Archive for September 30, 2007

Stand and deliver

September 30, 2007

A couple days ago I finished rereading Stephen King’s The Stand for the fourth time, I think. If it’s not his best book it’s in the top two, and it has the added bonus of boasting the best film adaptation of any of King’s works. That’s not to say that the TV miniseries of The Stand is better than Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, of course, just that it’s a better adaptation. When your mind’s eye can take advantage of that spectacularly spot-on casting job, trotting out Gary Sinise and Ray Walston and Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis and Bill Fagerbakke and Adam Storke and Jamey Sheridan to deliver the lines, a lot of work is done for the book right there. Even in the cases where the casting isn’t nailed–Miguel Ferrer, Rob Lowe, Corin Nemec, Matt Frewer, and Molly Ringwald were all too old for their characters, for example–there’s still something right about it.

But I have found that the older I get, the more that certain flaws in King’s stuff that I didn’t notice when I first read it as a kid, or even later during re-reads in high school or college, stand out to me a bit more. In The Stand‘s case, as in It‘s case, they don’t ruin the book or anything, but they’re worth pointing out.

1) During the opening section of the book, where we’re introduced to most of the main players, the Frannie stuff is much, much weaker than the rest. From the “girl loses her virginity and gets knocked up in one fell swoop” angle on down, it’s a parade of young-adult novel clichés that makes Frannie come off like a histrionic dope. Also, everyone slaps each other. Fran slaps her boyfriend. Her boyfriend slaps her. Her Mom slaps her. Her Dad slaps her Mom. It’s almost like that Cheers routine with Sam and Diane. When you compare it to, say, how tight King’s depiction of the rise and fall of budding pop star Larry Underwood is, or how evocatively he sets the scene for Stu Redman, it suffers all the more.

2) Nick Andros disappears from the book after he meets Mother Abagail, at least as a focalizing character. Seriously, take a look and you’ll see that the entire segment of the novel set in the Boulder Free Zone is really the Stu Frannie Larry Nadine and Harold Show, with the entire story being told from their perspectives. It undercuts Mother Abagail’s protestations that she believed Nick would be the one to lead the forces of good, as well as the emotional impact of the shocking turn of events that befalls him.

3) I think something is lost in not showing the initial meeting between Stu, Frannie, Harold, and Glen’s party and Mother Abagail. That’s the hero, the heroine, the Basil Exposition, and the Gollum figure right there, and that’s an oversight. It may also be a way for King to dodge explaining how Mother Abagail didn’t catch on to Harold from the get-go.

4) I think the ending–the very ending, after Stu and Tom get back to Boulder–feels rushed. Who keeps Kojak, for example?

That stuff being said it really is a remarkable book. The unfolding of the superflu epidemic is just magisterially well done and very frightening, and quite brutal in its depiction of the government and military to boot. By rights the Flagg material should be vastly less interesting, but he’s a magnetic villain whose evil manifests itself in constantly startling and entertaining ways, like those constant litanies about how when birds hear him walking they fly into telephone poles, and if he walks through a building project guys hammer their thumbs, and if he looks at you funny your prostate goes bad. It’s like if John Cougar Mellencamp became some sort of mutant Hitler.

My sweet Satan

September 29, 2007

This week’s Horror Roundtable: Name your favorite fictional depiction of the Devil.

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I have seven words for you:

September 28, 2007

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Chester Brown is doing a zombie comic.

It sounds like it’s going to be kind of goofy and maybe a little in-jokey, but–and I stress–it’s also going to be a zombie comic by Chester Brown.

Quote of the day

September 28, 2007

About as bad as can be.

J.R.R. Tolkien on his friend C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, as quoted in “Down the pub with Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The original ending in the Shire and the influence of the Inklings,” Jon Barnes, Times Online. The article’s really a review/highlight reel of Diana Pavlac Glyer’s new book The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, a study of Tolkien and Lewis’ Oxford writers’ circle the Inklings. It sounds fascinating. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Friday T-shirt blogging

September 28, 2007

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Kim Thompson of the great comics publisher Fantagraphics pays homage to George A. Romero’s great zombie movie Dawn of the Dead in one of those “two great tastes that taste great together” deals.

These days I tend to find black T-shirts with a huge visual that was originally designed for a movie poster or album cover or some other mode of presentation a bit too clumsy looking, but there are some exceptions, usually particularly striking horror imagery. My prize Hellraiser T-shirt, the only shirt I’ve ever re-bought after wearing one out, is one of them; this one’s pretty great too, in large part because of that no-nonsense font on that amazing tagline.

Via Flog!

I walked with a zombie

September 27, 2007

In Colombia, the motion-sickness drug scopolamine is being used by criminals as a “zombie drug,” robbing its victims of free will. It gets blown in their faces and prevents the target from resisting rape, robbery, and murder. More here.

Quote of the day

September 27, 2007

Christopher Eccleston, who co-stars as the villainous character called the Rider in the upcoming fantasy film The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, told SCI FI Wire that the film is considerably different from its source material….”I think there are many, many departures from the book to the film,” Eccleston said in an interview….”The novel has been hugely Americanized in the film.”

–Ian Spelling, Dark Differs from Books,” SciFi Wire

Sounds like a recipe for success to me!

All aboard that train

September 27, 2007

The trailer for Midnight Meat Train (note the absence of the definite article) is out, and I am very, very pleased with it. (Via Bloody Disgusting.)

Pahk the wawthahg at Hahvahd Yahd

September 26, 2007

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I know you’ve already seen this. I just wanted to use that line. Carry on.



September 26, 2007

Longtime readers of this blog are no doubt aware that I am a pretty big fan of Dionaea House, Eric Heisserer’s mockumentary-style multi-site webfiction project about–well, google “dionaea” and clue yourself in. For a while a film adaptation was in the works with a major studio, but after many delays and a title change, the project was dropped by the studio. In May of 2006 Heisserer told his Yahoo group that the prospect of the film receiving funding from some other source seemed promising, but no other updates have been forthcoming.

Just for kicks I started hanging around one of the sites that comprise the story, and in the comments I discovered this recently created blog, which appears to be incorporating the failure of the film version and the “death” of Heisserer himself into the fiction. Is this an official continuation, or the work of an enthusiastic fan? Does it even matter?


September 25, 2007

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Snake Eyes from You Can’t Do That On Television here would like to inform you that comments have been switched off in the face of a truly colossal amount of spam, until the crack ATF tech team can get registration up and running. My email’s to the left if you really wanna sound off, though.

Two words that just made me very happy

September 25, 2007

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Daybreak shirt”

Quote of the day

September 24, 2007

RILEY: Had a little brother, bit. Took less than an hour before he turned.

SLACK: And then what happened?

RILEY: I shot him.

SLACK: You said nothing bad ever happened to you.

RILEY: That happened to my brother.

–George A. Romero, Land of the Dead

Stranger than fiction

September 24, 2007

I don’t recall I how I stumbled across this, but here’s a chilling piece on a family cursed with hereditary fatal insomnia.

And get your Croatoan on with amateur hunters for the lost colony of Roanoke.


September 23, 2007

The other day I said that any modern-day action movie that tried to out-batshit crazy Chuck Norris’s Invasion U.S.A. was doomed to failure. I said that because of scenes like these:

(SPOILER ALERT on this next one…)

But the more I watch these two Internet-only John Rambo trailers, the more I feel like I may have to eat my words.

It’s hard to judge based on trailers alone, but it seems to me that the reason that John Rambo stands to be far more successful at being viscerally exciting than the self-aware (read: “self-conscious”) approach of Shoot ‘Em Up is that it’s not setting out to be crazy. It’s setting out to be extremely violent, which is has some venn-diagram overlap with crazy but is not entirely contiguous with it, and thus far it’s really good at what it’s setting out to do.

Carnival of souls: special all-visual edition

September 22, 2007

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Monster Brains presents a gallery of 16th-century Hieronymus Bosch knock-offs.

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Golden Age Comic Book Stories presents a threepart gallery of Berni Wrightson’s totally-wrong-for-the-book illustrations from Stephen King’s The Stand.

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I am such a sucker for water monsters that I find this screencap from So Bad It’s Good’s review of The New Swiss Family Robinson totally fascinating and frightening.

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Finally, the New York Times and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum present a gallery of Auschwitz SS members at play near the death camp.

The root of all evil

September 22, 2007

How much money have you spent on a single horror-related item? That’s this week’s Horror Roundtable subject. Made me feel like a cheapskate.

Two thoughts upon seeing Eastern Promises today

September 21, 2007

1) How great is it that David Cronenberg is making crime movies?

2) How great is it that Viggo Mortensen is a movie star?

Friday T-shirt blogging, with a little announcement

September 21, 2007

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Loch Ness, Scotland, summer 2001

Back then I was an editor at Abercrombie & Fitch’s A&F Quarterly. I did a lot of great interviews for them, many of which can be found in that sidebar to your left, from Chuck Palahniuk to Underworld to Bettie Page to a TON of comics people, which is really how I became involved in comics in the first place. A travel story assignment for A&F was the reason I was in Scotland, in fact. While I was at A&F I had an employee discount to A&F stores, and one of the few times I used it was to purchase this little gem. It reads “I’m Easy” in baseball-jersey lettering. I don’t know what it says about me that my first thought upon seeing it was that it was a reference to the song Keith Carradine sings in Robert Altman’s Nashville, and that my second thought was that it was a reference to the Commodores song, and that my third thought was that maybe some hip person had actually intended it to be a reference to Faith No More’s cover of the Commodores song, and that only several weeks after I purchased and first wore it did it finally occur to me that it was most likely intended to proclaim that I was readily available sexually.

I bring all this up because, in the words of Stephen King…

Life was such a wheel that no man could stand upon it for long.

And it always, at the end, came round to the same place again.

…and I am in the way of knowing that Abercrombie & Fitch will be relaunching the A&F Quarterly in the U.K. with a Spring Break 2008 issue, and that I will be involved. That’s all I can say at the moment, but stay tuned.

Lights, camera, action

September 20, 2007

Jon Hastings has begun exploring what he’s termed the Golden Age of American Action Movies. He’s starting by stating the films’ defining characteristics. Besides being action movies (duh), meaning that they’re driven by action scenes in terms of plot and character development, he says

They share two major stylistic/formal elements: (1) a commitment to surface realism and (2) spatial integrity is the cohering idea behind their action sequences.

By #1 he means that “no-nonsense spectacles” without the fancy (artsy?) camerawork of genre stylists like Sergio Leone. I like what he’s getting at here as it articulates something I’ve noticed in my hobby of watching ’80s action movies: they exist to show you the action. You know how most comedies are utilitarian, from a filmic perspective? Shots, lighting, sound, mise en scène are all designed so as to distract as little as possible from the jokes. This is why you can probably count the number of great comedies you’ve seen that also function as beautiful or striking movies on one hand if you remove the ones by Woody Allen or the Coen Brothers first. Well, I think the same is true of the action movies Jon’s talking about. They’re there to wow you with the “action” half of “action movie,” not the “movie half.” Because of this even slight, largely failed deviations from the norm become very noticeable; I was really struck by Sylvester Stallone’s strange freeze-and-dissolve cuts and almost comical overuse of montage sequences in Rocky IV, for example.

Jon’s second point is, he admits, kind of just a way of restating point one in the context of action scenes themselves, especially when he formulated point one thusly:

despite the craziness of the situation, despite the often superhuman feats, despite the frequent fudging of the laws of physics, Golden Age Action Movies present everything with a straight face. There’s no stylization or attempt to put quotation marks around any of the action.

In fact the two points are so blended together that I hope he tries to distinguish them a bit more in the futur, or else just mash ’em together. Anyway, regarding point #2 again, in terms of direct comparisons, he says that rather than Bourne Supremacy-style hand-held cameras and choppy editing (an “impressionistic” approach to shooting action) or John Woo-style operatic slow-mo and lighting (an “expressionistic” approach),

these movies aim for scenes that make sense spatially in terms of how everything is happening. Not that there isn’t fudging and not that the integrity isn’t really an illusion.

Of course. But I think where this criterion needs a little tightening is in the idea of the spacial integrity itself. Thinking of scenes from movies that obviously don’t fit in this category of action film–the House of Blue Leaves sequence from Kill Bill Vol. 1, the subway fight from The Matrix, the three-way lightsaber duel from The Phantom Menace, the treetop chase in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon–it’s clear that a sense of the spatial relationships between the characters themselves and between the characters and the objects in their environment is absolutely key. As a matter of fact I would assert that this is a necessary ingredient to any great action sequence. This is actually something I realized while reviewing countless superhero and genre comics every week for Wizard–a sense of place, a sense of space, a sense of where the characters are in relation to one another and to their surroundings, is the difference between, say, a memorable fight in Miller or Maleev or Lark Daredevil and some generic lasers-shooting-in-all-directions pose-fest from early-90s X-Men.

What I think differentiates the films of the Golden Age of American Action Movies from other great action movies isn’t so much the spatial integrity, which is always important, but how the bodies (or vehicles, which in these films are extensions of bodies) of the characters act within a space. Simply put, I’m saying that in these action movies, the actions and abilities of the combatants may strain credulity, but never do so in an openly obvious way. When John McClane ties a firehose around his waist, jumps from a rooftop, rappels against a glass window, shoots it out in midair and swings through it to safety, it’s something that’s unlikely to happen in real life to say the least, but it’s presented–in the performance, in the filming, in the special effects–as something a human being could conceivably do with his or her body given the right combination of strength, canniness, and luck. Compare that to bullet time, wire-fu, CGI Jedi powers–while when done right there’s still a palpable physicality to it all, it’s obviously intended to call attention to the superhumanness. The reaction from the audience there is “wow!” The reaction from the audience in the case of Golden Age Action is “whoa!” or more bluntly, “holy shit!”

It’s a really fascinating post and you should read it. I look forward to reading what else he has to say on the subject.