Finished reading Stephen King‘s Under the Dome. It’s one of the author’s longest works, and has been compared by publishers and critics to his earlier post apocalyptic novel, The Stand. While the story of an hermetically sealed American community has the feel of a modern parable, Under the Dome is ultimately a straightforward (if fantastical) crime thriller about small town political corruption.

Stephen King, Needful Things (1991)
Stephen King, Needful Things (1991)
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lood. Someone’s reflection in a bathroom mirror. A man in a wide-brimmed hat. These are my fragmented recollections of the 1993 adaptation of Stephen King’s Needful Things, which starred Ed Harris and Max Von Sydow. I caught the end of it on television late one night when I was around ten years old, and these anxious impressions are all that I remember. Actually, that’s not true. I also had the impression that the film’s themes were somehow too grownup for me at the time, remote from the day-to-day concerns of a child still in primary school. Marriage, relationships, mortgages and finance, that sort of thing.

By the age of ten I was already familiar with King’s novel, which had been published back in 1991. In fact, I owned two copies. A shiny paperback published in the mid 1990s, and a hardback that came my way shortly after that. There was a period during my childhood and adolescence when King was about the only author that I read; I avidly collected his books and ordered them neatly on a shelf in my bedroom. But I didn’t read Needful Things back then. I got my kicks reading about killer clowns and supernatural forces, and just wasn’t interested in the idea of a demon shopkeeper mortgaging people’s souls. (more…)

Roger Luckhurst offers a critical and entertaining survey of Kubrick’s horror masterpiece
Roger Luckhurst, The Shining (Palgrave, 2013).
Roger Luckhurst, The Shining (Palgrave, 2013).

In the thirty-seven years since its premiere, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) has been the subject of heated debate. Based on a bestselling novel by Stephen King, the adaptation was dismissed by the author as ‘maddening, perverse, and disappointing’. His judgement was not unique. Critics and audiences alike found the film bewildering and strange, not knowing whether to take it as an art film or a low-brow horror shocker. Yet, as Roger Luckhurst points out in his excellent book, The Shining (BFI Classics, 2013), despite its chilly opening reception the film is now regarded as ‘one of the most admired horror films in cinema history’.

Luckhurst’s take on The Shining manages to pierce the lid on thirty years of critical discussion, and to yield a fresh perspective on one of cinema’s most discussed and perplexing films. The book addresses Stanley Kubrick’s status as a distinctive auteur filmmaker, but dismisses the tendency of critics to see deliberate intention in every move and gesture. Instead, Luckhurst reads The Shining within the broader cultural and historical context of late 1970s-early 1980s American culture. Insightful connections are made to films like The Amityville Horror (1979), The Omen (1976), Poltergeist and The Evil Dead (both released in 1982). Through its representation of prescient children, telepathy, and horror, Luckhurst reveals how The Shining expresses widely-held anxieties about traditional gender roles, the nuclear family, and histories of repressed trauma and violence. (more…)

How Stephen King’s second novel cemented his reputation as America’s foremost horror writer
Stephen King, Salem's Lot
Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot

Stephen King first found his way onto the international stage with 1974’s bestseller, Carrie. But it was his next published novel, ‘Salem’s Lot, that cemented his reputation as America’s foremost writer of horror fiction. King, who had been working in obscurity until his newfound success, had two unpublished manuscripts. In his 2005 introduction to ‘Salem’s Lot, King recalls a conversation with his editor Bill Thompson, who was enthusiastic about one of the two manuscripts, calling it ‘Peyton Place with vampires’. It had bestselling potential, Thompson had said, but there was one problem: the decision would forever type him as a horror writer. King was relieved: ‘I don’t care what they call me as long as the checks don’t bounce’.

The cheques didn’t bounce. In the four decades since ‘Salem Lot’s publication in 1975, Stephen King has become one of the world’s bestselling living authors. And, while his work ranges a broad range of styles and genres, including thrillers, fantasy, and nonfiction, his reputation as the ‘King of Horror’ persists. It seems Thompson had been right on both counts. (more…)

Terence McSweeney discusses a new collection of essays that explore the legacy of September 11th in recent film

We begin our conversation having marked the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The legacy of those events has had an inestimable effect on the cultural, historical, and ideological landscape. What do you think it means to say that we are living ‘in the shadow of 9/11’?

terence-mcsweeney-american-cinema-shadow-911-edinburgh-university-press
American Cinema in the Shadow of 9/11, edited by Terence McSweeney (EUP, 2016)

The title of the book is derived from this often repeated phrase “in the shadow of 9/11” which was one we heard very frequently during the turbulent first decade of the new millennium. Even though fifteen years have passed since September 11th 2001 we can clearly see how impactful the events of 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ still are on contemporary geo-politics. This is not to endorse that simplistic aphorism that “9/11 changed everything”, because it certainly did not, but what it and events after did was to provoke what we might describe as the shifting of ideological co-ordinates in a variety of ways: whether in terms of American foreign policy decisions or the considerable impact of what Jason Burke called “the 9/11 wars” on the body of films which have been produced by the American film industry since. It seems hard to deny that the ‘War on Terror’ is one of the most profoundly impactful cultural events of the last two decades and just as fears and anxieties concerning the Second World War and the cold war became materialised in novels, films and TV shows in their respective eras, so 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ can often be found within the frames of contemporary American film. (more…)