Few authors are as prolific and compulsively readable as Stephen King.
That doesn’t mean his books translate easily to the big screen. For years Hollywood tried, and tried, to make blockbusters out of his horror yarns.
The results? Mixed at the very best.
Then screenwriters started to crack the code. And while we still get more clunkers than classics from King’s canon, it’s now possible to anticipate Stephen King adaptations.
That makes the new film “The Dark Tower” an intriguing pop culture moment. Idris Elba is Roland, the last gunslinger in King’s famous eight-book series. Early reviews aren’t kind, hearkening back to those aforementioned clunkers.
For now, let’s look back at five films that nailed King’s essential prose.
“Stand By Me”
King isn’t just a maestro of horror. He also dabbles in stories that don’t scare us silly. Case in point: A novella dubbed “The Body.” The story inspired this Rob Reiner classic, a tale capturing the swirl of emotions pre-teen boys endure. Sure it’s set in the 1950s, but any lad can connect with this quarreling quartet.
Two characters. One musty house. And a typewriter that better be used. Or else. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for playing an obsessed fan nursing her favorite author (James Caan) back to health. And crushing his legs if he doesn’t type exactly what she wants. Once again Reiner captures what makes King’s imagination so absorbing. Bates is the secret sauce here, walking the line between fandom and madness. She’s scarier than Freddy Krueger on his worst day.
King himself hates this 1980 adaptation by Stanley Kubrick. The rest of civilized society puts it atop the list of greatest horror movies of all time.
Sorry, Stephen. You lose.
Kubrick may have skimped on our emotional ties to Jack Torrance, but that’s what happens when an auteur takes a crack at your story. The finished product is mesmerizing, with or without Jack Nicholson’s most unhinged performance. And that’s saying something.
“The Shawshank Redemption”
This 1994 film may be the most compulsively watchable movie since “Goodfellas.” Just try stumbling onto it while channel surfing and leaving the room.
Just. Not. Possible.
Once again King’s non-horror work proves mesmerizing in the proper hands. Director Frank Darabont captures the camaraderie, desperation and tiny joys of prison life, seen through the eyes of a presumably innocent man (Tim Robbins). The actor’s bond with co-star Morgan Freeman is an emotional masterwork that never gets old.
They all float down here, Georgie!
This TV movie adaptation is riddled with flaws. The budget is lower than modern TV productions. The effects aren’t exactly memorable, which is being kind. And the late, great John Ritter is one of several casting miscues.
Yet director Tommy Lee Wallace not only nails the chemistry of both the child and adult casts (the Losers Club), he lets Tim Curry run wild as Pennywise the clown. Without Curry this is ho-hum material with some impressive dramatic turns.
Anytime Curry is on screen this is the stuff of nightmares. Here’s hoping the September remake fixes the casting snafus while retaining Pennywise’s frightening glee.