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Can Hollywood Still Make a Decent Stephen King Adaptation? PART 1

With the impending releases of THE DARK TOWER and IT we decided to take look back at the past 40 years of Stephen King adaptations to see if Hollywood can still make a decent movie out of one of his books. After all, the greatest indicator of what to expect from the future is to look at the past... then again, President Donald Trump. So, who knows?

This is part one of a three part retrospective. There are several direct to video sequels and made for TV mini series that are missing from this list, this was not an oversight but an editorial choice. Yes, this was the first editorial choice made in the five years Following Films has been kicking around the internets. We felt its unfair to compare theatrical releases with the straight to Redbox stuff.  Not to mention, do you need to be told that Children of the Corn 666 is a waste of your time? It felt like a ton of extra work to go through those films just to land on an obvious conclusion. Most of those films just aren't that good. If you have notable exceptions please let me know and I'd be happy to update this list.


1976 Carrie

The film received two Academy Award nominations, one for Sissy Spacek in the title role and one for Piper Laurie as her abusive mother. The film featured numerous young actors – including Nancy Allen, William Katt, Amy Irving, and John Travolta – whose careers were launched, or escalated, by the film. It also relaunched the screen and television career of Laurie, who had not been active in show business since 1961. 

Most people have forgotten that the film version of CARRIE led to the success of the novel. At the time of the films release Stephen King was in no way a household name. Brian DePalma's classic film was largely responsible for changing the face of American Horror for the next 40 years, not only in theaters but on television and in print.  

1980 The Shining

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, co-written with novelist Diane Johnson, and starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers. What can I say about this film that wasn’t covered in ROOM 237? This is the King adaptation that gets played most often in my home and the one that defines several of the issues with adaptions we will see over the next four decades. King was never a fan of this adaption because it strayed too far from his novel. Are the best films on this list the one's that King is the most removed from?

1982 Creepshow

The film consists of five short stories. Two of these stories were adapted from King's short stories, with the film bookended by prologue and epilogue scenes featuring a young boy named Billy (played by King's son, Joe), who is punished by his father for reading horror comics. The film is an homage to the EC and DC horror comics of the 1950s, such as House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. In order for the film to give viewers a comic book feel, Romero hired long-time effects specialist Tom Savini to make comic-like effects.

1983 Cujo

Directed by Lewis Teague, and written by Don Carlos Dunaway and Barbara Turner (using the penname Lauren Currier). The plot revolves around a rabid St. Bernard dog trapping a mother and her child inside their vehicle and trying to attack them from the outside, and stars Dee Wallace, Daniel Hugh-Kelly, Danny Pintauro.

This is a fairly average film based on a fairly average novel. It has one great scene towards the end of the film that makes it worth a sit, but not something I'd rush out to see. Overtime this becomes the pretty standard review for a majority of these films.

1983 The Dead Zone

Directed by David Cronenberg. The screenplay by Jeffrey Boam was based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Stephen King. The film stars Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst and Martin Sheen.

This is one of the more under-appreciated KIng adaptations. Walken gives an understated performance that is both compelling and heartbreaking. A pre-caricature Walken that more than makes this a film worthy of your time.

1983 Christine

Directed by John Carpenter and starring Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, and Harry Dean Stanton. The film also features supporting performances from Roberts Blossom and Kelly Preston. Written by Bill Phillips and based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, the plot follows a sentient and violent vintage Plymouth Fury named Christine, and its effects on the car's new teenage owner.

Great score. Beautiful widescreen photography. But a somewhat disappointing film. You gotta hand it to Carpenter because he swung for the fences on this one, but unfortunately he never really connects. For a film about a haunted car its pretty amazing but at the end of the day its still a film about a haunted car. The jealousy and revenge themes that are the backbone of the story are satisfying in a slightly misogynistic way.

1984 Children of the Corn

Directed by Fritz Kiersch, the film stars Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton. Set in the fictitious rural town of Gatlin, Nebraska, the film tells the story of a malevolent entity referred to as "He Who Walks Behind The Rows" which entices the children of the town to ritually murder all the adults in town and a couple driving across country, to ensure a successful corn harvest

Children of the Corn marks the first King adaptation that is just... bad. The stand out moment of this film involves a meat slicer. Its an unnerving scene in an otherwise forgettable film.

1984 Firestarter

Directed by Mark L. Lester, and stars David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Martin Sheen and George C. Scott.

This was perhaps the weirdest choice for young Drew Barrymore to follow up E.T. with. It's fun to watch George C. Scott chew up the scenery in this one but that's about the only redemptive quality that comes to mind. At this point we are getting pretty far away from the CARRIE and THE SHINING days.

1985 Cat's Eye

Directed by Lewis Teague and written by Stephen King. It comprises three stories, "Quitters, Inc.", "The Ledge", and "General". The first two are adaptations of short stories in King's Night Shift collection, and the third is unique to the film. The three stories are connected only by the presence of a traveling cat, which plays an incidental role in the first two and is a major character of the third.
Its cast includes Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Robert Hays and Candy Clark.

This is made by the same guy who helmed CUJO two years earlier. He moved from the King dog movie to the King cat picture. I'm not sure if you identify as a cat person or a dog person but I've yet to meet someone who identifies as a Teague person. That was unnecessarily snarky. My apologizes to Mr. Teague.

1985 Silver Bullet

Stars Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Megan Follows, Corey Haim, Terry O'Quinn, Lawrence Tierney, Bill Smitrovich, Kent Broadhurst, David Hart, and James Gammon. The film is directed by Dan Attias and produced by Dino De Laurentiis.

The highlight of this film is seeing Terry O'Quinn (John Locke from LOST) with hair. Yup, that's about as good as this one gets. You could follow this up with STEPFATHER and the pilot for LOST if you'd like to do a triple feature on the evolution of O'Quinn's hairline. The more hair he looses the better his projects get. 

1986 Maximum Overdrive

Written and directed by Stephen King, featuring a soundtrack from ACDC, and a leading performance from Emilio Estevez, this a movie so fueled by hubris and cocaine that Mr. King claims to have little memory of making the film. I'm not sure if that's a cop out (considering the films quality) or honesty but neither would surprise me. This film could have been great as a 15 minute short in one of the horror anthologies King was churning out every couple years in the 80's. Instead we have a bloated 98 minutes of killer truck horror. By the way, I mean that literally. Its a film about killer trucks not a killer movie about trucks.

The fact that this film exists is a testament to the excess and poor taste that defined the 80's. I know this is a favorite among the Fangoria crowd but in comparison to THE SHINNING, CARRIE, or even CREEPSHOW this film just doesn't hold up. Many began to wonder if this was the finale for Kings Hollywood career.

In part 2 we will look at the films from 1986 to 1996.