Archive for October, 2013

Stephen King’s “Graveyard Shift”

Posted in Graveyard Shift 1990, Night Shift, Stephen King with tags , , on October 23, 2013 by Manuel Paul Arenas
Poster for

Poster for “Graveyard Shift” (1990).

Although it’s not considered one of the better film adaptations (it rates a dismal 13% on the Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” [http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1031376-graveyard_shift/ retrieved 10/19/2013]) I do get a kick out of watching the 1990 film adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Graveyard Shift”. While I freely concede that it is not a classic like Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976) or Stanley Kubrick’s re-envisioning of “The Shining” (1980), it isn’t nearly as bad as some of the other silver screen atrocities that have been perpetrated in the movie houses across the land in the name of Horror Cinema.

Signet paperback edition of

Signet paperback edition of “Night Shift” (1984).

So, even with King’s loyal and forgiving fanbase, why has this movie been so largely dismissed? I believe that perhaps the root of this diss might lie in the faithfulness (or not) of the adaptation. To test my theory, I re-read the story, which can be found in King’s short story collection “Night Shift” (1978). Having first read “Night Shift” on a family road trip back in 1985 or so, I’d largely forgotten the details of the stories, especially the ones which weren’t overtly horrific (I was an impressionable teenager after all). Re-reading it was quite an enjoyable experience, and with the movie fresh in my mind from a recent viewing, I kept my eyes peeled for any obvious differences between the tale and the film. I didn’t have to go far before I noticed the first big divergence in the story: there are no women.

Foreman Warwick harasses Jane Wisconsky.

Foreman Warwick harasses Jane Wisconsky.

The whole movie subplot of foreman Warwick being a womanizer who sexually harasses his female staff is solely an invention of the screenwriter John Esposito, and it also follows that there is no love interest for Hall, the protagonist of the tale. I understand Hollywood’s annoying habit of fleshing out classic horror stories with fodder for for the masses in order to broaden their box-office  appeal, but in this case it’s distracting and it takes up a good portion of the film. A fan of the original story, watching the film for the first time might wonder when the storyline is going to resemble its source material.

Night Shift (Doubleday, 1978).

Night Shift (Doubleday, 1978).

Another weakness in the film adaptation is the decision to make Hall an outsider who is bullied by the other mill workers at the local eatery. He does nothing to defend or redeem himself, so why should we care what happens to him? Also, actor David Andrews’ portrayal of the story’s anti-hero is lackluster at best. Even at the movie’s pivotal moment when his co-worker / love interest Jane (Wisconsky, who in the King story is a whiny, fearful man who like the other characters of the tale is only ever referred to by his surname) is fatally stabbed by Warwick as she attempts to pull him off of Hall, after he has pinned him down on a pile of human bones in the monster’s lair; Hall just holds her briefly in his arms then leaves her body to the vermin of the mill without a backward glance as he makes a run for it. Also, I just have to say that I lived in New England for 8 years and never met anyone with an accent like the one actor Stephen Macht used for the character of Warwick.

Daalph S Singleton prepare to shoot a scene.

David Andrews (left) and director Ralph S Singleton prepare to shoot a scene.

Another significant change in the story is the addition of the exterminator, Tucker Cleveland, portrayed by Horror film veteran Brad Dourif in an over-the-top performance, even for him. This character was created for the film and was not featured in the King story. Although Dourif’s performance is arguably amusing to watch, his monologue about the rats in Vietnam betraying the US soldiers by eating them in the VC prison camps after they’d shared their food with them is laughable and not a little insensitive to the many soldiers and citizens who suffered horribly during that war in such camps.

Brad Dourif as the exterminator, Tucker Cleveland, in Graveyard Shift (1990).

Brad Dourif as the exterminator, Tucker Cleveland, in Graveyard Shift (1990).

The film does pick up a bit when it gets to the part that involves the original plot-line where Warwick takes a select crew into the bowels of the Bartlett Mill (dubbed “Bachmann Mill” for the film in honor of King’s nom de plume)  to clean out some old files and rotted furniture during the off- season. The environment down there is creepy, with crumbing fungus-ridden floorboards, hidden passages and trap doors, nasty bugs and the icing on the cake is that the whole dilapidated mess is totally infested with rats, which they ward off with high powered water hoses. In the story, the deeper they go into the bowels of the mill, the larger and weirder the rats become. Eventually, in the deep, dark corners of the mill, they come across 3 foot tall blind albino rats with missing hind-legs, which seem to be on part of an evolutionary chain to becoming giant rat-bats, sprouting wings but retaining their rat-tails.

The monster of the

The monster of the “Graveyard Shift” (1990).

This is the model for the monster of the film, which seems to be a giant rat-bat creature that slinks around the mill, picking off the mill workers one by one. The monster in the book however, only appears once and seems more like Jabba the Hut, a giant hairless slug-like creature, reclining in her lair. She has no wings and also lacks hind-legs. Hall forces Warwick into her den where he is killed. Hall, trying to get away, ends up being overwhelmed by the encroaching rats and the rat-bat hybrid creatures. The movie, on the other hand, ends on a semi-happy note with Hall luring the “magna mater” (“great mother”, i.e. the queen rat) into the upper levels of the mill where she gets her tail caught in a thresher of some sort, which reels it in to be crushed twixt its rolling pins.

Over all, I still enjoy watching the film, and I understand the logic behind some of the changes, I just think they might have worked better if they’d been wrought by hands that were more accustomed to working in the Horror genre.

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Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

Posted in Auguste Dupin, Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue with tags , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2013 by Manuel Paul Arenas
Facsimile of the original manuscript for

Facsimile of the original manuscript for “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”.

Edgar Allan Poe’s tale, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was first published in Graham’s Magazine in 1841 and is largely touted as being the first detective story. Poe referred to it as one of his “tales of ratiocination”, and spends a good page or so explaining his ideas on the analytical minded individual in the introductory paragraphs of the actual tale; although there are literary precedents for characters using deductive reasoning to solve problems or mysteries, most notably in the titular characters of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Mademoiselle de Scudéri” (1819) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Murders_in_the_Rue_Morgue, retrieved 10/10/2013] and Voltaire’s “Zadig, or Destiny” (1748) [pg.239, The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Norton Critical Edition, 2004, W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.] respectively, Poe’s detective C. Auguste Dupin, who also makes appearances in “The Purloined Letter” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget”, is arguably the most influential and significant milestone in the development of the detective story genre , having even influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the creation of his most famous character, Sherlock Holmes. In fact, Doyle is quoted to have said “Each [of Poe’s detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed… Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._Auguste_Dupin#Literary_influence_and_significance, retrieved 10/10/2013]

Mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers is also quoted to have described “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” as “almost a complete manual of detective theory and practice.” [http://www.matthewpearl.com/poe/murders.html, retrieved 10/10/2013]

Poe came up with the place name of the Rue Morgue, but most of the rest of his descriptions of Paris life and layout are fairly accurate and most likely were influenced by selections from “Unpublished Passages in the Life of Vidocq” by J.M.B. Francois-Eugene Vidocq,  which relate some of his biggest cases from his days as the head of the Parisian detective bureau under Napoleon and were also published in Graham’s Magazine. Specifically, the stories “Marie Laurente” and “Dr. Arsac” (both 1838) from said memoirs have been cited as possibly having had some influence on “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”.  [pg.239, The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Norton Critical Edition, 2004, W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.]

Eugène François Vidocq

Eugène François Vidocq

The story involves the gruesome murder of two women, Madame L’Espanye and her daughter, Madamoiselle Camille L’Espanye, the latter whose body was found in a locked 4th story room of their residence, throttled and shoved up a chimney, while the former was found in the courtyard with her throat so deeply cut that her head fell off during the retrieval of her cadaver. The room, upon being breached, looked as though it had been ransacked, but there were money and valuables strewn everywhere so robbery does not seem to have been a motive. Neighbors reported hearing a gruff voice shouting amidst the women’s shrieks during the murders but no one could settle on what language the voice was speaking in. The most troubling fact seems to be that although the murders were committed in an enclosed room at the topmost floor of the house, the only likely route for egress was down the stairway that the concerned neighbors and gendarmes were ascending in order to help the unfortunate ladies.

A young man is eventually wrongfully arrested, although the evidence against him is scant, and Dupin and his unnamed friend (the narrator of the tale) who have been following the drama in the local paper as it unfolded, decide to put in their two cents with the prefect  of police, identified only by the initial “G–“, and solve the crime through Dupin’s mighty powers of deductive reasoning (i.e. ratiocination).

Dupin (seated) and his friend speak with G--, the Prefect of Police.

Dupin (seated) and his friend speak with G–, the Prefect of Police.

SPOILER ALERT: Although it has been praised for its many literary merits, as well as its influence, many people still criticize its twist ending, which is not even hinted at until the denouement where it is revealed that an escaped “Ourang-Outang” (that’s an orangutan to you and me) went berserk with his master’s straightedge razor then, fearful of his master’s whip, tried to cover up his misdeeds by hiding the evidence up the chimney and out of the window, where he made his escape by scaling the side of the building. The “gruff voice” everyone described as having heard during the melee was in fact the primate vociferating.

Harry Clarke's iconic illustration depicting the

Harry Clarke’s iconic illustration depicting the “Ourang-Outang’s murderous frenzy (1916-1923).

The story has been adapted for film many times, although most bear  little resemblance to the original Poe tale, and are just convoluted serial killer plots that somehow find a way to work in a passing mention of an ape being involved at some point.

Movie tie-in collection for

Movie tie-in collection for “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1932).

However, one of the more creative adaptations, Universal’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1932) worked in a plot about a mad scientist who picked up female victims through his carnival act and took them to his waterfront lair so he could experiment on them in a misguided attempt to prove that man was indeed descended from the ape by mixing the blood of his prey with that of his captive ape. Dupin, a veritable anti-social recluse in the original story, is now “Pierre” Dupin, a struggling medical student who is reduced here to a love-sick swain whose sweetheart the moribund Madamoiselle Camille of the tale, here a very much alive and innocent inamorata with a pretty bonnet and big doe-eyes, is abducted by Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi, giving a great performance as a villainous mad Darwinist) who intends to include the young Madamoiselle in his next experiment. It is not until the last act of the movie that the plot begins to resemble its source material.

A still from Universal's

A promotional still from Universal’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1932). Featured here are “Pierre” Dupin, Madamoiselle Camille L’Espanye, Dr. Mirakle and his henchman, Janos. The ape, Erik, holds Camille’s bonnet, which he snatched from her head when she got too close to his cage.

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was also the subject of a song by the British Heavy Metal band, Iron Maiden, on their “Killers” (1981) album.

Label for Side One of the

Label for Side One of the “Killers” album (1981) by UK Heavy Metal band, Iron Maiden. “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is track #3.

Ramsey Campbell’s “Ancient Images”

Posted in Ancient Images, Bela Lugosi, book review, Boris Karloff, Ramsey Campbell with tags , , , , on October 5, 2013 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Just finished reading “Ancient Images” by Ramsey Campbell. It’s a slow burner which is heavy on the atmosphere but light on the action; a well told fright tale, with shades of “The Wicker Man”, but the ending is a little anti-climactic. A young film editor, Sandy Allan, goes to a friend’s house to see the film he unearthed which is reputed to be a lost film by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Upon her arrival she finds her friend’s residence in a mess, the film gone, then looks out the window just in time to see her friend leap off of the rooftop across the way. Offered time off from work to mourn, she decides to look for the film to vindicate her dead friend who is being lambasted by a bitter film critic for trying to dig up such a nasty old film, which the critic claims doesn’t really exist anymore anyway.  On her hunt to find the film, Sandy finds that many of the people associated with the film either died under questionable circumstances or totally disassociated themselves from it after the fact. Her  journey eventually leads to Redfield, a country town not unlike Summerisle from “The Wicker Man”: a seemingly quiet community with dark pagan secrets and killer scarecrows.

Promotional still from the Universal film

Promotional still from the Universal film “The Black Cat” (1934), featuring Boris Karloff (left) and Bela Lugosi (right).

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made many classic Horror films together for Universal Studios in Hollywood, during the 1930’s, when this missing film is supposed to have been made; why they would have gone to the English countryside to make what was basically an independent film with a no-name director is beyond my comprehension, and when would they have found the time? This premise doesn’t sit well with me and the execution of the book is lackluster for this grandmaster of the Horror genre; worth a read if you’re already a fan, but if you haven’t read Campbell already, I wouldn’t start here.

“Ancient Images” 1990 Charles Scribner’s Sons / SFBC