A couple of years ago, publishers came up with a way to re-package a small portion of famed author Stephen King’s now rather large inventory into a new volume. The book Stephen King Goes to the Movies showcased five short stories/novellas previously published in other compilations: 1408, The Mangler, Low Men in Yellow Coats, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Children of the Corn. However, let’s call it what it was — a pure promotional device to sell a book by way of introducing the source stories to moviegoers. Very little in new material was involved for King’s fans. While it added some background for each story, as included with 1-2 page introductions written by King himself, there was little of interest for those of us who’ve read these stories before. Still, what was a little more engaging was the last page of the collection: Stephen King’s Ten Favorite Adaptations. His were, in alphabetical order:
- Apt Pupil
- Dolores Claiborne
- The Green Mile
- The Mist
- The Shawshank Redemption
- Stand by Me
- Storm of the Century
Given the number of the tales this author has had adapted to film or television, it’s a thought-provoking list for the what the author himself favors. Although, it was no surprise one work in particular did not make his list. Stephen King’s well-known, and now famous, disagreement with Stanley Kubrick concerning his resulting adaptation* of his 1977 bestseller, The Shining, was a foregone conclusion. Yet, only two from this book’s short anthology made the author’s list, however (I guess the publishers couldn’t expect total cooperation from you-know-who for their book hustle). If I’d put one together (and is there any doubt?), some would definitely match up with SK, and some wouldn’t. With that said, here’s mine (also, in alphabetical order):
- Carrie – as I mentioned in my 2010 examination of the novel, movie, and audiobook, this was that rare case where the Brian De Palma film (the one that put him on the map) was simply better than the source text. Plus, Sissy Spacek‘s performance as Carrie White was the stuff dreams (or nightmare’s) are made of.
- Cujo – I’m glad to see this Lewis Teague† work rising in acclaim over the years. It’s really a quite chilling story, one altogether too plausible, that takes man’s best friend and twists him into a hellish torment. Dee Wallace’s performance is nothing short of wrenching. I recommend Sci-Fi Fanatic’s great recent review for a greater examination.
- The Dead Zone – this one truly was the head scratcher for me in that SK didn’t put this one in his top 10. TDZ really was the first adaptation‡ in a while that received fan and critics praise on first release (since 1976’s Carrie). It’s a haunting story captured wonderfully in spirit by Jeffrey Boam’s screen adaptation, David Cronenberg’s surprisingly subdued direction, and Christopher Walken’s affecting role (see SFF’s splendid review).
- Hearts in Atlantis (and is based on the Low Men in Yellow Coats novella) – even though it leaves out its Dark Tower series links, this William Goldman screen adapted tale reminds me in feeling and spirit to the last film on my list; plus, it’s one that brings out the boy in me — the one I hide away (see Novroz’s look at this novella)
- Misery – this is the novel that has, in my opinion, the best and most fully formed villain Stephen King ever created, Annie Wilkes (done in a breathtaking and award-winning stretch by Kathy Bates); it is, by a whisker, the second best Rob Reiner-directed adaptation of an SK work — good to know my colleague and fellow Flixchatter contributor, Ted Saydalavong, thinks similar.
- The Mist – I’m sure this will come as a shock for some, especially given my chief complaint concerning its ending noted here. But that aside, it really is one great adaptation by Frank Darabont as director/screenwriter (I’ll just end any future disc re-screenings sooner ;-)). I recommend J.D.’s 2008 review, and Will’s movie commentary, with yours truly, for why that is.
- The Night Flier – this HBO movie took the Nightmares and Dreamscapes short story and hit it out of the park (plus, Miguel Ferrer gave a James Woods-level, and thus great, interpretation for the character of Richard Dees in the piece). I recommend J.D.’s wonderful review of this modern vampire film (by Mark Pavia), one that restores the horror missing from the various teen and TV interpretations of today.
- The Shawshank Redemption – still the film adaptation of a Stephen King story (one that people didn’t expect would come from the master of horror) that all others are judged by. No matter what followed (The Green Mile, The Mist and other non-SK works), this remains Frank Darabont’s greatest film (btw, Stephen King dedicated this book to the director). My take on the novella, film, and audiobook can be found here.
- The Stand – while it could use an update given its TV-miniseries roots and SFX that haven’t aged well, it did successfully tackle the pioneering behemoth, 1153 pages for the complete & uncut 1990 version, of a book (originally out in 1978); it’s an excellent adaptation done by Mick Garris (and cast) using an SK screenplay (still the only book of King’s I had to put down because I was sick with the flu at the time).
- Stand by Me (based on The Body novella from the Different Seasons collection) – I think this was the singular film adaptation that began to change people’s mind about SK as a writer, and not just as an author of horror (itself a genre people tend to ghettoize); writers Raynold Gideon and Bruce Evans, along with director Rob Reiner, proved this was the best of the lot, till Shawshank appeared eight years later (it’s still a strong second, IMO). Moviegeek’s Blu-ray Disc review basically nails why.
* for the longest, I was with Mr. King on his belief Kubrick messed up on said adaptation; then, I let that go and began to enjoy the atmosphere and brilliance the director had built with his film — while I still don’t think it’s a good adaptation of the source novel, it’s one damn fine horror movie.
† this director also delivered a very good SK adaptation of a couple of short stories in 1985’s Cat’s Cradle — especially its standout piece, Quitter’s, Inc. (with a superb performance by James Woods); I didn’t include it in the above list because it was an anthology (like Creepshow and Creepshow 2) and not a single story film adaptation.
‡ IMO, 1983 was the greatest year for Stephen King movie adaptations; I mean, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Christine (John Carpenter’s underrated film), and Frank Darabont’s little seen 30-minute TV adaptation of The Woman in the Room (a short story that still haunts me to this day) all came out that year.