Through the latest Fangoria on the stands I discovered that Stephen King’s short story/novella “The Mist” has been made into a film, and is currently in post-production and should be out in theaters November 21st, 2007.
The trailer is a bit underwhelming when I think about just how powerful this story was for me when I read it in 1985. King’s Skeleton Crew is the only first edition of a hardback book I own, and is without question one of my favorite collections of short stories. Say what you will about King, but his stories in Skeleton Crew epitomize the social power of pop horror imagination more than any other writer of recent time. His work is uneven, without question, and he even frames the reason why his work has become increasing unreadable over time (if unintentionally) in the introduction to Skeleton Crew:
A short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger…writing short stories hasn’t gotten easier for me over the years; it’s gotten harder. The time to do them has shrunk, for one thing. They keep wanting to bloat, for another (I have a real problem with bloat–I write like fat ladies diet). And it seems harder to find the voice for these tales… (17)
There is no question that much of King’s work has bloated, but this collection of short stories remains a lean (for King at least), tight collection of some of the most compelling horror tales I have ever read. With stories like “The Jaunt,” “Survivor Type,” “The Raft,” “Beachworld,” “Word Processor of the Gods,” and my personal favorite “The Mist.”
I guess I love King’s stories in this collection because it was the first time I ever encountered a writer who incorporated so many of my realities as an 80s adolescent into the texture of his texts. The grocery store and all the brands he constantly references in “The Mist” had a huge impact on my imagination. I felt like King and I inhabited the same world, he was talking about the quotidian minutia in our life that no one recognizes. More than that, he was making this seemingly normal reality frightening — he was re-valuing its meaning and often shadowing the ostensibly innocuous brands that surround us with a patina of madness and horror.
King’s two-dimensional characters with their beautifully wrought idiosyncrasies coupled with the close attention he pays to the objects that inhabit our built environment are what bring my thoughts back to his work repeatedly. These elements of his writing in the best of his work (which I would argue is Skeleton Crew) are quite similar to the best of Noir fiction and film from the 1930s and 40s. Having read a ton of King before I encountered Noir-ish film or fiction, I remember the first time I saw Double Indemnity as an undergraduate. Oddly enough, I couldn’t stop thinking about King’s writing style throughout the film, it seemed to have so much in common with how Billie Wilder framed spaces like the grocery store, the bowling alley, the fountain shop, the insurance office space, not to mention the character quirks of Barton Keyes’s “little man inside” telling him whether or not a claim was fraudulent. Keyes is one of the most memorable caricatures in film for me, because his entire person is distilled into that quirk, making for extremely economical and effective character development. King was a master of this in his early short stories, unfortunately he got too bloated, for his early work is really quite a pleasure to read and might be the Taylorized horr-noir of the 1970s and 80s.
So, in short, I am dying to see “The Mist,” however I am trying to control my enthusiasm for I have no faith in recent movies. Well, except for the latest Grindhouse film by Quentin Tarantino which is brilliant! But I should probably save that thought for my next post, for like King my posts are getting evermore bloated 😉