Cat Scratch Fever (Sleepwalkers, 1992)

Mary and Charles are the mysterious mother and son that have arrived in a local small town.Charles is handsome and charming, while his mother is ethereal and elegant. Quickly, Charles seems interested in local Tanya.

While she thinks his interest in her is romantic, it turns out that his real purpose is far more sinister. Charles and his mother are actually supernatural creatures…shapeshifters known as Sleepwalkers who go back centuries. They survive by feasting on the life force of young virginal women.

Sleepwalkers is an original idea from Stephen King’s mind. It is an interesting general concept. But the mystery quickly is sideline by comedy and gore. Featuring some decent digital morphing, the shapeshifting in the film is an okay effect. The film is never scary, but there are also some good practical effects.

This is more comedy than horror, with the Sleepwalkers having the weakness of being killable by cat scratches. There is a scene where a guy is killed by a corncob. There is a scene with cameos from Tobe Hooper, Clive Barker, John Landis, Joe Dante and Stephen King that is largely a comedy bit (but lacking…ahem, Wes Craven). The Sleepwalkers are given to hackey one liners, especially Charles.

I enjoy the film as a goofy horror film. And it has a really good cast. But my favorite thing is honestly the music. The soundtrack is punctuated by a really haunted theme that features a sad and ominous hum. It also features a terrific use of an older song called Sleepwalk.

Sleepwalkers is not a classic horror film…it is, however, a lot of schlocky fun to gather wisth some friends around the Halloween season for some laughs and fun jumps.

Shine On (The Shining, 1980)

The_Shining_PosterThe Torrence family is struggling. Jack is trying to stay sober and be a better husband and father, Wendy does not trust her husband and their son Danny seems to be having trouble coping with reality.

To this end, Jack, a hopeful author takes a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook hotel.  He and his family will live there, alone with no access to alcohol or people. Jack is informed that a previous caretaker, Grady, went nuts and butchered his family and killed himself. But several months with little to do but write his great American novel is too good to pass up.  And so he takes the job and the family arrives on the day everyone else leaves.

It is here that we the audience learn that Danny is a special child, in a way his doctors could not understand.  During their tour, they are introduced to Hallorann. He instantly senses a connection to Danny and the two are able to communicate telepathically. He warns Danny to stay out of certain places.  Especially Room 237.

As the winter progresses, Wendy and Danny are trying their best to make the world they are in work out as normal as can be. But Jack seems to be struggling.  As he seems to face insurmountable writers block, the stress begins to wear on him.  And that is when the ghosts start to reach out.

From the opening shot of the film, as we fly through mountains looking down on the road leading to the overlook, Kubrick infuses his shots with a slight discomfort early on.  There is a presence, even in the early times, a menace, in how the film looks, the angles, the perspective, the motion.

As Nicholson’s Jack Torrance devolves into a madness he is seduced by the ghosts of the Overlook, who seem intent on destroying Jack, Wendy and little Danny. Wendy on the other hand is trying to hold it together, but starts to realizing she may not be able to save her entire family from the darkness around them.

The Shining is a terrific film that has earned its status as one of the great horror films. However… it is not without flaws.

There are times when Danny Llloyd’s scared face gets almost comical.  But more so, as an adaption of the King novel?  It is a failure. King’s book is about a man trying to to be a good father, he is not a scary man…he is broken and trying to put it all back together. He loves Wendy and Danny and wants to do right by them.  This is what makes it so tragic when he is consumed by the hotel.  Wendy is a strong woman who is able to confront Jack. In the film? She is meek and so scared of conflict.

But more so? Nicholson’s Jack Torrance is a little over the edge on day one. When we meet him, he seems like the switch has already flipped…before the Overlook ever has him. It works in the film. But it is not the Shining I read and loved. It is something else entirely.  And so, If I view it as an adaption of that story? I think I kind of hate it. But if I just view it as a Kubrick film? Well, it is amazing.

I don’t Want To Live My Life Again (Pet Sematary, 2019)

Pet_Sematary_2019_PosterIt seems like Stephen King is seeing a Cinematic Resurgence.  The new It film was a hit with a highly anticipated sequel on the way this year.  Also coming this year is In the Tall Grass, while there are announced adaptions of Firestarter and the Tommy Knockers.

And so here we have a an updated adaption of the novel. The original film is a classic exploration of parental grief and the horrors that follow.

The new film begins much like the book and film. The Creed family arrives to their new home, they meet Jud when daughter Ellie discovers the Pet Sematary. There are some early differences, the story introduces a ritual of children wearing masks when they go to bury their pets…this seemed mainly to introduce a creepy mask for later.

If you have seen the last trailer they released you know the new film diverges…wildly…from the book and the previous film.  For those who have not seen it, I will not say a word.

I like that they focused on a friendship between Ellie and Jud. His attachment causes him to make the choice to show Luis the ancient grounds. Although, this change in direction hurts the relationship between Luis and Jud in the story.  It is less fulfilling.

The film also does not retain certain important plot points.  Jud never tells the story of anyone who returned. Sure, there is his dog, but he never reveals any big tragedy that tells of the power to resurrect more than pets.

On the other hand, I do appreciate that they played up the Wendigo myth in this version.

The performances are good, and my biggest concern was, thankfully, perfectly good.  Fred Gwynne was iconic in the role. I am a fan of Lithgow, and he does not try and repeat the Gwynne take.

The final act is much more gruesome, and almost unrecognizable to fans of the 1989 film and it also rushes to the finish line.  I did like the film generally.   There are some interesting changes, but there are also some things that should have been explored better, such as grief and the dark temptations of the sour lands. And some of the changes work nicely, but they could have made the film a bit longer and explored more.

Sometimes Dead Is Better (Pet Sematary, 1989)

Pet_Sematary_1989_PosterWhen Stephen King wrote Pet Sematary, the publisher rejected and King himself felt it was such a dark tale, he shelved it.  He ended up submitting it to complete a deal with his publisher.

And, understandably, Pet Sematary is a dark book that explores life, death and trying to overcome death. The Movie also struggled to get to the screen, ultimately only getting greenlit because of an impending writers strike in Hollywood.

Luis and Rachel Creed have moved their family to a home in rural Maine. They meet their neighbor Jud, who warns them about the dangers of the road in front of their home. Their young Daughter Ellie discovers the local Pet Cemetery.


Jud tells them about the history of the cemetery, which has been around since he was a child.  When the family cat Church is hit by a truck, Jud takes Luis past the Pet Sematary to an ancient and sour ground. They bury the cat and Luis is shocked when Church returns to the house. Church is not the same pet, and Luis tries to reconcile the “miracle” with his rational mind.

The family faces a traumatic event which causes Luis to spiral into desperation and…poor choices.

With a screenplay by Stephen King, the film keeps its core tragic tale.  It downplays some of the heavier sinister supernatural stuff. Specifically, while there is a scene where Jud and Luis pause and hear something loudly moving through the forest, it is never really addressed. In fact, when the moment passes, a fearful Jud claims it is “just a loon”.

On the other hand, the film keeps the terror and the ultimate human horrors parents face. And there is Pascow.  According to actor Brad Greenquist, Director Mary Lambert told him Pascow is less a ghost and more of an angel.  And this really is a pretty accurate view of the character, as he is constantly trying to guide the Creed family away from the awful path they are facing.

Of course, the thing most people remember about the film is Zelda. Zelda is the sister of Rachel who died from meningitis when Rachel was a child. Zelda is a force of both fear (of death) and guilt, as Rachel confesses that she wanted Zelda to die.

The film makes great use with its locations.  I love the houses in the film.

The performances are all strong.  Of course, the most memorable is Fred Gwynne as Jud.  It is amazing that the studio opposed this casting, because they believed people would just see Herman Munster. But Gwynne proved Mary Lambert’s instincts to be very correct.  He has a genuine kindness.  And it makes everything that much more painful when you realize that his attempt to spare little Ellie the pain of losing her beloved cat results in the suffering of this family.

Pet Sematary is at times dread inducing and has a gory finale.  But it is a film that attempts to explore some painful themes through a horror fantasy story.  One of the crew recounts how he had once worked on a Friday the 13th film and swore off horror movies.  But Gwynne convinced him, in  part sharing the tale of his own loss of a child. And I think this is a fear most parents have, and tend to suppress. This is the power of the film.

The film was recently released on 4k and Blu-Ray, so it is a perfect time to catch up on the film if you have not seen it or revisit it if you have not seen it for a long time.


Your iPhone Is Making You a Zombie (Cell, 2016)

Cell_PosterIn a lot of ways, Cell is an update of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.  King has replaced the mall full of zombies as the representation of mindless consumption with modern technology.  Specifically Cell phones.

Clay Riddell is a graphic novelist who is returning home to his estranged wife and son after after a year away pursuing his dream of selling a graphic novel.  After arriving home, he is talking to his wife and son when his cell phone dies.  He calls them back on an airport pay phone, but suddenly, everything is interrupted by a high pitch noise being emitted from cell phones.  People start frothing at the mouth and then start attacking everyone around them.

Clay tries to avoid being attacked, making his way down to the subways, where he finds several survivors.  He learns the subways train is shut down due to the emergency, and tries to convince everyone to make a run in the tunnels. Only two people, Tom (the train conductor) and another young man join him.  They are attacked in the tunnels and make their way to the surface, with Clay and Tom making it out alive.  They make it to Tom’s apartment, where they run into a young woman named Alice.  One of Clay’s neighbors, she is shaken as she has had to kill her mother to save herself. They proceed to make their way across the the state as  they meet various survivors and try and avoid the zombies.

Like the book, the source of the “zombie” (these are not actual zombies, the individuals are alive) infection is cell phones.  And like the book, the actual source is never revealed.  The movie tries to explain the infection in general terms, though never going as far as King’s original novel. The infected in the book are slowly mutated, opening their minds to new abilities, such as levitation.  The movie includes the notion of the hive mind, with Clay realizing they can see where people are through the eyes of any of the “zombies”. And early on, Stacy Keach’s headmaster suggests it is a new stage of evolution.  The infected “sleep” at night, which the sole remaining student Jordan suggests that the people are having their brains “updated” with new programming.

Clay’s goal is to locate his son, and the intelligence behind the infected use this to draw him out.  For reasons that are never clear, it is implied that Clay is important to the infected, which ends up being undermined by the end of the film.

King adapted his novel as far back as 2009, and had help from Adam Alleca (screenwriter of the Last House on the Left remake). The film’s largest change is the ending.  The book had a sad, but emotionally engaging ending.  King states he took a lot of crap for the book’s ending and so he changed it for the film.  Here, King opts for an ending more depressing than the Mist.

This was a film I was excited to see.  I recall when I read the book thinking the beginning would make the most intense twenty minutes of a movie.  And yet, somehow, the film feels like it downplays the terror of the opening events.

The film often fails to create tension. And both of the film’s big event moments are dragged down by uninspired digital visuals.

That said, the performances are good.  Samuel L. Jackson’s Tom is one of his quieter performances.  This is not the loud and brash stock Samuel L. Jackson performance (which is usually pretty darn enjoyable). And John Cusack tends to be able to make characters who do lousy things (like walk out on his wife and kid to chase comic book dreams) still come across as sympathetic.  He becomes more and more desperate, making some pretty terrible choices. Isabelle Fuhrman (Orphan) is strong as Alice. Anthony Reynolds turns in a terrific manic performance as a Ray, a man so disturbed by his dreams, he has avoided sleep for days.

But unfortunately, none of these save Cell from being a mediocre adaption of a Stephen King novel. Sure, this is not Sleepwalkers or Maximum Overdrive…but those films are almost so awful that they become amusing.  Cell is just pretty average.


Killer Duality (The Dark Half, 1993)

Dark_Half_PosterYoung Thad Beaumont experienced painful headaches when doctors performed surgery, they found the remains of a twin Thad absorbed in the womb.  Years later, Thad is a teacher and writer.  He is approached by Fred Clawson and asked to sign a book.  Thad claims he is not the author, pointing to the author being George Stark.  but Fred has worked out that Thad and Stark are one in the same.  And he is threatening to expose Beaumont as the writer of the lurid books by Stark.

Thad decides to head him off at the pass and he publically “kills off” Stark.  And then people related to the event start getting murdered, making Beaumont look like the prime suspect.

The film plays around with whether Thad is losing his mind or if Stark has somehow found a way into our world.  There is the motif of birds within the story.  Thad hears birds in his head, but birds also seem to amass when Stark is around.

Romero does a pretty decent job with this adaption of a Stephen King novel, but it is not really a memorable film either.  But it is passable entertainment for horror fans.



Comics Are Rotten (Creepshow, 1982)


The Horror anthology has always been risky.  There are few true classics.  Mostly what you get are movies with a couple good tales among some duds. George Romero and Stephen King teamed up to create Creepshow.

The five stories included here are all pretty strong.  The first is Fathers Day, the story of a somewhat rotten family gathering to celebrate the birthday of the late patriarch.  This year, he intends to get his birthday cake.

The second story is the Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill is about a simple-minded farmer who discovers a meteor on his land. After touching the meteor, Jordy finds frass growing uncontrollably, consuming his body.

Something to Tide You over features an adulterous couple who are discovered by the woman’s husband.  He seeks to take revenge trapping them on the beach (so to speak).

The Crate follows an older professor who is constantly belittled by his alcoholic gossip wife.  His respite is his fellow professor, Dexter.  Dexter is called to the school by a janitor who finds a mysterious crate tucked away.  The crate seems to be decades old…but to also contain something still alive.  And hungry.

Finally, They’re Creeping Up on You is about an old man obsessed with cleanliness finding his home seems to be under siege by cockroaches.

The film is framed as a comic book, with art by Jack Kamen (an E.C. comics artist, which is the inspiration for Creepshow).  As each story begins and ends, we see comic book art that fades into the live image (or Vice Versa).  The art is great and provides a unique look to the film.  The film also has an extra framing device of a story about a young boy (Played by King’s real-life son Joe) whose father (played by veteran character actor Tom Atkins) is angry when he finds him reading a horror comic book.

Tom Savini provides a great series of effects, with visuals that mimic the color of comics. The gruesome visuals are not interested in realism, rather in being lush and colorful.

The cast is really terrific.  You have veterans like E.G. Marshall and Hal Holbrook along with upcoming stars like Ed Harris and Ted Danson.

Most of the film has a tone of cartoonish horror.  The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill struggles the most in this regard because at times it gets absurdly comical.  But overall, Creepshow is still one of Romero’s straight up most fun works.

It’s Alive! (The Mangler, 1995)

The_Mangler_PosterThis is…a weird film.  Englund is back for another round with Hooper and he is clearly having a blast this time around.After a tragic accident with an old and giant folding machine at the local laundry, Detective John Hunton finds himself drawn into a dark and supernatural world.

Based on a ten page Stephen King short story, the Mangler is a folding machine possessed by a demon that is served by the elderly Bill Gartley.  Hunton, with help from a spiritualist friend and elderly photographer/mortician he uncovers a dark history of human sacrifice and works to save Gartley’s young niece Sherry.

Among the odd choices in the film are having the mortician be played by a young man in old man make-up.  Jeremy Crutchley turns in a good performance, but the make-up is so obvious it is distracting when he is on screen.  There is an exorcism of an old fridge.  Most of the characters are largely unpleasant or annoying.  Of course, it gets downright hilarious when the giant machine starts running after the leads in the factory like a wild animal.  As mentioned, the short story is pretty short, so they add a lot of stuff…but funny enough?  The machine chasing people?  Not one of them.  In the story, it runs around town killing people. Oh, Stevie.

Truthfully, this is really only good for a bunch of friends to watch and laugh together.  It is also worth noting that although Hooper is the credited director, he was actually replaced after having filmed the majority of the film.

Special Visitor (Salem’s Lot, 1979)

Salems_Lot_PosterHooper’s first Stephen King adaption, Salem’s Lot is a pretty straightforward vampire story. Popular writer Ben Mears has returned home to Salem’s Lot.  But Mears is not the only person arriving in town. The mysterious Mr. Barlow and his employee Mr. Straker have arrived.  Nobody has met Barlow, but he is taking up residence in the old Marsten House.

Mears actually has a theory that the house is evil and attracts evil men.  And in this case, he will discover he is very right.

Townspeople start to get anemic and die, causing Ben to wonder if it is a vampire, but he needs proof.  At the same time, he is falling in love with local teacher Susan Norton.

It becomes a race against time for Ben to find proof and defeat Barlow.

Salem’s Lot was a two-part mini-series, allowing it to explore the story more.  Initially, we start witnessing the dark secrets of the town, such as the affair between Larry Crockett and Bonnie Sawyer.

There are some great visuals in the film, for example, a young boy is visited at his window by a friend who is floating outside.  Hooper makes use of the atmosphere of his local very effectively.

I really like the choice of the vampire looking like Count Orlok from 1922’s Nosferatu.

While it can be a bit slow in it’s build up, it is a pretty decent vampire tale with good spooky atmosphere and sets.  Salem’s Lot shows a real measure of improvement over Eaten Alive for Hooper as a director.

Red Balloons (It, 1990)

It_1990_posterStephen Kings has had many stories brought to the screen with varying success.  In 1990 he had a good year.  We saw the release of Misery and the birth of the “Stephen King Mini-Series Event” on ABC.

The film begins with a young girl being attacked and killed.  We the audience, of course, know it is Pennywise…but while the police are doing their work, Mike Hanlon, Local Librarian, shows up.  He finds a picture from his past, and he knows it is time to bring all his friends back home to make good on a promise.

As Mike calls each friend, they seem almost confused as to who Mike is, but we get treated to extended flashbacks to their childhoods thirty years prior.

The kids discovered an evil that feed in the town every thirty years.  They believed they were able to defeat the creature, but promised to return home if the creature ever came back.  And now that it has, the now grown group of friends return to Derry to try and destroy it forever.  Of course, Pennywise tries to prey on their fears and use as many tricks to stop them as he can.  but they refuse to back down and run away.

The cast is pretty solid.  John Ritter is Ben, former fat kid  Ben who is now a hard drinking and partying architect.  Annette O’Toole is grown up Bev who married a man as abusive as her father.  Harry Anderson is a little over the top hamming it up as comedian Richie Tozier (young Ritchie is played by Seth Green).  Really, the whole cast is pretty good.

Of course, what really make the mini-series memorable is the performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise.  It is a highly memorable turn and a highlight of Curry’s career.

Veteran horror director Tommy Lee Wallace does pretty good with his budget.  He makes sure to focus on the skills of his stars to sell the intensity of moments.  And that is a good thing.  Why?

Probably the biggest sore spot for It is it’s visual effects.  Some are good low budget effects.  And you do not forget look of Pennywise.  But the creature design for the final battle of the film is…uh,..  disappointing.

It is a bit more successful than many of the film adaptions of King’s horror work because it has room to breathe.  It is carried more by it’s performances than anything else.  And while some of it can feel almost hokey today, it still is a fun watch.

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