King of Cameos

 

large creepshowNot only is Stephen King a prolific writer with fifty novels and hundreds of short stories to his credit. His non-fiction, columns, essays, poetry, and comics garner praise, and he additionally writes screenplays. He’s even made cameos in some of the adaptations of his stories and books.

His first published novel, “Carrie,” also became his first to be adapted to a film in 1976. Stanley Kubrick famously changed “The Shining” in 1980. “Stand By Me,” “Misery,” “Shawshank Redemption,” and “The Green Mile” became major motion pictures, while “Salem’s Lot” (twice), “It,” “The Tommyknockers,” “The Stand,” “The Langoliers,” “Storm of the Century,” “Rose Red,” and “Bag of Bones” became made for television miniseries. Stephen King created television series, too, including “Golden Years” (1991), “The Dead Zone” (2002-2007), “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” (2004), “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” (2006), “Haven” (2010), and “Under the Dome” (2013).

Of the over twenty adaptations of his works for film or television, Stephen King appeared in many. Also, he acted in a couple of established tv show episodes. Follows is a list of his appearances on silver and small screen:

Creep Show                       (1982 movie)                      starred in “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”

Maximum Overdrive      (1986 movie)                      uncredited appearance as man at cash point

Creep Show 2                    (1987 movie)                      played a truck driver in “The Hitchhiker”

Pet Semetary                    (1989 movie)                      played a minister

The Golden Years            (1991 tv)                              played a bus driver

Sleepwalkers                     (1992 movie)                      played a cemetery caretaker

The Stand                            (1994 tv miniseries)         played Teddy Weizak

The Langoliers                   (1995 tv miniseries)         played Tom Holby

Thinner                               (1996 movie)                      played Dr. Bangor

The Shining                         (1997 tv miniseries)         played the band leader

Storm of the Century     (1999 tv miniseries)         appeared as lawyer in ad and a reporter on a broken tv

Frazier                                  (2000 tv series episode “Mary Christmas”)                          played Brian

The Simpsons                    (2000 tv series episode titled “Insane Clown Poppy”)      “played” himself

Rose Red                             (2002 tv miniseries)         uncredited appearance as pizza delivery guy

Kingdom Hospital             (2004 tv episode finale) played Johnny B. Goode

Fever Pitch                         (2005 movie)                      himself throwing out first pitch at a Red Sox Game

Gotham Café                     (2005 movie)                      Mr. Ring

Diary of the Dead             (2007 movie voiceover) news reader

Sons of Anarchy                               (2010 tv episode “Caregiver”) played Richard Bachman

Stephen King is scheduled to appear on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on 11 September, 2015. He and his wife Tabitha also acted in George Romero’s 1981 “Knight Riders,” portraying Hoagieman and his wife.

Said Mr. King, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” Stephen King lives by this motto. His considerable talent is supplemented by dedication to his craft and a desire to experience life in his own creative way, be it through participating in the band “Rock Bottom Remainders,” acting, writing, or private pursuits.

Movie Review: Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow (1982): Directed by:  George A. Romero Writers:  Stephen King Stars:  Hal Holbrock, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nelsen, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Stephen King, Fritz Weaver, Tom Atkins

Getting film and literary rockstars Stephen King, George Romero and Tom Savini together on a single project in the 80s is equivalent to creating a super group with Hendrix, Cobain, Jagger, and Bonham.  Yeah, I know…only one is alive and there’s no bassist, but you get the gist of it.  The film super group was formed, and in the fall of 1982 they released Creepshow.  With five separate short films bookended by comic book animation and a sub-story, the film paid homage to EC and DC horror comics from the 50s; right down to most of them regarding revenge and executions of “karma”—bad things happening to bad people.

The soundtrack that looms behind the scenes is the fabulous creepy synth of the 80s.  And it sets the campy mood perfectly.  From the beginning of the film it’s evident right away that you’re about to watch something very different.  Throughout the movie, intense moments are enhanced by vibrant back lighting use green, blue, and red hues.  It works wonderfully and certainly lends hand to the atmosphere they were trying to convey—pure campy, comic book horror.   Because they all have their own strengths and memorable makeup, I don’t necessarily have a favorite segment, so allow me to dissect each one:

 

Father's DayFather’s Day:  Written by Stephen King specifically for the film, this is essentially a ghost story with revenge.  On the rich estate of a murdered emotionally abusive father, family members gather for an annual traditional dinner.  The abused daughter (and alleged murderer) stops off at the gravestone of the father she killed and spills her whiskey on the grave.  Apparently that’s a catalyst for waking the dead, as the remainder of the segment reveals a beautifully constructed, maggot-filled zombie stalking those partying down on his estate.  And there’s also cake involved.

 

JordyThe Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill:  Country bumpkin, Jordy Verrill, played by Stephen King, stumbles across the remains of a meteor that landed on his property.  While making an attempt to contain the meteor in hopes of making a bundle of money, Jordy contaminates himself with an ever-growing weed that progresses rapidly, covering his property as well as himself.  While Stephen King has made cameos in various films, he’s no actor.  That being said, this role was made for him (actually, I think it literally was).  King’s performance as lunkhead Jordy Verrill is perfectly orchestrated.  It’s rather impressive.

 

Creepshow9Something to Tide You Over:  Whodathunk Leslie Nielsen could play such a believably evil character?  Surely not I (there’s a joke in there for the Airplane folks).  As far as acting in Creepshow, the talent lies in this segment.  Leslie Nielsen plays the victim of infidelity and he’s had enough.  His voyeuristic self premeditates a plan that leaves his wife and the home wrecker, played by Ted Danson, buried in the sand up to their chins, while the tide slowly comes in.  To satisfy Nielsen’s character’s vengeance, video equipment is set up to catch it all.  But like any good horror comic, the sinful couple come back from the dead, seaweed laden and waterlogged, to exact their revenge.  The makeup is excellent, with each drowned victim resembling a green thumb held in the tub for days—wrinkled and withered.

 

creepshow3The Crate:  For most, this is probably the segment that stands out for them, mainly because of Savini’s brainchild, affectionately deemed “Fluffy.”  This tale concerns a college janitor who is hungry for shiny things.  He runs into a crate that had been under a set of stairs for a century and a half and calls in one of the college professors to have a look see.  They open the crate and regret ensues followed by gore galore.  The crate’s contents are basically hairy teeth and claws bent on eating humans.  The crate is then used to exact….you guessed it:  Revenge.  A poor soul who happens to be stuck in a marriage with an emotionally abusive drunk-of-a-wife sees his chance at ridding his life of the alcoholic nag and so takes the opportunity.

 

creepingThey’re Creeping Up On You:  Out of all the stories, this one is probably my least favorite.  An arrogant, rich germaphobe lives in a building that is locked down, has high-tech equipment, and is pure white like some sterile prison.  The majority of the segment is us watching what a class-A butthole this guy is (prepping us for the big karma finale), and eventually roaches take over in this seemingly impenetrable, ridiculously sanitized building.  And then there’s some gore.  As you can tell, I don’t hold the same enthusiasm for this story as I do for the others.  It just wasn’t relatable and the situation was completely unrealistic.

 

The movie ends with a cameo by Tom Savini himself, as the remaining bookended sub-plot finishes the movie off.  There are currently three Creepshow movies out, and though the second one is quite a ride in itself, none of them pull off that perfect campy, comic-book feel that the first one does.  Highly recommended for those who haven’t seen it.  Creepshow is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Check out the official Creepshow trailer:

Top 5 Scariest Stephen King Monsters

Mr. KingYou would be hard pressed to find an author who has created such terrifying monsters as the most prolific modern horror author himself, Stephen King. Of all the monstrous creations he has concocted to keep us up all night, there are five monsters in particular from his fiction that have frightened me more deeply than the others. But, before we continue, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. There are many villains in the Kingaverse, and we could get in a hot debate over the most powerful or memorable or charismatic , but Randall Flagg is the biggest baddie of them all. He is the fallen angel of King’s literary universe but he isn’t appropriate for this countdown. For this top 5 list, I will name monsters in their truest forms. I am listing five creatures that inspire terror the moment you see them:

 

Barlow5. Barlow: The main baddie of Salem’s Lot presents the true visage of the vampire as remorseless predator that will feed on love and human weaknesses to sate its bloodlust. As the wicked force that is naturally attracted to the evil place (the Marsten house), Barlow turns the town of Salem’s Lot into a nightmarish husk. Owing more to Nosferatu than Dracula, Barlow is one of the most frightening vampires committed to fiction.

 

creepshow-the-crate4. The Monster from the Crate (aka Fluffy): You have to love Creepshow. And when this Tasmanian devil lumbers out of his crate, it is one of the most frightening creatures ever seen on film (thanks to Tom Savini’s excellent effects). I saw this in the theater when it was first released theatrically and this segment scared the hell out of me!

 

themist_13. The Beasties from The Mist: The Mist is King’s most Lovecraftian work. But where Lovecraft was sometimes disconnected with his audience, King makes HPL’s universal horror of the unknown more intimate as a group of people in a grocery store try to survive a mist that has rolled in and houses slithering tentacles of terror and unimaginable creatures. After reading this classic novella or watching the rather bleak movie adaptation (I recommend the black and white cut, BTW), you will never see a rolling bank of fog and not shudder at the horrific possibilities residing inside.

 

Cujo2. Cujo: A rabid Saint Bernard. Shit. That is absolutely terrifying. A menacing dog is scary enough, but when the gentle Cujo turns into a ferocious, raging monster after contracting rabies from a bat bite, it is deeply frightening because, under the right set of circumstances, this could happen to you; on the quiet street where you live.

 

Pennywise1. Pennywise: King was making clowns scary a long time before so many of these posers out there today, and there is no scary clown that tops Pennywise! He is the Godfather of scary clowns. A soul-consuming, alien creature that can take on the guise of your worst fear, Pennywise fuels unease at first glance. But when those fangs of his jut from his mouth, there is nothing but all-consuming fear that seasons his feast. Pennywise is the scariest King monster on my list!

 

So there you have it! Please mention any King monsters you think I overlooked in the comments!

My Top 5 Vicious Vampire Books

There is a blood sucker born every minute on the page. Well, that may not be an actual statistic, but if you are familiar with the ever-swelling ranks of vampire books (of all styles and sub-genres within sub-genres), it sounds accurate, right? While an argument can be made that the zombie is currently the most used supernatural creature in horror fiction, the vampire has appeared in the peaks of commercially successful horror fiction more often than any other monster.

And while there are a great many commercially successful books that have hurt the mystical essence of vampire horror fiction, there are still many books to dive into where the vampires are vicious predators without a romantic bone in their cold corpses.

So I have compiled a quick list of vampire reads that will wash the nasty taste of magical realism and romantic fantasy right out of your mouths! Some of my picks are here because they are lasting classics and some are here because they take the vampire concept in a unique direction. You won’t find Bram Stoker’s Dracula, because quite honestly it is the backbone of the modern vampire tale and in a class all it’s own. So, here are my picks:

 

Interview with a Vampire
Interview with a Vampire

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

I can’t say that I have read everything Anne Rice has written, but this is one book that has stuck with me since its release. What Rice did here was present the vampire as the cold predator who uses seduction merely as a colorful plumage to trap prey. And I also love that the vampire grows more distant from its humanity as it ages. Sure, some might have a spot of remorse here or there, but eventually the monster reconciles with its nature and violence becomes a reflex. Vampires don’t necessarily love; they hunger. And though they may wish for companionship (usually among their own ranks), they are asexual beings of pure impulse. Rice may have had added some sexual synergy to the mythos, but she never let you forget what Lestat and Louis truly were.

 

I Am Legend
I Am Legend

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Trying to describe the importance of this novel to the vampire and horror genre is like trying to explain the importance of the cordless phone to the phone industry. Besides being a ferociously different take on the vampire novel, I Am Legend was also a huge inspiration to filmmaker George Romero while crafting Night of the Living Dead. George substituted the vampire menace with the zombie, and NOTLD would go on to shape the modern zombie genre. So, in a weird way, without I Am Legend, we might not have The Walking Dead today! Masterson’s tale, written in 1954 and set in 1976, deals with the lone survivor of a plague that has turned the population into blood thirsty vampires. During the night, Robert Neville hides, boarded up in his home turned fortress. During the day, Robert destroys any slumbering bloodsucker he can get his hands on. The twist at the end of this story is monumental and all three film adaptations have failed to properly convey the role-reversal element where the last man on earth has now become the fearsome creature of legend. If you consider yourself a fan of horror and you have not read this book, you should have your membership card taken away and torn up!

 

 

Under the Fang
Under the Fang

Under the Fang by various

I just recently got my hands on a replacement copy of this great anthology from the (then) Horror Writers of America (now the Horror Writers Association). This 1991 shared world collection was edited by the great Robert McCammon and you can definitely find the seeds from which modern vampire fair like True Blood sprouted. The premise of Under the Fang is the terrifying concept of vampires taking over the world. Imagine this as a Gothic take on Planet of the Apes. With an impressive lineup that includes McCammon, Ed Gorman, Richard Laymon, Chet Williamson, Nancy Collins, Chelsea Quinn Yarbo and more, you can bet your ass that the only sparkling that vampires do in this collection is caused by the moonlight on their blood-soaked faces. This has been long out of print, but you can buy used copies which are reasonably priced (I scored mine for a penny and shipping costs) on Amazon. The Horror Writer’s Association recently reissued Freak Show, an anthology that followed this one in 1992, and I am sure a reissue of Under the Fang is forthcoming as well!

 

 

Some of Your Blood
Some of Your Blood

Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon

Though advertised as a crime novel upon its release in 1956, this book, written in epistolary form (as military files, doctor notes and transcriptions), centered upon a young soldier named George Smith. Some of your Blood takes the notion of the bloodsucker and points a starling light of realism upon vampirism (much like Romero’s obscure vampire classic, Martin). George Smith is a creature who does not morph or hypnotize or prowls only at night. He is as real as you or me; he just happens to enjoy the act of drinking blood. Though not explicitly a horror novel, this book should still be required reading for lovers of vampire tales of all styles.

 

 

'Salem's Lot
‘Salem’s Lot

‘Salem‘s Lot by Stephen King

Okay, now this is straight up my stranded on a desert isle with one vampire book choice. What is great about King’s novel is that he takes superstitions from ages ago to weave horror so thoroughly and deeply researched that those less astute with vampire lore would take it for King’s own set of rules. King took all of the actual myths that the vampire legend was built upon and he created a soulless, hungry creature with no conscience which taps on the foggy windows of friends or family members; looking for easy prey (like most predators). King didn’t create the concept of vampires appearing to their loved ones (neither did Stoker, for that matter). It was common folklore that vampires hunted their own family and they stayed in areas that they were familiar with in life. Among the rich characters that breath in King’s fiction, the vampires spread quietly and in shadows and the horror is dismissed as bad dreams or a flu bug until ‘Salem’s Lot is nearly sucked dry. It is King’s refusal to reinvent the wheel in this book that makes it special. It doesn’t read like a vampire novel; it reads like a King novel that vampires have been randomly dropped in to.

My Fantasy Horror Anthology

Cover to Shock
Shock Magazine featured Sturgeon's BRIGHT SEGMENT
Theodore Sturgeon’s BRIGHT SEGMENT was published in this 1960 issue of Shock Magazine!

You have heard of fantasy football; picking players from NFL teams to forge a strong team of your own to compete on paper. Well, I want to do the same type of thing but in a way horror fiction fans would appreciate. I don’t know if this has ever been attempted, but if it has, it was surely by a horror nerd with too much weed and time on his/her hands.

Compose your own table of contents for what would be your ultimate horror anthology. There are no limits. Choose from any author you want, at any time you want. So here is my fantasy horror anthology, and though the names may be as familiar to you as your own family, you will notice a mix of obscure tales, that I think should be reexamined (I am an admitted B-side lover), and you will also notice selections that are considered staples of the genre by many fans. For time and space constraints, I will pick ten here as my choices. Just remember, it’s my party…

The very first story would be one by a man better known for his science fiction, but a home run hitter in whichever genre he chose to flex his creative muscles. BRIGHT SEGMENT by Theodore Sturgeon would by the first title affixed to this ultimate anthology of mine. Written in 1953, BRIGHT SEGMENT concerns a lonely old man who finds a near-dead prostitute on the streets. He brings her in and nurses her back to health. As she strengthens and threatens to leave his care and this bright segment of his draws to a close, the old man takes measures to extend his newfound happiness. This is an absolutely brilliant tale that inspires revulsion and sympathy with the same tug.

A Stephen King photo from the '70s
Terry’s favorite Stephen King short stories are the early ones.

So next we look at the work of Stephen King for inclusion. I am a child of King, in so many ways. But my favorite works of his go back to his older tales. And my first King tale for inclusion would have to be NONA. First published in an anthology in 1978 called Shadows, Nona is either a figment of the narrator’s imagination or a seductive and evil siren of murder who asks repeatedly at the end, “Do you love?”, before she turns into a hideous creature and leaves the narrator alone in a graveyard for the police to find. NONA is Lovecraft-inspired gem and it elicits creepiness from any of us who have ever loved, and maybe found a little madness in our devotion.

We are not done with King, yet. NIGHT SURF was printed in Ubris magazine in 1969. It was the seed from which THE STAND would sprout. It is a post-apocalyptic tale about a group of teens gathered one night at Anson Beach in New Hampshire. They glow and warm near a bonfire, but the fire that lights their night burns with depraved, solemn and desperate purpose. The group burns a man at a pyre to appease the Gods and protect themselves from a disease called A6 (or Captain Trips).

Clive Barker
Clive Barker around the time BOOKS OF BLOOD exploded onto the horror scene.

We come now to the works of Clive Barker and his inclusions will not be the expected standouts. There will be two tales selected, half-filling my collection.

IN THE HILLS, IN THE CITIES is my first of the Barker tales. Two gay men try to rekindle their love on a vacation to Yugoslavia. Mick and Judd bear witness to the macabre war between two villages, Popolac and Podujevo. Each town is represented by a mass of thousands joined in uniform and violent purpose. A battle between two giants occurs, and this is one of the most inspired Barker tales you could ever endure. It is breathtaking.

My second Barker contribution would be HELL’S EVENT. It concerns a contest where Hell is given the opportunity to take and rule the Earth. There is a race in London, and a shape-shifting representative of Hell participates. Joel, a human competitor in the race, realizes the stakes he is running for. This is a bloody and humorous piece of Barker fiction.
My next selection would be the classic YOURS TRULY, JACK THE RIPPER from the great Robert Bloch. It was printed in Weird Tales in 1943. It is a very famous tale, and many horror fans have heard the title in relation to highly regarded pieces of horror literature. But let me ask you a question… have you ever actually read it? It is an intense and well-researched imaging of the infamous serial killer as an immortal who must make human sacrifices to continue his bloody existence. It is masterfully crafted by Bloch, whose creative intensity never dulled. The man was a talented craftsman, indeed. He is largely considered a writer’s writer. And he was a member of Lovecraft’s circle.

Poised to terrify at the seventh spot would be I SCREAM MAN by Robert McCammon. In this tale, McCammon takes something as innocuous as a family game of Scrabble and turns it into a triumph of absolute dread. McCammon is a master at taking familiar and safe boundaries and wrapping them around your throat. He is a powerhouse.

SHATTERDAY is the eighth selection, and it is a story by one of the most enduring voices of speculative fiction, Harlan Ellison. Peter Jay Novins calls his own phone by mistake, and he answers it. Soon, it is revealed that an alter ego is planning to take Peter’s miserable life away and replace him. Peter sickens and slowly fades as his former shadow gains substance and lives a more happy and successful version of Peter’s life. Yes, this was an episode of the revival Twilight Zone series, but the story from Ellison’s collection (itself called Shatterday) is an absolutely chilling tale of losing your identity and purpose. It straddles the genre fence, but inspires enough dread to land here on my list.

The next to last of this fun little excursion would find Charles Beaumont’s THE HOWLING MAN. Beaumont would adapt his 1960 short story into a famous episode of Twilight Zone. The Howling Man concerned David Ellington, a man on a walking trip through Europe who shows up, lost and ill, on the doorstep of a hidden castle. There, he discovers that a man is held prisoner by a group of monks. The monks claim their prisoner is the devil himself, and he can only be released by removing the staff of truth from his prison door. Beaumont was one of the most influential authors of the strange and dark, and his work has inspired several in the genre. And he is a name I would proudly include in this make-believe collection.

My tenth spot would feature THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. It chronicles a woman’s journey into madness, as she is locked away by her physician husband. The woman is stored away quietly to recuperate from a slight hysterical tendency. The woman slowly begins to have visions in the patterns of the wallpaper in the room that imprisons her. An important and classic tale, which you should seek out if you have not read it, that is also an incredible piece of feminist literature.

So, there would be my top ten. And were this list to continue, you would see tales from Poe, Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Hugh B. Cave, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Rex Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Rod Serling… trust me, the list could easily run into triple digits. The ten I have listed are stories that I hold a particular fondness for. They are stories that have touched me, and left a mark.

If you are inspired to seek any of these tales out, then I have served a purpose here today.