Saturday, October 1, 2011

I AM THE NIGHT SHIFT: A Reflection On Stephen King's Master Anthology

“Let's talk, you and I. Let's talk about fear. The house is empty as I write this; a cold February rain is falling outside. It's night. Sometimes when the wind blows the way it's blowing now, we lose the power. But for now it's on, and so let's talk very honestly about fear. Let's talk very rationally about moving to the rim of madness...and perhaps over the edge.” – Forward from Night Shift, Stephen King

Since you know all about fear… that’s why you came here, right? And since it is the month of October, we talk about Stephen King. You can’t analyze his writing anymore than has been done. You can’t quote him more than anyone else has. You can’t throw a bunch of pictures up on the web and call it a tribute to one of the greatest anthologies of fiction ever published. Yes, there’s O. Henry and Poe and there’s definitely Lovecraft. All them are important. All of them have their place, but Night Shift… well Night Shift makes me pee these pre-worn jeans to this very day.

Pick a story. Any story. I can probably give you some memory associated with it or a movie adaptation there of or maybe even a piece of imagery that I cannot get unglued from my grey matter. If you’ve read it then I ask you to go crack your well worn copy and read one story, just one. Remember how good it is. Don’t overdo it and read the whole thing cover to cover over and over as I did when I was a wee one. Between this and Skeleton Crew it was always a fight for which book would stay in my book bag. Sure, Christine and Pet Sematary made it in there a few times. Even Misery. My dad hide a pile of hardcover copies with dust jackets all torn by the time the 6th grade was done with them. Hell, a good friend Rachel used to tell me she had read all his books and I was jealous. A 6th grader… jealous of reading? I suppose it can’t be wrong even if King’s short stories didn’t fit into the standard curriculum or No Child Left Up Your Ass.

In my time, my time in flannels and being conned into wearing French rolled white denim jeans, we used star stickers on the book chart to show how many pages we read. It was a friendly competition to get you to read and to put some pizza in the your mouth if you won. Well I never did win, but I read Night Shift a whole lot and marked a gold star next to the page counter every time. For a kid that’s the equivalent of stars on a helmet signifying you as the general of your own horror infantry.

Let’s veer off the nostalgia coastal highway. What do we know about this collection more than this is Stephen King writing one of the best damn forwards in all of horror fiction for his own anthology? My father always told me that King started off in the smut mags and from everything I’ve seen that’s 100% true. Cavalier, Gallery, Penthouse, Playboy.. Cosmo… King was in ‘em all. You can go back to 1970 and dig around the smut and filth of the monkey tossin’ segment of our great land and find true literature, in all likelihood, with cum stains on it. He isn’t the first author to find his fame out of a series of boobie mags or pulp mags. We let our artists a starve among the Larry Flynt’s until we’ve seasoned them like venison. Ripe with pepper. Kill the gamey taste. Then we put them on the menu and there you have it. Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. Skipped over and tossed out in the trash by your mother. Not because the stories were so scary, but because our pornography looks best with day old mashed potatoes slathered next to the $.35 price sticker.

Sampling of the first periodicals to publish King's work. So go watch The People vs. Larry Flynt again and think about just how good porn can be for culture (oh... you too Cosmo).

Let’s run down the story with brief synopsis just so you know which story you’re going to read junior at bed this Halloween eve. Maybe it’ll keep his noggin’ clean of smut for one more day if he still thinks the monsters are gonna get him.

Jerusalem’s Lot
Story acts like a prequel to Salem’s Lot. It details the history of Jerusalem’s Lot (shortened to Salem’s Lot), it’s abandonment due to witchcraft and inbreeding. Never forget the “bad house”.

Graveyard Shift
A clean up crew goes into an old mill in an attempt to clean up a rat infestation only to discover the rats have mutated.

Night Surf
A tale not unlike Lord of the Flies only you have to add in several worldwide contagions as pieces on the chessboard. Teenagers turn into degenerate sadists and the struggle for power based on the fear of disease creates a climate for social commentary (and it’s linked to the Stand)

I am the Doorway
The inspiration for one of the best damn covers in horror history, I am the Doorway is the tale of an astronaut who comes back to Earth with a mutagen that begins to modify his hands by adding… eyes. Many eyes. Get ready for a creep out.

The Mangler
One of the strangest cases of man vs. machine on the books. Man vs. Laundromat. What would be next, Demon ironing board? Demon detergent? It’s a fun story. You’ll be telling your mommy that the industrial press followed you home and asking if you can keep it.

The Boogeman Film (part 1):

The Boogeyman
When you talk to your therapist and you think you can divulge everything well you’re right, maybe. Maybe the things you have to tell him are more horrifying than your mind can stand. And just maybe you need to make sure you close the closet at night less your children wake up dead.

Grey Matter
Snowstorm in Maine… hindsight may be 20/20, but ever since Stephen King started writing nothing in Maine is good especially not inclement weather. Get ready for icky imagery and a truly original story that will keep you off fast food for a year.

As a kid my father loved to read me this story so it has some memories. Take care of your toys and don’t kill anybody. The cost you pay may be dear and the pipe you pay may come with Kung Fu grip.

If you’ve seen Maximum Overdrive than you have a good understanding of the basic working premise for this one. Yes a TV movie was made as well, but nothing will compare to reading this one. Trucks come to life and Kill along with a whole bunch of other mechanical visitors.

Sometimes They Come Back
Possibly my least favorite tale in Night Shift. I haven’t watched the movie adaptation for the sole reason that I didn’t really enjoy reading the story. It’s a Jets Sharks story with ghosts. Somebody get Pony Boy>

Strawberry Spring
An interesting look at the thought process of a serial killer having a nostalgic moment. I wouldn’t call this scary, but it’s definitely an entertaining read.

The Ledge
Cat’s Eye did an excellent job on this story. It’s the story about a man who is “forced” to take a wage that he cannot walk around the ledge of a building that is exceptionally thing and fully of peril. Will he make it? What does he get if he wins? Read the story to find out.

The Lawnmower Man
The imagery of the “lawnmower man” is vivid and grotesque. As a kid I thought he was the devil but now I know better. It bears no resemblance to that damn movie they made in the 90’s. I do not feel that the movie is without merit. I do believe that it should not have been called Lawnmower Man. If you have never done so, read this story. It’s better than any movie adaptation.

Quitters, Inc.
Another entry into the Cat’s Eye anthology featuring James Woods no less. It’s an excellent adaptation, but the story itself is riveting. If you’ve ever taken a puff, smoked for years and then tried to quit, this story will get you chewing gum faster than you can say “cut off her finger”.

I Know What You Need
This is a coming of age story in hell. Black magic. Psychic ability. You’ll enjoy the story, but I’m not going to tell you it’s the best of the bunch. More about self discovery than self-terrification (new word).

Children of the Corn
The Corn is pleased. Enjoy this image of the Midwest in the United States. The children worship a corn god that imitates Jesus and brings out the evil in them. You’ve seen the movie (if not shame on you). It’s better by far than the adaptation.

The Last Rung on the Ladder
Deeply personal story about suicide that won’t creep you out, but will allow you to think about life’s frailty and the game of chance and trust that we balance on a pivot called fate.

The Man Who Loved Flowers
This one comes off as a later 70’s grindhouse/exploitation picture. It has the feeling of something William Lustig might have done immediately following Maniac. The story isn’t as violent as anything Lustig would have put out, but he would have made sure the adaptation was ripe with brutality. They’re talking about adapting this one. Get ready for a the fluffer nutter equivalent of a film.

One for the Road
I think this story fits best before a long drive through scenic New England. It takes place after Salem’s Lot and helps to complete the story along side the novel and the previous story in this collection, Jerusalem’s Lot. This series is a must read for the King fan. New movie coming at you soon. The still look amazing.

The Woman in the Room
If you like Frank Darabont (and we already know you do) then make sure to catch the “Dollar Baby” film adaptation of this on story about a man who kills his mother.Both the story and movie are equally good. It’s rare that you hear that remark. FYI: The Dollar Baby movement involved Stephen King allowing small groups of film students to adapt his films at the cost of $1. I think it was well worth the experiment given the rise of Darabont and the creation of the short, The Boogeyman.

Frank Darabont’s masterpiece (part 1):

The WOMAN IN THE ROOM (part 2):

I want you to enjoy this read. It’s great Jersey shore reading, but it’s best when you read one story a night and then have nice nightmare about it. There’s no reason to rush this. Obviously you should read them all. There’s only a few downers in the whole anthology and really, you’re talking about moments that simply aren’t as great as the others. I guess we can give Tipper Gore a call and tell her that censorship would have prevented King from getting his start. After all, no skin mags no King. I suppose that’s one way to look at it. Maybe another way to look at it is that without Night Shift, you wouldn’t be afraid of your closet. You’d never have killed your mother. Your action figures will stay in the box or on the stairs ready for an unknowing parent to step on them and break their neck. Most importantly, you don’t have that absolutely gorgeous image of the hand wrapped in gauze… with tiny eyeballs… watching…

-The Doctor in the Room

Get your Night Shift T-Shirt from Fright Rags. Just follow the bouncing hyperlink ... HERE

Oh wait there's more:

IMPORTANT: READERS OF THE TRAVELING TERROR-VERSE... UH HMMM... I mean people who come around here and stand in the corner waiting for Suzy B. Good to ask you if you wanna dance with her to "Love Hurts" by Nazareth. I need you to do my a favor and send a self addressed stamped envelope to the following address courtesy of:

Dr. James P. Terror.
213 Seymour Rd.
Hackettstown, NJ 07840

Why would you do such a thing? Because I need to send you a free pair of 3-D glasses. Cardboard Anaglyph Glasses. Cyan and Red. You'll know why you need them when the time is right. If you have them at home. Get ready for something new... for me. If you own a pair they should work just fine (when the time is right... bwahahaha). If you own the blue and red one's or even the magenta and cyan they should work just fine. Get your requests in early because the holiday is coming quickly (like me... um... INAPPROPRIATE!).


  1. Great writeup! It's been so long since I read it, you're making me want to re-read it. Especially as there are a few I don't remember at all (though the imagery of the Lawnmower Man is unlikely to leave me for a long while.)

  2. Just reading a single story a night will take you about 17 days. It's time well spent. The dollar movie challenge needs to be re-explored across the genre.