Friday, January 1, 2016

"Sliver" by Ira Levin - and the movie too!

Kay Norris moves into a high-rise apartment building known as a "sliver". She eventually starts a relationship with Pete Henderson, who is over a decade younger than her. First she discovers that he is actually the owner of the building. Then she discovers he has an elaborate video camera system installed in the building that lets him watch all the tenants' every move.

Several deaths have already occurred in the building, and Kay slowly suspects there is more to them than meets the eye, especially when she learns from tenant Sam Yale about Pete's mother Thea Marshall, who died years earlier under mysterious circumstances.

I'd already seen the Sharon Stone thriller "Sliver" long before I ever read this book. I actually went and re-watched the movie after reading the book to look at the similarities and differences. It was really interesting. You could tell that they initially wanted to follow the general direction of the book, only to go in a completely different direction about half-way through. Apparently the film shoot went through endless script changes and re-shoots. I imagine they were also sidetracked by including a lot of sex, as this was Stone's first big vehicle after "Basic Instinct" sent her star soaring. Although the book does contain sexual content, it's nowhere near the level found in the movie itself.

I liked the book better. I've read "The Stepford Wives" by Levin before this, and I enjoyed it. The novel "Sliver" is much more your standard woman-in-peril mystery thriller. It builds slowly but surely to a pretty nifty climax. You could probably make it into a movie again, and wind up with something completely different to what the 1993 film version turned out to be.

I admit to a fondness for the trashy 1993 movie, though. A confident, interesting first half (where it most strongly resembles the book) gives way to a confused, meandering second half. The killer's identity is ludicrously obvious, but the film seems to want us to think it's supposed to be a mystery. However, when you have Tom Berenger kneeling over the body of a dead woman and audibly saying "Are you happy now, Vida?" it kind of takes the mystery out of it. Apparently there were so many script changes and re-shoots that the identity of the killer actually changed, so that could possibly account for the lapses in logic! Also, I'm not sure why you'd pick Ira Levin's source material when you're wanting to make the next big Sharon Stone sex-thriller after "Basic Instinct". The book seems much more suited to a made-for-TV movie.

Still, I enjoyed the book, and I always find it really interesting to compare books and movies, especially when there are significant changes made to the source material, such as the case with this one.

"Night In The Lonesome October" by Richard Laymon

Ed Logan, heartbroken over being dumped by his girlfriend, decides to go for a night-time stroll to buy some donuts. This is his introduction to the strange night-time world that exists in his town. He becomes fascinated by a young girl he sees out at night, wandering what she is doing. Even though he is quickly developing a relationship with Eileen Danforth, one of his ex's friends, he keeps going out at night in the hope of seeing more of this young girl. Unfortunately, the night also contains many strange people, such as a "hag" on a bike, strange cannibalistic homeless men who live under the bridge, and a psycho called Randy who has evil designs on Eileen and Ed.

This long, interminable story is more a series of vignettes than an actual horror tale with a proper plot. Ed goes out each night, sees strange and scary things, tries to find the girl he has seen, and deliberates and second guesses his every move. Rinse and repeat. It soon got very tiresome and dull. After this on-going pattern, Laymon randomly wraps everything up by returning to the character of Randy and throwing in a gratuitous lashing of sex, violence and rape.

Laymon is no stranger to sexual violence in his novels, but here it is particularly loathsome due to the off-hand way into which it is inserted into the story. If he hadn't had Randy come in and abuse all the female characters, the story probably never would have ended, as the narrative had been so open-ended, with no clear idea as to who the real antagonist of the story was. Randy shows up briefly early in the story, but never reappears until the slimy climax. I felt like taking a shower after reading it. The homeless cannibals living under the bridge are never really defined enough to feel like the main antagonists either.

Characterisations aren't the best either. Ed is described as not being anything special, and even something of a literary nerd, but every single main character in the story - male or female - wants to have sex with him. I eventually grew to quite dislike him, as he spends most of his time thinking with his dick. That's when he's not endlessly questioning his every movement and decision. Seriously, it sometimes feels like just choosing between going left or going right is a huge life choice for this guy.

I've suspected in the past that Laymon is homophobic, and that really shines through here with the characters of Randy and Kirkus. Randy is a sick killer who likes to rape men and women indiscriminately, while Kirkus is portrayed as very fey and pompous, but ready to practically attack and molest Ed at any given moment. He gets punched for his efforts, which is pretty un-PC.

The sexual deviancy and rape that constitutes the climax is, admittedly, par for the course for this author, but is so random that it's just distasteful and queasy. It definitely feels like it was thrown in because that's what Laymon (or his publishers) believes his readers want to read, not that it suits the style of the story.

Laymon used to be one of my favourite authors. After reading "The Lake", "Come Out Tonight" and "No Sanctuary" in succession and not finding any of them particularly good, I'm beginning to wonder why I held him in such high esteem. Are my tastes changing as I get older? Do I enjoy different stuff now that I'm 36? Or will I be pleasantly surprised if I go back and tap older fare such as "Bite", "Body Rides" and "Flesh", novels of his I haven't read yet? I'm hoping for the latter.