Book Review: ‘Django Unchained’ by Quentin Tarantino (adapted by Reginald Hudlin)

DjangoSingleQuentin Tarantino has never been shy about sharing the scripts for his films (unless, that is, it happens too early in the process). They are usually published right before or after the movie comes out, and I’ve bought them all. So when 2012’s Django Unchained came and went without a script in sight, I was a little bummed – until I realized Tarantino was taking a cool new route this time by turning his first draft over to DC Comics and their Vertigo imprint to adapt.

That seven issue series, adapted from Tarantino’s first draft script by Django Unchained producer Reginald Hudlin, is now out in a handsome hardcover edition that collects the entire series along with a cover gallery and a nice forward by Tarantino himself. As you’d expect, there are some major differences in what is on the page versus what ended up on film, and getting the opportunity to see those differences  is a major reason to pick this volume up.

After reading this, I can say that I’m glad the film came out as it did, as I think the majority of the changes that came in later drafts of the script were for the better. I’m going to talk about a couple of those changes in detail, so you might want to take a walk if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

The aftermath of Schultz shooting Calvin Candie is much more chaotic on screen than depicted here, and the finale that sees Django return to Candyland to rescue Hildi and avenge his friend’s death also got better after this first pass. In particular, Django’s last exchange with Stephen is much more satisfying in the finished film than what Tarantino first put on paper.

On the other hand, there’s a major sequence featured in the comic that didn’t make it to the film that I wish we had seen – that which shows exactly how Calvin came to acquire Hildi in the first place. It’s not that the character of Calvin Candie wasn’t already well established as complete piece of human garbage, but the idea that Hildi actually had some semblance of a good life – as good as it could be for her at that time and in those circumstances, anyway – before Calvin swindled her away makes you root for her, and for Django, even more.

Hudlin does a good job of adapting the material, retaining that characteristic Tarantino dialogue that’s such a trademark of his work. Unfortunately, the artwork is wildly uneven; the early chapters are strong, but some of the sequences at the end are muddy and unappealing. There are several artists credited – R.M. Guera, Jason Latour, Denys Cowan, Danijel Zezelj and John Floyd – but without any kind of chapter breaks or clear crediting in the book, it’s hard to know who to praise and who to blame.

Tarantino completists will want this for sure, but it stands on its own as a rollicking good revenge story. Yes, it’s filled with some of the most despicable people, actions and language you can imagine, but there is a visceral thrill in seeing these characters get their comeuppance.

Clive Barker: “‘The Scarlet Gospels’ are finished.”

cenobite4Oh, you know, no big deal. Just Clive Barker dropping this little tidbit on his Facebook page today:

I thought you might like to know that THE SCARLET GOSPELS, a large novel which sets Harry D’Amour against the Hell Priest Pinhead, is finished, and has been delivered to my agent. I don’t yet have a publication date for it, but as soon as I do you’ll be the first to know. I won’t say anything about the narrative except this: it’s a HORROR NOVEL with the graphic violence and perverse eroticism of the most intense tales from the Books Of Blood. Please feel free to share this news with any friends who might have been wondering about the book: THE SCARLET GOSPELS ARE FINISHED.

He followed it up later with this:

I want to follow up on my SCARLET GOSPELS announcement to just point out that I was quite truthful in telling you I unfortunately can’t even speculate as to the publication date of the book. It’s out of my hands, depending on the scheduling of other books on the publishers’ list. In my experience it never takes less than a year from delivery to street date, but it could be longer. The point is, it’s fruitless for me to try a guessing game because there are so many variables in play. I would ask you only to know that the book is on it’s way to the stores but beyond that I can tell you nothing.  As soon as I DO know something concrete it will be here on this page. But please don’t get pissed with Alex or myself because we can’t answer the WHEN? WHEN? WHEN? messages. I would love to be able to supply the information, but I probably won’t know for several months. Yes, it’s frustrating, for all of us. But the book is finished. Now others must get to work designing it, setting it, planning a release strategy and so on. Again, when I know something, you’ll know, I promise. My love to you, Clive.

The biggest roadblock to getting a Clive Barker book out is getting him to finish the book. That’s not a knock on him, by the way; the man is a creative perfectionist bursting at the seams with more ideas and projects than any person could juggle at one time. When he’s ready to turn something loose, that’s a big deal. When that something is a book that many of us have been anticipating since at least 1999, when Barker began mentioning that a final Harry D’Amour story – one in which he goes after Pinhead – would be part of an upcoming short story collection called The Scarlet Gospels, it’s a huge deal.

You can visit Barker’s official website to trace the evolution of this project. Meanwhile, I’m going to dig around a bit to see what else I can find out – you can bet this will be one we’ll talk about a lot in October Country as it gets closer to becoming reality.

Scribner announces new Stephen King/Stewart O’Nan ebook

I love the way we get ambushed every couple of months or so with a new Stephen King project. We hear about major new books months in advance, of course, but then every so often there’ll be a new short story announcement (like his recent collaboration with son Joe Hill, “In the Tall Grass,” in Esquire magazine, which I’ll be reviewing the second installment of shortly) that gets made just before the material is available. For Constant Readers who, like myself, need instant gratification, it’s a great thing.

Today’s ambush came in the form of a Tweet from Scribner (@ScribnerBooks) announcing the August 21 release of A Face in the Crowd by King and Stewart O’Nan. It’s the duo’s second baseball-themed work (the first being Faithful, a nonfiction chronicle of the 2004 season of the Boston Red Sox), although this one sounds like it’s more in line with what we normally expect from King:

Dean Evers, an elderly widower, sits in front of the television with nothing better to do than waste his leftover evenings watching baseball. It’s Rays/Mariners, and David Price is breezing through the line-up. Suddenly, in a seat a few rows up beyond the batter, Evers sees the face of someone from decades past, someone who shouldn’t be at the ballgame, shouldn’t be on the planet. And so begins a parade of people from Evers’s past, all of them occupying that seat behind home plate. Until one day Dean Evers sees someone even eerier…

The full announcement on StephenKing.com says the ebook will be available on all major readers, and that an audio version is on the way as well. You can bet I’ll be downloading a copy as soon as the digital doors are open.

Horror Writers Association announces final ballot for 2012 Stoker Awards

This past weekend the Horror Writers Association announced its final ballot for the Stoker Awards, which will be handed out during the World Horror Con taking place the last weekend in March in Salt Lake City, Utah. Congratulations to the following nominees:

NOVEL
Christopher Conlon — A Matrix Of Angels
Greg Lamberson — Cosmic Forces
Ronald Malfi — Floating Staircase
Joe McKinney — Flesh Eaters
Gene O’Neill — Not Fade Away
Lee Thomas — The German

FIRST NOVEL
Allyson Bird — Isis Unbound
John Horner Jacobs — Southern Gods
Frazer Lee — The Lamplighters
Thomas Roche — The Panama Laugh
Brett J. Talley — That Which Should Not Be

YA NOVEL
J. G. Faherty — Ghosts of Coronado Bay, A Maya Blair Mystery
Nancy Holder — The Screaming Season
Daniel Kraus — Rotters
Jonathan Maberry — Dust & Decay
Patrick Ness — A Monster Calls
Kenneth Oppel — This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

GRAPHIC NOVEL
Vera Brosgol — Anya’s Ghost
Joe Hill — Locke & Key, Volume 4
Jeff Jensen — Green River Killer
Jonathan Maberry — Marvel Universe vs. Wolverine
Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden — The Plague Ships
Alan Moore — Neonomicon

LONG FICTION
Michael Louis Calvillo — 7Brains
Brian Hodge — Roots and All
Caitlin Kiernan — The Colliers’ Venus (1893)
John R. Little — Ursa Major
Gene O’Neill — Rusting Chickens
Peter Straub — The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine

SHORT FICTION
Adam Troy Castro — “Her Husband’s Hands” (Lightspeed Magazine)
Stephen King — “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” (The Atlantic Magazine, May 2011)
Ken Lillie-Paetz — “Hypergraphia” (The Uninvited, Issue 1)
Gene O’Neill — “Graffiti Sonata” (Dark Discoveries)
George Saunders — “Home” (The New Yorker Magazine, June 13, 2011)
Kaaron Warren — “All You Can Do Is Breathe” (Blood and Other Cravings)

SCREENPLAY
Alan Ball — True Blood: Spellbound (Episode #44)
Scott M. Gimple — The Walking Dead, episode 13: “Pretty Much Dead Already”
Scott M. Gimple — The Walking Dead, episode 9: “Save the Last One”
Cory Goodman — Priest
George Nolfi  — The Adjustment Bureau
Jessica Sharzer — American Horror Story, episode 12: “Afterbirth”

ANTHOLOGY
Tracy L. Carbone — Epitaphs
Jack Dann and Nick Gevers — Ghosts By Gaslight
Ellen Datlow — Blood And Other Cravings
Ellen Datlow — Supernatural Noir
Frank J. Hutton — Tattered Souls 2
John Skipp — Demons: Encounters with the Devil and his Minions, Fallen Angels and the Possessed

COLLECTION
Lawrence C. Connolly — Voices: Tales of Horror
Christopher Fowler — Red Gloves: The London Horrors
Caitlin R. Kiernan — Two Worlds and In-Between
Lisa Morton — Monsters of L.A.
Joyce Carol Oates — The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares
Weston Ochse — Multiplex Fandango

NON-FICTION
Lesley Pratt Bannatyne — Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night
Gary William Crawford/Jim Rockhill/Brian J. Showers, Eds. — Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Nick Mamatas — Starve Better
Matt Mogk — Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Zombies
John C. Tibbetts — The Gothic Imagination
Rocky Wood — Stephen King: A Literary Companion

POETRY COLLECTION
Linda Addison — How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend
Maria Alexander — At Louche Ends: Poetry for the Decadent, the Damned & the Absinthe-Minded
Bruce Boston — Surrealities
G.O. Clark — Shroud of Night
Marge Simon — The Mad Hattery
Marge Simon — Unearthly Delights

Ten Essential October Reads: ‘October Dreams’ and ‘Pet Sematary’

A group of genre greats gather to celebrate the season, and one of the true masters of the form shares his darkest, most terrifying tale in today’s Ten Essential October Reads.

October is here, and with it comes Ten Essential October Reads. With the countdown to Halloween ticking away, there’s no better time to look at some books that really capture the spirit of the holiday, whether it’s the childhood traditions of trick-or-treating and playing pranks, the essence of a cool autumn day, or the dark things that scurry through the shadows. Throughout the month, I’ll be spotlighting ten books or stories that I think capture the magic of the season. 

3. October Dreams edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish

Imagine the greatest Halloween party of all time. One attended by people who are there looking for more than an excuse to put on a costume bought at Party City and get loaded; instead, this one is attended by those with a true love for the holiday. People who want to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve, the season of autumn, and the possibility of things beyond our understanding. Those who wear masks so they can mingle with the spirits who, on this one night, return to walk among us.

There’s a huge bonfire, and hot dogs on sticks, and the sweet tang of apple cider hangs in the air. Every now and then someone throws a big handful of dead leaves on the fire, and the smell of  Fall fills the air. Someone is telling stories. Actually, lots of people are telling stories. The people at this party are storytellers, and their specialty is things that go bump in the night. People like Ray Bradbury and Richard Laymon. People like Ramsey Campbell, William F. Nolan and Poppy Z. Brite.

Tonight, many of them are sharing their favorite Halloween memories. Gary Braunbeck is telling about the time his Alice Cooper costume got him in trouble at Catholic school. Christopher Golden is telling about the time he used his mother’s prosthetic hand to scare the old lady down the block. Douglas Clegg is remembering how he saw a witch when he was four years old.

Some of them are also doing what comes naturally: spinning yarns. Tim Lebbon’s got a good one about a man who loses his daughter on Halloween. Dean Koontz knows a good one about a creepy old pumpkin carver. Peter Straub, Douglas Winter, Charles L. Grant – they’ve all got a tale to tell on this fine Halloween night.

Cemetery Dance is throwing the party; they call it “A Celebration of Halloween,” and never has a subtitle been more apt. Cracking open this anthology during the month of October is just like being at a party with all these people, sharing fond memories about why this particular holiday is so special to so many. It’s over 600 pages of memories, stories, and legends. It’s a great tribute to a special time. And it is, without a doubt, an Essential October Read.

2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Pet Sematary is regarded by many – including the author himself – as Stephen King’s scariest novel. While that is of course debatable, there’s no denying it’s one of the darkest works in the Master of Horror’s bibliography. King stated in interviews around the time of the book’s 1983 publication that his wife found the book difficult to read because it was “too effective,” and that he contemplated shelving the novel altogether. Fortunately he decided to release it, giving us one of his best and most terrifying works.

The book follows the Creed family – Louis, Rachel, Ellie and little Gage – as they move to the rural town of Ludlow, where Louis is set to become the physician at a local college. In quick fashion they meet the kindly old couple across the road, Jud and Norma. Jud introduces the Creeds to the local pet cemetary, located deep in the woods behind the Creed’s new home. He also introduces Louis to the legend of the Micmac Indians, and the mysterious power that saturates the land around them. When tragedy strikes the Creed family, Louis – and the readers – discover the depths grief can drag a person to, and the lengths they may go to get out.

A sense of doom hangs over the Creeds from page one, and King just keeps pouring the tension on, page after page. An early passage depicting what should be a happy time for the family – Ellie has successfully completed her first day of kindergarten, and Louis is listening while his infant son sleeps in his arms – is an early indicator of how bad things are going to go:

He took Gage up the stairs, walking through hot slanting September sunshine, and as he reached the landing, such a premonition of horror and darkness struck him that he stopped – stopped cold – and looked around in surprise, wondering what could possibly have come over him. He held the baby tighter, almost clutching him, and Gage stirred uncomfortably. Louis’s arms and back had broken out in great rashes of gooseflesh.

Moments later, as he’s tucking Gage into bed, Louis has an image of his uncle’s “showroom.” His uncle is an undertaker, and the showroom is full of open caskets. It’s a powerful image, and a harbinger of the terrible things to come.

Moments such as these make this the perfect October read. Pet Sematary is a book filled with suspense, dread, horrific imagery, and subject matter that will shake you to your core. In short, it’s the perfect read for Halloween.

Previously in the Series:
Ten Essential October Reads: Ray Bradbury
Ten Essential October Reads: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and “October in the Chair”
Ten Essential October Reads: The “Orangefield Cycle”
Ten Essential October Reads: Halloween and Trick or Treat