I have a LIMITED number of SIGNED copies of my horror books The Associated Villainies, Hopeful Monsters, and The Five Poisons available directly from my website. They are even a dollar off their regular Amazon sale price FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY!!! If you’re nice, I might even throw in a free bookmark. Get ’em before they’re all gone!
The cause of evil never rests, as all of you know, and as a card-carrying emissary of said evil, I work tirelessly to bring you, my minions, the most enjoyable nastiness that my fevered brain can vomit up. Yes, I bestow upon you small nuggets of nefariousness in the form of these here blog posts (and I will have a new Scary Silents up by the beginning of next week, I promise; it will either be about The Sealed Room from 1909 or Dante’s Inferno from 1911, so sit tight), but there is so much more, darklings, and perhaps you don’t realize the extent of my iniquitous empire. If you’ve read any of my previous ramblings, you’ll know that I often piss and moan about how busy I am, so for your edification, I’m gonna outline exactly what I’m doing with all my malevolent hours. So here, in handy-dandy list form with pictures and links and everything, are the ten projects the Goddess has going on right now:
1. Something Old, Something New
Like any writer, I have a fuckton of unpublished bullshit lying around on the sofa, not helping out with the rent and just generally being useless wastes of space. In order to make these shiftless little word-bums earn their keep, I’ve decided to put out a NEW print book containing a veritable gumbo of goodness: New short stories! Older short stories that appeared in anthologies years ago that you probably didn’t read! Unpublished screenplays! Even modified versions of some of my favorite posts on this very site! At the moment, the book’s working title is Salmagundi, but I might change it if I think of something better, which I probably will. It’s gonna be an epic compilation of my various brain leavings and obsessions, and you’ll all need to buy copies for everyone you know for the upcoming holiday season, or else Jesus won’t bring you any presents and Santa Claus will let his reindeer shit in your rain gutters. I will, of course, be posting the link when this literary milestone drops, so keep your eyeballs peeled.
2. Mammoth Mountain Mischief
By now you all know that the book I co-authored with the God of Hellfire, The Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist, is the best poltergeist book ever penned and will bring about world peace in our lifetimes. In my frazzled, half-assed way, I try to promote the thing, mostly through paranormal-type radio shows and podcasts (such as here, here, and here). The GoH and I will soon be appearing on yet another one of these, the UK-based Keeping the Paranormal Friendly show! Tune in on Sunday, August 9th at 4:00pm Eastern Time and watch our sexy, Skype-enabled mugs flapping our jaws about the book. Then buy a copy in print or Kindle, goddammit.
3. More Paranormal Hijinks
As I believe I’ve mentioned a few times before, my above-mentioned foray into paranormal nonfiction drew the attention of British parapsychologist Steve Mera of MAPIT, and I am working with him on a book about the Rochdale poltergeist case from 1996. I’ve written the bulk of the narrative, and now the first draft of it is in Steve’s hands so that he can correct details and add his own insights. I’m not sure when this will be done, but it will definitely be soon, so again, keep watching this space.
4. Dirty, Filthy Sex
Since some of my horror stories veer into erotica territory, I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a series of straight-up erotica tales (which, since it’s me, will likely have horror elements, because I just can’t seem to help myself). These will be longer short stories, published as ebook exclusives and sold for about 99 cents each. I will also probably write them under a pseudonym, just to keep everything kinda separate, but I’m not gonna make a big secret about what the pseudonym is (when I decide on one, that is), so I’m not trying to be sneaky or nothin’. I’ve written part of an erotic short story so far, and hopefully I’d like to get to the point where I’m cranking out at least one a week. Keep the lube and tissues handy for the first moist installment!
5. Ambition, Thy Name is Goddess
Christ on a cream cracker, I’m already worn out and I’m only on number five. But this here is a project I’ve been mulling over for years, and I hope to have it come to fruition fully in 2016. It’s going to be a serialized novel/interactive mystery that spans several mediums. I don’t want to go into too many details, because I’m still working everything out, but I’m very excited about this and hope I can do it without fucking it all up. I’ve already got gobs and gobs of notes, layouts, designs, video scripts, and so forth; the logistics of it are complicated, but I think it’ll either turn out super cool and make me a beloved horror sensation, or flop spectacularly into a wet diarrhea fart of insignificance. Either way, it’ll be fun for me to do, so, y’know. *shrug*
6. Cooking With Satan
Here’s something you might not know: In addition to being a writer, I am also a graphic designer. Here’s another thing you might not know: I have cool-as-shit friends. One of these friends is the motherfuckin’ Vegan Black Metal Chef, who is rad and metal as fuck and has an awesome YouTube show where he cooks delicious vegan vittles whilst he serenades you with ear-bleeding death-metal tunes that describe the recipe so that you may follow along in your own kitchen/dungeon. Subscribe to him, he rules. Anyway, I have been working with him for the past several months to design a cookbook as epic as his show is, and we’ll be coming down the home stretch in the next couple months. By the way, he has a Patreon, so throw some filthy lucre in his direction. The book is gonna be badass, and seriously, you don’t have to be a vegan to want to cook some of this shit in here, because all of it is devilishly delectable. *horned hand salute*
7. All About the Club Life
Speaking of cool-as-shit friends, I have another one known as DJ Lavidicus, and he hosts the best monthly goth-industrial night in central Florida, Memento Mori at Independent Bar in downtown Orlando. Great music, great crowd, great vibe, and if you’re in the area, you need to check it out as soon as you can. The GoH and I always make an appearance, and we also have a hand in promoting the night and the scene in general! I design all the posters and promo materials! The next one is going to be on Monday, August 17th, but go to the Facebook page to keep up with dates and make requests! (Might as well check out the Facebook page I run with the GoH too, Our Gothic Orlando, while you’re at it, and also check out Cold Therapy, the band featuring the beautiful wife of DJ Lavidicus, Jen Draven.)
Oh, and I can’t mention Memento Mori without mentioning our other beloved monthly scene night, Escape at Southern Nights! Hosted by some talented and batshit insane friends of ours, it tends more toward fetish, with outrageous costumes, monthly themes, sexy dancers, crazy game shows, and general debauchery, so kindly stop by, say hello to the GoH and myself, and maybe have a chance to go up on stage and get playfully molested by a giant bunny! Here are a few videos to whet your appetite!
8. I Know People in Bands Too, You Guys
Speaking of that graphic design work I do, a large percentage of it comes from my amazing friend Imani and her company, Valkyrie Management. She manages tons of (largely) death metal bands in the area, and she’s always got shows going all over the place, for which I design several posters, tickets and T-shirts every month. Check out her page, check out her bands, go see some of them play! Live music, motherfucker!
9. Looking for a Handout
If you have a few meager pennies left after tossing money at everything else on this list, won’t you consider dropping a few into the coffers over at my Patreon page? You can get free books and other cool shit, and I promise it’ll be a couple bucks well spent. COUGH IT UP, PEONS. Ahem. I mean, thank you in advance.
10. Oh Yeah, That Nine to Five Thing
Did I mention I also have a full-time job doing graphic design at a printing company? I’m not gonna tell y’all where it is, though, because you might stalk me. 🙂
And now, back into the fray. Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
My 2014 novel The Five Poisons is now available on Kindle for $2.99! And this concludes my Kindle project; I’m not doing a Kindle version of The Tenebrist because it’s all graphically designed and shit and you really need to see it in print to appreciate it, so nyah. But other than that, have at it, ebook peeps!
C.M. Saunders has reviewed my novel Red Menace for Morpheus Tales! Give it a read, yes? Thank you.
Well, kiddos, it’s been a crazy week, hence my relative dearth of posts, but you’ll be edified to know that a bunch of stuff has been going on behind the scenes, so here’s a brief wrap-up!
If you happen to live in the central Florida area (and I know I do), then put on your charity panties and head on down to the Whole Planet Music & Art Festival at Bombshell’s Tavern! It’s a big ol’ concert event put on by a few good friends of mine, and all proceeds will benefit the Whole Planet Foundation. There will be bands and art and general debauchery (probably), plus there will be a raffle in which you may WIN music and art from local performers, or perhaps even a SIGNED copy of either my novel Bellwether or my short story collection The Associated Villainies! Please try to make the trip if you can!
The book I coauthored with the God of Hellfire himself, The Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist, should be out by next week! The proof copy is making its way toward me as we speak, and provided there are no terrible fuckups, the book should be for sale on Amazon and the regular channels very soon. By the way, if you or someone you know has a paranormal blog, podcast or suchlike on which you’d be willing to review the book and/or interview its charming authors, shoot me a message and I’ll get you a free copy and all the info you may need. I’m also planning on doing a giveaway for free copies on Amazon sometime in the next few weeks, so keep watching this space!
Remember, my short story “The Mother of Foresight” will be appearing in the new ebook horror anthology coming next month from Play With Death. More details as I have them.
And finally, please remember I still have that Patreon campaign going, so if you’d like to contribute a few bucks and get yourself some sweet writer-style swag, click the link and give until it hurts. Or at least until it mildly stings, y’know the kind of sting you get when you just scrape your knee and can make it feel better by spraying some Bactine on it. Let’s not get too insane here.
Oh, and speaking of insanity, did you guys see “The Walking Dead” this past Sunday? Holy FUCKBALLS, y’all. Shit’s getting real. I think I may need therapy. Hold me.
Until next time, Goddess out!
A strange gathering of intellectual luminaries during one “haunted summer” produced one of literature’s most enduring creations.
Frankenstein’s monster is one of the most ubiquitous characters in popular culture, appearing everywhere from movies and novels to children’s toys and cereal boxes. Though the image we have of the lumbering creature today—greenish skin, square head, beetling brow, ropy scars and neck bolts—has been largely formed by Boris Karloff’s stunning portrayal in the Universal horror films of the 1930s, in the beginning, the monster was literally dreamed into existence under rather eerie circumstances by an eighteen-year-old girl.
Summer in Switzerland
It was May 14, 1816. Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his “wife” Mary (the couple only married later that year, though Mary already used his last name) had been invited by friend and fellow poet Lord Byron to visit him at a rented chateau, Villa Deodati, on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Also joining the festivities were Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairemont—who was pregnant with Byron’s child and was trying to get back into his good graces—and Byron’s personal physician John Polidori.
The gathering apparently started out quite idyllic—the friends spent long hours writing, discussing weighty ideas, and boating in the lake. But a short time after the group arrived, the weather took a bizarre turn, and it seemed the streaks of lightning and the torrents of rain would never cease. Mary and the others were confined to the house for many days.
More reading and discussion ensued. Particular topics of conversation included the early evolution theories of Erasmus Darwin, as well as the new science of galvanism. Also contributing to the entertainment of the group was a book of German ghost stories called Fantasmagoria, which the friends took turns reading aloud.
The combination of the macabre tales and the isolating weather seemed to have strange effects on everyone present; Percy Shelley, at one point, succumbed to visions that sent him screaming from the room. Later, Shelley claimed that Byron’s reading of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem “Cristabel” had brought to mind the image of a woman with eyes instead of nipples, which horrified him.
Setting to Work
Some time after this incident, the group decided that they would each try to write their own ghost story. Most set to work immediately and produced tales of varying quality. Byron wrote a story fragment titled “The Burial,” which was later published as a postscript to his narrative poem Mazeppa. Shelley wrote a tale called “The Assassins,” which apparently never saw the light of day (though his poem Mont Blanc, written around the same time, was published later that year). Dr. Polidori wrote “The Vampyre,” later expanded to novel length, which was the first vampire story published in English and which some speculate might have been an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written 78 years later.
The Monster Is Born
Mary Shelley, however, couldn’t think of an idea for a story, and had to respond with a frustrated “No” when asked by the others if she had begun work on it. But then, one night, she had a terrible nightmare. She woke violently amid the sounds of the storm howling outside. The dream had been so vivid that she had a difficult time believing it hadn’t been real. Since she was too shaken to sleep, she began writing down her dream, in which “a pale student of the unhallowed arts” used bits of corpses to create a man. “By the glimmer of the half-extinguished light,” she wrote, “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.”
Mary’s terrifying dream was described verbatim in the story she presented to the others. Though the first draft was only about 100 pages long, Percy loved the story and encouraged Mary to flesh it out. She did, and two years after the strange events at Lake Geneva, the story was published as Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, thus introducing one of literature’s most frightening figures to the world at large.
February, in case you hadn’t heard, has been designated Women In Horror month, and even though I gotta admit I’m kinda longing for a future where female horror writers will be so commonplace that it will be unnecessary to even remark upon them, I do feel like we vagina-havers still need our own month for now. That’s because, for whatever reason, women who write horror are still thought of as something of a novelty, or at very least a tad oddball. It’s a lot better than it used to be, sure, but even in this enlightened year of 2015, it’s not unusual for a horror anthology to come out containing no women authors at all, and there’s still a lingering perception that women don’t like horror as much as the guys do, or they don’t write it as well, or something, since apparently we’re all just precious delicate flowers who could never possibly enjoy the song of the chainsaw, the call of Cthulhu, the visceral thrill of seeing someone’s spine forcefully extricated through their mouth. I guess there’s a similar bullshit thing going on with female comedians and “girl geeks,” but I’m not really gonna go into all that because this is a horror blog, and I gotta stay focused on the topic without going off on a rant. Anyway, since I’m a woman who has always loved everything to do with the horror genre, I’ve decided to celebrate Women In Horror Month by honoring a few of my favorite “girl” writers in the genre with this humble blog post. So here we go.
Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House
I know I talk about this book a lot (and I wrote a whole blog post about the fantastic film adaptation as well), but that’s because it is probably my favorite horror novel of all time, and easily one of the best horror novels of the 20th century. In Ms. Jackson’s capable hands, something as pedestrian as a haunted house story becomes a multilayered, intensely terrifying study of psychological breakdown. Her masterful characterization of Eleanor Vance is one of the best in literature of any genre, and I would defend that statement to the grave. If you love Haunting of Hill House, and I know I do, also check out her other novels The Sundial and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which explore similar themes.
Anne Rivers Siddons – The House Next Door
Another haunted house story (because you know how much I love those), but from the completely opposite side of the spectrum as Jackson’s novel. The haunting in The House Next Door takes place in a fancy, newly-built contemporary pad thrown onto an odd-shaped lot by a hot-shot architect in a chi-chi Atlanta suburb. The main players are agonizingly upper-crust, status-conscious, and at times completely snobbish and obnoxious, but their unlikeability makes their fates that much more devastating. The cursed-from-birth house next door doesn’t contain anything as gauche as a spirit, exactly, but more like a force that somehow knows and plays upon the residents’ deepest fears and insecurities, and dishes out scares accordingly. A fresh take on the subgenre, and a satisfying one.
Doris Lessing – The Fifth Child
A supremely literary horror story, and a short one clocking in at only 150 pages, but its tentacles grasp tightly. Somewhat reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby, The Fifth Child sees “perfect” married couple David and Harriet pushing out one kid after another, much to the consternation of their extended families, who fear that the couple cannot care for the ones they already have. The first four kids are pretty much okay, but that fifth one, as the title suggests, is a doozy. A concise and terrifying examination of family dynamics and the social expectations surrounding the bearing of children.
Poppy Z. Brite – Exquisite Corpse
Perhaps this isn’t a fair choice for a “women in horror” post, since Poppy (born Melissa Ann Brite) has since undergone gender reassignment and now prefers to be known as Billy Martin, but at the time this novel was written she was still identified by a female pronoun as far as I know, so I’m going to include it. It’s a shockingly sick tale of two serial killers (based on real-life nutcases Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer) who join forces in order to find “the perfect victim.” They find their unicorn in the form of a pretty Vietnamese boy named Tran, and the story spirals into horrific madness from there. All of Brite’s trademarks are present, from the obsession with twisted killers to a fixation on the darkest and seediest underbellies of New Orleans. This is an intensely gory and profoundly fucked-up (but fantastic) novel.
Caitlín R. Kiernan – The Red Tree
Kiernan has written a lot of great books, including several pleasingly Lovecraftian ones. The Red Tree is the creepy tale of a woman named Sarah who moves to an old house in the woods after a terrible breakup and becomes obsessed with the ancient tree growing in the backyard, and the manuscript she finds that seems to hint that the tree conceals some terrible secret. If you like this one, I’d also recommend Silk and Low Red Moon by the same author.
Until next time, Goddess out.
I know that somewhere deep in their black little hearts, the readers of this humble little blog (all three of them) have lain awake nights, wondering, “What can I, as a debased fan of a relatively unknown horror writer, do to contribute to the cause of evil in the world?” (or words to that effect). Well, I’m pleased to announce that, for less than the price of a vanilla bean frappuccino per month, you can give something to the horror community that might, one day, get you something vile and wonderful and meaningful to your interests. What that something is, I’m not entirely sure, but just roll with me here.
That’s right, like many other money-grubbing denizens of the internets, I have put up a Patreon campaign to scare up funds for my illustrious writing career. There are five tiers you may participate in to subsidize my terrible activities, and there are lots of little rewards you can collect on depending on the amount pledged, so you won’t feel like you’re gettin’ nothin’ for your contributions.
So please help, if you can. Any amount, however small, can make a difference. It’s just like the saying goes: Be the change you want to see in the world, or it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness, or nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, or something. Now join me in a chorus of “Kumbaya” and throw a couple bucks my way. Thank you, and good day, sirs and ma’ams.
Hey kids, it’s me again, reminding you that my book Red Menace is available for your reading pleasure, both in ebook and print formats from Amazon, and ebook format directly from Damnation Books. Read the excerpt below! Buy the book! Read it, love it, write a review. Thank you, my lovelies.
Paige’s eyes snapped open in the darkness. She didn’t know what time it was, only that there was no faint sign of dawn yet showing through the windows—and that Daniel was sleeping deeply beside her, his body heavily still.
Just before she had awakened, she was having a horrible dream where she was sitting in the balcony of a dimmed concert hall, looking expectantly at the stage below, which was bathed in the glow from the red footlights. An orchestra was arrayed on the stage, though Paige couldn’t see any of their faces because they all wore red hoods. The effect of the crimson light on the similarly colored hoods was unsettling, making the movement of the fabric seem turgid, liquid, like slowly draining blood.
At last, the orchestra raised their instruments as one body. The music stilled Paige’s heart for several beats. It was an infernal music, and in the dream, Paige thought of a story she had once read about a violinist who had sold his soul to the devil to be able to play like a virtuoso, only to send everyone who heard him spiraling into madness. Surely this orchestra was just as miraculous in their command of tone and timbre, in their deft manipulation of the snaking harmonies, but the miracle, if it was one, was of a satanic nature, just like in the violinist story, welling up from the darkest recesses of the soul. Paige wanted to scream but could not, wanted to cover her ears but could not move her arms. She was rendered motionless by the music, a stone carving from which a trapped consciousness peered out helplessly.
At the crescendo of the piece, just when Paige felt that she could not listen anymore, all the musicians upon the stage turned toward her in unison, the movement causing their hoods to fall back with soft and somehow obscene whispers that could still be clearly heard, though the din of the music carried on uninterrupted. Their faces were all white, grinning skulls, the black of their multitudinous eye sockets made even blacker by the wavering scarlet light, their expressions seeming to mock her.
She suddenly did scream then, feeling the stretch of her lips, the vibration of the sound in her dream-throat just as she would in waking life, though nothing emerged but silence. She just had time to glance down at the audience and see that they had all turned toward her too, accusing her with their skeleton eyes, and then she woke, her breath catching in her throat, making her cough. Daniel stirred a little but then turned onto his side and resumed snoring. Paige’s eyes struggled to identify familiar shapes in the darkness, a curtain rod or light fixture she could focus on so that she wasn’t seeing the endless parade of red-tinted skull faces peering at her with their empty yet somehow malevolent gazes.
As her heart rate calmed, she reflected on the sound that had surely wakened her. Even in the bare, few seconds after launching out of sleep, she heard a telltale echo throughout the house, the remnants of a solid sound that had not issued from her mind, however rattled. The sound could not have been very loud, or it would have woken Daniel also. Paige lay very still, feeling sweat pooling in the hollow of her stomach, straining her ears for the slightest noise.
An interminable stretch of time passed, and Paige began to think the sound had been a product of her fervid imagination after all. She closed her eyes, reluctantly settling back into sleep mode, but then she heard it—a tiny, slight wheeze, like the breath of a mouse behind the walls. Paige wondered what it could be, and as she frowned out at the surrounding darkness, the other sound came—the devilish music of the skeleton orchestra. She leaped out of bed and was halfway to the door of the bedroom before her brain even registered the movement of her body. Daniel was awake now too, his voice thick with sleep, calling her name, but Paige was already out the door and climbing the stairs to the attic room, two at a time. Some part of her must have instinctively known that the horrible sound was coming from the clock in the black room, but it was only now, as she reached the landing, that she became consciously aware of it. Just as she did, the chime came again—a deafening and doom-laden gong seemingly accompanied by the combined screams of all the tormented souls in hell.
The thought of that coffin-tall clock singing its malevolent song to the gleeful audience of that one red-windowed eye in the otherwise abandoned black room filled Paige with a horror that compelled her quickly down the hall and through the door of Helena’s attic aerie, not caring if the old woman thought she’d gone right off her rocker. She just wanted that fucking clock to stop.
Paige tore into the attic room, intending to march straight into the Red Death suite and smash the clock’s smug face with her bare hands; however, she stopped dead in her tracks at the strange sight of Helena, sitting upright and cross-legged on her narrow bed in a small circle of lamp light, her eyes closed, her ogre face bearing the serene expression of a stone Buddha. She was dimly aware of Daniel’s presence behind her, and she felt his breath upon her neck. As she stared at Helena, the echoes of the horrible chimes danced all around them, like whispering little caper-demons scurrying for the corners and concealing their evil laughter behind tiny, clawed red hands. Then, the chime came once again, full and resonant, seeming to shake the house to its foundations. Paige clapped her hands over her ears the way she had been unable to do in her dream, even though this had the awful effect of making the sound closer, more intimate, as if it was coming from inside her own head.
When the last of the chimes had finally died away, Paige cautiously drew her hands away from her ears, listening to the silence that now seemed like the world’s sweetest music. After a moment, she realized her cheeks were wet; the tears had spilled without her knowledge. She stared at Helena’s blissful figure, feeling exhausted, empty, and suddenly afraid.
The old woman’s eyes opened, and the fishy, white one twirled in its socket while the normal eye fixed on Paige, a shimmering jade-green jewel in the lamp light. Helena smiled her sunken smile. “I was afraid it wouldn’t work anymore,” she said.
It seems as though I start a lot of these blog posts with a half-assed apology for not sticking to my own arbitrary, self-imposed “rules” for the content I discuss, and I regret to inform you that this is going to be another one of those times. Yes, The Shining and the well-publicized blood feud between Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick has been the subject of nearly endless internet debate, but for some reason it’s a subject I’m obsessively fascinated by and often get into long, rambling conversations about, which means that you will now have to endure said ramblings in my patented type-diarrhea form. Sorry in advance. (Not really.)
I’m going to go in a slightly skewed direction with this, though; rather than discuss the drastic differences between King’s book and Kubrick’s film, and the subsequent 34-year hatefest between them, I’d like to delve more into the contrasts between Kubrick’s film and King’s 1997 mini-series adaptation. Yes, I will obviously have to talk about the book too, so readers may see this as a distinction without a difference, but hey, I’m trying to just carve out a semi-original niche for myself here, so cut me some slack.
Let me just take a few moments to talk about Stephen King as a writer. I would consider myself a fan, though I admit I haven’t read anything of his newer than Under the Dome, which I enjoyed but promptly forgot the second I finished it. I definitely feel as though the quality of his work has declined post-car-accident, and I know I am not alone in that opinion; his more recent work just doesn’t stick with you the way his earlier stuff does. I would never go so far as to call him a hack, as some have done; he’s a very good “popular” writer, and he’s written some absolutely GREAT books, The Shining among them. Is The Shining as great as, say, Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, which partly inspired it? Hell no, and only an idiot would argue otherwise. But The Shining scared the ever-loving bejesus out of me the first time I read it, and has held up very well over multiple re-reads over the years. When King is on, he’s really, really on.
Here’s what I find weird, though. I’ve mentioned a few times in previous posts how much I love Danse Macabre, King’s scattershot but surprisingly astute analysis of horror in entertainment. In fact, on this very blog, I have used paraphrases from that book to back up some of my own viewpoints about what works and doesn’t work in horror; namely, that ambiguity and perhaps even obfuscation are necessary for really effective scares. What is unknown and largely unexplained is always more terrifying than what is known. King seems to grasp this, and even singles out books and films that were effective for this very reason, but when he is given the reins of a film project, he never seems to take his own advice. He has never really appeared to understand that literature and film are two completely different (hedge) animals; in a novel, you can, to some degree, get away with huge chunks of exposition and meticulous description of detail, because you are creating an entire world in the reader’s head. In film, everything is paraded right in front of your eyes, which means you have to exercise some measure of restraint, both in what you show and what you keep hidden. This is something that King has never really been able to do, judging both by adaptations of his work that he’s had a hand in (like Maximum Overdrive, which was similar to pro-wrestling in the sense that it was big, loud, and stupid, but also sorta fun, though no one would call it a masterpiece of celluloid), and adaptations done by others that he claimed he enjoyed (Children of the Corn, The Mangler). King is a good writer, and to be frank, sometimes I wish that he would just be content enough with that, and not try to dabble in mediums that are obviously not suited to his (quite prodigious) talents.
All that said, let’s dissect the 1997 mini-series, shall we? I remember seeing it when it initially came out; since I had always been such a big fan of both the book and of Kubrick’s adaptation, and was well aware of King’s tendency to royally whiff any film project he touched, I went into the viewing with some trepidation. And I’m sad to say that most of my worst fears about King’s version duly came to pass, and I ended up not even finishing the series because I hated it so much.
Fast forward to 2014. The God of Hellfire (henceforth GoH) and I were discussing The Shining because of a radio program we’d been listening to about Kubrick’s use of symbolism. I think I happened to mention that I had really detested the 1997 mini-series that King had made, as it seemed like nothing more than a self-indulgent, jealousy-fueled, bitchy dismissal of Kubrick’s singular vision. The GoH said that he’d actually liked the mini-series, mainly because he felt it was closer to the spirit of the book and followed the plot more faithfully (though he still agrees that Kubrick’s version was better). I hadn’t seen the thing in a long time, and I was willing to entertain the idea that the mini-series might not have been quite as terrible as I remembered, so late one night we sat down with our cigarettes and chocolate milk and watched the entire six hours in one go.
I will say straight out that indeed, the mini-series was actually not the atrocity I’d remembered it as. It wasn’t great, by any means, and parts of it were pretty cringe-inducing, but at no point during its run time did I feel as though I wanted to scoop out my own eyeballs or drop-kick a puppy into a wood chipper or anything like that. So…not awful, but a mediocre misfire at best. The problem with the entire production, I think, is what I was alluding to earlier, about King not fully understanding the differing strengths and weaknesses of the film medium as opposed to the literature medium. King’s version of The Shining is certainly far more faithful to the source material than Kubrick’s, perhaps even slavishly so, but that, to me, is the exact reason why it doesn’t really work.
The main difference between the two adaptations is that King’s was literal while Kubrick’s was mythic. A stark illustration of this is the fact that King’s mini-series was filmed in and around the Stanley Hotel, the real location that the Overlook was based on, while Kubrick’s Overlook, built entirely as a set, had a more otherworldly, dreamlike, and hence mythical quality.
One of King’s main criticisms of Kubrick’s film was that in casting Jack Nicholson, Kubrick presents a man who is clearly a raging lunatic right from the get-go. King tried to rectify this by casting “Wings” star Steven Weber as Jack Torrance 2.0, but I have to say that both King’s criticism and his attempt to realign the character to more suit his tastes is not really fair or effective. Weber is a good enough actor, but it’s obvious he’s striving to play Jack as a fallen “good” guy, and his portrayal suffers from a veneer of forced joviality. This is a character, remember, who was even portrayed in the book as an abusive alcoholic who may have had some redemptive qualities at his core. Nicholson’s Jack, while certainly something of a departure from the novel character, was more effective on screen because he exuded the anger and desperation of a man teetering on the brink of insanity at all times. This made him almost unbearably menacing, and thus the film that much more frightening.
King’s most persistent gripe, though, was that Kubrick’s film was soulless, that the heart of King’s book was ripped out and stomped flat in service to Kubrick’s coldly logical exploration of pet themes. While I can see why King would see it that way, I feel that he’s kind of missing the point. Yes, Kubrick simply used the frame of King’s story to hang his own vision on, and along the way may have altered the original intent of King’s novel (though not as much as King thinks he did, in my opinion). But I don’t think Kubrick was so much concerned with the sentimental, pedestrian tragedy of Jack’s downward spiral as he was with creating an archetypal meditation on isolation, evil, and the fragility of our rational humanity.
So Kubrick’s film featured an elegant hedge maze (shades of Theseus and the minotaur!) in place of King’s roving hedge animals (which looked painfully ridiculous in the mini-series when they began walking around like green CGI Scooby-Doos). Kubrick’s film kept aspects of the hotel’s history ambiguous (the woman in the bathtub, the blow job furries) to mirror the confusion and dislocation of the characters, while King drops a pallet-load of exposition about all the horrible things that happened at the Overlook in pretty much the first ten minutes of his adaptation. Kubrick’s film had those creepy twins, King’s had a hose with CGI teeth. Kubrick’s film has Danny talking to the “imaginary” Tony using nothing but his own croaking voice and a bent finger, King’s shows Tony in all his nerdy, floating, special-effect-y glory. Kubrick’s film keeps apparitions to a minimum, making them super-effective and frighteningly real when they do appear. King, meanwhile, populates the Overlook with hundreds of partying guests who appear and disappear in tendrils of smoke, and some of whom are afflicted with tragically bad “ghost” makeup. Kubrick’s film ends with Jack simply freezing to death in the middle of the maze, and the Overlook enduring with Jack’s unredeemed spirit trapped there for eternity, a testament to the fact that evil never dies. King’s film ends with Jack fighting two laughably bumbling spirits for control of the boiler’s vent pipe (and oh, that trite “boiling over/letting off steam” metaphor is hurting me right in my literary gland), then letting the whole hotel blow up with him inside it in a silly, unnecessary “redemption.”
At every turn, King chose to portray in his film the story exactly as he had originally written it, and at every turn, this was shown to be a mistake of plodding literalism over filmic mythmaking. King’s only sop to the novel I actually kind of liked was the fact that, as in the book, Halloran didn’t get killed at the end. I actually understand (and even agree with) the reasons Kubrick chose to kill off Halloran immediately after he arrived at the Overlook; after all, it showed that even despite Halloran’s own supernatural gifts and his tireless race to rescue Danny and Wendy, the evil of the hotel was just too powerful for him. It was still kind of a bummer, though. So yay for Halloran not dying.
I will say that the acting was actually decent for this type of thing, by which I mean, it wasn’t awful, but it was okay in a TV-movie sort of way. I didn’t get the sense that these were real people the way I did in Kubrick’s version; say what you will about Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall (and I happened to think the casting was pretty spot-on), but they played those roles with conviction, son. The little boy who played Danny in King’s version had a very distracting mouth that he never seemed to be able to close and he always talked like he had a sinus infection, but I’m not gonna pick on a kid for shit he probably can’t help. He was fine, even though I didn’t believe him as a real character either, mostly because of his oddly stilted dialogue.
Which brings me to another of the film’s glaring weaknesses: THAT dialogue, because of course you knew I would come to that. King, even in his books, is actually fairly adept at writing relatable characters, but he does have a well-documented habit of putting weird regionalisms and repeated “catchphrases” into the mouths of his protagonists. I can forgive this in his novels, as it’s usually not frequent enough to be grating; even though I don’t know a single person who talks like a Stephen King character in real life, on the page it’s an acceptable aspect of the unique world King has created with his stories. Hearing these “cute” verbal touchstones spoken aloud many, many times over the course of a mere six hours, however, is quite another matter. I swear I thought I was going to strain something from wincing so hard in empathetic embarrassment with Steven Weber as he had to repeatedly refer to Danny as a “pup” and incessantly scream at him to “take his medicine.” Over and over and over again. And that whole “kissing/missing” thing was so egregious that I almost felt like King was trying with all his might to forcefully wedge a catchphrase into the public consciousness so he could sell it on T-shirts or something. In that way it was kind of like the “Bazinga!” of its day, if you catch my meaning.
And then there was that epilogue, which as far as I can remember did not appear in the novel (and please correct me if I’m wrong). Ten years later, Wendy and Halloran are watching Danny graduating from high school, and we can see that (surprise), the grown-up Danny is actually the previously floating but now sadly earthbound Tony. As Danny collects his diploma, he sees his father standing there, and Jack repeats that horrible “kissing/missing” line and then they blow a kiss to each other in what is probably the creepiest and most unrealistic father-son moment ever captured on film. Yeesh.
Look, I understand that The Shining was a very personal story for King, based as it was on many of his own struggles with alcoholism, and I can even see why, when he made the film after having been sober for so long, he’d want to add in that little “hooray for redemption” fillip at the end there, as if to say, “See, the alcohol made us both monsters but we came through it and made everything okay and we’re still good guys, even if it’s only in the Jedi afterlife like Jack here.” I get that. But keep it out of your movies, man (and your books, wherever possible). It’s self-indulgent, sappy, and frankly sort of tawdry, the kind of ending I’d expect to see in a Nicholas Sparks movie or one of those Lifetime disease-of-the-week deals. Don’t cheapen what was originally a great story with manipulative mawkishness, yo.
In summation, the reason Kubrick’s adaptation is widely adored and generally considered one of the top five scariest films ever made is precisely because he restrained his emotional impulse and chose to elevate its source material to make an artistic statement. He trusted the audience to fill in their own blanks. He took what was a good story about a decent man being tragically consumed by demons, and he added layers and layers of subtext and symbolism, universalizing the story far beyond its dysfunctional family roots and turning it into a terrifying, complex fable that can be (and has been) interpreted in myriad ways. King’s 1997 adaptation, by contrast, simply took what was on the page and slapped it on the screen in an ordinary way, more or less word-for-word, thereby draining the narrative of any vitality or visual impact. It left no room for the viewer; everything was painfully laid out in front of you and over-explained to the rafters. An argument could be made that it is theoretically possible to craft a more faithful adaptation of King’s novel that is still a fantastic film, but unfortunately, this mini-series isn’t it.