I think the most wonderful thing Stephen King has done is to help make horror mainstream. If you are caught reading Edgar Allan Poe, people think ‘school assignment’. If you are caught reading H.P. Lovecraft, people think ‘geek’. If you are caught reading Stephen King, people wonder why you still read in this day and age but at least they don’t wonder about what you are reading.
Stephen King’s biggest strength has always been characterization – his plots are not dissimilar from those of other horror writers but his books feel real because the characters feel real. There are currently 5 Stephen King films available on Instant Netflix.
1. Carrie (1976) – “Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is an ostracized girl saddled with a strict mother. But the teen has the ability to move objects with her mind, and when the high school “in crowd” torments her with a sick joke at the prom, she lashes out with devastating, deadly power. Director Brian De Palma deftly transfers Stephen King’s first novel to the screen”
Stephen King and Brian De Palma, both on the rise prior to this film, take off like a rocket after it’s release. This adaptation is excellent, Sissy Spacek is heartbreakingly vulnerable as a young girl abused both by her mother and by her peers. Brian De Palma’s use of splitscreen is wonderful, particularly during the climactic prom sequence. John Travolta has a wonderful time playing a slimeball.
*Minor Spoiler* – the fake ending has since become a (severely overused) staple of horror movies.
2. Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (1985) – “Three shocking Stephen King short stories are linked by a stray cat that roams from one tale to the next. First, Dick (James Woods) is trying to quit smoking by any means necessary — even joining a shady self-help organization. Next, Johnny (Robert Hays) is an adulterous man forced by the wronged husband to circle a building’s hazardous ledge. Last, Amanda (Drew Barrymore) is threatened by an evil gnome who throws suspicion on the family cat”
Stephen King adaptations are almost always hit or miss. Surprise! This one is a miss. It isn’t bad – just overwhelmingly meh. The writing, directing, acting, and editing are all highly pedestrian – it’s hard not to get the impression that this was a paint-by-numbers made-for-TV movie.
3. Misery (1990) – “Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) rescues her idol, romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan), after he crashes his car during a fierce blizzard. But when she finds out he plans to kill off the heroine in his next volume, Annie morphs from nurturing caregiver to sadistic jailer. In this tightly wound, suspenseful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Bates earns her Best Actress Oscar as a woman come undone in a claustrophobia-inducing house of horrors”
One of Stephen King’s most personal books is superbly adapted by writer William Goldman and director Rob Reiner. James Caan does a really nice job as the suffering writer but you won’t be able to keep your eyes off Kathy Bates’ amazing performance. This film also contains one of the most excruciating scenes ever – I dare you to see it for the first time and not wince or flinch.
People watch: look for the radiant Lauren Bacall in a small role.
4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – “Framed in the 1940s for the double murder of his wife and her lover, upstanding banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) begins a new life at the Shawshank prison, where he puts his accounting skills to work for an amoral warden (Bob Gunton). During his long stretch in prison, Dufresne comes to be admired by the other inmates — including an older prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman) — for his integrity and unquenchable sense of hope”
This is another wonderful Stephen King adaptation, this time directed by Frank Darabont who would go on to direct two more excellent King adaptations, The Green Mile and The Mist. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give excellent performances and Darabont’s attention to period detail is wonderful. Clancy Brown and William Sadler provide nice backup but look for a scene-stealing James Whitmore as a long-time inmate.
5. Hearts in Atlantis (2001) – “An elderly man (Anthony Hopkins) with bad eyesight and a gift for second sight moves into a widower’s home as a boarder and befriends the woman’s young son (Anton Yelchin), who reads to the aging visionary and learns of his mysterious power — and the danger he’s trying to escape. Set in the 1960s, this coming-of-age drama based on a short story by Stephen King came on the heels of the successful adaptation of King’s The Green Mile”
William Goldman again writes an excellent screenplay from a Stephen King story. This film is a charming story of Bobby’s coming of age as he comes to know the mysterious boarder. Anthony Hopkins provides his usual excellent performance and the young Bobby Garfield is played well by Anton Yelchin who recently gave a hilarious performance as Chekov in the new Star Trek movie. Look for a pre-Firefly Alan Tudyk in a small role. This movie is very enjoyable but not a classic.