Archive for Stephen King

Watercolor Macabre

Posted in Classics Illustrated, Edgar Allan Poe, Horror Art, Jerusalem's Lot, Night Shift book, Stephen King, The Raven and Other Poems, watercolor painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

While rummaging through my storage locker, I found a plastic bag which contained some watercolor paintings I had done in the 90’s. Prior to that, I hadn’t played with paints since I was in grade school, and I am not 100% certain what prompted me to take it up at this moment, but I did and the results were interesting, if not spectacular, and definitely macabre in theme. Unfortunately, the best of the lot, a depiction of Madeline Usher in the climactic scene from Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher”, seems to be missing. My parents had it hanging on the wall of their study for years but it seems to have been misplaced and they could not locate it last I asked them about it. The eight remaining paintings are a mixed bag, but each have their things to recommend them. The first is “The Conqueror Worm”, inspired by the Poe poem of the same name. I believe somewhere in the back of my mind was the Gahan Wilson illustration for the same piece, from the Classics Illustrated version of “The Raven and Other Poems”. Looking at it now, it also brings to mind the worm from Stephen King’s “Jerusalem’s Lot” story in “Night Shift”.

“The Conqueror Worm”

Next is “Kiss of Death”, inspired a little by “Death and the Maiden”, which I believe was an alternate idea for a title name. Note the blood smear on the young maid’s lips; she has just received the fatal smooch. Kiss of Death Here is another graveyard scene. I think “Ascension” when I see this one, although it’s really just a ghost rising from a fissure in the cemetery grounds.


This one is called “The Monster & the Crucifix”. It was inspired by something I’d read about a scene which was never shot for James Whale’s “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935), with Boris Karloff. In it, he has just escaped imprisonment and is racing through the local graveyard when he comes across a life-sized crucifix. Seeing the crucified Jesus, he runs to help him and pull him off the cross. The censors said “no”, but I said “yes”. I made the monster look different because I wanted to make it my own interpretation. Besides, I wasn’t sure I could do ole Boris the proper justice in reproducing his image.

“The Monster & the Crucifix”

This one is called “The Lair” and was partially inspired by the Munster’s pet dragon, Spot, which lived under their stairwell. In the lead-in to the show I believe they have a flash of his eyes lighting up as he breathes fire in the darkness.

“The Lair”

This one I think I’ll call “Vampyre”. I realize this is the second redhead to appear here, but they do not represent anyone in particular. It was partially an aesthetic choice because red contrasts better with some of the other colors I used in the paintings. Also I believe I had in mind the idea that in the Old World, redheads were usually associated more with witchcraft and the supernatural. I think this one has a bit of the Hammer Horror feel to it. My vampire here looks like she could be one of the Hammer Glamour Girls with her red hair, colorful cloak and dress, as well as her prominent cleavage. Her victim is an attempt at portraying myself as I looked at the time. I never get me right.


This next one is pretty gruesome. I suppose I’d call it “Burn”. For some reason I was going to do a series of paintings related to dungeons, torture, and execution,  and this was the first. The most notable things I see here are the thickness of the flames and the detail of his eyes having been burnt. Perhaps he saw something he wasn’t supposed to?


The last painting, “Inferno” is probably the most striking one. Intended as part of my aforementioned series, I decided to make it take place in some underworld dungeon. The victim is hanging upside down, suspended by a chain which is held by nothing. The torturer is blue, perhaps a demon of some sort. He is expressionless. The victim seems to be smiling, but I intentionally made his muscles droop to show he’d been hanging in that position for a very long time. His parchment yellow skin was inspired by an early promotional photo of the group Iron Maiden taken in the torture room at Madame Tussaud’s  Wax Museum, where a corpse in a gibbet sports a similar hue.


Of course, aside from the shocking full-frontal torture scene, the most striking thing to my eye is the fiery backdrop. I made a point of making it look as hot and bright as I could. The rights to all of these images are mine, so if you want to re-post them, just ask for permission and let me know what you intend to use them for, and I shall be glad to give my consent. In the same batch of artwork I found some colored pencil illustrations I did for various poems of mine, here are links to their respective pages:

“The Author” another botched attempt at drawing myself (the author) and some of the creatures from my poetry. Featured here are my “Flower of Evil”, “Gargoyle”, “My Friend Boris”, and the symbol from “Conjunctio” an esoter-otica poem I am too skittish about to publish publicly.

Flower of Evil:

Early Poems (Coup de Corps / The Necromancer / My Friend Boris):


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” [ 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.

Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 7, 2013 by Manuel Paul Arenas
 Peter Straub's "Ghost Story" (1979 Coward, McCann & Geoghegan)

Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story” (1979 Coward, McCann & Geoghegan)

I cannot recall when I first saw it, but I have been a longtime fan of the 1981 film adaptation of Peter Straub’s 1979 novel, “Ghost Story”. Despite my enthusiasm for the film, however, I never read the novel; so one day I decided to fix this by picking up a copy of the mass-market paperback and, much to my chagrin, I hated it! Mostly, this was because it seemed to be nothing like the movie that I knew and loved so well. I read about half of it, then sold my copy out of frustration. Over the next year or so, I read articles praising the book and spoke to friends who swore that if I gave it another chance I would like it. What sold me, however, was reading Stephen King’s take on the novel in “Danse Macabre”, his renowned treatise on the Horror genre, where he praises it as being “the best of the supernatural novels to be published in the wake of the three books that kicked off a new horror “wave” in the seventies—those three, of course, being Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Other.” [Stephen King “Danse Macabre” Berkley 1983 pg 253]

Paperback edition (Pocket Books 1980)

Paperback edition (Pocket Books 1980)

As luck would have it, I was able to procure a discard of the paperback from the bookstore where I work, so I didn’t have to purchase it again. This time I tried to read the story without expectations and accept it as a separate entity from its film adaptation. Approaching it in this manner allowed me to take in the myriad threads of the novel’s multi-layered plotline. I then saw how everything fit in, including the Bate brothers who are much more significant and menacing the novel than their on-screen counterparts. But I am getting ahead of myself here…

Promotional photo of the delectable Ms. Krige.

Promotional photo of the delectable Ms. Krige.

The film features the delectable Alice Krige as the enigmatic Eva Galli / Alma Mobley character, along with a host of aged stars from the early days of Hollywood, including Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman and Melvyn Douglas, a/k/a the “Chowder Society”, a group of childhood friends from Millburn, New York (in the film, it is in Connecticut), who encountered the young and gorgeous Eva Galli when they were just coming into the world as innocent young men and were completely taken by her beauty and her bohemian way

Screen-cap of Eva Galli and her young suitors at a masquerade party.

Screen-cap of Eva Galli and her young suitors at a masquerade party.

They follow her around like puppy dogs, hanging on her every word and treating her like a goddess until she falls off their pedestal in an awkward confrontation during one of their evening soirées at her house where they accidentally knock her down and believe they’ve killed her. Fearing the scandal would ruin their promising career prospects, they place her body in a car which they sink into a lake. As the car is sinking, however, they see her look through the rear window just as it is too far gone to do anything about it and are traumatized. Thus the Chowder Society is born; it is an exclusive club that gathers monthly, always in evening dress, to tell one another ghost stories as a coping mechanism to allay the guilt and personal horror from what they did. The film’s use of the aging stars helps to add a bit of pathos for the characters who are not entirely sympathetic, as they are all beloved actors who were major stars back in their halcyon days, much like the Chowder Society in Milburn.

The Chowder Society.

The Chowder Society.

The film presents the story as a tale of vengeance from beyond the grave. Krige’s “ghost” comes back after 60 plus years to haunt and hunt down the now-aged members of the Chowder Society to mete out justice on the men who “killed” her so many years before. She comes back under the assumed name of Alma Mobley and begins by seducing the sons of one of the men, Edward Wanderly (presented as their uncle in the film and played by Fairbanks). She sweeps Edward’s son Don, an ambitious author with a successful novel under his belt, off of his feet at his job at Berkeley University, causing him to neglect his duties there and basically ruins his reputation. However, after a whirlwind romance replete with talk of marriage, she leaves him once he begins to sense that something is not right with her. She then seeks out his more materialistic brother David and ends up causing him to fall from a window to his death before disappearing again, only to reappear in Millburn to prey on the old men themselves.

Screen-cap of Ed Wanderly's funeral. Don is the 2nd from the left.

Screen-cap of Ed Wanderly’s funeral. Don is the 2nd from the left.

After the death of Ed Wanderly, the Chowder Society decide to write his son Don on the basis that he might be able to help them because of his seeming knowledge of the occult gleaned from some of the supernatural themes in his last novel. He agrees to help and with the aid of Peter Barnes, a teenage boy (completely omitted in the film adaptation), take on the spirit of Alma Mobley.

One of the myriad manifestations of Eva Galli's ghost.

One of the myriad manifestations of Eva Galli’s ghost.

The film has Alma / Eva slowly picking off the men one by one, usually appearing as a water-logged corpse which scares her victims into accidents and heart attacks, but in the book, she never died that way in the first place. Rather, it is revealed that she is a shape-shifter and that she walked away from the sinking car unnoticed by the men who watched it so closely they did not notice a lemur slinking away on the other side of the shoreline. In fact, it is implied that what people are seeing when they freak out is not a ghost so much as a gorgeous woman changing into various animals and creatures. In the book, there are several mentions of the concept of the Manitou, but upon personal investigation, I did not see a correlation between the Native American belief and Straub’s monster other than the shape-shifting. If anything, Eva Galli reminds me more of a Japanese vengeance ghost, like the Onryo, rather than the Manitou.

Onryō from the Kinsei-Kaidan-Simoyonohoshi (近世怪談霜夜星) taken from Wikipedia 06-07-13.

Onryō from the Kinsei-Kaidan-Simoyonohoshi (近世怪談霜夜星) taken from Wikipedia 06-07-13.

The movie has some weak spots like the omission of major characters, like Peter and the total mishandling of Fenny and Gregory Bate. In the movie, they are two escaped loonies who team up with Alma Mobley and become her henchmen. In the book, they are shape-shifting revenants whom have given up their souls to do her bidding in return for a conditional immortality. Their tale is but one of the multiple ghost stories told throughout the course of the novel.

USA poster for "Ghost Story" (1981).

USA poster for “Ghost Story” (1981).

The novel has some issues as well, like Alma Mobley’s god-like super powers which are a bit of a stretch, even for fantasy. Aside from her ability to shape-shift and reincarnate, she also has the ability to alter perception where her intended victim may believe themselves to be in a completely alternate reality. I found this part of the story to be distracting because it was too farfetched for me to accept within the confines of this particular tale.

French translation of "Ghost Story" (NEO)

French translation of “Ghost Story” (NEO)

“Ghost Story” reads a bit like Stephen King’s “’Salem’s Lot” in the sense that slowly but surely, people are being killed and brought back as zombie-like followers of the central villain, Alma Mobley. In fact, the scene where Peter is being called to his bedroom window by the revenants of his mother and various townsfolk who are outside in the snow, calling for him to come and join their ranks, brings to mind the analogous scenes in King’s novel where newly turned vampires tried to persuade their former loved ones to let them into their homes so they could recruit them for the undead ranks of Kurt Barlow.

French Poster for "Ghost Story" (1981).

French Poster for “Ghost Story” (1981).

In the end, in light of having finally read the complexity of the original storyline I must admit that the film over-simplifies the plot and does not do justice to its grandiose themes. On the other hand, maybe the book was too convoluted to work as a 2 hour film. Just the same, I like both the movie and (now) the book for their respective attributes and thrills. I think what makes the film still so special for me is Alice Krige in her portrayal of Eva Galli / Alma Mobley; her beauty and charisma really make it believable that so many men would fall prey to her charms and she also has a bit of the aloof otherworldliness that makes her a little frightening when the story calls for it.

Lobby-card for "Ghost Story" (1981).

Lobby-card for “Ghost Story” (1981).

I recommend both for anyone who is curious and wants to see a film or read a novel that treats the ghost story in an intelligent and imaginative manner.

Online cartoon critic reviews the movie.

Online cartoon critic reviews the movie.

Stephen King’s “’Salem’s Lot”

Posted in 'Salem's Lot, Danse Macabre (1982), E.C. Comics, Glenn Chadbourne, Night Shift book, Secretary of Dreams Anthology, Stephen King, Vampire Fiction, Vampire Novels with tags , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2013 by Manuel Paul Arenas
1st edition of "'Salem's Lot" by Doubleday (1975).

1st edition of “‘Salem’s Lot” by Doubleday (1975)

Ben Mears is a moderately successful author who harbors some unresolved guilt after the death of his wife in a motorcycle accident in which he was involved. To get to the heart of his fears, he has decided to return to the site of a dreadful fright he experienced years before, as a child, during his temporary stay at his aunt Cindy’s house in ‘Salem’s Lot. As a rite of initiation into a local boys club, he had gone on a dare to enter the local haunted house: the home of former gangster Hubie Marsten, of whom it was rumored in the town, was responsible for the disappearances of some local children during the Great Depression. According to local legend, the mailman discovered the corpse of Hubie’s wife, Birdie Marsten, in the kitchen with half of her head blown off. The mailman then went back into town and fetched the local law, who later discovered the corpse of Hubie Marsten hanging from a rafter in the upstairs bedroom. The house itself was said to be a virtual rat’s nest of junk, books, and periodicals, with deadly traps set all around the house to ward off, or perhaps just kill, intruders.

Hubie Marsten, by David Loew.

Hubie Marsten, by David Loew.

When young Ben enters the house, he is confronted by the specter of Mister Marsten, hanging by a noose in the main bedroom, replete with a green face and puffy eyes, which open to look down upon master Mears. Frightened out of his wits, he runs away from the house, but is haunted ever since by his experience there. Twenty-five years later, now-author Ben Mears wants to purchase the Marsten house so he can face his demons and purge them by writing a book about his experience there. Unfortunately, someone has beat him to it, and that someone is shortly going to bring a pall down upon his world that will make the specter of Hubie Marsten look like Casper the friendly ghost.

Original artwork for CBS's 1979 "Salem's Lot" mini series.

Original artwork for CBS’s 1979 “Salem’s Lot” mini series.

1982 mass-market paperback edition of "Danse Macabre" by Berkley Books.

1982 mass-market paperback edition of “Danse Macabre” by Berkley Books.

In his 1981 treatise on the horror genre, “Danse Macabre”, Stephen King says of “’Salem’s Lot”: “When I conceived of the vampire novel which became ‘Salem’s Lot, I decided I wanted to try to use the book partially as a form of literary homage”…”So my novel bears an intentional similarity to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and after awhile it began to seem to me what I was doing was playing an interesting—to me, at least—game of literary racquet ball: ‘Salem’s Lot itself was the ball and Dracula was the wall I kept hitting it against, watching to see where it would bounce, so I could hit it again. As a matter of fact, it took some pretty interesting bounces, and I ascribe this mostly to the fact that, while my ball existed in the twentieth century, my wall was very much a product of the nineteenth. At the same time, because the vampire story was so much a staple of the E.C. comics I grew up with, I decided that I would also try to bring in that aspect of the horror story.” [“Danse Macabre” Berkley Books 1987, pg 25]

Haunt of Fear #15 by E.C. Comics.

Haunt of Fear #15 by E.C. Comics.

As far as the EC influence goes, most of King’s fiction reflects the EC ethic of bringing the supernatural and the horrific into the mundane modern world, as in the scene where the mean school bus driver gets his comeuppance through a late-night visit from some of his former charges. King himself sites this as a perfect example in this footnote from “Danse Macabre”:

“The scene in ‘Salem’s Lot which works best in the E.C. tradition–at lest as far as I’m concerned–is when the bus driver, Charlie Rhodes (who is a typical E.C. -type rotter in the best Herbie Satten tradition), awakes at midnight and hears someone blowing the horn of his bus. He discovers, after the bus doors have swung forever behind him, that his bus is loaded with children, as if for a school run…but they’re all vampires. Charlie begins to scream, and perhaps the reader wonders why; after all, they only stopped by for a drink. Heh, heh.” [“Danse Macabre” Berkley Books 1987, pg 25, footnote]
In fine, he did succeed in bringing all of these relatable, yet distinct takes on the vampire story together to create a classic horror story in the modern vernacular. Kurt Barlow is in essence Dracula under a different moniker; he is supernaturally powerful and dreadful, yet urbane and almost charming in the way a smart sociopath can be. He even starts off as an older man and appears more youthful as he feeds, and like Dracula, he is a foreigner who has come to this wholesome New England town to infect it with his transoceanic bric-a-brac and his vampire taint.
He even hits the hero in the heart by taking his ladylove, but unlike Mina Harker of Dracula, Susan Norton does not survive her contact with Barlow. Perhaps in this way she is more like Lucy Westenra, Mina’s friend who is turned by Dracula into the “bloofer lady” who feeds on the local children before Van Helsing has her fiancee put her down; in fact, in ‘Salem’s Lot, Susan does attempt to seduce Mark Petrie into letting her into his bedroom window, but he denies her leave to enter. The scene where Ben Mears has to stake Susan is also very similar to the corresponding scene in Dracula where Van Helsing convinces Arthur Holmwood that he is the most fitting amongst them to deliver the blow that will save his beloved’s soul from eternal damnation.

1976 mass-market edition of "'Salem's Lot" by Signet. Original copies were all black with the drop of blood being the only other item of color on the cover.

1976 mass-market edition of “‘Salem’s Lot” by Signet. Original copies were all black with the drop of blood being the only other item of color on the cover.

Speaking of damnation, much hoopla is made in the book of the powers of Good versus the powers of Evil. The Marsten House is described as being a sort of repository for evil energy, like a hell-mouth, which draws wicked men to its threshold. This is shown time and again by the tenants that choose to reside there and use it as a home base from which they spread their evil into the surrounding town; like Straker & Barlow, the Marstens, and as we shall later see, in earlier times, the Boone family.

The power of Good is championed by Ben Mears and his company of ragtag vampire hunters, but the power itself seems to come from inside the respective individuals. On the surface one might chalk it up to a discovery of a new-found faith in the power of Good through the use of holy relics (like their use of holy water or homemade crosses), but whenever their faith wavers, the efficacy of said talismans ceases, as in the scene where Father Callahan wards off Barlow in the Petrie’s kitchen until his gets scared and doubts his ability to defeat his foe. Initially, he feels the power of the cross reverberating in his arm as it emits bright light across the darkened kitchen but as his confidence diminishes, the cross becomes a mere trinket and Barlow mocks him before snatching it out of his hand; “Sad to see a man’s faith fail. Ah well…” [“‘Salem’s Lot” Illustrated Edition, Doubleday 2005, pg 397]

The irony in all this is that Callahan had always had a hankering to fight EVIL, like a warrior of God…

“He wanted to lead a division in the army of–who? God, right, goodness, they were names for the same thing–into battle against EVIL with its cerements of deception cast aside, with every feature of its visage clear.”[“‘Salem’s Lot” Illustrated Edition, Doubleday 2005, pg 176]

…so when he quails and fails at his first real encounter he runs away in shame…only to pop up again in the Dark Tower series to fight the good fight for real.

It is interesting as well to note that the only type of relics which seem to have any effect are Catholic ones. When Ben’s friend, school teacher Matt Burke, asks him to procure a holy cross to protect him from the revenant of Mike Ryerson, no one in town seems to have one. Eva Miller even rebukes Matt Burke saying to Ben “He should have known better than that. (…) All his people were Lutherans.”[“‘Salem’s Lot” Illustrated Edition, Doubleday 2005, pg 215]

In the prologue of the book, which takes place after the events in the novel, Mark Petrie even decides to join the church at a little Catholic sanctuary in Los Zapatos, Mexico. Perhaps the Catholic rituals resonate more because they are still steeped in a mysticism and ritual that the Reformation dismissed in Martin Luther’s time. They still take communion, hold confession, pray to saints, perform exorcisms (albeit quietly) and still acknowledge the Darkness which grasps at men’s souls.

I first read “’Salem’s Lot” in the summer of 1986. I had just gotten out of high school and was staying at my maternal grandparents’ little house in Phoenix. My cousin Jason was staying there as well and he loaned me his dog-eared paperback (a “mass-market” paperback, as is known in the book trade) and I devoured it with gusto, although there were a few minor hiccups along the way, mostly King’s penchant for supplying his readers with an excessive amount of personal information on minor characters that has no real bearing on the story, which still bothers me to this day.
Even so, the story stuck with me and even though the details blurred with time, the overall emotion did not. In the intervening years, I saw and learned to love the original CBS mini-series adaptation with David Soul as hero Ben Mears, James Mason as Richard Straker, watcher and henchman for vampire Kurt Barlow, wordlessly portrayed by veteran horror actor Reggie Nalder in an iconic blue-faced Nosferatu-like make-up job that still sends shivers down my spine whenever I see it; a fresh-faced Bonnie Bedelia makes a memorable appearance as the hero’s love interest, Susan Norton, and a host of other 70’s character actors have cameos as some of the myriad townsfolk.

1979 TV Guide ad for the original CBS mini series.

1979 TV Guide ad for the original CBS mini series.

This was my reference on the story for years until I recently sat through the 2004 remake, which varies on many different points, and wondered which one of the adaptations was closer to the original?
So, I pulled my 1st edition copy of the book club version of “’Salem’s Lot” and began to re-read the tale of Ben Mears and company for the first time in 27 years. As it turns out, they’re both fairly close to the book, but emphasize different aspects and scenes, which makes them seem divergent at times. The adaptation with the most changes however, is the 2004 version, in which the screenwriter felt the need to update the story by having characters referencing rap tunes, or modern political topics (Ben Mears is a journalist here instead of a novelist, who wrote some unflattering books about the US Military handling of the Gulf War; early on in the show there is a scene where he has a heated discussion with a local about a particular story he ran which caused some soldiers to get in trouble), Doctor Jim Cody is made into a philanderer and other minor characters are given more screen-time than necessary. The biggest offense however was the opening scene with Ben Mears confronting a vampire-tainted Father Callahan in a New York homeless shelter. This never happens in the book and Father Callahan actually pops up in the Dark Tower series as a good guy, so this interpretation messes with the character all together.

Father Callahan as he appears in the Dark Tower series.

Father Callahan as he appears in the Dark Tower series.

Other than that though, most of the differences were how they chose to combine characters from the book to get in relevant scenes without confusing matters with an enormous cast.
One minor addition, which is not in the book, but piqued my interest, was a scene from the remake in which Eva Miller (renamed Eva Prunier) visits Barlow and Straker’s antique store where she discovers a graphically illustrated book that contains what appears to be some satanic rituals. As she examines the book with growing horror, Straker approaches her and surreptitiously harasses her telling her that he wishes he knew her as a young girl, when she used to dabble in the occult and apparently wrote some letters to Barlow inviting him to visit ‘Salem’s Lot. As a coup de grace to his creepy harangue, he lolls his tongue at her and makes a face that causes him to look like a mad satyr. None of this is in the original novel, where the only one who corresponded with Barlow was Hubie Marsten.

Straker harasses Eva Prunier (Miller) in the 2004 adaptation.

Straker harasses Eva Prunier (Miller) in the 2004 adaptation.

James Mason’s portrayal of Straker is a lot more subtle, and thus creepier. His death scene—he is shot several times whilst descending the Marsten House stairwell with a piece of the banister raised over his head in an attempt to club Ben Mears—always seemed a bit weak to me though. This is one instance where the remake got it right. It is actually young master Petrie who overtakes Straker when he is not looking and Barlow later strings him up to drain him of his blood in a fit of pique. Barlow resents Mark for essentially forcing him to take the life of his favorite servant as is shown in the mocking letter he leaves for the men when they come looking for him in his former lair. In said letter, he addresses each one of the would-be vampire hunters personally, exhibiting his cleverness not only by escaping them, but by correctly assessing who would ultimately comprise such a group. In the section addressed to the youngest member he says:
“Master Petrie, you have robbed me of the most faithful and resourceful servant I have ever known. You have caused me, in an indirect fashion, to take part in his ruination, have caused my own appetites to betray me. You sneaked up behind him, doubtless. I am going to enjoy dealing with you. Your parents first, I think. Tonight…or tomorrow night…or the next. And then you. But you shall enter my church as choirboy castratum.” [“‘Salem’s Lot” Illustrated Edition, Doubleday 2005, pg 376]

Kurt Barlow holds Mark Petrie as Richard Straker negotiates with Father Callahan in the 1979 CBS mini series.

Kurt Barlow holds Mark Petrie as Richard Straker negotiates with Father Callahan in the 1979 CBS mini series.

In the deleted scenes section of the “’Salem’s Lot: Illustrated Edition” (Doubleday 2005) this scene is not only extended, but has some interesting changes. First off, it is not a letter he leaves for the men, but rather a tape recording, which almost smacks of Dracula again where the some of the narrative journal entries are recorded on cylinders. And in a nasty turn, which is quite effective, Barlow has the vampiric Susan taunt her lover with a salacious harangue:
“The tape spooled on vacantly for a sheaf of moments and then another voice spoke—Susan’s voice. The cool, clear accents were the same, complete to the Maine accent of slurred r’s. Yet for all that, it was a travesty, a husk, a bad imitation, a talking doll speaking in Susan’s voice.
‘Come to me, Ben. Let me fuck you. Wait until dark and I’ll fuck you. Fuck-fuck-fuck. Father Callahan, too. Would you like a piece of it Father? Let me slip my hand under that black robe and start to—‘“ [“‘Salem’s Lot” Illustrated Edition, Doubleday 2005, pp 569-570]
Ben then grabs the player, and destroys it before she can continue. The staking scene which follows is so heartbreaking and emotional in the book, but both film adaptations chose to change it for some inexplicable reason and both the emotional impact and the implied Dracula reference are lost in the respective rewrites.

A vampiric Susan visits Ben in his post-'Salem's Lot hideout in Guatemala in the 1979 CBS mini series.

A vampiric Susan visits Ben in his post-‘Salem’s Lot hideout in Guatemala in the 1979 CBS mini series.

The scene in which Mark and Father Callahan are confronted by Barlow in the Petrie family kitchen has a completely different ending which, although interesting, would have had significant effect on King’s later output. In this version, Father Callahan takes his own life rather than become a vampire. His mutilated and decapitated body is later found by his peers nailed to the Petrie kitchen door.
Most of the other deleted scenes are extensions of scenes already featured in the original novel. Some of the extra information is interesting, some of it is superfluous. Even so, if you come across the illustrated edition someday used, it might behoove you to pick it up if you’re a fan, as it is currently out of print. My only complaint is that the touted “illustrations” are actually photographs by Jerry Uelsmann which, although artful, aren’t really depictive of anything delineated in the story. Even so, the new introduction by King and the aforementioned outtakes are worth the price of admission to the devoted fan and students of the oeuvre of this modern master of American Horror fiction.
To complete this macabre package, two related short stories have been included which were originally featured in King’s 1978 short story collection, “Night Shift”. The first story, “Jerusalem’s Lot” deals with the original owners of what came to be known as the Marsten House. Written in an epistolary style, through journal entries and letters (again referencing Dracula), “Jerusalem’s Lot” is the tale of an aristocrat, Charles Boone who travels to Chapelwaite, the neglected estate of his estranged cousin Stephen. Charles finds that the housekeeping staff are none too happy about being on the grounds and the townsfolk treat both he and his footman, Calvin, as pariahs.

The real culprits responsible for the scratching sounds in the walls. One of Glenn Chadbourne's illustrations for "Jerusalem's Lot" in the "Secretary of Dreams" anthology.

The real culprits responsible for the scratching sounds in the walls. One of Glenn Chadbourne’s illustrations for “Jerusalem’s Lot” in the “Secretary of Dreams” anthology.

Charles soon realizes that his estranged cousin and his branch of the family were into some dark dealings and upon further investigation, the duo find secret passageways and an arcane map to a deserted village nearby named Jerusalem’s Lot. He and Calvin go to check it out and find a ghost town with a church which has been converted into a Satanic meeting house. They also discover the black grimoire, “De Vermis Mysteriis”, “The Mysteries of the Worm”, which figures prominently in Robert Bloch’s Lovecraftian Mythos stories. Of course, things just go downhill for everybody concerned from here on in.
“Jerusalem’s Lot” almost reads like a Mythos tale with its black books, archaic language, old tainted family lines, backwards untrusting townsfolk and even makes vague references to other Lovecraftiana like “The Rats in the Walls”. It is a very good tale and has even been anthologized by Arkham House (bearers of the H.P. Lovecraft Legacy) in a collection entitled “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos” (1990) alongside many other classic tales in the genre.
The next bonus tale is “One for the Road”, which really feels like just that—one more little fright before he lets you go. Gerard Lumley is a desperate New Jersey man who has left his wife and little girl stranded in their car in a fierce blizzard on the outskirts of ‘Salem’s Lot so he could find help. He bursts into a local bar where he collapses, but is brought back to consciousness by two old timers who reluctantly agree to help him retrieve his family only if his they are still inside the car when they get there, for they know that if the freezing temperatures don’t get them, something else will.

Mr. Lumley finds his family in "One for the Road". This illustration can be found in the "Secretary of Dreams" volume two.

Mr. Lumley finds his family in “One for the Road”. This illustration can be found in the “Secretary of Dreams” volume two.

“One for the Road” is a well told tale, but nothing new is said here. It really does feel like a superfluous scene that didn’t make its way into the original novel, just tacked on at the end. That being said, it is both entertaining in its depiction of the eccentric Maine natives as well as the delineation of the thrilling climactic scenes in the blizzard.
Note, both of these bonus tales appear in “Night Shift” as well as in “The Secretary of Dreams” compilations by Cemetery Dance. “Jerusalem’s Lot” appears in Volume 1 and “One for the Road” appears in Volume 2, both illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne.
Re-reading “’Salem’s Lot” was an enlightening and enjoyable experience, from which I learned a lot about King’s legacy and his craft. I believe that I shall return to this world again someday after I read some more of his fiction both things I have read in the past (I hope to re-read “The Shining” before the sequel “Doctor Sleep” comes out this year) as well as newer things, which I have not (like the “Dark Tower” series), and as I do so, I shall keep you all informed of my progress ; )

Stephen King’s “Carrie”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 7, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I just finished reading the book “Carrie”, by Stephen ing and I am surprised by how different it is from the movie version, which I have known and loved for so many years. The basic storyline is the same, with the expected few minor Hollywood changes, but there is a whole side to the novel that wasn’t addressed in the movie. I understand why, but it just surprised me to find it there because no one I had ever spoken to that had read it had ever mentioned it to me until recently right when I decided to read it.

“Carrie” paperback, Signet 1992.

The Carrie of the novel is not quite as endearing and sweet as Sissy Spacek’s movie portrayal, and is actually kind of pathetic and slightly unlikable. She also ends up showing way more power than demonstrated in the movie and ends up not just burning the gymnasium where the prom was held, but almost the whole town! The death toll at the end is almost 500 townspeople and investigations are held and studies are done years after the incident. This is another difference from the movie, the pseudo-scientific tracts and FBI interviews with survivors that pepper the narrative and set up scenes. Carrie’s death is protracted as well and she shows signs of not only telekinesis, but mental telepathy. Her death scene in the arms of Sue Snell, after killing her mother and burning half the town down is very dramatic and somewhat unsettling.

Spanish poster for Brian De Palma’s 1976 movie version of “Carrie”.

For my money, I still like the movie better as a coherent, streamlined narrative, with a sympathetic protagonist and a “gotcha!” ending, but the novel did make me think a lot and provided a depth to the story that I hadn’t considered before.