More than twenty-five stories of horror and nightmarish fantasy transform everyday situations into experiences of compelling terror in the worlds of the living, the dying, and the nonliving.
Sure, not every story is perfect, but as a collective whole this collection kicks it.
Almost all the stories are unique, and of course many of them have made their way to the screen. He apparently was still highly in his Salem's Lot world as he put in not one, but two, stories about the town here. One was called Jerusalem's Lot, which is a big treat for Salem's Lot fans especially. Creepy and decent, told through letters, it's a bit slow and the writing style used is old-fashioned to try and duplicate the older times. Toward the end of the book, One for the Road, which was absolutely eerie, threw in a Maine snowstorm in at night for measure. I did have to wonder about how fast the people turned in that one though, didn't make much sense. The creepy factor still worked despite this plot hole, with the snow storm, the nighttime, and the isolated area adding to the effect of the town a few years later, which had been burned down. I wonder, what are they eating at the Lot? Some people disappear randomly, but surely that's not enough of a random diet.
Graveyard Shift was also creepy, even if you don't have a rat phobia. If you do have one, I doubt you'll forget this story for a long time, if you're able to ever read it at all. Starts off serious and stays the same, although the story weakens at the end. Seems King wanted a shocking ending and it just felt a bit flat. The protagonist turned unrealistic, but up until the ending it was eerie and a heavily charged atmospheric piece. I remember for the movie, which I haven't seen in over ten years, it was longer and more drawn out.
Night Surf was written well but also was a weaker selection, as it felt more like a scene than an actual short story proper. The beginning of it is disturbing stuff and it's explained why the people turned out that way - sort of.
The Mangler, there's not much to say about it. It's better than the movie, which was horrible. It's gory to the extreme, completely cheesy, and rich in the B department. We do need a better term for books that are like "B movies" besides just cheesy. It's one of the weaker stories because of the cheesy factor, but it's still well written. I like how different the "villain" is.
Some people didn't care for The Boogeyman. Didn't find it bad myself. The father was a prick but an intriguing character. Much of the short is dialogue form as he relays the horrors to a psychiatrist. Up until the end it was haunting, but then it took a nose dive into a just plain silly pile.
Grey Matter almost reminded me of John Carpenters The Thing. It was simple and gruesome to behold, bringing to mind some of his short flicks from the movie Creepshow. In mind I was mixing the old man from Father's Day repeatedly announcing he wants ‘his cake, give him his cake’, to the first short story where King himself is turned into a bizarre plant thing. Even the oil sludge from the lake is brought to mind from that movie. Dug how it ended open.
Battleground was short but not abrupt, great fun, cheesy (there's that word again), and ironic. Good stuff but not something that is to be taken seriously at all or stand out too much.
Trucks is actually awesome. Yes, it made the movie Maximum Overdrive. You don't have the fleshed out character situations here since it's a short, but the scenery of the diner with the trucks outside? Great. Good buildup up, plenty of tension, making something that sounds cheesy in idea form work to where it's completely believable. Surprisingly eerie too.
Sometimes they come back rocked. I was especially excited for this one since I grew up watching the movie. Some elements of the flick worked better, some elements of the short story did. King's tone in writing shone and I was glued, unable to put it down. Problem is the guys popping up in this one made little sense, while in the movie it made more sense for them to come back since he himself came back to the town. The end was a completely different version of the movie too. For emotional effects the movie has a better finale, but the book a creepier one. Brrrr.
Strawberry Spring also page-glued me. King's writing is talented, you can tell from stories such as this with the phrases and techniques used. It wasn't as far-fetched as some of the other stuff but held injected mystery if you keep thinking of it. Was the false spring itself some sort of possessor? The end didn't surprise me too much as I had already suspected it a little, but it still worked well.
The Ledge was all I hoped for - and more. Interestingly enough both this and Quitters, Inc. were in the movie Cat's Eye. Still don't know where the troll part of that movie comes back. Nail-biting suspense, high stakes, different sort of character motivations serve this well. He really went all out in explaining details on why walking around this ledge would be so awful. The movie version did add a nice, dramatic touch this one missed - the head at the end. The story just telling about the death didn't deliver the same drama punch but overall this story is one of the best in the book.
I'd heard Lawnmower man the story was totally different from the movie by the same name. Boy, they weren't kidding! This was frankly a stupid story and probably my vote as the anthology's weakest link.
Quitters, Inc? Likely my favorite. It held the same black comedy as the film version did, with further details, writing tone that mesmerized me, and a fun twist on a common issue. I like how the list of chances and consequences was expanded. The protagonist is likeable, although his view on his mentally retarded son is questionable.
Copied from my status update: Wow, Political correctness be damned:
"How many children?"
"One." He thought of Alvin and frowned slightly. "A half" might be better. His son was mentally retarded and lived at a special school in New Jersey."
I know what you need was a different sort of story. Mystery is left behind with some unanswered questions, none which harm the tale. Not especially horrifying but King's unique take on a bizarre stalker. It also raises some human nature questions.
I was completely excited for Children of the Corn. It did NOT let me down. Dark and brutal finish for the characters compared to the movie. Disturbing to the extreme, a twisted play with religious fanaticism how twisted some towns and people can get, not to mention all the good ol' Nebraska corn. 'He Who Walks Behind The Rows' will be forever held by me as an awesome line. Egads, I found the wife annoying and can see the reason for a divorce! What's funny is I've seen this was originally published for an edition of Penthouse.
The Last Rung on the Ladder? Wow, just wow. This isn't a horror story at all, even if it is horrifying with what happens. It's drama all the way and a powerful one at that. Sad, haunting, leaves you with a hollow feeling and a brain full of regrets and self-review. One of the best and underrated, it holds a subtle beauty and innocence about it.
The Man who Loved Flowers....I dug this one, I did. The ending wasn't a surprise to me, I could kind of envision something like that coming. What worked so well for this one was the quirky and almost leave-it-to-beaver whistle I can picture reading it. Small towns, young people in love, chuckling townfolk sitting on rockers kind of thing. I could almost imagine some old fashioned song playing on the jukebox while reading this one. This adds to the comedy of it. Not in your face funny but bizarre, make fun of itself funny.
And - finally - after the last Salem's Lot story you have "The Woman in the Room." This one was previously unpublished. It's a dark, depressing, and very serious theme. May be a fiction story but the situation is all too real and likely has happened before, many times. It's King's own story about euthenasia and old age. Sad stuff, not horror, a drama again much like the impact of The Rung on the Ladder. Excellent story in the way the emotion is portrayed.
This is the best King anthology I've read so far, and I highly doubt I'll top it with his other stuff. You have some amazing gems here, and the weak offerings are few and scattered, buried deeper. The anthology seems to get better the more you read it. A blend of cheesy B style stuff that is completely unlikeable and hokey, to serious life-questioning themes such as The Woman in the Room and The Last Rung on the ladder. Quirky humor for Quitters Inc and The Man who Loved Flowers, and then some genuinely eerie stuff like COTC and the two Lot pieces.
Highly recommended and highly favored.
And oh man, I just found out that John Glover did an audio book for this. Would love to hear that, love the actor. Will try to track it down.
“The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn't real. I know that, and I also know that if I'm careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.”
“The ladder had always held us before, we thought it would always hold us again, which is a philosophy that gets men and nations in trouble time after time.”
More Reviews for Stephen King: