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I begin with an admission about The Shining. I never really cared for Stephen King’s original novel. It is a fine book, sure. It is a good read. But it does not stick with me in the way that Kubrick’s 1980 film-adaptation has haunted me my entire life. I never read Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep either, simply because it was not a continuation of the story that Kubrick committed to film.

The Shining is one of those instances where the adaptation is better than the book. This is a rare breed indeed; off the top of my head, I can safely include The Godfather and Jurassic Park on such a list.

The heart of the matter here is that, had I read Doctor Sleep, I am almost certain that the movie is better than the book. I say this because it is a pitch-perfect follow-up to Kubrick’s The Shining.

The Return of Danny Torrance

Dan Torrance finds himself stalking the halls of a long-abandoned Overlook

Doctor Sleep follows the crossing of paths between a survivor of the Overlook, Dan Torrance, a young, shining girl named Abra, and a collective of psychic vampires. Dan’s senses dulled by years of drinking and locking away the ghosts of the Overlook in his mind have left him directionless until he finds salvation in his friend Billy, A.A., and helping the dying travel to the other side in peace. With Dan’s shine off the radar, he thankfully misses out on catching the attention of Rose the Hat and The True Knot, a group of quasi-immortal psychic vampires, over the decades. This group hunts down people who shine and consumes their “steam,” or a manifestation of their shine.

Danny, however, finds himself newly awakened with his shine when he befriends a young girl named Abra, who shines so bright that The True Knot seek to consume her. How does Danny fight those who seek to consume his and Abra’s very gifts?

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The film is directed by Mike Flanagan (of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House). Flanagan is also is credited for the screenplay. Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor as Dan Torrance, Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat, and Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone. The film also features Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, and Emily Alyn Lind.

What worked about Doctor Sleep?

Dan and Abra’s shining conversation weaves throughout the film in many ways

At heart, Doctor Sleep is very much about coping with trauma. Danny Torrance is haunted not only by his father’s violence but by the Overlook and its many ghosts who still crave him and his shine over the decades. This leaves us with Danny as a shell of a man in many regards, sadly echoing his father’s alcoholism and drifting from tragedy to tragedy. The Overlook left its mark, and much like how his role as Doctor Sleep helps the elderly deal with their deaths so too does the film Doctor Sleep help to provide closure and context for Dan.

Whereas The Shining is a very cold and impersonal film to depict the exploration of madness and isolation, Doctor Sleep runs warmer. The film is more crowded and concerned with the emotional wellbeing of the protagonists, and it serves as a companion piece to Kubrick’s classic. The Shining is the trauma and Doctor Sleep is the coping mechanism. At heart, these are very different films with very different aims, and yet they work together and build off one another.

The family that occupied the Overlook those faithful months before its closure was already destroyed before Jack, Wendy, and Danny stepped inside. The Shining ends with the impression that Danny would not be okay. It was not that sort of film, that sentimentality was beyond Kubrick. Danny grew up to be Dan, traumatized and never able to find closure with his mother. Doctor Sleep fills us in on that legacy, but it also provides hope that you could never find in The Shining.

Keep in mind that the film is not just Danny’s story, but also the story of Abra and Rose. All three narrative threads are strong. Just as Dick Halloran helped Danny to understand his shine, Dan, too, helps young Abra. “Ka is a wheel,” a thematic thread throughout King’s work of the last twenty years, plays out beautifully here. It also helps that Rose the Hat is a stunning villain; a dream-like figure with an undeniable charm and clear menace.

The film delivers exactly what you would want to see in a follow-up to The Shining. The nature of the Overlook’s ghostly residents ensures a key conversation occurs that I will not spoil here. You already know what it is, deep down, though, and I can confirm that it delivers chills.

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What Didn’t work with Doctor Sleep?

Rose the Hat and The True Knot enjoying a disturbing meal

While the film as a whole is excellent, there are elements that could have been better. Namely, at 2 hours and 31 minutes, the film suffers from bloat, which likely stems from the source material. Flanagan has to accomplish a lot of things within that run-time, and it is a testament to the film that the runtime does not feel overly long. The film isn’t much longer than its predecessor, but it feels denser because of everything it needs to juggle.

A lot of that bloat most assuredly falls on the shoulders of King. The True Knot, while interesting, is a rather large group of antagonists. We only really know the names of five of them. The film could have easily excised a fair number of psychic vampires and still had the same effect and level of threat.

The same goes for catching up with Danny over the decades. His journey is fascinating, but it is also a long one. The film could have easily started with Danny at the hospice center, performing his Doctor Sleep duties. His backstory could be revealed in small moments here and there, but getting us up to speed with his selfless, yet hesitant existence takes a while.

These are all minor quibbles, however.

Final Impressions

It is a miracle that a successful sequel to The Shining can exist that manages to soothe the division that existed between Kubrick’s adaptation and Stephen King’s source material. The film really is a wonder. Something with this much baggage should not work as well as it does. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

How did you enjoy Doctor Sleep? Why not let us know in the comments? Meanwhile, stick around here at Haunted MTL. You never know what other Doctor Sleep content might show up…

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David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

Movies n TV

Suburban Screams, Kelly

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Launched in October of 2023, Suburban Screams is the latest project by acclaimed horror master John Carpenter. It’s a true crime/unsolved mystery series covering events that have terrified people living in, you guessed it, the suburbs.

The story

Our first episode, titled Kelly, is the story of two roommates named Dan and Joey. The actual Dan and Joey tell the story from their own perspective, interspersed with dramatic reenactments. This did feel very much like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

One night when Dan and Joey have their girlfriends over, they decide to play with an Ouija board. Since they don’t have one, Dan makes one on a pizza box, complete with a planchette. This is, of course, when things go terribly wrong.

Still from Suburban Screams, Kelly.

Honestly, I have never heard anyone say, “I had a great time with that Ouija board, I’m really glad we did that.”

The couples make contact with a spirit named Kelly. This is very upsetting to Dan’s girlfriend May, as she had a cousin named Kelly who went missing and is presumed dead.

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Dan then finds himself haunted by Kelly. He throws up water, finds his kitchen chairs stacked on the table, and is followed around by a haunting song. Dan feels like he won’t find peace until he helps Kelly find peace.

What worked

There was a lot to enjoy in this first episode. Specifically, I loved the horror visuals. Dan’s vision was very creepy, as an example. And I loved the shots of the body floating down the river. These images were eerie and upsetting.

The storytelling from Dan and Joey was also well done. While I have my doubts about the validity of this story, these two men believe wholeheartedly in what they’re saying. I certainly believe that they experienced something disturbing. Either that or they are some fantastic actors.

What didn’t work

That being said, some things rubbed me the wrong way in this episode.

I’d like to start with the herbs Joey burned during the Ouija session. It looked like sage, or maybe sweetgrass.

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As some of you might know, I am a practicing witch. So I do feel the need to point out that if you want to open a door and invite spirits in, you probably don’t want to be burning sage or sweetgrass as those are going to negate any spiritual activity. This was for sure the action of someone who does not know what the hell they are doing. It just irritated me.

Also, maybe don’t throw open a door indiscriminately to the spirit world. Just saying.

I also didn’t love the acting by Ben Walton-Jones, who played Dan. While it wasn’t a terrible job, the character felt overacted. I don’t know how he had room for that pizza, since he was chewing the scenery most of the episode.

Honestly, this episode felt a little underproduced. When I saw John Carpenter’s name, I was expecting something with some real production value. Great acting, great effects, great music. None of those were in effect here. I’m not sure where their budget went, because it didn’t go to any of the things it should have.

Is it true?

So that brings us to the big question. Do I think this story is true?

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Well, it is verifiable that Kelly Lynn Fitzpatrick was a young woman who unfortunately was found dead in 1999 in Quebec. The rest of the story, so far as I can find, is up to speculation.

Do I believe someone could contact the dead on an Ouija board they made out of a pizza box? Yes, I do. Because Dan made it with his own hands it might have worked better than a store-bought board. But do I think he was haunted to this extent by the spirit of Kelly?

Well, I would say that I believe this about as much as I believe the story of the Amityville house. Something certainly happened here, but I am sure that the details shared in this episode of Suburban Screams are highly overblown.

In the end, while I did have fun watching this episode, this fun was tainted. I would have enjoyed it more if it was presented as a fictional story loosely based on real-life events. Because that is almost certainly what it was.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Fallout, The Beginning

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We’ve now reached the end of Fallout, season one. As I mentioned during the last review, I was heartily concerned that this show, like so many others, was going to drop the ball at the finale and ruin an entire season.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. This episode was everything it needed to be and more.

Let’s discuss.

The story

We begin our story with Maximus returning to the Brotherhood of Steel compound. He has a head, which he is claiming is the real head of Wilzig.

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I don’t know why he thought that was going to work.

Of course, it doesn’t. The elder cleric is about to kill Maximus until Dane says that they hurt their foot.

Because of this, the Brotherhood is sent out to get the head. Or rather, what’s inside of it. They head to the city run by Moldaver. This happens to be the same place Lucy and The Ghoul are headed.

Still from Amazon Prime's Fallout.

There, Lucy does manage to find her father. What she ends up finding is so much more than she wanted to find.

What worked

The first thing I have to discuss is how seamlessly the storylines of the series combined.

Each of our four main characters has been on their own journey. Lucy is trying to save her father. Maximus wants to become a knight. The Ghoul wants to find his family. Norm wants to know what’s going on in Vault 31.

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I sure wasn’t expecting all of these stories to come together in the way that they did. And to preserve the ending, I don’t dare say more. I will only say that yes, all four stories tie in perfectly with one another. By the end, two characters end up having the very same goal.

As I hinted before, I did not see the twist ending coming.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Yes, we might have guessed some things from the last episode. We of course guessed that Lucy’s dad was involved in some nefarious and probably sci-fi way. But the way this story twists at the end is nothing short of serpent-like. Which is why I cannot go into too much detail here. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to experience it blind.

Finally, I can give the Fallout season finale the most important praise I can ever give a finale. It did its number one job, getting us excited for season two. We have answers, but now we have new and more exciting questions. And even better, we have a desire to see vengeance done.

What didn’t work

Now that the season is done, though, I can bring up something that bothered me through all eight episodes.

I don’t buy Lucy and Maximus’s relationship.

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Maybe because it’s rushed. Maybe because the two actors don’t have a lot of chemistry. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure even now either character could tell you a single thing about the other. There is just no spark between the two. So their love story feels tacked on. I honestly feel like their love story could have been removed from the show entirely and it would have no negative impact.

I also didn’t buy Dane’s confession. This is a minor spoiler, but it comes up early in the episode. Dane confesses that they hurt their foot so that they wouldn’t have to go into the wastelands.

And at first, I kept expecting Maximus to thank them later. I honestly thought that they were just lying to save Maximus’s life. But no, as it turns out, they were not.

But it just doesn’t make sense. The motivations don’t jive. I honestly think it would have been better for the story if they had lied to save Maximus’s life.

At least then there’d be one other Brother of Steel who had some nobility.

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In the end, this first season of Fallout was everything I could ask for. So far as I can tell, it was everything fans of the Fallout franchise could ask for. There wasn’t a bad episode in the bunch. Honestly, the only real complaint I had was that the season was so short.

I’ll be counting down the days to season two, and I hope you’ll be joining me then. Because war, war never changes.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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Movies n TV

Fallout, The Radio

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Episode seven of Amazon’s Fallout is the penultimate episode. This is often when a series goes off the rails and starts to mess things up. After being burned so often recently, I was apprehensive when this episode began.

Thankfully, this was a fear that did not come to pass. And so far, Fallout’s finale is doing just fine.

Lana the dog in Fallout.

The story

A lot happened in this episode, so we’re just going to skim over some of the more important storylines. We’ll start with Lucy and Maximus, in Vault 4. Lucy has discovered what she believes is a secret collection of monsters. But of course, it turns out that it’s simply people that the vault dwellers discovered and are trying to help heal. But her meddling around was enough for them to kick her out of the vault. With two weeks’ worth of food and water, of course.

But Maximus assumes they’re going to do something much worse. And so he steals their power coil to fight through the perfectly innocent people and save Lucy.

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Meanwhile, we dive further into The Ghoul’s past, when he was still Western star Cooper.

After attending a Communist meeting, he’s approached by Lee Moldaver. She suggests that Vault Tech is hiding something, something terrible. And she tells Cooper that his wife Barbara knows more about this than she’s letting on. Moldaver gets Cooper to bug Barbara’s Pip Boy, and listen in on an important meeting.

Poor Cooper hears far more than he wants to.

War, war never changes.

What worked

I would like to first point out that this was one of the funniest episodes so far. I mean, it got incredibly tragic and sad by the end. But it also had some great laugh-out-loud moments. This should be a surprise to no one, with such an array of comedians guest starring. Chris Parnell was in the last episode as well but is now joined by the incredibly funny Fred Armisen as DJ Carl. This is of course not his first foray into the funny and spooky world, as he also played Uncle Fester in Wednesday.

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Most of what makes this episode funny is the character’s understated and deadpan responses to wild situations. When Maximus returns the energy coil and is greeted by a simple thank you. When Thaddeus gets an arrow through his neck, and slowly realizes that hey, he might be a ghoul. These were hilarious because they could have been truly dark moments. But because this world is so dark, and the characters have already been through so much, they’re simply done. They take all of this in stride because of course that’s what’s happening. It’s par for the course for them.

Aaron Moten and Ella Purnell in Fallout.

On the other hand, we’ve finally seen the full extent of The Ghoul/Cooper’s past. And it’s so much worse than we could have imagined. I assumed that he’d lost his beloved wife and daughter in the atomic blasts two hundred years ago, somehow not dying with them and instead turning into a literal and figurative monster. The truth is so much worse. I’ll do my best not to spoil the ending. But I will say this. There is nothing more painful than mourning someone and hating them at the same time. And it’s easy to see how Cooper turned into The Ghoul. That sort of pain could drive anyone mad.

This balance between comedy and tragedy is one of the reasons why this episode worked so well. It’s one of the reasons why the series is working so well. It manages to combine the core tenets of theater in a way that never compromises the strengths of either. The eventual downfall of Thaddeus is a great example of this because it’s both tragic and funny. We’ve seen what happens to ghouls, and it’s a horrible end. But as he’s hardly been a sympathetic character, we can all get a good laugh at his predicament as well.

The sheer amount of good old-fashioned gore doesn’t hurt either, of course.

What didn’t work

All that being said, there was one thing that bothered me about this episode. And it was the reveal of Vault 4’s big secret.

Honestly, I was expecting the Vault 4 storyline to go way darker. I wanted it to go way darker. While I’ve never played these games myself, I know enough about the story to say that these vaults are not the bastions of safety and morality that they have so far been portrayed as. And while that has certainly been alluded to, we haven’t seen it.

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We haven’t seen the depravity in these vaults. And it’s there. But maybe we just haven’t gotten to it yet.

In the end, The Radio did exactly what it needed to do. It set us up to have most of our questions answered in the season finale. And I can’t wait to see how it all ends.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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