Daytime Nightmares Paired

In this neck of the Macabre Republic at least, this afternoon’s much-hyped solar eclipse proved to be a dud. If today’s celestial event also left you feeling underwhelmed, then you might find a more thrilling experience by turning back three decades–to the literary rendition of a total eclipse in the linked Stephen King novels Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne.

The dark curtain that the July 20, 1963, eclipse drew down over King’s Maine landscape cloaked some seriously illicit acts: premeditated murder (of Dolores Claiborne’s drunken, abusive husband) and traumatizing molestation (of ten-year-old Jessie Burlingame by her own father). False nightfall also gives rise to some truly strange conditions, as the protagonists of the respective novels are able to glimpse (via enhancement of the mind’s eye) moments of their counterpart’s ordeal. The path of the eclipse appears to cut straight through The Twilight Zone.

Aside from such Gothic/uncanny plot elements, King also darkens our encounter of this eclipse with passages of memorably creepy description. In Gerald’s Game, the “premature twilight, both entrancing and horrifying” triggers the untimely and “very scary sound” of an “old hooty-owl” crying out in the woods (King’s subtle nod to Manly Wade Wellman’s Dark Forces story titled “Owls Hoot in the Daytime”?). Jesse is further unnerved by the eclipse’s unusual optical effects: “What scares her the most is the way [her and her dad’s] shadows on the deck are fading. She has never seen shadows fade quite like that before, and is almost positive she never will again.”

Dolores Claiborne, meanwhile, lends the eclipse a dark fantastic aspect. The eponymous narrator’s depiction of the benighted heavens hearkens back to Tolkien. Sauron’s evilly omniscient and captivating Eye is ostensibly matched by the outré orb Dolores observes:

The eclipse wasn’t total yet, but it was close. The sky itself was a deep royal purple, and what I saw hangin in it above the reach looked like a big black pupil with a gauzy veil of fire spread out most of the way around it. On one side there was a thin crescent of sun still left, like beads of molten gold in a blast furnace. I had no business lookin at such a sight and I knew it, but once I had, it seemed like I couldn’t look away.

Two unique narratives conjoined by central astronomical device, Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne clearly demonstrate that when it comes to giving an unsettling twist to a natural phenomenon, there is no eclipsing King.

 

Horror on the Horizon

Another year just begun, and the same old adage: Quot libros, quam breve tempus.

Here are 15 books scheduled for release in 2024 that I can’t wait to read (unless otherwise noted, descriptions are drawn from each book’s dedicated Amazon page).

 

The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste (S&S/Saga Press, March 5th)

From Bram Stoker Award­–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a chilling novel about three childhood friends who miraculously survive the night everyone in their suburban hometown turned into ghosts—perfect for fans of Yellowjackets.

 

The Angel of Indian Lake by Stephen Graham Jones (S&S/Saga Press, March 26th)

The final installment in the most lauded trilogy in the history of horror novels picks up four years after Don’t Fear the Reaper as Jade returns to Proofrock, Idaho, to build a life after the years of sacrifice—only to find the Lake Witch is waiting for her in New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones’s finale.

 

A Better World by Sarah Langan (Atria Books, April 9th)

The author of Good Neighbors, “one of the creepiest, most unnerving deconstructions of American suburbia I’ve ever read” (NPR), returns with a cunning, out-of-the-box satirical thriller about a family’s odyssey into an exclusive enclave for the wealthy that might not be as ideal as it seems.

 

Midwestern Gothic by Scott Thomas (Inkshares, April 30th)

Close your eyes. Picture open plains, wheat stalks swaying gently in the wind. Picture the quaint Main Street of a one-stoplight town. Picture endless summers on sunny, tranquil lakes. With four provocative novellas, Kill Creek author and Kansas native Scott Thomas takes a hatchet to the idyllic tropes of the American heartland.

 

No One is Safe! by Phillip Fracassi (Lethe Press, April)

NO ONE IS SAFE presents fourteen stories of macabre, pulpy terror; a book filled with futuristic noir mysteries, science fiction thrillers, alien invasions, and old-school horror tales that will keep you up late into the night. Inside these covers, you’ll discover haunted dream journals and evil houses, birthday wishes gone wrong, a neighborhood cat that cures any disease, a flesh-eating beach, and mysterious skeletons on a hidden moon base. You’ll meet wise-cracking detectives, suburban vampires, murdered movie stars, and monsters of the deep. And remember—don’t get too attached to the characters you’ll meet on these pages because there’s no holding back in this book. Anything can happen, and no one is safe. Featuring an introduction by Ronald Malfi. [Lethe Press book description]

 

The House That Horror Built by Christina Henry (Berkley, May 14th)

A single mother working in the gothic mansion of a reclusive horror director stumbles upon terrifying secrets in the captivating new novel from the national bestselling author of Good Girls Don’t Die and Horseman.

 

You Like It Darker by Stephen King (Scribner, May 21st)

From legendary storyteller and master of short fiction Stephen King comes an extraordinary new collection of twelve short stories, many never-before-published, and some of his best EVER.

 

Horror Movie by Paul Tremblay (William Morrow, June 11th)

A chilling twist on the “cursed film” genre from the bestselling author of The Pallbearers Club and The Cabin at the End of the World.

 

Incidents Around the House by Josh Malerman (Del Rey, June 25th)

A chilling horror novel about a haunting, told from the perspective of a young girl whose troubled family is targeted by an entity she calls “Other Mommy,” from the New York Times bestselling author of Bird Box.

 

I Was a Teenage Slasher by Stephen Graham Jones (S&S/Saga Press, July 16th)

From New York Times bestselling horror writer Stephen Graham Jones comes a classic slasher story with a twist—perfect for fans of Riley Sager and Grady Hendrix.

 

Witchcraft for Wayward Girls by Grady Hendrix (Berkley, July 16th)

The latest horror comedy from bestseller Hendrix takes readers to a home for teen mothers in 1970s Florida, where five denizens discover latent talents for witchcraft. [Jump Scares book description]

 

Clown in a Cornfield 3: The Church of Frendo by Adam Cesare (HarperCollins, August 20th)

Quinn has just survived yet another bloody run-in with the murderous clown Frendo, but somehow still she knows this won’t be the last. Tired of being hunted and seeing innocent people hurt, Quinn believes the only way to beat the horror is to take justice into her own hands–and stop the Frendo followers herself. Little does she know that this path will take her across cornfields and state lines, to where she will have to face the most dangerous and bloody menace yet: True believers.

 

Crypt of the Moon Spider by Nathan Ballinggrud (Tor Nightfire, August 27th)

Book 1 of the Lunar Gothic Trilogy: a dark and dreamy tale of horror, corruption, and identity spun into the stickiest of webs.

 

Not a Speck of Light by Laird Barron (Bad Hand Books, September 10th)

Bram Stoker Award-winning author Laird Barron returns to the dark and dreadful with his fifth horror collection, which weaves sixteen weird tales into a mosaic of the bloody and the macabre.

 

The Unlikely Affair of the Crawling Razor by Joe R. Lansdale (Subterranean Press, release date TBA)

Edgar Allan Poe’s great private investigator, Auguste Dupin, gets a make-over in this unusual adventure involving a bloody mystery dipped deep in the strange.

A young woman comes to Dupin and his assistant for help concerning her increasingly obsessed brother; obsessed with the dark world that sets alongside our own, where strange creatures dwell and even stranger events occur. A world where our laws of physics are no longer applicable. A world with its own geometry of evil. It’s the place from which all our nightmares spring.

And now that dimensional world, due to spells and sacrifices, is wide open into our own, releasing the deadliest denizen of the dark—The God of the Razor.  It’s a case that will require all of Dupin’s knowledge and the highest courage from his faithful assistant, as they traverse the Parisian streets, as well as the famous Catacombs of skulls and bones, in search of answers. [Subterranean Press book description]

 

For the most comprehensive compendium of pending publications, check out Jump Scares’ 2024’s New Horror Books.

 

Five Faves

I won’t call this a Best Books of 2023 post, because there are too many titles (A Haunting on the Hill and Beware the Woman and The Strange and Spin a Black Yarn and…) that still top my TBR list. But of the new releases that I did read this year, here are my five favorites:

 

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix

Hendrix’s knack for crafting flawed characters that you can’t help but fear for and cheer for is on full display here. The narrative is at once hilarious, horripilating, and heartwarming, and combines slow-mounting dread with explosions of gonzo horror (two words: Squirrel Nativity). In the devious Pupkin, Hendrix has created the hand-puppet equivalent of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Perfectly plotted and featuring a series of staggering twists, How to Sell a Haunted House is Hendrix’s best novel–at least until his next one is published, because this writer just keeps getting better and better with each release.

 

Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones

The middle volume of the Indian Lake Trilogy offers the same slasher-film savviness and protagonist sassiness as My Heart Is a Chainsaw, and more. Jones is careful to account for how the survivors of the first book’s climactic massacre have been physically affected and psychologically altered by the experience. The canvas gets larger here (various viewpoint characters are presented), but the time frame (thirty-six blizzardy hours) is condensed, resulting in maximized suspense. An Indigenous serial killer (with a predilection for skinning his victims alive) runs amok in Proofrock, but his monstrosity still manages to elicit reader sympathy, as Jones invokes the horrors of American history. This outsized psycho is a formidable and unforgettable antagonist, but he doesn’t overshadow defiant final girl Jade Daniels, who solidifies her status as one of the greatest horror-novel heroines ever penned.

 

Long Past Midnight by Jonathan Maberry

As a fan of the Pine Deep Trilogy (Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song, Bad Moon Rising), I relished the chance to return to the Most Haunted Town in America. This collection of Tales from Pine Deep expands the literary lore of the rural Pennsylvanian community; we get prequel pieces set many years prior to the events of the Trilogy, and sequel stories that dramatize the lingering effects of the nearly cataclysmic Red Wave. The entries are all winners, demonstrating Maberry’s ability as a storyteller and his facility in crossing genres (other characters from Maberry’s prolific catalogue, such as Joe Ledger, are drawn into Pine Deep intrigue). The volume also features a wonderful Author’s Introduction, in which Maberry traces the experiences that shaped him and directly influenced his creation of Pine Deep.

 

Holly by Stephen King

The author’s beloved recurring character, Holly Gibney, finally gets the chance to headline her own novel. She doesn’t falter here, rising to the challenge presented by a disturbing missing-persons case (conducted during the Covid pandemic). Her investigations this time around might not lead her to a superhuman Brady Hartsfield or a supernatural Outsider, but the American Gothic pair of retired professors encountered prove just as harrowing in their own hyper-intellectual way. There are strong echoes of The Silence of the Lambs throughout (and especially in the climax), but the narrative is by no means derivative. This is quintessential King, an absorbing and propulsive story that takes Constant Readers on quite a thrill ride.

 

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Reminiscent of the apocalyptic novels of Stephen King (The Stand, The Tommyknockers) and the dark fantasy epics of Clive Barker (The Great and Secret Show, Galilee), Wendig’s latest effort (concerning a strangely addictive variety of apple whose empowering effects are too good to be true) is an absolute masterpiece. The narrative seamlessly combines elements of murder mystery, body horror, folk horror (including some of the creepiest cultist masks ever imagined), American Gothic horror (small-town prejudices and predations abound), and supernatural horror (involving diabolical bargaining). This book truly has it all: a complex (but expertly executed) plot, unique yet relatable characters, and exquisite, sensuous prose. The only negative comment that can be made about it is that readers might never look at an apple the same way again. Any Best Horror Books of 2023 list that doesn’t laud Black River Orchard should be immediately dismissed. Easily, my favorite read of the year.

 

 

 

Baby and Maul

Joe Hill might not be as prolific a writer as his papa, Stephen King, but arguably is gifted with an even more prodigious imagination. Works such as Heart-Shaped Box, Locke and Keyand “Faun” demonstrate Hill’s knack for crafting wonderfully inventive horror and dark fantasy narratives. Hill also gives clever twists to King classics such as IT and The Stand in the epic novels NOS4A2 and The Fireman. His latest effort, The Pram, ventures into Pet Sematary territory, and conveys a strong King vibe as it takes a mundane object–the titular baby stroller–and transforms it into a source of utter dreadfulness.

Mentally reeling from a miscarriage, Brooklyn couple Willy and Marianne Halpenny relocate to rural Maine. Leading from their new home and into the woods is a bridle path bordered by overarching yew trees planted by a peculiarly old-fashioned religious movement called the Covenant of the Sorrowful Leaf. As Willy traverses the sublime space of this eldritch tree-tunnel, he indulges his festering resentment–his anger at God and the universe over the loss of his unborn child. More disturbingly, he begins to hear the sound of a baby cooing within the derelict pram he borrows from the local country-store owner to transport his purchases home. Hill’s tale strikes a perfect balance here between domestic drama, psychological disintegration, and folk horror. Creepiness steadily crescendoes (the remote, American Gothic setting features gypsy moth cocoons and a mutilated raccoon), and the narrative builds to perhaps the most harrowing climax since the night Gage Creed shambled home from the Micmac Burying Ground.

The Pram (free for Prime subscribers, or available as a 99-cent Kindle download) launches Amazon’s new Creature Feature collection today, and gets the weeklong series off to a rousing, hair-raising start.

 

King (Story) Openings

My last post listed my selections of the top twenty opening lines in Stephen King’s novels/novellas. Tonight I am going to do the same for the author’s short stories:

 

Wharton moved slowly up the wide steps, hat in hand, craning his neck to get a better look at the Victorian monstrosity that his sister had died in.–“The Glass Floor” (1967)

The guy’s name was Snodgrass, and I could see him getting ready to do something crazy.–“Trucks” (1973)

After the guy was dead and the smell of his burning flesh was off the air, we all went back down to the beach.–“Night Surf” (1974)

Halston thought the old man in the wheelchair looked sick, terrified, and ready to die.–“The Cat From Hell” (1977)

The question is: Can he do it?–“The Woman in the Room” (1978)

When Hal Shelburn saw it, when his son Dennis pulled it out of a mouldering Ralston-Purina carton that had been pushed far back under one attic eve, such a feeling of horror and dismay rose in him that for one moment he thought he would scream.–“The Monkey” (1980)

“The Reach was wider in those days,” Stella Flanders told her great-grandchildren in the last summer of her life, the summer before she began to see ghosts.–“The Reach” (1981)

I want to tell you about the end of war, the degeneration of mankind, and the death of the Messiah–an epic story, deserving thousands of pages and a whole shelf of volumes, but you (if there are any “you” later on to read this) will have to settle for the freeze-dried version.–“The End of the Whole Mess” (1986)

I believe there was only one occasion upon which I actually solved a crime before my slightly fabulous friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.–“The Doctor’s Case” (1987)

Looking into the display case was like looking through a dirty pane of glass into the middle third of his boyhood, those years from seven to fourteen when he had been fascinated by stuff like this.–“Chattery Teeth” (1992)

Pearson tried to scream but shock robbed his voice and he was able to produce only a low, choked whuffling–the sound of a man moaning in his sleep.–“The Ten O’Clock People” (1993)

My friend L.T. hardly ever talks about how his wife disappeared, or how she’s probably dead, just another victim of the Axe Man, but he likes to tell the story of how she walked out on him.–“L.T. Theory of Pets” (1997)

It’s so dark that for awhile–just how long I don’t know–I think I’m still unconscious.–“Autopsy Room Four” (1997)

Want you to get one thing straight from the start: wasn’t nobody on earth didn’t like my pal, Johnnie Dillinger, except Melvin Purvis of the F.B.I.–“The Death of Jack Hamilton” (2001)

They rode west from the slaughter, through the painted desert, and did not stop until they were a hundred miles away.–“Throttle” (2009; with Joe Hill)

Streeter only saw the sign because he had to pull over and puke.–“Fair Extension” (2010)

As the Judge climbs into the kayak beneath a bright morning sky, a slow and clumsy process that takes him almost five minutes, he reflects that an old man’s body is nothing but a sack in which he carries aches and indignities.–“The Dune” (2011)

Wilson’s mother, not one of the world’s shiny happy people, had a saying: “When things go wrong, they keep going wrong until there’s tears.”–“That Bus Is Another World” (2014)

Dave Calhoun was helping Olga Glukhov construct the Eiffel Tower.–“Mister Yummy” (2015)

Billy Clewson died all at once, with nine of the ten other members of D Squad on April 8, 1974.–“Squad D” (2019)

 

 

King Openings

Open Culture’s recent post “Stephen King’s 20 Rules for Writers” recounts the renowned author’s discussion of the importance of a good opening line–that single (though not necessarily simple) first sentence that serves as an invitation to the reader and a doorway into the narrative for the writer. King’s comments sent me scurrying over to my bookshelves to reflect on the author’s best practice of such preaching. Here’s a list of what I found to be the top twenty opening lines in King’s novels/novellas:

 

Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.–The Shining (1977)

This is what happened.–The Mist (1980)

Once upon a time, not long ago, a monster came to the town of Castle Rock, Maine.–Cujo (1981)

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.–The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982)

The most important things are the hardest things to say.–The Body (1982)

“Thinner,” the old Gypsy man with the rotting nose whispers to William Halleck as Halleck and his wife Heidi come out of the courthouse.–Thinner (1984)

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.–IT (1986)

People’s lives–their real lives, as opposed to their simple physical existences–begin at different times.–The Dark Half (1989)

“You stole my story,” the man on the doorstep said.–Secret Window, Secret Garden (1990)

No one–least of all Dr. Lichfield–came right out and told Ralph Roberts that his wife was going to die, but there came a time when Ralph understood without needing to be told.–Insomnia (1994)

She sits in a corner, trying to draw air out of a room which seemed to have plenty just a few minutes ago and now seems to have none.–Rose Madder (1995)

“ASK ME A RIDDLE,” Blaine invited.–The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass (1997)

The world had teeth and it could bite you with them any time it wanted.–The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)

When someone dies, you think about the past.–Why We’re in Vietnam (1999)

Pere Don Callahan had once been a Catholic priest of a town, ‘Salem’s Lot had been its name, that no longer existed on any map.–The Dark Tower (2004)

To the public eye, the spouses of well-known writers are all but invisible, and no one knew it better than Lisey Landon.–Lisey’s Story (2006)

When Wesley Smith’s colleagues asked him–some with an eyebrow hoicked satirically–what he was doing with that gadget (they all called it a gadget), he told them he was experimenting with new technology.–UR (2009)

The one thing nobody asked in casual conversation, Darcy thought in the days after she found what she found in the garage, was this: How’s your marriage?A Good Marriage (2010)

It was an unmarked car, just some nondescript American sedan a few years old, but the blackwall tires and the three men inside gave it away for what it was.–The Outsider (2018)

The day Marty Anderson saw the billboard was just before the Internet finally went down for good.–The Life of Chuck (2020)

 

Speaking of King novels: his next one, Holly, has been officially announced. And the book description sounds like American Gothic nirvana:

Mere blocks from where Bonnie Dahl disappeared live Professors Rodney and Emily Harris. They are the picture of bourgeois respectability: married octogenarians, devoted to each other, and semi-retired lifelong academics. But they are harboring an unholy secret in their well-kept, book-lined home, one that may be related to Bonnie’s disappearance. And it will prove nearly impossible to discover what they are up to: they are savvy, they are patient, and they are ruthless.

Holly [Gibney] must summon all her formidable talents to outthink and outmaneuver the shockingly twisted professors in this chilling new masterwork from Stephen King.

Consider this Constant Reader hooked; I’m already counting the days until the September 2023 publication.

 

In Praise of Wednesday

The Addams Family and Tim Burton is a match made in merry hell. The runaway-hit Netflix series Wednesday conjoins the macabre humor of Charles Addams’s original creation with Burton’s gloriously Gothic sensibility. Throw in a compelling central mystery and a dazzling lead performance, and the result is the best new series of 2022.

Darkly beautiful to behold, Burton’s Wednesday is a feast for the eyes (starting with that lofty dorm room in a gargoyle-adorned Queen-Anne-style mansion). The show’s setting features murky woods and cobwebbed ruins, hidden passageways and secret underground chambers. Wednesday also clearly works within Burton’s American Gothic wheelhouse, with its depiction of neighboring town of Jericho–a modern-day village whose quaint appearance cannot cover up its sinister roots that stretch all the way back to Puritan times.

There’s a classic slasher element to the first season’s storyline, as a shapeshifting beast dubbed the Hyde preys on a sequence of cast members (while Wednesday, an aspiring dark-crime writer, works to “unmask” the killer). Along the way, references to Poe abound (the author’s tales in general, but also–via the series’ Nevermore Academy locale–to his ever-popular poem “The Raven”). Stephen King fans will delight in a midseason scene of an ill-fated school formal (a bloody brilliant homage that has been overshadowed by a certain dance routine gone viral). If the overall proceedings tend toward the formulaic, as the show recalls other Netflix ventures such as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (with its plunges into paranormal romance) and Stranger Things (with Wednesday standing in for Eleven, as the heroic leader of a band of “outcasts”), at least it is a winning formula that is copied.

Admittedly, the casting does feel a bit uneven; Wednesday’s parents, in particular, disappoint. Catherine Zeta-Jones gives a wooden performance as Morticia (one unworthy of predecessors Carloyn Jones and Anjelica Huston), and Luis Guzman (Gomez Addams) delivers his lines as if he’s in a perennial state of gastric distress. But the statuesque Gwendoline Christie is the embodiment of glamor and British charm as Principal Weems, and Emma Myers is delightful as Wednesday’s perpetually-bubbly, would-be-werewolf roommate Enid. Let’s give a well-deserved hand, too, to the prestidigitator Victor Dorobantu, who steals scenes throughout as a convincing, more-than-just-digital-fx Thing.

Of course, the success of the series hinges upon Jenna Ortega’s turn in the title role. Anyone who watched her in X knows that Ortega possesses an incredibly expressive face; I was concerned heading in that the strictures of the Wednesday character would prevent the actress from demonstrating her dramatic range. But Ortega manages to channel the stoic snarkiness of Christina Ricci in the 90’s films while also presenting a more rounded figure. Wednesday’s ongoing series format (vs. the episodic nature of a sitcom) necessitates a character arc, and over the course of the first season the teenage Addams grows increasingly less standoffish and more human in her interactions. No easy task to come off at once as sneering and endearing, but this Wednesday makes it look easy. Already a star in the making, Ortega establishes herself here as the most talented young actress currently practicing her craft.

Ultimately, the series evinces a lot of heart–and not just the tell-tale kind. Wednesday’s child might be full of woe (according to the nursery rhyme line that inspired Morticia and Gomez’s christening of their daughter), but Burton’s brainchild Wednesday is full of wonderful entertainment. I’d be kooky not to give it two enthusiastic two-snaps.

 

The Losers’ Club Climbs Up into the Treehouse

Here it is almost two weeks into November, and I’m still catching up on Halloween season items. But no matter: most readers of this blog probably join me in adopting the Alice Cooper mantra of keeping Halloween alive 365.

I just had a chance to listen to recent episode of The Losers’ Club podcast. In “The Simpsons‘ ‘Not It’: Stephen King in Springfield,” the hosts survey King’s intersection with the animated series over the years. After discussing the Treehouse of Horror specials in general, they then zero in to dissect “Not It” (the first of two Treehouse offering by The Simpsons this season). As usual, the group does not hesitate to voice strong critiques, which is fine (better that than being shameless shills). My two common issues with the podcast, though, prove glaringly evident here. First, the Losers are not as funny as they fancy themselves to be, and once again spend too much time dispensing ostensible wit rather than genuine wisdom (the rant in this episode about the state of contemporary humor also seemed brash in its bashing). Secondly, they have a tendency to be incompletely prepared: I can’t believe, given the topic of this particular podcast episode, that no mention was made of The Simpsons‘ previous invocation of Pennywise (in the 2018 episode “Fears of a Clown”). But I’m not here to throw rocks at the Losers, simply to mention that fans of the Fox series and/or King will find the episode a provocative listen.

 

 

Treehouse of Trivia ’22

This Halloween season, The Simpsons offered two holiday episodes, Treehouse of Horror Presents: Not IT and Treehouse of Horror XXXIII. So this year’s Treehouse of Trivia quiz is going to have to be doubly challenging. Not for the faint of heart or unobservant of eye!

[Answers appear in the Comments section of this post.]

 

1. In “Not IT,” what is the town slogan scripted on the “Welcome to Kingfield” sign?

 

2. According to Carl in “Not IT,” what purpose did the clubhouse serve before the Losers took it over?

 

3. Which of the following was not pictured in “Krusto D. Clown’s Group of Oddities” in “Not IT”?

a) Lobster Boy

b) Fat Man

c) Dogface Kid

d) Mole Man

e) Bearded Lady

 

4. In “Not IT,” the bakery Krusto haunts is called “Needful Sweets.” True or False?

 

5. On the walls of D’ohs Tavern in “Not IT,” two different pennants can be seen. One has “Regrets” blazoned on it. What word does the other sport?

 

6. Which of the following Stephen King titles does not appear in Kang and Kodos’s bookcase at the end of “Not IT”?

a) Dr. Sleep

b) Dreamcatcher

c) The Dead Zone

d) Dolores Claiborne

e) Pet Sematary

f) Skeleton Crew

g) The Dark Tower

h) Needful Things

i) The Tommyknockers

7. Complete the title of the book that appears alongside The Pookadook in Maggie’s bookcase: Don’t Let the ____ ______ _______.

 

8. In “The Pookadook” segment, why do Homer, Bart, and Lisa come home early from their overnight stay at the aquarium?

 

9. According to Steve Johnson in “Death Tome,” what was the most popular name in his nursery cave?

 

10. Lisa’s “justice spree” eliminates at least ten employees of Mr. Burns’s company Globo-Warm. List four different means of death.

 

11. The “Simpsonsworld” segment contains to references to Edgar Allan Poe. What are they?

 

12. When the Simpson robots eat at Bob’s Burger’s, what is the advertised Burger of the Day?

 

13. In the episode epilogue, how do Kang and Kodos come across the Treehouse of Horror XXXIII meta-tome?

 

The Terror from Beyond Springfield

This October, The Simpsons offers a double venture outside canon, with a pair of Halloween episodes. First up was last night ‘s terrific extended parody, “Treehouse of Horror Presents: Not It.”

Set in a Maine alternative to Springfield called Kingfield (“A Great Place to Bury Your Kids,” according to the town’s welcome sign), “Not It” has some fun and games with Stephen King’s epic horror novel It and the recent two-part film adaptation thereof. Various signature moments from the book and movies are Simpsons-ized: the iconic sewer-scene opening (toothy child-predator Krusto–a frightfully recast Krusty–takes young Barney Gumble’s sailboat and then the wind permanently out of the boy); the rock fight (in which “Super-Intense-Kid Chalmers” plays one of the bullies); the bathroom terrorizing (Loser Club member Marge has hers flooded by Krusto–not with blood, but seltzer). King fans will absolutely revel in these skewed, and often skewering, references.

Besides the gleeful grotesquerie (e.g. one of Krusto’s  victims has his intestines tied into balloon animals) expected of a “Treehouse” installment, the episode is stuffed with puns both verbal (grown-up Homer owns a tavern named “D’ohs”) and visual (the Maine town sports a “Lobster Lad” and the “Kingfield Chowder Plant”), with hilarious one-liners (“Bleach your mustache,” young Marge’s sister advises. “You look like El DeBarge.”) and witty self-satire (canonical Krusty’s career as a hack comedian is cleverly woven into the killer Krusto’s modus operandi). The extraterrestrial origin of King’s supermonster also facilitates a wonderful variation on the Kang and Kodos cameo that typically concludes a “Treehouse” episode.

Without a doubt, “Not It” is my favorite bit of viewing so far this Halloween season. The traditional “Treehouse of Horror” episode next Sunday is going to be hard pressed to surpass such horror-parodying excellence.