I’m not a reader of Stephen King novels, I have never read one. I do selectively watch his films. While I’ve never watched all of his television and film adaptations, but I do have some favorites.
In the hands of the right director, King’s material can translate well to the visual medium. There have been some terrible films, low budget schlock. It’s not always the size of the budget. King did not like The Shining. He felt Stanley Kubrick made a stylishly effective film, but felt empty inside. The Shining had a huge Hollywood budget. Conversely, Cujo, was directed by Lewis Teague on a much smaller budget; King liked what was accomplished for such a small film.
King is a powerful man in Hollywood. He gets director, writer and principle cast approval, takes little money upfront, but gets a cut of the gross from the first dollar earned. He says he doesn’t get possessive about changes to his writing or make difficult demands because he wants each project to succeed, and he does not want to be a pain in the ass.
His short stories, novellas, books and original screenplays have tremendous value. Anything written by King seems valuable as a feature film, television film, multiple part series, extended series, video game or whatever. His old films and series are re-worked for new audiences. The world likes to be scared and thrilled.
In a 2016 interview with Deadline Hollywood News, King talked his Hollywood experiences. “I’ve had a lot of things where I felt, been able to feel really pleased about the outcome. And if it doesn’t work so well, I can say, well, they went out and they gave their best shot but I didn’t have anything to do with it. I’m just a bystander in this car wreck. “There’s one, Graveyard Shift, which was a quickie exploitation film. And, I could have done without all of the Children of the Corn sequels.”
I watched Graveyard Shift and it was not very good. Not knowing the quality of the source material, I have to think it was not one of King’s better stories. The film did not offer much imagination or quality.
Creep Show (1982) Directed by George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), there are five horror vignettes, even one starring Stephen King, presented like a comic book. Otherwise a great cast and great fun. I love this film. This was an original screenplay by King. Starring E.G. Marshall, Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver, Ted Danson, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris and Carrie Nye.
The Dead Zone (1983) Starring Christopher Walken, he is highly effective as the young man who survives a terrific car accident but is in a coma for five years. He is not the same when he waves, discovering he has a power to see a person’s future when he touches them. It proves to be a curse because he feels responsibility to change the future. Directed by David Cronenberg who milks the story’s suspense and characters’ emotional aching.
Christine (1983) A car seeks revenge, that’s a crazy idea for a story, but then there is Maximum Overdrive. Directed by John Carpenter, this is one of the better directed films of King’s material. The story is a little thin, but Carpenter breathes life in and makes this an effective horror film.
Stand By Me (1986) The first of two Rob Reiner directed films. River Phoenix, Will Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell and Kiefer Sutherland star. Four friends take a journey to find the body of boy hit by a train. They are trying to get there before an older group of boys. Along the way, the friendship of the boys are explored and tested. This is a first-rate film and no matter how many times I have viewed it, I will stop and watch it whenever it is on television.
Maximum Overdrive (1986) The only film directed by Stephen King himself. The film was savaged by critics and the public. It is not a terrible film, just a campy one. Yes, it is amateurish in production quality, but it’s fun because it is so bad. A comet is suspected of causing machines and vehicles to act on their own. A convey of trucks are terrorizing people at a truck-stop.
Misery (1990) The film that made Kathy Bates a star. Poor James Caan. Directed by Rob Reiner, this film is very suspenseful, in a Psycho kind of way. The film is taunt with emotion tension and claustrophobia. Reiner has done well with King material. Bates is terrifyingly mad in this role. Caan does most of his acting with his face, since he is restrained in bed during the majority of the film.
It (1990) This television mini-series scared the hell out of me. Pennywise the clown is frightening. The film had a huge production budget and quality cast, and scored big ratings. Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Tim Curry, Tim Reid, Dennis Christopher and Harry Anderson. To this day, I have not watched it again.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) My favorite Stephen King penned story. I watched this film the other night and it’s like seeing it for the first time. It is smartly written, and Frank Darabont provides expert direction. An all-star cast of actors including Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman and James Whitmore. Nominated for seven Academy Awards.
Thinner (1996) A curse has been put on three men for their roles in the death of an old gypsy woman. Thinner has some interesting plot turns and spirited performances, but is a little predictable at the end. The weight loss of the main character over the course of the film with the make-up and special effects. The humor at times goes a bit black, which was surprising, but made for an enjoyable viewing.
The Green Mile (1999) Like Stand By Me, this film is not your traditional Stephen King material. However, both films have finely written characters and emotional tension. Both films also contain subplots that further define the memorable characters. The Green Mile was the second of three films directed by Frank Darabont. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and made a ton of money at the box office. An all-star cast including Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Cromwell and Michael Jeter.
There are films like Carrie, Pet Cemetery, Apt Pupil, Cujo, A Good Marriage, The Dark Tower, etc., that I did not include. Stephen King is an industry, Hollywood is continuously mining his literary vault. Even if you are not a horror fan, or a Stephen King fan, films like Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption are revered by the general audience. With King, there is gold and fool’s gold.