Ladies of Horror May-hem: Carrie White

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If ever you wanted the perfect spokesperson for why you shouldn’t bully the different kids, then Carrie White could be your golden girl. The bullied will envy the powers she possesses to take care of her adversaries, and the bullies should view her as the ultimate warning: Leave the different ones alone. You never know what you might uncover.

Based on Stephen King’s first published novel, Carrie is director Brian De Palma’s stylized telling of the story of a timid young woman with a religiously fanatical mother who rants and raves against the assumed sins of her daughter’s flesh in the most upsetting ways. Her abusive, sheltered life at home gives her no ability to defend herself against the abuses of her school environment, and neither place gives poor Carrie respite from the perpetual haranguing from all around her.

But Carrie has a secret…and it’s a killer, to be sure.

I suppose some might view Carrie as a horror villain. I don’t. I view her as a caution that, even though most bullied kids might not have the same powers Carrie possesses, they are one small step away from crossing a similarly violent line. Although she might be fictional, Carrie’s tragic tale has resonated loudly and sadly through far too many schools in far too many locations.

De Palma’s 1976 movie also earns pride of place as another one of the best adaptations of a King novel (even if his concept of what a girls’ gym locker room is like is way too Playboy Playmates romp for reality), with Sissy Spacek slamming home her portrayal of this awkward, unlearned, damaged young woman. Spacek’s Carrie is unnerving in the duality of her innocence and power, and when the movie’s denouement rains down upon her, you both feel her devastation and fracturing, and…well, you bloody well root for what’s about to come.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Annie Wilkes

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Oh, Annie Wilkes, you crazy dirty birdie, you.

That’s right, denizens…my selections aren’t always going to be the heroines of the story. And that’s the only spoiler that I’m going to give you for Misery and its leading lady. Yes, this movie came out in 1990, but I know that some of you haven’t yet seen it. Or some of you haven’t seen it in a long time. I urge you to remedy this. This might very well be one of the best screen adaptations of a Stephen King horror novel yet filmed (I would even contend that it holds its own against non-horror adaptations like The Shawshank Redemption).

The plot revolves around writer Paul Sheldon, most famous for a series of novels featuring a character named Misery Chastain. When Sheldon crashes his car during a blizzard while driving through an isolated section of Colorado, he’s lucky to be rescued by Annie Wilkes, a local nurse who just happens to be his “number one fan.”

No three more frightening words exist in the English language, thanks in great deal to Kathy Bates. In fact, the role of Annie Wilkes not only instantly tagged Bates as a major-league Hollywood player, but also earned her a Best Actress Oscar, the first ever awarded to an actress for a role in a horror movie. Even King loved her performance—so much so that he wrote his novel Dolores Claiborne with Bates in mind for the lead role, and he changed the gender of a character from The Stand so that Bates could be in the miniseries.

[Loba Tangent: I’ve not seen the latter miniseries, but if you’ve never seen Bates as Dolores Claiborne, then I would highly recommend that you do. It was definitely an under-appreciated film, IMHO, again made brilliant by Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judy Parfitt, and Christopher Plummer, whose character tangles with Dolores in the most engagingly antagonistic ways.]

The combination of Bates’s amazing translation of Annie Wilkes with King’s writing, William Goldman’s screen adaptation, and Rob Reiner’s direction created a perfect storm of horror genius with this movie. For me, Annie Wilkes stands among horror’s elite as one of the most traumatizing characters ever to darken an entryway…while holding a sledge hammer. And a log.

And that’s all I can say about that…you cock-a-doodies.

BookBin2013: N0S4A2

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I suppose it was inevitable that I would finally encounter a work from my latest literary heart-throb that simply didn’t enrapture me in the same ways as his other works. I just wasn’t expecting that moment to come so quickly in our relationship. Yet so it went with Joe Hill’s latest offering N0S4A2.

In this particular world of Hill’s devising, there are people who are able to create conduits to other places, either real or fictional, through the power of their minds. For young Victoria “Vic” McQueen, she learns that she can find missing items for people by using her ability to create conduits thanks to her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike and the “ghost” of the Shorter Way Bridge that once stood in ruins near her house. On the flip side, there are people like Charlie Manx, who uses his ability to create a conduit through his connection to his Rolls Royce Wraith (a rather possessive possessed car, if you ask me, Christine) to steal children away to “Christmasland,” a place of his own devising that allows him to drain the children of their life rather vampiristically (in a metaphorical sense) while letting them live in what he considers to be the perfect childhood utopia…a place where it is always Christmas, always happy, always festive. Of course, McQueen and Manx cross paths early in the novel (it only makes sense since one is a stealer and one is a finder), and cross paths again years later, to settle the score from the previous encounter.

Hilarity…well, you know the drill.

I’m not really certain what exactly didn’t click with me with this newest tale from Hill. I enjoyed the fact that the protagonist was a strong-willed girl with a wicked imagination and a pretty fascinating secret ability…and who would grow up into a flawed but still likeable, still imaginative young woman, damaged by that ability and seeking respite from the scars of that damage.

The supporting characters were also quite interesting and multifaceted, for the most part. I think, though, that the ultimate failing of this book, for me, was in both the story and its antagonist. First, I’m kind of through with vampires. And while this book isn’t exactly a vampire tale, the invocation of vampirism through the slightly-too-cute-for-its-own-good title forces me to envision Charlie Manx’s draining of life from the children he kidnaps as akin to the actions of that fabled creature of the night. Plus, there’s the hook teeth and the only traveling after dark that really hit it home.

Really, though, more than vampires, Charlie Manx slowly began to evolve into one particular character in my mind, based on descriptions of his physical appearance, his age, his mannerisms, his olden-days slang…halfway through the book, I realized that I was picturing Manx as an even more ill-tempered C. Montgomery Burns.

I’m willing to bet that Hill would not think this was excellent at all.

Of course, I then began to imagine Manx’s latest henchman, Bing Partridge, as a cross between Smithers and Barney. I even started picturing Vic McQueen as sort of like Lisa Simpson. Unfortunately, I also started to picture her lover as Comic Book Guy (for reasons that are quite obvious if you read this book). Again, all this was not helping at all with the horror element.

Worst. Comparisons. Ever.

Plus, there’s the fact that Hill crammed as many in-jokes as possible into this book, both in reference to his own previous books and most definitely in reference to his father’s works. N0S4A2 contains a panoply of Kingian references and allusions, which I admit both amused and irritated me. I’m glad that Hill is starting to be a little less tetchy about people knowing he is King’s son. However, a few times his “wink-wink” throwbacks to some of his father’s greatest hits (Cujo, Pet Sematary, Christine) teetered very, very close to too cute. I don’t want “cute” in a horror novel.

It wasn’t until after I read the book that I learned that I probably should have looked for the audio version instead. The entire book was read by none other than Kate Mulgrew. You have no idea how intriguing and frightening this is to me. I feel like I need to experience this story as narrated by Captain Janeway. I will absorb her powers and make a nice Kiev (and if you get that joke, Red’s got a place on her kitchen staff just for you).

Final Verdict: I’m still very much enamored of Hill as a writer, but I definitely did not consider this to be one of his better offerings. Still, if I can get my hands on a copy of Kate Mulgrew reading it? You bet your sweet Cujo I’m gonna give that a whirl.

BookBin2012: Heart-Shaped Box

So, remember how crazy I went over the first volume of Joe Hill’s graphic novel Locke & Key?

It’s definitely a series that I want to continue reading, just as soon as the local library starts bringing in other volumes. Either that, or I might just break down and buy the set. I don’t know. Cheap Loba is cheap.

Regardless, I was impressed enough by Hill’s writing that I knew I wanted to experience it in its longer, less-illustrated form. When I returned Locke & Key, I checked to see if the library had any of his books in stock and…huzzah! Indeed, they did.

This is how I ended up reading Heart-Shaped Box…and falling even more in love with Joe Hill.

Okay, for full disclosure, I’m just going to come out and say what I alluded to in my review of Locke & Key: Joe Hill’s full name is Joseph Hillstrom King and he is the undeniable offspring of Stephen King. Why undeniable? Look:

Beyond the aesthetics (by the way, I’m not entirely convinced that Hill is King’s kid…I think King is slowly reincarnating himself and becoming Hill…mark my word, soon King will just disappear and all that will exist will be Hill), Hill definitely inherited his father’s ability to spin a nice, solid scary story. With his debut novel, he tells the tale of aging metal rocker (and oh-so-subtlely-named) Judas Coyne who, in his retirement, likes to work his way through young women on a state-by-state basis (he’s currently with Georgia, but Florida is about to really rile him up), name his dogs after fellow rock musicians (he owns two German shepherds named Bon and Angus), and collect all manner of creepiness. He owns an authentic snuff film, a witch’s confession, and now, thanks to a weird online auction, he owns the spirit of an old man, which comes attached to a suit that arrives packed in? A heart-shaped box.

Hmm.

There is, of course, more to the story behind this haunted suit as well as who is haunting it and how they are linked to Coyne. Hill wouldn’t be much of a horror writer if he couldn’t spin this bare-bones synopsis into something far deeper, far darker, and far creepier than what I’ve written here. Okay, it’s not a lot deeper. He’s not Tolstoy. He is, however, quite a capable storyteller, with a clean, captivating style reminiscent in all the best possible ways of his dad’s earlier works.

I hate to compare son to father, but really? If you’re going to be compared to someone, wouldn’t you want it to be someone like King? Hill manages to take two popular horror tropes—the “possessed artifact” and the “supernatural revenge” plots—and combine them into a well-paced and convincingly told tale of terror. There aren’t a whole lot of surprises along the way, but the ones that do come along are enough to continuously pull you further along on Coyne’s wild ride toward either redemption or perdition.

I’m not telling you which one he ultimately finds. Guess you’ll just have to read to find out…

Final Verdict: I don’t know if I want to add this one to my own collection. As much as I liked reading it, I don’t know if I would ever revisit it. I feel as though I’ve gotten all I can from it, for now at least. However, I will gladly recommend this to horror fans, especially those who love Stephen King.

BookBin2012: The Best of Cemetery Dance, Volume 1

I’m feeling a bit peckish for horror this year, denizens. I recently reorganized some of my library and discovered that I have amassed quite a few horror-related novels throughout the years, including a rather impressive list of Stephen King novels never once cracked open in all their years of taking up a lot of room on my shelves.

Horror has been my favorite branch of the speculative fiction triumvirate since I was just knee-high to a corpse (I’d rank them horror, sci-fi, and fantasy a solid and very distant last), so I’ve decided that I need to focus a bit more on this part of my library.

First on my list? The Best of Cemetery Dance, Volume 1, a collection of short stories that I bought at a used book sale slightly more than a decade ago (at the same sale that I bought many of my King novels as well as this previous BookBin entry).

For those not familiar with horror-focused literature, Cemetery Dance is…well, allow them to explain themselves:

Cemetery Dance is the World Fantasy Award-winning magazine of horror, dark mystery, and suspense. Each issue is packed with 100 to 140 pages of short stories, articles, columns, interviews, news, and reviews! Plus stunning full-color covers and striking interior artwork! Covering the entire horror field — Books! Movies! Videos! Comics!

The world’s top authors in the genre are published within our pages, but Cemetery Dance is also the place to look for glimpses of the future. We’ve given more big names their “first shot” than any other publication in the last two decades, and many of those authors are coming back for future issues.

Over the years we’ve published authors such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Charles Beaumont, Graham Masterton, Richard Laymon, Bentley Little, Michael Slade, Douglas Clegg, Jack Ketchum, William F. Nolan, Joe R. Lansdale, Poppy Z. Brite, Ronald Kelly, Rick Hautala, and hundreds of others, including the best new writers in the genre.

They are, indeed, quite the big deal. When this anthology was first released as a hardback, both volumes were together. It wasn’t until the paperback edition that the publisher decided to split it into two volumes.

Everyone wants to make an extra buck or two.

Honestly, though, I think this first volume was not only a perfect size but it’s also a nearly perfect collection. First, allow me to offer you a list of this volume’s stories:

  • “Chattery Teeth” by Stephen King
  • “The Box” by Jack Ketchum
  • “Halceldama” by Gary A. Braunbeck
  • “The Pig Man” by Augustine Funnell
  • “Mobius” by R. C. Matheson
  • “The Rendering Man” by Douglas Clegg
  • “Weight” by Dominick Cancilla
  • “Layover” by Ed Gorman
  • “Johnny Halloween” by Norman Partridge
  • “Hope” by Steven Bevan
  • “The Mailman” by Bentley Little
  • “Silhouette” by Stephen Mark Rainey
  • “Roadkill” by Tom Elliott
  • “The Rifle” by Jack Ketchum
  • “Pieces” by Ray Garton
  • “Rustle” by Peter Crowther
  • “When the Silence Gets Too Loud” by Brian Hodge
  • “The Rabbit” by Jack Pavey
  • “The Flood” by John Maclay
  • “The Right Thing” by Gary Raisor
  • “Pig’s Dinner” by Graham Masterton
  • “Crash Cart” by Nancy Holder
  • “Wall of Words” by Lucy Taylor
  • “Metastatis” by David B. Silva
  • “Wrapped Up” by Ramsey Campbell
  • “Depth of Reflection” by David L. Duggins
  • “The Mole” by David Niall Wilson
  • “Saviour” by Gary A. Braunbeck
  • “Great Expectations” by Kim Antieau
  • “Shell” by Adam Corbin Fusco

As you can see, there are some rather recognizable contributors from the horror genre, including two offerings from Jack Ketchum that might actually be the best of what is already a rather amazing collection. Regardless of name recognition, however, I believe that this is one of the most solid selections of talent from the genre that I’ve ever read. There were nearly no misses in this list, even as the anthology neared the end (where composers of such collections typically tend to stick the misfit toys). True, some of the final stories aren’t quite as strong as the earlier offerings, but I think that tales like Gary Raisor’s “The Right Thing,” Graham Masterton’s “Pig’s Dinner,” and Nancy Holder’s “Crash Cart” are proof positive that sometimes they do save the best for last as well as the beginning and the middle.

Even weaker contributions like “Roadkill” or “The Flood” retained some essence of fear that allowed the words to creep under my skin and nestle their icy presence among the sinew and ligaments within.

Final Verdict: Not only will I be keeping this volume, I’ve already added the second volume to my wish list. Of course, there is the slightest worry that this second volume will include the “misfit toys” that I mentioned in my review of the first volume since it is, after all, the original conclusion to what was once a complete anthology. However, I have enough faith in Cemetery Dance that I’m willing to take the chance…