Horror Classics Revisited, 1
Greetings! Welcome to my blog. Each month I plan to do an entry where I review a seminal work of horror fiction. My first and foremost reason for doing this is that I think it will be fun for me and hopefully for all of you too. Secondly, it may serve as a good reference point for new readers to the genre. For February, I am doing Stephen King’s first collection of short stories, Night Shift. Enjoy!
Everyone knows the name Stephen King. From fans of the horror genre to film buffs and literary critics, he is a household name. He has been a number one bestseller for almost forty years and over that time he has accumulated a massive body of work, virulent criticism, and rabid adoration. Longtime fans know what they love to read from him, but to a new reader, it may be a daunting task to pick out a good starting point. Usually, the recommendations are for his longer works, specifically It and The Stand, or his more literary endeavors such as The Green Mile. Too often overlooked is his short fiction and for raw storytelling talent, far out concepts, and a strong influence on works that followed, Night Shift is a treasure house.
The Chicago Tribune called Night Shift “Eerie, irrational…” The description seems fitting for stories where a laundry machine develops a taste for human flesh (“The Mangler”), a hit man fights for his life against sentient toy Army men (“Battleground”) and where survivors of the apocalypse are holed up in a gas station surrounded by murderous eighteen-wheelers (“Trucks”). It is the sheer irrationality of these and others like the science fiction/body horror tale, “I Am the Doorway,” and “The Lawnmower Man” that makes them work so well. The familiar as something horrific and threatening became a staple of King’s work later on, but here it shines just as bright.
It is interesting to see how much of an occult influence is in this early work such as “Sometimes They Come Back,” and “I Know What You Need,” where black magic plays a strong part in their plots. Elements like this seemed to disappear from his subsequent works as he began to develop his own mythology. Also worth noting is the story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” the epistolary prequel to ‘Salem’s Lot, where he is wears his influences on his sleeve. The story is written much like Dracula by Bram Stoker and there are references to elements from Weird Tale authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Bloch. The result is a cool little story that adds another dimension to the best-selling novel that it was based on.
The entire collection has merit, but the standout stories are the satirical “Quitter’s, Inc,” “The Ledge” (a story that fully captures the spirit of acrophobia), “The Man Who Loved Flowers,” “The Last Rung on the Ladder,” and “The Women in the Room.” The latter two carry with them a literary flair and an emotional sting that is apt to stick with the reader long after finishing them. Both stories are recommended for lovers of his non-horror work such as The Green Mile or “The Body.”
Night Shift is a great read for anyone who wants to be entertained, scared, or to get a good idea of how to construct a good story (horror or otherwise). It is essential for anyone who is interested in Stephen King and unsure of where to start, as it offers short and easy to read samples of the themes that his work has gone on to be famous for.
Next Month’s Horror Classic Revisited: The Light at the End by John Skipp and Craig Spector