Sunday, August 15, 2010

'Haven' or TV's Love/Hate Affair with Stephen King

I have been an ardent fan of author Stephen King since I first read "Carrie" in high school. Set in 1979 (the year I graduated HS), "Carrie" really struck home with me and I eagerly awaited his next book, which turned out to be the vampire thriller " 'Salem's Lot." It was the story of a small town infiltrated by vampires who arrived under the guise of antique dealers (King would again explore antique dealers in "Needful Things").

We all know Carrie would go on to become a film a film that launched the careers of both Brian DePalma and Sissy Spacek; furthered the career of John Travolta and revived the career of Piper Laurie. But 'Salem's Lot would be the first of many TV adaptations of King's works. I can honestly say that King's second novel freaked me out by moving the dusty, Victorian monster to modern America in his own, down-home style. But the television adaptation, directed by none other than Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Poltergeist) left me cold. Basing the design of head-vampire Barlow on German actor Max Schreck's vampire from Nosferatu, Hooper's mini-series turned what I found to be horrifying into something which seemed infinitely silly. It also didn't help that the very bland David Soul (Starsky and Hutch) was cast in the lead. Yawn...

Even the presence of the great James Mason and Bonnie Bedelia didn't help this piece of TV crap.

1990 saw the adaptation of It, starring Tim Curry as the creepiest clown in movie history. Sadly, the mini-series version suffers the same fate as the novel -- the lamest ending in horror history:

"Beep beep, Georgie! Everything floats down here!"

The next year, TV tackled King again, this time in an adaptation of his short story Sometimes They Come Back, about a teacher haunted buy the ghosts of his old high school bullies. Tim Matheson and Brook Adams starred in this not-at-all scary TV movie.


1993 saw the TV adaptation of King's The Tommyknockers, about ancient alien forces taking hold of the residents of a small town. Jimmy Smits ("L.A. Law"); Marg Helgenberger ("C.S.I."); replicant Joanna Cassidy and former porn queen Traci Lords starred in this one, which almost got it right, but director John Power somehow missed the mark:

Tommyknockers is the first appearance of King's fictional Maine town of Haven, which I will get to, shortly...

Finally, in 1994, director Mick Garris almost got a King novel right with his four-part mini-series version of King's apocalyptic epic, The Stand. My biggest complaints about The Stand are the horrible miscasting of Laura San Giacomo and Corey Nemic in pivotal roles which would have been better served by almost anyone else. But Gary Sinise; Rob Lowe; Jamey Sheridan; Ruby Dee and the rest of the all-star ensemble are just about right on the money.

I'm not going to bother with the godawful The Langoliers (the less said, the better). Instead, let's talk about Garris' version of The Shining. King fans know that King was less than satisfied with the Stanley Kubrick version of one of his best (and perhaps his actual best) novels. While a fine film, it hardly covers everything that made the novel so brilliant. Mick Garris' 1997 TV version is a bit more faithful to its source material, though television standards still don't allow for everything that made the book so creepy:

There's more, of course. The Canadian TV series based on "The Dead Zone;" the 2002 remake of Carrie; the 2004 remake of Salem's Lot and the proposed mini-series version of "The Talisman," which is undoubtedly my favorite novel of all time. Which brings me to the SyFy original series "Haven." Based on King's short story "The Colorado Kid," the series is the story of FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose), who comes to the small town in search of an escaped serial killer and stays in search of the woman who may or may not be her mother. The most recent episode revolved around the reanimation of taxidermied animals (and humans). And while my mother said "This is ridiculous," while watching the episode with me, my response was "Of course it is. But that doesn't make it any less entertaining."

There have only been 5 episodes of "Haven," but nonetheless, I find myself intrigued (and entertained). I just hope that subsequent TV versions of King's works can accurately capture his voice and the true creepiness he manages to convey in his novels and short stories. I still have his monumental novel "Under the Dome" to read -- when and if I ever find the time and patience to read a novel again, but I will always be a fan of the talented (despite what literary critics have to say) and prolific author.

More, anon.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

It makes me wonder why, when Mr king is a fan of television, that they are so rarely a good match... even on cable.
My favorite King book is Thinner & my favorite King film is Misery.