A Love Letter To STAND BY ME’s Pie-Eating Contest

Turns out, the greatest onscreen campfire story sequence didn't come from a horror movie.

Alamo Drafthouse is doing a ton of Stephen King screenings in anticipation of It Chapter Two. Click here to see the schedule and get tickets!

Stephen King knows the power of a good story. In 2006, the It author did a live reading of the full pie-eating contest story from "The Body" at Radio City Music Hall. Before beginning, King detailed, "About twenty-five years ago, my one of my wife's sisters told me about going to a pie-eating contest in a small town. Some of you know this story. One of the contestants ate too fast and threw up. Now I never met a gross story I didn't like, so I adapted it, juiced it up, and dropped it into a book called Different Seasons." 

Stand By Me is Rob Reiner's bittersweet 1986 adaptation of King's novella "The Body" from the anthology Different Seasons. In both, twelve-year-old Gordon "Gordie" Lachance (Wil Wheaton) and three of his friends go on a journey into the woods of Oregon in search of a rumored dead body. Gordie is still reeling from the death of his older brother Denny (John Cusack), but it's complicated. Embroidered within that grieving tapestry are threads of resentment from feeling like the family disappointment. Denny was going to be a football star. He had talent and potential, something that his parents didn't particularly see in little brother's scribblings and tall tales. Many of Gordie's stories eventually had a drop or a gallon of his own life experience within them, and eventually the grownup Gordon Lachance would make a decent living from writing. The novella elaborates:

“But it was the first time I had ever really used the place I knew and the things I felt in a piece of fiction, and there was a kind of dreadful exhilaration in seeing things that had troubled me for years come out in a new form, a form over which I had imposed control.”

King's novella is one of his most autobiographical, but "The Revenge of Lardass Hogan" is an impressive story-within-the-story. As King's literary avatar, Gordon reminisces about the night that he told Lardass' story around a Castle Rock campfire. Young Gordie exorcises his social frustrations with absentee parents and a town that tolerates him at best through a fictional social pariah who gets the last laugh, all centered around a most all-American emblem: blueberry pie.

Stand By Me adapts "The Revenge Of Lard Ass Hogan" faithfully. The Great Gretna Pie Eat of 1960 was translated in the film to The Great Tri-County Pie Eat, but still has most of the major players from the page: top dog Bill Travis (certainly the man to beat), KLM Radio's "Boss Man" Bob Cormier ("Iiit's boss!"), Principal John Wiggins, and of course, the titular young master David "Lardass" Hogan (Andy Lindberg). As with Gordie and the shadow of his late brother, Lard Ass is made to feel lesser-than by nearly everyone he knows. David Hogan is what the clothing labels these days term "Big & Tall" but the people of Gretna aren't so tactful. His peers address him as Lard Ass and the adults follow suit. The old coots who make up the Benevolent Order of Antelopes make BOOM-bada-BOOM-bada noises to accompany David's ambling gait. Days beforehand, he decides he's had enough and gets "the greatest revenge idea a kid ever had."

In the provincial realm of Gretna, The Great Pie Eat was the Thrilla in Manila event of the year. Not only would young master Hogan's vicious schoolmates be there, but so would every teacher who sneered, every snot-nosed kid who taunted, and every small business owner who chuckled at his expense. For one hour only, the collective source of the boy's struggles sat under one hot, stuffy tent. Hogan enters the contest with no sights set on the whopping five-dollar prize. Instead, he wants to get the Gretnites back for years of fatphobic torment.

Before the ready-set-go, David takes a bottle of castor oil straight down the gullet, and the film adaptation throws in a raw egg for good measure. He and the other contestants are bibbed, the rules laid out, and it's off to the races. The Different Seasons novella describes the sound of five heads plunging into five pie plates as, "like five feet stamping into mud," and the sound design of Stand By Me's sequence is satisfyingly true to detail. Hogan's appetite is voracious and he barrels through pie after pie, to the concern of his fellow eaters, one of whom had put down big money on himself to win. The teen's prep work isn't quite finished, though; as he dives into his fifth pie, David conjures up the foulest, most stomach-churning imagery he can think of. He pretended that the blueberries were rat guts and bits of animal waste, anything to get the plumbing rumbling downstairs.

Then a low quake erupts from Hogan's belly, what Gordie calls, "a strange and scary sound." A hush falls over the crowd. The boy stands, sways, holds his massive gut, and opens his mouth in a silent speech of great import. Ever the master wordsmith, Stephen King rejects subtlety: "Puke roared through his throat like a six-ton Peterbilt shooting through a tunnel." The film version puts the Family Guy orgy of puke to shame; it's podunk pandemonium as women scream, children scatter and an immediate chain reaction turns the idyllic scene of nostalgia into a Boschian hellscape within seconds. The Boss Man sees the mess and upchucks onto the local school principal, who turns and spews chunks on the man sitting aside him. The moment unfolds onstage, so naturally the audience has no chance to turn away before the metallic smell of stomach bile and berry pie crust, mixed in with a healthy measure of sticky humidity, wafts their way into everyone's nostrils. Now Gordie's cooking with peanut oil as a civil war of regurgitation unfolds among the masses:

"Girlfriends barfed on boyfriends, kids barfed on their parents, a fat lady barfed in her purse, the Donnelly Twins barfed on each other, and the Women's Auxilliary barfed all over the Benevolent Order of Antelopes."

"The Body" puts the cherry on top with Lard Ass leaning into the microphone and, with a thin-lipped grin, calmly declaring the contest "a draw."

"The Revenge Of Lard Ass Hogan" is a yarn of a tormented kid who is 300% done with the callous world around him, and decides to make "them" feel as sick as he feels. Taken at face value, it's a wild whopper that only a twelve-year-old could conjure up. As "The Body" and its big-screen adaptation distills childhood innocence into its most painful growing pains, so does Gordie Lachance extract the torture of his own social isolation and tosses it into a bubbling brew of cathartic vengeance. For once, he could get back at all of those who made his adolescent years so much harder than they had to be.

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