Film Review: Doctor Sleep (2019)

Release Date: October 30th, 2019 (France)
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan
Based on: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Music by: The Newton Brothers
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Zackary Momoh, Carel Struycken, Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas

Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes, 180 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“You’re magic. Like me.” – Abra Stone, “You need to listen to me. The world’s a hungry place. A dark place. I’ve only met two or three people like us. They died. When I was a kid, I bumped into these things. I don’t know about magic. I, I always called it “the shining.”” – Danny Torrance

*There be spoilers here!

When I first heard that Stephen King was penning a sequel to The Shining, I was pretty excited. If I’m being honest though, I didn’t have high expectations or anything, I just thought that it’d be cool to check in on Danny Torrance after the events of his childhood to see how he turned out and what sort of effect that level of horror had on him.

I wasn’t excited about the book, itself; I was more excited about the possibility of what the book’s existence meant. Especially, as a sequel film is something that has been toyed around with by Warner Bros. before. But luckily for us, they didn’t crap out some inferior straight-to-DVD product, they instead waited decades and decided to adapt King’s own sequel.

Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book and for those of you who have been reading my reviews for awhile, you probably already know that I’m not a massive fan of King’s writing but I’m more of a fan of live action adaptations of his work. Well, the good ones, anyway.

I didn’t have huge expectations for the film either but once I knew what the premise for the story was and saw who was cast as the lead, it was hard to not feel something.

Once I saw the first trailer, I felt that the tone and the style of the movie were solid and I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, I missed it on the big screen, as I had a lot going on and it didn’t stay in my local theater for more than a couple of weeks. Also, it’s hard for me to sit in the cinema now for two and a half hours because I’m getting old, I drink too much soda, hate holding my pee and can’t stand other people around me scrolling Facebook, answering their phones, chatting to their neighbor and making as much noise as possible with their popcorn crunching and candy bag diddling.

So I’m glad that I watched this at home, even though it would’ve been really cool to revisit the Overlook Hotel in a proper cinematic setting.

Getting to the film itself, I was really impressed with Doctor Sleep. I can’t say that it is as good as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining but it is really hard to top or even come close to a masterpiece. Still, this film does the material justice and it justifies its existence, becoming its own story and its own film, independent of the original. Granted, for context and for a richer overall experience, you should still probably watch the original film if you haven’t, as the call backs to it are really neat and it might be better to get the whole experience and not just one half of it.

Furthermore, this truly is a sequel to that 1980 Kubrick version. The hotel is the same, once you travel back there, and the actors cast to reprise that film’s iconic roles were done so with the intent of trying to replicate the performances and the look of those actors. I’d say that this film pulls that trick off, even if it is kind of weird seeing someone else’s face in the place of Shelley Duval’s, Scatman Crothers’ and Jack Nicholson’s. But its done in the best way possible and it respects the work of the actors that came before.

Side note: Jack Torrance appears very briefly and he’s played by Henry Thomas a.k.a. Elliott from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. What’s even more interesting is that he also once played the iconic Norman Bates in 1990’s Psycho IV: The Beginning.

Beyond all that, the actors playing the main roles in this film all give superb performances. I’ve especially got to give credit to Ewan McGregor, as the adult version of Danny Torrance, and Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Rose the Hat, this film’s primary antagonist.

I also thought that Kyliegh Curran was really good as the young Abra. This is the first movie I’ve seen her in and kid actors are usually annoying as hell but she played her part like a veteran and delivered in a way that most adult actors wouldn’t have been able to.

The supporting cast did their job solidly from Cliff Curtis as Danny’s friend, Zahn McClarnon as the evil but awesomely enchanting Crow Daddy, Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi and Bruce Greenwood, as Danny’s boss and leader of his AA group. We also get to see Carel Struycken as the patriarch of the evil gang, he’s probably most famous for playing the Giant in everything Twin Peaks related. He was also Terak, the villain from the second Ewoks TV movie from the ’80s.

The most important takeaway for me was the story. I loved it, I thought it was a great expansion on the already established mythos and even if a return to the hotel initially felt like cheap fan service, it worked and it brought things full circle for the Danny character.

Sadly, he does die, which I thought was a mistake because there is real potential in the idea of Danny and Abra having stories beyond this one. I guess they can utilize Danny as a ghost, as they did with the Dick Hollorann character, but there’s that part of you that wants him to survive this because there’s more good work to do and the end of the story is left wide open for further exploration, especially in regards to what the villains are and how there might be more.

I thought that the direction by Mike Flanagan was top notch. I’m not all that familiar with his other work, other than I know that he’s worked in the horror genre for a little while. This may inspire me to go back and look at his earlier films, though.

Additionally, the movie has great cinematography that is equal parts terrifying and mesmerizing. The film is meticulously shot and presented with perfect lighting regardless of the visual tone of the scene while also boasting magnificent shot framing. There isn’t a weak looking or half-assed scene in the picture and the work of the director and cinematographer, Michael Fimognari, is impressive.

My only real issue with the film is that I think it would have worked much better as a short (six or eight episode) season of a television series. There’s a lot to this tale and there is certainly a lot more context that could have been utilized to enrich the story if it had more time and more room to breathe. I wanted to know more about the villain group, their history, where they come from, what their larger purpose is, etc. I also would have liked to spend more time with Danny, as a new guy in town, trying to reestablish his life.

In the end, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen from 2019. It is also one of the best horror films of its decade, as the ’10s weren’t very kind to the genre and barely gave us a handful of memorable horror pictures.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the 1980 version of The Shining, as well as good movie and television adaptations of Stephen King’s work.

Film Review: Creepshow 2 (1987)

Also known as: Dead and Undead: Creepshow 2 (alternative title)
Release Date: May 1st, 1987
Directed by: Michael Gornick
Written by: George A. Romero, Lucille Fletcher (uncredited)
Based on: stories by Stephen King
Music by: Les Reed, Rick Wakeman
Cast: Lois Chiles, George Kennedy, Dorothy Lamour, Tom Savini, Frank Salsedo, Holt McCallany, Don Harvey, Will Sampson, Paul Satterfield, Jeremy Green, Daniel Beer, Page Hannah, Tom Wright, Stephen King (cameo)

New World Pictures, Laurel Entertainment Inc., 92 Minutes, 85 Minutes (UK video)

Review:

“Ooooh, mucho ecological, Poncho! Mucho ecological!” – Deke

While this doesn’t get as much fanfare as the original movie, I like it just as much if not slightly better.

Something about these stories just stuck with me.

To start, the first story about the wooden Indian is fantastic and my second favorite of all the Creepshow tales. It’s surprisingly well acted and chilling and by the time the wooden Indian comes to life, you’re so ready to watch the scumbags get murdered in horrible ways.

I’ve got to especially give props to Holt McCallany for playing the shitty, sadistic gang leader. The guy has had a good career but he showed he had real acting chops here, in only his second role, as he was so good at making you hate him. While the script is written to obviously make you dislike him, McCallany took it to a deeper more convincing level.

I also loved the dynamic between George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour.

But most importantly, the effects of the wooden Indian were spectacular. Especially for the era and the small budget that this film had.

The second story is the one Creepshow tale that has stuck with me the most over the years and it actually creeped me out as a kid. It’s about these party teens trapped on a raft in the middle of a lake, as a sludge monster is waiting to devour them. Once the creature gets ahold of its human victims, it literally digests them alive as they scream in pain and horror, dissolving before your eyes.

This sequence does a great job of building tension and terror with very little.

I think that it stuck with me the most because I grew up in and around the Everglades. So as I kid, I used to swim in swamp rivers and lakes fairly regularly. And while I wasn’t afraid of alligators or snakes, I was always on the look out for some sort of demon sludge in the water that might show any sign of sentience.

The last story is my least favorite but it is still damn enjoyable.

A woman accidentally kills a hitchiker and then her entire trip is comprised of the ghostly, zombie-like hitchhiker haunting her at every turn. It’s a simple setup with a simple story but it’s still entertaining and I love the practical effects used in this sequence.

Overall, Creepshow 2 is better than I remembered and it probably deserves as much respect and admiration as the original film.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: everything else under the Creepshow banner, as well as other horror anthologies from the same era like Twilight Zone: The Movie and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie.

Comic Review: Creepshow

Published: July, 1982
Written by: Stephen King
Art by: Bernie Wrightson, Michele Wrightson, Jack Kamen (cover)
Based on: Creepshow by Stephen King, George A. Romero

Plume, 64 Pages

Review:

I’ve wanted the original Creepshow comic book since I was a little kid. I never quite tracked one down and I still want an original copy. However, they recently did a reprint of it, as the television show just came out a few months back.

So I finally got to read this and I liked that I had a fresh, crisp copy, simply so that I could see the superb art of Bernie Wrightson without age, wear and tear.

This follows the plot of the movie pretty much beat-for-beat but it is really a cool companion piece to have for fans of that film. It feels consistent to the movie and its use of comic book styled art, lighting and effects.

Ultimately, this is just beautiful to look at, as Wrightson just had a real talent for drawing the macabre. He was the perfect guy to illustrate these stories and a lot of it reminds me of his Swamp Thing work, as well as his House of Mystery, House of Secrets and Frankenstein stuff.

Hands down, this is one of the coolest horror movie comic book adaptations. It does just about everything right and represents the intellectual property it’s tied to perfectly. I kind of just wish this was longer or that it had opened the door for a regular Creepshow comic book series.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: old EC Comics horror stuff, as well as the Creepshow movies and TV series.

TV Review: Creepshow (2019- )

Original Run: September 26th, 2019 – current
Created by: Greg Nicotero
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Creepshow by Stephen King, George A. Romero
Music by: various
Cast: various

Cartel Pictures, Monster Agency Productions, Striker Entertainment, Shudder, 6 Episodes (so far), 45 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’m a few months late to the party but I finally got around to watching the Creepshow television revival on Shudder. And now that I have, it’s just one more great reason to subscribe to Shudder, which has a much lower price than the average streaming service.

Schilling aside, I swear I’m not a Shudder employee, I’m just a happy customer, the show is pretty much what I expected in that most of it is pretty enjoyable but the quality varies from story to story.

I’ve stated before that I’m not a big anthology fan and the main reason for that is because of consistency. Horror anthologies, especially, seem to be like a pendulum swinging back and forth from good to bad within the same film.

While this show isn’t that different, most of what’s here is engaging and the few tales that I didn’t like weren’t terribly bad. Plus, each 45ish minute episode contains two different stories. So even if you aren’t feeling something, it’s not going to take up too much of your time.

I think the only one I really didn’t like was the fat loss leeches one, which was surprising to me as I’m a fan of Paul Dini’s writing, mainly because of Batman: The Animated Series and his run on Detective Comics, and I’ve always liked Dana Gould.

Other than that, there was something about each episode that lured me in. I think some of my favorites were the first tale, which was written by Stephen King, then the ghost head one, the suitcase one and Nessie one. Maybe I’ll do a list where I rank the segments soon.

Anyway, this was a good show that holds onto the spirit of the films. And in a similar vein as those movies, it also feels like it’s channeling the anthology horror comics of old. I felt like I was watching EC Comics come to life.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the Creepshow movies, as well as other horror anthology TV shows and movies.

Film Review: Pet Sematary (2019)

Release Date: March 16th, 2019 (SXSW)
Directed by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmayer
Written by: Jeff Buhler, Matt Greenberg
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo & Lucas Lavoie

Di Bonaventura Pictures, Room 101 Inc., Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Hug your daughter.” – Louis Creed

I should preface this by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the original Pet Sematary movie. It’s mostly okay and I do enjoy it but I don’t consider it a classic, as many people do.

This film made me appreciate the original and its sequel more, however. But that doesn’t mean I disliked this. It just felt mostly hollow and the things it changed didn’t feel necessary and actually made it less shocking and emotional than the original adaptation.

Now this could actually be closer to the book but I never read it. If that’s the case, I’ll give it a pass on its alterations. But that still doesn’t make it a better film than the two that preceded it.

The thing that is better in this movie is the acting. Top to bottom, the cast here is damn talented. And yes, John Lithgow is a more talented actor than the late, great Fred Gwynne but I still prefer Gwynne’s Jud. Still, Lithgow was solid.

The real scene stealer though was Jeté Laurence, the young daughter who dies and comes back from the dead. She was absolutely dynamite! And frankly, she carries scenes even when sharing them with actors that have been at this for decades longer.

On a side note, I liked the casting of twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie, as the young Gage. Mainly, because the kids looked a lot like a toddler aged Miko Hughes, who played Gage in the original.

The film has pretty good atmosphere and it does a decent job of building towards actual feelings of despair and dread. I think that also has a lot to do with a very capable cast pulling you into the proceedings.

But in the end, this doesn’t feel special, it doesn’t feel necessary and it doesn’t really stand on its own two feet. I feel like it was rushed out to capitalize off of the recent success of the It remake. While that’s okay, I would’ve rather seen a new Stephen King adaptation than another remake for the sake of cashing in on an already established property.

Even with all its moody, dark tones throughout nearly every scene, this couldn’t generate enough real darkness to really stand next to its visually lighter predecessor. The acting saves the film from being a disaster but it still isn’t enough to carry it on its own.

Maybe it lacks heart or maybe it just tried too hard. Either way, it’s a carbon copy with the contrast boosted too high and a much weaker resolution when looking at the details.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Pet Sematary films and other modern Stephen King adaptations.

Film Review: A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

Release Date: September 11th, 1987
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen, James Dixon
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Michael Minard
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrew Duggan, Samuel Fuller, Evelyn Keyes, June Havoc, Ronee Blakley, Tara Reid

Larco Productions, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not a Nazi hunter. I’m a Nazi killer!” – Van Meer

This is really just Salem’s Lot in name only. Technically it’s not officially listed as being based off of Stephen King’s novel and that’s probably for good reason.

I like some of Larry Cohen’s movies. He’s a guy that makes schlock but some of his schlock has become iconic over the years, such as The Stuff, Black Caesar and It’s Alive. This is not Grade A Cohen schlock, however.

In fact, I’m not sure Cohen even watched the first Salem’s Lot movie or even read the book.

The story features Cohen regular Michael Moriarty, as he and his dimwitted, douchebag son travel to the town of Salem’s Lot to fix up his childhood home. However, the town and its residents are vastly different than the previous film.

Actually, the vampires are different too, as this doesn’t feature the Nosferatu-like Kurt Barlow or any vampire resembling him. These vampires are just senior citizens with plastic Halloween fangs. Also, the whole town is pretty much all vampires, except for the few human familiars that keep a few shops and the gas station running, in order to keep up appearances to outsiders passing through.

We also get an old Nazi hunter that is now a vampire hunter and there are all these strange parallels between the Nazis and vampires and it all ends with the boss vampire getting impaled by an American flag instead of a stake. I don’t know how a pissy twelve year-old could ram an entire flagpole through a vampire’s back but this film is so heavy handed that maybe it gave the kid an off screen shove.

This movie is mind-numbingly bad. It’s incompetent on every level, it isn’t remotely scary and in fact, it set vampires back fifty years in cinema.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: bottom of the barrel ’80s horror.

Film Review: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.