My good friend and old Navy buddy Chris Ingalls of Pop Matters checks in as we discuss books, movies, TV, music, politics and everything in-between.
It takes quite a bit for me to obsess over a movie or a TV show. When it comes to TV, if I don’t finish a series, sometimes the show jumps the shark or loses me somehow. Sometimes, the show is cancelled prematurely. When it comes to Stephen King’s IT, I have been obsessed for the last two years. The last time a book or movie captivated me like this was the last time I watched Sergio Leone’s gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America all the way through, the almost four-hour version. The film affected me. I had to read and research everything I could about it. That’s where my head has been since IT: Chapter One came out in 2017.
This is another one where we all think we know the story. A group of kids, the self-titled Losers Club, band together to fight a demonic clown. They make a blood oath to reunite and fight the evil again if they failed the first time and IT returns. IT comes back to terrorize Derry, Maine, every 27 years, it casts a pall on the residents of this accursed town, and finds its food tastier when the food is scared. The Losers Club reunites and fights IT again. All the while, Henry Bowers and his gang lurk around every corner. IT’s favorite form is Pennywise The Dancing Clown, because, hey, who’s afraid of a clown? Right? We all are now, thanks Stephen.
I call myself a Stephen King fan but to be honest, I haven’t read as much of King’s work as I thought I had. Sure, I have seen numerous movie and TV adaptations for stories I have never read – Pet Sematary, Carrie, Creepshow, The Dark Tower, The Storm of the Century, Golden Years, Castle Rock, The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Tommyknockers, The Longoliers, The Mist, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, Children of the Corn, Silver Bullet, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, 1408, The Running Man … I am sure I am missing something.
As for novels or books, I have read ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, The Dark Half, Needful Things, Gerald’s Game, Bag of Bones, Dreamcatcher, Joyland, Revival, The Outsider, and On Writing. I have also read the short story collections Night Shift and Full Dark No Stars. In all, just 13 books. I made it my mission to read IT, all 1,153 pages of IT, before IT: Chapter Two hit theaters. I accomplished that goal. I put everything else I was reading on hold until I finished it. It took about a month. I read a bit of IT every night except for maybe two or three nights. So, make that 13.
Most of us remember the made for TV mini-series from 1990 starring Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Annette O’Toole, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Harry Anderson, et al. Ageless wonder Seth Green stars as Richie Tozier as a child. Emily Perkins plays young Beverly Marsh. She goes on to star in the cult favorite werewolf film Ginger Snaps as Ginger’s sister, Brigitte.
I watched the mini-series again when IT: Chapter One was on the horizon, and then again when IT: Chapter Two was nearing its recent release. It’s better than you remember, Tim Curry is, well, pretty darn good as Pennywise The Dancing Clown. He plays it pretty straight as a circus clown until the moments when he has to feed. Then he is downright monstrous. It is pretty faithful to the book. It transitions seamlessly between 1958 and 1988. You have to get past Harry Anderson’s shtick as he was riding high on Night Court, and the fact that Tim Reid once played a disc jockey named Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati.
The mini-series gets vilified for two reasons: 1. it was made for TV so it had to go light on the gore; 2. the special effects in the boss battle scene with IT at the end were comical at best. It gets a bad rap on the whole, it is worth a watch.
IT: Chapter One was pitch perfect. The young actors cast to play the Losers Club were on the money, including Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard. Sophia Lillis is great as young Beverly Marsh. The timeline is shifted a bit. It is set in 1989, so the adults’ story that comes later can take place in our time. The decision was made to split the story into two parts – the kids’ part and the adults’ tale. Bill Skarsgard is wonderful as Pennywise. There is so much to like about this film. Director Andy Muschietti nailed the aesthetic, the 1980s nostalgia, the Easter eggs and homages to the book, especially for the things they left out of the narrative but found a way to incorporate. Bowers’ descent into madness, aided by IT of course, illustrated the bully’s pathology although it didn’t dive into the origins of his nature enough. His father was an asshole in the movie and that had to suffice.
IT: Chapter Two was a disappointment in my eyes. I had high hopes for the casting. James McAvoy as Bill, Bill Hader as Richie, Jessica Chastain as Bev, Old Spice pitch man and former football player Isaiah Mustafa as Mike, James Ransone as Eddie. McAvoy is miscast, as is Jay Ryan as the adult Ben Hanscom. Chastain misses the mark on her portrayal of Bev, who was tough and determined as a kid, but bursts into tears at the drop of a hat as an adult. Skarsgard is underused as Pennywise as he is replaced by bad CGI creature effects in many scenes. Mike is portrayed as a raving lunatic who lured his friends back to Derry on false pretenses, despite their blood oath. Hader is pretty good as Richie and Ransone is a pleasant surprise as Eddie. Teach Grant is completely wasted as the adult Henry Bowers. The attraction between Bill and Bev isn’t handled well, and Bev ending up with Ben makes no sense the way it’s filmed.
My mind was filling in the blanks while I watched this three-hour slough through the sewers and streets of Derry because I had read the book and it was fresh in my mind. I could go point for point on how the book differed from the movies and the mini-series, but there are plenty of YouTube videos that’ll do that for you. Trust me, I’ve watched them.
I think the following when it comes to the film makers on this one. They missed the point. Don’t get me wrong, I am as big a fan of creature features as the next person. But, the folks who made Chapter Two distilled all of what IT is into one monster – Pennywise. Pennywise is a great villain to be sure. In the book, however, IT is a shapeshifter and is rarely Pennywise. They also spent way too much time flashing back to the Losers Club as kids and not enough developing the adults’ stories. This is such a rich and layered story, to distill it down to a monster movie is downright sad. A big swing and a miss here.
I also thought they should have stuck to the source material a bit more in Chapter Two. I thought too many key elements were changed. I did like Stephen King’s cameo, however.
What they really missed was the whole point of the book. Trauma. Especially childhood trauma. Every single member of the Losers Club went through some sort of childhood trauma which is symbolized, in most cases, by an encounter with IT.
As adults, they repressed those memories, which was symbolized by their memory loss when they all left Derry (except Mike, who stayed behind). Beverly married an abusive man after growing up abused by her father, Eddie was brow beaten and turned into a hypochondriac by his mother and married practically the same woman, Bill lost his stutter but forgot how his brother had died and tries to work it all out by writing horror novels, Richie covers it all up with humor as a popular disc jockey (comedian in the movie and late night talk show host in the mini-series), Stan just can’t handle any of it so he chooses to end his life rather than face IT again, Ben obsesses over work and fitness after losing weight after being tormented as the fat kid and never publicly professing his love for Bev. And Mike, poor Mike, was left behind to pick up the pieces and prepare for the next round with the damn clown.
These elements are not present in the movie the way they should be. They’re there all right. You see them, you just don’t feel them or understand them.
The beauty of Stephen King’s story is that IT represents whatever it is that traumatized you as a kid. It really doesn’t matter what “IT” is. And the bottom line is, what “IT” is for you, “IT” has to be dealt with. And what better way to handle it than with the people who love you the most. The people who know everything about you and love you anyway.
That’s why I didn’t care for Chapter Two getting distilled down into a monster movie. Read the book, watch the mini-series, watch the two new films. Judge for yourself. The book is tremendous. It was exhausting, but I enjoyed it immensely.
So, now I am on a Stephen King kick. I immediately set to reading Doctor Sleep, so make that 15 King novels I have read. He’s only written 60+. Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining, and a film adaptation is due out soon. I then started Mr. Mercedes.
There is a chart or a graph or something on the Internet that shows how all of King’s works are interconnected. He’s so much more than a horror writer. I think many people don’t realize that. He has created a multidimensional multimedia universe that the Marvel Cinematic Universe could only … marvel at.
Read it, watch it, enjoy it. Somewhere in the Stephen King universe, you’ll find something you like. Just don’t ask me to go to Maine.
You’ll float too.
I usually try to keep this blog and my novel writing endeavors separate but there always seems to be some crossover. The book creation process has so many milestones and touch points and I never seem to grow tired of them. Maybe it’ll wear off some day, but that day is not today. My latest novel, The Dark Terror, just went out for pre-order.
Let me break it down for you, at least the way I have done it.
Step 1: Write the story. I am what is commonly referred to as a “pantser.” I fly by the seat of my pants. Meaning, I don’t plot and I don’t outline. When I started The Dark Truth in 2016, I had a character and a premise in mind. It just went from there. Not outlining or using a complicated novel writing application like Scrivener did lead to some continuity errors, however.
Step 2: Editing. Lots and lots of editing. Not so much with the story, more spelling and grammar. As much as I’d like to say I have command of the English language I do still have trouble with sentence structure, word usage/choice and of course, spelling and grammar. Writing is a discipline. If you can’t spell, if you don’t know basic grammar and if you have no concept of sentence structure, then what are you doing? Funny, I can always tell the writing sessions when I had a few too many adult beverages, that’s where all the damn typos are.
Step 3: Query. I got lucky. I got a contract offer from a publisher on my first go-round. No rejections. I just had to agree to make some revisions. They weren’t unreasonable, so I added some things and re-wrote a few others and voila. You get your release date in your contract or shortly thereafter. In my case, we were able to release the first book early. Press releases go out and, once you have a release date, e-mails to bookstores for book signings go out.
Step 4: More editing.
Step 5: Cover design. This is fun. This is when it gets real. You start to see what the finished product is going to look like.
Step 6. Pre-Sale. Several weeks before publish day, the book goes up for pre-order. That’s where we are with my third book right now. The Dark Terror is now available for pre-order. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the prep work that went into getting ready for this stage with the creation of a brand and a social media presence. Hopefully there have been a few interviews here and there, blogs, podcasts, radio and TV and other outlets. I’ve been lucky that way. More press releases and media advisories go out to promote what hopefully is now a book tour.
Step 7. Author copies arrive. I am anxiously awaiting my copies of The Dark Terror, which should arrive sometime this coming week. This is the moment I relish. When I first received the book of copies of The Dark Truth, I lost my mind. My words, printed, in a book. Sweet, sweet nectar, and I’m not talking about the Scotch I drink when the box arrives.
Step 8. Publish day. Wooohooo! Readers start getting copies of the book they pre-ordered. This is a day that is also celebrated with a dram of good Scotch. My publisher, Trifecta Publishing House, and I have hosted online Facebook parties to celebrate my book launches.
Step 9. Marketing. Lots and lots of marketing. Book signings, social media posts, paid social ads, more press releases and media advisories. Full court press on getting the word out. I am a regular Vistaprint customer. Nothing makes me feel more like a rock star than a book signing, I can tell you that.
How long does all of this take you might ask? Good question. It took 13 months to write The Dark Truth. I finished in February 2017. The book was released in November 2017. I think it took roughly six-seven months to write The Dark Descent and it was published in April of 2018. My deadline was New Year’s Day. The Dark Terror took nine months to write, my deadline was the end of October 2018, I beat it by three weeks, and the book is due out March 18. In just over three years, I have written and had three novels (and two audiobook versions) published. I didn’t even mention the production that went into those audiobooks.
Not too bad for a guy with a day job and a hefty commute.
Check out my official web site, www.jerryknaak.com, for more information about the books and how to get them.
I took yesterday as a college football/kid’s flag football game day so you get a six-pack of my favorite horror films for today’s blog entry. These six films are admittedly all over the place as far as genre, theme, and tone. But they are on the list for a reason.
I don’t know why exactly Wes Craven’s name is attached to this highly underrated film. Night terrors come to life in this Laura Regan vehicle directed by Robert Harmon. A group of kids are marked as youngsters by boogey men. Those boogey men, who were dismissed as night terrors, come to claim the kids when they become adults.
Another film that aims to be different, overacting by Marc Blucas damn near ruins the movie, but Regan is a delight as the main character, Julia. One of my favorite short stories, The Great God Pan by M. John Harrison (inspired by Arthur Machen’s groundbreaking novella of the same name), involves a group of friends who pulled back the veil, and brought something back. This has a similar feel.
We’ve established I like different and this one is good different.
84. Mansquito or Mosquito Man
Okay, so SyFy channel has produced some clunkers over the years. Ice Spiders, Python, Python II, and a whole host of Crockzilla vs Dinocroc Debbie Gibson/Tiffany mash-ups. The idea is science gone wrong. After Gothic Horror and dark science fiction, science gone wrong is right up there for me.
Corin Nemec, who never met a role he didn’t like, stars in probably the best feature film SyFy has ever produced. That’s not saying much but the title tells you all you need to know. Matt Jordon’s character is exposed to some experimental whatevers and becomes a, you guessed it, man-sized mosquito.
Look, a good horror film doesn’t need to have a big theatrical release or even a cult following to be a bloody good gore fest. Mansquito certainly qualifies.
We all believe that a genie is a good thing that grants wishes after you free him/her from his/her lamp. Well, not in the horror movie genre. This is one where the folklore is horribly under served. We know more about how to resurrect a mummy than we do the history of genies. Wishmaster taps into the dark side of that history and mythology.
Andrew Divoff tries his best to create an iconic bad guy as the Djinn, a truly evil genie from whom you really don’t want wishes granted. There’s always a twist and they usually cost you your soul. His chilling voice delivers the command that almost makes the movie, “Make your wishes.”
The sequels are hit or miss, but the first film is an interesting entry in the horror movie catalog thanks to Divoff’s performance. Tammy Lauren stars as the protagonist who matches wits with the Djinn.
82. Pitch Black
This is the movie that introduced Vin Diesel as an action star to be reckoned with, I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing. This is a film I had to watch more than once before it really hooked me. Diesel is excellent as Riddick, Cole Hauser turns in his best performance as a bounty hunter, and Radha Mitchell makes her mark. Keith David also stars.
A spaceship crashes on a remote planet inhabited by light-sensitive baddies created by creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos (Godzilla 1998). The planet is plunged into darkness because of a lengthy total eclipse and the survivors of the crash have to band together as the indigenous flying monsters are unleashed.
This film was to launch the Riddick franchise of science fiction adventure films. This is the best of the three. I like this one because of the unique creatures and the human conflict among the people who find themselves relying on a career criminal and murderer for their very survival.
Most of tonight’s films are from roughly the same era. Horror was trying to find its way in the late 1990s in the wake of movies like Scream. Another science-gone-wrong film, Mimic involves altruistic scientists trying to solve a children-killing plague and accidently create six-foot-tall killer cockroaches in the process.
An ensemble cast including Mira Sorvino, Josh Brolin, Charles S. Dutton, Jeremy Northam, Giancarlo Giannini, and F. Murray Abraham pace this dark, gritty creature feature.
Of course, there are sequels and they are not very good. Stick with the original. It’s plenty gory and gooey.
80. The Relic
Another from 1997, and instead of Mira Sorvino, it’s Penelope Ann Miller this time. Science mixes with jungle tribe folklore and mythology as an ancient creature is unleashed on unsuspecting museum-goers in Chicago. Potions and elixirs concocted from native plants take center stage as Miller and Tom Sizemore’s characters try to solve the mystery and slay the beast.
Now, I really like Tom Sizemore. It’s too bad that his personal life has been such a mess over the years. I think he is at his best in roles like this, a cop or a government agent, skeptical, wisecracking, but ultimately heroic. Miller has appeared in all kinds of productions throughout her career, and this appears to be the only horror film she’s done.
Linda Hunt and James Whitmore also star in yet another underrated horror movie.
After last night’s werewolf theme, it’s back to mashing up the styles. If you can’t tell already, I like horror films that dare to be different. Now, the genre-bending aside, if the film at least tries to adhere to the rules and mythology of the genre, I’m usually okay with it. I am a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, specifically the Cthulhu mythos. One of the films tonight has Lovecraftian overtones and themes. I have chosen a unique vampire film for tonight as well and a good old-fashioned creature feature straight from the backwoods.
88. Innocent Blood
Directed by John Landis, Innocent Blood dares to be a different kind of vampire film. The story focuses on vampire Marie, played by Anne Parillaud, and a cop played by Anthony LaPaglia. Our girl Marie runs afoul of some mobsters during her nocturnal feeding. Robert Loggia, Don Rickles, Tony Lip, Kim Coates, and a host of other mob film veterans are conscripted by Loggia’s character who has been turned into a vampire.
It’s fun, it’s campy, it’s different, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The film adheres to many of the familiar vampire tropes and Parillaud is delightful as Marie.
You almost expect an appearance by Triumph the Comic Insult Dog as this plays more like a black comedy than a horror film. It’s like Goodfellas, only with vampires.
Longtime movie veteran Lance Henriksen stars as Ed Harley, a simple single country dad who lives in Appalachia. When his young son is killed in a tragic accident by city folk, Harley seeks country vengeance and visits the local crone. Of course he does. But at what cost?
What Harley unleashes is the stuff of nightmares. The 1980s were full of slasher films and franchise players like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, along with a host of other knife-wielding spree killers. The title monster is otherworldly, large and terrifying and impossible to stop. The sound design for the film alone will give you night terrors.
Henriksen has appeared in dozens of films, including installments in the Alien franchise, and aside from Bishop in Aliens, this might be his best role. Underrated and terrifying, this is a must-watch for any horror fan.
86. The Void
This one is new to the countdown. The Void, originally available on Amazon Prime and later Netflix, apparently was released in theaters but I don’t remember it at my local cineplex. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski wrote and directed this film that reminds me of movies like Lord of Illusions. There is a cult, mysterious blood-soaked victims and unspeakable evil.
The Lovecraftian overtones and themes are palpable and the film has the look and feel of something from the 1980s like From Beyond. Another film that dares to be different in an era of sparkly vamps and Paranormal Activity schlock, this taut fright fest channels the true tenets of good horror film making. Darkness, violence, mysterious figures with unknown motives, and hidden evil waiting just on other side.
Like The Ritual, this is one I have to watch again and I am sure will eventually move up this list.
The werewolf genre is under represented when it comes to good films. However, there a handful of really good ones. The best of the bunch will be included later on in the countdown but I will present some tonight. You won’t see some of the bad ones like Skinwalkers, the re-make of The Wolf Man with Benicio Del Toro, or the later Howling sequels. My problem with The Wolf Man with Del Toro was that it conflated Lon Chaney, Jr.’s seminal role with Henry Hull’s turn in Werewolf of London. It took Hull’s origin story and mashed it up with Chaney’s Larry Talbot story and made one big hairy mess.
91. The Curse of the Werewolf
Most of the younger generation’s introduction to Oliver Reed came via 2000’s Gladiator as he portrayed Proximo in his last on screen performance. He died before the film’s release. This legendary actor’s performance as Leon in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf is obviously my favorite performance of his.
In the late 1950s, Hammer Studios decided to re-invent Universal Horror, with re-makes and re-boots of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy. The effort would not have been complete without a werewolf film. Again, I am not one for genre-bending, however, this film, directed by Terence Fisher, dares to be different and that’s one of the things I like about it. John Landis borrows heavily from this movie for 1981’s American Werewolf in London.
The make-up effects alone make this movie worth the watch. It is set in Spain, another element that sets it apart from other werewolf films.
90. Ginger Snaps, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning
2000, 2004, 2004
See, this is how I get more than 100 films on my list. I lump these three together because, well, the sequel to the original film wasn’t all that great. The first movie, Ginger Snaps, had cult classic written all over it. Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins star in all three installments. Isabelle plays the title role and she is quite good as the Ginger who snaps. The plays on words, the double entendres, the 1980s horror aesthetic all make for good campy, bloody fun.
Ginger Snaps 2 plays as a straight sequel to the first and Perkins’ character, Ginger’s sister, goes off the rails for me and that’s where the movie loses me. Ginger Snaps Back is more of an origin story of sorts. The relationship between the two sisters is more akin to the first film and that why I think it works better.
As far as werewolf films go, you could do a lot worse than this triumvirate. Or you could skip 2 and just make it a double-feature.
89. The Beast Must Die
This film is the cause of some division in the Hammer Horror fan community. There are those of us who love the film and there are plenty who despise it. I think it is different, unusual and unique in the genre. Calvin Lockhart, who goes on to play King Willie in Predator 2, plays a wealthy big game hunter who decides that werewolf is the ultimate prey.
An great ensemble cast is featured in this film, including Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon (Alfred in the Tim Burton Batman films), and Charles Gray (Rocky Horror Picture Show). The movie includes some audience participation elements that some find off-putting. I think it adds to the film’s charm.
I grew up watching Commander USA’s Groovy Movies on the USA Network. Every Saturday afternoon, this loony tune in a knockoff Captain America costume and a trench coat would introduce creature features. That’s how I was first made aware of films like The Beast Must Die and I am forever grateful. It also explains a lot.
My good friend and old Navy buddy Chris Ingalls of popmatters.com returns to the program to chat about politics, books, movies, and TV.
My good friend and Pop Matters music reviewer Chris Ingalls joins me for an hour and 10 minutes of pop culture conversation and we compete to see who can yell, “Get off my lawn,” the loudest. The Grammys are tonight and I demonstrate my complete lack of knowledge regarding the nominees.
Check out the Cthulhumas edition of the Get the Knaak podcast. My man Chris Ingalls from Pop Matters stops by to talk about politics, books, movies, TV and much more. I swear he didn’t have to fill up any water pitchers this time.
Fellow Trifecta Publishing House label mate Mark London Williams joins me on the latest edition of the Get the Knaak podcast. We discuss all manner of undead creatures, his new book, Max Random and the Zombie 500, and my new book, The Dark Truth. And we let you know how to attend our Facebook book release party. Both books drop Monday, and our party is Monday too. You can order both on Amazon.