With Andy Muschetti’s big-screen adaption of IT finally making it to multiplexes this weekend, the DAILY GRINDHOUSE staff took a moment to ponder their favorite Stephen King adaptions.
This is a tough one, as there have been so many adaptations of King’s work. And while there are many contenders (including PET SEMATARY and my beloved CHRISTINE directed by John
Carpenter), the ultimate answer for me is 1990’s MISERY. Adapted by William Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner, this is a great slice of King in that it perfectly sets up and captures a unique world and populates them with complex characters that the audience cares about (or fears). Kathy Bates’ iconic turn as Annie Wilkes is bone chilling in its ability to turn on a dime from the outward cornball charm to the deathly obsessive fangirl. James Caan is great as the bewildered and besieged author Paul Sheldon, who slowly realizes the hell he’s entered and what he has to do to survive. It’s not nearly as aesthetically engrossing as Kubrick’s THE SHINING or De Palma’s CARRIE, but MISERY is the most successful adaptation to me as it most closely resembles the feel of reading a King book, with its colloquialisms and mounting dread before finishing off with a speeding freight train of a finale. It’s not chockablock full of horrific moments, which makes those few sequences of terror standout and really stick with audiences. And while it’s absent a lot of the King-isms from his books—kids, supernatural powers, etc.—MISERY is still probably the most effective and scary film that delivers on the promise of a tale from the Master of Horror.
—ROB DEAN (@neuroticmonkey)
My pick for favorite King adaptation is not the one I watch the most (that would be THE SHINING), but one that I saw at the perfect time in my life. At the age of 13, when I was just starting to go through a bit of a physical transformation and started getting attention from boys in school, I sat home on a rainy Sunday afternoon and watched a rental of CARRIE. I had previously read the book and was already familiar with the tale of a sheltered teenager whose womanhood and torment triggered some gnarly psychic powers, but seeing Brian De Palma’s 1978 adaptation was a defining moment in my life as a horror fan. From the moment that a horrified Carrie White’s blood-soaked hands filled the screen to cruel chants of “Plug it up! Plug it up!”, my mind was blown. It was one of the first horror movies I saw from which I could discern social commentary both applicable and accessible to me, even at 13. I consume every King adaptation with zeal, but CARRIE holds a special place in my heart.
—ANYA NOVAK (@BookishPlinko)
One thing that I adore about Stephen King is is love of rock ‘n’ roll music and CHRISTINE is arguably his most rock ‘n’ roll film this side of MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. CHRISTINE has a cold, mechanical, new wave sheen with the heart and soul of a Buddy Holly record. King’s work is also very American and tied to the dream of the ’50s. There’s nothing more American than rock ‘n’ roll, except for the teenage male’s obsession with having the coolest car on the block.
John Carpenter—a musician himself—was a natural fit to direct. Carpenter’s films always had a slick, rock ‘n’ roll sensibility and swagger to them, be it through his use of music or simply the way Nick Castle moved as The Shape in HALLOWEEN. The director—who’s known for his synth-laden scores—manages to make old school rock ‘n’ roll borderline terrifying. The whole film has a ultramodern, retro Americana feel that the film —shot in the ‘80s, taking place in the ‘70s, and featuring imagery cribbed from the ‘50s— that lends to the tale of a murderous 1958 Plymouth Fury, an other worldly sensibility.
And that final line is an all timer.
“I hate rock ‘n’ roll.”
—MIKE VANDERBILT (@MikeVanderbilt)
CAT FROM HELL
Because I’m a pain in the ass, I have a natural instinct to push back against things that are popular, and in horror and in literature it doesn’t get much more popular than Stephen King. It’s not that I’m not a fan, it’s just that my answer always has to be different than everybody else’s, right? Pain in the ass. In all honesty though, there’s a genuine streak belying that instinct. When people ask me what my favorite Stephen King novel is, generally I say The Eyes Of The Dragon. Not because it’s the fantasy novel he wrote when everyone was expecting more horror books from him, but because it’s the first one of his I ever read! Beyond nostalgia (or connected to it), I really remember the feeling I had experiencing that book for the first time, the way it was sort of a fairy tale but felt more unsafe than the average example of the genre. I remember chasing that feeling by following that one up with Cujo, which was a different reading experience and probably more in line with the way my colleagues feel about It or The Shining or Pet Sematary.
So it’s not just that I need to be an iconoclast, it’s that I’m sincerely attracted to the periphery. And with an artist as prolific as Stephen King, there’s a whole lot of periphery. As far as film adaptations go, there are plenty more popular Stephen King movies, but the first one that really drew my fascination was CAT’S EYE: Specifically “General,” the final segment of the film and the one where that fucked-up troll comes out of the wall to suck up childrens’ breath only to be defeated by a heroic cat and by the power of the music of The Police. (Again, I’m a pain in the ass, because of the three main segments in that anthology film, this is the only one written originally for the film, meaning it defies the central question of this article. It’s not an adaptation!)
So let’s go with “Cat From Hell” from TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE. Because “Cat From Hell” is a supremely untouchable title, because it continues King’s fascination with the ways of cats, because it’s an inversion of sorts of “General” (this cat isn’t as heroic), because it allows me to shout-out my man George A. Romero (who wrote the screenplay), because it sports unforgettable performances by David Johansen and bizarro character-actor legend William Hickey — not to mention hall-of-famer old-folks character actors Alice Drummond and Mark Margolis, and most especially because of that ending, which I’ll not spoil on the off chance you haven’t seen it yet. The GIFs are out there. Best experienced the way I did, in real time, with no earthly idea of what’s coming.
— JON ABRAMS (@JonZilla___).
CHILDREN OF THE CORN
I appreciate the way this question was posed, as there are really only so many responses to “what is the best Stephen King adaptation” that can really come off as believable. Favorite? Favorite is another story. Sure, I love THE SHINING and CHRISTINE and CUJO and SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… FOR MORE — heck, I’ll go on record as saying that De Palma’s CARRIE is better than its source material. But my favorite Stephen King adaptation, the one I keep going back to even if it’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, the best anything, is Fritz Kiersch’s 1984 adaptation of King’s CHILDREN OF THE CORN.
Granted, it’s mostly because a small Midwestern town populated only by children that kill anyone over the age of 18 is just creepy as hell, but the film offers a fair share of genuinely unsettling moments, especially in the form of John Franklin’s captivating portrayal of Isaac. (Never mind that Franklin was in his mid-20s at the time.) All of the eerie qualities of the film, from the opening slaughter sequence to the cornfield chases, are as much “gimmes” to being scary as having a creepy clown, but to Kiersch’s credit, they’re never bungled, and the film manages to be weirdly hypnotic even if you really don’t care about the adult characters involved. I’ll readily admit that much of my love is based on a nostalgic trigger from watching the film when I was twelve years old, but if that’s not enough to grant a film “favorite” status, what is?
—PAUL FREITAG FEY (@dekkoparsnip2)
THE DEAD ZONE
It is not a popular opinion, but I feel like the best King adaptations are the ones that are able to streamline his oft-sprawling tales down by cutting a lot of the author’s excesses and therefore, remove a lot of the recognizably King elements. Filmmakers like Brian De Palma, John Carpenter, and David Cronenberg understand that narrative film and novels are very different beasts. It is no surprise to me that they have made the best adaptations of King’s work because they get right to the heart of the great central idea by the author. More impressively, all three filmmakers managed to stamp their own obsessions and styles on the stories they adapted.
Of those three filmmakers, Cronenberg was the oddest choice to adapt a King novel, but THE DEAD ZONE works precisely because of the icy distance he brings to what could be a very silly story in the wrong hands. Cronenberg’s clinical eye for the way people hurt each in ways large (nuclear war, serial killers) and small (broken hearts from missed connections, overbearing fathers pushing their sons too hard) grounds the film’s pulpy premise in a recognizable, tragic humanity. Aided by a career-best performance from Christopher Walken, Cronenberg made a film that was recognizably his own, while staying true to King’s high-concept idea.
—MATT WEDGE @MovieNerdMatt
Stephen King doesn’t like it very much, but for my money, Stanley Kubrick’s haunting, disturbing, meticulously crafted vision for THE SHINING is perfect. My opinion may have been influenced by the fact that, when I was a kid, THE SHINING was the only horror movie my parents owned on VHS, and so I had seen it dozens of times by the time I made it to middle school. But I also know I’m not alone in that opinion. The film runs hot and cold as warm blood on freshly fallen snow, with the intensity of the performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall (who, by all accounts, Kubrick tried to push to a real nervous breakdown on set) contrasting so well with the dark, empty, winding hallways of the hotel. There are so many memorable scenes in THE SHINING: The rabbit monster blowjob, the old lady in the bathtub, Danny’s otherworldly “Red rum!,” “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” the climactic chase through the hedge maze. But my favorite has always been the creepy twins inviting Danny to “come play with us forever,” who always made me look at my own twin sisters with just a little bit of suspicion.
—KATIE RIFE (@Futureschlock)
STAND BY ME
I’ve never read The Body, but I’ve seen STAND BY ME so many times I could probably recite it from memory. Before I read my first Stephen King novel – Carrie, at 14 – all I knew about him or his work was that he was the Master of Horror™. So I was really surprised to learn that, at its core, Carrie was a story about high school. It was also the best novel about growing up that I’d ever read. STAND BY ME, like my other favorite King stories (Carrie, Christine, and It, in particular), resonates with me because he writes about growing up honestly, sometimes brutally. Bullies don’t go away if you ignore them. And the best people don’t always get what they deserve.
A few weeks ago, a high school friend of mine passed away after a long battle with cancer. I’ve known him since I was 14. There were nine of us in our local Losers Club (Choir and Drama Division). We never did anything cool like go looking for our classmate’s corpse in the woods, but then we never did anything cool. Still, like the boys in STAND BY ME, we had the same long, deep conversations about nothing that meant everything. It was the only time in my life when I had a honest-to-god circle of friends. And lately, the last line of that movie has been resonating with me almost uncomfortably. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
—JOHN REENTS (@SaltpeterJohn)
Picking a favorite movie based on King’s works was difficult. STAND BY ME is a classic in the Vanderbilt house and one I grew up loving even more as I grew older. I love the bleakness and brutality of THE MIST, in particular it’s gut punch of an ending that differentiates from the book in such a successful manner that King himself loves it, I’ll even admit that I enjoy the sheer insanity of the ill-fated MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE with it’s AC/DC soundtrack and it’s place as King’s one and only attempt at directing. But if I had to pick one in particular it would have to be woefully under appreciated werewolf thriller SILVER BULLET. While it lacks the special effects of a certain two other werewolf movies that came out a few years before it, SILVER BULLET manages to be an immensely enjoyable thriller with some great kills and some fun scenes, one standout in particular being a nightmare sequence involving a group of churchgoers transforming into a group of rioting lycans. A big thing about this movie I like is that it becomes a game of cat and mouse as our protagonists try to find who has the curse before the full moon rises and they kill again, it’s an angle that you really don’t see as much in a genre that tends to focus on the one with the curse and their struggles with it. Plus you get to see Gary Busey go toe-to-claw with a werewolf,and that alone makes it worth watching.
—ANDY VANDERBILT (@AndyVanderbilt)
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
If we’re being honest, there’s only 2 real answers at this point (before IT has been released wide):
An adaptation of Stephen King as people think of him, and an adaptation of his work overall. In terms of how people think of him, it’s THE MIST. No question. It’s horrifying, scary, and real in an unpleasant fashion. It’s the best “horror” adaptation of his work by far. In terms of bringing his voice to the screen, it’s gotta be THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, unseating previous champion STAND BY ME. Telling a horror story isn’t necessary…staying true to his voice & the spirit of his fiction is. That’s why these both come out on top. It’s why SHAWSHANK lingers all these years later. That’s why they resonate. Because for all his wild flights of fancy? Big Steve tells the truth.
He tells stories about people we know. Have heard of. Recognize. ARE.
That’s why he still matters. It’s why he always will.
—ALBERT MULLER (@aj_macready)
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Tags: Anthologies, Books, carrie, Cat's Eye, children of the corn, Christine, Cycle Of The Werewolf, Fantasy, George A. Romero, Horror, Misery, Movies, Silver Bullet, Stand By Me, Stephen King, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, The Body, The Dead Zone, The Eyes Of The Dragon, The Shawshank Redemption, the shining