Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 190
Stephen King 1947–
American novelist, short story writer, and scriptwriter.
King is primarily known for his modern Gothic novels in which supernatural events reflect psychological disturbances or moral problems. Critics praise King's ability to present aspects of American culture and vernacular. However, some feel that he is derivative in a field that too easily lends itself to imitation and cliché. King's work is a hybridization of the traditional horror tale, as written by Edgar Allan Poe, and the modern thriller, which capitalizes on trendy concerns such as parapsychology, telekinesis, and ESP.
King wrote his first novel, the popular culture classic Carrie, in 1974. Since then he has produced seven novels, two collections of short stories, an autobiography, and a screenplay. Among his recent novels is The Dead Zone, a thriller dealing with paranormal psychology. Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas, is King's bid for recognition as a more serious writer. Another recent addition to the King canon is the novel Christine, a tale of horror about a boy and his vintage car.
(See also CLC, Vol. 12; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 61-64; Something about the Author, Vol. 9; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980.)
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355
[The] arrival of a new Stephen King novel is something of an event: a minor event, perhaps, but still an event. And even when that novel is less than totally satisfying, as is the case with The Dead Zone, it is only slightly less.
King, who explored psychokinesis in Carrie, vampirism in Salem's Lot, mediumship and places of evil in The Shining, applies his considerable writing skills to psychometry (not the science, but the paranormal phenomena) in The Dead Zone. His hero, John Smith—a name choice more playful than profound—awakes from a 4 1/2-year coma with the ability to fully "know" people's present and future circumstances just by touching them or an object they have touched. This skill, in the hands—literally—of good, decent and affable Smith, becomes progressively more curse than blessing, and leads to a final confrontation with a corrupt and dangerous politician whose future Smith knows and deeply fears.
There are two fundamental problems with The Dead Zone: the first is that it is really a meshing (or perhaps overlapping) of two novellas, suggesting that King did not have enough material for one full-length hard-cover novel. Too much of this book is spent demonstrating Smith's strange ability and agonizing over it. The second is that we have come to expect more from Stephen King; if this is unfair, so be it, but the fact remains that his earlier work is still his best work. And he is, after all, the acknowledged contemporary master of the horror/supernatural genre. It follows then that each new novel be judged accordingly.
In defence of The Dead Zone and King, it is a good read; in fact, it is a very good read, not impossible to put down, but putting it down is not something one does willingly. It more than meets the two criteria that King set forth for his kind of book in The New York Times Book Review a couple of years ago: it is "accessible" and it is rendered with "honest intent."
John Gault, "Not Quite Fright," in Maclean's Magazine (© 1979 by Maclean's Magazine; reprinted by permission), Vol. 93, No. 39, September 24, 1979, p. 56.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2365
To be sure, [Carrie] is a special kind of fairy tale: it is an adult fairy tale explicit in matters of sex, killing and revenge, and if the young appreciate it, it may be because their tastes have grown ahead of their chronological age. But Carrie is nevertheless a fairy tale: rites de passage, supernatural powers, magic and rites of sacrifice. Since fairy tales feed on such themes, the folktale opus is quite similar the world over. But Carrie, made into a highly popular movie, and thus rendered into a series of images, largely does away with the one unshakable source of ethnicity in folklore, namely the language of the people. The film medium as well as the inexpensive translations into many languages made by the industry of successful paperbacks assure Carrie of a wide, international diffusion and turn it into the new universal fairy tale.
The German romantic poet Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), once said: "deeper meaning lies in the fairy tale of my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life." (p. 282)
The fairy tale … suggests, implies, hints about significant problems facing the child, and does so through imagery rather than discourse. In Brothers Grimm's "Little Snow White," we read:
(The Queen) whilst she was sewing and looking out the window, at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow…. Soon thereafter she had a little girl, who was as white as snow, and as red as blood, and her hair was as black as ebony; the child was therefore called Little Snow White. And when the child was born the Queen died.
What follows is the appearance of the cruel stepmother and the conflict between the two…. The stepmother looks into the mirror and says, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" only to discover that now Snow White outshines her in beauty. She decides to destroy the rival. But are we not dealing in this fairy tale with a deeper meaning covertly presented as magic? Could not the drop of blood in the snow be menstrual blood signifying Snow White's coming of age and thus leading to mother-daughter rivalry? In the child's mind the mother in her role of a rival becomes an evil stepmother. In another fairy tale from the Grimm collection, "The Goose-Girl," the blood and a girl's sexual maturation are tied together even closer. In this tale a queen sends her daughter to her betrothed, "to a prince who lived a great distance." Along with many objects which would seem to fit a dowry, the mother gives her daughter something rather curious: a blood stained handkerchief…. (pp. 282-83)
Unless we are willing to seek a deeper meaning in this story, "The Goose-Girl" becomes rather senseless. On a rational plane, the gift of a handkerchief with three drops of blood has precious little meaning. But the blood-stained piece of cloth clearly suggests maturation demonstrated by the menstrual cycle; this is all the more obvious since the girl having received the blood-stained handkerchief departs to marry. But the goose-girl refuses to grow up. She drops the handkerchief. Still, with the help of the old king, a father figure, she reaches maturity and is ready for marriage.
Thus the fairy tale imagery catalyzes fantasies about social and sexual anxieties. By identifying with the fairy tale hero, the child meets these anxieties head on, lives through them. At the end of the fairy tale, the child experiences not only moral edification, but also a sense of catharsis for having lived through an often frightful experience…. Hence the mass appeal of the fairy tale: it is edifying, it is entertaining and it is consoling—one needs not be overly fearful, things will always turn all right; the fairy tale answers the child's psychic needs.
Stephen King too reserves a deeper, subtextual meaning for Carrie, when he states on the very first page of his novel: "Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level, where savage things grow." (p. 283)
Carrie begins with Carrie White's first period. Unlike the fairy tale, the flow of menses is made here quite explicit. The opening scene of the book takes place in the school shower room. There, Carrie's schoolmates in a "hoarse, uninhibited abandon" shout "Period, Period!" and "Plug it up!", as Carrie White is experiencing her first menstrual cycle: "The blood was dark, and flowing with terrible heaviness. Both of Carrie's legs were smeared and splattered with it, as though she had waded through a river of blood."
[Sigmund] Freud once observed that ever since the menstrual flow ceased to function as an olfactory attraction between the male and female of the species …, the menstrual cycle became an activity both feared and abhorred. Anthropological studies well complement Freud in this respect. Joseph Campbell notes, for example, that among the primitive tribes girls in their first period are placed in isolated huts where they remain secluded for the duration of the menstrual flow. This, one should think, to impress upon them the significance of the rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood, and also to stress the privacy of the act. Carrie, therefore, is guilty of breaking a taboo by displaying her menses in public. But her schoolmates are guilty too. For it is the duty of those who know to instruct those who are coming of age. It must be noted that Carrie has her first period at sixteen; thus unusually late. All her classmates are, therefore, well initiated into womanhood. But rather than help, they merely give vent to their disgust and abhorrence. Only one girl in the group, Susan Snell, assumes the role of an older and wiser member of the community who will lead Carrie through the difficult rite of passage….
But Carrie does not listen. In a sense, like the goose-girl, she refuses to grow up. Later on in the novel Sue Snell will try to help again and at the end she will be the only person present at Carrie White's death.
A child cannot cope with the idea of a mother that is both good and bad: a mother that on the one hand brings the child into the world, feeds it, tends to its many needs and on the other is angry, scolds the infant, indulges in sexual rivalry (often imaginary) with the child. Whence in "Little Snow White," (as in many other fairy tales), the mother, having given birth to the child, conveniently dies, while it is the stepmother who wants to repress Snow White's budding sexuality, because she wishes her own to blossom.
In Stephen King's novel the fairy tale stepmother finds her counterpart in Carrie White's own mother who wishes to repress her daughter's sexuality. The good mother on the other hand is Susan Snell.
In Carrie, Carrie White's first period, or in other words her passage from childhood to womanhood, is followed by the School Spring Prom. Only girls invited by boys can attend. Carrie has no boyfriend, but Sue Snell does—Tommy Ross—and she convinces him that he should ask Carrie to the Prom while she, Sue, will simply stay at home. Carrie goes to the Prom with Tommy disregarding her mother's violent objections:
"Red," Momma murmured. (Referring to Carrie's dress she made herself for the Prom).
"I might have known it would be red."
"I can see your dirty pillows. Everyone will. They will be looking at your body. The Book says—"
"Those are my breasts, Momma. Every woman has them."
"Take off that dress," Momma said.
"No." "Take it off, Carrie. We'll go down and burn it in the incinerator together, and then pray for forgiveness.
We'll do penance …"
Momma screamed. She made her right hand a fist and struck herself in the mouth, bringing blood.
She dabbled her fingers in it, looked at it dreamily, and daubed a spot on the cover of the bible.
Carrie's mother flaunts religion as a substitute for human growth due to her own sexual inadequacy. (pp. 283-85)
But if Carrie's natural mother, like the fairy tale stepmother, tries to repress the girl's budding sexuality. Susan Snell, assuming the role of a fairy tale natural parent, gives Carrie Tommy Ross and at the Prom, significantly called the Spring Prom, Carrie White blossoms in her womanly beauty…. And finally, Tommy and Carrie are elected the first couple of the ball…. And then came the blood. Just as Carrie White, unmindful of the age-old taboo, displayed her menses in public, so now the vengeful crowd composed of school kids, at the moment of Carrie's greatest triumph on her path of passage from childhood to maturity, repays her by showering both her and Tommy with buckets of pig's blood.
Spring and pig's blood are significant concepts. Carrie, through her awakened sexuality, becomes the Queen of the Spring Ball. Does she not imitate Persephone, who too rises each year in the spring with the awakened nature? But, as [Sir James George] Frazer points out [in The Golden Bough], Persephone may have been worshipped in the figure of the pig, with pigs sacrificed in her honor….
Since Thesmophoria [an ancient Greek agricultural festival dedicated to Demeter and her daughter Persephone] was celebrated in November and the rites with the swine concern Persephone's descent into the underworld, isn't the drenching with pig's blood a kind of mock sacrifice aiming to render the rising spring goddess Persephone-Carrie, into a goddess descending into the earthly abyss with the onset of winter?
In the aftermath of this mock sacrificial rite to Carrie-Persephone, the heroine of Stephen King's novel does indeed grow into a kind of divinity of winter's death, rather than spring's renewal, who imparts her will and thoughts to others, and whom others, albeit total strangers, know with that special kind of mythical knowledge. To investigate this aspect of Carrie's development, however, it is necessary to step back to the beginning of the novel.
In folk lore, it is a commonly accepted tenet that sexual maturation should be accompanied by the acquisition of special kind of wisdom hitherto not possessed by the novice. Rites of passage, or initiation rites are the major theme of fairy tales, and are usually depicted as a quest. At the end of the quest, after many trials, a young boy or girl emerges safe and whole to be sure, much wiser, and usually with a spouse. (pp. 285-86)
Thus in the framework of folklore it is quite natural that Carrie White should develop a special kind of knowledge upon reaching sexual maturity. For Carrie this knowledge is telekinesis, or the ability to move objects at will, by the power of one's will…. (p. 286)
Splashed, drenched in pig's blood at the point where she was selected the Queen of the Spring Prom and thus cruelly mocked at the climactic point in her short and unhappy life, Carrie puts her telekinetic powers to awesome use of destructive vengeance which she hurls upon the people and property of Chamberlain, Mass…. At the end of the novel Carrie dies from wounds inflicted by her own mother whom she in turn kills by telekinetically stopping her heart from beating. But like Persephone, the dying and born again goddess of spring renewal, Carrie too has her resurrection in the little girl Annie, about whom we read on the last page of King's novel. The little girl, only two years old, is endowed, like Carrie, with the telekinetic potential.
Knifed by her own mother, Carrie staggers from the house and dies some distance from her home. Susan Snell is with her in her last dying moments. Susan simply knew, with that special kind of unexplainable knowledge where Carrie was, what she felt…. (pp. 286-87)
In her death Carrie clearly merges the image of Susan with that of her mother. Susan Snell, to be sure, is the good parent who helps in the child's development and growth. Susan is central to the concepts of consolation and moral instruction that are an integral part of the fairy tale and are present, as well, in Stephen King's Carrie. Susan Snell is the only person from Carrie's school not to have fallen prey to Carrie's telekinetic ire—hence the consolation and also the moral lesson: good people live, bad die. Susan is a good mother and she lives; Carrie too lives on in Annie.
It is important to note that the film prefers Gothic horror to this important aspect of folklore tradition, namely consolation and moral edification. In the film Carrie, at the very end, Susan has a dream … in which she goes to Carrie's grave only to be threatened suddenly and most unexpectedly by a horrid, bloody hand reaching for her from Carrie's grave. This scene is most effectively horrifying, alas at the expense of very important aspects of folklore tradition: moral edification and consolation.
Carrie then is folklore. It is a fairy tale and like the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Afanas'ev in Russia, it feeds on universal myths, magic, ancient ways and the narrator's rich imagination. But Carrie's narrator is far more sophisticated than the story tellers of the Grimms or Afanas'ev, and so is his audience. The narrator has evolved into a writer and the mode of transmission to a literate audience is no longer oral: it is "the million copy bestseller" paperback easily translatable into many languages, and the film largely reducing the story to its image content. Carrie then is a universal fairy tale, folklore of the last quarter of the twentieth century. And Carrie enjoys the popularity of folklore, updated to be sure through the explicit treatment of sex and violence. It responds to deeply rooted sexual and social anxieties. It also offers consolation and moral edification; but alas, it would seem that there exists an inverted ratio between explicit sex and violence on the one hand and consolation and morality on the other: the greater the one, the lesser the other. (p. 287)
Alex E. Alexander, "Stephen King's 'Carrie'—A Universal Fairytale," in Journal of Popular Culture (copyright © 1979 by Ray B. Browne), Vol. XIII, No. 2, Fall, 1979, pp. 282-87.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 156
A master of psychic terror returns with [Firestarter], yet another study of strange phenomena guaranteed to enthrall his audience. Two college students sign up as paid guinea pigs for a secret and unknowingly dangerous government experiment in telekinesis…. When the subjects marry and have a baby, however, their child develops not only telekinesis but pyrokinesis as well; in short, the tot can not only push things with her mind, but set them ablaze as well. The government's plan to use the girl as a human weapon set King's plot into action, and an extended chase ensues with the expected havoc wreaked in vivid detail. King's highly visual style, almost akin to Hollywood special effects, sends the blood splattering, the flesh ripping, and the bodies flying in particularly gruesome fashion.
John Brosnahan, in his review of "Firestarter," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright © 1980 by the American Library Association), Vol. 76, No. 20, June 15, 1980, p. 1464.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 102
[Firestarter is an] improvement over The Dead Zone, with King returning to his most tried-and-true blueprint. As in The Shining, the psi-carrier is a child, an eight-year-old girl named Charlie; but instead of foresight or hindsight, Charlie has fire-starting powers…. Dumb, very, and still a far cry from the excitement of The Shining or Salem's Lot—but King keeps the story moving with his lively fire-gimmick and fewer pages of cotton padding than in his recent, sluggish efforts. The built-in readership will not be disappointed.
A review of "Firestarter," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1980 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVIII. No. 14, July 15, 1980, p. 930.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 118
[Firestarter is another] smasheroo from a writer whose books haunt bestseller lists as well as impressionable imaginations. This is your advanced post-Watergate cynical American thriller with some eerie parapsychological twists, and it's been done so distinctively well that we'd better talk about genius rather than genre. Complex characterizations, credible dialogue and a no-nonsense prose style are among the uncommon virtues King brings to popular fiction, and his novels will be read long after this year's Prix Limburger winner has gone the way of all big cheeses for a season. As scary as Carrie.
Paul Stuewe, "American Thrillers: 'Firestarter', 'Brass Diamonds', 'Brain 2000'," in Quill and Quire (reprinted by permission of Quill and Quire), Vol. 46, No. 10, October, 1980, pp. 40-1.∗
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 962
H. P. Lovecraft once called Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables "New England's greatest contribution to weird literature." Pace Hawthorne scholars, there's a new contender, out of Maine, for the title. At least booksellers today would be unanimous in citing Stephen King, author of Carrie, The Shining, Salem's Lot, The Stand, The Dead Zone, and now Firestarter, best sellers all, as the northeast's preeminent scribe of the spooky.
King has not been taken very seriously, if at all, by the critical establishment. Unfortunately for him, it's all too easy to take cheap shots at his material by lifting bits of it out of context; what is ghastly when the mood has been set can be risible when the lights are up, so to speak. (p. 38)
But King's real stigma—the reason he is not perceived as being in competition with real writers—is that he has chosen to write about ghoulies and ghosties, about things that go bump in the night. Rats and vampires, necromancers and mind-readers, deadly plagues and telekinetic children: it may sound silly but, as King is well aware …, there's a long, as the saying goes, and honorable tradition.
It's a familiar list, these distinguished folk who've been intrigued with what Lovecraft termed "the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things": Dickens, Henry James, Kipling, Walter de la Mare, de Maupassant. And there are many best known for their work in the horror genre alone: J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James. References to these greats … are dotted throughout the King oeuvre. It is apparent that he has read widely and appreciatively in SF, fantasy, and supernatural literature.
King began by borrowing freely. In his collection of short stories, Night Shift …, two tales in particular call to mind earlier classics: "Jerusalem's Lot" (which sets the scene for the novel Salem's Lot) resembles Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" and "Gray Matter" seems to owe a bit too much to Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the White Powder." But overall, King has been moving in the direction of admirable originality; it is no mean trick to make the here-and-now creepy, without recourse to gothic ruins or the Carpathian Mountains.
Firestarter is dedicated to Shirley Jackson and takes its epigraph from Ray Bradbury, another writer whom King often calls to mind, specifically when he elegizes small-town America…. Firestarter is [as Henry James would say] "an excursion into chaos," much as was Carrie, another novel in which a young female mind could upend the fixed laws of nature.
This time, however, the child is a grade-schooler, not a sexually strait-jacketed adolescent: Charlene Roberta McGee, a precocious seven-year-old when the story begins, is on the lam with her father, Andy, running from minions of "the Shop." (pp. 38-9)
Flashbacks reveal that Andy and Vicky, the woman who became his wife, had volunteered as guinea pigs in a drug-testing experiment back when they were seniors in college. Their encounter with "di-lysergic triune acid"—administered by a faculty member, yet secretly controlled by the Shop—is an episode of unsettling gruesomeness that doesn't really end when the effects ostensibly have worn off. Not only do Andy and Vicky find themselves afflicted with low-grade psychic powers, but their genes are somehow affected as well. They realize the extent of the problem when the infant Charlene shows herself to be capable, if annoyed, of sizzling up the hairs on her teddy bear….
The bulk of [Firestarter's scenario] is King's characteristic long-windedness; the rest is pursuit-and-flight … and the anticipation of those moments when Charlie shows herself to be "capable of manufacturing hell, or a reasonable facsimile." Yet the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and once again King has given the supernatural epic a good name, for those not afraid to meet it on its own terms. Though an inelegant writer … King impresses, finally, by virtue of his enthusiasm and self-confidence, his faith in his own imaginative powers. Some may object that King's writing is too enthusiastic, or, at least, too energetic. A true son of the 1960s, King in all his books makes the music coming out of the era one of his touch stones for decency and sensitivity…. Even his love of parentheses, to indicate thought or menace or to heighten a mood, could be considered writing stereophonically. Sometimes a King novel or story is a veritable lightshow of italics, ellipses, and parentheses; one imagines him drumming it out on an electric typewriter with rock music blaring behind and the occasional blown fuse.
King also has a well-known predilection for brand-name products: Hush-Puppies, Adolph's Meat Tenderizer, Pledge, Woolco, Sara Lee, Cheez Doodles, Cremora, Hefty Bags, Shakey's Pizza, etc. Certainly these items were missing from Castle Dracula, as were such favorite King expressions as "pissant," "doodly-squat," and "shitcan." King also does very well with making modern appliances and machinery, like lawnmowers and trucks, ominous, even predatory: perhaps he will one day give us a killer Cuisinart.
Stephen King, in short, is not the kind of occult writer who would have gone out and joined a satanic society; brushed by the counterculture, he's still much more likely to be a pillar of the local Kiwanis. But his Sears catalogue horror can be appealing, as it taps everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to Chuck Berry. Moreover, King's fiction fulfills, in its own way, Henry James's dictum that "a good ghost-story … be connected at a hundred points with the common objects of life." James might have fastidiously recoiled from King's lumbering prose but he would have understood what he was about. (p. 39)
Michele Slung, "A Master of the Macabre," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1981 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 184, No. 8, February 21, 1981, pp. 38-9.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 358
I defend [Stephen King as a SF writer] now because I have a good excuse: The Dead Zone. (p. 164)
Technology doesn't enter into this tale. The occult does, however, for Johnny's talent is occult. It is of the light, though, not the dark; and he uses it to fight for the good. And here is the key to King's choice of themes. He writes of good versus evil, putting a usually shaded white up against the blackest black. He uses the occult, I suspect, solely because it lends itself to tales of horror, and perhaps because it makes good and evil seem more akin. Yet he treats it as rationally as he can, given its nature. It is a source of power, but one with limits that restrict his heroes. And, at least in The Dead Zone, it is not quite the sort of occult beloved of the masses. On that silliness [King] heaps scorn. Johnny's mother goes all out for flying saucers, interstellar and subpolar True Christians, and all the other goodies in the cosmic fruitcake. An occult-oriented tabloid seeks Johnny as a "house psychic" and gets the bum's rush. Fans are avoided like the ten plagues of Israel.
Does Steve King write science fiction? It's a fair question, for to most people he is a horror writer, a fantasist. But his premises that the occult (especially ESP) is real and evil can be personified are hardly foreign to our field. And he is as much a rationalist, free-will advocate, and moral reactionary ("absolutist," as opposed to "relativist"; he does not believe that society makes evil, even though he does use background to flesh out his evil characters) as that demigod of SF, Robert A. Heinlein.
King's works have their fantasy components, sometimes more strongly than others, but at least his latest are indeed SF. The Stand and The Dead Zone are both examples. And they are both ripping good stories. For all their length, I enjoyed both tremendously…. (p. 165)
Tom Easton, in his review of "The Dead Zone" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. CI, No. 4, March 30, 1981, pp. 164-65.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 216
With a master's sure feel for the power of the plausible to terrify as much or more than the uncanny, [in Cujo] King builds a riveting novel out of the lives of some very ordinary and believable people in a small Maine town, and an unfortunate 200 lb. St. Bernard…. [There is] a succession of bloody deaths and, the main event, the nerve-stretching siege of a woman and her four-year-old son, trapped in a small car by the mad dog for two broiling days and endless nights. King's work is so powerful because he troubles to give his characters' lives dimension beyond the minimal needs of the situation. His expert use of colloquial language in both dialogue and narration augments the impact of the extraordinary events he describes. These qualities and his remarkable instinct for pacing have you turning pages effortlessly from the start, and then with increasing urgency as the tension builds. This is a biting novel of gut-twisting terror and suspense. More tightly written and perhaps therefore superior to King's last couple of books, it is likely to equal or surpass their popularity.
A review of "Cujo," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the July 17, 1981 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1981 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 220, No. 3, July 17, 1981, p. 80.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 653
Stephen King has written a dog story?
Well, yes and no. Mostly no, but it takes 30 or 40 pages to find out for certain. (p. 1)
[Cujo's] eponymous canine—a Saint Bernard belonging to the family of an aggressively uncouth auto mechanic by the name of Joe Camber—contracts rabies and turns from a gentle giant into an indefatigable engine of madness and death. Although Camber's garage lies in the boondocks well beyond Castle Rock, Maine, Donna Trenton and her 4-year-old son Tad drive out there to see about her malfunctioning Pinto. Her husband Vic, meanwhile, has flown to Boston with his partner to try to dissuade their tiny ad agency's most lucrative client from dumping them. When Cujo lays murderous siege to the stalled Pinto, and when Vic's long-distance calls to home go unanswered, the reader soon realizes that King's dog story owes more to Alfred Hitchcock than to Albert Payson Terhune.
Deft characterization and rigorous plotting, a la Hitchcock, inform the best of King's bravura experiments in the horror genre. A conscious awareness of this fact—elsewhere King has confessed especial admiration for the methods of Jack Finney, in whose work the alien and the bizarre often casually emerge from the mundane—has enabled him to develop a useful storytelling formula. By introducing believable middle- and lower-middle-class Americans into situations that defy conventional logic, King subjects the reader to a harrowing tour of the lives of characters who must attempt to defeat the irrational—whether prejudice, plague, vampires, or the cumulative evil accruing to a particular site—in order to restore a modicum of sanity to their world.
Cujo is carefully cut to this formula, but its supernatural element—a rabid dog's possession by the spirit of a psychotic killer from The Dead Zone, a previous King novel—strikes me as obtrusive and phony. Why go mucking up a good, if somewhat overlong, dog story with such drivel? Does King lack the confidence to forgo this nod to previous successes, or does he hope to justify Cujo's insane pertinacity and stamina by imputing to the dog the free-floating force of cosmic evil? The latter, I feel sure. The worm at the heart of Cujo, then, probably uncoils from the author's fear that no mortal animal, healthy or otherwise, could behave as does his doggy Rasputin. This fear, I think, is unfounded, and I wish King had been content to write a thriller without these annoying curtsies to the great grinning idol of the commercial horror novel.
Despite this objection and the inordinate number of pages devoted to Cujo's siege, King's ability to draw character and to marshal a complex series of forward-moving scenes redeems the book. By easy and justifiable reference to dozens of contemporary American icons—Darth Vader, Tupperware, Count Chocula, Where the Wild Things Are, Travis McGee, etc.—he skillfully evokes the here-and-now reality of his characters…. (pp. 1-2)
To resort to hackneyed terminology, we identify with King's characters. He has made it impossible for us not to. This feat, accomplished with such apparent offhandedness, deserves notice and praise. It suggests that King's talent could easily lend itself to the writing of fiction of a decidedly more "literary" order.
But I am fairly happy with what he has given us. Nineteenth-century England had Wilkie Collins for literate, headlong melodrama; we have Stephen King. Both tend to pile up the words along with the suspense, and excessive length is not really necessary for a dog story incorporating implicit observations about the nature of evil. (See Stephen Crane's "A Small Brown Dog" or Jack London's "Batard.") Cujo, however, is a dog story in which human beings dominate our concern. As an adult, I appreciate this fact and do not begrudge King the space he needs to bring them to life. He does it well. (p. 2)
Michael Bishop, "Mad Dogs … and Englishmen," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1981, The Washington Post), August 23, 1981, pp. 1-2.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 173
[In Cujo, victims of the mad dog's] violence are two families—that of his owner, backwoods auto mechanic Joe Camber, and of Vic Trenton, an ad man struggling to keep an important account while "dealing" with his wife's infidelity and his four year old's fears. Counterpoint to the ad campaign's folksy slogan and the writer's lush reveries are nightmarish vigils in stalled Pintos where one awaits deadly assault and relentless visions of heat and horror. Beyond the façades of modern life, the ordinary world of creaky closets and baseball bats, coloring books and toy trucks, Slim Jims and shabby affairs, lies the potential for savagery unwitting and otherwise …, the menace that Aldous Huxley has termed "the imminent maniac." It is King's style of "bringing it all back home" that leads one effortlessly, if gratuitously, to the bloody denouement.
Sylvia Pascal, in her review of "Cujo," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the October, 1981 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1981), Vol. 28, No. 2, October, 1981, p. 162.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 212
While the usual aura of the supernatural, of which King is master, hangs over [Cujo], the real terror is its reality. Given the right circumstances, anyone of us could find ourselves held captive in a small automobile on a blazing hot day by a rabid dog, driven to rage by his pain…. Cujo has already killed [his owner] Camber and his drinking buddy and he will kill again before the book ends.
Younger King fans may not find this quite as appealing as earlier titles since it places great emphasis on the marriage relationship of Vic and Donna Trenton as well as Vic's struggle to save the ad agency in which he is a partner. It also offers considerable insight into how women like Mrs. Camber find themselves trapped in a marriage in which poverty is the major jailer. One additional problem is the overkill of profanity that occurs early in the book and then fades away. None of this, of course, will keep King fans away; the only question is whether you will want to let them sneak it from adult or risk putting YA on its spine.
Dorothy M. Broderick, in her review of "Cujo," in Voice of Youth Advocates (copyrighted 1981 by Voice of Youth Advocates), Vol. 4, No. 4, October, 1981, p. 34.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 630
The movie is Creepshow [directed by George A. Romero] and the script is by Stephen King, whose novels Carrie and The Shining became stunning films by Brian De Palma and Stanley Kubrick, and whose second novel, Salem's Lot, was a CBS mini series. That's the connection between King and Romero: a studio executive saw Romero's 1977 vampire movie, Martin, at a Utah film festival and asked him to direct Salem's Lot, a project from which Romero eventually removed himself.
Nevertheless, Romero and King remained in contact, for the match of talents was irresistible. "What Stephen King and George Romero have in common is a lack of inhibitions," says Kirby McCauley, an agent who specializes in science fiction and fantasy. "Other writers and filmmakers dance around horror—those two plow right into it." (p. 72)
[It took King two months to write] Creepshow, a conscious and affectionate imitation of William M. Gaines's horror comics of the Fifties, screamers like Weird Science and Tales from the Crypt, of which King was an avid reader as a child. Like them, Creepshow consists of five short stories interleaved with advertisements for Grit newspapers, Joy Buzzers, X-ray glasses, and novelties to "Amuse and Amaze Your Friends."
Wrapped around these five stories is a sixth, situated on Maple Street, in Centerville, U.S.A. A boy named Billy … is in his room at night reading a comic book called Creepshow. When Billy's cruel father discovers his son's secret vice, he slaps the boy, snatches the comic book, and stuffs it into a garbage can in the street. Lightning flickers as the camera seeks out the book in the can. The cover is blown over, and we see Crayola-colored artwork: a family in a sitting room beneath the title, "Father's Day." Then the lettering vanishes, the splash page becomes a freeze frame, the actors move, and Creepshow the comic becomes Creepshow the $8 million film.
The situations in the stories are classic: an autocratic father returns from the grave after seven years to chasten his errant daughter; a shirttail farmer … unearths a meteor that seeds his land and his face with weeds; a janitor and a student are both slaughtered by a ravenous monster inside a cobwebbed crate. Says King, "The comic-book form allowed us to pare the motivations and characterizations down to a bare minimum and let us just go for scares."
The texture and mood of a creepy comic is likewise being imitated with the camera work and production design. Scrolled borders indicate flashbacks, scrims behind an actress make the camera frame flare with her scream, titles indicate time passage: "Soon," "Later," "Meanwhile." (pp. 72-3)
Romero's are the sort of movies that some critics execrate, but they've earned him a cult following. For Michael Gornick, director of photography on Creepshow, as well as on Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Knightriders, only the script has changed; the ironic treatment of fantasy material was there ever since Night of the Living Dead. (pp. 73, 76)
And then too there is that recovered sense of childhood's certainties, of what's good and what's evil and of just desserts, producer [Richard P.] Rubinstein concurs. "I think George has always regarded fantasy and horror as basically allegorical, and that's something he has in common even with Grimm's fairy tales. He says it's a way of doing morality plays and still remaining commercial. You look at these stories in Creepshow, and it's sin and retribution in almost every case."…
Creepshow isn't like one of those hackabout horror films currently making the rounds. Romero's scenes are mitigated by what Rubinstein calls "violence so stylized that the audience can't forget they're watching a movie." (p. 76)
Ron Hansen, "'Creepshow': The Dawn of a Living Horror Comedy" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Esquire, Vol. 97, No. 1, January, 1982, pp. 72-3, 76.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 139
It will take all of King's monumental by line-insurance to drum up an audience for [Different Seasons, a] bottom-of-the-trunk collection: four overpadded novellas, in non-horror genres—without the gripping situations needed to transcend King's notoriously clumsy writing. Best of the lot is Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption…. The climax is feeble (especially after such a long build-up), the redemption theme is murky—but the close observation of prison life offers some engaging details…. [Throughout Different Seasons, we find thin] gimmicks, weighed down with King's weak characters and weaker prose (unlike his crisp short stories)—but the fans may come around yet again, despite the clear evidence that King needs the supernatural to distract from his awesome limitations as a mainstream storyteller.
A review of "Different Seasons," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1982 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. L, No. 12, June 15, 1982, p. 693.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 211
Readers who are drawn to what Stephen King calls the "gooshy parts" of his books—arms mangled by garbage disposals, etc.—may find themselves a little disappointed by these four novellas. The title of the collection [Different Seasons] is meant to suggest a foray into something a bit closer to mainstream fiction, but three of the four stories still rely heavily on elements of the macabre. One of these, "Apt Pupil," is a disjointed tale of a teenager and the parasitic relationship he falls into with an ex-Nazi. The tone of this novella goes somehow wrong, as if King, looking for a way to exploit his characteristic combination of humor and terror, can't find anything to laugh at. The last two stories in the collection are much more successful: "The Body" describes four 10-year-olds and their first encounter with death, while "The Breathing Method" concerns a group of elderly gentlemen who sip brandy and tell horror stories, one involving a woman's bizarre application of a Lamaze-like birth technique. King is guilty of some self-indulgence here …, but there is no denying his narrative drive.
Bill Ott, in his review of "Different Seasons," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright © 1982 by the American Library Association), Vol. 78, No. 21, July, 1982, p. 1394.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460
In the afterword to [Different Seasons], Stephen King calls his "stuff" "fairly plain, not very literary, and sometimes (although it hurts like hell to admit it) downright clumsy." He summarizes a career of horror novels as "plain fiction for plain folks, the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and a large fries from McDonald's."
To find the secret of his success, you have to compare King to [Mark] Twain, [Edgar Allan] Poe—with a generous dash of Philip Roth and Will Rogers thrown in for added popular measure. King's stories tap the roots of myth buried in all our minds….
King's visionary flights in these four novellas show us the natural shape of the human soul—a shape even more horrifying, for its protean masks, than the ghouls he has conjured up in the novels. His productivity is based on his awareness that audience psychology responds to the simple elements of fiction, presented directly….
In "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," he hooks us blatantly with the narrator's predicted triumph. Within a page or so, he can admit the falseness of the hook—and we don't care. For King, the art is to reveal the art. We adore the special effects….
In "The Body," King shows his skill at assuming a youngster's character, at the same time expressing how Americans sound not at their best but in their everyday voices….
The most chilling story in the collection, perhaps the most horrifying King has published to date, is "Apt Pupil," subtitled "Summer of Corruption."…
The repulsion of the all-American newsboy extorting from the dying Nazi the chilling details of his role in the war is bad enough, but what evokes the infernal depths of human nature is the transfer of evil and inhumanity from one to the other by story's end. The boy is innocent no longer, and the reader recognizes his own face in King's mirror:
"Todd smiled at him. And incredibly—certainly not because he wanted to—Dussander found himself smiling back."
King's afterword describes his conversations with editor Bill Thompson concerning his career. Thompson was afraid King might be typed as a horror writer…. King allowed that things could be worse: "I could, for example, be an 'important' writer like Joseph Heller and publish a novel every seven years or so, or a 'brilliant' writer like John Gardner and write obscure books for bright academics who eat macrobiotic foods and drive old Saabs with faded but still legible Gene McCarthy for President stickers on the rear bumpers."
Whatever King and his editors decide about his image, our appetite for his McDonald's shows no signs of abating.
Kenneth Atchity, "Stephen King: Making Burgers with the Best" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 29, 1982, p. 7.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 769
Over the last decade Mr. King has certainly not wanted for ears; he is one of the most popular writers of our era. But unlike other vulgar—in the root sense of speaking in the voice of and to the average person—best-selling authors, Mr. King seems to have remained unsatisfied by mere popularity….
[The] author of some of the best horror stories since those of Ambrose Bierce and H. P. Lovecraft may want [understanding as well as acceptance]. And it's precisely this quest for understanding, the drive to make his vision not only well known but deeply felt, that appears to have led him to publish ["Different Seasons," an] uneven, though often surprising, volume.
The first surprise comes early: The opening prison narrative titled "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" shows us that the creator of such studies of the criminal mind as "The Shining" and "The Dead Zone" can effectively treat innocence as well as guilt. Set in a fictional state penitentiary in the author's home state of Maine, the tale is told in the first person by Red, a prisoner and entrepreneur who has as one of his best customers a former banker and convicted murderer, Andy Dufresne. Dufresne stands out among the lifers in the yard long before Red discovers his real story; the man is a cultivated type who, even as he's fighting off the brutal sexual advances of Shawshank's population of "sisters," apparently spends his time alone shaping and polishing pieces of quartz from the yard. This dedication to an art form of sorts impresses Red, who thought he had seen it all….
It's difficult to imagine any reader feeling a sense of awe at the way Mr. King bullies his way through this tough-guy novella …, but the piece does give off a certain warmth. And if it's not "pretty," it is still an admirable departure from the genre that made the author famous.
"Apt Pupil," the second and longest narrative in the volume, also stands as the most disappointing. It is a psychological study of the tandem corruption of Todd Bowden, a Southern California high-school student, and Kurt Dussander, the Nazi war criminal he discovers in his own hometown. The story links the sunny present of America with the nightmare past of death camps and all of what Todd calls their "gooshy" atrocities. Big theme here—but in execution the piece comes off as somewhat silly, with the tone wavering between that of cartoon images from horror comic books and the worst variety of pulp fiction…. (p. 10)
But if Mr. King stumbles in "Apt Pupil," he picks himself up again and continues at a fast clip with "The Body," which is narrated by his doppelgänger, Gordie Lachance. In this supposed memoir we return to the scene of a number of crimes from Mr. King's earlier fiction—Castle Rock, Me., the setting of "The Dead Zone" and "Cujo"—but the style here is once again in the psychological rather than the supernatural mode. Narrator Lachance takes us back to the initiation rite that may have formed him as a successful writer—the overnight trek into the Maine woods he took with three other working-class friends in search of another teen-ager's rotting corpse…. There's some pretentiousness to Lachance's tale, especially in the inclusion of two stories that he published in little magazines early in his career, some swipes at writers such as John Gardner …, praise of Ralph Ellison, and some Mailerlike conceit…. But there's a lot to admire in this recollection of dead and dead-end kids—and a scene in which the boys attempt to cross a railroad trestle as the tracks begin to hum may induce a permanent fear of hiking.
Readers who fear that Mr. King may have hiked permanently out of the territory in which they love to see him travel will be reassured to learn that in "The Breathing Method," the final novella in this collection, he returns to the horror story as a conquering hero…. The natural narrative force that previously has helped Mr. King overcome his often clumsy prose and sophomoric philosophizing churns through these pages stronger than ever before; and yet he's never written anything that seems so polished and finished.
As a collection "Different Seasons" is flawed and out of balance, but that shouldn't deter anyone with a taste for interesting popular fiction. Each of the first three novellas has its hypnotic moments, and the last one is a horrifying little gem. (p. 17)
Alan Cheuse, "Horror Writer's Holiday," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 29, 1982, pp. 10, 17.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606
Those who have already rushed out to buy Different Seasons … may be a trifle shocked by what they have brought home: a collection of four novellas, only one of which offers the chills that have become King's trademark. The Breathing Method is an eerie account of a terribly unnatural childbirth. But the other three, though sporadically gruesome, come without King's customary trimmings. Gone are varieties of telekinesis (Carrie, Firestarter) and precognition (The Shining, The Dead Zone). There are no vampires (Salem's Lot), apocalyptic plagues (The Stand) or satanically rabid Saint Bernards (Cujo). The only reader likely to find these long tales truly frightening is an old-fashioned book lover: they are spooky examples of what can be called postliterate prose.
The genre is new, its methods still in the formative stage, but King is its popular master. Different Seasons offers a dazzling display of how writing can appeal to people who do not ordinarily like to read. King uses language the same way the baseball fan seated behind the home-team dugout uses placards: to remind those present of what they have already seen. In Apt Pupil, for example, a 13-year-old boy tracks down a Nazi war criminal hiding out in his own Southern California suburb. When he confronts the fugitive, the youth is disappointed by the old man's accent: "It didn't sound … well, authentic. Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes sounded more like a Nazi than Dussander did." Perhaps a teen-ager might find a TV sitcom more vividly real than a phenomenon that predated his birth. But members of his immediate family are judged in the same way: "Dick Bowden, Todd's father, looked remarkably like a movie and TV actor named Lloyd Bochner." When Todd finds himself in a dilemma, he mentally goes to the movies: "He thought of a cartoon character with an anvil suspended over its head."
Such perceptions spare readers the task of puzzling them out. They short-circuit thought, plugging directly into prefabricated images. And they are by no means limited to young characters….
Even King's elderly characters talk as if they had spent their lives at Saturday kiddie matinees. In The Breathing Method, an old physician sits in an exclusive Manhattan club, spinning a long-ago yarn. He recalls the terror he once saw on the face of an ambulance driver. "His eyes widening until it seemed they must slip from their orbits and simply dangle from their optic nerves like grotesque seeing yo-yos." In postliterate prose, reality is at its most intense when it can be expressed as an animated drawing.
King is not the first to turn his fiction over to the echo chamber of pop culture. Writers as dissimilar as Thomas Pynchon and Donald Barthelme have toyed for years with the mass-produced icons that have invaded the communal memory. But King takes them dead seriously, and so, evidently, do his millions of readers….
[King] is both pleased by the popular response to his writing and irked by charges that he is cynically exploiting a lucrative market: "I'm as serious as I know how to be when I sit down to the typewriter." Different Seasons is, in fact, his bid to be recognized as something other than a writer in a fright wig…. The book may not win him critical respect, but it does suggest that horror, after all, has been incidental to his stunning success. For every scare he has given his readers, he has provided more than enough reassurance. Life is stock footage: ancient history means The Flintstones.
Paul Gray, "Master of Postliterate Prose," in Time (copyright 1982 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. 120, No. 9, August 30, 1982, p. 87.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 258
Revenge—the more horrible the better—is a favorite adolescent fantasy, and it is the subject of four of the five tales of horror that comprise Creepshow, an unashamedly adolescent spectacle dreamed up by director George Romero and writer Stephen King. A murdered patriarch bursts from his grave to take revenge on his family. A cuckolded husband … buries his wife and her lover up to their necks in the sand and forces them to watch each other drown on closed-circuit TV. The appearance of an ancient, very abominable snowman on a college campus gives a henpecked professor … a novel chance to do away with his shrewish wife…. And in the final story, destined to be the gross-out favorite at grammar schools, a malicious millionaire … gets his cosmic comeuppance at the hands of millions of carnivorous cockroaches.
Creepshow is conceived as an E. C. Comic come to life, complete with panels, balloons and the lurid colorings of an old issue of "Tales From the Crypt." Romero and King want to be as unsophisticated as possible, while maintaining a sense of humor, and they succeed all too well. The characters, story lines and images are studiously one-dimensional. For anyone over 12 there's not much pleasure to be had watching two masters of horror deliberately working beneath themselves. Creepshow is a faux naïf horror film: too arch to be truly scary, too elemental to succeed as satire.
David Ansen, "The Roaches Did It," in Newsweek (copyright 1982, by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. C. No. 21, November 22, 1982, p. 118A.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 140
In the past, Novelist Stephen King … and Director George A. Romero … have shown that they know how to scare people through the poetry of pulp…. In Creepshow they have aimed lower, and hit the mark. The film is an elaborate tribute to Tales from the Crypt and other horror comic books of the early '50s. Five tales play with the theme of moral revenge taken on corrupt humankind by nature, alien forces or the Undead. But the treatment manages to be both perfunctory and languid; the jolts can be predicted by any ten-year-old with a stop watch. Only the story in which [the] Evil Plutocrat … is eaten alive by cockroaches mixes giggles and grue in the right measure.
Richard Corliss, "Jolly Contempt," in Time (copyright 1982 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. 120, No. 21, November 22, 1982, p. 110.∗
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 849
Despite King's plodding prose and facile characters, he's managed to concoct plots multilayered enough to sustain the length, and sometimes the scrutiny, a feature film demands. At his best, he puts everyone in touch with the nightmare anxieties of youth….
[Creepshow] is a salute to the cult-beloved EC horror comic books of the early Fifties. As a movie, Creepshow is negligible, but as a cultural indicator, it's terrific—a big clue to what even the most skillful and likable schlock-horror purveyors have been up to in all those years since 1957's I Was a Teenage Werewolf. They want to make an enormous catharsis for hundreds of thousands of slobs and to make slobs out of nonslobs. To them, the lowest common denominator isn't a term of derision but an admirable goal.
In the only relatively benign episode of Creepshow, "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill," King makes the most revealing acting appearance by a writer since his literary peer, Mickey Spillane, played Mike Hammer in The Girl Hunters…. King plays the title character, a Down East hick and screw-up who thinks his life problems can be solved when a meteorite lands in his yard. Dreaming of making a killing by selling it to the "Department of Meteors" in a local college, Verrill throws a bucket of water on the meteor to cool it off, only to end up catalyzing a weedlike growth that attaches itself to his grass, his house, his fingers, his cheeks—and, as he realizes in the bathroom—to just about everything.
What's fascinating is that King wrote and plays the character as a drooling, slovenly arrested-infant moron. Perhaps Jordy Verrill is King's own worst self-image nightmare. As Jordy Verrill, King's turned his Everyman persona into the Great American Slob. (p. 48)
The EC publications have long been revered for the unbridled brio of their artwork and the uninhibited savagery of their story lines. Indeed, in King's book-long analysis of horror, Danse Macabre, King admitted that, for him, the EC comic books are "the epitome of horror." To King, "terror" is the most refined of fearsome emotions because it centers on largely unseen forces. "Horror," according to King, "also invites a physical reaction by showing us something which is physically wrong." And King discerned a third, even cruder, level of fear in the EC comic books: "the gag reflex of revulsion," like the infamous comic-book story in which an evil minor-league ballplayer is punished by dismemberment—his body parts used as the bases, bats and ball.
What disturbed me in King's analysis, especially after seeing Creepshow, is King's frank admission that, though he tries to terrorize the reader, "if I find I cannot terrify him/her, I will try to horrify; and if I find I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud."
In Creepshow … he and Romero consistently go for the grossout. Their five episodes contain three walking corpses, one suicidal living weed, a Tasmanian devil who sinks her teeth into three victims, a few vivid deaths by drowning … and one death by cockroaches. Both Romero and King seem to be taking their quasi-comic-book formula simply as an excuse to be as broad as possible in their comedy and fear effects. The best comic moments are reminiscent of Airplane! no less—parodies of theatrical, movie and TV clichés … pushed to the outer limits of hysteria. The most effective horrific moments work mostly because of their undiluted viciousness—we're invited to share in the sadistic satisfaction that a henpecked husband takes in seeing his shrewish wife clawed and chomped to death.
Romero and King have created a rogue's gallery that looks like the hit list of a crazy, mixed-up kid: the heirs of a country-gentry fortune, college professors, a TV executive, a vaguely Howard Hughes-like tycoon. Along the way, there are some piquant touches—for example, the college professors seem to be teaching at Who's-Afraid-of-Virginia Woolf University…. But the movie doesn't have a pulp vision, only a snickering attitude. It's all in the spirit of the young boy in the framing story … who says he hopes his comic-book-hating father rots in hell.
Romero and King seem to feel that the purpose of horror is to bring out the crazy mixed-up kid in all of us…. (pp. 48, 54)
I'm not enough of a paranoid moralist to suggest that films as silly as Creepshow help encourage deviant behavior or lynch mobs, but I am enough of an aesthete to feel that the way these moviemakers transform an audience into a Pavlovian mob endangers the art of movies. The only way to enjoy movies like Creepshow is to get into the howling and screaming, and that turns movies from dramatic forms into audience-participation shows (The Slice Is Right, perhaps, or Name That Fright!). They want to prove that underneath our civilized veneer lie frightened cave children. They want to turn us all, for a time, into dumb clucks—Jordy Verrills. (p. 54)
Michael Sragow, "Stephen King's 'Creepshow': The Aesthetics of Gross-Out," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1982; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 383, November 25, 1982, pp. 48, 54.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 175
In ["Christine"], King drives back to familiar terror-territory in a haunted car named Christine—and there will no doubt be truckloads of readers thumbing their way through his 500-odd pages. Arnie Cunningham—a teenager who has never fit in—buys a dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury from an equally broken-down Army veteran, Roland LeBay. But Christine—and the soon-dead LeBay—have mysterious regenerative powers; Christine's odometer runs backwards and the car repairs itself. Arnie becomes obsessed by the car and possessed by its previous owner…. At times genuinely frightening, but at 500 pages a bit long, "Christine" contains some of the best writing King has ever done; his teenage characters are superbly drawn and their dilemma is truly gripping. However, Christine, we soon realize, is just a car, a finally inanimate machine that does not quite live up to the expectations King's human characterizations have engendered.
A review of "Christine," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the February 25, 1983 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1983 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 223, No. 8, February 25, 1983, p. 80.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support