As The Dark Tower hits cinemas this weekend and the It remake is fast approaching, we look back at some of our favourite movies based on the works of the master of modern horror, Stephen King.
Oft-imitated—not least in the remakes of 2002 and 2013—but never topped, Brian de Palma’s sticky-fingered adaptation of King’s 1974 novel turns on an unforgettable performance from Sissy Spacek as a teenage outsider caught between the devil and the flesh, having to wrestle with her own shapeshifting body, a Christian conservative mom (Piper Laurie) and a stellar gang of school bullies (including a swaggering John Travolta, two years before Grease).
Drifting inexorably from the wet-dream locker-room opening to a split-screen prom night massacre and a tremendous closing gotcha, it remains a formidable drive-in experience: horror operating somewhere between trash and transcendence.
The Shining (1980)
There’s a very strong, still unresolved argument this became the film it did in spite of King. So piqued, indeed, was the author by Stanley Kubrick’s labyrinthine riff on his 1977 bestseller that he bashed out the screenplay for a later, “authorised” 1997 miniseries directed by Mick Garris and starring Steven Weber and Rebecca de Mornay.
Oddly, not many people return to that version, while Kubrick’s far grander opus keeps resurfacing in a variety of cuts: perhaps it needed a true obsessive like the director to rip out and punch up King’s theme—acts of creation, and other follies—into the invitingly dark and painstakingly framed joke we’re told at length here.
Read more: All you need to know about Jack Nicholson
Stand by Me (1986)
It’s a perverse turn of events that some of King’s most successful films have been adapted from his least typical writing. That said, though this much-loved Reagan-era crowdpleaser may appear a mainstream proposition from afar (a Rob Reiner movie, nudging Ben E King back onto daytime radio), its feel for the cruel world lying just beyond its young explorers’ horizons make it a predecessor to the later The Shawshank Redemption.
Admittedly, it’s no River’s Edge—the nihilist half of 1986’s twin teenpics revolving around the discovery of a corpse—but it’s both less cosy and more mature than is often remembered: the ending has an unmistakable air of American Proust about it.
Put simply: without Misery, The Silence of the Lambs would not have been able to effectuate horror’s early Nineties transformation from niche, adolescent, micro-budgeted sideline to serious, blockbusting, Academy-troubling concern.
With this perennially rollicking, gasp-inducing adaptation of King’s 1987 yarn, cuddly Tinseltown go-to Reiner (him again!) demonstrated that a bestselling airport read could yield good box-office, admiring reviews and awards for its heavyweight performances: in this case, from James Caan as housebound writer/King surrogate Paul Sheldon and Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, his most lethally devoted fan.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The great slowburn of late 20th century American cinema: a notorious flop on first release (that title sure didn’t promise much on marquees), this era-spanning prison drama—adapted from the same Different Seasons collection as Stand by Me—went on to find its rapt audience at home, on VHS and DVD.
Nowadays working men and women clutch TSR to their chests as they might once have done a holy text, and with understandable reason: writer-director Frank Darabont masterfully amplified King’s from-the-heart allegory about everyday drudgery and the hardship we wade through in hope of accessing a few notes, acres or minutes of happiness.
Dolores Claiborne (1995)
King remains comparatively rare among mass-market writers in crafting memorable, often deeply complicated female characters. Taylor Hackford’s film of the writer’s 1992 novel honours its source by casting Kathy Bates—Miss Misery herself—and Jennifer Jason Leigh as an estranged mother-daughter combo reunited in the wake of a brutal murder.
The pair’s terrific performances add extra edge to a rich and complex adaptation that plays on many levels: as worm-that-turned revenge thriller, thesis on the received wisdom “you can never go home”, and as an unusual, provocative, male-authored item of Hollywood feminism.
The wildcard in this selection often resembles The Shining in miniature, or the flipside of Lenny Henry’s Premier Inn ads: washed-up writer John Cusack checks into a reportedly haunted hotel in search of inspiration, only to find his room converting itself into a deeply personal hell.
Where Kubrick’s madness sprawled ever outwards, Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom’s film resourcefully and entertainingly contains: for at least an hour, it’s a one-man show, as the ever-watchable Cusack shivers, sweats and gets thoroughly shook up on Andrew Laws’ superlative sets. The actor returned to King with 2016’s Cell, an adaptation that suffered from a decidedly spotty reception.
Enjoyed this story? Share it!