Mob Scene: IT

Approximately midway through Stephen King’s monster opus, IT, a mob scene breaks out.

The novel’s “Third Interlude” section (another entry in Mike Hanlon’s journal of Derry’s dark history) details the very public execution of the Bradley Gang (King’s fictionalized version of the Brady Gang, who met a grim fate in Bangor) in October 1929. Previously identified when attempting to purchase ammunition at Machen’s Sporting Goods store, the fugitive group of bankrobbers ride into a barrage of gunfire that makes the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde seem like a roll-out of the old welcome wagon by comparison. It’s a case of bloodlust run amok, of community-wide vigilante violence (“There were men everywhere, men with guns, standing in doorways and sitting on steps and looking out of windows”). With “fifty, sixty men firing all at once,” the scene “sounded like the Battle of the Marne.” Overkill is undoubtedly the order of the day, as the criminals’ vehicles are obliterated (“By the time the firing stopped, those cars didn’t look like cars at all anymore, just hunks of junk with glass around them”), and the members of the Bradley Gang themselves brutally dispatched (Arthur Malloy has his throat torn “wide open” by a bullet; George Bradley’s gun moll, Marie Hauser, has “one of her eyes shot out”; as for  Bradley: “someone pulped the back of his head with a shotgun blast”). This bloody massacre right in the center of Derry’s streets precipitates a wave of shame and denial–most of the perpetrators are loathe to admit they were even present in Derry that grim day.

In and of itself, the gunning down of the Bradley Gang is a perfect example of the ugly results when hotter heads prevail. There is a further turn of the screw to this particular mob scene, though: Mike identifies the incident as another “monstrous sacrifice” that served to stir It from a quarter-century-long hibernation period and thus unofficially initiated Its next feeding cycle. Appropriately enough, various vigilantes report seeing a clown (none other than Pennywise It-self,Mike knows) gleefully joining in on the shooting spree. Noting a nearby county fair operating at the time, the recounting Norbert Keene speculates to Mike: “Maybe one of them [clowns from the fair] heard we were going to have our own little carnival and rode down because he wanted to be in on it.” The macabre irony of such statement is that Derry’s carnival of violence has been heavily influenced by the town’s own long-resident clown. Malignancy, as Mike’s recurring journal entries illustrate, is deep-seated in Derry’s body politic, and is anything but excised by the execution of a gang of designated outsiders.

 

Mob Scene: “The Lynching” by Claude McKay

Over the years, I have covered many examples of mob scenes–of instances of violent Othering and mass misbehavior–in film, television, and fiction. But as Claude McKay’s 1920 poem “The Lynching” (collected in Harlem Shadows) illustrates, the mob scene also has its place in American verse.

Written as a Shakespearean sonnet, “The Lynching” jars with its deliberate dissonance between the elegant poetic form and the particularly ugly subject matter treated here. Evincing a Gothic sensibility, McKay’s lines record sadistic impulses (the victim of the titular crime has died “by the cruelest way of pain”) and present horrific images (hung and burned, a black man has been reduced to a “swinging char”). The poem, though, hits hardest in its sestet section: the last six lines describe the crowd of morbidly curious gawkers that has gathered the next day “to view / the ghastly body swaying in the sun.” McKay is unsparing in his indictment, as the foulness of the allegedly fairer sex is highlighted by the complete absence of “sorrow” in the “steely blue” eyes of the women who “thronged to look” at the corpse. The concluding couplet makes for a devastating clincher, marking a perversion of public celebration and foreboding a dark generational legacy to such scene: “And little lads, lynchers that were to be, / Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.”

McKay’s opening octave alludes strongly to the Crucifixion (ostensibly the quintessential example of execution-as-public-spectacle). But whereas Christ died to take away the sins of the world, “The Lynching” points in a more pessimistic direction. “The awful sin remained still unforgiven,” McKay writes, referencing an innocent man’s crime of possessing black skin in a racist white society. This line also resonates with Gothicism, though, suggesting a problematical impingement of the past, the continuously haunting impact of ignominious history.

The racial underpinnings of American Gothic is well- and long-established in literary criticism (cf. Leslie Fiedler’s oft-cited remark in Love and Death in the American Novel: “The proper subject for American gothic is the black man, from whose shadow we have not yet emerged”). Perhaps this aspect of the genre is sometimes seized too readily upon by academics, but a poem such as McKay’s “The Lynching” clearly requires no critical stretch to grasp its concerns with black-white relations and racial violence in this country.

[Note: for an excellent overview of this subject, see Hollis Robbins’s essay (which covers McKay’s poem) “The Literature of Lynching.”]

Mob Scene: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (book and film)

Shirley Jackson was no stranger to angry villagers. As Jonathan Lethem has noted, “the motif of small-town New England persecution” runs through Jackson’s fiction, filtered from personal experience: “It was [Jackson’s] fate, as an eccentric newcomer in a staid insular village [North Bennington, Vermont], to absorb the reflexive anti-Semitism and anti-intellectualism felt by the townspeople toward the college” [where Jackson’s Jewish husband worked as a professor]. Life in North Bennington would lead Jackson to draw up the classic story “The Lottery” (which I covered in a Mob Scene post last year). The author’s most extensive depiction of angry villagers, though, occurs in her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle (whose long-overdue film adaptation arrived in theaters and on demand last week).

In the novel, Jackson’s Blackwoods (the narrating Merricat; Constance; Uncle Julian) live isolated in their fenced-off family home, ostracized by the community. They are the object of scorn, the subject of a dark nursery rhyme that is often tauntingly chanted at them. Some of the hostility stems from class resentment, of a wealthy family perceived to set itself above and beyond the common folk. No small part, though, is played by fear, for dark scandal haunts the Blackwood name: six years earlier, most of the family was killed off, and Constance accused (but found innocent in court, at least) of poisoning them at dinnertime by lacing the sugar bowl with arsenic. Six years later, the Blackwood home is a largely shunned place, and the survivors inside treated like witches by the lore-building locals.

The burning resentment and dread of the Blackwoods flares out of control when Merricat sets fire to the home (in the attempt to cleanse the place of her intrusive, duplicitous cousin Charles, a true American Gothic hero-villain). Along with the fireman battling the conflagration, the villagers arrive at the scene, but act less like concerned onlookers than joyous witnesses of an auto-da-fe. “Let it burn!” the uncaring refrain resounds outside the blazing walls. In a shocking twist, the flames are brought under control, but the crowd goes berserk after the fire chief turns around and throws a rock through one of the tall windows of the home. The act inaugurates an orgy of destruction: looting, vandalizing villagers promptly wash over the home like a “wave.” One of the more respectable townspeople denounces the rioters as “crazy drunken fools,” but intemperance isn’t an adequate explanation for such a transgressive outburst. Long-held inimical feelings have flooded to the surface, resulting in a deluge of unneighborly behavior.

As dramatized in the film, this mob scene is even more stunning. The Blackwood home is torn apart by a pack of wild men and women, its furnishings strewn across the lawn like viscera. The mob’s persecution of the Blackwoods is made even more poignant by Merricat’s voiceover: “The sound of their hate is another kind of fire moving through the bones of our house. I know now that all of my [protective] spells are broken. What was buried here in this village, their want for our ruin, has come to the surface at last.”  There’s one salient difference between the book and film versions of the scene. In Jackson’s novel, the villagers are wary of actually touching Constance or Merricat, but in the film the pair of sisters are roughly manhandled. A lynching seems very well in the making, until the crowd is cowed by the announcement that Uncle Julian is dead inside the house.

Further outrage against the Blackwoods is thus avoided, but plenty of damage has occurred. The alleged high-and-mighty have been brought low, their denigrated den of eccentricity devastated. The shock troop of American Gothic, the angry mob, has reduced the Blackwood home to a Gothic ruin: “Our house,” Merricat narrates in the novel, “was a castle, turreted and open to the sky.” Ironically, this violent transformation really hasn’t changed much, only obviated the circumstances of the Blackwoods’ existence all along (as also signaled by Jackson’s book title). The House of Blackwood has fallen into decrepitude, and the weird sisters now shuttered up inside are shuttered at all the more. “We fixed things up nice for you girls, just like you always wanted it,” the mocking villagers proclaim during the sacking of the manse, but Merricat and Constance were fixed in their situation of ugly Othering long before their unfortunate fort was stormed.

 

 

Mob Scene: The Highwaymen

Not every mob scene is concerned with hostile ostracizing. As the Netflix original film The Highwaymen demonstrates, sometimes the villagers aren’t angry, just downright mad.

The film forms a counterpoint to 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. Director Arthur Penn’s Academy-Award winner was considered edgy and graphically violent at the time, but today seems somewhat frivolous, treating the Barrow Gang’s murderous interstate crime spree almost like zany hijinks (complete with rollicking banjo music to accompany bank-robbery getaways). John Lee Hancock’s The Highwaymen (co-starring a superb Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson) doesn’t romanticize the notorious criminals/lovers; instead the emphasis is on the monstrosity of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, and the acts of cold-blooded savagery they commit. In contrast to Bonnie and Clyde‘s spotlighting of Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s characters, the pair of public enemies here are kept mostly offscreen. The Highwaymen is the story not of the killers but the pair of former Texas Rangers–Frank Hamer and Maney Gault–tasked with tracking them down.

In the film’s climax, the diligent Rangers finally get their man (and woman), and Bonnie and Clyde are gunned down by a ferocious firing squad. The mob scene follows upon this dispensation of bloody justice, as the bullet-riddled car containing the corpses of the executed fugitives is towed into the nearby town of Arcadia, Louisiana. Word of the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde has spread quickly, and a huge crowd has gathered in the street, driven less by morbid curiosity than the crazy desire for souvenirs. The frenzied masses push past the police to get at the open-windowed car, snatching at the inert bodies and tearing at their clothing. The Highwaymen exposes the grotesquerie of the cult of idolatry that formed around Bonnie and Clyde, as a significant portion of the American public treated the homicidal duo as Depression-era celebrities, admirable antiheroes. What makes this mob scene that much more harrowing is that it actually happened (the real-life details are even more disturbing, with someone going so far as to try to hack off Clyde’s trigger finger; the “death car” itself would subsequently become a macabre tourist attraction).

Bonnie and Clyde have been fictionalized before in American Gothic works such as Norman Partridge’s hard-boiled/supernatural hybrid “Red Right Hand” (which riffs on the 1967 film’s scene of Faye Dunaway fleeing through a cornfield) and Stephen King’s novella 1922 (whose “Sweetheart Bandits” form a clear analogue to the Barrow gangsters). The dark and gritty (and immensely entertaining) The Highwaymen, though, treats directly with the historical figures, presenting a memorable demythologizing of Bonnie and Clyde’s life of crime, and a sharp indictment of the misguided, morally-suspect American public.

 

Mob Scenes: The Sopranos

Even the godfather of mob series offers us a mob scene…

And not just any scene featuring a rambunctious rabble, but one including vintage angry villagers. I refer to episode 5.11 of The Sopranos, “The Test Dream.” Worried that his AWOL cousin Tony Blundetto is going to whack Phil Leotardo and set off a war between the New York and New Jersey families, Tony Soprano has one epic nightmare. In the middle of this midnight mind movie, Tony fails to prevent Blundetto’s mob hit, and is challenged by a huge crowd of disapproving onlookers with questions of “Why didn’t you stop him?” The scene then cuts to Tony being chased down a dark alley by the crowd, who suddenly turn into Europeans in lederhosen, with flaming torches and the leashes of barking hounds in their hands. This quick and terrifically surreal reference perfectly captures Tony’s fear of persecution, while also highlighting his deep awareness of classic films.

I’ll admit, I was never especially fond of this late-season episode of The Sopranos. I felt the dream sequence was too long (stalling the show’s narrative drive) and just too damned weird. Nevertheless, I have to give all due respect to David Chase’s wise-guy drama for its knowing nod to Universal’s Frankenstein movies.

 

Mob Scene: Godless

While never quite descending to the grotesquerie and vileness of Deadwood, Netflix’s Godless is doubtless a grim and Gothic western. The limited series presents no shortage of disturbing scenes: a sick house littered with smallpox victims; rapist slavers wearing buffalo heads; a family butchered by a pair of sociopath sons. Godless features a quintessential Gothic hero-villain, in the dangerous person of Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels, in a deservedly Emmy-winning role). A revenge-obsessed amputee (who carries around his rotting, bug-swarmed arm like a creepy keepsake), Griffin recalls Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick. With his penchant for twisted preaching, he also traces his literary lineage back to the Judge in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Furthermore, Griffin is responsible for a massacre that gives a wicked twist to that American Gothic staple, the angry mob scene.

In the opening episode, “An Incident in Creede,” a brutal train robbery by the Griffin Gang is foiled by former member Roy Goode, who intervenes and speeds off with the money from the heist. When Griffin and his men leave to give chase after this rural American Robin Hood, the surviving members of the the Creede community apprehend the deviant Devlin brothers (who’d been incapacitated by Goode) and quickly sentence them to death by hanging. The public execution, though, takes a spectacularly violent turn when Griffin (his left arm now a dangling wreck after taking a bullet from Goode) and his outlaw entourage double back into town. Rescuing the Devlin brothers from the noose is not enough; Griffin commands his band of bandits to murder the people of Creede and burn every last building to the ground (the town is reduced to an apocalyptic ruin). “Them sons a bitches lynched the damn mob,” recounts Marshal John Cook (Sam Waterston), who in the series’ opening scene was driven to his knees by the sight of a young Creede boy strung up high by the Griffin Gang. The stunning reversal of fortune in Creede (and Griffin’s ominous promise to decimate any community that harbors Goode) sets the stage for the rest of Godless‘s engrossing run.

I don’t want to misrepresent this series by painting it as uniformly dark; there’s plenty of (dry) humor and (tear-jerking) romance splashed across the dramatic canvas as well. Godless offers jaw-dropping cinematography, the sprawling scenery forming an incredible backdrop for the broad cast of richly-drawn characters (heroes and villains alike). An epically good western, Godless is as strong an original series ever to stream on Netflix. I could shoot myself for not having followed its trail sooner.

 

Mob Scenes: “Tender as Teeth”

In my last post of 2018, The Best of the Best of the Best Horror of the Year, I cited Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynski’s “Tender as Teeth” as one of the top selections for the anthology series over the last decade. This unique piece of post-apocalyptic fiction takes as its jumping off point the end of a zombie plague (which wasn’t your typical uprising, anyway: “The dead didn’t crawl out of their graves. Society didn’t crumble entirely. The infection didn’t spread as easily as it did in the movies.”). A “survivor” here is not just a human who managed to fend off the dental cases, but also someone like the protagonist Justine, who was injected with a medical Cure after a six-months’ existence as a feral carnivore.

Justine’s problems are far from solved, however. Ongoing digestive issues and “death breath” are the least of her woes. She is not only traumatized, uncomfortable living in her own skin, but also tormented by others who view her with disgust and express venomous hatred toward her. Justine struggles with the infamy of her cannibalistic binge (since her lowest moment went viral: a well-timed photo caught her macabre banqueting on a baby). Now the outraged masses won’t let her forget her” amnesiac murder”; she realizes there’s “an entire planet filled with people who actively wanted her dead.”

“Tender of Teeth” actually features two related mob scenes. In the first, the photographer Carson (who snapped the notorious image of “Zombie Chick”) is attacked by the pack of protesters picketing outside Justine’s apartment. The group’s focus is soon diverted by Justine’s appearance in the window; the new offensive involves “Cursing at her. Gesturing at her. Spitting. Picking up tiny chunks of broken sidewalk and hurling them at her.” In the following scene, the zealots attempt to ambush Justine and Carson on a desert road outside Las Vegas. Even as an attitude of we-just-want-to-talk reasonableness is affected, the accosters come across as not just disingenuous, but as delusional lunatics (whose gun-toting points to a potential firing-squad fate for Justine). In neither scene does this group come off well. Justine thinks of “her personal Raincoat Brigade” as “the biggest bunch of vultures this desert has ever produced.” Arriving at Justine’s apartment, Carson notes that the persistent protesters looked “tired, haggard, and vacant eyed. Ironically enough, they kind of looked like you-know-whats.”

Just as with their handling of the zombie apocalypse, Crawford and Swierczynksi are not content to fall back on cliches when presenting mob violence. As he’s jumped by the hatemongers outside Justine’s place, Carson considers:

In the movies there’s always an explanation. Your antagonists go to great pains to tell you exactly why you’re going to receive a brutal beating before the beating actually happens. Not in reality. When a mob attacks you, and blood’s filling your mouth, and someone’s kicking you in the back and you can feel your internal organs convulsing…there there are no explanations.

The authors also endeavor to demonstrate that “angry mob” might not be the most accurate label for the antagonistic assembly in the story. Fear appears to be the ultimate emotion driving the irrational “Disbelief in the Cure” movement, “a groundswell of people who brought out these pseudo-scientists claiming that the Cure was only temporary, that at any moment, thousands of people could revert to flesh-eating monsters again.” Tellingly, Justine’s concerns are with the murderous hands of a “frightened mob.”

A clever and original tale (that would make for an incredible film adaptation), “Tender as Teeth” takes a healthy bite out of misguided, self-deputizing pursuers of mob justice.

Mob Scene–Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh

 

The 1992 film Candyman made a couple of key revisions when adapting Clive Barker’s story “The Forbidden.” First, it relocated the action from (the fictional) Spector Street Estate in England to Cabrini-Green, Chicago’s most notorious housing project. It also furnished a backstory for the titular killer: no mere urban legend, Candyman was actually a black artist named Daniel Robitaille, who ended up lynched by a miscegenation-hating mob after impregnating a white woman. In Candyman, Professor Purcell conveys this exposition (the transcript of his speech can be read here) to protagonist Helen Lyle over the dinner table. The graphic picture Purcell paints is framed as a strictly verbal account, but in the film’s 1995 sequel, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Daniel’s torture/murder is fully dramatized onscreen.

This mob scene begins in horrific fashion, with the gruesome sawing off of the subdued Daniel’s right hand. But the sudden swarming of a black cloud of bees (and just as quick retreat of this quasi-Biblical plague of insects) is a nonsensical bit marked by silly CGI. The drama also gets melo-, thanks to the hammy histrionics of Daniel’s protesting lover Caroline. Perhaps most dissatisfying of all, the scene is too on-the-nose in its explanation of the origins of the Candyman legend. A child present at the spectacle of violence tastes a drop of honey splattered on his cheek as Daniel is smeared with honeycomb, and proceeds to christen Daniel with the hybrid moniker “Candyman.” A parasol-carrying woman picks up on this lead, and laughingly chants “sweets to the sweet” (we’ve come a long way from the allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Barker’s story). Finally, Caroline’s vengeful father feels a strange need to stick a handheld mirror in the ravaged Daniel’s face; the mirror conveniently capture’s Daniel’s soul as he dies uttering “Candyman.”

Yes, the execution here leaves a lot to be desired, but this mob scene undeniably succeeds in establishing the modern-day bogey as a formerly human victim. The erstwhile Daniel Robitaille is transformed into a sympathetic figure, an innocent man (in life) whose romance with Caroline precipitated a tragic death. Candyman–who provides a voiceover to the flashback–was forced to become “the reflection of [the racist rabble’s] hatred, their evil.” His mortal demise is much more pitiable than that of another horror icon, the child murderer Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street, who suffers a boiler-room immolation by a mob of outraged, vigilante-justice-seeking parents.

Recently, a remake of the original Candyman was announced, with Jordan Peele at the helm. If the forthcoming film chooses to give a similar backstory to the legend, it might be worth the price of admission just to see what sort of mob scene the Get Out director envisions.

Mob Scene: Dark Night of the Scarecrow

Director Frank De Felitta’s Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) is not only one of the all-time-great made-for-TV horror films; it is also a leading example of a Halloween-related movie whose plot centers on an angry mob scene. A quartet of overzealous rednecks–led by the malevolent mailman Otis Hazelrigg (Charles Durning–veer off into vigilantism following the sheriff’s call for a posse of volunteers. With rifles in hand and bloodhounds on leash, Otis’s splinter group tracks down the mentally-challenged gentle giant Bubba Ritter, who has been mistakenly accused of murdering his young playmate Marylee (turns out, her non-mortal wounds were inflicted by a neighbor’s dog). This is not the first time the foursome has harassed Bubba, but it will be the last, as the innocent man suffers a firing-squad-style execution after his hiding as a scarecrow in an open field proves an inadequate disguise.

The scapegoating and hasty persecution of a perceived Other is a basic enough premise. What makes Dark Night of the Scarecrow so noteworthy is its transplanting of a Universal monster movie into a rural Southern setting. The “death” of Marylee hearkens back to the creature’s accidental drowning of the girl Maria in Frankenstein, an act that sets the local villagers off on a torch-and-pitchfork-wielding warpath. The creature and Maria had been tossing flowers in a lake; in Scarecrow, Bubba and Marylee are first seen picking flowers in a field. Bubba’s carrying of Marylee in his arms following the mauling also recalls the image of the creature in Frankenstein sweeping the unfortunate Maria up into its arms (and the subsequent image of Maria’s father toting her lifeless body).

Dark Night of the Scarecrow forms an intriguing variant on the slasher film, complete with inventive death scenes (involving a wood chipper, a grain silo, and a plow in a pumpkin patch) and crafted ambiguity regarding the identity of the killer (e.g., Bubba’s grieving mother? Bubba himself, returned as a revenant hellbent on vengeance?). The film ostensibly inaugurates the killer-scarecrow subgenre of horror. It also sports a creepy autumnal atmosphere that has not dissipated after nearly four decades, and makes the film a worthy inclusion on annual Halloween season watch lists.

 

Mob Scene: The Outsider

Note: the following contains plot spoilers. If you have yet to read King’s most recent novel, you are advised to go rectify that mistake before proceeding.

 

The Outsider unfolds with the public arrest of Terry Maitland, a typical Stephen King everyman who finds himself charged with an unspeakable crime: the savage rape and murder of an eleven-year-old boy. Eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence alike link Maitland to the horrid deed, but the fact that the accused also has a rock-solid alibi sends this seemingly open-and-shut criminal case veering towards the uncanny.

As the section of the novel titled “The Arraignment” opens, Maitland is about to be transported from the county jail to the county courthouse. Upon leaving, he is subjected to the lewd catcalls of fellow prisoners, the shouted questions of reporters that sound “more like invective than interrogation,” and the ill-will of outraged spectators sporting signs blazoned with “EXECUTE THE CHILD KILLER” and “MAITLAND YOU WILL BURN IN HELL.” An ominous mood is instantly set, but this treatment will seem like a welcome wagon compared to what awaits Maitland at the courthouse.

There a jostling, surging crowd of reporters, cameramen, and angered onlookers have congregated. Spectators hurl vile accusations at Maitland’s wife, and literally spit in his face. Maitland is serenaded with cries of “NEEDLE! NEEDLE! NEEDLE!“, an eager prescription of lethal injection by a crowd “chanting like fans at a football game.” What’s worse, Detective Ralph Anderson observes, is that these aren’t just anonymous protesters, but Maitland’s neighbors: “People whose kids he taught, people whose kids he coached, people he had to his house for end-of-season barbecues. All of them rooting for him to die.” A wary Anderson realizes that the local citizens “looked ready to string Terry Maitland up from the nearest lamppost.”  A few paragraphs later, a book is thrown at Marcy Maitland; King identifies the volume as “Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee.” With its call for vigilance, the title alone is significant, and the astute reader will note that this is the (posthumously-published) sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s American Gothic masterpiece featuring the awful lynching of an innocent man. So those cries of “Die, Maitland, die!” might be about to prove eerily prophetic.

Unruly to begin with, “the crowd teetered on the edge of mob-ism” as Maitland is ushered towards the entrance of the courthouse. What follows, though, is not a mass lynching, but the act of a single vigilante who takes justice in his own gun-wielding hand. Horrified, Anderson watches the spectators acting “like hyenas. Everyone stood out in bright relief, and everyone was a grotesque.” Anderson’s catalog of these grotesques includes a figure toting a newspaper sack, who, it turns out, is interested in delivering more than the local rag. Ollie Peterson, the teenage brother of murder victim Frank Peterson, pulls out his weapon and unceremoniously assassinates Maitland. The killing (less than halfway through the novel) is one of the most shocking in King’s works, since readers had to assume that this likable character caught in the grip of a terrible predicament would play a central role throughout.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for Maitland’s arraignment turning into a bloody circus, starting with an inept sheriff who makes an oxymoron of crowd control. Anderson blames himself for not insisting that Maitland not be brought in through the back entrance; the detective also wonders if the district attorney foresaw and secretly hoped for such a public spectacle, “because of the wide news coverage it would surely garner.” King’s strongest censure, however, is of mob mentality, of the hastily judgmental masses prone to guilty-and-won’t-be-proven-innocent irrationality. These bloodthirsty folk are also marked by a morbid fascination: the scene closes not just with the sound of approaching sirens but the “excited babble of people who were returning now that the shooting was over. Wanting to see the body. Wanting to photograph it and put it on their Facebook pages.” And as if all this didn’t make for enough natural horror, another turn of the screw is given later in the novel, as readers learn that events have been manipulated all along by a grief-feasting monster that relishes such violent chaos.

The King canon is filled with fiery mob scenes, but none more devastatingly effective than the author’s latest foray into this grim territory.