Posts Tagged ‘Castle Rock (TV series)’

Tour entrance of the West Virginia Penitentiary

As you know, I went to another haunted location recently. This one was the West Virginia Penitentiary, which was to be the host of the West Virginia Penitentiary Paracon. Now, you know me, I never pass up the opportunity to visit a haunted location, so the day before the Paracon I visited the prison for a tour.

Now, if you’ve never been to the Penitentiary (and I bet many of you haven’t), it’s a big, Gothic building that reminds me of my beloved Ohio State Reformatory back in Mansfield. Granted, it’s older by about twenty years and was in operation for far longer, and its history is certainly bloodier. In fact, the prison used to be known nationwide as “Blood Alley,” and it was cited by the Justice Department in an investigation of America’s prisons as its worst examples. In the late 1980s, there was a riot there that killed four people, and at one point, an Aryan Brotherhood leader was murdered by his deputy during yard time!

And these are just drops in the bucket: apparently the prison saw about 998 deaths during its operation. And that’s just the ones that we know of that weren’t scheduled executions.

Obviously, the building is supposed to be haunted up to the gills, and I was hoping I might experience some creepy occurrences while there. Sadly, I didn’t, and I couldn’t attend the vendor ghost hunt after the paracon. However, I did feel something in one area:

The “skating rink,” where I got a really bad feeling

There’s this long corridor near where you enter the building for tours called the skating rink. It got that name because during the winter, event today, this corridor ices over and you can skate on it. When the prison was in operation, prisoners were supposed to line up along the walls before going back to their cells, and anyone who would step over a line on the floor would be shot dead. It was a great way to get rid of someone you disliked, and plenty of people did.

I did not know this, but I felt some negative energy in that area. When the tour guide told us about that, it made sense.

I then told our tour guide about my feeling, and he later said to another tour guide as they passed by that he was scared of me (I hadn’t even told him I was a writer yet). I was proud that he figured out to be afraid of me. Very few realize they should until it’s too late.

Some other places that caught my attention were:

This one wall. Can you see a signature? That’s from Zak Bagans, leader of the Ghost Adventures team from TV. Apparently he left his signature there while filming an episode there. However, someone destroyed part of the signature (I think the dude was drunk), and it’s now a funny part of the tours.

This hallway is infamous for a funny reason: apparently the pattern on the floor was imported from Spain, but when Netflix used part of the prison for filming an episode of Mindhunter, they placed their own tile on the floor, ruining the pattern. Netflix is now banned from ever using the prison. I find that hysterical.

This is the Wheel. It separated the main prison from either a residential or administrative section of the prison. Only one other like it exist in the world, in Manchester, England, and it’s the only one in existence still being used.

On the tour, we learned that the prison was used as the filming location for the TV show Castle Rock, and that this particular cell was where Bill Skarsgard stood for his scenes. Standing in that same cell was just plain awesome!

Finally, there was this moment: this section, in addition to having some creepy spirits, is probably the only area in the prison where the cell doors still work. The cells are about five feet by seven, and would usually house three inmates, and they would let us experience what it’s like to be in that cell as a prisoner for a minute.

Naturally, I got it on camera.

Yeah, that was a cool moment. Even if I didn’t get any sort of presence in there.

So, would I go back? Probably, if I could properly investigate the place. There are some shadow figures that supposedly hang around, and I would like to see about contacting some of the other spirits, including ones in areas that weren’t on the tour (some places were just off-limits for certain reasons).

And maybe I’ll get something really creepy on video. Creepier than me, anyway.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to work on Crawler. After this chapter, I may take a break to work on a short story or two. And I might have a post or two to write in the near future. So, until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and is that a chupacabra outside your window?

Last year’s premiere of Castle Rock on streaming service Hulu garnered lots of attention and love from critics and from viewers, both longtime Constant Readers and folks unfamiliar with King’s work. When word of a second season reached fans’ ears, we got excited. Which Stephen King stories would they draw on? Would the showrunners make every season different, like early American Horror Story? Would the different stories be connected by more than just a common location, like later American Horror Story? Or would it be a continuing story with the same actors and characters, like every other TV series out there?

We sat down and watched ten episodes over the course of eight weeks. And while I can’t vouch for the rest of the fandom, I can say this season far surpassed season one.

Season 2 follows Annie Wilkes–yes, that Annie Wilkes–as she and her teen daughter Joy find themselves stranded in Castle Rock after a horrific car accident. They’ve come at an interesting time, as Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot–yes, that Jerusalem’s Lot–are about to celebrate the latter’s four-hundredth anniversary, and the Lot’s growing Somali population are facing discrimination and threats of violence from the likes of Ace Merrill, nephew of pawnbroker and loan shark Reginald “Pop” Merrill. Annie just wants to have her car repaired and leave town before her past comes for her and Joy. But when someone finds out about who she used to be, events are set in motion that will bring not just Annie, but the whole town to the edge of sanity.

While Season 1 was more influenced by newer, weirder Stephen King, Season 2 was definitely more old-school King: visceral, terrifying, and at times very explosive. Drawing on elements from mainly Misery and Salem’s Lot, the storytelling is mixed with terrifying scares and fun twists (episode 7, am I right?). And even the things you see coming from a mile away (and there are a few) are told in such a way that you don’t mind seeing them coming. And you gotta love all the homages to and Easter eggs referencing King’s works, including a heartfelt tribute to The Body (aka Stand by Me) in episode 3.

Probably the best episode was episode 5, “The Laughing Place,” which gives Annie a new backstory. Honestly, I was a little unsure at first, but as the episode goes on, it just hits you with the weight of the story and the emotion behind it as Annie becomes the person she meets. Sure, Annie is changed from a metaphor for toxic fandom to a painful example of what untreated mental illness can do to a person, but here it works.

“The Laughing Place;” best episode this season.

The actors were also great. Lizzy Caplan’s Annie Wilkes is a wonderful forerunner to the character we meet in Misery, a woman trying to do right by her daughter even as she wrestles with demons that not even medication can fully contain. Tim Robbins (aka Andy Dufresne of The Shawshank Redemption) gives the character of Pop Merrill, in the books a greedy and scheming man, a human side with guilt and a history he’s trying to make amends for. Yusra Warsama is excellent as Dr. Nadia Omar, Pop’s adoptive daughter dealing with her world basically imploding due to what’s going on around her. And Barkhad Abdi and Elsie Fisher as Nadia’s brother Abdi Omar and Annie’s daughter Joy, respectively, give great performances as people trying to deal with their upbringing and at the same time move away from it towards something positive.

If there’s one thing I’m going to ntipick, it’s that I wanted to see more of John “Ace” Merrill. It’s not easy to explain this without spoiling anything, but basically we only get to see one side of the character for a single episode, and then it’s a different side for the next nine. And I kind of wanted to see more of that first side (though the second side is an excellent villain). Did that make sense? I hope it does.

Overall though, Castle Rock season 2 is a scary and tense thrill ride drawing from some of the best of King’s earlier works and then some. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the season a 4.8. Sit down and buckle up, you’re going places you never imagined going before.

And while no season 3 has been announced, I feel it’s only a matter of time before we get word on that, so let’s start speculating. Which characters will come back? What stories will be drawn on?* And can I please get a commission to write an episode for the show? Only time will tell.

*I’m hoping The Library Policeman, Needful Things and maybe Apt Pupil.

What did you think of Season 2? What do you hope to see in Season 3?

If it’s not obvious by now, I’m a big Stephen King fan (cue everyone who knows me saying in a torrent of sarcasm, “Gee, really? We had no effing idea!”). So when I heard some time last year that Hulu, JJ Abrams and His Royal Scariness Himself were collaborating to create a TV series set in his famous fictional town Castle Rock, you know I was interested. Fast forward to July 25th, and the first three episodes of Castle Rock premiered on Hulu. I didn’t write a review for them (I think that I was busy with a hundred other things that week), but I thought that the series had a strong start, and I was looking forward to seeing where the story went.

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve just finished Season One. How did it hold up?

First, the story. Taking place in the Stephen King multiverse, particularly in one of his frequent settings, Castle Rock, Maine, Castle Rock‘s first season follows Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), a lawyer who returns to his childhood town after receiving a call from nearby Shawshank Penitentiary after a prisoner (Bill Skarsgaard of IT fame) was found in its deepest depths, in a cage, with no name or other identity, only asking for him. Deaver, who left town after disappearing and then being found, only to be accused of murdering his adoptive father, tries to help this mysterious young man. But as he delves into this man’s case, as well as his own disappearance, he finds some strange connections between the two. And as violence starts building in the town, the race to figure out both mysteries takes on a whole new importance.

Okay first off, the cast is the best thing about this show! Every character utterly inhabits their character and make them feel like real people, some of whom you can imagine hanging out with (others, stay the hell away from). I especially liked Melanie Lynskey’s Molly Strand, a realtor with psychic powers and a history with Henry Deaver, and Sissy Spacek (yes, the original Carrie came back for another Stephen King story) as Ruth Deaver, Henry Deaver’s dementia-addled but still feisty and witty adoptive mother. And Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn (maybe the only character who actually comes from a King story in this show) is a very sympathetic character, though he does come off at first as almost unlikable. Still, Holland as Deaver is the one who carries the story. We see things mainly through his eyes, and see how he struggles with all the baggage he carries as he tries to sift through all the confusion between events past and present.

I also liked the plot and how the story was told. It’s clearly geared towards people who are familiar with King’s works but still makes it accessible to those who haven’t seen the series. The writers also took the approach of a slow burn, taking their time to set up these characters and draw us in with the mystery while every now and then pumping things up to keep it interesting. And the writers weren’t afraid to take risks: two episodes are told entirely from the POV of a single character, and one of these episodes, through the eyes of Sissy Spacek’s character, is probably the best episode of the season.

Love Sissy Spacek in this show.

And finally, this does feel like a Stephen King story made for a television format. It’s not based on any particular story he’s written, but incorporates all of his stories, especially the ones set in Castle Rock, to give us a drama and a place that’s both familiar and new. Plus, you’ve got all the tropes you love (or in some cases, hate) from King: psychics, small towns full of secrets, religious fanatics gone crazy, sheriffs (or in this case, retired sheriffs), and of course, a whole bunch of weirdness that makes you go, “Say what? That works, but still, what the hell?”

Was there anything I didn’t like about Castle Rock? Well, a few things: one is that there’s a little too much weird. King’s been known to include a lot of odd concepts and sci-fi ideas into his work to varying degrees, and Castle Rock has a lot of that. The problem with that is, too much weird can lead to a lot of exposition and slow sequences where not much happens. Consequently, it also bites into moments where we could be totally terrified. And in my opinion, there weren’t enough of those moments, which is sad. Stephen King or Stephen-King inspired, his work is truly at its best when it features a shape-shifting clown hungry for children, or a Nazi war criminal burning cats alive in his oven,* things that make it hard for us to sleep. And that was lacking here.

On top of that, I didn’t like the season finale as much as I thought I would. It had its moments and explained a lot, but the climax could’ve been more epic, and I have mixed feelings on the final scene, both in what it featured and how it was told.

Still, all in all, it’s a great start to a series, and I’m looking forward to whatever they cook up for the upcoming season two (maybe something involving my man Leland Gaunt?). On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give Castle Rock a 4.3. Take a visit to the Rock, and hope that while you’re there, you come out with all your fingers attached.

That’s all for tonight, my Followers of Fear. Expect a review tomorrow for the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse (I’d review it tonight, but it ends after I should be in bed!). Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*I’m reading Apt Pupil right now, and that part had me frozen in my seat!