Jack Torrence thought: officious little prick ~The Shining (1977)
**Note: I chose not to put this review behind a spoiler tag. Below I discuss both the
Jack Torrence thought: officious little prick ~The Shining (1977)
**Note: I chose not to put this review behind a spoiler tag. Below I discuss both the book and the movie assuming if you're reading this, you're familiar with both.
Even though Stephen King's primary reputation has been 'America's boogeyman', I can count on one hand the number of pure horror novels I feel he's published (and they all come early in his career) -- 'Salem's Lot, Pet Sematary, It, Misery and of course, The Shining. King is most famous as master of the macabre, but fans know he is also a keen observer of human behavior and emotions. He knows what makes us tick, and he's just as likely to make us laugh and cry as he is to scream. These five books? These he wrote to make us scream – and shiver, and look over our shoulder, peek under our bed, bar the closet door, and leave the lights on. He wrote them – to put it bluntly – to scare the shit out of us.
His tale of the doomed Torrence family and the sinister Overlook Hotel is in many ways a classic ghost story with its roots firmly planted in Gothic literature, Anne Radcliffe, Henry James and Edgar Allen Poe. More than these however, King is clearly writing under the influence of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Richard Matheson's Hell House. The notion of a malevolent house, seething from within with awareness and intent, was far from virgin territory by the time King came to it in the 1970's. Yet, King brought his own distinct brand of terror to the table and the result has left an indelible mark on not just the genre, but on contemporary literature.
Is The Shining scary? You're goddamn right it is. And I think I never really thought about how scary until I listened to the audiobook. Actor Campbell Scott does an outstanding job, and like all the best ghost stories going all the way back to caveman times, this one is meant to be told, you kennit? Not merely read – but listened to -- surrounded by darkness, hunched around a dwindling fire. There are tropes and themes embedded in The Shining that penetrate to the very lizard part of our brain where fear and anxiety make their home.
In regards to the movie, Stephen King has not been shy over the years voicing his discontent with Kubrick's cinematic interpretation of his novel. I love the movie for many reasons (even though it's been around for so long and parodied so often it's hard to take it seriously anymore). But it pays to remember that Kubrick chose to tell an entirely different story from King.
The beating heart of King's novel is the sundering of the family unit, the destructive forces of alcoholism, the legacy of domestic violence and the incipient guilt and self-loathing it can bestow. If I have one complaint about the movie is that it fails to show any tragedy. King's version is not only terrifying, but heartbreaking. It is the story of a flawed but decent man in the process of clawing his way back into the light when all that he loves is ripped away from him. Whereas Kubrick's film focuses purely on a man losing his shit (in other words, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy).
In the film version, we see Jack Torrence go stark raving mad and viciously turn on his family with homicidal intent. But King's Jack Torrence doesn't go crazy, or suffer from the proverbial “cabin fever” alluded to in references to Grady, the Overlook's infamous previous caretaker. In the novel, it's the Overlook itself acting with malignant and malicious forethought that uses and abuses hapless Jack Torrence. It manipulates him, it twists his thoughts and controls his behavior. You can look at it as an alien invasion, or an outright demonic possession, but by the end of the novel, Jack Torrence is no longer a who but a what referred to as an it.
It hurried across the basement and into the feeble yellow glow of the furnace room's only light. It was slobbering with fear. It had been so close, so close to having the boy....It could not lose now.
Jack is lost inside of the monstrosity the Hotel has made him, as it uses his body to hunt down his little boy to murder him. A large part of the story's inherent tragedy for me, is watching Danny Torrence -- who loves his father very much -- lose him in such a frightening and grisly manner.
”Doc,” Jack Torrance said. “Run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you.” “No,” Danny said. “Oh Danny, for God's sake--” “No,” Danny said. He took one of his father's bloody hands and kissed it. “It's almost over.”
Now this fall, after a wait of almost four decades, readers will finally discover what kind of a man this little boy with his unique ability to shine has become. That's a story I didn't even know I wanted until it became a reality. Now I want it more than I can even put into words. In all of this overlong review where there are still many, many things I could have rambled on about, I failed to find a moment to speak briefly of Dick Halloran. I love this character -- his humour, his kindness, his fierceness and strength. I can only hope that catching up with Danny Torrence will mean crossing paths with Mr. Halloran again too. ...more
I'm actually shocked by how utterly and completely this book frustrated and bored the hell out of me, how crushingly disappointed I am by t* 1/2 stars
I'm actually shocked by how utterly and completely this book frustrated and bored the hell out of me, how crushingly disappointed I am by the whole affair. I mean, this is John Wyndham for Chrissake -- author of The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids (both of which are all levels of awesome).
This? This just pisses me off. It's made me want to make my Jules face -- yeah, I got one ... what of it?
I mean, you have GOT to be fucking kidding me. How does such a fantastic idea in the hands of a gifted writer turn into such tepid, meandering ruminations on ethics, philosophy, the human condition and God himself. Rather than action or character development we are treated to long rambling speeches that go nowhere by characters we could care less about which add nothing to the story's drama nor our enjoyment of it.
The only reason this book didn't get slapped with one star is because it contains an awesome premise -- a staggering golden nugget of an idea alluded to in its clever title -- that has gone on to embed itself in popular culture influencing many authors and filmmakers since its original publication in 1957. The Children of Midwich are phenomenally creepy, the ramifications of their existence fraught with peril presenting a terrible, terrifying dilemma. I can dig that. British filmmakers dug that very thing and turned it into the unnerving and unforgettable classic Village of the Damned (1960).
Do yourself a favor -- skip the book, watch the movie. Now how many times in a life do you get to say that?
Before I say anything about this classic bit of horror, I want to put a plug in for the film adapRichard Matheson (1926 - 2013)
Thanks for the stories.
Before I say anything about this classic bit of horror, I want to put a plug in for the film adaptation. Stir of Echoes starring Kevin Bacon is a truly terrifying ghost story. I always felt it didn't get the attention it deserved because The Sixth Sense was released earlier the same year and stole all the thunder (for the record, I think Stir of Echoes is the better movie). If you haven't seen it I highly recommend that you do. You won't even spoil Matheson's novel because the movie takes a very different approach to the story and the mystery.
Now with that out of the way on to the book! The more Richard Matheson I read, the more I understand why Stephen King touts him as his biggest influence. Twenty years before King ever started writing about small towns and all the ugly things small town residents can get up to, Matheson was writing about horror in the suburbs. He takes the familiar, safe, boring 'burbs and all the white, middle-class people who abide there and introduces monsters. Sometimes the monsters are purely psychological, sometimes ghostly, other times it is an affliction (as with Scott Carey in The Incredible Shrinking Man or Robert Neville in I am Legend).
Whatever "the monster", what you really get as a reader is some pretty keen insight into human behavior. And sometimes it can be a lot uncomfortable to read. People can think pretty ugly, and act even uglier. Tom Wallace is your "every man", your average middle class schmoe attempting to live out the American Dream with his young wife and son. Tom's life takes a turn for the bizarre when he jokingly allows his brother-in-law to hypnotize him. Suddenly Tom's mind is wide open and he begins to "know" things and see things, a forbidden knowledge that throws his life into chaos.
This is a simple story, but it packs a lot of punch. It is a ghost story and a mystery and a peek into 1950's human psychology. It's interesting to read just how the husbands and wives relate to one another in this novel; it becomes quickly apparent that not only is the story set during that time, but that the author is also writing from a pre-Women's Lib perspective. This gives the novel an authentic old-fashioned feel that works extremely well given the subject matter. I loved it.
One note about the reader -- he is fantastic, and I think contributed a lot to my overall enjoyment of the story. He has this wicked bass voice and when he whispers it will give you chills....more
I expected to LOVE this collection, and while I mightily enjoyed a handful of the stories, others left me feeling cold, confused or just plain ol' mehI expected to LOVE this collection, and while I mightily enjoyed a handful of the stories, others left me feeling cold, confused or just plain ol' meh-disappointed.
Most of that meh is not Matheson's fault - I fully recognize him as a master of his craft. Stephen King (my favorite author) admits Matheson is the writer who has influenced him most (and the more I read of Matheson's work the more I believe that). The meh is my fault; short stories are not usually my bag and it takes a lot for one to really grip and engross me.
Several did inspire pure love however (blinding, passionate, irrational love). I consider these to be absolute must reads for anyone. The following are some of the best crafted short pieces of fiction you will find anywhere. Not to mention creepy as all hell!!!
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: I loved this as a Twilight Zone episode, but as a short story it totally kicks ass and takes names. The set-up is so simple but the terror of it draws you in and does not let go. I have a pretty sick fear of flying – flying at night is even worse. I WILL NOT, CANNOT look out the plane window at the darkness while I’m mid-air. I just cannot physically make myself do it. This is a primordial fear buried deep in the lizard part of my brain. It’s almost a psychosis (!) and it’s all thanks to Mr. Matheson. I mean, for real, what if you did look out there and there was some goddamn “thing” looking right back at you? ::shiver::
Dress of White Silk: Maladjusted, “weird” children just petrify me. I don’t want to help them come out of their shell, I don’t want to make friends with them, I don’t care if they are misunderstood I just want to run screaming in the opposite direction. The little gal in this gem of a story is weird personified. She is obsessed with her dead mother’s things, especially that white dress made of silk. The ending here blew my doors off. I was like “whoah”, did I just read that? Moses on a crutch. Best last line ever.
Through Channels: There is so much creeping malevolence packed into this tightly wound very short story I can scarcely believe it. It is THICK with atmosphere and dread. Set in that cramped interview room, the story chokes you with its claustrophobic feel. And that ending!!! Oh how I love that ending!
The Children of Noah: The feel of this one reminded me of Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” (and not just because it has children in the title!). That sucker punch ending, POW! right to the solar plexus, also reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. This story is not as good as either of these, but it is still pretty freakin’ awesome.
The Distributor: Delectably evil. Reminded me a lot of Stephen King’s Needful Things. The havoc that can be wrought with just a few well-placed acts of sinister mischief!
I would give this book 4.5 stars just for sheer originality, overall weirdness and supreme creepiness. The book totally enthralled me at every turn anI would give this book 4.5 stars just for sheer originality, overall weirdness and supreme creepiness. The book totally enthralled me at every turn and I love that I didn’t know where it was going to go, or how far. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read anything by Tabitha King and after reading Small World, I really wish she had written more.
There’s such bite and ferocity to this story – a hell hath no fury feminine version of The Incredible Shrinking Man. It smacks of pulpy drama, and would have made an awesome Twilight Zone or Night Gallery episode. I can just hear Rod Serling now:
Our first painting submitted for your approval is a bizarre landscape cast in miniature. You won’t find this particular item of real estate advertised in any classifieds. There’s light and heat and running water, and the furnishings are luxurious - if a little small.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!! Hope you get the bejeebers scared out of you!
I have no idea where to begin with my review for this book. It definitely ranks as oneHAPPY HALLOWEEN!!! Hope you get the bejeebers scared out of you!
I have no idea where to begin with my review for this book. It definitely ranks as one of the most frightening, disturbing reads of my life. It is not an easy book to finish, but once started I could not put it down. I had to know how it was all going to end. The terror and tension of the last 50 pages just about did my head in. My heart was racing, I was filled with dread. I felt nauseous. I was consumed with rage. I wept. For pity. For the fact that I couldn’t help. For the senseless unapologetic tragedy of it all.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because I think if you’re going to go on this journey, the less you know the better. The nightmare relentlessly unfolds, gradual, yet step by step with tremendous, undeniable, excruciating inevitability. This book is not for everyone. This is grim psychological horror at its best (or worst if you will). Reader beware.
I think children make such convincing agents of evil because in all of their innocence, their moral compass hasn’t been firmly set yet. The boundary which separates right from wrong is easily blurred and with little provocation becomes indistinguishable. Children are still operating on a level of selfishness that leaves little room for genuine empathy. You take all that and make it vulnerable to the psychology of pack mentality, and some horrible things can happen. And do, not just in the pages of fiction, but in real life. Just read the newspaper.
I can’t help but draw comparisons here to Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (a story which is based on true events). Ketchum’s novel shows just how easily children can become corrupted and led down some dark and dangerous paths to human depravity. All great horror writers know this and the theme shows up again and again in books and on film – Stephen King’s short story “Children of the Corn” and his novella “Apt Pupil” come to mind, as well as William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies. There was also a UK film made a few years ago called Eden Lake which illustrates this theme as effectively as any other movie I’ve seen.
Some of what I felt reading this book, I also felt while watching The Strangers (the home invasion movie starring Liv Tyler). The sheer helplessness and hopelessness to be at the mercy of captors who you cannot reason with, who have no empathy, no guilt, no human mercy that you can hang your hat on. I remember the trailer for that film when Liv Tyler asks “Why?” and her captors respond: “Because you were home”. For me, there’s such a chilling simplicity in that response, that something so horrible and violent can occur for no other reason more complicated than that simple fact.
Let’s Go Play At The Adams’ is one of the genre's best kept secrets as far as I'm concerned - I only discovered it now at 37. It is also, I dare say, a modern horror classic. And finally, it is a book that promises to stay with you long after the reading is done. You won't easily shake this one. ...more
This collection of German folk tales intended to "instruct good little folks" has to be seen to be believed. Nightmarish, ghoulish, absolutely twistedThis collection of German folk tales intended to "instruct good little folks" has to be seen to be believed. Nightmarish, ghoulish, absolutely twisted ... it's a sheer, shocking delight! The Google preview link above underneath the book cover image offers a great look inside, because this grisly edition is REALLY hard to come by now. ...more
Sigh. I hate when this happens. I should have loved the shit out of this book. It's Bradbury, it's vintage horror, it's Stephen King recommended, it's Sigh. I hate when this happens. I should have loved the shit out of this book. It's Bradbury, it's vintage horror, it's Stephen King recommended, it's a coming-of-age tale about young boys and a creepy carnival, and it's been on my reading list for years. This book and I should have hit it off like gangbusters. The chemistry should have been overwhelming and indisputable. But we got off to an awkward start. I kept putting it down and picking up other things. Finally, with the day off work, I took it in hand this afternoon with a desire to just dive in and -- for better or worse -- finish the damn thing. Alas, it was for the worse.
No doubt, some of the writing is charmed and gorgeous. Bradbury's descriptions of the library in particular are wonderful. But the rest for me... imagine cracking open a freezing cold can of pop and expecting that sharp, satisfying bite of carbonation at the back of your throat and instead what you swallow is flat, warm, syrupy water.
To me, no one writes children (especially boys) like King. He can catch, like lightning in a bottle every time, the way kids talk, think and act. I didn't experience that here. Jim and Will feel too archetypical of all boys rather than boys genuine to their unique story. Will is childish on one hand, and too mature on the other. And I don't know ... quite frankly I was bored. The mirror maze was sort of interesting, as was the carousel, but nothing ever felt really creepy and perilous.
Ah shizzle. I can only conclude the book didn't fail me; I failed it.
I gave this book 3 stars not because it's well-written, because it isn't, but because when I read it years ago as a kid it did scare me and keep me upI gave this book 3 stars not because it's well-written, because it isn't, but because when I read it years ago as a kid it did scare me and keep me up all night. So there's the nostalgia factor, not to mention that the Lutz story has so seeped into popular culture this book is almost required reading, like a rite of passage. I could have tagged this non-fiction, since it's supposed to be a true story, but we know it isn't so let's dispense with that nonsense and recognize The Amityville Horror for what it is: tabloid horror, a hoax, a ghost story. ...more