Here There Be Tygers (2019)


by Jeremy Herbert

As one of Stephen King's earliest short stories, “Here There Be Tygers” is a startlingly efficient account of a school boy going to the bathroom and finding a tiger waiting for him. Give or take a few maulings, that's about it. By the time it was collected in 1985’s Skeleton Crew, almost 20 years after it was written, "Tygers" stuck out like a sore thumb among King's more polished work and has been confounding fans ever since.

Here There Be Tygers, the 10-minute short film adaptation from writer Jennifer Trudrung and director Polly Schattel, carries over the structure, setup, and even some dialogue - six minutes in real time works out to about six years grade school time, now and forever. But with a single change to the main character and a welcome coda to the story’s original Forget-It-Ever-Happened conclusion, Schattel and Trudrung have done the unlikely. They’ve given “Here There Be Tygers” a Stephen King ending.

Pictured (left to right): Selah Atwood (“Susie”); Jennifer Trudrung (“Miss Bird”); and Penny Munroe (“Charlie”)

Pictured (left to right): Selah Atwood (“Susie”); Jennifer Trudrung (“Miss Bird”); and Penny Munroe (“Charlie”)

But this short should still satisfy the faithful and unfamiliar alike. King’s unapologetic child logic — that sees tigers in bathrooms as quickly accepted threats and adults only in fairy tale extremes — is cleverly preserved. Schattel’s camera never dwarfs its homeroom hero, the beleaguered Charlie (Penny Munroe); our sight lines and sympathies stay at desk level. Anything taller is an immediate, obvious threat, like Miss Bird, who is played with the perfect kind of adolescence-denting cruelty by writer Jennifer Trudrung.

The cinematography from Greg Hudgins and production design from Shane Meador ground this take on Tygers in a Matilda-esque Twilight Zone without confident time or place. The nicer teachers are straight out of Sesame Street central casting circa 1973, but only appear in idealized memories of better classes and better days. Reality as it exists in Miss Bird’s room is a lot less colorful. Everything — from the construction paper hand-prints on the wall to the hopeless young souls who cut them out — molders in the yellowed stain of an aging paperback.

It looks like an old story and it is an old story. But Here There Be Tygers makes a quick and convincing case that this old story hasn’t lost any of its straight-ahead suspense while adding welcome dimension to the work of a primordial King. Catch if you can and you’ll wish more Dollar Babies took liberties like these.

Images in this review were provided courtesy of Night Frizz Productions.

Samantha Kolesnik