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.

 

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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.
Drama/Fantasy/Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★
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.
Crime/Drama

★★★★★
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.

Stranger Things – Season 1: “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers”

Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Directed and Written by Matt & Ross Duffer

* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” – click here
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1983 in Hawkins, Indiana. At the U.S. Department of Energy in a high tech laboratory an emergency breaks out. A scientists scrambles madly for an elevator. He doesn’t make it out.
At the same time, people in Hawkins go about their lives. A group of kids play Dungeons and Dragons, or something similar. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are the kind of nerd I was growing up. They play like it’s real. For ten hours.
Already we gain an idea of who these kids are, which is great. Will especially seems honest: “The Demogorgonit got me,” he admits to Mike, even though they all tried cheating him with their last roll. Dustin and Lucas are the more funny of the two, each with their own personality.
But when Will is on his way home something strange happens. He topples off his bike and then rushes home quick as possible after hearing an eerie noise in the road. Only that noise, whatever’s behind it, has followed him home. Props to little Will: he goes right for a gun in the shed. Although leaving the house couldn’t have been good. Still, he stands with the gun aimed, ready to fire. When the light in the shed starts burning bright, hot, vivid, it goes out.
And Will is gone.
Loved this opening eight-minute sequence. Then we get a great, simple credits sequence that also has some wonderful music. The score is solid so far, adding that ’80s feel, throwing back to Carpenter scores and all sorts of things. Dig it.
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Chief Hopper (David Harbour) is a simple kind of guy. He sleeps on the couch. Smokes cigarettes while he gets ready in front of the mirror. Pops his pills with beer. Like a real American. Strange things are happening in his jurisdiction, though. Everyone experienced odd power events the night previous. An unexplained event.
At home, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and her son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) can’t find young Will. Nowhere to be found. She naturally calls over to the Wheeler house, but neither Mike nor his parents know where Will is now. Everyone starts to get a little on edge at this point. And at school, none of the boys find him either.
We’ve got a great Stephen King-esque group of outsiders in the main group of kids. They get picked on at school, they’re loner-types who are warm hearted and teased because of their unwillingness to be like all the idiots. Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is a goody two shoes sort, mixed up with a douchey young guy, so they’ve all got their problems.
Hopper finds Joyce in his office worried sick about her son. He’s not exactly concerned. He plays it off with statistics, suggesting that essentially boys will be boys. She knows something is up. Will isn’t like all the other boys. He’s sensitive, sensible. But Hopper’s own disillusion with the boring job of small town chief makes him complacent.
The problems at the U.S. Dept. of Energy are now being investigated. A man named Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) is brought in. He and a team of scientists head down into the affected area to find it in a state of horror. They come across an unsettling creature of some kind latched and growing in the corner of a lab. They mention a girl, as well.
Elsewhere, a kid in a hospital gown makes her way into a diner. She eats a load of fries before getting caught by Benny (Chris Sullivan) the owner.


Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are brought in to the principal’s office. Chief Hopper wants to know more about Will, trying to piece together what happened, where he may have gone after leaving Mike’s house. Certainly they want to go investigate on their own now despite Hopper’s warnings.
Joyce and Jonathan are out looking for Will everywhere. None of his regular haunts prove to be hiding him. Simultaneously, Benny is dealing with the kid he’s found. The girl won’t talk. She has 11 tattooed on his skin. For now, that’s her name: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). And creepy enough, she can do some weird mind tricks while Benny’s out of the room.
Poor Will is still missing. His bike turns up, but not a sign of him. Slowly you can see Hopper is starting to realise there may be more to this disappearance than a simple explanation.
The phones in Hawkins are tapped. Likely the government, as they’re trying to contain whatever went down in the Dept. of Energy. Over at her place, Joyce is trying to track down Will. She gives her ex Lonnie a call, getting no answer, or at least not one that she wants. Then Hopper turns up with Will’s bike. The possibility of something dangerous becomes clearer. What begins to happen is that suspicion is cast on the home life of the Byers family. Hopper finds signs of struggle, he goes to the shed and discovers the gun and the bullets out. Doesn’t bode well.


Trusty Mike is dying to get out and help find his buddy. Yet his mother wants to lock everybody down until Will is found. Everyone else seems to think it’s all no big deal. A young boy knows when his friend is in trouble, and nerds are particularly aware and susceptible to the supernatural. At least in fiction!
Everybody’s in the woods at night searching for the boy. Mike uses D&D logic to convince his friends they need to go the extra mile and find their friend on their own.
At the diner, Benny’s still doing his best to take care of Eleven. Someone from Social Services shows up. Or are they really? Sort of fast, especially back in the early ’80s. Maybe the phones being tapped around Hawkins have something to do with that. After Benny takes a bullet it becomes obvious. And now Eleven is trapped in by Dr. Brenner and a crew of his cronies. She makes it out with some of those powers of hers, luckily finding her way into the night.
The loyal buddies work their way into the woods. Albeit a bit reluctant, as one would be. But their fearlessness prevails.


Joyce and Jonathan are busy trying not to fall apart. The older brother blames himself. Surely mom does, too. Soon a strange phone call comes through – weird noises, an electrical pulse. Joyce believes it was Will trying to contact her.
In the woods, the boys stumble across Eleven. Will she be able to help them find their friend?
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What an awesome opening episode. I’ve waited on Stranger Things so long it feels like unwrapping an awesome gift at Xmas. This is definitely a bingeworthy television series. Excited to see the next one “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” and keep diving further into this mysterious, enjoyable stew of ’80s nostalgia, good writing, and compelling acting.

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.
Drama/Thriller

★★★1/2
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.
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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.
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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.
Mystery/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER
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.
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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.
Crime/Drama/Fantasy

★★★★
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Fantasy/Horror

★★★★
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.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★
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.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
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.

Get Swallowed Whole by Terror in THE BORDERLANDS

The Borderlands. 2014. Directed & Written by Elliot Goldner.
Starring Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Aidan McArdle, Sarah Annis, Lee Arnold, Drew Casson, Peter Charlton, Marcus Cunningham, Patrick Godfrey, Kevin Johnson, & Luke Neal.
Metrodome Distribution.

Rated R. 89 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
POSTER Found footage in the independent film world of horror surged in the past 10 years especially, which has left us with more than a fair share of mediocre to shit efforts. I’m a big fan of the sub-genre. The whole technique of found footage can be used to great effect, depending on the story, the writing, and the overall direction. What’s exciting is when a movie using the technique decides to come with a different story, not the typical people running lost in the woods – often young people – with tons of dark, shaky camera work and lots of screaming, wailing, terrible audio.
The Borderlands boasts an intriguing story about religion, the dark side of faith. In a way, you can take it as an allegory about belief and how it consumes people wholly, far too often. On the surface, this is a solid piece of found footage work that opts to use a premise that hasn’t really been done yet, at least not well. Using the plot of a Vatican investigation concerning the strange going-ons at a remote church out in the woods, writer-director Elliot Goldner cultivates creepiness that still haunts me when I imagine those final scenes. A slow building, burning story moves towards its resolution that comes as an unexpected, disarming finale where the terror these men once thought benign is far greater and more disturbing than they’d originally thought when first starting on their journey. The found footage itself is nothing innovative. The story and the adventure on which it takes us is a horrific little slice of cinema that’s better than most of its similar kin.
Pic1 Anything Vatican related in horror I find awfully compelling. There are definitely horror movies that misuse those types of stories, but some can make it effective. Goldner frames the entire plot and story through these men investigating a supposed religious miracle for the Vatican. We’ve got the religious fellows – Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) and Mark (Aidan McArdle) – juxtaposed with a technical equipment guy, Gray (Robin Hill) – it’s great to have that one guy who isn’t fully religious, as it presents an entirely different dynamic than if we were relegated to main characters solely painted as religious believers. Even though Gray does believe in “stuff” as he says, there’s still a disconnect there which allows the non-faithful argument to enter into the situation.
Even better, this aspect leads into the horror. When things start becoming genuinely frightful and the situation at the remote church reveals itself as legitimately dangerous, the non-believer in Gray gives us a vessel into more terror, as he starts understanding there is a power greater than him. Whether that’s a terrifying power is another story. In opposition, Deacon is a faithful man working for the Catholic Church, yet he’s also a sceptic. He is trained not to believe any miracle at the drop of a hat, and what he’s seen over the years informs that. However, that bit of disbelief in any true miracle (or whatever you want to call what they later stumble across) allows Deacon to help us descend into the fear of the film much more easily. Combining these characters and their respective attitudes is a potent way to involve us in the characters. An element we’re not always privy to in the found footage sub-genre, where jump scares and messy, overused gore can sometimes take precedence over anything in regards to character development.
Pic2 There are Stephen King-H.P. Lovecraft vibes going on in the story. After the finale, you’ll understand that wholly. But even before we’re able to grasp there was some paganist religion happening in the church, an attempt at concealing the building’s history, as well as what happens inside its walls, what lies beneath the floor. Highly reminiscent, though without copying and merely by homage, of the short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” from King’s Night Shift (1978) collection.
What I love is how the build up comes slow and steady. First it’s a video, that could or could not be fake. Later, Gray gets everything live for audio, even bringing along some ghost hunting-type equipment that helps them suss out any odd electrical signals, anything to point towards the situation being manipulated. When they begin hearing sounds in the walls, unable to locate a source, this is the eerie beginning of moving towards the story’s revelations. They start hearing the cries of children, other such noises. The most unsettling? A deep, low bellow that nearly resembles a voice.
Coupling Gordon Kennedy with Robin Hill is an interesting combination. They work well together as actors, and their characters fit perfectly. Kennedy is a solid talent who makes Deacon come alive, he makes the religious empathetic, and he’s atypical of found footage actors because he isn’t overly melodramatic. Alongside him is Hill, an actor I’ve enjoyed ever since first seeing Ben Wheatley’s Down Terrace (he’s a film editor, too). Hill plays Gray well and often provides a bit of comic relief amongst all the grim subject matter. His believability makes the horror of the finale all the more real, unnerving, visceral. These two actors sell the scariness in this film, which can’t always be said about other found footage efforts where the actors seem to be cast on the basis of their lung capacity.
Pic2-1 This is definitely a favourite recent found footage flick of mine. There are many, and they seem to run the gamut of absolutely unwatchable to sometimes brilliant. I’ve seen a lot of these sub-genre pictures which defy expectation, many of those in only the past couple years. The Borderlands is one that I found pretty spectacular, even with its few flaws. Mostly, the religious angle, the church setting out in the forest, all these little details set it apart from other similarly filmed movies. And yes, we get our share of dark frames where there’s only a bit of light, some jumps here and there (although they aren’t typical either). Above all else, the story makes this unique. The actors keep us on edge and in their sceptical first, scared later perspective. Finally, it is the shocking and excellent finale that completely upends our expectations. For the longest time this feels as if it might reach a conclusion that can be forecast early on. Each time I watch this, I keep thinking how ingenious the last few moments become. Reaching those last seconds is a treat and I’m hoping writer-director Elliot Goldner will go for something equally exciting for the next film. This one caught me off guard. Whenever I need a little jolt, requiring a found footage feature to kick start my fear, this is one I usually think of before making a final decision. It may come on slow, but the climactic moments coming to the ending are a pay off worth seeing at least once.

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.
Drama/Horror

★★★★
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

11.22.63 – Episode 7: “Soldier Boy”

Hulu’s 11.22.63
Episode 7: “Soldier Boy”
Directed by James Kent
Written by Bridget Carpenter

* For a review of the previous episode, “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Day in Question” – click here
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The penultimate chapter begins, with Jake Epping (James Franco) having been left in bad shape at the end of last episode, as well as Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) being committed to a mental ward.
Seventeen days before the assassination of JFK, we find Jake coming in and out of consciousness. He sees Anderson Cooper on the television, a man on his iPhone. All these modern things. Then his ex-wife. Even Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) appears as the doctor. “I know this isnt real, I just want it to stop,” plead Jake. “Sometimes we dont get what we want,” replies Al. He expresses disappoint over the entire mission. The whole thing is nightmarish. Once things settle down, there’s Sadie Dunhil (Sarah Gadon) and Deke Simmons (Nick Searcy). But as Jake puts it: “Everythings mixed up.” Will the past take a toll on Jake, or is this simply a bump in the road?


Al: “Youre not the man I thought you were
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Worst of all, Jake’s memory is troubled. His brains are all jumbled. There’s even a great little joke by the writers, as Jake asks whether the man he worked with was named George; in fact, the name of the actor playing Bill. Love it. But feel terrible for Jake and his poor brain.
Meanwhile, Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) is out to talk with an agent of the FBI. He’s concerned about the bug in his home. But nobody takes him seriously. Likely part of why he gets crazier and crazier.
With Jake and his memory all mashed, he missed the passing of Mimi. So sad, even sadder for Deke. But after a few moments, Jake starts to get bits of memory back. He remembers “where Bill is“, and oh… is it ever a nasty place, the darkened mental ward of a hospital in the early 1960s – a place for “people who cant pay“, a proper dungeon. They go to find him. His mind is almost no better off than Jake’s, though, it comes as a result of being subjected to psychiatric treatments that only served to make people worse decades ago.
But before they can take him away from the hospital, Bill slides out a window and plummets to the parking lot below.


For her part, Sadie tries to help Jake remember his mission. She breaks out newspapers touting JFK’s tour of Texas cities coming up soon, she brings up the Russian on those tapes in his basement. He gets a little frustrated, but Sadie’s determined to keep him on track. A good, loyal woman. A loving one.
In other parts of Texas, there’s Lee and his mother Marguerite (Cherry Jones). They have a nice relationship. She clearly loves her son, and doesn’t want him mixed up with anything crazy. Any sane mother would worry about her child, if her child were spouting out the things Lee thinks. Leading up to the assassination, it’s creepy to see them together. Not sure why. Even creepier still is Lee sitting on a park bench, enjoying a Babe Ruth. Almost like seeing some odd, rare, dangerous animal in the midst of the forest. When he spies a newspaper about Kennedy in Texas, even mapping out where the President will be going, an idea dawns in him; a purpose. What a powerful moment. The way it’s filmed is full of weight. Plus, Webber plays Oswald incredibly well.
But still, while the grimness lingers on, life goes on, too. Jake finds his memory slipping back in slices. He remembers living on Madison Street, the old place where he and Bill shacked up. Slowly, they retrace his steps. And then they run into Lee Harvey Oswald himself. What a turn of events! And more memories come back to Jake, all of Oswald, after he spies a newspaper in a pile, a pro-communist paper called The Worker. Excellent scene, especially the editing. But this whole twist, to send Jake back there recovering his memory, it’s a real treat.


Marina (Lucy Fry) and Lee have all but grown completely apart. This does nothing to help his deterioration. With Jake remembering now, is it fast enough to get the job done? Having Sadie alongside, Jake certainly has a leg up on things. They weasel their way into the garage of Marina’s friend, looking for the equipment Lee will use to kill JFK. No such luck in finding anything, though.
Only twelve hours left. Jake and Sadie do what they can to prepare for what will come next. And then the past starts to come out, pushing back against Jake. All of a sudden the Yellow Card Man (Kevin J. O’Connor) is in the car with him. Everything is eerie, strange now, with the man telling him a story, recounting how he “cant stop the past“, and weeping. It’s a sad and tragic exchange, as the man reveals his daughter drowned, and that he keeps repeating it, trying to save her but only watching the past repeat itself. He warns Jake. Then he’s gone again.
While Jake wants to abandon the plan, Sadie urges on, not wanting him to give up. She is his rock. But the past continues to push, not letting Jake start his car in the morning. So it begins. Because at home, Lee is upright, alert, ready to do whatever it is in his mind to do next. He leaves Marina in bed with something long, wrapped in paper under his arm.
We watch the final scene and find Lee setting up, in the window at the Book Depository. He looks chilling, a sentinel on high.


Amazing. Looking forward to the finale of this amazing mini-series, “The Day in Question”, which should hopefully nicely cap off these 8 episodes. Stay with me, folks!

11.22.63 – Episode 5: “The Truth”

Hulu’s 11.22.63
Episode 5: “The Truth”
Directed by James Franco
Written by Joe Henderson

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Eyes of Texas” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” – click here
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Back in time once more this week with Jake Epping a.k.a George Amberson (James Franco) and his trusty sidekick Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) in the early 1960s.
Last we left Jake, he’d discovered Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon) snooping around the recording equipment. She even heard some nasty little recordings of all the dirty details – that is, a bit of sex between Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) and his wife Marina (Lucy Fry). What’s about to happen now in this latest episode, properly titled “The Truth”?
Sadie tries to run away, disgusted with Jake. He does his darnedest to explain, saying they were “Russian actors” in a play. But she knows there’s something more. He says it’s about her protection, yet that’s not going to be good enough. This has divided them impossibly for now. The token of her feelings, a dish of food, sits on the table still, reminding Jake of her. So he tosses it.
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Flashback to Jake in the classroom, in present day. He asks his class about “traveling back in time“, what they might do. Suggestions for killing Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, so on.
Switch back to ’63. Jake’s getting let go from his job by Principal Deke Simmons (Nick Searcy), due to a “moral clause” in the contract he signed. The “Russian filth” did him no good. Either way, it’s sad to see him go. Certainly Mimi (Tonya Pinkins) doesn’t like it either.
Back to present. Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) and Jake talk about Oswald more, and whether Al saw him shoot at General Walker. Al never lasted long enough, so now it’s in Jake’s hands.
In ’63, Jake and Bill sit on Oswald more. They need to see if Oswald is alone, or whether something larger is at play. Or someone completely different altogether. “Is it bad Im rootin’ for Lee to hit the guy?” Bill asks. The time is set, they’re ready to spy on what happens “according to history“, to see what fate has in store for them. I love the plot because it takes people right through researching a conspiracy theory, or possibly through what may have actually happened.


Jake: “It doesnt matter why he shoots. All that matters is if he shoots.”


The investigative duo try to prepare for every possible mishap on the day. Working against the past and its way may prove difficult at important turns. For his part, Bill’s curious about what happens afterwards. None of that is on Jake’s mind; only the job at hand. Nonetheless, Bill isn’t overly thrilled about staying in the past once Jake leaves. He seems to push too hard at times, though, overall is a good man. And he also has nothing keeping him anywhere, such is how he ended up with Jake to begin with, so I can understand his frustration with his life situation when traveling to the future could be accomplished.
With Sadie on her own, it looks like she may have someone following close by. Is it the sadomasochistic ex-husband Johnny Clayton (T.R. Knight)? Very likely.
On the phone, Jake gets a call from none other than Johnny himself. He’s with Sadie, and she looks in rough shape with what looks like a pillowcase on her head, blood seeping through.
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Jake leaves Bill to their business. He rushes to Sadie’s place fast as his feet can move.
Inside, Johnny’s been a bad boy. He has Jake sit at the table, Sadie still with her bloody covering. Once Johnny removes it, we see her face, what he’s been busy doing: “Shes not really pretty anymore,” he whispers to Jake. He taunts them both, calling his ex-wife a “dirty little bird” and such (reminiscent of other psychotic characters from Stephen King such as in Misery). This is one of the creepiest scenes yet. Knight gives it his all as Clayton, making you cringe and squirm a little in the seat. There’s a quiet, subtle madness about him that you feel might erupt at any moment. Johnny eventually serves up a bit of bleach for Jake to drink. And then Sadie enacts a plan for their hopeful escape. With some taunting of her own Sadie keeps Johnny busy. Until a doorbell rings.


Sadie: “All this because I told him your dirty little secret? Well I didnt even tell him about your grandmother. She liked to wash you, didnt she? She washed you real good. How old were you? Twelve? No, thirteen. They took her away because of you.”
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Clever cut to Bill at the door of Marina Oswald. Uh oh. They share more cigarettes together while Lee is sleeping. How far will he risk Lee catching them, or becoming too suspicious of Bill, and in turn Jake? Right now, love is blinding Bill. And Lee wakes up, discovering them on the steps. This brings Bill too close to the situation. “Have you ever read any Karl Marx?” Lee questions: “You read it and then well talk.” He hands over a copy of Marx on Economics. “It tells the truth,” says Lee. For the time being, the investigation is safe.
Cut back to the Clayton situation. At the door are two students with stuff from a raffle. He tries to get the kids away fast. After that he tosses the bleach in Johnny’s face, blinding him. This sends Clayton, blurry eyed, shooting bullets around the room in a rage before Jake is forced to bury a fire poker in his temple. For good measure, Sadie shoots him. A brutal and tense scene.
Police are on the scene quickly. An ambulance carts Sadie off, leaving Jake to ponder what follows. Trying to get away from police questioning, Jake is saved by Deke, who shows up out of nowhere. Seems he’s as happy as anyone to have Clayton dead. The cops get a statement from Jake later, quite an honest one, too. It’s as if the town is merely hoping for Sadie to pull through, with students and even Deke offering to give blood.


Meanwhile, Bill is on the case by himself. Nine o’clock strikes and there he is, waiting for Lee to appear around General Walker’s office window; somewhere, anywhere. But then coming out of the nearby church, Bill believes he sees his sister Clara. He chases her before realizing it’s, obviously, not her. In his absence, the shot goes off. Who was it?
Flashbacks again to Al, his advice for Jake heading into the past: “If you get too close, you forget what you came for.” A fact Jake’s already realizing, much too heavily. And then Walker shows up with a gunshot wound to his arm. Jake watches on darkly. He calls Bill, who has no good news. He’s got his own demons haunting him, as well.
Goods news? Sadie isn’t dead, she’ll just have a bad scar. After she sees Jake again, he reveals more of himself, giving her the titular truth. Their bond becomes closer now after such a terrifying ordeal.


Looking forward to more next week with “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald” – sure to bring more excitement, more revelation, more twists and turns. Stay with me, folks.

11.22.63 – Episode 4: “The Eyes of Texas”

Hulu’s 11.22.63
Episode 4: “The Eyes of Texas”
Directed by Fred Toye
Written by Bridget Carpenter

* For a review of previous episode, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Truth” – click here
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Back in the past again! Jake Epping (James Franco) and Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) are hard at work trying to crack into the big mystery of Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) and the enigma that is his life.
We start now watching Oswald with his rifle. He times himself putting it together, piece by piece, screw by screw. He cheers himself on slightly as he works. “Youre in the Marines now, son,” Lee says to himself: “Lets see it.” Clearly, he is preparing himself for something important. Then he begins the entire exercise all over again, starting with taking the thing apart this time. Or is it just Marine behaviour? Either way, he stops what he’s doing to go tend to his crying child. “Im going to hunt fascists,” Lee tells his wife Marina (Lucy Fry) and George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne) who take the famous picture of him with his gun in the backyard.
Across the way, Jake and Bill watch closely. They never miss a beat. But Bill has a little more than surveillance on his mind, which catches the gaze of Marina slightly. Could this come to be something more? A problem?
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At school, Jake is getting closer to Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon). However, not everyone is too keen on him doing so, which brings up a conversation on “discretion” with the overly-involved principal.
Back at the house, Bill plays Jake a recording – the first in English from Lee and George, suggesting an attempt on General Walker’s life, plus mentions of the CIA, et cetera, all under wraps. Plenty of conspiracy theorizing between Jake and Bill. Nevertheless, they determine a need to follow them both. Not without a little arguing first, though. Out of nowhere, Ms. Mimi Corcoran (Tonya Pinkins) arrives at their door – she claims Jake is not who he says. Seems she’s “investigated” Jake, his degree, past addresses and so on. More wrenches being thrown in the works. At the same time, Ms. Corcoran doesn’t appear to be throwing Jake to the dogs either. He reveals his real name, claiming to have been put in “Witness Proectionin 1959“, then laying out talk of Mafia except he uses The Godfather as his fairytale plot. Hilarious scene, Franco plays it out so perfectly.


Mimi: “For some of us, dignity matters.”
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Jake decides on using that discretion mentioned earlier. He invites Sadie out to a little getaway, in order to reveal his true self. Or that’s how it seems. And outside, it also seems someone may be watching Jake.
Meanwhile, Bill is getting a little too close to Marina Oswald. The smile on his face makes clear he’s got a shine for her. Not only are they pushing against the past, they’re slowly getting too involved with people in it. Certainly liable to spell disaster along the road.
Over at the cabin, Sadie has slight suspicions about Jake, that he may not be fully divulging the truth about himself, who he is. “I feel like Im an impostor in my own life, everyone thinks Im one thing, but Im something else,” Jake explains to her: “But I dont want to be that way.” Before he can go any further, Jake notices an envelope on the floor by the door. It contains pictures of them through the window, someone spying from outside. Creepy, foreboding moment. This sends Jake into a frenzy, as he and Sadie have to leave. Quick. Jake tells Bill he believes it’s the CIA trying to tell them “back off” – Bill advises leaving Sadie, though, Jake’s not thrilled on that idea.


Heading into a shady building, George and Lee are followed closely, quietly by Jake and Bill. They believe it could be George introducing Oswald to CIA contacts. Inside, the place is a lounge, a whore house, a bar; all in one. Music plays, drinks flow. Jake tries to figure out what’s really going on, as Bill gets jealous and angry because Lee has a woman that isn’t his wife hanging off him. Uh oh. But they continue their little mission, doing the best they can to keep track of Oswald and Mohrenschildt.
Jake goes upstairs with a young lady sporting a wonderfully Southern drawl – “I dont do nothinstandinup on account of my bad leg,” she explains while they work their way towards a room. Yet Jake’s more interested in spying on his two targets. He ends up causing a commotion after breaking one of the girl’s shoes. That is, before the police bring a raid down, and Jake is caught up then taken to the station. This puts him in a position where the principal at his school has to bail him out; definitely not impressed now.
This brings Jake back to school, without a chance to wash, or change his clothes. He witnesses a quick moment between the principal and Mimi, the latter having some sort of coughing fit. Is there trouble for Ms. Corcoran? I’d hate to think so, she is a wonderful woman. Also, there’s Sadie receiving a visit from her ex-husband Johnny Clayton (T.R. Knight), which doesn’t appear too happy. Jake tries to help comfort Sadie afterwards, but there’s more going on: Johnny won’t give her a divorce, tracking her down in the town of Jodie after she left. A loaded situation, between Jake’s situation and hers, each with their own tricky complexities. Added to that, Johnny is not a normal man; he has strange, unnatural desires, as well as a heavy hand for his wife.


News from Bill, as Lee and George are on the move. They’re preparing to follow the two men separately; Jake on George, Bill on Lee. At the house, Bill is forced to listen in on the Oswalds having sex, which drives him mad. He feels too much for Marina, which is sooner or later going to cause an issue. But as for Jake, he’s trailed George to a loading dock, and tries to pick up on what’s being discussed, as George meets with some suited men near the back.
And then, Johnny Clayton shows up to talk with Jake, surprising him. Turns out, Johnny’s been doing a bit of trailing on his own. It was Clayton who took the photographs of Jake and Sadie: “Youve been bad,” he warns Epping. Still, Jake has his own threats and makes his point clear. Unfortunately, Johnny believes Sadie is his property, that he owns her. This Clayton is an eerie character, with the clothespin thing and all; an undercover sadomasochistic man in the early 1960’s. More to come from this awkwardly tense encounter, no doubt.
Immediately after, Jake heads with flowers and chocolates to see Sadie. He talks about how things can get “messy” and “broken“, but that he “loves everything” about her. They’ve connected. Despite Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) warning him, Jake has gone and gotten involved with somebody deeply in the past.


Bill’s at home drinking, clearly upset, and also fed up with the Russian talk. When Jake gets home, upstairs a commotion starts when Lee is obviously beating on his wife. Then suddenly, silence. This situation is brewing into a rocky relationship for Bill and Jake. Making matters worse, Bill continually injects himself into Marina’s life. He tries consoling her outside on the steps, which leads to the two of them becoming closer, even just a little.
Next day at school, Mimi is out sick. Worse, Sadie receives a note claiming Jake is not who he claims; though, she hides it from Jake. The note came along with divorce papers, which Johnny signed and delivered. Will we see more of Clayton disrupting the life of Jake? I’m sure of it.
A renewal of trust comes for Bill, as Jake lets it be known he couldn’t make the journey through the past without him. They’re back on the same page, mostly. And that’s the best thing for them both.


The finale of this episode brings a devastating scene. Sadie heads to see Jake, food in hand. Only Jake’s nowhere to be found. The place is dark and totally quiet. Then, she finds recordings of the Russian chats, the surveillance on Oswald and his wife. Particularly, she hears the moaning and lovemaking. Very suspicious indeed: “Who are you?” she desperately asks Jake, as the credits cut in.


Can’t wait for the next episode, “The Truth”, which promises lots of fun and excitement again. Excellent one again this week. Solid adaptation all around.

11.22.63 – Episode 1: “The Rabbit Hole”

Hulu’s 11.22.63
Episode 1: “The Rabbit Hole”
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Written by Bridget Carpenter

* For a review of the next episode, “The Kill Floor” – click here
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The first episode of this Stephen King adaptation begins with Harry Dunning (Leon Rippy) telling us about his father killing his entire family. Except it’s him telling the story to a class full of people. The teacher is Jake Epping (James Franco), who gives his student Harry an A+ on the story. Jake seems like a personable man, getting along with his class quite well with ease.
Then Jake heads on over to a diner run by Al Templeton (Chris Cooper). They’ve also got a pretty good relationship. For his part, Al is a friendly dude himself. Up shows Christy (Brooklyn Sudano). Their relationship is a little less nice. Clearly heading into the rough of a full-on divorce. Already I love the adaptation of King’s novel – one of my favourites of his latest work – because Christy even makes a mention that, at the price, “that cant be real beef” in regards to one of Al’s famous burgers.
No sooner does Christy leave, Al stumbles out from behind the counter of the diner, coughing and looking nearly 20 years older than before. Jake’s stunned. He eventually helps Al home, but it’s clear the old guy has got some serious health problems happening – cancer, so he says. “You got cancer in five minutes?” Jake asks. But Al tells him to come back tomorrow, all will be explained.
Not only this well-filmed, I’m loving the score. Highly foreboding stuff. Hulu has done a solid job producing this show, which is evident even after the first little slice of an episode.


Al prepares to tell Jake everything. Only first, he asks Jake to go into the supply room closet at the back of the diner. Heading inside, further and further, all of a sudden Jake hits the ground on his stomach. He isn’t sure where, or when, the place might be. Running away, Jake ends up back inside the diner. He freaks, obviously. He asks Al what the fuck happened, to which the older of the two replies: “That was October 21st, 1960.” And it seems Al’s been trying to prevent the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Al goes on to explain all the actions and events associated with preventing the assassination – the Kennedy brothers would be alive, maybe prevent Vietnam, et cetera, et cetera. Well Jake isn’t sold on that theory. “You save Kennedys life you make the world a better place,” Al yells. So to explain his theory about changing the past to alter the future, Al has Jake head into the closet again, back in time, and then carve something into the tree behind the diner. So Jake heads back in, and it’s always at the same exact moment in time during 1960, right to the second. He goes ahead and carves the tree with his knife before going back into the present. Once there, he heads down to the tree and the evidence is right there for him to find. Furthermore, Al explains everything “resets” each time you go down the rabbit hole, right back to that day. And no matter how much time you spend in there, only two minutes pass in the present; hence why Al looked fine one minute then haggard as hell the next. He spent two whole years in 1960, up to ’62, in the time Jake signed those papers for Christy. Now, it seems Al requires a successor to his task with all that ailing health.


Not only do we get fun time travel stuff, King provided plenty of fun information surrounding JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald. So here, Bridget Carpenter’s script gives us a nice lead-in to it with Al explaining things for Jake. Al saw him “come back from Russia in 1962” and couldn’t do anything; after all, did Oswald really do it? Well, Al wasn’t going ahead without everything squared away. The plan now is for Jake to go back in time, last until 1963 were Oswald may have supposedly taken a shot at General Edwin Walker, which would help with a theory on his culpability.  But aside from the conspiracy stuff, Cooper and Franco have good chemistry. The way they talk together and with one another is like two people who know each other fairly well; I’m a fan of them both, anyways. Also, we finally get the scoop on Al’s famous burgers – they’re beef, from 1960. Great prices. Such a fun little bit of writing out of King, he always thinks of something other writers don’t and this is simply one small mention.
There’s a slight bit of tension between Al and Jake. The latter doesn’t want to just go jumping back in time on a whim. Al isn’t pleased, he thinks it’s an easy choice. But obviously, as anyone would, Jake doesn’t see it that way. “Get the fuck out of my house,” Al tells Jake after chastising him a bunch.
After sleeping on it, Jake heads back in the morning. He finds Al slumped in a chair, dead, or perhaps only passed out. Sad that their last words were an argument, but such is life sometimes. Maybe Al hasn’t died in this adaptation yet. We see Al’s knife on the table; it’s from Vietnam, obviously belonging to someone close to him (I doubt it would have been him serving). Perhaps a major reason why he wanted to try and change the JFK assassination. This cements Jake’s decision, as he heads over to the diner, and headlong into 1960.
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Jake: “Okay, buddy. See you in two minutes.”
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Again, as it was the last couple times, the Yellow Card Man (Kevin J. O’Connor) tells Jake: “You shouldnt be here.” This time, Jake just walks on and tries to ignore him.
I love seeing Jake in the middle of 1960. He looks incredibly out of place, from the facial hair, to the hair, to the clothes he’s wearing. When he goes to the barber, a King reference to “Castle Rock” comes out. Best of all, Jake gets himself suited up like a regular adult during 1960. Even more, the pie tastes better: “Everything tastes better,” Al says in a flashback. Better yet, it only costs sixty cents for a slice. Then there are people from the present whom Jake runs into in the past, their younger selves and people related to them, and so on.
After buying himself a car with the money Al collected in his travels to the past, Jake heads to try and make some more of it by placing a bet. He ends up in a bar where the car salesman sends him. Jake places a 35:1 bet, long shot on $100; of course that much blows everybody away, as if he’s from somewhere on another planet. A man named Little Eddie (Tony Munch) takes the action. He listens on the radio with Jake. At first things don’t go well for Epping, but soon his boxer makes a turnaround. The big bet pays off. Although, nobody there is too happy about it. Jake leaves, and a couple of the guys follow him outside. But off he goes, for the time being, to a motor court nearby. Nearly a dicey situation for ole Jake.
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A little later, up shows somebody on Jake’s tail outside his room at the motor court. When the man heads inside, Jake fools him using a cellphone playing a modern video, knocks the guy out, and takes off. The Yellow Card Man almost sends him off the road, though. What a spooky dude, that one.
On a bridge, Jake tosses his cell. Probably best. Anything to keep him from being found out as an… outsider, we’ll say. And then off Jake goes, heading further towards his destination. On the way he sees signs for the Nixon campaign. He eats delicious corn, long before genetically modifying food became the thing to do. Hell, even the Coca-Cola likely tasted better. Moreover, Jake experiences the supposed good old days in all its racist glory – he makes his way to a bathroom before an old black man advises him it’s the wrong way; white bathrooms are the other way.
Finally, though, Jake arrives in Dallas, Texas. With a file folder in-tow, he finds the book depository from where the fatal JFK shot was fired. Here, he accidentally meets Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon). They bond over John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, reading in general – then little references to From Here to Eternity and The Manchurian Candidate (Jake almost flubs on the last one talking about its movie adaptation; didn’t come along yet at this point in ’60). Clearly here is a love interest for Jake, possibly.
Jake poses as a writer, finding himself a bit of lodging at a house Al stayed during his previous trip. Love all the little bits about how time resets every trip into the rabbit hole, so the woman at the boarding house doesn’t remember Al. Slowly, Jake has to indoctrinate himself into this new world of skipping around space and time. For now, he sits down to review some of the “homework” Al gave him on his mission. The amazing writing of King is adapted well here. Great narration from Cooper’s Al while Jake is wandering around in 1960. Very King-esque, and almost reminds you of The Shawshank Redemption at times, just not in a copy-paste way. Rather, it’s a refreshing kind of nostalgic feel that the narration brings on at times.
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Al: “If you do something that really fucks with the past, the past fucks with you.”
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In a phone booth, Jake tries to call his father. Electrical failings in the booth and static over the phone prevent any contact. “The past doesnt want to be changed,” almost echoes from Al’s previous narrative monologue. Then, a car crashes right through the booth after Jake steps out. Problem solved. When Jake heads over to check the person in the crash, a bloody woman on the ground mumbles: “You shouldnt be here.” Just as the Yellow Card Man keeps on nagging. This sends Jake into a bit of a headspin.
We get some flashes back to Jake and Al, filling in pieces of the Oswald backstory. In ’60, Jake tries his best to start in on the investigation. Still, two years separate him from when Oswald arrives from Russia to the States again, then another year before he takes a shot at General Walker. Lots of time for Jake to hang around, almost too much. In the meantime, Jake sits in on a speech by JFK, an inspirational one as they often were. Jake pokes around at the big private VIP reception afterwards, spying on a target recruited by the CIA; the one who Al believes may have recruited Oswald, too. Then Jake’s found out, pursued by security and police.
This entire sequence is beautifully filmed, as are many/most of those set in 1960.
But wait – the Yellow Card Man appears in the hallways below the hotel where Jake sneaks off. Only briefly, as if guiding a path for Epping. Jake makes his way into a storage room, but finds himself nearly attacked by a swarm of cockroaches. He wakes up some time later in the custody of a couple officers, likely Secret Service agents. So Jake puts on his best act, to make sure neither of the men discover Al’s Vietnam War pocket knife. He sneaks out clean. But Jake’s got to start being more careful. What if he gets caught in the past and thrown in jail?
Still following the target, George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne), we find Jake in a high class Spanish restaurant. The past starts to “push back“, as Al puts it – small fires, a chandelier falls on a table, all nearly putting Jake off the trail. But he’s armed with prior knowledge, and a keen wit. Jake tries his best to eavesdrop on de Mohrenschildt, as he talks with others at a nearby table. Another great aspect of the production here: the eavesdropping sounds so real, the muffled bits and pieces of conversation Jake picks out swarmed in a ton of other noises from around the restaurant. Neat addition to the sound design here playing into the situation.


Jake goes back to the boarding house, only to find the place on fire. Upstairs his things burn: all the research from Al, everything. Worst of all, the young boy who lived there is burned alive. A tragedy on all sides.
The finale of the episode returns to Harry Dunning. We knew this would come – Jake decides there are other things, smaller yet amazingly life-changing events which also need changing. Not just the JFK assassination. So, Jake has plenty more work to do. Something attainable for now. He heads down to the old Dunning home, where daddy Frank (Josh Duhamel) and mama Doris (Joanna Douglas) have a fractured relationship. Jake’s eyes say it all, as he watches from afar, wondering how to intervene. Should he?
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Excited to watch the next episode, “The Kill Floor” – can’t get enough of this King adaptation so far, high hopes for the rest.

Living Dead Halloween Horror Marathon

Without going for too many of the obvious choices, I wanted to come up with another list of horror for the Halloween season.
Opting to go with anything from traditional zombies to the Romero zombie to infection films and so on, there should be something for everybody on this list. Maybe the more seasoned horror veterans out there have seen just about all of these. But I’m hoping those of you out there looking for a few good flicks to indulge during the lead-up to Halloween might get a good new scare for yourselves and find something new.
These aren’t in any kind of order, just in a list. I’m not saying these are all my favourites either, though, I’ll let you know which ones I love most.


Nightmare City (1980)
affiche-l-avion-de-l-apocalypse-nightmare-city-1980-2For a full review, click here.

This Umberto Lenzi classic is the genesis for fast zombies. It’s been said already – the remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? Would never have been without Lenzi. Sure, someone would have made zombies fast in a cool way, but I still think Zack Snyder owes a ton to Lenzi’s film. There’s something about this one that will get you from the star. Immediately, there’s a sense of chaos, and then the streets are flowing the undead, moving at a face past, fighting the living.
When it comes to zombie films, fast or not, Nightmare City packs the goods. This is a real great movie to put on and watch with a few people or a big group, as you’ll be hooting and hollering at some of the undead action going down under direction of a master like Lenzi.

Day of the Dead (1985)
MPW-7657For a full review, click here.

It’s hard to pick a favourite out of George A. Romero’s films, even considering his others outside of the Dead films; The Crazies and Martin are both pretty excellent, more so the latter, and Creepshow is a wonderful collaboration between him and Stephen King.
But honestly, even above the two previously amazing films, Day of the Dead is my favourite of Romero’s zombie work. There’s something truly dystopian for me above this one. As always, the plot keeps things claustrophobic, even worse the characters are in an underground military base. The best, though, is Bub – Romero introduces a zombie who has essentially been taught, like a primitive human or an animal, to respond and do things more than just eat brains. And if you look at the progression of Romero’s zombie series, include Land of the Dead and how active the zombies become there, I find there’s a lot to enjoy. Plus, you get cool imagery, a great colour scheme as is always the case with Romero, and lots of zombie goodness.

City of the Living Dead (1980)
81b6c-city20of20the20living20dead-poster20320by20silverfoxFor a full review, click here.

Lucio Fulci will often turn up on any horror list I make. Not because I think his films are all the best made, though some I think are fucking incredible, but mostly it’s because Fulci swings for the fences on just about horror film he’s made.
In City of the Living Dead there are a bunch of practical horror effects which are going to blow your face off. While I don’t think this is one of Fulci’s best, I do feel it has some of his wildest blood and gore.
From throwing up internal organs, priests committing suicide and dead babies, to heads being torn apart or heads being subjected to power drills, this is one zombie flick you’ll most certainly want to watch around Halloween. Any time you look out and see kids roaming the streets on the 31st, it’s always creepy in a way. After this Fulci film, it might look even creepier.

Dead and Buried (1981)
deadandburied From a screenplay by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon (particularly of Alien fame), Gary Sherman crafts a pretty unique and horrific film which you can definitely consider one of the living dead variety.
In a small New England town, Potter’s Bluff, visitors seem to be continually murdered and Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) is trying to get to the bottom of it. Unaware the other townsfolk have an idea about what’s been happening, Gillis may or may not survive the events transpiring in his own little jurisdiction.
To say a whole lot more than the simple plot synopsis would do you, the viewer, a disservice. Ultimately I’ll say only this – Dead and Buried has a wonderfully dreadful atmosphere, like a bad nightmare torn out of The Twilight Zone, and there is a classic type of feel to the film which makes it feel almost at home amongst William Castle flicks and the Hammer Horror catalogue at times. Perfect for a bunch of friends, but it does have a nice plot so it isn’t only horror-tainment; it also has some horror teeth with a solid script, full of dread and terror.

Shock Waves (1977)/ Dead Snow (2009)/ Blood Creek (2009)
shock-waves-one-sheet-style-b-1977This is honestly a pretty gnarly triple feature. A lot of people would tell you Dead Snow is the only real great movie out of these three. Me? Oh, I’d disagree with that.
First, Shock Waves takes us to an island where Peter Cushing plays a former SS Commander out of Nazi Germany, in charge of a troop of aquatic zombies. There’s lots of madness on the island, lots of almost gothic-like stuff going on.
You can never go wrong with Cushing in a horror, for me anyways. He is classic. Here bringing some of that class to a Nazi zombie movie, a precursor to the next film – Dead Snow.
dod_sno_ver5A newer Nazi zombie flick out of Norway, this one sees  a group of friends on Easter vacation in the mountains at a cabin; unfortunately, they run afoul of some buried Nazi troops who are more than happy to unfreeze, come back from the dead, and lay siege to the cabin and the unsuspecting friends.
This is a happily, unapologetically gory film, tons of splatter, blood everywhere. But it’s not one of those types of horror movies where it starts to get boring, because who doesn’t want to see Nazis die? Only Nazis, one could imagine. So get your fill here with tons of nasty horror kills.
bloodcreekNext up is another Nazi horror, though, in a vastly different vein. Blood Creek, also known as Town Creek, did not make an impact in theatres on a limited release, it hasn’t particularly enthused a lot of others since. But I thought it was a nice bit of fun. Featuring Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell and Superman himself Henry Cavill as brothers out for revenge, as well as an incredibly low key and make-up’d Michael Fassbender (of whom I’ve been a big fan for a while), this is mostly a good popcorn romp in the horror genre, with a nice dose of Nazis to boot. Fassbender plays a Nazi officer who was dispatched to track down ancient runes, eventually becoming a nearly immortal, terrible and undead monster whose entire being consists of consuming human blood, and other creepy, nasty, Nazi business. Don’t expect director Joel Schumacher to do anything hugely innovative, but throw this one on after the others to give a different spin on the Nazi living dead sub-genre.
I honestly recommend this as a triple feature. You would not regret it, especially if you’re looking for a group movie night!

[REC] (2007)/ [REC]2 (2009)
rec-poster-2007 rec2-poster1For a full review of [Rec], click here.

These are subtitled Spanish films, so those who don’t dig on that may want to move on. Though, I stress as I usually do: if you only watch English language movies, you’re not doing yourself as a filmgoer justice. Horror has some amazing stuff going on in other countries.
Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza take the found footage sub-genre and horrified audiences with their infection horror film [Rec] which takes us inside a fire station with a news crew, on a night when they’re called to an apartment building where all hell breaks loose; inside, an epidemic begins. The second film [Rec]2 begins straight after the events of the first, taking a GEO team inside the same apartment building in order to combat the infected humans that are beginning to swarm the entire building and threaten to turn the whole city into a massive horde of infection. But it turns out there aren’t only the interest of police and medical authorities at play, as the Vatican has their hand in things.
Both of these movies do found footage proper justice. So many of the low budget efforts in this sub-genre come out terrible, while only a small number are excellent and more importantly effective; these two movies are in the latter category. Amping up on suspense and tension, Balagueró and Plaza really grind home the terror from beginning to end. There’s a lot of scary moments and the zombies/infected are creepy as all hell! Love the blood and gore here, as well as the jump scares; I don’t often say that, but the jumps here aren’t cheap, they’re the result of good atmosphere and tension, as I mentioned before. Great movies. More for a solo viewing, or just a pair; you don’t need a crowd talking a bit here and there during these, ruins the mood. But you’d be wise to do a double feature viewing on these two movies – awesome continuity and you’ll get your fill of zombified mayhem.

Return of the Living Dead (1985)
return_of_the_living_dead More Dan O’Bannon, this time he’s directing.
Honestly, if you’re a horror-comedy fan (I’m actually not a huge one) and you don’t know or enjoy Return of the Living Dead, I don’t know what’s going on with you. I mean, this is just about the perfect marriage of zombie horror and hilariously foolish comedy. On top of all that, it’s slightly meta-fictional in a way.
After two bumbling meatballs end up releasing toxins from the government, which inspired Night of the Living Dead, the living dead begin to rise once more and the world is threatened by zombies walking the earth, tearing and eating human flesh, consuming all which stand in their way!
A classic entry in the zombie sub-genre of horror, this is not one to be missed. Great for a pair or a crew of people, you can never go wrong with this one. There is plenty of goofball comedy and lots of zombie nastiness to boot, not many as great as this out there.

The House by the Cemetery (1981)
House_by_cemetery_poster_03For a full review, click here.

Lucio Fulci returns on the list! This time with a different take on the living dead horror movie.
When a new family movies into a house and begins discovering a bunch of unsettling, the house’s past lurches forward from the darkness and into the present.
Victorian era illegal surgery, zombified and rotten corpses, neck stabbings, slashed throats and decapitated heads – Fulci is in fine style here, a (pardon the pun) full-blooded horror.
This is a nasty one with plenty of the director’s signature style. You could also say this fulfills the haunted house quota, even though it’s more of a living dead horror, but still – lots to take in for an October evening, better yet on Halloween night.

Mutants (2009)/ Open Grave (2013)
poster31 tumblr_muhki2HLhu1qetqrbo1_1280Another double feature, slightly different; these aren’t exactly the same type of zombie/infected horror movies, though, I think a certain vein runs through the both of these gnarly flicks.
Mutants is a French film about an epidemic turning human beings into mutant-like creatures, basically zombies. The plot concerns a young couple, Marco and Sonia (who is pregnant), attempting to find refuge in a military base. But when Marco contracts the virus, Sonia has to defend herself against her husband, best friend and lover in order to try and survive; for herself and for their baby. So you get a mix of zombie horror, emotional and personal drama, as well as a good deal of horror-action throughout the film. A high intensity and at times downright scary epidemic film.
In a similar more personal sense, Open Grave starring Sharlto Copley examines the epidemic sub-genre of horror through the eyes of a man who wakes up, with no memory, in a pit of corpses, only to eventually come across a group of others who woke under similar circumstances.
I can’t say much else about the plot, and honestly saying that it’s an epidemic/zombie type movie is saying too much, but just know Open Grave packs a real good punch. Copley adds lots of authenticity to the film playing a very believable, real type character. But the screenplay itself is the strongest bit of the movie and drives everything, making this one of those horror films that’s really going to draw you and keep you interested, riveted from the top until the impressively tense finale.
These two movies would fit together in a great way for a double bill, I highly suggest you try these out even if on their own, though. Both a good and terrifying ride.

Night of the Comet (1984)
night_of_comet_poster_01 If you want an interesting, tongue-in-cheek style horror with comedy, then look no further: Night of the Comet is the film you’re searching out!
When a strange astral event involving a comet happens, much of humanity is devastated leaving two young ladies to deal with the few humans, madness, and zombies which remain.
A true classic ’80s movie, this one will satisfy a ton of criteria depending on what you want – there are zombie types, there is throwback music, there are funny women, and there is science fiction abound.
This is a lot of fun and I think it’s definitely a zombie movie, just in its own way. You’re not going to find a ton of gore or anything like that. This is first and foremost a retro comedy with horror and science fiction thrown in, but the post-apocalyptic landscape of Los Angeles and the living dead roaming the streets makes this a proper entry on this list.

The Signal (2007)
the-signal-movie-posterHonestly I don’t know how this movie hasn’t gotten huge. That’s all right, though. Some movies are meant for a cult classic status, in another 20 years this will find the proper appreciation, the kind it deserves.
The Signal takes place in several sections, taking place in a city after an epidemic occurs spurred on by the signals transmitting through radio waves and television sets, et cetera. One woman tries to make her way to meet a lover after her husband and everyone seem to go crazy from the signal. For her, it becomes an absolute struggle for survival. As her lover does his best to track her down across the devastated city, they both encounter their own trials and tribulations.
When I first saw this one I was blown away. The acting is solid, which helps put the plot over; notably, a favourite actor of mine A.J. Bowen does a spectacular job with a menacing character. Most of all it’s the mix of science fiction and horror I find real interesting. Lots of weird infected-zombie-like action happening, as the citizens of the city all start to just revert into animalistic, primitive men and women only concerned with fighting and killing the next person before they themselves are fought or killed. Scary stuff, but also there’s a good, organic love story built in which I enjoy – when the love stories are forced into horrors or thrillers, I find it so tiring, this one is primarily a romance honestly yet the horror/sci-fi becomes a huge part of it and makes this an epidemic sub-genre film, absolutely. You could do a lot worse than this one, it’s going to find a bigger audience as time goes by. Good one for two partners who want to watch something creepy while also wanting to watching something together: ideal for the pair who’ve got different tastes slightly. Something for everyone here with this romance-horror-science fiction hybrid.

Splinter (2008)/ The Battery (2012)
watermark THE-BATTERY-Poster-03One last double feature for the horror hounds. This one is the ultimate indie horror tag team, two vastly different movies but very much innovative and lots of fun in their own respect.
To start is the 2008 Splinter –  a couple find themselves trapped in a gas station with an escaping criminal, all trying to find off a virus which splinters the bones and insides of its victims, contorting them into awful, terrifying shapes.
This one is nasty and also has great drama going on. The splinter parasite/virus was so intriguing, adding something fresh to the zombie/living dead sub-genre. A fantastic indie film you really have to see.
Then, you’ll need to throw on The Battery, another hugely satisfying indie horror with a premise not always tackled. While still in a zombie apocalypse, this film goes for a much more microcosmic view of the dystopian-horror landscape: two former baseball players try and make their way through the living dead infested countryside of New England, each with their own grating personality to test the other’s patience. This one also has tons of nice drama, while it continually pushes into the zombie sub-genre with good use of the deadheads in the background. First and foremost, you find yourself interested immensely with the relationship between these two men trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic, zombie world. Second, the zombies, the death and the loneliness of the epidemic stricken world all makes this a worthwhile horror.
Two awesome indie horror movies which fit together real nice! A good double bill, fit for a solo viewing or with a friend. These will suck you in and keep you interested with that indie screenwriting, but you’re going to get a nice swift helping of horror to ring in Halloween right here!

Pet Sematary (1989)
1989-pet-sematary-poster1Not all of Stephen King’s wonderful stories end up translated onto the screen appropriately. I’m a huge fan of his writing, yet there’s always problems with the films adapted into film from his work.
Pet Sematary, for me, does not fall into the category of problem films. Some others say differently, I’m pretty sure even King himself isn’t a real fan at all, but this one did a number on me, still does each time I see it again. Of course there are parts that could’ve obviously been better executed (maybe this would be fitting for a remake nowadays other than the endless films being remade which don’t need to be). Still, bottom line is that this horror is actually horrific; its tension is there, the atmosphere of dread pervades almost each solitary scene to which we’re treated, and some of the imagery is truly scary.
One scene in particular, involving the wife’s now dead sister, still scars me to this day. Even when I think about it (she’s in the bed forgotten in a room of their house calling out for help; she looks hideous like a person twisted into a monster), the hair raises on the back of my neck. And the rest of the film is pretty chilling, to say the least. Ignore a few of the flaws and you’ll find yourself taken away into a land of terror. The living dead angle of Pet Sematary is another much more personal, intimate take on the whole sub-genre, in a way only Stephen King can tap into so emotionally. Not all of his original novel makes it through in translation, though, I can’t say there’s any missing horror.


Here’s to hoping you’ve enjoyed some of these films before, or that you discovered them here/somewhere else similar and now have come to love them the way I do!
Cheers to a good October and I’m going to have myself an epic movie marathon over the last week leading up to Halloween. Check back for more lists and movie reviews as we get closer to that beloved devilish night of candy, fun, horror and mayhem.