Me and Lil’ Stevie
Travel Back In Time To
(EXTERIOR/DAY: Establishing shot of a cornfield in Hemingford, Nebraska, in early afternoon. The stalks wave proudly in the breeze as the sun crawls quietly across the sky. A murder of crows sit in a nearby tree, quietly watching us as camera pans through the fields and on toward a modest-sized farmhouse over yonder. Without warning, the sky grows dark and ominous with thunderhead clouds. The crows begin squawking before winging off in frightened flight. Camera zooms in on the shadows they make on the ground, and then stops at the foot of an enormous well outside the barn. Creepy music reaches a crescendo as we see a sinister figure climbing its way out of the well. We zoom in to see a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the shape of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Lil’ Stevie: See? I toldja not to take a selfie in front of the well. No good EVER comes from standing too close to a well. Try your phone and see if it works.
Peter: (Pulls out his phone and flips to camera mode) Smile and say, “I promise to blurb Pete’s new novel!”
Lil’ Stevie: Not a chance. Does it even work?
Peter: (Frowning) Nope. It was worth it, though. Have you ever seen rats so big and creepy? Anyway…Welcome, Constant Viewer, to this month’s edition of our column. Today, we’ll be discussing the new NetFlix blockbuster, 1922, adapted and directed by Zak Hilditch. Now, if you haven’t heard the name before, Hilditch has only made two other movies: 2012’s TRANSMISSION, and 2013’s THESE FINAL HOURS. NetFlix already has a hit this year with another King adaptation of GERALD’S GAME, but when I found out that King’s novella 1922 was being produced for a fall release…
Lil’ Stevie: From my collection Full Dark, No Stars (2010)!
Peter: …I found myself excited at the prospect of a truly good ghost story in time for Halloween. The movie begins with suicidal farmer, Wilfred James (Thomas Jane, THE MIST, 2007), checking into a hotel and sitting down at the desk to write his confession. You see, Wilfred owned 80 acres of farmland in Hemingford, Nebraska…
Lil’ Stevie: Hemingford! I’m sure y’all recognize THAT name from a little book I wrote called, The Stand.
Peter: Of course they do! Well, Wilfred’s pretty little wife, Arlette (Molly Parker, THE ROAD, 2009), has just inherited another 100 acres of farmland from her daddy’s death, and she wants desperately to sell both parcels of land to some hog farmers and move their little family to the city. She’s got it in her mind that their teenage son, Henry (Dylan Schmid, HORNS, 2013), will get a better education and chance at life if they up and move to Omaha. Back when I was reading the book, I found myself wondering if the son was named after famous ghost author Henry James. Did you do that on purpose?
Lil’ Stevie: Mayhap. Mayhap not. I’ll never tell.
Peter: Well, ol’ Wilfred is a firm believer that a man’s property is his pride and joy, and he’s fixed on handing all that land down to his only son when it’s his turn to go. A conflict rises between Wilfred and Arlette, and since both of them are stubborn as mules, Arlette informs him that she’s going to sell off her inheritance and move to the city, and young Henry is going with her.
Lil’ Stevie: Oh, we’ll see about that! You see, young Henry is in love with the neighbor’s daughter, and he’s not too keen about leaving either.
Peter: That’s right. Henry’s got his eye on Shannon Cotterie (Kaitlyn Bernard, CADENCE, 2016). And farm life is all he really knows. Moving to the city would mean no Shannon and no farmland.
Lil’ Stevie: Oh, there’s still lots of opportunity to roll hay in the big city!
Peter: Watch it! One more comment like that and it’s back down the well for you. Now, where was I? Oh yeah, Wilfred has a man-to-man with his boy about how his mama just doesn’t understand things, and slowly begins to twist his little mind with a terrible, insidious plan to keep her from splitting up the family and losing their land. Mama James has to go.
Lil’ Stevie: The boy ain’t too thrilled about it at first. He does a bit of hemming and hawing because, deep down, what boy doesn’t love his mother?
Peter: He comes around though, about the same time that Arlette notices her little boy is smitten with young Shannon and embarrasses him about it. So daddy and son conspire, and begin their terrible scheme by Wilfred sitting Arlette down on the porch and telling her he’s decided that family is more important, and that they’ll sell the farm and stay together, and try life in the big city. After all, she’s wanted to start her own dress shop and he could get work fixing those new-fangled cars and industrial machinery. Arlette is wildly ecstatic and insists on celebrating. She gets good and drunk, and makes a few more awkward comments about Shannon before passing out. Wilfred and Henry then carry her up to the bedroom and carry out their terrible scheme.
Lil’ Stevie: Let’s just say she gets the point.
Peter: Then they wrap her up in an old rug and drag her down here to the well, where they say their final farewells and drop her down to her watery grave. And that’s where things get interesting.
Lil’ Stevie: Like the lawyer for the hog farmers suddenly showing up and wanting to talk to the heir of that hundred acres they wanted to purchase.
Peter: Correct. But Wilfred isn’t surprised as much as he’s annoyed. He’s expected this, and has already rehearsed with Henry what to do and say when those moments arise. They explain that Arlette ran off with a lover in the middle of the night, and they don’t know if they can ever expect to see her again. Of course, the sheriff also pays a visit and demands to look around the house.
Lil’ Stevie: Sounds like things are getting dangerous. Won’t they bother to look down the well?
Peter: Wilfred’s already thought of that, too. In fact, he’s been having strange dreams and hearing noises coming from the well. He goes to investigate, to be sure Arlette is good and dead, and he notices those giant rats eating away her corpse. It would not do at all to have someone else go looking down there. So he and Henry lead one of the cows out from the barn and get it to stand on the lid to the well, and moments later ol’ Bessie is lowing in agony from the bottom of the well. Wilf uses his gun and puts the beast out of her misery, and then the two James men take to filling in the well. That’s when the sheriff finds them.
Lil’ Stevie: Meanwhile, Henry’s courtship with Shannon takes a turn when she finds herself in the family way.
Peter: Yep. The burden of guilt, the strain between father and son over murdering Arlette, the outside pressure from the law, and now Shannon’s daddy wants Wilf to hand over cash he doesn’t have to send Shannon away to birth her baby and give it up for adoption. Lots of conflict over their insidious plot. It would have been so much easier to just divorce her and let her leave. But a man’s pride is a complex beast.
Lil’ Stevie: Amen, brother.
Peter: Henry ain’t too keen on saying goodbye to the love of his life about as much as Wilf doesn’t want to give up his land, so despite daddy’s objections, Henry and Shannon run away. And if that’s not enough to drive Wilf crazy, Arlette has come home.
Lil’ Stevie: Her mangled, rat infested corpse returns as a ghost, to haunt him for what he’s done to her.
Peter: Not just her ghost, but the rats as well. He hears them in the walls of his house and out in the barn. It turns out there’s an old pipe that leads from the barn to the well, and one of the big rats literally bites the udder off one of Wilf’s cows.
Lil’ Stevie: Yeah, even I was covering my eyes and trying not to barf at that one.
Peter: The rest of the film is the literary tragedy you would come to expect from a King story. The young lovers turn to a life of crime to support themselves, and that doesn’t end well. Neither does Wilfred’s relationship with Shannon’s father, the bank, or anything else that he’d counted on to get away with murder. We’ve given enough spoilers already, so we’ll end it here.
Lil’ Stevie: So, what did you think of the movie?
Peter: I think it’s an instant classic. It has all the dark, macabre elements of a great supernatural film. The fact that it’s a period piece really lends to the success of the story; the isolation of pre-technology America is the perfect backdrop for a ghost story. Most of the criticism over the film revolves around just how easy it was for Wilfred to convince his son into murdering Arlette, and how that doesn’t seem like a natural character arc. For me, that’s what makes this film the powerhouse that it is. The ugly duplicity and greed being used to steal away a child’s innocence is as evil as you can get. I believe Hilditch made a wise choice to stick to the source material when he wrote out his screenplay. The story was already terrific, and Hildritch brought it all to blood-dripping life. All the actors involved put in terrific performances, with Jane’s Wilfred being the standout lead that makes it so dang good. The beautiful cinematography and the creepy score by Faith No More’s Mike Patton elevate this one to being one of the must-see horror films of 2017. And getting to watch this one on the week before Halloween made my season that much creepier. I loved it.
Lil’ Stevie: Um…Could you repeat that? I didn’t quite hear you.
Peter: Nope. Not a chance.
Lil’ Stevie: Please? I’ll even blurb your new novel for you! How’s this? “Not bad for a brain-damaged postal worker!”
Peter: If you aren’t on NetFlix, I’d recommend you give it a try just to catch this one while you can. In the meantime, I hope you all had a lovely Halloween. We’ll see you again next time.
Lil’ Stevie: Goodbye, folks. And remember…watch out for the rats. They bite!
© Copyright 2017 by Peter N. Dudar