As I am writing out these words, preparing this newsletter, I am watching (albeit, absentmindedly) Cujo – based on the Stephen King novel. I’ve seen it before, many years ago. And though it never features high on the list of King adaptations (I don’t think the novel features too high on lists of his best books either) my memory of both the film and the book is that I liked them. Never my favourites. But higher on the list than I’ve read elsewhere.
So I’m thinking I should share my list of favourite King adaptations. I’ve dropped a few hints that I’m delving back into the world of his books this year. Since writing this I’ve really got back into Stephen King. The books and the movies. I mean really got back into him. I’ve even started collecting up the books I used to own, and I’m also buying the ones I hadn’t ever made it to. Now I need to set aside some time to read them…
Actually I’ve got a couple on the go at the moment, including Stephen King Goes To The Movies, which is comprised of novellas that were all turned into popular movies. I’ve read the entries before (in the previously published collections) but I’m enjoying revisiting them with King’s introductions, and a note on his favourite film adaptations.
Many people know that King really doesn’t like some of the film adaptations of his work. Many people don’t like some of the ones that King himself has worked on (“directing” Maximum Overdrive, apparently; scripting the original screenplay for Sleepwalkers). There are obvious, acknowledged classics. And there are some lesser known gems – I’ll recommend, once again, this book which talks you through all of the screen adaptations up to and including the remake of It.
Okay, so here, are my favourite Stephen King film adaptations from 10-1, number one of course being the best.
10. Needful Things (1993) – I’m picking this one because I don’t often see it getting talked up. And because I loved the book. It was one of my absolute favourites. The film isn’t a classic, but it has a nice vibe to it. I’ve read it described recently as Twin Peaks-lite. And I like that. Also: Ed Harris. Bonus. I definitely need to see this again. Though the worry is that a rewatch will bump it off the list.
9. Carrie (1976) – the first of King’s books to be published became the first to be turned into a film. It’s significant beyond that – but for that it should be on any list anyway. Add to that, it’s a Brian de Palma movie, it features a wonderful turn from Sissy Spacek (just perfect in the title role) and has frightening support from the often-brilliant Piper Laurie. A young John Travolta is well-cast, mugging away and hamming it up. The music is sublime (well, of course, it’s Pino Donaggio) and the movie would go on to be a hugely influential horror. And pave the way for so many more King movie adaptations. One thing I must add, do not bother with the 2013 remake. It’s terrible!
8. The Dead Zone (1983) – another that I need to see again. But I’m holding off because I never ever read the book and I recently picked up a nice First Edition Hardback. So I’ll have a hoon through that over summer, hopefully. And rewatch The Dead Zone. As with Carrie and de Palma, you can watch this because it’s a David Cronenberg film – and I’m sure some people arrived at it because of that, rather than the Stephen King source material. It’s also got a score that I now spend a lot of time with (by the wonderful Michael Kamen; he helped out on many scores as arranger and orchestrator but I don’t know that he wrote many, this might be his only one actually). Outside of that, my memory of this film is that it’s a great concept – well told. And brilliant casting of Christopher Walken. Possibly one of the first times I saw him in a film (after seeing him as a Bond villain of course).
7. It (1990) – again, I loved this because I loved the book. And the sense of achievement from reading the 1100 pages was backed up by a similar sense of achievement watching the film (actually a TV mini-series). At three hours, it was – at that time – the longest film I’d seen. It’s by no means perfect (and I do like the recent two-part remake) but the tone and feel of this film captures enough of my experience reading the book. And I’ve rewatched this a couple of times in recent years and it’s been a bit part of what has got me hooked right back into the worlds Stephen King creates. Another shoutout for the score. I don’t know that Richard Bellis did very much else along these lines but his soundtrack for It is exquisite. So much so I recently forked out for the triple-vinyl reissue. And it’s been one of the most played records in the house this year.
6. Gerald’s Game (2017) – I wasn’t alone in wondering how on earth they would actually pull this off. And I think that’s why I like it so much. Unfilmable novel gets filmed. It works. It works pretty well. Also, I really loved this book – one of my favourites.
5. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – I’ve simply seen this film too many times to rank it any higher. There was a time when this was right up there. Number one or two always. But a recent rewatch has pushed it down the list. At the time, everything about it was perfect. It also did that rare thing: It introduced me to the book (novella). I hadn’t read this story until after I’d seen the film. Usually I watched the movies after reading the books.
4. The Mist (2007) – I, erm, missed this at the time. I had read the story, way back – but I didn’t see The Mist for the first time as a movie until last year. I’ve watched it three times. It is a brilliant realisation, with a new ending. An ending so good that King gave the filmmaker his blessing, saying even that he’d wished he had thought of that ending. This is a dark, depressing film. I love the relentlessness of the mood.
2. Stand By Me (1986) – as with Shawshank, I hadn’t read Stand By Me (The Body) before I saw the film. In fact, I had seen the film a bunch of times before I finally read the novella. I had no idea it was based on a Stephen King story and I already considered it a favourite movie. I have watched it a couple of times recently and I love it even more. I have my own memories of watching it, loving the songs from it, rewatching it…and now I’m making new memories re-watching it with my son.
1. The Shining (1980) – one day I’ll write more about this movie. Because it’s one of my all-time, most favourite, most-watched films. But I have to select it as number one here because I love the fact that Stephen King hates this version. To me this highlights how you can make a different story through filming a book; some things that work in a book will not translate to the screen; sometimes the filmmaker’s instinct to take themes and extrapolate is sharper than the writer’s need to have their work fully translated. For further proof there is a terrible TV mini-series from 1997 which King scripted. It does not work.
So that’s my list of Top 10 King adaptations. I think I’d be happy enough having Cujo at number 11 by the way.
What’s your favourite Stephen King film/s?