Saturday, October 19, 2013

King of the Mountain

I was 15 when I was dropped off for a Saturday matinee of Brian DePalma's brilliant adaptation of Stephen King's first novel, Carrie. I had read the novel the year before and was in the midst of reading "'Salem's Lot" when Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie gave two of the most amazing performances in the history of the genre. Since then there has been a really awful sequel; a musical (revived and revised for a recent Off Broadway production which is now being done by community theatre companies everywhere); a drag parody of the musical and a TV remake starring Angela Bettis and Patricia Clarkson. Yesterday a new version opened, starring Chloe Grace Moritz and Julianne Moore, two actresses I admire (along with Judy Greer - whom I adore - in the Betty Buckley role). The reviews have been tepid and I won't be rushing out to pay $11.50 to see it, any time soon. 

To mark the occasion, has come up with their list of the Top 20 Stephen King movies. Their list is very different from mine. Of course, art is completely subjective and King is notoriously difficult to adapt for the screen. Your list will probably be different than mine. And that's good. Still, in response, here are my Top Ten plus my Five Worst Stephen King movie adaptations:


10. Pet Sematary. Based on the book King claims to have had to put away for several years because it gave him nightmares, director Mary Lambert's TV star-filled film is very, very creepy. The last project for the late Fred Gwynn, this atmospheric movie works so well because they all seem like such ordinary people (the strength of all of King's characters). Of course, there is that screaming living corpse of a sister in the back bedroom...

9. The Dead Zone. David Cronenberg's 1983 crack at King is a true anomaly - a film that's actually better than the novel on which it's based. Of course, much of that is thanks to Christopher Walken's performance as a man who awakens from a coma with a gift he doesn't want and a dilemma to rival Hamlet's. Oh, and Martin Sheen's Greg Stillson is a far cry from Jed Bartlett.

8. The Mist. Underrated and misunderstood, Frank Darabont (who has two other amazing King movies to his credit) finally made the film version of one of King's most popular novella's with an amazing cast and an ending (which some claim is nihilistic) that's far superior to King's rather ambiguous original. Darabont should make every Stephen King movie for as long as he can.

7. Misery. Kathy Bates' Oscar-winning performance as James Caan's insane greatest fan is absolutely chilling. Rob Reiner's second King movie is a doozy!

6. Christine. John Carpenter's King movie surprisingly holds up quite well after 30 years, mostly thanks to the performance of Keith Gordon as a boy whose evil car turns him evil, as well.

5. Stand By Me. Rob Reiner's nostalgic adaptation of King's novella "The Body" (itself supposedly based on a true event from King's own childhood) is a classic for so many reasons, least of all it's young cast.

4. Carrie. Brian DePalma's 70's teen-angst horror movie is very nearly perfect, despite the very silly tuxedo scene and the deliberately dizzying prom dance. Spacek is the embodiment of King's character (despite him describing her as overweight) and Piper Laurie is just stunning as the religious zealot Margaret White (a name Uncle P uses to troll Westboro Baptist Church). And that shock ending has been copied countless times, since.

3. Apt Pupil. Bryan Singer's version of King's novella stars the late Brad Renfro as a young man who discovers that his kindly old neighbor (Ian McKellan) is a Nazi hiding in suburban America. McKellan is brilliant, as usual, but Refro's transformation is the real horror here.

2. Dolores Claiborne. Kathy Bates makes her second appearance as a King character in Taylor Hackford's absorbing and gorgeous adaptation of the story of a woman accused of killing her long-time employer and the strength she found to escape an abusive husband.

1. The Green Mile. Frank Darabont's version of King's serialized novel is very nearly perfect. The late Michael Clarke Duncan gives a performance to match every other amazing performance from Tom Hanks, Michael Jeter, Sam Rockwell, Bonnie Hunt and Patricia Clarkson. I weep like a baby every time I see it.

Honorable mentions: The Shawshank Redemption; Cujo; Creepshow; Needful Things; 1408; Hearts in Atlantis.


5. The Shining. Kubrick made a terrific horror movie, but an absolutely atrocious version of what well may be King's best novel. Even King hates it. Of course, the TV version isn't much better. Give me $80M and I'll make a version of "The Shining" that will make you poop your pants.

4. Graveyard Shift. Bad acting, bad script and bad special effects make this story about killer rats silly, rather than scary.

3. Maximum Overdrive. Even King himself couldn't make a scary movie out his very silly short story "Trucks." Emilio Estevez doesn't help.

2. The Mangler. Poltergeist director Tobe Hooper's ridiculous movie about a demonic ironing machine isn't helped by the presence of genre favs Robert Englund and Ted Levine. 

1. The Lawnmower Man. Even the then gorgeous Jeff Fahey can't help this POS, which has absolutely NOTHING to do with King's story about pagan gods. King successfully sued to have his name removed from this CGI cyber-nonsense.

Dishonorable mentions: The Night Flyer; The Secret Window; Silver Bullet; Children of the Corn

I have a copy of King's latest novel, "Doctor Sleep" sitting on my coffee table. It's the sequel to "The Shining" and I can't wait to dig in. I suppose I'll be taking it to Florida with me when I visit my sister for Christmas.

More, anon.

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