Now A Major Motion Picture: Stephen King Edition

May 27, 2015

When I was a kid, my interest in reading increased thanks to mystery and horror novels. Surprisingly enough, I never read any Stephen King until recently. I came to know his name by the numerous movies that claimed they were “based on” his novels. With my many years of TV-viewing experience, I noticed these weren’t the critically acclaimed movies. These were the B-movie quality. I simply refer to them as “The Stephen King Made For TV” films. Here’s an example: “Maximum Overdrive.”

I started reading his novels to understand if it’s his writing or the filmmaking that is to blame for these so-bad-they’re-bad films. I think he has a specific way of storytelling that, at times, should be left to the page and the reader’s imagination. Yet, it’s important to not let these subpar film adaptations overshadow the successful ones. Believe it or not, his novels have served as inspiration for important films over the past few decades of film history. I know how easy it is to overlook them when they don’t look like that “Stephen King type.” It all depends on how a filmmaker handles the material. I guess you could say don’t judge a movie by its author. Here are my top five Stephen King page-to-screen adaptations.

5. Misery / 1990 / dir. Rob Reiner

As opposed to saying, “Stephen King wrote that!?”, I said “Rob Reiner directed that!?” It is no surprise to me that this came from Stephen King. It’s the perfect reflection of a novelist who fears his fans if he deviates from what they consider to be his writing style. The novelist against the fandom, if you will. I never thought I’d say this, but Reiner and King make a good team. Good golly! Fun fact: Kathy Bates, as Annie, walked away with an Oscar for her performance. Kathy plays the psycho-nurse-fan like a pro.

4.The Shawshank Redemption / 1994 / dir. Frank Darabont

I’ve seen this movie dozens of times. And I continue to forget it was adapted from King’s story, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”. I’m still coming to terms with King not exclusively writing horror. The director’s filmography shows he’s a fan of King’s work (but not the Misery kind), and takes great care of the words-to-screen transition. As we all know by now, Morgan Freeman is the voice that holds our attention, while Tim Robbins softens and humanizes a grim environment. It manages to be a truly heartwarming story under the unlikeliest of settings. It’s a movie that encourages multiple viewings.

3. Stand By Me / 1986 / dir. Rob Reiner

Like Shawshank, the story is not one you expect to come from someone who wrote “Pet Sematary.” Reiner and King began their collaboration when Reiner transformed the short story “The Body” into the film, Stand By Me. The story is about four childhood friends, who represent the period between childhood and adulthood.

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

2. Carrie / 1976 / dir. Brian De Palma

“Carrie” was the first novel published by King, and the first to be put on screen. While King may have provided us with the disturbing story of Carrie White, De Palma’s version showed us what to fear. From beginning to end, it’s a visual staple in cinema history. (Avoid the re-make. It’s just a re-make).

1. The Shining / 1980 / dir. Stanley Kubrick

I know by now that people either love or hate The Shining. Stephen King himself notoriously disapproved of the adaptation. I will not say it’s better than the book. They are two different mediums, and both excellent. There is a 1997 miniseries that stays truer to the novel. But that show fell into what I mentioned above: The Stephen King Made For TV Movie. It can’t even compare to Kubrick’s version. Kubrick masterfully chose what to put on screen while crafting his own interpretation of the novel. Most importantly, Kubrick knew to leave out the hedges that come alive.
The Shining Trailer (Best. Trailer. Ever.)

As a side note: Pet Sematary is in my top. I didn’t include it because I can’t defend that movie. It’s just straight up terrible and terrifying and laughable. It’s a mess. 43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Yeah!