If you know someone waiting in a sincere pumpkin patch for the perfect Halloween present, I have two literary suggestions:
For fans of classic horror, consider the ghoulishly gorgeous new edition of “The Shining” from the Folio Society ($79.95). Stephen King’s terrifying story about the Torrance family was published almost 40 years ago, and if you know it only through Stanley Kubrick’s film (which King criticized on several occasions), this is your chance to see what really drove Jack mad at the Overlook Hotel.
Entombed in a black slipcase and enhanced with 11 creepy illustrations by Edward Kinsella, this elegant, large-format edition includes a brief introduction by King. He speaks of “The Shining” as his “crossover novel,” the book that pushed him to move beyond mere supernatural terror to something far scarier: the ghosts that lurk in the human psyche. “There is a cocky quality to some of The Shining’s prose that has come to grate on me in later years,” King writes, “but I still like the book enormously, and recognize the importance of the choice it forced on me: between the safe unreality of the amusement park funhouse and the much more dangerous truths that lurk between the lines of the fantasy genre’s more successful works.”
If your tastes run more A.B. Normal, sink your fangs into “Young Frankenstein” (Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.99). In this fun, chatty book, Mel Brooks fondly recalls the making of his 1974 spoof.
Brooks notes that he saw James Whale’s “Frankenstein” in 1931 when he was just 5. That grim classic haunted him for years, and four decades later, he went back to it again and again as he and Gene Wilder wrote their hilarious take-off. The doctor himself could not have cobbled together a better partnership than those two comic geniuses. “It all started with Gene Wilder,” Brooks says of his friend, who died in August. “Nobody can go from A to Z in one scene like Gene does.”
Some of the most entertaining bits are reminiscences by Wilder. For instance, the first time he watched the ascension scene — when he cries, “LIFE, DO YOU HEAR ME? GIVE MY CREATION LIFE!” — Wilder thought it was “boring blob.” Brooks gave an encouraging speech to the assembled cast about what could happen in the editing room, but Wilder assumed the film was beyond salvation. He shouldn’t have worried.
“Almost three weeks to the day after Mel’s speech, the lights went out in the screening room, and I witnessed an eight-minute miracle.” Aggressive re-editing had given the creation life, after all.
Each of the stars gets a few pages of loving treatment — including Marty Feldman as Igor (pronounced Eye-Gore) and Teri Garr as Inga, who, Brooks says, never knew how sexy she was. And the crew comes in for special praise, too, particularly cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld, who helped Brooks produce the movie with a modest budget of $2.4 million — in black and white, which the studio suits hated.
The book is filled with hundreds of great photos from the movie and snippets from the script that many of us have been reciting since middle school. Most of this is light fun, but there’s also insight into Brooks’s remarkable talent.
“We’re making a riotous comedy here,” he remembers telling the cast early on. “But it’s got to be very sweet and sad, and at times very scary. And it’s got to be very real — no heightened acting. When it’s funny, your character doesn’t know it’s funny. You’re just doing your job. We know when it’s funny. The audience knows when it’s funny. But you don’t. So don’t you ever play funny.”
“To this day,” Brooks concludes, “I think it’s my best work, and it seems like a lot of people agree with me.”
Ron Charles is the editor of Book World. You can follow him @RonCharles.
Special screenings in the Washington area:
On Tues., Oct. 18, “Young Frankenstein,” will be shown at Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14, 701 Seventh St. NW, Washington, DC 20001. Call 844-462-7342.
On Wed., Oct. 26, “The Shining” will be shown at Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14.