The Ten Best Stephen King Horror Adaptions
Let me start this by explaining that this article is about horror adaptations only, therefore I will not be including The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand by me, Heart’s in Atlantis or Delores Claiborne, all wonderful films, and in fact, some of my favourite films EVER, but not horrors.
Bonus. Apt Pupil
A memorable and chilling film about a boy drawn to a Nazi war criminal he discovers living on his street. This film is a bonus only because while a very well-made film it is not faithful to the source material and REALLY wimps out in the final reel.
A boy and his beautiful but possessed car. This misses the original owner’s back-story but it is perfectly cast with Keith Lloyd both sad and disturbing as Arnie; and features that iconic scene of the car fixing itself. Loses some points for being not terribly scary. Nicely directed by John Carpenter and hugely entertaining right up to the final credits.
9. Salems Lot - 1979
Floating child vampires knocking at your window and a truly frightening head vampire modelled on Nosferatu make this made-for-tv movie directed by Tobe Hooper a film better than it had any right to be. Sure it's dated and low budget but what works, really works, even now.
8. The Dead Zone
One of Stephen King’s most intriguing stories brought to life with the help of Christopher Walken who stars as the psychic who is burdened with knowing a political leader’s terrible future plan. The Dead Zone is an engrossing slow-burner. Faithful to the source material in all aspects, this Cronenberg directed movie is a dark gem.
7. Silver Bullet
Based on the short novel ‘Cycle of the werewolf’, this story of a small town hairy beast pursued by a cluey kid in a wheelchair is horror with heart. One of Corey Haim’s lesser known roles, he excels here; as does Megan Follows (Anne of Green Gables) as his sister and Gary Busey as Uncle Red. While the book is sketchy and episodic (as it's month per chapter format demands), the film colours in and gives details to the story that make it better than the book – quite a claim for a Stephen King tale.
6. Pet Sematary
I have a confession to make – this film scared the crap out of me. The flashbacks to the twisted sister, the sinister tone throughout the movie, the creepy kid at the end, all make this one of Stephen Kings scariest. Aside from some character condensing this stays pretty close to the book; well acted (Fred Gwynne being particularly memorable) and directed, this Pet Semetary has almost the same terrible power as the novel.
OK, so they changed the ending, but I have to admit that it doesn’t bother me and seems to work better on film with this ending. I thought the deaths were good and vicious without being exploitive, the story was well-paced with just enough back-story, and the dog was amazing! (you just know if they remade it now the dog would be cgi and the deaths so over-the-top as to be laughable). Believable and frightening, this one begs the question 'what would you do'??
Annie Wilkes is your number one fan? Start running now! A claustrophobic exploration of how far a fan could go to ‘keep’ the object of their admiration, this features a powerhouse performance by Kathy Bates; who else could call someone a ‘dirty bird’ and make it sound so menacing? She scored a well-deserved Oscar for this – quite a coup for a role in a sleeper horror film. Director Rob Reiner decided to tone down some of the gorier stuff but what did he replace the amputations with? Hobbling – if only Stephen King had thought of it first. A superb adaption and a superb film.
3. The Mist
A short story that was taut and haunting and thought-provoking became a film that was so much more. A horror movie that interests itself in characters, in the human condition and the way we revert to our base instincts when survival is at stake. Accused of misanthropy when it came out, I think it is just honest about the animal that lives in all of us. The most glaring change to this story is obviously the ending, however not only do I think it is a better and a more satisfying ending, I think it makes this film the memorable experience that it is. This ‘Lord of the flies’ in a supermarket is so much more than I expected and that ending left me devastated. A cynical, scary and moving film which proves once again that director Frank Darabont and Stephen King are a match made in heaven.
2. The Shining
Stephen King was right about the casting of Jack Nicholson – he does not come across as an average Joe with a small anger management issue who is driven nuts by a haunted hotel, he seems to have brought some nutty with him. That aside, this movie is a gem, beautifully directed by Stanley Kubrick with some authentically iconic set pieces – the axe through the door, “heeere’s Johnny!”, redrum, the twins, etc. Some back-story from the book is not shown here, and a scene in the book involving a wasp hive that I was fond of is also left out, but what’s left in is perfectly realised. This film knows what scares you, and while not entirely faithful to the book, it certainly captures the mood and feel of it, and for this viewer, that is enough.
What can I say? Carrie’s image and story has been used from music clips to adverts, there was even a Broadway musical based on this film. Her story seems almost like an urban legend by now, it has passed so seamlessly into our culture that it sounds like something that happened to someone who knew someone who’s cousin knew this girl who had pigs blood thrown on her at the prom. Brought to life by a heartbreaking performance from Sissy Spacek and a truly frightening Piper Laurie, it asks you who is the real ‘monster’, the girl with powers she does not understand or the mother who condemns her as a sinner simply because she exists. The novel itself is pieced together like a crime investigation with interviews and reports and newspaper articles making up a large portion of the text; but from this raw material Brian De Palma has crafted a sad, horrifying and memorable movie. Just simply a classic.
And the worse adaptations?
Caricatures screeching at trucks…and Stephen King directed it – bad bad film
The Lawnmower Man
The only thing it has in common with the story is the title.
Overwrought, bad cgi, messy, wrong tone, ridiculous ending.
The Running Man
Not even the same story, badly acted, nasty, wasted opportunity to film one of Stephen King’s best short novels.
Wrong tone, wrong director, just wrong.
Cheap and ugly.
Incomprehensible and boring.
For any fan of the book, this is the worse adaption EVER, dates/characters changed, dialogue changed, scenes removed, scenes invented, wrong tone…. again, some bad acting and directing (though not by Tim Curry, Jonathan Brandis or Brandon Crane), and the entire back story and point of IT not explored or explained. A sad and terrible waste of Stephen Kings greatest book about friendship, the histories that bind us, the eternal nature of terror and the way fear manifests; it's all reduced to a cheap killer-clown tale – I wish I could destroy every copy. Thank god they're finally making a new version!