This is not déjà vu. You have not already read this. About a month ago, I discussed Stephen King adaptations I WOULD like to see to coincide with the release of THE DARK TOWER. This time, I’m discussing the top nine adaptations I DID like seeing to coincide with IT’s release.
Two notes before I unveil the list. One, THE SHINING is not on this list. It is a very vividly rendered film, meticulously laid out, AND it is not really an adaptation. I mean, it is, but it is so concerned with other things than the book that I just see it as a different beast. So it isn’t a slight, in my opinion.
Second, THE MIST gets awful close to this list but then it has its ending which I loathe. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, I hate hate hate that ending. It trades the ambiguity of the novella for a nihilistic cheap shot. So it is not here either despite being a very good adaptation nearly throughout.
Nine Stephen King Film Adaptations Worth Watching (In No Particular Order)
Carrie- The first adaptation of Stephen King novel for the screen (I think) and still the cream of the crop. Brian De Palma sets his lurid lens on this tale of a teen loner with psychic abilities pushed past her breaking point and it all comes together beautifully. Even the outdated special effects seem to work, indicating a world that has gone very much awry.
The Dead Zone- David Cronenberg directing from a (heavily edited) script by Jeffrey Boam and starring Christopher Walken, THE DEAD ZONE sounds like it might be a mess on paper. However, in practice, it honors both of the King and Cronenberg’s peculiarities and mines Walken unique acting style to create a believably disconnected protagonist, Johnny Smith. Martin Sheen as a nightmare politician Greg Stillson with a seemingly clear path to the White House is a disquieting monster as Smith’s ultimate antagonist and purpose.
Cat’s Eye- Largely gets the nod for the first two sections of the anthology—the third, featuring the cat that ties the other two stories together is, well, silly and involves a troll in a suburban home—which includes the deeply disturbing tale of a service that “helps” you quit smoking and a harrowing trip around the outside of a high rise building where the prize turns out to not be quite what was promised.
Stand by Me- A near perfect movie, full stop.
Misery- Proof that some of the most terrifying things King conjured on the page had nothing to do with the supernatural. Essentially a two handed chamber piece between a deranged fan played by Kathy Bates and her injured favorite author played by James Caan, the film slowly reveals the depths of her “fandom” and just how far she will go to prove her devotion to him and his characters. It burrows under your skin and lives with for days after.
Dolores Claiborne- Kathy Bates returns, this time as the titular character, a domestic abuse survivor who may have…more actively aided her survival that initially appeared to be the case. Another case of the horror coming from the evil when can do to one another that feels authentic and well realized.
Apt Pupil- An even more frightening and stomach turning film given the recent political comment, this one does not linger as fully or as uncomfortably as the short story it is based on but it nonetheless captures enough of that novella’s descent into madness that it demands attention. Ian McKellan, in particular, puts on an acting master class.
1408-A genuinely creepy film experience that deepens the characterizations of the short story to extend its running time but does not sacrifice the story’s original tone or feel padded. Cusack has to hold the screen for long stretches by himself and does so with aplomb. A good one to revisit if you miss Cusack in quality movies really engaging in the work.
Shawshank Redemption- One of those movies it is tempting to write off as overrated because of its basic cable ubiquity and place atop IMDB best movies list. But great is great and SHAWSHANK is great. Another example of a short story being expanded for the screen without feeling padded. The film is well cast and well-acted and I don’t think Frank Darabont has ever been so assured behind the camera. Each shot works so well. The storytelling it top notch.