Blast from the Past

You never forget your first apocalypseStephen King is stalking me. Or more specifically, Classic Steve — the guy whose books I devoured in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and whose book-length dissertation on horror literature and cinema, “Danse Macabre“, had a major impact on the way I approach criticism.

Seriously. No sooner do I learn that Warner is releasing a new Stanley Kubrick collection on Blu-ray this spring — which would include his flawed but fascinating adaptation of  “The Shining” — than out of the blue, a reader of my MSN DVD column e-mailed me because my explanation of the obligations of the sequel reminded her of “Danse Macabre”, and then I wander over to the AV Club and found that the latest installment of its ongoing Better Late Than Never series has Keith Phipps picking up “The Stand”.

It’s a great read, and took me immediately back to my own experience as a kid reading King when I was probably too young to do so. (I remember reading the paperback version of “Night Shift” — the one with the cut-out front cover — on the bus home from grade school; I couldn’t have been older than eleven.) It’s pieces like this that make me melancholy for the experience of reading “The Stand” for the first time … and then rediscovering it in the expanded version a decade or so later. I was 22 when that came out, and I had time to devote myself thoroughly to books that ran more than a thousand pages. In contrast, I’ve had “Under the Dome” sitting on the shelf for what feels like a year now. Haven’t even opened it.

Maturity sucks sometimes.

7 thoughts on “Blast from the Past”

  1. i’m half-way through “under the dome”. if I can do it with a small baby in tow –2-5 pages at a time– then i think you can find the time, junior. It’s pretty good BTW.

  2. Haven’t cracked a King since ‘Insomnia’ which was over-written, under-edited, and still got under my skin. I’ve been looking for a hardcover of ‘Danse Macabre’ for years, and contend myself with paperbacks found at used bookstores. His examination of what’s scary in literature and movies (I seem to remember he pointedly didn’t call most of the samples ‘films’) nailed itself into my 12-year old brain when I first read it, his review of ‘Cruising’ in particular – “Glossy, but somehow cheesy, like a dead rat in a lucite block.”

    I realized a few years ago that my collection of horror films mirrors the ones, good and bad, discussed in ‘Danse Macabre.’ I’ve jettisoned some over the years, kept others because I agreed with his conclusions. And I spent years trying to find the black and white Jack the Ripper movie where the last 2 minutes turn into colour as he gets mashed at the bottom of an elevator shaft. Very underwhelming. But I had to see it.

    Never understood his hate-on for Blatty, however. He praised the Exorcist movie and called the novel an overly serious slog. I always wondered what his take on ‘Legion’ would have been, it’s far smarter than it has any right to be and is an interesting bookend to the Exorcist rather than a sequel.

  3. You never forget your first King novel (whether apocalyptic or not) either. I was never able to muster any enthusiasm for Kubrick’s The Shining ’cause it didn’t capture what I found creepy in the book, which I read at an impressionable age. I get that movies have to change things for either budget or ease of explanation, but the maze was not a good replacement for the topiary animals that crept up on you when you turned your back (now possible through CGI), and “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” was an easy visual cue that Jack was going bonkers, but not as creepy as the gradual descent into madness in the book revealed in part through how Jack felt about the characters in the book he was writing.

    I haven’t read any King in years, but did find his son’s first novel (The Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill) read like early Stephen King. Probably not Hill would want to hear as a writer, but I mean it as a compliment.

  4. I’m pretty sure I could dig up a hardcover copy of Danse Macabre in a box of old books I left at my mother’s place, assuming she didn’t toss it.

    The weird thing about King is that, for as much as I may agree with the things he has to say about film criticism itself, I find him to have just plain dreadful taste in movies when he actually tries to review them. His current column in Entertainment Weekly just backs this up.

  5. Its nice to hear someone speaking well of King, even if it’s nostalgia for his earlier work. His fiction was the first stuff I really glommed onto as a teenager.

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