Isn’t this the coolest Halloween card ever? The little skeleton guy dances.
Hope you guys have something scary planned for the month ahead. I’ve got a short list of movies I’d love to make time for: “Dracula” (1939), “House of the Devil” (2009), “Annabelle Creation” (2017) and “Mr. Mercedes” Season 3 (2019). Yeah, I know that last one isn’t a feature film, but it’s a program of truly cinematic quality. “Mr. Mercedes” has been the best kept secret in Stephen King fandom — no, its antagonist isn’t as flashy as Pennywise the Clown or The Gunslinger’s various nemeses. But it’s a gorgeous adaptation of a King novel that might even be better than its source material. Check it out, seriously — skip “American Horror Story” if you have to.
There are two movies I need to get to that have been recommended to me with a lot of enthusiasm. The first is “In the Mouth of Madness,” 1994’s H.P. Lovecraft adaptation starring Sam Neill. (I actually started it a few years ago after a friend in New York urged me to, but it just didn’t hold my interest.) The second is 2001’s “Shadow of the Vampire,” which features Willem Dafoe doing Nosferatu. (I only discovered just now writing this that John Malkovich portrays F.W. Murnau.)
I’ll tell you something else, too — I’ve checked out one or two short films on the free ALTER channel and they’ve been terrific. Maybe I’m due for another visit there.
I just need a Halloween horror playlist, though. I’ve already seen this year’s “Castle Rock” and (of course) the second season of “Mr. Mercedes.”
“Vampire” (1979) and “The Last Broadcast” (1998) both come highly recommended by some horror-fan friends that I truly trust. I also believe that I have never seen any of the classic Universal Studios monster movies in their entirety. I’ve watched bits and pieces of a couple of them on television when I was a young kid, including “Creature From the Black Lagoon” (1954) and “The Invisible Man” (1933). When I was a tot in the very late 70’s, the studio’s Gothic monsters were still very much a part of the zeitgeist … my older brother even had the Aurora model kits. I finally enjoyed F. W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” for the first time a couple of years ago, but of course the 1921 German film preceded the Universal movies, which re-imagined Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” entirely in 1931.
I’ll probably start first by trying to hunt down a copy of “The Wolf Man” (1941). That’s the one that other everyone always recommends.
It amazes me how little fanfare that “Mr. Mercedes” is getting. Season 1 was not only one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever, I think it has the rare distinction of being even better that its source material. (I really liked 2014 novel, but I loved the show.) I might have a couple of minor quibbles about the ten-episode season, but they’re not enough to stop me from rating it a perfect 10.
I tend to think of this as more “mainstream King.” As with the book, the story here is devoid of the supernatural elements that usually characterize King’s work. It also doesn’t have any overt connection to King’s overarching, interconnected “Dark Tower” multiverse. It’s a depressingly real-world story about a mass murderer whose weapon of choice is a stolen Mercedes. (There is a plot-driving horror set-piece at the start of the pilot episode in which he mows down a crowd lined up for a job fair.)
What follows is a drama of surprising depth and authenticity. We see the extended aftermath of slaughter, throughout the lives of people connected to it — including one victim’s family, the now-retired investigating detective (Brendan Gleeson), the young killer himself (Harry Treadway) and his alcoholic, incestuous mother (Kelly Lynch). Gleeson was who first made me interested in the show, and his performance is outstanding. Lynch is amazing and perfect in her role, and is even talented enough make her onerous character truly sympathetic. But even they are outshined by Treadway’s frighteningly goddam perfect portrayal of the titular “Mr. Mercedes.” The guy is incredible.
The script was nothing short of terrific. There is certainly enough horror here — including one particularly cringe-inducing plot twist late in the game. (It was so disturbingly presented that I almost had to switch the episode off — and I knew it was coming, as I’d already read the book.) But the horror punctuates the unexpectedly touching drama among the story’s protagonists — and the sad relationship between the killer and his disordered mother. There were also some great moments of humor, and the subtexts here dealing with friendship and loyalty were surprisingly moving.
The rest of the cast was quite good. The directing shined as well — especially for a key sequence in Episode 7, “Willow Lake.” Even the soundtrack was excellent. Hell, they even referenced W. H. Auden in one episode.
My quibbles were minor. One was the story’s pacing. It’s actually quite slow for the first eight episodes — enough, I think to lose some viewers. This didn’t bother me much — I took it as “slow-burn” horror, and it matched the very slow pace of the book. Then the story seemed to move forward at a breakneck pace during episodes 9 and 10. I can’t help but wonder if it could have been scripted differently, as that felt odd.
My second quibble lies with Mary-Louise Parker’s portrayal of Janey, the sister of one of the killer’s victims. Parker is an excellent actress, but I found her version of the character to be remarkably detached for someone bereaved in such a horrifying fashion — to me, it seemed like a strange creative choice on the part of the actress.
I’d obviously recommend this; it’s currently the best horror show that I’m aware of.
With all of the (frequently quite poor) buzz about the arrival this summer of “The Dark Tower” and “The Mist,” “Mr. Mercedes” might be the Stephen King adaptation that has slipped under the radar. And that’s a shame, because the pilot episode suggests it might be one of the best King adaptations ever. I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.
It really is that good. The show’s first episode begins what looks to be an intelligent horror-thriller that is surprisingly faithful to King’s outstanding novel. David E. Kelley’s script is excellent. After a brutal prologues that sets its plot in motion, the story proceeds with three-dimensional, likable characters who are well played by their performers — especially Brendan Gleeson in the role of the grumpy, retired-cop anti-hero who is harassed by a mass murderer. (Yes, that is indeed the Dad from 2002’s “28 Days Later.”) Gleeson is just great — even though I found myself wondering why a retired Chicago cop should have a heavy U.K. accent.
The script even surprises us by being incongruously sweet during its odder moments. Like its source material, the show effortlessly sets up characters that are easy to like. (An exchange between Gleeson some kids playing hockey outside his house, for example, was truly inspired.)
The story’s plot-driving horror elements are disturbing, too — both in terms of its grisly violence and its sexual taboos. This is not a show for the faint of heart.
This also seems like it could be a King adaptation that could easily appeal to people outside his usual fanbase. There are no supernatural elements to this story, or any tangible connections to King’s sprawling, interconnected “Dark Tower” multi-verse. (The original novel seemed to show us King trying his hand at a Thomas Harris-type serial killer tale.)
The only reservation I might have about “Mr. Mercedes” is what I am guessing about its pace. The original novel was quite slow, despite being an engaging read. After its gut-wrenching mass murder is depicted in graphic detail, the plot moves forward rather lethargically. The one-hour pilot episode here seemed to mirror that, in its apparent loyalty to its source material. I predict that viewers turning to “Mr. Mercedes” for a fast-paced horror tale will be disappointed.
I think that’s probably a subjective quibble on my part, though. I’d still enthusiastically recommend this.
So an old college pal wrote to me the other day to ask for advice on which recent Stephen King novel he might check out. He told me that he was interested in something more mainstream horror. He said he enjoyed King more before the author “got into all the dark tower stuff and a wondering dude.” I steered my friend away from “Joyland” and toward “Mr. Mercedes.”
But I love that typo. A “wondering dude” immediately makes me think “The Dude” from “The Big Lebowski” wandering around Mid-world, befuddled, after accidentally stepping through an inter-dimensional door. He’d have a “beverage” in one hand and a WTF expression on his face.
Stephen King’s “Mr. Mercedes” is a terrific thriller that will be sure to please his fans. It’s the story of very unlikely heroes and friends pursuing an at-large, highly intelligent and remorseless spree killer/serial killer.
It is occasioanlly slow. We spend way too much time getting to know Hodges, for example, before his character becomes either likable or even plot-relevant. But this is forgivable for such a great book. I loved the characters and found certain scenes touching. And the character development for the eponymous Mr. Mercedes is consistently disturbing.
And for horror fans … Jeez, does this book deliver. It’s a frightening story, to say the least. One part, involving a certain mixup (I can’t say more without spoilers), is positively horrifying, even by Stephen King standards.
My pal Steve Miller told me that this is the start of a trilogy — I can’t wait for the next installment.