King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams, more like a nap of fleeting thoughts

UK Cover Version
UK Cover Version

Have you ever awoken feeling a little shook up, or out of sorts because of a bad dream, one you can’t quite remember? I’m sure you have. You try to recall the details if only to sort out why it bothered you, why this particular dream…

If you started a book in 2015, but finished it in 2016, does it count as your first read of the new year? Let’s assume yes, only so that my yearly review is once again a Stephen King book. Last night I finished, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, a collection of short stories, some previously published, one redone, and one expanded.

After finishing the book, I turned on HBO-Go, hoping to finish the night with a laugh, when I noticed that they finally brought back season one of True Detective. I’ve longed wanted to watch this ever since I caught a partial viewing of one of the last episodes, one that had me curiously riveted. I am only one episode in, so no spoilers please.

In one scene, Matthew McConaughey’s character says something deeply profound about the state of the town he has just moved it. He looks around the parking lot of a grown over boarded-up strip mall, outwardly dejected by what he sees. The mall’s condition is a metaphor on his feelings towards his new surroundings; “This town looks like someone’s memory of an American town, but the memory is fading”.

This quote struck me in many different ways and could be applied to many different ideas, most being political in nature, yet, as I started to write my review, I found that it also applied to King’s latest offering. Substitute the word “memory” for “dream” and you may get a feel for this book.

Have you ever awoken feeling a little shook up, or out of sorts because of a bad dream, one you can’t quite remember? I’m sure you have. You try to recall the details if only to sort out why it bothered you, why this particular dream…

King writes an introduction to each story, telling his constant readers how and why he came up with this particular story idea. I found these tidbits often more entertaining than the actual stories they produced. For me, these stories /dreams felt one-dimensional and wispy around the edges, as if they were fading or had never been fully formed to begin with.

King has always been a favorite of mine (long time readers know of my young adult obsession) because he magically creates well-rounded characters from which deep wells of emotions can be drawn from, even if their lives are only found in a few pages. This time the well turned out to be dry.

This first story, Mile 81, is the only exception, but having been previously published as a Kindle offering, long time readers are left with a collection of stories involving stories that don’t quite work, either they end poorly as with Ur or would have worked if they were longer as with Bad Little Kid and The Dune.

King’s constant readers may find pleasure in a few of these stories, Afterlife, the story of a recently deceased man who finds himself in an office and with a choice, is classic King, but most of others may disappoint. There is no running theme in this collection, other than to say they are a look into the dark side of life, but we expect that from King anyway.

These stories are King’s idea of bad dreams; perhaps they don’t work because he usually offers us up nightmares. These we hold on to, these don’t always fade with time. We constant readers cannot get Quitter’s Inc. or Stand by me out of our minds. The memory of these older stories are what keeps us up at night or have us thinking and talking about long after they end.

King says of this collection, “The best of them have teeth”. I wish that this was true, but the best of them do little more than nip at your brain. One or two may have you thinking, but not for long. The memory of the discomfort leaves you as swiftly as it arrived, leaving you wondering if you were truly uncomfortable in the first place. I’d gladly trade these bad dreams of Kings for his nightmares.

If you feel the way I do, I’d skip this book. If you need a King fix, go back and revisit Night Shift or Skeleton Crew, the best of these stories have fangs.

As a movie “Horns” is out of tune




This morning I learned that the movie adaption of “Horns” is available as a limited release before it hits the theaters. Is this a sign of a bad movie or a very good marketing ploy? I decided to find out.

There’s a scene in which a character goes on a very bad trip after swallowing a plate full of pills and snorting a bag of coke. His mind races between several disturbing images, climaxing with his body being pulled into a nasty forest. This sums up Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel “Horns”.

We all know movie adaptations often deviate from the novel that it’s based on. Given time constraints it is never surprising when changes occur; characters and events are cut out, etc. As book /movie lovers we accept this. Oh we may grumble here and there at minor changes, but overall we accept that what we read may not be what we see. What we should not accept is a director rewriting the plot. It is unforgivable that a director would decide that the original material is not good enough to sell. This is exactly what what Aja has done. He has taken a really good book and turned it into sludge. I couldn’t tell if what I was watching was supposed to be a dark comedy or a campy horror movie. I have a sneaky suspicion even Aja could decide which it should be. The results are disastrous.

For those of you unfamiliar with Horns, here is a review I wrote after reading it for a second time. In short, it is an intellectual horror story that begs the question, “At what point do we become the person others expect us to be?” To sum it up, Ig Perrish is accused of murdering his girlfriend after several witness see them fight on the night of her murder but there is no proof. For this Ig is carries around the stigma of murderer. After a night of heavy drinking he wakes up to find he has grown horns. As the story progresses Ig must decide how he is going to cope with his devilish problem. His moral dilemma is deciding what kind of person he truly is.

The novel centers on Ig and the psychological damage inflicted on him by others. We watch as Ig tries to navigate through personal trauma. We sympathize with Ig and come to understand his emotional move from numbness to blind rage. The movie centers on Ig’s transition and his use of it in order to find his beloved’s killer. There is not a lot of sympathy with this Ig, as he seems all to happy to embrace his situation, and uses his new powers, not because he feels pushed to do so, but because he takes joy in hurting others.

Sometimes the written word does not translate well into spoken dialog. This is never truer than with Horns. In the novel the scenes in which the towns people interact with Ig are creepy and lased with malicious undertones. In the movie these same lines are played for laughs. It does not help that several of the secondary actors are so bad that their lines feel forced, as if they cannot believe what they have to say. What could have been truly ugly and horrifying came across as campy at best, and worst, I’d say this movie would be a Razzies winner.

Aja has Ig narrate several of the scenes, as if as he is unsure of himself as a director. At the beginning of the movie he has Ig set the plot, as if the movie audience would be too dumb to figure out the movie’s subtle theme; st least in the book the theme is subtle. Ig’s transition from outcast to devil is not always clear, yet we know the change is happening. I don’t know why Aja bothered with narration. In his version it is very obvious what is happening as the movie goes from an odd murder mystery to a very campy horror story. They say the devils in the details, but Aja doesn’t bother with details. His way of storytelling is to hit his audience over the head with obvious plot points by over use of dialog and gore.

The body count in Aja’s movie is high, the deaths are unnecessary and implies that the director was out for blood. The ending is absurd and so thick with religious imagery I wouldn’t have been shocked to see God come down and point his finger at the killer. This illustrates Aja’s limited understanding of the novel. That Joe Hill seems happy with the movie is surprising. Sorry Joe, stick a pitchfork in this turkey, it’s done.

If you read the book, don’t bother seeing this mess of a movie, but if you like campy cheesy horror movies, movies that make you laugh at inappropriate places, by all means watch the movie. It may be one of the best cheesy movies you’ll ever see.

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