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The 10 Most Interesting Stephen King Film Adaptations

The 10 Most Interesting Stephen King Film Adaptations

By Erik Abriss

The works of Stephen King bring a few things to mind. Warm reflections of nostalgia. The innocence of youth fighting back against a corrupted authority in all its many shapes. Horror balanced out by humor. And a writing style that is both universally appealing and indelibly individualistic.

In that sense, The Hundreds X IT collaboration is very on brand. So to honor the collection dropping tomorrow, and the uniquely creative mind behind Pennywise the Clown, let’s take a look at the most interesting film adaptations of King’s writings throughout the years.

10. Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Sure, the theatrical trailer for Maximum Overdrive might be held in higher regard than the actual film, thanks to an appearance from an evil-eyed Stephen King commanding viewers to go see it. But this oft-derided piece of camp should be saluted. Maximum Overdrive is the only cinematic King adaptation directed by King himself, which makes the film oddly personal. As he slyly says in the trailer with a tongue-in-cheek tenor: “If you want something done right, you ought to do it yourself.”

As far as the film itself goes, Maximum Overdrive is a super silly, schlocky B-movie. And King gleefully embraces that madcap tone, which is appropriate for a movie about a comet’s radiation causing various appliances and big rig trucks to turn into murderous machines with minds of their own. There’s an inherent playfulness in King’s writing that often gets overlooked or misinterpreted by critics, and here as the director, King dials in on that goofiness amidst the gore. Sure, it’s camp, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t infinitely more enjoyable than some of his more “serious” work. C’mon, how can you hate on Emilio Estevez firing a bazooka at a sentient 10-wheeler?

9. Apt Pupil (1998)

1998’s Apt Pupil was inspired by the King story Summer of Corruption (which came from Different Seasons, the series of novellas that contained Stand By Me and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption) and as a movie adaptation, it does a decent job translating the dark, disturbing psychology of its source material. Apt Pupil follows a privileged suburban teen (Brad Renfro) whose twisted, pornographic obsession with Nazi history spirals even further when he discovers his neighbor is an elderly Nazi war criminal (Ian McKellen) who dodged The Hague by fleeing to America. The boy promises not to inform authorities of his whereabouts as long as the old man tells him detailed accounts of the death camps, the Final Solution, and his role in exterminating the Jewish people. A sadistic, violent relationship begins to form between the two: an old man with blood already on his hands; a young boy thirsting to get some blood on his own.

Apt Pupil didn’t get much love upon its release in theaters, but it certainly recreated the bleak, unsettling atmosphere of the novella. Evil is just one seductive crook of the finger away from infecting the youth. And sometimes it’s living quietly right next door—or directing this very movie.

8. Children of the Corn (1984)

Originally published as a short story in Penthouse in the late ’70s, Children of the Corn planted its seeds as a cinematic cult classic in 1984 with a brutal and bloody take on religious indoctrination. Set in the fictional farm town of Gatlin, Nebraska, Corn finds a middle-aged couple experiencing the wrong turn from hell during their cross-country trip to Seattle. After accidentally running over a boy who darted into the middle of the street, the couple seeks medical assistance in Gatlin, which they soon to discover is run by a cult of murderous children who have killed off all the adults in the town. They also engage in ritualistic human sacrifices to appease the demonic corn deity aptly referred to as He Who Walks Behind The Rows.

It has some interesting and eerie things to say about religious fundamentalism, but Children of the Corn is a reliable horror classic if you’re just looking for a creepy setting, big scares, graphic kills, and nightmare children with mullets (shout out to Malachai).

7. The Running Man (1987)

if someone today wrote a movie where a barely literate, hyper-racist, oatmeal-brained reality TV host became the president of the United States, we’d laugh it off as bad sci-fi. But looking back, 1987’s The Running Man was terrifyingly on the nose: It took place in 2017. A police state surveils at will and the prisons are grossly overpopulated and exploited. Reality TV is a functioning, violently authoritative arm of the government. The lines between television violence and real violence have blurred to the point where American consumers are thrilled to watch American Gladiator-style executions on the tube as escapism. Ratings dictate narrative. And somehow, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in a personal battle against the demented, corrupt, white, and oafish oligarch with bad hair orchestrating this dystopic hellscape.

6. The Shining (1980)

The best haunted house movie ever. Period.

5. The Lawnmower Man (1992)

Pierce Brosnan playing a Dr. Frankenstein who fucks? An early ’90s technophobic tale about the dangers of weaponized Virtual Reality and the singularity gone sadistic? The cheesiest, undercooked VFX (although innovative at the time) used to recreate the virtual reality experience complete with pixelated sex sequences? Inject this absurdist, psychedelic, totally bonkers pseudo-cyberpunk fantasy directly into my eyeballs, baby!

4. Cujo (1983)

King himself admits he doesn’t remember much about writing the original novel because he completed it during a coke binge, and those associated symptoms of amped up paranoia and adrenalized terror leap off the screen in King’s film version of Cujo. And it’s a hell of an experience—criminally underrated as a work of pure cinema. Cujo is pressure cooker thriller turned nightmare chamber piece about a rabid St. Bernard wreaking havoc on a woman and her son trapped inside their broken-down car. Much like the shark from Jaws, Cujo torments and taunts its prey before viciously gnawing its way through the vulnerable spots of their protective shelter. The demon dog certainly makes time to break away from the marooned mother and child to rip into the flesh of some local townsfolk to satiate his bloodlust until they have no choice but to make a run for it. Thanks to Jan de Bont’s claustrophobic cinematography, Cujo is masterfully intense and a bloody good time. 1/10, bad pupper, would not pet.

3. Carrie (1976)

Split screens, split diopter shots, and split wigs—Brian de Palma’s fiery fingerprints are all over this supernatural horror fest that crawls under your skin and stays there long after the credits roll. Carrie was King’s first novel to be published and the first to be turned into a feature film. And what an opening salvo for the young writer it turned out to be. A hallucinatory, psychotic fever dream, Carrie can’t be reduced to just a standard horror classic: It’s a pop-goth coming of age tale. It’s an emotionally bruising family drama. It’s an allegory for societal repression of female sexuality, agency, and autonomy. It’s a pitch-black teen comedy (seriously some of the kills and anatomical gags border on slapstick). And it’s the stuff of nightmare fuel—a spine-chilling revenge tale that will alter you physiologically and psychologically. With an equally haunting score and one of the best (and most cathartic) massacre set pieces ever put to film, Carrie will seismically shift how you view horror movies moving forward.

2. The Mist (2007)

Unfairly dismissed as a derivative monster movie, The Mist is much more than just some King-completist fare. A perfect marriage of a political parable and a Lovecraftian nightmare, The Mist finds a diverse group of strangers trapped in their local market as an inexplicable mist—one that cloaks massive tentacled-beats and other grotesque creatures—lays siege to their town. Trapped in these terrifying close quarters, the ensemble (lead by a stoic Thomas Jane and a fire-and-brimstone Marcia Gay Harden) begin to turn on each other, the self-sabotaging and distrusting impulses of human nature revealing themselves to be more monstrous than what awaits them outside. The creatures of the mist act as physical manifestations of the cultural divisiveness of the political climate during 2007, which saw the country latch onto an irreparably primitive fear of the Other. The Mist is a paralyzing horror flick with a sharp bite, and it contains one of the more nihilistic surprise endings that will take all the air out of lungs.

1. Misery (1990)

A masterful exercise in tonal economy, Misery manages to succeed at being a taut psychological thriller, an empathetic character study, a black comedy, tasteful torture porn, and a grounded satire of celebrity and the toxic nature of entitled fandom. Kathy Bates (in her now iconic Academy Award-winning role) takes her favorite romance novelist (James Caan) captive after she “rescues” him from a car wreck in the mountains. Since she’s a trained nurse, she offers to tend to his injuries as a form of capricious compromise: he must bring her favorite killed-off character back to life in his next novel or else he himself will be... killed-off for real. Gas lighting, bed tying, and sledge-hammered ankles are all fair game.

Director Rob Reiner, with his innately humanistic comedic sensibilities, zeroes in the twisted humor of this fraught situation (and DP Barry Sonnenfeld shoots everything in low angles and wide lenses which lends a cartoonish undercurrent to the sinister mood). Bates runs with that, making her violently obsessive nurse play broad and goofy one moment, sad and pitiful the next, then vicious and menacing right after that. And Caan is all perfectly calibrated desperation. And it’s only an hour and forty-five minutes. A tightly wound, unsettling, perfect little movie.

***

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