Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Master of Horror: Stephen King

So in my previous installments of my Master of Horror theme, I have examined filmmakers and how their movies rate. Well, with the upcoming release of his new book, I decided to take a look at Stephen King's writings and how they have fared being turned into movies. Now, I haven't seen all of the movies that have been made from his books, but i have seen a good deal of them. I had to narrow down the list, so here are the requirements for my list:

1. No miniseries. Yes, I liked The Stand and things like that, but I want movies here.
2. Has to be based of a book or story by King. I love Creepshow and Rose Red, but I want this to be an adaptation of an existing work.
3. I will stick to the horror side of King. Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile are all good movies, but they aren't horror.
4. No sequels. Yes, he may have made up the characters for Children of the Corn 4 or Pet Sematary 2, but he didn't write what they were based off of. Well, in a way I guess, but no.
5. No matter how the movie was, it's not King's fault (necessarily).

*As always, this isn't a complete filmography. If you want to see that, go here.

Carrie (1976): A brilliant movie. Not much can be said about this Brian De Palma masterpiece. It's a little dated, sure, but even film critics that don't like horror can't help but admit this is a great movie. Good book too.

The Shining (1980): Replace "Brian De Palma" with "Stanley Kubrick" in the previous review, and that's how I feel here. Consistently number 1 or 2 on my favorite horror movies of all time lists, The Shining is amazingly well done and terrifying to this day.

Cujo (1983): This movie wasn't that bad, but it didn't have nearly the punch the novel did. This stems greatly from the severely changed ending. Warning: Spoilers for a 20 year old film and older book!: In the book, the mother and her son are trapped in a car in the heat. She ends up killing the rampaging dog to come back to the car and find her son died. She snaps and coddles the dead boy even after the EMTs arrive and try to take the body from her. It's powerful, disparate, and moving. The movie ends with her and the son surviving. Sure, it's a happy-go-lucky standard Hollywood ending, but come on! That really bugs me. The movie isn't terrible though, so you can still watch it.

The Dead Zone (1983): One of David Cronenberg's few horror movies that doesn't feature a lot of grotesque creatures and gore effects. However, it's still captivating. The Dead Zone was an establishing movie for Christopher Walken and even though he does mostly goofy stuff now, you can see that he can act very well if need be. A must see, in my opinion.

(1983): A double whammy: Stephen King and John Carpenter. The duo did amazingly well with this movie, making a murderous car one of the scariest things in the 80s. It's not Carpenter's best film, but it's a good one for sure, and an essential for any fan of either Carpenter or King.

Children of the Corn (1984): A cult classic. While it looks a little more dated than some of the other King movies from this era, it did manage to spawn quite the movie franchise and it terrified me when I was a kid, that's for sure. After a recent viewing, it didn't quite have the same effect, but it's still a good movie.

Maximum Overdrive (1986): This is the only movie that King has no excuse for. It's a bad movie, based off a mediocre short story that marks the only movie King ever directed. He was so turned off after doing this movie, he vowed never to direct again. Probably a good thing.

The Running Man (1987): So bad, yet so good. So very 80s. It's cheesy, but that's half the appeal of the movie. I can't in good conscience call it a good movie, but I can't say it's a bad movie either.

Pet Sematary (1989): One of my favorite horror movies of all time. It's so very creepy and macabre, I can't help but love it. Gage still creeps me out and the Achilles' tendon scene will forever give me the willies:

Misery (1990): Rob Reiner does it again with a Stephen King story. Kathy Bates is perfect. James Caan gives a great performance as the crippled writer. And we find the second consecutive movie with a brilliant "cringe inducing moment": the hobbling scene. Just watch this and tell me you don't shudder:

The Lawnmower Man (1992): Yeah, King actually removed his credit from this movie because he disliked it so much. It wasn't very good, but it was still based off a story by the man himself, so like it or not, he's got a tie to it. This one was pretty bad.

Sleepwalkers 1992): I can remember watching this as a kid and being fairly frightened of it. The problem is, when I bought it a couple years ago for $5 on DVD, it definitely has not aged well. I was tempted to call this a good one, but it's not. It's a pretty bad movie upon my recent review.

The Dark Half (1993): Romero directs this rather dull adaptation of a King story. It's pretty uninspired, but I already wrote about it in my Romero MoH article.

The Mangler (1995): You would think that if Tobe Hooper and Stephen King hooked up, they would be able to make a good movie out of that (especially featuring Robert Englund!). But alas, The Mangler pretty much sucks, so it was not meant to be.

The Night Flier (1997): I actually think this is an underrated King adaptation and that it deserves a better reputation. I liked this movie, even if it was a bit low budget. It's by no means the best King adaptation out there, but I feel like it's a nice little flick.

Apt Pupil (1998): I wrestled with putting this on the list as it's more of a drama than horror, but I feel like the performance Brad Renfro turned was haunting enough. A movie that should be on everyone's radar, we find a Nazi war criminal (Ian McKellan) hiding in America for 50 years, only to have a high school student recognize him and make him tell war horror stories. A truly frightening film.

Dreamcatcher (2003): One of my favorite King books turned into a rather thin movie. It was pretty boring and not nearly as engaging as the book was. Though seeing a "shit weasel" come to life on screen was pretty satisfying.

Secret Window (2004): So this movie isn't really anything all that great, but the actors in it are the reason to watch it. Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, and Charles Dutton are all quite good in their roles. The ending is trite and been done before (and better), but the rest of the movie is made good by the actors.

1408 (2007): I really liked this short story and the prospect of seeing John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson bring the main characters to life excited me. It was, however a pretty forgettable horror movie. I didn't dislike it, but it wasn't anything I have any desire to watch again.

The Mist (2007): I love this movie... in black and white. I like it in color too, don't get me wrong, but it's amazing in B&W. It's so well done and the creatures look great in the grayscale color scheme (they were a little hokey in color). The ending is so powerful, it's amazing.

And that's all I've seen of his. That totals up 8 great movies, 6 okay movies, and 7 bad movies. It seems that the 90s weren't very good to King, as most of the bad movies came from that era. Although that's also when a couple good miniseries came (It, The Stand) and when some of his best non-horror work was done (Shawshank, The Green Mile, Dolores Claiborne). But in the end, I consider him a Master of Horror regardless of the number of bad movies, mostly because he had little influence over them (aside from Maximum Overdrive). Stephen King continues to scare to this day and let me tell you, I am excited about an adaptation of Cell, if it ever happens (especially now that Eli Roth isn't attached).

My hats off to you, Stephen King. Keep writing!

1 comment:

  1. I agree with much of what you have said. I was really disappointed with Dreamcatcher too.

    2 on the list I would add as being good:
    -NEEDFUL THINGS. not as fun as the book, but solid
    -SILVER BULLET. I really like this movie...watched it a lot growing up. Have a re-watch planned with my son as we rented it for Halloween...maybe it doesn't hold up

    FIRESTARTER I remember as "not bad", and I have heard good things about THINNER, and THE LANGOLIERS

    Nice list