Not that he ever actually went out of fashion, but it’s safe to say that horror master, genre changing iconic author, Stephen King is most assuredly back in vogue.
You can decide for yourself if the slow building return to adapting his books to film and TV started with Darabont helming The Mist in 2007, or the Chloe Moretz-starring Carrie reboot a few years back, but something broke the dam. It looks very likely that for the next few years at least, we can expect regular doses of King crafted horror.
As it stands right now, King lost out with The Dark Tower, which soundly disappointed everyone who saw it. To make up for that, he has It tearing up the box office (after having already been a successful miniseries 27 years ago), Castle Rock about to launch on Hulu, Pet Sematary in talks for a reboot, and a serialised version of The Mist available on Netflix now. And those are just the better publicised, or more commercially viable projects. If you know King’s work you know you can nearly set your clock by regular Children of The Corn sequels or reboots, and that there have been adaptations, or attempts that wallow for years in development hell, pretty much since the man started putting out his written works.
Even the smash hit Stranger Things is pretty much one big love letter to him (and other horror icons).
It’s recorded history that the adaptations of his books have been … hit and miss. For every The Shining, Misery, The Green Mile or indeed, both versions of It, there is Dreamcatcher, Secret Window and any number of schlocky movies, or cheaply made miniseries.
But, that’s what makes King so special. Even when his books aren’t given the right filmmaking team, or just the basic respect that they deserve, his stories are still so chilling, or so thought provoking that anyone can find their own King movies to enjoy.
So, in the spirit of the season (Halloween is right around the corner) and to celebrate another successful film for one of the best authors of his and any time, welcome to Weekend Binge Watch; The Stephen King Edition. I have dug out my favourite adaptations, even if they aren’t the ‘best’ and if you need a little pause from…you know, the whole world right now, let Oohlo hook you up with some King flavoured escapism.
It’s no secret that Stranger Things is inspired and influenced by any number of great media from the golden age of 80’s TV and cinema, especially King himself. And, if you’ve even heard of the Drew Barrymore, David Keith and Martin Sheen starring Firestarter (1984), then you’ve heard of most of the inspiration for Eleven’s backstory. Firestarter is the story of Drew Barrymore’s Charlie, a girl born with the dangerous ability to start fires at will after her parents took part in a strange drug trial in college.
The Shop, the shady organisation behind the experiment get wind of little Charlie’s powers and after murdering her mother to try and find Charlie, hunts the girl and her father across the USA. Their intentions for Charlie are, of course, sinister as all get out; they want to test her powers, then if they can’t figure out how to control her, they will kill her.
Firestarter is a fun little movie, and a pretty brilliant adaptation of King’s original book. Drew Barrymore is naturally spectacular as Charlie and now that we have Stranger Things to enjoy, it’s all the more fun to go back and watch the inspiration behind Eleven.
Martin Sheen co-stars as the eeeeeeeevil leader out to get Charlie and for all his great work everywhere, this might be my favourite performance of his. He’s wickedly scheming, chewing the scenery just a little, and it actually works well in the context of the film. This is a favourite of mine for a lot of reasons but a major one is, I feel the movie captures King’s storytelling quite well, and it’s a slightly low budget Sci Fi movie from the 80’s that isn’t afraid to slow down for some exposition, or just some character building conversations.
It’s also a film that raises an interesting and controversial question, one which Stranger Things has vaguely hinted at already with Eleven, and one which I will leave you to consider; children like Charlie, or Eleven, possess world-changing powers, but that doesn’t mean they can control it. What happens … what should be done, if and when they do lose control?
The first time I saw this film, my sister and I were maybe ten and twelve and watched pretty much the whole thing while alone in a dark room. We were haunted by Gage’s creepy, musical little laugh, but as relatively hardy kids who watched (probably too much) horror fairly often, we thought we would just shake it off. The next day at an outdoor marker we heard that same musical laugh. It came from a doll for sale, one which had the same big eyes and blond hair as that creepy undead kid from that damned movie.
Needless to say, our jimmies were suitably rustled.
Pet Sematary (1989) is about the family Creed, who move to a picturesque farmhouse in rural Maine. Louis Creed is to be the new town doctor, and his family expects a happy, content life in their beautiful new home. But this is a Stephen King novel, so it all goes sideways, fast.
When Louis’ adorable toddler son is run down by a truck, Louis is so overwhelmed with grief, he turns to dark forces for relief. His elderly neighbour has told Louis of a strange burial site in the wilderness behind Louis’ home, one with the power to resurrect any dead thing buried there. Louis has already brought back his daughter’s beloved cat and while it came back changed and aggressive, he’s convinced little Gage will be different. Again, this is King, so … no. Gage comes back wrong. Gage comes back … something else.
Pet Sematary is classic King, suggesting at greater forces within nature that fight to both cause and prevent humans from interfering in their Strange Works. Louis Creed sees the ghost of a lost patient who warn him against his decisions and tries to help Mrs. Creed save her husband; his grief-riddled daughter has psychic visions of his actions and predicts his fate. Pet Sematary isn’t remembered as well as other King works, perhaps for the film’s reliance on jumps and gore for its scares, but if you give it a chance, it’s a good horror watch. There’s a well-maintained fear and tension from the opening scenes, and there’s this undercurrent of something that keeps you off balance, like the story is built on a downward running slope that you can’t quite save yourself from. If you like creepy kid horror, Gage Creed is a low key icon. If nothing else, it’s worth a watch to see tiny, little Miko Hughes, who was literally 4 years old when he played Gage Creed and in his first ever acting role, turn out one of the creepier evil kid performances ever recorded to film.
Back when vampires were legitimate horror villains and not sappy, lovelorn, stalker man-children, we got films like Night Flier (1997). The late, great Miguel Ferrer stars as Richard Dees, a cynical and acerbic reporter working for a trashy tabloid which specialises in gore and carnage. Burned out on just … the entire world, pretty much, Dees flies around the country in a small plane he owns, and chases down the grimmest and most depressing stories of human tragedy that he can find.
Dees is pissed to be assigned the strange story of a travelling serial killer who may be flying between tiny, private airfields in a mysterious black ship, leaving a quiet but growing trail of death in his wake. Dees is dismissive until he’s not, and when he starts looking, things get weird. The victims die of having their blood drained from their bodies without any being left at the scene, and other strange factors surround each case; bizarre witness accounts, stories of abnormal behaviour from the victims in the days before they died. Dees, himself encounters a seemingly demonic dog.
Though cynical and dubious, Dees slowly comes to realise the killer is some kind of vampire, and worse yet, Dees own fate has become inextricably linked with the creatures.
Night Flier is a delight to watch, almost entirely because of Miguel Ferrer who was always the most lovable grump in every role he played. And again, that vague sense of ‘wrongness’ that pervades King’s writing is present and well maintained here, even if some amazingly corny dialogue does threaten to ruin the whole thing for everyone.
And there you have your Weekend Binge Watch. Go forth and get scared by one of the most eldritch storytellers of our time. Oohlo out.