Draft date: 1997, Written by Stephen King
PLEASE NOTE: This review was written many years ago back on our old site, so some of the info may seem dated as of now.
A few years back, famed horror author Stephen King had the bright idea to release two 500+ page companion novels, mainly to ensure that readers could stand and look between the two scratching their heads while trying to figure out which one to get. For hours at a time. For those less informed, the choice was easy. You see, one of the books was called The Regulators, written under the name Richard Bachman. Those that didn’t know who the hell this was moved right on to the novel with Kings name on it, whereas informed readers knew that Bachman was a pseudonym King wrote under for a while. Apparently, the publishing company thought it’d be a hoot to release a ‘lost’ Bachman book. Regulators did not do well, due in large part because its companion, Desperation, was far superior in story and mood than The Regulators, even though both books featured the same characters. Neither had the same situation or story, however, and some characters’ personalities were completely turned around. Still, most agreed that Desperation was a better book and much more worthy of a big screen adaptation.
When the announcement came recently that Desperation is to be made into a feature length movie I did my usual moaning and groaning when I realize there will be yet another less than adequate King movie coming my way. But this is a little different. For one thing, Mick Garris is slated to direct. This is a monumentally good thing since Garris did the unthinkable and made a pretty damn good version of The Stand, a book no one thought would ever make a good film. He also went on to serve the King on many other adaptations all of which are better then most King movies.
When Daniel and I met with Garris at the Blair Witch Webfest back in 2001, he assured us that the feature-length version of Desperation would pull no punches and stay as faithful to the book as possible. So when we acquired a copy of the script I was very eager to check it out to see if it could live up to my expectations as a movie.
The draft I received is dated 1997 and is written by King. I can only assume it’s gone through many revisions since then, which is not altogether a bad thing.
For those unfamiliar with the book let me give you a quick rundown; the book (as well as the script) begins with two friends in Ohio. One of them is involved in a bad bike accident, and is almost killed. The other is unharmed, and prays to God his friend will be all right, promising to do anything in return for this one favor. Cut to a few years later, far away from the lushness of Ohio, to the unforgiving desert of Nevada. A couple headed to New York are pulled over by a local town cop. All seems fine at first but when a large bag of pot is found the two are promptly thrown into the cruiser and hauled off to the local jail.
And there’s something very wrong with this particular officer of the law.
His skin seems to be having a vicious argument with the rest of his body. It wants to rid itself of its skin, and seems to be winning. He also has a small speech impediment that causes him to say “TAK!” quite a bit. Oh yeah, and he wants to kill them both.
Only one of them makes it to the town jail alive, only to find a strange assortment of imprisoned people, all with similar stories. One is Daniel, the boy mentioned above who’s friend was almost killed, along with his parents and an old man from town. They soon realize there’s no one left alive in this desolate Nevada town, aptly named Desperation, and they must fight for their lives while trying to figure out what this thing is that so desperately needs to keep them alive, but is all too willing to kill whatever gets in its way.
As the script moves on we are introduced to three other characters. There’s Johnny, the hotshot author who’s touring America on his Harley. Johnny’s assistant Steve who’s about 70 miles behind him, driving a Ryder truck used to store the bike, and a hitchhiker he picks up named Cynthia. They all end up in town, but it’s Johnny and the boy Daniel who are the main focus for most of the story.
So there’s your back-story. It’s condensed and spoiler free, just like you like it. So, what did I think?
This being the first script I’ve read, I was surprised at how quickly I became enveloped in the unfolding story. It may have helped that I was familiar with the story to begin with but it’s undeniable that it sucks you in pretty quickly. From the first scene to the last, you are almost endlessly pelted with gore of some sort, be it the cop, Collie, who slowly disintegrates for most of the first act, to rooms full of dead and rotting bodies. This aspect of the script is great for a fan like myself because the book is full of images just like this and it’s good to see that, at least in this draft, most of the original horrific content is maintained. More importantly, however, is the action.
If this movie gets done the way the script reads, it’s going to be full of action almost all the way through. I’m interested in seeing the camera work that will be needed to keep these shots interesting and fast paced. Garris has worked on full-length movies, but most of his resume is television, which has it’s own limitations on creative content, and generally lacks the same cinematic feel as a motion picture. I’m confident in his abilities to keep the story moving but the film is going to need a great cinematographer to live up to what’s on these pages. There are wide, sweeping shots of the desert, streets lined with coyotes at parade rest, and detailed descriptions of scenes of the China Pit, the mine where most of the evil is centered. It would be a shame to see some of these scenes filmed with conventional methods.
The characterization is full and textured for those at the forefront of the story. We get some deep insight into Johnny and Daniel’s personas, and Steve (along with his hitchhiking friend Cynthia) has some good scenes where he’s given more depth, but not enough to slow the story down. One thing that’s quite noticeable is the way most of the other characters are ignored, which could make for some debate as to the validity of their presence in the final draft. I can imagine studio execs getting rid of some of the lesser-developed characters pretty quickly, which could serve to severely taint the final product. Hopefully in later drafts these people will be given a little more to do or say, if for nothing else but to keep the whole tale intact.
There are a few points I feel should be changed to keep the pace of the story up. The history of the China Pit is examined in close detail but it all takes place in the second act causing some of the speed with which the story is progressing to lessen. However, if the film is kept close to the script I’ve read, it may be almost necessary for the story to slow down at this point, so as not to over load the audience. The first time I read it I didn’t like the second act at all and felt most of it should be put at the very beginning of the film. Upon my second reading I realized that it does serve it’s purpose, but it will only do this if it’s pulled off with the right amount of tension and mounting fear.
Now for the main issue I had with this script, and to a lesser degree with the book as well.
Daniel is a very special kid, and he seems throughout to have a close report with the Almighty. There are many references to biblical situations, not said outright but very much implied, that some people could take issue with. I personally did not find it offensive or problematic to the story since it’s a very straightforward Good vs. Evil story. What I think will be the issue is that Hollywood, when making horror movies at least, tends to shy away from the entire question of the existence of God. You will come out of Desperation(if it’s made as-is) believing that God helped them out of these horrible situations. Not some “greater power” or human will, though that does help, but God, the big guy himself. This could be a bitter pill for some people to swallow, and it worries me that the studio behind it may try to tone down all references to Him in order to try and fend off any controversy. It’s hard to tell though. He’s portrayed as a very cruel God, and his actions are left for us to figure out for ourselves, which I think most studios don’t want to deal with when it comes to horror films. Desperation is very much a horror movie, there’s no doubt about that, and I feel any attempt to tone down or remove anything major from the script could do no good for it in the end.
Ultimately, it comes down to how much sway King has in Hollywood. If he’s able to insist that the script keep elements some could find offensive (be it the gore factor or the many religious undertones) this could end up being one of his first straightforward horror film adaptations that doesn’t let down his die hard fans. I’m not saying it’s going to change the face of horror or win much critical acclaim, but it could certainly end up being a movie horror fans come to treasure as a rare treat from the master of the craft.
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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