Advertisements

Tag Archive: Stephen King


Review by C.J. Bunce

You really need to read the promotional information for AMC’s new series NOS4A2 to understand what happened in the first episode, which premiered this week.  A slow-starter that meanders more than it should to introduce characters, place, and conflict, NOS4A2 has enough going for it that it should get viewers to at least return to give the second episode a try.  The mood is horror, beginning with the murder of a woman and her boyfriend and the kidnapping of the woman’s son.  The kidnapper is a take on Krampus, played at first by an unrecognizable Zachary Quinto (Star Trek, Hotel Artemis, Heroes), who tells the kid he is taking him to a place called Christmastown, and he de-ages over the course of the episode as he drives north in his vintage Rolls Royce.  The show screams Stephen King, complete with Easter egg throwbacks to King’s many stories, the overall feel of IT, and a setting reminiscent of his classic coming of age werewolf movie, Silver Bullet, complete with an old covered bridge as a central plot element.

What does this NOS4A2 have in common with the 1922 horror film Nosferatu?  Nothing yet, and so far it has no vampire appearances, although Quinto’s Krampus-esque villain appears to be sucking the life force slowly from his child victims.  There is a reason for the throwbacks and similarity to Stephen King’s works–it’s because the series is based on the novel NOS4A2 (NOS4R2 in the UK) written by King’s son, Joseph King who writes under the name Joe Hill (also known for the IDW Publishing comic book series Locke & Key and the book and film Horns).  Unfortunately the first episode takes its time getting anywhere, and before you know it the hour has run and viewers are left with a vague introductory picture of what is happening.

What do we learn?  The kidnapping takes place in Iowa.  A local librarian who knew the missing boy, played by new actress Jahkara Smith, divines supernatural messages through Scrabble game tiles, which looks like it will soon connect her with an 18-year-old young woman in Massachusetts named Vic McQueen, played by 27-year-old actress Ashleigh Cummings (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries).  As her character’s name would indicate, she drives a motorcycle and she’s from the wrong side of the tracks.  She favors her wife-beater father, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (The Punisher, Medium)–who encourages her to follow her dreams of being an artist–over her mom, a bit of a caricature of the disinterested parent, played by Virginia Kull (Big Little Lies, Twin Peaks). 

Continue reading

Advertisements

Review by C.J. Bunce

Anyone who has ever been in journalism school has had one or more internships, maybe with a local newspaper or with a magazine, advertising agency, or public relations firm.  Every intern is a target in one way or the other of the old-timers in the firm.  The intern gets talked down to as a matter of rite.  Usually at the end of the internship the intern gets sent along her merry way, and sometimes she gets an offer to stay on, usually at low pay.  This is the world of Stephen King′s novel The Colorado Kid, delivered in King’s trademark nor’easter style of dialogue.  A young woman from Ohio named Stephanie McCann is winding down her internship with The Weekly Islander, working for the “news staff,” a pair of guys who can’t seem to decide how long they’ve worked at the paper named Dave Bowie (no relation, to either) and Vince Teague.  Another reporter, from The Boston Globe, is asking the men about unexplained mysteries in the area for a features story, around the year 2004.  After he leaves, The Weekly Islander men proceed to tell Stephanie about a story they didn’t share with the Globe reporter, the unsolved mystery of The Colorado Kid, a man found dead against a trash can situated along a nearby beach back in 1980.  In a spin on Twenty Questions, Stephanie gets to ask all the questions–to learn the clues and what investigation transpired so far in the crime–and they answer in a very verbose and dragged out way that only local yokels would normally have the patience to listen to.  After years out of print, The Colorado Kid has been re-released by Hard Case Crime for the first time since the book was first published in 2005.  In fact it’s the book that kicked off the imprint, and lighted the spark to make it the popular publisher of crime fiction that it is today.  The first edition fetches a princely sum in the aftermarket, so the new paperback edition is a welcome event for crime genre readers.

Fans of King’s TV and film adaptations and Shawn Piller television series will recognize the novel as the impetus for the Syfy Channel series Haven (now streaming on Netflix) a show that also included Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai as a producer.  Here’s what they have in common: The Colorado Kid is set in the Northeast, it featured newspapermen Dave and Vince, one of the local policemen was named Wuornos, and there’s a restaurant in town called The Grey Gull.  I noted nothing else in common with the TV series, except a different story of the Kid (the series’ handling probably less satisfying than in the book).  Ardai, in a 2019 foreword to the new edition, surmises that King may have chosen to wait this long to reprint the book to provide some distance from the series, so fans wouldn’t confuse the two.  If you choose to take on The Colorado Kid–the novel–just don’t search for any supernatural twist or horror.  There isn’t any and there isn’t supposed to be.  It also doesn’t follow a mystery formula, but is more a folktale, a storyteller’s legend, something like the lost people of Roanoke (one of the mysteries that surfaces in the series).

 

If it sounds like I’m holding back some elements, it’s because some of the surprise worth holding back is in the bones of the tale (surprises like we found in the films Midnight Special, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Split).  With this story “the journey is the thing.”  First, the possibilities raised in the story are probably better than the story.  The Colorado Kid is a different type of tale, kicking aside all reader expectations–no matter what expectation you have coming into the story.  It’s full of Stephen King’s Maine, the local oddballs are few here, but we get plenty of their anachronisms, their dialects, and colloquialisms from storytellers Dave and Vince.  And as with the next Hard Case Crime book King would write, Joyland, it’s chock full of local charm (a more satisfying read, I reviewed Joyland as part of the official blog tour for the initial release here at borg in 2013).  The Colorado Kid is another example of why King is a bestselling author–his newspapermen keep you immersed in their little office along with Stephanie for the entire ride.  By book’s end you’ll more likely be ready to kill Dave and Vince for their quirks than the author for his… unorthodox… ending. Continue reading

Odds are, you’re going to find this year to be the best year yet for accessing your favorite Halloween movies in October.  Particularly if you have a DVR and basic cable, you’ll be able to find many staples of the holiday season.  Below we’ve provided hundreds of movies scheduled to air–hundreds to choose from with a mix of classics and brand new shows–our annual compilation of the movies you get with the typical national basic cable packages.  Syfy’s 31 Days of Halloween is back, along with Freeform’s 31 Nights of Halloween.  AMC’s Fear Fest begins October 14, this year swapping out many movies for reruns of The Walking Dead, leads up to the new season premiere of the series (AMC’s listing below will be updated once they publish their final official schedule).  And TCM is back with monster classics and special theme days.

We’ve bolded some of our recommendations and other notable events in October.  A new Halloween movie will be in theaters and you can watch all the past entries in the series on AMC.  TCM honors the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein with several classic spin-offs.  You won’t want to miss Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, too.  A Stephen King movie marathon, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Bela Legosi, Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger, and lots of exorcisms.  Plus lots of animated movies on Freeform, and the Disney channel will be releasing its listings for Monstober later in the month.

All month long on Netflix you can watch horror movies including The Sixth Sense, The Lost Boys, The Boy, Cloverfield, Coraline, Children of the Corn, Cult of Chucky, Van Helsing, plus series like Stranger Things, The Twilight Zone, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Requiem, Bates Motel, and The Frankenstein Chronicles.  On Starz you can find a mix of sci-fi and horror movies including John Carpenter’s The Thing, They Live, and Ghosts of Mars, Young Frankenstein, Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, Underworld: Blood Wars, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Zombieland, Life, Scream, Amityville: The Awakening, Sleepy Hollow, Hollow Man, The Craft, and many more.  If all else fails, you can probably grab your favorite ghost story or other horror classic on Vudu and Amazon Prime, where you can buy or rent recommendations like The Fog (both versions), The Birds, The Shining, Orphan, Let Me In, The Others, The Woman in Black, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Ring, Grimm, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  

So take notes and put your watch list into your DVR now so you don’t miss anything.  (All times listed are Central Time):

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

You don’t expect a crime novel or pulp fiction to be funny.  Sure, any good story has some humor, but crime mysteries are the stuff of suspense-thrillers and dark alleys, right?  Maybe so, but then there is the late great crime fiction writer Donald E. Westlake.  His novel Help I Am Being Held Prisoner has a lead character that would knock any reader off his chair.  The Chicago Sun-Times called Westlake “the funniest crime writer going” and they’re probably right.  His humor sometimes comes out of nowhere.  It’s not the hard-boiled flavor you may be used to, but his characters are still clever as ever, possessing those traits that make everyone appear so real.  His comedy is decisive and quick and the next thing you know tears are shooting out of yours eyes and coffee out your nose.  Hot on the heels of last year’s posthumously published action thriller Forever and a Death (reviewed here), Westlake’s Help I Am Being Held Prisoner is the latest classic find from the Hard Case Crime series, a 1974 novel now back in bookstores in a new edition for the first time in decades (with a great painted Paul Mann cover), and making people laugh again 44 years later.

Westlake’s protagonist this time is Harold Künt, last name pronounced “koont.”  The umlaut is important because pretty much no one has pronounced his name correctly in his life.  He’s 32 years old and unmarried, after three girlfriends refused to marry him, mainly because of his name.  In a roundabout but direct way, the joke God played on him with his name–in Künt’s mind–was rationale to play jokes on everyone else.  So Künt rebelled and got a sweet vengeance against everyone and anyone via his unique brand of practical jokery.  His signature?  The best practical jokes are the ones you don’t see play out.  You just set them up and walk away.  Künt is a pretty satisfied guy until one of his jokes goes too far off the rails and he lands in a New York jail–five to fifteen years in the penitentiary–a steeper penalty than warranted.  But two married Congressmen and unmarried ladies in the cars with them were part of a 17-car collision caused by Künt’s latest prank.  So Künt was due for his comeuppance.  The novel begins with Künt’s first day in the slammer.  Jailed for a joke, he’s resigned to becoming rehabilitated.  Sort of.  No more pranks, the warden orders, as Künt leaves some goo on the door handle as he leaves with the guard.  Künt is provided good advice, and he’s shown which of the inmates to steer clear of and for which reasons.  Then his roommate gets paroled and everything falls apart.  Or does it?

  

It’s a crime novel, so the novel needs a crime.  Künt falls in with exactly the wrong crowd, a group of thugs who have control over a tunnel out of the prison where they have found a way to live a second life outside of their jail sentences.  Is Künt in or is he out?  The band of criminals develop a plan to rob not just one but two of the local town banks.  What better an alibi to an armed robbery than being locked in jail?

Continue reading

How often does a young actor get a week where he is featured in two studio trailers?  Last week that was Charlie Heaton, the 21-year-old actor known for his role as Jonathan Byers, the awkward teenage brother of missing kid Will and son of Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers on last year’s hit retro series Stranger Things.  He’s back in the final preview for Season 2, premiering on Netflix next week.  One of the questions that fans of Stranger Things will be watching for this season is whether Jonathan and Nancy finally get together this year.

Last week 20th Century Fox released a trailer for the next Marvel Studios X-Men spinoff, The New Mutants.  Based on a three-issue story arc from the comic book series in 1984, this very different X-Men story is being marketed as Stephen King meets John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  A horror film blending with the superhero genre but without supersuits or supervillains, it focuses on five mutant kids including Sam Guthrie aka Cannonball, played by Heaton.  Doctor Who and Game of Thrones viewers will also notice Maisie Williams co-starring in the film–she will play the character known as Wolfsbane.

Even the feel of The New Mutants has a retro vibe, which is probably why Stranger Things’ co-star Heaton was cast in the film.  Check out these two new trailers featuring Charlie Heaton, the final Stranger Things season two trailer and the first trailer for The New Mutants:

Continue reading

That night I moved from the upstairs bedroom to the one beside mom and dad.  I had nightmares until I was in bootcamp.

So if you wanted to find out what the scariest movies were, how would you proceed?  Unless you’re a diehard horror movie fan, you can’t really come close to seeing them all.  And how do you get past general movie reviews to the actual movie watchers?  Isn’t that the best place to get to the truth?  Would you just come out and tell someone what really scares you?

About a month ago a question was posed to a group of general interest fanboys and fangirls on the Internet:  What movie traumatized you as a kid?  More than 12,500 people responded.  So what scares did they get while they were kids that stayed with them to this day?  The answers provided a great list of movie recommendations for Halloween, including more than 50 identified below with some of the responders’ reactions.  The results were cross-generational, with comments from people who were kids in the 1950s through well into the 1990s.  Some are movies watched in the theater, some at drive-ins, others from the living room on late night TV.  Sprinkled into the responses are movies that probably would scare only kids (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Alice in Wonderland) but most responses were films Rated R or otherwise targeted at adults.  You’d think the list would include nearly everything we listed on this month’s schedule of movies appearing on TV (here at borg.com).  That wasn’t always the case.  And many might make you think nobody has ever paid attention to that Rated R advisory and that many parents took kids to movies way before they should have.  The actor who tops the list?  The versatile Bette Davis, who appeared in numerous horror films and two at the top of this list (I watched my best friend in junior high hide behind his hands watching the film The Watcher in the Woods starring Davis, so consider that one of my recommendations).  It should be no surprise many of the scares come from stories written by Stephen King.

So… to quote Dan Aykroyd talking to Albert Brooks at the beginning of the movie The Twilight Zone:

Do you want to see something really scary?

So what movies topped the list–the films that created actually nightmares for so many?  Several hundred people identified these three as the most traumatizing:  What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (“scared the shit out of me and we had to go home”), The Exorcist (“I don’t think my sister or I slept for a month”), and The Wizard of Oz (“the witch and the flying monkeys!”).  The next tier went to some movies you may not even remember or would think of:  The Hand (“I still don’t let my arm dangle or leg the edge of the bed at night”), The Day After (“to this day the visuals haunt me”), and Rosemary’s Baby (“my mother’s worst parenting decision was allowing me to watch it”).  Close behind were Trilogy of Terror (“that doll bothered me for years”), Arachnophobia (“I hate spiders as much as clowns”), Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (“Mom told me not to look when Charlotte chops a guy’s head off with a hatchet, but it was too late”), and Child’s Play (lots of instances of older kids traumatizing their younger siblings after watching).

Dozens were frightened by Ridley Scott’s original Alien, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (“I turn away when I know the dead guy scene is coming”), the original The Thing and John Carpenter’s The Thing (but no mention of the latest remake), Stephen King’s original It with Tim Curry (“I will never understand why my parents allowed me to watch that”), and a Universal monster classic: The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Who knew this would make the list: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (“Christopher Lloyd… Scariest children’s movie villain ever”), and many more mentions included A Nightmare on Elm Street (“Thinking someone could kill me in my dreams and never physically be there ruined my ability to sleep soundly”), Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal (“Skeksis are creepy to this day”) and Labyrinth (“when the fireys sing their song and do their dance for Sarah”), Stephen King’s The Shining (“I am sure my scream carried for miles,” “stood out in the lobby most of the movie”) and Pet Sematary (“still can’t watch it”), Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (“couldn’t take a shower without locking the bathroom door for years”), Sleeping Beauty (“my parents had to take me out of Sleeping Beauty I was so scared”), A Clockwork Orange (“will always haunt me”), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (“I’m still not ok with it… I won’t watch it”), The Amityville Horror (“at least a month before I’d sleep without lights on”), Jaws (“I still won’t go in the water”), and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (“had to get behind the couch,” “could never have gaps in curtains or blinds for the next 20 years”).

Continue reading

Narragansett Brewing Company has a new Lovecraft beer available this summer, complete with an excellently creepy and fantasy-rich marketing campaign.  The latest in Narragansett’s series of Lovecraft offerings features a tale of a classic copper-helmeted deep-sea diver, and the presentation is the kind of design that beer can collectors will want to get their hands on.  Born in 1890, the same year that Narragansett Beer was founded, H.P. Lovecraft spent the majority of his life in Providence, Rhode Island, as a struggling author, only achieving literary fame posthumously.  Commonly referred to as the “Father of Modern Horror,” he influenced authors and artists from Stephen King to Metallica to Ridley Scott.  H.P. Lovecraft is probably best known for creating Cthulhu, a fictional deity described as being part man, part dragon and part octopus.  It is this creature that inspired the Cthulhu Mythos, a cultural lore and shared fictional universe of Lovecraft successors.

Past Lovecraft beers in the series have featured homages to Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Herbert West–Reanimator, and The White Ship Now ushering in the Halloween season, inspired by Lovecraft’s incredible short story The Temple, Narragansett’s latest includes a great video to accompany the release (check it out below, and you can read Lovecraft’s original stories online at the links in the above titles).

Now that autumn has arrived it’s also time for Oktoberfests, and Renaissance Faire season is in full swing.  Narragansett has that covered as well, with a richly drawn medieval theme in its new Fest Marzen Lager.  Featuring an image of the mythical King Gambrinus based on an 1898 illustration, the orange can echoes the coming falling leaves and contains the company’s Bavarian style beer offered in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Fest product was the most requested beer by fans of the company in a recent poll, and this is the first time the company is releasing it to market in three years.  To celebrate the “Return of the King,” ‘Gansett is launching release parties and even a half marathon with pumpkin pie at the finish line.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Twenty years ago this weekend, the sovereignty of Hong Kong was handed back to China by the United Kingdom as the last act of the old British Empire, without incident.

The anniversary of this transfer of power coincides with the release by Hard Case Crime of one of crime fiction readers’ most eagerly awaited events: the final novel of Donald E. Westlake.  The result surpasses all expectations from one of America’s most celebrated authors:  the adventure of Ian Fleming, the complexity of Michael Crichton, the surprises of Stephen King, the thrills of Peter Benchley, the pulse of John Grisham.  A taut thriller, gripping, heart-pounding, and jaw-dropping, Forever and a Death is Donald E. Westlake saving his best for last.  Forever and a Death is his never-before-published new novel–a James Bond story of sorts–with an intriguing backstory.  Tapped to write the second James Bond film to feature Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Westlake created a compelling story of international intrigue revolving around the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997.  Because of the success of GoldenEye, the uncertainty of a smooth transfer of power of Hong Kong, and a distaste by the Chinese market for Bond,  the Broccoli family and the Bond franchise machine amicably parted ways with Westlake.  But he then reworked his story in secret, leaving behind at his death in 2008 a stunning action adventure, only snipping the world famous spy from the story.

The result is one of the most intelligent, loathsome, and shrewd Bond villains you’ll ever meet, Richard Curtis, an enormously wealthy business mogul who has amassed a network of corporations across the globe that will allow him to carry out his every wish.  When he is booted from Hong Kong at the transfer of power, he becomes fixated on a power play to destroy Hong Kong as payback.  As with many wealthy CEOs, Curtis is charismatic and influential.  He has encircled himself with individuals who are beholden to him for their own wealth and they would do anything to maintain his and their own lifestyle.  And that includes murder.  Not as preposterous as many Ian Fleming constructions, the method Westlake creates for Curtis is completely believable: using a series of carefully calculated explosions, a soliton wave will be created that will shake the very foundation of Hong Kong and reduce the entirety of the city–skyscrapers, homes, and millions of lives–to sediment.  Westlake introduces his male protagonist to show us the way, a trusted engineer named George Manville (a partner in action with Bond in the original treatment).  Kept in the dark about the ultimate goal, Manville completes the first test on a small abandoned island near Australia that he believes to be part of a plan to make the island into a lavish resort.  But when an environmental group tries to stimy Curtis’s test, a headstrong activist and diver emerges, a woman named Kim Baldur (who would become, to a small extent, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies) dives into the ocean and swims for shore to stop the operation.  Unfortunately for her, Manville neglected to incorporate a kill switch to the project, and she is swallowed by the wave and what would have been a superb Honey Ryder-esque Bond girl is left for dead.  And this is only the introduction of the novel.

Artist Paul Mann completing the original artwork for the cover of Forever and a Death (from Illustrated 007).

Westlake peppers his story with completely unique characters, and readers will find they empathize with even the most minor of them as they are subjected to Curtis’s gruesome tactics.  You may need to remind yourself to breathe as well-meaning whistleblowers find themselves in Hong Kong’s underbelly just as Curtis begins to carry out a plan to walk away from his destruction with a haul of gold bars that rest in the bank vaults beneath the city.

Continue reading

Stranger Things cast

Stranger Things is a rare thing among plenty of series bombarding viewers of streaming services.  It would never get accused of trying too hard.  It’s good but not great.  It features no major actors.  It has developed a cult following yet it is not produced by J.J. Abrams (think Lost, Fringe, Almost Human, Believe, Westworld).  And for all these things, it’s just what we want.  We’ve had enough of CGI and big budget explosions and special effects.  Low budget is just fine–for now.  It’s that movie you are looking for late on a Saturday night, but stretched to eight episodes long.

More series like this will make Netflix survive despite all the competition from other services.  Stranger Things is good enough–good at sci-fi and horror and coming of age retro fun–to get you to sign up with Netflix for your next binge watch session.  More important than its storytelling is how the story is told, and the efforts taken to make the series, the characters, the setting, the dialogue, all look like it was filmed in the early 1980s.  Several artists have even mocked up the series marketing material into VHS tape packaging.  Were it a movie-length feature it would probably fool many.  It’s in the same vein as Disney’s Watcher in the Woods.  Like Stephen King’s Firestarter, Stand By Me and Silver Bullet it features kids in a coming-of-age setting.  Its monster/alien horror and soundtrack (available here) reflects the look and vibe of John Carpenter movies.  The marketing screams Stephen King, especially that red-on-black title font.  And it will no doubt gin up nostalgia to spur cassette tapes of its soundtrack like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Stranger Things VHS

It’s Steven Spielberg’s E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, if the story had taken a darker turn, and very similar to Spielberg and Abrams’ Super 8 (Super 8 poster artist Kyle Lambert even created the poster for this series to further lock in the look).  Critics have picked apart odds and ends found in the background of scenes–this item didn’t exist then, etc.  But ultimately the overall feel is very right.  You’ll point to a pitcher on the table, a rug on the floor, a poster on the wall, all that you had back then.  And the season one wrap-up is as satisfying as you’re going to find in a TV series.

Continue reading

Audrey haven

We’ve been fans of Haven, Syfy’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid, from episode one and seeing Emily Rose (Audrey/Sarah/Mara/Lucy), Eric Balfour (Duke), and Lucas Bryant (Nathan) at San Diego Comic-Con back in 2012.  The three series stars are returning, joined by Dwight (Adam Copeland) and the brothers Teagues (Richard Donat and John Dunsworth), as they have one season to make a final stand against The Troubles.

Unlike so many series that have a good run and are cancelled dead in their tracks, leaving fans hanging forever, Haven will be able to complete its story, with 13 episodes that have already aired in Season 5 and 13 more in the can, including a series finale promising to tie up any loose ends.

haven finale

When we next catch up with the citizens of Haven, Dwight makes an important announcement: Haven PD is no more, The Guard has taken over and everyone is trapped inside town.

Here is a promo for the end of the series:

Continue reading