Sunday, 21 December 2014

Danse Macabre, by Stephen King

2 stars

There’s something terribly wrong with me – it has just taken me three weeks to finish a Stephen King book. A Stephen King book in which he riffs on one of my favourite genres, no less, giving us his take on the books, films, television and radio shows that populate the world of horror – or the world of horror until the early eighties, at least (when Danse Macabre was written). 

Taking a look at common horror tropes and why we find them so deliciously scary, I would have thought that Stephen King would be the perfect person to walk me through this topic. In this I was sadly disappointed.

Part of my problem was entirely my own – December is always a distracted and stressful month for me as I frantically try to reach a thousand deadlines while simultaneously struggling to fit in bouts of panic-buying with the few social obligations I have remaining now that I’m mostly a curmudgeonly hermit, leaving me a scanty few minutes in which to squeeze a bit of reading. King’s chatty, informal style didn’t help me here as the riffs and tangents he’s always been prone to embarking upon led to a rather loose and woolly whole that I struggled to get a firm grip on.
The early eighties cut-off also worked against the book for me, particularly when it came to film. Whilst name-checking a few truly great horror films, King’s taste in horror movie tends to skew heavily towards the schlocky, obviously a bloke-in-a-monster-suit, B (and C and D) movie which he grew up with but that I’ve always struggled to take seriously (I realise this is a bit rich coming from a woman whose own taste skews heavily towards that starring Bruce Campbell, but hey ho) and I couldn’t help but spend most of that time wondering what he’d make of the movies made since – and particularly the influencing of Hollywood by the truly spine-tingling terror of Japanese horror films (like the utterly brilliant and terrifying Audition, which I once made my Boxing Day guests sit through, much to their cushion-grabbing dismay), although I did also clock his disapproval of Kubrick’s version of The Shining (which may not be as true to the book as King’s own highly unnecessary TV adaptation, but is easily several thousand times better) and so it’s highly possible that he wouldn’t think much of it at all.

At its best when considering why we read/watch horror (for me, it’s the only genre that really gives my imagination a proper work out in a reality that’s rather mundane and routine where I often have to act counter to my instincts, and it gives my brain the same jolt of life that my body gets while hurtling towards the ground on a roller-coaster) but I think that the very thing King professes inside to wanting to avoid - the pinning down and dissecting of what makes it work – was probably the very thing I was after with Danse Macabre, and missed getting.

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