Tuesday, October 24, 2017

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Kings


Did you know 88% of Stephen King’s short stories take place in October?  If that’s not the actual number, it sure feels like it is.  I was born in October, so maybe that’s why Stephen King’s short stories have been my go-to rereading material for most of my life.  But there seem to be certain stories that I return to more often than others, and many of those belong to a few categories of subgenre, such as Lovecraftian dimensions and “Quiet Little Town” stories.  Here are thirty one of my favorites, in no special order, one for each day of this spooooOOOOoooky month.

“The Mist” – The movie did not capture the delightfully cheesy kitsch feel of this story of horrifying prehistoric hell beasts terrorizing people stuck in a small town grocery store.  Replacing the written story’s vaguely hopeful ending with a shockingly sad one did not help.  Read this, you’ll love it.

 “Graduation Afternoon” – Even though this tale of a working class girl attending her rich boyfriend’s high school graduation party isn’t a dream story, it feels like one when the freaky thing hits at the very end. 

 “The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” – A woman’s recently deceased husband gives her a ring a ling as she’s planning his funeral.  Poignant and tugging at the everlasting love heart string.  See also “Sorry Right Number” for another of King’s magical phone call stories, or “Willa” for a beautiful sad tale of undying love with a dusty haunted western feel.

“Mute” – A man’s darkest revenge fantasy come true leaving his hands clean and his life intact, but his soul in questionable shape?  Yes, please.
 “The Man in the Black Suit” – When I was a gothy late ‘90s teen, Satan was having a pop culture moment.  I’ve always deeply relished a good campy Satan (Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate” is my favorite devil, my favorite Pacino, and probably the real reason I went to law school).  The devil in “The Man in the Black Suit” is a little bit campy but a lot scary.  It’s also has the intrinsically scary setting of remote farmland surrounded by woods in the early 1900s.  Anything could be happening out there.  See also “A Fair Extension” if you want to make a deal with a less scary devil. 

 “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French” – As someone who once lived in the area in Southwest Florida where this story is set, it delights me to no end that they used it as the location for some sort of repetitive purgatory/Hell.  Because it is!  It’s like a Hannah Barbara cartoon’s repeating background, but with strip malls and subdivisions.  Stephen King owns a home in the Sarasota area I believe, so he’s got a few stories and at least one novel set in Southwest Florida.  See also “The Gingerbread Girl,” a pretty awesome Florida-set tale of womanly triumph.

“1408” – Being set in a fancy yet completely unsettling hotel starts this one off "shiningly" already, hardy har har.  Combines Lovecraftian dimensional creep horrors with a bad drug trip vibe.  Even with a sprinkling of Samuel L. Jackson, the John Cusack movie did not do this story justice.  One of my top ten.

“The Jaunt” – Creepy sci-fi future story that’s really a warning not to shield your kids from disturbing truths lest they find out themselves.

 “The Langoliers” – Time travel mixed with dimensional sci fi stuff, all set in a stale ass airport.  And the movie had Balki Bartokomous!  I had a weird sexually tense dream about hiding under the bed from the two actors from “Perfect Strangers” when I was a very small child.  SpooooOOOOOoooky!

 “A Good Marriage” – This one is soooo good, inspired by the real BTK serial killer, wondering what it would be like if the wife didn’t know and then all of a sudden she did.  I think if I ever really get into nonfiction, it’ll either be serial killer stuff or stuff about cults.  Or maybe both?  Wait, why hasn’t Stephen King done any cult stories?  If he has, I can’t remember them.

“Jerusalem’s Lot” – I didn’t reread this one for a long time because the description of the undead things in the basement kept me up for several nights in a row in college.  Origin story of the novel “Salem’s Lot,” and also another one with Lovecraftian roots, though less about dimensions and more about undead monster things.

“Night Surf” – Bleak nihilistic teenage apocalypse and chill hang out on the beach, with immolation.

 “I Am The Doorway” – This one’s in Florida, too!  Astronaut brought something back, unexpectedly.  Could have been an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”  This is a very good thing.  See also “The Word Processor of the Gods,” which also could have been introduced by Rod Serling if word processors had existed in the early sixties.

“The Ledge” – Stephen King makes much suspense of the minute and painful struggles of the human body in trying to escape certain doom.  This is an early one based on a little bet about edging around a sky scraper on a tiny ledge.  See also “Quitters, Inc.,” a tale about quitting smoking (King clearly struggled with this himself, it comes up constantly) that takes place in an office which I always imagined is in the same skyscraper as “The Ledge.”

“The Lawnmower Man” – This one is a bizarre little pagan gem from the 1970s and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the bad early computer animation movie with the same title, which has a 36% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and which apparently was originally supposed to be based on this story but which was so far off that Stephen King sued to have his name removed and won. “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” is a great story with a weird pagan feel too, from before Google Maps!

 “Chattery Teeth” -  I like the Nevada desert isolation in this piece, and the wacky premise.

“Crouch End” – The best of the Lovecraft-inspired bunch, for sure.  A slow unsettling build to boiling horrors and madness.  See also the runner up, “N.” which put a hellish dimensional spin on OCD.

“Children of the Corn” – Wait, I guess he did do a story about a cult!  His original “quiet little town” story.  The mind does wander to potential unseen horrors on long road trips through completely foreign territory, doesn’t it?   I think the movie was totally different, like weird blonde laser eyed alien clone babies not murderous kiddies for Corn Christ, right?  See also “Rainy Season” for a town with an unbelievable problem that comes one night every seven years (but they were warned!) and “You Know They Got A Hell of a Band,” which, oh my gosh, top ten favorite for sure.  Getting lost in the creepy Oregon woods and finding what looks to be a Rockwellian vision of a small town utopia but which actually turns out to be some sort of hell?  That was basically my marriage, only I never got to meet zombie Janis Joplin.  Zing!

 “The Raft” – Scary because you can feel how hopeless it is for these horny college kids trapped on this raft at the behest of a formless monster.

“The Breathing Method” – Of all of the novellas in “Different Seasons,” this is the only one that didn’t get turned into a well-known movie.  He’s got a couple of stories that get started in this slightly weird story telling old fashioned gentlemen’s club somewhere in New York City.  This one gives the most background to that club and has a woman giving birth on Christmas in an unusual way.

“Survivor Type” – You won’t believe what this drug smuggling castaway surgeon does to survive.  I don’t even want to hint at it, lest I put my foot in my mouth.  Aw, nuts.


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I am so embarrassed to say that the only King book I've ever read (and I listened to it on audio if I'm being frank) is On Writing. I have a weak constitution for horror and gore.

Unknown said...

Most of them aren’t too gory! Try a short story. “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” is a good collection.

Carrie Beckort said...

I used to read a lot of Stephen King, but as I got older my tolerance for all things scary went down. However, I've not read any of his short stories. Perhaps that would be a good compromise - maybe I'll be able to get through it if I know it won't last long!

Unknown said...

And they’re really not all scary, I swear! But people definitely find different things terrifying. Personally, in the not too distant past, I’ve had crying panic attacks when entering the most juvenile of amusement park haunted houses, yet in college I was able to go through The House Of Shock, a huge super gory live actor haunted attraction that’s always voted one of the most terrifying in the country. But something about spooky off-key organ music on an ancient sound system and bad lighting in a moldy smelling old house full of bad animatronics . . .

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