Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Warner Bros. Entertainment.
I saw three terrific movies during my annual effort to set the tone for Halloween. All three were book adaptations.
First up was this year’s “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” adapted from Stephen King’s 2020 novella (which I have not read). It deftly follows the right formula for a successful King adaptation (or any successful horror movie, really) — it methodically portrays characters that viewers can truly like and care about, and then imperils them. For me, it wasn’t just Jaeden Martell’s personable young protagonist — it was also the great Donald Sutherland’s titular Mr. Harrigan, whose ghost is the story’s putative (?) antagonist. (I like how the movie leaves that just a little open ended; I’ll bet the novella has a lot more to say there.)
Still, some seasoned horror fans might feel that the film just isn’t scary enough. By the time its thoughtful denouement rolls around, it feels more like a dark drama with horror movie elements than it feels like a “scary movie.” (The term “post-horror” was gaining currency a few years ago, and I don’t know if that’s still a thing.) After all, the ostensible ghost here appears to actually want to aid the protagonist. The movie might even feel like it is missing a third act — I counted only two victims of the vindictive entity, whose deaths occurred offscreen. The ending was well written and poignant, right down to its closing line, but it will still feel like an anti-climax to some.
Next up was the new adaptation of Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser.” This was pretty damn scary. It should be seen by only more intense horror hounds — it’s a predictably violent gorefest about sadomasochistic demons that literally torture their summoners, along with any innocents who are unfortunate enough to be nearby. I know it isn’t high art, but it was well executed, with capable acting and some really creative direction. (Odessa A’zion was quite good in her role, and the van scene was an especially nice touch.) If you can stomach its ultraviolence, then you might really enjoy this movie.
Finally, I revisited another King adaptation — 2019’s “Doctor Sleep.” You guys already now how zealously I love this movie, so I want burden you yet again with my fanboy adulation of it.
[singing to the tune of “My Sharona”]:
It’s good stuff. Thanks, Internet!
Might have to try that “fried green tomatoes” thing next, I dunno.
Update: I’m in the middle of watching “Doctor Sleep,” so YOU wash the frying pan.
“Doctor Sleep” (2019) was ABSOLUTELY ****ING FABULOUS. I had high hopes for this movie after seeing the trailer — yet it exceeded my expectations. I’d easily rate this a 10 out of 10.
This is a story-driven horror film just brimming with blackly creative ideas and weird world-building — I haven’t read Stephen King’s source material, but I feel certain this was a loving adaptation of the 2013 novel. It is also genuinely touching at times. (I was trying to explain to a dear friend recently about how King’s work can surprise the uninitiated — the monsters and devils typically occupy only a portion of his imaginary landscapes. The remainder is inhabited by good people who are bravely doing the right thing.)
All of the movie’s story elements are painted vibrantly by Mike Flanagan’s beautiful screenwriting and nightmarishly trippy directing. The film’s action and often incongruously bright visuals are reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s visions in “The Shining” (1980), to which this film is truly a worthy successor. (Flanagan was the director and screenwriter for last year’s fantastic “The Haunting of Hill House.” The qualities that you loved about the Netflix show can also be found in “Doctor Sleep” — in some ways, they are very similar stories.)
Rebecca Ferguson is mesmerizing as the story’s antagonist, Kyliegh Curran is pitch perfect as the young anti-hero, and Ewan McGregor is predictably terrific.
The only quibbles I had were minor — there was one plot device (presumably from the novel) that didn’t translate well to the screen. It concerns how the bad guys replenish themselves … I’ll bet it worked well in King’s prose, but it seemed corny and cliche when visualized on film.
You could also argue that “Doctor Sleep’s” constant references to “The Shining” were pretty heavy-handed. But that didn’t bother me too much … I arrived at the conclusion that “The Shining” and “Doctor Sleep” were really two halves of an epic supernatural road trip. Your mileage may vary.
One final caveat — this film does portray violence against children. It isn’t extremely graphic, but it’s still especially disturbing. (It technically isn’t gratuitous, I suppose, because there is an in-universe reason why Ferguson’s tribe of villains targets the young.)
This is easily the best horror film that I’ve seen in years. Go see it.
If you are a horror fan, you’re in for a rare treat. Stop over at The Bees Are Dead to read Dennis Villelmi’s interview with Lia Beldam, who portrayed the woman in Room 237 in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining.” (Fans of the 1977 novel and its 2013 sequel, “Doctor Sleep,” may recognize the character as the ghost of Lorraine Massey.)
Dennis chatted with Ms. Beldam about a few different aspects of filming — including her experiences with Kubrick and Jack Nicholson. It’s great stuff.