October: Parker Month; Slayground by Richard Stark, Slayground by Darwyn Cooke, and Slayground by Terry Bedford
Slayground is considered the Parker masterpiece of the Richard Stark novels, along with its sequel, Butcher’s Moon. Stark’s fans saw Slayground as a perfect fit for a film adaptation. It finally was adapted into a movie in 1983 and directed by Terry Bedford, and starring Peter Coyote as Stone (Parker). The film is considered one of the worst film adaptations of a Parker novel. Darwyn Cooke also attempted to adapt Slayground as the fourth book of his Parker adaptations. While not bad by any means, it is considered the weakest of Cooke’s Parker comics. Somehow the most beloved Parker novel fails to be brought forth into another medium with the vision Stark and his fanbase intended. I read the original Slayground and its two adaptations and wish to examine what makes the book work so well, and what was lost in translation.
The first thing to examine is the classic Stark novel: Slayground. I think of Slayground as a version of Home Alone that went through puberty and became Die Hard, but then was shipped off to Vietnam and returned with a lack of morality. It was written in 1971 and came before Home Alone and Die Hard. Slayground involves an armored car heist gone wrong, sending Parker in search of a good place to hide. He comes across an amusement park closed for the winter, but not before running into the local hoods and some corrupt cops. Parker is now trapped inside the amusement park with only a couple hours to prepare for a one man war against dirty cops, and the mob that owns them.
Slayground jumps right in with a tense opening chapter putting the reader in the middle of the action as an armored car heist goes wrong, causing Parker to flee into an amusement park closed for the winter. Stark then brings us back to earlier on that week to show how the job began. We then move forward as Parker adapts to his new surrounding and prepares for the upcoming battle. We spend a large portion of the book away from Parker, getting to know his enemies before they come in after him. Stark humanizes these characters, making their inevitable battle with Parker more tragic. The last half of the book is the battle, as tension builds and we see Parker fight for his life. Whenever the battle takes a break, the situation only becomes bleaker. The book ends with a tender moment between Parker and his long time girlfriend, Claire. Stark dedicates an entire chapter to show the intricacies of Parker and Claire’s relationship and ends with one of Parker’s greatest and most ominous lines.
The book reads like a really entertaining screenplay. The pacing is excellent and the characters are fully realized. All around, it is one of Stark’s greatest works and one that is so straightforward that it is hard to see how it couldn’t have been made into an amazing film.
The next piece to look at is one of the worst Parker adaptations ever. It is not even fit to be called a Parker adaptation. It’s a movie with the name of a Parker novel attached to it, along with an opening and ending scene similar to the scenes from Richard Stark’s Slayground. Combined they form a shit sandwich. There is no Parker, instead there is Stone, played by Peter Coyote. He looks like he could be a badass, and Peter Coyote has a badass name, but Stone is a fool. It’s like the people who made this film mistook the amatuer getaway driver from the heist for Parker, and made him the star of a different film with more amatuer heisters surrounding him.
The film feels more like a slasher film, and barely takes place in the setting that made the classic Slayground so great. It probably would have been cheaper, and certainly better, to use the one set of a giant frozen-over amusement park, instead of a road trip to London and some other half-assed locations, not to mention a weird slasher cutting down Stone and his cronies. The image above looks like a shot from a good Parker film, as it has an accurate-looking set from one of the funhouse rides, but all that happens as some slasher assassin chases Stone through it in a five minute climax that should have been what the majority of the movie was. As a film on its own, it’s mediocre. As a Parker movie it’s nothing short of complete shit. Somebody put the full movie on the internet so people won’t have to pay to watch this crap.
Now let’s look at Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation. It is considered the weakest, yet it remains quite faithful to the novel. It even has elements I find superior to the original Slayground, but that doesn’t stop its flaws from shining through. The primary thing missing from the comic is Claire, Parker’s girlfriend, along with the whole flashback sequence introducing her and showing the backstory of the heist. I’m perfectly fine without the backstory of the heist being shown. The book is actually better without it. I understand what the situation is in the opening chapter without the backstory. Cooke’s version of the first chapter is really good as it keeps the momentum building and imparts all the information quickly, taking away the need for the backstory, but it fails to take away the need for Claire. I understand that Cooke didn’t want Claire in his adaptations because he would need to take time to introduce her, but Parker and Claire’s exchange at the end of the story is one of the best Parker moments ever. It perfectly shows the relationship between Parker and Claire and sets things up beautifully for Butcher’s Moon, which is the next book Cooke plans to adapt, and part of why he adapted Slayground.
The other two primary problems with Cooke’s adaptation are the lack of character definement with Parker’s enemies, and the lack of quiet scenes to build tension. A good portion of the novel Slayground is spent letting the reader get to know the different people coming in after Parker. The two cops, the lead henchman, the underboss’ right hand man; all of them were fleshed out. When they came in after Parker, there was much more sympathy towards them when they went down. Slayground is so intense because there are scenes of quiet, and scenes of methodical violence that just continue to build momentum. The only reason the violent scenes work so well is because of the quiet scenes in between leave the reader wondering what will come next, and fearing for the characters involved. Cooke does include some quiet scenes, but not many, leaving less tension in the story. Cooke does keep one scene, which he makes into one of the greatest Parker scenes, and where Cooke actually surpasses Stark. Parker is completely isolated, soaking wet, naked and curled into a ball on the floor of a shop at the amusement park. Cooke exposes Parker at his weakest, and most human state. When Parker is in his element, he is unstoppable, but it is the elements that are beating him, not the people. Nature is the true threat to Parker, the one he can’t outmaneuver. The image is cold and haunting, just like the palette Cooke used to paint it.
Despite it all, Parker did beat nature. Parker lives on to this day. He is one of the greats of the crime genre and an inspiration to many, including myself. The last Stark novel before the author died was in 2008, and Cooke’s last adaptation was in 2013, but Cooke has promised, “Parker will return in 2015.”
Favorite Scene: There is no favorite scene. The entire book is my favorite scene. The book is great. The comic is great. The movie is terrible. One day a great Slayground movie will be made. Maybe one day I could make a great Slayground movie; hollywood keeps fucking up on it, so I might have to.
Written by Tyler Ducheneaux
Images From: University of Chicago Press
Slayground(1983) and Darwyn Cooke’s Slayground