The best Stephen King movie adaptations

SalemsLot

The master of horror writing, Stephen King, has just released a new novel, Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining. But where does the film adaptation of The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, figure on the list of the best big screen reworkings of King’s oeuvre? Peek out from behind that cushion you’re hiding your face with to find out…

8. The Dead Zone

If only David Cronenberg could direct every Stephen King adaptation. This tale features a classic King staple – psychic ability – and wraps a genuinely interesting question around it: what would you do if you knew someone’s actions (after merely shaking hands with them, of course) would bring on World War III? Yeah, you’d probably try to take them out. That’s what Christopher Walken’s teacher attempts to do with Martin Sheen’s presidential candidate, and the result is a stirring piece of King drama. Sheen is great as a crazed (future) president – in your fat, liberal face, Jed Bartlet – the best compliment you can pay his characterisation here is that he looks more like his son Charlie than ever.

7. Salem’s Lot

Tobe Hooper put aside the gore-ridden jerkiness that made his name in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and instilled this version of King’s second novel with an eerie calm that makes it all the terrifying. King made no qualms about his lofty ambition of trying to come up with a modern-day Dracula when he wrote his novel – the startling thing was he delivered, the image of a vampire floating outside the window is just as iconic as anything Bram Stoker came up with. Salem’s Lot the movie – or rather, Salem’s Lot the movie in Europe and Salem’s Lot the two-part mini-series on US TV – never quite matches its brilliant novel, but that’s too tall an order. But it doesn’t matter, because there are enough scares here and a surprisingly nuanced performance from David Soul to keep things creepy.

6. It: Part 1

Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns. But what is the fear of clowns who haunt you for 30 years called? Good old Pennywise the Clown, putting children off going to the circus since 1990. And why shouldn’t he? Circuses are crap. The first part of TV movie It, however, is not crap – rather it scares the crap out of you. I couldn’t walk past a storm drain on the side of the road for weeks after watching this.

5. Stand By Me

Based on King’s novella, The Body, Stand By Me is 80s filmmaking at its finest. Feldman! Wheaton! O’Connell! Phoenix! Rob Reiner’s film is about angst, fun and growing up. Oh, and dodging trains.

4. Carrie

Just because Carrie only makes it to number four on this list doesn’t mean it isn’t the scariest King adaptation, because I still think it is. The triple-whammy at the end of this film is something else. Prom bloodfest + scary mommy + grave dream sequence = can I have a new pair of pants, please? Brian De Palma’s film isn’t the best big screen King, but it comes pretty close. Warning: if your daughter is just starting to get her period, DO NOT show her this movie.

3. The Mist

One of the slightly unfair charges aimed at King over the years is that he doesn’t know how to write a good ending. With The Mist, director Frank Darabont (who also adapted The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile… ‘Where are they on this list!?’ I hear you cry. Uh, not on it, I reply) does it for him, changing the open-ended one from the novella into something a little more hard-hitting. The Mist movie isn’t all about it’s terrific final scene of course – there is so much going for it well before that: the brilliant premise, great performances from the likes of Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones and Thomas Jane – but that’s pretty much all you can think about when the credits roll.

2. The Shining

BLOOD IN AN ELEVATOR!! LIVIN’ IT UP WHEN I’M GOING DOWN! It’s very ballsy of King to produce a sequel (Doctor Sleep) to The Shining, perhaps the best known movie adaptation of his work. Stanley Kubrick’s film has become a yardstick in psychological horror, piled with scene after scene of bloody (sometimes literally) brilliance. And King hates it. Perhaps it bothers him that Kubrick’s work has, in a way, gone beyond the source material and taken on a cultural life of its own. It’s pretty much Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Stephen King hates Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining because in Stephen King’s The Shining, the characters and the drama are a lot different. Jack Torrance isn’t even mildly unhinged in the book before everything goes haywire, while in the film, Jack Nicholson just needed the slightest of nudges to make him go dolally. It’s perhaps not very subtle and – King feels – to the detriment of the characters he created – but on screen it works perfectly.

1. Misery

Despite the wide range of ghouls lurking in King’s work, his writing has always been at its most terrifying when people are the real monsters. I’d take my chances with Pennywise ahead of Annie Wilkes any day. This nurse/sledgehammer aficionado is one of King’s most frightening creations, and pretty much the main reason why I don’t trust people who never swear. Don’t be fooled by her muttering ‘cockadoodie’ and ‘dirty birdy’, she would eat Jack Torrance for breakfast. Kathy Bates’ fantastic performance as Wilkes in Rob Reiner’s (him again) film earned her a deserved Oscar. Yes, that’s right: I wrote the words ‘deserved’ and ‘Oscar’ beside each other. The most frightening thing about Misery is that Wilkes is even more scary in the book – why break someone’s feet with a hammer when you can chop one off with an axe, and then later slice off a thumb for good measure? The number 1 fan makes it to number 1 on this list.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE STEPHEN KING MOVIE ADAPTATION?

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4 Responses to “The best Stephen King movie adaptations”

  1. Awesome list. I haven’t seen too many of these so will be hunting them down. I really love The Shining. Such an incredible film. I didn’t love Carrie though. It is my favourite King book of those I have read, so I am interested in seeing what they do with the remake, which is supposedly going back to the book a bit more.

  2. remake has really good cast so could be interesting, just so hard to bring same level of terror as original though

  3. […] THE MOVIE BATTLEGROUND « The best Stephen King movie adaptations […]

  4. It depends greatly on what mood you’re in but, for sheer silly 80s fun, you can’t go wrong with The Running Man!

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