Mr. Mercedes – Episode 2: “On Your Mark”


AT&T’s Mr. Mercedes
Episode 2: “On Your Mark”
Directed by Jack Bender
Written by David E. Kelley

* For a recap & review of the Pilot, click here.
* For a recap & review of Episode 3, “Cloudy, With a Chance of Mayhem” – click here
Pic 1Ole Dt. Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t have much else going on other than the occasional puzzle, lots of beer, and feeding his tortoise Fred in the yard. Oh, and the Mr. Mercedes case, which he obsesses over at night. Watching videos of the victims, the woman and her baby which turns to eerie pictures with blood pouring out of the eyes.
The killer, he’s still haunting, still taunting. Now that we know Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway), Mr. Mercedes himself, is also an ice cream man, slipping in and out of the neighbourhood undetected with relative ease, there’s no telling the amount of mind games the detective will find himself up against.
A kid winds up breaking his arm while snooping in Bill’s backyard, so he and Ida Silver (Holland Taylor) call an ambulance. But things don’t look so good, with him stinking “like a saloon.” So the ever crafty Ida brings a whiskey bottle. She comes up with a story, that he was verging on a panic attack. He took a drink to calm his nerves.
Slick mama, that Ida. Always looking out for him, even if he doesn’t want her to do it. Painful to watch. Not because of her, because of how desperately he seems to insist on being alone, isolated, alienated. Once Ida leaves he nearly does have a panic attack, too.
Pic 1ABrady’s co-worker Lou (Breeda Wool) gets in more hot water at work. A guy gives her lip, then calls her out for being a lesbian, even though he’s got nothing to go on other than his stupid conception of who she is after a single conversation. Again, their boss Anthony aka Robi (Robert Stanton) acts like a dick. Apparently customers can “gay bash” as long as they’re paying.
At home, Bill’s got his neighbourhood buddy Jerome (Jharrel Jerome) helping with the latest e-mail from the killer, the disturbing video he’s been sent. He’s got bigger worries, though. Former partner Pete Dixon (Scott Lawrence) calls on behalf of the police, asking him to come down and talk about what happened with the kid in his backyard.
So Bill gets down there, facing question after question from Pete who’s not convinced with his story, wanting his retired friend to find some kind of drive, a purpose, a hobby.
Bill: “Whats wrong with you, did ya never see an old guy talkinto himself before? Youre new to the planet, are ya? Fuck off while youre at it.”
The Hartsfield house is a weird one, indeed. Downstairs, Brady plays around with his computers, doing… other things, as well. Things his mother Deborah (Kelly Lynch) wants to see, though he’s not inclined to let her. So she presses him, wanting to know what he does down there all the time. He keeps his secrets, and his mother blames him for the pain she says it causes; keep in mind, she does sexually prey on her son, so I don’t think she’s entirely worried properly about his psychological well being.
Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 11.23.45 PMOver at the electronics store, Robi chats with Brady and Lou about the most recent incident, as well as their “underlying contempt” for customers, or so he says. He calls Brady strange, definitely a step over the line. And more than before I’m starting to wonder how long this guy will live, a psychopath working in their midst, right under his nose.
Ole Bill has already got a purpose. He’s poking around through the still warm bits of the Mercedes Killer case. Yet even the warm bits are cooling fast. Meanwhile, he and Ida are still sniffing around one another, at least she’s been sniffing. He’s interested, he just doesn’t totally understand why she’s into him. She claims he’s “convenient” and also he has some charm left in the tank. More than that she is concerned for him, as a friend.
But, oh, no… another communication, a letter from Mr. Mercedes. He taunts about the cop’s retirement, gloating in his subtle way. Upping poor Bill’s paranoia even further. Now he’s also left a way to communicate online, a digital tin can telephone on a string just for the two of them. All the while Brady’s still driving through the neighbourhood hawking ice cream to kids.
At home, Brady shows his mom a “super remote” he’s been working on, he calls it Thing B. It controls all sorts of stuff, he can program it to activate or deactivate relatively anything. He tells his mom he’ll sell it to the Pentagon someday. Delusions of grandeur? Almost a diabolical speech, convincing his mother he’s headed for big things.
Bill goes to meet, unofficially, with a woman named Janey Patterson (Mary-Louise Parker). She’d like to help catch the Mercedes Killer. They speak of the e-mail he got. Janey’s sister – the one who owned the stolen Mercedes – also got letters. The killer encouraged her to commit suicide. Until she did.
Pic 4After Lou closes up shop and heads out for the night, Robi’s left by himself. To work, he claims. He’s actually getting ready for a jerk off session, has the towel ready and everything. Only when he starts a video, it shuts down. Then his laptop all but explodes in a burst of flame.
Bill goes home and logs on to the site where Mr. Mercedes has their little two-way conversation setup. He sends a message: I’M HERE FUCKHEAD. LET’S PLAY. And this is the ignition Brady needs to really start his games. I’m worried about what that means.
Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 11.32.37 PMChrist, an awesome follow-up to the Pilot! Great, great stuff. I’m excited now. The first episode was truly creepy, unnerving. This one started to get into true thriller territory. Gleeson is fascinating, hilarious, perfect. Treadaway terrifies me, particularly that final look he gives, looking at the glow of his computer screen.
“Cloudy, With a Chance of Mayhem” is next week. Stay tuned.


Mr. Mercedes – Episode 1: “Pilot”

AT&T’s Mr. Mercedes
Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Jack Bender
Written by David E. Kelley

* For a recap & review of Episode 2, “On Your Mark” – click here
Pic 1We start in 2009, in Ohio. Extremely early in the morning at a City Jobs Fair. People are lined up outside through a roped walkway. Everyone waits patiently, some introducing themselves to one another. Others aren’t entirely happy to be there, not into the socialising. Regardless, everyone there’s starved for work, from the older folk to a young mother with her baby and every sort in between.
Suddenly, a Mercedes pulls up. Lights beaming onto the crowd. The driver slides on a clown mask, breathing heavy. Then he drives directly through the people, barrelling forward at top speed. People scream, running away fast as they can.
But some don’t escape. The driver ploughs over them, including the young mom and her child, a man helping her. Tons and tons of bodies lie bloody, crunched, smashed to bits in his wreckage. Holy christ, what a brutal sequence! When the smoke clears, Detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) turns up on the scene to survey the carnage and begin an investigation along with fellow lawman Pete Dixon (Scott Lawrence). The senselessness isn’t immediately evident. Pete thinks the driver “lost control” of his vehicle. Hodges knows better.
Pic 1AWe jump ahead, two years later. Looks as if Dt. Hodges is a bit rough around the edges, lying in his own wreckage now. Mostly consisting of beer cans, cigarettes, and peanuts. Bit of a mess, in more ways than one. He’s got a lot of time to himself these days. Him and his friend Fred, the tortoise in the backyard. Seems they’re sort of at the same pace. He still has dinner with Pete, keeping in touch after his retirement.
One thing’s clear, though – Bill’s got unfinished business. Like many cops who’ve retired with unsolved cases. He doesn’t even feel like himself. While Pete and a local waitress named Sheila (Tuesday Beebe) try keeping him on track, as does nosy neighbour Ida Silver (the incomparable Holland Taylor), there’ll always be something not right with him. He just slides further into the bottle.
Bill: “Ever notice everythings upside down on a spoon?”
Sheila: “Maybe thats how life is, hon. Spoons just got it figured out.”
Perfectly with The Ramones playing “Pet Sematary” on the radio, we’re introduced to Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway). He works at a store dealing in electronics, computers, all that sort of thing. He’s got a regular life, he and co-worker dealing with shitty customers and a corporate cut-out boss. And his boss, oh, man: a piece of work! He’s basically jealous of Brady’s talent with computers, cutting him down a peg at any corner possible.
We see that Ida’s nosy because she’s looking for a companion, at least a sexual one. But underneath all that – she’s a proud lady, after all – there’s a genuine concern about Bill. She doesn’t want to see him waste away, she’s seen it before. She doesn’t want him to have “retreated from the living” just because of retirement. So, despite her sort of snooty attitude at first, she’s genuinely worried the man doesn’t have any purpose. And without purpose, without telos, what IS a man?
Pic 2Well, there’s still a purpose. Deep down there somewhere.
Particularly after he gets an e-mail addressed from Mr. M. Subject line: Long Time. We see a clown mask briefly. Then the screen switches to a smiley face, speaking to him with an electronically disguised voice. Taunting about his retirement, his weight gain, and the fact he never solved his case. Up come a bunch of pictures of the victims driven down outside the City Jobs Fair. He even tells the former detective he wore a condom that night, for fear he’d ejaculate and leave evidence. The whole video is wildly disturbing, and totally terrifying.
So if there wasn’t purpose before, if he didn’t consciously care about it already, now Bill is paying attention. Now, he has something he must do. If not, he’ll likely suffer the rest of retirement in a haze of insanity.
We also cut back to Brady, his mother Deborah (Kelly Lynch) worrying he’s working too many hours. That he’s “all work and no play” – sound familiar, Stephen King fans? Similar to another fella named Jack. She worries more about him, that he’s never had a girlfriend, that he’s withdrawn, even if he’s a smart guy. Oh, and it turns out mommy has other things on her mind. Things no mother ought to be doing with her son, y’know, like incest. Yikes. Although Brady leaves before things go too far. Instead he spends time alone stroking one out rather than go all the way. Man, that’s unsettling.
If you didn’t know already, Brady is Mr. Mercedes.
Pic 3Pic 3AThe fun will-they won’t-they between Ida and Bill continues. She’s not happy she showed him a nude on her phone and he wouldn’t look at it. She insists he looks. He does, if not a bit reluctantly. I hope they continue this relationship, on any level, because Gleeson and Taylor together’s like some kind of sweet magic.
When Bill clicks a link on his computer with a smiley face, it goes to a short few clips of Mr. Mercedes driving through the people in the crowd that day, the clown mask, his distorted laughter. A fucking evil thing to witness.
Bill: “Now personally I think closure is overfuckingrated, but the nightmares, the panic attacks I could do without.”
So he’s poking around more, asking Pete questions about the case. His friend doesn’t want him to obsess anymore, like he did at the end of his career. Later, he ends up at the electronics store where Brady works. He’s looking for a surveillance camera, though he doesn’t come in contact with the young man. A slick moment of near chance.
Afterwards he heads to a towing lot. A place he’s evidently been quite a few times. There lies the bloody, beat up Mercedes kept in storage. Just seeing it leaves the retired cop in agony, imagining all the people being run over in those seconds of brutality. He sits in the driver’s seat, as if imagining himself driving.
Pic 5At home he gets the camera installed with help from a neighbour kid who does stuff around the house for him regularly, including with the latest e-mail business. And who else is rolling around the neighbourhood? It’s Brady. One of his other jobs is as a Mr. Friendly’s ice cream truck driver, serving up scoops for the kids, and fucking with Hodges, tossing a tennis ball with a smiley face into the yard for him to find.
Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 5.15.26 PMMan, oh, man! I did not expect the first episode to be so damn good. Much as I love King, I’m always sceptical going into a film or television adaptation of his work. Which is a bonus when it’s actually fucking great. So much to love here, and not least is the use of punk rock in the soundtrack. Love it!
“On Your Mark” is next week, so stay tuned. We’re going to get deeper into this creepy little world of Mr. King’s together.


The Mist – Season 1, Episode 7: “Over the River and Through the Woods”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 7: “Over the River and Through the Woods”
Directed by Matthew Penn
Written by Daniel Cameron Talbott

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Devil You Know” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Law of Nature” – click here
Pic 1Mia (Danica Curcic), Kevin (Morgan Spector), Bryan (Okezie Morro), Adrian ( Russell Posner) and Tyler (Christopher Gray) get through the mist to another one of the wards: the psychiatric wing. An orderly named Nash knew Mia’s mom, saying there was “nothing bad in her” and assuring she wasn’t like the other patients. Meanwhile, there’s plenty else to worry about than the mist, with Kevin still drugged up and having been exposed to it by the doctor, as well as Bryan and Mia’s now tenuous relationship.
At the mall,  Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) and Alex (Gus Birney) are holed up with Jay (Luke Cosgrove) and others. The protective mom is keeping an eye on the rapist, not willing to leave anything to chance. Not to mention there’s trouble with the new society in the mall, people eating too many rations. And people still believe the military’s coming. There’s a real hostility, too. Towards Eve. Although she manages to plant a baby monitor in the other camp, to figure out what’s been going on.
Over at the church, Nathalie (Frances Conroy) is having her face treated after taking abuse from that insane follower of Christ, the wayward sheep of Father Romanov (Dan Butler). The idea of faith, particularly Catholicism with its confession, is funny. You can do bad things, yet God is perpetually willing to forgive, so long as you repent. Thus begins Chief Connor Heisel (Darren Pettie) putting the priest to a confession, asking him if he’s responsible for what happened to the older woman. The cop beats Romanov to the floor, as Nathalie hums in the background. Eerie moment. Church and state coming apart, a new religion taking hold. However, the priest isn’t so innocent. This beating’s gonna put him over the edge.
Pic 1ABryan Hunt isn’t Bryan Hunt, he’s Jonah Dixon. He beat up the real Bryan, a soldier at Arrowhead military base. So she’s worried he could be “psycho” or it could be amnesia. The two talk about things, he tells her about meeting the real Bryan, that he was attacked. She then tells him about what happened at her mother’s house, the apparition of dear ole mom, the thought of fading into death. What brought her back was Jonah. In order to feel worthy of it, of anything, she’s doing a rapid detox. Harsh, brutal.
Particularly considering there’s a mist outside with terrible creatures inside.
Note: The score is absolutely perfect. Giona Ostinelli’s a killer composer, he’s done good stuff on several Mickey Keating films such as Darling and Pod. His music here comes perfectly fitting, punctuating the creepiest and most emotional moments alike.
Alone later, Adrian and Tyler talk about the worst things they’ve ever done. Tyler talks about beating up a guy who walked “swishy” and threatened his faux-masculinity, his closeted sexuality. Beat him then pissed on him. That’s how much he hates himself. So he apologises to Adrian, who offers forgiveness. Perhaps this is the relationship which helps a guy like Tyler accept himself. Maybe. Just maybe.
Nathalie questions Romanov about his beliefs. She’s reading the Bible, for the first time. He believes she’s holding people’s souls in her hands. But also, he admits to letting his insane follower do what he did to her, knowing it would happen. He speaks about a “trial by ordeal” that involves walking into the mist, seeing if God and nature spare the two of them: “Whoever dies, we will provide an answer for the people here.” Does she accept?
Pic 2When Adrian’s nowhere to be found, Tyler panics. He goes to Kevin, then the orderly tells them not to bother. That the kid’s a bad person, he can “see people” and who they are underneath. Turns out the orderly is not an orderly, he was a patient. An especially violent one. He runs off before the two can get to Adrian, who’s bound, gagged in a room. Not far from where the guy’s got a bunch of dead bodies stashed in a closet, piled atop one another like sides of beef.
At the same time, Jonah’s seeing Mia through her detox, a gruelling stretch ahead of them, as she sweats and cries and teases him with more information about his real identity. Lies from the throes of withdrawal? Or truth? Suddenly, he remembers bits and pieces on his own. And nothing good at all.
The ordeal of Father Romanov and Nathalie is set to commence. Whomever survives may have a chance at saving those in the church, rescuing them all from whatever’s in the mist. While the priest goes in his robes, she does so naked as the day she was born. As nature intended. Out from the doors they go, into the mist. They close their eyes and wait for whatever comes. Romanov hears the hooves of horses come near: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The priest calls out scripture, receiving nothing in return but an arrow through his torso before they pull him back into the mist with them.
The only one left is Nathalie, so she goes back inside. Welcomed by everyone eager to hear what went on outside. One of my favourite couple scenes in this first season as a whole! Great, spooky stuff.
Pic 3Jonah remembers being experimented on, zapped, a woman speaking random words to him through all the pain. He sees all sorts of things coming back to him. He tells Mia about it, how he survived, and coaches her through the pain she’s feeling.
Simultaneously, Kevin’s trying to reason with Nash. He has serious issues, this dude. He talks about a nun that taught about the evil in people, having to beat it out of her. He’s gone past the deep end into an abyss. Determined to purge evil. Until Kevin says Adrian isn’t evil; he’s the one. This sets Nash after him, just long enough for Kevin to get in the room with him. They fight, tooth and nail. To the death.
Now people at the mall, some of them, are starting to look for a scapegoat. Why not start with the family who supposedly makes up rapes? That’s what the mother of the dead little girl’s suggesting. Not everyone is on board. But some are, and that’s scary.
And sadly, as Kevin and the others leave the hospital, Tyler refuses to go. Despite he and Adrian becoming closer in private. Teary eyed, the kid stays while his secretive gay lover Adrian, just as devastated, leaves with his close knit group.
Pic 4Wow, this episode was one of my favourites! If not the best of The Mist‘s Season 1. Such good stuff, on all ends. Interested to see what happens in many areas, like the gay relationship which is awesome – and so needed in this day and age for representation, very well written, at that – and also the budding trouble at the mall. Many things to come!
“The Law of Nature” is next week.

The Mist – Season 1, Episode 6: “The Devil You Know”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 6: “The Devil You Know”
Directed by James Hawes
Written by Noah Griffith & Daniel Stewart

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Waiting Room” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Over the River and Through the Woods” – click here
Pic 1Bryan (Okezie Morro) is figuring out he forgot so much since being at the military base. He may not even be himself. The man in the hospital, the one Mia (Danica Curcic) talked to before taking off, he lunges at Bryan, and the two men fight brutally in the hospital room. Bryan keeps pleading, violently: “Tell me who I am!” All before he has to choke the man out.
In the hallway, Kevin (Morgan Spector) is left with his brother’s blood all over his hands, after having to put Mike down, leeches covering his body in the mist. There’s other bad shit going down, too. Adrian (Russell Posner) can tell, even if the adults, the nurses, the doctors are keeping secrets. Apparently people have been… disappearing. Nevertheless, he and Kevin and Bryan want to leave.
Pic 1AAt the mall, Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) and Alex (Gus Birney) are surviving. As are the folks at the church, from Father Romanov (Dan Butler) and his staunch faith, to local cop Connor (Darren Pettie) who’s having a crisis of faith and of duty and of manhood. The man of faith and the man of the law, they chat a bit. The priest talks of being “loyal to God” and it’s less like an assurance, more like trying to gain favour against Nathalie Raven (Frances Conroy), her unholy worship. The woman’s still speaking of “the Black Spring,” she’s trying to bring others into her fold. Romanov combats this with a hymn on the organ. Drown it out. Not so easy, though.
Only now are Kevin and Adrian finding out the keys are gone, so is the vehicle. Shit. At the same time Mia’s out in the mist, on her own personal journey.
There’s trouble brewing at the mall, as well. The woman who lost her child to the mist sees only resentment when she looks at Alex. I worry there’s something sinister brewing, whether by her hand I don’t know. But she’s throwing off dark vibes.
There’s a danger in the relationship between Connor and the widowed Mrs. Raven. A parallel of how fanaticism mixed with the arm of the law can possibly turn into an ugly thing. Hasn’t happened yet, of course. There’s a connection already apparent between the two. We’ll see if it goes where I feel it’s headed.
Kevin’s sneaking around in the hospital. He finds Dr. Bailey with a nurse, mouth taped shut on a gurney. The doc asks for help. Then he attacks, putting a needle into Kevin. Out goes the lights. Goddamn, that’s not good. After an hour gone, Adrian’s beginning to wonder if something went bad. More importantly: the fuck is this doctor up to? Well, Kevin wakes strapped to the gurney, mouth also shut. All under the guise of medical “experiments” and trying to help people. Same shit the Nazis said, like Mengele.
Pic 2While Nathalie’s new faith in nature is a bit disturbing, on the opposite side is the church. And while Romanov isn’t entirely full steam ahead, one of his followers is determined to stop the blaspheming, no matter what it takes. This is where things get scary. All forms of faith can turn mad, from the organised religions to the more pagan-like worship. It’s all corruptible.
In the mall Alex winds up being locked in a small room. Someone pours lighter fluid under the door, igniting it. The place goes up in flames. Who comes to her rescue? Jay (Luke Cosgrove), the guy who raped her. He risks himself to put out the fire, burning his hand. Then she accuses him of pulling the stunt to “play hero.” Is he gaslighting her, in the most brutal of ways? Hard to tell. Certainly conveys the often problematic relationship some women wind up in, by no fault of their own, with the men who’ve assaulted them.
Mia’s out on her own, looking for a big bag full of cash. She encounters something after coming through a patch of mist. A presence in one of the rooms. Writing appears carved on the wall. Music plays suddenly from a radio, despite her smashing it to pieces on the floor. Between withdrawals and the mist, she’s up against the shit, man. “Its not real,” she tells herself. But it’s painfully real, as her mother appears to scold and shame her.
And what about the priest’s crazy worshipper? He hauls Nathalie into a dark room, bullying her into being loyal to God. He starts slapping her around. She gets the jump on him, smashing a nearby window and locking him there with the mist. You get what you give, buddy!
Pic 3I worry most about Kevin. He’s had it rough. He’s being tortured via experiment by Dr. Bailey, wanting to see more of how the mist reacts with people. So he drugs the poor dude up, sealing him in a room and letting the mist in to do its work. Kevin experiences a hallucination of various things: a bending gurney, a white owl, a version of himself. All before Bryan and the kid come to get him out.
Mia barely gets away with her life, too. After tangling with her mother in mist form, she manages to escape. Bag of cash in hand. Why risk herself? What’s her plan? I guess she’s still withdrawing, so it could be the junkie brain fuelling her decisions.
There’s a sinister side to Jay, no matter how he acts. The way he comes up against Eve is especially telling, to me. In these moments he’s dark, almost grotesque. And mama bear, she does not back down. Punches him right in the face off the bat. This lady does NOT fuck around! Love her.
At the same time she conspires to give people hope. Photocopying a bunch of leaflets to make it look as if troops are coming for them soon. It’s a good gesture, a thoughtful one. Shows that Eve has both sides of a leader in her, that she’s tough first and foremost, as well as capable of treating people well. Gonna need that in the days, weeks, months to come.
And at the hospital, the power goes out, the automatic doors giving way to the air outside. The mist starts coming in and everyone’s forced to head out or find a place to hide. So where do they go? “The only place the doors will stay shut.” In the psychiatric ward.
Pic 5Great, tense episode. Really didn’t know what was about to happen with Kevin. Now I wonder, will this affect him? Will he have a neutrality in his blood in some way that’ll protect him from the mist? Could get interesting. It will, I’m sure. Also, the crowd at the hospital are being forced into a smaller space, which is always good for claustrophobic tension and suspense. Maybe some outright madness.
“Over the River and Through the Woods” is next week, can’t wait to see more.

The Mist – Season 1, Episode 5: “The Waiting Room”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 5: “The Waiting Room”
Directed by Richard Laxton
Written by Amanda Segel & Christian Torpe

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Pequod” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Devil You Know” – click here
Pic 1With Bryan (Okezi Morro) wounded from the gunshot, Kevin (Morgan Spector), Adrian (Russell Posner), and Mia (Danica Curcic) rush trying to get him to a hospital, driving through the mist. They get him there, but like everywhere else people are stuck together, stuck inside, there’s no telling what the situation is like amongst the staff, patients, and anyone who’s ended up in that building as a result of the encroaching mist. As well as the fact Mia blames Kevin for Bryan getting shot, treating it the same as if he shot the bullet himself.
Luckily, the guy’s going to recover. Just a good deal of blood loss. Meanwhile the hospital’s on an emergency generator, only a few days left. Food and medicine are depleted. Mist has taken over a whole wing of the hospital.
We get a flashback to Kevin and Eve Copeland (Alyssa Sutherland) as they move into their home for the first time. A happy, excited couple. Far cry from where they are now, and that’s not just including the town’s latest situation. Their marriage is rocky after Alex (Gus Birney) was raped. Mom blames dad in a way, for being too lenient. Because of her own past I’m sure Eve has troubles with trust, particularly concerning the trust in men.
Pic 1AKevin doesn’t stop looking for his family, though nobody’s seen them anywhere around the hospital. One of the worst places to be trapped is the hospital. There’s death around almost every corner. Moreover, Kevin finds his brother Mike (Peter Murnik) in a bed, a brutal wound in his gut. His brother said “they knew me” – whatever’s in the mist – that they knew things about his past. “I dont even know whats real anymore,” Mike says. The two brothers clearly have NEVER seen eye to eye, yet there’s a comfort in the older of the two with his younger brother there. Perhaps that’s because he’s on the edge of death. Or maybe he just hides his affections.
Either way they’re stuck, for a while, in that hospital together. At the same time Bryan’s recovering, his connection with Mia deepening. She’s got demons, very dark ones. She tells him: “Im not ready for you to be nice to me.”
More flashback. Eve and Kevin talk about the nature of women. She says that “all women are two people.” You can see he desperately wants to understand and know his wife completely, and there’s a resistance in her, even if she obviously loves him. Their connection is clear and strong, but she’s mysterious in ways.
Then later, Mike asks his brother the unthinkable: put him out of his misery, to send him on from the pain. Only Kevin can’t bring himself to do that, even if it’s meant as mercy. They go from anger to nostalgia to laughter in a matter of moments. It’s touching, and also eerie in a way. Because no matter what happens Mike’s going to die, one way or another.
Pic 2Another flashback shows a brief moment with Mike and Eve, as they’re all together in the new house. The older brother’s comment puts a momentarily sour look on her face. Afterwards, she and Mike have sex, she asks him for it harder. I worry there are dark secrets, darker things about the town, what happened to Eve all those years that we don’t yet know. I’m not sure exactly if I have any theories yet, I do know there’s something else there yet to be revealed.
Now, Mike needs to be taken to the OR. But it goes through the mist. They’ve got to get through it with a hospital bed. However, the doctors won’t go, so it’s up to Kevin: go and his brother may die, or stay and his brother will die anyways.
Adrian’s run into a guy from school in the bathroom, Tyler (Christopher Gray). He approaches him and then goes in for a kiss. Tyler responds with “faggot” and beats him brutally, kicking him, punching him. Instead of just, ‘yknow, saying: I’m not gay. And Adrian gets right back up, goes in for another kiss, finally accepted with little reluctance as they make out.
More flashback shows us that the thing with Mike and Eve is that the older brother talks about her as the “town whore” and speaks ill about her to the parents of children at the school, all sorts of other nasty shit. While Kevin wanted to rush out and “beat the fuck” out of his brother, his wife makes clear: “I just dont need you to save me.” Now we can see all the conflicted feelings further between Kevin and Mike.
Pic 3Pic 3ALost souls Adrian and Mia bond over being single children in their respective families, over trouble with her mother, his father. The junkie, and more experienced sleazeball, snags the keys from the kid without his knowing. After that she makes a swift exit, driving away from the hospital in a hurry. And this not long after her discover of a Bryan Hunt in another hospital bed, who says he was attacked by a man at the military base. Ohhhhh, shit.
Kevin rushes through the misty wing of the hospital transporting his brother to the OR. They barely make it there before Mike’s fingernails start bleeding, his nose and his mouth, too. Now it’s left to the younger brother, to take orders over a headset and do surgery on the older one. Before they start Mike mentions he and his friends were “all in love” with Eve; part of his hatred for Kevin stems from jealousy, that his younger brother was the one who wound up with such a wonderful, beautiful woman instead of him. Petty masculine bullshit.
Kevin manages to get the rebar out of his brother’s stomach, then he has to stop the bleeding, close the wound with stitches. He finishes up before having to head back through the mist to the other wing.
One more flashback reveals Kevin is not actually Alex’s father. They also make a promise not to tell her, so as not to break the little girl’s heart. So, is the birth of their girl a result of what happened to Eve? Wow, that adds a whole other layer to their family and relationship if so. Jesus. Heavy stuff.
When Kevin takes Mike back through the hall, he slips on some blood and his brother topples to the floor, more blood coming from all over his body. The mist drops leaches onto him, they cover his skin and start sucking the life from him. When it’s too much, Kevin has to put his brother out of his misery finally, and get out of the mist.
Pic 5What a fucking episode! I’ve seen people rating this low, and I have no idea why. Crazy. Such history, character development, as we figure out more of the Copelands’ inner lives, what drives them, what’s brought them to here. There’s so much to unpack. The writers are doing a great jog so far. “The Devil You Know” is next week.

The Mist – Season 1, Episode 4: “Pequod”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 4: “Pequod”
Directed by T.J. Scott
Written by Andrew Wilder

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Show and Tell” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Waiting Room” – click here
Pic 1AKevin (Morgan Spector), Mia (Danica Curcic), Bryan (Okezie Morro), and Adrian (Russell Posner) make it to the vehicle outside the church. But when Mia tries hotwiring it, nothing happens. The engine won’t even turn over, whatsoever. At the same time, Adrian’s the only one who witnessed the terrifying butterfly death of the other man recently.
The mall’s getting more tense, as well. People are having panic attacks, anxiety running high. So mall manager Gus Bradley (Isiah Whitlock Jr) breaks out board games, a football, little things to keep people and their minds busy, to not let cabin fever set in too deep. Alex (Gus Birney) still has to deal with being trapped in there with her accused rapist Jay (Luke Cosgrove), though it’s hard to tell how she’s feeling, she likely doesn’t even know. Nevertheless, it ain’t good.
Father Romanov: “Im not scared because Im losing my faith. Im scared because its stronger than ever.”
We start seeing how different people are reacting to the horrors they’ve seen. Father Romanov (Dan Butler) is beginning to feel a responsibility, to save his congregation, his town. Judgement Day is upon them, so he believes. Simultaneously, Natalie Raven (Frances Conroy) is following a different sort of faith: “The moth is a friend of mine.”
Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 7.16.54 PMAt a gas station, Kevin and the others run into a man with a gas mask and a gun. He knows that Kevin is Eve’s (Alyssa Sutherland) husband. His name is Clay, he has a boy in her class. He’s lost now, somewhere else. But the group knows more than they tell him. Probably best, in case it drives him mad. He’s the one with a gun.
Everybody’s figuring out how to navigate the latest stresses of their lives, stuck indoors. The priest keeps people fed, busy. Connor (Darren Pettie) laments looking weak in front of everyone at the church, as Natalie comforts him. In the mall, Eve admits to a couple of the other women she’s “happy ” her husband isn’t there, she in part blames him for their daughter’s rape, because he loves Alex so much he can’t say no, which Even says led to her getting hurt. A tough, honest admission.
Natalie’s freaking Father Romanov out, talking of the Black Spring when he’d rather speak of the Bible. He wonders if she knows what it is she’s looking for, calling into question her judgement of her own pain. She knows exactly what she’s seeking out. To others it seems like madness. Yet I wonder if she’s one of the only ones who’s got it all figured out.
Moreover, through Clay we find out about the cars not working, that everything is mostly fried. He’s got himself a vehicle, purchased from a survivalist, so it’s one that won’t burn out if the apocalypse comes. Still there’s the problem of gas. Kevin asks if he’ll take them in his vehicle. Clay clings to finding his son. Will they break the news to him? He won’t leave if he thinks there’s hope. I’m just afraid that he’ll snap if he figures out his boy is dead.
Pic 2The games store boys have a harpoon, they’re latching onto the soldiers corpses in the shopping carts outside. Trying to reel them back inside. When one gets stuck Ted (Jonathan Malen) goes out using it as a lifeline. He doesn’t come back and Vic (Erik Knudsen) gets a shock as the glass breaks, the mist beginning to seep in through the book store. Where Alex and a little girl are reading together. A black mist creature appears, Alex and the girl trapped with it next to them. The thing grabs the girl by the face, sucking the life out of her. It stands in front of Alex, ready to do the same. Only it doesn’t. She walks free, seemingly unharmed. Although I’m curious to know if the mist has possessed her in some form.
Connor mentions to the priest it felt as if the mist knew him when he was outside. He’s becoming part of the faithful in the natural world, alongside Natalie. Like they’re pagan worshippers. Could get scary; it will.
Everything goes sideways for Kevin and the gang, after Mia delivers the tough news to Clay. Not in the most diplomatic of attitudes. The man goes from stable to angry pretty quick. Bryan winds up with a bullet in the thigh after he and Clay wrestle. As I predicted, things have gotten ugly.
And the mall’s experiencing their first brush with law in their new little civil society, as Vic is faced with being ejected. He’s put them all in danger, a kid died. So a vote is taken. Several wish to forgive his sins. The rest want to toss him. We’re starting to see a distinction between levels of morality now. A greyer area than we already know in real life emerges, as even accused rapist Jay doesn’t want to feed Vic to the mist like the others. It’s an odd, compelling mix of perspectives that I find interesting the deeper we get into Season 1.
Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 7.35.59 PMBest of all is the religious war brewing, in the church no less. Natalie has called the spider in the jar “God” and she worships it; a false idol. This worries Father Romanov, some of the others. Especially considering they believe it’s Judgement Day. So the priest forcibly takes the spider, crushing it on the carpet. Horrifying Natalie. It’s a double-edged sword for the man of faith – on one hand, it illustrates how deep his faith is that he does feel they must adhere to the word of God or else perish; on the other, shows the weakness of his belief, that he’s threatened by an old lady and a spider in a jar.
Alex: “Why didnt it want me?”
Things at the mall are only getting worse. Alex breaks down saying she lied, that she didn’t fight against the monster. That she waited for it to kill her. It didn’t take her. This troubles the mother of the dead little girl, knowing Alex lied. Divisions have begun. Compounded by the fact people already believe she lied about the rape, as well as the fact many believe her mother did something similar years ago, there’s looking to be trouble coming for the Copeland family. Yikes.
Kevin and the others prepare to head out. Without Clay, who still holds out hope despite being told otherwise. He’s given up the car, though. To help them on their journey. A lot of sacrifices will be made in this dangerous landscape. This is just one of them.
Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 7.52.28 PMGreat episode! This series is getting stronger with every chapter, honestly. Started out just decent, now I’m gunning for this one. The Mist continues with “The Waiting Room” next. Surely there’ll be more tension and creeps in the episode to come.

The Mist – Season 1, Episode 3: “Show and Tell”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 3: “Show and Tell”
Directed by Nick Murphy
Written by Peter Biegen

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Withdrawal” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Pequod” – click here
Pic 1Everyone at the church wakes up, the first morning after the mist came over their town. Adrian (Russell Posner) worries the others are “all dead” but Kevin (Morgan Spector) assures him they’re okay, that they’ve survived just like them. Upstairs, they look through a stained glass window’s scratch to spy a vehicle worth taking. They’ll need Mia (Danica Curcic), though the kid doesn’t trust her. And there’s the fact Connor (Darren Pettie) has her handcuffed. Those two dads are going to have a difficult moment, at some point.
Over in the mall, Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) comforts her daughter. Alex (Gus Birney) doesn’t exactly know how to be comforted, with the things outside, her rapist Jay (Luke Cosgrove) inside, people hanging themselves. The bodies are cut down by Jay and mall manager Gus Bradley (Isiah Whitlock Jr) – they’re military personnel, soldiers. Even more unsettling. There’s discussion of what to do with the corpses, then they want to search everyone for dog tags. One other soldier is left, a private in the army; he doesn’t have any information, so he says. But it’s more likely the military knows exactly what is happening.
Thus, suicides.
Pic 1ANatalie (Frances Conroy) talks about finding something 1860 in the newspapers. She’s told it’s supposedly a local legend concerning “the Black Spring” – a curse, after the murder of a young woman. Even creepier is they can see her husband Benedict lurking out there in the mist.
Then Kevin asks Connor to help them with getting to the mall, he needs Mia. Of course the cop won’t help. He’s suddenly concerned with law, despite leaving people behind to maybe die at the station. They get into a big argument which leads to the cop putting Mia in the basement. Bryan (Okezie Morro) keeps on looking out for her, helping her through the withdrawal symptoms; with a bottle of pills. Plus he gets her cuffs off. They form a mutual trust, as he’s just as lost in his own ways amongst the rest of the town. He didn’t even remember himself when he woke up.
After getting chewed out by the mall manager, the game store guys – Vic (Erik Knudsen) and Ted (Jonathan Malen) – decide they’ll make themselves useful. By using the bodies found to test the mist, to see what’s going on out there. Hmm, could make for interesting trouble.
One interesting note: I love the moral implications at play, in terms of the way Adrian sees things. He doesn’t like Jay, for likely raping Alex. He also does not trust Mia, as she’s accused for murder. The way Kevin sees no problem trusting Mia under the circumstances of what they’re facing, Adrian can’t reconcile morality on those terms.
Pic 2Later when Kevin tries helping to free Mia and Bryan, he winds up down there with them after Connor the pig – in two senses of the word at this point – says some heinous shit about his wife and daughter.
Speaking of, Alex runs into Jay in one of the mall shops. He says he “didnt hurt” or “touch” her that night. So, is he a liar? I think so. He acts like he did something noble, taking her upstairs and covering her up to sleep off the drunk. Why not get her out of there, get her home? Anything could’ve happened by leaving her there. He’s a rapist, gaslighting his victim.
Out of nowhere, Natalie decides she’s going home. She means out into the mist, with her husband. When one of the men tries stopping her, a bug flies into his ear. Then, perfectly, it bulges out of the moth tattoo on his back, splitting him open, sprouting the wings through his flesh. A swarm of bugs flying from his mouth. Almost more terrifying is how Natalie reacts, as if she’s seen a revelation. Although not one out of the Bible.
Natalie: “Its okay, I dont want to die anymore. Im happy. Ive seen God.”
The remaining soldier flips when he finds the games store dudes put the bodies out in the open, as an experiment. Gus finds out and he’s not entirely pleased, either. But there’s no bringing them back inside. Moreover, they need to “establish a set of rules.” This could be where things begin getting out of hand, when new rules are imposed on people. Might get tricky.
Pic 3The priest believes God’s testing their faith. Of course, what else would be think? He reels off the story of Job to Adrian, telling about the challenge of Satan to God. Et cetera, et cetera. Job prospered in patience, ever faithful. The kid’s reaching out for any kind of love, even if it’s the love of God. So long as it’s genuine. An interesting gay character I want to see more of throughout this season.
Mostly the new rules at the mall cover not stealing from the various shops, these types of things. Then one of the security guards decides anybody who “endangers the group” gets tossed. Jay’s writing down the rules, clearly a part of the new makeshift administration with Gus. So Eve isn’t having that. Neither is shopkeeper Raj Al-Fayed (Nabeel El Khafif), not wanting to see what the prejudice against someone like himself will produce. To get themselves in a more suitable position of power, Eve grabs the guard’s gun: “I always was an anarchist.” Nice fucking move, mom! This woman is a goddamn survivor.
Adrian decides he wants to be baptised in the church, which Father Romanov does gladly. Helping him accept the love of God into his heart. Now he’s repenting sins. However, things get sort of weird. As if the boy’s being turned inward on himself. Yet he manages to slip some keys out of the priest’s pocket. To help his friends in the basement. WHAT A SMOOTH CAT! Jesus, people are surprising me here in this episode. Dig it. Not only that, Kevin gets to lay a few punches in on the asshole cop Connor before their little group makes off out the doors.
At the mall, Alex works on notes to tie on a ton of balloons, they let them fly in the air outside to maybe reach help somewhere, to reach anybody and let them know survivors are there. Let’s hope Kevin and his friends get there soon. In one piece.
Pic 4I’ve got to say, The Mist is defying my personal expectations. I didn’t think it’d thrill me in the way it is already. First three episodes are fantastic, I look forward to the rest. These characters have drawn me in, their predicaments are compelling. Effects aren’t always perfect but they’re intense and imaginative at times so far, so that’s enough for me.
“Pequod” is the next episode and it’s sure to provide us with something wild again.

The Mist – Season 1, Episode 2: “Withdrawal”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 2: “Withdrawal”
Directed by David Boyd
Written by Peter Macmanus

* For a recap & review of the pilot episode, click here.
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Show and Tell” – click here
Pic 1SO MUCH TENSION in the pilot episode! Now, we’ve got people stuck in tight little places together, all their various beefs and tensions locked in there with them. Juicy, and scary.
Everybody more or less knows something sinister, something horrible lurks in the mist. Kevin (Morgan Spector), Bryan (Okezie Morro), Mia (Danica Curcic), and Adrian (Russell Posner) try to determine what they ought to do next. Kevin wants to go to the mall, to find his wife Eve (Alyssa Sutherland) and daughter Alex (Gus Birney). Meanwhile, big brave Connor (Darren Pettie), man of the law, left them at the station to run like a coward. He ends up having a moose crash right through his windshield, then must go the rest of the way on foot.
Poor Natalie (Frances Conroy), having watched as an unknown man blew her husband away, so Father Romanov (Dan Butler) comforts as much as he can. Nobody knows what’s going on. Not only has the mist crowded the land, it’s bringing an almost peak level of hysteria already.
Gus Bradley (Isiah Whitlock Jr), mall manager) asks Eve and Alex about what happened to the woman who went outside. Hard to explain, though she does. Nobody can tell what’s inside the mist. Only that it’s horrific. There are many people stuck in the mall. Gus makes sure nobody goes through the doors, locking them. All they can do now is sit tight, be safe. Awkwardly painful for Alex, as her accused rapist Jay (Luke Cosgrove) is in there, too.
Pic 2We see that habit of Mia kicking up. She’s obviously got dependency issues, looking for a few pills in the evidence locker. Wonder if she’ll cause a problem on the way to the mall, once they’re at the mall. Either way, Bryan finds her out, and he’s willing to help her. If she goes into withdrawals then it’s going to get ugly.
Eve and Alex and a woman named Kimmy go around helping to lock the doors at the mall. One of the hallways is “filled with mist” and there’s already a dead body. Not looking fucking good! There’s a radio in their security office. Only problem is it’s past the misty hall. People speculate whether this thing is natural, if it’s “terrorism” or who knows. It really doesn’t matter particularly, not at this point. All that matters is staying safe and survival.
They use a drone from one of the stores to get a look down the hall, Jay flies the unit on through. They locate another dead body; on the floor, something spelled out in blood. AMMO? ANNA? Now someone must go for the radio. Nobody exactly wants to volunteer. Therefore, they’ve got to a lottery-type draw.
Kevin and the others are trying to get out of the cop shop. They run for a cruiser outside, the longer they stop the more the mist envelopes them. Luckily, they’re able to get away. Although Mia’s starting to get the shakes, the sweats, not sure how long she’ll be good to drive. Someone stops them in the road, drawing a gun to steal the car. Rather than wait for anything to happen Mia runs the guy over. Before flipping the car in the road.
Nobody’s hurt too badly, which is the only saving grace. Yet the mist stats pushing in, cracking the window while they’re all stuck momentarily upside down. After they get out it’s either run or die. They flee towards the church bells ringing. Mia is about to go back for the guns when she comes across her dead mother in the mist, calling out to her; fuck that, go to the church!
Pic 3When they get inside Kevin confronts Connor, who ends up putting the cuffs on Mia. This guy’s a real piece of work. The cop blames them for taking too long, for Kevin staging a “prison break.” Truly he’s just a coward, doesn’t want to admit that. He’s meant to serve and protect. I guess that means only if he feels brave enough. We also see how lost Natalie is without her husband, lost in such a brutal, random killing.
Natalie: “Theres no spirit. Theres just nature. Theres here, and not here.”
At the mall, Eve is drawn in the lottery to go get the radio. One man refuses to let her go alone. They head downstairs, into the hallway, rushing through the mist. In the security room they get to the emergency radio. We gather this guy with Eve is a military man, he’s got a gun and knows more than it seems. She wants to get away, worried about being alone with him. She takes off, they end up wrestling in the mist. And she puts a bullet in him to escape before whatever’s in the mist can get her. Knowing she already has past issues with men, in some awful way, this can only exacerbate her fears. When she gets back to the others she says they lost each other down there, that the radio didn’t work. Shit, I hope that lie doesn’t come back to bite her hard.
Natalie finds some communion wine, to make a toast for Benedict. She talks about their lives together, the simple joys of their marriage. “We had money, but we never stopped drinking cheap wine.” It’s tragic. Everyone joins in for a toast, even those who didn’t know him well. Bryan gives a bit to Mia, to take the edge off. But there’s big trouble brewing between Connor and Kevin, they won’t last together under one roof for too long.
This is the first night in the mist. Everyone lays their head down with a wariness, that tomorrow might bring anything, and who knows what it’ll be, in what form. And life still goes on, people can’t turn their lives off just because of this incident. So all those tensions keep on rising. Not to mention, Bryan confirms to Mia she wasn’t having withdrawal when she saw her mother in the mist: “I saw her, too,” says Bryan.
In one of the mall bathrooms, Jay finds two people hanged by the neck from a pipe.
Screen Shot 2017-06-23 at 11.21.59 AMMan, I’m impressed. Not everything’s perfect, but it’s a great show so far! I’m eager for more. These first two episodes flow really well and the excitement’s growing. Bits and pieces of horror along the way. Like any good slice of Stephen King, what’s best are the characters, their lives, their stories, and how they react in these mortifying moments.
“Show and Tell” is next. Will we see more devastation? Count on it.

The Mist – Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”

Spike’s The Mist
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Written by Christian Torpe

* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Withdrawal” – click here
Pic 1Bryan Hunt (Okezie Morro) wakes in the woods with a dog named Rufus. It’s almost as if he isn’t sure he’s himself: “I am Bryan and you are Rufus,” he says assuring himself. All around him a fog, a thick mist wafts over the forest, over everything. The dog runs in and Bryan chases him. But inside the mist is something terrible, it guts the poor animal to nearly nothing, a pelt left and innards, blood splattered all over the ground.
A woman named Eve Copeland (Alyssa Sutherland) is chastised for teaching topics not meant to be covered in the curriculum at her school, such as sexual education. She’s taken it upon herself, since it was taken out, to teach it at her discretion. This lands her with a temporary leave from work. She and her husband Kevin (Morgan Spector) discuss things, deciding to take it all as it comes. They’ve got a good family, nice neighbours including Natalie Raven (Frances Conroy). It’s a typical small town, people watching the football game and cheering the local boys.
Then there’s Mia Lambert (Danica Curcic), being held in a barn by some man, having the shit kicked out of her. Calls her “junkie” and knocks her around. Before she stabs him in the gut with a pitchfork.
Christ, there’s a lot going on in this place. A town full of wild characters, normal characters, everything in between.
Pic 1AKevin and his family are interesting, he loves his wife and at the same time recognises she can be cold, particularly with their daughter Alex (Gus Birney). Later at a party when her father lets her go out, Alex and Adrian (Russell Posner) run into a bit of trouble. Until football nice guy Jay Heisel (Luke Cosgrove) jumps in to help Alex after another player calls him a “faggot” in front of everybody.
At the police station, Hunt runs in talking about “something in the mist” and his dead dog. He wants to get a gun, so they naturally believe he’s gone mad. Local cop Connor Heisel (Darren Pettie) throws him in a cell, as he raves about the thing in the most, that it’s coming for them.
Mia goes to her mother’s house, only it isn’t her place anymore. She’s dead, someone else lives there now. This woman’s got history, a deep and dark one. Look forward to seeing more of her. The characters in general are very quickly developed, well rounded, in the sense it’s easy to feel part of their lives. All the better for when the horror begins.
Problems start when Alex tells her parents she blacked out as someone led her upstairs at the party, after she was drinking. Fuck. Someone raped her. She blames herself, but mom assures her it isn’t her fault. Turns out Adrian knows what happened, claiming that Jay did it. Furthermore, Eve is pissed with her husband for letting their daughter go to that party. It’s nobody’s fault except for the dirty rapist.
The cops ask Bryan a few questions. He mentions he’s homeless, doesn’t remember his Social Security Number. They treat him like an asshole instead of being either bit understanding, throwing him up against the bars and acting aggressive. Ah, American law enforcement!
In her garden, Natalie sees a bunch of toads come out, other insects and things acting strangely, birds flying away from a patch of woods in the sky. An eerie omen.
Pic 2Tests at the hospital are tricky, confirming a drug in her system, meaning she was passed out. Although there’s no trauma, which of course in a fucking court would cast all kinds of doubt because humans are idiots. Meanwhile, Alex finds only slight comfort in Adrian at home. They know how the town will act in the face of football star Jay being accused, refusing to believe he could be anything but wonderful. A few jocks already vandalise the street outside with the word WHORE. Simultaneously, Connor coaches his son along. Sort of assuming he’s guilty, only telling him he won’t go to jail. Yikes. What a mess they’re into, all of them.
Mia’s broken into a barn out back of her mother’s, digging up a bag. The owner ambushes her, keeping her at gunpoint. She gets the drop on him, yet has to leave without her satchel of cash and passports and whatever else. Cops catch up with her, though. She’s thrown in prison right next to poor Bryan.
Eve wants to take her daughter out of the house, leaving Kevin behind. She doesn’t feel it’s safe there for Alex. Mom knows about “guys like Jay” and she needs to get them away from there, at least for a few days. All the while that mist keeps on creeping.
And Natalie, along with her reluctant husband Benedict (Derek McGrath), she’s a bit of a conspiracy nut. She’s reading up on things, on “nature turning sour.” She wonders if there’s a connection with what she saw earlier, looking at microfiche of newspaper from 1860.
Pic 3Outside the police station are noises, car horns and a crash. The mist is swallowing the town, opening wide above it and covering everything. Alex drops hints about her mother’s past, saying that the town knows she was a slut; prompts a strong reaction from Eve. Did something bad happen to her? With that mist growing, Kevin, Connor, the other officers, they’re clouded in it. Cell reception drops out. And one cop taking selfies in the foggy air meets a pack of bugs swarming him, devouring him.
People don’t know any better, so they head out into the mist. It’s so thick they literally can’t see more than several feet ahead of them. A man with a gun appears, not knowing if what he’s seeing is real before shooting Benedict right in the throat, sending Natalie off on her own, stumbling into the church to the arms of Father Romanov (Dan Butler).
Kevin and Connor are about to leave, but the former runs in to get Adrian. He’s left with the decision of leaving Bryan and Mia, or taking them, as well. Mia does a good job talking him into letting them go, clashing with the kid a bit first. She’s a bad motherfucker. Outside, Connor leaves them behind like a coward.
What we can see is all the conflict in the town that’s about to be stuck in close quarters, every hateful remark, every nasty rumour, every secret bound together in a tight spaces with others of the same kind. Whereas The Mist we know stuck to a smaller space, it looks as if – at least at first – some of the groups of people will be separated in various claustrophobic locations.
Pic 4One perk? A woman who says Alex “lied about getting raped” walks directly into the mist, like a dummy, and the people inside the shopping centre watch as she has half her face torn off, then gets sucked back into the mist by something unseen. SCARY, and holds a bit of retribution for that woman’s awfulness. Nothing any better at the station, as the officer covered in bugs barely has a face left, either. Mia has to put a bullet in his head, saving Kevin when the cop nearly thrashes him.
Only now they’re all stuck, the mist outside, and all their demons raging inside.
Pic 5Great first episode! Was quite wary when I heard about it, but I love Stephen King. Huge fan. This story was always a good one, very chilling and spooky. The film was great, so I’m now looking forward to what they’ll do with this season.
“Withdrawal” is next week. Honestly, I might have withdrawals until then. Because I’m revved up by this pilot.

Fear Will Eat You Alive in Stephen King’s IT

Stephen King’s It. 1990. Part I – Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, Screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen. Part II – Directed & Written by Tommy Lee Wallace.
Starring Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, Jonathan Brandis, Brandon Crane, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Adam Faraizl, Tim Curry, Emily Perkins, Marlon Taylor, Seth Green, Ben Heller, Jarred Blancard, Tony Dakota, & Olivia Hussey.
Green-Epstein Productions/Konisberg-Sanitsky Company/Lorimar Television.
Rated PG. 192 minutes.

posterNo secret, Stephen King is one of my very favourite authors. Of all time. He is fantastic and tells a story like no other. His decidedly creepy aura is present in all his stories, no matter if it’s a straight up horror, or whether an intense personal drama. He always brings something with him that keeps things real, no matter how far out they get, and because of that his stories wind up all the more horrific.
It is a wonderfully terrifying bit of fiction. A long novel, though worth every page. Tommy Lee Wallace (directed Halloween III: Season of the Witch, wrote Amityville II: The Possession, played Michael Myers at one point in John Carpenter’s Halloween) adapts most of it fairly well into a two-part television movie. Of course it’s not as nasty as the book. Then again, not many writers are capable of getting to the dark heart of human beings quite as thoroughly as Mr. King. Plus, it was on TV. That being said, for its time It pushed the boundaries slightly in regards to what you can get away with re: television movies and mini-series violence (et cetera).
The largest part of what Wallace does well is portray the portion of King’s work which deals with the kids. Part II is nowhere near as good as Part I, but for how scary the first half plays Wallace can rest easy knowing he terrified a generation of kids shitless. Ultimately, a flawed film and adaptation, yet one that still manages to bear its teeth in moments of outrageous horror, drawing on the childhood fears King does so expertly in his masterpiece of a novel.

Certainly you can’t forget how well a clown can creep people out. Not to mention with Tim Curry behind the makeup giving it his absolute best. Our societal fear of clowns is likely based in how people feel uncomfortable with someone acting friendly, warm, yet being sinister underneath, hiding their true intentions. It’s why when people found out John Wayne Gacy was killing young men and hiding them in his crawlspace under the house, the fact he used to dress up as Pogo the Clown and do kids parties became the stuff of pure nightmare. Well, It doesn’t just come as a clown. However, to all the kids at once and to each of them in general when he shows up, he’s Pennywise. Because even as adults that lingering childhood fear still clings on hard. What Wallace uses is the brilliance and depth of Curry as an actor to make the Pennywise form of It feel the most chilling.
Pennywise is a terror right from the opening scene. No time to feel as if he’s friendly. Curry starts out with a searing stare of evil eyes at the child in his path, which never fails to get me. When Georgie meets Pennywise at the sewer drain, there’s still a spooky feeling. Although Curry gives a more friendly introduction – problem is, we know what he’s up to, and that makes it brutally tense. The scene is much scarier this way, even after we know Pennywise is evil. He uses that clownish demeanour to lure poor Georgie. Just like the concept of the clown itself, this scene works by acting sweet on the outside, only to hold at its centre a rotten core.
One thing I love that weaves through both the child and adult moments is how It’s tricks, from bloody sinks to balloons, are only visible to the characters from the Losers’ Club. Such as the earliest instance when Bill (Jonathan Brandis) sees his mother holding the photo album and blood seeps out of Georgie’s pictures all over her hands; a truly eerie moment. Later, we see Bev (Emily Perkins) and her father Al (Frank C. Turner) in the bathroom, as he looks for what she alerted him to in the drain: blood is everywhere, though he sees none of it. The sinking feeling of these scenes is perfectly ominous, like pages torn right from King’s book.

One of It‘s flaws is that the novel was so big and packed in an immensely heavy load of characters and story, so in three hours it’s tough to pack the material of nearly 1,200 pages into maybe about 180, if that. There are certain King elements either toned down or entirely removed, such as the brutal attack of a young gay man who later meets his end at the hands of Pennywise, and different incarnations of It like a rotting leper pursuing young Eddie, among other creatures and forms. The violence is overall tame, as compared to the sometimes vicious writing in King’s book. For instance, Henry Bowers – in the book – witnesses a much more devastating, traumatic event which drives him crazy – a brutal decapitation at the hands of It, appearing to him as Frankenstein’s monster mauling his friends.
All the same, there are great things in both parts. Mostly it’s Part I that I dig. The shower scene with Eddie (Adam Faraizl) is particularly unnerving, to me. Eddie’s situation preys on the vulnerability of having to be naked in the shower as a young man, which is bad enough. In addition, Pennywise shows up to torture him. He uses that fear and insecurity of many boys growing up experiencing such dread as the locker room and shower during junior high school. Wallace does a lot of fun things with the kids being haunted by It. Some of that crosses over into Part II. I’m always disturbed by when grownup Beverly (Annette O’Toole) goes to her dad’s place in Derry, only to find an old woman who It inhabits – she goes from a wretched crone to a dead version of Bev’s father with no eyes. Super scary. Love that. Aside from specific bits, there’s more often than not a palpable air of suspense, wondering what eeriness lies behind the next rock we turn over along with the Losers’ Club. The film has an exciting atmosphere in that dread-filled kind of sense, which makes up for the uneven bits in the screenplay.

I feel like It, for 1990, is worth a 4-star rating. Wallace didn’t do all he could, but gave it his best and most creepy effort. You can’t deny there’s some good filmmaking in between the mistakes. When the kids have the picture and then Pennywise appears, this sequence is spectacular! Crossing from black-and-white into colour, Curry is deliciously bloodcurdling, as well as the fact the shot makes it feel as if Pennywise talks right to the viewer, putting us in the seat of the kids. A bunch of great moments like that make those flawed portions seem less worrisome.
I’m excited to see the new version, I honestly think there’s going to be some enjoyable stuff. Forever I’ll find this one particularly spooky. Curry is unhinged throughout the performance, to a point even I can’t stand to look at his clown face; they don’t bother me as a rule. Yet that’s how good he is, he makes me feel gross about clowns. Not often does a villain stick out so well, especially in a film that has its fair share of misses. Above anything, Pennywise is fantastic horror. The writing in Part I sets up the best terror you can imagine, and though it’s squandered a bit in the second part Wallace does keep you hooked with a thick atmosphere along with good actors doing their best. Don’t expect perfection and you won’t be too disappointed. This is still a scary flick, doesn’t matter. Even if Part I were all we had there’s frightful horror to enjoy every step of the way.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION: Darabont’s King Adaptation is a Slice of Perfection

The Shawshank Redemption. 1994. Directed & Written by Frank Darabont; based on the novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King from his collection Different Seasons.
Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, James Whitmore, Brian Libby, & Mark Rolston.
Castle Rock Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 142 minutes.

Pic2We all know that The Shawshank Redemption is pretty much the most well regarded adaptation of Stephen King’s writing. There are some other great ones. As a horror fanatic, I do love Pet Sematary and The MistCarrie, among many more. But the greatness of King’s writing doesn’t always come through, even in some of the decently made films. Certainly not in the real abortions that have crawled onscreen like The Mangler (botched an awesome story of modern witchcraft for cheap and flashy horror) or the middle of the road adaptations such as Apt Pupil that are creepy enough but sanitise King to a degree where his original themes are nowhere near as strong.
The Shawshank Redemption is up there with the best of King adapted to film. If not right at the very top of the heap. Perhaps because it has everything you’d expect from one of his stories: good characters, interesting dialogue, and the darkness for which he’s known so well. Too many people consider him a strict ‘horror author’ but that’s only if they’ve never dug into his catalogue. Yes, he writes a lot of creepy stuff, plenty of horrific stories from novels down to the short stuff. Yet above all else he is a storyteller. He specialises, no matter the genre where you stick him, in getting the reader involved, drawing us in to a place of familiarity where we understand and know his characters before they’re plunged into some unpredictable, tense situation. You can put those characters in a jail, in a post-apocalyptic landscape, a far off fantastical version of the United States of America, or stuck in a car. With King, it’s always going to be interesting. And it just so happens Frank Darabont is the most capable director who’s proven themselves up the point of this writing in regards to adapting these tales for the screen. This is one of the most revered films for a reason. It isn’t just because liking it is popular, or something foolish. The Shawshank Redemption is a top notch work of cinema. One of the best out of the 1990s, and a towering force of dramatic power amongst films of its kind.
Pic3Part of why I’ve always so hugely admired Darabont’s work on this picture is that he took an excellent novella and adapted it brilliantly. The storytelling in the Different Seasons section labelled Hope Springs Eternal – “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” – is expert stuff from King. He’s one of my favourite writers because of his ability to really get us into the rhythm of his characters. The novella starts us right out in the perspective of Red (played in the film by Mr. Morgan Freeman a.k.a The God Damn Man). Instead of doing that immediately in the screenplay Darabont opts to give us a little preview of Andy Dufresne (the equally amazing Tim Robbins), as we see him the night of the crime he says he didn’t commit, a brief scene in court. Then we start into Red’s point of view. What I like about that is we’re given Andy’s perspective outside the walls before encroaching on prison territory, where Red is the man to follow. This opening sort of mirrors the entrance into jail that we experience alongside Andy, taking us from one side of the gate to the other. Almost chilling, in a way.
Moreover, Darabont generally sticks to the staples of the novella. Something I dig about short stories and novellas is that often their natural length is pretty conducive to adaptation onto film. With big novels that are between 300-500 pages, or more, you run the risk of omitting too much, omitting the wrong bits and pieces, which generally becomes a figurative minefield for a screenwriter. That’s why, far as I’m concerned, so much of King’s great works end up as utter shite on film. “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” is a 96-page novella, and if you work off the 1 page = 1 minute rule (not always applicable but just for general purposes) that comes out to just over an hour and a half. It’s feasable to see how Darabont was able to stretch that out a little bit extra to include particular sequences, visuals, so on. Whereas if you take a massive King book, some of the 800-1,000 epics, to try making a single film out of ALL THAT is far too ambitious. Maybe it’s why I trust Darabont most out of anybody else to adapt these awesome stories. He knows how to navigate the writing.
The strength of the relationship between Andy and Red is what sells the original story, so it’s no surprise the same goes for Darabont’s film. Even in the way Red talks about Andy, narrating the novella, you can feel the relationship in his tone. Only gets better for the fact Morgan Freeman plays the role. He has that great voice, and more than that he’s such a thoughtful, intelligent actor. He has a ton of range while still always giving us that star quality for which he’s known. His performance makes Red incredibly vivid. By the time the finale rolls round you feel as if you’ve spent all those years with him in prison. Of course the same goes for Tim Robbins in one of his best performances, up there with The PlayerJacob’s Ladder and a few others. His version of Andy Dufresne is every bit as affable, calm and collected as King’s characterisation. Then there’s the stretch where everyone wonders if Andy is about to kill himself, right before his big escape attempt – Robbins pulls you into that despair Andy’s feeling, that cold, dead look in his eyes, as he thinks about Zihuatanejo in Mexico. A bunch of other scenes reflect that empty void in Andy after all those years. However, it’s this moment between him and Red where he actually feels hopeless, hearing his long-time friend admit to being institutionalised himself and feeling like “shitty pipe dreams” aren’t worth entertaining. That scene could have been plenty less intense and emotional. Having these two men, specifically Robbins, together acting their asses off pushes it forward to be the calm before the storm. This is the scene preceding the plot’s climax. Without the emotional depth and range of Robbins, as well as Freeman, the reveal of what happens next would never reach the heights it does. Even if you see the big finish coming, even if you’ve read the novella by King, the acting takes us to that special place where the unexpected grabs you and doesn’t let go. Let’s hope they never remake this one. I don’t hate remakes, though I can’t see any other pair doing these roles justice to make it anything better than what both Freeman and Robbins accomplished under Darabont’s direction.
Pic4Like a lot of other cinephiles, I’ve watched The Shawshank Redemption many, many times. Literally, it’s probably been close to 200 times since first seeing it a little over two decades ago. It was one of those VHS tapes I threw on when coming home from school, eating lunch and watching 20 minutes before heading back to class. I’d view it in bits and pieces, sometimes as a whole. There are scenes I could just turn on to watch then put it away again. Yes, I’m a die hard Stephen King fan. I have a ton of his books on my shelf, I’ve read most of what he’s published, including his short stories and non-fiction writing texts. So there’s that bias, I guess. But this is just a damn good slice of cinema. Everything from the acting to the production, the period look of the prison and other locations, it’s all done to perfection. Roger Deakins as director of photography, giving us that signature look of his filled with extraordinary techniques which help this prison film look better than most. Sometimes movies with voice-overs, particularly those with lots, can get boring. Like Scorsese, Darabont is able to keep us enthralled, and his adaptation of King’s work allows us to indulge in a ton of story without every feeling bogged down.
I could preach the good word forever. Just know, this is absolutely one of the greatest films. No. Doubt. Rag all you want on nostalgia, or whatever. This is a work of incredible mastery, from the top down.

Apt Pupil is an Atmospheric but Watered Down King Adaptation

Apt Pupil. 1998. Directed by Bryan Singer. Screenplay by Brandon Boyce; based on the novella by Stephen King from the collection Different Seasons.
Starring Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Joshua Jackson, Mickey Cottrell, Michael Reid MacKay, Ann Dowd, Bruce Davison, James Karen, Marjorie Lovett, David Cooley, Blake Anthony Tibbetts, Heather McComb, Katherine Malone, Grace Sinden, & David Schwimmer. Canal+/Phoenix Pictures/Bad Hat Harry Productions.
Rated 14A. 111 minutes.

POSTER Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Bryan Singer’s directing. Not that he’s bad. There’s something about his style that doesn’t always attract me. I’ve not seen his feature debut, though The Usual Suspects is a great film; slightly overrated, but great nonetheless. Sometimes I feel like Singer is a bit too focused on the look of things and forgets there needs to be proper substance.
Apt Pupil suffers partly because of that disease. In a quest to get the atmosphere and the mood correctly dark, as well as unsettling, Singer works off the adapted screenplay from Brandon Boyce, which is the first problem. The original novella by Stephen King is an intense, tight little tale that unwinds into an absolute massacre, both figuratively and literally. Boyce does the source material a disservice by both watering down some of the more disturbing aspects, replacing that with weak storytelling. However, resting the weight of the movie on the shoulders of Ian McKellen and the 14-year-old Brad Renfro was a wise casting choice that ultimately transcends what mistakes were made in the writing. The film is nowhere near perfect, definitely not close to being as good the novella. Yet I dig it. With an eerie mood and a feeling of pure evil hovering around every last frame, Apt Pupil is a wonderful character study of two men at highly different points in their life: one is a former Nazi Sturmbannführer that worked in the concentration camps during World War II named Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), now living in California as Arthur Denker and hiding his identity nearing the end of his life; the other, a young high school student named Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) on the verge of starting his life, ready to graduate, and harbouring a darkness within that desperately seems to want to get out.
The juxtaposed scene of Dussander at dinner with everybody then hearing his various conversations playing through Todd’s head is perfect. First of all we see how the duality of these type of men, former Nazis, is part of their terror. Dussander moved from a life of hideous war crimes to one of a quiet neighbourhood old man, the kind who can sit with normal people and talk with them while leaving that other life somewhere behind him.
Later on, Dussander starts to fall back into his old ways. This is where we see that whereas he’s able to hide his true identity so well there’s still only a very thin skin holding it inside. It all begins when Todd makes him put the SS costume on. Immediately we see the regression into that brainwashed state of marching, saluting, and this signals a change. Not long after Dussander tries to put a cat in his oven, though isn’t successful. Literally moving back to the ways of the concentration camp. There’s also a parallel between Dussander, his past, and the sinister intent of Todd. He is a little twisted; more so in the novella. But Renfro’s Todd is shown to be sick in his own way.
One of the scenes that gets to me most is when Todd showers at school, then finds himself transported to the showers of Auschwitz, the frail and skinny bodies standing around him. There’s a very King feel here. Ripped straight from the pages of his writing almost. I also think the brief with the cat is great because it shows that lingering feeling in Dussander that wants to start killing again; the fact he attempts to put it in an oven is scarily perfect. I’m also a huge fan of that last moment set to “Das Ist Berlin” (performed by Liane Augustin & The Boheme Bar Trio) – without spoiling anything overtly there’s this powerful use of the look in Dussander’s eyes, the editing with Todd and his guidance counsellor/the basketball rim (that gives a feeling of sport; in that the young kid sees his actions as a form of play). That whole finishing scene really puts a cap on the visual elements, as one of the better executed sequences overall.
This brings me to my biggest problem: the writing. I know the original novella is risky, it’s a touchy story to try adapting closely. But I can’t help feeling that to be honest to the prevalent themes you’ve really got to keep many of the elements King put into the plot. For instance – SPOILERS FOR BOOK READERS AHEAD! – instead of Dussander forcing Todd into the basement where the kid is in turn forced to kill the vagrant (played fabulously by Elias Koteas), in the story Todd kills homeless vagrants, and the story takes place over about four years, so there’s this really monstrous side to the kid that comes out even more than in this screenplay. Most of all it’s the brutality we’re missing. In a story already tackling the Holocaust and the obsession many develop with it, I’m not sure why Boyce didn’t try to retain a few of the more intense, savage pieces. I suppose because King doesn’t do much, first or last, to make Todd Bowden too sympathetic. The film goes too hard at trying to humanise both men, slightly, instead of showing the monster within each of them, one that grows in a symbiotic sense as Todd and Dussander go on similar yet separate paths.
This film is due for a remake by a writer and director willing to go the full way. Singer’s effort captures a fascinating atmosphere, it contains two powerful performances that are worth EVERY second and every penny. Unfortunately there’s a lot lacking in comparison to what is a pleasantly shocking story by the master of horror, Mr. King. I’m not always a stickler for screenwriters keeping dead on with a novel or other source material. In this case the whole film would have been better served by circling more closely the original intentions of the author.

Secret Window: A Mixed Bag of Stephen King Treats

Secret Window. 2004. Directed & Written by David Koepp; based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King from the collection Four Past Midnight.
Starring Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, Charles S. Dutton, Len Cariou, Joan Heney, John Dunn-Hill, Vlasta Vrana, Matt Holland, Gillian Ferrabee, Bronwen Mantel, & Elizabeth Marleau. Grand Slam Productions/Columbia Pictures Corporation/Mel’s Cite du Cinema.
Rated 14A. 96 minutes.

While I do love Stephen King’s full length novels, some of his deeper, more penetrating work is found in the novels and short stories with which he fills the rest of his time aside from writing epic, sprawling books. I’ve read almost everything King has done, except for a few books here or there. As far as the short story and novella collections, I’ve run the gamut. So many great tales, such compelling writing. The collection from which Secret Garden is adapted, Four Past Midnight, also contains The Langoliers, which has also seen a tv movie treatment. It further has two more novellas, though neither of those has been adapted on film or for television.
The novella Secret Window, Secret Garden tells the story of Mort Rainey (played here by Johnny Depp), a novelist who one day is visited by a man named John Shooter (the ever wonderful John Turturro) accusing him of having plagiarised a story of his own. Mix in a failed marriage, an ex-wife (Maria Bello) that cheated on him that’s currently in a relationship with the same man, Ted (Timothy Hutton), and there’s plenty of psychological tension, as well as real life horror. Although there are a few portions of the movie that could have been tighter, some dialogue that doesn’t work properly or well as it should, Secret Window improves on a couple aspects of the novella, mainly the ending; I do like the source, but this adaptation makes things more sinister, more eerie. Not everything works. What does work is the gradual sense of reality slipping away, as the script leans deep into the perspective of Mort and Depp is able to carry that with a top notch performance. Even if there wasn’t enough to ultimately feel as scary as it ought to, writer-director David Koepp does well by coming to a different conclusion than the original story and at least pulls the tension tight for most of the runtime. Far as King adaptations go this is absolutely better than most.R199-24 002Something I love about both the writing of Mort’s character and the performance by Depp is that the feeling of being a writer comes across effortlessly. As someone whose days have been filled before by naps, the lure of that comfy couch, food, cigarettes (and before I went sober, booze and so on), Mort feels impossibly real. Of course that comes from King as an author himself, putting what he knows into the character. He knows exactly what it’s like. More than that, Depp ingrains a sense of that writer’s life in the performance. This could actually come off easily as a standard character, and in a way he is, but Depp allows for more than that and brings his talent to the table in spades. Just how he sulks, heading back to the couch for comfort, picking away at his food, and even laying on the floor with his dog, all in lieu of actually being productive and doing some writing.
Overall, the cinematography is solid, courtesy of Fred Murphy (Auto FocusThe Mothman PropheciesStir of Echoes & more). The look of the film has a rich look, and at the same time the colours are muted; not too bright, yet not muddled either. It goes well with the mood of the story. On top of that, Murphy captures certain shots interestingly, and Koepp makes nice choices as director to keep the visual aspect of the movie exciting. At times, you could almost see this falling into a melodramatic tv-styled production. What saves it is the production value itself. In addition to the nice look, the score is phenomenal. There are foreboding scenes filled with tension, suspense enough to choke you, and a large part of this is due to the music from Philip Glass and Geoff Zanelli. On one hand, Zanelli is more of a blockbuster type composer, some nice titles under his belt. On the other hand, Glass has done some large scale stuff, but his strengths lie in the smaller, more heart-filled stories, working on everything from the recent Leviathan to Errol Morris’ groundbreaking (and life changing) The Thin Blue Line. Somewhere between the two men their talent converges to become a pulsating wall of sound. Many moments are the typical mystery-thriller sounding pieces. At other times Glass and his sensibilities ring through, an ambient and soft glow of music hovering around the scene, and then there are those unexpected bursts of sonic goodness which are expected of the unusual, talented composer.
A lot of people, that don’t read his books enough, usually peg King as a horror writer. As if he does nothing else. Secret Window doesn’t contain much horror, other than the psychological sort and a slice of existential dread. Most of what becomes scary in this story concerns watching poor Mort try and distinguish what is reality, and what is fiction. There’s a large focus on the theme of fiction blurring into reality, which ultimately plays into the very end of the plot. Before that we already see how the story Shooter confronts Mort about parallels the life of the author, his failed marriage and subsequent divorce, the paranoia and suspicion, et cetera. Best of all is that psychological deterioration of Mort into which Koepp allows the viewer to fall. His talents for character and plot are what makes him capable of actually adapting King, a task not many who take on one of his stories are capable of achieving. He doesn’t write it all perfectly, some of the comedic elements come off too cheesy even for King. But the mystery and the thriller elements of the screenplay are well done. You may predict how some things play out before the end. Regardless, getting there is mostly a treat.
This is a better novella than it is a film. I don’t think it’s a bad movie, and it’s definitely worthy of 3&1/2 stars. There’s something missing, which I can’t exactly put my finger on. I really dig King’s writing. Again, that novella is a solid read I’ve gone through a couple times. And I even enjoy the adapted end Koepp comes up with better, as I mentioned. So why is it that Secret Window comes up short? Depp’s performance can’t hold up everything. The look and feel of the movie is good, the score comes off fantastic. Yet other than a sequence nearing the end when Mort figures everything out, there isn’t any overtly innovative filmmaking at play, nothing other than a bit of interesting camera work to compliment the storytelling. No matter how good some of the shots are and despite the atmosphere, the nice colouring all around, Secret Window is mostly just the Depp show. Were there more interesting, bold choices by Koepp, aside from the changed ending, this could be great. The directing isn’t bad, at all. King and his storytelling simply deserve more than run of the mill thrills. I can say all this, and still I own the DVD, I pop it on once every so often. It isn’t bad. Just could be much more.

The Devil Traffics in Needful Things

Needful Things. 1993. Directed by Fraser C. Heston. Screenplay by W.D. Richter; based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.
Starring Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh, Ray McKinnon, Duncan Fraser, Valri Bromfield, Shane Meier, William Morgan Sheppard, Don S. Davis, Campbell Lane, Eric Schneider, Frank C. Turner, & Gillian Barber. New Line Cinema/Castle Rock Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 120 minutes.

POSTER As an avid reader of Stephen King I’m always happy when I can tout one of the film adaptations as worthy of his writing. With any book the movie never seems to match up in quality, though on rare occasions this happens. What an adaptation for the screen can hope for is that it preserves the spirit of the source material. Not all adaptations of King novels work out appropriately, as I’ve mentioned in my other reviews recently. At least with a good couple hours directors and writers are capable of turning a large-sized novel into something worthwhile of the author’s efforts.
Needful Things makes use of every minute out of the two hour runtime. Screenwriter W.D. Richter manages to turn a large cast of characters into interesting people within that time frame, not jamming anything down our throats. Rather the screenplay allows for so much in 120 minutes because it’s structured well, it focuses on the right elements. Doesn’t hurt that the cast is spectacular, right down to the smaller roles. Then you’ve got Ed Harris, Max Von Sydow, Bonnie Bedelia leading the ensemble with strong performances. In particular, Sydow presents us with a version of the cinematic devil that stands out amongst so many other similar depictions of that mythic character. I can’t help loving this King film when so many never hit the mark, nor are they given the proper level of production in order to achieve what potential they have inherently. There’s a little bit of cheese here or there. Maybe you dig it, maybe not. Either way, Needful Things is a devilishly fun and mysterious mix of the supernatural and personal stories of drama, crime, and all sorts of small town issues. The novel is treated well here in this uneven yet awesome fantasy that takes place in that little town of Castle Rock, Maine.
First and foremost, Max Von Sydow is great. A perpetually fantastic actor whom I always find interesting to watch. He’s well suited to play a man such as this, one whom we know little of but glean that he’s, essentially, the devil. Literally. Even the name works, Leland Gaunt. But Sydow is what gives this screen character such fearful depth. His voice, his way of dressing, how he laughs and sweetly ingratiates himself to the men and women alike in Castle Rock; only part of that is the writing. Sydow’s abilities as an actor come out quite nicely with such a classic character as the literary Satan in disguise. He makes the devil so flawlessly friendly to those around him. Really one of the best devils out of any movie, regardless of how you may feel about the rest of the film.
Part of the performance is also his look in terms of makeup and costume. For most of the film we get that elegant, suit wearing look that suits Sydow so well. In brief moments the makeup renders him into a nearly goblin-like creature, his long nails protruding, yellow and thick, his nasty teeth shining in the light of certain head movements. Plus, much more. This isn’t always outwardly visible, only in those brief shots is it clear and that makes it more unsettling.
Everyone else is mostly great, even if Sydow is the centrepiece. Harris and Bedelia are both excellent, just as their chemistry makes their characters relationship sweet and loveable. Even young Meier does well as Brian Rusk, a tough and complex role for an actor of any age. Most of all I love Amanda Plummer – the character is good enough, but she automatically makes ANY character that much better. She turns up and I’m usually ready to keep glued to the screen. She does not disappoint, and her final showdown, warring with neighbour Wilma (Valri Bromfield) is so satisfying in a morbid way that you’ll have trouble not cheering a little. Don’t worry, I did. So we’re both sick fucks. If the acting weren’t so good then it wouldn’t be this hard to resist.
Visual callback to The Exorcist, as Polly (Bedelia) walks down a set of stairs and witnesses Alan (Harris) shaking hands with Danforth (J.T. Walsh). I’d never noticed that until this last time watching. Funny how that escaped me. Right now, it stood out so evident. Not in a hokey sense, but a stellar homage to William Friedkin’s supernatural, religious horror masterpiece. The movie isn’t built on homage. Not in the slightest. Everything else is pretty well shot. It doesn’t stop at the cinematography from Tony Westman. The entire flow of the film in its writing to the directing choices and the editing is a huge reason why everything works. Alone the way most scenes are edited together is good filmmaking, but better yet are certain scenes. For instance, when Brian (Shane Meier) is tossing the baseballs, then there are the flashback moments certain residents have as they make their dirty deal with Gaunt, among others.
Also have to mention the inclusion of classical pieces. I’m a huge fan of classical music, so it’s even better that the soundtrack here is used to such advantage. Beautiful, soul-filled pieces play over moments of wild destruction and violence. Always an interesting, effective juxtaposition.
Furthermore, in terms of writing, I find Richter does impressive work. A lot of movies insist that linear storytelling means you can’t move back and forth between moments in time. In a sense, yes. Many others prove that you can tell a linear story and also include plenty of non-linear aspects. What the screenplay here accomplishes is a linear plot that gives us 99% of the current story, then peppers in the whole cast of characters within that whole structure with their own histories. The overall story never gets bogged down because of how well the writing is adapted. Again, this is how Richter manages to fit all these characters into one two hour span without making a mess of things. The writing, the editing, the direction on Fraser C. Heston’s part, all comes together to make Needful Things a horrific bit of fantasy inside a story of intense human drama.
Another solid King adaptation. Lots of negative reviews out there. Although I’m totally in the other camp, this is a fantastic little movie. Not perfect by any means and a couple of the actors leave some to be desired. I can’t fault anybody in particular for not making the movie better. Needful Things is a good deal of fun. The story is one that could easily go epic in scope, instead King’s original novel takes that type of plot about the devil making deals with ordinary people for their souls and crafts that into a tale of corrupted innocence in a coastal town in Maine, bringing the scale down to a personal, emotional level. Sydow looms large as the Satan figure, Leland Gaunt, and everyone from Harris to Bedelia to Meier and Plummer all play their respective characters well.
I know not everyone will always feel the same. A typical story is done differently and done well with this film version. In a world of terrible movies made from Stephen King stories, let’s appreciate the ones that genuinely work. We get all the character, all the setting and the terror and the familiar macabre qualities of King, including some blood and psychosis along the way. If that can’t please you, nothing will.

The Dark Half: One Part King, One Part Romero Equals a Sweet Bit of Horror

The Dark Half. 1993. Directed & Written by George A. Romero; based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name.
Starring Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris, Robert Joy, Kent Broadhurst, Beth Grant, Rutanya Alda, Tom Mardirosian, Larry John Meyers, Patrick Brannan, Royal Dano, Glenn Colerider, Sarah Parker, & Elizabeth Parker. Orion Pictures.
Rated R. 122 minutes.

POSTER I’ve long said that George A. Romero and Stephen King go together like coffee and pie. Is that a thing, is that what people say? Well, I like coffee and pie. A nice treat. Just like I dig some Romero and King. They’re sweet together, as sweet as horror can get. You fans know what I’m talking about. Usually people associate Romero with the zombie sub-genre, and rightfully so: he single-handedly reimagined the zombie in modern terms giving birth to a trend that’s still going on today, which will undoubtedly continue until the end of time. Yet Romero made some really good work outside of the zombie structure. Long before 1993, too. But The Dark Half is one of those King-Romero collaborations that isn’t only interesting on paper. The whole film is a dark, gorgeous joy. Previously the two powerhouses of scary shit did well working on 1982’s Creepshow. Most will say that’s their best work together. I love that one, have it on the shelf alongside this and other Romero, as well as other King. I have to say, this one is my personal favourite of the two movies. Most of all because the book is so good, and for better or worse this adaptation nails most of the important aspects right on the head. The visual style is quite what we come to expect from the master of horror in Romero. King’s story matches the darkness of the director in his story examining duality, the lure of addiction in the sense of it creating an entirely other identity in one person, a quasi-monster movie about a man’s evil side literally appearing out of thin air. This is on the top of my lists for favourite King adaptations. There’s a lot to enjoy, even if it isn’t perfect. In the second half of the film things get riveting. Romero always goes for the jugular, this is no different.
Love the idea of duality. We’ve seen it many times before in literature, most famously in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. What’s most interesting about the King novel and this adaptation is how we look at the dual identities of George Stark v. Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton v. Timothy Hutton). This is a parallel of several things. Of course on the surface there’s the idea of literally mirroring King and his own pseudonym, Richard Bachman. This whole film can act as a metaphor about how King and his feelings of the success involved with Bachman’s writing, in that it became this whole other entity that needed to be dealt with, and King’s wild imagination concocts this whole story. On a deeper level there’s the fact King wrote The Dark Half right before going sober. His own feelings of the drugs and the booze taking over, the addiction becoming an entire entity all of its own, his need to rein in control as himself and be a sober man going forward, these are the biggest drive for the ultimate differences between Thad and George.
The whole visual difference between Hutton as Thad and George is awesome. When I read the book I really got such a feeling of uncanny terror when imagining the two versions of this one man. Particularly later on when things get very intense, the practical makeup effects used make the divide between Stark and Beaumont bigger. Added to all that there’s Hutton. Now apparently he was a horror to work with, even quitting the production at one point. Can’t say he doesn’t play the part to near perfection. He has the feeling of a writer torn in two from the start, not sure whether to keep riding on the success of a part of his identity which clearly causes trouble in his real day-to-day life. Then as we get further into the plot Hutton’s able to seamlessly transition from just a writer in distress to a man having one devastating existential crisis.
Something I’m very interested in personally is the Eastern belief in the concept of tulpa. Essentially, this is the concept that the mind is so powerful that it can will something into existence through pure thought. Further than that there’s often the idea that collectively, enough people might be able to will something into existence due to the amount of people expending mental energy on conjuring it up. Such is the case today with phenomenons like Slender Man and others. Certain occult thinkers might suggest these entities can become real, of flesh and blood, if enough people believe in them and will it so. In a way, George Stark is such a tulpa. Thad has not only thought him up, he’s effectively become a real person in that Beaumont hands his work over to the pseudonym, making him a part of the world. Then there’s the fact Thad had a malformed twin in his skull as a boy, this plays into more ideas about duality and further almost twists this into a monster movie – horrific images in the mind conjured up concerning a leftover bit of brain, bits of human matter not fully formed, waking up and growing into a whole man, wreaking havoc on a town in Maine. King, adapted well by Romero, takes a wild look at what happens if a murderous, hateful, vengeance seeking guy like Stark were to be willed into existence. There’s an equal part of camp much as there’s depth to the story. It’s all great, though there is quite a good helping of a sort of 1950s-style. There’s nothing wrong with that. Mostly it comes in the form of Stark who is appropriately a sort of typical 50s gangster with a razor blade, a slick-haired, leather jacket wearing, kinda Elvis copy. He’s no West Side Story sort, he’s much more dangerous than that. Along with his creepiness comes an awesomely throwback sense of camp that adds a dark humour to many of the kill scenes. All in all, the way King’s story and characters bring out the idea of the tulpa is lots of fun. Romero does his best to make that work and does a bang up job.
I can forgive a movie’s mistakes if most everything is compelling enough. King wrote a great novel, one to which I found myself glued until the last page turned and that back cover slapped shut. The Dark Half is in good hands with Romero. His directorial choices match his capabilities as a writer, each side complimenting the other. More than that I think he does well with adapting King. Not everyone can fit a novel of his into one screenplay properly, though I’m inclined to feel as if Romero does just that. Rather than make this into a half-assed attempt at jamming every little idea King had in the novel into the script, Romero opts to choose the best material, condense it, then make sure the lead character and his story gets brought out powerfully. The adapted screenplay works, and Timothy Hutton sells the Thad Beaumont character, in turn doing a fantastic job with George Stark in a highly opposing role; all the duality rests on him here, he carries that responsibility nicely. Throw in some nice effects, a couple nasty horror kills and blood to boot, this keeps things on the level for those genre fans out there. I forget how good this movie is then each time I put it on I remember, so quickly. If you’ve not seen it and call yourself a King fan, or one of Romero’s legion, then get on it, now. This is better than many will try and tell you.

1408: Hell is Other Peoples Hotel Rooms

1408. 2007. Directed by Mikael Håfström. Screenplay by Scott Alexander, Matt Greenberg, & Larry Karaszewski; based on the short story of the same name by Stephen King.
Starring John Cusack, Tony Shalhoub, Samuel L. Jackson, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Benny Urquidez, Mary McCormack, & Jasmine Jessica Anthony.
Dimension Films/MGM.
Rated 14A. 104 minutes.

1408_mech_052407.indd Director Mikael Håfström is a capable hand. His films Evil and Derailed are both decent, particularly the former. Putting him in charge of a Stephen King adaptation is a good choice, one which he proves is worthwhile decision. The screenplay for the film went through a couple stages, though it seems this was a benefit – first, Matt Greenberg (Halloween H20: 20 Years Later & The Prophecy II) had a crack at it, then later screenwriting team Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Problem Child, Ed Wood, American Crime Story) came in to do their own work on King’s short story. By itself, the story – also titled “1408” – is a great little haunted house-style tale. Only it takes place in a hotel, or rather hotels, as the main character Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a writer whose job takes him to various supposedly haunted locations in search of ghosts, those he never seems to find.Except now in the Dolphin Hotel, run by the ominously knowledgeable and honest Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson).
Many might expect a similar vibe to The Shining. And there are certainly elements of both which are slightly similar. On the whole, they are too vastly different stories. The idea of fathers, families, the emotional weight of the past, all these aspects are part of these two different King stories. However, 1408 takes on a much more contained plot, one that entails elements of the family drama we saw in the Torrance dilemma, but one that goes further into the supernatural, pitting a man whose scepticism for the world of ghosts puts him in a uniquely fragile position when confronted with their actual existence. Using the talents of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, Håfström makes a creepshow out of King’s short story, doing justice to it completely. You’ll find yourself drawn into the room where Mike is faced with learning everything he believed wasn’t true is terrifyingly real, and whatever supernatural force exists in Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel has set its eye on him.
Pic1 There’s a difference between what I consider a proper jump scare and one that’s used to cheap effect. If there’s absolutely no reason for one, then I don’t understand the reason for a director to go for that type of gag. In turn, if they do that for a cheap scare it’s usually in place of their ability to cultivate actual suspense and tension. Many of those moments here will make you jump, though they serve as a perfect way to build up all the tense action. And honestly, in a hotel room haunted house-type film, what do you expect? There’s also an unsettling atmosphere throughout, so it isn’t built even 50% on jump scaring you to death. Much of what I find creepy is the gradual way Enslin comes around to believing there’s something supernatural actually happening. Because we start out with him totally sceptical. He doesn’t believe in any kind of ghosts. Once his night in the room progresses, things quickly change. Yet he first tries to explain away each event, rationalising, coming up with a legitimate reason these things could be happening. With each subsequent event, that scepticism slips, and soon enough the voice of his daughter comes to him. Even right before that he’s started slipping, but the voice is one of those final tipping points. His paranoia sets in and he tries to keep himself steady. The jump scares don’t just serve to unsettle the audience: they’re working to de-root Mike as the main character. For a time, he starts thinking more and more there’s someone entering the room, that Olin is orchestrating the whole thing, that he’s been drugged by the gifted liquor bottle, the candy in the room, so forth. All the elements come together in a hurricane of paranoid thought that drives him crazy. As opposed to say a low budget slasher that builds its entire fright factor on scaring you by heart attack jump moments, Håfström’s movie is a scary story that keeps your heart racing while also diving into the character study of its lead.
Pic2 I just recently watched Cell, the latest King adaptation on VOD, and Cusack almost bored me to death with his similar portrayal of a father missing his child, albeit under differetn circumstances. Here, he is beyond fascinating. Mike Enslin is a solidly written character from King, then the screenplay gives him more time to play on our feelings. Best of all, Cusack does good work. In his other aforementioned role he couldn’t bring anything new, nor did he get too many scenes where the emotionality of his performance was required to break out in a big way. 1408 allows him the space to open up Enslin and explore what makes him who he is. For instance, part of the fact he’s sceptical has to do with his personal situation, the loss of a child, the fact that if he did believe in God and the afterlife that it might be beneficial for him, he could see his daughter again and things might feel better somehow. Once his scepticism is whittled away, this leaves him open, raw to the influence of ghosts, one of whom happens to be the spirit of his daughter lurking in the abyssal depths of that hotel’s black hole. Cusack displays the range necessary to make Enslin an empathetic character, he calls for us to understand his situation, as Håfström makes great directorial choices taking us between what’s really happening and what Mike sees happening inside the room right in front of his eyes. A single location in a movie can become boring. Not with Cusack in charge of acting duties. He pulls his weight to the fullest and sells every last inch of Enslin, the story, and the film together. While Jackson adds his flavour to the pot, and is enjoyable in a role that could come off as typical but works so perfectly, Cusack will always be the star of this show, obviously.
Pic3 1408 has a couple missteps. Overall it’s 4-star horror. Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme (The Proposition, Lawless, The Theory of Everything) keeps each scene and sequence visually appealing. His aesthetic makes the hotel room into a world unto its own, a whole self-contained universe of terror. He’s an artist capable of using both light and dark to his advantage, rather than being totally relegated to one end of the spectrum. This makes for a lot of rich, colourful scenes within the hotel – partly due to its great look and design – and all the same, there’s a dark, shadowy essence at every corner.
With a nice atmosphere and look, the story takes off. Cusack sells the lead character, his change from sceptic to reluctant believer in the ghostly, supernatural world of haunted hotel rooms. One particular scene I love is when Mike tries to get a drink from the mini-bar, only to find Olin inside, taunting, and then Mike goes certifiably insane; a wildly impressive scene that could have easily gone over-the-top, but remains intensely honest from Cusack. Every little aspect to 1408 makes it chilling. You won’t sleep with one eye open afterwards. You may think twice about checking into an old hotel next time if you’ve heard about any murders, suicides, all those nasty events. Because King’s story comes alive in its dreadful madness under direction of Håfström, and it’s by far one of my favourite adaptations of his work in the past decade.

Cell is an Okay Zombie Flick but King Can Do Better

Cell. 2016. Directed by Tod Williams. Screenplay by Adam Alleca & Stephen King, based on King’s novel of the same name.
Starring John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stacey Keach, Joshua Mikel, Alex ter Avest, Griffin Freeman, E. Roger Mitchell, & Wilbur Fitzgerald. The Genre Co./Benaroya Pictures/Cargo Entertainment.
Rated R. 98 minutes.

POSTER Cell is one of the few Stephen King novels I’ve not yet read at this stage. He’s one of my favourite writers, as well as a huge influence on me as an author myself. His influence is large and encompasses generations of weird kids who read his work growing up, whose touch made us more confident in mining the darker regions of our minds. Not only does he inspire readers, writers, he further has left a mark on horror directors, many of whom cut their teeth in the genre first by reading his books. Regardless of who you are or what you do, King is able to get to you. My mother was an avid reader. Then she passed his books on down to me, as they always interested me on the shelf and she’d say “Not until you’re a little older” and so eventually I read them all, devouring each page until there was nothing left. Now, 31 at the time of this writing, my bookshelves at the home which I share with my girlfriend are filled with a small library of solely Stephen King books. His writing is almost like a family tradition between myself and my mother. His work transcends genre, which is funny because those only familiar with a few of his stories always peg him as a horror writer, or that guy who writers creepy stories, and other descriptions. But he is capable of crossing genres and while captivating you with scary moments King always has something bigger happening underneath.
With the film adaptation of Cell, King had a hand in the screenplay alongside screenwriter Adam Alleca (wrote the remake of The Last House on the Left). Some King films suffer because his writing isn’t always easy to adapt for the screen, so I’m inclined to give the movies he’s more involved with a better shot. A Good Marriage was, to me, enjoyable even if it wasn’t great. Because the writing was good, even if the casting wasn’t spot on. Here, I can’t judge versus the book. I can only come to this adaptation with fresh eyes. Although it can’t be too bad to take another ride into creepy King territory with the likes of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, right? Add in Isabelle Fuhrman, who was amazing in Orphan, and that’s a solid three leads to keep things grounded.
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One of the more initially unsettling moments is just after the half hour mark. A bunch of the infected people scream in unison, their mouths open, and it’s super eerie to watch and hear at the same time. Quite Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a nice homage without being a rip-off. A trippy, brief scene that only gets creepier right afterwards. The imagery shows us the horde of people together in a scary huddle, then the shot goes up, fading into the cell tower, and then we cut to a beautiful waterfall. There’s an excellently juxtaposed feeling of nature v. man-made structures, further in that we’ve perverted nature and now this return to a primitive state has thrust people back into a more basic, more savage world. Subtly, the camera work takes us through that amidst the small trio’s efforts to understand the situation around them. Not long after is the terrifying scene where Charles Ardai (Stacey Keach) introduces the stadium full of infected, laying in piles, all lulled by the cellphones. Almost a parallel to those hordes of people out on the sidewalks, walking with their heads down and face, eyes, everything stuck on a screen. That’s the wholly intriguing aspect to this King story, in either form. It takes on our nearly disease-like addiction to technology in an appropriate way. Sure, this takes the form of what we’ve seen many times before, another zombie flick, another form of the same story, the same types of characters. A certain amount of that still applies. Something I dig is that these characters are a little atypical, in that they’ve come together more randomly than other movies – another one I like in that regard is the Dawn of the Dead remake. So you’ve got less of that stale family first ethic, instead focused on just a bunch of people, all with their own fears, emotions, thoughts, plans, hopes, et cetera.
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Another scene that got to me was the nightmare Clay Riddell (Cusack) had – the imagery all around was scary as hell. Loved it. Not only that it leads into them all having a collective dream about the same character, one that Clay drew in his comics previously. But simply that brief scene where Clay finds the red hoodie man getting a blowjob in a decrepit bathroom, the tear in the man’s cheek, the blood, his odd demeanour, everything adds up to be totally unnerving.
I do think Alleca and King wrote a decent screenplay. There’s nothing wrong with what they’ve done. However, disappointingly enough I feel like neither Cusack nor Jackson does anything worthwhile with the characters. You can’t say there’s nothing interesting about the characters themselves. First you’ve got Clay, he’s a guy who draws comics, he has a tough family life with a son he loves, and all kinds of personal stuff. Problem being maybe we’ve seen this character type too many times from Cusack, and no longer is there anything to mine from that starved patch of ground. Secondly, Tom McCourt (Jackson) is a Vietnam veteran, he’s a tough son of a bitch. And maybe again, we’ve seen this style of character from Jackson so often that seeing him in a zombie-type story to boot only makes it more cliché. However, that’s meant to be the power of an actor, if they can make you believe them and their portrayal, over and over. Though I do love both Cusack and Jackson in their own rights, having performed a ton of great characters between them, they don’t give us what we need here.
That task is left to Isabelle Fuhrman. Her portrayal of Alice Maxwell is really good. She doesn’t always get the right amount of time to do her thing, but when she does it’s solid work. If only her character were given more then it’s possible that could have made the movie better than it comes off. She’s a talented actor who I hope will get some bigger, better roles. Here, she’s able to root us emotionally before destroying us after the arc of her character breaks your heart.
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Ultimately, I’ll say Cell is about a 3-star zombie flick. There are a couple elements that make it less typical, mainly in its approach to the entire infection sub-genre of horror. Stephen King and Adam Alleca adapt King’s novel into a decently creepy piece of work. Plenty of flaws to boot and there are definitely lacklustre performances out of Cusack and Jackson. At the same time, I found myself creeped out at times. More would be better, but the terror King’s story is able to bring out makes this better than most low budget zombie movies floating around out there. In addition to the writing, there’s great atmosphere; some nice cinematography, as well as a score that’ll keep you on edge while it swells and falls and sucks you in.
Some scenes will stick out, from the one in the bar to a short time later when Clay unmasks an infected man he – for a moment – believes to be his son. There’s enough to enjoy and to make this worth watching. Plus, I really enjoyed the ending. Not near one of my favourite King stories adapted to film, though. Perhaps I’ll enjoy the novel more once I get around to giving it a read because the premise alone is horrifying. The execution of the film is what leaves much to be desired.

MISERY’s Annie Wilkes is The Rotten Heart of Fandom

Misery. 1990. Directed by Rob Reiner. Screenplay by William Goldman; based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen, Lauren Bacall, Graham Harvis, & Jerry Potter.
Castle Rock Entertainment/Nelson Entertainment
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.

POSTER I’m a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve read almost everything he’s written, still working on that. His short stories are some of the best short stories out there, as far as I’m concerned; up with greats of similarly fashioned literature such as H.P. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers and others. He’s not simply a horror writer like so many pigeonhole him. Everything he does certainly has a dark, macabre and morbid, eerie tone. Rarely does he write anything without his brand of strange. But his stories and the plots within them are all so fascinatingly dark and equally as human. Part of why King is able to touch so many readers is because within all the macabre madness of his horrific tales, those human elements are what hooks people. The characters, their situations, their hopes and dreams and the all too often dashing of those desires are how King gets into the head of his readers, then allowing him the chance to creep us out.
Misery is one of the rare King novels I feel is just as good onscreen as it is on the page. No discounting his work. Like I said, I’m a massive fan. One of the biggest inspirations to me as a writer, personally. However, this is one of his stories that’s more confined and simple in location, the story is not supernatural or anything in that vein. The strength of the novel is in its focus on character and setting. The film is so perfect for the fact these characters are so well developed within the constraints of the story and its limited setting. All the psychological, emotional, and visceral angles of the horror are anchored to the performances of James Caan and Kathy Bates. Director Rob Reiner makes a lot of solid choices, but no doubt about it, those two steal the show.
Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 10.03.53 PM Caan is a solid Paul Sheldon. He has this sort of old school tough guy feel about him, so that when he’s got his legs beat to pieces, laying in bed and stuck to that wheelchair, he has this air of wounded masculinity. Not in an obnoxious sense. In the way you feel bad for him. Furthermore, you know even if it was just one banged up leg, he might manage to get out of the situation. But he’s helpless in this situation and it renders Sheldon someone we empathize with, which Caan plays up so well. Better still is how he gets crafty after so long, and that’s something Caan uses to great effect. There’s always this awesome fine line with Caan where he’s serious as hell, and simultaneously funny, on the verge of always being able to make you laugh or smile. One of the best casting choices in any King film.
And that brings me to Bates. Oh my, Kathy. You’re a treasure. In everything from her early role in Straight Time to the wild roles she’s done on American Horror Story, she is a chameleon of an actor. She can be the sweetest sort of woman in one performance, then turn around and wow as an evil, ruthless psychotic. Wilkes is the latter. At the same time, even after we know she’s crazy there is often something sympathetic about her. She feels like the ultimate lonely person. The loneliest. To the point of dangerously disastrous behaviour, such as when she kidnaps Paul. Bates really brings out the mentally ill side of Annie, though not in a melodramatic way. Nor is her psychosis laughable. Even when she gets foolish and says “cockadoodie“, which is worthy of a chuckle, the scary side of her is always present. Never does Bates allow us to forget the danger of Annie. She draws us into the weird and darkly funny aspects of the character while making sure the psycho-thriller angle is never far behind.
Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 10.18.00 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-26 at 10.45.29 PM Best of all, the character of Annie Wilkes (Bates) feels far ahead of her time. Originally written in 1987, she’s decades before the unbelievable mania that is fandom. You can look back at Misery and see it as a metaphor. About how fans demand what they want from the creators of the material they so dearly love. They demand so much, in fact, that it pains the creator, as they can’t always please their audience and also please themselves as an artist. Ultimately, Annie is the fandom that will not let artists (directors, writers, et cetera) grow organically, but rather impede development by wanting a show to be THEIRS. While a certain amount of what an artist does is out of their hands after they’ve finished creating it, there’s still a line that fans can cross. By stepping over that line you make clear it isn’t the artist’s talent which you’re in it for; you want a story that you dictate. Then it becomes something not of the creator, or in this case the author. Annie isn’t just some psychopath, though this works incredibly well on a surface level. She is further a representation of how fans can pin down the artists they admire with expectations, ones they wish to force.
In this day and age with Twitter and other social media platforms, Wilkes is an even better, more relevant character, as too often we’ve seen this direct connection between artists and fans create a headache for showrunners, directors, actors, writers, producers alike. Even to the point that nowadays these fandoms, or some of them, almost expect people (often this is the case with people running shows for AMC, BBC, HBO, so on) and the various networks to do what they want. This is no longer television, nor is is the movies. The fans are what put money into the production companies, in the end. Yet that doesn’t mean directors and writers have to be expected to put together material tailor made to every last fan. That’s absolutely, downright madness. Part of the excitement, for me, in film and television is NOT knowing. I like for writers to surprise me, directors, too. I don’t want to be able to telegraph every plot twist and movement. That’s boring. If that’s your bag, fine. But you’re an Annie Wilkes! If you want to have power to determine a movie or a television, how the casting or the plot or whatever goes, then you’re no better than her forcing Paul Sheldon into changing his book.
Today, people rage on the new Ghostbusters movie. Instead of just letting it be and not going to purchase a ticket, angry misogynists opt, like Annie, to try and burn the thing down. Exactly the way she made Paul crisp up his manuscript on the barbecue. Just let it be. Sheldon ending his character Misery could have proved disastrous to his career, maybe people wouldn’t want to read him any more once he moved on to something else. And maybe this new Ghostbusters could flop (retroactive note: it certainly didn’t do great). I personally don’t want it to, but it could. Only the rabid fans, Annie Wilkes, they can’t let things flow naturally. They have to have it their way, or no way.
Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 10.59.47 PM There are some truly horrific moments in this movie. This has psychological horror, as well as real, physical stuff to tickle the visceral nerves. Even just Paul and his broken legs is a bit of body horror. Although, once Annie decides to toss out her story of the early days in diamond mines when they hobbled workers for stealing, things get gruesome. For all the horror movies I’ve seen over the years, this scene kills me. Every time. Funny enough, there’s nothing explicit or graphic. You actually barely see what happens.
There’s just the acting – Caan screaming in savage pain, Bates triumphantly walking the room with her sledgehammer – the sound design, all the build up in Reiner’s direction, “Moonlight Sonata” playing in the background. Changed a bit from the book to cut down on blood, but no less effective in its brutality. This whole bit is not only creepy, it also starts us down a descent towards a desperately tense, suspenseful finale.
This is a 5-star classic. A masterpiece. One of the best adaptations of a novel to screen I’ve yet to witness. So many books either change too much or just can’t capture the original novel’s enticing charm to satisfy fans. As one lifelong Stephen King lover, I find Misery so satisfying, in every way. The plot plays out wonderfully onscreen, adapting well from King in William Goldman’s screenplay, and everything fleshes out properly to keep the journey exciting and just as compelling. By the time the final frames play, we’ve had a long, arduous ride alongside Paul Sheldon in his wheelchair.

The Shining: Kubrickian Horror v. Stephen King’s Supernatural Evil

The Shining. 1980. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Kubrick & Diane Johnson; based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel, Anne Jackson, & Tony Burton. Warner Bros./Hawk Films/Peregrine/Producers Circle.
Rated R. 146 minutes.

POSTER1 Let’s get one thing straight: I love this movie. Fanatically.
I’ve also got problems with it.

There are vast differences between the source material of The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation. For a man who mostly got close to horror in a psychological sense before this 1980 horror classic, it’s a strange pick for the master director. At the same time, it’s also a good fit. While this is mainly a ghost story, the clinical way in which Kubrick attacks the subject matter and thematic material really brings out the horror of the human drama at its core. Famously, Stephen King has said the movie is “cold” whereas his book was “hot“, and that Kubrick wasn’t capable of telling the story how it was meant to be told.
And in part I agree with Mr. King. Because the book is better. However, I do find Kubrick’s film a slice of terror. Further than that, to me the supernatural element of King’s original novel is still there amongst everything. It’s simply that Kubrick takes that all and envisions it in very human terms. We absolutely see the haunted elements of King here, there’s just a completely different element to this film and how it perceives the story of Jack Torrance’s madness.
If King’s novel is about the supernatural forces of The Overlook Hotel taking its toll on the Torrance family, Kubrick’s film is a ghost story that’s most of all an allegory for personal family troubles, the failure of people to face their problems head on until they all but literally haunt them, as well as the attempts of many to bury the dark secrets of their past like the various murdered souls haunting the halls of The Overlook.
Perhaps a straight adaptation, such as the lesser but still enjoyable TV version King had a hand in, is more enjoyable to some. And though there is a part of me that faults this movie for not going directly at the source material, because there’s some great stuff there that didn’t make this cut, Kubrick most definitely made an impressive horror film that not only contributed to the genre as a whole, it also left an indelible mark on many moviegoers. To this day, I can close my eyes and almost imagine the entire film front to back because of how many hundred times I’ve seen it.
One of my biggest beefs is the change to the character of Wendy Torrance. I find Shelley Duvall an intriguing actor, and she gives a knockout performance here. Still, the character bothers me. In the book she is nowhere near as waif-ish and frail as the Wendy which Kubrick and Diane Johnson wrote. And that boggles my mind, really. Because there’s absolutely no reason to change her character into such a “dishrag“, as Mr. King so eloquently puts it whenever asked. What gets me most is that this Wendy does not seem the type to stand up to her husband. She talks of having asked Jack to stop drinking, or else she would leave, and this doesn’t strike me as genuine with this character. She can barely hold steady ground in a conversation with her husband. Let alone confront his violent temper and alcoholism. In fact, the way Kubrick and Johnson have written Wendy is, as King again has noted, fairly misogynistic. There are barely any moments of strength in Wendy, which bothers me. It is so far from the character in King’s novel that it makes no sense. Changing the themes and focusing more on the human drama of alcoholism, the effects it has on a family, the bad decisions of the patriarch looming over his family, so on, all that makes sense to me. An adaptation doesn’t always need to follow copy-for-copy the source material. Many adaptations do well to stray a little. But this character change doesn’t come as genuine, as if Kubrick and Johnson solely wanted to focus on Jack and his son, and so they let everyone else fall to the wayside.
The character of Jack remains virtually the same across King and Kubrick’s respective visions. Again, though, I do agree partly with King. I love Nicholson here. He kills the performance, no doubt. I just can’t help imagining the role with someone less Nicholson-like. In that Jack definitely looks a bit off right from the beginning. That signature Nicholson look, the eyebrows, the sly smile, it reeks of insanity too early. This takes away part of the impact, in my opinion. Furthermore, the screenplay as opposed to the novel doesn’t give us a lot of time with Torrance before he’s going mad. He’s very quickly a dick and then soon a real terror in this movie. It’s no less shocking how insane Jack Torrance gets over the course of the film. However, if a lesser known or different-looking actor were given the part it might’ve been an even larger surprise when he goes off the deep end later. Still, I can’t fault Nicholson; that’s all in the casting. For his part, he turns Torrance into a deeply troubled man, one whose intentions are good but whose execution leaves something to be desired. And regardless of Nicholson’s crazyface, he is able to draw us in. Specifically, the scene in the big lodge room where he backs Wendy up the stairs is EPIC. During a theatre class in high school, I recited that whole speech and had great fun. It is a superb, small monologue that Nicholson really nails, allowing us to fall headlong into the madness of Torrance. As the film picks up faster and harder towards the end, Nicholson definitely frightens and his performance will always rank high on any list of spectacular acting from horror movies.
The macabre beauty of The Shining is part of its everlasting appeal. All of the imagery is so well shot by Kubrick, photographed by John Alcott. Having a horror film captured through the eyes of Kubrick is magical. From the sets and the meticulously composed shots to the score and soundtrack, this film is every bit a classic. Maybe it doesn’t follow all the rules of horror set before it. Maybe it doesn’t follow King exactly. But I’ll be damned if it’s not amazing. And the horror itself is almost vicious. That scene where Jack finds the woman in the bathtub is something that has scarred generations of film fans. Even as a seasoned horror veteran I find that one moment intense and scary. There are moments of dreadful suspense throughout The Shining that, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, still hold me in fear. The elevator of blood is an iconic piece of imagery because it essentially sums up The Overlook, as a hotel completely immersed in blood, so much so it pours down from the floors above. Just the fact they accomplished that shot is enough to make it utterly mental. But over and over, Kubrick manages to derive absolute horrific madness out of his scenes through the way he captures things, right down to editing; the bathtub woman scene is so profoundly shocking because of how it repeats itself like a memory several times as the corpse reaches out after Jack and he backs away. There are so many fine touches which make this a work of horror that stands the test of time.
Much as I love The Shining, there are certainly issues. Some can pass off Stanley Kubrick’s mistakes by saying certain things to point to his hidden meanings, the deeper layers. Bullshit. As great as this horror is, as much as its done for the genre overall, there are faults. You can still find a movie incredible while admitting to its mistakes. And I don’t always agree with Stephen King, though here I do and find the book much better. Still, Kubrick’s The Shining is chilling, it is meticulously drawn out with great cinematography, practical special effects, and the eerie sounds sitting below all the engaging, terrifying imagery. Despite its flaws, this is and always will be one of the classic pictures in horror bringing Kubrick and his sensibilities to an unlikely genre.

11.22.63 – Episode 8: “The Day in Question”

Hulu’s 11.22.63
Episode 8: “The Day in Question”
Directed by James Strong
Written by Bridget Carpenter

* For a review of the previous episode, “Soldier Boy” – click here
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The titular day in question has arrived. The day of the assassination.
Jake (James Franco), along with Sadie (Sarah Gadon), is racing to get himself in place. JFK is due to be in Dallas for the fateful ride. Out of nowhere, Jake runs into Frank Dunning (Josh Duhamel), or does he? Just a mirage. Even Sadie runs into the specter of her former husband (T.R. Knight). The past is trying to prevent them in any way, shape or form from doing anything to change it.
Through crowded streets they try to make their way to the Book Depository. They come upon the Grassy Knoll, they see people waiting around for the President of the United States to drive by. All unknowing. Sort of eerie to see them in the midst of everything, knowing what’s to come. Another King reference – Randall Flagg struts through the streets, or someone likely to be him, anyways.
But Jake ends up pulling a gun on a man who’s supposed to know things, yet doesn’t, and Jake fears the past is pushing back harder now so close to the event.

Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) is sitting, quiet, alone. Meanwhile, Jake manages to get himself inside the building. Only time is passing, fast. A nice Stephen King homage: REDRUM is on the wall as Sadie and Jake run up the stairs.
As the motorcade pulls around, Oswald sits breathing slowly. He is readying himself. The people on the street cheer, raising their hands, waving to John F. Kennedy. Lee steadies the rifle on the President’s car. Intercut with shots to look like the original footage. An amazing, tense sequence. Jake busts in and distracts Lee, enough so that the President and his Secret Service escape unharmed.
Now, though, Jake and Sadie are trapped in there with Oswald, who stalks them still with rifle in hand. “Im gonna make my mark on this world,” he raves at Jake.  Hand to hand, they fight. That is until Jake’s forced to shoot him in the chest. So, one way or another, the past was going to kill Lee. Whether it was Jake or Jack Ruby, didn’t matter. Worse yet Sadie took a bullet. She is one tough customer. But maybe not tough enough to survive this one.
This puts Jake in custody. Not a perfect situation for a time traveler. He’s now finding himself pinned with being the one to have taken the shots. He’s going down or all of it. What a nasty turn of events for the past to take.

So now we’re seeing the mysterious FBI Agent James B. Hosty (Gil Bellows) again. He is taking part in the interrogation of Jake Epping, as well as Captain Will Fritz (Wilbur Fitzgerald). So Jake lays out the story about Lee, talking about his supposed intentions to kill the President. For the moment it seems as if Jake is up against the wall here.
Then once Hosty is alone with Jake, things appear differently. Outwardly, to anyone in the know like Hosty, it looks like Jake is a spy – two houses, no apparent identity “prior to 1960“, and lots more. Using the present knowledge of past events to his advantage, time traveler Jake keeps an edge on Hosty.
And from nowhere, JFK calls to speak with Jake. He thanks Jake, saying they owe him “their lives” – even Jackie gets on the line to say her peice. An emotional, very real moment for a mini-series involving time travel. But there’s always been a human element to its drama.

Hosty: “Far be it for me to pull the thread on the story of a hero, if I did the whole thing would unravel. God knows this country wants a hero. An American hero, who saved the Presidents life and values his privacy. Thats how our storys gonna go.”

With some cash in his pocket Jake moves on. He buys a ticket elsewhere.
Then in the station he sees a woman reading From Here to Eternity. It’s Sadie, sitting quietly by herself. Except it’s not. Only another mirage, sadly.
Jake gets himself to Lisbon, Maine. But things are troubling him. So he heads through the time portal. He finds the diner leveled. In fact, everything nearby is rubble. Far as the eye can see. Has changing the past really destroyed so much?
Another Stephen King Easter Egg – CAPTAIN TRIPS is spray painted on a wall in the background, as Jake first discovers the new present in a state of apocalypse. Is this the world where the disease of the same name has riddled the world with sickness, death, and madness? Hmm.
Jake encounters someone briefly in the street, though, it’s an awkward encounter to say the least. Obviously something’s happened, and if he were around he’d know. But the place is an absolute mess. Everything is rundown and deserted, abandoned, falling apart. People wander the road. Jake ends up finding Harry Dunning (Leon Rippy), saving him from some marauders.  He remembers Jake being the one to have killed his father, saving their family. Time has been changed and thrown for a loop because Jake went ahead and changed the trajectory. He asks Harry about a ton of events, even 9/11 – none of it happened. Turns out that in 1975 there were Kennedy Refugee Camps where “bad things” happened. Nothing got any better. “You dont understand this world,” Harry tells Jake.

So with all the disappointment of time travel, Jake sets off headed for the portal once more. All is reset, even down to the clumsy mailman. But he sees Sadie riding in a car, running off towards her. What’s his plan now? Will he live in the world again from the 1960s onward and not change anything?
He starts off trying to introduce himself to Sadie, but then in the door appears the Yellow Card Man (Kevin J. O’Connor). He tries to warn Jake about the perils, as he already did, of getting stuck in a “loop” and how it always “ends the same“, never stopping.
In the end, Jake decides to let Sadie go. He chooses the harder thing instead of the easy thing he wants to do. So tough, but perhaps better in the end. At least for her.

Back in the diner, present day, Jake finds 2016 restored to its proper state.
He goes back to teaching, to his normal life. But of course it’ll never be the same again. Not after all he’s experienced. When Harry shows up again to say he didn’t his promotion, Jake weeps in his arms, saying sorry for not helping. This scene broke me. Such a sad thing to see the burden of all these moments come down on Jake.
At home, he searches Sadie on the internet. She’s receiving a Texas Woman of the Year award. Now older and on in years, Miz Sadie looks marvelous, and Jake watches on as the woman he fell in love with is a completely other person than in his past. Another emotional scene to see Jake having to watch the life he didn’t get to live. Older Sadie even talks of Deke Simmons, too. I loved this scene so much. Really powerful, beautiful few moments that resonate deeply. Classic King-type stuff.
When Jake asks the older Sadie to dance, he chats lovingly with her and flashes back to his dances with the younger Sadie, all at the same time. Through time, something connects between them.

Sadie: “Who are you?”
Jake: “Someone you knew in another life
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I loved the finish to this mini-series. Yes, it’s sort of like the journey to try and save JFK was all for nothing. It was. Although, Jake learned a valuable lesson, and that is the fact the past may not need to be changed. What happens happens. No need to change it because we’ll never know the effects of those decisions.
A solid King adaptation I enjoyed. Most of the episodes were incredible. Lots of thrills, few chills, and a ton of great acting.