It’s ‘Master of Horror’ Stephen King’s 71st birthday today. His first novel, Carrie, was published in 1973. His works include Misery, The Shining, The Dark Tower series, and It. To date, King has published over 50 novels and collected works. One could easily make the argument that Stephen King is one of the most influential authors of the last 50 years or so. I remember reading my first Stephen King novel in Grade Six, and I haven’t stopped.
Not surprisingly, many of King’s novels have been adapted into feature-length films or made-for-television movies. King’s accomplishments in horror literature are giant, but the success of adapting his work to the big screen has met with mixed results. The Shining, Carrie, and Misery are rightly considered horror classics. Other movies like Maximum Overdrive or Graveyard Shift are critically reviled.
Now with King’s work experiencing a renaissance in Hollywood there’s talk about re-visiting otherpast adaptations. We’ve already witnessed Carrie and It get the remake treatment with Pet Sematary coming down the pipe. For this edition of The Chopping Block, I celebrate Stephen King’s birthday by proposing a list of film adaptions that I think would benefit from the remake treatment.
Stephen King’s The Stand
To date, The Stand remains my personal favourite among Stephen King’s work. It’s a massive story in terms of scope and characters that would understandably be a challenge to adapt into a movie. Now I’ll put this right out there for readers – I am not a fan of the original made-for-television version of It. Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Clown is terrifying, but the rest of the movie felt flat to me.
If you’re old enough you’ll know what I mean when I say, a “made-for-television” movie. These were movies usually produced by one of the major television networks for broadcasting during primetime TV hours. Typically, these movies had much smaller production values and starred recognizable TV or character actors.
When The Stand got the made-for-television treatment in 1994 it was well received and largely success. Yet in many ways, The Stand mini-series suffers from the same problem as the 1990 version of It. Key characters are woefully miscast with performers clearly in over their heads. While the expanded television format allowed director Mick Garris to keep much of the story intact, the budget limitations restrained much of the novel’s epic scope. In addition, The Stand watered down a lot of the novel’s content to meet primetime television standards.
Imagine a two to three season mini-series produced by Netflix or Amazon. A creative filmmaker wouldn’t be as handcuffed in what could or couldn’t be shown. Audiences have also proven to be much more patient in allowing creators to take their time exploring narratives. People are getting tired with The Walking Dead, so forget zombies and give us more Randall Flagg.
The Dark Tower
The less said about last year’s cinematic adaptation of The Dark Tower, the better. Wasting Idris Elba should be a crime. My problems with The Dark Tower adaptation are similar to my issues with the 1994 version of The Stand. We’re talking about not just one epic novel but a series of books. In The Dark Tower series, Stephen King has woven a very complex mythology that almost defies a cinematic adaption. But the same could also have been said about Game of Thrones. What could the right creative team do with The Dark Tower novels if they went to HBO and got a proper budget? This is a no-brainer – The Dark Tower deserves another chance to shine on screen.
John Carpenter and Stephen King, together. How could it not be an amazing horror film? Don’t get me wrong, Christine is not a bad film. Yet it’s definitely one of horror master John Carpenter’s more middling-efforts. It’s also not necessarily one of the better adaptations of King’s work. Christine features an emotional and heartbreaking character arc. It’s equal parts horror and coming-of-agestory about childhood friendships fading as we become adults.
Carpenter gets much of the horror right in his film. Christine also boasts a very underrated film score. Nevertheless, Carpenter doesn’t quite capture the more nuanced emotional core of King’s novel. In addition, he makes an odd choice to revise the origins of Christine’s evil in the film. This revision to the source material really reduces the emotional impact of Arnie’s character arc. There is a much better version of Christine just begging to be filmed, the shitter’s be damned.
The Dark Half
George A. Romero is another master of horror. But The Dark Half is not peak Romero by any stretch of the imagination. Like Christine, The Dark Half is not a bad movie. Sadly, it’s just underwhelming and very forgettable. To be fair, it’s not all Romero’s fault. Stephen King’s psychological horror novel about an author with a murderous pen name makes for a fascinating read. But it’s complex concept to translate from text to screen. To his credit, Romero illustrates a pretty sharp understanding of King’s dark psychology. In what turns out to be quite a surprise, Romero actually struggled with the supernatural and horror elements of the source material. Timothy Hutton is also miscast in The Dark Half, which didn’t help.
The Running Man
Yes, fans of ’80’s action films may take offence to this recommendation. I love Arnold Schwarzenegger films just as much as the next person. But the 1987 adaptation of The Running Man liberally borrows the title and premise from the Richard Bachman novel and not much else. In fact, The Running Man is the perfect example of why remakes aren’t always a bad idea.
The Running Man was years ahead of its time. Published a decade before Survivor and Big Brother became fixtures in primetime television, Stephen King’s novel seems almost eerily prescient now. Good popular culture ages well; it’s relevancy does not dwindle. King’s novel about a fascist government state using media to control and pacify its own people is more relevant now than ever before. Of course, the novel’s original ending would have to be altered. Nonetheless, the right filmmaker could adapt King’s source material and deliver a wickedly subversive thriller.