If we were to play a word association game, and if you were to hear the name Stephen King, what would be your very next thought? Don’t spend too long on it, because I can pretty much guarantee it isn’t the word “fashion.”
But a great writer understands the significance of iconography. Images have meaning. Clothing reveals character. And in Stephen King’s books and then in the movies made from them, there is one piece of clothing that rules above all others:
The blue overalls.
In Stephen King movies, there is no wardrobe choice more powerful than blue overalls.
In the world of Stephen King, blue overalls can mean any of four things:
a character is child-like and pure of heart;
a character is an actual child and also pure of heart;
a character currently has, or will soon develop, fearsome psychic powers;
or the character is a country bumpkin, a hick, yokel, or yahoo.
I’ll go through some examples to demonstrate what I mean.
Stephen King has gone on record as being disappointed with Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of THE SHINING, but Kubrick got one thing right: The blue overalls. Here’s Danny, a nice young man with a gift. This is actually one of the first Stephen King film adaptations to feature the blue overalls, which are clearly the key to Danny’s formidable psychic abilities.
In case you’re thinking the blue overalls are some random costume choice, here’s a picture of the Danny from the TV version of THE SHINING, proving they are an essential character element. It kills me that Drew Barrymore in FIRESTARTER wears a blue jeans jacket instead of overalls, but I think the thesis still holds.
Tom Cullen from THE STAND is a gentle, mentally-challenged man with the power of foresight.
John Coffey from THE GREEN MILE is the ultimate example of the power of the blue overalls. He’s from Georgia. He’s child-like and sweet. He has the powers to heal the ill, like in the movie when he helps Tom Hanks to pee again. He cries a lot. He’s sensitive.
He likes movies too. He’s like us. Great guy!
Now, suspenders are a different matter, when it comes to Stephen King stories. Suspenders can sometimes resemble overalls, but no, they are not overalls. Similarly, to Stephen King, suspenders can be a signal that something is off about a character, such as this creep from CHILDREN OF THE CORN.
Lard-Ass from STAND BY ME wears suspenders, and if you haven’t seen the movie, let’s just say something terrible is about to go down here.
But back to the blue overalls. In LAWNMOWER MAN, the blue overalls are the signature outfit of this nice mentally-challenged character who is given psychic powers that end up making him totally evil.
Here’s Stephen King himself, wearing blue overalls as Jordy Verill in CREEPSHOW. Here the blue overalls signify nothing more than basic backwoods idiocy. If you are out tonight and you see a meteorite landing, just let anybody else handle it.
George Kennedy from CREEPSHOW 2 is another country yokel who suffers an unfortunate fate.
Not a major character, but this dentally-deprived dog-owner from STAND BY ME is another country bumpkin in blue overalls.
This random religious whacko from THE MIST is proof of how easily the blue overalls can indicate the corruption of the simple-minded.
Annie from MISERY. Again, the blue overalls show what can happen when country folk go bad.
Now, PET SEMATARY is the motherlode of amazing costuming among all Stephen King adaptations. Here’s Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall, a well-meaning country fella, naturally enough wearing overalls.
Interestingly, Little Gage wears yellow overalls before he becomes powerful and scary. Maybe the yellow is meant to differentiate him from Danny in THE SHINING, who is a heroic figure.
This is the painting from PET SEMATARY. I’m including this one mostly because it cracks me up.
At one point in PET SEMATARY, Gage appears dressed up like that freaky painting. Again, no real connection to the blue overalls. It’s just fantastic.
PET SEMATARY is also worth seeing for this ghost jogger, who wears hilarious short-shorts.
Throughout the arch pop culture of the 1990s, the light of the blue overalls has been dimmed by comedy and meaningless trends.
THE SIMPSONS used blue overalls for jokes and slapstick.
Chucky the Murder Doll was the nastiest perversion of the blue overalls to date.
Movie stars started wearing blue overalls, maybe in an attempt to harness their dark powers.
Clearly a very powerful necromancer.
But over the last decade or so, there have been signs that the blue overalls were returning to the eminence first given to them by Stephen King. The Coen brothers used blue overalls in this portrayal of a more heroic breed of country bumpkins.
TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL has a couple ingratiating country bumpkins too.
BEHIND THE MASK‘s Leslie Vernon may not be a good guy, but at least he’s interesting…
2013’s PRINCE AVALANCHE is a very good movie about noble yahoos in blue overalls.
Here the blue overalls tip you to the presence of both a simpleton AND an evil toddler.
That movie right there made a billion dollars off the power of blue overalls.
So as you can clearly see, the reign of the blue overalls is not yet over. The blue overalls will rise again.
This was my routine from last Thursday’s show at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, called Kevin Geeks Out About Stephen King. The host, Kevin Maher, is a hilarious guy who has been organizing these shows for a while now, and they’re now a regular event at the Nitehawk. I strongly recommend attending — if you enjoyed what I had to say even a little bit, you’ll definitely dig on the many talented presenters who participated. Stay tuned to the Nitehawk’s calendar for information on the shows of the future!
In fact the Kevin Geeks Out Christmas Special has already been announced — grab tickets as quickly as you can because these great shows sell out fast!
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Tags: Stephen King