The Best (And Worst) Films Of Mr Stephen King
Messrs Jack Nicholson and Danny Lloyd in The Shining, 1980. Photograph by Warner Bros/Hawk Films/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
From The Shining to Carrie – the cult horror movies you need to see.
Of the 250-plus stories that comprise Mr Stephen King’s canon of work, 58 have been made into films or TV shows. The horror maven is the most “adapted” living author, with more than five times as many adaptations as his closest rival, The Notebook’s Mr Nicholas Sparks. Among his oeuvre are some of cinema’s most twisted and terrifying tales, including perhaps the most hyped forthcomer of 2017, the first big-screen take on It, which will hit cinemas in September.
Why is Mr King’s work so adaptable? Arguably, it is his ability to explore one-size-fits-all fears – traumas we have all experienced at some stage or another – in his grown-up narratives, that has left filmmakers so besotted with his work. Misery, about a wall-eyed nurse who holds her hero captive, plays on a fear of the childhood nanny. Carrie, about a teen who unleashes telekinetic terror on her bullies, is about schooldays angst and childhood rejection.
It must be said, though, that many Mr King screen adaptations may be duds (1995 mini-series The Langoliers features flying killer meatballs), but the few that aren’t have changed film for good. Here, ahead of the BFI’s screening season dedicated to the master teller of terror (from 1 September), is a pocket-sized guide to the best and worst Mr Stephen King films.
Ms Kathy Bates in Misery, 1990. Photograph by Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection/Alamy
Ms Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes, who finds novelist Paul Sheldon (played by Mr James Caan) in the remains of a crashed car and forces him rewrite his next book, is truly chilling, not just because it features the most brutal hobbling in the history of film, but also because of the tense, brilliantly executed schizophrenic turns from Ms Bates. Most harrowing, however, are the Stockholm syndrome-ish expressions on Mr Caan’s face as he plots her demise. A much-mimicked classic, Misery is psycho-terror storytelling at its best.
Ms Sissy Spacek in Carrie, 1976. Photograph by Entertainment Pictures/Alamy
Mr Brian De Palma’s 1976 movie Carrie (based on Mr King’s first published novel, which his wife allegedly rescued from the dustbin) isn’t just a scary movie, it’s one of those films media studies students are shown at school. Packed with auteurist flourishes in vivid Technicolor, it’s as beautiful as it is haunting, and the scene where the Carrie (performed with a terrifying poker face by Ms Sissy Spacek) is splashed with pig’s blood after collecting a school prize looks bright and wild, even today. The moment sparks a psychedelic killing spree in the name of religious oppression and adolescent turmoil.
Ms Shelley Duvall in The Shining, 1980. Photograph by Ronald Grant Archive
Roundly panned when it came out in 1980, The Shining has become an avant-garde horror classic, most notably for a bravura performance from Mr Jack Nicholson, who plays a novelist haunted by writer’s block and hallucinations, and who eventually takes an axe to his family. The terrifying events unfold in the grandeur of a rustic, roaring 1920s American hotel, which the family are minding. Director Mr Stanley Kubrick went full-on artiste in bringing his ambitious vision to life, spraying more than 200 gallons of Kensington Gore blood down a staircase for one iconic shot.
Mr Robert Burke in Thinner, 1996. Photograph by Photo 12/Alamy
As much as we’d all like to believe a simple gypsy curse could leave us exponentially slimmer, Mr King’s book, published in 1984 under the nom de plume Richard Bachman, was never a strong enough premise to translate well into screen format. Directed by Child Play’s Mr Tom Holland, the 1996 film stars Mr Robert John Burke (strapped into an extraordinarily unconvincing fat suit in the first half) who must find a way to reverse the weight-shredding spell before he pulls a full Skeletor. Unfortunately, the only thing thinner than Mr Burke is its am-dram script.
Mr Jeffrey DeMunn, Ms Laurie Holden, Ms Frances Sternhagen, Mr Thomas Jane and Mr Nathan Gamble in The Mist, 2007. Photograph by Zuma Press/Eyevine
Aside from its ludicrous plot, the most confusing thing about 2007’s The Mist is its credits. Mr Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile – both brilliant Mr King dramas about the human spirit – is the man behind this lacklustre horror, which could be best described as a kind of CGI Lord Of The Flies. After a thick fog rolls over a New England town, extra-terrestrials take out locals one by one, leaving the rest to form a class-divided micro-society in a supermarket. Misty acting hampers this pedestrian splatter film that prizes overblown monologues over action.
Mr Ted Levine and Ms Vanessa Pike in The Mangler, 1995. Photograph by Photo 12/Alamy
You get the feeling that Mr King was fresh out of ideas when he wrote short story The Mangler in 1972. Adapted by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Mr Tobe Hooper in 1995, it tells the story of an industrial clothing press that becomes possessed and murderous after blood, antacids and virginal daughters are thrown into its mechanics. Alas, the facial prosthetics of the laundry owner, played by Mr Robert Englund, which look suspiciously like bread dough, are the only scary thing about this otherwise bad, bad film.