Thursday, July 14, 2011

Danse Macabre

Okay, let's be honest. Stephen King is pretty prolific. He's not only written many books but also mind-boggingly lengthy. Some have been wordy. Some could have easily been shorter (namely Gerald's Game). But you have to hand it to good old king. He sure knows his stuff.

If there's one thing I love from reading Stephen King, it's his introductions. Each one is a story within itself. Who can forget his story notes on Everything's Eventual, Skeleton Crew and Nightmares and Dreamscapes? Who can simply pass by The Importance of being Bachman (an intro into his life as a pseudonym and that eventual end.)?

I know I can't.

I know that the introduction isn't the biggest selling point of a story but it certainly is the tidiest way to move you along, find out the author's motivations for writing the story, a peek behind the curtain, if you will.

Well, I'm here to tell you that his non-fiction book, Danse Macbre, is like one big introduction to the horror genre from 1920 -1980. Of course, it's King, so you can expect some divergent thinking and many tangents, even footnotes that sort of bog down the point. The first half is about the movies and myths he experiences from his youth. He covers vampires, ghosts, werewolves, mad scientists and even that Hook story all the teeny boppers knew in the 1950's. Like the Red Sea that it is, it is a lot to wade through. But, if you hang steady and let the tide take you, you eventually get to the meat.

Once he goes through the ins and outs of proper horror, classy horror, the black and white horror that we've forgotten with all this Psycho-in-your-face-torture-porn, he gets to movies that did it right and, more importantly, books that did it right. Back in those days you dealt with cold, hard, true terror. Now everything is done for shock value. That doesn't seem right to me. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Incredible Shrinking Man just to name a few. He also pays tribute to the writers, sharing some insight on interviews behind the stories they wrote.

The last chapter is, I think, by far the best, where he rotates real news stories on crimes inspired or inadvertently comitted by horror films and books. There's this crazy article about Baltimore in 1980 where a women gets attacked by someone while she's reading a book while waiting for the bus. I won't spoil what happens next. You'll have to read it to believe it.

By the end of it all, you've gathered that half was criticism and half was the really delicious meat we were hunting for. The last two sections give an Appendix A and Appendix B. Appendix A is a list of all the classic, well-done, well-directed horror movies with a few stinkers just to get you started. The other index a list of every horror book referenced and they are classics. I suggest you read them. I've already added them to my reading list.

If you can take one thing away from reading this book, you could say that, although lengthy at times, King was able to go through every nook and cranny to show us the classier horror of the day. No rock went un-turned.

Truly, a good read from King.


Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Big fan of SK. Knew this book was out there and really want to read it now. Nice review of it.

maxalas said...
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