Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kings of Horror (final round)

Kings of Horror rolls on... and I'm understanding why Turek and Bibbs decided to limit themselves to only the theatrical horror films adapted from the works of Stephen King.  My own list is starting to get out of hand... but here we are in the home stretch.  There's no turning back now.

KING: "Mark Pavia did a super job.  It's on a shoestring, and looks it, but it's a thowback to a lot of pictures you probably remember with real affection, like THE FLESH EATERS and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  Yet it's not like any of those - Mark is his own person.  It's interesting, it's really interesting."

MADDREY: This movie, adapted from a minor short story, benefits from gritty storytelling (at times, the dialogue between the reporters seems like something out of a James M. Cain novel), stylish direction (especially in the surrealistic final act), and Miguel Ferrer (one of the most interesting character actors of his generation).  This is not a film for all audiences, but it's one that jaded horror fans will appreciate.  THE NIGHT FLIER proves that it is still possible to put a unique twist on the most familiar stories.  ***

KING commented on a earlier film adaptation of "Apt Pupil", produced in the late 1980s by Richard Kobrtiz, starring Nicol Williamson and Ricky Schroeder, saying, "That sucker was real good!"  Unfortunately, the film was never finished or released.

MADDREY: I read about King's enthusiasm for the original "Apt Pupil" adaptation many years before I saw Bryan Singer's adaptation... which only raised my hopes.  To me, however, Singer's version is toothless.  The ending of King's novella haunted me perhaps more than any of the author's other tales, because the horror was so damn believable.  Unfortunately, this film adaptation truncates King's story, eliminating the third act that made it so terrifyingly powerful.  King himself is said to have endorsed this decision in the wake of the Columbine massacre... but I think it was the wrong decision.  Horror filmmakers, take note: If you're going to pull your punches, don't get in the ring.  **

KING: "I was delighted with THE GREEN MILE.  The film is a little 'soft' in some ways.  I like to joke with Frank that his movie was really the first R-rated Hallmark Hall of Fame production.  For a story that is set on death row, it has a really feel-good, praise-the-human condition sentiment to it.  I certainly don't have a problem with that because I am a sentimentalist at heart."

MADDREY: I think The Green Mile is one of King's most inspired novels.  Frank Darabont's film adaptation has just as much heart, but the author is right that it ultimately doesn't have as much depth because it strives to capture SHAWSHANK's redemption without all the requisite suffering and solemnity.  William Faulkner once wrote "A man sees further looking out of the darkness upon the light than a man does in the light and looking out upon the light."  THE GREEN MILE remains a beautiful movie, but without the darkness of the novel, the light can't shine as bright. ***

WILLIAM GOLDMAN (screenwriter): "I have been connected, one way or another, with maybe fifty films and of those, there are only three I love: BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID back in 1969, THE PRINCESS BRIDE in 1987, and HEARTS IN ATLANTIS in 2001."

MADDREY:  King's Hearts in Atlantis is not actually a novel, but a story collection.  The film adapts only the first story, "Low Men in Yellow Coats," and does a pretty good job with it.  Anthony Hopkins is perfect as the kind of grandfather-figure we all wish we'd had, and Hope Davis is pretty good as Bobby Garfield's mother.  Still, the whole thing seems a bit too... light.   I feel like the filmmakers could have taken more time to flesh out the characters.  Also, I blame the test audiences for prompting a revised ending that robs the story of some of its power.  This remains a valiant effort to catch lightning in a bottle.  **1/2

KING: "A classic suspense film that will eventually go on the same shelf with movies like JAWS and ALIEN."

MADDREY: I gotta go with Turek on this one.  I am astounded - ASTOUNDED -- that Bibbs (or anyone, for that matter) liked this one.  Personally, I think it's one of the biggest travesties in modern cinema.  It's amazing to me that any movie employing so much talent could fail so spectacularly.  To begin with, Dreamcatcher is not one of the author's best books.  It has a genuinely suspenseful setup, but once the aliens arrive the story goes off the rails and never recovers.  It's the same thing with the movie, except that the novel's shortcomings are amplified by the actors' embarrassing attempts to sell a story that is batshit crazy.  This is a far cry from JAWS or ALIENS.  It is a modern-day, big-budget version of an Edward L. Cahn monster movie -- but with none of the added storytelling sophistication of JAWS or ALIENS.   DREAMCATCHER is maddeningly, self-righteously stupid... which I guess is what Bibbs likes about it.  I almost envy him his ability to enjoy this big-budget schlock.  For me, watching this movie is simply painful. *

DAVID KOEPP (writer/director) on Stephen King's involvement: "He reads the scripts and then gives you his opinions and you can take them or not.  It's up to you.  He wants you to make your own movie.  And then he has approval over casting.  He knows that the book is the book and the movie is the movie.  And in order for it to be a good movie, it's got to be an interpretation of the book rather than just a recording of it."  (Elsewhere, Koepp quotes King's reaction to the screenplay as follows: "I like your script, man!  Everyone in it is a rat bastard!")

MADDREY: The novella "Secret Window, Secret Garden" is one of King's weaker stories, so it's good that screenwriter / director David Koepp does everything possible to make it his own.  As a result, I can't really rate this film as an adaptation.  It is its own creature -- a sleek and stylish little study of insanity.   Johnny Deep and John Turturro are over the top, in my opinion, but the film nevertheless weaves a powerful spell because Koepp is such a remarkable visual storyteller.  Avoid going into this one with specific expectations, and you will be pleasantly surprised.  **1/2

MICK GARRIS (writer/director): "This was the first time I came across a project that, when I read it,  I responded in a way that 'Gee, I'd really like to make this into a movie.'  It may come across to most readers as a really simple little story, but it just struck something with me at the time - I was going through a bunch of shit - and (King) was really fine with it, and very enthusiastic about the script."

MADDREY: It's nice to see filmmaker Mick Garris tackling a more intimate Stephen King story, and he makes some interesting choices about how to flesh out the source material, but to me this film is a mixed bag at best.  The biggest flaw, in my opinion, is the characterization of the lead as a wanna-be artist.  The character's obsession with death creates a narrative arc that is lacking from King's threadbare story, but it also makes the character a bit tiresome.  If his surrealistic fantasies of death had been contrasted by a harsh and ultra-realistic experience of death, then I would have been along for the ride.  Instead, the film plays out a series of surrealistic fantasies about death that are silly rather than sobering.  This film is, as the title implies, a rollercoaster ride.  Unfortunately, it's a kiddie rollercoaster instead of the real thing.  **

In the revised edition of Danse Macabre, STEPHEN KING named 1408 as one of the foremost horror films of the 2000s that "worked" for him.  In Stephen King Goes to the Movies, he calls it "a horror movie that actually horrifies... Like one of the great old Val Lewton films, this baby works on your nerves, not your gag reflex."

MADDREY: To a degree, I feel the same way about 1408 that I feel about RIDING THE BULLET.  It has a brilliant setup, but it ultimately succumbs to the A.D.D. style of 21st century filmmaking: Overkill.  I agree with Bibbs on this one: "It goes so big that I'm not scared anymore."  I understand what Ryan Turek says about how audiences have seen so many haunted house stories that a filmmaker has to go to great lengths to surprise them... but, for me, you can't address that problem by simply throwing everything against the wall and hoping that something sticks.  You can shock your audience that way, but you won't genuinely scare them.  This is a far cry from the subtlety and intellectualism of Val Lewton's immortal films for RKO.  **1/2

KING on the ending of THE MIST: "I thought it was terrific but it jarred me.  I knew what was coming the first time that I looked at the movie in a rough cut, and it still jarred me.  I took a second viewing to get used to the idea that it was probably the only ending in terms of the world that had been created in that story."

MADDREY: "The Mist" was one of the first King stories I ever read, and it has a great other-worldliness about it.  All of King's best horror stories are basically "what if?" scenarios, and the biggest "what if?" is inherent in the idea that there are other worlds than the one we see everyday and take for granted, and that those other worlds can sometimes overlap with ours.  This Lovecraftian idea is what drives "The Mist" toward its appropriately ambiguous conclusion.  Over the years, King has said that he always imagined the story as a Bert I. Gordon monster movie.  Thankfully, Frank Darabont doesn't fall into the same trap that Lawrence Kasdan fell into with DREAMCATCHER.  He opted to make a modern-day version of a Bert I. Gordon movie instead of mimicking the silliness of a 50s monster movie.  The monsters in THE MIST still look a little phony (which is why, as Turek and Bibbs point out, the movie is better in a more forgiving black-and-white presentation), but a strong emphasis on storytelling and acting helps to sell the visual effects so that the movie doesn't get overwhelmed by them.  Love it or hate it (Bibbs' observation that this is essentially "an atheist's horror movie" may be the deciding factor for some people), the ending has undeniable dramatic weight.  ***

And, since I've already weighed in on the recent remake of CARRIE, that brings me to the end of this 31-day King-a-Thon.  Let me conclude by saying that I just finished reading Stephen King's latest novel, Doctor Sleep, and I highly recommend it.  It actually reminded me more of Firestarter and Bag of Bones than of The Shining, but I'm not complaining.  The story is pure King, and I've come to appreciate the man's work so much that reading a new novel (or even an old novel) by him is like visiting an old friend.

An old friend with a wicked sense of humor who likes to keep his guests wondering what will happen next.

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