Tag Archives: horror

The Shining by Stephen King

review-projectThis is the second part of the Hodderscape Review Project, wherein myself and a group of other bloggers will be reviewing one book per month from the wonderful personages over at Hodderscape. This month’s was awesome and triggered a mass re-read of one of my favourite authors in the entire world – The Shining by Stephen King.

Corridors are always spooky, always

Corridors are always spooky, always

Danny is only five years old, but in the words of old Mr Hallorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control. As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in Room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive? Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel – and that, too, is beginning to shine …

I have a great skill when it comes to questionable life decisions. My favourite is probably the one I made when I was nine, when I discovered Stephen King’s It at a friend’s house and decided that I was so repulsed by the fate of Georgie in the opening pages that I clearly had to read this book in its entirety. If you doubt my commitment to clownian motion, there’s footage somewhere of me hiding under a table from a birthday party*, completely engrossed in It, accompanied only by a wilting slice of chocolate cake.

Twenty years changes nothing. Give me a Stephen King book and I’m lost to the world.

Pleasant family vacation spot, innit

Pleasant family vacation spot

I’m not going to mess about: I loved The Shining, I still love The Shining, and I love the movie too. I don’t need to talk about the movie; others have discussed it vs the book better than I ever could. This is a film I discovered thanks to a particular scene in Twister, by the way. Yes. There is one thing we can thank Twister for, and for a change it’s not Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Child looks terrifying here.

Child looks terrifying here.

But the book, you guys. It’s about as haunted as a book can be. It’s haunted by the author, the film, the director, and the huge impact it had on popular culture. You can’t help but feel the echoes from every reference you’ve seen, read or heard vibrate through it to the point where you’re not quite sure you’re reading alone. Every re-read you discover something familiar but unsettling, like those times you’re caught between two mirrors and you can see your reflection repeating off into infinity. It’s so, so weird. And oh my god so satisfying.

The first time I read the book I was reading as a horror fan, lapping up the oppressive atmosphere and the hints at the twisted, sordid past of the hotel. This time it’s as a King fan, enjoying how he builds each character up and whittles away at them, exposing fault lines at the same time as exposing them to the dread forces of the Overlook which infect and affect each of them differently. Danny would be an annoying, precocious little kid in another writer’s hands, but thanks to King’s skill with pacing and details, he isn’t; his own father turns on him, he faces the horror in Room 217, encounters terrifying topiary animals, and little psychic Danny is sympathetic throughout. His fear is goddamn contagious because we’ve all been a frightened child, only he’s actually got extreme dark stuff in front of him that few people face – even if you dismiss the supernatural elements, Jack Torrance’s insanity is scary enough. I can’t wait to read the sequel and see how King handles Danny’s problems in adulthood. Cannot wait.

It was a nice surprise to remember that Wendy is so much more of a person in the book than the Wendy of the film (there’s some agreement on this issue) – it lends more of a feeling of the family as a cohesive unit being destroyed than of one man’s descent into supernatural insanity. It’s the single aspect where I feel the book is stronger than the film: the tension over Jack’s madness in the book is fuller, more rounded, where in the film you always know he’s going to crack because Jack Nicholson has villain eyebrows. He totally does. But in the book, King makes everything feel close and real and warm, and Kubrick’s film about terrifying but only slightly supernatural madness feels weirdly distant from a book about dark forces in a claustrophobic space acting on a small and fragile family. The emotional core is strong enough to amplify the fear of everything from the big, dramatic events to the smaller moments that other writers would have ignored (or, say, overlooked. Heh.). It’s a perfect example of the genius of King; a simple moment when the family hears an empty elevator on the move had me put the book down so I could go downstairs for a cup of tea and a break from the oppressive Overlook atmosphere. And who the hell else can make topiary that scary?!

theshining3

The Shining isn’t my favourite Stephen King, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s Breaking Bad, The Godfather, The Hobbit, Super Mario. The thing that everyone will assume you’re familiar with, the cultural touchstone, the haunted house horror. Even for people who don’t like horror there’s a family story at the heart of this, a dark and brilliant psychological side, which any fiction reader can savour.

Reader, I loved it. And the sequel, Doctor Sleep, sounds so good:

 

An epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted readers of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon. King says he wanted to know what happened to Danny Torrance, the boy at the heart of The Shining, after his terrible experience in the Overlook Hotel. The instantly riveting Doctor Sleep picks up the story of the now middle-aged Dan, working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, and the very special twelve-year old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals. On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless – mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and tween Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the ‘steam’ that children with the ‘shining’ produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him and a job at a nursing home where his remnant ‘shining’ power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes ‘Doctor Sleep.’ Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival …

It’s out this Thursday and has a picture of a cat on it. The internet will love it.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” 

Stephen King

*Someone else’s. And, brilliantly, I managed to slip away while they played It.

 

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I see where you’re coming from, Hemlock Grove

People will be incredibly harsh about Netflix‘s new original series Hemlock Grove. This is because there’s a lot to be harsh about; it’s a stupid show. It’s an incoherent mess, a car crash of inanely misogynistic overtones and insanely daft dialogue. It doesn’t know what it’s doing, where it’s veering next, and although the description of the first episode mentions the grisly murder of a teenage girl, it’s not a whodunnit. Oh, no. It is certainly not that.

Imagine studying Twin Peaks for its crazy insane brilliant moments and cutting them out with a scalpel, mixing them with an unhealthy dose of The Vampire Diaries, and then running the result through a Stephen King filter. Welcome to Hemlock Grove! You can ignore all the full Twin Peaks comparisons though, they’re way off; this is a child of IT and The Company of Wolves. The setting could be King’s Derry with the old American gothic steelworks and the deceptive docility of the streets; the teen angst could have come straight from the CW; the mysteries it tries to hint at are as clear as anything because this show is playing at layers it doesn’t have to cover it all up.

So it’s awful, but I watched all thirteen episodes because I was loving it. It’s crap and beautiful, reaching for something absolutely sublime. I wish it had been more courageous with the murder plot, and more work had been put into the dialogue, and the oppressive score had been scaled back some. I wish Famke Janssen had been allowed to act with her real accent and that someone on the writing staff could have pointed out that sexually active, attractive, or just plain interesting girls are more than murder/death/tragedy bait. I wish, I wish, I wish.

There’s so much promise to it – occasional hints and hat tips to genuinely dark moments and amusing sidenotes. The actors really try, and sometimes are completely over the top, but other times you feel a pang because it’s dead on, if not the kind of dead on Eli Roth and his gang want to be. The friendship between the boys is the core of it all and the occasional moments when it’s four teenagers against the world are when it begins to feel like there’s a direction and a purpose. Bill Skarsgard is wonderfully sinister and deranged, Landon Liboiron’s acting talent is clear but oddly underused (as is Lili Taylor). Joel de la Fuente was great fun and should have been made more of plot-wise (as should the whole Institute). Famke Janssen chews all the scenery and almost, almost gets away with it, but for the poverty of amazing one-liners.

I watched it all because I enjoyed the hell out of it, and its flaws make me furious because it wasn’t far off being amazing – the flaws are just too huge and can’t be ignored. I can’t recommend this series to anyone. That said, if you have a whole lot of fun with style over substance (I can honestly say I do), this could be right up your street. I’m conflicted. It’s fun, but only if you appreciate that it’s also awful.

Unfortunately the basic message is YET AGAIN do not be a girl in a horror movie/show.

Thanks, Eli Roth, Brian McGreevy, et al. Why don’t you work on that.

And yes this is my first blog post in months. This is because werewolves MATTER, okay.

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel (4****/5)

CAN YOU TELL HE'S DEAD NO I DON'T THINK SO HE'S LOOKING GREAT FOR A CORPSE

This is a pacy, bloodthirsty, hugely entertaining teen zombie novel with an unconventional but tender love story at its heart. From the ruins of a cataclysmic ice-age a new society has emerged, based on Victorian customs. Nora Dearly, a feisty teenage girl and apparent orphan, leaves her exclusive boarding school for the holidays to return home – only to be dragged into the night by the living dead. Luckily for her, this particular crack unit of zombies are good guys – sent to protect her from the real nasties roaming the countryside and zeroing in on major cities to swell their ranks. Nora must find a way to defeat the evil undead with help from Bram, a noble, sweet and surprisingly hot zombie boy for whom she starts to fall…

For all it’s riddled with issues, Dearly, Departed is a really fun read that’s so over the top it’s actually mesmerising – given half a chance it carries you with it all the way through a crazy mess of plot, rotting corpses, zombie street battles and undead romance. It’s like this book was written with a checklist in mind – what’s hot right now in SFF/YA lit? Let’s see!

  • Zombies – CHECK! with a whole new spin on this which was REALLY appreciated
  • Forbidden romance – CHECK! with bits falling off (I loved Bram, I couldn’t even hate him for the blatant name thing, he’s such a sweetheart)
  • Dystopia – CHECK! only it was literally overkill to have so much apocalypse infodumped on us. Utterly crazy.
  • Steampunk – CHECK! except not the steampunk of the Soulless books or anything, it’s more faux-Victoriana, which was really awkward in most places because it’s been shoe-horned in and doesn’t feel right at all. Except I didn’t mind it past the first few chapters. It stops grating once you just assume it’s a technologically advanced Victorian age. There’s a wonderful idea about the Punks and their tech however, which I’d love to read more of in any future books.
So, yes, it’s an attention-grabbing conglomeration of ideas, you know?

Fans of dystopias and zombies will get more of a kick out of this than romance fans – and people who enjoy well-rendered characters who are willing to get stuck in and be pro-active will enjoy this too. It’s all lampshaded of course, with every time a girl-character acts in a way which does not suit her upbringing everyone notices it and points it out. The romance feels a bit unconvincing but I loved Bram and Nora was far from annoying so, again, I didn’t mind. Once things had clicked it felt much more believable.

It’s not structured very well, however; the viewpoints are a mess and only partially feel like they’re distinct voices, but I had so much fun reading this that I didn’t really care – I can totally understand why people didn’t get into or didn’t like this book, because you need to suspend disbelief from a very high place to even get into the setting of Dearly, Departed, let alone the basic premise. It was such tremendous fun and completely different in tone and style and painted in such vivid colours that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Seriously. Against my better judgement and everything.

It’s the most emphatically emphatic dystopian teen zombie romance you’ll ever see, and worth reading if you feel like going for an enjoyably deranged but hugely entertaining book. And yes, the horror elements were fun too. Strongly recommended if you like your YA to have a bit of backbone, decaying romance and a strong edge of dark humour to it. Anyone who liked it and wants MOAR! zombie love – Warm Bodies is your next port of call. Doesn’t have anywhere near the structural problems or the odd dialogue that DD does, and as a horror it’s a much stronger piece of work.

It isn’t, however, as much of a weird-ass dystopian teen zombie romance. With airships. Dearly, Departed has that down.

Outpost by Adam Baker

I just managed to read Outpost by Adam Baker in less than four hours. It was like watching a proper horror film; the pace is quick and relentless and Baker has crafted a shocking and unsettling book that has, basically, creeped me the hell out.

The story opens with Jane, a suicidal Reverend stationed on an oil refinery platform in the Arctic, miles and miles from civilization. It’s a structure built for a thousand housing only fifteen – enough for a decent psychological thriller in and of itself, certainly, but then news filters through of a massive pandemic sweeping across the planet. How will they get home? Is “home” still there? How will they survive if they aren’t rescued? How will they keep hold of their sanity and humanity in the face of a gruesome apocalypse?

And what the hell is the pandemic anyway?

An easy read for people who enjoyed Justin Cronin’s The Passage or Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, Outpost isn’t written to be a masterful work of literature. It’s cleverly, lightly written, with short tight sentences that crank up tension to a silly degree (I might be sleeping with the light on, cannot lie) interspersed with elegant descriptions of the barren, desolate landscape in which the characters are effectively trapped. It’s light on emotion but heavy on action. Everyone’s at risk, even if they’re a “viewpoint” character – and though the characters aren’t fully fleshed out there’s enough of a sense of them and the little details of their characters for the events to strike a chord. The horror is horrible, from maddening isolation to the events on the ship (ohmygodtheship) it doesn’t let up, jumping from set piece to set piece in a mad scrabble for life that makes for a thrilling ride.

Regarding the pandemic itself, Baker steers the narrative in a curious direction that on one level didn’t feel required, but on another was fascinating. I won’t go into details but the basic set up is a gloriously strong setting for a horror, and I’m not entirely sure that it needed the extra edge of sci-fi weirdness. On the other hand it’s a very sharp edge of sci-fi weirdness that I found really intriguing, so although I thought it a bit over the top I was willing to go along with it because, hell, it was so delightfully dark and nasty.

If you want a quick, easy, terrifying read to take you into winter, or to tide you over until the third and final installment of del Toro and Hogan’s trilogy comes out in paperback, or simply because you feel like a dark and creepy read, I highly recommend Outpost.

I am now going to sit somewhere and listen to very lively music.