Here are five adaptations I whole heartedly recommend for anybody with an interest in the world of horror and/ or Stephen King. I hope the five films below will encourage you not only to see the movies but to also buy the novels themselves and see what maybe you have been missing! Many have dismissed King as a writer of trashy horror novels! Not so as I hope you will discover from the article, so close the curtains and turn off the lights. Read on true believers.
Salem's Lot is one of several tv miniseries based on the works of Stephen King and it is one of the finest. It actually gave me recurring nightmares following a scene in which Nosferatu's (not named as such in the film) head pops up into the screen, bald headed, yellow eyed, huge ears, rat toothed and scarily pale faced. I jumped out of my seat! This creature haunted my dreams for several years by chasing me through fog shrouded streets and gloomy forests. It never seemed to catch me though so clearly I was a much better runner. Apologies for giving away the monster of the piece if you haven’t already seen it, although it won’t take you long to realise that vampires have descended on to the town of Salem’s Lot in Maine. A successful writer (David Soul) returns home to write a novel about Marsten House which is rumoured to attract evil and lo and behold on his return home he finds it now inhabited by an antique dealer (James Mason) and his mostly absent partner. Shivers! Antiques! The horrors! Of course it’s not long before the writer discovers that the murder and death that befalls Salem’s Lot is connected to the house, antiques are just a cover, and a fanged menace lies within. Tobe Hooper directed this mostly faithful adaptation of King’s work which relies on ever growing tension and suspense rather than blood and guts horror. Note: to avoid Nosferatu related recurring dreams imagine him as being dressed in a clown’s costume… hilarious, or perhaps not as the following will testify.
A new movie adaptation is expected soon but this is the tv miniseries from 1990 which, while 3 hours long, is still a cut down experience from King’s epic 1000 page plus novel. As with many of King’s works it is set in the fictional town of Derry in Maine and follows the tribulations of a group of teenage bullied social outcasts who have to stand up to a greater evil than the bullies which pursue them. There have been a series of gruesome child murders in the town and the teens discover that an evil demonic clown played by the brilliant Tim Curry is the reason. If you didn’t have a fear of clowns before seeing this then you possibly will after. Of course the clown is just a guise for something more horrific (in the novel at least - the special effects are of the tv kind here) and the kids plan to take the creature down. Which they think they do, but years later they are forced to reunite as adults to take on the evil once more. Despite being cut down for television the plotting is relatively faithful to the novel. It works on two levels, being both scary and a touching coming of age tale. The fact that these bullied kids are able to stand up to the monster within the clown will have many of us cheering, especially those of us who were outsiders in our youth. We may also be able to empathise with the childhood friendships we had which seem to drift away as we get into adulthood. Stephen King showed his gift for writing not just horror, but his ability to understand humanity and the emotions which are common to all of us. The film perfectly encapsulates this, and the novel expands on it with powerful emotion.
Rob Reiner directed 'Stand By Me' which was based on King’s short story, ‘The Body’, taken from the book ‘Different Seasons’. This is the film I bring up to those who consider Stephen King to be a writer of trashy horror and it often surprises them to know that the movie is based on one of his work’s.
Four young boys, headed by the late River Phoenix, head off on a journey to find the rumoured body of a missing boy, and in the process this rag tag group of kids find the true meaning of friendship as they bond together in their shared and unique troubles. The discovery of the body is only a small part of the story yet it has a profound effect on the boys that changes their outlook on life, and death. Again Stephen King’s story, as with ‘It!’ perfectly evokes a time and a place and a coming of age tale identifiable by many of us, and the events which tip over into our lives to lead us away from innocence. A brilliant film which made me cry a little, not only for the fate of one of the characters, sadly echoed in real life, but also for the childhood I miss and the friends I had, and how sometimes adult life is but a pale representation of the hopes and dreams we all have when we are young.
Based on the novella of the same name, and taken from the book ‘Skeleton Crew’ the film is directed by Frank Darabont who also adapted King’s ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘The Green Mile’ and the little known short film “The Woman in the Room’. This film again follows King’s story well and is the story of a group of citizens trapped in a supermarket. That is enough of a reason to make this a horror tale for me. Ten minutes in my local supermarket being crippled by trollies and oblivious customers adamantly standing in my way is enough to test my patience but the film here takes the horror to another level. Yes, you guessed it, a mist descends on to a small town and if that wasn’t spooky enough an old man runs into the supermarket with the ominous warning “There is something in the mist”. Doors are locked and the small group of people trapped within discover exactly what that something is and become victims to the terrifying presence outside. Warning: if you have read King’s story the ending here is different and is a real gut punch. King himself approved of the film’s ending and it will haunt you more than the evil found within the mist itself. Again, the film like the story displays King’s gift for character writing and the fate of one such despicable character will make you cheer while you mourn the loss of others you have grown attached to during the course of the film.
Rob Reiner again directs this Stephen King adaptation, possibly my favourite, about a writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who is critically injured in a car accident and is rescued by his ‘number 1 fan’ Annie Wilkes (a terrifying Kathy Bates). She takes him to her remote mountain house and cares for him, gives him warm food and a comfortable bed. She used to be a nurse so is very well qualified for the job in hand. How lucky then that it was she who rescued Paul. As it turns out not at all lucky as Annie Wilkes is a raving nut job! Once she discovers Paul’s latest manuscript and finds that Paul has killed off her favourite character, ‘Misery Chastain’, she cripples him further by breaking his ankles with a sledge hammer, and forces him to write something new and far more to her liking.
Bates won as Oscar for her role here and it was well deserved. You get the feeling that underneath it all she really is a decent person, provided you don’t upset her of course. She wants to live a happy life but a little ankle breaking is sometimes necessary to ensure she gets what she wants. Why, she could be living in the same street as you! You would never notice her dark side unless you parallel parked into the side of her land rover!
The film is essentially a two hander between Caan and Bates and they play off each other magnificently. Both fine actors this is possibly some of their finest work, and their battles, both mental and physical are well displayed on screen. It’s something Alfred Hitchcock could have made, the tension on screen is palpable and will leave you with your nerves in tatters. Most importantly, despite the ankle hobbling, the film and the novel on which it is based displays something important about Stephen King. He doesn't need to resort to the blood and gore of someone like the late James Herbert to get your attention. His ability to write living and breathing three dimensional characters on the page immerses you into the story through your involvement with them. Not many films have followed his stories as well as this one and you will be rooting Paul Sheldon while occasionally having a little bit of sympathy for Annie Wilkes, despite being one of the finest monsters King has written. A triumph then and a great place to begin if you are willing to step into the dark world of Stephen King.
Do you agree with my list or do you have your own preferences? Please let us know below.