Archive for Stephen King

The Barrier of Nostalgia: Thoughts on IT

Posted in Dark Musings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Movie-Cast-2017

[light spoilers ahead]

This weekend ushered in the latest horror sensation: a fairly large-budgeted adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. The new version is flashy, stylish, pretty well-acted, and scary in moments. It’s remarkable that a studio film was able to follow Stephen King’s brutal, surreal and melodramatic book so closely. The changes made were, mostly, for the better. But through the entire viewing experience, I felt distanced. This was a coming-of-age narrative that I could only care about from afar, because it’s very far from mine – mainly because it’s about a group of straight white boys who never acknowledge that their struggles are far lighter than those of Bev and Mike, the only kids who don’t fit that mold.

I’m simply tired of hearing the story of these heteronormative characters rising above their bullies and fears, as if those things are actual oppressors rather than just obstacles. Pennywise represents human fear, but all of its incarnations are loud, digitized monsters. The film favors these shiny set pieces and neglects to develop what make King’s book so intoxicating – the actual monsters in town. Bev’s dad goes from a terrifying but human abuser to a one-note creep with as much nuance as Eddie’s leper; and Bill’s grieving parents, so heartbreakingly neglectful in the book, are reduced to a single yelling stereotype. While Bill Skarsgard is suitably frightening, the CGI always takes precedence over his performance; it’s hard to tell what’s him and what isn’t.

Those criticisms are petty and easily dismissed by taste, but my issues with the film go deeper. When people talk about the heart, it’s always in context of the Loser’s Club. And most of the screen time is granted to Bill, Richie and Eddie. The roles are performed well, but their stories simply don’t feel as honest or emotional to me as Mike and Bev’s. The former must fight for his life, not just his dignity, against the town bullies; while Bev, a 13-year-old girl who has survived apparent sexual abuse from her dad, is constantly ogled by her male counterparts (and the camera). There’s something off about that, right? Bev is performed with intensity and commitment by Sophia Lillis, and given a fair number of scenes to herself, but she is still defined by her sexuality and gender. Meanwhile, Mike – played by Chosen Jacobs – is simply a side character whose terror of white supremacy is never mentioned by his friends.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the film on a superficial level. IT is a blast. It’s never dull, the atmosphere is intoxicating, some (but far from all) of the scares are supremely effective. And therein lies another one of my issues. With stories like this and Stranger Things, which is basically IT-lite with a splat of Firestarter, it appears that issues like racism and sexism are “too serious” to be discussed outright. As if oppressed people can’t also tell stories that are fun as well as scary. Watching these films and television shows, it’s hard not to be entertained. I love a good, clever, suspenseful story. But when the characters are always cut from this same cloth – societally accepted, even if they aren’t popular – I (and other people like me, I’ve confirmed) begin to feel left out, even from these stories that claim to be about people who don’t fit in.

I guess it must be nostalgia, in part, that makes these stories so endearing. Nostalgia for “simpler times,” decades in the past; when these stories were told without a second thought. And what were those times like for people of color, queer people, women? That is the barrier of nostalgia: it looks back fondly on times that were outright dangerous for many people in our society. Telling stories that appear to celebrate this period become alienating for anyone besides those who thrived in them. And for those of us who can’t connect, saying so feels a little ostracizing. IT and Stranger Things are defended like white silk – one dirty mark and the whole thing is ruined. Why is that? Why can’t horror fans voice their dissenting opinions without being told they’re wrong, that they aren’t a part of this insider’s club?

Thing is, I’ve seen many horror films that eschew this pattern. Raw, The Witch, It Follows, Trash Fire, Get Out, Dearest Sister, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, XX, The Wailing, and The Invitation – just to name a few – all focus on narratives that don’t revolve around straight white boys. And some of them are extremely fun. What if these filmmakers had been granted the resources that IT received? What exciting, entertaining and nostalgic stories could they tell, that don’t focus on a heteronormative white man’s experience?

It’s not to say that these stories aren’t valid, but we’re heard them endless times, and they still seem to dominate the field. They’re the fan favorites because they’re easy, wrapped up neat and tidy; they don’t need to recognize that people still live in actual fear because their characters have overcome their villains. I guess ease is nice. And for the most part, I do fit into that demographic – white kid who was bullied in the suburbs. I’m not trying to claim that I don’t benefit from that privilige. But I had to come to terms with a part of my life that these characters will never have to worry about – my sexuality, which was hell to accept for myself, even worse to have to explain to people – and I don’t see that story being told very often. My friends and colleagues, women and people of color, likewise see their narratives dismissed. When will we get to tell our fun, exciting and honest stories?

I don’t like to think about the true answer to this question. These nostalgic voices still appear to the valued above all others in our culture. Speaking out against these voices seems to be taboo – the defenders of IT have come out in full force this weekend, quite angrily in some cases, against even the smallest criticism. I feel like I’m wrong in voicing my opinion. It saddens me to like an outsider even in a community of outsiders – horror fans. But the fact remains: I couldn’t just enjoy IT because I am tired of the narrative it perpetuates. I am tired of genre cinema valuing those voices over equally valid, but perhaps less tidy ones. It’s time to let someone else make the next big horror film, with a budget and cultural significance equal to IT. And yet, it still feels like that time is far, far away.

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Four Horror Novels for Halloween

Posted in Dark Musings, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Happy Halloweek, everyone! To kick off prime celebration time, I’ve put together a short list of my favorite horror novels that capture the Samhain spirit. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it scratches the surface.

For atmosphere, ghouls, and disturbing stories, these are four novels that can’t be missed.

THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ouvre goes beyond tedious, forced high school reads. “Seven Gables” is a classic American Gothic, stocked full of Puritan themes, eerie imagery of witchcraft and brutal settlements, and a terrific drama about a cursed family. The titular house is full of spectres not seen, but felt, memories that won’t go away. By now, a plot like this has been overdone, but Hawthorne’s gorgeous descriptions make up for any familiarity. Autumnal and phantasmal, it’s a must-read.

PET SEMATARY

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Yeah, yeah, Stephen King is great and all. But not all of his novels are suited for Halloween reading. “Pet Sematary,” though, has it all – cursed graveyards, undead children, evil spirits, and a spooky suburban setting over which the presence of death hangs like fog. On top of that, it’s beyond terrifying. The first time I read it, I had to put it down while I waited for the chills to pass so I could keep going. With both entertaining and psychological horror, and one of the most disturbing ending lines of all time, this one is perfect for ghost season.

HELL HOUSE

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A terribly cheesy title – but this is one of the best horror novels of the 1970s. Penned by weird fiction master Richard Matheson, this novel is oppressively atmospheric, with doom and dread oozing from the first pages. The house is masterfully described and full of hidden horrors – in true 70s fashion, psychedelic and sensual, too. The terse prose creates such an aura of paranoia and horror that it’s actually difficult to read through, but the suspense is such that you can’t stop. For a quick, terrifying, and entertaining read, with all the Halloween trappings, there is no better book.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

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If you talk about Hell House, you have to talk about Hill House. Shirley Jackson is the master of quiet, psychological horror. This book pairs her brilliant character analysis with an uncanny haunted house story, a combination that results in madness and terror. It subverts the cliches in the most disturbing way possible. And Hill House is one of the most formidable villains in all of dark literature – how can you fight a house? Finding a way to dissect loneliness and agoraphobia within the most ghostly of places, “Hill House” is a truly horrific read.

As Halloweek chugs along, keep your eyes peeled for more original Smucky stories and short films! And stay spooked – it’s the best time of the year.

Contemporary Horror Stories to Read in October

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Only a week and a half until the big day! That means we’ve got to start stocking up on our Halloween-themed films and literature. The dark days are just around the corner… don’t be caught without your proper collection of spooks.

As a follow-up to Smucky’s post at the beginning of the month, I’ve dug up some other stories that fit the October bill – this time, ones that have been published in the last few decades. For some fresher terror, look no further than our list of CONTEMPORARY STORIES TO READ IN OCTOBER.

  1. JERUSALEM’S LOT by STEPHEN KING

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Mr. King is the obvious choice, but that’s because he has such a wealth of horror tales, ranging from more experimental to classic, atmospheric chillers. This one, a prequel to the amazing “’Salem’s Lot,” captures a Lovecraftian tone with degenerate themes and a terrifying secret lurking beneath an abandoned town. It’s got everything – a creaky old mansion, ghouls in the walls, a Puritan settlement that went to the devil, and a decaying church that harbors a horrific evil. And even better, it explains in part what makes ‘Salem’s Lot such a magnet for evil. Though published recently, this story is classic, in the best way.

  1. THE LADY OF THE HOUSE OF LOVE by ANGELA CARTER
Artwork by Lee McConville

Artwork by Lee McConville

Part of the monumental collection “The Bloody Chamber,” this is the only story not adapted from a specific fairy tale. Instead, it inverts the vampire myth, spinning a melancholic and beautiful portrait of a young undead woman who despises herself for drinking blood. The imagery – a shambling Gothic castle, a blood-stained wedding dress, and a corpse-like woman feasting on virile young men – is stunning. There’s quite a statement made about archaic spooks and real-life horrors, too. A must read for a rainy afternoon.

  1. THE DAEMON LOVER by SHIRLEY JACKSON

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You can’t have a best of list without mentioning Ms. Jackson. Though “The Lottery” is her most accomplished story, I find this one equally haunting, in an even more subtle way. It follows a woman who is supposed to be married, but she can’t find her groom – and no one else seems to think he exists, either. Like some of the best horror, it’s unsettling and disturbing because nothing happens, but the implications are awful. Perfect for its spectral plot and dark images of phantasmal New York in the rain.

  1. THE FUNERAL by RICHARD MATHESON
From the 'Night Gallery' episodic adaptation

From the ‘Night Gallery’ episodic adaptation

A bit of tongue-in-cheek macabre to lighten the mood this month. Richard Matheson is the master of the uncanny mundane, and this is a great example – a funeral director gets the strangest offer of his life when a man asks to host his own funeral. And the guests? They’re all monsters – from a witch to a werewolf, and some vampires thrown in between. This is a delightful mash-up of our favorite monsters, and Matheson’s genre genius elevates it to hilarity. Not scary in the least, but certainly a huge amount of monstrous fun.

  1. ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD AGAIN by NEIL GAIMAN

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Like “The Funeral,” this story is a melting pot of classic horror tropes – best of all, it’s set in Lovecraft’s fishy town Innsmouth, and narrated by one werewolf Lawrence Talbot – but it has a dreadful weight of its own. Gaiman has a ridiculously brilliant imagination, and here it wanders through dreary, fog-filled streets where hideous rites are being performed. With sea monsters, a creepy fortune teller, and a character from the Universal vault, it’s hard to go wrong.

I’m sure I’ve missed some, so send in suggestions at your leisure! And happy reading, freaks.

Update – Where Has Smucky Been?

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Hello horror fans! It’s been an age since I made a fresh post. Thought it was about time that I crawled out of the grave and discussed the news: where has Smucky been?

The past two years have been insanely productive and busy, creating new content with which to launch Smucky Productions. In the past months, I have made two films – one feature, one short – both of which have occupied nearly all of my time (in addition to school and work, of course). Now that these films have been completed, I think it’s about time I released more information.

ONE FOR THE ROAD Official Poster

ONE FOR THE ROAD is the first film to be finished. Based on the Stephen King story of the same name, the film takes place in ‘Salem’s Lot after the events of the novel. Two men must venture into the abandoned town to help a stranger find his family… but they soon learn that the nightmarish rumors about the Lot were true.
I made this as a part of NYU, my junior thesis, and using Stephen King’s generous Dollar Baby program that grants limited rights to student filmmaker. It was an insane process – we shot completely at night, mostly in the deep frigid wilderness of the Poconos. All that was worth it just to be able to adapt one of my favorite stories from the King himself. I couldn’t be more excited about that.

Chaos Theory Official Poster

Even more onerous was CHAOS THEORY. This is a feature film, something I was not supposed to make until I get actual financing and blah, blah, blah. I went ahead and did it anyway.
Inspired by Lynch and Lovecraft, it’s a psychological horror about a young woman who is visited by horrific visions in the wake of her best friend’s suicide… and begins to wonder what really caused his death.
This is a passion project for me, as it explores my generation’s responses to the violence and grief that faces us on the news and in life every day. I wrote the first screenplay draft in 2012 before going to NYU. Four drafts and two years later, I began a single-handed pre-pro process and scraped together a 12-day shoot in August 2014. A year later, post has been completed and submissions have been made.
I can say with confidence that this was the most challenging, painful and rewarding thing I’ve ever done. We had very few resources and no time to make this, but we pulled it off, and based on test screening reactions, we did it just right. People discourage filmmakers from creating things guerilla-style, but with a simple enough story and enough dedication, I say it’s fully worth the effort. Why wait until you get your angel investor? I’ll never do it this way again (no one would let me), but to do it once and be proud of the result is enough.

Thus, Smucky has been furiously working away at some new content to unleash on the world this October, when the first festival submissions should be coming out. Stay tuned for more information on that whole business.

It’s been a mad couple of months, but I’m thrilled at what has come out of it. Hopefully you horror fans will be able to see the fruit of this effort soon.

From one ghoul to another, I sign off. Look for more consistent posts, now that I’m not buried beneath this ‘creative’ business.

New Director’s Reel for Ben Larned

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2015 by smuckyproductions

New year, new horrors – Ben Larned has updated his director’s reel to show off some of his new projects, including the feature film Chaos Theory and the Stephen King adaptation One for the Road.

Watch the video HERE:

ONE FOR THE ROAD Short Film – Indiegogo Campaign!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Hello fellow horror fans!

In just two weeks, I will be embarking on a wild journey: adapting Stephen King’s story “One for the Road” into a short film for NYU film school. We are in the midst of casting, location scouting, and makeup testing now – but we need your help to raise the funds to finish the film!

CLICK HERE to donate NOW!

One for the Road FB Poster

“One for the Road” tells the chilling of two men who must venture out into a dark, cold night to help a stranger find his wife and child in an abandoned town – a town that harbors a deadly secret.

Based on a Stephen King story, this short film is a labor of (slightly deranged) love. I (being the director!) have dreamed about this project for a long time, and thanks to NYU film school, it is finally being realized! The film already has a fantastic crew of other passionate kids, but we’re missing two things – real vampires, and MONEY. You guys can help with one of those things.

Watch the campaign video BELOW:

Among other prizes, donations will reward you with color instructions on how to make yourself a vampire, and will put your name in the credits. Who doesn’t want to be in the credits of a scary King movie?

Any amount of money will help. Click HERE to support a young filmmaker in realizing a vision of terror!

Fool’s Gold is available in paperback!

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by smuckyproductions

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“Fool’s Gold,” a new vision of horror, is now available in paperback. Click HERE to buy now!