Readings in Progress: Fun with Horror References and Please, No More Meetings

Danse Macabre - Stephen King Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film that Sank United Artists - Steven Bach

I'll skip over the usual "I hadn't meant to start this book but" business and go right to the more interesting confession: I can't read Stephen King's fiction. There are no book snob reasons about his writing or the contents involved. No, it's because of the time that I read some of Stephen King's short stories in high school and one of them gave me nightmares that lasted for years. The goofy thing is that it isn't anything terribly gory* or scary, and in retrospect it's somehat comical - but nevertheless some particular thing inside that story tweaked a sensitive bit of my brain and clung to it and then went crazy in the ol' dreamspace**. However! I have read reviews about his books, countless wikipedia pages, watched more than one of his films (though not always all of them, and yes, there was hiding behind pillows, etc.), and more importantly I've read many of King's columns and interviews here and there. He's an interesting person, and he has the same fan's interest in the early history of horror that I have.

 

All of this is probably why I'm having the best time with Danse Macabre. I've always wondered what kind of lectures he would have given as a college prof, and I think this book gives you a fair idea. Especially about what kinds of pop culture references he'd toss in - because he cites literature, film, and television all over the place, and almost all of those references I recognize. A lot of the authors he cites are immediately going on my Eventually I Must Read list, because those names have come up again and again in other film books I've similarly enjoyed. Oddly I think I enjoy reading discussions of old horror films more than just watching more of them.

 

Be prepared, I will probably quote oodles from this book - later in the review - but for now, a poem, p. 175:

 

And now this word from the poet Kenneth Patchen. It comes from his small, clever book But Even So:

 

Come now,

my child,

if we were planning

to harm you, do you think

we'd be lurking here

beside the path

in the very dark-

est part of

the forest?

 

That's from a section on fairy tale horror, and yes, I'll quote some more on what King has to say about it later. I probably won't be able to resist doing so, even if I wanted to. Meanwhile I wish Patchen's poetry was easier to find - maybe someday his estate will put his work into digital? It's really easy for poets to be forgotten - I was about to say in current day, but perhaps that was always the case? I'm also guilty - I seldom sit down and read a book of poetry, unless a quote sends me to research/google.

 

And now Final Cut - oh book, I had such hopes for you. But you keep drifting into business meeting after business meeting on films that have nothing to do with Heaven's Gate. I get that the author is trying to show that it wasn't just this one movie that caused UA to crumble, though it was definitely up there in the blame. I will definitely have fun quotes to share about how the director was a massive asshat no one would want to work with. And interestingly, no one really did - if you check his wikipedia link there you'll see that Cimino (director in question) had many projects after Heaven's Gate, but the dominant thing is no one gave him a film of any scale to direct ever again. Because he was THAT much of a jerk to work with, just as much as the fact that he ran a sloppy production.

 

So you can probably understand why I'm playing hookey and not finishing Final Cut, but instead enjoying Danse Macabre's reminiscences about the monster movies of the 50s. I am now trying to make a list of Really Bad Bug Movies that I can find online. Annoyingly not enough are available. But you can see why I'm really getting into the chapter called "The Horror Movie as Junk Food."

 

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* Ever since I fell in love with Edward Gorey's art I've always wanted to type gorey for gory. It's only because I remember that I do this that I go back and take out that e. Which in an odd way is a sort of memorial, if only just for me. But hey, now I've shared it with you too.

 

** Because I hate putting anyone into one of those Unanswered Questions states - I'm not going to look up the title of the story. But it was about a man who

somehow was being stalked by a housecat which manages to crawl down his throat and claw its way out his stomach.

(show spoiler)

See? Sounds silly. But the description and the way it stuck in my head? Yeah, that was all about the writing and the setup. Which has made me sort of - I don't know that it's respect exactly, though it's not completely fear. It's somewhere in the grey zone of respect/fear I think. Er, of King's storytelling, not of King himself.

 

Also I have at least one of his books on my ereader because I really do have to try to read him once more, at least to see if he can still mess with my nightmares. I keep putting that reading off though...