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Literature / The Regulators

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The Regulators is a 1996 novel written by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

In the town of Wentworth, Ohio, an autistic boy named Seth has gained power to control the reality around him (thanks to the machinations of the sinister Tak) and turns it into a caricature of The Wild West based off the shows that Seth watches. Creatures from Seth's imagination begin to attack the town and the residents are forced to work together to stop Tak.

This work contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Gary Soderson. When he's unable to find anything else, he drinks cooking sherry.
  • Alternate Universe: Desperation, another book by Stephen King, is an alternate universe version of The Regulators. It has the same characters, but in different roles (a brother and sister become a married couple for example, with their parents in one book becoming their children in the other).
  • Anyone Can Die: Including children. Especially children.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Marielle Soderson gets her arm almost completely blown off by the Regulators.
  • Bang, Bang, BANG: Gunshots are incredibly loud; a sound of a shotgun is described as the sound of "a detonating backpack missile." Justified, because the shooters are actually figments of Seth's imagination, made real by Tak.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: Between Seth and Tak.
  • The Baroness: Countess Lili Marsh, the sidekick of the main villain in the MotoKops universe is a stereotypical example of this character. She has dark hair, pale skin and "cruel, beautiful features." Peter Jackson describes her as "some pubescent boy’s first hesitant try at a sex-fantasy."
  • Big Bad: Tak, an extradimensional entity that possessed Seth Garin and uses him to transform the town into a setting similar to his favorite TV show in order to trap and kill off all the town residents.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Inverted, as the neighborhood's only black couple are among the few survivors.
  • Body Horror: Less so than Desperation in which Tak's possession of the body would cause the host to expand and eventually fall apart; here, his possession of Seth is more of the psychic variety. That being said, Tak is unable to possess anyone else but Seth because their minds are too weak. When he tries, their heads explode.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Ralph Carver looks like a cute kid but he is one obnoxious little booger who delights in tormenting his older sister and is spoiled rotten by his parents.
  • Captain Ersatz: The characters of Seth's favorite cartoon MotoKops 2200 are a cross between G.I. Joe and the Power Rangers.
  • Cartridges in Flight: Early in the novel, a handful of characters try to identify what sort of gun a large, pointed metal slug could have come from by looking for features such as the indentation from a firing pin or a stamp bearing the caliber or manufacturer's name. Made even more glaring by one of the characters mentioning they used to help their father reload ammunition- meaning they'd at least know how a bullet works- and another having been on the ground in the Vietnam War.
  • Celebrity Paradox: In the epilogue, it's mentioned that a character has worn out not one but two copies of The Shining, another novel by Stephen King. Zigzagged insofar as this novel is written by King under his alias as Bachman.
  • Darker and Edgier: To Desperation given that it's written by Bachman.
  • Demonic Possession: Tak's possession of Seth.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jim Reed shoots himself after accidentally shooting Collie Entregian, after being egged on by Tak.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Tak.
  • Enemy Mine: In Seth's favorite show, the heroes team up with their enemy to stop something from destroying Earth. Tak channels this as the final assault on the protagonists.
  • Evil Phone: The Tak-Phone.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Flashbacks aside, the main story takes place over the course of a single afternoon (of course, Tak tempering with reality screws up time untill his defeat makes reality snap back to normal).
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Various television characters from Seth's imagination wreak havoc on the block.
  • Gangland Drive-By: We learn through a news paper clipping that, at some point prior to the story, Seth's entire family was murdered in what is believed to be a gang shooting. An unknown gunman killed them from within a red van with a radar dish on the roof. The plot of the story itself is kicked off when the same van suddenly shows up in Poplar street and the driver kills Cary Ripton and Hannibal (the dog of the Reed twins)
  • Gorn: It's definitely one of King's goriest works.
  • Happy Place: Seth manages to create such a refuge for his aunt/guardian Audrey (using a vacation she took in her college days as source material) to give her a way to get away from Tak's various torments.
  • Hollywood Autism: Seth's autism is essentially treated like this.
  • Hypothetical Casting: In-Universe. After Johnny Marinville and his black neighbor, Brad Josephson have a hard time climbing a fence to escape from monsters, Johnny jokingly suggests that they should make a movie called Black Men Can't Climb Fences, where Brad would be played by Laurence Fishburne.
  • Kick the Dog: Hannibal, the German shepherd, is the second to die in the afternoon's mayhem. To show exactly how evil the villains are (or how evil Tak is, it's not quite clear how much autonomy his creations have), the shooter was aiming at a group of people but turned specifically to shoot the dog when he ran by.
  • Kitsch Collection: Kirstie Carver collects Hummel figurines. Her goal in life is to design one that looks like her son. When Johnny sees them, his first thought is "and the Carvers had seemed so normal in other respects."
  • Laxative Prank: Since she knows Tak hates to be inside Seth when Seth moves his bowels, and thus always temorarily leaves his host at these times, Audrey puts a laxative in Seth's chocolate milk to force Tak out of Seth.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: When one character gets shot by the Regulators, she's described as simply disappearing, and then a second later a rain of blood falls to the ground.
  • Mama Bear: Audrey makes it repeatedly clear she's not going to abandon Seth to Tak's devices, and refuses to entertain the notion of killing her nephew to get rid of the entity possessing him.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: Audrey confesses to her journal that Tak gives off waves of hate and emotional energy which make her feel crazy; the only relief she has found is locking herself in the bathroom and masturbating. (This seems similar to the effect of the can tahs in the alternate universe of Desperation, which drive people to give in to their basest urges.)
  • Mauve Shirt: Mary Jackson is introduced and given a rather full backstory, such as the fact that she's on her way back from cheating on her husband, and how she realizes she's not wearing any underwear, while she's in the act of dying. This is done to the point that she even believes that her husband and the neighbors, who are gathered after the death of the paper boy have figured out she is cheating are there to confront her moments before she is killed. This is especially jarring given in Desperation she is a much more prominent character who manages to survive, against all odds, to the end of the book. This makes sense, considering The Regulators is in many ways an inversion of Desperation.
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: Seth draws pictures of the drive-by shooting in which his entire family was killed. The pictures are actually included in the text.
  • Open Heart Dentistry: Subverted. Marielle Soderson's arm is torn off by a gunshot. Tom Billingsley, a vet, tries to treat her, but she soon dies. Billingsley remarks that she needed a trauma unit, not "an old veterinarian with shaky hands".
  • Orphaned Punchline: When Mary Jackson is shot to death and falls down, Johnny sees that she's not wearing underwear, and thinks of a punchline of an old joke: "I don't know about the other two, but the guy in the middle looks like Willie Nelson". (The joke itself is never told in the book; it's about a woman who has the faces of celebrities tattooed to her thighs.)
    • Also, "Hey, Mister, your sign fell down."
  • Parental Favoritism: David and Kirsten both seem to think that Ralph is the most delightful child who ever lived. Absolutely everyone else - especially his long-suffering sister - can see that he's a loathsome Spoiled Brat.
  • Prefers Raw Meat: Tak likes hamburgers with raw meat but stops eating them this way because Seth's stomach cannot take it and Tak is disgusted by his bodily functions even when they're normal.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: Johnny Marinville is now writing children's books, but in the past he won the National Book Award for a novel about Parental Incest.
  • Reality Warper: Tak.
  • Scrapbook Story: Interwoven with the narrative are diary entries from Audrey detailing her life with Seth and Tak's growing influence, as well as newspaper clippings, letters, pages from books, and Seth's drawings.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Stephen King spends the first 5 or 6 pages of the novel practically gushing over Poplar Street's all-American normalness with narration so upbeat it's almost manic. And then everything goes straight to hell, in typical King style.
  • Stylistic Suck: From what's shared of MotoKops 2200, it's rather painfully a merchandise driven cartoon of the 1990s. Audrey in particular isn't fond of Cassie Styles as the only female member of the team, and she outright can't believe someone was paid to think up "Rooty Toot."
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Well, sudden twinner-death syndrome actually. In Desperation Mary Jackson and David Carver are two of the only four survivors who make it all the way to the end of the story. In this book however, they are among the first three (four if you include Hannibal the dog) victims to fall to Tak's creations before the end of the fourth chapter
  • Those Two Guys: Between this novel, and Desperation Steven Ames and Cynthia Smith are not only among the few characters who remain virtually unchanged in appearance and manner in both books. They're also the only two major characters to SURVIVE both books, and in both books, it's hinted they may end up romantically involved.
  • Trash of the Titans: The Wyler/Garin household; Seth/Tak doesn't care what the place is like, and his aunt/guardian Audrey, the only surviving adult in the household, has much bigger problems occupying her time and energy. As a result, the place is a huge mess.
  • Unconventional Formatting: The book's Scrapbook Story elements appear as actual newspaper clippings, a postcard, etc. Audrey's journal sections are hand-written. Also, these sections have no page numbers.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: A baseball card wrapper turns into one about Jeb Murdock (the main villain from Tak's favorite Western).
  • Worthy Opponent: Tak considers Seth to be one.
  • Your Head Asplode: The result of Tak's failed attempt to possess Cammie.