Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We Who WILL Watch: The Dark Tower (2017)

Aaron: Well, the hits just keep coming in the world of Stephen King adaptations, this time in the form of a full trailer for the most hotly anticipated King film of 2017: The Dark Tower. I say it's the most hotly anticipated, but that comes from the chatter and excitement I see online. I myself am surely looking forward to it, but I don't have the same love for the novels as a lot of fans, so that tempers things just a bit. And while in terms of general awareness and the interest piqued among non-Stephen King readers, It is probably the most popular adaptation coming out this year, among many readers The Dark Tower is slightly in the lead.

A lot of that has to do with the sheer improbability of the sprawling fantasy epic being adapted at all. The first book was published 35 years ago, and the film version has been in some form of development for so long that I don't think anyone really thought it was being made until that teaser poster was released just over a month ago. Casting announcements had been made, promo images had been released, interviews had been given, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey (Roland of Gilead and The Man In Black, respectively) had some tongue-in-cheek twitter exchanges in character for the film, and yet we'd been down this road before so I know I never put much stock in any of it...

Referencing the famous first line of
The Gunslinger in March 2016.
Any lingering doubts as to the film's inevitability were laid to rest yesterday with yet another twitter exchange between Elba and McConaughey (or, as is almost certainly the case, the film's marketing department taking over their accounts for a few minutes). The exchange culminated in a pair of teaser trailers for the film, each focused on their respective characters, along with the announcement that a full trailer for the film would be released the next day...

Well, here it is, the next day, and a full trailer has indeed been released...

I've watched it through a handful of times now, and the first thing that occurred to me when the trailer started was the immediate shift in perspective. The film's entire marketing so far has been focused on building up Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey as these two titans facing off against each other. The posters, the tweets, those two clips yesterday, each serving to make the film about these two characters (who actually don't interact all that much in the source material). The full trailer takes the opportunity to not only introduce Jake, the third major character (so far) in the movie, but it shows us everything from his point of view. That's maybe my least favorite part of this trailer, which is otherwise pretty exciting; the fact that the movie is being sold, however slightly, as another young adult style fantasy where an otherwise unremarkable youth finds a doorway to another world full of epic adventure where he or she has an important role to play. To be fair, that is an aspect of the story, but the novels are so singularly following Roland's quest that it never registers as quite so obvious on the page.

The second thing I really noticed is how much of our world is in the trailer. The Dark Tower series eventually encompasses the fictitious Mid-World, along with every book Stephen King has ever written, but it also crosses over into the "real" world several times. But that doesn't happen until the second book, and the first novel, The Gunslinger, takes place entirely in Roland's world. Jake is a pretty big character in The Gunslinger, but we never actually spend any time where he came from, aside from some backstory he gives Roland. There are a couple reasons for this, of course. The movies probably feel the need to streamline a story that, to be honest, can often feel like it's spinning its wheels.

A filmed adaptation is always someone else's interpretation of any given work, and so changes are bound to be made, but from what is on display here we're getting a mashup of several books at once, rather than a strict chronological adaptation.That is probably in the film's favor, actually, as the first book is not only the briefest, but it also has the slimmest and most disposable story, acting more as interesting prologue to establish the epic world of the series.

Rik, I know you've not finished the books, but what did you think of this trailer? Has it given you the desire to jump back into the novels?

Rik: The trailer doesn't particularly make me want to immerse myself in the books again based on anything I see here, but that does not mean that I wasn't already planning to do on my own already (even apart from my participation in this blog). The Dark Tower books are sort of a sore spot in my Stephen King record. I really found myself fascinated with the first two – The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three – and a lot of that could be chalked up to my relative youth at the time. I like the melding of different genres, and the spaghetti western mood that King evoked was something that I was far more "into" in those days than now. (I feel like it has been overplayed by this point in our culture.)

Midway through reading the third book, The Waste Lands, my focus was diverted by many things, chiefly the nauseating drama of my first marriage that was destroying my will to live. But another factor was that I was burning out mightily on the Stephen King train at the time. Around the same time that I was reading that third book, I was also hit by King's 1993 novel, Gerald's Game. I hated it, and so did some of my friends. I hated it so much that I pretty much stopped reading King for a few years (except for the occasional dip into something like The Green Mile, which I also did not like all that much). Gerald's Game made me put down The Waste Lands (I was a little delayed on reading it even then) and when my wife took her copy away following her divorce, I didn't have the book lying around for me to pick up once again. That spelled the end of my interest in The Dark Tower series for a good many years, at least until we started doing this blog, which I joined eagerly with the express purpose to reengage with King on an especially literary level (I still watched the movie and film adaptations the whole time) after such a long absence.

Getting to the subject at hand, earlier today, I was discussing The Dark Tower trailer on Facebook with my oldest high school pal, Tony. Both Tony and I were huge fans of King since our teenage years, and we have shared a thousand discussions about the man and his works during our friendship. Tony had some doubts about where The Dark Tower film adaptation was supposed to fall in the series timeline, or if it was even really connected to the series. He wrote, "Because I'm certainly in the camp of most Constant Readers, who thought 'This movie isn't the novels?'"

It is a sentiment that many share anytime a film is adapted from a beloved book or even a TV series that is reinvented for the big screen. It has always been a tricky thing to gain an audience's trust in a book adaptation. As much as films like Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz are adored the world over, there is still some stickler out there that things the films are travesties because they just didn't capture the world of the book. As an Oz fan of longstanding myself – who has read all of Baum's original stories and a great many produced by Ruth Plumly Thompson and John R. Neill afterwards – while I will say that the underrated Disney movie adaptation from the '80s, Return to Oz, truly captured the actual look and adventure of the books more precisely (seriously, O'Neill could have storyboarded the entire thing), the musical version of The Wizard of Oz is so gloriously wonderful that it takes someone with a heart three sizes too small to appreciate it. And yet, what if it came out in 1939 and everyone said, "Oh, it's just too different from the book! Dorothy is way too old and has boobs! Where's the Witch of the North? Why didn't the Tin Man chop himself into pieces? Where is the Queen of the Field Mice? Why is it all a dream? What the hell is going on with all the singing? Blah blah blah..."

That's how the internet would have sounded in 1939 had it existed. The world didn't have the immediacy of social media then to render a film, show, song, or piece of art to mush in mere minutes like we do now. Honestly, it's amazing anything makes money at all these days, because half the world wants to tear something down as the other half tries to prop it up at the same time. Everyone just has to get their comments in on everything within seconds of seeing them. This allows no time at all for reflection and working through the angles when they are confronted with something that perhaps doesn't fit their idea of what something should be. They don't allow for artists to interpret, to transform, or to give their impression of something.

Now, I try to hold back a bit on forming a full impression of a film before I go to see it. I do have an active dislike for trailers that seem to tell the entire story of a film in three minutes. One trailer that at least appears to do this that set me off recently was The Space Between Us. I would start to cringe in my seat every single time that trailer would show up before a movie over the last few months. I am not going to say the film itself is dog-meat (though it likely could be), because I have not actually seen the film. Since two of my strongly felt personal mottos for film-watching are "Any movie, any time" and "I will see any movie ONCE," it is important that I tread lightly in regards to my reaction to a film from simply seeing what are only highlights. My reaction to The Space Between Us relied on a stupidly conceived and completely rote attempt at a movie trailer... NOT THE FILM ITSELF.

As to The Dark Tower, reading the comments on the YouTube page and Facebook and Twitter is a largely frustrating affair for someone of my mindset because nearly the vast majority are made up of knee-jerk reactions, from fans or otherwise. Only a handful of people seem to be willing to accept that we are simply seeing a merely 3-minute trailer for the film, that has been edited and arranged to deliver a specific impact to an audience, and that in no way have you actually seen the finished work. "This movie sucks!" "I love this movie so much!" "Why did they have to change everything so much!" All opinions I have encountered this morning, and all of them make it sound like these people have actually seen the entire film. Which they haven't. This is why we can't have nice things, people...

On the plus side, there have been a handful of fanboy and fangirl comments (sorry, fanperson just doesn't sound right) that I have seen that did respond in a more measured, considerate tone, along the lines of my Constant Reader pal Tony. As I mentioned, he has some qualms about the whole affair, but will be sure to not miss the film when it comes out, and is more than ready to form his actual opinion after he sees the movie. He will go in knowing that his opinion will certainly be affected by his love for the books, and for the author, though he is open to seeing just how The Dark Tower movie will fit into the series overall. 

Luckily for me, I am in the camp of Once Constant Reader Who Became a Nearly Cold Turkey Non-Reader Mostly Because of Gerald's Game But Is Now Turning Back Into a Constant Reader (Eventually) Because He Co-Writes a Stephen King Blog. Except for a remnant of knowledge involving the plot of those 2½ books in the series I tackled, my head mostly has traces of the mood of King's writing. I have retained very little of the setting of the novels, or how the world appeared. Certainly, I plan to hit the series again before the movie comes out, though – since King himself has hinted that this is not a straight adaptation of any of the books (and the trailer bears that out) but rather a story that takes place after the entire book series. Others have described it as being both a sequel and an adaptation at the same time.

Me, I don't care. I am going to see the film whether I start reading the series again or not. If I have any real misgivings from the trailer, it is that it looks like such an amalgamation of every sci-fi/action film of the past 20-some years that I am afraid of just simply being bored by everything that happens in it. I cannot see the poster and trailer images of lurching, overwhelming, upside-down skyscrapers without naturally flashing first on Inception, and then jumping to last year's Dr. Strange, which also gave me serious Inception recall. (Though Inception itself made me flash on Total Recall at points, so everything works in a chain for me.) All of Roland's bullet stuff and mind stuff and action stuff whips up The Matrix in my head, and I can't let go of it. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by other successful films; Hollywood has always been based around doing precisely what others have found rakes in the money. Studios are first and foremost about doing business, not making art. In fact, they might only be about doing business and not art at all. I think my main fear in having The Dark Tower trailer bring to my mind other films so instantly is that it could make casual viewers believe that they have seen this all before (and that can be said of most films in some or even many ways). There is a possibility of boring the audience from seeing the film.

What are your thoughts, Aaron, on how this film might fit into the series? King has really only hinted at that suggestion of the movie version following the book series. Do you think a film should ever be considered part of a literary world, or should it be a separate piece and be held accountable on those terms only?

Aaron: Before I answer your questions, I want to reply directly to a couple of your thoughts up above. I believe we are in perfect sync with how we view movies and their marketing; that we may hold opinions only on what we have seen. I'm more than happy to say a movie looks like a piece of crap, but if I haven't actually seen it I will refrain from saying it actually is a piece of crap. My goal here with these shorter pieces isn't to pass judgment on a film I haven't seen yet, but to engage in the much more palatable pastime of talking with a friend about our excitement (or relative lack thereof, in some cases) about upcoming films. Conversely, I feel like I should leaven my natural fanboy enthusiasm with some actual critical reasoning behind why I feel the way I do about something that hasn't even come out yet. Like you, I find the initial knee-jerk reactions found on the YouTube page to be utterly infuriating, and it's a level of discourse I will not allow myself to sink to.

I was not bothered at all by the moments in the trailer that gave me flashbacks to The Matrix (or, more specifically, the Matrix-inspired Equilibrium came to mind), simply because that is part and parcel of the universe Stephen King created with The Dark Tower series. As unique as it is to describe, it's all been assembled from bits and pieces of other things that Stephen King loves. A little bit of Narnia, a little bit of Sergio Leone, a lot of Tolkien, and eventually some stuff from Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and Harry Potter, of all places. The world of The Dark Tower has always been a mix of intriguingly offbeat and shamelessly derivative. Keeping that ethos going for the film version makes sense to me.

You ask me how I feel about the placement of this film as a possible sequel to the novel, and how I feel about the merging of film and literary worlds, I'll have to play it safe and reiterate that I reserve judgment until the movie finally comes out. I will say that the idea –teased by Stephen King in the image below, which will make sense to those who have finished the series – that this movie takes place after the events of the novels is the single most exciting thing about this project to me. When I saw the image, when I digested what it implied, I suddenly became interested in a project I had more or less felt ambivalent about. It's such an audacious idea, such a simple and clever way to preemptively cut off arguments from fans about the changes to the source material while also retelling the same story for viewers new to the tale, that I must applaud whoever came up with it.

As I keep saying, I am generally a fan of making changes to a story as you adapt it to a new medium. Stephen King wrote the books; they are the story from his very specific point of view. The movie is adapted by several people, the writers and directors, with their own very specific points of view. That is obviously going to change the flavor of things, as everybody will find something unique out of their favorite stories, and I am fine with people following the thread of that and sharing what the work means to them. In this case, I am not only open to the idea, I am downright salivating for it. 

There have been announcements to the effect that a television series will be released which fills in the backstory of this world, some of the moments the film won't have time for, but at this point we don't know how many films are planned for this series. The trailer seems to be jumping ahead into the series quite a bit, but doesn't have an glimpses of Eddie Dean or Odetta Walker, two characters as integral to this story as anyone we have seen so far. Of course, the trailer can only show so much, but I highly doubt the entire story will be told in one film. So the question now, since you say you'll eventually dive back in to the series, is which books will we have to cover to discuss just this one movie?

Rik: Ooooh, first things first... my concern wasn't with whether you or I found some elements derivative of other works; I was questioning whether the inclusion of such elements might turn off a certain percentage of viewers because they so often appear in other films, especially of late. This is why I was discussing the nature of movie trailers in general. I was worried that the very sameness of the trailer after so many even fleetingly similar films might hurt the film's box office. 

I know that from my own angle, every time that I hear those annoying rumbling brass sounds that Hans Zimmer unleashed upon the world in Inception (which have now become the only sound anyone wants to use in a modern movie trailer), it immediately puts me on the defensive against the movie. The coming attractions before a film used to be a pleasure to dive into as you were settling into your seat; now it is rare that I don't have the stirrings of a migraine already before the film proper has begun. This is especially true if the film you are seeing that evening is an action or sci-fi or superhero flick, because you will get like-minded trailers that all have that sound. (Horror films and their trailers have their own modern set of endlessly repeated skronky, shrieking sounds that drive me nuts today.) And it is no surprise that the trailer for The Dark Tower also uses the Zimmer Sound Effect to great extent. (Seriously, trailer producers seem to have about three moves left anymore, and it is driving me nuts. At least the poster business seems to finally be getting away from the "two big heads" trend.)

Something you raise, and this just may be because I have not read into the series that far, or have forgotten a lot of details of ones I read, but you mention how the trailer seems to be jumping ahead into the series quite a bit. Since this film, by various accounts, might be a sequel, might be from a separate world altogether and have nothing to do with the series in actuality, and might be an adaptation of the entire series at the same time, isn't this statement at least partially rather presumptuous? We may be talking about a different world here. What if Eddie and Odetta don't exist in the timeline of this particular telling? (Their names do not appear on the official cast credits, that is certain, but it doesn't mean they wouldn't show up in the series.) Just something that struck me when you stated it earlier.

I seriously doubt that I will get to even one of two of the books in this series before the film version is released, so your question on that may be moot. We may be diving into the film on its own, especially if I already need to reread It before September and possibly The Mist again before the new Spike series. I still need to hit 11/22/63 and possibly Mr. Mercedes. For some out there, they would jump at the chance to read all of this, and would probably knock them out in a fortnight. That's not me. I seriously have trouble reading fiction at all anymore; I am pretty much hardcore non-fiction these days, mostly science, history, and cinema books. Even with my non-fiction jones, I just do not give myself any time in the day for reading anyway, not even at bedtime. My life right now is watch, watch, watch, write, write, write, watch, watch, watch, write, write write... and if even one thing enters into that rhythm, it throws me off for days sometimes. Yeah, I could call a moratorium on film for a week or two to delve into a King book or three, but that takes real commitment, along with breaking my cinema addiction. If I finally get a regular job, I will have even less time, though it is likely I would use my breaks to read through stuff. And the possible bus/train trips to get to and from work if I don't have a ride that day. 

"Waaaaahhhh!!!," you are thinking... #firstworldproblems is what you should post about this terrible dilemma of mine. Yeah, I know... my problems are self-created and self-controlled. I am just being whiny for whiny's sake. I just need to pick up a Stephen King book again and burn through it. And then the next book. And the next book, ad nauseam... You see? Just thinking about it makes me want to dive into a pile of DVDs and never come out again. Why am I co-writing a blog partially about books again?

Aaron: You love it and you know it. And you're doing this for the same reason I am: to reconnect with an important part of your childhood that you've drifted away from, with the goal of recapturing some of that youthful excitement while also revisiting everything with a new perspective and critical eye. If I may be so bold as to presume why you do anything, that is.

The original novel in this series, The Gunslinger, came out in 1982, while the final (at the time) book came out in 2012. That's a thirty year span, with the longest gap between books being six years. Stephen King admits that those gaps caused some minor continuity errors (place names changed between books, characters shifted, and the order of some past events got mixed up), and he used Robin Furth (author of The Dark Tower: A Concordance books) to help keep a lot of those details straight. Given the chance, he's said, he would like to go back and straighten all of those details out, and to smooth out the overall pace of the story. It's a shame he hasn't found the time yet, as reading those versions would be a much more enticing proposition. As it is, I'm excited for the movie, but less so for reading all seven novels in the original series over again, especially since I've read the first couple three times already, and the third book twice. 

I guess you could say I'm in the same boat as you are, suddenly questioning my decision to cover Stephen King's dual 'ographies (film- and biblio-). But of course, with that trepidation comes a certain anticipation at seeing how everything strikes me this time around, and of course in discussing all of this with you. That, I suppose you could say, is why I've committed to this blog.

[Note: The Dark Tower, directed by Nikolaj Arcel, will be released to theatres on July 28th.]

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

We Who WILL Watch: The Mist (2017)

Aaron: Well, the roll-out of exciting Stephen King news continues, with the release earlier this week of a full trailer for Spike's serialized adaptation of King's 1980 novella, The Mist, and it looks like there might be a bit to talk about in there.

For years The Mist topped the list of most wanted King adaptations, the one title that would pop up again and again when I had conversations with people about Stephen King movies. It seemed like such an obvious choice that it's a little bizarre to think that 27 years passed between the novella's publication date and the eventual Frank Darabont adaptation. Perhaps Hollywood just needed to get wise to what the rest of King's constant readers had known for years, that The Mist is a gut-punch of a story with a multitude of monsters fans would love to see on screen, and great potential for filmed interpretations. And now here we are, a mere decade later, with a new version of The Mist heading to our televisions.

Take a look at the full trailer below, then keep scrolling to read our initial thoughts...

Right off the bat, I can admit that my enthusiasm for this project is not nearly as high as some of the other upcoming projects. The idea of doing The Mist as a television series is actually a pretty great one, because the novella is open-ended enough to allow for not only continuation, but a wide variety of stories set within its world. The trailer seems to suggest a few major changes to the novella, most notably the idea that the mist seems to have a malevolent presence beyond just the monsters that hide in it. In fact, looking at the trailer more closely, are we sure there even will be monsters in it? Everything we see implies that the only monsters are human. There's a quick shot that at first looks like a monster bursting through a car's windshield, but look carefully and you'll see it's actually a moose someone crashes into while driving. I'm not opposed to anything I see in the trailer, but I also see nothing in it that really excites me in the way the It trailer did. I also have nothing by which to judge the behind-the-camera talent, as the show was developed by Christian Thorpe, who seems to have had a healthy career in Danish television, but whose work I have not heard of previously.

The show seems to have an interesting look, the cool grey-blue of the mist and the warmer yellow tones of what could either be flashbacks or merely just interior shots. The series seems to be changing a lot, and inventing a lot of new characters, which is a necessity when adapting such a short story into an ongoing series. I know some people are going to be upset by the changes, that's just the nature of these things. Myself, I'm a fan of diverging from the source material. If a movie or TV show is too faithful, I start to wonder what the point of it was, because I could always just read the book again if I wanted the exact same story. 

Rik: And yet, we often gripe if an adaptation adds too many new characters and ignores the original ones, or veers away too, too far from the source material, or (and this seems to be the worst offender for many people) doesn't include their very favorite scenes or dialogue in the final product (even if those "very favorite scenes or dialogue" were extraneous to the actual plot of the story or were throwaway lines meant to fill space). Damned if you do, damned if you don't. 

I agree with you that I don't mind veering from the original, but the approach has to feel organic to me, like it could have been included in the original product if the author had seen fit to turn that direction with the characters. Just creating new characters and locations for the sake of creating new characters and locations makes me wonder why they purchased the rights to such a property in the first place. Why not just create an entire new story (apart from the obvious marketing possibilities of using a name brand like Stephen King)?

I am going to say that I am as excited for the new series for The Mist as I am the new It adaptation or the upcoming Castle Rock series. That is, it is still too early to tell much of anything from a mere trailer that isn't roughly the length of the one for that stupid looking movie about the lonely teen boy who lives on Mars coming back to Earth to get busy with a girl (though in a completely wholesome way, of course). You know, the sort of trailer that lays out the entire story to you in strictly chronological fashion, with every beat of the script hit along the way. Here, with The Mist trailer, we don't get that, thankfully, as it is but a taste of what potentially lies within the show. As a result, I am going to withhold judgment on the characters that may be in the new series (honestly, I last read the novella over 25 years ago, and don't really remember anyone in it either, just the mist itself). 

I am also going to not comment on the look of things either, because scenes in trailers are often shown in altered or (more often) incomplete form from the finished product, whether due to effects shots or post-production not being completed, or cut scenes or scrapped footage being added to flesh out the trailer a bit, or filters being overlaid on the product as well. Trailers are often the very worst way to judge a finished film or series because of all these factors. 

The main question for any trailer is this: Did it pique my interest in the property, even a tad? Yes, a tad. I really enjoyed the Darabont version of the story (reminding you yet again that I had not read the story recently even then), and for all I didn't remember about the original work, it really didn't matter because the film was constantly engaging, frightening, and thrilling by turns. That is really what you want from such a film, whether it is adapted from a popular novella or not, and I got that result. Does it look like I will get it from The Mist series? Too soon to tell. I would rather get a couple of episodes into the series, and then maybe we should have a discussion about where we think it will take us from that point. 

Until then, It... Castle Rock... The Mist... even The Dark Tower adaptation... I am eagerly awaiting them all equally, but they will each have to do some heavy lifting to win me over ultimately.

Aaron: I think we're in general agreement about this: intrigued but withholding judgment until we actually get to see the show. I will reiterate that I'm less excited for this than I am the other upcoming projects. Castle Rock is exciting for its mystery and J.J. Abrams pedigree; the show at this point could be anything, and it comes from someone with a proven track record in this arena. It is exciting because, not to jump ahead too far, the source novel is one of my all-time favorites. The Dark Tower is interesting because it seemed like such an impossibility for so long that I'm curious to see how they'll tackle the sprawling series of novels (and, if you have read the books and have read any news about the movies, some really exciting and intriguing changes have already been teased). The Dark Tower series eventually ties in to almost everything Stephen King has written, and one of the aspects I'm wondering about is how they'll handle that. With the various novels of Stephen King licensed to various competing studios, will The Dark Tower films be allowed to cross over into the world of The Stand (which is pretty integral to the plot for awhile)? The Mist, on the other hand, just doesn't inspire the same curiosity. Perhaps it's Stephen King overload in 2017 (perish the thought!), perhaps it's the fact that some of the changes in the trailer (the implication that the mist itself is sentient) don't fill me with wonder, or perhaps it's just that the movie is so recent and was itself such a solid adaptation. 

But let's not kid ourselves here, I will no doubt be watching this once the series premieres on Spike on June 22nd. Or, to be honest, once it makes its way to Hulu or some other streaming service.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

We Who WILL Watch: It (2017)

Aaron: Despite the lack of visible activity on this blog (we're working on it, we swear!), 2017 continues to promise a veritable smörgåsbord of high quality Stephen King adaptations. On the television front, we not only have the mysterious Castle Rock project for Hulu (previously discussed on this very site) but we can also look forward to Mr. Mercedes, a series based on the first book in a trilogy following retired police detective Bill Hodges, and a television adaptation of The Mist, previously brought to the big screen (and fairly successfully at that) by Frank Darabont. Yet the big news still belongs to the big screen, as two of Stephen King's most high profile titles and most long awaited adaptations are nearing their release dates in theatres: The Dark Tower, and It. And, uhm, something called C.U.J.O.: Canine Unit Joint Operations, which is a title I don't even want to begin to parse at this time.

It was previously filmed in 1990 as an ABC mini-series that not surprisingly lost a lot of the depth and history of the novel, while The Dark Tower has long been considered a fan's pipe dream: something that no studio in their right mind would ever greenlight in a way that would adequately convey seven books (along with several novellas and spinoff novels) into a feature film, or series of films. The Dark Tower has been in some form of production for a few years now, with Ron Howard moving the ball forward with an ambitious plan to release a series of tentpole feature films with a television series to fill in the gaps between theatrical releases. I think everyone pretty quickly assumed that would never happen, and I know for myself I immediately assumed the project would fade back into development hell. And yet here it is 2017, and The Dark Tower is now in post-production, featuring a pretty exciting looking cast and a fairly eye-catching poster:

Today's big news, probably already known by people visiting this site, is the release of a teaser trailer for It. This is news that was actually announced yesterday, with a short "teaser for the teaser," because that's how advertising for a movie works on the internet these days. The teaser doesn't offer much, but it is full of all the classic It signifiers: the sewer, the talk of clowns, "we all float down here".

Promptly this morning the full trailer was released to the world, and it's full of everything you could possibly want from an It trailer: 

It's hard to imagine many people being disappointed by what's on display here, as it looks to be a supremely faithful, and supremely creepy, adaptation. I understand many fans were upset about the updating of events for the movie, changing the two settings from the 1950s and 1980s to the '80s and present day, but for several reasons that doesn't bother me. I know '80s nostalgia is all the rage these days (as it has been for, seemingly, three decades), and it could seem like cheap nostalgia, but that's pretty much the same argument that could have been made about the '50s when the novel first came out. Beyond that, it allows the segments following the characters as adults to take place firmly in the recognizable present.

Rik: I will say that I was not aware previously that there are supposedly going to be two separate films – one focusing on the kids experience in the '80s and the other based on their adult selves dealing in the present day – but watching the trailer, I noticed how it was all kids, all the time. Made me wonder where the adults were, and the notion that maybe they were doing two films crossed my mind. Their omission from the trailer does not automatically mean that the adult versions of the children are not in the film itself, and it is also likely that the producers were just attempting to cash in on the current success of Stranger Things. But also likely is the fact that the grown-up versions of the kids will mostly be played by some recognizable name talent, to help put butts in seats beyond the King crowd, and so if it were nothing but a self-contained, single story film, anything more than a brief glimpse of the second half of the book would have the trailer speed-flashing through a series of worried adult faces somewhere deep in its running time.

The problem is that I am having trouble finding a more current article than summer 2016 (Variety) and a couple of also not current mentions on the Wikipedia pages for both the film and the book that the two-film production is still a thing. To be fair, I have not dug really deep into my normal research style, because the truth is that I have a lot of bigger fish to fry right now (which is part of the problem of why this website has not updated as frequently as we would wish, including the last couple parts of the ALL CARRIE coverage we promised back in October).

One other thing... about that poster for The Dark Tower... all I can think about when seeing it is... Inception. But then again, that is what I was thinking when I first saw the trailer for Doctor Strange.

Aaron: I also flashed on Inception when I saw that poster, but what quickly replaced my initial feeling of familiarity was enjoyment at how the negative space in the poster makes an image of the Tower itself. That, and if you look closely you can see a tiny Matthew McConaughey walking upside down. 

I was also unaware of the two film plan, though I think I, too, read something about it awhile back. I tend to not read a lot of press materials these days, or read casting announcements or interviews detailing plots. Not that I'm worried about spoilers, I just prefer to discover these things as I watch the film, and then go back later to find out the behind the scenes details if I'm still interested. What I did find most amusing about the time frame is that Finn Wolfhard (who played Mike in Stranger Things and will play the young Richie Tozier in It) is apparently having trouble escaping the '80s.

One more note, because we really should save this for when we actually cover the book and movie, is my initial thoughts on Pennywise. Pennywise isn't actually shown very much in this trailer, beyond a couple quick glimpses, a white glove with claws coming out, and that jump-scare shot at the end, but here's a full image of what he's going to look like:

It took me awhile to come around on the costume, and I'm still not entirely sold on it. I'm also still not sold on Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, who I primarily know from his work on Hemlock Grove. That may not be the best work to judge his abilities on, though, as I imagine it would have been impossible for even the greatest actors to make that show compelling. But this trailer has gone a long way towards allaying my fears about the tone of this film, so I'm willing to go with it and say that I am solidly optimistic about this film.

Rik: I must say, having avoided Hemlock Grove on your advice (which doesn't mean I will necessarily avoid it in the future if I am bored, and other friends take note... Aaron is one of the few people in the world from whom I take movie or television recommendations. At least, seriously...), I have looked into Mr. Skarsgård's fairly short filmography and found that I am severely lacking in having seen anything he has ever done. This is something I cannot say of either his father Stellan or his brothers Alexander and Gustaf, though I can say it of his other brothers Sam and Valter. (But not of his brother Darrell or his other brother Darrell...) As a result, I have nothing on which to base an opinion of him, though as you mentioned, he is barely seen in the trailer.

As to the costume, I rather like it. It has an older European circus aesthetic to it, and may be a good choice since our country is littered with fake (and potentially real) evil clowns dressed in what has become acceptable as de rigueur in American clown cosplay. Pennywise is fine and all (and the only reason I even like Pennywise from the merely decent to only OK mini-series is the fact that Tim Curry played him), but what I am more interested in anyway – being a non-human monster guy – is what the spider will look like. Give me a call when that is revealed...

I will say that this trailer has me excited about the finished product. I am not the biggest fan of the book, mostly owing to the creepy and tone-deaf child orgy scene (my opinion, but it is what took me out of the book for the remainder of the story, though I did finish it). As a result, I was only slightly excited to see the mini-series. I remember that I almost missed out on recording it at the time of its airing but one of my friends reminded me of it the hour before it aired. And as I mentioned in the last paragraph, my opinion of the TV version runs pretty lukewarm except for a couple of excellent performances in it. I am looking forward to giving the book another shot, this time with even more mature eyes and brain, and think it is pretty swell they are (potentially) breaking the film up into two parts to give the story and characters room to breathe and grow.

Aaron: I have plenty to say in response to your revelations within those last two paragraphs, but I think they'll have to wait for now. What I will point out is that Entertainment Weekly ran an interview with Janie Bryant, the designer of the new costume, and she goes into great detail about her intentions in designing the new look. You can click here for the link, but be warned that the EW website is a huge mess. One takeaway I enjoyed was the idea that a lot of choices in the profile of the costume are to suggest the shape of an insect's cephalothorax. I do have to admit that some of my uncertainty about the look comes from how... bizarre and wrong it all feels. Our collective thoughts on the two It films will certainly be shared later this year when the film hits theatres; we wouldn't want to get ahead of ourselves. And yet all these announcements have us pretty excited for at least one aspect of 2017. We hope you'll stick with us as we bring this site back up to speed and join us on all the creepy good times ahead.

[One final note: It, directed by Andrés Muschietti (who previously helmed the Guillermo Del Toro-produced Mama in 2013) will arrive in American theatres on September 8th.]

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We Who Will (probably) Watch: Castle Rock

Anyone reading this blog, not directed here personally by one of the authors, is undoubtedly aware that Stephen King and J.J. Abrams recently announced a new project together. In typically cryptic Abrams fashion, the news was teased with an odd image tweeted out from Bad Robot, Abrams' production company.

The tweet led to a youtube video that turned out to be a teaser for a new program on hulu entitled Castle Rock, a name that should be familiar to even the most casual Stephen King readers. Castle Rock is a town in the King's fictional version of Maine, the setting for many of his stories, and referenced in much of the rest of his works. It is, also, the name of a production company started by Rob Reiner after the success of Stand By Me, an adaptation of Stephen King's novella The Body.

Stephen King himself was a bit more direct in his announcement of the news, posting the video to facebook with the simple statement "JJ Abrams and I want to invite you to take a trip to Castle Rock. Soon. Be afraid."

As you can see from the video, details are fairly scarce. This being an Abrams production, we now have more questions than answers. What we see primarily amounts to a bunch of character and place names from Stephen King works (and also Richard Bachman, his occasional pseudonym), overlaid with snippets of dialogue culled from those same stories. This doesn't give us a whole lot to go on. Is Castle Rock a series about Stephen King and his works? If so, the dialogue would presumably come from the previously released films, but everything said in the trailer is a new recording. So is it an anthology series pulling from Stephen King's entire career? Possibly, but the interlocking strands we follow, eventually forming a roadmap of Maine, seem to imply that everything is connected. So will this series be a shared-universe style adaptation of the works of Stephen King, a travelogue of his fictional Maine? That seems like a promising concept, but I'm not sure I'd put money on that right now. And what about the prominent inclusion of references to The Shining, which takes in Colorado (where, incidentally, a real-life Castle Rock can be found)?

The involvement of J.J. Abrams, noted Stephen King fan, is at least a promising sign. Their previous collaboration, 11.22.63 was a superlative adaptation of one of King's best works, an adaptation that knew what to keep, what to change, what to excise, and what to add in order to fit the serialized format. I'm fairly certain this show will lean more to that side of the spectrum than, say, Under The Dome (which boasted its own Lost alums in creative roles) or SyFy's Haven, which I've written about before and was possibly even more tenuously related to Stephen King than The Lawnmower Man.

As of this moment, Castle Rock does have an imdb page, but it is conspicuously free of any information. According to Stephen King, our questions will be answered soon. But that just brings up one more question: how soon?

UPDATE: Between the original writing of this short announcement and my actually getting around to posting it, Bad Robot put out a press release that may answer some of the questions I brought up. You can read it on several other sites, if you so desire, but I'll highlight some pertinent information.

The press release makes reference to the Stephen King multiverse, and says that "Castle Rock combines the mythological scale and intimate character storytelling of King's best-loved works, weaving an epic saga of darkness and light, played out on a few square miles of Maine woodland" and "an original suspense/thriller - a first-of-its-kind reimagining that explores the themes and worlds uniting the entire King canon." I'm still unsure how The Shining will factor into this, but perhaps that was used primarily for name recognition in the teaser.

We also get the names of the showrunners, who will be guiding the show while King and Abrams produce. Sam Shaw, who has written for Masters of Sex, and serves as writer/producer/creator of Manhattan. He'll be joined by Dustin Thomason, another producer/writer on Manhattan and Lie to Me.

The press release actually makes it sound like the show might not have been filmed yet, but whenever it appears (remember, King said 'soon') it looks like we'll have at least 10 episodes of Stephen King goodness to enjoy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)

Aaron Lowe: And we’re back! Throughout the past couple months we’ve been discussing Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie (1974), and the various filmed versions that resulted from it. So far we’ve discussed the original novel and De Palma’s 1976 movie. Most people are aware of that adaptation, and the more recent remake from 2013, but there are also a pair of lesser known films in between that seem to have made no waves at all. When we decided to cover Carrie as our first novel, I was actually most excited to finally catch up with these forgotten films. I made no assumptions as to their quality, but I was sure the movies would have some interesting facets to explore.

And so, without further ado, let’s get straight into our discussion of the 1999 theatrical release, The Rage: Carrie 2.

The Rage: Carrie 2

Aaron: As I said above, I had never seen The Rage before last week. Not only had I never seen it, but I had mostly forgotten about its existence. This is actually a bit odd for a pretty big-budgeted film ($21 million, for a horror film, in 1999!) given a nationwide release from a big studio (MGM). It’s also surprising for a film based on a book by one of my favorite authors, and a direct sequel to a beloved horror film. I vaguely recall seeing trailers for this film back in 1999, but it quickly slipped out of my awareness. I worked in a video store for years, and every time I’d come across the DVD case it was like seeing it for the first time. “What? They made a sequel to Carrie? Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.” And yet I never watched the film.

It does seem a bit odd, doesn’t it? A Carrie sequel in 1999? I’m not sure why the idea to do a sequel was put forward when, at that point in time, a remake would probably have made more sense. The Rage: Carrie 2 came out twenty-three years after the original film, a film in which all of the primaries, including the title character, are killed at the end. Of course, not every character died at the end of the original, and Sue Snell’s survival provides the tenuous connection between the De Palma film and this one, which for all intents and purposes is otherwise unrelated.

So, Rik, I’m curious as to your history with this film. Had you seen The Rage before, or like me did it fall off your radar? And what do you think of the very idea of a Carrie sequel in the first place?

Rik: Nope, it did not fall off my radar. In fact, I was not only aware of the film when it came out, I actually saw it in a theatre. I will likely get into some of my specific reactions to seeing it later in this discussion when we touch on story points, but it will not be surprising to find out that I was disappointed, even though my expectations were not great in the first place. Instead of being mad that I spent the money on a movie ticket, I owned my purchase from the start, knowing that I was probably not going to see anything decent.

Since then, I did see the film again on video a couple of years later when I decided to watch both films back to back in conjunction with the 2002 television adaption being released (which we will get to in our next edition). I watched the film, for no real reason at all except that I had pretty much forgotten it, for a third time in 2010. (Hooray for film diaries and Letterboxd!)

There is another connection between the films, and even though it is supposed to be a big reveal in the film at a certain point, knowledge of this connection was widely used in the film’s promotional materials. Otherwise, how would you answer the question, “How is this film connected to Carrie?” Rachel Lang, the main character in this film (she is not named Carrie), and Carrie White from the first film are supposedly half-sisters, because the man who impregnated Margaret White, Ralph White, also got Rachel’s mother, Barbara Lang all knocked up before the events in this film take place. It is also not a surprise that the ultra-fundamentalist Ralph ends up with two women with basically the same whacked-out viewpoint on what is going on with their daughters, and treats them both in an equally shitty way. (He apparently has no problem sleeping around, despite the supposed morals espoused by his religious fervor. Oh, temptation…)

Truth be told, the film could have existed without any such trumped up connection and just had it be the tale of another case of a person with telekinesis whose powers are unleashed under tragic circumstances. The film didn’t even need Sue Snell, but it is interesting to find out that actress Amy Irving, who played the role in both films, sought the blessing of Brian De Palma before taking the role in the latter film. I know Hollywood is in love with sequels and remakes, and they don’t trust original stories or for films to stand on their own feet at all, but I think the half-sister connection is too much of a stretch. I would have rather seen a film, if it had to have any connection to the first film, that saw Sue Snell just move on to another school as a counselor a number of years after the incident, meet a girl who reminds her eerily of Carrie White, and then do everything she can to avoid another similar tragedy. That is essentially what we get here, but the filmmakers have to trick it out to force a double connection.

How did you feel about the Ralph White connection, Aaron?

Aaron: Well, this is awkward, because your entire statement covers, almost to a T, the exact same sentiments I had prepared to continue this piece. How do I feel about the Ralph White connection? Well, the man certainly had a type, didn’t he? It also suggests other sequels. The timing is a bit odd already; Rachel in this film is roughly the same age as Carrie was in the previous film, which means there’s at least a 22-year gap between the births of his daughters. What about the intervening years? Could Ralph White have been hopping from reclusive religious zealot to reclusive religious zealot, staying just long enough to father telekinetic children before leaving the harried, ill-prepared mother to deal with the consequences? Twenty-two years; we could have over a dozen films about telekinetic teens causing havoc in high schools.

In all sincerity, the half-sister revelation is wholly unnecessary, as you say. I had the same thought you had; a superior sequel to Carrie could have been made by focusing on Sue Snell and her attempts to deal with lingering PTSD while also trying to atone for her part in the original film’s tragedy by helping a kid in a similar situation. We get glimpses of that film here, as that roughly describes Amy Irving’s arc, but she is in the end a fairly minor character. Sue Snell shows up a handful of times to pretty much remind the audience of what happened in the first film through the use of some helpful flashbacks.

Unnecessary is a word that could very well describe the entire film. I’ll admit that I didn’t hate this movie quite the way I expected to, but I also didn’t think it made a very good case for its existence. I normally dislike that type of critique, because I don’t think a movie always needs a “point,” and it certainly shouldn’t need one that fulfills our preconceived notions. And yet, I kept asking myself “Why a sequel to Carrie?” as I watched The Rage. I think this movie would have been improved if the connections to the De Palma film had been lessened. The Rage does nothing to deepen or extend the original in any meaningful way, and instead tells a similar story with an updated setting.

While The Rage is not exactly a carbon copy of Carrie, we can still use your tongue-in-cheek synopsis of the original to accurately describe this film: the wrong teenagers pick on the wrong girl with the right superpower at the wrong time. There are some fairly large differences between Carrie and Carrie 2, most notably in the demeanor and social standings of the two films’ main characters, but The Rage: Carrie 2 still feels awfully familiar. Rachel and Carrie both get a taste of popularity through flirtations with popular football players, which serves to further the anger felt by those who seek to punish them. Both films feature a scene in an English class where the aforementioned football players get a chance to prove their soulful sides. And both films have a scene where the heroine bashfully tries on lipstick in a department store while a disapproving clerk looks on.

Those are just surface similarities, while of course there are the broader similarities inherent to stories about a social misfit running afoul of some popular kids and exacting her revenge through the use of telekinesis during a party at the end of the film. But The Rage lacks a central metaphor as rich as the menstruation/puberty metaphor in Carrie, which increases the feeling that this film is a pale imitation of the original. I’m not even sure if there is a central metaphor to The Rage, other than the typical “high school sucks” attitude most teen horror films adopt.

Rik, this film was originally titled The Curse, which seems more thematically relevant to the first film, although it would of course have fit for this one. I kind of see the title change as one of the many indications of when this film was made in the late nineties, as part of the trend to label all youth oriented marketing as “extreme” in some way. There are a lot of wonderfully stupid details that mark this film as dated to a very particular time period for me, including the lead being a cute goth girl (or goth-influenced, we should say), the random black and white moments in the film, and the fact that someone is killed with a stack of flying CDs. As someone who spent his entire teen years in the nineties, these moments were equally endearing and annoying. How did they strike you?

Rik: Obviously, I couldn’t relate to them in the same way, since my teen years started the year after the first Carrie came out, but I did recognize them as being of their particular time. They were neither bothersome or endearing to me, merely details in what I found to be a rather by-the-book affair. The fact that it is that way is not surprising to me, given that the director is Katt Shea (sometimes credited as Katt Shea Ruben). The Rage: Carrie 2 probably represents what was supposed to be her highest point in her filmography, after having a small critical (but not financial) success with Streets in 1990 (with Christina Applegate in what was supposed to be a breakthrough dramatic role) and then some decent notice with a Drew Barrymore thriller, Poison Ivy in 1992. Neither film really thrilled me at all, being what I considered fairly average films, though I am slightly more fond of the films with which Shea started out her career “stripper thriller” subgenre: Stripped to Kill (1987) with Kay Lenz, and even better, Stripped to Kill 2: Live Girls, with Maria Ford. (Because of Maria, I was definitely more fond of Stripped to Kill 2 when it played on Skin-emax and other cable channels a zillion times over back in the day. Not sure if I would be into her today though. Tastes, as well as tassels, change...)

I think the most striking difference between the films (apart from quality) is the fact that Rachel and Carrie are not similar at all in social status. Carrie was, almost by complete force of her mother’s will, an outcast amongst her peers at school, whereas Rachel not only seems to be fairly well-liked by many, she even obviously has her own complete group of friends. Sure, those friends tend not to be among the actual “popular” set at the school, i.e. jocks, cheerleaders, and rich kids, but what I am saying is that she is not hurting for friendship and attention amongst her peer group. At home is another matter, where her mother – nearly a clone of Margaret White – has been institutionalized (rightly) and she lives with foster parents (the father is played by John Doe of the punk rock group X, one of my all-time favorite bands; he is not that great here as the foster dad though, but pretty stiff, though he is fine in other parts, especially Border Radio and on TV’s Roswell).

Rachel is especially tight with Lisa, played by Mena Suvari, who frankly looks better in this film than most of the ritzier, more popular girls at the school. (While The Rage was released in the same year as both films, Suvari was just breaking through in 1999 with her appearances in both American Beauty and American Pie). Rachel and Lisa even have matching tattoos on their arms to show their bond, so naturally you know something horrible is going to happen to Lisa to make Rachel go bonkers. This is where The Rage gets any real drive it has, as the boys on the football team are involved in an unseemly game with dire emotional consequences and crippling physical abuse. And, no, I am talking about far beyond just the sport of football itself. The football players keep a “notebook” (I’d call it a diary, but they would probably try to beat me up) in which they assign an arbitrary point system each time one of them sleeps with one of the girls in the school. Since they pretty much dump each girl once they tag her, hearts and minds are broken but the team thinks it just great fun. For Lisa, once she becomes yet another victim of the game, it will drive her to suicide fairly early in the film, when she walks right off the surprisingly easily accessible roof of the high school. (Suvari’s relatively small role would be considered barely above a cameo had she already been famous when The Rage was released). Lisa splats into a car window below, and one of the jocks is even brazen enough – and quite settled into being completely unafraid of any repercussions from their “prank” –  to mock her openly in front of the shocked crowd that gathers.

The filmmakers apparently based the game on a real life incident that made the news in 1993 when a group that called themselves “the Spur Posse,” pulled an exactly similar stunt on teenage girls in their hometown of Lakewood, California. In watching the film again with the Trump “locker room talk” conversation in the air everywhere, the discussion and playing of the points game added an even grimier layer of filth to the proceedings for me than it did the first three times I saw it. It was already there and creepy enough as it was, but current circumstances can often alter one’s view of information already gained. How did this section of the film play for you, Aaron?

Aaron: That’s an interesting question, and one I’ve actually been pondering since first watching this film. I’m not surprised to hear the jocks’ game of scoring their sexual partners was based on a true story, as I’ve come to realize that in the vastness of the world and human history, everything under the sun has been done, and human cruelty knows no bounds. Surprisingly, however, this view of the jocks was not at all in line with my own high school experience, so I found it to be one of the more tone-deaf aspects of the film.

I have always been a bookish and not particularly physically gifted individual, and yet for a few years I was, strangely, involved in the world of organized competitive athletics. In junior high and high school, I was on both the swim team and the cross-country ski teams. Admittedly that crowd is a far cry from the football team, but I still spent time in the company of people who did play football and other more popular high school sports, and I will say that none of them behaved as unconscionably as the kids we watch in The Rage. The “jocks” I socialized with or shared science class with were, almost uniformly, polite, intelligent, and friendly. There were a few outliers, of course, as with any large group, but they tended to experience an inverse popularity and were not immediately granted acceptance due to their sports aptitude.

Likewise, I feel that the guys who would behave this way would not have been so popular with the ladies. The girls I knew in high school would, I believe, not have been fooled by the guys in this film. Before you accuse me of romanticizing my high school years, it should be said that this is not a time in my life that I view through rose-colored glasses. I think it’s entirely likely that there were some fairly piggish discussions I was not around for, and certainly my own views of women could be far from enlightened at that age, but I’d say it was just your standard, ill-informed and ignorant talk among adolescent boys with limited experience when it came to the opposite sex. Whatever Mr. Trump would like people to believe, what he said would not be considered locker room talk in the real world, although it would not have sounded out of place coming from the mouth of one of the football players in this film. There’s a brazenness about the boys in The Rage, a shamelessness and entitlement that made it all worse (taunting a girl dead from suicide is a case in point).

Honestly, my first impression of this aspect of the film was that it was all way too over the top. It all seemed to be a bit of “broadcast news expose” fearmongering. “Do you know what your daughters are doing with the captain of the football team?!” Hearing that it was based on true events doesn’t erase my initial feelings, but I will admit that the film effectively made me hate every single one of The Rage’s villains. Very early on it got to the point where I couldn’t wait for Rachel’s ultimate revenge, but I also couldn’t understand why she was buying into their facade. As you pointed out, Rachel is not without friends, she has a job, a fairly stable home life, and seems generally to be well-adjusted. She certainly doesn’t seem like someone who’s always admired the “in crowd,” so I’m not sure why she suddenly gets so excited when she’s invited to parties with them. On top of that she already knows her best friend committed suicide because of one of the football players, and is in possession of proof of the boy’s involvement, proof that could get the boy charged with statutory rape. Why isn’t she more suspicious when all of the football players, and their girlfriends, suddenly start being nice to her?

This is all facilitated by Rachel’s own burgeoning relationship with one of those football players, Jesse (Jason London), again a development she really should have been more suspicious of. But their feelings are real, as Jesse befriends Rachel out of guilt for his own behavior, and a genuine attraction to her. But that presents another problem for me. Jesse is the male hero of this film, the love interest that is meant to break Rachel out of her shell, in an echo of Tommy Ross from the original. And yet his involvement in the notebook game, and the fact that he sleeps with his girlfriend in front of, and for the amusement of, his teammates is fairly repulsive. Jesse treats his girlfriend, Tracy, pretty coldly after he’s done, and it’s supposed to be because he feels shameful and is turned off by how he’s going along with his teammates just to fit in, but he just seems like a real dick. He’s ostensibly one of the heroes of this film, and I get it, you do what you have to to survive high school. During those years your judgment is not the best and you do some bad things that, if you’re a decent person, you will eventually regret, but I found it hard to overlook his shitty behavior just because he felt real bad about it.

You mentioned that a lot of this film was re-contextualized for you when viewed in light of Donald Trump’s disgusting comments (and actions, let’s not forget about those) about women and his sense of sexual entitlement. I agree with your sentiment, but there’s another instance of real world events changing perceptions of this film that I’d like to discuss. The Rage: Carrie 2 was released on March 12, 1999. One month later, on April 20, two students would walk into their high school in Colorado and exact their own revenge on the classmates they felt had wronged them. It’s hard to remember now, after 18 years of school violence and increasingly common mass shootings, but the cultural climate in early 1999 was very different than it is today. In early 1999, it was acceptable to have a black-clad, industrial music-loving, social misfit kill a large number of their classmates, but by late 1999, this film would not have been released.

The Rage cannot be held responsible for Columbine, even indirectly. At the risk of opening up a huge can of worms, I’ve never agreed with the argument that onscreen violence causes real life violence. Possibly I’m biased, because I watch a lot of horribly violent movies and have never been in a fight in my life. For all the pitchfork rattling regarding onscreen violence in the months and years after Columbine, it is interesting to see that apparently no one thought to include The Rage in those condemnations. I don’t mean to completely derail this piece, but it is a sad truth about our lives these days, and I believe it should at least be mentioned here. Of course, Carrie movies did get released after 1999, two of them, and I believe they will each entail their own discussions about American culture as a whole. I’m just wondering if this knowledge affected your viewing of Carrie 2 in a way that maybe you didn’t process when you first saw this in 1999, before schoolyard violence had become such a prevalent part of daily life in America.

Rik: I certainly thought about the film briefly post-Columbine, because I had seen it only weeks before, and when the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode titled Earshot started up a controversy a few months later, I do remember scenes from the original Carrie being used in news reports on the air, but do not recall any scenes from The Rage being shown in a similar way. This is not to say they weren’t used as examples of school violence in movies at that time, but just that I really just recall Carrie being served up because it is a far more memorable and famous film, and therefore more jarring when scenes from it are used to perhaps overdramatize a point on a news program.

I think that from all the evidence collected from the Columbine case that The Rage: Carrie 2 was never mentioned as a possible trigger for the killers. It is my guess, although the film came out just a few weeks before, that the murderers never saw the film. I saw the film in a theatre (because I am a dope), and a couple of my friends who were with me, but it seems nobody else did. With worldwide figures added in, The Rage came close but did not quite make back its $21 million budget (though that figure is not taking into account marketing and print costs, which would drive it up even further; why these are not added from the outset to the final budget figure is beyond me).

There are a couple of aspects of this film that I do really like. The first is Emily Bergl’s performance. It is a thankless task to be brought in for the sequel (albeit 23 years later) to a film where the actress who played the title role was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. I don’t want to make this a “Oh boo hoo, poor pampered Hollywood actress gets an opportunity for which most people would kill” scenario, as it really wasn’t that. The part of Rachel was not only Bergl’s very first theatrical role, she only had one other credit on television previous to this film. She was a babe in the woods. While I have problems with the way her character is handled late in the film (some of which Aaron mentioned above), I think Bergl’s performance is about as good as you could hope under the circumstances. She has an appealing presence, enough so that it is hard to believe that every single person in that school isn’t in love with her (or at least has some secret crush on her) in some manner. That may be a failure of casting, if that wasn’t the intent, but it is not Bergl’s fault. When I first saw the film, Bergl seemed to remind me of somebody else, and I eventually figured out it was Carrie Hamilton, Carol Burnett’s late daughter, who appeared in Tokyo Pop (a film that I, at one point, had some familiarity).

The other aspect that I did enjoy is the relative bloodiness of the film, in a way that far surpasses the original film (not counting that bucket of pig’s blood, of course). The filmmakers seem to take a small delight in its violence, whether having Lisa throw herself off a roof through a car window and then have everyone gawk at her or adding the gratuitous detail of having Rachel’s beloved dog run over in the middle of the night. (Don’t worry… the dog lives; he’s just a device to get her together with Jason London and to lead to all the sex stuff.)

When Carrie had her big prom meltdown, there was a real sense of otherworldliness to her, as if her soul had transported out of her body, and she was just pure vengeance unleashed. There was supposed to be a disconnect between when she used her powers and her real self, so even when the violence is unleashed on those who have caused Carrie great pain or torment (even her mother), while the audience takes great satisfaction in seeing Carrie take her revenge, it seems less personal to Carrie herself. The prom scene is (for the most part) exits being barred, hoses being moved about and sprayed at people and musical equipment, people getting shocked from the meeting of water with electricity, the gym catching on fire, and then Carrie flipping and blowing up Billy’s car. The only scene (besides Miss Collins getting crushed) that seems overly gratuitous is the final battle with her mother, where Carrie thankfully impales the psycho with every sharp object in the kitchen.

With Rachel, while she too seems to go into a sort of trance while exhibiting her great power, it almost feels like the revenge is a lot more personal. Let’s say the stakes are amped up anyway on the embarrassment level: being ridiculed over a lack of knowledge of one’s own feminine hygiene and then tricked into being prom queen where blood is dumped on your head versus having your best friend and yourself tricked into having sex with jocks and then getting mocked publicly about it (and with a suicide resulting in her friend’s case). I think Rachel really has it all over Carrie in the “Need to Get Revenge” department, and I think the results show that Rachel, despite her trance, seems to take a little more delight in her executions.

After we see another example of the “X-treme” culture influence (and CGI effects) on the film – where Rachel’s arm tattoo grows and lengthens down her arm to her hand before her attack, like a loyal snake or a vine – the attacks starts out with the party crowd being sprayed with shattering glass, which even beheads one victim. Naturally, a fire will break out and consume many of the guests, but mixed in there is a harpoon that Rachel manipulates and whirls around looking for a victim, finally embedding through a jock’s head but also through the front door where it goes through the peeping eye of one Sue Snell, effectively killing the only original Stephen King character left. 

Unlike the De Palma film, this film delights in seeing the blood splattered everywhere and dripping down from wounds. One of the big moments occurs when Rachel uses her power to pick up an entire stack of CDs from near the stereo, fans them out in the air, and then shoots them across the room like so many shuriken into the heads, faces, and chests of several partygoers. It would be a real nifty trick if the Cenobites hadn’t already pulled this gag first (and with far more gore) in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth back in 1994. Finally, there is a bit where one of the most obnoxious jocks who has ended up in the pool has the pool cover closed slowly over him by Rachel and then we see long shots of him trying to fight his way out of being trapped before he finally gives up the ghost. For a girl who is surrounded by chaos, fire, and screaming victims, and who seems so intent on murdering everyone within range in her blind rage, it is a decidedly dedicated amount of time to spend on one victim, no matter what he has done.

Aaron: You mention that the stakes for Rachel – with her best friend driven to suicide and then heartbroken and publicly humiliated by the people responsible – are higher than they were for Carrie – mocked for her ignorance and then embarrassed publicly at Prom – but I actually felt like they were lower. Carrie was a true social misfit, someone who was so far outside of society that she was effectively an alien species walking through high school life. The brief taste she gets of normalcy is so intoxicating, so foreign and earth-shaking, that to have it pulled brutally out from under her understandably destroyed her grasp on sanity for awhile. In The Rage, Rachel is just too normal for the film’s own good. She’s socially adept, and despite the stigma of a mother in a mental institution, and probably some deep-seated psychological issues stemming from her childhood, she seems remarkably well adjusted. I kept expecting her home life to be the source of some tension, because movies tend to only show adoptive parents when there’s going to be some abuse involved, but that development never came. Sure the foster parents seem a bit strict at times, probably not the most loving couple, and maybe a bit flummoxed by Rachel’s teenaged attitude, but they don’t particularly seem like monsters who mentally or physically abuse Rachel. They seem like a pretty normal family to me.

Rachel has a small group of friends at school, a regular job, and a stable home life. In other words: she is a normal teenage girl in middle class America. This normalcy works against the film’s goals, because I never quite bought the Rage of the title. Rachel doesn’t seem to be harboring any vast reservoir of pent up aggression, aside from a few scenes where she experiences her powers. I can certainly empathize with a spectacular explosion of anger after what she goes through, but I didn’t quite feel like the depth of her rage was proportionate to what we had seen of her behavior so far. Of course, high school is a time of extreme emotions, and sudden outbursts of rage are to be expected, but the film doesn’t quite set up the extremity of the finale. Carrie White in the original film was an avatar of rage, taking her revenge to biblical levels. Rachel Lang goes bloodier, more brutal, more creative with her telekinetic powers, and I didn’t feel the film had earned that. Although, I also believe that it is to Katt Shea’s credit that she never tries to match, or outdo, the tour de force finale De Palma masterminded.

There was one pleasantly dark surprise for me in the finale, which you already mentioned above: the sudden and gory death of Sue Snell. Throughout the film Sue had been trying to help Rachel control her anger and her powers, and had finally struck on the idea of reaching out to Rachel’s mother. It is here that Sue, and the audience, learns of Rachel’s parentage, which gives Sue the idea to smuggle Rachel’s mother out of the mental institution in the hopes that some maternal love could help avoid a catastrophe. Arriving at the party, Sue chooses the exact wrong time to look through a peephole and meets a shocking end. This effectively echoes the journey of one Dick Halloran in Kubrick’s version of The Shining: a character who seems poised to become the deus ex machina that swoops in to save the day, only to be killed in a hilariously perfunctory manner. This does have the unfortunate effect of highlighting just how unnecessary Sue Snell was to the film, but it did make for a memorable moment.

In the end the rampage is stopped by Jesse arriving to the party and admitting he loves Rachel, which she disbelieves until she hears him saying the same thing on the sex tape that is still playing (filmed from an angle strategically chosen to not show genitalia, which was awfully considerate of those football players). Rachel saves Jesse as he’s about to be crushed by a falling beam, but is crushed in his place. She uses the last of her powers to push Jesse to safety before dying herself. What follows is an odd echo of the first film’s finale, as Jesse looks up from his studying a year later to see Rachel has climbed in through his dorm’s window. Before anything can be said, she kind of burns up and fades away before Jesse jumps awake. I’m not sure how I feel about this ending. On the one hand it underlines a point the film fitfully made, which is that trauma will haunt a person for their entire lives, but on the other hand the film failed to set this up or imbue it with any real emotion. Had the film focused more on Sue Snell, or at least developed that theme more fully, I think it could have been pretty effective. Once again I find myself imagining the movie this could have been, and that’s a little unfair to the movie that we did get, so I’ll leave it off at that.

Rik: While Carrie has been now remade twice more (one for TV and a recent theatrical remake), The Rage: Carrie 2’s failure at the box office seemed to have destroyed any thought of continuing the original series at a ridiculous Children of the Corn pace (thankfully). We will get into those other versions of the story in future installments, and whether they were worthy attempts or not, but I have to look at The Rage: Carrie 2 and say that they really fumbled the ball with this one, despite the couple of high points that I mentioned and the fact that they did try to coax a more modern and perhaps reflective story from the source material. The chief problem is that Rachel’s actions do not remain consistent late in the film to what we had seen earlier, and it therefore makes her character ultimately annoying. I would have rather seen her become more self-aware and in control of her powers, and then use them to not just gain her vengeance but to play the boys all along. (Yes, I know it is called The Rage for a reason, but perhaps that could have been the obstacle she truly has to overcome to grow into her true self.) They give us all the ingredients to make us believe that Rachel could turn into a true badass, but then have to ruin it all by being accidentally crushed by her own power. I would have much rather had her live instead of London’s weak character, where she has to live with the regrets of her actions but is strong enough to carry on through a world that is always going to be afraid of the implications of her power.

Aaron: That would be my complaint with this film in a nutshell: The Rage continually suggests the better movies that could have been made instead. Surprisingly, I didn’t hate this movie, or even particularly dislike it. I think it’s clear I have some serious problems with the film, but in general I enjoyed watching it, at least more than I initially thought I would. I found myself looking forward to a second rewatch, because at the very least Katt Shea creates a world that is enjoyable to inhabit for 90 minutes or so, despite the continual ugliness within the film. As you say, Emily Bergl does probably the best you could hope for with this material and character, and in fact I think most of the cast acquits themselves respectably (though, side note: it always bothers me when high school films use actors clearly in their twenties or thirties for the main characters, but populate the extras with age-appropriate teenagers). There is the basis of a good idea in this film, one that would have worked better under the original title The Curse, about how the tragedies of the past inform our daily lives no matter how we run from them, yet the film seems generally disinterested in that. I don’t even want to lay the blame on Katt Shea, who took over as director a few weeks into the production and was given very little prep time and a bunch of reshoots. Perhaps the original script described a better movie. I don’t think this is a film I’ll be adding to my Halloween rotation, but it’s also one I’m pretty sure I will revisit at least once or twice in the future.