Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kings of Horror (13 - 18)

Ryan Turek and William Bibbiani keep going, so I will too... but I'm going to change the lineup a bit.  For some reason, the reviewers opted to include Larry Cohen's sequel to 'SALEM'S LOT in their 31 day marathon, but not STAND BY ME or THE RUNNING MAN.  I'm actually a big fan of Cohen, but the merits (and demerits) of A RETURN TO 'SALEM'S LOT have nothing to do with Stephen King.  The other two films are official adaptations.  So...

KING: "The first really successful film to be made from a work of mine."

MADDREY: I love everything about this movie.  It's actually better than the novella it's based on ("The Body"), and arguably the best of all the Stephen King movie adaptations.  I wrote about the film at length a few months ago, so I'm just going to link to that review.  *****

KING (before the film was released): "They had cast Christopher Reeve, who's right for the part, and they pulled him out, not bankable, and it's going to be Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I'm sorry, I just don't believe this guy against society."

MADDREY: I like the sheer grittiness of Stephen King's Bachman books.  The Running Man is the last novel King wrote under his pseudonym, and arguably the most cynical.  He wrote this story during a particularly demoralizing period in his life, and it is anything but a tale of epic heroism.  Ben Richards is not an action hero; rather, he's a bitter anarchist.  So, yes, Arnold Schwarzennegger is all wrong for the part.  Let me put it this way: John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is more faithful to Stephen King's story than this movie.  As an adaptation, THE RUNNING MAN is an epic fail.  As an action movie, it's... well... an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle.  Richard Dawson is amusing.  **

KING: "I think Dale Midkiff is stiff in places.  I think Denise Crosby comes across cold in places.  I don't feel that the couple that's at the center of the story has the kind of warmth that would set them off perfeclty against the supernatural element that surrounds them.  I like that contrast better.  I think it does what horror movies are supposed to do.  It's an outlaw genre.  It's an outlaw picture.  A lot of the reviews have suggested very strongly that people are offended by the picture, and that's exactly the effect that the horror movie seeks."

MADDREY: I really like PET SEMATARY.  It's not a great film -- sometimes it is downright silly -- but this movie scared the shit out of me when I first saw it, and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for it.  I agree with King about the unemotional performances, which is one of two things that keep this movie from being as affecting as the book.  The other thing is tone.  In much the way that John Carpenter's CHRISTINE is a little too rock n roll to be genuinely scary, PET SEMATARY is a little too punkish.  That playfully anarchic spirit keeps things fun, but it also undercuts some of the scares.  As a result, the movie works mainly as a rollercoaster ride with a few unforgettable visuals (namely, Pascow and Zelda).  It might not be the ultimate Stephen King horror movie, but it's better than most. ***

KING: "Gruesome and fast, but unfortunately not much fun."

MADDREY: I like this one in spite of my better judgment.  GRAVEYARD SHIFT is just as horrific as PET SEMATARY... but without the attempted humanity.  That probably makes the movie less palatable for most audiences, but I remain impressed with the sheer gruesomeness of this movie.  The characters are hard and ugly.  Stephen Macht and Brad Dourif chew the scenery like pros.  The setting is even uglier -- like a cheap vision of hell by way ALIEN -- giving the film a suffocating, skin-crawling quality.  The story inevitably falls apart in the third act when the monster is revealed (King's short story was about a Lovecraftian creature that defied description, if not imagination), but in my mind the film is an impressive accomplishment in terms of tone. **1/2

WILLIAM GOLDMAN (screenwriter): "MISERY was Stephen King's baby.  And we wanted very much that he like what we had done with it.  He was in California and a screening was arranged, hundreds of people, and he sat unnoticed in the middle of the audience... Near the climax, Annie Wilkes is bringing some champagne into Paul Sheldon's room supposedly to celebrate, but as in the novel, she's going to kill him.  She puts a gun in her apron.  Now, by total accident, the person sitting next to King was involved with Castle Rock.  And reported the following.  As Annie takes the tray down to Paul's room, an edgy Stephen King is hunkered down in his seat, muttering to himself.  And this is what he is saying: 'Look out - don't trust her - she's got a gun in her ayy-pron...'  (He liked it fine.)"

MADDREY: Stephen King has frequently named MISERY as one of the best adaptations of his work, and he's not alone.  The film also earned Kathy Bates an Oscar.  These accolades are all well deserved.  MISERY is a class act all the way, expertly balancing white-knuckle suspense with brilliant characterizations.  It even one-ups King's novel by fleshing out the character of the quirky sheriff (played by Richard Farnsworth), and adding his long suffering wife (played by Frances Sternhagen).  Those two characters deserved their own movie -- proof that MISERY has talent to spare.  ****

KING (before the movie was released): "SLEEPWALKERS came out real well.  On a grading scale - if an A is 92 to 100 and a B is 84 to 91 - I'd probably give it a B-plus."

KING (after the movie was released): "Mick didn't have enough power, and I didn't have enough time, to stop Columbia from whittling it down to something about two critical cuts above DR. GIGGLES."

MADDREY: I don't mind a little tongue-in-cheek humor in monster movies, but I just can't take anything in this SLEEPWALKERS seriously.  More to the point, I can't tell what the filmmaker was taking seriously.  At least with MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, I know that King wasn't taking anything seriously... but I just can't figure out the tone of this one.   Sometimes I feel like I'm being too hard on this flick.  I start thinking that I have watched it in the wrong spirit, and that if I re-watch it with a few beers in me, I'll have fun.  So I try again.  And then I hate myself.  *


Turek and Bibbs are reviewing PET SEMATARY 2 and CHILDREN OF THE CORN 2.  I'm not. Instead, I'm going to review a film they have overlooked... which was released theatrically in Europe, and based on one of King's earliest short stories.

The marathon continues HERE...

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