|cover scan of my copy, the 1986 Futura edition|
I got the 1986 Futura paperback which appeared around about the time I started work at Hunters Foods in Corby and for many weeks it was my book of choice at lunchtimes. I was already a big fan of Stephen King (and 1986 would cement that, with the publication of IT, which I wrote about here) and I went into Skeleton Crew full of enthusiasm. Thankfully, it delivered everything I wanted it to. Obviously, some of the pieces didn’t work for me (the poems, certainly, along with the more sci-fi orientated stories) but a handful were so special they’ve long remained favourites of mine.
The Mist opens the collection. Perhaps the best known of the stories here, it’s a fantastic read exceptionally well told, perfectly constructed and scary as you like. Alongside it, I’d place Here There Be Tygers, The Raft, Nona, Uncle Otto’s Truck, Gramma and the gleefully gory Survivor Type which King mentions in his excellent non-fiction book Danse Macabre calling it an example of a story he didn’t think he’d ever be able to publish.
|from Fangoria #42, February 1985|
The story was first published in Terrors (1982), edited by Charles L. Grant and in a Monsterland Magazine interview between them in May/June 1985, King says “as far as short stories are concerned, I like the grisly ones the best. However the story Survivor Type goes a little bit too far, even for me." In his story notes, he writes “I got to thinking about cannibalism one day - because that's the sort of thing guys like me sometimes think about - and my muse once more evacuated its magic bowels on my head. I know how gross that sounds, but it's the best metaphor I know, inelegant or not...”
Released in the middle of the King boom, a lot of the Skeleton Crew stories were adapted for film and television. The Raft became part of Creepshow 2 (1987), Word Processor Of The Gods was an episode of Tales From The Darkside series in 1984, Gramma was an episode of The New Twilight Zone (with a screenplay by Harlan Ellison) in 1986, The Mist became a 2007 film written and directed by Frank Darabont and then a TV series in 2017 while Gramma was adapted into the feature film Mercy in 2014.
The collection also followed Night Shift (which I wrote about here) with several Dollar Baby films (a deal whereby students could make an adaption after buying the rights for $1). These were Here There Be Tygers (1988 and 2003), Cain Rose Up (1989), Paranoid (2000), The Jaunt (2007), Survivor Type (2011) and The Reaper's Image (2013). The Mist was also adapted into a 90-minute full-cast audio production as well as a text-based video game from Mindscape.
Skeleton Crew published with a first printing run of 500,000 copies, would sell a total of 720,000 by the end of the year and another 100,000 before 1990.
The collection was nominated for the 1986 World Fantasy Award and won the Locus Award.
|Macdonald hardback edition dust jacket, 1985|
The Mist (1980)
Here There Be Tygers (1968)
The Monkey (1980)
Cain Rose Up (1968)
Mrs. Todd's Shortcut (1984)
The Jaunt (1981)
The Wedding Gig (1980)
Paranoid: A Chant (1985)
The Raft (1982)
Word Processor of the Gods (1983)
The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands (1981)
The Reaper's Image (1969)
For Owen (1985)
Survivor Type (1982)
Uncle Otto's Truck (1983)
Morning Deliveries (Milkman #1) (1985)
Big Wheels: A Tale of The Laundry Game (Milkman #2) (1980)
The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet (1984)
The Reach (1981)
Skeleton Crew is a solid collection of horror fiction and even if it doesn’t quite measure up to the standard King himself set with Night Shift, it’s still an excellent piece of work. If you haven’t read it before then I envy you the experience - if you have, why not read it again?
Grady Hendrix at Tor.com
Too Much Horror Fiction