The Stephen King Renaissance is certainly upon us. Box office busting records, two new Netflix originals, TV series, announcements of upcoming Stephen King remakes or sequels or sidequels hitting the trades every day. Though I can't claim to be the most avid consumer of his books, I did enjoy the latest version of It enough to grab my bottle of Ripple and plop down on the Lazy-Boy to watch/re-watch 29 other King adaptations since late September-- 15 I'd already seen and 15 that were new to me. Here's how that ghoulish fool's errand turned out, with films ranked from Worst (#30) to Best (#1)...
30. GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990) – Ralph S. Singleton
A murky, muddled minimum wage downer with very few scares and a decent Brad Dourif cameo. For top-shelf rat horror, stick to Willard or Of Unknown Origin.
29. CARRIE (2013) – Kimberly Peirce
Peirce can be an interesting director, but the only thing this wildly unnecessary remake had to add to the classic De Palma original is updated bullying methods (i.e., Carrie's shower locker room hazing recorded on smart phones and uploaded to the web) and a comparatively generic visual palette. Moretz is fine as modern day Carrie but no match for Spacek's so pale she's nearly translucent victim turned telekenetic avenger.
28. NEEDFUL THINGS (1993) – Fraser C. Heston
The Devil comes to Castle Rock in the form of Max Von Sydow. Much antiquing and boredom ensues! This felt like a re-tread of the Salem's Lot story with minor fluctuations in plot and some fine actors slumming it (Ed Harris, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh). Two minutes of Von Sydow playing chess with Death is spooky enough for me, thank you.
27. SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (1991) – Tom McLoughlin
Undead greasers return from the grave to torment a teacher with anger issues (Tim Matheson) and remind him (over and over and over again) how they killed his kid brother. A made-for-TV movie based on a Stephen King short. "Sometimes They Need The Paycheck."
26. 1922 (2017) – Zak Hilditch
Caught this new Netflix King adaptation on the big screen at Fantastic Fest instead of streaming. Not sure the grander venue was necessary. Tom Jane and Molly Parker were solid. The cinematography was professional. The story...slight and completely forgettable. Something about poor folks doing bad things, maybe?
25. CAT'S EYE (1985) - Lewis Teague
The lesser of the two King anthology films I re-watched. The "Quitters, Inc." segment is still as effective in the vaping age, like a great '80s Twilight Zone episode. The other two segments just lay there like a lump of wet kitty litter. In other words, 33.333333% entertaining!
24. FIRESTARTER (1984) – Mark Lester
This movie should sue Stranger Things for serious copyright infringement (oh, how those telekinetic noses do bleed!). Some interesting plot developments, a lovely Tangerine Dream score, and solid David Keith-Heather Locklear pairing. But, man oh man, is young Drew Barrymore a whiny ear-sore. Someone should've torched her SAG card and sent her to bed with no supper.
23. THE LAWNMOWER MAN (1992) – Brett Leonard
Jeff Fahey playing a kindhearted groundskeeping moron certainly has its small pleasures. As does the quaint notion that early era virtual reality would be a game-changer for anything other than the gaming industry. But, as Fahey begins to smarten up Flowers for Algernon style and the movie gets ambition to say something grand about the modern world (I watched the director's cut), all the fun of the silly premise is sapped right out. If you're looking for legit scares, arrow key elsewhere. If you need a few good laughs, watch the first hour, then go cut the grass.
22. THE MANGLER (1995) – Tobe Hooper
Truth told, it's hard to make industrial laundering equipment scary. Hooper tries for a while, then mostly throws in the towel (zing!) opting for grim humor more along the lines of Texas Chainsaw 2 (which I adore). A fine diversion while folding linens, but definitely a lesser entry in the otherwise commendable Hooper filmography / King bibliography.
21. PET SEMATARY II (1992) – Mary Lambert
This sequel's technically a cheat as it's only based on a Stephen King premise with none of the original novel characters reappearing. But I loved the first film so much, I thought I'd make a return visit to that hallowed Indian burial ground with the ability to reanimate dead pet/human flesh. PSII isn't nearly as good as the original (obviously) and opts for a more somber tone (the soundtrack is lousy with bands on the cusp of grunge era pseudo-seriousness). But there are a few truly disturbing scenes, especially the opening sequence...a real "shocker." Not bad for sloppy seconds.
20. MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) – Stephen King
Unlike the previous entry, this trucks gone amok thriller is ALL KING, not only based on and scripted by but also directed by (for better or worse) the horrormeister himself. Though the story loses steam and most of its menace about midway through, there are plenty of fun sight gags to be had (see above). If you think of Maximum Overdrive as an Emilio Estevez comedy rather than a horror flick, it's actually not that bad (better than Men At Work, at least). Plus, kudos to King for shoving every song in the AC/DC catalog into his lark of a movie, whether they work or not.
19. THE DARK HALF (1993) – George Romero
On the spectrum of Stephen King stories about writers battling inner (and frequently externalized) demons, this one falls somewhere in the middle. It's not The Shining good, but it's also not Secret Window bad. The setup has promise: A thriller writer's pseudonym comes to life after he buries the pen name in favor of writing more literary novels. As all good (i.e., bad) doppelgangers do, he begins tormenting his creator (i.e., himself). If it were more of a beguiling mystery how this mirrored being sprung to life, The Dark Half would've had me in its clutches for the duration. The problem is there's too much exposition toward the end (Tim Hutton's doppelganger is revealed to be the result of a childhood brain tumor with a twin inside or some such hokum). As any good writer or pseudonymous writer should know, this much explanation is a big non-no!
18. GERALD'S GAME (2017) – Mike Flanagan
Yes, Carla Gugino is great, and that wrist-ripping scene will go down as a watershed moment in the annals of gore. But, man, did King nuke his own ending. And Flanagan only made it worse with his slavish faithfulness. I'm sorry, but the Moonlight Man/bone collector/Twin Peaks giant doesn't belong in this movie. He belongs only in the Black or White Lodge. Take your pick.
17. 1408 (2007) – Mikael Hafstrom
Another fantastically chilling first hour hog-tied by a misguided ending and a painfully obvious End of Second Act misdirect. I'm not sure if the King source material is to blame (didn't read the short story) or the screenwriters/director here. Either way, this is one half of very solid horror movie.
16. SALEM'S LOT (1979) - Tobe Hooper
Some nice spooky atmosphere for a miniseries done in the pre-Prestige TV renaissance. Also, a great James Mason performance. Though Hooper nailed the suburban horror thing a few years later with the classic Poltergeist, Lot was a fine training ground for similar themes. Yes, the rubbery effects are dated, but I'm sure they'll remedy (or over-remedy) that in the inevitable post-It flood of Stephen King remakes.
15. SILVER BULLET (1985) – Dan Attias
Direction-wise, it's no American Werewolf, but the Stephen King script cleverly toys with some of the age-old lycanthrope tropes. Add to that more coked-up Gary Busey than you can shake a stick at, and you've got yourself a respectable beer and fried chicken midnight movie.
14. THE DEAD ZONE (1983) – David Cronenberg
Just because it's on the lower half of my Cronenberg Favorites list does not preclude it from landing on the top half of the Stephen King Adapts list. Saw this as a kid a long time ago before I was a Cronenberg fan and only had vague, unmemorable recollections, unlike protag Christopher Walken's crystal clear see-into-the-future flashes. Watching it again a few weeks ago, I dug it quite a bit more, though I still wish Dave had found a way to squeeze more signature body horror into King's plot. That said, political candidate Martin Sheen holding a baby in front of him to block an assassin's bullet is its own kind of body horror, one that I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see our current shitstick POTUS replicating if it ever came to that.
13. MISERY (1990) – Rob Reiner
Apart from the hobbling scene, Misery isn't that chock full of scares. Its pleasures derive from watching two great actors (Caan and Bates) duke it out psychologically in closed quarters. And let's not forget that prized oinker cameo.
12. IT (1990) – Tommy Lee Wallace
I had very low expectations for the original TV miniseries version of It when I cued it up a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised to have them largely overturned. Nostalgia had a lot do with it--"Hey, is that John Boy, Jack Tripper, and Judge Harry Stone all in the same movie?!"--but for a three-hour movie beholden to '90s network TV violence/obscenity/sexuality standards it still found some inventive ways around the limitations to deliver the killer clown goods. As much as I love Annette O'Toole as Adult Bev, still can't wait to see what Amy Adams (fingers crossed) does with the role in It Part 2.
11. CREEPSHOW (1982) – George Romero
The better of the two King anthologies I re-watched. "Something To Tide You Over" with Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson is the crown jewel, the Stephen King starrer about space moss is a hoot, and the E.G. Marshall one with the roaches is solid fun. The two others didn't really work for me, but, hey, three out of five is pretty good.
10. A RETURN TO SALEM'S LOT (1987) – Larry Cohen
This one's another cheat, as there's no direct Stephen King involvement, only a "loosely based on characters by" sequel approach. Newsflash: The looseness works. I enjoyed Return much more than the original Salem's Lot, but then I'm a sucker for churlish teens in Miami Vice threads cursing out adults and for Sam Fuller running around at age 75 with wooden stake in hand, throwing open caskets, and gutting sleeping vampires. And I DO MEAN running. Fuller jogs in almost every scene he appears in, often with a lit stogie. Someone should've reminded him to take it easy--he was only acting this time, not directing. I doubt if he would've listened.
9. THINNER (1996) – Tom Holland
This cautionary tale of a chubby corrupt lawyer cursed to lose pounds at an alarming rate gave me the body horror fix I was craving out of The Dead Zone but didn't get. It also delivered in full on my perennial Kari Wuhrer As Vindictive Gypsy craving. Big Fun!
8. SLEEPWALKERS (1992) – Mick Garris
Another '90s Stephen King adaptation that came and went without me noticing or caring back in the day, I was all prepped to dismiss or dislike it, probably both. I'm pleased to announce Sleepwalkers aroused the snoozing horror fan in me for 90 minutes and put the skeptic to rest. Much of it had to do with the intriguingly twisted mother-son relationship with Alice Krige and Brian Krause, kind of a gender-flipped Oedipal version of the one in Carrie. It probably didn't hurt that Twin Peaks era Madchen Amick also had a prominent role as the movie theatre candy counter girl who comes between them.
7. IT (2017) – Andy Muschietti
I won't lie. I saw this back at the tail end of September and have already forgotten much of it. I do remember thoroughly enjoying it while seated in the multiplex and rarely checking my watch. A rare feat for me and a movie that made a shit-ton of money. The general movie-going public and I don't usually see this eye to eye. But, hey, it prompted me to spend valuable time perusing 29 other King adaptations, so there must be something to it, right?
6. CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) – Fritz Kiersch
Lordy Lordy, don't make me choose between Isaac and Malachi. They are both creepy little corn-fed shits, and this movie is blessed to have them both.
5. CUJO (1983) - Lewis Teague
I'm pretty sure this ruthlessly efficient "when animals attack" thriller is what finally made me give in on the Dog vs. Cat family pet war raging in my household as a kid and agree to foster three mangy cats instead of one solid canine. I may regret that choice now but don't regret having my limbs still in tact and not having to spend two full days trapped in station wagon at the behest of a St. Bernard with bat rabies.
4. CHRISTINE (1983) – John Carpenter
Saw this one on VHS way back in the day, and it didn't make much of an impression. I chalk it up to me not being a gearhead and forsaking my Matchbox cars for action figures at the time. But watching it again many years later as a Carpenter fan, I now see the light (or twin headlights). How Carpenter manages to make a rolling hunk of tin not only horrifying but imbue it with a jealous personality is a thing of moviemaking beauty. It truly is "Jaws on Wheels."
3. CARRIE (1976) – Brian De Palma
Confession: The Carrie storyline never much resonated with me. It could have something to do with never being a) a teenage girl b) born in a strictly religious household or c) bullied to the point of being doused in pig's blood. But DePalma films what could have been a vaguely racy afterschool movie with such audacious visual panache that I am pulled into its hallucinatory spell time and time again. Even when he goes WAY over the top with the split-screens, it's all of a piece with King's histrionic source material.
2. PET SEMATARY (1989) – Mary Lambert
Never has a horror movie been so narratively cavalier in its cruel mistreatment of small children, household pets and spinal meningitis victims, though the end credit PETA disclaimers might assure you otherwise. Pet Sematary freaked the crap out of me when I saw it in the theatre as a young teen, and it still wigs me out as a grown-ass adult. The gross-out end freeze frame is perfect, and the Ramones kick in just at the right moment. This is horror flick as punk rock jam, and it's a shame Mary Lambert didn't get a lot of big gigs after this other than the sequel. I just read there's a remake in the works (of course), and all I can say to that is...hey, Starry Eyes Dudes, tread lightly and heed Jud Crandall's warning: "Sometimes dead is better."
1. THE SHINING (1980) – Stanley Kubrick
Little Stevie can kvetch all he wants. Stanley's version is still King of all Kings.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!!! 🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃