New Feature: Original Art!

From here on out, Partis Obscurum is now featuring original artwork done by Salt Lake City artist McCalle Sucese!  She is going to be doing work from time to time, especially for my short stories.  I just added the first of these today, a piece she did for my story “The Sound of His Crying.”  I’m including a small version of the picture in this postThe Sound of His Crying Copyright, but to see it in all of its awesome detail, follow the link to the story itself.

I love how wonderfully it captures the story– I’m still just wowed every time I look at it.

I’m hoping to get her to do work for the other stories I have up, which I’ll add (and shamelessly draw attention to) as they are completed.

So, look forward to more great artwork and keep reading!


Found Footage: Horrifying or Horrible

In concept, found footage is a brilliant idea that really does a lot to further much of film, especially in the horror genre.  When done properly, it lends a great deal to the believability of the story, making the story feel real in its presentation as well as in the events that happen.  There are many who complain that it has a low-budget feel, or that it is often nauseating to watch, but I can’t help but love much of what I’ve seen.

I love the idea of a story being told in a way that is true-to-life.  This isn’t exactly a new idea– Bram Stoker’s Dracula was told as a series of diary entries and letters, and in that day it makes sense that the events of the story would honestly be recorded in those formats.  My horror novel in the works is written in a similar fashion, using news magazine articles and journals, because I love how the story can come to life in the imperfect hands of multiple narrators with different motivations.  It’s really worked for me thus far.  It likewise makes sense that in the case of some sort of horrifying event or global calamity that people would whip out their cameras and cell phones and start recording.  One only needs to go to a concert to know that often people prefer to record big events rather than spend time experiencing them.  So, in many instances, I can really believe what I am watching when it is through the lens of an amateur cameraman.

My first contact with found footage was actually a film that only had horror elements rather than being a straight-up scary movie: CloverfieldCloverfield_theatrical_poster.  I saw it in theaters, and thankfully I didn’t have the nausea issues that several people had indicated they had.  One friend told me they had to leave the theater because the shaky camera made them quite ill.  Instead of any displeasure, I walked out of the theater feeling quite exhilarated.  I loved how the cameraman was part of the story (though admittedly a quite annoying contributor) and how the action was so chaotic and raw– not what you’d expect from a film where a giant monster attacks a major city.  I had enjoyed other films of that vein– Godzilla, Mothra, King Kong— but Cloverfield just resonated so much more strongly.  I cared about the characters and their survival instead of just the spectacle (which you only catch snippets of) because of the format of the film.  No, it is far from perfect, particularly as the guy filming has little reason to keep the camera rolling in sections where everybody is just running and nothing is visibly happening, and when the camera is on and off seems to be rather haphazardly thrown together.  But, it caught my imagination and my excitement.

My next experience with found footage was… pretty bad.  Horror legend George Romero made a zombie film DiaryofDeadPoster2using the technique and, like most of the other films he directed that I’ve seen, it failed to live up to the epic status of his name.  I actually have never been very impressed by any of his films, though I can at least see why his first three Living Dead films are so iconic.  Instead of reaching anything near the quality of those films, Diary of the Dead felt like the creation of a washed-up director trying to capitalize on his name by making the shoddiest low-budget film he could throw together.  The zombies were pretty uninteresting, the characters were flat, and the reason for the found footage was pretty forced.  The idea of college film students making a movie just as the zombie apocalypse is okay, but the fact that they’re making a bad horror movie just before everything that follows turns into a bad horror movie was just a little bit too much.  I later learned (as you’ll see further down in this post) that it was much too similar in concept to The Blair Witch Project, and definitely not as good as that precursor.  I just felt like the filming was inexcusably poor, especially since it is being done by a character that is allegedly wanting to become a professional cameraman.  The scares were almost nonexistent.  The only positive thing I can really say about it is that it was nowhere near as awful as Land of the Dead.  To my understanding this film garnered a sequel called (laughably) Survival of the Dead that, from everything I’ve heard about it, I have been wise to avoid.

Thankfully, my next experience with horror found footage was much more positive: Quarantine.  I’ve heard many of the same arguments against this film that I heard about Cloverfield— that it was difficult to watch, that it was unbelievable that the camera would still be rolling. Quarantineposter  I can’t help but laugh at these claims, because I thought the film was simply brilliant, easily one of the scariest films I had ever seen– most because of the camera being part of the action.  I love that the cameraman character was a professional, which excused how good much of the film work is.  There are, of course, intense moments where the camera shakes, but as a whole it is much more watchable without taking a dramamine than other found footage films.  I loved that the main characters were reporters, because it made their continual, persistent filming of the hellish events very real to me.  Plus, the film brought some great moments as the camera was used in some very refreshing ways, particularly as it is actually used to bash in the head of a zombie (yes, I’ve heard the argument for the people in this not being zombies, but I’m in the camp that this is, in fact, a zombie film).  It doesn’t get much moreRec_poster intense than that.  I also loved the intensity of the situation for the film– basically, to be quarantined in a building by the government while dealing with a crazy zombie virus outbreak inside an apartment building.  The how of the story was told much more subtly than most horror films, presenting the back story as a series of clues that the audience actually had to pay attention to fully put together.  There were no “Ah, so this thing that was said ties into this thing we found and thus means this” moments in the dialogue, which was more true to life than most stories told in any format.

I found out later that Quarantine was the American version of the Spanish film [REC].  Because I loved Quarantine so much, I made a point to seek out the original, which I loved even more.  The acting was more realistic to me, though beside that it was almost frame-for-frame the same.  If you haven’t seen either, I’d recommend just watching [REC].  It also has a sequel that picks up immediately after the intense conclusion that I haven’t watched yet, but have heard good things about.

Remembering the buzz it garnered in my youth, I next watched one of the most famousBlair_Witch_Project examples of found footage horror: The Blair Witch Project.  This film came out when I was in elementary school, and some of the other kids whose parents apparently were much more lax than mine in terms of allowing their children to watch mature films (my parents wouldn’t let me watch The Sixth Sense) took turns telling the other kids about how it was a true story, that the movie was found and that the people who made it were probably dead.  Having no idea what the film was other than the awkward poster, these claims of my classmates were filed away in the “I Have No Idea What These People Are Talking About” section of my brain.  It wasn’t until I watched the film that I realized that the marketing campaign had so successfully suckered a bunch of nine-year-olds.

Other than the laughable snotty nose scene, I really enjoyed the film.  I actually liked that it didn’t show the monster (what I assume is the titular Blair Witch).  I liked its use of two cameras.  I felt like it was quite successfully scary while doing only minimalistic things to achieve those scares.  I felt like I would be just as terrified in that situation.  I liked that they didn’t make tons of obvious mistakes, and that the mistakes they made were things that many people would have done.

Finally, a few years later I watched the first three installments of the Paranormal Activity series, all of which I thought were  excellent found footage filmsParanormal-Activity-3.  Since my next horror post is going to actually break down my feelings for the series, film-by-film, I’m not going to go into too many details about how I feel about the plot and the like.  I’ll primarily stick to my thoughts on how it works with found footage.

I feel that it is reasonable that somebody would set up cameras to see what is going on when there are unusual happenings in the house.  This works for the first three films very well, though the later installments are admittedly forcing the idea a little too much to achieve what I feel is key to the genre– realism and believability.  By Paranormal Activity 4 I stop believing that the cameras are rolling relative to the continuing story.  The first film worked on its own merits and by centering the action on only a few rooms in the house was very effective in using the filming for the storytelling.  The second film was almost as effective as it primarily used security cameras to tell the story, which after early events looking like a break-in, I also had very little difficulty in believing.  Finally, the third film, though seeming a little forced in the mother’s boyfriend editing film for a living, was superb.  The film quality and style was very true to (high quality) home movies, and the fresh film techniques really made the story pop.  I loved every scene that made use of the camera mounted on a fan swivel system.  The filming made the movie very intense, easily the most frightening for me in the series.  However, Paranormal 4‘s use of webcams and the Xbox Kinect just didn’t work.  The technology was believable, sure, but I just had a hard time being drawn into the story because much of it is told beside a teenage girl flirting via Skype.  The Marked Ones thankfully abandoned the constant use of new technology, but we have very little reason for the characters to be filming all of this, which I’ve stated is the original argument for most of the naysayers, which I couldn’t help but agree with for this particular instance.

Finally, I’m Apollo_18_Postergoing to touch on two more found footage films, one a flop, the other a surprising gem (and it’s not even horror!).  The former is Apollo 18, which used extremely grainy footage that is deliberately reminiscent of the Apollo moon landing.  This footage simply did not work.  It’s fine to have something grainy like that when seeing the historical moment, but for a feature-length film it is extremely dull and exploits the fact that the audience can’t tell what is really happening at pretty much any given moment, particularly in the “scary” parts.  I was badly bored because, well, it’s hard to  be drawn in by bad acting that, in near-cue card fashion, indicated when I was supposed to be frightened by unintelligible shouting.  Simply, I had no idea who the characters were, why I should care about them, or what was actually happening.  I managed to get halfway through before muttering “screw it,” and telling Netflix to give me something better to watch.

Speaking of something on Netflix that is TrollHuntermuch more worthwhile, we have Troll Hunter.  Yes, I was skeptical when I was first told about it, but I assure you that it is simply a wonderful film.

Let me be clear on one thing– the trolls are kind of mediocre by most Hollywood special effect standards, but this isn’t a Hollywood film.  It’s Norwegian!

The film is pretty much exactly what it sounds like– a group of people who are hunting for footage of trolls.  However, this isn’t a bad idea– it’s very compelling, with good acting, interesting characters, and good action.  The mythology surrounding the trolls is very unconventional for American audiences, which lends to its authenticity.  I felt like I was having an adventure while learning about northeastern European legends.  See it!

Published in: on January 20, 2014 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  


Well, I feel like throwing another one of my stories online, so the following is a story I wrote the same semester that I wrote “The Sound of His Crying,” another straight fiction piece  called “Listening.”  Enjoy!

My court-appointed therapist told me I was making myself depressed and was probably developing agoraphobia by sitting inside doing nothing all day.  Dr. Auburn suggested– prescribed— that I go out and spend time in public places.  Lots of time.  “Walk around the mall or park or the like.  Talk to people, even if it’s just saying ‘just looking’ to salespeople.  Or, if all else fails, try people-watching.”  So off I went, wandering around the mall, gaping at old people “mall walking” (isn’t that what they invented parks for?) and wondering why there were so many packs of middle-schoolers with their parents’ credit cards in hand, arms loaded with purchases.

Why I was “sitting inside doing nothing all day” was, in part, because I can’t get a job.  I can’t get one because I’m twenty years old with no diploma or GED, and in every job interview I have to tell potential employers that I have a legally-enforced curfew of 10:00 PM.  My parole officer, a self-righteous prick named Officer Hardy, who is the only person besides Dr. Auburn who I have regular contact with, has refused to budge on that issue.  Being two years out of juvenile detention with my lack of qualifications or skill set, the curfew destroys the chances of getting the only job I could realistically do– night shift stocking and truck unloading.  The result is living off a welfare check in a tiny apartment with just enough money for food.  I’ve seen others in my apartment complex somehow stretching their welfare checks to make car payments or to buy a nice TV, but those things were not for me– I got used to not having those things while I was in juvie, and I needed every cent I received to fuel my black hole of an appetite.  I’m a big boy, six feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds, a mixture of natural bulk, fat, and muscle.  Even when I’m eating well I always feel hungry.  So I have time without end, but no TV, little interest in books,  and no friends or family that will have anything to do with me anymore since the incident that got me sent to juvie.

I sat on a bench, too nervous and awkward to talk to anybody.  I was never good at talking, especially not without a clear purpose: I couldn’t chat just to chat.

I decided to try people-watching, but I didn’t like it.  I can’t understand why anybody does it as a hobby.  It seemed too fake to me.  Too much of it depended on my imagination, on putting words into people’s mouths.  I found myself judging others for their surface selves and for what I imagined of them.  I hated the excess, the phony faces, the people trying to one-up and impress.  The people in the mall made me sick, and the longer I watched the nastier the conversations I invented for them became.  I imagined a grandmother with a severe face assaulting a young child with a stream of profanity, a young couple mocking a store worker, a young mother teaching children racial slurs.  I fled from the mall, my head aching from what I saw and imagined.

As I walked home I thought about why it was that everybody had made me so sick.  I realized that my problem was partially with the greed: I had spent three years in a place where money didn’t really exist, and looking back  saw that it was the one thing about juvie that would be worth having back.

Even though I don’t care for books, I do love learning.  I’ve just always had issues with reading because I have dyslexia.  That’s the big reason I never got my GED in juvie– they offered a do-it-yourself program with plenty of reading and almost no instruction.  Just a once-a-week tutor hired by the state, and he didn’t even try.  I’ve always learned best by hearing things explained, and the time or two I tried to go to his classes he did very little explaining.  With my appreciation of learning in mind I came up with a new plan of how I could go out in the world and spend time among people without rubbing my face in what I hated about people and the world.

The next morning I walked three miles up to the nearby college campus.  Even though I had lived in the city my whole life, with the exception of juvie which was just outside of city limits (though it may as well have been a whole world away), I had never been on campus. I had always just rode by with a sense of innocent awe of the antiqued buildings and the knowledge contained within.  Finally setting foot on campus, I quickly saw that my long-standing perception was a little exaggerated, realizing that college was essentially a bunch of people my age mixing learning with socializing, much like how high school was for me before I went to juvie, though a little more mature in this setting.  That realization should have made me feel more comfortable, but juvie just taught me to not trust teenagers and young adults.  They often were the ones who would do the cruelest things, and were much more likely to get away with it.  I was shocked by the stories I heard about the things the others did that weren’t the reason they were in juvie.

I pushed my fear down the best I could, though admittedly I was still nervous as hell.  I  wandered between buildings and over a long lawn I later learned was called the Quad and found a bench near a stop for the shuttle system that bussed students to the far ends of campus.  I pulled the hood of my black hoodie up, ignoring the added heat it gave in the spring sunlight, and closed my eyes.  I wasn’t there to people-watch.

I was there to listen.

During the next few weeks that spot became my favorite place in the world.  I didn’t always do my listening there– I rotated through four different locations between 8:30 and 4:00 to avoid suspicion of those who may pass by multiple times, but my two and a half hours near that shuttle stop was always the highlight of my day.

I started to think of each spot as a unique TV show, or rather, more like a radio show since the visual element had been eliminated.  Two of them seemed to be soap operas, constant tension and drama.  The shuttle stop spot tended to be the juiciest.

My cast of characters was great– I almost used the word “beautiful,” but that generally implies something you see, and I honestly didn’t know what they looked like.  Looking was against the rules I set for my journeys out in public after the people-watching incident.  Instead, I just pretended to sleep or read the book I bought as part of my farce.  No, if I was going to go out in the world, I was going to really try to learn the people on a deeper level than basic visual recognition.

My regulars (nicknames invented where I don’t know the real names): Marcy, Jaymee (yes, this is the correct spelling, I heard her spell it out during a phone conversation), Terrance,  Epping, Jake, “Ernie” (he sounds just like the puppet on Sesame Street), and “Deep-Voice Woman.”  And these were just those waiting for the bus.

I lived through them.  I heard their tales of romance, particularly of the exploits of Marcy.  Tears silently roll down my face for their heartbreaks.  I smiled as Jaymee lectured to anyone who would listen on literature.  I listened as Jake and “Ernie” debated almost every topic conceivable, from politics to brands, using pseudo-intellectual language, and in spite of their differing opinions it was clear they had been longtime friends.

Some of my favorite episodes were on rainy days.  Tension was heightened.  On those days Jake and “Ernie” became the stars, their arguments being taken to more exaggerated levels.  On my first rainy day they almost got into a shouting match over computer operating systems, Jake a staunch Windows supporter, “Ernie” loving something called Fedora.  “Deep Voice Woman” got involved, voicing support for Mac, which somehow managed to anger both of the young men.  Another of the most memorable episodes, though this one was on a sunny day, featured Epping trying unsuccessfully to get out of a conversation started by Jaymee about A Farewell to Arms.  Surprisingly, she managed to pique my interest in the book, in spite of my dyslexia, while driving Epping crazy until the shuttle bus arrived.  I never got the book, but it sounded interesting.

Through all of the installments, no one ever spoke to me more than a simple, “Is this seat taken?” in reference to the other half of the bench, and none of the handful of people who spoke to me were among the group whose lives I was obsessed with.

I went to the campus with a dedication that most people don’t even have for their jobs.  It became kind of like a job to me, but not menial labor, but rather the type of job one would dream about their whole life and turns out to be better than they imagined.  I got a check regularly from the government, plus I felt productive and happy.  Happier than I had been since I was little.

I made some changes in my life: I started eating less because I was no longer always within a few steps of my fridge and I hated bringing snacks because chewing made it harder to listen.  I lost weight, about twenty pounds, from that and from the six miles I was walking each day to get to and from campus.  I also spent money on a new wardrobe to better blend in with my new environment– three or four new t-shirts, two pairs of pants, and a dark brown hoodie with the name of a band I’d never listened to across the back.  I improved my hygiene habits because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, or drive people away by being “that smelly guy on the bench who always wears the same clothes.”  It wasn’t long at all before I went from looking (and smelling) like a homeless man to looking like a college kid living on a budget, which, with the exception of class attendance, I was.  And from some conversations I’d heard, there was a good number of students who were about as active in their class attendance as I.

Dr. Auburn said he was very impressed at the progress I was making and praised me for finding a creative way to learn to break away from my introversion and make steps towards functioning normally and safely in society.  Officer Hardy just asked me why the hell I didn’t have a job yet.

I followed my ritual every weekday– woke at six, showered, dressed, ate cold breakfast, walked to campus, spent most of the day listening, then walked home, made a big dinner, and went to sleep.  I left campus early on Fridays to meet with Dr. Auburn.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Until today.

This afternoon I was pretending to read my book when I felt somebody sit next to me.  After a few moments the person tapped on my shoulder.  I looked up to see a beautiful young woman with dark eyes and brown hair looking at me with a smile.  “Hi,” she said with a  voice I instantly knew belonged to Jaymee.  I stared in response, my mind screaming, This is against my rules!  Her smile not faltering, she continued.  “I’ve seen you here almost every day this semester, and you’re always reading that book.  You must’ve read it a dozen times.  I’m really curious– what is it about?  What makes it so good?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but I realized that I didn’t know a single thing about the book other than the title– Night: Washington Boulevard— and the author’s name– Mayer Clark.  I wasn’t even sure what genre it was.  The words on the page were the furthest thing from my mind when I had the book open.

I  struggled to make a sound, but my body resisted.  I cleared my throat several times before it would allow any noise.  “Y-you know,” I said, the stuttered words feeling like they were being spoken by a different person, “I- I’m trying to figure that out myself.”

She laughed.  “God, that’s how I feel about half the stuff I read.”  She put out her hand.  “I’m Jaymee.”

Published in: on January 16, 2014 at 10:23 pm  Comments (2)  
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I Have A Degree In Creative Writing, So… What’s Next?

Spring  semester of 2013 I completed my degree in English – Creative Writing at Utah State University.  Initially, I felt thrilled– I essentially had a piece of paper that implied that I could write with a fair degree of proficiency.  Even though I had been given words of warning by every writing professor I had come in contact with, I felt like I was a writer.  I had done it.

But I really hadn’t. 71019119

Reality has a way of punching people.  My degree made me a writer in much the same way a degree in French makes somebody a Frenchman– it doesn’t.  At all.  What my degree meant was I had received a few years of training on the craft, but other than some optional letters– B.S.– to add behind my name, I only warranted a BS (not bachelor of science) sense of achievement.  I wasn’t a writer.  Not really.  Unfortunately, I’m still not.


So, what’s the difference between being a writer and a guy that writes?

I’m not going to restrict the use of the term “writer” by any measure of success in the field.  Success means that the wonderful word “professional” can be added before it, but I feel like I can become a writer long before any story or book is published, long before I garner a large blog audience.  To me, being a writer is about decisions and habits– ones that I am trying to teach myself to make and follow.

Simply, a writer writes.  Regularly, persistently.

Life makes it really easy for me to be a guy that writes instead of the alternative that I desire.  I’m married.  I have a job that I have to commute to.  I have friends.  I have an extensive backlog of video games, a Netflix account, a music library.  And these aren’t bad things in any way.  In fact, these are all wonderful– they make my life interesting and fun and worth living.  These things also can help with my writing.  A full, interesting, varied life informs and inspires art in the same way art informs and inspires life.

So, I need to find ways to make writing fit in with all these other things.  I have to make some sacrifices, but I think writing is well worth it.  I’ve started to find ways to adapt my life into one that involves writing more heavily, and I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by how easy it can be when I don’t let myself to forget how much I love it.  I’ve found ways to remind myself of this simply by thinking about my writing– especially my novel-in-progress– all the time.  It sounds like this goes without saying, but it’s really so much easier to sit down and write when I’ve spent the day coming up with good ideas.  I feel like I’ve had the issue of sitting down and expecting myself to just create, on demand, without much forethought.  Moving away from this, letting myself really stew with fresh ideas for my stories, is really making a world of difference.  I sit down feeling elated to have the chance to write, and it makes the experience magical every time.

The end goal is to write every day, or at very least 4-5 days a week.  With my current schedule, it is admittedly tricky to sit down and crank out material with as much regularity as I’d like.  So, I’ve looked at how my time is divided and spotted sections that I can do something pro-writing with.  For example, I know that I really benefit as a writer when I’m receiving instruction, so I’ve found a way to be instructed– by listening to a writing podcast while commuting.  I actually recommend it to anybody interested in writing– it’s Writing Excuses, and is done by some Utah writers– Howard Tayler (whose webcomic I have not read), Dan Wells (whose first published book, I Am Not A Serial Killer, I have read and enjoyed quite well), Mary Robinette Kowal (whose contributions to the podcast I haven’t yet reached), and Brandon Sanderson (whose writing I am thankful for).  Their discussion of the craft has already helped me a great deal– as I listen I think about specific elements of my book and have accordingly uncovered very critical plot and character details that are really adding a great deal of shape and thematic power to the story.  I can say definitely that listening to Writing Excuses is improving my writing.

I’ve also been carrying around a little pocket notebook with me.  I’ve actually been doing this for a while, originally for the intent of scribbling down ideas when they strike me, but in the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to do more with it– specifically, to make it useful in terms of prewriting.  When I have a free second at work or the like I’ve been pulling it out and fleshing out plot points, themes, character sketches, et cetera.  I’ve found that by doing so I’ve also been adding more to the fresh ideas aspect of the notebook as well.

I’m also seeking to find employment closer to where I live.  Simply, the less time I spend driving the more time I can potentially spend writing.  I may only end up with a job that pays okay and has only okay hours, but if it works with my writing then I’m going to be content– I’m learning to think more in terms of jobs that are working towards the goal of professional writing and those that do not.  Unfortunately, outside of podcast time and the ability to listen to audiobooks while performing my job tasks (because reading is critical to good writing) it isn’t a job good for my endgame.  So, I’ve also been looking into jobs that build writing skills, but that’s been a bust so far.

So, the habits and self-improvements to become a writer are in the works.  Any other tips for transitioning into becoming a writer?

Doctor Sleep + Three Faces of The Shining

This post is going to contain spoilers for The Shining.  The book is 37 years old, and the Kubrick film of the same title is 34, so deal with it.  I’m not going to go crazy spelling out every little plot detail, but just expect that some major elements– including the story’s conclusion– are going to be mentioned.  And I’m not going to wait until I get to the Three Faces of The Shining section of the post to start spoiling.  Any spoilers for it’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, are as minimal as I could manage in a review.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a Constant Reader of Stephen King.  I’ve read almost everything by him (I’m probably just a few months away from having read all of his books, at which time a big post will inevitably result).  Like a good portion of his readers, one of the first books I read by him is inarguably one of his most famous– The Shining.  I enjoyed it a great deal (as will be detailed later in the post).  It’s lingered for years in my mind as one of King’s scariest works, which, wanting to write horror myself, has meant that I’ve tried to break down what makes the story so unnerving, which has actually been quite tricky to do.  It’s a very impressive, well-crafted amalgam of supernatural and psychological horror.

While perusing the Stephen King Wikipedia page a few years ago, trying to decide which of his works to read next, I noticed a blurb about upcoming books, specifically that on his site he had voting for what book to do next– either an intermediate Dark Tower book (a series which I love dearly) or a sequel to The Shining.  With how often I had ranted about how beautifully unusual The Dark Tower is, I was surprised to find myself being more enthralled with the idea of the latter book.  The listed title was particularly alluring: Doctor Sleep.  Thus, I was pleased to see that the vote slightly favored Doctor Sleep.

It turned out that The Dark Tower: Wind Through the Keyhole ended up coming first in spite of the election of the other novel (not that I was too disappointed, it was a compelling yarn).  I made myself content by reading another slew of his other books while waiting the additional two and a half years to find out just what happened to Danny Torrance, and what kind of man he had become in the years after his father tried to kill him and his mother with a croquet mallet in a haunted hotel.

As a reader, it was easy to see how special of an experience it was for Stephen King to revisit one of his earliest novels.  It’s unusual for a writer to write a sequel so many years after an original work (the only other example I can think of being Joseph Heller’s Closing Time following up Catch-22), and it makes for an especially wonderful treat as a reader (particularly an avid follower) in that it is clear to see how the writer has matured and grown with the character, even though the character has only been living in the back of their writer’s mind.  It’s been fun to see how King has revisited some of his other characters by way of The Dark Tower series, but this was something altogether different, something more.

For starters, I’m going to just give my basic, back-of-the-book sort of synopsis so people who haven’t read this excellent book have some idea what I’m talking about.  Essentially, Doctor Sleep is a novel about Daniel Torrance, who we knew as the little boy in The Shining, who now is an adult, a recovering alcoholic who works in a hospice, using his “shine” to help patients at the close of their lives.  It’s also about a little girl who has an incredible amount of the shine, and a group of creatures who feed on psychic energy.

So, not quite as cut-and-dried as its predecessor, and it really helps to know the original pretty well, especially making sure one has a grasp of the whole idea of what the titular shining is.  Let me just say that if you haven’t read the original, don’t touch Doctor Sleep.  Pick up The Shining (and no, watching the Kubrick film doesn’t count– I’ll get to why later in the post), and then pick up the newest King book.  You haven’t earned it yet.

The first element of the book I want to get into is Dan.  386px-Doctor_SleepIt was fascinating to see a character that I previously only knew as a child now as a middle-aged man.  It was actually quite impressive, because King transitioned the character into the present day very seamlessly.  I felt like his choice to begin with a young Danny, a few years after the events at the Overlook Hotel, eased the transition (while also helping to re-cement in my mind a plot element that had been muddled a bit by the film– specifically that a character did not die in the book).  Then, I loved that Danny, who I thought was fairly lovable in his youth, grew up in a way that showed a great deal of complexity.  I loved that we could see his emotional scars as he first resented his father and his alcoholism, then mimicked it.  We see Dan at the lowest of his lows, but can’t help but identify with him, sympathize with him, ache in our hearts to see a character of innocence turn into a broken man– and, as the novel progresses, a good man who is haunted by ghosts, literal and figurative, from his past.

I do take issue with one element of Dan in this novel, however.  It by no means ruined anything, but I had a hard time getting a solid grasp as to what he exactly he does as “Doctor Sleep.”  I got the gist of it, but I didn’t feel like the things that were described in the novel were enough to warrant the title being Doctor Sleep.  It’s certainly a catchy title, but the book’s main story wasn’t about Dan’s “Doctor Sleep” actions.  I just needed more of Doc and Azzie.  It’s really my one complaint with the novel, particularly as a real-life version of Azzie the cat, which knew when people were about to die, is what inspired King to revisit The Shining characters.

King described Doctor Sleep as “a return to balls-to-the-wall, keep-the-lights-on horror.”  Though the book was quite scary at moments, I actually felt like this wasn’t quite an accurate description of the feel of the book.  It’s certainly a horror novel, but I didn’t feel as though it was anywhere near as frightening as some of King’s older works, such as The Shining, Misery, or Gerald’s Game.  I would even go as far as to say that his implication that his more recent work isn’t as scary as it doesn’t even apply– I felt like the darker sections of Duma Key (my favorite King novel) were notably more frightening.  That said, I do feel like the monsters of this novel– The True Knot– are very chilling, especially because in that outside of their supernatural element they are just as horrible– and quite plausible.

As with most of King’s works, his writing shines for a variety of reasons.  Most notable in my mind for this particular book is his characters.  The two most notable characters are Dan (who I’ve already discussed so no need for more) and Abra Stone, the little girl who also has the shining.  Even though the story is told in blocks of time that move forward in a way that almost seems haphazard (though that is the wrong word, really, because King gives us the snapshots of time with a master’s hand) he deftly paints the characters through the years the novel fills, giving the reader a love of their personalities and genuine concern for who their well-being.  Rose the Hat, the main villain of the piece, is terrifying yet very graspable– the reader can see and believe her motivations, even while reviling her.  The remaining cast, all of whom are comparatively minor characters, are all very alive in the piece.  His dialogue definitely has always been the key to bringing his characters to life, and it is very apparent here as most of the gaps in time are filled very seamlessly with the words spoken by the characters.

King’s prose, as usual, is wonderful, filled with language that somehow manages to be awful and beautifully perfect at the same time.  His storytelling is tight, excellently paced.

And, as usual, there are some of the ever-fun connections to his other works.  Mostly just references to places, and interestingly enough there also are references to Joe Hill’s book NOS4A2 (Hill is his son).

It’s really just a wonderful read (but again, make sure you’ve read The Shining first, otherwise you’ll spend much of the book wondering what is being referenced).

And now, onward (and backward) to the three faces of The Shining.  Properly, I’ll now begin with the beginning– the novel.

I’ve already revealed some of my feelings about this book.405px-Shiningnovel  In fact, I feel like this section of the post isn’t going to be too horribly long, as I’ve already had to cover a fair bit of the material I wanted to.  Also, I apologize, but I’m apt to repeat myself a bit.

The Shining is potentially one of the best books you could pick up if you want to start reading Stephen King, or if you just want to read a good old-fashioned scary story.  It’s King’s third published novel, and, as I’ve stated probably too many times already, it’s one of his most frightening.

As I stated at the beginning of the post, this book is very strong at bringing the scares because King doesn’t rely on just one or two tricks to keep his readers cowering.  Instead, there are layers upon layers of scares.  There is the horror of the broken (or inevitable-to-break) family, of alcoholism, of child and spousal abuse, both verbal and physical.  There is the terrible difference between perspectives of individuals.  There is isolation, the fury of nature.  There is the darkness of a place that has been filled for years with selfishness and depravity.  There are ghosts and things with teeth (the topiary animals scene is my favorite).  There are lies, secrets, and love that isn’t shown in return.

So, something for everybody.  Hopefully lots of things for each reader.  Having so many diverse scare tactics creates a very interesting tone in reading the piece– simply, I felt overwhelmed by it all.  And that was a good thing.  With a situation as overwhelming as the events of The Shining, the fact that my reading experience imitated that is a very good thing.  It shows that Stephen King knew what he was doing.

And he really did.  The alcoholism of Jack Torrance is by far one of the most prevalent elements of the story, and King was (unfortunately) writing from a position of personal experience.  The setting, too, feels so very real because King spent time researching the novel in the Stanley Hotel.  This, I feel, serves as a testament as to what good research can do for a novel.  Especially hands-on research.  It’s something that I want to be able to replicate for my own writing in the future (to clarify, good research, not alcoholism).

The are (and had to be) strong.  With only three characters filling most of text, each had to be well-developed, and it was clear that Mr. King was very well-acquainted with each of them.  I definitely felt that Jack was the most powerfully written of the family, but that worked for what happened in the story.  I felt Danny was a very realistic child, though I did want even more of him as the book was named after his talent.

So, all-in-all, one of King’s better novels.  Probably not quite in the top ten, but only barely missing that mark.  I’m sure that I’ll make a list of my favorite Stephen King books in order when I get around to that exhaustive post in a few months.

I have very split feelings about the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation of The Shining.  Part of me sees the masterful filmmaking, the iconic moments, and Kubrick’s deliberate, beautiful detail, and wants to love the film.  The_Shining_posterAnother part of me– one that is much louder and passionately opinionated– really can’t help but hate how unfaithful it is to the source material.

As a piece of its own, it is wonderful.  It is on almost every list of the greatest films of all time, after all.  There is no denying that Stanley Kubrick is one of the most talented filmmakers of all time.  Every moment of every scene has been constructed, framed, acted, and filmed according to his precise instructions, and his work really shines (no pun intended).  His set is beautiful and unnerving.  In Kubrick’s hands, the film is meticulously filled with themes and idea that are furthered by everything in the film– from barely visible props and scene dressing in the background to the dialogue.  He also is very talented at creating iconic moments that are unforgettable– especially the big wheels scenes.

There is no denying that Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance is brilliant.  He really captures the complexity of the character, from the man who wants a fresh start to the axe-wielding drunk maniac.

The effects in the film are also very good.  It’s a scary film in how it shows you the monsters of the Overlook Hotel.  I felt like Danny’s encounters, such as with the iconic twin girls at the end of the hallway, or the woman in room 237, were particularly powerful.  In terms of making the supernatural elements of the story very realistic and frightening to viewers, Kubrick did a great job.

But, as I said, I still don’t feel like the film was a faithful adaptation of the novel.  In fact, Stephen King shares the same feelings, having openly reviled the work numerous times since its release.  It’s almost funny in a way– in terms of general quality it is far from the worst adaptation of one of his stories, but it seems that he has a special store of venom set aside for it.  I’ve puzzled over what it was that made it seem so off to me, and it actually took watching part of a documentary, Room 237 (it’s terribly putRoom_237_(2012_film) together, with no semblance of editing– at one point one of the people voicing their ideas actually has to pause to kick their noisy kid out of the room), that discusses a variety of interpretations of the film for me to be able to place what it was that I didn’t like.

The film version of The Shining isn’t about the same things that the novel is about.  The themes are totally different.  As my viewing of Room 237 showed to me, the movie was possibly actually about early American treatment of the Native Americans, or the Holocaust, or the authenticity of the moon landing– but it wasn’t really The Shining at all.

Additionally, I really hated Shelly Duvall as Wendy Torrance.  Wendy Torrance was never supposed to be the happiest character in fiction, but she just made her seem like a contestant in the misery olympics, even when things weren’t going to hell.

There were also some changes to the story that didn’t seem to have any logic, such as the death of Dick Hallorann.  What did that change possibly contribute to the film?

And, most disappointing of all, Stanley Kubrick replaced the wonderful, chilling topiary animals with a hedge maze.  I wasn’t sure what exactly he was doing with it, but it was clear that it was to pursue one of his off-the-wall themes.

Also, I actually don’t like the “Heeeere’s Johnny!” line.  I acknowledge that I may be the only person who has seen it who doesn’t, but it totally threw me out of the movie.  This may be in part because it is so iconic, but it felt unnatural in the scene.

I think when I want to enjoy Kubrick’s talents, I’ll go a different route, maybe 2001, A Space Odyssey.  He worked with the author on that one, and it shows.

I’m only going to briefly touch on the latest iteration of Stephen_King's_THE_SHINING_(mini-series_intertitle)The Shining— the 1997 TV miniseries.  Honestly, I’m actually fairly limited on what I can say about it, because I haven’t gotten myself motivated to watch the second and third episodes because it suffers very badly from pacing issues.  It’s definitely very thorough in its presentation of the story, and quite accurate for the most part (King wrote the teleplay, so that kind of goes without saying), but the director was definitely squeezing sections for all the time he could.  The acting was pretty mediocre (though I did like the guy who played Dick quite a bit).  The effects are really bad (and I hadn’t even gotten to any of the big supernatural scares).  The choice to portray Tony– Danny’s imaginary friend that serves as a sort of manifestation of certain elements of the shining– seemed a poor idea, and was even poorer in execution in that it was played by a guy who was either in his late teens or early 20s.

I’ll probably sit down and force myself through the remaining three hours soon (if I could get through The Stand miniseries I can get through just about anything) and I’ll update to have my evaluation to be more exhaustive, but for the time being my biggest thought is that the miniseries by no means served as a redemptive filmed version of the book, though it at least shared the same story and themes as the original.  It’s just hard to do justice to a book as complex and subtle as The Shining.

Insidious+Chapter 2

I’m just going to get this out of the way now– this post has a lot of spoilers for Insidious.  I made a point to mark the spoilers for Insidious Chapter 2.  I need to spoil things for my review to really work at all.  If you don’t want it ruined at all, then go watch it first– but not that my saying so is really a recommendation.

Two and a half years ago, I sat down with a group of my friends, dimmed the lights, and turned on a horror film insidiousnamed Insidious.  I didn’t know too much about it in advance– several friends had told me they loved it, and I had seen a teaser ad with a line, spoken in ominous tones, stating “It’s not the house that is haunted–” so I was really excited to find out what it was about.  Furthering my excitement was that several of my friends who usually did not watch horror with me were able to share in the experience with me– these friends have a personal rule about avoiding R-rated films, and this was in the clear.

I immediately liked the direction the film was going.  From the beginning, there was a lot that made it genuinely unnerving and scary.  A spectral child danced to Tiny Tim.  A Manson-like figure hulked over a baby.  And most creepy of all, a little boy wouldn’t wake up.

I liked the characters pretty well.  I felt like I really believed in the familial relationships of the main characters, and I felt like the panic of Josh and Renai seemed very true-to-life as Dalton lay in bed, unable to be awoken in spite of medical and less-conventional attempts to rouse him.

The first half of the movie really drew me in.  I was quite certain that I was watching what would become one of my favorite horror films.

And then, it happened.  Lipstick-Face.

I wish I was making that name up.INSIDIOUS_still3_large.ashx_  I really do.  I actually thought that it was a ridiculous nickname my friends gave him for a very long time.

From the moment the demon that seems the love-child of Darth Maul and a salamander lizard-crawled away from Dalton’s bedroom, I stopped being able to take the movie seriously.  The first half of the movie was riveting, scary, and just generally excellent.  I laughed out loud when he appeared on the screen (getting glares from several friends).  Each subsequent time this key villain in the film appeared, I just had to roll my eyes.  When his lair was revealed,  complete with “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” blaring on a record player (which threw me off– the song seemed to be tied to The Dancing Boy up until that point) and a vanity mirror, I was wincing.  He really killed things for me.

Well, that, and the astral projection stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, astral projection is a fascinating idea, and really could work very well for a horror film, but it didn’t quite make sense in the movie.  From my understanding of it, astral projection involves sending one’s self to other places while asleep.  Now, that happened in the movie, but it seemed to be that the projector was either right outside their body, or in a weird nightmare world.  There didn’t seem to be anything else to it.  I think I would have bought it if Dalton’s projection was captured someplace while he was out, flying through the world in search of dream adventures, but when everything in the astral realm seems only to be hellish– well, I think just about anybody would hang out by their sleeping body, not explore further and further out every night.  Just sayin’.

It’s unfortunate that the second half of the movie is such a downgrade from the first in that I actually think the characters that were introduced for that section of the film, Elise, Tucker, and Specs, were all pretty well done.  The latter two were fairly silly characters, but they were fairly believable and all three weren’t the typical hyper-overdone medium team that most haunting horror films tend to feature.

Another thing I didn’t like about the second half of the movie was how the direction went from very natural scares to jump-scare tactics.  The showing of the story of the family of the Doll Girl was all jumps (and didn’t seem at all conducive to the plot).

I guess I just felt like the second half was just a poor attempt to tie how varied the spookiness of the first half was, plus, all new to horror movies, astral projection!

The conclusion, with its quick introduction to Josh’s past and some creepy old ghost-woman and Elise being killed, felt very sloppily thrown together to keep the audience gasping.  For me, it seemed the punchline of a bad joke.  Plus, there existed a very sizable hole– allegedly, Lipstick-Face had to break down some sort of barrier to be able to possess Dalton, hence a lot of the weirdness that made the first half of the film great.  This explanation brought two big issues– firstly, why are these other beings helping Lipstick-Face, when apparently everything in that realm really wants physical bodies?  There is clearly a big connection between all of these creepy things and beings and the demon, so what are they getting as minions?  If it offered some sort of explanation, I’d have been okay with them working for him– maybe he’s enslaved them because he took their bodies in the past or the like.  I’m okay with mystery remaining in the conclusion of a story, but sometimes it just leaves questions bigger than the sense of resolution, which I see as a problem.  The second issue with the idea that Lipstick-Face had to break down barriers is that when Josh is in the Further for a very short period of time, it is clearly at great risk of being possessed– his body is actively assaulted, and the conclusion leaves us unclear as to if it is truly him in his body or if it is something else.  So, why is there even a risk of him being possessed?  Dalton is unconscious for much, much longer than Josh, and his body remained quite secure from possession still.

I made fun of it to my friends, throwing in some jabs at those who thought it was still scary, and called it a night.

Then, earlier in the year I caught wind of Insidious Chapter 2.  Initially I just shrugged indifferently, remembering my dislike of its predecessor but realizing that the genre is riddled with bad sequels, especially with bad sequels to bad movies.  For some reason, the most mediocre of horror movies still sell, particularly when released in October, but that’s just the way of the world.  After all, I couldn’t force myself to get through A Nightmare on Elm Street, and that film spawned near-innumerable sequels and remakes (I might be able to get through it eventually, but I have my doubts as my threshold for awful acting in things I’m supposed to be taking seriously is very low).  But, as time went on and the film made its way from theaters to Redbox, I decided to give it a shot.  After all, I already had pretty low expectations for it, so I doubted it would manage to disappoint me.

Well, I’m pleased (okay, pleased it too strong of a word) that it didn’tInsidious_–_Chapter_2_Poster disappoint me in that respect.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a good movie, but because the first one did get me accustomed to the universe’s ideas of astral projection (disappointing and internally inconsistent as they may be), I was able to find some enjoyment in the movie.

I did like a lot of the elements that carried over from the previous film, notably the story of the old woman specter featured at the end of the film.  Learning the context for the old woman and the desire to possess Josh was very interesting, and learning about the character in life was quite compelling.

I will say, before I go any further, that it continues to be littered with internal inconsistency.  The beginning of the film furthers the contradiction that bothered me at the end of the first one.  We see a young Josh, who was endangered by his astral projecting and who is made safe by forgetting about his ability.  Now, this provides some nice plot patching about his ability to go to retrieve his son in the first film, but it also re-affirms that there should have been no risk of his being possessed.

[SPOILER] And there’s the biggest problem for this film, right up front.  Because eventually we find out that he is possessed by the “old woman” that haunted him in his youth, and he is still trapped in the Further. [END SPOILER]

Now, the film has two main stories going on– one following the main family members trying to figure out why there is still weirdness happening around them, and one of Josh’s mother and Elise’s paranormal investigation team trying to figure out the nature of Elise’s death.  Out of these plots, the latter is far more compelling.  It is unfortunate that they overplayed the comic relief element of Specs and Tucker, but thankfully it wasn’t to a point that it detracted too much from the film.  Their investigation process and the things uncovered and really interesting and quite creepy at points.  The other story did keep me questioning what was happening– in part because I was so resistant to accepting that the writer’s would contradict themselves so much, though.

The conclusion of the story, all the plot elements converged, bothered me again.  [SPOILERS] I didn’t feel like the inclusion of Elise’s ghost really made sense.  We have a feel that the Further is a place for tormented souls, yet she is there as well, traveling freely with power and authority over the dark spirits.  It was a kind of feelgood element of the film, but I had trouble following the line of logic behind it beyond tonal lightening.  Also, Josh’s body being freed from Parker Crane’s possession made no sense– why would knocking out his mother boot him out?  How does Parker Crane have multiple entities– the child him and the old man– at the same time?  Also, I’m willing to accept that time travel is possible with astral projection, but it does seem quite… advanced… for a person who has only been doing so for a few days. [END SPOILERS]

So, as a whole I enjoyed the second film more than the second half of the original, but it still fails to live up to the expectations the first half of the first film.  It was fun, but nothing to really be taken too seriously.

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