Castle Rock, the latest big Hulu series, is based on the writings of Stephen King. This Super Bowl commercial gets things off to the right start by name dropping Shawshank Prison and then going on to create an effectively creepy atmosphere.
What the Hell was The Dark Tower about, anyway?
It’s a legitimate question. I know that the film was technically a continuation of Stephen King’s overrated Dark Tower books. Matthew McConaughey was Walter, the Man in the Black, the man who is kidnapping psychic children so that he can weaponize their powers and destroy The Dark Tower. Idris Elba was Roland, the last of the gunslingers, who is obsessed with killing Walter because Walter killed his father. And Tom Taylor is Jake, an eleven year-old boy who lives in New York City and who keeps having visions of the Tower, Walter, and Roland. Walter wants Jake. Roland wants Walter. Jake wants to understand it all…
And that’s pretty much the entire movie. Jake switches back and forth between his world and Roland’s world. Walter occasionally pops up in New York so that he can kill Jake’s family and assure that Jake won’t have any reason not to continue traveling with Roland at the end of the movie. It all basically feels like the pilot for a television series and, to be honest, it probably wouldn’t be that bad of a show. For one thing, if The Dark Tower was a tv show, there would be more of an opportunity to develop the characters of Roland, Walter, and Tom. The Dark Tower movie only last 95 minutes and the majority of those minutes feel very rushed.
Obviously, if you’ve read Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, this film will be easier for you to follow than it will be for people who have never had to suffer through them. I know I’m in the minority as far as this is concerned but I find The Dark Tower series to be King at his most pretentious. Interestingly enough, a little bit of pretension probably would have helped the film version of The Dark Tower. As it is, The Dark Tower is almost too workmanlike and straight-forward. It could have really used a pointless Stephen King-style soliloquy about faith, innocence, and horror. At the very least, they could have had someone in the background, droning on about politics in a Maine accent.
I have to admit that I really, really, really wanted to like The Dark Tower. I love Idris Elba. I love Matthew McConaughey. Even more importantly, I love being a contrarian. Whenever a film gets as many negative reviews as The Dark Tower, my natural instinct is always to assume that it has to be a secret masterpiece. I mean, seriously, who trusts critics? I really wanted to watch The Dark Tower and then write a 1,000-word defense of it. I was hoping that, much like The Counselor, it would turn out to be a masterpiece that only I could recognize.
Sadly, that didn’t turn out to be the case. I will say that Matthew McConaughey seemed to be having a sincerely good time playing the bad guy. And Idris Elba had just the right mix of weariness and compassion to play Roland. But otherwise, the movie just felt so pointless.
Overall, this has been a pretty good year for Stephen King film adaptations. It deserves to be nominated for an Oscar, though it won’t be. Gerald’s Game made people thankful for Netflix. The Dark Tower, though, will be quickly forgotten.
The Mist is a text adventure based on Stephen King’s novella. (The game came out before both the television series and Frank Darabont’s film version.) You are at the supermarket, just trying to buy your groceries and get home, when suddenly a thick mist envelopes the entire town. There are monsters in the mist and you soon discover that there are monsters in the store as well. Can you survive the mist and make your way back to your home where, hopefully, your son is still alive and waiting for you to rescue him?
The Mist does a good job of turning King’s story into a work of interactive fiction. Even if you have read the story or watched the movie, The Mist is still not an easy game. This is a game where it is very easy to get killed and there’s one puzzle where, due to randomization, you can do everything right and still end up dying. It is unfortunate that you cannot save games while playing them in the Internet Archive because The Mist is a game that can only be won through trial and error.
The best advice that I can give is don’t spend too much time in the supermarket, pick up everything that you can, and don’t shoot Mrs. Carmody, as much as you may want to.
Stephen King turned 70 last month, and the Master of Horror’s grip on the American psyche is stronger than ever, thanks to the unprecedented horror hit IT!, now playing at a theater near you. King’s macabre novels have been adapted for the screen since 1976’s CARRIE with varying degrees of success; some have been unabashed genre classics, others complete bombs, most lie somewhere in the middle.
Director John Carpenter had a string of successes beginning with 1978’s seminal slasher film HALLOWEEN, but his 1982 remake of THE THING, now considered a masterpiece of the genre, was a box office disappointment. Carpenter took on King’s novel CHRISTINE as a work-for-hire project. I recently watched it for the first time, and think not only is it one of the best adaptations of King’s work to hit the screen, it’s one of Carpenter’s best horror…
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Today’s horror scene that I love is from 1980’s The Shining.
(As much as I loved It and regardless of King’s own opinion, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining remains the best Stephen King adaptation to date.)
I’ve seen this scene a hundred times.
It still freaks me out.
Here’s something that Leonard Wilson and I have often pondered here at the TSL offices:
Why is it sometimes easier to write about a film that you hate than a film that you love?
Seriously, whenever I watch a film that I hate, the review is practically written in my head before the end credits have even finished. Take Wolves At The Door, for instance. It took me 15 minutes to write that review, largely because I hated the movie and I knew exactly why. Perhaps it’s because the films that we hate are usually films that have absolutely nothing going on beneath the surface. It’s a lot easier to write a review when you don’t have to consider things like nuance or subtext.
But, whenever I see a film that I absolutely love, it always takes me longer to write the review. It’s intimidating to try to explain why you loved a film. After all, if you loved it then you want everyone else to love it too. And you want to be able to explain yourself with something more than just: “This was a really good movie.”
Take It, for instance. It opened last month. I saw it on opening weekend. I thought it was a great movie, one that worked in almost every way possible. I thought it was well-acted. I thought Andy Muschietti did an excellent job directing it. I thought that the film’s screenwriters did a wonderful job adapting a challenging novel. When It was scary, it made me scream. When It was funny, it made me laugh. Most importantly, when It was dramatic, it brought tears to my eyes. It was not just a brilliant horror movie but it was a brilliant movie period, one of the best of the year so far.
And yet, it’s taken me a month to write the 300 words that you just read. Fortunately, back in September, Ryan C. posted a review of his own.
I assume that most of our readers have already seen It or, at the very least, they’re familiar with what the film is generally about. It’s based on the famous novel by Stephen King, a work that many feel is King’s best. It follows a group of 12 year-old outcasts, the so-called Losers Club, as they spend the summer of 1989 trying to avoid both local bullies and Pennywise the Dancing Clown (played by Bill Skarsgard), the cannibalistic demon who lives in the sewers and who awakens every 27 years so that it can feed. Pennywise has already killed George, the younger brother of Bill Denborough (Jaeden Leiberher), the unofficial leader of the Losers Club.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Pennywise is terrifying. If horror films actually get Oscar nominations, Bill Skarsgard would, at the very least, be in the running for best supporting actor. But what’s interesting is that Pennywise is not necessarily the scariest thing about the film. As both outcasts and children, the members of the Losers Club are in the unique position to be able to understand that, despite its placid surface, Derry would be a scary place even without a killer clown. Much like the town of Twin Peaks, there is much going on underneath the surface.
Overweight Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is attacked by bully Henry Bowers (a terrifying Nicholas Hamilton), who proceeds to try to carve his name into Ben’s stomach.
Hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Glazer) is literally held prisoner by his domineering mother.
African-American Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) and Jewish Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) spend their days being targeted over their skin color and religion.
Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) lives in poverty with her sexually abusive father.
Ever since the disappearance of George, Bill Denborough has watched his family fall apart.
Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) tells jokes because making people laugh is the only way he can convince them not to beat him up.
Even the fearsome Henry Bowers lives with an abusive father who has obviously passed down his twisted worldview to his son.
And yet, despite all of that, It is not a relentlessly grim movie. In some ways, it’s one of the most hopeful horror films that I’ve ever seen. This may be a horror film but it’s also a celebration of friendship. The members of the Losers Club may be outcasts but at least they have each other. It may be a horror film but it’s also a coming-of-age story, an adventure of growing up that the members of the Losers Club will never forget. (Except, of course, they will…but not until the sequel…) All of the child actors are natural and believable in their roles. Since he gets the funniest lines, Finn Wolfhard is an obvious audience favorite but really, the entire ensemble does a good job.
Between Get Out at the start of the year and It in September, this has been a very good year for horror. It is one of the best films of 2017 so see it.
Last month, before I saw the latest film version of Stephen King’s It, I watched the 1990 miniseries version.
This was my first time to watch the It miniseries, though I had certainly heard about it. Most of the reviews that I had read seemed to be mixed. Everyone seemed to agree that Tim Curry was the perfect choice for the role of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. However, many other reviewers complained that the program’s television origins kept It from being as effective as it could be. “Not as scary as the book,” everyone seemed to agree. The actors who played the members of the Loser Clubs as children all seemed to receive general acclaim but not everyone seemed to be as enamored with the adult cast. And everyone, even those who liked the miniseries as a whole, complained about the show’s finale, in which Pennywise took the form of a giant spider.
Well, I have to agree about the giant spider. That spider looked painfully fake, even by the standards of 1990s television. Not only does the spider look too fake to truly be scary but, once that spider showed up, that meant that Tim Curry disappeared from the film. Curry deserved every bit of acclaim that he received for playing the role of Pennywise.
All that said, the miniseries was still a lot better than I had been led to believe.
Certainly, it’s not as frightening as the book or the movie. Considering that the It miniseries was produced for network television, that’s not surprising. As opposed to the movie, the miniseries attempts to cover King’s entire novel. That’s a lot of material, even when you have a five hour running time. Obviously, a good deal of the story had to be cut and there are a few scenes in the miniseries that feel a bit rushed. Characters like Audrey Denbrough and Stanley Uris, who were compelling in the novel, are reduced to being mere bystanders. Some of the novel’s most horrific scenes — like Henry Bowers cutting Ben — are either excised or heavily toned down. If the novel was as much about the hypocrisy of the adults of Derry as the paranormal horror of Pennywise, that theme is largely left out of the miniseries.
That said, It still had its share of memorable moments. The image of a clown standing on the side of the road, holding balloons, and waving is going to be creepy, regardless of whether it’s found in a R-rated film or on ABC. The death of little George Denbrough is horrific, regardless of whether you actually the bone sticking out of his wound or not. Even the library scene, in which a grown-up Richie Tozier deals with a balloon filled with blood, was effectively surreal.
As for the actors who played the members of the Losers Club, the results were occasionally uneven. The actors who played them as children were all believable and had a credible group chemistry. You could imagine all of them actually being friends. As for the adults, some of them I liked more than others. Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, and Tim Reid gave the best performances out of the group. John Ritter and Annette O’Toole were somewhere in the middle. Richard Thomas was absolutely awful and I found myself snickering whenever he was filmed from behind and I saw his pony tail. Richard Masur, unfortunately, wasn’t around long enough to make much of an impression one way or the other.
Ultimately, though, the miniseries (much like the book) suffers because the adults are never as interesting as Pennywise. Tim Curry dominates the entire movie and, when he’s not onscreen, his absence is definitely felt. Watching the miniseries made me appreciate why the film version kept Pennywise’s screen time to a minimum. Pennywise is such a flamboyant and dominant character that, if not used sparingly, he can throw the entire production out of balance.
Despite its flaws, I liked the miniseries. Yes, it’s uneven. Yes, it’s toned down. Yes, it works better in pieces than as a whole. But, taken on its own terms, It was effective. Director Tommy Lee Wallace creates a suitably ominous atmosphere and the child actors are all properly compelling. And, finally, that damn clown is always going to freak me out.
Just for fun, here’s a trailer for It, recut as a family film: