The Ledge & The Lawnmower Man

“The Ledge” and “The Lawnmower Man” are both great examples of King’s overactive imagination going off the tracks in delightfully bizarre ways. They also provide a solid shot in the arm for a short story collection that, at the mid-way point, was in danger of careening off the tracks.

Strawberry Spring

Like “The Mangler,” “Sometimes They Come Back,” and “The Boogeyman” before it, “Strawberry Spring” suffers from a lack of imagination at the crucial moment. What begins as a solid world-building exercise, showing how a small community can devolve into panic with a little injection of chaos, turns into a strange gotcha finale that is somehow both unearned and wholly unoriginal, even by 1970’s standards.

Sometimes They Come Back

“Sometimes They Come Back” has a lot of things going for it: a solid protagonist, a compelling premise, and natural tension given the unreliability of the main character. But while the final outcome is less than fulfilling from a narrative standpoint, the story has interesting parallels to the modern world.

Trucks

Stephen King is a master at creating diabolical metaphors for the plight of the working man. Night Shift, in particular, is littered with tales of blue collar stiffs battling real world and supernatural disorder. “Graveyard Shift,” “The Mangler,” and “Gray Matter” all do a tremendous job of rooting the horror in the real world anxieties of the northeastern industrial working classes. “Trucks” takes the horror of industrial decline and takes it on the road for one of Night Shift’s most memorable tales.

Battleground and Gray Matter

“Battleground” and “Gray Matter” show us a young writer see-sawing between his best and worst selves, trying out different tactics and narratives, finding himself. While the excesses of “Battleground” occasionally rear their ugly heads over King’s 40+ year career, fortunately the brilliance of “Gray Matter” shows up a lot more.

I Am The Doorway

“I Am The Doorway” is not King’s best short by far, but it is noteworthy because it’s one of his first direct dives into science fiction AND body horror. He would do a better job with both of these genres with his short-lived work under the pseudonym Richard Bachman (in particular The Running Man and The Long Walk in sci-fi, and Thinner in body horror), but for a departure from form “I Am The Doorway” is a solid start.

Atmospherics, Creature Design, and Bad Horror

Horror deals in something fundamental: fear. More than that, though, it can incorporate the full range of human emotions through a medium that is both enjoyable, entertaining, and deeply cathartic. But in order to succeed, horror needs to master a few key ingredients. Comparing Terrifier and The Nun, BLK STG gets to the heart of why one succeeds and the other doesn’t.

Boogeyman

Stephen King’s work doesn’t lack in terrible parents, but Lester Billings in the Night Shift short “The Boogeyman” might actually be one of the most terribly relatable.

The Mangler

"The Mangler" is not a terribly great story. The characters are boilerplate and the thinly-plotted police procedural is limp. Yet the story has a through current that is prescient and terrifying.

Night Surf

“Night Surf” was one of Stephen King’s earliest published works, and even at this early stage it shows a writer interested in exploring the character dimensions of horror. It’s a small tale, but it set the stage for one of King’s most expansive works, The Stand.

Graveyard Shift

Stephen King is one of the most aggressively blue collar authors ever. Despite also being one of the most successful authors ever, King protects his image as a lucky bastard milltown boy with everything he can muster. Nowhere is this more present than in his short fiction, which often centers on fish out of water college educated characters in blue collar worlds. “Graveyard Shift” from the 1977 shot collection Night Shift is perhaps the quintessential example.

Jerusalem's Lot

The first short in Stephen King’s 1977 story collection Night Shift, “Jerusalem’s Lot” is a play on the formula of Dracula that takes the former novel’s dread and ramps it up to 11.

Mike Hanlon, Dick Hallorann, and Stephen King's Magical Negroes

When most of his white writer contemporaries were completely ignoring the black experience, Stephen King made several valiant attempts to include color in his novels. Black characters play major roles in The Shining, The Stand, The Talisman, and It, which, though still infrequent, far surpass many of his white contemporaries. Yet, he too often falls into the “Magical Negro” stereotype with his early black characters.

The Shining

The Shining represents a huge step forward for King, both in the level of mastery on display and in the multi-layered story. If there were fears that Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot were flukes, The Shining put those to bed.