The Doctor Is In

My friend, Ellen, was visiting this weekend and we went to see Dr. Sleep yesterday. For those of you that don’t know, Dr. Sleep (2013) is Stephen King’s follow-up novel to his earlier work, The Shining (1977). Mike Flanagan has turned the book into a feature film starring Ewan McGregor.

What you may not know is… Stephen King hates the 1980 film version of The Shining by Stanley Kubrick so much that he has gone on record in various mediums declaring so… saying things like, “it’s a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine in it,” and “Stanley set out to make a film that hurts people.”

But film lovers and King devotees like me often separate the two.  Kubrick’s version of The Shining is monumental, a beautiful work of art that layers the dread frame by creeping frame. Yes, it is different from the book…but so are many other film adaptations of novels.

With Dr. Sleep, Mike Flanagan—also an admirer of both works—mounted a quest almost as daunting as that of Roland in King’s Dark Tower saga: to adapt the novel Dr. Sleep AND make a sequel to Kubrick’s film… with approval from King and the Kubrick estate.

Wait a minute, shouted the masses. How are you gonna do that? There are vast differences between the two. Halloran lives in the book, dies in the movie. The hotel blows up in the book but remains standing in the film. How are you going to make this work for both team King and team Kubrick?

Well…. he does. And he does it so well that it’s mind-boggling. I won’t give away his tricks, because that’s a large part of what makes the movie so great. But I will say that the hotel is still in it, beloved characters are brought back, and not only does he pay beautiful homage to both, but he also goes one step further by fixing, or should I say warming, Kubrick’s original vision and likely redeeming many of King’s perceived flaws with the 1980 classic.

Who does that?! Who thinks to do that?! How on earth can a director set out to make a film, marry it with a classic, maintain the sequel’s separate storyline, and manage to soften the author’s stern judgment of the original adaption?

Who: Mike Flanagan. How: love.

He loves them both so much… he had no choice.

I should have known better. I had similar questions when I heard Flanagan was adapting Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959) for Netflix last year. There was already the classic film (directed by Robert Wise) from the 1960s. There had also been a terrible remake (starring Liam Neeson) in the 1990s. Why would you attempt to turn this seminal novel into a series?

Again… love. The storyline was not the same as the novel, but it involved Hill House and its effects on a modern family… and there was so much homage paid to both Shirley Jackson and Robert Wise that my doubts were swept away in mere moments of the first episode. I knew in my very heart that Flanagan loved the source material as much as me and that the show was in more than qualified hands.

I could see and feel this same love for King and Kubrick while watching Dr. Sleep… and it took my breath away. The original sense of dread still grabs you… but I was also both thrilled and giddy with reminiscence. It’s not a perfect film. It’s a little long, and some scenes felt rushed for timing’s sake. But I forgive him this minor hassle and I’m anticipating an extended digital release.

Flanagan gets this pardon from me because he is not only a writer and director… he’s a fan. He knows the key elements that endear us to these works, reignites them, and makes magic happen. He takes our hand and says… remember this? Let’s go there.

And above all else… he shines.


Dark Visionaries

I found myself somewhat incapacitated with a back injury the other day. Normally, when I am at home, I find it hard to sit and do nothing—I’m usually puttering about cooking, cleaning, or working in my office.  But, confined to bed, I decided to indulge in four somewhat controversial horror films that I had missed over the past few years.  I say controversial meaning that people either loved or hated them based upon extremely high or low ratings—not a lot of middle ground here. I enjoyed all for the most part and I have some theories as to why some folks did not…

The first was a film called The Witch, written and directed by Robert Eggers. I had heard a lot of negative stuff about this movie, primarily about a goat named Black Phillip and the ending. Now, I’ve been watching horror movies for more decades than I care to admit, and the only thing I can say about this film is that it is an old-school classic. The horrors are real and psychological, and any of you American literature readers will recognize that they’re torn right out of the pages of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Arthur Miller. The film is set in the 17th century. There are no jump-scares, no shaky-cams, no ridiculous plot contrivances, and no in-your-face viscera. It’s a moody, beautifully shot period piece that layers the dread on with each passing frame. It’s absolutely terrifying and, if you don’t think so, then you’re more than welcome to return to the latest edition of Annabelle or Paranormal Activity. You don’t belong here.

The second movie was Hereditary, written directed by Ari Aster. This film has some old-school elements as well and some familiar tropes (spoiler here) that were established long ago with Rosemary’s Baby. It is downright shocking and horrifying at times, with both surprising twists and heart-wrenching drama. The cast is strong which adds even more to its credibility. I have read that it can be interpreted solely as a drama, like Ordinary People or The Ice Storm… but whoever believes this is insane. This is balls-out horror from start to finish. And if it’s not jump-scary enough for you then, by all means, go watch the latest episode of American Horror Story or some other trite, abuser of tropes past. This one is for folks that like their horror rich and deep… not too unlike Netflix’s recent The Haunting of Hill House series.

Next on my list was an indie called The Battery, written and directed by Jeremy Gardner. This is a semi-comic road-movie about two guys surviving during a zombie apocalypse. It’s not very scary at all, however, I am a zombie film connoisseur and I appreciated it for focusing completely on the characters. Those of you that are familiar with our podcast have heard me say more than once that good zombie stories are about the people, not the monsters… and Mr. Gardner’s efforts in this department are admirable. It’s not a great film—its budget is minuscule and it’s ludicrous at times—but there is obvious talent behind its making and it held my interest despite its budgetary restraints, guerilla filmmaking, and cheap makeup and effects.

Last on my list was a big-budget picture that slipped by me a few years back called A Quiet Place, written by partners Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, and directed by John Krasinski. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fare and, though not my usual favorite zombie-territory theme, this one delivers on another level. (think M. Knight Shyamalan’s Signs). Like The Battery, it is not a perfect film… logic is often fleeting and small things annoyed me (like that nail in the step)… but overall it was fine for summer popcorn fun, and the creature design was really unique. I also give it large kudos for being almost entirely without dialogue and taking the post-apocalyptic genre elsewhere in origins, similar in ways to Birdbox. Originality goes a long way with me.

Left to right: Noah Jupe plays Marcus Abbott, Millicent Simmonds plays Regan Abbott and John Krasinski plays Lee Abbott in A QUIET PLACE, from Paramount Pictures.

If you haven’t guessed yet, these movies are presented to you in descending order beginning with my favorite. Also, if you have been paying close attention, you will notice that the first three were all written by the director. This means you are getting double the vision of the creator. I think this is what lifts these films above average fare. The first two, Eggers and Aster, have already followed up with more lauded and controversial movies—The Lighthouse and Midsomer. The writers of the latter two also came from and are continuing in the horror genre with future projects. All know and respect the tropes, yet all are striving for new and original concepts… not plots, mind you, but settings, perspective, technique, and mood.

The reason some do not like these films is that they are not the spoon-fed, cookie-cutter schlock they have grown accustomed to in the era of media saturation. These movies make you think. You cannot watch these movies while scrolling Facebook on your phone—you must pay attention and invest. The first two are slow creepers, filled with mounting dread. The third is a character study. The fourth—probably most forgiven by the masses—has a known cast with big-budget monsters and effects… but hardly any dialogue at all.

The writers behind these stories are what interest me most: Eggers, Aster, Gardner, and Beck & Woods.  All were attempting to take you to worlds either unexplored or observed from a different perspective. This kind of creativity not only excites but inspires me. Art creates art… and, for me, visionaries like these will always trump the latest conventional retread.


Warp Speed Ahead

Autumn is here, and I know many of you are anxiously awaiting cooler weather, delicious comfort food, and the latest spooktacular movies for October and Halloween. Normally, I’d be right there with you, gearing up for classic films… AMC’s Fear Fest, TCM, and all the horror lurking on DVDs in my swelling media closet.

But no… right now I am fixated with a different kind of comfort food, one that has been with me since I was a child and that I often turn to for nostalgic cravings—a rock-solid show that never ceases to delight me for myriad reasons. I am talking about the original Star Trek.

Continue reading “Warp Speed Ahead”


To beg or not to beg… that is the question.

Actually it’s not begging at all—but it sure is hard to shake the feeling that it isn’t. David and I are both hardworking individuals, we’ve never needed charity and have been gainfully employed our entire lives.

But we’re both artists—him more acting/directing; me more writing/acting. We come from an era where it was not as easy to break into the business … especially in regards to physical geography (East Tennessee) and the internet (not having been invented). So, much of our artistic devotion has been for love, not money—through passion projects and a LOT of community theatre. 

Continue reading “Foundation”