Doctor Sleep Movie Review: The Shining Sequel We All Deserved

My friend Sidney and I have watched a strange collection of movies together. We saw Midsommar, Rambo: Last Blood, and Joker together, and if you’ve seen those three movies, you’ll know that it’s a major up-and-down experience. (The down part being totally Rambo: Last Blood’s fault.)

So when he invited me to see Doctor Sleep this past weekend, I was oh so totally down for it. I’ve learned that whatever movie I watch with Sidney, whether it’s good or terrible, it’ll be a side-splitting blast. Plus, Doctor Sleep had been on my radar since the trailer came out.

See, I’ve read both The Shining and Doctor Sleep, both written by Stephen King. I’ve also seen the Stanley Kubrick film, The Shining. And anyone who is a Stephen King fan knows that The Shining movie is a different beast from the book. There’s this huge debate about which version is better, and I’m honestly in the weird camp that really likes both. I don’t think I have it in me to dislike anything Stephen King writes, and Kubrick’s movie is one of my go-to films for when I’m feeling sick.

So, my first impressions when seeing that they were going to make a film about King’s sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep was confusion. How could they reconcile Kubrick’s vision with King’s? I mean, it’s obvious from the imagery and music in the trailer that it was a sequel to Kubrick’s film. But the story of Doctor Sleep that I knew from having read the book was deeply integrated with the events of King’s The Shining.

So I had no idea how the hell this new film was going to turn out.

Well, as it turned out, Doctor Sleep turned out fucking awesome!

They did it. This movie accomplished the impossible. It gave homage to Kubrick’s film while remaining true to everything about “the Shine” that Stephen King imagined.

Visually, the movie tries to emulate Kubrick’s The Shining where it can. The set decorations, the camera movements, the costumes of returning characters, they all make fans of Kubrick get a tingling in the backs of their heads. Even the music, those iconic horns, drums, and rattles will be reminscent of the film.

But story-wise, it is a child of Stephen King.

All too often, movies fail to capture Stephen King’s kind of magic. I think It comes the closest to embodying his kind of mysticism, but even then, given how every iteration of It falls short towards the end, I’d still say It pales in comparison to Doctor Sleep. Doctor Sleep shows audiences what the Shine is supposed to be like, and it does a fantastic job of it. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s mind-bending.

If you can recall from Kubrick’s Shining, when young Danny Torrance is calling out for help to Dick Hallorann, it’s conveyed to you by a high-pitched ringing, Danny shaking and drooling, and quick cuts to scary images. That was supposed to show how Danny uses his Shine to contact Dick.

Doctor Sleep blows it out of the water in this regard. The way in which characters use the Shine is phenomenally portrayed. It’s the best thing about the movie, honestly.

The one thing that bugs me about the movie is the lack of explanation for where those dang canisters come from. (Total spoiler, I guess, but if you don’t know anything about the movie, you won’t know what I’m talking about until you actually see it. So it’s a safe spoiler?) The canisters that contain the “Steam” look futuristic and high tech, but the True Knot state they’ve been around for ages. So what gives?

Anyways, bottom line, if you’re a Stephen King fan, you absolutely have to watch Doctor Sleep. It gives you those twisting narratives and deep emotions we love so well, and it gives Danny Torrance the ending he deserved.

I rate Doctor Sleep a surprising-delight-for-both-fans-of-the-King-and-Kubrick-classics.

Clowns, Gore, and More: IT Chapter Two Review (Spoiler Free)

Just so you guys know, this whole spoilers free thing I’m trying to do here is just me being very polite. The book and the made-for-TV movie have been out for years. This no-spoilers stuff is basically for people who haven’t taken the time to guzzle up their Stephen King lore.

Anyways.

Clowns make me a tad uncomfortable.

I know a few people who are seriously terrified of clowns, as in they will scream, tremble, run away, all that jazz, if they see one, but I’ve only ever been slightly put off by them.

I’ve seen them too many times as vehicles of horror to appreciate them in real life. At the same time, I don’t live my life flinching at working clowns.

So for me, the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s infamous It is nothing more than a good time for me. I can get properly freaked out by a killer clown without shitting my pants.

IT Chapter Two is by no means the best horror movie in existence. It doesn’t break any boundaries or raise any bars. Its scares are largely predictable (especially if you’ve read the book), its gore is blatantly over the top at times, and the mythos behind Derry’s terror goes largely unexplained.

I still adored it.

IT Chapter Two shines, as did its predecessor, because of the fantastic cast of “Losers” being harassed by Pennywise. They are all incredible actors, from the children to the adults. If you loved the kids in the first movie, you’ll love the adults they grow into. I don’t know who is responsible for picking these actors, but goddamn, they did a great job.

There are three big-name actors in the movie, who obviously do a phenomenal job of picking up where their respective child actors left off. But I’ve got to give special props to the man who plays adult Eddie Kaspbrak. I just looked him up on IMDb. His name is James Ransone. I don’t want to be mean, but I’ve never heard of him before. However, he totally fit the role of adult Eddie to a tee. Spot on.

Pennywise’s personal moments are also extremely enjoyable. Unfortunately, they’re few and far between.

In the first movie, when Pennywise has his iconic sewer moment with Georgie, I was astonished at how well actor Bill Skarsgard played him. I mean, it goes without saying that Pennywise is an evil individual. You know it from the movie trailers, the pop culture references, and in your gut when you see him pop up from inside the drain. But when he speaks in his bubbly voice, you can feel a charisma that lurks underneath, a charm that draws his hapless child victims in.

Just as in the first movie, Pennywise doesn’t always have his time to shine while utilizing the full extent of Skarsgard’s acting ability. There is this one moment that feels similar to Georgie’s moment, and you’ll know it when you see it. (Feel free to take guesses in the comments as to which moment I’m referring to.)

In terms of jump scares, the movie has a regular amount of them, i.e. perhaps too many. However, if you’re on the fence about seeing it, you should know I always knew when to close my eyes before a jump scare. I don’t know if that’s an indication of whether or not this movie won’t be too scary for you, but it definitely was okay for me.

The gore was also cringey, as is expected. However, the fact that a lot of the gory moments relied on CGI and stuff actually helped to alleviate whatever feelings of distaste I might have had.

Any qualms I had with the movie, which were not many, were overshadowed by my love for the source material, my respect for the actors taking on these roles, and my genuine appreciation for the theme of growing up that is ever-present in nearly every Stephen King book. No one boils down childhood hope into palatable, less-corny pulp fiction than he does.

I rate IT Chapter Two a definitely-go-see-if-you-liked-the-first-one-or-if-you-like-Stephen-King-in-general-just-be-prepared-to-cry-a-bit-either-from-laughter-thanks-to-phenomenal-jokes-or-from-genuine-sadness-over-the-film’s-ending.

Top 5 Favorite Stephen King Books

I’m not the only person who loves Stephen King’s writing. His popularity can attest to that. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t write a post about it.

You see, Stephen King holds a special place in my heart. He was the first author that showed me how raw story-telling could be. Prior to reading one of his books, I had mostly stuck to classics. I read things like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Tom Sawyer. They could be romping good adventures, but they were dry reads.

But when I was 11-years old, I picked up my first Stephen King book. It was The Dark Half. I was blown away. (And that’s not even his best book!)

King has a style of writing that worms its way into the heads of his characters. It’s choppy and messy sometimes, but it’s engrossing as heck. You not only feel what they feel, but you find yourself realizing you’ve had the same thoughts on your own (which can be disturbing, depending on which character you’re empathizing with).

Plus, I find the concepts Stephen King comes up with are phenomenal. They are simultaneously the stuff of legends and trashy pulp fiction.

He’s not for everyone. I get that. But if you don’t try him out at least once, you’ll be missing out on one of the best contemporary writers of our age.

Here’s a list of my top 5 favorite Stephen King books!

5. Under the Dome

Perhaps better than he writes fantastical monsters, King knows how to write real monsters, the kind that actually inhabit our world. Bullies with more than a simple sadistic streak, corrupt politicians with lies instead of blood running through their veins, and alcoholic fathers trapped in a body of rage and drink. Under the Dome is not a great read because of the giant invisible sphere the mysteriously encloses a small town. It’s a great read because of what happens after. You get to see what the town devolves into, and the best part is that it happens so slowly. Things just don’t erupt into chaos. Panic sets in after days and weeks go by. It’s a slow build-up, and the true horror lies in how you can actually picture some of your own town’s denizens going crazy in the same way.

4. The Mist

This was more of a novella than a novel, but I included it on this list for one simple reason. It’s the first book that ever really scared me. And by “scared,” I mean it scared me. I don’t know what it was about it exactly. Maybe it’s because I read it in one go, never stopping for a break. Maybe because monsters coming out of an impenetrable mist is particularly horrifying to me. Whatever the reason, with every word I read of The Mist, my heart started to pound harder and harder. I would recommend The Mist easily to first-time King readers because it has a sprinkling of everything that makes King King. It has grotesque creatures, creepy old ladies, random sex between strangers, and an ambiguous ending.

3. Christine

For me, Christine was what The Shining was to other King fans. The best/worst part of The Shining was the father’s fall from Nice Dad to Psychotic Dad. In Christine, the best/worst part was seeing Archie’s fall from Lovable Nerd to Douche-In-The-Making. And I love the perspective changes that occur. I don’t always like it when the narrator abruptly switches to another person, but it really worked for me in Christine. Plus, there was a tiny part of me that rooted for Christine, the evil car that takes over Archie’s life. After all, if you think about it, all she really wanted was to be the one thing in Archie’s life. She even “took care” of some nasty bullies that would not get off Archie’s back.

2. It

Of course It made the list. It’s a classic Stephen King story, complete with childhood nostalgia. I read It in 8th grade. It was a hefty read, but totally worth it. It creeped me out right from the very first chapters. The story of how little Georgie Denbrough lost his arm chilled me to the bone. I almost stopped reading it right there. But thankfully I continued, and the best part of reading It was being able to recommend it to my sister. For the longest time, Alya was a Dean Koontz fan, to which I always scoffed, “Koontz is Stephen King-lite. You want the real thing, go King.” I would only recommend It to people who a) enjoy a long read, b) are already a Stephen King fan, and c) won’t be turned off by a strange-as-fudge adolescent sex scene.

1. The Stand

The Stand is Stephen King’s masterpiece. Not only is its immensity impressive, the scope of the story is daunting. It’s akin to Game of Thrones. It follows the stories of several characters as they each experience the end of the world at the hands of the Captain Trips virus. The book then moves beyond that event and tells you the epic saga of what happens to these characters after the virus has wiped out most of the population. The Stand is huge, and I love it because it was the book that made me want to write. I would recommend this book if you have a love for apocalypse stories, really obvious themes of good and evil, or seeing main characters bite the dust.

A Nod to Creepiness

There is only one person in the world who can properly buy a book for me, and that is my friend Mia Sara Moreno.

(Sorry, Boyfriend and Sister, but you know it to be true.)

I know, technically, anyone can buy me a book.

But I’m talking about someone who can browse a book store and find a book that they think I will like.

It’s one thing for someone to know you’ve been wanting a specific book for a while so they go out and get it for you; it’s another thing entirely for someone to choose a book for you.

You get what I’m saying here? (Book lovers, come on, you know what I’m talking about, right?)

Mia and I know each other intimately when it comes to literature. We know our favorite authors, genres, and styles. For Mia’s birthday this year, I bought her Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. For my birthday this year, she bought me Nod by Adrian Barnes.

She knew what she was doing when she bought me this book.

Mia knows I love nearly everything Stephen King, and Nod is a definite dalliance with King-ness.

Anyone who reads Nod will fall in love with it if they’re a King enthusiast simply based on the subject matter alone. The entire world, except for a select few individuals, loses the ability to go to sleep. Have you ever heard that factoid about people being able to go 21 days without food, 7 days without water, but only 3 days without sleep before seriously adverse effects begin to show their ugly face? Nod tells a horror story about what would happen to those world if those three days were not met.

Nod will tickle your intellectual side too. Its pages contain more than just sentences; you’re reading poetic prose. (Does that make sense?) When I understood a particularly nuanced metaphor that Barnes used, I felt like I passed some random intelligentsia test. It irritated as well as pleased me, but I enjoyed the reading experience regardless.

Isn’t it funny how often those two emotions coincide?

But don’t think that Nod is just intellectualism run rampant. It is downright creepy. The denizens of Earth lose their minds over lack of sleep, and it sucks for those sane Sleepers left with their minds intact. The Awakened are filled with resentment for the people who can still catch a few Z’s, so they actually hunt them down and slaughter them. (Or they torture them to keep them awake 24/7.)

Plus, Nod shoves in your face how little you can really know a person, which is something that plagues me even when more than half the world isn’t losing their goddamn minds. Have you never wondered whether your girlfriend is secretly disgusted by you? Have you ever been secretly disgusted with her?

There isn’t much to spoil about Nod aside from a few key moments that occur before the ending, which I’ll let you discover for yourself if you want to. The book slumps toward its finale like a relentless zombie. No one is there to save the day or to explain why this freak experience is happening. Society just slowly devolves, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The end.

But it makes for one hell of a nighttime read.

 

The King and The Koontz

Ah, the good old Stephen King versus Dean Koontz debate.

There’s no debate.

Stephen King is the better writer.

Perhaps I’m biased. (But this is a blog, so sue me for being completely subjective about what I write about. [Please don’t sue me.])

I read Stephen King before I read Dean Koontz. I was in middle school, browsing through the paltry offering of books our library had. During my careful examination of every shelf for something I’d like to read, The Dark Half caught my eye. I picked it up, read the first chapter, and I was completely hooked.

My first Dean Koontz book was From the Corner of His Eye. It was engaging. That’s…about it.

Both King and Koontz come up with great concepts. That was one of the fantastic things about From the Corner of His Eye. In fact, concept-wise, From the Corner of His Eye beats The Dark Half. 

It’s their respective styles of writing that sets King apart from Koontz though.

King has a style that delves, while Koontz’s style just polishes the surface.

I recently finished reading Koontz’s Life Expectancy, and despite the story involving killer clowns, I rarely felt on edge. In fact, the plot and the characters felt all around hunky dory compared to my usual King fare. Life Expectancy read like a romantic comedy (almost). That’s not the only Koontz book I’ve read, so don’t think that’s my only point of reference.

In another Koontz book, Intensity, a spider-eating serial killer relentlessly pursues a young woman after brutally murdering her friend (and her friend’s parents). Even though that sounds plenty terrifying, it never reached the pinnacles of unease that Stephen King has set.

Stephen King could write a book about furniture, and it would probably frighten me more than a Dean Koontz book about a supernatural murderer.

There’s a deep grittiness that layers King’s words. At times, it feels as if he’s writing in a stream-of-consciousness style when he describes what a character is thinking. You get to know their hidden recesses, their flaws. It’s like he has no hesitation about facing the darker sides of humanity, reality, and fantasy.

The reason King is king of horror is because he’s able to craft immersion the way a tree can sprout leaves. Creepiness just spews out of him naturally. (That’s supposed to be a compliment.)

Koontz isn’t bad. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read a lot of his books as well. And I bet he’s sick and tired of being compared to Stephen King.

But Stephen King grabs me into his novels until I’m truly lost, and no other writer has been able to do that for me half as well as he can.