The Dark Half

Now here's a Stephen King novel that reads like -- well, what everyone thinks a Stephen King novel should read like.  None of that Stand by Me, Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile hope and optimism here.  (I do realize two of those were prison novels.)  This is old school King, and I love it.

Here's what's striking about The Dark Half:

1. It's very violent.  This isn't like in the Dead Zone, where we come upon the bodies left behind by a serial killer.  In The Dark Half, we are taken right to the murder scenes as Stark (or Machine) do the dirty work.

2. It reminds me of The Outsider.  A man is obviously guilty of a  crime he could not commit.  He has an alibi, witnesses and more to prove he didn't do it.  In the Dark Half, there are finger prints left behind; in The Outsider it's DNA.  The early portions of both books run down very familiar paths.

3. Kings narration is crisp and to the point.  He doesn't spend a lot of time with scenes to just build the characters; he gets right to it.  He seems like a man driven here.  He wants to nail this down, almost rushing toward the meat of the story.  In fact, the book moves with such intensity, the reader can sense King himself exited to find out what happens next.

King gave us the Dark Half in the late 80's.  It' interesting again to note signs of the times.  As in Dead Zone, there is no 911 emergency system in place; people have to hunt for Law Enforcements phone number.  And phones themselves sure have changed since the days when King could describe a phone in the cradle as looking like a broken barbell.  

One thing I don't like about the Dark Half is the original cover.  There's just nothing fun about it.  Like the Tommy-knockers, which preceded it, the cover does nothing to make you want to read the book.

The Dark Half serves as a prequel to Needful Things, introducing the reader to the Sheriff and several of the towns people.  While Dark Half focuses on a much smaller cast in a horrible situation, Needful Things would bring the entire town to life and then rip it apart.

This Book Cover Whispers Of The Future

I got this book today.  Hold on, doesn't it look like it belong to the Outsider?

But look, it was published decades ago.  It's the cover for The Dead Zone.  I really like it.  I got a paperback copy to reference as I listened to the book recently on audible.  (I like moving the book marker to see how much further I have to go.)

Carrie Covers

How many copies of Carrie do you own?

King: Every Day A Gift

On June 19th, 1999 I got hit by a van while taking a walk. As I lay unconscious in the hospital, the docs debated amputating my right leg and decided it could stay, on a trial basis. I got better. Every day of the 20 years since has been a gift.
--Stephen King, June 20, 2019

My Return To Salem's Lot 2019

I’m neck deep in Salem’s Lot.  It bites.  Really.

Here’s the deal at Talk Stephen King: If you haven’t read the book, don’t read my comments on the book.  Because, believe it or not, I’m going to talk about what I liked and didn’t like about it.  And after all, you’ve had a good 44 years to pick this up and read it.

My wife and I seem to be on a Summer Stephen King kick.  She reads and I listen, and we see each day who is ahead.  We are blasting through the early King works, and I think both of us are just transfixed by King as a young writer.

I’ve known forever what Salem’s Lot is about, and tried to read it more than once.  I first got Salem’s Lot when I was a teen, and it was in the pile of Stephen King books my sister brought home to me from the bookstore.  After reading the Stand in one breathless Summer (1989 maybe) I had to have every book.  Salem’s Lot was mixed in with IT and Tommyknockers.  But I struggled with Salem’s Lot.  The magic just didn’t settle over me until recently.  King builds a big cast of characters and was always hard for me to keep up with who’s who among the minor towns people.  These days, I just ask my girl, “Who was that?”

I also first struggled with this book because I didn’t understand the name.  Was it Salem’s Lot or Jerusalem’s Lot?  I know King explains it well, but I still got confused as a young person.

I read the book a few years ago, and loved it.  And now, I've returned, and once again the spell has fallen, and I’m so in love with this vampire book.  It’s creepy, action packed, and no one is safe.  No one.

What I liked:

Ben.  Now, on earlier attempts to read the book, Ben is what I didn’t like.  I remember reading about his first encounter with Susan in the park, and what should she be reading?  Why, his book, of course!  I thought: This is just too much.  No way.  But, this time I caught something that made the scene work for me.  King himself suggests that there is something predestined about their meeting.  As if other forces are at work to bring them together.  It is, as the Ben things, just too easy.

By the way, Ben is a Baptist.  I only point that out because usually any Baptist in a Stephen King book is going to be a raging loon.  (eg: Needful Things) Now, he’s not a practicing Baptist, but, take what you can get here.

Symbolism: How do you get rid of a Vampire?  What lore do you trust?  Salem’s Lot relies on two steadfast rules: The first is the power of the crucifix to drive back Satan.  The second is the myth that a vampire has to be invited in.  They don’t just burst into your house and ravage the place like thugs.  We will discover later that the crucifix itself holds little power, but only true faith has the strength to destroy Satan.  Trust me, there’s so much to be said for that!  I love it.

How does young Mark now that a Vampire has to be invited in?  They don’t teach that in school.  Here’s what’s great – he knows it from his monster magazines.  That’s wonderful!  In his introduction to Salem’s Lot, King talked about what his mother would call garbage.  Those monster magazines certainly would count as garbage.  But King uses those great old magazines to dispense bits of truth that would actually help a kid in a fight with a vampire.

Signs of the times: A few things lock Salem’s Lot the novel into the time it was written.  Technology in particular.  People listening in to one another’s conversations; and when they need to call for an ambulance, they need an actual number, because this book was written well before the 911 system was in place.  Imagine that.

Two random connections: Constable Parkins Gillespie reminds me of Pet Sematary’s Jud Crandall.  Also, the scene in the graveyard brought back flashes of Plan 9 From Outer Space.  I’m not comparing Mr. King to Ed wood, just remembering how one grave digger looks up and says, “Kinda spooky.”  Let’s just say that Stephen King brought it home, while Ed Wood. . .

Real people: Salem’s Lot is inhabited by people caught up in what seems like real problems.  Affairs are taking place; a young mother slaps her child; a young deputy is sure he could do better than his boss, the constable; the caretaker at the dump loves shooting rats.  King doesn’t just give us a vampire yarn, but the book is rightly named Salem’s Lot.

The original title for Salem’s Lot was Second Coming.  I heard speculation that it referred to Bens return to Salem’s Lot.  I think it had more to do with vampires reappearing after a long silence – this time in America.

I like this Barlow action figure.  Let me make a kid complaint. . . as a kid who loved action figures, ONE action figure is not much fun.  What made Star Wars action figures so cool was you could crate any story because there were so many action figures.  But, just the same -- I'd love to pit this Barlow action figure against Jar Jar Binks.

King Tweets Dome

Stephen King posted this today, and I love it:

How about Netflix bringing back UNDER THE DOME, only starting from scratch and actually doing the book?

Watching The Dead Zone

I can't finish a Stephen King book and not watch the movie.  I just have to.  Maybe, I think, the book will come to life on screen and I'll re-live those wonderful scenes. 

This is, of course, a set up for failure.  In fact, movies I liked before reading the book, feel flat after reading the wonderfully textured novels by King.  People I feel like I know well, because I've spent time in their head via Mr. King, now seem pasty and cardboard. 

So, that brings me to The Dead Zone.  I read the novel in marathon race with my wife.  She read on Kindle, I listened on audible.  I beat her.  (Double speed, my friends.)  Now, let me tell you up front, I've seen the movie before.  I'd forgotten everything except key scenes, and the vague memory that I'd liked it a lot. 

The Dead Zone Is Real:

Can I ask right up front: Was there a shortage on extras when they were filming the Dead Zone?  We start at the Carnival.  A scene described as something out of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.  Skip the lucky streak at the game booth, and instead we watch Johnny and Sarah dip up and down on the roller-coaster.  But -- they're all alone.  Who gets to go to the County Fair and ride the roller-coaster all alone?  It wasn't closing time.  But watch, it's just them, bopping up and down and all around the track. 

Pretty soon, we are ushered in to the local hospital where Sarah comes looking for Johnny.  She bursts in to what could be a mansion, but it's the hospital.  "Where's the emergency room?" she asks, and is directed up large wooden stairs.  Stairs?  Hospital?  It doesn't look like a hospital.  Did they run out of white paint?  But it gets better.  Like the fair grounds, all is dead in the hospital. As in. . . no one is there!  Apparently it's a slow night in the E.R.  If there were budget cuts, I'm pretty sure they came out of the extras.  Because there are almost no background characters throughout the movie.

Instead of having a medical team seeing to him, Johnny has one sole doctor.  Because, you know, that would require more. . . extras.

Finally at the Stillson rally, where. . . . BOOM, there are people.  And the biggest political sign I've ever seen.  Ever.


Do movies like this make you wonder some things?

1. Who cut Johnny's hair all those years he was in the coma?

2. Does the truck driver and the accident remind you of Pet Sematary?  As in, all that's missing is a kid running into the road as the accident happens.

3. How did his parents know when he would wake up?  They were right outside, waiting for him.

4. So Frank Dodd killed himself by jamming sissors up his mouth -- that was his best plan?  he's a cop with a service revolver.

5. Does everyone have a bowl haircut?

6. Did Johnny notice his jacket makes him look like a vampire?

7. Ah, paper bags -- anyone else miss those?

8. That's how we launch nukes?

9. Why is Johnny driving Ted Bundy's VW ?

What's Great:

Okay, enough silly moaning.  I still like the film.  And the movie is a fair representation of the novel.  The scenes are put together at almost the same pace as the book, without the early connections to Greg Stillson.  So there's not the same feeling of the two stories moving toward one another as there was in the book. 

I think the visions are far more intense in the movie than they were the book.  I also liked mama Dodd going after them.  Christopher Walken does a nice job showing the conflict inside of Johnny.

The Deadzone Election 1976

You don't need me to tell you the Dead Zone is amazing.  What you might need is a prodding to go back and read it.  Tight, compact, well written, suspenseful are all words that can describe the Dead Zone.  

I was drawn to the Dead Zone by Chad Clark's book, Tracing The Trails. Clark's book about King and his work was so good, it actually made me rethink some of the older books I hadn't touched yet.  In particular, Dead Zone and The Dark Half.  His reviews made me hungry for vintage King.

Now, let me tell you what a Stephen King collection really is --
It's a Time Machine.

There you have it.  That's it.  It's like taking a trip back to specific periods of time.  You don't get to take these trips alone, though.  Your traveling companions, in this case, will be a man cursed with an ability to see into people; and a deranged politician.  I like the books from the seventies because they have a unique feel to them.  Sometimes King takes us back to an era.  Books like 11/22/63 and Joyland both returned us to other eras.  So did IT.  And King was masterful.  But it's those old books themselves, written in the time they were set, that really makes me feel the era.  Because King innocently tells us what's going on all around him.  He doesn't have to try and remember what was happening; he's just describing the world he lives in.

King mentions things that I think he wouldn't because a modern audience wouldn't know what he was talking about.  John Denver is playing on the radio. Remember him?  (I think the song was Country Roads.)  And my favorite not to another author came early in the book when King compared the carnival to Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury.  King once said that without Bradbury, there would be no Stephen King. 

In The Dead Zone, there is a wonderful scene in which Johnny Smith meets Jimmy Carter.  And he looks right in to Carters soul.  I loved it.  We forget that even politics of the late seventies were not as nice and clean as we remember them.  The smiling man from Georgia was a breath of fresh air after the corrupt Nixon years.  A man, some felt, who was just too good for Washington.  What I appreciated about the Dead Zone was King's ability to bring me back into the politics of that era, without a lot of heavy exposition.  

I also want to note that I appreciate King's flawed characters.  Johnny might be an all american nice guy, but he still makes decisions that leave me totally frustrated with him.  I don't want to give anything away, so no further comment, just that Johnny sometimes takes his own path.

Road Trip With Chad Clark, 1

I'm swept away.  If my favorite writer is Stephen King, my favorite kind of books are books about Stephen King.  There have been times that I've wondered if I actually enjoy reading books about King as much as I love reading King himself.  Nah.  Well, maybe. . .

I'm currently reading Tracing the Trails: A Constant Reader's Reflections on the Work of Stephen King, by Chad Clark.  And yeah, I'm pretty much in love already.  I was familiar with the project --  a plan to read all of King's work in order -- from the blog.  What I didn't know until the other night is that the blog had been transformed into a wonderful book.  And it's a gem.

What I love about some so many of the books about King is that they reflect and articulate my own journey with the author.  Moments I felt were solely mine turn out to be shared experiences.  We all shared 9/11.  But we also, we all knew we were sharing the moment.  In the introduction, Richard Chizmar shares how he first encountered King, at almost the same age I did.  And I too remember the day IT was released (I was a kid) and how the book was like stacked bricks in the bookstore. 

Clark's book gets to the point quickly.  Discussing the novels first, he opens with reviews of Carrie, Salem's Lot and The Shining.  Clark does take time to give some insights on the movie version of The Shining, only because it has become so controversial.  Like him, I enjoy the movie very much, and can simply shrug and say it stands as its own thing; its own art. 

It is when he came to The Stand that I felt the deepest connection to Clark.  Like Clark, I was introduced to the Stand in it's unabridged format.  For years it was not available in audio (my preferred avenue) so I developed other means of listening to the book.  In the 90s I became a member of an audio book store that had tapes of the original version of The Stand.  Later (when I had more money) I bought the tapes off the internet, sent them to a company, who recorded them digitally for me.  But imagine how happy I was when The Stand unabridged finally came out on Audio and CD. 

Clark's essay's so far are spot on.  You don't have to agree with him on every point to enjoy the road trip with him.  The book is like a long drive (or for me, listening while running, a long run) with a good friend who is familiar with every Stephen King book.  Clark doesn't try to be a scholar, he just shares simply what he likes or doesn't like about the book -- like your friend would.

Pet Sematary 2019

This is not a review.  It’s my discussion points on the movie Pet Sematary.

If you haven’t seen the movie – see the movie.  If you need to be told not to read spoilers before you see a movie, you’re seriously reading the wrong blog.  Everything here is about what’s on the screen.

The new Pet Sematary takes us down old familiar roads while offering generous doses of new scenery.  Or, so it would seem.  The movie begins with familiar setting, familiar family, familiar plot line.  A doctor and his family move into a small college town in Maine to get away from the busy life and have more time with their kids.

About the time the viewer thinks they know what is going to happen, the movie pulls the rug out from under you.

The changes are considerable, deep, and the results are an almost entirely new story.  A scarier story.  In fact, a much better story.

Here are a few very successful changes:

1. Ellie not Gage.
The most striking change is that it is Ellie who gets whacked by the truck.  This is the most important part of the rewrite because it changes the tone and direction of the entire movie.  In the original, Gage was so small, he couldn’t talk.  The result was, he simply became a killing machine.  It was fun, if not a little hollow.  In the new version, Ellie comes back aware that something has happened to her.  She is flat out creepy!  And evil – Very evil.

By replacing toddler Gage with 9 year old Ellie, the viewer is given something very important: Conversation.  Sweet moments with Luis after Ellie comes back.  She is more than a little aware that things are not right.  The story has the courage to take us where we’ve often wanted to go – but not one has really gone.  How do you handle your child coming back from the dead?  What do you tell the neighbors?  Or your spouse?  It’s Ellie who asks this question of Luis.  “What are you going to tell her, Daddy?” Ellie asks.

Ellie is old enough to dress herself.  This is important when she chooses to take off her clean clothes and opts instead to wear the dress she was buried in.  Again, creepy.

Ellie is also old enough to communicate where she went when she died.  And it wasn’t heaven.  This, of course, brings up all kinds of theological discussion points.  Do 9 year olds go to hell?  I think not.  But then again, mot 9 year old’s don’t get buried in an ancient burial ground and raised from the dead – so go with it.  She becomes a messenger of hell itself, ready to carry her entire family down into the grave with her.  Her murders are given motive beyond just the ground being “sour.”  By killing her family, she is actually reuniting them. Yeah – that’s a little twisted.

2. Pascow:
I never felt right about the ghost of Psacow in the original movie.  He was too present.  Too much – there.  The new movie makes him much more ghostly.  It worked far better making him appear, disappear and hang more at the edges of scenes instead of dominating the center stage.

3. Teasing.
The movie teases older viewers who remember well the final moments of Jud Crandall.  In the original, Gage slices his ankle.  Using almost the exact same camera angle as Jud walks through his house, the viewer prepares for the attack – which doesn’t come quite as expected. 

Here’s some stuff they could have just as well left alone:

1. Zelda -- The death of Rachel’s sister.  This storyline was way overplayed.  Dreams, visions and memories all surround the death of Rachel’s sister.  And the story-line gets played over and over.  It becomes like a broken record.  What is supposed to feel deep with each callback really becomes tiresome.  Give it up and get back to the main story.

Rachel comes across kind of like Jack in the Shining -- a little crazy from the get go.  Not just broken or grieving; she's nuts.  Rachel suffers from visions that take her out of reality. 

2. The end.  The ways things finally play out, make the movie more of a zombie flick than – well, whatever Pet Sematary originally was.  It ends by taunting the viewer, but not really providing any answers.  The movie loses its depth by being a little silly with its ending.  Really, no one is taking this too serious, anyway, right?  But, the fright is lost in the absurdity of the final frames as the dead family members approach the car Gage is locked in.  Will they get him?  Of course they will.  And then what?  They storm the country killing people and burying them in the ancient burial ground?  It just becomes Night of the Living Dead.

3. The funeral.  A major cut in the film was Rachel's parents.  In both the book and the movie, the tension between Luis and his inlaws is an important emotional subtheme.  I thought the original funeral scene, where Luis and his father in law go after each other, only to knock the coffin over and the body come spilling out was brilliant.  That all goes away here for a much more subdued funeral scene.  (I would say: Give us the fighting funeral back at the expense of the corny ending.)

My final grade: A-

(I enjoyed THIS article on the major differences between the two movies)