Aug 4, 2017

13 Great Stephen King Movies

Article By: Tony Timpone

Howard Stern brags that he’s the “King of All Media,” but he couldn’t be more wrong. That crown should be worn by Stephen King, and not simply because he has the right last name. The best-selling author is all over the place these days: he has four new films due (this Friday’s The Dark Tower, followed by It, Gerald’s Game and 1922 in the months ahead), three TV/cable series playing (Audience Network’s Mr. Mercedes, Spike’s The Mist and Hulu’s upcoming Castle Rock) and a new novel to boot (Sleeping Beauties, co-authored with his son Owen). Just about everything the Maine writer has ever scribbled down has been adapted to film and television, and with the explosion of interest in King’s work again, today Chiller takes a look at the best movies derived from his popular prose, with comments from King himself (as told to this writer) and a few of his collaborators. (Titles arranged according to year of release.)

1. Carrie (1976)

Suspense master Brian De Palma directed the first movie from King’s work, the story of a bullied telekinetic high-school girl who exacts revenge on her oppressors in a fiery prom-set finale. In a departure from the character described in King’s debut novel, red-headed waif Sissy Spacek played Carrie White. “Like a lot of actors who play teenagers, she was a little older than the part,” King noted of Carrie’s Oscar-nominated Spacek, “but unlike a lot of actors who play teenagers, she was really able to project that sense of vulnerability that really made her into a teenager. So she was perfect for the part, she really had the ability to project that sense of dumb hurt that was part of Carrie. Now, the Carrie that I wrote about was a chunky, meaty girl, and of course, Sissy was thin, but to me that’s never been an issue. Anybody who’s read my books will know that Carrie is an oddity in that she’s described at all. Most of the times, my lead characters aren’t described because I’m inside ’em; I could care less what they look like. What I care about is what they do, not what they look like.”

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2. The Shining (1980)

The most esteemed director to ever bring King to the screen, Stanley Kubrick made huge changes in the source material. Still, Kubrick’s The Shining remains one of the scariest horror films ever made. King makes no bones about not being a fan of the movie, though he respects Kubrick’s take—at least on a mechanical level. “You wanted to like it, and you had to react to the photography, which was terrific,” he said. “The Steadicam that is so much a factor of movies today was pretty much invented on The Shining. So technically, The Shining is a terrific piece of work, on a par with 2001 or Full Metal Jacket, which is why I’ve always said it’s really like a beautiful Cadillac with no engine under its hood. It’s a soulless movie without any plot.”

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3. Creepshow (1982)

King had a ball collaborating with his good friend, the just-passed director George A. Romero, on this entertaining anthology movie. “We didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t,” King noted of the five stories. “I mean, for us, we worked with a lot of elemental fears on Creepshow. For instance, take the sequence where Ted Danson gets buried in the sand on the beach up to his neck [in “Something to Tide You Over”]. I got buried in the sand up to my neck one time when I was a kid, and I thought it would be fun, and it wasn’t. Claustrophobia kicked in, and it was one of the most horrible things. So for me, that really worked. And with ‘Father’s Day,’ and the guy who comes out of the grave, that is like such a classic E.C. Comics story, because we’re all afraid of putrefaction, so that was a slam dunk too… And then when we saw [the climactic cockroach scene in “They’re Creeping Up on You”] on the screen, we knew it was gonna scare people and gross ’em out.”

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4. Cujo (1983)

King has always held a soft spot for this low-budget sleeper, directed by Alligator’s Lewis Teague, detailing the plight of a besieged mother (Dee Wallace) trapped in a car with her sick child (Danny Pintauro) by a rabid Saint Bernard. Of all the movies drawn from his oeuvre, the scream scribe credits Cujo for featuring the best jump scare ever. “What’s the scariest moment from any of the things that are made from [my work], I would have to say probably that moment in Cujo, where you think that the woman is safe, and the dog appears in the window of the car again. That’s a terrifically scary moment.”

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5. The Dead Zone (1983)

Canada’s master of the macabre David Cronenberg tackled this somber King novel, about a previously-comatose man who can foretell the future with a touch of the hand. King praised the acting of the film’s lead, Christopher Walken, cast against type here. “First of all, it’s one of his last real starring roles that Christopher Walken gave, where he’s top-line,” King noted. “It’s a terrifically sympathetic performance, he’s not playing a weirdo or a strange guy, and he’s certainly went on to play a boatload of very odd people since. It’s very tough to score an Academy Award nomination for a horror movie, but two people that I always felt deserved to be recognized who weren’t were Christopher Walken for his work as Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, and Dee Wallace for her work in Cujo.”

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6. Pet Sematary (1989)

King wanted buddy Romero to helm this personal novel, about an Indian burial ground that reanimates the dead, but horror novice Mary Lambert instead landed the gig. When asked if the change in sexes had any effect on the film’s terror quotient, King said: “The answer is a resounding ‘no.’ I don’t think that there’s any real difference in the feel of this movie—of course, we don’t know, because we’ll never see what Pet Sematary would have been like if it had been directed by a man—but I feel that it’s as tough as it needs to be in the Mary Lambert version. Other than if it had been directed by the ghost of Sam Peckinpah, I can’t imagine it being any harder or harder-edged than it is now.”

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7. Misery (1990)

Fresh from Broadway, Kathy Bates garnered her first starring film assignment as obsessed fan Annie Wilkes in this box-office hit directed by Stand By Me’s Rob Reiner. King applauded the casting of the then-unknown actress. “When I saw some of the dailies, oh, she was to die for! She was so good, she just inhabited that part. Kathy’s face, in particular, had a stillness that was totally Annie Wilkes. She understood that character, inhabited that character, in a way that you only see once or twice in a lifetime. When she won the Academy Award for that part, it went against everything that I understand about the way the awards system works, because very rarely do actors and actresses get Academy Awards for parts like that. They very rarely get nominated! But she was so good, she just overwhelmed the preconceptions.”

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8. The Dark Half (1993)

Though he never ventured into Pet Sematary, Romero got another shot at King with this movie based on his novel about an author stalked by his literary alter ego. Romero actually improved on the book by having the lead and his killer nemesis played by the same actor, Timothy Hutton. Makeup artist John Vulich recalled the genesis of the murderous doppelganger’s persona: “In the novel, [villain] George Stark is more Doc Savage-like, where he has white hair with a crew cut and a widow’s peak and all that. They wanted to go with a little bit more of a white trash look, and I wanted to make him into something a little bit more like twins than two separate entities. So the makeup had to look more like a more-evil version of the same guy; a more weather-beaten version, kind of an old-man look. We tried all these different white trash hairstyles, sideburns, etc., too. Another bone of contention was whether or not to give George a mustache. Eventually we opted not to.”

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9. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Expanded from King’s prison-set novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by director Frank Darabont, this much-loved cable perennial netted seven Oscar nominations. “Frank’s first Stephen King adaptation was a short but extremely moving version of my story, ‘The Woman in the Room,’” King told Oscars.org. “He gravitated to the non-supernatural from the first, years before Shawshank. I saw that same feel for ‘regular people’ in his screenplay for Shawshank, but I never thought he’d get it produced, because it was too textured and novelistic. When I first saw it, I realized he’d made not just one of the best movies ever done from my work, but a potential movie classic. That turned out to be the case, but he continued working almost up to the moment the film was released.

“‘I hate Tim [Robbins’] makeup,’ he fretted as we watched the last scene. ‘It looks too liquid, or something. I need to fix that.’

“‘Frank,’ I said, ‘people aren’t going to notice the makeup, because they’ll be crying.’”

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10. Apt Pupil (1998)

A disturbed teen named Todd (Brad Renfro) befriends an escaped Nazi war criminal (Ian McKellen) in this disturbing film made from King’s novella. “Apt Pupil deals with insidious nature of Evil with a capital E,” screenwriter Brandon Boyce explained. “When I first read the story, I thought it would make a good stage play—a fine two-hander. [Director] Bryan Singer came to me with the idea of adapting it into a film, as we had learned the rights were becoming available. I wrote the first draft without having the rights—something I’d never do now. But I was just out of college and had nothing to lose.”

Boyce tinkered with King’s even bleaker ending. “The original drafts were very faithful—Todd takes his gun up on a cliffside and starts picking off cars until the SWAT team brings him down,” he noted. “And he was killing a lot more throughout the story. In the final draft, he kills once and goes on to have a life. What that life will be is anyone’s guess—hence the inspired choice to end with ‘Que Sera, Sera.’ It’s a twisted comment on Evil because it’s under the surface, as opposed to a story about a murderer who gets a taste for killing and likes it, which is one of the themes of the book. Perhaps over time, people have begun to see the merit of the spin the movie puts on that theme.”

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11. The Green Mile (1999)

Darabont returned to prison for another Oscar-nominated King film, this one based on the writer’s serialized novel about an innocent man with healing powers on death’s row. Some called the movie’s ending downbeat, but Darabont told Creativescreenwriting.com he saw it differently: “I don’t agree because everybody’s humanity rises to the surface [in The Green Mile]. That’s the measure of a great story. There’s a very haunting and melancholy quality to this story. Save for those who don’t know any better (i.e., the villains of the piece), the people in it are all very human and they’re trying very much to do the best they know how. They’re trying to do right by the situation they find themselves in. And they’re wrestling with issues of compassion and morality, all the things I love to see in a story.”

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12. 1408 (2007)

Three talented screenwriters (Matt Greenberg and American Crime Story’s Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski) expanded King’s short story about a haunted hotel room into one frightening movie. “What we loved about writing 1408 was that there were no rules,” Karaszewski recalled. “Time and space were liquid. We could literally do whatever we wanted. When we started the job we thought it would be restraining to write a film that took place in one room. Instead we found it liberating. We could just throw one horrible thing after another at poor John Cusack—fire, ice, death!”

“All the hotel scenes were shot on a stage in London,” Alexander revealed. “Many months later, we had to do a few days of pickups. But by then, [actress] Mary McCormack was pregnant and couldn’t fly! So, crazily, the entire hotel room was flown to Los Angeles! I found this to be utterly hilarious and insane, since Mary wasn’t even in the room scenes—but all the reshoots had to be done in one place. So, the room gets rebuilt in LA. We shoot some new scenes, with John Cusack getting scared and freaked-out. He’s totally into the moment. [Director] Mikael Håfström says, ‘Cut,’ Cusack steps out of Room 1408, then he blinks—totally disoriented. He’s in the wrong country! He’s used to London being outside the room, but somehow he’s now in California. It’s like the room had messed with him!”

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13. The Mist (2007)

A town becomes enveloped in a mysterious fog that disgorges horrifying creatures in this underappreciated monster flick, Frank Darabont’s first full-blown horror yarn based on a King story. The Mist failed at the box office, which some wags blamed on the film’s dark denouement. “The ending will tear your heart out… but so will life, in the end,” King wrote on his Twitter feed. “Frank Darabont’s vision of hell is completely uncompromising. If you want sweet, the Hollywood establishment will be pleased to serve you at the Cineplex, believe me, but if you want something that feels real, come here. Darabont could have made a higher-budget film if he’d added a cheerful ‘It’s all OK, kiddies’ ending, but he refused. His integrity and courage shine in every scene.”

Do you rate these movie adaptations fit for a King? Tell us on our Facebook page or go on Twitter using #Friday13.

Tony Timpone recently accepted the Vice President position in new startup company Horror Equity Fund to make lots of scary movies. You can learn more here.

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