Even the most causal reader of this site should know that in addition to music I really dig horror flicks. And making lists. So this post is a natural.
Stephen King is definitely my favorite horror writer. Whether it is his later, more thoughtful works like Bag of Bones or earlier blood-and-fang epics like ‘Salems Lot and Cujo, there are few who can hold a torch to him when it comes to incredible ideas and, generally, reliable execution.
But as for his movie/TV adaptations? Not so much. Some are fantastic but many are unwatchably bad. Here’s the good, bad, and the mediocre.
THE TOP 15 STEPHEN KING MOVIES/TV SHOWS
15. Pet Sematary (1989). It’s silly (what kind of shmuck buries his kid in a Pet Cemetery) and it features Herman Munster, but I love this film, all the way down to the Ramones’ theme music (“I don’t wanna live in a pet cemetery!”) Stick with it–it is a little stilted and dated–but it’s a classic.
14. Christine (1983). If I can get personal, I read Christine when I was about 10 years old on an island off the coast of Maine. The island was about 3 square miles and there were about 15 motor vehicles on the whole island. I finished the book late at night, closed it, and turned out the light to my bedroom, which faced a field at the end of a dirt road, about a half a mile off the main road. I rolled over towards the window and suddenly headlights appeared at the top of the field. They lingered for about 5 minutes, then drove away. True story.
This movie, directed by genius horror director John Carpenter, is scary and ironically prescient (as King would later be the victim of a terrible hit-and-run). The brilliance of it is the way that it manipulates the standard boy-and-his-car love story you hear in every Beach Boys song. Carpenter managed to make a movie that was, in many ways, just as good as the book.
13. Storm of the Century (1999). One of many TV miniseries’ from Mr. King, this tale of a small town terrorized by a mysterious devil-like man during a blizzard was full of suspense and at times as scary as TV can ever really be. “Give me what I want and I will go away!”
12. The Dead Zone (TV Series). The first couple seasons of this show were first-rate, almost on a par with The X-Files. It started to go downhill after that, and they didn’t do a great job with the Reverend Purdy storyline, but on the whole it was a fine compliment to the excellent film version (see #6, below) of this, one of King’s greatest novels.
11. The Running Man (1987). Ah-nold and Richard Dawson starring together! This movie is quite dated, but it’s a classic example of the 1980s futuristic rampage film, similar to Escape From New York or Terminator. Not a great film, but a great example of the genre. Plus: Gold spandex!
10. The Stand (1994). There’s been many TV miniseries based on King’s works, mostly because his books are so darn long. Several have been fair to good (The Shining, Rose Red), some have been tons of cheesy fun (Langoliers ,the first ‘Salems Lot series), some are creepy, some are corny. And then there’s this one, which is all of the above. If you don’t have a good time watching this, you’re probably a snob.
9. Maximum Overdrive (1986). I’m probably one of the few who’d put this Emilio Estevez “vehicle” (get it? Ha!) on my top list, but I love this movie. I also haven’t been able to catch it on cable or find it on DVD. It’s based on “Trucks” from King’s first collection, Night Shift, a book I read until it fell apart. They did an updated adaptation that was pure crap, but this version rocks. Right down to the AC/DC soundtrack including original tune “Who Made Who?,” which kick starts, if memory serves, right when the ATM tells Stephen King to fuck off. Please release this on DVD!!!
8. 1408 (2007). A genuinely scary movie that’s mostly about John Cusak in a hotel room. I don’t understand why this film didn’t get better reviews or box office.
7. The Mist (2007). Frank “Shawshank” Darabont directed this extraordinarily frightening monster movie. They don’t make too many monster movies these days, and when they do they tend to be about the special effects and eye candy, at the expense of horror and suspense. This one plays the way “The Fog” should have: Low, creepy, and then building to a climax. My only complaint: It should have ended when they drove into the mist. The “gotcha” ending was tacked on, stupid, and predictable. But most horror movies end badly. The key thing here: This movie really should scare the crap out of you. it’s not just a great Stephen King movie, it’s a great movie, period.
6. The Dead Zone (1983). Walken, baby, Walken. And David Cronenberg. Amen.
5. Carrie (1976). Stephen King’s first novel and first film, starting his career out right with a lead role from Sissy Spacek (who has said that she didn’t really understand what the film was going to be like, or she wouldn’t have starred in it). A brilliant condemnation of religiousity, and the best use of pig’s blood in movie history.
4. The Shining (1980). The 9th scariest movie ever made. Nuff said.
3. Misery (1990). Rob “Stand By Me” Reiner took Kathy Bates’ career to a whole other level with this film, and macho man James Caan should be applauded for playing against type.
2. Stand By Me (1986). Liberally based on a short story (“The Body,” from King’s fantastic collection), this is one of my favorite films of all time. It doesn’t hurt that the boys in the film all went on to greatness: River Phoenix became a certifiable genius; Corey Feldman just became certifiable, but his work on Lost Boys and the Corey Haim reality show are supremely entertaining, and his singing career is one of the funniest things ever; Wil Wheaton, geek-star of Star Trek: The Next Generation; and Jerry O’Connell, husband to Rebecca Romijn.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994). The greatest prison movie of all time, and one of those rare movies that, if I’m surfing cable, I have to stop and watch every time. There’s only a few flicks like that for me (Godfather 1 or 2, Boyz N The Hood, Apocalypse Now, and X-Men 1 or 2 are the others I can think of).
THE BOTTOM 5 STEPHEN KING MOVIES/TV SHOWS
5. Firestarter (1984). Vastly mediocre, starring Drew Barrymore at her least cute.
4. Kingdom Hospital (2004). King admired Lars Von Trier’s miniseries, The Kingdom, so much that he had to fuck it up. See the original. It doesn’t make any more sense than this one, but it’s much creepier.
3. Thinner (1996). It took me two hours to read the book, and two minutes to figure out that the movie was a piece of crap.
2. Children of the Corn (1984). And all of its sequels (especially Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return).
1. Lawnmower Man. It wasn’t even about the guy from the Night Shift story, which was gross and creepy and hilarious. It was about some virtual reality bullshit. Even worse: Lawnmower Man 2. The sequel nobody was waiting for.
THE MOST MEDIOCRE STEPHEN KING MOVIES/TV SHOWS.
If you agree with me after seeing the above films and want other SK recommendations, you’ll probably be okay with these three (but they won’t rock your world): Creepshow (1982); Needful Things (1993); The Green Mile (1999) (lotsa folks really, really like this but it didn’t really move me).