Wednesday, January 29, 2014

'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King

(pb; 1975)


From the back cover:

"The town knew darkness. . . but no one dared talk about the high, sweet, evil laughter of a child. . . and the sucking sounds. . ."


Review:

'Salem's Lot  is an excellent, hard-to-put-down 'Old School' (if sometimes chatty) horror novel that effectively channels the slow-build, multilayered dread and gut-wrenching terror of  Bram Stoker's novel Dracula and late Sixties/early Seventies Hammer films, which are obvious (and stated) influences on Lot.  The characters are interesting and relatable, with their interlocking small-town histories and reactions to Straker and Barlow's insidious takeover of their town and its surrounding area.

Great read, this - worth owning.

Side-note: two of King's stories ("Jerusalem's Lot" and "One for the Road") from his anthology Night Shift are loosely linked to this novel.

#

This novel spawned two television films and one cinematic sequel.

The first television film, which aired stateside on November 17, 1979, was directed by Tobe Hooper.  Paul Monash wrote the teleplay.

David Soul played Ben Mears.  Lance Kerwin played Mark Petrie.  James Mason played Richard K. Straker.  An uncredited Reggie Nalder played Kurt Barlow.

Bonnie Bedelia played Susan Norton.  Geoffrey Lewis played Mike Ryerson.  Lew Ayres played Jason Burke.  Elisha Cook Jr., billed as Elisha Cook, played Gordon "Weasel" Phillips.  George Dzunda played Cully Sawyer.  Kenneth McMillan played Constable Parkins Gillespie.  Fred Willard played Larry Crockett.

#

Larry Cohen directed and co-scripted its theatrical sequel, A Return to 'Salem's Lot, released stateside in May 1987.  James Dixon, who played Rains, was Cohen's writing partner.

Michael Moriarty played Joe Weber.  Ricky Addison Reed played Jeremy Weber.  Samuel Fuller played Van Meer.  Andrew Duggan played Judge Axel.  Evelyn Keyes played Mrs. Axel.  Tara Reid played Amanda. June Havoc played Aunt Clara.  Ronee Blakley played Sally.

#

The second television film, based on the original novel, aired stateside on June 20, 2004.  It was directed by Mikael Salomon.  Peter Filardi wrote the teleplay.

Rob Lowe played Ben Mears.  Dan Byrd, billed as Daniel Byrd, played Mark Petrie.  Donald Sutherland played Richard Straker.  Rutger Hauer played Kurt Barlow.  Samantha Mathis played Susan Norton.  Andre Braugher played Matt Burke.  James Cromwell played Father Donald Callahan.  Christopher Morris played Mike Ryerson.  Robert Grubb played Larry Crockett. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Night Eternal, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

(hb; 2011: Book Three of The Strain trilogy)


From the inside flap:

"It's been two years since the vampiric virus was unleashed in The Strain, and the entire world now lies on the brink of annihilation.  There is only night as nuclear winter blankets the land, the sun filtering through the poisoned atmosphere for two hours each day - the perfect environment for the propagation of vampires.

"There has been a mass extermination of humans, the best and the brightest, the wealthy and the influential, orchestrated by the Master - an ancient vampire possessed of unparalleled powers - who selects survivors based on compliance.  Those humans who remain are entirely subjugated, interred in camps, and  separated by status: those who breed more humans, and those who are bled for the sustenance of the Master's vast army.

"The future of humankind lies in the hands of a rag-tag freedom fighters - Dr. Eph Goodweather, former head of the Centers for Disease Control's biological threat team; Nora Martinez, a fellow doctor with a talent for dispatching the undead; Vasiliy Fet, the colorful Russian exterminator; and Mr. Quinlan, the half-breed offspring of the Master who is bent on revenge.  It's their job to rescue Eph's son, Zack, and overturn this devastating new world order.  But good and evil are malleable terms now, and the Master is the most skilled at preying on the weaknesses of humans. . ."


Review:

This second sequel to The Strain starts off well enough: it's dramatic, it's apocalyptic and it's ambitious in its storyline scope.  However, Night quickly succumbs to the same bullcrap writing elements that marred the first sequel, The Fall: at least one of its key characters - Dr. Eph Goodweather - is so unlikeable, hypocritical and willing to sell out the human race, I kept wondering why he was in the story at all. 

I have nothing against unlikeable or complex characters, but Eph's alienating aspects go beyond the pale, as if the authors were using Eph as a shout-out to the (justifiably) cautious, asocial Robert Neville, the lead character in Richard Matheson's novella I Am LegendIf the latter is true, del Toro and Hogan have bungled it by making Eph so unlikeable and erratic he's practically useless - something Neville never was in Matheson's landmark work.

Not only that, the action scenes - normally an element I would applaud in such genre work - quickly begin to all read the same, with unnecessary, bordering-on-soap-operatic complications stalling out much of the momentum that this briefly promising work might have had.

This latter criticism wouldn't be an issue (for this reader) if del Toro and Hogan hadn't written Fall, and instead made Night the second and final book in the series, utilizing abbreviated key points featured in Fall - i.e., the Occido Lumen (the book needed to kill the Master), the vampiric takeover and the ensuing nuclear winter - and incorporated them into Strain and Night.  But they didn't, and readers are left with this deeply flawed and drawn out series.

If you must read it - I only read Night to finish the series - borrow it from the library, or a friend.  That way, if you like it, great!  You just read a wonderful book for free!  And if you dislike it, at least you were only robbed of a few hours of your time.

The Days of Anna Madrigal, by Armistead Maupin

(hb; 2014: Book Nine in the Tales of the City series)


From the inside flap:

"Now ninety-two, and committed to the notion of 'leaving like a lady,' Mrs. Madrigal has seemingly found peace with her 'logical family' in San Francisco: her devoted young caretaker, Jake Greenleaf; her former tenant Brian Hawkins and his daughter, Shawna; and Michael Tolliver and Mary Ann Singleton, who have known and loved Anna for nearly four decades.

"Some members of Anna's family are bound for the otherworldly landscape of Burning Man, the art community in Nevada's Black Rock Desert where sixty thousand revelers gather to construct a city designed to last only one week.  Anna herself has another Nevada destination in mind: a lonely stretch of road outside of Winnemuca where the sixteen-year-old boy she once was ran away from the whorehouse he called home.  With Brian and his beat-up RV, she journeys into the dusty, troubled heart of her Depression-era childhood to unearth a lifetime of secrets and dreams, and to attend to unfinished business she has long avoided."


Review:

Days, the final book in the Tales series, has all the elements that made its better entries so involving and memorable: warmth, wit, a playful sense of naughtiness, a touch of mystery and a no-bullcrap tone that makes the Tales books feel less like reading and more like revisiting - catching up with - family members who may tick you off, but are (for the most part) worth seeing again.

What especially drew me into Days was Maupin's ability to seamlessly show real world parallels - similarities and progressions - between the past and the present, within his characters' lives, as well as the world around them.

Great wrap-up to a milestone series.  Worth owning, this.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Fall, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

(hb; 2010: Book Two of The Strain trilogy)


From the inside flap:

"Last week they invaded Manhattan.  This week they will destroy the world.

"The vampiric virus unleashed in The Strain has taken over New York City.  It is spreading and soon will envelope the globe.  Amid the chaos, Eph Goodweather - head of the Centers for Disease Control's team - leads a band out to stop these bloodthirsty monsters.  But it may be too late.

"Ignited by the Master's horrific plan, a war erupts between Old and New World vampires, each vying for control.  At the center of the conflict lies a book, an ancient text that contains the vampires' entire history. . . and their darkest secrets.  Whoever finds the book can control the outcome of the war and, ultimately, the fate of us all.  And it is between these warring forces that humans - powerless and vulnerable - find themselves no longer the consumers but the consumed.

"Though Eph understands the vampiric plague better than anyone, even he cannot protect those he loves.  His ex-wife, Kelly, has been transformed into a blood-crazed creature of the night, and now she stalks the city looking for her chance to reclaim her Dear One: Zack, Eph's young son.

"With the future of humankind in the balance, Eph and his team, guided by the brilliant former professor and Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian and exterminator Vasiliy Fet and joined by a crew of ragtag gangsters, must combat a terror whose ultimate plan is more terrible than anyone has imagined - a fate worse than annihilation."


Review:

The Fall fails to deliver on the promise of its source novel, The Strain.  It starts out slow and emo-chatty (regarding Eph's family problems), as well as introducing scattershot, forgettable characters who ultimately, in the course of this second novel, are merely distractions in what should be an edgy, straightforward action book.  Its storyline and action picks up near the middle of it, and the ending (much of it predictable) is decent.

This is not a badly written book, but overall it's lazy, subpar - that is to say, meh - work from two admirably ambitious, usually worthwhile writers who have put out much better product than this.  I only stuck with Fall because del Toro was involved with it, and it was a relatively fast read. 

Borrow from this from the library before committing cash to it.  That way, if you like it, great!  You've read a great book for free!  And if you don't like it, you've dodged a disappointing purchase.

Followed by The Night Eternal.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Night Shift, by Stephen King

(hb; 1976, 1977, 1978: horror story anthology.  Introduction by John D. MacDonald)


Overall review:

Excellent anthology, all of the stories - many of them admirably varied in their sense of horrors - have something to recommend them.  This is one of my all-time favorite story anthologies.


Standout stories:

1.)   "Jerusalem's Lot":  An evil, haunted town repeatedly draws members of a cursed family into its Lovecraftian clutches over centuries.  This is a loosely linked prequel to a later story in this anthology ("One for the Road") and the novel 'Salem's Lot.


2.)   "Graveyard Shift": A Fourth of July cleaning shift at a mill goes horrifically wrong when the workers discover secret passages beneath its sub-basement.

The resulting film was released stateside on October 26, 1990.  David Andrews played John Hall.  Kelly Wolf played Jane Wisconsky.  Stephen Macht played Warwick.  Andrew Divoff played Danson.  Brad Dourif played Tucker Cleveland (aka "The Exterminator").  Victor Polizos played Brogan.  Robert Alan Beuth played Ippleston. 

Ralph S. Singleton directed the film, from a screenplay by John Esposito.


3.)   "I Am the Doorway":  An astronaut's return to Earth is troubled by forces and visions alien to his nature - elements and visions which may change those around him, as well.


4.)   "The Mangler":  A demon-possessed industrial laundry machine - a speed ironer - turns murderous.

With a  lesser writer, this would be a dumb story.  With King, who ties it into timeless penned notions, it is a fun, spooky, perhaps even milestone update of an old idea.  This is one of the best stories in this collection.

The resulting film was released stateside on March 3, 1995.  Robert Englund played William 'Bill' Gartley.  Ted Levine played Officer John Hunton.  Daniel Matmor played Mark Jackson.  Vera Blacker played Mrs. Adelle Frawley.  Danny Keogh played Herb Diment.  Ted Le Plat played Doctor Ramos.  Todd Jensen played Roger Martin. 

Tobe Hooper directed the film, from Stephen David Brooks (billed as Stephen Brooks) and Harry Alan Towers's (billed as Peter Welbeck) screenplay.

Two loosely linked - if linked at all - film sequels followed: The Mangler 2 (starring Lance Henriksen, a direct-to-video flick, released on February 26, 2002) and The Mangler Reborn (another direct-to-video flick, released on November 29, 2005).


5.)  "The Boogeyman":  A man, whose family has been slaughtered, visits a psychiatrist.  Effective twist to this one.

This story has been, or is scheduled to be, filmed as a short several times.


6.)  "Battleground":  A hitman fights for his life against a bizarre array of enemies.  Excellent, worthy of a Twilight Zone episode.

This story became the basis for the debut episode of a television series, Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King.  It aired stateside on June 12, 2006 on the TNT network.  Brian Henson directed the episode, from a teleplay by Richard Christian Matheson.

William Hurt played Jason Renshaw.  Bruce Spence played Hans Morris.  Mia Sara played "Beautiful Passenger". 


7.)   "Trucks":  Another 'murderous machine'-themed tale, this time set as a pluralistic affair, with automobiles and other electronics involved.  Fun, B-movie-esque work.

The resulting film, titled Maximum Overdrive and directed by Stephen King, was released stateside on July 25, 1986.  Emilio Estevez played Bill Robinson.  Laura Harrington played Brett.  Pat Hingle played Bubba Hendershot.  Yeardley Smith played Connie.  John Short played Curtis.  Frankie Faison played Handy.  Christopher Murney played Camp Loman.


8.)   "Sometimes They Come Back":  A high school teacher confronts the strangely youthful bullies who murdered his brother years before.  Unsettling, effective story.

The resulting television film aired stateside on May 7, 1991.  Tim Matheson played Jim Norman.  Brooke Adams (who also co-starred in the King-based 1983 film The Dead Zone) played Sally Norman.  Robert Rusler played Richard Lawson.  Robert Hy Gorman played Scott Norman.  William Sanderson played "Carl Mueller (age 44)".  Nicholas Sadler played Vinnie Vincent.  T. Max Graham played Chief Pappas.

The telefilm was followed by two direct-to-video, loosely linked sequels: Sometimes They Come Back. . . Again (released September 3, 1996, starring Michael Gross, Alexis Arquette and Hilary Swank) and Sometimes They Come Back. . . for More (released on September 7, 1999, starring Clayton Rohner and Chase Masterson).


9.)   "Strawberry Spring":  A string of murders haunts a collegiate-later-family man.  Especially well-written.


10.)   "The Ledge": Twilight Zone-esque fusion of noir and natural horror.  Excellent.

This story was incorporated into the threefold-tale film Cat's Eye, which was released stateside on April 12, 1985.  Lewis Teague (who also helmed the King-based 1983 film Cujo) directed, from a screenplay from Stephen King.  Drew Barrymore (who co-starred in the King-based 1984 film Firestarter) played Amanda (a.k.a. "Our Girl"), one of the characters that links the stories.

Kenneth McMillan played Cressner.  Robert Hays played Johnny Norris. 


11.)   "Quitters, Inc.":  A man, trying to quit smoking, is compelled to do so in startling ways.  Distinctive, clever.

This story was also incorporated into the threefold-tale film Cat's Eye, which was released stateside on April 12, 1985.

James Woods played Dick Morrison.  Alan King played Dr. Vinny Donatti.


12.)   "Children of the Corn": Excellent, creepy tale about an argumentative husband and wife who, traveling through Nebraska, get trapped in a strangely empty town. 

A film short, Disciples of the Crow, was made in 1983.  It was based on this story.

The first resulting full-length film was released stateside on March 9, 1984.  Linda Hamilton played Vicky.  Peter Horton played Burt.  John Franklin played Isaac.  Courtney Gains played Malachai.  Julie Maddalena played Rachel.  Robby Kiger played Job.  Anne Marie McEvoy, billed as Annemarie McEvoy, played Sarah.

Fritz Kiersch directed the film, from a script by George Goldsmith.

Seven loosely linked sequels (many, if not all of them, direct-to-video works) and one remake followed. 

Sequels: Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (released stateside on January 29, 1993); Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (released stateside on September 12, 1995, featuring Johnny Legend as a "Derelict Man"); Children of the Corn: The Gathering (released stateside on October 8, 1996, co-starring Naomi Watts and Karen Black); Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (released stateside on June 21, 1998, co-starring Alexis Arquette - seen earlier in the King-based 1996 flick Sometimes They Come Back. . . Again - and Fred WilliamsonDavid Carradine and  Eva Mendes also co-starred, as well as Kane Hodder - who has played Jason in several of the Friday the 13th sequels. 

The fifth sequel, Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return, was released on October 19, 1999, co-starring Nancy Allen - who appeared in the King-based 1976 film Carrie - and  Stacy Keach.  John Franklin, who made his screen debut as Isaac in the original Children, played Isaac in - and co-scripted - this sequel as well.

Children of the Corn: Revelation, the sixth sequel, was released stateside on October 9, 2001.  It co-starred Claudette Mink, Michael Ironside and Kyle Cassie (who also made in an appearance in a television episode of Stephen King's Dead Zone).

A television remake of the original Children aired on stateside television on September 26, 2009.  It was directed and co-scripted by Donald P. Borchers; author Stephen King was his co-screenwriter.  David Anders played Burton Stanton.  Kandyse McClure played Vicky Stanton.  Daniel Newman played Malachai.  Preston Bailey played Isaac. 

The seventh sequel, Children of the Corn: Genesis, was released stateside on March 17, 2012.  It co-starred Billy Drago and Duane Whitaker.  As far as I know of, it isn't linked to the television remake that aired in 2009.


13.)  "One for the Road": On a winter stormy night, three men (Herb Tooklander, Booth and Gerard Lumley) head out to rescue the latter man's wife and daughter -  whom, unknown to Lumley, he left at the mercy of vampires.

Excellent, gripping expansion tale that builds on the history of "the 'Lot" (as seen in the earlier/first story, "Jerusalem's Lot") and, like that story, links to King's novel 'Salem's Lot.

The resulting 22-minute short film, released stateside on March 1, 2011, was directed and scripted by Paul Ward.

Reggie Bannister played Herb Tooklander.  Adam Robitel played Booth.  Danny O'Connor played Gerard Lumley.  Audrey Walters played Janey Lumley.  Sydney Ackman played Wendy.  Drew Walters played Francis Lumley.


14.)  "The Lawnmower Man":  Fun, gleefully bloody and bizarro tale about a unique yard service company.

The resulting short film was released stateside in 1987.  It was directed by James Gonis, from a script by Michael De Luca.

Andy Clark played Karras.  Helen Hanft played Mrs. Parkette.  E.D. Phillips played Howard Parkette.  Neil Schimmer played Castonmeyer.  Robert Tossberg played Bannerman.

A full-length film, linked to the story in name only, was released stateside on March 6, 1992.  (King sued to have his name removed from the film.)  Brett Leonard directed and co-scripted the film; his co-screenwriter was Gimel Everett.

Jeff Fahey - recently seen in the King-based television series Under the Dome - played Jobe Smith.  Pierce Brosnan, who later starred in the King-based television miniseries Bag of Bones, played Dr. Lawrence Angelo.  Jennie Wright played Marnie Burke. Geoffrey Lewis played Terry McKeen.  Dean Norris - who co-stars with Fahey in Under the Dome - played The Director.  Colleen Coffey played Caroline Angelo.

A loosely linked sequel to the film, Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace, was released stateside on January 12, 1996.  Like its source film, it bears no relation to the King story, aside from its title reference.

Patrick Bergin played Dr. Benjamin Trace.  Matt Frewer played Jobe Smith. Austin O'Brien played Peter Parkette.  Ely Pouget played Dr. Cori Platt.  Molly Shannon played a "Homeless Lady".

Farhad Mann directed the film, from a script by he co-authored with Michael Miner.