THE DARK TOWER (2017) – An Inconsequential Blip on the Dark Tower Universe

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darktower_poster

I’m guessing there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed Dark Tower fans after they watch THE DARK TOWER (2017), the new fantasy thriller based on the epic novels by Stephen King.

There are eight novels in the series, and while I haven’t read any of them, the idea that this very short movie— it clocks in at a meager 95 minutes— could do an eight book series justice is difficult to fathom. It’s just too quick and inconsequential.

Strangely, this movie version of THE DARK TOWER is supposedly a sequel of sorts to the series, as the events in the film take place after the book series ends, and I also hear there’s a possible TV series in the works. Now, a television series makes sense to me. That’s exactly the kind of canvas needed to do a book series proper justice.  The movie THE DARK TOWER as it stands would barely do a short story justice.

In a nutshell— and that’s what this movie felt like, really— THE DARK TOWER is about a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who’s struggling to cope with life after the death of his father.  He’s haunted by recurring bad dreams in which he sees a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) battling a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and it seems this Man in Black is trying to destroy a black tower, and the Gunslinger is trying to prevent this.

Jake’s mom Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) arranges for Jake to spend a weekend at an institution so he can receive help, since he’s getting into fights at school and generally having a difficult time with life, but Jake runs away and finds a portal which leads him into the world of the Gunslinger and the Man in Black.  There, he befriends the Gunslinger and helps him in his fight to stop the Man in Black from destroying the world, which will happen once the dark tower is destroyed.

Yawn.

The plot for THE DARK TOWER isn’t going to win any awards for the most compelling screenplay ever written.  The story is simple and isn’t fleshed out in the least.  And four writers worked on this thing:  Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel.  Not that it mattered.

The story as told in this movie left me with so many unanswered questions.  Who is the Man in Black?  Why is he hell-bent on destroying Earth?  Who is the Gunslinger?  Why is he the man in charge of killing the Man in Black?  The movie provides no back stories on these characters.  I also wanted to know more about young Jake.

Things happen too quickly and too easily.  Jake finds his way into the Gunslinger’s world with about as much effort as entering a neighbor’s front door.

Again, for a movie based on an eight book series by Stephen King, the story it tells is about as skeletal as you can get.

Nor is THE DARK TOWER all that visually impressive. Director Nikolaj Arcel’s vision of the Dark Tower and its surrounding world is meh. Not much too look at, and not much going on. The scenes which take place in New York City work better, and the whole film plays better when the characters interact in modern-day surroundings.  Every time they enter the world of the Dark Tower the film slows to a crawl.

I’m a big Idris Elba fan, but he continues to land film roles in which he just isn’t allowed to do much.  He’s terrific in the lead role on the TV series LUTHER (2010-2018) but he’s yet to land a movie role in which he’s allowed to show off his talents.  Still, I enjoyed him here as the Gunslinger.

Likewise, I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black as well.  He was sufficiently cold and nasty, a decent villain.  Although his power to make people do whatever he says has been done a lot lately, especially on TV,  from the villain Kilgrave (David Tennant) in the Netflix Marvel series JESSICA JONES (2015), to Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) in the AMC series PREACHER (2016-).

In fact, my favorite part of THE DARK TOWER was watching Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They’re the best part of the movie, although neither one made me really like this movie all that much. But when they’re on-screen, and they’re actually engaging in dialogue rather than running around in bland action scenes, the film is much better. Unfortunately, they don’t get to do this all that much.

Tom Taylor is decent as Jake Chambers.  Seen better, seen worse.  The rest of the cast is okay but hardly memorable.  Speaking of the TV show PREACHER, Jackie Earle Haley who was so memorable in Season 1 of that show, barely causes a stir here in a thankless role as one of the Man in Black’s minions, Sayre.

I was fairly entertained by THE DARK TOWER, but for an adventure fantasy thriller based on an eight book series by Stephen King, it’s pretty sparse.  Sadly, it’s yet another example of an inferior adaptation of a Stephen King work.

But it’s not awful.  It’s just not that good.

At the end of the day, it’s just an inconsequential blip on the Dark Tower universe.

—-END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: SALEM’S LOT (1979)

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salems-lot-movie-poster

I read Salem’s Lot by Stephen King shortly after it was first published when I was in the 6th grade, and it was the first novel that ever truly scared me.  More importantly, as someone who spent his childhood watching Hammer Films and the Universal monster movies, it was the first book that ever truly entertained me.  It was that book that got me hooked on reading.

As such, my expectations were high when four years later the film version of SALEM’S LOT (1979) arrived as a TV movie directed by Tobe Hooper and starring David Soul and James Mason.  And while it was well-received by critics and fans alike, I was somewhat disappointed by it.  I just couldn’t shake my feelings for the novel, which I felt was vastly superior.

The biggest disappointment for me at the time was the film’s interpretation of the story’s vampire, Mr. Barlow.  Barlow was creepy and terrifying in the novel, with lots of dialogue to back up his evil presence.  In the film, he was changed to a mute Nosferatu clone, and while he did indeed look frightening, the fact that the make-up resembled the classic 1922 Nosferatu make-up on Max Schreck was a let-down.

Salem'sLot_Barlow

Reggie Nalder as the vampire Barlow in SALEM’S LOT (1979).

Anyway, it had been years since I had seen the film version of SALEM’S LOT, and so I thought it was time to watch it again and place it IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.

In SALEM’S LOT, writer Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his childhood home of Salem’s Lot (Jerusalem’s Lot in the novel), drawn there by the Marsten House, a house that watches over the town like a demonic gargoyle.  In short, it’s the town’s haunted house. Ben has been obsessed with this house his entire life, an obsession that began when he ventured into the house as a boy on a dare and saw the hanging body of a man there, a man who while hanging opened his eyes and looked at him.

This moment is a perfect example of the difference between the movie and the book.  In the book, this scene, this image, although not even a major part of the plot, was one of its most frightening.  Indeed, for me, of all the scenes and images from the novel, this is the one that scared me the most back in 1975 and stayed with me the longest, the hanging man who opened his eyes.  In the movie, it’s mentioned briefly by Ben Mears in a conversation, and it’s nothing more than an afterthought. There you go.

So Ben returns home to write about the Marsten House and seek out old acquaintances, like Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia), who he starts to date. He’s writing about the Marsten House because he believes the house itself is evil, and as such it attracts evil.

And he’s right, because currently living in the house are two men, Mr. Straker (James Mason) and Mr. Barlow (Reggie Nalder).  Barlow is a vampire, and Straker is the man empowered with protecting him.  Together, they prey upon the townsfolk of Salem’s Lot, gradually changing nearly everyone in town into a vampire.  Unless that is, Ben Mears can stop them.

It’s a great story, but it plays better in the novel than in the movie, which is hindered by dated dialogue by screenwriter Paul Monash.

I was a huge fan of the TV show STARSKY AND HUTCH (1975-79) back in the day, and so at the time when I first saw SALEM’S LOT I gave David Soul who starred in the show a free pass. Watching it today was a different story.  Soul’s interpretation of Ben Mears has its problems, mostly because at times Soul seems to be sleepwalking through the role.  He also doesn’t do fear well.  When Ben Mears is supposed to be terrified, he comes off as more dazed than anything else.

By far, the best performance in the movie belongs to James Mason as Mr. Straker.  Of course, this comes as no surprise as Mason was a phenomenal actor who was no stranger to villainous roles.  His dark interpretation of Dr. Polidori in FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973) was one of the most memorable parts of that horror movie, and his villainous turn as attorney Ed Concannon in THE VERDICT (1982) was every bit as effective as Paul Newman’s lead performance as Frank Galvin.  Both men won Oscars for their performances that year, Newman for Best Actor, and Mason for Best Supporting Actor.  These roles are from the tail end of Mason’s career, which began in the 1930s and spanned five decades.

As Straker, Mason is frightening.  The scene where he taunts a priest is one of the best in the film.

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David Soul and James Mason in SALEM’S LOT (1979).

The rest of the cast, which is chock-full of character actors, is so-so.  In the key role of young Mark Petrie, the boy who loves monsters and monster movies, and the character who I obviously identified with when I first read the novel in 1975, Lance Kerwin is just okay.  Like David Soul, his interpretation of fear comes off more like a “deer in the headlights” daze.

Likewise, Bonnie Bedelia is okay as Susan Norton, but Lew Ayres is effective as school teacher Jason Burke, and unlike Soul and Kerwin, Ayres does do fear well.  Ed Flanders is solid as Dr. Bill Norton, and Geoffrey Lewis enjoys some fine moments as Mike Ryerson, especially once Mike becomes a vampire.  Veteran actors Elisha Cook Jr. and Fred Willard are also in the cast.

And while Reggie Nalder does look horrifying as Barlow in his Nosferatu-style make-up, ultimately he doesn’t make much of an impact in the movie because his scenes are few and far between.  Even though I prefer the Barlow character from the novel to the one here in the movie, I still would have liked to have seen the vampire more in the film.

The story, which flows naturally in the novel, with its expansive cast of characters, doesn’t flow as well in the movie, as the townsfolk and their personal issues play like characters in a soap opera.

Director Tobe Hooper, fresh off his success with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), definitely puts his personal stamp on the movie and creates some scary scenes. Chief amongst them is the creepy and very memorable scene- it might be the most memorable of the entire movie— of young vampire Danny Glick floating outside Mark Petrie’s window, beckoning to be let inside.  It’s certainly one of my favorite parts of the movie.

Another frightening image features Geoffrey Lewis’ Mike Ryerson as a vampire, sitting in a rocking chair.

But the biggest parts of the story strangely fall flat.  The end, for instance, when Mark and Susan enter the Marston house in search of Barlow, lacks the necessary suspense.  In the book, these scenes were terrifying.  In the movie, not so much.

The pacing is a little off as well.  The film runs for 184 minutes and originally aired on television in two 2 hour segments.  The bulk of the first half is spent introducing all the characters, while Barlow doesn’t really show up until the second part, and then things move very quickly, often too quickly.

The film did very well and earned high ratings, and for a while there was talk of turning it into a television series, but the idea never materialized.

I like the film version of SALEM’S LOT, and even though it hasn’t aged all that well, and is a bit dated— in contrast, the classic TV vampire movie THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) still holds up remarkably well today— it’s still a fun movie to watch, with some genuine creepy scenes, especially for a TV movie, and we certainly have Tobe Hooper to thank for that.  While the vampire is OK, and the leads meh, you do have James Mason chewing up the scenery as the diabolically evil Mr. Straker.

The biggest drawback is that the source material, the novel by Stephen King, is so darned good, it makes this above average thriller seem much more ordinary than it really is.

SALEM’S LOT is kinda like its vampire, Mr. Barlow.  Scary, but nowhere near as powerful as depicted in the novel by Stephen King.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

WHAT I’M READING: SHADOW MAN by Cody McFadyen

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shadow-manWhat I’m Reading – Shadow Man by Cody McFadyen

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

 

One of the benefits of attending NECon every summer is the goody-bag you receive.  What’s a goody bag?  Oh, it’s just a bag filled with books. Free books.

 

Anyway, I’ve been attending NECon since 2001, so as you might imagine, I’ve built up quite a collection from these bags.  I read in too many genres to read all the goody bag books, and so they accumulate, and every once in a while, I snag something off the shelf, most of the time years later, and read it.  This experience always feels like Christmas.

Recently, the book I snagged was Shadow Man (2006) by Cody McFadyen.  I knew nothing about Shadow Man before reading it, nor did I know anything about the author, but I was instantly interested in it because of its main character Smoky Barrett, an FBI agent who hunts serial killers.  McFadyen would go on to write an entire series featuring Smoky Barrett. I was instantly interested because I’ve been working on a novel the past year or so where the main character is also a female FBI Agent.

I enjoyed Shadow Man a lot, especially the lead character of Smoky Barrett.  It’s no surprise that McFadyen wrote an entire series for this character.

 

Smoky Barrett is an FBI agent who specializes in tracking down serial killers, and she’s the best the Bureau’s got.  However, when Shadow Man opens, Barrett is on leave as she recuperates from a devastating traumatic event.  One of the serial killers she had been hunting had broken into her home and in a vicious attack killed her husband and teen daughter, and nearly killed Smoky.

As Smoky returns to work, we meet her brilliant team, who are all experts at what they do. McFadyen does a tremendous job fleshing out these characters, presenting them as fully confident hot shots who are all veterans in the field and have seen it all, and then he goes about terrorizing the living daylight out of them.  The madman in Shadow Man sets his sights on Smoky’s squad and in a relentless onslaught brutalizes them and their loved ones, shaking them to the core.  This makes the novel quite scary, because as a reader, you’re thinking, if these guys are afraid—.

This new serial killer reaches out to Smoky personally and invites her to be the lead investigator on the case.  He grabs her attention by raping, torturing, and murdering her best friend.  He also claims to be a descendant of Jack the Ripper, and as such boldly taunts Smoky and her team, daring them to catch him, in effect saying that like the original Ripper he cannot be caught.

Shadow Man is a gripping novel that stays strong and fresh throughout.  I’m not really a fan of the serial killer story, but I liked this one.  What I liked best about the novel is McFadyen succeeds in making it very scary, and he does this by creating confident top-of-the-food chain FBI investigators, the type of folks who never lose a case, and then he puts them through hell as his serial killer methodically preys on them.  McFadyen excels at describing their fear.  It makes for a very unsettling novel.

Some of the crimes which occur in the story are downright brutal.  A pet dog is dismembered, a teenage girl watches her mother raped, tortured, and gutted, and then is tied to her mother’s mutilated corpse for several days until the police arrive.  As I said, it’s the type of stuff that shakes even the most hardened FBI investigators.  It’s not easy material to read.

McFadyen also does an outstanding job entering the mind of a female lead character.  Smoky’s thoughts and feelings come off as so genuine you’ll swear a woman wrote this novel.

If there’s one drawback to Shadow Man it’s that the identity of the killer, once made known, wasn’t a complete surprise, nor was it anything that made the novel better.

Shadow Man also suffers from a problem I find with lots of stories like this.  So much care goes into writing a formidable villain that it reaches the point where as a reader you almost can’t believe the guy is going to get caught, and when he does get caught, it’s a disappointment.  It seems too easy.

McFadyen is a victim of his own good writing here.  He created such a clever villain I had difficulty wrapping my head around his demise.

That being said, McFadyen does cover all the bases, and everything in the conclusion to this story makes sense.  It’s just a little on the predictable side.

Nitpicking?  Perhaps.

Then again, a different more sinister ending might have made the book too scary.

Nah!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

NECON 35 – Relaxed Writer’s Con Unlike Any Other

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Michael Arruda, Dan Keohane, and Scott Goudsward sharing a goofy ice cream moment at NECON 35.  Photo courtesy of Nick Cato.

Michael Arruda, Dan Keohane, and Scott Goudsward sharing a goofy ice cream moment at NECON 35. Photo courtesy of Nick Cato.

NECON 35

July 16-19 2015

By Michael Arruda

Every summer a bunch of writers and readers descend upon Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI for Camp Necon, a writers’ convention unlike any other.

For me, I attended my first NECON back in 2001, as I had heard about it through Judi Rohrig, who at the time was editing the HWA Internet Mailer.  Since then I’ve been back every year.

NECON is the most relaxed laid back con you’ll ever attend, a place where you can socialize with authors up close.  It’s been said before, and it’s true:  when you attend this con, it really feels like family.  I can attest to this firsthand, because aside from my extroverted writer persona who can banter with the best of them on the written page, in person, I’m pretty much an introvert, and I’m never all that comfortable in social situations.  This doesn’t matter at Necon.  Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, reader, writer, what have you, you are made to feel welcome.  It’s family.

Here’s a brief recap of this year’s Necon, NECON 35, held July 16-29 2015, at the Roger Williams Convention Center.

Thursday, July 16

 

In addition to the usual panels found at cons, NECON also runs the NECON Olympics, events throughout the weekend where you can kick back and have fun.  You even receive medals.  Yup, there are plenty of opportunities at NECON for you to win “valuable prizes.”

One of these events, the Necon Hawaiian Shirt Contest was tweaked a bit this year, as rather than being a stand-alone event, it occurred over the entire weekend.  Secret judges were on the prowl all weekend looking for folks with the best Hawaiian Shirts.

For Necon newbies there was a 5:00 event called Jitters: A Necon Primer for Newbies to help the newcomers feel comfortable and at home right off the bat.

I spent this time socializing in the lobby, the quad, and the new lounge, a spacious and very comfortable room in which to relax and chat.  At 10:00 it was the Saugie Roast, that time to enjoy grilled Saugies, Rhode Island’s own brand of hot dogs, and chat with friends, old and new, long into the night—.

 

Friday, July 17

 

After an 8:00 breakfast, I attended the 9:00 Kaffeeklatsch: Promotion in Motion, featuring Jill & Jason Salzarulo, Sephera Giron, David Dodd, and my roommate and New England Horror Authors head honcho Scott Goudsward.  This conversation was filled with practical tips and advice on how to better promote your work, especially using social media.

At 10:00 it was time for the Kaffeeklatsch: Best Worst Movies featuring myself, Sheri White, Bill Carl, and Nick Cato.  We discussed our picks for some of the best “bad movies” ever made, and both Bill and Nick provided extensive lists of classic “good” bad movies.

Sheri talked about her love of the bad SyFy movies, and I posed the question, “does it take years for a bad movie to become ‘good’ because most bad movies I see nowadays are simply bad, and the only bad movies I really like are old ones.  I suggested the grade z movies that Bela Lugosi made, and named THE DEVIL BAT (1941) as one of my favorite bad Lugosi flicks.

I also mentioned the HALLOWEEN series.  For me, other than the first movie, HALLOWEEN (1978) the rest of the movies in this series are not what I call good movies.  In fact, some of them are pretty awful, yet I like them all.

Before the panel ended, Craig Shaw Gardner asked us to recommend one film that we’ve seen this year, and I picked IT FOLLOWS (2015), citing it as one of my favorite horror movies of the year.  After the panel, it was nice to catch up with Craig and his lovely wife Barbara Gardner.

I skipped the 11:00 Kaffeeklatsch to catch up on some rest, and after a noon lunch, I spent some time at the New England Horror Writers table with Scott Goudsward and friends.

At 2:00 I attended the panel Everything Old Is New Again: Bringing New Life to Classic Tropes featuring Paul Tremblay, Lisa Manetti, Elizabeth Massie, John Dixon, and moderator Mary SanGiovanni, and it discussed among other things writing supernatural tropes in a scientific age.

Monica O’Rourke moderated the 4:00 panel Piece of Mind: Portraying Mental Illness in/as Horror which included Paul Tremblay, Kristin Dearborn, Dallas Mayr, Heather Graham, and Trevor Firetog.  This fascinating panel delved deep into what it takes to write about mental illness in horror effectively.

At 7:00 Toastmaster John McIlveen delivered the Official Necon Toast, followed by the hilarious Necon Update with Mike Myers.  This year Myers brought down the house with an uproarious account of a complicated hospital visit.  The audience was on the floor with laughter.

Myers comical update also featured the Necon Eggstravaganza Game which left contestants with eggs on their faces. Literally.

 

At the Meet the Authors Party I hung out with Daniel Keohane, who I hadn’t seen in several years.  Always fun to see Dan, who has the distinction of being the first person I ever met at Necon back in 2001.  I shared table space with Dan, and also with Scott Goudsward and Nick Cato.  I was selling copies of my science fiction novel, Time Frame.

I also got to chat with author Gary Frank during this event.

 

At 10:00 it was time for the Necon Olympic events Darts and Foosball. Afterwards, it was socializing on the quad, where I had some memorable conversations with friends old and new, as always.

Saturday, July 18

 

With the publication of my first science fiction novel Time Frame earlier this year, I was very much interested in the 10:00 panel The Horror of the Future: Making Science Fiction Scary, moderated by Gordon Linzner, and featuring Robert Boyczuk, Don D’Ammassa, Linda Addison, Lois Gresh, and Chuck Wendig.  This was a fun panel, as it discussed frightening science fiction from yesteryear, and mentioned some classic movies, including two prominent remakes which most folks these days consider superior to the originals, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) and John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).

The 11:00 panel was just as good: Fear in Four Colors: Comics, Horror, and Inspiration. On this panel were Christopher Golden, Brian Keene, Errick Nunnally, Daniel Braum, Kimberly Long-Ewing, Duncan Eagleson, and serving as moderator was Charles Rutledge.  This panel hammered the point home that comics are an underappreciated literary form, and that they definitely make worthwhile reading.  It certainly made me sad for having stopped reading comics regularly many years ago.  Then again, I suppose it’s never too late to start up again.

At 1:00 John McIlveen interviewed the Necon Guests of Honor, Chuck Wendig, Seanan McGuire, and Paul Tremblay.  While I enjoyed all the guest of honor interviews, I have to admit I was most interested in listening to Paul Tremblay speak.  I first met Paul back in the late 1990s when we did some group book signings together for the vampire anthology THE DARKEST THIRST in which we both had stories.  It was my first pro sale as a matter of fact.  I’ve enjoyed following Paul’s career over the years, as his successes have been a nice inspiration.  I’m looking forward to reading his much talked about novel A Head Full of Ghosts.

The 2:30 panel was probably the most heavily attended panel of the entire weekend. Faustian Bargains & Plans for the Afterlife: Knowing Your Rights and Protecting Your Work Regarding Writers’ Contracts and Literary Estate Planning was also the most serious panel of the weekend, as well as one of the best.  Moderated by horror author and attorney Bracken McLeod, and featuring Christopher Golden, Brett Savory, Richard Dansky, Heather Graham, and Chet Williamson, this panel served as “everything you wanted to know about the legal aspects of writing but were afraid to ask.” It covered contract language, rights, wills and estate planning, and all sorts of other legal matters.  The 90 minutes allotted for this panel still wasn’t enough, as it went past its finishing time.  It proved so popular that later at the Necon Town Meeting it was agreed that there would be a follow-up panel and perhaps even a workshop at next year’s NECON.

At 4:00 it was time for Almost Human: The Art of the Monster, moderated by Cortney Skinner and including artists Duncan Eagleson, Jill Baumann, Ogmios, Rhea Ewing, and Glenn Chadbourne.  The panel featured a lively discussion about traditional drawing and painting vs. digital drawing and painting, which has come so far and yields such impressive results it’s difficult to ignore, and for most on the panel it’s warmly embraced.

After dinner, I attended the Artists’ Reception at 6:30.  It’s always a highlight of the weekend to walk through the gallery to see the latest prints, paintings, drawings, and sculptings by the featured artists.  This year I bought a colorful rendition of Carl Kolchak by Cortney Skinner.  This digital print of the popular NIGHT STALKER character contains a NECON in-joke, as one of the items in the painting has a NECON history.  During the reception coffee and some mighty delectable desserts were served.

At 7:30 it was Live DVD Extra: Director’s Showcase where some new film shorts were shown, including Lynne Hansen’s CHOMP and Izzy Lee’s POSTPARTUM. Both Hansen and Lee were available for questions and answers afterwards.

At 9:00 it was time for The Infamous Necon Roast. This year’s roastee was Sephera Giron, who was a real sport about the whole thing and seemed genuinely relaxed and appeared to be having a good time, which is how it should be.  As always, the roasters were hilarious, and included Christopher Golden, Mary SanGiovanni, Cortney Skinner, Linda Addison, Monica O’Rourke, Nick Kauffman, Jack Haringa, Jeff Strand, and Brian Keene.  All these folks are entertaining, although my personal favorite is Cortney Skinner whose impeccable timing is unmatched and who has the whole “Bob Newhart” deadpan mastered like a pro.

Afterwards it was more Saugies and socializing on the quad into the wee hours of the morning, since Saturday night is the last night at the con till next year.

Sunday, July 19, 2014

 

Today’s 10:00 panel was It Only Laughs When I Hurt: Comedy and Genre, a panel that looked at humor and horror and featured Craig Shaw Gardner, Hal Bodner, Jeff Strand, John McIlveen, Frank Raymond Michaels, and was moderated by P.D. Cacek.  The panel included many neat moments, amongst them Frank Raymond Michaels citing ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) as one of the all-time best horror comedies, and the discussion of how to effectively mix humor and horror by placing horror characters in a comedic situation, and vice versa by placing comic characters into a horror situation.

At 11:00 it was time for the Necon Town Meeting, the chance for folks to give the Necon committee feedback about the weekend.  It was agreed by all that NECON 35 was another grand success.

At lunch, I sat with Nick Cato and his wife Ree, and before leaving for another year, I made the rounds and said goodbye to as many folks as possible, including Craig Shaw Gardener, Barbara Gardener, Matt Bechtel, and Laura Hickman.

I’m never able to see everyone during the weekend, but here are some folks I did get a chance to spend some time with or at the very least exchange a quick word with: Linda Addison, Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Matt Bechtel, Hal Bodner, Mary Booth, Ginjer Buchanan, P.D. Cacek, Sara Calia, Bill Carl, Nick Cato, Ree Cato, Glenn Chadbourne, JoAnn Cox, Dennis Cummins, Don D’Ammassa, Richard Dansky, Barry Lee Dejasu, John Dixon, Dan Foley, Gary Frank, Barbara Gardner, Craig Shaw Gardner, Christopher Golden, Scott Goudsward, Catherine Grant, Jack Haringa, Laura Hickman, Nicholas Kaufmann, Brian Keene, Nate Kenyon, Dan Keohane, Paul McMahon, Bracken Macleod, Elizabeth Massie, John McIlveen, Frank Raymond Michaels, James Moore, Mike Myers, Jose Nieto, Errick Nunnally, Monica O’Rourke, David Price, Matt Schwartz, Cortney Skinner, Jeff Strand, Paul Tremblay, Tony Tremblay, K.H. Vaughn, Bev Vincent, Sheri White, Scott Wooldridge, and Trish Wooldridge.

I apologize if I’ve missed anyone.

Another memorable NECON has come and gone.  Thanks to the Booth family, including Mary Booth and Sarah Calia, and Matt Bechtel, and the entire NECON committee and volunteers, for all the hard work they did to pull off yet another amazing con.

Can’t wait till next year.

Thanks for reading!

Michael

What I’m Reading: DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King

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Doctor SleepWhat I’m Reading – Doctor Sleep By Stephen King
Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

I am not a Stephen King fanatic.

I know many fans who are avid readers of his work and seem to know more about his books than he does. I am not one of these people.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy King’s work. I do. A lot.

In fact, pretty much every time I read one of King’s books I like it immensely, and some of my favorite books have been written by Stephen King, but King has written so much, and I read from so many different genres, fiction and nonfiction alike, I just haven’t been able to keep up, which is why I say I’m not a Stephen King fanatic. I don’t know his canon of work inside out. I just read his books and enjoy them. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed with anything he’s written.

I say all this because as I write this review of King’s latest, Doctor Sleep, I want you to consider the source, me, someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of all of King’s fiction. I just read ‘em and move on. For instance, Doctor Sleep is a sequel to one of King’s most popular novels, The Shining, a book I haven’t picked up since it first came out back in 1977.

So for me, the experience of reading Doctor Sleep was as simple as learning about what happened to young Dan Torrance from The Shining, and what his life was like now as an adult. On this level, I found Doctor Sleep enjoyable.

As did a lot of other people, as Doctor Sleep won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel. The Bram Stoker Awards are awarded each year by the Horror Writers Association, a professional organization for horror writers, of which I am an Active Member. In fact, it was shortly after I joined the HWA that I had my first short story published back in 1998, so I can personally say that good things come from being part of this organization.

But I digress. Back to Doctor Sleep.

Doctor Sleep begins with “Prefatory Matters” in which we learn the details of what happened to Dan Torrance, his mother Wendy, and heroic chef Dick Hallorann shortly after the horrific events inside the hotel Overlook in the conclusion of The Shining, as well as what happened to them in the years following these events. We are also introduced the character of Rose, a witchy woman belonging to a race of beings known as the True Knot, who go around doing some not-so-nice things to some “special” children.

The novel then settles upon Dan Torrance, now an adult, and like his father before him, he’s dealing with alcoholism, a battle which up until now he had been losing. Dan finds himself in a small New Hampshire town where he meets a man named Billy Freeman who runs a small attraction, the Teenytown Railway. The two men strike up a friendship, and Dan soon finds himself working for Billy’s employer, Casey Kingsley, who eventually leads Dan to AA in order to help him take ownership of his alcoholism.

Dan also works at a nursing home where due to his ability, known as the shining, he is able to assist those elderly residents who are dying, helping them making the peaceful transition from this world to the next, an ability which earns him the nickname, “Doctor Sleep.”

During this time, Dan is contacted by a young fourteen year-old girl named Abra, whose own powers are remarkably strong and dwarf Dan’s. In fact he’s never met anyone with the ability as powerful as Abra’s. Abra sees a horrifying vision, a young boy with powers like herself, a boy she calls “the baseball boy” being tortured and murdered by a group of people led by a one-toothed woman. Abra reaches out and asks for Dan’s help. She knows these people kill children like herself, feeding off their essence, or their “steam” as they call it. Abra wants to get these people for killing the baseball boy.

These people are the True Knot, led by Rose, who also senses Abra and realizes that if they had her essence, the most powerful she has ever felt, they would be amazingly strengthened. And so the battle lines are drawn, as Dan and Abra and their friends work to take down Rose and the True Knot, while at the same time protecting Abra from Rose, a determined powerful woman in her own right who wants nothing more than to kill Abra.

Really, all you need to know about Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep is that it tells a good story. That’s always been my favorite part of King’s work. He can tell a story better than anyone, and Doctor Sleep is no exception.

I was drawn in immediately to Dan’s story and wanted to follow him on his road to redemption, as he beat back his alcoholism and helped Abra. Abra is a fascinating character, my favorite in the book, and King nails the 14 year-old persona. Rose is also a formidable villain, and the True Knot are a nasty group of baddies that you really enjoy rooting against.

Doctor Sleep isn’t really all that scary, nor even all that suspenseful. It works best as a drama, a tale of a man tackling both the demons of alcoholism and his new role as a mentor to a younger and more powerful version of himself, young Abra.

One drawback is as the tale goes along, it become clear and apparent that in spite of the ruthlessness of Rose and the True Knot, Dan and Abra and their friends really have the upper hand. While I feared for their lives somewhat, I really had the sense that they had things under control, and it was Rose and her friends who were in trouble.

As always, the writing is top-notch, the dialogue real and flawless, and the characterizations impeccable. I love the way King captures the way people speak, the dialect, accents, and personalities.

Like a lot of his recent works, Doctor Sleep is a hefty read, filling 531 hardcover pages. Not all of them are compelling, and there are slow parts, especially in the beginning, but I urge patience, because the story builds and the payoff while not completely unexpected is definitely satisfying.

My favorite sequence in the book isn’t even from the main plot, but a key event early in Dan’s adult life, where he’s sleeping with a young woman after drinking with her and doing drugs, and he wakes up and finds her young son in diapers reaching for the drugs which he thinks is candy, chillingly calling it “canny” – again, King nailing the dialogue. Dan shoos the kid away from the drugs, but since he’s struggling for money, he takes cash from the sleeping woman and her child and leaves them there. This act haunts Dan throughout the story, as he knows it was a selfish and awful thing to do. It’s the one event from his life that he can’t bring himself to talk about. It’s a brilliantly written scene, and King continually returns to it throughout the book as it’s a moment in Dan s life that won’t leave him alone.

King also makes Dan a very likeable character. I was eager to follow him on his journey throughout the book. The most compelling character in the novel however is young Abra, and she could have a novel written just about her. As a 14 year-old, the age when most young women are extremely volatile to begin with, combined with her powerful ability, she makes one potent adversary for the aged and seasoned Rose.

Doctor Sleep is not a perfect book. It’s long, and for a horror tale it’s really not that scary, but it is a very entertaining story from beginning to end, a worthy successor to The Shining, because it succeeds in answering the basic question— and really, it’s the reason we all wanted to read this book in the first place,— and that is, whatever happened to young Danny Torrance?

Now we know.

—END—

 

 

LIFE RAGE by L.L. Soares wins Stoker Award!

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life-rage-cover-210x300News flash!

My buddy and Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares just won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel this past Saturday in New Orleans for his novel Life Rage, which I reviewed on this blog several months back.

Way to go L.L.!

So, what’s a Stoker Award?  Each year the Horror Writers Association honors horror writers around the globe with the Bram Stoker Awards, recognizing the best horror writing of the year.  Winning a Stoker is a huge accomplishment, as gaining the recognition of one’s peers is a very high honor.  It’s also not easy to do.  Not at all.

 

Life Rage is a neat horror novel, hard hitting, well-written, and satisfying from start to finish.  In honor of it winning the Stoker, here’s another look at my review below:

What I’m Reading – Life Rage By L.L. Soares

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

I recently finished the novel Life Rage by my Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares.  It’s his first novel, and I have to say here, that— and this has nothing to do with the fact that we’re friends and that we co-write a movie column together — I was really impressed.

L.L. is known for his in-your-face hardcore fiction, and with Life Rage, he doesn’t disappoint.  But what I found more impressive is how human and caring his characters are, and he achieves this effect without sacrificing the extreme horror elements.

Sure, the language is rough and raw, as are the sexual and violent situations, but there’s also an honest tenderness among the characters in this story that comes off as authentic and refreshing.  In short, his characters really do care for each other.  As good as L.L. is at writing about horrific situations, he’s just as good at writing about realistic relationships.

The plot is about a Jekyll & Hyde type character, a man who treats people with anger issues, yet he’s an uncontrollable monster at times and doesn’t know it.  He turns into a sort of demonic Incredible Hulk.  The book’s lead character, a woman named Colleen, somehow survives her first encounter with the monster, signifying right away that there’s something special about her.  She sees her best friend torn to pieces by the creature, and she vows revenge.

She is aided by another woman who also happens to have supernatural powers.  Viv is a sort of vampire who sucks the life force out of people while giving them the best sex of their lives- in short, they go out happy.  Viv is attracted to people who are overwhelmingly sad, and she in effect is mercy killing them, saving them from their pain.

Colleen and Viv team up to stop the raging monster before it infects the entire world with its life rage.

I liked Life Rage because of its compelling characters— they are fleshed out (no pun intended) and three dimensional— and because of its original plot.  The writing is also topnotch.

If you’re looking to read a refreshing horror novel, and you don’t mind a lot of sex and violence, check Life Rage by L.L. Soares.

It’s all the rage.

—Michael