My Top 10 Horror Movies

For many years, horror has been a big part of my life.

And for the record, I am not talking about my marriage to my ex husband…

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Actually, I don’t think I was married to a psychotic clown living in the sewers.  However, no one ever saw my ex and Pennywise in the same room, so this remains open to debate.

No, I am talking horror in books and in movies.

I am huge Stephen King nut and I have been reading his books off and on since I was twelve years old.  Twenty six years, for you nosy folks!

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Of course, Stephen King was not the only thing in my horror diet.  I love pizza, but I can’t eat that every day.  And I love Stephen King, but my literary diet does need at least some variety, lest I suffer from vitamin L deficiency (literary deficiency, for the uninitiated.)

So, I read other writers.  Joe Hill does nicely in a pinch.  And I’m not saying that just because I consider him to be The Master 2.0 (I may be just a little biased, but oh well.)

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And of course, Clive Barker, Michaelbrent Collings, Joseph Duncan and quite a few others supplement my literary diet quite nicely, so I don’t have to worry about any deficiencies.

I can also turn to the screen to pick up some variety too.  In other words, there’s always movies and television.

I will be an X Phile for life.  I also love Penny Dreadful and am still officially in mourning because the series ended earlier this year.

And horror movies.  Who can forget horror movies?

Is there a better way to spend an afternoon, or perhaps an evening, than watching a good horror movie?

Maybe you snuggle up to your man and bury your head on his chest when the scary parts come on, but still peek anyway.  Or maybe you just have dogs for company, although burying your head on a dog may end up squishing the dog instead.  Or result in said dog moving REALLY far away.  REALLY FAR, maybe as much as five feet away from you!

Watching horror movies is fun.  The adrenaline rush is fun.  And horror movies tend to have some comedy in them, so you get the laughs too.  Or perhaps at least some soft core porn, since sex is usually a big part of most horror movies.

And there are so many horror flicks to choose from.  You have ones based on Stephen King books, like Carrie, Children of the Corn and that mini series with that really scary clown dude…hold on, I will think of It

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And classic slasher films.  Who doesn’t love Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the escapades of goofy old Michael Myers?

Or perhaps your bag is more dark fantasy, and you get in the mood for some Horns!

At any rate, there are lots of good horror movies out there.  And after thinking about it for awhile, I decided to write a blog post, listing my top ten horror movies.  It took a few tries, but I have whittled it down to ten, so here goes nothing!

Reminder:  this is one blogger’s opinion only.  I am aware that I probably left your favorite movie off, but I really don’t care.  And if you are going to roast me, go with slow heat, the flavors will be more developed that way.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


10.  Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Well, we all have to start somewhere, right?

And my somehow happened to be a movie where people died.

Lots of people died, in fact.

And in really inventive ways.

And klowns were responsible.  Killer Klowns.  And these Killer Klowns were from outer space!

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If I remember correctly, Killer Klowns from Outer Space was the first horror movie that I watched.  And it set the stage for me.

Yes, the movie is just ridiculous.  I mean, cotton candy somehow became a weapon…c’mon, man!

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And acting?  What acting?  Although, to be fair, it didn’t require much acting to die at the hands of the Killer Klowns who killed in inventive ways.

Shortly after I watched this (alternating between sort of hysterical laughter and gross out noises that only a 12 year old girl can make), I began to explore horror, in both books and films.  I became a Stephen King addict.  I started watching Alfred Hitchcock too.

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And, as they say, the rest is history.

Killer Klowns should be labeled a gateway movie.  Because it was, at least for me.

It was a gateway.  A gateway into the horror genre.  And I can’t think of a better (or is it horrible) movie to receive that honor.


9.  Candyman

Often, horror movies deal with morality…

Ok, now that you are done choking on your coffee (or whatever other beverage you may be imbibing at the moment), let’s talk about this.

Of course, sex is a theme in a lot of horror movies.  There is a direct correlation to how many clothes come off and the proximity to home base and how quickly one dies in a horror movie, it seems.

But many horror movies deal with other kinds of issues that actually don’t have anything to do with teenagers having sex.

One of these movies is Candyman.

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The villain in this movie, Candyman, was actually the son of a slave, who had become a well-known artist.  However, the man makes the mistake of falling in love with a white woman, and (literally) all hell breaks loose.  He is attacked by a white lynch mob, which cuts off his painting hand and replaces it with a hook.  The mob then smears the man with honey, chanting “Candyman”, as he is stung to death by bees.

Of course, the man continues to live on, even after death, as Candyman. a spirit who can be summoned when someone looks into a mirror and says “Candyman” five times.

Since this is a horror movie, there is someone stupid  brave enough to do just that.  And lots of people get murdered.  Lots and lots of people.  So that’s disturbing.

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But the movie is disturbing for more than just the fact that a guy can come out of a mirror and kill people.  It turns out that 26 people, all of whom were residents of the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago, have been murdered.  And the police have put forth no effort to solve the murders.  Some of these victims are children.  All of the victims are African American.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  In other words, just turn on the news, and something similar will likely pop up at some point.  Maybe.  Tragically, many people of color are murdered in this country.  If the victim is lucky, the media acknowledges the murder, and someone puts forth the effort to bring justice to the victim and his/her family.  However, more often than not, just like in this particular movie, the crime is ignored.  Or worse yet, the victim’s so-called criminal record is on display, and he or she is vilified, rubbing salt into the wounds of an already grieving family.

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Race plays a huge factor in murder, the solving of murders and policing in general in this society.  Often, there is more than enough real life horror to go around, and a ghost with a hook is nowhere nearly as frightening as our fellow man.


8.  Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Often, the line between reality and fiction is blurred.

School shootings are tragically common in this country, and some shooters have stated that the Richard Bachman book, Rage, was their inspiration for the crimes committed, for example.

But what if a fictional character can somehow come to life?

I will admit, I spent a whole summer being frightened of storm drains after my responsible camp counselor took it upon herself to enlighten us about Pennywise the Clown.  So ten year old me spent a summer assiduously avoiding being in the bathroom by herself for too long, along with jumping at every shadow…good times, in other words!

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But luckily, Pennywise never came to life, and I was safe.  Although I still stand by my statement about never having seen my ex and Pennywise in the same room, but that’s another story!

Sometimes, characters that are created become all too real.  We mourn their deaths as we would the death of a friend or family member.  Or we shake our heads when a TV show or book character makes what we think to be terrible decisions, and we feel their pain at the consequences of those decisions.

Or, these characters scare into a change of pants, and they haunt our dreams…

Like Freddy Kreuger.

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The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has become a bit of a joke, with all the sequels and even a reboot in 2010.  But when you get down to it, Freddy Kreuger is one scary motherfucker…and I will stand by that statement until my dying day!

The fact that Freddy Kreuger is believable is bad enough.  After all, guys murdering kids and our justice system letting them off on a technicality is something that happens, unfortunately.  And if I were a parent, I wouldn’t be above murder, in the interest of keeping my child and others safe from a monster like that.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare takes things up a level, and could be considered meta fiction, as Wes Craven and Heather Langenkamp both play themselves in the movie.  The movie also stars Robert Englund, who plays himself, along with an even more horrifying version of Freddy Kreuger.

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It turns out that Freddy is indeed real, and after Heather, because she defeated him onscreen.  And no one is safe, including her family.

Works of art can often have an effect on the creator, along with anyone else who may be influenced by that particular work of art.  This is a fascinating theme that New Nightmare explores.  The deaths are gruesome, and the entire film has a strange, dreamlike quality, which makes this movie even scarier than its “source material.”


7)  Freaks

It is no secret that people fear what they don’t understand.

As someone who spent much of her life being bullied for her looks and well…for just being herself, I have first hand experience with this.  I have had people makes assumptions about anything and everything about me, even questioning my intelligence, because of how I looked.  In fact, I had few friends when I was in high school, and did not even kiss a guy until I was 19 years old.  And most of this was due to my feelings of how I looked.  And I have come a long way, but even today, I am uncomfortable with almost any kind of comments in regards to my looks, even though no one has told me I am ugly in a long, long time.

In fact, I think I dreamed of joining the circus for a time.  But since that was not a practical solution, I did the next best thing:  I rented the movie Freaks.

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Freaks deals with quite a few hot button topics, but it really boils down to is one thing:  man’s inhumanity to man, along with the fact that you can’t really judge a book by its cover.  Oh, and karma is a real bitch!

This movie is controversial to some, because of how it depicts those who may suffer from disabilities.  However, when I watched this movie, the so-called “freaks” were the ones I rooted for, and the ones who actually behaved in a humane (well, sort of, given what they have gone through in their lifetimes) manner.  However, the so-called “normal” folks were the enemies, especially the beautiful woman who tried to trick one of the “freaks,” so she could get access to his money.

I thought of the “beautiful one” as one of the mean girls in high school who was only nice to me when she wanted something (like answers to the math homework) and who would talk about me behind her back any chance she got.  However, someone finally gave her what she deserved, and she got to take a walk on the other side…

Again, karma is a bitch!

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6)  Carrie

While we are on the topic of high school and the mean girls who rarely get what they deserve, let’s talk about the movie Carrie.  For clarification, we will be discussing the 1976 version.

I have mixed feelings about onscreen adaptations of Stephen King novels.  Some, like The Green Mile, are straightforward adaptations that remain almost word for word to the source material.  Others, like 1408 and 11.22.63, are not straightforward adaptations, but still remain faithful to the spirit of the books.  And of course, there are others, like The Running Man, that share little in common with the source material, other than the title.

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Carrie is one of those adaptations that fall into the second category:  it is not a slavish adaptation to the source material, but anyone familiar with the novel can still “see” the novel when watching the movie.  The changes add to the story, rather than detracting from it.  Additionally, the performances in the movie, especially by Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek, are outstanding, and bring the movie from good to phenomenal.

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The title character in the movie Carrie is one many of us can sympathize with.  I also rooted for Carrie when I read the book and watched the movie.  And I understood why Carrie “snapped”:  there is only so much abuse one can take from her peers before she decides that enough is enough.  Carrie’s treatment at the hands of her peers cut me to the core, as I had to deal with bullying for most of my school career, and that bullying pretty much ruined my life for years to come.  And Carrie’s death was most upsetting, although I was glad that her bullies got their just desserts.

One of the changes from the novel in the movie was the ending.  Sue Snell (who had tried to help Carrie) dreams that she is visiting Carrie’s grave, which has been defaced.  Sue attempts to place flowers on the grave, but a hand suddenly comes up from the ground, grabbing Sue.  Sue then awakens in hysterics, and is seemingly still in the dream.

That scene gets me.  Every.  Single.  Time.

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5)  Jacob’s Ladder

My father was drafted during the Vietnam War and actually saw time in Vietnam.  We don’t talk about his experiences much, but, not surprisingly, Vietnam has been a huge shadow over my life.  I am also an 80’s child, so Vietnam is also a huge theme in many movies that I grew up watching, including Rambo, Forrest Gump and Full Metal Jacket.

In high school, I read Dante’s Inferno.  I was fascinated with the concept of Purgatory:  there is a stage between this life and the afterlife, where you are doomed to repeat all the worst moments in your life, before you finally figure it out, and move on to the next level, whatever that may be.  And some poor souls never figure it out, and are doomed to repeat their mistakes for all eternity.

The movie Jacob’s Ladder combines commentary on the Vietnam War, along with the concept of Purgatory.  The title character, Jacob, is troubled by horrible memories of his time in Vietnam, where he believes that he was drugged and committed atrocities.  Soon, he is unable to tell the difference between dreams and reality, as he begins to see odd things in his daily life that he cannot explain.  Jacob’s visions escalate, and he fears that he is going mad.

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Well, it turns out that Jacob is (literally) a lost soul.  See the part about Purgatory.  In other words, that creepy fortune teller is right:  Jacob is already dead.  He was placed in a body bag in Vietnam, but never accepted his death.  So he has been stuck in Purgatory and is haunted by his past sins.

It is only when Jacob faces the truth about what has happened to him, that he is able to move on.  He is led by his deceased son to whatever the next level of life is.  It is noted by the doctors that Jacob seems to now be at peace.

Like The Inferno, Jacob’s Ladder is a great metaphor for being able to let go and not hold on to something that no longer serves any purpose in one’s life (or afterlife.)  It also brings attentions to the horrors of war, and manages to still be a scary, effective horror movie.

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4)  Horns

Sometimes, we create our own monsters.  And the monster within is far more frightening than a bloodsucking vampire or a clown that lives in the sewers.

Horns explores the concept of the monster within in depth.  Based on a book by Joe Hill, this movie deals with many other themes other than “the monster within,” including family, friendship, first love and just who (or what) can be considered evil.

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One morning, Ignacio M. Parrish (note the initials), or Ig, wakes up and finds he has grown a pair of horns.  These horns are invisible (almost) everyone else, but Ig finds out that people will confess their darkest desires (and sometimes even act those desires out, having lost all inhibition) to him, as the horns seem to exude some sort of influence on (almost) everyone around him.

We also learn of Ig’s first love, Merrin, and that Merrin was murdered nearly a year prior.  Ig was accused of the murder, and no one in town believes that he is innocent.  For the rest of the movie, Ig struggles to understand what he has become, and to solve Merrin’s murder and clear his own name.  Ig also finds out that those he called friends and family are really anything but, and that he stands alone in his desire to bring justice to Merrin.

Horns appears to be a horror movie, and it is, but it is so much more.  It is a love story, a cat-and-mouse detective story and even a dark fantasy, with a lot of religious allegory.  In other words, a little something for everyone.

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3.  Burnt Offerings

Move over, The Amityville Horror  and The Conjuring.  There’s a new (well, not really) haunted house movie in town, and it goes by the name of Burnt Offerings.

Burnt Offerings may not be the movie one thinks of when anyone brings up the subject of the haunted house movie.  And that would be a grave oversight, as this movie is the movie I believe should represent the haunted house movie category.

In many ways, Burnt Offerings is your standard haunted house movie.  There is a nice young family, which includes the sweet old great aunt Elizabeth (played brilliantly by Bette Davis.)  The nice young family gets a deal for a summer home rental that is probably too good to be true.  The mother of the nice young family doesn’t listen, of course, and that spells doom for everyone.

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However, in many ways, Burnt Offerings is NOT your standard haunted house movie.  For one thing, ghosts are not a major of part of the movie. Instead, the movie relies on “real life horrors” (like a father trying to drown his child) and the house itself becomes a character, exerting its evil influence on the inhabitants.  The film also uses psychological horror, invading the minds of the inhabitants and terrorizing them with unpleasant past memories.

Oh, and before we move on to the next entry, let’s hear it for the chauffeur.  In other words, one of the many reasons I need to spend some quality time in my therapist’s chair, even as an adult.  He may have also been responsible for a soiled pair of underwear, but I can neither confirm nor deny that rumor.

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2.  Phantasm

In any horror movie, you have to have a good villain.  After all, a good horror movie is nothing without a guy (or girl, or creature) that you love to hate.

For a long time, Pennywise the Clown was that creature.  Could anything be scarier than a homicidal clown who lives in the sewers and eats kids?

Well, I think I found someone to give good old Pennywise a run for his money (or is that a run for his souls?)

Enter The Tall Man, the villain from the movie Phantasm.  Again, I can neither confirm nor deny a rumor that this man may also have been responsible for a pair or two of soiled underwear.

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Phantasm may be old (only a year younger than yours truly…yikes!) but surprisingly, it stands the test of time.  I watched this movie recently, and it scared the crap out of me all over again…yikes!

As I have said before, Phantasm is all about the villain.  The Tall Man is definitely someone I would not want to meet in a dark alley (and I will pass on his dwarfs too, thank you.)  However, I was also struck by the movie’s use of ordinary objects to elicit a sense of foreboding and outright fear.  I think I can rightfully make the statement that this the only movie I know of that managed to make a guitar tuning fork frightening.  Along with the inside of the funeral home, although those are pretty frightening anyway.  Even Mike’s bedroom was frightening, although that may have just been the 1970’s decor (something that thankfully has NOT withstood the test of time.)

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It should be noted that while I generally have no use for sequels, especially with horror movies  (Carrie 2: The Rage anyone?), I think that Phantasm II is also very good and worth watching, although it seems to be more of a continuation than a sequel.


And now, for my favorite horror movie of all time…

drum-roll-please

Poltergeist (1982)

Yes, I have chosen Poltergeist as my favorite horror movie of all time.  This may seem like an odd choice, but roll with me on this, ok?

Poltergeist, on the surface, is not your typical horror movie.  There is no violence.  There is no sex.  There is hardly even any swearing…I believe that the worst word someone uses is “damn”, and there are certainly no f bombs.  In fact, the movie is rated PG, which is, again, unusual for a horror movie.

In fact, at points, this movie could be mistaken for a Disney movie…thank you, Zelda Rubinstein!

However, Poltergeist is one fucking scary movie.  I will mince no words:  this movie scared the shit out of me when I first saw, and still continues to scare the shit out of me to this day.

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Like I said before, this movie could almost be mistaken for a Disney movie.  At first, the hi-jinks of the ghosts haunting the home of the Freeling family are sort of amusing.  Chairs move on their own accord.  Drinking glasses break.  Furniture cannot stay still.

But slowly, the hi-jinks become a little more sinister.  Carol Anne’s pet bird mysteriously dies.  And then is the matter of that tree outside the bedroom window that is not as nice as it appears…

Then, we get to disgusting, as one of the parapsychologists who pays a visit to the Freelings helps himself to leftovers one night, and finds out he is not eating chicken…

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Very quickly, things go from benign to sort of disturbing to outright fucking terrifying, as Carol Anne is kidnapped and trapped in some sort of alternate dimension, between the living and the dead.

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But the nice medium pays a visit, to help the family.  And Carol Anne is rescued.  Dad finds out that the house was actually built on a graveyard (more on that in a minute), and the family decides to pack up and move.

Case closed, right?

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Well, no.  The last 15 minutes or so of Poltergeist is the biggest roller coaster ride in any movie, as literally all Hell breaks loose.

Turns out, there is a technicality.  So…a forgetful person not only built the house on a graveyard, but kind of forgot to move…you know…the DAMN BODIES that were buried in those graves!

In other words, we are FUBAR, ladies and gentleman!

Of course, all ends well (except for that television set, but I can’t blame Dad on that one).  But the suspense came close to killing me the first time I watched this movie as a teenager…would everyone survive, or would the spirits win?  And even as an adult, those last 15 minutes get the old heart rate up…

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The other thing I like about Poltergeist is that it was made long before CGI was even an idea, so Steven Spielberg had to rely on other things to tell the story, like props, makeup, acting and oh yeah…good writing and storytelling!  There is a reason why so few movies after, oh say, 1995 are on this list:  CGI has made for lazy storytelling and has been responsible for the decline of modern horror, in this humble blogger’s opinion.

Oh, and a side note:  I may have referred to Pennywise the Clown quite a few times in this blog post, but I think that Pennywise would do well to bow down to the Poltergeist Clown, as I believe this clown should take home the honor (or is horror?) of All Time Scariest Fucking Clown in a Movie Ever.

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Well, that’s it for my all time favorite horror movies.  It was hard to whittle the list down to just ten, and I am sure a few really good movies were left off.  What it is it that they say?  Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, right?

So, check some of these flicks out if you haven’t already.  I promise you, none of them are as scary as that thing they call the Republican National Convention, but at least the makeup job on the villains is much better than the makeup job on Donald Trump!

BOCA RATON, FL - MARCH 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater on March 13, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Trump continues to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

And with that note, adios!  Happy viewing!

 

 

 

 

 

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My Review of The Dark Half

By nature, most human beings possess dual natures.

It makes sense if you think about it, actually.

We have our public selves.  That’s the self that we present to the world.  That self is polite.  That self observes “social mores.”  That self knows not to cut in line, for example.  Or it knows that we use eating utensils to eat, and not our fingers.  Our Sunday best self, in other words.

And then there is the private self.  That self has no problem eating with its fingers.  Or maybe cursing at someone to get out of its way already.  Some may call this the “id”, per Sigmund Freud.  Or, if we want to be kinder, the casual Friday self.

Often, being creative requires one to get in touch with that darker side.  Some of the best art is born from darkness, actually.  Art can be a good outlet for that darkness, allowing the artist to express those dark desires.  At the very least, people may admire the end result.  Or perhaps the artist can even make a viable living by expressing that dark side.

Usually, that dark side is kept under wraps.  Artist does his/her thing, perhaps gets praised for it in some way, lets off steam, and it’s done, right?

Well, most of the time…

However, (wait for it) if you are a character in a…you guessed it…Stephen King book, its not that simple.  No, nothing in a Stephen King book is ever that simple, is it?

(In case you forgot which blog you were reading.)

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One of my favorite novels by The Master is The Dark Half.  On the surface, it is a horror novel.  After all, someone’s pseudonym comes to life and does horrible things.  And don’t get me started on sparrows…

But, as with most of King’s work, The Dark Half is much more that what it seems to be on the surface.  This is a novel that has much to say about the creative process, and the effect that process can have on the writer and the writer’s loved ones.

Plus, it takes place in one of my favorite King towns, aka Castle Rock.  And it has Alan Pangborn as a character…Pangborn has long been one of my favorite King book boos!

In other words, what’s not to love about The Dark Half?  It has a fascinating villain, along with some creepy imagery.  It’s perfect, in other words.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of The Dark Half.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

The book begins in 1960, and we are introduced to a young boy named Thad Beaumont.  Thad is an aspiring writer, and already receiving recognition for his writing.  Thad has also begun to suffer from serious migraines, but his doctor is unable to find a cause.  Along with the migraines, Tad hears the sound of birds.

One day, Thad collapses at the bus stop.  He is rushed to the hospital, and his doctors believe that he may have a brain tumor.  However, the doctors do not find a brain tumor when they operate on Thad.  Instead, they find eyes, teeth and other body parts in Thad’s brain.  The doctors believe that they have found an unformed twin that was digested by Thad in the womb.  The doctors elect not to tell Thad’s parents the full truth in regards to their discovery, and Thad’s parents are led to believe that the doctors have found a brain tumor.  The surgery is successful, and Thad is soon released and goes back to living a normal life.

We are again introduced to Thad, twenty five years later.  Thad is married to a woman named Liz, and is the father of fraternal twins named Wendy and William.  Thad is also a writer, but has only found success using the pseudonym of “George Stark.”  Under George Stark, Thad has written crime novels that have achieved commercial success.  The novels written under Thad’s own name have not been nearly as successful, commercially or critically.

Eventually, a man named Frederick Clawson discovers that Thad Beaumont and George Stark are the same man.  Clawson attempts to blackmail Thad, but Thad discloses the fact that he is also George Stark in a People Magazine interview, and even holds a mock “funeral” for George Stark. Thad then decides that he will attempt to write a “serious” novel under his own name, and is even glad that George Stark is “dead”, as Stark appears to be a violent, insane man.

Shorty after the “death” of George Stark, strange things begin to happen.  Homer Ganache, Tad Beamont’s caretaker, is beaten to death with his prosthetic arm.  Frederick Clawson is also murdered.  Thad’s fingerprints are somehow found at the scene of both crimes.

In the meantime, Thad writes a mysterious sentence in the novel he is working on.  The sentence is “The sparrows are flying.”  This sentence is also written in blood on the walls of Frederick Clawson’s apartment.  Tad also begins to hear the sound of birds again.

The fingerprints are traced back to Thad, and Thad is questioned by Sheriff Alan Pangborn, who is certain that Thad is guilty of both murders.  However, Pangborn becomes less convinced once he speaks to Thad, and everyone is mystified by the murders.

Thad visits his doctor and undergoes a CAT scan, as he has been hearing the bird sounds again.  At his office at the university, he appears to go into a trance, where he writes some seemingly random words on a piece of paper.  This incident frightens Thad, and he burns the piece of paper.

In New York City, a woman named Miriam is attacked by a blonde man who calls himself George Stark.  The man forces Miriam to place a call to Thad, and Miriam tells Thad that she is being attacked.  Miriam turns out to be the ex-wife of Thad’s agent, Rick.

Thad is frantic, and finally reaches Sheriff Pangborn.  He has Pangborn check on Miriam in New York, and tells Pangborn that Miriam’s attacker is calling himself George Stark.  Thad also gives Pangborn the names of everyone associated with the People magazine article on himself and George Stark.  Thad gives Pangborn a description of Stark, and tells him that he will fill him on the rest of the details in person.

In the meantime, in New York, the man calling himself George Stark murders three more people associated with the People magazine article in gruesome fashion, along with two police officers.  One of the murdered people is Rick, the ex-husband to Miriam.  While the murders occur, Thad dreams of them in his home in Maine.

The next morning, Thad tells Sheriff Pangborn everything, including the headaches he experienced as a child, and of how George Stark came to be.  Thad is convinced that George Stark has come to life, and is seeking revenge for his “death.”  Pangborn is skeptical, but says that he will speak to Thad’s doctors, including the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, to see if he can get any more leads.

The authorities wire-tap Thad’s phone, in an attempt to track down Stark.  Shortly after the phone is tapped, Stark calls back, and says that he has killed more people.  Later, it is discovered that Thad’s voice print and Stark’s voice print are nearly identical.

Pangborn also places a call to the doctor who operated on Thad as a child, and leaves a message for the man to call him back.

Thad also speculates that he knows exactly what George Stark wants:  for Thad to write another novel under Stark’s name.  Thad contemplates doing just that, if it will put an end to Stark’s violent rampage.

One day, Thad makes a trip to the local grocery store and receives a phone call from George Stark while he is shopping.  This call confirms Thad’s suspicions:  Stark does indeed want Thad to write another novel under the Stark name.  Stark threatens to hurt Thad’s family if Thad does not comply.

Over the next few days, Thad and his family are on edge, as they wait for Stark to make another appearance.  One afternoon, Thad and Liz’s infant daughter, Wendy, takes a tumble from the stairs and receives a bruise.  Later that evening, Wendy’s twin brother, William, also receives a bruise in the same place on his body, even though he was not physically injured.  This gives Thad some insight into George Stark and his relationship with Stark, even though he is still not sure what to do about Stark.

Thad attempts to communicate with Stark in his study one afternoon.  When he does so, he finds out that Stark needs him to write another book because Stark is dying and will only live if Thad writes another book.  Thad also sees a large group of sparrows outside of his house, and is forced to stab himself in the hand with a pencil, courtesy of George Stark.

In the meantime, in New York City, George Stark experiences what Thad is experiencing, and also stabs himself in the hand with a pencil.  We also learn that Stark’s body is deteriorating, presumably because Thad has not written any George Stark novels.  Stark leaves New York City, and makes his way to Maine and Thad.

One day, Thad goes to his office at the university where he is employed during the school year, under the guise of doing some work.  However, Thad is really attempting to get in touch with Stark again.  Stark contacts him on the phone of one of Thad’s colleagues, and again demands that Thad begin work on a new novel.  Thad also finds out that Stark is calling from Thad’s house, and also sees a large group of sparrows again.

Thad’s colleague Rawlie explains the significance of sparrows in folklore:  sparrows are psychopomps, or harbringers between the living and the dead.  The job of the sparrows is to guide lost souls back into the land of the living.

After speaking to Stark, Thad agrees to meet him at his and Liz’s summer home in Castle Rock.  Stark tells Thad that his wife and children are unharmed, but he has killed the two police officers who were supposed to protect Liz and the twins.

On the way to his summer home, Thad calls his colleague, Rawlie, and requests his help.  He meets Rawlie, and takes Rawlie’s car, so that he can drive it to his summer home.  While he is talking to Rawlie, Thad sees another large group of sparrows.

Sheriff Pangborn is finally able to speak to the doctor who operated on young Thad.  The doctor tells Pangborn that he did not actually remove a tumor from Thad’s brain.  Rather, he removed body parts of an unformed twin which had been consumed by Thad while he was still in the womb.  The doctor also tells Pangborn that a large group of sparrows was seen outside of the hospital during the operation.

Pangborn also receives a report of a stolen vehicle.  The stolen vehicle is an Oldsmobile Toranado, which happens to be the vehicle that Thad described George Stark as driving.  After receiving the report of the officers killed at Thad’s home, Pangborn deduces that Thad may be headed to his summer home, and follows him there.

Stark arrives at the summer home with Liz and the children.  He ties Liz up after discovering a pair of sewing scissors that she had hidden on her skirt.  Pangborn also arrives at the summer home, but Stark also captures him and ties him up.

Soon, Thad also arrives at the summer home, and sees that Stark is holding Pangborn and his family hostage.  Thad also notices the large group of sparrows, which Stark does not appear to see.

Stark demands that he and Thad begin writing a new novel, and Thad complies.  Stark holds Thad’s children as hostages, using them as a collateral of sorts.  Liz and Pangborn are forced into another part of the house.

For a time, Stark and Thad work on the new novel.  Previously, Stark had literally been deteriorating, but his wounds begin to heal.  Suddenly, the sparrow descend upon the house.

The sparrows invade the house and head for Stark.  Stark attacks Thad and tries to run from the sparrows but is unsuccessful.  The large group of sparrows descend upon Stark, and literally carry him away from Thad and his family.

Some time later, Thad meets with Sheriff Pangborn at his summer house, which has nearly been destroyed by the incident with Stark and the sparrows.  Pangborn is still having trouble believing what happened, but knows that he has witnessed something unbelievable.  With Pangborn’s blessing, Thad sets fire to the house.

For a time, Thad watches the flames, and then leaves with his family.  Pangborn wonders what will become of Thad’s marriage, as Liz has witnessed what Thad is capable of creating.


My Thoughts

The Dark Half.

In other words, never a more appropriate title.  Especially the second word in the title.

Stephen King has been known, obviously, for his dark subject matter (no pun intended.)

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Novels like Pet Sematary, Thinner, The Long Walk, The Dead Zone, Roadwork and quite are few others are books are known to be especially bleak.  The Dark Half is another one that it bleak.  And I think that The Dark Half may be one of his bleakest, possibly almost as bleak as Pet Sematary.

One of the things I noticed about The Dark Half is the character development.  King is known for creating likable characters.  I mean, who doesn’t love a Stu Redman, Eddie Dean, Beverly Marsh or even ole long tall and ugly himself?

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However, I cannot say the same thing about the characters in The Dark Half.  In fact, I would have to say that my favorite character in The Dark Half is the minor character, aka Sheriff Alan Pangborn.

This isn’t to say that I actively disliked Thad Beaumont, who is the protagonist and so-called “good guy.”  I just found little to like about him, and thought that he was more of a prop for the bad guy, George Stark.

I would characterize The Dark Half as a book that is more plot driven than character driven.  There is nothing wrong with this, either.  I actually find the premise of this book fascinating, and yet another underrated Stephen King book.

One of the things I find fascinating about The Dark Half is actually George Stark himself.  And there are a few reasons why I find him so interesting.

George Stark

For one, he is just evil.  Pure evil.

With some of King’s bad guys (Jack Torrance comes to mind), sympathy can be summoned.  Sure, the person is bad, but they are human underneath it all, and may actually have reasons for being bad, even if we don’t necessarily understand or agree with those reasons.

Not so with George Stark.  There is nothing good about George Stark.  Nothing good at all.  The man (and I use that word loosely, more on that later) is just evil incarnate.

He’s ruthless.  He’s vindictive.  And creative.  He may not be able to write a story by himself, but he sure comes up with inventive, horrible ways to kill people.

In fact, I did think a bit of this guy when I read about Stark:

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It’s true that this guy may be a little more humane than Stark, but still, the comparison stands.

And there is just some about a guy who is evil simply for the sake of being evil…in other words, I love it!

So…

Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog…

So what the hell is Goofy?

Or, in this case, what the hell is George Stark?

The Master does tease a bit about Stark, but trying to determine his true origin is almost as difficult as trying to determine Goofy’s true species.

We know that Thad had an un-formed twin that he absorbed as an infant.  And that parts of that un-formed twin were found in Thad’s brain, of all places.

Somehow, this un-formed twin became an issue right when Thad hit puberty, and developed his writing talent. The doctors removed it.  And there was nothing unusual then, other than a large flock of sparrows that invaded the hospital where Thad was staying.

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Then, years later, Thad’s wife miscarries.  She was pregnant with…twins.  Not coincidentally, George Stark comes into being.  And Thad starts becoming somewhat successful as writer, using the George Stark pseudonym.

Then, Stark “dies” again, although he refuses to stay dead, and makes life miserable for a lot of people, including the man who is either his creator, or maybe just his brother, aka Thad.  And then the sparrows come back, although Stark cannot see them.  However, Thad is aware of their presence.

My theory is that Thad has the ability to create twins.  After all, he fathered twins twice.  He himself was a twin.

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So did he create Stark?  I think that he did, actually.  I think Thad was perhaps blessed (or maybe cursed) with that ability to create and harbor other personalities, much like Susannah Dean of the Dark Tower series.  And Thad’s ability to create and harbor these other personalities seems to be directly linked to his creative ability.  In fact, maybe Thad’s ability to create other personalities is an extreme manifestation of his writing talent, similar to how Edgar Freemantle (Duma Key) is able to alter reality with his paintings.

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Another reason why I love The Dark Half is because this is a book that has a lot to say about the subject of creativity.

King has written several book that touch on the subject of creativity.  Duma Key, Misery, Finders Keepers, Bag of Bones and even The Dark Tower are all books that touch on the subject.

Additionally, many of King’s characters happen to be writers, or artists of some kind at, at the very least.  Mike Noonan, Bill Denbrough, Ben Mears and Jake Epping are all King characters that dabble in writing of some form.  Even poor Jack Torrance (The Shining) was an aspiring writer.  Writing is something that King is familiar with (for obvious reasons), so it often gets incorporated into his stories.

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However, King is not merely content to incorporate writers as characters into his stories.  Since he is The Master, he needs to take an extra step or four.

In other words, King often writes about writing, not just the writer.  In fact, the art of writing is a major plot point to several of his stories, including Bag of Bones, Misery and even The Dark Tower.

The effect of fiction on both the writer and the reader is another major theme in many of King’s works.  Again, Misery, The Dark Tower, Finders Keepers and Bag of Bones, along with several other stories, also address this theme.

And it could be argued that The Dark Half addresses all of these themes in one fell swoop.

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We have the main character, Thad Beaumont, who is a writer.  Thad struggles to obtain the kind of success he wants, since the “literary” books that he writes do not sell well, and he is forced to rely on the “pulp” books about Alexis Machine to pay the bills.  This is a struggle, and causes Thad to question where he fits in as a writer.

Obviously, The Dark Half deals with the effect of fiction on the reader.  When he wrote as George Stark, Thad found a rabid fan base.  When Thad writes as himself and not George Stark, his fans (although they could really be considered Stark’s fans) are disappointed, and refer to his work as “terrible.”  Often, fans of a particular offer become entitled, and grow angry when the author does not “deliver.”

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The effect of fiction on the writer is also addressed in The Dark Half.  Thad claims to want to write a “serious” novel, but it seems his heart is never in it.  He blames the distraction of George Stark on not being able to write his “serious” novel,   However, Thad gets enjoyment when he starts writing the novel that Stark demands of him.  Again, this causes Thad to question just where he fits in as a writer, and just what success means.  Does success include writing something that he himself is satisfied with?  Does it include pleasing his fans?  Does include “critical” success?

As most Constant Readers know, Stephen King, for a time, wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.  In King’s mind, writing under the Bachman name would allow him to step outside his “genre,” or write works that were not “just horror.”  King had become typecast as a horror writer, and feared that he would be unable to explore any other type of writing, as people had come to expect him to write horror stories, and nothing else.

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Of course, anyone who pays attention to King should know that he is a great writer, period.  He does write scary stories, but there is so much more to King than “horror.”  The Dark Tower series is an epic fantasy series, much like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.  11/22/63 is a story about time travel and King’s feelings in regards to the Vietnam War.  The collections Hearts in Atlantis and Different Seasons both contain stories that cannot be classified as horror stories.  In fact, it can be argued that King’s strength is writing about ordinary people faced with extraordinary situations.  This is evident even in his books that are horror stories, in characters such as Danny Torrance, the members of The Losers Club, Jack Sawyer (The Talisman and Black House) and so forth.  King’s writing is so effective because people can relate to it, and the situations become that much more believable,

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But early on in King’s career, he likely felt compelled to write horror fiction, at least under his own name.  People had come to expect that, after all, and wouldn’t read something outside the horror genre, something that dealt with “real life situations.”  Even today, there are people who are still prejudiced in regards to King:  they either still think he “only writes scary stories” or have no interest in the non-horror works written by King.  I have known more than a few people who have complained about that Dr. Sleep is not a direct sequel to The Shining, despite the fact that The Shining was written when King was much younger and in the beginning stages of his problems with drugs and alcohol.  Their reactions are similar to a fan’s reaction to Thad’s work not written under the George Stark name:  they are unable to read it, because it is not the formula they had grown used to.

In order to write other types of fiction, King developed the pseudonym of Richard Bachman early on in his career.  Under the Bachman pseudonym, he was finally free to write other types of fiction, i.e. not horror fiction.  And with the exception of Thinner, most of the Bachman books do not contain supernatural themes.  Roadwork, The Long Walk, Rage and The Running Man are all disturbing on some level, but they are disturbing because they deal with “real life horrors,”  such as the exploitation of our youth, corporate greed and our need to be entertained via television.  In other words, Bachman’s work may be a little more mainstream, even though the Bachman books could still be considered to be in the horror category, although not the supernatural or fantastical horror category.

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For several years, Bachman, like George Stark did for Thad, provided King an outlet to explore other types of writing.  However, all good things must come to end.  Like Thad, King was forced to kill off his “twin” when it was discovered that Richard Bachman and Stephen King were in fact the same person.  And, like Thad, King went about the “murder” in humorous fashion, even saying that Bachman passed away from “cancer of the pseudonym.”

(Side note:  Bachman never died.  He just works on the Sons of Anarchy level of the Tower, helping Jax and his friends dispose of dead bodies, demanding to listen to music when he works.)

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But, like George Stark, Richard Bachman will not stay dead.  Eventually, Bachman emerged in other King works, like the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, Misery and Cujo, which are all books that contain themes of real life horror, as opposed to supernatural horror.  Dicky Bachman even managed to publish posthumous works, such as The Regulators and Blaze.

In other words, an artist’s “dark side” can never truly be killed.  Richard Bachman is still alive and well, manifesting himself through the works of Stephen King.  And George Stark may have been carried off to parts unknown by an unimaginably large group of sparrows, but do we really believe that was the end of him?

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Darkness lives in all of us.  And like it or not, it is a vital part of the creative process.  And any attempts to bury that darkness will backfire on us.  Eventually, the darkness will be unleashed.  And the world is not usually able to accept or handle that darkness.


Well, that’s it for The Dark Half!  Join me next month, when I review and dissect Black House.

Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!

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Connections

Like of all of King’s work, The Dark Half is set squarely in the King universe and is connected to several other King books.  Here are some of the connections I found:

-Part of The Dark Half is set in the town of Castle Rock.  Castle Rock is the setting for several King books and short stories, including The Dead Zone, The Body (Different Seasons), Needful Things and Cujo.

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-Thad Beaumont is mentioned by Mike Noonan in the book Bag of Bones.  It is revealed that Thad commits suicide several years after the events in The Dark Half.

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-Alan Pangborn is a major character in the book Needful Things.  Pangborn also alludes to Thad’s suicide and the fact that his wife divorces him shortly after the events in The Dark Half.

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-The town of Ludlow is mentioned.  Ludlow is the setting for the novel Pet Sematary.

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-The town of Harlow is also mentioned.  Part of the novel Revival takes place in Harlow.

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