Mar 18, 2016

13 Stephen King Books That Haven’t Become Movies

Article By: Sean Abley

Believe it or not, there are some Stephen King stories that haven’t been made into movies…yet.

Some of them are great (Misery, The Shining, Salem’s Lot), some of them are flawed but fun (The Mist, Children of the Corn), and some are downright terrible (The Running Man, Lawnmower Man). But all Stephen King film and TV adaptations have one thing in common—a really cool premise. These days the minute he types “The End” on a manuscript someone is writing King a check for the film or TV rights. But there are a few novels and short stories, mostly from the early years of his career, that are still available for the big and/or small screen, and we’ve picked out thirteen we think would be great.

Two caveats: First, I haven’t read every piece of work by Stephen King (is that even possible now?), so this is by no means a scholarly, researched list compiled from an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material. Second, this list does not consider the “Dollar Baby” versions to be fully realized adaptations of King’s work. (For more info on the “Dollar Baby” phenomena… Google it!)

1. The Long Walk

My second favorite King book after The Stand. I discovered this novel while working in my junior high school library, sorting through donations. The librarian put the paperback aside, fearing the subject matter too adult for the students based on the jacket synopsis alone. She let me take it home and I, like many, thought, “This reads like Stephen King…” despite Richard Bachman being credited as the author.  (I was a total bookworm as a kid so, though precocious, thoughts like this did enter my tween brain.) The story is simple and compelling—one hundred young men enter a contest requiring them to walk until they die. The last one standing wins whatever he wants. Despite the ending being spoiled by the cover of the original paperback, I couldn’t put this book down and read the entire story in one sitting. Now that The Hunger Games and Battle Royale have broken the seal on films about the government killing children for sport, aren’t we ready for the long delayed Frank Darabont adaptation to go into production?

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2. “Night Surf” (collected in Night Shift)

I’m a big fan of the pre-post apocalyptic wind down of society, which explains my love of both The Stand and this early King short story. You can see the author working out the mechanics of his deadly flu bug epic here, but with much less sympathetic characters. Let’s face it—they’re all pretty much dicks. But having read The Stand at least six times, and suffered through the less-than-stellar TV adaptation (meh), I’m jonesing to see the plague play out from a different point of view. And despite being written first, “Night Surf” has one element that didn’t make it into The Stand—in the short story the characters have all suffered an early form of the killer flu, which seems to have rendered them immune to Captain Tripps. But are they? Positioned as both a prequel and a sequel to the main event, “Night Shift” could add even more layers to an already well thought-out world.

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3. “The Man Who Loved Flowers” (collected in Night Shift)

A well-dressed man practically skips down a busy sidewalk, infecting everyone he passes with his sunny demeanor. What is he so happy about? After he murders a woman with a hammer in an alley, the reader wonders that as well. “The Man Who Loved Flowers” is a typical King short story—a tale of horrific events spun without the burden himself of an explanation. We’re just there to watch the car crash, we don’t need to know if the driver was drunk. If as a reader you buy in to the story on paper, great. But the lack of information on the page makes this tale (and many other King horror fables) perfect for expansion into a feature film. A great writer/director could fill in the “Who, What, Where, When, Why and How?” in a compelling way, giving King’s sunny psycho the cinematic life he deserves.

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4. “I Am the Doorway” (collected in Night Shift)

1.     There is great potential in King’s take on the “I went into space and now I’m different” genre. If you have the first edition paperback version of Night Shift, the cover gives you a preview of the story—an astronaut is exposed to extraterrestrial somethingorother during a mission, which allows an alien race to use him as an information portal to our planet. The first manifestation is a growth of eyeballs on his fingers, allowing the aliens to take a gander at what’s going down on Earth. Soon they’re controlling his body, using it to commit a gruesome murder. (I’ve remembered this passage for over 30 years: “’They killed the boy last night, Richard. It wasn't a nice thing to watch - or feel. His head. . . it exploded. As if someone had scooped out his brains and put a hand grenade in his skull.'”) The astronaut tries to burn off the eyes, but they come back… The end of King’s story has the astronaut vowing to kill himself to prevent the aliens from gaining more of a foothold on our planet…but he doesn’t. Surely there’s fertile ground here for a film adaptation…

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5. “Morning Deliveries (Milkman No. 1)” and “Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Milkman No. 2)” (collected in Skeleton Crew)

“Franchisable villain” is what I think of when I think of these two creepy stories. Spike Milligan is a demented milkman who uses his route to indulge in his hobby of serial killing. Sounds like a role for Clint Howard!  

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6. “Suffer the Little Children” (collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

Emily Sidley is a grade school teacher who gradually comes to believe her young students are actually hideous creatures. (I feel all the K-6 grade educators nodding their heads.) Whether or not she’s delusional is never revealed, but regardless of her state of mind she takes it upon herself to rid the school of the little monsters by killing them. In the right hands this could be a great vehicle for a strong actress who can communicate the descent into madness the role would require.

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7. Roadwork

The story of a man in an unwinnable fight against progress written by Richard Bachman. After his son dies a slow death from cancer, Barton Dawes is stuck, rooted in his home and his job until both are marked for demolition due to a highway expansion. As his mental health takes a nosedive, Dawes’s wife takes a powder, leaving the grieving man to face the triple loss alone. As the screws tighten, Dawes takes more and more extreme measures in an attempt to halt the destruction of the home in which his son grew up. First there are the explosives, then there are the guns… Corporate greed, government takeover of private assets, the death of a child and how that affects a marriage—As a film, Roadwork would resonate with just about every adult in the 99% of America today.

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8. “Mrs. Todd's Shortcut” (collected in Skeleton Crew)

Sort of a version of A Wrinkle in Time, but of course much creepier. Mrs. Todd is obsessed with shortcuts, combing the backwoods and dirt roads of her rural Northeastern home for the quickest route from Point A to Point B. Eventually she finds a way to shortcut reality (demonstrated as two points of a map folded together, very A Wrinkle In Time), which leads to reverse aging and dead creatures embedded in her car’s grill. As with much of King’s short work, “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut” is really the jumping off point for a much bigger story, one that is left to our morbid imagination until a film version extrapolates her story to a full ride.

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9. “Sun Dog” (part of Four Past Midnight)

An old Polaroid camera produces nothing but pictures of an angry, demonic dog moving closer and closer to the viewer with each successive photo. Will the animal actually emerge from the film? This novella takes what sounds like a five-page-worthy premise and stretches it out past its breaking point…so of course I want to see the 90 to 120-minute version. Who created the camera? What happens if you smash it? Does shaking the photo while it develops make the dog angrier?

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10. “Survivor Type” (collected in Skeleton Crew, previously in Terrors)

I’d like to see this short story adapted for film not because I love it so, but because I hate it. Why? King typically works in one of two ways; he either takes great pains to over explain every little detail of an implausible situation to get us on board with his fantastical vision (see the recipe for a machine coming to life in “The Mangler”), or he leaves the reasons why a mystery to take us on a ride he’d have us experience rather than analyze. In “Survivor Type,” he’s crafted a story of a surgeon stranded on an island with no food, but a seemingly unlimited supply of heroin, who cannibalizes himself. We’re in the man’s mind for the entire journey, the details delivered in first person as if written in a diary. He’s given us an implausible scenario in a plausible context, and despite his efforts to shore up all the nagging little details, it just doesn’t work; the extent to which the character dismembers himself is unbelievable, adding heroin to the story doesn’t diminish the impossibility of the task at hand, and the line “lady fingers they taste just like lady fingers” is possibly the worst last line of all of King’s work. That all being said, I think a film of “Survivor Type” could be a wonderfully demented answer to Tom Hanks’ Castaway, and a juicy role for an actor looking to change up his image. Maybe there could be more to the story, more medical supplies, facts, techniques that could help the audience with their suspension of disbelief.

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11. “Strawberry Spring” (collected in Night Shift)

The story of Springheel Jack, a serial murderer who slaughters several college students during a “strawberry spring,” is told to us by a former student of the college where the attacks took place. Now, eight years later, a new strawberry spring is upon us, and so is Springheel Jack. The problem is, the narrator suspects he knows who the murderer is, and that person is looking back at him in the mirror. Although we’ve seen many films where the narrator doesn’t realize he’s the villain until the final moments (King’s own Secret Window, for example), “Strawberry Spring” could be a fun and gory whodunit, with possibly a slight revision to the story that would change up who the killer might be…

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12. “The Boogeyman” (collected in Night Shift)

The titular character is real and killing children in this parents’ nightmare. Spoiler alert: In the short story, the psychiatrist to whom the main character is speaking is at least one version of the monster—it can disguise itself as anyone you might know. Presented in the right way, “The Boogeyman” could be an interesting whodunit, this time with a paranormal twist. The idea of the creature hiding in the closet having the ability to walk among us with a human face isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but it sure is scary.

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13. “The Doctor's Case” (first collected in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, then Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

An homage to the great work of Arthur Conan Doyle, this is King’s take on a Sherlockian locked room mystery. A terrible husband and father is murdered, with his wife and three children as the prime suspects. Unfortunately for Sherlock Holmes, the dead man was a cat lover, and the good detective is allergic. As the room in question was filled with felines, Watson must enter and solve the crime himself. Not the first Sherlockiana to explore Watson as the main brain in a case, and certainly not to be the last, but King’s take on the story is so reverential to the source material, a film adaptation would certainly satisfy Conan Doyle fans.

Sean Abley is a playwright, screenwriter and horror film journalist. His latest book of interviews is Out in the Dark: Interviews with Gay Horror Filmmakers, Actors and Authors.

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