On September 8th “IT” will become the record 62nd movie adaptation, with another 26 currently in development. There is no doubt Stephen King is as much an icon of cinema as he is in literature.
With a story every bit as interesting as one of his novels, King’s father left to get cigarettes when he was a child one day and was never heard from again; he has battled alcoholism and was almost killed when struck by a van when out walking. The driver committed suicide aged just 43. King bought the van that hit him to “beat the $hit out of it with a sledgehammer” (these events actually played a big part in The Dark Tower novels).
So, now that we have the very barest of King’s histories, let’s go through the best and worst Stephen King movies.
5. Maximum Overdrive
The first and only film that King would direct himself. The set was plagued by accidents with the director of photography losing an eye and suing King due to unsafe working practices. The film is about a comet causing a radiation storm on Earth and machines start come to life and become homicidal. King himself would confess that “The problem with that film is that I was coked out of my mind all through its production, and I really didn’t know what I was doing [as the director of the film].”
4. The Langoliers
The Langoliers has an interesting enough premise. A group of passengers awake on a plane to find that most of their fellow passengers are missing. The mystery is ruined when it turns out those responsible are terrible CGI meatballs with teeth. The cast acts like they are in an SNL parody of a horror film which would be funny if it was a 90min B movie. However, this nonsense is stretched out for 4 hours!!
Incestuous, shape-shifting, energy vampires who feed off the life-force of virgin women. Oh, and they turn into werecats….yeah werecats is a thing now. Whatever King was on when he came up with this idea I want some. Featuring cameos from people who should know better like Mark Hamill and horror icons Tobe Hooper, Clive Barker, John Landis and Joe Dante. Director Mick Garris would go on to direct the god-awful mini-series of The Shining. Where King, who was unhappy with the Stanley Kubrick version wanted to right the wrongs of that film but instead made the equivalent of a letter from a bitter ex.
I really want to see the pitch where someone sat down and said “ok so aliens come to earth infect humans and cause them to fart and belch uncontrollably before they get diarrhoea and you poop out $hit weasels. Oh and you all have psychic powers or something” Not only did that terrible premise get made, it managed to get Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane and Damian Lewis to star in it and the guy who wrote The Empire Strikes Back to direct it. There is a scene where they use a gun as a telephone to have a psychic conversation. Lewis decides that he will use his English accent when he is evil because. Why not? nothing else in this film makes any god damn sense.
1. Secret Window
Dreamcatcher is awful but at least it can be watched in a “what in the name of God is going on?” fun way. Secret Window is as bland and boring a film you will ever have the displeasure to see. The whole film hinges on its twist ending. Even at one point, the film itself says the story doesn’t matter “the only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story, the ending” which would be somewhat interesting if the twist isn’t telegraphed 5 mins in.
In 2004 every thriller had to have the twist ending, unfortunately for Secret Window, 27 other films at the time had the “it’s the same guy” ending. Unlike something like Fight Club which can be enjoyed knowing the twist, some would argue it even enhances the film. This adds nothing to the film even the delivery of the twist is handled with the grace of someone dancing to “Maniac 2000” in Coppers at 3 am. Depp has a stab at playing what he thinks is a regular person. In his head this means wearing different scarves indoors, having chats with himself and eating week old crisps. It’s a coma inducing bore of a film. If you haven’t seen it, DON’T!
Featuring an unforgettable performance from Kathy Bates who pulls novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) from a car wreck before slowly becoming more and more unhinged when she realises that he is killing off her favourite character from his novels. King has said that Bates represented his alcoholism that he was unable to escape from. Hopefully, Jack Daniels never tied King to a bed and shattered his ankles with a sledgehammer.
4. The Mist
Quite simply, one of the best horror movies of the last 20 years. Focusing on a group of people isolated in a supermarket when a strange mist covers the town. The paranoia and mistrust are cranked up to unbearable levels as the frightened group start to turn on each other unaware of what (in any) threat awaits them outside. The film features one of the all-time great gut punch endings that has to be seen to be believed.
3. The Green Mile
The second of three King movies on this list directed by Frank Darabont. Focusing on the touching relationship between prison guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) and gentle giant John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) The Green Mile brilliantly explores the line of the kindness and cruelty of human nature. Doug Hutchinson who played the evil prison guard Percy, is apparently just as creepy in real life. Marrying a 16 year beauty pageant contestant when he was 51 years old!!
2. The Shawshank Redemption
Criminally overlooked upon its release, it was beaten at the box office by Steven Seagal with “On Deadly Ground” and Van Damme in “Street-Fighter”. The film found a second life on VHS and is now widely recognised as one of the greatest films of all time and sits at number one on IMDB. You have all seen it, you all love it so I will try and ruin it with my theory that Andy ends up back in jail.
Andy never gets pardoned and starts a new life with stolen government money. So as far as the public is concerned a convicted murderer has escaped from jail. Red then violates his parole to visit him. Crossing the border, where I assume he has to show ID. So when Red is reported for parole violation they will trace him to Mexico and Andy will be arrested again.
1. Stand By Me
They just don’t films like this anymore. Shawshank may be the most revered movie on this list but from a personal standpoint Stand By Me is the best adaptation of Kings work. The kids actually act like real kids, they are not just mini adults who always do they right thing. The lie, they steal, they smoke, they drink, they are awesome. The main story focuses on the search the dead body of a missing child while running into everything from trains, testicule attacking dogs and “cheap dime store hoods” The film is funny, heart-breaking and inspiring in equal measure.
Everything about it is endlessly watchable, the soundtrack is wonderful and the performances are stunning which only adds to the tragedy that the main cast never hit the heights of their potential. The gloriously downbeat ending seems to knowingly foreshadow this with its downbeat epilogue and wonderful final line "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"
I am sure there will be arguments for Shawshank to top the list or The Shinning and Carrie but it’s my list and you don’t like it you can ……… it’s the biggest one in four counties.
For more from Andy McCarroll and Gordon Hayden on Stephen King and the latest in movie news and reviews tune into “We Love Movies” at 11:45 on Sunday mornings.
Words: Andy McCarroll @andymc1983