety of other painters, composers, and even biologists. You may have a hell of a reading list after even casually thumbing through this volume.