from Shivers #71
Reviews header
The Latest in Horror Entertainment
In this issue: ten pages of reviews, covering:
Book Reviews • New Horror from Stephen King with Hearts in Atlantis (plus a 1998 recording of Stephen King Live in London), a Christopher Fowler omnibus, and Monster Encyclopedias
TV Reviews • We continue reviews of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with five more intriguing episodes
Film Reviews • Ravenous and The Blair Witch Project examined in detail
Video / DVD Reviews • New DVDs of Psycho, Twelve Monkeys, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Scanners and more, plus a VHS round-up
Plus Horror on the Web: sites devoted to new horror writers

Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis. Must be rather damp thererBook Review
Hearts in Atlantis
By Stephen King
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
499pp • £17.99 h/b

Reviewed by
David Howe

selected and edited from Shivers #71

King’s back with a collection which touches upon much of his work to date. In structure, Hearts in Atlantis contains five short stories, each shorter than the one before.

We kick off with Low Men in Yellow Coats which tells of a part of the childhood of Bobby Garfield when he finds a friend in the mysterious Ted Brautigan who comes to lodge in an upper room with Bobby and his mother. Ted is old, but enchants Bobby with his wit and wisdom – especially when it comes to books. Ted gives Bobby a present: a copy of Lord of the Flies, and Bobby agrees to read the newspapers to Ted each day. But things are not quite as they seem as Ted is being hunted by the evil and mysterious ‘low men in yellow coats’ and young Bobby must watch for the signs of their arrival.

Bobby and his other childhood friends experience other events which move and change them, and eventually Ted is captured by the low men and taken away. But not before the reader – if not Bobby – realizes that they come from the worlds of King’s Dark Tower series and that Ted has escaped from them before…

This story takes up the first half of the book, and is followed by lesser tales in which Bobby’s friends find themselves taking centre stage. Hearts in Atlantis is about a group of friends at college – Atlantis – who find themselves measuring their days by playing a game of cards called Hearts. Blind Willie is about another friend who, many years after serving in Vietnam, now leads a multiple-life. Why We’re in Vietnam chronicles yet another friend, remembering his time in Vietnam, and his childhood friends when attending a funeral. Finally, Bobby Garfield is back for a vignette, Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling where he returns home in the hope of finding peace.

Aside from the first story – which is novel-length in itself – there is nothing remotely supernatural about these tales, and it’s almost as though King wrote Low Men… and then wanted to further explore the characters he had created. Nothing wrong with that, and in King’s hands, what you get is a book which explores characters and consequences in a way that is totally engrossing and very readable.

After the simply superb The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Hearts in Atlantis is another book of power from an author who seems, after a lean patch in the early Nineties, to have rediscovered the secret of gripping fiction.

Nicky Brendon takes centre-stage in The ZeppoTV Review
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3.13 The Zeppo (3ABB13)

Written by Dan Vebber
Directed by James Whitmore Jr
US Premiere 26 Jan 99
UK Premiere 22 Oct 99
Reviewed by Ian Atkins
selected and edited from Shivers #71

In any series with an ensemble cast, there are going to be episodes where some of the regulars get pushed to the back. Witness how the subsequent Consequences ignores Willow, or how Faith pops up and disappears in early season Three. But what are these absent friends doing? A viewer normally gets a line of explanation if they’re lucky. They rarely get a whole episode!

The Zeppo takes a traditional Buffy story (supernatural dangers, big villains, threatened opening of the Hellmouth, etc.) and then moves the audience to the other side of this: Xander Harris having a normal day. Well, as normal as a day gets in Sunnydale. Soon Xander has his own worries, and although they start off small scale, eventually he ends up saving his friends as much as they end up saving him. The two plots interweave with the cool dexterity of top-notch farce: witness the frantic opening-and-closing-doors theatre of the finale where two worlds nearly touch time and again, but never quite make it.

That The Zeppo is an immensely clever episode can be seen by just how few fans originally got the joke: the story polarised opinion into hate it and love it and yet it’s hard to understand the former: the story Buffy and friends experience is little more than a re-tread of Prophesy Girl with a bigger budget. What the viewer gets instead is a brave and playful experiment in the mechanics of point of view, and it’s just as exciting, witty and dramatic as any of the surrounding stories. Unlike similar X-Files textual experiments, this doesn’t watch like the indulgences of sniggering writers bored with their show. No one would want a season of The Zeppo, but on its own it works perfectly.

Nicholas Brendon has never been so good, and the subsequent low-key roles he gets in Season Three are a waste of a major talent. He perfectly judges mood and reaction; witness his bewildered, sad attempt to define cool with Oz and the awkwardness of his initial humiliation in front of Cordelia. Xander comes of age in this story, both physically (experiencing both the highs and lows of casual sex in the space of ten minutes!) and emotionally, in a confrontation with an enemy where Xander is finally able to understand the nature of fear and to define what makes a person cool.

Even the other regulars get their moments to shine, with Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz able to make a crisis scene between lovers work in complete isolation of any build up. The dialogue is sharp and characters are drawn with an observant, witty pen (a revived zombie’s first question: “Walker, Texas Ranger – you been tapin’ ‘em?” is answered with “Every ep!”), and the effects are much better than expected (after all, given its premise, The Zeppo initially sounds like an exercise in cost-cutting).

It works against The Zeppo that it’s seen as a comedy episode (even more so given its grim neighbours in the season) and so somehow of lesser ‘worth’ than some of the series’ other highlights. It has as much to say as When She Was Bad about character, as much to do with monsters as Go Fish, and as much to do with drama as Passion.

The Zeppo isn’t just a comedy episode. But you’ve just got to get the joke to see that.

Images © Hodder Books / Moonglow Pictures • Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 1999. Not for reproduction