Spooktober 22, Day 25: Cat’s Eye

Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, there may also be lists, audio, or video. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

Stephen King rocks. If you don’t already know this, somehow, I’m happy to consistently remind you.

The anthology film Cat’s Eye is one of those lesser-known King ventures, despite him having penned the screenplay (his first solo) based on two of his own short stories (both from Night Shift), and one new one. This screams King in all the ways you may expect, and others, well, they may just surprise you.

It follows three stories linked through a cat, and it’s chock full of Easter eggs and is darkly hilarious. It feels a lot like Creepshow but somehow gets significantly less traction. Lewis Teague directs the interestingly offbeat breed of storytelling that is Cat’s Eye.

The first story stars James Woods about a man who signs up for a service to help him quit smoking, but the terms…well, they may require quite the sacrifice. It’s got a wicked burn this one, and Woods is perfect in the role. It is my favorite of the three and starts the movie with a bang.

source: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.

Next, our kitty companion takes us to a wealthy man’s (Kenneth McMillan) own twisted vengeful obsession with gambling to new heights when he bets his wife’s lover won’t make it around the building on a tiny ledge. While I feel it’s the weakest, it’s still wildly entertaining.

Finally, we visit a young girl (Drew Barrymore) who is being tormented by a small troll in her walls. It’s delightfully campy with a tricky little creature that doesn’t want to let up, and a girl no one believes. But the troll is cute, he’s got bells on his hat like a court jester and just wants to suck the life out of children!

Cat’s Eye is pure, bizarre camp with just the right amount of Stephen King’s signature terror.

Cat’s Eye is currently streaming on HBO Max

Spooktober 22, Day 7: Carrie (1976)

Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, there may also be lists, audio, or video. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

Mean girls, a zealot mother, mental powers, and a prom Queen title to win, what could go wrong?

In our first introduction to Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) we learn not only how cruel school girls can be (as if we didn’t know), but also how much she’s spent her life unaware and untaught by her mother (Piper Laurie). It’s a lonely place, and despite what is to come (and what she becomes), Spaceks iconic, nominated performance ensures the audience sympathizes with her plight.

source: Paramount Pictures

Her abusive mother, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to share in our empathy. Most of the students don’t either, except for one, Sue, who makes the plan to have her boyfriend Tommy take Carrie to the prom. Others, though, have a different plot. Meanwhile, Carrie realizes she has some telekinetic powers brewing and begins to read up on them.

This movie begins and continues to dip into a whimsical, near fairy tale feel with its soft-focus look. Which, in contrast with its deep cuts of horror, really draws a stark duality. For a moment, Carrie feels like she’s in a dream, and then, it’s right back to a nightmare. The dread that you feel never leaves your stomach, and it doesn’t for me even after having watched it countless times.

If you somehow have gone through life having not seen Brian DePalma’s classic Stephen King adaptation, I would remedy it right away. Undoubtedly though, you’ve seen or heard of what happens. When Carrie becomes especially emotional, angry, scared, and upset, good things don’t happen. And Carrie White goes very…dark. The film is really fantastically done, from every side, including its editing to its score, and the way it makes you feel hope before ripping it away.

This most likely won’t be the last King mention this month, and while it’s a tough thing for me to say a favorite this is definitely one of the best adaptations. It’s also the first book of his that I read. It spawned a sequel and a couple of remakes, none of which compare or speak to the lasting impact of the original.

There’s a power in Carrie, because 46 years later and it’s still breaking our hearts, and remains ingrained in our psyches as a horror film with a terrifying lens that is focused on the tragedy of what happened to Carrie White, not what she did.

Oh yeah, and it is one hell of a revenge thriller too.

Carrie is available on VOD.

Spooktober 22, Day 3: The Mist

Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. There may also be lists, audio, or video, depending on my wicked mood. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

Ah, The Mist. This is one of those middle-higher-tier Stephen King adaptations that occasionally seems to be overlooked. It’s a hell of a hook though, and with an amble of scares and discomforting creatures (and the people, oh the people) it’s one that I love.

source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

David (Thomas Jane) is an artist living in a small coastal Maine town. After a hurricane knocks a tree into their home he heads into town with his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble) and neighbor with whom he has an estranged relationship with Brent (Andre Braugher) for supplies. Once inside the grocery store, a strange mist rolls into town, and with it, fear. Fear of what’s within.

When Dan (Jeffrey DeMunn) comes in yelling that something in the mist took someone, the paranoia, confusion, and uncertainty grow. The inhabitants of the store are terrified of the unknown, while some play it off as some sort of misunderstanding. However, when some witness a tentacle attacking in a back room, others are more convinced that this isn’t a natural, foggy, occurrence.

What makes The Mist so intriguing is the actions and responses of those in crisis. Most of the film is set in this enclosed grocery store with a variety of personalities, and people with their own ideas of what’s happening. Included is Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) whose religious prophecies bring many to her call. Others think it’s something to do with the military facility on the mountain.

source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

David and many others, including Amanda (Laurie Holden) and Ollie (Toby Jones) are on the side of a careful, reluctant, and more reasonable belief that whatever it is, it is not good.

Common King collaborator/adapter Frank Darabont writes and directs, utilizing every opportunity to permeate the fear that lies within the unexplainable. As people become more anxious, the need for action is more prominent, and we get glimpses into what’s outside.

The creature effects and mounting tension make for a slick horror where sometimes, the unseen is the scariest of all. Marcia Gay Harden does an incredible job at ratcheting up the already monumental terror. And the trail of mayhem that ensues from words and the seed of doubt that spreads is equally menacing.

source: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Be forewarned, even if you’ve read Stephen King’s story, this ending is different and it packs a hell of a punch. Very few movies have had such a devastating finality, so I feel it my duty to give you the heads up.

Overall, The Mist is a terrifying example of fantastical nightmares coming to life, and the human monsters that crisis can make of us. The acting is on point and the design is a spooky delight. The end will have you screaming.

The Mist is currently streaming on Netflix

Spooktober Day 11: It (1990)

For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that seeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.

Yes, it’s time for another King adaptation on this Spooktober, and no, it’s not the newest adaptation of his popular novel, It. Nor, if I’m being completely frank, will it probably be the last (still think this deserves a larger, limited series platform). Is it the best? No! Most well-acted or conceived? Umm, no. But, was it influential and impactful for not just my horror history, but most my age? Hell yes. There is a lot wrong, packed full of that 90s TV movie feel inherent throughout, but it still has some golden moments of unease that make for a reasonable argument for why this movie/miniseries is worthy of viewing by any Stephen King fan.

It genuinely ruined sewer grates for me, for forever (because they were so important to begin with). Kids are impressionable, and many in my age range were scarred by this TV movie nugget, me- though? It kind of made me the freak I am. Even when I was irked, I was also intrigued, and appreciative of this experience that had me looking at clowns, and potentially what they could be in all their forms, more intuitively. What was It? Good question.

They all float

If you don’t know It, the story follows a group of friends “the losers club” who fight off an ancient evil that returns every 27 years to the small town of Derry, feeding off fear and murdering children. The miniseries doesn’t split the time-periods like the newer remake does, instead it often pivots from their childlike selves to adult, forcing harsh memories to flood back, as they reunite once more to fight evil. Or rather, Pennywise the clown, in one of Its many forms.

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Yes, this miniseries leans heavily on the side of cheesy, and is often playing it safe but it doesn’t change the fact that Kings voice echoes through, loud and active. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace this two- part series, only begins to scrape the barrel of King’s novel.

I’ve done video essays on the comparable factors from novel to adaptations on my other site, Film Inquiry, as well as diving into King’s many visions in film (and you can bet there will be one another mentioned here before this month is over). I chose this one in particular because it marries the youth in me with the person I am now. I don’t know that I would be who I am without It. This is an intimate part of my history. Film lovers know what I’m talking about. It is in our DNA. It’s like this undeniable focal point, with each movie, that inspires and influences who we become.

Yes, I recognize all of the issues with this miniseries. There are many, sometimes blindingly so. There are a lot of talented actors here, but sometimes the dialogue comes across as hokey, and it seems overacted. I find myself giggling at many moments, but then I think about how this was on network TV in 1990, and I consider how -despite all of this- it is still creepy at times. Honestly, a lot should be owed to Tim Curry. He’s so good at Pennywise, zany and disturbing. The makeup, costumes, and practical effects (at least in the first half) still stand. When I watch now I even still feel diminutive in particular scenes, in a mental fetal position, as I unwrap all that is happening here.

More than anything It falters in the tone and pacing, which wants to be terrifying (and still is at times) but ends up being a deflated balloon of inconsistency. Still, there’s a partnership of charm and an eerie semblance that makes Derry a place I have frequented over the years.

What do I love about It? It’s all about fear. It’s the basis, the starting point that allows our imaginations to run wild, into murky unspeakable places. It can be anything, as we have our own personal horrors. What’s more potent than that? It is the epitome of the genre. In many ways It is what inspired my podcast (Go On, Scare Me) because it ruminates on just that.

Warner Bros. Television Distribution

I am always struck by King’s genius here. It seems so obvious, borderline simplistic, in a way that can’t be duplicated. A story of fighting our personal fears and the enduring power of friendship, It is more than just a scary story, it’s a vestibule into our psyche, and maybe, a little, into our hearts.

Can the finale of THE STAND save the entirety?

If you are going to have an entire section devoted to an icon, why not have it be Stephen King? A personal literary hero of mine, I’ll be tackling some of the best and worst of the adaptations (and let’s just say- there’s a lot) with more to come. All hail the King of horror.

I reviewed the series for Film Inquiry recently, and the trajectory of my enjoyment went from thrilled to disappointed. This was one of my favorite novels, and so the bar was already high. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite hit the marks I was hoping for. When I wrote the review I had only seen the first six episodes and as they were released, I was really excited to see what was to come next. Would it be enough?

Can the finale of THE STAND save the entirety?

I know it’s a common remark (and even a joke made in the most recent It: Chapter 2) that King has trouble with his endings. Well, for me, in this particular novel, that wasn’t an issue. Still, this series seemed to have been filled with amazing content, terrific casting, and lots of potential- so why wasn’t it working? There were three episodes left to go and I was filled with anticipation, trepidation, and a mess of curiosity.

This is the End, My Only Friend, the End.

Stephen King wrote the finale (Coda: Frannie in the Well) which changed the ending of the novel (and also subsequently the previous miniseries). There were aspects of the new close that I liked, so, overall, it left an impression. Mostly? A yearning for more.

Frannie (Odessa Young) is one of my favorite characters, especially within the miniseries, so I was thrilled that it was shown that she wanted to brave the roads again to head back to her hometown in Maine. As the finale (spoiler) showed, the focus of the episode was their trip across the country, and her eventual run-in with Randall Flagg (Alexander Skarsgård) as she is faced with a choice. Without spelling out what that was or pointing out some of the more ridiculous elements of Flagg’s request, I’ll just say that she proved to be exactly what we thought she was: resilient and strong.

In its closing moments, which finds us also getting another perspective from Mother Abigail (Whoopie Goldberg) we also see, what was one of my favorite aspects of this new take, was the potential future for Flagg. That fascination made it worth it, for me, in the end. What else can/will he do?

But was it enough? Did it save the miniseries that had so much initial promise? This is a story (and I feel- still, It is another that could benefit from a longer form) that needs more time, that needs more backstory, that has so many weaving tales and intriguing characters. Therefore, this truncated version of this massive undertaking, just… isn’t enough.

It breaks my heart, but, this is one adaptation that wasn’t saved, even by the King himself.