The King’s Best: The Best Stephen King Film Adaptations
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Stephen King adaptations are two things: many and inconsistent. Whether you are a devoted fan of his words or not, it can’t be denied that King has done more for the genre of horror than anyone now living. He is prolific, and his bibliography is filled with classic works that have inspired fear – as well as heartbreak, wonder, excitement, and love… but mostly fear – all over the world. It is only natural that every few years, filmmakers mine his rich source material for silver screen scares. Sometimes the results are moving and horrifying pieces of classic cinema – other times you get Maximum Overdrive.
With Halloween fast approaching, and horror movie season in full swing, here are some of the best, or at least most entertaining, translations of the King of horror himself.
If one filmmaker has consistently captured the essence of Stephen King’s best qualities on film, it is Frank Darabont. His adaptation of The Green Mile is moving and frightening in equal measure, though not a horror film, and The Shawshank Redemption is often listed among the greatest films of all time. With two classics under his belt, Darabont set his sights on one of King’s most unsettling and terrifying tales. The Mist, a novella that kicks off Skeleton Crew (perhaps King’s best collection of short fiction) tells the story of a group of people trapped in a supermarket, surrounded by a mysterious mist and the things that lurk within, just beyond sight. Darabont masterfully tells this story of fear, clashing philosophies, and what happens when “you throw people in the dark and you scare the shit out of thm.” Answer: “No more rules.” Equal parts study of human nature and classic monster flick, The Mist is an over the top, but timeless work of horror, with an brutally unrivaled ending that is not for the faint of heart.
King himself hates Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of one of his finest books, and it’s easy to see why. Kubrick’s story is shallow and lacking in logic and populated with paper-thin characters. But story is not what makes this movie great – and it is, truly great. The Shining in unmatched work of unnerving tension and visual terror, so much so that when I first tried to watch it, alone in my house, I could not make it beyond the opening credits. The soundtrack, the symmetry, the sudden shifts into the realm of the impossible – all these things contribute to this classic. While there is little besides names and the setting of a snowed-in hotel that connect the book to the film, Kubrick’s interpretation continues to dazzle and frighten audiences everywhere. (But please, do yourself a favor, and read the book).
One of King’s most disturbing scenarios involves no paranormal activity at all. There are no ghosts here, no nightmarish tentacles or undead children reaching up through the dirt toward the sky after midnight. Only a fan. The biggest fan. Misery is a tale of obsession and primal, human fear and needs no ghouls to make your hair stand on end. Brilliantly acted by James Cahn and a tremendous Kathy Bates, Misery stands alone as a movie that uses little more than words and stares to cut to the heart of our deepest fears.
Very few adaptations of Stephen King’s work actually improve upon the source material. That rare honor can be awarded to 1408. At the center of the story is a writer (huge shock there) who writes about actual haunted houses, which are never actually haunted. After much success in the business, and a firm belief that bumps in the night always have some rational explanation behind them, the writer finds himself in a hotel room in New York, and must question those beliefs. The story of the same title on which the film is based skips over much of the action in the movie (what actually happens inside room 1408) but the film delivers an imaginative, maddening, and emotional journey. You’ll never hear The Carpenters the same way again.
While not an adaptation, Creepshow is a criminally underrated piece of horror cinema that is both frightening and wildly silly – a killer combination (Evil Dead 2 anyone?). This collaborative effort between King and George Romero (a master of the genre in his own right) uses the framework of dime store horror comics to tell five short tales that range from classic horror, science fiction, psychological thriller, and pure monstrous joy. Not every one of these vignettes is a winner, but three out of five isn’t bad. Stephen King himself makes an appearance in one tale with root’s that reach all the way back to his first published story, “It Grows on You,” Leslie Nielsen shows he can be as frightening as he is funny, and a monster (affectionately named fluffy) makes a legendary appearance from beneath the stairs. If you have a sense of humor, like King does, this is a classic.
The Best of The Rest
If you don’t mind a bit of ridiculousness, other great little pieces of low budget and polarizing genius include Pet Semetary, Dreamcatcher, The Stand, The Night Flier, and a personal favorite, The Langoliers. Right now there are a number of Stephen King projects currently being translated to film including IT and The Dark Tower, so there seems no shortage of the master of horror’s weird mind to come. Thankfully so, after all, there’s only one King.