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October 25, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #199 - Cemetery Man

Most horror fans I know are quick to point out how lackluster the genre output of the 1990s was.  As with any time and any genre, there were several very good films released during that time span. (A few years back I listed these as my favorites.)  But, with fond memories of the 1980s in our minds and several impressive serious horror films hitting audiences in the new millennium, it's easy to see why the '90s are held in such contempt.
The horror subculture that might have taken the biggest hit in the 1990s was the Italian horror scene, which peaked with Argento, Fulci, and Bava through the '60s and early '80s but produced very few horror hits after the '80s ended. The biggest outlier to this train of thought is certainly Cemetery Man (originally titled Dellamorte Dellamore in its native tongue), which stands out to me as one of the most interesting horror films of its time and place due to its bizarre tone and chaotic plot.
British actor Rupert Everett, who would go on to much success starring romantic comedies like My Best Friend's Wedding and doing vocal work for Shrek movies, is at Cemetery Man's center as Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of an unholy cemetery where the dead often rise and walk seven days after their demise.  Many horror films would present a man in this position as an empowered hero, but Dellamorte just seems kind of annoyed by his predicament, sulking through much of the film and struggling to put much effort into sending the dead back to their graves. Cemetery Man uses his indifferent attitude as a platform to great things and Everett is a perfect fit for the moody and disinterested role.
There is one thing that inspires Dellamorte to feel passion, and that - of course - is a woman with huge breasts. She's played by Anna Falchi, who might be the most perfectly endowed woman in horror history, and her place in the caretaker's life drives the film toward the darkly comic tone that pushes it to surprising heights as a star-crossed romance and as an existential fantasy. Falchi first appears and captures the caretaker's heart as a widow who is turned on by the dead, and later shows up in two more roles to throw more salt on the wounds of Dellamorte's tortured love life.  The sexual encounters between the two leads are presented in ridiculously humorous ways - think of that awkwardly hilarious sex scene from Watchmen and you'll start to get the idea of what the director does here - but the caretaker's obsession with this woman through all of her different incarnations is always presented as a serious and somewhat deadly affliction for him.
While this sad sack is wondering what he has to do to hold on to the most beautiful pair of breasts woman he's ever seen, everything around him is increasingly bizarre and wild. His assistant and closest friend is a large bald man named Gnaghi who can only grunt and who also develops an obsessive love for the young daughter of the mayor after he vomits on her. Everyone around the cemetery seems rather uninterested in the fact that these "returners" continue to come back from the grave so Dellamorte can shoot them in the head, and the personification of Death even shows up to warn the caretaker that he should "stop killing the dead."
Everything in the film could be played for straight up laughs, and if that didn't work the story could also have been taken to gory extremes for the horror crowd. But director Michele Soavi seems to have an almost Shakespearean approach to the material, and the spirit that he gives Cemetery Man might be the biggest key to establishing the film as one of the most fascinating horror films of its era. A tonal comparison could be made to Peter Jackson's much loved Dead Alive, but the more human and less slapstick approach gives Cemetery Man a more tragic, thought-provoking edge over other splatter films like it.
Initial viewings of Cemetery Man may puzzle viewers - especially after the abstract ending - but returns to the film have really made me appreciate just how much this quirky horror film has to offer. It pushes the boundaries where many horror films stand pat, and never really suffers from its more abstract and existential choices. It's a movie that you don't want to look away from, and not just because you might see Falchi's God-given gifts at any moment. (Seriously, when she has a shirt on it looks like she's smuggling tetherballs.) The dark comedy, the ill-fated romance, and the zombie splatter all fit together perfectly here, establishing Cemetery man as a one-of-a-kind winner.

October 22, 2013

FMWL Indie Spotlight - The Studio on Mars, The ABCs of Death 2, Two Cool Horror Filmmakers, and You

I admit it, I skipped The ABCs of Death when it came out. Word of mouth was not good and I just never got around to it. Still, I appreciated the idea of a 26 part horror anthology film and was even more appreciative of the opportunity that the project afforded to independent horror filmmakers, who were given a chance to enter their own submissions and win a spot in the final film.

Well, The ABCs of Death 2 is on the way, and the same opportunity is being given to a new batch of horror filmmakers. Among the competitors for this honor are two good friends of FMWL, BJ Colangelo and Zach Shildwachter, working with the fine crew over at The Studio On Mars.  Their entry into the competition, entitled M is for Missionary, is something you other Midnight Warriors out there might want to check out.
For more from The Studio on Mars, check out their website and/or their Twitter.

Follow this link right here to go to the contest page for their submission, which you can watch there or watch below. For my money, it's a short and sweet home invasion story with a nice twist on societal expectations and some well-done brutality. Colangelo (who is directing for the first time) and Shildwachter (who once sent FMWL the grimy little treat Thrill Kill) have a good handle on the technical side of the film, teaming with their crew to create a good looking presentation that features top notch visual effects and sound effects that made me cringe a couple of times. As with most good short horror tales, it left me wanting to know more about what's going on here - which to me is the sign that they're doing something right.

I'm not going to tell you who you should vote for in this contest - I haven't checked out any of the other submissions yet, so I haven't voted yet either - I'm simply saying that I'm proud of these guys for their work and that you should check their entry out because it's a diabolical piece of gory fun.

You like diabolical and gory things, don't you?

PS - If you do want to vote for BJC and Zach's fine work, you should go to the main link (which is right here again in case you forgot it) and follow the instructions below.

October 18, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #198 - Fright Night

I'm not entirely sure, but I think Fright Night was the first R-rated horror movie I ever saw. That probably makes me biased, but remembering the experience that 10 year old me had while watching people turn into vampires (and other monsters of the night) makes me think that it might be the perfect introduction to "adult" horror for a younger horror fan. I was old enough (or was I just smart enough?) to know that the things I was seeing were both not real and really cool, and that helped make a big difference in my path toward horror fandom.
Today, Fright Night still seems like the pinnacle of '80s vampire films thanks to its respect for the past and its secure footing in horror's most excessive decade. William Ragsdale stars as ordinary teenager Charlie Brewster, who likes horror movies, his girlfriend (future Married With Children... co-star Amanda Bearse) and trying to have sex. So when he catches a view of his new neighbor Jerry (Chris Sarandon) with an attractive topless woman, he stares like most ordinary teenagers would. And then he sees fangs, and then Fright Night becomes a glorious vampire story.
If the set up sounds simple, it's because Fright Night is heavily a horror update of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (my favorite film of all-time, if we're sharing), but it doesn't settle for just being a play on Hitchcock. Writer/Director Tom Holland (who also directed previous Midnight Movies of the Week Child's Play and Thinner) adds something of a horror-movie-superhero to the proceedings in Peter Vincent, an aging star of Hammer-esque vampire films who now hosts the late night spook show for the local TV station.
I've long held the belief that the portrayal of Vincent by Roddy McDowell might be the finest performance given by an actor in a horror film. I realize that there's a bit of hyperbole to that statement - not to mention a bit of an insult toward Anthony Perkins and Psycho - but McDowell it has to be said that his performance is more than just a parody of actors like Peter Cushing and Vincent Price who gave him his name. The real treat in McDowell's performance is his emotional range as Vincent, perfectly presenting as both the aged actor who doesn't believe in real world evil and the confused old man who is forced into vampire hunting duty...for real.  The moments where McDowell is able to change his presentation in an instant - the scene in which he first meets Charlie, for example - push the performance further toward greatness, and the moments when the great Peter Vincent suddenly seems shocked and saddened by what he sees feel incredibly genuine.
The film's villains are another highlight, as our lead vampire is surrounded by a lot of bizarre and surprising creatures. Sarandon is the centerpiece of the conflict as the suave but devious Jerry Dandridge, and he seems to always have a smirk on his face that lets us know he's got something evil going on in his mind. The film refuses to rely on him only, and the final battles hold a few great surprises as the minions assisting our lead vampire reveal themselves in different ways. There are some special effects that still look fantastic on display as numerous transformations occur, and the battle that Charlie and Peter have to take part in feels deadly and exciting because they make us wonder where the film could be going next at every turn.
Though it's not the most serious take on the mythology and suffers from a few post-'80s side effects, Fright Night stands up on multiple viewings as one of my favorite vampire films of all-time. Maybe I'm biased again, thanks to my early connection to this film, but it's one of the most fun and endlessly watchable horror films I've ever seen. With great performances, fantastic monsters, and an A+ premise, Fright Night simply is one of the best horror films ever made.

October 11, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #197 - The Wicker Man

Antony Shaffer and Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man is one of those films that I just always want to talk about. Of course, it's also one of those movies that it's hard to talk about, because it has to be experienced to be understood. I don't know how to explain what is awesome about The Wicker Man to someone who hasn't seen The Wicker Man, because it's probably impossible for someone to feel the full impact of the film if they know what is going to happen in the film.
Of course, the biggest rule about The Wicker Man is not to talk about the ending, which helps this one of a kind horror film stand out as one of the biggest shockers - if not the biggest, and I don't say that lightly - of all-time. I will never forget how I felt, physically and mentally, after my first viewing of this film. The Exorcist had that kind of impact on me, Inside recently had a similar impact on me, and The Gate may have had that kind of impact on me when I was a kid....but I don't think any of them made me as uncomfortable as The Wicker Man - a film without gore or monsters - made me feel.
The film builds its power thanks to a two-headed approach. Firstly, it takes place on a bizarre island where everything looks like reality but seems like something out of a nightmare. The township of Summerisle feels like something you could find anywhere in the United Kingdom at the time of the film, yet the actions of everyone in town makes us feel like we've slipped into something of an alternate universe. The story's stance on religion helps make it seem so weird - as do my own religious beliefs, which make me an easy target for Shaffer's script - but everybody can probably see that a town with this much random singing and dancing and Christopher Lee's wig is kind of off-kilter.
The bizarre universe the film exists in is intensified by the actors within it, led by the late Edward Woodward, who gives one of horror's finest performances.  His turn as the religious policeman who descends on the town only intensifies how odd everything there is, and it makes the other stars - like the oft-nude temptress Britt Ekland and the deliciously hammy Lee (who seems like he was having a real good time playing Lord Summerisle) - seem that much more perfect in their roles. The disconnect between Woodward's character and this town's beliefs would make for a great piece of drama - but it's even better for what Hardy and Shaffer had up their sleeve here.
All of this odd behavior in the setting and by the characters doesn't seem like something you'd find in a movie renowned as a great horror film, which is a big part of why the ending means so much to the film's legacy.  Most of the film plays more like a fairy tale told by someone on acid than a horror film of the 1970s, and even the final act doesn't offer many traditional scares. But The Wicker Man offers viewers an intoxicatingly weird experience, and when that experience twists into its final reveal it's hard to not feel shaken by the film's power.
I've seen The Wicker Man probably a dozen times in the last decade, and it still leaves me speechless at times. I've covered it a few times over the years already, and feel like I don't have a lot to say about the movie tonight, but I just felt the need to bring it up one more time and get it on this Midnight Movie of the Week list. (Especially since I once chose the unintentionally hilarious remake for this list, which means I have to point out that this one's the good one or I might as well quit.) When October rolls around it simply feels like the season of The Wicker Man (as does May, considering the film's plot) and I'd be doing you all a disservice if I didn't point out how important this film is to horror and cult cinema. If you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to seek it out. If you've seen it and loved it...well, then I'm willing to bet you want to talk about it to people too. It's one of the most powerful midnight movie experiences that has ever been created.

October 9, 2013

FMWL Indie Spotlight - The Golem (Full Sound DVD/CD by HobGoblin)

A 93 year old movie is not typically what I cover when it's time to look at independent productions, but the good folks over at November Fire (who last year released the fantastic retrospective The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features) have provided an interesting twist on classic silent horror with their latest two part project, which aims to bring new eyes to The Golem, one of the titans (no pun intended) of the German Expressionist movement in early horror cinema.

This new release is a two part project, as director Strephon Taylor and his November Fire associates have provided a new soundtrack for the film, which comes to us in the form of a two disc CD package, and a "full sound" DVD of The Golem, which adds the soundtrack to the film - along with new dialogue and sound effects that make the film - kind of - a talkie. This is the third release of this kind that November Fire has produced - previously adding sound to Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - but it's the first chance I've had to check out one of these updated classics.

If the idea of adding dialogue via new actors sounds like blasphemy to you, you might not be interested in this release. As a classic film fan, I have to admit that I paused at the idea of adding sound and dialogue to this film and others. The title cards are part of the charm of silent cinema to me, and having them omitted and replaced by voice actors is difficult for me to stomach. Taylor has said that the project is intended to help silent film find a new audience - pointing out that younger viewers and TV stations have picked up these products since they are no longer silent - and I see his point, even if it's not my personal preference. There's an argument about right and wrong that I won't get into here - because I really don't care to be that guy - and I will say that it's an interesting twist to present these silent classics in a new way.

I guess I should comment on the movie, although people who are interested in it probably already know what they need to know. The Golem tells the story of a rabbi who creates a large clay creature that comes to life to help protect the Jews of ancient Prague from the Roman Empire. The creature, a hulking mass played by co-writer/co-director Paul Wegener, doesn't work out exactly as its creator planned, and the result is a lot of carnage, because that's what happens when a faulty clay goliath is on the loose. I've never really thought The Golem was extremely impressive - especially compared to those other two German classics I mentioned earlier - mostly because The Golem itself hasn't aged very well and the plot is also a bit dated. Nosferatu is timeless, Caligari is always interesting from a visual standpoint, but The Golem starts strong and kind of wears out its welcome before a big finish.

The film still has some iconic imagery, and November Fire's presentation does an excellent job of keeping the visuals strong. The film is tinted with colors and looks very good, even if it's not fully remastered through any high tech process. With the title cards removed the movie only runs 64 minutes long, which makes it a quick watch and good for those newcomers that the project is targeting. As for the voice acting, it's hit and miss. I'm not sure the tone the actors used was always serious enough, and it might be too over-the-top for some viewers. As someone who treats silent cinema with a bit of reverence - even when the film isn't among my very favorites - I found the sound to be distracting sometimes. I don't expect this to be the case for everyone, but it's another warning I have to put out there for purists.

On the other hand, the soundtrack that has been added by musical group HobGoblin is definitely the highlight of the package. It's got a definite rock/metal edge to it, but never seems to be abrasive and rarely seems like a distraction from the movie. There's a nice balance between classic horror score and modern rock here - with a little funk too - and I feel comfortable saying that the folks in HobGoblin definitely knew what they were doing here. It's another touch that will certainly appeal to new viewers, and I'd even say that it made The Golem - which I've seen and been a little bored by before - seem more engaging this time around.

I'm not in love with what this version of The Golem offers on a personal level, but I think that my reservations come more from my own cinematic experiences and the fact that I've never been entirely in love with The Golem either. (I'm interested to check out their versions of Nosferatu and Caligari, which I do love, just to see how their vision compares to my experience with those films.) I wouldn't necessarily recommend this product to people who haven't seen The Golem if they're silent film fans, but I agree with Taylor and company that this is a nice way to catch new viewers who haven't really experienced silent horror due to reservations. If nothing else, I hope that these sound versions of silent classics will open up the minds of new viewers and get them interested in what that era of horror has to offer them.

You can check out the DVD and CD releases (and the other mentioned products at the November Fire site I linked in the opening, as well as at Amazon (DVD here, CD here) and other retailers. Check them out, and keep classic horror alive!

October 5, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #196 - Cat People

Jacques Tourneur's Cat People, perhaps the artistic high point of horror during the 1940s, is one of the most difficult horror films to explain to modern audiences. Part of that's probably because it's mostly a parable about the dangers of the past and a metaphor for repressed sexuality and a bunch of other smart stuff like that, and also probably because we never actually see people who look like cats. This was, after all, just one year after The Wolf Man showed us a man who looked like a wolf - so it would make sense to expect people who look like cats.
What do we get, if not people who look like cats? We get the fascinating Simone Simon as Irena, a Serbian woman living in New York City who becomes convinced that she's a member of a family who turns into panthers when they're sexually aroused. I suppose that's not really hard to explain, but it's a little bit hard to believe. It's not far off from the gypsy culture of The Wolf Man - which keeps popping up in my mind due to its close proximity to this release - but the differences in style between Cat People producer Val Lewton and the folks behind Universals' monster movies are pretty significant.
As I've already mentioned, the obvious difference is Lewton and Tourneur's choice to go with an implied monster over an actual monster. It's the right choice for this movie for multiple reasons. For starters, I can't picture one scenario in which you use makeup or prosthetics to make Simone Simon look like a cat and don't end up with an audience that thinks the film is a huge joke. But, more obvious than that, there's an air of mystery added to the film by the choice to keep things ambiguous.
Much of this is sold by Simon, who portrays Irena as an icy character, but not one who is sufficiently vicious or evil. She's a confused character - moreso when she interacts with the men in her life than usual -who certainly earns our sympathy as she moves through the film. Even as she grows more unstable later in the film - thanks to a juicy (by 1942 standards) love triangle with her husband and one of his co-workers - we still feel a strong sense of pity for the character, because the filmmakers do such a good job of making us feel like she is doomed by her past.
The film builds to a couple of tense sequences - most notably the swimming pool showdown with her husband's lover, which is probably the best use of a swimming pool in a horror movie's final act prior to C.H.U.D. II - that do a fantastic job of making us feel uneasy without any specific visual of Irena's cat form. Future low-budget horror movies owe a lot to Lewton, as Cat People and his other productions set the standard for building tension with minimal resources. Ironically, all of those scares where cats jump out of dark areas at victims are ancestors of Cat People, where Lewton surprises viewers with the screeching brakes of a bus just when we think we're going to get a cat.
There are a surprising number of people who don't back Lewton's approach to horror these days - for example, the great John Carpenter has famously chided his films as being full of "nothing" - but I think there's still something fascinating about the balance between drama and horror in his productions. Cat People could probably work as a drama about a confused woman and her romantic struggles, and the addition of this shapeshifting aspect of her persona still only barely makes the film a horror tale at times. But the way the director and producer sell her affliction - and the way they let it take over the film in the final act - set up Cat People as one of the more intriguing horror films of its era, and make it a great piece of counterprogramming to the monster movies of its day.

October 4, 2013

Bad Milo!

(2013, Dir. by Jacob Vaughan.)

Ken Marino has long been one of those comic actors who's always memorable as a supporting character - dating all the way back to Wet Hot American Summer and peaking (at least for me) with Veronica Mars - so when I saw that he was going to headline a horror comedy that got picked up by the good folks over at Magnet Releasing my interest was piqued.

When I learned that the movie was going to be about a devilish monster who breaks out of Marino's colon and goes on a murderous rampage - well, then I definitely had to see the movie.

That movie is Bad Milo!, and it's as successful as it is ridiculous. Marino plays a timid businessman who deals with his mother (Mary Kay Place) dating a young Indian man, his father (Stephen Root) abandoning him, and his boss (Patrick Warburton) bossing him around. The result of all his stressors is a polyp on his colon, which sends him to a therapist (Peter Stormare) and some medical procedures. But I've already tipped you off to the secret - that polyp becomes Milo.

And Milo, the bug eyed, pointy-teethed, square-headed terror that comes into the film is one of the goofiest and most enjoyable new monsters to hit the screen in some time. He looks and sounds like something left over from the 1980s - fans of Basket Case will probably enjoy the film's joke - and he's presented with the same kind of balance between cute and evil that we remember from Gremlins. Of course, Bad Milo! also has a lot more toilet humor than Gremlins, but it spends more time on the monster and his creator (Can we call Marino's character a "creator" the same way we call Dr. Frankenstein a creator? It's a stretch, but I just did.) than it does making jokes that could take the film down the drain.

Marino is excellent in the lead, playing the straight and scared man for most of the movie, while the supporting cast does a great job of bouncing gags off of him. Stormare is particularly fantastic as the therapist who helps him deal with Milo, playing a rare light-hearted character and creating a lot of laughs with his laid back approach to this rectal monster. Others like Place, Warburton, and Root have smaller pieces of the film but all of them help Marino and his buddy Milo make the wacky plot funny.

Bad Milo! is an obviously R-rated horror comedy, with lots of blood and a bit of excrement spilled all over the screen and a few kill scenes that are barely shown on screen before we see the over-the-top crime scene that is left behind. It's a nice touch that writer/director Jacob Vaughan manages to show the gory monster side of Milo without taking the film too far from its comedy roots, which means that the film will probably play better for the Comedy Central crowd than the gore-obsessed horror crowd. There's a lot to like in the film for both crowds, thankfully, and anyone who can appreciate a ridiculous monster and some zany horror comedy will certainly have a good time with this tongue-in-cheek film.

(Bad Milo! is in select theaters starting today and is also available On Demand and via ITunes. If you're like me, you'll dig it.)

October 3, 2013

Book Review - Doctor Sleep

Somewhere among my Top 10 favorite movies of all-time (probably later than number 6 but earlier than number 10) sits Frank Capra's slapstick comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. It is a silly film - full of murderers, lunatics, and one seriously confused Cary Grant - but it also contains a line of dialogue that has long stuck in my head as a bold moment of truth. The most murderous member of the film's family, who looks like Boris Karloff, has decided he wants to kill somebody and scolds his assistant (played by Peter Lorre) about what happens when he makes up his mind. Lorre's character, Dr. Einstein, responds with a sigh, saying "Yes, yes, I know. When you make up your mind, you lose your head."

This sticks with me because I think there's a type of personality that is explained by this statement, and I don't think it's just for murderers with the face of Frankenstein's monster. It's a great way to explain addicts. They're people who get attached to the idea of something - whether it be alcohol, drugs, food, or anything else - and who then find themselves trapped by their own desires as they chase what they are focusing on without regard for anything else.

What does this have to do with Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining that Stephen King has finally offered readers? Well, I think that Doctor Sleep is a book by a person who makes up his mind and loses his head (or at least did, back in his drinking days), a book for people who make up their mind and lose their head (people like me, who avoided vices like alcohol and became junkies for horror stories instead), and - most importantly - a book about people who are dangerous because they can make up their mind and lose their head.

First and foremost among these people is Dan Torrance, formerly Danny, the child who survived The Overlook Hotel in the 1970s and who grew up to face everything else life had to offer. King presents Dan first as a defeated child - dealing with the ghosts of The Overlook while trying to get help from his mother and the cook who also "shone" - and then as an adult who hit bottom and had to fight his way back to the top. Dan's bottom - an AA term that King will explain, along with many other loving and accurate descriptions of Big Book meetings - is handled marvelously by the author, and this early book segment (which was suggested, according to King's post-novel notes, by his son Owen) really sets the tone for Dan's journey through the book. It's difficult to see this grown version of Dan Torrance - especially as the book covers more than 30 years of his life - and remember the little boy from The Shining (then again, everything about a 36 years later sequel is a little difficult), yet King does a good job of making Dan a new character while reminding us of his first journey into horror just often enough.

After he bottoms out, we're treated to Dan's search for redemption as he tries to kick his habit and use his gifts in a positive way. This is not an easy task for someone with his afflictions (physical, mental, and supernatural afflictions - if you're counting along at home), but he finds the motivation thanks to some help from his old friend Tony, some new friends in Alcoholics Anonymous, and (most notably) a young girl named Abra.

Little Abra Stone, much like Danny Torrance when he was a child, has the gift of The Shining. We meet Abra as she is born, and some of the book's best segments relay her developing talents as she grows up. Though she's still developing as a teenager when the book hits its dramatic and horrific high points, King shows us enough to make sure we know from an early age (including a bizarre sequence where King connects the infant Abra to the 9/11 attacks) that she has powers that surpass what we've seen from others in the book. Once we see everything Abra can do we realize that Dan and her are a dangerous combination when they get together. King plays upon this, making it easy for readers to get behind these two characters.

The antagonists that Dan and Abra must face are a group of nomadic, soul-sucking, vampire types called The True Knot, a somewhat silly concoction of ageless killers that feed on the essence - or "steam" - of children with Shining powers. The idea of The Knot doesn't really work too well, but is strengthened by its leader, a juicy villainess called Rose the Hat - thanks to her trademark top hat, which becomes one of the book's more enduring visuals. All the side members of the Knot are a little underdeveloped (one character gets a great introduction very early in the book and then becomes second fiddle for the rest of the journey, the rest are caricatures of horror sidekicks) but Rose the Hat is an imposing mental presence who is given a lot of depth by the author. King tries to build up Rose as a devilish talent for evil, yet some of the sequences where he shows us the insides of the True Knot camp and Rose's struggles to lead them are interesting because they make these character seem human. She's ruthless and murderous, but she's also confused and frightened of death - just like we are. Rose the Hat is one character from King's universe that I definitely want to see more of, if only because the author does such a good job of showing both her strengths and weaknesses. There's an argument that could be made about her and Dan being more similar than Dan and Abra are, but that's a much bigger discussion for a different day.

As you can see, there's a lot going on in King's book, and sometimes it felt like he left a storyline behind too easily to tell us something different. For example, I got to a point where I wanted more of Dan's struggles with alcohol and the ghosts of the Overlook, but then King offered descriptions of the Knot and their murderous acts. Or, I got to a point where I wanted to make sense out of Rose the Hat, and just then King dropped a newborn named Abra into the story. It was hard to keep track of where Doctor Sleep was going in the first few chapters, but once King started bringing things together - even tipping his cap to the theory of relativity in a not-so-subtle manner - it became obvious that all of these threads were about to come together.

Things start to clear up around the half way point of the book, but King still has some nice twists up his sleeve as he moves through the final act. Some of the major plot developments are blatantly obvious, but King finds neat ways to surprise us just when we think things are going the other direction. Characters who seem to be gaining power are abruptly killed off, schemes that are spelled out in one manner suddenly become something else, and even a few visitors from The Overlook Hotel make memorable returns. It all adds up to a wildly entertaining, if not ridiculous, final confrontation that wraps the story up rather quickly. It's a chaotic and unpredictable sequence - King even throws in an old man doing a cartwheel (I presume the kitchen sink was busy) - but it features some great moments that help make the ending work pretty well. The whole conflict is probably best summed up by the use of a character from The Shining in one crucial moment - don't worry, I don't dare spoil this one! - which is an out-of-the-blue idea that shouldn't work but had me pumping my fist and cackling like a madman because it was such a fun move by the author.

Doctor Sleep isn't a masterpiece by any means - there's too much going on (including a large number of distracting pop culture references, even for King) and very few moments that match the shock value of King's earlier work - but it works because the minds of the lead characters are opened up to us and because each of the main characters has the ability to surprise us. They are each powerful and unstable characters who could "lose their heads" at any time, which makes Doctor Sleep an interesting and unpredictable new addition to King's universe of horror.