"The Mangler," "The Boogeyman" and THE STAND’s Prequel (NIGHT SHIFT, Part 1)
Welcome back to Drunk on Writing, and the fifth episode of the special Stephen King Series of Dissections. Today, we’re going to look at the very first short stories collection King released: Night Shift, published in 1978, collecting 20 stories—some previously published, some brand spanking new.
A good chunk of these were adapted into films or TV shows or whatnot, and this collection is actually what spawned King’s Dollar Baby deal, which lets students and aspiring filmmakers get the chance to adapt a number of his stories for just a buck—which is also all it takes to subscribe to this channel over at patreon.com/drunkonwriting and get every single episode of this special series, and every other series, a week early.
I’ll talk about any of the Dollar Babies I’ve seen that I think are worth watching, but you can get more info on all of them at stephenkingshortmovies.com.
Oh, and just a head’s up, because we’re talking multiple stories, I’m going to break this episode up by story. And, because I think the idea of having like a two hour video is just horrible, we’re only going to talk the first six stories today—from “Jerusalem's Lot” to “The Boogeyman.”
So, let’s talk the stories of Night Shift.
The book opens with a previously unpublished prequel of sorts to ‘Salem’s Lot, which we, of course, covered a few videos ago. There’s another story we’ll get to, “One for the Road,” also in this collection, which works as something of a sequel to ‘Salem’s Lot. So, lots of ‘Salem’s Lot love here.
As I said in the ‘Salem’s Lot video—and how many more times you think I can namedrop that story?—as I said then, that’s my favorite book of King’s to this point, so I’m certainly welcome to whatever more he wants to give me.
But this isn’t really a prequel. It’s just set in a time before ‘Salem’s Lot.
Like a number of horror classics, “Jerusalem's Lot” is told through a series of letters and journal entries, so-called epistolary format, and it tells a tale rather similar to ‘Salem’s Lot. Just not as good.
I think a lot of my dislike for this story comes down to the way King imitates the late 1800s writing style to mimic the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and Jekyll & Hyde. Or, maybe it’s just the way the story unfolds—the pacing is broken, there are a number of flashbacks and asides, and even what we might as well call a flash-forward at the end.
But maybe it just bothers me that this doesn’t actually make sense, at least canonically, after reading ‘Salem’s Lot—except if I look at it as a sort of prototype. Because, if Jerusalem’s Lot was abandoned back in the 1700s and believed haunted, why would a whole township not just resettle there, but keep the name?
Then again… I guess the 7,000 or so people living on Roanoke Island would have a thing to say about this.
So, maybe a prequel, maybe a prototype. Nonetheless filled with some pretty cool imagery like an inbred town that rivals anything from Game of Thrones, an upside down cross like the one that so fascinated me in Exorcism: The Beginning, a literal worm—and there I was thinking worm was just another name for the devil; that’s a thing isn’t it?—and a decayed man with beetles crawling over his skinless forehead.
Very Lovecraftian—but not something I could call a favorite.
Though I should note, that hook at the end? Very nice.
Stephen King has an odd interest in rats. Or, at least he did at one point. Not only does “Graveyard Shift” center on them, they were also featured in the last story, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” in ‘Salem’s Lot itself, and, if I’m remembering correctly, weren’t there rat people in The Dark Tower?
Well, we’ll get to that one, I suppose.
“Graveyard Shift,” originally published in the October 1970 issues of Cavalier, sort of focuses on a question one character raises in the tale: “You ever wonder how it'd be, if we was little and [rats] were big?”
So, of course, we meet us a big rat. A cow-sized rat. One that spawns a whole ecosystem of rats that’ve evolved in this wet, dark, cut-off sub-basement beneath a mill.
A cow-sized rat a worker feeds his foreman to. Which doesn’t feel earned. Sure, the guy’s an ass, but to kill him, to feed him to a giant rat and pretty much sacrifice yourself to do it? That’s just on a whole other level of cruel comeuppance that doesn’t ever make a whole heck of a lot of sense.
The 1990 adaptation, directed by Ralph S. Singleton, helps lay the case for how horrible the foreman is far better. In fact, he’s pretty downright despicable in this adaptation, from covering up deaths to sexual harassment and assault to murder—murder of the love interest, Jane, as a matter of fact.
Warwick, the foreman, played by Stephen Macht, actually reminded me a lot of Jon Bernthal’s Shane in The Walking Dead. Same kind of mannerisms and speech patterns. And animosity. And lunacy. And once I made that connection, I realized Jane, played by Kelly Wolf, reminded me of Marissa Tomei and the lead, John, played by David Andrews, reminded me of Sam Neil.
After a while, I couldn’t tell if I was just seeing things or if it was intentional. And the fact I drifted into those thoughts while watching this, despite there being a few strong scenes, I think says a lot about how much I enjoyed the movie.
Spoilers: I didn’t much.
“Night Surf,” first published in the Spring 1969 issue of Ubris, starts with one of the best lines of any Stephen King story: “After the guy was dead and the smell of his burning flesh was off the air, we all went back down to the beach.”
It leaves so much to the imagination, it’s such a perfect hook, a holy shit moment to get the story going. But then not a whole heck of a lot happens, and by the end, which came surprisingly fast, I wondered what the point was.
Sure, we get something of a prologue to King’s next novel, The Stand, which I’ve just started reading again for the second time, and that remains as fascinating as ever—in the same way The Walking Dead used to be interesting: how does man as a species react to a plague threatening to wipe us from existence? And there’s a decent focus on the doom, the kids’ realization they may not be immune, that the good times, the best times, are probably behind them.
The reactions here are genuine: disgust, anxiety, fear, loathing, rebellion. Double so because they’re coming from a teenager who should be in college instead of burning people alive while he waits on a beach to die.
And I couldn’t decide if him being a downright bastard—a fact we’re clued in to long before we even find out his name—helped or hindered this little tale. Because like I said, there’s just not enough here to really make me care.
Now, that was fixed a little in some of the adaptations. At least the ones I could watch. The more famous take, directed by Peter Sullivan in 2002 as part of the Dollar Baby shorts, I couldn’t find a way to see—maybe someone can link me in the comments. So I’ll have to rely on a review from Film Threat, which says,
“Given its obviously limited means, Sullivan’s adaptation is a reasonably well-crafted mini-thriller…. While not perfect, “Night Surf” still creeped me out far worse than most of what Hollywood offers up for thrills these days.”
But a 2014 adaptation written and directed by Tony Pomfret, which you can go ahead and watch on YouTube—meaning it’s not a Dollar Baby short, as those can’t be posted—gives the characters clearer motivations and struggles than the story does. I think it helps that the film backtracks to before the man in the car arrives.
Sadly, Pomfret’s adaptation is missing the “Just the Flu” sign idea. You know, the one so aliens know what killed us all. Which is a bummer because, I mean, that’s a grand idea.
I Am the Doorway
This one first appeared in the March 1971 issue of Cavalier, and of all the stories in this collection, this is the one I find most interesting, mainly because it appears to be King’s first true foray into science fiction. In fact, it’s heavily reminiscent of some of Robert A. Heinlein’s earlier short stories—which you might as well know means I really enjoyed it.
Now, it wasn’t perfect—the pacing’s a bit wonky, for one—but the alt history aspect of it, exploring the possibilities of ongoing NASA missions not only to the moon but, in this instance, to Venus, is simply captivating. Especially with the descriptions of the planets, like this sentence, about the surface of Venus: “I thought I had peeked over the rim of the universe and into the fires of hell itself.”
And remember, this first appeared in 1971. The final moon landing, Apollo 17, occurred in December 1972. So, theoretically, at the time this was published, NASA could have continued sending astronauts into space.
And the question of what they would bring back was always a hot topic—an extraterrestrial fungus, a mutagenic compound, some heretofore unknown radiation or virus, what would we have done if it actually happened? Things like this have of course been explored in pop culture long before Apollo was an actual thing, and it’s still being explored—just look at the origins of the upcoming Venom, or that recent Cloverfield movie.
Far as I know, though, “I Am the Doorway” is the only story with an astronaut growing eyeballs in his fingers. Gives me the creeps thinking about it.
There’ve been a few takes on “I Am the Doorway” under the Dollar Baby line, and you can watch trailers for them on YouTube. A 2015 version from Matthew J. Rowney looks particularly promising, and I really hope I can catch a viewing of it at some point, because it just—you know, just go watch the trailer. The link’s in the YouTube description.
And there’s another from 2017 directed by Robin Kašpařík that looks damn good as well—and has wickedly good sound design compared to most other adaptations and trailers I’ve been watching of late. Again, I haven’t seen the whole version, just the trailer, but I want to—especially because this one’s shot from a first-person perspective and it’d be sweet to see if they pulled it off better than DOOM did.
Oh, and did I mention the poster is sick as all hell and I want it up on my wall absolutely immediately?
Because, if I didn’t….
Where do I get a copy?!
The cold opening of “The Mangler,” first published in the December 1972 issue of Cavalier, hooked me pretty quickly, the way the foreman can’t look at the scene of the accident and doesn’t even want to talk about what happened, the way the detective, to quote, “took a long, frozen look, and then he performed a first in his fourteen years as a law-enforcement officer: he turned around, put a convulsive hand to his mouth, and threw up.”
That’s an awesome opening that left me just wanting more. And then I got yanked out of the story with the very next line.
"'You didn't each much,' Jackson said."
That’s not a misquote. That’s actually what’s in the book. In at least two separate editions that aren’t firsts. “You didn’t each much?” Really?
Look, none of us are perfect, I get that, but especially in a short story, a typo is just the kind of thing that ruins the atmosphere, and this isn’t even the only typo. There were a couple more just in this story—nothing as egregious that I noticed, thankfully—and an abundance throughout the collection.
And every time I stumbled over one, it not just took me from the story, it made me pause and think about the story. Like with “The Mangler,” doesn’t it just seem super convenient that the professor the detective chats with happens to know so much about demonic possession?
If I were in this position? I don’t know a single person who knows this stuff. Thankfully. But whatever, you take that sort of thing with a grain of salt and continue on, and “The Mangler” is just the sort of story that you need to do that for, because it’s definitely entertaining, and it’s definitely a worthwhile investment of time.
The movie, on the other hand, I can’t necessarily say the same for. Released in 1995 and directed by Tobe Hooper, who you might remember also directed the adaptation for ‘Salem’s Lot, it starred Ted Levine as Officer John Hunton and Robert Englund as William 'Bill' Gartley.
And it… it’s a little weird. First, the positives: the neighbor being obsessed with demonic possession makes a lot more sense in the film than the book, as he’s some sort of… new-age guru demonologist who also happens to be Hunton’s brother-in-law. Also, smart decision integrating the refrigerator into the storyline rather than it being some separate anecdote.
Oh, and I must say, Ted Levine is fantastic in the movie—one of the few I’ve seen where he plays the lead. But he’s pretty much the only one. Everyone else is either too busy dealing with bad special effects—Levine has to deal with this, too, but he at least has more characterization to play with—or bad makeup jobs. I mean, Robert Englund is almost unrecognizable—and that’s saying something considering the other heavily made-up persona he’s known for—and Jeremy Crutchley, well, he gets away with playing two parts because of the makeup.
This is no Mars Attacks and that’s just not cool.
Still, the mangler itself is well designed—at least, before it becomes some sort of CG demon monster thing you can’t make out from the shadows. In its regular form, it sort of looks like a dragon, like this behemoth lording over everyone, which is exactly what it does—this adaptation adds an entire mythos to the speed ironer, with this macabre conspiracy perpetuated by the town’s wealthy elite… who sacrifice their 16 year old virgin daughters to keep on being wealthy elites.
It’s… like I said, it’s a little weird. But it did spawn two sequels: The Mangler 2 and The Mangler Reborn. But I… am not watching those.
I confess, a few lines into “The Boogeyman,” which first showed its ugly head in the March 1973 issues of Cavalier, my stomach tightened and basically did a somersault at what I’d just read. Let me quote this:
"'I can't go to a priest because I'm not a Catholic. I can't go to a lawyer because I haven't done anything to consult a lawyer about. All I did was kill my kids. One at a time. Killed them all.'"
As a father, this… I didn’t like it. I can’t empathize with a person like that. A person who kills their kids, well—that’s a person that shouldn’t rightly be on the face of this planet, let alone a parent.
I relaxed a bit a few lines later, of course, when he confessed he didn’t actually kill his kids. But he might as well have, the way he acted, the things he did—and, you know, I really hope he got his at the end of this, which it seems he did.
But I have to ask: if this was happening to you, why the heck wouldn’t you just leave? The whole story is based around some horrible nightmare—the titular boogeyman—that haunts and kills the main character’s three kids. They move once, not too far, and everything’s fine for a bit until it starts up again—because the boogeyman’s found them.
Well, screw Connecticut, where this is based, where I live—I’d be on the other side of this country so fast that dang boogeyman wouldn’t know what hit him. Either that, or I’d be going after it with a baseball bat the same way my dad always said he’d wreck ET.
“The Boogeyman” was adapted into a 1982 short film by Jeffrey C. Schiro, again in 2010 by Gerard Lough, and again in 2014 by Bobby Easley. Far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with the series that started in 2005, but who knows.
The 2010 and 2014 versions only have trailers online. But it seems the one from 2010 tried to add a lot of extraneous detail to the story, like a voyeur boogeyman—yeah—and booby traps and the like. The 2014 film looks more of a traditional take, though the camerawork looks pretty good, especially when you compare it to the 1982 take.
That one’s available to watch in full online, and it also adds more to the story, this time more from the police’s perspective, though that doesn’t really go anywhere and felt more like padding than anything else. Really, I’d say the film’s most notable for its quick-cut editing and synthy soundtrack.
It wasn’t too bad, really—and the lead man, Michael Reid, who apparently was also in Army of Darkness so he’s my new hero, he really grew on me by the end. He was sort of like a cross between a Jason Lee and a Steven Ogg, just not as good, but I really dug it.
And I’m so horribly glad they didn’t use that line from the book, where the little kid is scared, and the dad’s scared too, but he’s basically about to let the boogeyman have the kid to save his own hide and the kid’s sreaming “wanna go wif daddy!”
I think I might’ve lost it if I’d heard that. How could you just turn away from your kid crying like that? God—you know, it wasn’t the boogeyman who was the real monster in this one.
Next time: More Night Shift.
Feel like watching the video instead? Check it out: